We walked into the house, tired and sore from the long car ride from Branson, MO to Oklahoma City. It’s really not that long a car ride; only about 5½ or 6 hours, but ANY car ride is long with four kids, ranging from ages 1 to 12. The air conditioning of home is inviting, and my hard work prior to leaving home is rewarded when we step into a cool, clean, welcoming house. We unload the basics from the Suburban and greet the animals, who have missed us greatly. We were only gone for four nights, but the house feels like a different place, and in a good way, too. It feels fresh and new, though in reality it is the same old house still in need of numerous remodeling projects. Apparently, absence does make the heart grow fonder.
We have just returned from our annual family vacation. I make sure that we do this at least every year. Our finances don’t always want to allow it, but I still make sure it happens. Tim and I both work very hard and have decent jobs. He works more than full time for a salary wage. I made the decision after our youngest child was born to work less hours, spend more time raising our kids, and spend less money paying babysitters. So, I no longer work 60 hours per week, only 30 hours per week, instead. We don’t have tons of money to spend traveling and exploring as I would love to do. We have four kids 12 and under to support on an income that doesn’t allow for much frivolous spending, but I make sure we at least have a family vacation every year.
This vacation was like many we’ve taken; on a strict budget, maybe staying with family, and/or not going very far. We still had a great time. I love that feeling of exploration, looking for new things to see and do; having the mindset that you are there to have a good time, and that this time is not to be spent worrying about all those things that might cause your normal everyday stress. It really is a priceless feeling. Then there is the refreshment and rejuvenation that you feel upon returning home. Even for people like us, for whom coming home means a return to a reality full of bills, work, and all the hard decisions you make everyday concerning your life and the lives of your dependents. Even if that is what you’re coming home to, you still feel refreshed and inspired.
Sometimes these feelings don’t seem to last very long. Sometimes the return to life’s everyday stressors make a person wonder if it’s even worth it to work so hard to make sure you get to take that get-away, if all you do is come home to more stress. Now, for myself, I know it’s worth it. I love to travel too much for it to not be worth it. I do doubt myself at times, though, especially in times of financial hardship. Did I mention that most times feel like a time of financial hardship? I worry that we can’t afford it. I feel guilty, afraid that I’m being irresponsible by taking the time off work and making time for us to go play when it seems like we should be constantly working to make our lives better. I know many other people of similar circumstance who feel the same way. There are so many who have a situation similar to ours: children, work, numerous responsibilities, already feeling like they barely get by. And many of those people hardly ever take a vacation.
It got me thinking, and I decided to do some research. What I found made me feel so much better. Vacations ARE good. Hands down, no disputing it. There was not an article, website, or book I could find that said anything bad about making vacation time a priority in your life. As a matter of fact, every piece of literature I found said the opposite. There are so many psychological and physical health benefits to vacationing; it seemed to me to cover every area of a person’s life.
The health benefits of taking vacation time seem to have no end. The fact that you reduce stress helps to improve every physical health aspect and decreases risk of most diseases. There are so many statistics out there showing that people who vacation regularly are at less risk for virtually any disease process due to the major effects of stress on a person’s health. Studies also showed that these health benefits increased with the frequency of vacationing. Even though you may come home to just as much stress or more, the health benefits are still there. One researcher compared this to getting a good night’s sleep and being well rested, only to get tired again the next day. Just because you do get tired again, does not mean you didn’t benefit from your sleep. Vacations, leisure activities, relaxation, and travel all reduce stress, reduce the risk of depression, and increase overall happiness.
Family vacations strengthen the bonds between loved ones. As reported by the Disney Time Survey performed by Kelton Research, vacationing not only increases quality time between parents and children, but families are also more likely to learn something new about one another during a vacation than they are during time spent at home together. During our recent Branson vacation, I learned that my four year old son is quite passionate about his putt putt game. I learned that my step daughter, who is 12 years old and has always been a tomboy, now enjoys getting dressed up and actually requested that I curl her hair. She was positively giddy when I painted her toenails. My own mother was able to witness first hand her daughter being a hard working mother while I did my usual cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the kids. I was able to enjoy seeing my mom laid back, enjoying herself, and being an awesome grandmother. I had moments of sharing memories and intimate conversations with both of my sisters. Bonds were definitely strengthened, and we all went home knowing just a little bit more about each other and about ourselves.
Most people do not have large amounts of money to spend on vacations, but you are going to spend your money somewhere. Researchers from the University of Colorado and Cornell University found that people get more long term enjoyment out of spending their money on experiences rather than possessions. This is thought to be because experiences give us memories and stories that we can share with others and therefore strengthens not only the bonds with loved ones, but also our overall connection to the society around us. All of the experiences I shared with my family while on vacation are priceless and irreplaceable, and they may have never happened had we not spent the money to get out of town and spend time together. You are going to spend your money on something. You will probably get more enjoyment and fulfillment out of a four day get away than you will a bigger television or a smarter phone.
Travel and vacations help us to be more creative. One researcher, Allison Gopnik, found that the experience of traveling to a foreign city helps adults to see the world in a more child-like way. The new surroundings and stimuli force us to learn so many new things that we become like children again. This new perspective helps open our minds, giving us a return to that child-like wonder and increases creativity.
So, if vacations are so beneficial to our health and overall happiness, why aren’t we taking more of them? Most of the literature I found stated that it’s primarily Americans who are not making this a priority. Americans are more likely to consider vacations a luxury. We are the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation. By law, European countries receive at least 20 days of paid vacation per year, some receive as many as 30. Australia and New Zealand both require employers to give at least 20 vacation days per year. One researcher even went so far as to recommend that financial assistance be given to families who cannot afford a vacation. While it is easy to have the mindset that during times of financial stress, a person should not be taking off work, it is just a simple fact that an overworked, worn out employee is not going to be as productive and beneficial to a company as a rested, healthy one.
Knowing all these facts, how can we feel guilty to take that vacation? Yes, we need to work hard for our children, our family, our society, and our world. But you can only ensure your own longevity and ability to do this if you take care of yourself first. A former employer of mine used to have a sign on her door that I always loved. It said “Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.” We need to make taking care of ourselves and our own well being more of a priority, and we should be teaching our children the importance of doing the same. If you are taking a family vacation, you are extending all these health benefits to your loved ones and teaching them the importance of taking time to enjoy life and care for themselves.
Even if you can only afford to escape on a brief four day road trip with the ones you love, make it a priority to do so. It may not seem easy to make happen, but it’s worth it. Don’t worry, all those stressors and responsibilities will still be there waiting for you when you come home, and you may even have a little less money. But you will probably also be healthier, rested, and equipped with more creative ways to deal with old problems. You are likely to have stronger bonds with the ones you love, and you will definitely have new experiences that give you a slightly different perspective on life.