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How to TRULY Go on Vacation, Webster-style

Image via Stanislav Komogorov/

Another Reason to Work on Vacation: Tax Deduction

I heard the other day on the radio that if you work while on vacation you may be able to deduct a portion of your vacation expenses when you file your taxes. Makes sense…sort of. Mostly it made me think about what vacation really means. Webster’s defines vacation as:

  • a respite or a time of respite from something : intermission
  • a scheduled period during which activity (as of a court or school) is suspended
  • a period of exemption from work granted to an employee
  • a period spent away from home or business in travel or recreation

Clearly, as defined by Webster, vacation has to do with time away. Perhaps we really aren’t technically going on vacation anymore. What we are doing is going to vacation places and continuing to work. Does this mean our whole selves (work and life) are becoming more integrated and thus leading to lives over which we ultimately have more control? Or, are we creating lives where there are no longer boundaries that used to define our work and home life?

You Working on Vacation is Selfish

We saw dear friends last week that had been on “vacation.” The husband had to leave for a one-day business trip in the middle of their so-called vacation. My friend (the wife) was clearly irritated about this and said something to the effect of “I’m sick of this happening all the time.” I realized that for those who are doing the work on vacation they may think it’s helping them stay on top of things, have a more integrated life, etc. However - and yes I mean this as a “but sandwich” - for those not working while on vacation they are really being robbed of the joy of what used to be cherished time away from work (or some other regular activity) during which families are totally focused on being together or people are free of distractions to focus on non-work things that matter to them.

If you are in the company of someone “on vacation” who continues to jump on conference calls, check emails, quickly review documents or talk about work, it is no fun. I used to be the person in my relationship who most often violated the rules of what it means to be on vacation. My husband would point out that even when I wasn’t on one of those calls or checking emails, my mind was still engaged in work. I couldn’t fake my presence. While I may have been physically present I wasn’t present in any other sense of the word. My husband said he knew when my eyes moved rapidly I was thinking about work. I realized I didn’t want to be in the company of that “me” pretending to be on vacation. Now when I go on vacation, I go on vacation, Webster-style.

The No-Kidding Test for Whether You are REALLY Going on Vacation

The best test for whether you are really going on vacation is to see what your “out of office” message says (yes, I know some of you are saying that “out of office” messages are passé). My “out of office” message says: “I’ll be out of the office from x day to x day during which time I will not be checking email or voicemail. If you need assistance before I return, please contact so and so.” Guess what? The world has not come to an end because I went on a real vacation. What happens is other people step in and take care of things. It’s really not that complicated. Make yourself available and people will take you up on your offer to be available – vacation or not.

Thriving When Our Minds are Away From “It” All

The good news is there’s new evidence that our minds thrive while away from it all. Research conducted at the University of Kansas concludes that people from all walks of life show startling cognitive improvement — for instance, a 50 percent boost in creativity — after living for a few days steeped in nature.

Why not take a real vacation? Business will go on (yes, even without you), things will be OK. It’s easy. Simply put away your electronic wireless device du jour. Look up and watch for shooting stars, look out and glimpse the setting sun, remove whatever hands free device is in your ear and listen to the peepers and coyotes. Go be utterly and totally with the ones who love you.

With Thanksgiving in the rearview and Christmas and other winter holidays ahead, how will you make sure you’re truly on vacation?

(Image via Stanislav Komogorov/

Sarah Agan is a regular contributor to Excellence in Government. She has spent the past 17 years working with clients across the federal government with a focus on helping individuals and organizations thrive.

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