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HEALTHY TRAVELER

Getting the Most From a Mini-Vacation

May 23, 1999|KATHLEEN DOHENY

More than 33 million Americans--a record number--will travel by car, plane or train this Memorial Day weekend, according to the American Automobile Assn.

The end-of-May holiday is considered the kickoff of the summer vacation season--not only for traditional long, lazy weeks away from home, but also for mini-vacations, trips lasting four days or less.

Short trips have become just the ticket for travelers too busy, too broke or too indispensable at work to plan a more leisurely vacation. While the Travel Industry Assn. of America has gathered no statistics specifically on mini-vacations, it reports that weekend trips grew by 70% between 1986 and 1996, now accounting for more than half of all U.S. travel.

But are these brief breaks good for you? Can they truly refresh you, or do they create more stress?

That depends, say some experts, on your personality and expectations, as well as your ability to plan wisely.

Dr. Mark Goulston, a Los Angeles psychiatrist, suggests this quick test to determine which type you are: When you've taken a day trip, do you feel invigorated? When you do something as simple as take a different route to work, do you get a fresh perspective? If you answered "yes," you'll probably benefit from brief vacations.

People who can "switch gears" quickly from work to rest do well on short trips, says Thomas T. Olkowski, a Denver clinical psychologist.

"People who are able to compartmentalize their life do well on short trips," says Karen Nesbitt Shanor, a psychologist in Washington, D.C. She cites the example of a man who learned, symbolically, to hang his work problems on the tree in front of his house when he came home. Someone who can do that will probably be able to enjoy a long weekend away.

Some people are stressed by the preparation involved in leaving home just for a few days. It can be as involved as that required for a longer trip, such as arranging for mail and newspapers to be stopped or taken in, reserving the airport shuttle, taking pets to the kennel and securing backup for responsibilities at work. Goulston suggests the real stress comes from trying to do everything at the last minute and going about it in a disorganized way. If you can't plan an orderly departure well in advance, he says, consider asking friends or neighbors to step in.

Travelers who do decide on a mini-vacation should set limits on distance. "Overzealous" is the description used by Glendale travel agent Armen Gregorian for Californians who want to book a four-day weekend in the Caribbean or Hawaii, forgetting the length of the flight. "By the time you get there, [it seems like] you have to pack up and go home." He tries to talk them into a short cruise from Los Angeles, or a resort.

Limit flying time to about three hours, Goulston advises, and driving time to about four.

Scale back your expectations, Olkowski says. Decide on what you will do and what activities you will skip. For instance, if you can't really count on getting in time for golf, don't bring your clubs.

Once you arrive, Goulston advises, stifle the inclination to unpack immediately. Unpacking can feel too much like routine, rules and home. "Go out and have an adventure," he says. "It will feel more like vacation more quickly."

Mini-vacations can have other payoffs besides relaxation. They may be good for families with different interests, Olkowski says, because there's not enough time "to get on each other's nerves."

Mini-vacations are also an ideal way to invigorate a marriage, Goulston tells his patients.

But a holiday weekend is probably not the best time for a mini-vacation. There are crowds, and prices probably will be higher.

"I think the minuses outweigh the pluses," Goulston says. But the minuses probably are worth it, he adds, if you're "bummed out" at the thought of being stuck at home while everyone else is partying.

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Kathleen Doheny can be reached at kdoheny@compuserve.com. Healthy Traveler appears the second and fourth Sundays of the month.

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