When you think of relaxation, you may think of doing nothing except lie on the beach or lounge at home. You may even assume that kind of vacation is stress-free. But the reality is actually the opposite.
Doing nothing leads to boredom, which in turn leads to anxiety. You become more worried and stressed: “Did I forget to do something in the office before I left? What if something goes wrong? Will I be blamed? Will I be replaced?” Instead of relaxing, you end up tiring yourself out.
A vacation should be a time to get away from what experts call “mental fatigue” that you experience at work or even at home. To be truly relaxing, a vacation should provide a mindful respite from your daily grind.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't spend some time doing nothing; it’s a nice respite from the non-stop activity of your daily work. But after a while, you need to have your mind engaged with things that interest or fascinate you.
In a study entitled “Assessing the Perceived Restorative Qualities of Vacation Destinations” published in 2013, wellness tourism expert Xinran Lehto recommends that your vacation destination should be a place that engages you. “The place should have enough variation of interest and activities that have depth for you to be engaged with,” she said. “The scope and depth of activities is actually more important.”
Related article: Tired from your vacation? Try wellness travel instead
A truly restorative vacation needs these three factors:
#1 Fascination — If you want to go somewhere for a vacation, choose a place that fascinates, inspires, or fuels your interest:
- It can be the place itself; certain locations, landmarks, or venues fill you with wonder and awe. Think of the Taj Mahal in India, the Grand Canyon in Arizona, or the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. Regardless if it’s natural or man-made, it should be a place that you’ve always wanted to see and experience firsthand.
- Or it can also be activities that interest you which are associated with a particular place. You may like taking stunning photographs while at the Taj Mahal, or enjoy whitewater rafting down the Colorado River, or go on an amazing sunset camel ride along the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx.
When you are deeply engaged with something particularly fascinating to you, your mind switches off your “directed attention,” or the intentional mental energy you often use when focusing on your work. Instead, your mind switches to “indirect attention” — it’s what draws you to certain things; it’s triggered when something elicits your interest. Indirect attention takes less energy than directed attention. That’s why people say, “If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life.” Or take it from Christian Louboutin, French fashion designer: “If you do what you love, it is the best way to relax.”
#2 Personality compatibility — Seek out places that match your personality. You will feel at ease there, and you don’t need to feel anxious the whole time. If you’re an outdoorsy person, you may want to visit a nature park. If you’re into art and architecture, you may choose to visit old towns, UNESCO Heritage Sites, or galleries and museums.
#3 “Awayness” and “mental awayness” — Disconnecting from your daily routine means distancing yourself physically and mentally. They say familiarity breeds contempt; going away can reinvigorate you when you return. Some suggest disconnecting from technology or social media, although that may be stressful for some. When it comes to that, do what’s comfortable for you.
As you can see, relaxing is a deliberate act that requires some thought or plan. But preparing for a restorative vacation should not cause you too much stress — otherwise, oh, the irony! Here are some tips to help you get that relaxing vacation you so deserve.
- Plan ahead of time. It’s best to go on vacation at a time when your work schedule isn’t so hectic. And if you plan way in advance, you can make sure that your trip will be smooth sailing.
- Talk about how excited you are to go on a trip. Be forthright with your colleagues and show how much you’re looking forward to your vacation. It will be an extremely heartless boss or colleague who will pester you with work during your time off.
- Pick the right place. Go to a place that fascinates you as well as resonates with you.
- Pace yourself. You don’t need to cram a gazillion activities into your vacation. A wall-to-wall schedule of activities will just leave you tired and stressed out. Leave some out so you have a reason to return.
- Practice healthy (or healthy-ish) habits. A vacation is not an excuse to let go of yourself. Avoid excesses.
- Choose what works for you, plugged or unplugged. And it need not be a choice between one or the other. You can stay disconnected for most of the day, and just allot a few minutes at the start or end of the day to go online.
Ultimately, the most memorable vacations are the ones you take with like-minded people. Because you share similar interests, they will also be as fascinated and as engaged as you. You share memories and experiences together. That’s the power and pleasure of going on a trip with like-minded travellers.
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