07/09/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Leisure Famine: Take Back Your Vacation

Do you return from vacation feeling like you need a vacation? Many Americans do. This month, Take Back Your Time ( launches the Take Back Your Vacation Initiative as part of the fight against overwork and time famine in the U.S. We need to advocate not only for guaranteed paid vacation time, but for education about how we can choose to spend it!

This is not just a vacation issue, but a free-time issue in general. When we have any amount of time away from work, are our experiences fulfilling? During free-time or vacation, are we choosing and planning thoughtful and high quality leisure experiences that are good for ourselves and good for others? I am certain we can do better.


There is a leisure famine in America that goes beyond time famine. Often, people do not know how to go about achieving a "state of leisure" in their day-to-day lives or during vacations. People in the U.S. spend about half their leisure time watching television, which research has revealed to be one of the least satisfying activities, by the report of the watchers themselves. Even if TV is not their chosen activity, people often feel unfulfilled in their leisure choices.

Leisure time that is not used in a satisfying way often turns into idle time. It may be used to do a single thing to excess (like overeating, surfing the Internet, or getting into family quarrels). It can even turn into truly negative leisure, such as drug use and delinquency.


Research highlights many potential benefits from vacation experiences. When vacations are non-existent or lack fulfillment, it is problematic, both for individuals and for families, communities, and even the environment.

We often have high expectations for our vacations. However, we don't necessarily have the financial resources to indulge ourselves in our dream vacations. As a result, we wind up feeling disappointed before the vacation even begins. In addition, sometimes there are conflicting responsibilities that keep us from our ideal getaways.

We may perceive our financial constraints and other obligations as barriers to achieving maximum benefits for our minds and bodies. However, it is possible to have a vacation wherever we are and in any situation; whether choosing how to spend time at "at home," finding inexpensive travel experiences or even by exploring our own local areas with new eyes. If the vacations that we plan are consistent with our values, needs and interests, they can lead to the same type of feelings of revitalization and meaning as our dream vacations-- and may even be better.

The concept here is how free one feels. On our vacations, what do we want to feel "free from" (cell phone, constant contact, other responsibilities)? What do we want to feel "free to" experience (like the things in our lives that we are not currently doing but would like to be)?


Vacations can be a state of mind. They can be spiritual, artistic, creative, physical, intellectual, or social. We can learn and try new things, volunteer, be active or passive. Vacation can offer multiple benefits simultaneously. By diversifying our interests so we meet our leisure and vacation needs, we can even learn to experience time in a new way!

Here are some questions we can consider as we plan for our vacations.

* What am I looking for from my vacation?
* How can I feel most free?
* What would I like to explore or discover? With whom?
* How do I want to interact with others? How do I want to spend time by myself?
* Do I want routine, no routine or a combination?
* How can I plan for my vacation in advance in a mindful and sustainable way?
* How can I tap into leisure resources (people, places and things)?
* How can I return to work not feeling like I need a vacation?


We can each be a leisure educator in our personal and professional life. While many entities could be providing leisure education--schools, community organizations, corporations, families--few would say that these are really doing the job. Together, we can fight against time famine and leisure famine by educating ourselves (and others) and through leading by example in our personal and professional lives. Research suggests that people who make appropriate leisure choices enjoy a greater sense of well-being. So, what will we do with our free time?

Alison Link is a consultant, international presenter and specialist in leisure education. Her consulting service, The Leisure Link, Inc. ( helps people and organizations get more enjoyment and satisfaction from leisure and life, by providing leisure coaching, counseling and consulting.