It’s the perennial vacation-planning dilemma: Burn up all your vacation days on one big trip, or spread them out over several shorter ones? Folks who study these things often tout 10 days as the ideal length for a vacation, allowing ample time for relaxing into a recreational routine and then easing back out of it. And a recent survey of American Express “travel counselors” found that 10 days will be the average length of a summer trip this year — or at least the kind of summer trip you need a “counselor” to plan, which begins to explain some of the appeal of the long weekend.
For me, a weekend away remains an exotic notion. I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, a town of greater charms — restaurants, theater, shopping — than many realize. Should those charms begin to fade on you, however, you’re looking at a long, long drive on flat, flat ground before you get to anywhere else. The diverse attractions of New England, by contrast, are delightfully concentrated. Dodge traffic, and you can be on the beach or in the mountains in just hours.
Weekend vacations are practical, frugal, and regionally appropriate — and they have their psychological benefits, too. The pleasure of a vacation comes from three sources — anticipation, experience, and reminiscence — and the most pleasure comes from anticipation. A 2010 study of nearly 1,500 Dutch people, for instance, found subjects actually enjoyed planning the vacation more than taking it, suggesting several short trips would bring more pleasure than one long one. And when you’ve just had a big paid-time-off-bank-busting vacation, it will be a good long while before you can start looking forward to the next. But you can start planning your next weekend getaway as soon as the glow from the last one begins to fade.
If you’re going to try a weekend vacation — or two — or three — this summer, here are some ways to maximize your enjoyment:
LEAVE THE LAPTOP: One major benefit of short vacations, especially in a region famed for its Puritan work ethic, is that it’s easier to unplug from work for a couple of days than for a couple of weeks. It’s also easier to catch up once you get back. Before you leave, set an automatic reply for your work e-mail, then, on your trip, don’t read the news and stay off social media.
PICK A PRIME DIRECTIVE: A long vacation can be both stimulating and relaxing — one day for deep-sea diving, one for cocktails on the beach. But for a weekend, you’re best off choosing a single goal and sticking to it. What do you need most? To shake things up or to slow them down? Whichever you choose, that’s your Away Team Prime Directive. And in the event of unforeseen circumstances — such as having to choose between fun and sleep, or convenience and adventure — let the Prime Directive guide your decision. Don’t spoil your fun by second-guessing yourself.
PLAN A “BUMPY LANDING”: Most of the pleasure of a vacation may come from anticipation, but anticipation is a gateway drug to expectations, which means if your vacation doesn’t match up to the imaginings, you may be in for sour memories. So be sure to get your kicks on the “reminiscence” end as well. If you’re back in the office Monday morning, debrief interested colleagues over lunch, or spend the evening going through your photos and souvenirs. This is the time for social media — writing up anecdotes and posting pictures of a successful, or at least amusing-in-retrospect, vacation can be a perfect way to enjoy it all over again.