by KEN GONYER
This time of year makes me jealous of school-aged children. For kids, it’s the end of a long season of bus rides, classrooms and homework. It’s also the beginning of what feels like an endless expanse of time to sleep in, to get outdoors and to have fun with friends. I’m not as envious of the length of their time off as I am of the rhythm of their life—the fact that after they’ve made it through a school year, they now get to take a break for the summer.
For Karen and me, like many adults, the demands of life at work and home can seem to go on and on without pause. There isn’t a rhythm of renewal. We sleep each night and have time off every weekend, but it isn’t quite enough. Thanks in part to technology, we stay connected to the to-do lists, the work and the worries. Those short nightly or weekly reprieves don’t feel nearly as exciting and life-changing as summer vacation felt when I was a kid. When that big, yellow bus lurched to a stop in front of our house on the last trip home of the school year, I leapt out with glee and didn’t give school another thought for months.
As a couple, we’re realizing the need to set a higher priority on routinely disconnecting and taking breaks. Not doing so can wreak havoc on our relationships, our finances and even our health. When we try to press on through weeks or months of fatigue and work-related frustration, we eventually do things we’d resolved not to do. Instead of cooking meals from the menu we’d planned, we hurriedly pick up less healthy, more expensive take-out food. Instead of reflecting together on our day and going to sleep at a reasonable hour, we work until our brains are fried and wind-down by staring at our respective screens and surfing social media or watching worthless programs. Before long, we both realize it—we need a vacation!
There isn’t a rhythm of renewal. We sleep each night and have time off every weekend, but it isn’t quite enough.
As financial coaches, we encourage people to make wise money choices. When it comes to vacations, however, we don’t believe the least expensive option is always the best or wisest. For example, neither of us can get excited about a “stay-cation” in which we’d stay at home for a week and do some day trips for fun. This could save us a lot of money, but it wouldn’t be worth the savings. To us, vacation implies vacating the premises; as in leaving and going somewhere else for a while. If we stay at home, we simply can’t disconnect from unfinished projects and other items on our mental to-do list. Even if we do nothing about them, they hang on our minds and drag us down. For the most restful break, we need to go somewhere else—and of course, that costs money. We’ll need to pay for transportation, lodging, food and entertainment, but it will all be worth it because of the mental and emotional renewal we’ll experience.
According to a report from American Express in 2013, the average vacation expense per person in the United States is $1,145, or $4,580 for a family of four. Figures were from the article “Summer travel soars; Americans spend more” 2013). Does vacation have to be this expensive? We don’t think so. One of my favorite childhood memories is a summer road trip to visit relatives in New England. We roamed the roads for two weeks, stopping overnight to stay with uncles, aunts, cousins and old friends. Lodging was free. We slept on floors when needed—one night we even slept in a hayloft in my uncle’s goat barn! Entertainment cost very little. We met cousins for picnics, fished with uncles, paddled canoes and went sailing on the lakes where our uncles had modest “camps.” Food was shared generously at pot-luck meals. We shared messy and delicious lobster dinners, feasted on buttered corn-on-the cob and licked clean our bowls of strawberry shortcake. For our family, this vagabond life was a welcome break—an experience of true refreshment and renewal.
I’ve heard that, on average, Americans only use half of the vacation time for which they’re eligible each year. While I can understand the economic circumstances that might motivate that self-denial, I think taking an occasional break is critical to long-term health in all areas: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. As hard as we work to meet our needs, there will always be more work to do. We need rest, and according to Watchman Nee, “Our rest lies in looking to the Lord, not to ourselves.” Resting is an opportunity to trust God and appreciate all the blessings of life. This summer, whether you can take a vacation away from home or not, I hope you’ll take time—a day or two at least—to slow down, read, pray and enjoy family and friends. Take walks. Take naps. Notice the beauty around you. Breathe deeply. Smile. Take a break!
Ken Gonyer is Director of Member Care at Park View Federal Credit Union (www.pvfcu.org) in Harrisonburg, Va. KAREN GONYER is a real estate agent with KlineMay Realty in Harrisonburg, Va. Email questions to .