You don’t need a vacation. You need a new life.


escaping our reality

In September of 2010 my husband and I were burnt out.

We had a young child, my husband was working and traveling a lot and we lost my father-in-law in July. We were tired, stressed out and grieving.

On a Friday my husband said, I need a break. He’s not someone who says this often, or really ever, so I listened. We decided to get away and leave our troubles and stress at home for some sun.

Saturday morning we booked flights leaving the following day for a beach vacation.

In the previous six months we had payed off a good chunk of our consumer debt. Going on a beach vacation was a step backwards. The flights and all-inclusive resort were A LOT of money.

But we felt we needed it. We were on the brink. My husband couldn’t focus and couldn’t work. I had just finished a stretch of solo parenting while he was on the road with his band. I desperately wanted some R & R. R & R that I couldn’t get at home with a spouse that needed to put in 12+ hour days at his job and with my 10 month old that was an unreliable napper.

Needing a vacation from your life is a desperate spot to be in.

It means you’re counting the days till the weekend first thing Monday morning.

It means you’re tolerating your life instead of living it.

It means you’re on the edge of losing something big: your health, your sanity or the people around you.

When someone tells me they’re “just holding on” or “counting the days” until they’re through something, and that something isn’t climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, I know what the meaning is behind the words. I need a new reality. I need a new life.

Last weekend I had my first “away from husband and son” trip ever.

It was exciting to book, exciting to chat with my sister about spending some time together and planning what we would do for 48 hours without my toddler along for the ride.

It was exciting but I didn’t count the days until the trip happened.

It actually snuck up on me. We’ve had some big events around here that overshadowed my impending getaway.

This vacation was a want, not a need.

When I think back to that last minute beach vacation I know we needed it. We needed a break from our lives, we needed time to decompress and we needed to push the reset button. Taking a break from our reality gave us a better perspective on it. Something had to change.

It was on the return from that vacation that I made the decision to get rid of a lot of stuff.

At the time it seemed like a silly idea to a lot of people. Like I was distracting myself from dealing with our real problems: my husband worked a lot and we still weren’t sure if we could manage financially without me returning to work.

The silly idea that started with purging our home lead to a move overseas, a new career for my husband, getting out of debt, more family time, and writing again after years of thinking that dream was dead.

I’m not the only one that decided to make a big change after a taking a vacation. Several of you have emailed me and shared a bit about your start to living with less stuff. It is uncanny that so many of us decided to let go of possessions after some time away from our homes.

Obviously leaving our routine can lead to positive change. It can be rejuvenating and, most importantly, fun.

But if you think you need a vacation, if you need a plane ticket booked to tolerate your Monday to Friday, if you’re clinging to that mark in your calendar for your next break from real life, what does that say about your life?

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  • :) This post speaks so much to me – I decided to quit my teaching job after a snowstorm gave us an extra three days off right before Christmas making a very long and very relaxing Christmas break. I loved teaching but it was too much balancing between my job and my kids and I hated when I felt like my children suffered because I was working. I had started to feel like I was just living for the summer instead of living for everyday and it saddened me. That extended Christmas break was a mini-vacation for us and we definitely decided that pare down our life and focus on what is most important to us and we are much better off financially (two years later not right away – that was an adjustment!), emotionally, and physically.

  • So true. We felt the same, fed up and run down, then we gave up all our belongings and moved to China with two small children, it feels great!

  • This last Friday I had an incredible sensation that I was on vacation. I wasn’t doing anything different from my daily life. The sun was shinning, radio was cranked up in the car and kids all had smiles on their faces. It was a very strange yet calming feeling.

    • !! I loved reading this. I’ve been having similar days here. A swim at the pool with my son, a long walk home with no rain and sneaking a half hour of reading time while Henry plays with his train set. Finding luxury in the mundane.

  • My husband is a CPA and after tax season we always feel like we need some time to decompress (even if it’s just one overnight at the beach an hour away). This tax season my husband and I have worked really hard to keep a better balance so that both of us aren’t completely fried at the end. Doing little things, like cooking double and freezing, pre-cooking on the weekend, and asking family for help, have made this year the best yet.

  • I loved this. I quit my 55+ hour a week job because one day I looked at my husband and said, what if I didn’t need to buy shoes or go on a vacation to be happy? What if I just was? Staying home full time and leaving my salary (I was a bit more of the bread-winner) has had a few hard moments, but I was amazed at how much easier our life is. No one is stressed out…no one NEEDS a vacation. My daughter and I don’t RUSH through life, we wander and sometimes we come across amazing things in our wandering. Plus, all the stress about money isn’t that hard b/c I finally understand the truth of want vs. need. (Sometimes, though I do still find the want out-wins, but it’s a journey). This comment sounds a bit romantic as I write it – it’s not all sunshine and unicorns, but it has been a great change for our family.

