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5 Reasons Why You Need to Use All of Your Vacation Days

5 Reasons Why You Need to Use All of Your Vacation Days

Last year Americans left 705 million vacation days unused—but research shows that’s a mistake for your health, happiness, and career

Posted 5 years agoby Jessica Sebor

“I never use all of my vacation days.”
“I have way too much to do—I can't take time off.”
“If I took a break, how would my work get done?”

If you work in an office, chances are you’ve heard all of these statements—repeatedly. Perhaps you’ve even said something similar yourself. Prioritizing work over earned vacation time isn’t unusual. In fact, it’s the norm. According to data collected by the U.S. Travel Association, more than half of American workers leave vacation days unused, creating a whopping 705 million lost days each year.

While we may think that all of this hustling will help us get ahead, in reality, we’re setting ourselves up for frustration, fatigue, and, ultimately, burnout. Plus, we’re missing out on all of the amazing benefits a vacation can deliver, which include improved mental and physical health, increased happiness, and even a longer life. 

Consider the arguments below for taking every last hour of your allotted vacation time in 2019. Then celebrate National Plan For Vacation Day by stepping away from your To Do list and researching your next trip.

Reason No. 1: You earned it.

Many of us refuse to take “OOO” time due to self-imposed pressure. But this is a counterproductive way of thinking, explains Jacqueline Gifford, Editor in Chief of Travel + Leisure. “If vacation is part of someone’s compensation and they don’t use it, then they’re leaving money on the table,” she says.

Consider this: If your company endures a poor financial quarter, nobody expects you to dock your own pay, right? So why do so many people feel obliged to "give back" their vacation time just because their company is experiencing a busy stretch? Think of your earned vacation days the same way you think of cash, and you will be less likely to leave them on the table. 

If you feel guilty leaving a busy workplace, or are made to feel guilty, it's important to keep your rights in mind when requesting time off. “I recommend that you approach your boss as though this is a perfectly legitimate request,” says Holly Weeks, a communications specialist at Harvard University’s Kennedy School. “The more you apologize for asking, the more you say to your boss, ‘I’m expecting you to decline.’”

Reason No. 2: Planning a vacation makes you happy.

Brianna Simmons from The Casual Travelist balances blogging with full-time work as a physical therapist. She always tries booking her vacation far in advance so she can fully enjoy anticipating and researching a trip. “It is far too easy to get stuck in a rut of work, groceries, yard work, school, and family,” Simmons explains. “I find that planning a trip somewhere really breaks up that routine and gives me something to look forward to.”

Science backs up Simmons’ claim. According to a study out of Erasmus University Rotterdam, people experience the biggest happiness uptick in the time leading up to a vacation. The U.S. Travel Association also finds that employees who take their full allotment of vacation days are happier than those who do not.

Reson No. 3: Your health may improve.

It’s not just in your head. Research shows that even a short vacation can provide both psychological and physical benefits. “Perhaps the most important benefit of taking vacation is enhanced cardiovascular health,” according to Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education, at Northern Illinois University. She notes that vacations also lower blood pressure, improve sleep, and boost mental clarity. On top of this, getting away alleviates “job-stress-associated ailments, such as backaches, muscle tensions, and headaches.”

Need a more pressing argument? One report from State University of New York Oswego followed 12,000 men to measure the impact of taking an annual vacation on overall health. The study found that those who took vacation regularly decreased their mortality rate by 20 percent.

According to Travel + Leisure’s Gifford, there are more opportunities than ever to double down on your vacation’s health benefits thanks to a rise in wellness-based travel. Wellness travel can mean a massage or a spa day, but Gifford recommends trying more out-of-the-box experiences, like learning how to free dive or mountain bike. “It’s about opening your mind and body to something that you didn’t think you could do,” she says.

Reason No. 4: Your employer really wants you to go.

We might think that it’s too hard to take time off, but more often than not this is more about personal fears than professional expectations. Staying chained to your desk—what some call “work martyr syndrome”—in the hopes of securing a pay raise has the potential to backfire big time. “When people don’t get time to relax they tend to suffer from psychological fatigue, physical exhaustion, and burn-out,” Degges-White says. “This can lead to poorer performance on the job, which can result in the exact opposite response from their employers than they had hoped.”

On the flip side, she explains that people who take vacation are more productive and less likely to leave their company. Employers know this, which is why many of the country’s most successful companies offer generous out-of-office perks. Netflix, Tinder, and Dropbox all offer unlimited days off. The Culver City-based marketing firm SteelHouse goes one step further by providing employees a $2,000 annual travel stipend and a three-day weekend once a month. “Our company perks reflect the idea that a refreshed and happy team makes for a better working environment," according to Anna McMurphy, Head of People and Culture at SteelHouse. "We believe new experiences rejuvenate the body and mind.”

Reason No. 5: It’s not as stressful as you think.

If you’re worried about asking for time off or the process of researching a trip, don’t be. The solution for both is planning ahead.

Laura Holmberg, Vice President, Program and Marketing Services at U.S. Travel Association says that both employers and employees are happier when time off is scheduled in advance. “Block your calendar,” she advises. “Even if you are not sure of your plans yet, keeping the calendar clear creates the opportunity to take vacation later.” This will provide your employer with plenty of time to prepare and you’ll get the extra pleasure of knowing something fun is on the horizon.

If the planning itself feels like a slog, Gifford recommends using a travel advisor or full-service site. “You could go on Expedia tomorrow and just book a package tour. Or at Travel + Leisure, we have a whole network of A-list advisors who are outstanding in their field.”

Simmons, a veteran travel blogger, says she can’t think of a trip that she’s ended up regretting. “When you’re retired,” she notes, “you’re not going to remember those extra hours spent working. It’s the memories from your trip to Yosemite or your vacation on the beach that are really going to be the highlights of your life.”

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