Labor Day: Rethinking the Word Vacation

Labor Day Rethinking the Word Vacation

This Labor Day had me rethinking the word vacation.

If you think vacations aren’t hard to grasp, think again. The word VACATION comes from the Latin verb vacāre, which means to “vacate or to leave something empty and unoccupied.” The idea of being that doesn’t seem appealing.

Recent conversations with friends about an upcoming “vacation” in Wilmington led to a get-real moment. Me: “Let’s not post any pictures on the beach” sparked some interesting discussions among my friends. “You work three jobs, lost your mom and dog in the same year…I think you can take a damn vacation, girl,” a BFF admonished. Women working through illness, using their “vacation time” for sick days and the importance of taking time off got real for me last year.

Families are often the focal points of women’s daily lives, and for a myriad of reasons, I am the first to admit the challenge of embracing time away. As a member of NC Families Care*, I still needed to be reminded to take respite.

I also know that many of us are using vacation time to care for loved ones or heal from our own illnesses. Research shows, “While paid sick days and vacation time are certainly important for workers, they are no substitute for paid family medical leave. Forcing employees to use limited sick time for an extended family medical situation virtually ensures that they will exhaust their paid sick leave before they have fully recovered.”

I have the privilege of owning my own business and working in an “understanding environment.” I recently found a way for PTO. For my sister, the impact was devastating to her physical and mental health. She attempted to work in factories while caring for our mother through her battle with cancer. Sis ran through sick time, then “vacation” time, then had to simply quit and rely on family members. Some of the same family members made assumptions when she stepped away and finally got her “Stella Got Her Groove Back” trip to Jamaica.

Vacations are an important downtime #livingyourbestlife. These breaks have proven benefits for self, relationships, even employers. One long-term study found that women who don’t take vacations are 50 percent more likely to have heart attacks and suffer from depression. Overall, women who report taking vacations live longer and are healthier. Forbes compiled a number of interesting studies about the overwhelming benefits of employees taking time away. Highlights include elevated productivity, stronger workplace morale, greater employee retention and significant health benefits.

The Paid Leave Action Network notes that “relying on vacation time creates similar problems, as most workers—especially newer employees—do not accrue enough paid vacation time to cover the time needed to recover from serious illness or surgery or support a family member going through medical crisis. Given different employees in different job classifications are often paid different wages and accrue vacation time at different rates, it is likely that the lowest paid workers – who need their wages, receive significantly less paid time off than others, and are forced to take unpaid leave.” Some of our essential workers fall in this category and even at the height of COVID couldn’t step away.

Despite some real barriers for women (e.g., childcare and unpaid leave), there seems to be a growing appreciation for self-care and rejuvenation. Women are also shifting how they travel, according to the U.S. Travel Association of the people opting for nature, adventure or cultural trips, currently, 75 percent are women. Ten years ago, there were no such statistics on female adventurers. Now we know the average adventure traveler is not a 28-year-old male, but a 47-year-old female. Last year, women spent $55 billion in outdoor equipment, from hiking boots to specialized bike seats designed for the female anatomy. The number of women-only tours has increased 230 percent in the past six years –and we are not talking your typical girlfriend getaways!

Women have demonstrated buying power and created a new market that industry experts cannot ignore. The travel industry has taken note with measures like creating safe solo travel options for women (another growing trend). When it comes to the benefits of solo travel, the overwhelming response from females across global markets is centered on rejuvenation and empowerment. Thirty percent of women said that vacationing alone allows them the chance for total rest and relaxation, and 63 percent said they feel more invigorated after a solo trip.

The solo female traveler is on a mission. “She is determined to break from daily routines and explore new views, rhythms and cultures. And, she is doing it often: 59 percent of female solo travelers surveyed said they would travel again in the next 12 months. Taking solo holidays isn’t strictly for the single ladies either; the survey included women with partners and children.”

This comes as no surprise to me as a woman who fancies solo trips to independent bookstores and to see almost anything live. So, what are you waiting for?

I recall my mom, who worked as a cook at a local restaurant, taking a few moments when she got home to soak in her evening “Calgon, Take Me Away” bubble bath. She couldn’t afford to get away during those years, and we respected her alone time. We learned not to knock on the door, interrupt her with a phone call or ask her to settle our disputes during her respite. She would often emerge with a fresh perspective. Later, she shared she didn’t feel like herself until she wiped away the smell of the restaurant.

Other family and friends have found alternatives through invigorating walking trails, low-stress trips to visit relatives or friends, following NC’s plethora of free festivals, fairs or stretching boundaries by learning something new.

If you are not taking time away, now is a perfect opportunity to plan your own journey. Getaways will not look the same for everyone, but we all benefit from taking some time for ourselves—and we actually have the facts to prove it. And for those who can’t physically take a trip, consider a “staycation” alternative. Finding “you time” throughout the day is free.

Women AdvaNCe plans to practice what we preach this month. We’ve seen enough people on the edge to understand that breaking from daily routines is not only good for your health — it’s good for your relationships and business.

It’s been one of the hardest years of my adult life. Thanks to a wellness grant provided by Z. Smith Reynolds, I am packing up and spending time with friends in Wilmington.

Oh, and thanks to that conversation mentioned earlier…I am not going to be shy about sharing vacation photos. Our time will be valuable not “empty or unoccupied.”

*NC Families Care is a coalition of over 30 diverse organizations advocating for family-friendly workplace policies for working North Carolinians and their families, including paid sick and safe days, paid family medical and parental leave, pregnancy accommodations and living wages.

Antionette Kerr is a co-director with Women AdvaNCe

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