I listened recently as people shared their views on the importance of time off and family time: one felt a week of travel, every two months, was the barest essential for sanity; another saw no point in traveling, preferring to rest quietly at home.  Others had varying beliefs between these two extremes. It set me thinking about vacations, family time, and why it matters…

Amongst Colombian delights we must acknowledge “puentes” throughout the year, and the cultural value of family time.  With most children on school break this time of year, many seek diversions. For some, this means family holidays and vacations. Today, “vacation” (from the Latin word “vacare”, meaning to be free, at leisure) and “holiday” (from “Holy Day” originally referring to special religious days, but now denoting a day of rest) are used interchangeably when referring to both time off or taking a trip.  In recent years, we’ve added “staycation”-staying home during time off, and “daycation” – a day-trip.  Originally, the concept of vacation “touring” was the purview and rite of passage of wealthy young men for the sake of curiosity and learning. With the advent of rail and steamboat travel, it became more accessible.  Over the centuries, family holidays became increasingly popular as options, modes, and relative ease of travel evolved.

Holidays mean different things to different people, so views are understandably varied. Some believe family vacations require something extravagant; some have limited resources; others cite conflicting hectic schedules. Some prefer not to travel. But it’s not necessary to travel to exotic places for relaxation. Whether you stay home and simply implement changes in the day-to-day routine, take day trips or local outings, or engage in extended travel doesn’t matter: what matters is to have a change from the daily responsibilities that leave you feeling drained and run down; a time to recharge, reconnect and refocus.

For most people, “family time” includes those to whom we are related or have close friendships. If you’ve ever traveled with another person, you know people have conflicting ideas of how to spend time, so it’s important, in the planning stages, to discuss expectations before traveling together. Find a workable compromise that allows everyone opportunity for rejuvenation -which may be something different for everyone.  Bickering with others is not a relaxing way to spend your time, no matter where you are.

Both children and adults often lead highly scheduled lives these days, and of course, kids should enjoy time off also. Including children in age appropriate decision-making and tasks helps them learn that the family functions best when everyone works together. While people sometimes plan solely around the needs of the children, vacations give families the opportunity to teach children about consideration for others, by rotating activities such that adults have enjoyable time and activities as well. Relaxed adults can better enjoy and connect with their children. Remain flexible. You don’t have to accomplish everything, and everyone doesn’t have to do everything together.  Split into groups as needed, then have dinner together and share about your day. Don’t create logistical nightmares; arrange your activities so that you don’t need a vacation from your vacation.

Travel is not just about the destination; memories are also made along the journey. Think back to your childhood, and the positive memories you still cherish decades later.  Some of the happiest memories result from simple activities. Don’t expect trips to be problem-free; challenging events of family outings often become hilarious, significant, precious memories and repeated family stories, bonding generations.

A vacation, ideally, does not include work.  In today’s world of instant technological expectations, it’s good to disconnect electronically.  But don’t feel guilty if you need to check in at times to prevent email overload or work surprises upon your return, or to check in with family while away.  Just set aside specific periods of time to do so, such that you can still refocus and reconnect with yourself and others.

It seems counter to the very definition of “vacation”, yet some people view holidays as a competition, a symbol of success, as if money spent determines the enjoyment quotient. The true value of any time depends on enjoying the moment, in gratitude, and the quality of interactions with others.  Even a stroll and enjoying the weather -whatever it may be- can give a sense of renewal.  Travel can be filled with anxiety and distress, so don’t minimize the benefits and joys of a “staycation” or “daycation”… those traveling half-way around the world may even envy you!

Magical -and disastrous- things can happen with people. Isolated by distance, busy schedules, or neglect, relationships become strained, diminishing interest in or likelihood of seeking time together. With mutual effort, relationships can benefit from vacations together to work out squabbles and get reacquainted.  Understanding and remaining connected to friends, and even parents and siblings, is a lifelong process.  Family visits and trips can help facilitate this when all parties are willing to strengthen bonds.  Does the thought of this make you feel fear or warm fuzzies?

Stress takes a toll and chronic stress affects our health adversely, so everyone can use a break from routines, to recalibrate our perspective, stave off burnout, contribute to increased communication and bonding with our partners and family, and for rejuvenation and a greater sense of well-being.