When the days start to get longer, and we turn towards the second half of the year, thoughts can wander to the prospect of taking time off. Whether it’s a quick trip to a seaside town, or a round-the-world adventure to a far-flung destination, a holiday away from the workplace is always a good idea.
If you’re yet to book a break this year, have you considered whether you want excitement or calm? And if you have booked already, is the entire thing planned out? Or are you keeping it casual?
Some people prefer to have their entire itinerary planned out down to the minute. From the moment the plane lands they’re hitting each item with pinpoint accuracy. Two hours in the art museum - no less, no more! Others prefer to take it easy, just turning up with a vague idea of what to do, going wherever their impulses take them.
The notion of a holiday trip means different things to different people. Is there a definitive best way to do them?
To chill or to fill the days?
According to a study comparing holiday preferences throughout 17 different countries, just under two thirds of people prefer a trip where they can “relax and take it easy”. In contrast, the other third prefer an active holiday where they do lots of things, with the remainder having no preference.
There was no difference in preferences between the genders, but age definitely does play a part. Teenagers are the most likely to want active trips, with a steady trend towards older folk preferring the relaxed style of travel. There’s then a slight reversal with more 60+ respondents liking to get active again.
Hardly a massive surprise; those of working age want to relax during their precious time off from work, and those with more spare time (kids and retired folks) like to liven things up a little.
There’s an interesting split between countries. Spain, France and Italy have a higher proportion of adventure-seeking folk than others, while Japan and South Korea have the higher propensity to chill while away.
You could infer something about the working cultures of each - I’m thinking siestas and lazing in the sunshine contrasted with high-tech economies and workers sleeping under their desks. I’m sure there’s a less stereotypical, more scientifically rigorous way of explaining the differences, though.
Wherever you're from, it seems there's no definite answer. But we can be a bit more conscious about how we do things on holiday.
Move around or just sit down?
A study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health investigated whether or not physical activity affected the wellbeing of tourists visiting the Austrian Alps. It found that compared to a sedentary holiday, people’s reported wellbeing was indeed higher after taking part in physical activity outdoors.
It’s hard to fully control the outcomes of experiments like this as ‘wellbeing’ means different things to different people. Also, this particular study didn’t look at the circumstances people were coming from - ie. if they were in a stressful job, or peacefully retired.
The study found that all holidays improved wellbeing, but the ones with physical exercise improved it more. Getting out there into the Alpine countryside should lift anyone's mood, but getting the blood pumping seems to have a more profound effect.
The power of Active Rest
But when we do find time to rest, are we resting properly?
We talk about returning to work ‘rejuvenated’ and ready to get back into things after a nice holiday, but we don't often consider what this actually entails.
Dr. Matthew Edlund suggests redefining our understanding of rest. Writing in his book The Power of Rest, he splits it into four core types:
- Mental rest means focusing intelligently on your environment in a way that’s rejuvenating. Techniques of mental rest give you the ability to obtain calm and relaxed concentration quickly and effectively and to become relaxed and focused anytime and anywhere. Mental rest allows for greater concentration, awareness, and achievement.
- Social rest means using the power of social connectedness to relax and rejuvenate.
- Spiritual rest is the practice of connecting with things larger and greater than ourselves, which provides fellowship and meaning in life—factors people hunger for like food.
- Physical rest, by focusing your body and its simplest physiological processes, provokes calm, relaxation, mental alertness, and surprisingly better health.
These are the principles of active rest, and are clearly more than just sitting around doing nothing.
If we plan our trips away to cover as much of these as possible, it should improve our chances of coming back in tip-top condition.
Mindset and life circumstances can affect how we travel. If you’re confident you’ll have the means to travel again in future, you might not be so desperate to see the sights all in one go; but if you’ve been saving for a while to afford the trip of a lifetime, you’re going to want to seize every moment of it without stopping to rest.
Taking a family on a holiday brings a whole different set of challenges. With kids in tow, you’re going to have to think tactically about what to do. Can one parent take a day away to chill at the spa? Is it worth paying a bit more for childcare for some of your trip? I’m sure some many parents have come up with creative solutions to ensure everyone has a good time.
Whatever your circumstances, there's opportunity to both have a good time and come back in peak condition. You could fit in time to laze around on a beach, hike around a forest, have some drinks, dance the night away, and see some sights.
One thing’s for sure - if you have the chance to go on holiday, do it. Just make sure you know what you’re getting yourself in for.