How 5 people spent their vacation days during the coronavirus pandemic

May 17, 2020, 5:00 PM UTC

What were your summer plans? Perhaps you had booked a European vacation, a weekend getaway to a cabin by the lake, or a road trip to celebrate a close friend’s wedding. Even as areas across the United States begin to reopen in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, life isn’t back to normal, leaving most people to cancel plans they were really looking forward to.

And with canceled plans comes canceled PTO—that is, paid time off. Or does it?

Most Americans are stressed about personal finances, worried they may be laid off, and nervous that they could be exposed to the virus when businesses begin to reopen, according to a recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. It may seem like a lot of workers really just need a break, but for some, taking PTO while communities are a shell of their former shelves isn’t appealing.

“There are plenty of good reasons why someone might not want to take PTO right now,” says Lara Hogan, the founder of Wherewithall, a management consulting company.

Hogan points to three scenarios. The first: unintended childcare. In a household with children, if both parents are juggling work, they likely attempt to split childcare duties; one parent taking a day off may inadvertently welcome the full responsibility. The second: fear of being laid off. A worker may want to bank vacation days so they are paid out if layoffs were to occur. And third, some people feel better when they have something like work to focus on.

“For some folks, it can feel really healthy to invest more energy and more time in their work,” she says. “I can totally see why not everybody’s leaping at the chance to take PTO right now.”

Even though many companies are under duress dealing with the economic and logistical challenges caused by the pandemic and resulting lockdowns, many business leaders are encouraging their employees to take a vacation day or two to reset and de-stress—and so the company isn’t left with a ton of employee PTO at the end of the year.

But what would I even do with a day off, you might ask.

When Hogan works with clients, she asks them “a lot of questions to help them figure out what specifically is driving their stress, because for everybody, it’s going to be different.” Some are missing social interaction and a sense of belonging, so they may want to schedule Zoom calls or organize a virtual game night. Others might be really struggling with the loss of control and predictability, so they may want to spend their time creating new routines.

She points to the Biceps framework, which is “a list of six core needs that humans usually have. [It can help] to figure out which one of them might feel like the thing that’s most lacking for you.”

To find out more, Fortune asked five people to share how they spent their PTO during the pandemic. Here’s what they said.

Besher Al Makhlouf, project lead at a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C.

I took PTO because it was long due. The last time I took extended time off was in November, and my organization recently changed its policy so staff have to take all personal days before the end of the fiscal year.

I typically use my days off to travel, but this break was much calmer. I spent much of it at home doing different things: watching movies, cooking, playing video games, et cetera. My partner and I also tried to take advantage of the available time and outdoor space, so, for example, we would take long walks—60 minutes or more—to go to the grocery store, instead of shorter trips by bike or public transportation. Also, we tried to act as tourists in our own city, so we walked around in nearby neighborhoods to observe and take photos of houses, trees, and streets. It was also an opportunity to connect with my family abroad. Most of my family lives in different time zones, with a six-hour or more time difference, so they’re usually asleep by the time I am off work around 6 p.m. local time. It was an opportunity to have longer conversations with them at more convenient times.

Kate Jacobson, a senior marketing coordinator in Chicago 

I had acquired some comp time from working a conference back in February, right before the coronavirus really exploded in the U.S. I was planning on using my three extra days for a 30th birthday vacation in mid-March, but when that got canceled, they were just burning a hole in my pocket.

So I took off three Fridays in May to just do whatever: clean the house, lie around, read books, catch up on some work, et cetera. It’s been extremely relaxing having three-day weekends this month, and I’ve gotten a lot done. But, by far, my favorite thing I did was taking a drive with my boyfriend to enjoy our lunch from the safety of our car in a parking lot overlooking Lake Michigan.

Jennie Nguyen, a digital account manager at Look East, a public relations agency based in Kansas City

I had a trip planned to visit my sister in Boston for her birthday in April. When my city issued a stay-at-home order at the end of March through the end of April (which was eventually extended through mid-May), I realized I had to cancel my trip. Since I would no longer be traveling, I figured I would just work and save my PTO. As the date of the planned trip neared, I realized that even though I was on schedule with all of my work projects, I was also slightly struggling with working from home. As an extrovert who lives alone and also really likes my coworkers, I hate working from home, and this translated to difficulty with my focus and creativity.

Luckily, I work for an incredible company that isn’t solely focused on the bottom line. Our president and CEO encouraged employees to be intentional about caring for our physical and mental health while working remotely and taking time off to unplug and recharge as necessary even though we couldn’t really go anywhere. So even though I couldn’t hop on a plane to Boston for a vacation, I still used my scheduled PTO. Rather than taking five days off at once like I had planned, I decided to take the next couple of Fridays off.

The first Friday was my sister’s actual birthday, so I spent the day on multiple FaceTime calls with her to create the illusion that we were together—including a workout. Other Fridays were spent finishing up the multiple knitting projects I had in progress (a lot of tiny sweaters, booties and hats for friends who were expecting or had just had babies) and reading (I was way behind on my Goodreads reading goal for the year, and these Fridays off really helped get me back on schedule). I spent an entire day making dumplings, including homemade dumpling skins, from scratch and delivered them to my friends from a safe distance.

Ariel Zirulnick, a Brooklyn-based researcher at a university

We live near Prospect Park, and the park, nearby streets, and bike paths have been absolutely mobbed every single weekend day that the sun has been out. Way more people than I’ve ever seen under normal circumstances! As people who love to be outside, it felt really stifling for us to need to wear masks at all times and be so hyperaware of the people around us. We missed seeing places beyond a 3-mile radius of our apartment.

So about two weeks ago we took a sunny Tuesday off. We slept in, got coffee to-go from a nearby shop and drank it on our stoop, then got on our bikes and biked all the way to Fort Tilden. The traffic was light, as it has been since the city went into lockdown. The bike paths were almost completely empty, and when we got to Fort Tilden, we were sharing the beach with only a dozen other people, so we were able to keep plenty of distance and ditch our masks for a couple hours. Then we got back on our bikes and biked the 14 miles home. The fresh air and the space felt fantastic, and we wouldn’t have had that on a Saturday.

Cole Leon, an underwriting specialist at Farmers Insurance in Kansas City

My company made the transition to work at home very smoothly. I realized I had been without a day off since before we started working from home on March 16. I had been working from home for six weeks. I decided to take a day off on May 1. The main thing I wanted to use my time off for was a mental break. With the stay-at-home order, I had not left my house very much, so I was living and working all in the same spot. It was difficult to decompress all the way.

For my time off, I decided to do some small projects around my condo that I had been putting off and go golfing to get outside and remain in the parameters of social distancing. I golfed nine holes on Thursday evening. I woke up at a decent hour on Friday to knock out my projects: I did a bit of landscaping and bought some new door mats. Then I golfed nine holes. I golfed another 18 holes on Saturday morning. All in all, I used my PTO for a true mental health day: I knocked out a few chores around the house and took some time to get outdoors.