  • Thank you for putting this so eloquently. It makes so much sense. I’m just thinking of that little saying: for a vacation to be effective, it needs to be three weeks. The first week to get out of work mode; the second, to actually relax; and the third, to gear up to go back to work. How sad that two out of three weeks are spent not actually in “vacation mode”? And how many people ever get to take a three week vacation? Not many.

    These are great things to keep in mind. Lately I have been thinking of how nice it would be to take a hot weather holiday. But there’s no way we can do it anytime soon; we have mountains of debt to get out from under. When we do, will we choose to spend on a nice holiday? I don’t know. But it sure will be nice to have the option to do that and not see it as a break from real life, and instead see it as a new experience, an adventure.

    • Three weeks!!?! That is sad. Most Americans I know only have 10 days vacation.

      I’ve found that for vacations 7 days is plenty. By day four I am “unwound”, enjoying myself and having thoughts about getting back to home and routine.

      Of course, for travel and adventure I love a three week stint visiting a few places. I find it takes a week to get back into travel mode, get my eyes in shape for galleries and find a good balance of seeing and doing things without burning out.

  • I find myself dreading work from Sunday night, never mind Monday morning. At the moment though I’m not quite sure what to do about it. I’m working on simplifying things and come Jan next year I will have to find a new job but I’m not too sure I can hold out for another 9 months!

    • :( So sorry to hear this, Claire. I’ve hit that spot once or twice at jobs before but was luckily able to find something new within a few months. Hang in there and my fingers are crossed that things change for the better soon.

  • I love how you make the distinction between a want vacation and a need vacation. So much of what others have commented resonate with me as well. We are in the middle of minimizing, climbing out of debt and reaching this destination you speak of. I am still counting the days until I have a day off. I continue dreaming of not having to choose between work and staying home with a sick child and then facing the skeptical looks of co-workers when I return. This scenario adds so much stress to my life and I now fully despise winter as my kids have virus-induced asthma and are sick A LOT through the winter. I needed to hear this today as a strong reminder of why we are fighting our way out of this.

    • Juanita – the scenario you describe of sick children and having to leave work is awful. I look back on how many times my son has had a cold since he turned one, how often I would have had to leave work if he had been in daycare, and I am pretty sure I would have lost any job I had or been forced to quite.

      Here’s hoping cold and flu season is over. Good luck and keep hitting that debt.

  • Whoa weird. I just commented on another minimalists blog about my “story” which led me to being more a minimalist & living the simpler life. Basically last year I quit not only my job, but my profession due to burnout (which is quite common in my line of work but I didn’t think I would succumb – but man oh man did I) as well as I no longer found any joy or satisfaction with what I did. I was there to increase production & that’s it. A commodity for my employer. So I quit & haven’t looked back not once.
    Since I quit, I obviously had to cut down on spending – which was quite easy actually. I also began to realize we had a lot of stuff. So I started purging, selling off stuff, donating stuff, trashing stuff. With less stuff came more space. Not only visual & virtual, but mental & physiological. It’s amazing how a clean minimalist environment can “let” a person see potentials & turn dreams into realities.
    You see, over the years that I’ve been married to my husband (going on 10 now) – we’ve taken our vacations to the same place in southern Florida. We love it there. We go there on as many vacations as we can not only to escape our crummy jobs but to remind us that we have hopes & dreams. We always swear we should move there “one of these days” & talk about “some day” if we ever move down there. So we are.
    Since I’ve been busily & steadily purging our excesses we’ve been able to see things with new eyes. Stuff we thought we HAD to have 5 years ago – we can’t sell it quick enough on Ebay today. Clothing I HAD to have that languishes in my closet unworn has been sold or donated.
    Anyways, with less stuff we have a sense of less burden. With less burden we have less obstacles. With less obstacles we can see & thus reach our dreams easier. So the last few months we have been not only getting rid of the excess that may slow us down or hinder us, we’ve also been taking the necessary steps in order to relocate down to the Keys. It may take us another year or so to beat out all the kinks in this plan – but a year from now sure beats “some day” or “one of these days” which for many folks really means “never”,

  • I think this definitely makes sense, except when it comes to parenting. That is something you can’t just up and leave. Thus I think it’s only normal to burn out and NEED a vacation. I’m getting my first vacation after #2 was born in a two months (or my first vacation in about 3 years). And yes, I am counting down the days lol!

