There was a time in the U.S. when vacations were not the norm. In the late 1800s, 90% of labor force were farmers. Cows don’t milk themselves, and crops don’t water themselves. Without cars and hotels, a winter “vacation” could be a dangerous journey.

Times have changed, though. As the number of people attached to the land steadily declined, as the pace and tempo of our lives increased, and as technology made movement across the country and beyond a possibility for the average American, vacations became an institution. Our active families need them!

So Why Vacation?

So what’s the purpose of this time out? Theoretically a vacation helps us rejuvenate and refresh so we can come back to our every day lives with renewed enthusiasm, focus and energy. The potential is there to rebalance in every way, physically, mentally, spiritually, and to reconnect with our families. In the late 1800s, we were always with them. Today we spend most of our time off in separate worlds.

And yet: numbers collected by Gallup in 2012 and published in the Harvard Business Review show that only 16% of American employees are engaged at work! 70% are “not engaged” and another 14% “actively disengaged” — they are essentially sleep-walking.

At the same time, Americans leave vacation days on the table at record numbers, “essentially working for free almost one week per year, according to a new study by Oxford Economics.” U.S. workers use only 77% of their time off, which translates into about 169 million days forfeited and $52.4 billion in lost benefits.

Yet employees who take opportunities to refresh and rejuvenate are more likely to work to their full potential, less likely to suffer burnout, are more creative and more likely to bring a fresh perspective to work. Performance at work is markedly better. Vacations produce positive benefits for employees, who are more focused and productive in every aspect of their lives, and positive benefits for employers because energized employees make more money for the company.

So Rule #1 is: take the vacation. Rule #2, though, is maximize the possibility that your vacation will work its magic, improving your health and giving you new energy and a fresh perspective. Make certain your vacation gives you time out to rebalance, reconnect with your family, and build mental, spiritual and physical health and fitness.

Fitcations are the New Vacation

Enter “fitcations”, the newest phenomenon in the wellness industry. Entrepreneurs, quick to jump on market trends, create new businesses to respond to this demand or offer consulting services to existing businesses. In addition, existing travel and tourist businesses incorporate the fitcation concept into their packages, many with options for the whole family. Take your pick: surfing, runner beaches, yoga fitcations, trail hiking, cross-country skiing camps, boot camp workouts and more.

All of these packages offer a wealth of options for strenuous physical activity, healthy eating, mental and spiritual refreshment and possibly intellectual stimulation, though the latter isn’t as likely. Many have age-appropriate kids’ components. The packages come with a healthy price tag too, which some can accommodate, but for others, that price tag reduces the appeal of the professionally planned fitcation.

DIY Your Fitcation

Here’s another great family option: a DIY fitcation! And this fitcation provides a workout for every aspect of you as a human being: physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. You’ll come back refreshed and restored, ready to work for another year and hopefully ready to incorporate your good habits into your daily life.

So here’s an idea for healthy family vacations: try a camping trip! Since so many Americans report that the cost of a vacation is a factor, and since every state in America boasts spectacular camping locations, meaning at least one is close to home, camping is an economical way to take off that time. What’s more, there is nothing like camping to build family memories and find new closeness.

Unless you choose a rigorous winter clime, you can buy a tent and camping gear for under $1000, and it will last you for years. Choose a beautiful location near water (many studies show that proximity to water reduces stress and improves mood). Take several weeks to work on your gear list, dividing it into categories to help you plan: camp kitchen, food, clothing, bedding, bath, etc. Keep the travel time as brief as possible but far enough to end up in an area where the weather is temperate and there are plenty of hiking and swimming opportunities.

Work out a daily schedule that includes everyone in the family, including time to find wood and build fires, time to make meals and clean up from them, time for long hikes and swimming, time for meditative stretching or yoga, time to read and time to just sit around the camp fire and contemplate nature as the sun rises and sets.

Plan ahead what everyone would like to read, and bring plenty of books and magazines. Take yoga mats and maybe try out some yoga in the morning.

Keep the Food Healthy

Most important, take only healthy, whole foods on this trip. Take no commercial or processed foods, no sweeteners and no pop or juices. Get the whole family engaged in planning and shopping for meals and snacks of only real food, things you can put together with mostly vegetables, some fruits, grains, nuts, seeds, whole grain pasta, dried beans and extra virgin olive oil. Drink only fresh water, coffee and tea. If you have refrigeration, take milk or yogurt to add to a breakfast bowl, non-dairy milks if that’s what your family prefers.

What Will All This Do for Your Family?

Now let’s think about what this kind of fitcation will do for you and your family: reading will challenge everyone intellectually and stimulate imagination. You can even read to each other around the camp fire! The resourcefulness that camping demands is an intellectual and physical challenge in a different way.

The quiet in the morning and evening, watching the sun rise and set or watching a crackling fire, provides all the benefits that some peace and quiet brings. Alternatively, focusing on making fires and preparing and enjoying meals in nature can be very calming for some and provides stress reduction benefits.

Swimming provides total body workouts and fun with your family, and outdoor yoga provides a stretching regimen that will rejuvinate your body. Hiking works a different set of muscles and offers endurance training for everyone as well as opportunities to notice and learn a lot about the world around us.

Your high fiber, no added sugar and no processed food, real food meals will not only relieve everyone in the family of unnecessary pounds but will impact health positively in other ways, including lowering cholesterol and blood sugar.

Best of all, this kind of fitcation will return all of you home with great family memories, rejuvenated, refreshed, more productive and creative — and without much of a dent in your budget. In fact, your fitcation gets less expensive with each passing year as you accumulate just the right gear.

So take a time out! Take your vacation, and use this time to bond as a family, create memories, and get away from all the chaos of daily life.