Updated: Jul 12, 2022
To celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, my husband and I recently took a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Italy with eleven members of our family. After spending a few days in Florence, we rented a house on the outskirts of Lucca for two weeks. We saw great art: Michelangelo, Botticelli, DaVinci, and Caravaggio. We meandered through medieval streets, tasted wines and olive oils, and learned to make pasta from scratch. We took the obligatory picture pretending to hold up the leaning tower of Pisa, went to church, stuck our toes in the Ligurian Sea, and attended concerts. But the activities and attractions were not the highpoint of this trip.
It was the way we all unpluged from the world - all at the same time - for a substantial period of time. For most of us, it was 2 ½ weeks of being together, far away from work, news, and daily routines. It took a great deal of pre-planning and rearranging of individual lives for that many people to commit to that kind of time away. Without the allure of Italy, I doubt that everyone would have made it.
Italy is spectacular. But looking back, the things many of us remember best are the smaller moments that you only notice when you have some breathing space. Our married children and their spouses took off and spent a night away together. Our granddaughter remembers the time she had gelato in a cone instead of to a cup.
Her brother remembers playing in the pool with his uncle who sprayed him with a garden hose, and the time we ate pizza under a tree in the backyard and played in the rain. It even turns out that the Michelangelo’s, Botticelli’s, Da Vinci’s and Caravaggio’s are more inspirational when shared with people who are at leisure.
It used to be common practice for Americans to take two-week vacations together, but over recent decades a stigma has developed in this country. Many equate taking time off with having a poor work ethic. The US travel association found that 28% of people didn't take vacation days in 2014 purely to demonstrate dedication to their job and not be seen as a “slacker.”
We Americans often smirk at Europeans who rest mid-day and get away every August, which causes some of their industry to slow down. We “have our work cut out of us.” We need to “stay ahead of the curve” by taking the “bull by the horns” and “getting down to brass tacks.” When we are “up to speed,” we have a lot of “irons in the fire.” When the “ball is in our court,” we have to “burn the midnight oil,” and “stay on our toes” in order to be “in it for the long haul.” And, even when we “have a lot on our plate,” we must “cut to the chase,” and “raise the bar” in order to keep our “foot in the door.” When we tire, we need to “suck it up” and “get the ball rolling.” “Slacking off” is not an option.
Let’s make vacations great again, America! We’ve all lived too long where we can be reached. Let’s rally around everyone’s basic human need to unplug.
When people are on vacation, let’s leave them to it - be they on the other side of town or the other side of the world. Let’s watch out for each other’s mail and pick up the throw aways at our neighbor’s door.
Perhaps then, when more of us have experienced unpressured free time, when we are rested and clearer-headed, we may discover alternative approaches to some of the other woes of the world.