Vacations: The good news and the bad news

With holidays in full swing I was struck by this eWeek headline: The Vanishing Veg-out Vacation. Seems that less and less employees are taking time off and, when time off is taken, less and less relaxing is being done.

Is this bad? Well, all of us have probably encountered employees whose attitude could use some improvement, and a vacation--a proper vacation--might bring about that improvement. And burn out is definitely a risk if you don't take time to clear your head. Furthermore, I have bemoaned America's stingy approach to vacation days ever since I emigrated here over 30 years ago. I think of my sister-in-law and her seven weeks of annual vacation working for Surrey County. Or my cousin who works for the BBC and has just completed a year's career break (unpaid time off to clear your head and grow your self, with full benefits and position reinstated upon your return).

But there may be good news hidden here. Many office jobs are transitioning to a more fluid, organic structure. Less emphasis on time in the office, more emphasis on results, regardless of where you put in your time, at home or at Starbucks. If picking up groceries is something you can do when you feel like it and not something to be jammed into lunch hour or rush hour, then maybe you will feel less need to leave the job behind for weeks at a time. Jobs are becoming more a way of life for some people, whether in a startup where you live the job because you have to, or in an enlightened enterprise where you live the job because you enjoy it. If you do enjoy your job then setting it aside to spend time on a beach might not be a good idea, unless you are feeling burned out (which, just FYI, can happen at jobs you enjoy as well as at jobs you don't).

And here is another thing about vacations: They cost money, particularly the ones you spend somewhere outside your own back yard. Sounds like a statement of the obvious, and it is, but it's an obvious fact that is often overlooked in financial planning. Money spent on traveling leaves little residual evidence except in your heart and soul and your memories. There have been several times in my life when I have found myself asking "Where did all my money go?" And I have always been surprised by how much of the answer is made up of travel, air fares, hotels, restaurants, stuff that leaves few tangible assets behind as evidence (aside from the souvenirs and snapshots you bring home).

I'm not saying don't travel. I think it is a wonderful thing to do and I have reaped huge inner rewards from my journeying. But bear in mind it narrows the gap between outflow and inflow, the gap that is the wealth you create.

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