Last month I was speaking with an executive director who shared that he hadn’t taken a full week off in over 18 months. I’m certain that I cringed when he said this despite my best attempt to have no observable reaction.
All too often we are so busy taking care of our organizations and our families that we fail to take care of ourselves. As months of continuous work stretches into years, passion and zeal slowly drain from us and we begin to resent our work. I learned the hard way this fact the hard way; In fact, I used to be one of those people who never took a vacation, then I burned out pretty bad.
Since experiencing my own severe career burn out, I now take at least one extended trip every year where I completely unplug from work – no email, no voice mail, no check-ins.
When I ask someone why they haven’t taken a vacation, it normally comes down to two factors: Some say they can’t afford to lose the time at work; Others say they don’t have the financial resources to take a trip; and a few say they can afford neither the time nor the cost.
If this sounds like you; If it’s been more than 12 months since you’ve taken a real vacation without working or checking email, then this bonus break is for you. I’m going to share some ideas about finding the time and the resources necessary to give yourself a break.
#1: Pick a Date
It’s always easier to plan your trip at least a few months in advance; In fact, My husband and I plan our big trip where we unplug from the world and reconnect to each other about a year in advance.
So the first step to actually taking a vacation is to pick a date in the future and lock your vacation plan in. Once it’s on the calendar, tell your friends, family, work team, and board or boss that you’ll be unavailable during that time. With enough lead time, you can start to figure out how everything will get taken care of without you; They might be work-related like “who will be trained to process payroll” or it might be personal like “who will visit Mom at the nursing home on Saturday night”.
Most important – you have to plan around the trip and protect your vacation dates. A few months before your trip just gently remind people in meetings and conversations when you will be unavailable. Since not everyone at your office is going on vacation with you, people will suggest planning meetings or events when you are on vacation. When this happens, don’t feel like you have to cancel your trip. Instead say, “That sounds like a really important, and I wish I could be there. But I’m scheduled to go to on this amazing trip. During one-on-one check-ins with your supervisor or those who report to you, also remind them of an upcoming trip. Since it’s not their vacation, it’s easy for them to forget you have planned one.
Finally, I would also recommend not scheduling anything the day before you leave or the day you return; This will enable you to have a lot less stress on both ends of your trip.
#2: Book your tickets
Back in February, my husband and I decided to take our annual trip to Morocco around Thanksgiving because it would only cost him 8 vacation days (Tgiving and the day after are holidays at his office). So we bought our plane tickets in March as soon as he confirmed with his office that he take the time off. That’s right, we purchased tickets a a full eight-months in advance because buying a ticket is a commitment device.
Tickets might have gotten cheaper in a couple months, but buying the tickets is a commitment device. Once we spent money on tickets, we are far more likely to protect the days we’ve chosen from being eaten up by other responsibilities.
Now we haven’t booked a hotel or planned other activities, but I know we will go to Morocco and have a great time. Do you know why? Because we bought our tickets.
#3: Get creative with finances
The other primary reason that people don’t take vacations is their personal finances. I’ve been fortunate to take some very expensive trips and also some very inexpensive ones. So let me share my tips and tricks for very inexpensive vacations:Save on lodging:
For many people, the number one trip expense is lodging but it doesn’t have to eat your entire budget.
- Consider a house swap. Does your best friend from college live in NYC while you live in LA? Great! Swap homes for two weeks and explore each other’s cities.
- Consider a hostel. When I took an eight-month sabbatical, I gave myself a budget of $100 a day for food, lodging, and local transportation. To make this work, I stayed in lots of hostels in the US, Latin America, and Asia. The trip busted a myth for me: that hostels are full of twenty-year-old college kids. While I was a 40-something year old staying in a hostel, I was surprised to find people in their 50’s, 60’s, and even 70’s enjoying the affordability of hostels. The trick is to read reviews and avoid those hostels that sound like frat houses! I also learned there are a variety of rooms at hostels, so I stayed in dorms in many industrialized countries and private rooms in developing countries.
- Go when kids are in school. Because fewer people are traveling, hotels, restaurants and everything else are typically cheaper when kids are in school.
- Travel internationally over big holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas. Fewer people travel abroad during those times, so everything is cheaper (and you can piggy back vacation days into your trip).
If you have kids:
Ask a grandparent or other relative to care for your kids. Making it a grown-up vacation will undoubtedly be less expensive, and spending time with loved ones will feel like a vacation to your kids, too!
With a bit of planning and some creativity, you can break through whatever barriers are preventing you from going on vacation. But most importantly get the f**k out of your office and your city; reconnect with yourself and the person you love the most; and enjoy life for a bit.