Americans earn among the fewest vacation days in the world each year — 14. In fact, 59 percent of us feel vacation deprived (it’s no wonder when on average, our country wastes $34.3 billion in vacation days by not taking each and every allotted day off). While work, life, and finances can easily get in the way of planning a getaway, there’s good reason we should make time for relaxation and exploring.
For those who don’t make vacations a priority, odds of depression and tension may be higher.
Research suggests annual vacations can actually reduce risk of mortality, especially for people at high risk for coronary heart disease. What’s more, travelling can improve our quality of sleep and mood. Not sold yet? Another major benefit to vacationing: increased performance at work.
Vacations aren’t really the be-all and end-all for overall health, but science suggests a little R&R can improve wellbeing and boost happiness, at least on a short-term basis. Read on for four key tips to plan and execute a stress-free, joy-filled trip.
Though spontaneity can create amazing memories, too much flying by the seat of your pants can conjure up unnecessary stress. Getting lost or sorting out last minute details while on vacation can be pretty taxing.
A recent report found 97 percent of vacationers were very or exceptionally happy if they planned ahead, minimized stress, traveled outside of the country, and made a connection with a friend or local guide. Researching and planning a vacation may not exactly be fun, but it’s important to set aside enough time to prepare for a trip and hunt down the best deals (shoot for at least six months). Talk to a travel agent or a friend or family member before choosing a vacation spot. Chances are, this person can give you insight about the best restaurants to eat at and best attractions to visit
Once a trip is planned, you’ll have time to anticipate just how great it’ll be — rather than worry about airfare, accommodations, and reservations. Research suggests we actually feel happier in the days leading up to a planned vacation than on the trip itself. Plan early, feel happy — it’s as simple as that.
Keep the Trip Low Stress
Though easier said than done, try not to pack at the last minute. Have passports, flight tickets, itineraries, and the like printed and ready to go. Make a list and check it more than twice to prevent an airport meltdown.
Keep in mind, at least part of a vacation should include some down time. While an 8-hour museum tour may be rewarding, it can also be completely draining (not to mention wipe that wallet clean). Avoid being one of the 10 percent of Americans that can never relax on vacation. Try alternating exploration days with beach or pool days — c’mon, you deserve that poolside margarita and cabana massage.
Separate Work and Play
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, vacationing should be about unwinding and rejuvenating. Unfortunately, 76 percent of Americans check email and voicemail on vacation. If possible, leave your computer at home and temporarily shut off email notifications on your phone.
If it’s not possible to completely unplug, save email checking for a specific window each morning or each night so work doesn’t have to interrupt each and every hour. To cut down on an inbox pile-up, create a vacation responder on your email. The automatic email reply letting colleagues know you’ll be out of the office until such-and-such date only takes a minute to set up.
Prepare for the Return
Vacationers often experience increased stress levels at the tail end of a vacation — sometimes including sadness about the trip ending, other times anticipating everything that has to be taken care of once home again.
For optimal return-trip happiness, take care of any loose ends at home or at work (as much as possible) — that means bills, loads of unanswered emails, and cleaning the house —before you leave.
The Travel Happy Takeaway
Vacations are undoubtedly tough to plan and make time for, but they’re worth it. It’s not only the trip itself that makes us feel great, it’s the anticipation for a much needed break that can boost happiness even months before the bags are packed. Plan ahead and make time for leisure, and you havec got yourself an adventure to remember.