By now, it’s pretty clear that any summer vacation plans we might have had are canceled. If they haven’t been canceled officially by, say, your cruise line calling off all trips or Disney being closed for the foreseeable future, you probably should have already made some moves to cancel it on your own, anyway.
Regardless, I’d like to make a suggestion: Keep your days off as scheduled, stay home and truly do nothing. Even during a pandemic, you’re still entitled to a break. I’m not recommending a “staycation,” whatever that’s even supposed to be. I’m recommending that for once, you truly free yourself of the expectation to accomplish anything.
We have a tendency to make even vacations feel like labor. Susan Sontag documented this in 1977, in her collection of essays On Photography, where she identified tourists’ affinity for taking photos as a way to feel as though they were doing something productive. With the advent of social media and the iPhone, this urge has only increased. Not only are we to document every aspect of our “leisure” time, but we’re also now compelled to immediately present this documentation in a palatable form for others to consume. We’re not even given the time to process our vacations ourselves before we insist upon having others process it for us.
But even for those of us who have managed to escape the need to Instagram our trips, there is still the urge to do something during our designated rest time, often rightfully, as we’ve decided to travel somewhere with new experiences available to us. While that can be fulfilling, it’s rarely actually relaxing. Alternatively, the point of a staycation, beyond just saving money, seems to be to gain a deeper understanding of the place you live. So, that pressure to do something persists there, too.
This sad, strange summer may be the only chance any of us will ever have to spend days at a time doing nothing without feeling guilty. There is nowhere to go; there is nothing to experience; there is nothing to feel bad about missing.
Of course, maybe you’ve already had your fill of sitting on your couch watching television. Maybe your Zoom conference calls are the last shred of human connection you’re able to maintain right now, and doing away with the routine of work would only make you spiral. In that case, cancel your time off. Check your company’s time-off policy to ensure you won’t accidentally lose that time, then schedule yourself a more appropriate vacation for the fall or winter. The tourism industry will happily take your money later.
Some people might be concerned about whether taking time off right now makes them look bad in the eyes of their employer. Maybe you really want to look like a team player in this challenging time. That’s your call to make. I, however, am not going to encourage you to throw away a break if you need one. Your vacation time is your right, and if your time off request has already been approved, it’s your employer’s responsibility to fill whatever gaps you might leave in your absence, just as you fill them when your coworkers take their vacations.
The decision to keep your vacation days really only needs to hinge on one factor: whether or not you want to. There’s no need to see that time off as a waste of days you could have spent experiencing something new — for most of us, truly doing nothing will be a new experience of its own.