I don’t do vacation well.  This is unfortunate, because I want to do vacation well.  It would be great to be one of those guys sitting on the beach with a book (or Kindle) in hand.  I love going to a museum and spending hours surrounded by beauty.  Sitting in a Café on some quiet corner with my wife as we sip cappuccinos and watch people stroll by sounds wonderful.  Being out and about and knowing that back at the hotel there is a clean towel by the sink and dinner in the dining hall sounds like paradise.  I want a vacation where my most difficult choice is whether or not I should go for a third trip to the dessert line, or if two trips were enough.

But I am lousy at vacations.  For multiple reasons.

First, because I have kids.  I love my kids, and I love taking them places – but it is a lot of work to plan a kid-friendly vacation.  A quiet afternoon in a Café is not going to happen.  After 62.35 minutes in a museum they are bored.  A beach is okay, but just lying there does not always work.  Oh, and kids are expensive.  During normal life, AND vacation.  But the normal life expenses make vacations a little more challenging.
Second, because I honestly have a hard time taking enough time off.  I know that I need at least 2 weeks to unplug and really enjoy things, but I rarely (if ever) schedule 2 weeks off back-to-back.  I am one of those Americans who do not take all of their vacation days.
According to one study, there are the following top reasons for this:
– Fear of returning to a mountain of work (40%)
– The belief that nobody else can do the job (35%)
– Inability to afford taking time off (33%)
– Fear of being seen as replaceable (22%)
– To show greater dedication to the company and the job (28%)
In the non-profit sector you could probably add:  Fear of hat the people supporting the work will think.  Fear of taking more vacation than those who support you.
The summary from Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association:   “Americans suffer from a work martyr complex.  In part, it’s because ‘busyness’ is something we wear as a badge of honor. But it’s also because we’re emerging from a tough economy and many feel less secure in their jobs. Unfortunately, workers do not seem to realize that forfeiting their vacation time comes at the expense of their overall health, well-being and relationships.”
A work martyr complex is probably a good summary of the way I have approached vacation for much of my life.  Busyness was a badge of honor, and I often felt that since pastors get a fairly bad rap (after all, we only work one day a week).  I had often heard complaints about how much vacation time pastor’s got, and somehow felt that it was my responsibility to prove everyone wrong.  So I would take less vacation.  I have never in my life finished a year having used all of my vacation time.  And that is a sad confession, not bragging.
This year, though – it was just plain old poor planning.  No work martyr complex, not fearing what people would think, I was not trying to show off my dedication.  I just planned very poorly.

How to NOT do vacation

So here is my top three list of how to NOT do vacation.
  1.  Do NOT wait too long to plan something.
You would think I would have learned this from my German friends, but I have not seemed to pick up on it yet.  Many Germans are amazing at planning their vacations well in advance – and take the most amazing vacations.
The first step for me would be selecting the time I am going to be away and blocking those days off on the calendar.  This year I did not, so I ended up trying to squeeze time in between exhibits and events.  The problem with this is, of course, that I run myself to exhaustion with one event, and am thinking about the next event during vacation.  Not exactly relaxing!
  1.  Do NOT give away the few days you have.
Again, poor planning on my part – but I was meeting with people at the gallery on the first day of my vacation.  Why?  So I could enjoy the rest of my vacation without feeling guilty.  It didn’t work, though.  I felt guilty for giving up my vacation!
  1.  Do NOT tell people what you are taking a Staycation.
I am not 100% sure what the right answer is when people ask what you are doing for vacation.  It is a polite question.  People truly want to know.  And I wish I could have told them that we were traveling to an exotic location.  But that was not happening this year, but when I say that we are spending a few days out of town and a few days around Berlin, I think people hear “he’s available.”  Or, he is not really taking vacation, he is just avoiding us.
Obviously, I am not recommending you lie.  Of course being rude and telling people you are going to the island of MYOB is also not a good idea (or is it?)  Maybe the best answer is that you are finding a way to recuperate and enjoy life again without spending a lot of money.

What to do on your vacation?

There probably is no perfect answer.  I would say that a good start is to unplug from work distractions and reconnect with family.  Setting aside some of the electronic distractions can give your mind time to finally quiet down and come to rest.
I would also suggest unwinding through activities that you enjoy.  Give yourself a few days of rest – allowing yourself to release some of the stress of life.  And then spend time doing some of the things you cannot normally do.  Enjoy activities together as a family., unwind, and I am not sure there is one right answer.  In our family we have different definitions of what vacation means.  Since I am on the go a lot, a vacation for me is the opportunity to do nothing.  For others in my family, vacation means get out and see as much as possible.  The most important thing is:  Rest and Recuperate.
And find things that restore you.  Read a book.  Spend time in silence.  Pray.  Laugh.  Don’t think about work.

Getting ready for next year…

As kids go back to school, the next opportunity for vacation may seem really far away.  But planning early can make it more rewarding next year.  Mark some time off on the calendar now, and begin tucking some money away into savings.  Every little bit now takes the bite out of the bill for next year.  Think of some things you want to do with your kids before they leave the home.  Or, if the kids are gone – what are some things you have always wanted to do – but couldn’t?  What would it take to make those things happen?