For kids, summer vacation is a magical time. Its languid, lazy unstructured days leave plenty of time for fantasy and space to grow. But what about summer vacation for adults?
Staggering figures from a Qualtrics survey show that, of employees who get paid vacation time, “only 27% of employees used all their paid vacation time in 2021.” Additionally, 26% had at least a week of unused vacation time left by the end of the year.
Many of us spend at least some of those sunny summer months confined to a workspace. We think back nostalgically to those two-month breaks we used to get, but deny ourselves any real respite for fear of falling behind on responsibilities. According to the Qualtrics survey, 24% of employees often work at least three hours a day during their vacations and 49% work for at least an hour a day. Not only that, but “31% say they are expected to answer phone calls or texts, 27% are expected to respond to emails or messages and 20% are expected to be online.”
It’s almost as if, in the mayhem of modern life, we’ve forgotten that there’s a reason for summer break. And that the reason does not just apply to the younger set. Hence Europeans’ summer vacations: According to the “Monitoring Sentiment for Domestic and Intra-European Travel” project, “59% of respondents will take more than one trip [in the months between April and September of 2023], with 35% planning to travel twice and another 24% heading for three or more getaways. In comparison, 31% will take only one trip over the same period.”
Benefits of a summer vacation for adults
The economic factors of summer vacations aside, I’ve seen over the course of several extended stays in France the benefits of quality time away from the grind of our usual routines. That enviable French art de vivre (art of living) is nourished in part by the chance adults there have to take time to drink in the little things and ponder bigger questions about their lives and dreams. It’s nourished, too, by the underlying assumption that doing so is not only OK, but absolutely vital and imperative to adults’ well-being. A new setting brings a wonderful new range of sensory experiences, from scenery and sound to flavors, different light in the sky and, in some cases, the enchanting music of another language.
That’s why I’ve always tried my hardest to carve out the time for a real summer getaway, whether that’s with my family, friends or even solo.
We all need a break from routine and work. Not just for our bodies to take a rest, but so that we can check in with our overall direction in life to make sure we are not lost or that we have not lost ourselves. What Wordsworth wrote in his poem, The World Is Too Much With Us, still applies:
“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers…”
A common metaphor is that taking a summer vacation for adults is like pressing the “refresh button.” I prefer a more rustic metaphor. For a field to be most productive and fertile, farmers rotate crops to avoid continually draining the soil of the same nutrients. Just as the fields become over-cultivated, so do we. By giving ourselves time and avoiding draining ourselves, we can remember who we are and what we want to do and be in life. Then we can reflect on if we’re being it and doing it.
Such was the case with the little vacation I took in the Swiss Alps. I began to see myself in a new light and experienced profound personal growth. My second novel, The Runaway Wife—set in these Swiss Alps—was inspired by that trip, as was a whole new chapter of my life.
Making time for time off
Far more important than the exact destination is the journey: the process of packing the bags—a liberation in and of itself—locking the doors behind you and heading beyond the parameters of your usual world. But in this work-obsessed, constantly connected culture riddled with insecurities about professional and financial stability, how can we find the space to make adult summer vacations a reality?
- Give yourself permission to let go of the day-to-day for a set period of time. Remember: The world will not stop turning if you are off the grid.
- Plan ahead. The further in advance you commit to your vacation and get it on the calendar, the easier it will be to make arrangements for your absence from work and home. It’ll also be easier to accept—and to embrace—the blocked-out stretch of days as yours.
- Don’t forget that whether you travel near or far, and whatever your budget may be, it’s the act of getting away and disconnecting from work that’s beneficial.
- If you absolutely must stay at home, as Emily Dickinson wrote, “There is no Frigate like a Book / To take us Lands away.”
This article was updated June 2023. Photo by PeopleImages.com – Yuri A/Shutterstock
Elizabeth Birkelund is author of the novels The Dressmaker and The Runaway Wife. Formerly the “Money Talk” columnist at Cosmopolitan, Elizabeth worked as a freelance magazine journalist, writing at such outlets as Self, Glamour and Working Woman, among others. She currently serves as a trustee on the boards of the National Humanities Center and the Center for Fiction in New York. Elizabeth is a graduate of Brown University. She has four adult sons and lives in New York City, where she is busy working on her next novel, an espionage romance.