Switching Gears on Vacation

Somewhere on my favorite movie list is Collateral with Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx. Not giving anything away, but Cruise plays a hitman in LA for a night of business who hijacks Foxx’s taxi for transportation. Early in the film, Max (Jamie Foxx’s character) finishes a stressful fare and has to pause to look at the picture below. It’s his mental break which he takes several times each day. When he’s about to freak out, he takes five minutes and puts himself there mentally. His next fare is an attorney for a ride across LA traffic and she’s clearly stressed about an upcoming trial. Max gives her the picture when she gets out because he can tell she needs the relief. Her routine is a really out of balance work:life ratio and she’s teetering at the far end of it.

5 Minute Vacation
Max takes a short vacation whenever he needs one. Why should we wait to go on vacation then spend half that time stressed out?
In Tali Sharot’s TED Talk on optimism, she points out that people prefer Friday to Sunday because they anticipate the weekend. On Sunday, they know they’ve got the work week impending and stress starts to build. It builds to the point that it can detract from the rest of the weekend. Vacation is like that too, but it’s more complicated because it can occur over a longer timeframe.

That’s summed up by this cartoon from www.phdcomics.com. The anticipation builds prior to time off but so does stress. Then there’s a whirlwind of emotions from the time you leave to the time you come back. Note that insane spike right as you get back which kills the afterglow. Also note that the stress level rarely bottoms out. That’s not a good vacation! I can think of so many Y-axes which I want to spike on my time off. Relaxation, new experiences, solitude, great food, activity levels, and creative time are but a few. Stress isn’t on that list.
Stress vs. Time - Vacation
It’s funny and everybody agrees. But it’s WRONG!
I remember one Thanksgiving when I was on the phone all through packing up my family to go drive through the dark to visit family. It wasn’t fun and I spent the whole trip stressed because I couldn’t separate myself from work. I’ve taken conference calls on the way to go camping and biking over long weekends. More recently, I’ve learned to be a lot more like Max. I prefer taking vacations like cruises where I’ve set expectations that I’m going to be completely unplugged. Having that excuse has made me better at extending it to other vacations and my weekends.


When I go on a cruise, I look forward to that first margarita in the sun and that’s my switch. Much like Max and his beach picture, I’ve figured out how to put that switch into my life to toggle my work:life balance the other way. Walking out of my home office and into the kitchen to cook is what ends my day behind the desk. When I make my way through airports, I focus on finding some good music to listen to. Taking time out of your day to cut off the rising stress levels can be extremely healthy. Taking time where you focus on yourself is almost mandatory. Emotional first aid can help us to avoid unhealthy stress on a daily basis. It can also help us have a lot more fun on vacation!


One thought on “Switching Gears on Vacation

  1. good one. never thought you’d understand cruises and having so much done for you, getting away, meeting new people, finding a quiet place. yes a drink too.


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