You could make a case that the Era of Vacations ended in 2007. That’s the year when Steve Jobs gave the world the iPhone, and this is the year when everyone, suddenly, had non-stop access to email, spreadsheets, and documents from anywhere on the planet. Now “out of office” has become a hollow phrase that no one really believes. Sarah is “out of the office”? Oh, come on, we know she’s still on email!
It’s now more challenging than ever to truly “get away.” Most of your destinations (realistically) have phone service. And especially now, after the pandemic mainstreamed remote work, there’s an almost unspoken expectation that all of us — even on vacation — are still connected to that never-ending pile of work.
But this doesn’t have to be the case. When you’re on vacation, there’s something to be said for truly being on vacation, for ignoring the work, and for simply staying present in the moment. This only happens if you carve out boundaries and create space, which allows for what we’ll call your “Work / Life Travel Balance.”
The game plan:
1. Fib about your “limited access” to the internet
We’ll start with a harmless white lie. Even if you’re traveling to a hyper-connected city like Paris, make sure that your out-of-office email says something like, “I am out of the office and will have limited access to the internet.” Now you’ve just erected a real boundary. The expectations are clear. Bonus points? Instead, try writing “limited-to-no-access to the internet.”
2. Ditch your laptop
The logic is simple. If you don’t have access to Excel, then you won’t be tempted to work in Excel. Here the boundaries aren’t for your coworkers or boss; they’re for the real culprit who forces you to work: you.
3. “Pre-pay” the respect of others’ boundaries
This is a sneaky one. It’s called the Pre-Pay. Whenever your coworkers go on vacation, make a point of telling them something like, “Hey, you’re off to Barcelona, I’m not going to bug you!” Establish the precedent. With any luck they’ll reciprocate.
4. Soothe the Top 5s
There are two different Top 5s: The top 5 most important people at work, and the top 5 people who contact you most often. (Maybe the lists overlap completely, or maybe there are 10 distinct people — it doesn’t really matter.) Reach out to all of them with a gentle reminder that you’ll be “out of pocket.”
5. Designate your backstop
You’ve empowered someone to be your emergency backup, and included their contact info in your out-of-office reply, right? Right.
6. Only chime in if absolutely, 100% necessary
It’s tempting to respond to an easy work question, which both solves the problem and signals that you’re a star. Avoid the impulse. The moment you respond, suddenly people assume you’re engaged and they’ll keep lobbing messages your way. Keep your distance.
7. Front-load deadlines…then give a cushion
The first part is common sense, the second part is the advanced move. If you’re traveling for two weeks, then of course you don’t want a deadline looming the moment you get back from vacation. It will haunt you. So most people will do the wise thing and front-load the deadline to before your trip begins. That’s the right call. The problem? Usually there are follow-ups and loose ends you can’t anticipate, meaning you’ll feel anguished about hopping on a flight when your people need you the most. So give yourself a cushion. Aim to finish your most pressing work before you start the trip…and then complete it two days earlier, as a buffer. You’ll be stressed in the run-up to your deadline, but then Zenned-out when you land…and finally find your Work / Life Travel Balance.