A life of bleisure: how to mix work and vacation

December 8th, 2016

One of the primary reasons that Ashley Malone started a business with her husband – Ashley & Malone, a branding and web development agency – was the freedom to travel together without being restricted by vacation days.

While spending Canada’s cold months down south is a definite luxury, the idea of always keeping one foot in the work world is a little more complicated.

“I worked a corporate job in the past where I was able to disconnect and not check my email once,” says Malone. “Travelling while working is still a huge benefit and a nice way to break up time in the office. We still feel like we’ve experienced new adventures, great food and exciting stories. So it’s definitely worth it and feels like a break, but it’s not the same feeling as being able to fully shut off.”

Welcome to the new, modern vacation – where no one is ever truly off the clock. One of the biggest trends in contemporary travel is the so-called “bleisure” or “workation” trip, which combines business or work into otherwise leisure travel (or vice versa).

Hot desking or sightseeing? Do both

A variety of terrific coworking spots are popping up all over the world to accommodate just a preference for working on the road – many complete with hot desking, onsite cafes and private Skype booths. Soho House, the private members club stretching its way across the globe, has plans to introduce Housework, a hot desking option in several cities, including Los Angeles and Istanbul. And WeWork, one of the biggest players in coworking spaces, now has dozens in locations in Canada, the United States, Israel and Europe.

Travellers no longer have to choose between a change of scenery and keeping up with projects and paychecks; in both big cities and coastal retreats, they can work in the morning and snorkel or hit a museum in the afternoon. And while this arrangement is tempting to many, it’s worthwhile asking whether you can still reap the personal and professional benefits of a real vacation.


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The modern vacation

Research has shown that taking a real break from the demands of work can lead to better health, lower stress, less likelihood of burnout and even greater motivation in the workplace. According to one recent survey by the staffing firm Creative Group, 40 percent of executives believe their employees would be more productive after a vacation.

The inability to sever work and leisure has led some organizations to implement their own rules. In 2013, the German labour ministry banned management from emailing or calling employees outside of work hours, except for in the case of emergency – following similar protocols implemented by Volkswagen and BMW. The idea behind such measures is to prevent the burnout associated with never having any downtime away from professional obligations.

Enjoying a little* time off

For Adam McDowell, editor and author of the new book Drinks: A User’s Guide, work and pleasure travel have long been intermingled – and that scenario rarely leads to more relaxation. While much of his work involves visiting bars and restaurants, sampling cocktails and chatting up proprietors – in other words, exactly how many people spend their big-city vacations – it still feels like work.

“I spend all this time fueling other people's fantasies of travelling by having and documenting lots of enviable food and drink experiences — and of course I enjoy all that, at least half the time,” says McDowell. “[But] I usually feel less than relaxed when I arrive home from travelling. My own deepest fantasy is a week of nothing but reading and quiet.”

Phil Birnbaum, a publicist for Bookmark Content and Communications, has found that the intermingling of work and pleasure can have clear benefits. He takes “bleisure trips” when he can, bundling a weekend with an extra day or two off to turn a work trip into something a little more fun. “It doesn't feel like I have missed as much and don't need to spend as long going through emails,” says Birnbaum. “I'm more rested after a pure vacation, though I also have more anxiety about playing catch-up.”

As more and more Canadians work independently and on contract, the combining of business and pleasure can be a necessity. For some, vacation would not be tenable if it meant abandoning all paid work for any period of time. While Malone might enjoy a completely unplugged escape, life as an entrepreneur comes with a new-fashioned set of rules. “I love our business and the work we do, so while in certain moments I’m sure we’d benefit from a work-free vacation, it’s not our reality,” she says. “I’d much rather juggle work and explore the world than not travel at all. “

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