How to Relax When You Can't Take a Vacation

Americans need to start figuring out how to relax when they can’t take a vacation. We live in the only advanced economy that doesn’t guarantee its workers paid vacation. About one in four Americans receives neither paid vacations or holidays, and those of us that do average only ten days of paid vacation and six paid holidays a year. For a comparison, workers in the European Union receive at least 20 days of paid vacation per year.


We are overworked, and it's costing American companies, with Oxford Economics estimating $224 billion in liabilities. That is a whole lot of reasons for us to tackle this problem, but we can’t expect a solution overnight. We need to care for ourselves in the here and now.

Whatever the reasons, if you're one of the millions of Americans who can’t take a vacation, here’s how you can relax with the time you have.

Your Daily Relax

Americans have a habit of working hard and fast, burning our mental and physical reserves while promising to recoup when everything is done. But in our 24/7 culture, it can be hard to find the time to put work aside and truly relax. We need to make that time.

Microbreaks are a good start. For roughly every hour of work, take a 10-minute break to do something rejuvenating: go for a walk or enjoy a small chat. One study suggests that those who socialize at work are more productive, while another found that looking at cute images leads to increased performance. (Skeptical? Just check out this baby rhino and then ask yourself how you feel about life, the universe, and everything else.)

Once the work day wraps up, do yourself a favor and unplug. Don’t check email or the status of your latest project. Sure, this may not be practical every day, but try your best to make working after hours the exception, not the rule. Same goes for weekends.

Then make time to do something you enjoy. It could be going to the bar with friends or reading a book on the couch. The specific activity will depend on your personality and the type of day, but you should pursue something that engages you, not a passive activity like watching TV or mindlessly surfing social media. Of course, mindless activities have their benefits; they just shouldn’t consume all your precious off-work time.

When You Can’t Vacation, Staycation

Relaxing after work is important, but to really rejuvenate, you need to take personal days. And if you can’t take vacations, then you’ll need to make those weekends count. Enter the staycation.

A staycation can be an elaborate day or a single, small activity. It can be expensive or free. The only requirement for a staycation is that you enjoy a leisure activity at home that would generally be something you would do on vacation. This makes the staycation an incredibly versatile way to relax, regardless of your personal situation.

Need some ideas for your next staycation? We’ve got you covered:

  • Hit the town. Stay at a hotel, go to a nice restaurant, order room service. Basically, do everything you’d normally do on vacation in your hometown.
  • Nature walk. Find a nearby national park and go exploring.
  • Take a class. You don’t need a Caribbean cruise to learn salsa dancing. Find a class offered through a local organization or community college and learn something you’ve always wanted to know.
  • Spa day. Sounds nice, right?
  • Live theater. Movies are fun, but plays and symphonies give you an excuse to dress up and experience something truly unique.
  • Visit a museum. Museums house insightful experiences right down the street. Don’t forget to see if the museum is hosting a special exhibit.
  • Local events. From farmers markets to art walks to pub crawls, communities offer a wide range of events that will show you your hometown in a new light. Many of these events are free, too, so your staycation won’t break the bank.
  • Try something new. Vacations are about experiencing a new culture, cuisine, or countryside. Hit up your local tourism board’s website, and see what you can find. It doesn’t have to be extravagant as long as it's different.

Most communities will be able to accommodate some of these ideas. To maximize the effect, we recommend taking two days’ worth of staycation, but if your schedule only allows for one personal day, make the most of it: turn off the technology, unplug the Internet, and turn on your out-of-office email response so you don’t have to worry about responding back. This way you can truly relax and rejuvenate, without having to worry about work.

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