The Positives and Perils of Vacation Mindset (DE Wave)

Woman relaxes in hammock from a palm tree

Well, it’s that time again. Every year for the past 10 years that I’ve had the pleasure of writing for this newspaper, I receive multiple emails (and this time, a couple of phone calls) asking me to reprint this article. I sincerely appreciate the compliment!

The beginning of July seems like the perfect opportunity to remind everybody to try and act civilized on the roads. As everyone shares (or pretends to share) the local roads, this article seems as timely as ever. So here goes:

“I’m on vacation! I’m gonna have fun and do what I want to do!” For many of us, that’s music to our ears. But there’s a recurring pattern that happens at vacation destinations: Frequent car crashes and driving-related incidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, July, August and September stand out in the number of careless accidents resulting in severe injuries or worse. These months statistically produce the highest death rate per mile.

Here at the beach, I observe more red lights ignored, more tailgating, more aggressive lane changes and more speeding than I ever see in metropolitan areas. Do these people behave like that at home? Maybe so, maybe not. But, as you probably expect, I do have some thoughts on the subject.

There’s a mindset that takes over when we go on vacation. People who are married, or otherwise coupled, have told me about affairs they’ve had while on vacation. They excuse the severity of these lapses by rationalizing, “Well, I was on vacation, so I could do what I wanted,” as if there would be no consequences when they returned home. I suspect that it’s this attitude that fuels the reckless and rude behavior that seems to be par for the course here in the summer.

So many people work in jobs they dislike, and my experience has shown that anger generated in the workplace doesn’t go away. It may be suppressed, but when vacation time comes around, the resentment is set free. With no boss or co-workers to take it out on, the anger is directed at other drivers (“co-workers”), and authority, symbolized in part by traffic laws (“the boss”).

Yes, it’s a rebellion against authority, but it’s misplaced. People who feel that they have too little control over their lives certainly need to address the issue — but not on the roads of resort towns. They’re not liberating themselves by thinking, “To heck with this red light” or “I’m texting while driving, but I’m on vacation, so who cares!”

These feelings may not be entirely conscious, but they do characterize the psychology of vacationing. Don’t get me wrong: A break from the everyday routine is vital for good mental health. But none of us, including vacationers, benefit from this irrational approach to letting loose. People can, and do, die from it.

This attitude is sometimes referred to as “Vacation Syndrome”; when an individual tries to take a vacation from ALL responsibilities, instead of just some. For example, there’s nothing irresponsible about leaving business voice mail and email at home. But shedding all responsibility, including the need to drive while sober, to stop at stop signs, and to act with civility and good sense, is where the problem begins. Do you ever wonder what’s going on in the Spandex-clad minds of those who subject their fragile babies to a treacherous “stroller run” on the rocky, narrow shoulders of a busy road? Is that thin white line an impenetrable force field? And what about those who ignore the designated lanes and merrily ride their bikes or roller blade in the middle of the street – stone deaf to the world thanks to their iPod earplugs? Just because they’re at the beach doesn’t make these activities any less risky than they would be at home.

Perhaps those who show signs of Vacation Syndrome take too little care of themselves during the rest of the year. If they allowed themselves a little more fun in their day-to-day activities, they might not depend so much on their vacation to provide it all. Whatever the causes of their stress, it doesn’t make sense to play it out by endangering themselves and everyone else on the roads of this otherwise peaceful summer playground.

Be sure to “friend” Dr. Hurd on Facebook. Search under “Michael  Hurd” (Rehoboth Beach DE). Get up-to-the-minute postings, recommended articles and links, and engage in back-and-forth discussion with Dr. Hurd on topics of interest. Also follow Dr. Hurd on Twitter at @MichaelJHurd1