Life is better in flip flops –are holidays essential to our well-being?

14 September 2017

It’s a funny old month September – signifying the end of the summer holidays, schools going back and those back-to-work-blues.  So, you find yourself back in the office, under a mound of paperwork – and what’s the first thing you do?  Book another holiday! After all, you need something to look forward to, don’t you?  Let’s face it, we all live for the holidays – but is that because essentially we’re workshy fops, or are they actually necessary for our well-being?

The word ‘holiday’ comes from the Old English word hāligdæg meaning holy day although nowadays Wikipedia defines it as a special day of rest or relaxation.  The first people to enjoy foreign holidays were wealthy Romans during the prosperous days of the Roman Empire (according to author and historian Tony Perrottet). This changed during the more turbulent Dark Ages as it became less safe to travel so the only people who dared to pack their suitcases and go were religious pilgrims (remember Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales from school?).   Steam trains meant that less well-off Victorians could spend three-day breaks by the sea and hey presto, the long weekend was born.

Then in the post-war 1950’s holiday camps flourished (as immortalised in sit-com classic Hi-de-Hi!), aided by the introduction of the two week paid holiday.  Twenty years later and relatively cheap air travel put paid to Butlins and their Knobbly Knees competitions with the allure of foreign travel, the promise of a real tan, and the launch of the package holiday.  By 1972 Spain, according to Travelex, was the favourite destination of the Brit abroad, and Benidorm the proud owner of the highest number of skyscrapers per capita in the world!

Although the availability of budget airlines and online booking sites made it easier to choose more adventurous and challenging destinations, as a nation we’re still in love with Spain.  Last year UK residents made an incredible 14.7 million visits there, making it easily the most visited country.   But whether you love the Costas or are a little more adventurous with your trips, we all love a holiday.  Not only does it give us the chance to rest, bond with the family, expand the mind, and give a sense of perspective on our daily grind, but there are health benefits too.  Scientists from the University of California and Harvard found that just six days away triggers genetic changes which dampen stress, boost the immune system and lower levels of proteins linked to dementia and depression.  It’s also good for our brains.  Neuroscientist and psychologist Don Joseph Goewey writes “Activity in the hippocampus and neocortex centres of the brain (the place where everything we think of as intelligence is generated) increases during periods of wakeful rest, such as breaks during the day, time off during the week or a vacation during the year.”  Goewey believes that the reward for spending time on holiday is a brain humming with creative intelligence, and common sense – sounds pretty good don’t you think?

Perhaps that justifies the financial toll on our bank accounts.  With the average family holiday costing £1,212, according to the Express, we Brits spend a whopping five months and four days saving up.  However the cost doesn’t seem to put us off, as more and more of us are taking holidays – in 1996 we took 26.8 million holiday visits compared with 45 million in 2016.  However if the cost of a holiday does seem prohibitive, why don’t you book your friends and family into one of Merlin Event’s Christmas parties – that way you’ve all got something to look forward to.

It’s good to take time off, evaluate your life and work, break free from the daily routine, immerse yourself in a new culture and give yourself new challenges.  And if you feel guilty booking another break then remember it has psychological and physical benefits, so yes, you really, really need it!