    Parenting is tough! I don’t know how more parents don’t need regular vacations from their children!

    • Parenting is tough. I am really lucky that my husband gives me breaks on the weekend and we can afford to get a babysitter every other week.

      Hope you enjoy your well earned vacation :)

  • I used to wish that I could win a lot of money or otherwise strike it rich in order to make our financial situation easier and have sort of “vacation” from our ridiculously tight budget and all the stresses that come with counting every penny. We have a car payment and student loans that have been tying up a few hundred dollars each month. I got tired of saying things like “when our loans are paid off in 2014 we can save for a vacation!” or “things will be easier in a couple years”. A few months ago it dawned on me that I could leverage our tax refund to pay off everything (apart from the mortgage) by the end of 2012. After that, we will have an extra $500 per month that isn’t spent on debt (which for us is a LOT). Things will continue to be tight and stressful this year, but I am so excited to start living two years earlier than planned! We will be able to live “the good life” without finding a better job, finding other sources of income, moving to a different house, etc. It will take so much pressure off.

  • This post really spoke to me too. We go to the beach every summer to a condo owned by a family member. We just bring what we need for that week (a set of clothes, food, etc.). I have discovered that I love the beach and I love the time with my family, but one other thing I REALLY love about that trip is lviing with just a very small subset of our lives. I am so at peace there, and I feel like that’s the biggest reason. So, since discovering this, my goal is to make my home similar to the beach house: just what we need and a few things we want… but not all this STUFF.

    • :) There is something so freeing about being some where with just a suitcase of belongings. That feeling of not having a house “to-do” list nagging at you over the weekend, or piles of stuff to sort or put away, is so refreshing.

  • Ahhh Vacation, I just had a mini vacation as my MIL was here from across the continent and took my kids for the weekend. For my husband and I it was like the honeymoon that we never had!! We were able to connect, and do things that did not cost us a $100 in babysitting!!
    Funny how many life changing decisions can be made when one takes the time to sit back and reflect, and dream. I hope to be able to ‘schedule’ this into our lives with the costly vacations – simply by taking a regular break from the daily grind on the weekend, or making an effort to go for a lunch date or coffee while the kids are in school!!

    • Okay, I am jealous of your weekend without kids. My mom would do that a few times a year for us if we were still living in Vancouver. Jealous but still happy for you. That connection time with a spouse is so important and so needed.

      PS. Brilliant idea to have a lunch date while kids are in school.

  • Oh. My. Gosh. I so agree with you, but I didn’t realize it until I read your words. An “ah-ha” moment as Oprah would say :) Thank you!

  • Love this post and all of the comments as well! Reading this makes me realize I haven’t “needed” a vacation in several years, a testament that we’re on the right track with our life! One of the “breaks” from parenting I enjoy most is when my husband I take a long walk together while our daughter naps in the stroller. It’s amazing how much fun pushing a stroller to the ice cream shop and chatting about nothing in particular is. As she gets older I know the stroller naps will become less frequent, perhaps by then we’ll feel more comfortable leaving her with a sitter occasionally.

  • Vacations as an ‘expectation’ are so much a part of life in northern Canada (I live in Yellowknife now, previously was 5 years in Cape Dorset). As a single person I have two issues, one is just the amount of money that it takes to do it and the other is that I enjoy my own space and sometimes just cannot face the process of multiple flights.
    I was actually talking to someone today about our freedom when we were younger and could just get on buses or trains and find the youth hostel in the next town. I’m sure that option is still there but I’m not quite as flexible as I was 30 years ago.
    So my solution is to have long weekends. I get such a wonderful boost of energy on a Monday morning when I don’t have to go to work – knowing it is all mine to do whatever I want!

  • I always love reading your blog Rachel. So inspiring on so many levels.

    I have a 2 year old and a husband with an incredibly busy career, that as you said of your “before” picture, results in me playing the role of single Mom and supporter to my husband much of the time. Thankfully when he is not tied up he is pretty helpful, but his free time often seems to be few and far between.

