The Benefits of Getting Away: How I Learned to Make the Most of My Vacation
I recently came across an article in the Harvard Business Review about vacation that caught my eye. The headline read The Mental Benefits of Vacationing Somewhere New. As a mother of two small children, I FANTASIZE about vacations. I do not mean family trips, friends, I mean vacations.
A dear friend taught us the difference between a vacation and a family trip. It goes like this:
(vacation = no children = relaxation = sleep = rejuvenation)
(family trip = children = no rest = sleep with a small person in your bed = really cute pictures.)
Never forget this so you know what to expect when you embark on your journey.
Anyhow, back to the article, because I love mental benefits and because I love vacation, this article caught my attention. But it didn’t read how I thought it would, or to be honest, how I wanted it to. I wanted it to say that regularly planned vacations to your favorite beach town help you in tremendous ways. I wanted there to be a study that said for every vacation you take your brain recoups a percentage of its cells or that for every day spent on vacation you add a day to your life or some other amazing benefit in which I could justify the financial investment and the mad rush required at home and work both before and after a vacation. But it actually didn’t say that lying on a beach would help me live longer. But it did say that going on vacation somewhere abnormal that puts me out of my comfort zone is actually a mental challenge with some really positive benefits, including being more empathetic and creative.
Hmmm…Is that what we think of when we think of a vacation? I know at this point in life I like to relax and take it easy. I like to have friendly banter with the couple next to us at a bar while enjoying a local beer. I also like to shift into autopilot and not have to try.
But this article recommends I go somewhere I might face some challenge or a certain level of discomfort, and doing so will provide me with greater emotional agility, empathy and creativity. In the article, traveling to a foreign country in order to face these challenges is the recommendation. It made me think of the times, pre-children, that we were lucky enough to travel overseas and in fact we did have some challenging moments that we were able to overcome – many of them we now laugh about, but at the time they didn’t seem so funny.
But vacation time is limited, and not everyone can go to a foreign country for their break from their own reality. Luckily the article went on to talk about ways to experience growth closer to home. It explained that by visiting new states, cities and even households that provide a unfamiliar environment for you, with people who have backgrounds and beliefs that may not line up with yours, you are stretching yourself. When you do this, you become more tolerant, learn to accept your own discomfort, and gain confidence in your ability to be resourceful and navigate situations with grace. Instead of feeling fearful or unsure of someone unfamiliar to you, you may even learn to appreciate the differences.
Okay, so don’t cancel your beach trip just yet. There are all kids of ways you can try to put yourself in new situations, even right here in Nashville and the surrounding area. Check out some small towns within driving distance and see if they have an annual festival they look forward to every year - most small towns seem to. I grew up in Columbia, where the annual event is called Mule Day. It’s always the first weekend of April (unless that is Easter weekend, in which case it pushes back one weekend) and you can drive just an hour south and partake in the pancake breakfast at the Memorial Building, Bloodys & Biscuits at the Polk Home gardens, watch the parade, and then go to Maury County Park for clogging and live music. It’s a lot of fun and feels different than anything I’ve ever done in Nashville!
If that doesn’t interest you, you can even stay in town and hit up a church or a synagogue that is different from your upbringing or what you believe. Make plans to check out the Islamic Center of Nashville, which strives to reach out to the community and be an active part of the city. Volunteer at a homeless facility and challenge yourself to talk to folks who lead a very different lifestyle. Organizations such as Room in the Inn or Thistle Farms are warm, welcoming places that would be happy to plug you in and give you first hand experience with their folks. And honestly, I’ve done it and the truth is, it’s not always easy. But it’s also not that hard either - because at the end of the day, no matter what color your skin is or where you grew up or EVEN who you voted for for president, when you strip away all the other stuff, we’re all people and we all have the same emotions.
So, what was supposed to be a really cool article that told me to go to the beach more is actually a really cool article that told me to get out of my comfort zone and be open to new places, experiences, and most importantly, the many varieties of people who make up this beautiful world. And you know what? I bet those mental benefits are far more beneficial than a lazy afternoon on the beach.