How to Keep Your Vacation from Killing You

Vacations can create exhaustion, debt, stress, and a reluctance to re-enter your ordinary life.  Yes, something’s wrong with that.

Some folks see vacations as needless interruptions. Walt Disney was said to have not cared much for them, preferring instead the continuous stimulation of his creative work.  His aversion to time off seems strange, given his theme parks depended on people taking vacations.

I’m another one of those guys who loves his work. Maybe too much.

Last week I went with my family and some friends to Florida.  The trip didn’t coincide with fishing, visiting relatives, or giving a church conference.  I didn’t take any electronics with me other than my ancient dumb phone.  I left my writing at home, and brought nothing to read except hobby stuff—a novel, and a light theology book.

I was happy to be going to Florida for the first time, but a little bummed that I would miss my work-week adrenaline.

We went.

We rode bikes up and down Siesta Key, not looking for anything in particular except tee shirts and mini-donuts.  We paddled boats while searching for Manatees (cows with flippers).  And I sat on a beach in a chair.  It was all so…unproductive.  My only consolation was that some people looked worse in a swimsuit than I did.

At one point my adult daughter looked over at me and said, “I’m not used to seeing you like this.”
“What do you mean?”  I asked.
“Well, you’re Just sitting there, doing nothing.”

Somewhere into the second day, I started to feel it—disconnection, and a deeply affecting kind of rest.

It got me thinking.  Before we humans caught on to the idea of vacations and ruined it, God had already thought the whole thing through and talked about it.

He never used the word “vacation,” though.  His word is “sabbath.”  It comes from the Hebrew word “shavat,” meaning cease.  Stop.

I am not a literal seventh Day Sabbath keeper.  Jesus didn’t say, “Keep the seventh day and you’ll have rest.” He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”  (Mt. 11:28).  Rest is in a Person, not a twenty-four hour time period.

But who cares about deep spiritual principles if you’re still working yourself to death?  There is something built into all of us that cries out for not only spiritual rest, but psychological, and physical.

God believes so strongly in rest that He created us to need it daily.  Whether you like it or not, you have to sleep.  Sabbath also has to happen weekly, the principle of which is contained in the fourth commandment.   Otherwise, your emotional resources will diminish.  Instead of getting ahead, you’ll find yourself falling further behind.  God also commanded seasonal Sabbaths, and even a sabbath that lasted for an entire year once every seven years, just to give the land a break.  God’s rest was meant to punctuate amazing bursts of productivity.

It’s weird, then, that Americans have not one, but two days traditionally designated as a non-work weekend and we still manage to be exhausted most of the time.  Or after spending billions on tourist destinations, we are a nation of overworked people.

We’ve apparently accumulated a number of bad habits when vacationing.

If you want your time away to capture more of the rest principle, consider some of the following thoughts:

Work the week before vacation—Like productivity gurus always say, “When you’re at work, really work!”  That week before the big trip out-of-town, we’re tempted to be at 50%.  Visions of our plans and destinations dance in our heads.  Instead, You’ll want to be at 100%.  Get your week’s worth of work done, so you won’t be trying to finish it the Monday you get back, while catching up on things that happened while you were gone, and moving forward into the new week.  If you play the week before, you’ll pay the week after in exhaustion.

Simplify your travel as much as possible— After running from one connection to another, missing flights, or losing bags, many of us spend precious vacation days just trying to recover from a taxing travel schedule.  No rest will happen if you are reliving the plot from Trains, Planes, and Automobiles.  Super-saver might not always be the best philosophy.

Limit activities—Rather than overload yourself with plans, try focusing on just one or two activities every day.   Quality beats quantity every time.  Have fun. Make memories. Folks who try to live a lifetime in one week won’t remember much of it.  And besides, did you really want to pack that workday blur and bring it with you?

Stay within budget—Careless spending can jack your credit card up and create a mountain of debt, especially if you’re visiting tourist locations like the one I just came from.  Spending money is the most expensive hobby there is.  Most of us can’t afford it.  Material trinkets won’t bring rest anyway. 

In principle, keep it shorter—You’re trying to visit some place for a break, not move there.  If you stay  too long, your heart may end up moving there, while your body is forced to make the dreadful trip home.  Such negative emotions will spoil your rest.  Too many folks end up deciding they hate their life and want to live in that log cabin in the hills.  Remember though, that somebody in that awesome place works a job they hate and wishes they could be somewhere else, too.

I’m back now from the Florida adventure.  I was a little disappointed that upon returning to Ohio we found a a temperature of forty-eight degrees.  My new Hawaiian shirt wasn’t a good choice for travel that day.

But more important than having visited the nation’s number one beach, and getting the world’s faintest tan, I got a sabbath.

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