Taking Back the Great American Summer Vacation

By:  Cheryl Scott, Published in July Issue of Bakersfield Life Magazine


The phrase “summer vacation” conjures up a crazy collection of memories for me, including national parks, long drives, skyscrapers, and lots of adventures.  Just hearing the words fills me — and other summer sojourners — with anticipation.  Work demands are changing, though, and they are cutting into Americans’ plans for time off, threatening to decimate the tradition that has brought so many of us joy.  If we don’t step in to reverse this trend, the entire summer vacation institution may slip away silently into the hot July night. 

As a little girl in the 1970s, family vacation was a regular part of my summer.  Usually it was a week, maybe a little longer, but I could count on summer bringing some kind of family trip. From the back seat of our tiny Datsun sedan, I’d watch mile after mile of the Southwestern landscape pass outside my window.  So many miles were packed into so few days, I sometimes remember them as “drive by” vacations rather than “driving” vacations.  

The recent recession likely triggered the shift in vacation trends.  Workers felt the need to stay visible and productive in order to stay employed.   Experts agree, though, taking time off improves all aspects of our lives, including personal well-being, family relationships, and even work performance.  In fact, vacationing can actually be an important tool for keeping us sharp at work.

Bakersfield Marriage and Family Therapist Rosie Witt recommends making family vacations a priority and she says it’s a good idea to try something new during your time away. 

“When families take time off together, they need to relax and rest, but they should also try new experiences together,” she said.  “Doing something together for the first time helps the family ‘re-bond’ as they create new memories.”   Those adventures don’t have to be expensive or extravagant.  For example, camping, fishing and spending time in the outdoors is a great way to explore new places, all on a budget. 

Vacations aren’t just about families, either.  Everyone should build them into their calendar, Witt said.  Whether your time away is solo, as a couple, or with friends or family, the number-one goal should be to get away from the day-to-day pressures of life and work.  “It’s well known that stress affects everything relating to our health; stress has been linked to minor physical ailments like tooth decay, and even serious conditions like cancer,” Witt warned. 

In the interest of time, many people limit their “vacations” to a long weekend here and there.  Those are great, but Witt cautions they shouldn’t take the place of a five-to-seven day get-away or “staycation.”   It’s best to take a full week, if you can, to be “totally away from work, school, stress and irritations,” she added.  She also says not to be overly ambitious, scheduling activities for every moment.

How can we do all that in today’s world?  Bonding, relaxing and de-stressing sounds great, but seems nearly impossible when we’re surrounded by smart phones, tablets and laptops (all creating a never-ending link to work).  Letting go of our electronic tethers might be the hardest part of really getting away.

Human resources expert Robin Paggi said our problem isn’t just work schedules, it’s hyper-connectivity.  “We are addicted to technology,” she said.  “That, in effect, changes our brain and promotes an addiction to the workplace.”  A vacation isn’t truly a vacation if we just take our work with us and toil away in a different locale.  “Leave the work behind!” she said.

Susan Hopkins is director of university events at CSUB.  She’s a busy working mom with two active boys and a husband.  She also has a degree in Recreation Management, so Hopkins has known for many years the importance of a work-life balance.  For her, it’s important to have different kinds of vacations, including family trips, time away with her husband Rob, plus running trips with girlfriends. 

“Different types of trips allow me, and the people I care about, to step out of our day-to-day lives and reconnect,” she said.  Since their boys are still young, Hopkins said they try to keep family trips to three to five days.

Taking a little vacation here and there gives Hopkins something to look forward to throughout the year, she said.  She just might be onto something since, according to Witt, “The more vacations you take, the happier you are.”

Well, who can argue with that?  For all our sakes, the time seems right for bringing back the summer vacation.  I know I’m committed to doing my part…who’s with me?


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