The sunsets are starting just a little earlier now. A symphony of crickets crescendos on violin legs. At night you can feel the faintest flicker of an almost-autumnal breeze. These are the signs of a fading summer, and they’re hitting hard this year. Usually, the end of the season is roaring with rollercoaster screams and festival applause, the splash of new memories, and laughter of old friends. All of that is muted these days.

It’s enough to make you want to toss on some flannel and call it October. But that’s not fair. Even though there’s nowhere to go and not much to do, taking a summer vacation has never been more important.

From boosting productivity to increasing life expectancy, there are oodles of science-backed bullet points explaining why you should take more vacation time. It doesn’t much matter what you do with your time off — simply taking a break can have a huge impact on your mental health. One study from the University of Vienna indicates that vacationers continued to benefit from the calming effects of their getaway even after five weeks back at the grind. Of course, there’s not much research about taking a vacation in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic, but we’re going to assume that most of the facts hold up. Plus, there are plenty of new reasons to take it easy. We’ve had to adapt to new roles and new rules in a new world ruled by a new virus. Horrible things keep happening. Every. Single. Day. We’re experiencing an unprecedented amount of stress and there’s no end in sight. We could all use a little R & R. We should all use a little PTO.

But what to do when even a voyage to the grocery store is not without risk? Where do we escape to when the American passport is but a bookmark in the unexplored atlas of our dreams? How do we get away from it all when IT is all that there is? Fortunately, getting away doesn’t always mean going away. Take it from the guy with 17 Hawaiian shirts in his closet – vacation is a state of mind. Here are a few of my favorite anti-travel tips for making the most of your much-needed 2020 plaguecation.

Learn to loaf.

Time’s an illusion, right? March is basically September now and every Wednesday is a warp zone to a different Wednesday. The sooner you recognize this, the easier it is to burn through a week of vacation time by doing nothing at all. Loafing — also known as lollygagging, dillydallying, goofing off, or putzing around — requires careful planning, plenty of practice, and an open mind. But once you master it, you’ll have an endless supply of all-expense-paid tickets to the scenic Nowhereland Resort and Casino.

Here’s how to get there. First, ditch your phone and laptop. Find a comfy spot. A couch or bed is fine, of course, but if you have access to a sun-dappled outdoor oasis, consider putting it to use. Then, lay down. Let your mind wander where it pleases. The beach. A jungle. Happy days at a water park, perhaps. But if you start thinking about work — STOP! Things will be okay while you’re gone. Your coworkers are great! They’ll keep things going in your absence. Just let your mind do its thing, and you’ll be wasting time in no time.

Tour imagined worlds.

The best thing about living in 2020 is we can at least pretend we don’t live in 2020. With so many incredible movies, TV shows, books, video games, articles, albums, and artworks to explore, you’ll forget all about what’s beyond your screens. Remember when your friend wouldn’t stop talking about that series from a few years ago? Throne of Games, or whatever it was called? Well, now’s your chance to catch up and see what all the dragon-flavored fuss was about.

And that’s just the beginning. With a little time and a handy algorithm at your disposal, you can spiral down all kinds of exciting wormholes. How many K-pop dating shows are on NetFlix? Take a week off and find out! Did you know you can play a video game where you grow flowers and pick out carpets on a tropical island inhabited by sassy, talking animals? It’s very, very fun. But perhaps that’s too newfangled? I don’t know about you, but I could fill a whole vacation just reading the books that I impulse bought over the last year and a half. Not into great works of literature? You could always read cheesy content on an ad agency’s website.

Chase your daydreams.

Just because you can’t go anywhere doesn’t mean you can’t think about going somewhere. Planning hypothetical vacations is one of my absolute favorite end times pastimes. Reading travel reviews and guidebooks will always inspire my inner adventurer and help me make informed decisions once I can set out on a skyward sojourn again. In the meantime, there are plenty of other daydreams to keep me afloat.

Whether it’s adopting a puppy or learning an instrument, people are taking advantage of the unique opportunities of our era to conquer new horizons and foster untapped passions. Go ahead and spend hours browsing the used car listings, you might find your perfect ride. Price out a nice speaker system while you’re at it! Investigate new recipes and try your hand at crafting your favorite cuisine from scratch. Research towns you might want to move to one day, and real estate listings, too. Take a drive to see them if they’re not far away. This is the perfect time to project, plot, and plan for the future – it’ll get here eventually!

I hope.

So please, before the days start to shiver and shrink into fall, take your vacation time. It’s the best way to honor the ghosts of Augusts past, compress the stress at hand, and prepare for sunnier summers to come. Your brain will thank you. Your heart will thank you. I will thank you, personally, with a handwritten postcard from my imaginary animal-infested island, if that’s what it takes.

Want to kill some more time? For additional ideas on keeping calm during these crazy days, check out this excellent piece by Renee Klein.

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