The Mindful Vacation
Whether you're travelling halfway around the world, heading south for a few weeks (I am writing in western Canada, where the winter can be long and dark), or sticking closer to home, it can be difficult to make good choices - high calorie foods, sweet treats, fancy drinks (with or without alcohol), all you can eat buffets, staying up late and too many hours horizontal on the lounge chair - these are often all too tempting. And for many, these are the exact reasons they take the trip in the first place. They go away to escape. To eat, drink and do whatever they feel like doing (or not doing) in the moment.
While this kind of indulgence may seem to be exactly what we need to recharge our batteries, does it really work? Or is it more of a temporary distraction from our reality, the benefits of which are long gone before we even unpack our luggage? Perhaps in the days before smartphones and email, at least when one was out of town, there was the ability to leave your job behind (as well as anyone else who might want to make a withdrawal from your energy bank). But these days, we are rarely truly out of touch - our jobs and families can reach us no matter where we are or what we are doing - so that mental break is no longer as easy to achieve as it may have been in the past.
If you want to return from a vacation with renewed energy, clarity of purpose and the focus to take the next steps towards the life you want, then is eating too much, drinking alcohol daily, staying up too late and lying around for 2 weeks going to serve that goal? Might you feel better upon your return if you drank moderately, ate reasonably, got some physical activity daily and slept a solid 8 hours every night?
I encourage you to think about the purpose of your vacation. If you have a physically demanding job, your body may need some rest. This rest should include nutritious food (try local, fresh food such as fruits, vegetables and fish), plenty of water (especially if you're vacationing in a hot climate), some gentle daily activity (like a walk on the beach or an easy hike), and plenty of sleep (no excuse on this one, since there's no job to be at in the morning).
Or maybe you have a desk job, and you need to get away from the mental stress of it. In that case, take the opportunity to get more activity than you might normally get (a lot of sitting can be really bad for your back) - get up for some yoga, try kayaking, walk the beach or use the gym at the resort. But make sure you take a real break - before you leave, tell your boss that you will be out of reach. And then stay off your phone! What is the point of taking a vacation if you are not really "gone"? I used to say to myself "if this company can't survive for 2 weeks without me, I am severely underpaid" - right?! I also found that my team appreciated the opportunity to handle things on their own in my absence. It gave them a chance for professional growth.
There are so many benefits to a vacation beyond the non-stop drinks and buffet table. Make sure you take advantage of them: learning about other cultures and unique geography, trying different cuisine, meeting travellers from other parts of the world, taking a break from the constant electronic connection of your at home life (UNPLUG), getting a ton of fresh air and sunlight during the day (vs. spending the day in your office/warehouse/laboratory/etc.), and reconnecting with yourself (meditating, journalling, dreaming about your next adventure). If you find you need a vacation to escape certain aspects of your life, then while you are away, think about what you are escaping from and how you might be able to make some changes when you return, rather than just hopping right back on that hamster wheel. I know that personally, I have made some of the best decisions of my life while away on a trip. My mind was quiet, and my priorities became clearer in those relaxed moments.
When I first sat down to write this article, it was going to be tips and advice of what to eat or not eat, how to make healthier choices at restaurants, etc. But once I got typing, it took a bit of a turn. I realized that we usually make unhealthy choices when we are stressed, anxious, tired or burned out. So if you address those issues, then the food and drink choices that are best for us become a lot easier to make, both during the vacation as well as back home. I hope that you get a break this winter, and however long it is, or wherever you may go, you use the time to recharge those batteries of yours in mindful and positive ways. You are worth it!