More than half of Americans don’t use all of their vacation days. That statistic hit me like a brick when I found that I still had nine of my 10 vacation days still available to me.
When I was growing up, my mom used to love to go to the beach, sink her toes in the sand and let the hot summer sun melt away the stress her 9-to-5 had helped accumulate in the previous months.
I never really liked the beach growing up. No matter how many layers of sunscreen I applied, I still attracted UV rays like a magnet. Second worst was always the sand which seemed to cover me like cinnamon sugar on a doughnut.
But perhaps the thing I hated most about going to the beach was that my mama glued her butt to her beach chair and didn’t want to do anything other than that for the rest of our trip.
My favorite thing about going on vacation to the beach as a child was spending about an hour or two on the beach, taking a swim in the not-so-salty-and-sandy pool and hitting the town to see a show. Looking back now, I have no idea how she could have afforded that. Sorry mom.
When my mom stopped taking us to Myrtle Beach and eventually decided every beach vacation would be held on Ocean Isle Beach, a remote island near Myrtle Beach with nothing but vacation homes lining its streets, I spent just a few hours on the beach and in the pool, but most of my time on the couch.
I remember my mom packing up a cooler for the beach, inquisitively staring at my short frame wrapped like a burrito in a blanket, lying on the couch watching Disney movies.
“Why come to the beach if you’re going to stay inside the whole time?” she’d ask.
Why was I there? I liked the smell of the ocean and I liked getting away from home, even if it was just to plop down on a considerably comfier couch to indulge in a movie marathon with possibly the best view of the sea anyone could ask for.
Now that I’m getting older, however, I long for those days in the sand and time away from the chaos that is everyday life.
There are a lot of reasons why people don’t use their paid vacation days. Some are afraid to come back to their desk to find a plethora of missed calls or mountains of paperwork, and many think their bosses may feel that they aren’t as dedicated to the job if they’re ready to hit the road for a week at the beach.
But like many Robesonians, I’m blocked by something far more limiting than the idea that my coworkers will hate me for going on vacation — my wallet. I can’t exactly afford to rent out a beach house for the week, nor can I afford to spend a week in even a bed bug-ridden hotel.
To combat my stir-craziness last weekend, I decided to hop in my car with my boyfriend and get on the road to Columbia, S.C., to visit Riverbanks Zoo. We hit the road around 6 a.m. and stopped in St. Pauls for a quick bite to eat. We got to the zoo around 8:45 a.m. and were finished seeing all the demonstrations and exhibits by 1 p.m.
I remember a smile playing across my face as my boyfriend and I exited the giant gates. He looked at me and could instantly tell I had a blast, despite the fact that I had to jog to keep up with his long strides all day.
“I needed this,” I laughed.
Afterwards, we rested our tired feet at Olive Garden where we indulged in bottomless salads and soups before heading home for the evening.
Everyone needs to get away, even if it’s just for the day. It is considerably cheaper than spending money on hotels and food for a week. Obviously, if you have that option, you should take it. But with one-third of the population here living in poverty, and a considerably large portion of the remainder making only enough to pay their bills, a long vacation isn’t always an option.
Take a day trip to the park, go see a movie, buy tickets to a show at the Carolina Civic Center or GPAC, take a hike, go to the beach for the day. Find your equivalent to sinking your toes in the sand because, according to The New York Times, vacations help your physical health by reducing stress on your heart. Men and women who take a vacay every two years have a considerably lower chance of having a heart attack than those who vacation every six years.
Vacations can also improve your mental capacity, strengthen familial bonds and increase a worker’s productivity. So make time for yourself just like I did. I came back feeling a lot less stressed because I had something else to focus on rather than work — the cute and cuddly animals at the zoo.
By Gabrielle Isaac
Gabrielle Isaac can be reached at 910-816-1989 or on Twitter @news_gabbie.