Practically Free Mini-Vacations

by W. R. Shaw

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There are folks out there who get paid sick days and paid vacation time. Amazing, but true. For the rest of us, "vacation" is a couple of minutes stolen from the boss at work, or whatever we can cram into a weekend after the shopping, laundry, housecleaning and yard work are done. If you find yourself in desperate need of a sanity break, try one of these "minivacations" for a quick lift.

The Extrasensory Shower: The sense of smell has strong connections to both memory and emotion. Take advantage of this connection. Instead of waiting to finish one bottle of shower gel before moving on to the next, buy them when they're on sale and keep two or three different scents available in the shower. Lather with one, and then another. Mix two together. No one sells "citrus rose," but it might be just the thing for your current mood. Choose scents that suggest different environments, or different moods. Instead of buying both shampoo and conditioner in the same scent, make a point of buying different scents. The "extrasensory" shower takes no more time than your regular shower but the changing sensory environment turns it into an instant getaway that will leave you relaxed and alert and ready to return to the working world.

The Soundscape Escape: Spend a few minutes with one of the readily available "soundscape" CDs. "Dollar stores" often sell them for $1, and generally has loads of them for not much more, or you can browse the bargain CD bins of any department store. If you have time, sit back and close your eyes to take full advantage of this "virtual vacation" to a storm-tossed ocean, a jungle, or the north Maine woods. Otherwise, try listening on your morning commute to work, or plug one into your computer's CD player at the office.

The Virtual Visit: When tech support clients ask me where I find the patience to deal with all their questions, I tell them, "It's no problem. That's what I get paid for." The real truth is that as soon as I can tell it's going to be a long call, I point my web browser to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Mostly, I watch my favorites, the pelagic rays, going about their business, but sometimes I drop in to watch feeding time for the penguins, or zip over to the Outer Bay tank. When I'm especially tired of being indoors, I head outside via the live cam on the bay, to see whether the harbor seals are sunning on the Portola Rocks. All this without ever interrupting the phone call. There are thousands of live cameras, located all over the world. Enter "live streaming webcam" into any search engine and you'll find hundreds of options to choose from. Watch the sun come up over Loch Ness or visit a waterhole in Africa, a Hawaiian beach, a pond in New Hampshire or the streets of Paris, all without leaving your desk.

And finally, pet the cat! The relaxation and health benefits of this activity are so well documented that many nursing homes now encourage animal shelters and other organizations to bring cats, dogs and even guinea pigs and rabbits in to visit with the residents. If you don't have a furry companion of your own, offer to volunteer an hour or two to your local animal shelter. They're usually understaffed and don't have time to give the animals a lot of one on one interaction. Most shelters welcome the assistance of anyone willing to spend a little time with the residents. Not only will it lower your blood pressure, but also the one-on-one interaction can help to socialize nervous animals and make them more adoptable. Everyone wins!

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