As we near the one-year anniversary of pandemic shutdowns, our plans to do Zoom yoga, bake sourdough, and de-clutter the garage have lost their luster. We're all missing the spark of joy that comes from exploring new frontiers. Even though non-essential travel is still off the table, you can boost your mood and expand your horizons beyond your living room by planning your next getaway on January 26, National Plan for Vacation Day.
"It’s been a challenging year, and I know we have all missed traveling and exploring our great country," says U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. "With more than 63 percent of Americans saying they desperately need a vacation, National Plan for Vacation Day is the perfect opportunity for Americans to renew their love of travel and look ahead to better days."
Studies show that merely booking a vacation lifts our spirits. In a 2020 survey by the Institute for Applied Positive Research, 97 percent of respondents reported that planning a future trip makes them happier. More than 70 percent said having plans on their calendars gave them a greater sense of control amid the pandemic's uncertainty.
If mulling over travel plans seems indulgent right now, reframe it as a step toward better physical and mental health. John de Graaf, president of Take Back Your Time, a nonprofit organization promoting a healthier work-life balance, says, "Vacations matter for a whole lot of reasons, the number one being health. People who don't regularly take vacations are much more likely to have a heart attack or heart disease."
Numerous studies point to the negative effects of not taking time off work, de Graaf says, and the effects are even more pronounced for women. "Women who don't take vacations at all are eight times more likely to suffer from depression than those who regularly do."
Scheduling a trip on your calendar means there's a much greater chance you'll actually take it. The U.S. Travel Association says that in a typical year, people who plan their vacations use nearly 13 days of paid time off. Those who don't plan trips use only eight days on average.
"Planning is half the fun," de Graaf says. "When you're planning, you're also imagining. It's like reading a good novel—you paint the pictures in your mind. You get to savor the trip even before it starts."
Another trip-planning perk is the brain stimulation we get through learning, which provides a psychic boost. "If you take time to thoroughly research your trip, you'll learn a lot—maybe the history, biology, or geology of wherever you're going," de Graaf says. "It increases your enjoyment. With more knowledge, your vacation will be even better when you go."
Summer Hall, content director for the travel website The Points Guy, says she's planning trips now because it offers her hope and optimism during the pandemic.
"For me, it helps to have trips to look forward to on the calendar," she says. "I love the thrill of the plan and don't mind delaying the trip if now is not the right time."
Hall offers a practical reason to book sooner rather than later: If you're hoping to use mileage awards, right now there's better-than-normal award space. She adds that advance-planners should pay attention to cancellation policies: Make sure they're lenient in case your circumstances change.
"Airlines, hotels, and even many home rentals have become significantly more flexible with their terms in recent months," Hall says. "Keep the dream alive and plan the trip you want to take in 2021—just be sure you can change your mind."
The U.S. Travel Association notes that right now there are terrific deals available on flights, lodgings, and travel packages. But later in the year, an expected surge in demand will likely mean fewer deals.
“While many are not yet ready or able to take a vacation, we are encouraging Americans to pull out their calendars on January 26 and get a future trip on the books," Dow says.
If your vacation daydreams include a trip to California, be sure to visit our Dream Big and Plan 2021 page for more inspiration.