What Is a 'Real' Vacation?

This would seem to be an easy question, but I think many of us would define "vacation" differently. For some it's simply days off - not being at work. For others a true vacation means getting away - traveling - to someplace different than home. I've encountered many folks who regularly do not take any vacation. Workers accrue unused vacation days, their firms do not let them roll them over to the next year, and they just let them expire. I asked in a meeting at my office last week how many have taken a two-week vacation, and no one replied affirmatively. They did say that two-week vacations are only when they go out of the country to places like Europe or Asia, and that those are not frequent.

Yet those same folks recalled that they always took at least two weeks' vacation with their families growing up, typically in August. My family always packed up the station wagon and drove to Ocean City, Md., for three weeks. The firm my father worked for closed down all its factories for annual maintenance, so everyone left on holiday. And, since this was before the Internet, parents did not work on vacation. Even when we went to Europe for the first time, we still went to Ocean City for a week, as that was our "real" vacation.

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AARP Summer Fun One Page Fact Sheet

Vacation for me these days is being at home and reading a novel in one week instead of over several months.

I recharge best working in my garden and doing day trips to New York City to visit museums or take in a Broadway show with friends. Since I work in D.C. but live in Connecticut, I feel like I am traveling all the time, and home is relaxing and nurturing. So for July 4 I was in Connecticut with my friends at a pool party and totally unplugged. My college-age niece was on Cape Cod with her boyfriend's family and 30 of their close friends, but I doubt she was more than a foot from her iPhone. I think I got the better deal.

Whether you take weekend, a week or a month off, try to do something out of your normal routine and promise yourself to leave the BlackBerry or iPhone in the drawer (well, okay, maybe check emails every three days for a hour).

AARP recently asked Americans what summer activities they are planning. Not surprisingly, the top activities are visiting family or friends (79 percent), going to or hosting a barbecue (71 percent), entertaining at home (62 percent) and going swimming or to a pool (56 percent). Forty-seven percent are planning a vacation and 49 percent are not. Some of this may be due to financial constraints, but some is no doubt due to the culture of work that may make people feel guilty for taking time off. I say: "Take a vacation!" They are fun, relaxing and necessary for recharging to maximize job performance.

Importantly, you deserve it.

Becky is AARP's senior vice president of research and strategic analysis, and is focused on fostering understanding of the interests and concerns of people age 50-plus and their families. Before coming to AARP, Becky served as the vice president of global market research and guest satisfaction for Starwood Hotels & Resorts. In her spare time, she likes visiting her niece in Ohio, gardening and collecting American art and antiques.

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