From the July 2001 issue of Startups

Ahhhh. The sounds of island music drift through the air from a distant cabana. A tropical breeze brushes across your skin as the gentle waves wash up on the white-sand beach. You feel the warmth of the sun on your legs as you sip your mai tai and enjoy the view of a turquoise sea and sky. Beep, beep, beep! Your alarm reminds you it's only a dream, and you've got a zillion people to call, plans to draft and numbers to crunch today.

If the closest you're getting to a vacation is dreaming about one, it's time for some serious restructuring. While entrepreneurs in general can be stingy with their time off, homebased entrepreneurs tend to be even harder on themselves and even more reluctant to get away. Karen Frost, founder of Washington, DC-area Frost Media Relations, explains this hesitation: "Since my business is just me, I think there's a concern from my clients that some ball is going to drop [while I'm on vacation] and nobody's going to know how to pick it up. And as the company grows, there's even less opportunity to take a vacation."

Likewise, Stacy Brice, president and CEO of AssistU, admits being scared about what would happen to her Baltimore-based virtual assistant business if she went away. When she took her first vacation in 1998, her second year of business, she gave her assistant a day-by-day itinerary of her trip, with instructions to call if anything went wrong. Says Brice, "Like any other business owner, I thought everything was going to crumble without me."

So why bother with vacation time? According to Alan Muney, M.D., chief medical officer and executive vice president for Oxford Health Plans Inc., a Trumbull, Connecticut-based health-plan provider, vacation is a lot more than fun and games. "Vacations have been traditionally viewed as frivolous behavior, particularly in a high-productivity culture such as we have," he says. "Studies have shown, though, that taking regular vacations actually helps reduce stress-related illnesses. Vacation is preventive medicine."

Mary Naylor, CEO of VIPdesk, a Washington, DC-area online concierge service, relates the issue to homebased entrepreneurs: "Most people work to the point of exhaustion and then take a vacation as a reward at the end of, say, six months," she says. "Or they think it's a badge of honor that they've gone two years without a vacation. In fact, you should really look at proactively planning a vacation each quarter as a point of renewal and mental rejuvenation. The entrepreneur is the chief idea generator, and when you lose that edge, it's critical."

For Frost, her time away allows her to remember that there's a world beyond her to-do list. "When you step out of a situation for a moment, you may be able to look at the same picture but in a different way and bring something new to the table," she explains. "It offers perspective and the ability to step back from your day-to-day working environment and the tunnel vision you find yourself getting into."

Indeed, Brice attributes many of her greatest business decisions to her time out of the office. "When I'm doing things that are good for me, I have these flashes of brilliance about places I can take my business," she says. "I take a little notepad with me, and when I have one of those flashes, I write it down in the book, close the book and put it away, so it doesn't interfere with my time but I also don't forget it when I go back home."

Click Here
Ease yourself into the process of planning a vacation by checking out some of these travel sites:
Away.com: Dream up a trip and work out the details with Away.com's wide range of traveling information.
Orbitz.com: Backed by top U.S. airlines, travel site Orbitz's claim to fame is that its database shows airfares that don't show up on other search engines.
Expedia.com, Travelocity.com and TravelScape.com: Search for deals on airfare, hotels, car rentals, vacation packages and more with these sites.

Unplug Yourself

Both Muney and Naylor stress the importance of making your trip a true vacation, minus the pager, cell phone and laptop. "You [can't be] reading industry publications while you're sitting on the beach," advises Naylor. "You really need to disconnect."

Fast Facts
In an informal poll of 300 American Express small-business customers, 69 percent said they'd be taking a summer vacation this year. However, wired they will stay: 41 percent will take a cell phone, 19 percent will pack a laptop, 10 percent will wear a pager, and 9 percent will tote a PDA. A mere 14 percent will go gadget-free. What's wrong with you people? You're on vacation!

While many experts would say your goal should be to get away for at least a week, Muney acknowledges that shorter vacations can be a good place to start. "Try taking one over a three-day weekend, and then add another day or two," he suggests. "That way, it's fewer days missed, because the rest of the world has been on vacation for those three days as well."

Once you've mastered that, try moving on to longer getaways. Brice points out that during the typical seven-day trip, you don't really get to relax because you spend the first three or four days getting into "vacation mode." "Then you only have a couple of days to relax before you have to come back home and pop back into things," she explains. "So it's not really about relaxation and rejuvenation."

"When I'm doing things that are good for me, I have these flashes of brilliance about places I can take my business."

Make it a point to schedule your trips in advance-the more notice you give your clients, the more time they'll have to get used to the idea. Besides, as a busy business owner, you'll need the extra time to prepare for the vacation. Frost is planning a two-week trip to Peru in the next few weeks, and she's taking care to work out the details and make contingency plans. "I'm telling my clients that I'm going on a vacation, that I need some R&R for myself, and that in order for this to be a positive, healthy working environment, this has to happen," she says.

Naylor suggests planning a minimum of four vacations a year-a week at the end of each quarter-and making them non-negotiable. "Call it a creative retreat," she says. "It's normal, and just because you're a homebased entrepreneur doesn't mean you have to be accessible through your pager 24/7."

Brice, for one, schedules her vacation time before she does anything else. "If I override the time I create for myself, then I'm not likely to get it back," she says, "and once you start to give it up for one reason, it becomes easier to give it up for any reason." Brice also suggests structuring your business and using technology in a way that allows for revenue to keep streaming in even when you're not there. Enlist the help of an assistant, and be ready to hand things off to them.

And don't forget about travel agencies and concierge services. "As an entrepreneur, you need complete resources; you don't have time to keep going back and forth between the Web, phone and other research. Charge that task to someone else," suggests Naylor. "At the end of the day, your business is important, but it's not a life-or-death situation. This is for your health."

RESOURCE GUIDE
There are plenty of books out there that can help you plan a getaway. Here are some of our favorites:

Adventure and Specialty Travel

Group getaways for the perpetually active

Maybe tropical breezes and sunsets aren't your cup of tea. That's OK-you've got options:

New England Hiking Holidays: This company offers walking and hiking trips for all skill levels throughout Canada, Europe and the United States.

Amelia Culinary Adventures: Ever dreamed of learning Italian cooking techniques while traveling in Sicily? Check out Amelia's packages and tours.

Adventure Travel Society: Unusual vacations galore.

Alternative Travel: This site includes Frommer's suggestions for offbeat travel-that includes helping out on an archaeological dig, saving the wetlands or participating in an organic farm homestay. Note: The volunteer trips are a great way to make a difference and save money.