Passport to Your ‘Safecation’

Have a Summer Getaway, Even If You Don’t Leave Home

May 20, 2020

SMITH BRAIN TRUST  With summer on the horizon, people have begun thinking about vacation plans. And many are trying to figure out how it’s all going to work this year, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to upend so much of life.

This summer will be undeniably different than previous ones, says Maryland Smith’s J. Gerald Suarez, but taking that time off is as important as ever.

“COVID-19 has melted our concept of normalcy and turned our traditional vacations and leisure activities into a high-risk proposition,” says Suarez, professor of the practice in systems thinking and design at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. “Seeking a ‘safecation’ begins with our desire to reinvigorate our spirit and recharge our soul, and this can happen anywhere we are.”

The emotional toll of the pandemic and the mix of powerful emotions it is triggering – such as fear, guilt, worry caused by the loss of life, financial vulnerability and job insecurity – are like a psychological Molotov cocktail, Suarez says. Add to these worries the responsibility of homeschooling their children, daily house tasks, adapting to new technologies and the demands of virtual work, and it can get to be a bit much.

All of these factors play into why taking advantage of that time off is so necessary, Suarez says.

“We’ve lost our sense of stability, and the demarcations between home life and work life are blurred,” says Suarez. “We’ve been working in overdrive with no transitions and decompression time from work to our home.”

Pandemic-era vacations won’t be like the ones we are used to, Suarez says. But the reasons why vacations are important and the benefits they offer remain unchanged.

Flatten the curve, not your dreams.

Indulging your fear initiates a cycle of unproductive worry. Worry exists in our imagination through images and narratives of something going wrong, says Suarez. We can channel that energy and gain a sense of control if we change the images to desired positive outcomes. Planning a vacation gives us permission to dream, and its details give us a sense of control and something to look forward to with anticipation and excitement.

Put yourself on digital quarantine.

Disengage from stressful activities and place your needs at the top of your list of priorities, Suarez says. Reduce the overstimulation and bombardment of information brought to us by social media. Disconnect from technology and reconnect with yourself.

View the world through the eyes of a traveler.

Recalibrate your perspective and appreciate the moment with mindfulness. Traveling forces us to see differences among things that are similar or familiar. We can accomplish the same by looking at our surroundings through the eyes of a traveler, Suarez says. Changing your patterns and performing your routine in a different room in the house can help in creating a modified experience in your habitual setting. These simple tasks may stimulate and invigorate you in unexpected ways, he says.

Creating a modified vacation experience must be done with a sense of optimism, embracing the possibilities of your surroundings and most importantly trusting your resiliency to adapt and derive joy from it. Here are some first steps Suarez recommends to move in that direction:

  • Explore nature
  • Read books not related to work
  • Take on new physical fitness challenges
  • Rearrange the furniture in your house, give it a new look
  • Engage the family in fun and interactive activities



About the Expert(s)


Dr. J. Gerald Suarez is a premier educator, speaker and consultant in the fields of Organizational Design, Systems Thinking and Total Quality Management. Suarez joined Smith in 2005 as Executive Director of the multidisciplinary Quality Enhancement Systems and Teams (QUEST) Honors Fellows program. He was a Ralph J. Tyser Teaching Fellow and an Executive Education Senior Fellow. From 2008 to 2010 he served as Associate Dean of External Strategy, leading the offices of marketing communications, recruitment and career services.

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Robert H. Smith School of Business
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University of Maryland
Robert H. Smith School of Business
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