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Getting the Therapeutic Best from a Summer Vacation

Are you going on vacation this summer? You had better be. If I hear you haven’t, expect a visit from me. Here are some pointers for making it a memorable and refreshing getaway.

1. “The man who has no imagination has no wings.” There is truth in the statement that there is more excitement in the planning of a vacation than in the vacation itself. A restful vacation begins in the mind a long while before it becomes a reality. Sharing the excitement and the possibilities with those who will accompany you enhances the anticipation.

2. “Carry me Away!” – Part of the cure for depression is the opportunity to leave your normal geographic location for a while. Restful vacations can be augmented by the same principle. Furthermore, most of us have a ‘sweet spot,’ a place where we are the most relaxed. While I cannot make it to the ocean every summer, lapping or running water relaxes me. I do not need high energy aquatic sports, but water is definitely my personal ‘sweet spot.’ Do you have one?

3. “Driving the Autobahn” – It takes time to relax. If you travel the insanely high speeds of the autobahn in Germany, you will know that when the unrestricted limits are coming to an end, there is a slow down period of a few kilometers. You do not suddenly slam on the brakes. It would be catastrophic. Similarly, give yourself time to decelerate. The time it takes will be proportionate to the degree of stress you take into the vacation with you.

4. “The Clock and the Calendar” – Vacations require the proper Amount of Structure. The best vacation is not one that has no structure at all. Often, when there is not structure, there is a feeling of time squandered. Plans also promote family harmony. However, over-structuring can create more fatigue than your regular work schedule. One report suggests that over half of Americans admit more weariness at the end of a vacation than at the beginning. An arbitrary schedule produces undesirable stress. A number of years ago I traveled with my son in Europe. I had carefully planned an itinerary that allowed me to show him many of the highlights I had experienced in past visits. However, he did not accommodate well to my plan. I would attempt to hurry him along to the next engagement. He would simply reply, ‘enjoy the moment, Dad.’ And, he was right. I had added unnecessary stress and contention to our shared time.

Note: We love our extended families but spending our vacation attempting to accommodate the schedules and rhythms of relatives is not the pathway to a restful interlude.

5. “Show me the Money!” - Develop a reasonable and affordable budget – There are places that I would like to visit. However, I have discovered it very difficult to relax and enjoy those places if I am constantly concerned over the prices I must pay. I have found it much more beneficial to ‘tone down’ my expectations and work within an acceptable and reasonable budget. Many people vacation far beyond their capacity to pay and the anxiety of the cost prevents them from truly enjoying the experience. The ‘piper’ must eventually be paid.

6. “To sleep, perchance to dream” - One may think that the best vacation is one where sleep is the dominant activity. While sleep is important, it is wise after a couple of days to stick as close to normal, healthy sleep patterns as possible. Too much sleep produces a lethargy that drains energies rather than replenishing them.

7. “The Solitary bear and the Social butterfly” – Depending on your personality type, interaction with others may either drain or refill your emotional bank account. A good vacation will entertain both alone time and social interaction (especially with immediate family). Your personality type will determine the balance in this area. But, please be accommodating to your spouse and kids as well.

8. “Making Memories out of Mishaps” – Vacations rarely go exactly as planned. A few years ago my son and I were lost in the Mojave desert. We realized we had a choice. Would we see it as an adventure or a crisis? We decided we knew exactly where we were, we just didn’t know where that was. Eventually, we found our bearings and made it to Palm Springs. It has become part of the folk lore of our fun times together. A vacation will be what you choose to make of it. We have a little saying we use when things go awry on our holidays: “we are making memories.” Memories, good and bad, make great stories.

9. “The earth has music for those who listen” - The other day my wife and I were walking in the forest. I happened to spot a delicate, violet coloured wildflower. I stopped and took some pictures. There, in the midst of nowhere, I felt that I had just been kissed by the Creator. There is no greater recuperative force than nature itself. I have never been at a location on the planet where I have not seen the creative genius of God in my surroundings. It’s there if we will pause long enough to find it. In finding it, our soul is refreshed.

10. “Back to the future” - Inevitably vacations end. It is wise to leave yourself a day or two to ease back into your schedule. There is a natural let-down feeling when vacation ends with a return to necessary, demanding work commitments. Some semi-relaxed time acting as buffer, offering unpressured time to catch up on emails, messages etc., assists in the transition back.

My former Pastor used to say, “remember, wherever you go, there you are!” So, wherever you go this summer, make the very best of it.

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