Is the traditional vacation broken?

Your first response might be an emphatic 'No!' What's not to like about sitting on a sun lounger sipping an umbrella cocktail, after all? But if you think about the larger vacation experience for most working Americans, cracks begin to appear.

First, there's the fact that so few of us actually take all our available vacation time. Plus, you need to factor in the plague of vacation guilt among entrepreneurs, the travel companions you annoy with you constant device checking, and the horrible, post-vacation re-entry shock caused by your exploding inbox. Looked at more globally then, there's plenty of room for improvement when it comes to the average holiday.

And if there's one thing entrepreneurs like it's a problem in need of fixing. Perhaps that's why a pair of business owners have recently spoken out about their attempts to innovate the vacation, rethinking the traditional getaway to better suit the realities of life as a 21st century business owner.

The Careercation

First up is serial entrepreneur and author of Careercation: Trading Briefcase for Suitcase to Find Entrepreneurial Happiness David Niu, who recently spoke with Knowledge@Wharton about his radical, new approach to the family holiday. His idea? Forget a measly week or two in the sun.

"I did not want to wait until I was 67 and a half years old and getting Social Security and having a lot of time on my hands, but not a lot of help, [to travel]," he tells Wharton. "I thought, instead of taking the traditional route that society expects of me, I am going to break out my retirement throughout my career and take longer vacations to really recharge and refresh and get different perspectives instead of saving it for my old age."

In practice that looked like a burnout-busting, ten-month trek through New Zealand, Australia, Korea, China, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Taiwan with his wife and young daughter, interviewing CEOs to gather material for his book along the way.

It might sound like a radical option, but Niu insists more people should consider these crazy-sounding possibilities. "When we told people that we were going to take this careercation and start traveling with my young family, most people thought we were crazy," he reports, "but at the end of the day, it was not that bad at all. We had a fantastic time, and we redefined what we wanted to do and what we wanted to get out of life. I thought that was a really critical lesson for me. A lot of other people who get stuck in a rut may want to try something different. It is okay to do something that other people might [not support]."

He's not the only one highlighting the possibilities of extended work-travel trips (and no, all these people aren't independently wealthy, single 20-somethings).

No More 'Back to Work'

While Niu's approach was a far more profound break from the normal work-rest rhythms than most of us are accustomed to, developer Phil Leggetter is taking the opposite tack when it comes to innovating vacations. Rather than put a more complete and lengthy space between the different spheres of life, on Medium recently he vowed to give up his frustrating and fruitless efforts to separate work and rest.

His attempts to find a traditional "work-life balance" were simply exhausting and stressful, he confesses. "Work Life Balance seems to suit the traditional 9 to 6 best. It assumes that you can--and want to--turn off when you clock off. I believe that self awareness is important which leads me to believe that Work Life Balance isn't for me," he writes. What is he now opting to pursue instead?

"Define times during which I do still have a 100 percent family or work focus. For example, family activities and pre-arranged meetings (like the stand-ups the BladeRunnerJS team have every morning at 10am). But outside of those times I'm going to give myself the flexibility to explore and define the Work Life Integration pattern that suits me best," he says. That means "no more 'back to work' and no more holidays. Instead I'll have periods where the general focus is work or family, but these things aren't mutually exclusive."

Are your vacations workings for you as well as they could? Would either of these approaches work better?

Published on: Oct 27, 2014