My wife and I just came back from our first real vacation ever. This year, instead of using vacation time to travel and visit family, for our five year anniversary we decided to fulfill a long-desired wish and visit the greater London area for two weeks of a well-deserved break.
Before we left, we agreed to a digital detox (meaning a full disconnect form all forms of digital communication: text, phone, emails and of course, social media) for those two weeks. Full disclosure, I was more consistent with this in our second week, but I’m convinced that this one decision had a profound impact on me and will be a part of all future vacations. You should seriously consider doing this too, and here are five reasons why:
1. You’re a workaholic.
You may not think you are, but you are. Americans have a global reputation of not taking vacations. When we were on one of our day trips, we told our tour guide we were American and she said, “That’s incredible that you’re taking a holiday because Americans never take a vacation!” It wasn’t a joke; she was serious and she’s right.
In 2014, a study commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association found that the amount of unused vacation time by Americans hit a 40-year high. U.S. workers were using only 77% of their paid time off, totaling 169 million days forfeited, and $52.4 billion in lost paid time off or PTO. That’s time that your company literally pays to take a vacation that gets unused.
You need a vacation. No, an extended weekend doesn’t count. Accepting a speaking invite to Hawaii doesn’t count either. You need a time when you travel and break away from your daily routine and familiarity. Do you think that Jesus never took time off?
I’m going to discuss this point a little more because there is a real effect that accumulated stress has on the body. Case-in-point: in the days leading up to our trip, I had terrible pain in my arm that became progressively worse. It was a burning and tingling sensation that ran from my shoulder to my fingers on my left arm every night. It got so bad that I couldn’t even sleep through the night. I thought it was some sort of nerve issue due to blood work I had drawn prior to leaving.
In the UK, I spoke with a friend who checked it out and said, “This isn’t a nerve issue. Have you been under some stress lately?” I immediately knew she was right. She sat me down and used what can only be described as some sort of secret Colombian jujitsu massage and saved my trip by working out some knots and making me do some daily stretching exercises (If you read this, thanks Eli)!
For some people, stress manifests itself as sloppy work; others get frustrated or angry. Stress affects me physically. A vacation (with a massage included) can certainly help ease that away.
The fact that we in the United States place such a high value on people who don’t take vacations and call them “committed” or “hard working” doesn’t help. All it does is create an unhealthy dependence on the individual and makes the culture buy into a false idea that overworking is a virtue. That’s a ridiculous cultural standard that we’ve made into an idol. The rest of the world looks at us and wonders what is wrong with us. We as Adventists should be the first ones preaching and modeling the message to “get out and rest!”
2. You will realize that you are not the center of the universe.
Being on social media a lot has an effect on you. Being constantly aware of what’s going on makes us junkies for updates (and just as hard to break free, even for a few days). A digital detox away from the constant updates of social media and away from your job will help you realize that not everything is about you. You don’t have to pick up every call, you don’t have to return that email or Facebook comment, you don’t have to approve that decision. You’re on vacation, and you’ll find that it can wait and life will go on.
This really isn’t just helpful for you; this will also help others. The sign of good leaders is their ability to raise up other good leaders. You can’t raise up other leaders if people are always looking to you for answers and you are always there and available even when your company is paying you to not be. When you disconnect, you leave success in God’s hands. You’ll find that He has a way of raising others and can use anyone so that you can take time off. If you’ve caught up with work and left a list of emergency contacts in place, trust Him enough to take care of your affairs while you’re gone.
3. Traveling gives you a better perspective of the rest of the world.
It’s so easy to get caught up the everyday issues that we face day in and day out that you don’t realize that you are just a drop in a vast world out there. There is more to life than the endless debates on social media. There is more beauty to life than what you see in a regular workweek. There are new ideas and new sights out there to be seen if you will only look for them.
When you visit churches that are over a thousand years old, when you visit Roman baths that are two thousand years old, when you visit Stonehenge that is about four thousand years old, you get a sense that you are part of a larger flow of world history. When you read and see the news that concerns other parts of the world, you will find that the problems that concern you are nowhere near other people’s radar.
London in particular was a melting pot of cultures. I loved being in the Underground rail system, a.k.a. “the Tube,” and listening to the vast amount of languages I’d hear. That only happens when you stop using Google maps street view as a cheap knock off to travelling. These are all details that you notice this when you are not staring at a computer or a phone screen all the time, leaving you to be aware of your surroundings and what’s around you.
4. You will find that people appreciate a personal visit more than a Facebook message.
We had a great time visiting friends who we hadn’t seen in years and I think they’ll agree that an in-person visit is way better than anything else. Especially if you’re visiting somewhere that you can’t usually go to, it’s great to spend time engaging with people face to face. It will mean a lot to both of you.
There’s a flip side to this though. If you’re on vacation, be careful that you don’t spend all of your time visiting other people. In some cases, people don’t really get to enjoy vacation because they spend so much time visiting other people out of obligation. They think, “If I don’t visit so-and-so, they will get upset because they knew I was here and didn’t visit them.”
As I mentioned at the beginning, in past years Sarah and I spent our vacations visiting family in Boston and Miami, one week each. While it’s always great to see our family, all of the travel was leaving us more worn out than rested. So we decided to focus this year’s vacation on each other. It wasn’t restful like a beach vacation since we did a LOT of walking and sightseeing, but it was a special time for us to spend together, with and for each other.
Remember, this is your vacation. Don’t let guilt dictate your plans. You can’t visit everybody and guess what? That’s okay too. Make an agenda, set your plans, and visit who you can.
5. You will be more productive.
This may seem counter-intuitive but it’s true. A digital detox and a vacation will help you return well-rested and more productive, if you’re intentional. By allowing yourself some time to breathe, be lazy, and be still, your body is resting and preparing itself to work more efficiently when you return.
One study done by EY auditing service (formerly Ernst & Young) found that employees who use more vacation days end up with better performance reviews. Other research has linked vacation time to increased worker productivity. Here are some statistics to consider:
On-the-job stress is the top reason for employee dissatisfaction in the American workforce; 35% report that “the source of this stress is their job interfering with their family or personal time” according to a recent Gallop survey.
A CCH Human Resources Management study demonstrated that more than 50% of employees feel more “rested, rejuvenated and reconnected to their personal life” and that nearly 40% of workers “feel more productive and better about their job” when returning from vacation.
The same study reported that nearly 20% of workers have canceled or postponed a vacation because of their job.
So what are you waiting for? Decide on your next vacation, block out those dates with your employer, and disconnect from all forms of media. You will return well-rested, ready to face the challenges ahead, and count days till your next digital detox!