    We went on vacation November (turned my husband’s conference into a vacay), then had Christmas break in town, and then went away again in February, and I’m pretty sure we are both currently dying for another vacation. I keep talking about actually moving to one of these lovely tropical places, and I just don’t see why not! :)

    Unfortunately my hubbies schedule won’t change much for several years, and we are here for another 2 for sure. Why do we do this to ourselves? The good news is, he is making some choices to select a less intense career path that takes work-life balance into account. Anyways… long story short, I work part-time and always say that it is perfect because I get to be both a stay at home Mom and a career woman, both are my life time fantasies, which I am so happy to be able to combine. In truth, I feel like I am doing both pretty well, but not to the standard I would like. I guess that’s part of being a Mom. You have to let some things go, but it feels like I end up having a constant baseline stress level that does not disappear when my daughter goes to bed and my husband is quietly working in his office, because then I just feel like I am “defragging” from my busy day and feel guilty that I am not tackling the giant laundry pile or dishes, even though I am totally exhausted.

    My daughter and whole family came down with a bug a few weeks ago, which ended up being a blessing. I stayed home to care for my her (and me to some extent), and it was so nice to just go at our own pace. Go for several walks per day, looking at all the interesting things and talking about them, and I even had time to keep my house tidy and get a few extra projects done that have been in the forefront of my mind stressing me out, but not getting done. Anyways, after that week of being home, I felt like quitting my job to stay home full-time. My daughter was more relaxed, I was more relaxed, my husband was more relaxed. I suddenly “got” the stay at home Mom thing. (On the other hand, when I had made a special dinner and my husband came home late (through no fault of his own) and the dinner was cold, it drove me nuts. (LOL!)

    I am not sure what the answer is. I feel like my body is constantly under stress, and you are so right, I end up purchasing things in attempt to relax or entertain myself or distract myself from the stress, and this results in needing more money, more space and having a messier house since there are too many things and not enough storage!

    I think I am at the point just before a major change, and your article might just be the catalyst I needed to not necessarily quit my job, but outline my priorities and make sure those are done and the rest is wiped out of my mind. What I really need to do is book some babysitting for dates with my hubby and for time to myself to organize my house and my office at work. I just need to get on top, then, as I said, prioritize what is important and delegate or let go of the rest. This includes getting rid of stuff. We just have too much stuff, and everytime I see a sale, and think I am saving so much money by buying on sale, I end up buying so much stuff and end up using 1 or 2 of 3 or 5 things I get.

    Imagining a simpler life, and making it happen through prioritizing and setting boundaries… that seems to be the name of the game.

  • The thought of only 10 days of vacation makes me sad. Here people get four weeks every summer.

    I love the idea of always living “on vacation” , a small house by the beach, bare essentials, and a lot of time to spend doing whatever fancy strikes :) But also just enjoying the everyday things of going to the store, cooking and cleaning the house.

  • Over the past years, life has been extremely full. DH is training to be a barrister, I am also studying, work with no immediate family help around. This summer will be the first time in 5 years that we’ll have the time and money to go on a family holiday. :) Yes, it would have been great to ‘leave it all’ and have holidays away from the usual routine. (Once we have the opportunity, we will surely travel regularly with the kids.) But, as we (including the kids) are excited of our new careers, we like our bright, non-cluttered little house, we like the area we live in, we are not ‘desperate’ to get away. :)

  • Another great post! It is no coincidence that a vacation is also a vacation from our suffocating STUFF so coming home to it, and the realization that you didn’t miss it at all and only feel oppressed by it, makes it easier to declutter aggressively. I’m slowly working toward my career change. I keep taking baby steps. I’ll get there, but the waiting it out is really hard.

  • I need a vacation. We’ve had a hell of a year – some horrible and some wonderful. We lost our home in a huge wildfire. We got pregnant with a very much wanted child (due in August). My husband works 14 hour days and I stay home and care for our 3 year old. Even with a new house on the way, it is a LOT for anyone. I’d happily take a vacation to anyplace that isn’t an official disaster zone and then come back after our new house is finished. But, that is not to be. The best I can do is know that there is light at the end of the recovery tunnel and keep on keeping on until we get there.
    The biggest thing that we’ve learned from all of this (other than that having good and enough home insurance is critical) is to appreciate what we DO have. Life is never perfect but when everything is stripped away and you see your life (and remaining things) for what it is, it’s usually better than you think.
    So, that’s what we’re trying to do – appreciate what we have… sometimes, the best vacation is an attitude adjustment.

  • What a wonderful post. I haven’t really taken a vacation in the traditional sense for the past 20 years. And it’s not like I am depriving myself or anything. I’ve always just felt that rather than blowing a big chunk of cash on an annual vacation, it made more sense to spend my time, energy and money building a life that I didn’t want to get away from.

