Acccording to a 2006 survey by Harris Interaction and Expedia, 36 percent of workers don’t plan to use all their paid vacation days, and 37 percent never take more than a week off at a time.
So to convince you to take a much-needed break, here’s my list of how vacations can benefit your health and mind. While relaxation and exposure to culture are obvious benefits, there’s a wealth of other rewards too:
- Live longer
A State University of New York survey found that men who took annual vacations reduced their risk of death by 20 percent. Men who didn’t take any vacations in five years had the highest death rate and incidence of heart disease than any other men surveyed.
- Improve your mental health
A study by Wisconsin Medical Journal found that women who took frequent vacations were less likely to become depressed, tense, or tired. Women who rarely took vacations were likelier to have stress at home and sleep less.
- Revamp your relationships
I don’t have any fancy studies to back this one up, it’s just common sense. A real vacation is the ideal time to reconnect and revitalize relationships that have taken a toll from an on-call, always-on, and work-obsessed culture. My 9-hour work days and blogging duties have caused my relationships to suffer more than I’d like to admit. Yes, I too need a vacation.
- Recapture your childhood
When was the last time you went out and play? I mean really play. Without worry of someone calling or interrupting you. Real vacations let you recapture that feeling of childlike exploratory freedom. You can wake up when you want, go to sleep when you want, and eat what you want. Most importantly, you can have fun without worrying about the consequences on work back home.
- Gain self confidence
“Don’t put yourself on sale.” This is my favorite mantra from financial guru Suze Orman. While Suze’s target audience is directed to women, the advice applies to everyone. When you skip vacations, you put yourself on sale. If you have 2-weeks of paid vacation and don’t use them, you’re essentially working for free. By committing to a vacation, you declare to yourself (and to others) that you are important and deserve dedicated time for yourself.
- Find creative inspiration
Most of the year, we live on a schedule. We eat at the same restaurants, see the same people, and experience the same environment. This monotony reduces the opportunities for inspiration and for new ways of thinking. By traveling to a foreign environment, we put ourselves in an uncomfortable situation, and allow our brains to think differently.
- Become more productive
What? You can more productive by not working? Yes. By scheduling two weeks of vacation a year, you force yourself to make the other 50 weeks more efficient. Your scheduled becomes an award–a carrot. This means more incentive to eliminate distractions, work more efficiently, and get things done.
How to take a vacation
- Create a vacation fund
Put money into a vacation fund every time you get your paycheck. For a $2000 vacation, you only need to set aside just $77 dollars each paycheck (if you get paid twice a month).
- Let your boss and coworkers know early
Aside from being nice and giving your employer time to make staffing changes, telling everyone at work makes your vacation concrete. It prevents you and anyone else from piling on work with no end in sight.
- Don’t ask, declare it.
You know the classic aphorism: better to ask for forgiveness than permission.Instead of: “Hey guys, I’m thinking of going on vacation October 1-15th, is that a good time?”Say: “Hey guys, I’ll be taking a vacation and will be in Buenos Aires between October 1–15th. Let’s work together on making sure everything is taken care of before I leave.”
- Book your flights and hotels early
Yes, you’ll get cheaper rates. But since you’ve sunk money into it, you’re fully committed now. This makes it harder for you and your boss to delay or reschedule your vacation.
- Pack light
I’m always afraid of airlines losing my luggage, so I pack everything into a carry-on, even for long two-week trips. For the rare moment I forget something, like a toothbrush or a razor. I can pick it up quickly at a store once I arrive.
- Leave your Crackberry at home
The same goes for your laptop and cellphone. You’re not really on vacation if you’re on a leash. In other words, your boss is just letting you out for a walk.
- Wear headphones
Who can afford the quiet comfort of first class these days? Chances are, you’ll be in coach next to a noisy baby or talky grandmother. Make your flight more enjoyable and bring noise-cancelling headphones. It’s the polite and universal way of saying, “don’t talk to me.”
- Try sleeping pills
I’m not a fan of taking unnecessary pills, but its impossible for me to fall asleep on a plane. If I’m changing time zones, I’m wrecked for 3-4 days after landing. To counteract insomnia and jetlag, I take sleeping pills on long flights. Prescription sleep-aids like Ambien and Lunesta supposedly don’t have the groggy side-effects that over-the-counter drugs do.
- Don’t plan every minute
Vacations shouldn’t be about stress. So don’t plan everything to the minute. Make a general schedule and a list of what you want to see and do. If you don’t get to it all, it’s another reason to go on vacation again.
- Don’t cut your vacation short
If work calls and asks you to come home early for an “emergency.” Don’t. Most emergencies aren’t emergencies, and by saying no, you empower others to handle difficult situations without you. If you really can’t get out of it, use your return to negotiate for additional vacation days. Compensation for your return flight should be expected. Remember, don’t put yourself on sale.