How to Get the Most Out of Your Vacation Time

Use these 4 ways to maximize your vacation time.
40 degrees: check.
Dew-covered grass: check.
Rays of sunlight filtering their way through the bud-laden trees: check.
Sure enough, it’s camping weather!

Gosh, spring is a tease. I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it challenging not to think (and overthink) about possible summer adventures. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I enjoy my job quite a bit, but I still find myself longing for that reset button that comes with time away, new landscapes, and the freedom to explore.

Too often, though, I’ve returned feeling just as drained as when I left — likely the result of hopping from place-to-place and experience-to-experience in an attempt to maximize my time away. For me, that’s not a vacation: it’s work. Sure, it takes me out of the ordinary, but that first day back is groggy as ever.

I finally figured out a few ways to help make the most of vacation time, without coming home feeling like I need another week off. Whether grounded in town or off to new places, here are four things that help me return from time away feeling truly refreshed:

  1. Replace “wanderlust” with wonder.
  2. Wanderlust: you know, that definite draw to find oneself lost in a new landscape, temporarily leaving behind the known of everyday life in favor of fresh cityscapes, untraveled terrain, and faces seen for the first time. That’s dandy, but we were created for something deeper: we were created for wonder.

    And not just the kind of wonder that wakes up at 5 a.m. to catch a sunrise (guilty!) or drives two hours out of the way to witness the ocean lapping away at the gulf shoreline (also guilty!), although both of those are good things. We are created for a wonder that loses itself in the ordinary. Little kids do this every time they crouch down to examine a tiny ant crawling across the sidewalk.

    One thing we do know about life is that it is a mystery, and that mystery is just as present in daily life as it is in extraordinary experiences. When we are away, taking time to wonder at the extraordinary can be a launching pad for wondering at the “ordinary” mysteries of our daily lives.

  3. Connect with God, especially through His creation.
  4. One of the best ways I connect with God is through nature. The magnolia tree beginning to bloom beside my house, the Lake Superior breeze brushing my face, even the smell of sulfur beside a bubbling mud pit in Yellowstone: all of these are an arrow pointing to their maker.

    This connection with God doesn’t have to be through nature. In Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Thomas Merton describes his experience of standing on a street corner in Louisville:

    “At the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness.”

    Feeling connected to God isn’t an experience reserved for church alone.

  5. Use this time to replace boredom with leisure.
  6. It’s easy to assign value to things that take effort, things that we work for. The answer to “What did you do this weekend?” sounds far more robust when one responds something like, “I caught up on yard work and went out with friends.”

    It can become easy to center our lives in which everything is for something else: working to achieve some utilitarian end, possibly even as a form of self-escape or to justify our own existence.

    Even when engaging in leisurely activities, we live in a culture that, through social media, likes to put experiences on display to be quantified by “reactions.” We say, “I am valuable because of what I do” rather than “I am valuable because of who I am.”

    When we take time away for leisure, we pave the way for a lifestyle that delights in the ordinary and, over time, transforms “work” into joy. The world is a gift to be accepted and enjoyed, not a checklist to be completed.

  7. Allow God to teach you something about yourself.
  8. Journal. Pray in the car. Try new things. Enter into yourself so that you can look out again.

    For me, travel is a time to challenge anxiety: “I can scale the side of this waterfall!” (Even if that means looking at the view and then scaling back down asap.) It is a time to accept my limits: “Angels Landing? Nope!” I overcome my shyness by talking with strangers in the campground. I faced my fear of flying by hopping aboard a flight to India.

    And, besides learning about myself through these experiences, vacations often leave me with time for quiet, prayerful self-reflection and conversations with God, be it while traveling, while walking down a city street, or while sitting on a rocking chair on the front porch of a closed house-turned-museum, spending hours gazing at out at a lagoon.

In short, when you take your vacation, go out so that you come back. And that you return not grumbling at that first day back at the “daily grind”: return ready to transform that “daily grind” into a daily gift.

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