  • We’re slowly making changes to a place where we simply want a vacation but don’t need one. Along the same lines, I told my husband I want to be able to say “I’m not too busy.” Those sounds like wonderful words to utter; thanks for the encouragement.

  • This reminds me of the book Your Money or Your Life. It’s a personal finance book, but it still talks about how many people spend money just decompressing from their jobs, or vacationing. Vacation comes from “vacate” which means to leave; so if people feel like they need constant vacations, that absolutely says a lot about the life they’re leading. It’s not always easy to just opt out but if there’s an opportunity to change something about your life to make it less stressful then I highly encourage it.

  • This spoke to me so much, you’re right. As a single, working mother with a crazy XH who does his best to trip me up at every turn, it’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to escape my life on a regular basis. To add insult to injury, my position at work was recently eliminated and I had to make the decision to take a lesser position (and less pay) or quit. I wish I could say I was brave and threw caution to the wind and quit the soul sucking job I’m in, but I took the lesser pay and have drastically scaled back our life. It’s interesting though, because now with less stress and less time spent at work, I need less help. No more house cleaning lady (I love cleaning my cute little cottage myself!), no more dry cleaning (I suddenly have plenty of time to iron!) and fewer meals out (more time for meal planning, shopping, prep, etc!) and I am happier than I’ve been in a long while. We’ve lived with less stuff for years now, since I left with nothing but a suitcase, but the hard part has been keeping it that way. Once we settle down into a place for longer than 6 months, the stuff starts piling up and that’s where I love reading about the journeys of others to have less stuff – it’s inspiring to help me keep the onslaught at bay.

  • I absolutely need a big change in my life and fast! I know it is not impossible but how can a single mother on a teachers salary, no savings and a ton of debt from a divorce do it? Four years ago I went after my dream, changed professions and became a teacher, only to become unhappy. I spend so much time away from my son, not to mention I have no time for me to have a life. I am overwhelmed with life itself. Other problem is my mother became ill, moved in with me and was forced to retire a couple of years ago and she is a terrible hoarder. Besides getting rid of clutter, minimizing as much as I can (while trying to avoid WW3 with my mother), how can I change my life? I need all the help I can get and I am all ears. Thanks!!

  • I like this too, I’ve learned some trick..its not always safe or a good idea to quit but there are things you can do… I like to take one day off per month and me and my family volunteer at church.. also at work , I don’t let much bother me ..I work hard but let all my bosses k.ow ..this is not my life its just my job.

  • Wow, this is so where I am. Thank you. And yes! I too spent a week away recently and upon returning , decided to let go of a storage unit full of stuff, I’d been holding onto since I was laid off two years ago & had to down size my life. It is definitely strange how that happens. I am in the process of changing my life. A couple people in my life insists that I want to live on vacation & the feelings will pass but I have never felt this way after vacation. It is time for major change in my life. Great article!

  • A vacation is great to spend time with family, when a rest is needed, but, a vacation is just once or several times a year! We all need to be ok with everyday life. Every minute counts! Spending quality time with your family is first priority, and you don’t need to always slash out on a vacation. Home is just as good, when you have great company, laughter, fun and peaceful days (which at the moment in my house is totally not!). I am considering leaving my husband and 3kids. Have tried so hard to make life work with them all, for quite some time now. (I feel like a total stranger with no self identity, in my own house) My life seems to be slipping away, making sure others around me are happy and fulfilled, while me inside is just crying inside, just to have the same back.. Have talked about things not being right for sometime with my husband, but he only says the same old thing over and over – perhaps you need to go back on antidepresents! I know I don’t need to go back on antidepresents – I have got better in myself since coming off them after Christmas 2016. The problem I am having causing me to be stressed, anxious, exhausted and moody, is having to constantly battle with my children’s attitudes and behaviours. Don’t get me wrong, they are good kids, especially in other people’s eyes, but the amount of parent abuse I get, mainly from the teenager, is just so hurtful and unbearable. Yes, their kids, but it seems, I get in the way now their older,(16, 13, 9) and there’s just no respect and lots of selfishness towards me and my husband (but mostly me)I can’t cope anymore, and even though I love my husband and kids, I am just so unhappy with our relationship to each other, and my kids. I’m finding it so difficult to get up and go (especially when family occasions come up and holidays booked) and the financial part of it. I just don’t know where to start, I’m so distraught. I wish us all to be happy with life, but I feel, my husband and kids think I have a problem with not being happy, because iv come off antidepresents. I just want to feel alive with my husband and kids and enjoy every day without bikkering with each other constantly. I either want to feel more welcome in my own home, or, I have no other choice but, to leave.

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