It had been almost two years since I took a real vacation when a few girlfriends and I decided to plan a trip to Mexico. While I was thrilled as we booked flights and picked out accommodations, in the weeks leading up to take off, each time someone asked if I was excited, I thoughtfully responded, “I have way too much to do before I go.” In fact, the thought of prepping for being gone from work, the house, my animals and family for two weeks…it stressed me out more than anything.

But, soon departure day came and I settled into my window seat, 30,000 feet in the air, with a good book and glass of wine in hand. Now, I was ready to relax. As I opened the first book I’ve read since, well, my last vacation, I wasn’t but two paragraphs in before my mind started wandering, “Did I set my out of office email notification? Where did I leave the mortgage check to be mailed while I was gone? Was the vet appointment scheduled for when I return?” I took a deep breath, an even deeper sip of wine, and closed my eyes.

I needed a vacation more than I realized.

As I sit here on day three in beautiful Sayulita, Mexico — back from a morning spent at the beach, now poolside with a bronze vacation glow that is just starting to bake in — I think about how long it took for me to truly relax. The grind of daily life had become so ingrained in me, that it actually took three full days before I was truly in “vacation mode.”

I know I’m not alone in this feeling. American culture is very fast-paced, impressing a lot of importance on working more, to earn more, to consume more…all in an effort to have and be the best. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job and realize it is what afforded me the luxury of these poolside accommodations; so I am grateful for these opportunities. But as I took a look around at others from around the world also on vacation, and even locals who although working, seemed to be living such a content life, I realized I could learn a thing or two from them.

So, I decided to impart the following vacation rules for the rest of my trip:

No checking work emails whatsoever. They have my cell for an emergency.

Check-in at home just once a day. They TOO have my cell for an emergency.

Allow myself to sleep without time constraints; nap anytime, early to bed, late to rise, etc. This is a great time to recalibrate sleep habits and get in touch with the pleasure of sleeping.

Remain present in whatever it is I am doing. This trip won’t last and I may never be here again, enjoy it for all it has to offer.

Catch up on self-care. While vacation cocktails can be enjoyed, balance the free time to catch up on healthy eating and yoga that I “never have time for.”

Share photography time. I set-up a shared drive with my friends, so we could take turns taking pictures to remember the trip, but also each have time to actually enjoy the sights.

Set aside work time if you must. It actually relieves stress to catch up on a couple work items mid-vacay, but I created a start and stop time and quit when that time was up. This avoids getting sucked into the vortex of the office, but allows me to keep a handle on activity that needs my attention.

I know the term “relax” and “vacation” has a different meaning for each person, so other “rules” may work better for you. The point is to find what those “rules” are and be sure to practice them. While work is important, it will be there when you return, and you will be much better at it once rejuvenated and rested from vacation.

I must admit, I am writing this article — aka doing work — while on vacation, but I do so with my toes in the water and fresh squeezed passion fruit margarita in hand. It’s about balance, right?!

How do you ensure you make the most out of your vacation time?

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