Destination: Grafton, Illinois

There are places that reenergize us, help us put down our burdens (and our smartphones), if only for a weekend. Grafton, Illinois is that place for me. A short hour’s drive from my home in St. Louis, Grafton is a small river town (population 640) situated where the Illinois and Mississippi rivers converge. It also happens to be the place where I got married six years ago at Pere Marquette Lodge, a 1940 limestone-and-timber Civilian Conservation Corps beauty, located just outside of Grafton with plenty of picturesque hiking, paranormal investigation, an apple festival, and Sunday brunch.

I did not grow up on a river proper, but driving up the Great River Road, observing barges, riverboats, and the Brussels Ferry reconnects me to the land, gives me a sense of peace, and reminds me to pause and remember what actually matters. Honestly, just the act of packing up the car and leaving home makes me feel like I will actually have an opportunity to enjoy my weekend. Though the staycation movement is attractive for many reasons, when given the opportunity, taking a trip is my jam.

Many of us, though, have a hard time rationalizing getting away (work martyrs, rejoice!), the benefits of taking a step back, even a short trip, from obligation and the hustle and bustle of everyday work, chores, and to-dos are so healthy. As NPR reported earlier this month, “engaging in more frequent enjoyable leisure activities” can buffer “the negative psychological impact of stress.” Of course, there is the corollary of the crazy vacation, where the stress of an impromptu, thrown-together trip can have adverse effects. And, returning to the workplace after a particularly blissful sojourn can be stressful, too, though giving buffer time between vacation and work is a smart tactic that helps with the reentry blues.

Regardless, the U.S. Travel Association and Project: Time Off show that more Americans are taking vacation time in 2018 than in 2017, though the increase was only 2 percent (or taking a half day more). This small bump is encouraging even though over half of us are still leaving vacation time on the table. There does appear to be a small shift in employers becoming more progressive in encouraging time off (perhaps these same employers have read the research noting better employee productivity and retention?).

Ultimately, last weekend’s overnight trip made the end of a hot summer sweeter—a secluded and shaded cabin that lulled the whole family to sleep longer than normal, a memorable breakfast at the lodge, milling about the Grafton Flea Market and eyeing hand-stitched feedsack quilts and baseball cards while noshing on a Gus’ pretzel, and slowing down. While we do not have to leave home to slow our roll, it seems like a short trip is the antidote to our hectic pace. Breathing in and out, enjoying time with loved ones, soaking up the local color, and having new adventures may seem like quaint activities, but they are the true joys we will remember more than chores, errands, and work.