Planning your vacation? This advice is almost as good as sunscreen.

July 4th, 2015 | Posted in , by

I just returned from two weeks in Peru. It’s a beautiful country with a rich diversity of jungles, deserts, beaches, urban life, and Machu Pichu, of course. The journey was insightful on many fronts, but especially because we did most of it, unplugged.

Cellular service was sporadic at best, and in our three days in the Amazon we had no access to the outside world. No email, no social media and no browsing. Being off-the-grid was a major adjustment for me and it helped to reveal my hidden addiction. It didn’t take long to figure out that I craved new hits of mental stimulation delivered to my Gmail inbox. Unbeknownst to me, email had rewired me.

Those 72 hours made me acutely conscious of how email can be a distraction that promotes procrastination and multi-tasking. It steals your attention and keeps your brain in the shallow end. I’m not sure if it’s about endorphins or adrenaline, but there is clearly a biological component that makes it addictive. If you find yourself out of cellular range, seize the opportunity to break the email habit and explore other forms of stimulation – self-reflection, conversation and old fashioned reading. I turned to reading old magazines that people had left behind – the subject matter was nothing like my usual reading – but it was refreshing to meander through pages of information that never cross my radar. Vacations are about serendipity, and serendipity is good for the soul and new cognitive connections.

I did some research and learned that adrenaline actually plays a role in vacations. Seriously. Some research shows that wellness peaks on the 8th day of a vacation. Why? Because we’re addicted to the traces of adrenaline that flow through our bodies while we’re at work. We may not know it, but the first few days of a vacation are like going cold turkey. For that matter, we may even get a little cranky as the ‘magic’ drains from our bloodstream. So, if you find yourself a little agitated at the beginning of your vacation, don’t blame your travelling companion. There’s a good chance you’re experiencing withdrawal symptoms from your life-as -usual.

As Canadians, we really don’t get much vacation time. Many of us don’t even take the time that’s given to us. But this is a mistake. If you ask Google, you’ll find plenty of research that points to the merits of getting and taking more time off. In a study of 13,000 middle-aged men at risk for heart disease, those who skipped vacations for five consecutive years were found to be 30 percent more likely to suffer heart attacks than those who took at least one week off each year. Even missing one year’s vacation was associated with a higher risk of heart disease. Simply stated: workaholics die young. Take full advantage of your vacation – enjoy every minute of it, even if it means dealing with the symptoms of an ‘email fast’.

The next time you’re negotiating a job offer, don’t underestimate the importance of vacation. If you can’t get the salary you want, ask for more time off. It’s a more affordable option for the employer and it’s a tax-free benefit for you. At the very least, the conversation will tell you a great deal about company culture and what you can expect in terms of work-life balance.

Make sure you take all the vacation that is allotted to you. If you don’t, you’re actually giving your employer a discount for your services. Instead, give yourself the gift of quality personal time. Then, when you’re away from the office, stay away. Instead of staying connected, seize your vacation days to recharge, reinvent and revisit where your head and heart are at.