5 Tips for Making the Most of Your Vacation Days

published Jun 14, 2016
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(Image credit: Aida Mollenkamp)

It’s safe to assume we all look forward to vacation days, whether you’re planning to spend them on a beach with a frosty drink in hand or at home, sleeping in and catching up on Netflix. But did you know that taking time off has real benefits for our mental and physical well-being? “A great vacation changes up your routine, renews your energy, improves your outlook, and helps you re-engage with your life,” says Dr. Andrew Shatté, a psychologist and research professor at the University of Arizona.

Still, not all vacations are great, as many of us can attest to. Who hasn’t come back home feeling like you need a vacation to recover from your vacation? Step one is just to take the time off; only 25 percent of us are actually taking advantage of all our hard-earned vacation days. Next, follow these tips for getting the maximum relaxation and break for your brain.

1. Consider a shorter trip.

The length of the optimal vacation varies depending on personality type. For some, an extended absence from work — a week or longer — and the constant worry of an overflowing email box and a lengthy to-do list when you return will actually increase stress. But don’t worry — according to Dr. Shatté, the key is to get at least two to three days that are a true oasis from the workplace. In other words, it’s better to take a shorter, real vacation than a lengthier one during which you work, or fret about work, at the same time.

2. Commit to no connectivity.

“Don’t kid yourself that you can do that morning or evening conference call from a beach and still relax,” Dr. Shatté says. A real vacation means no emails, no work calls, no texts, and no social media. You can show off your fun pictures when you get back!

3. Plan ahead at work.

In order to completely unplug and feel confident that everything is handled while you’re away, it’s a good idea to do some advance planning. As soon as you have the dates of your vacation planned, alert your team so they can prepare for your absence.

Do as much work as you can beforehand and delegate any work that simply must get done during that time period. “Assign someone on your team to handle urgent matters while you are away,” says Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a New York City-based neuropsychologist. “Anything non-urgent can wait until you return.”

Finally, set up your email with an out-of-office reply. If clients and colleagues know that you’ll be on vacation, they’ll be much less likely to email or call you about non-urgent matters.

4. Hire a travel agent.

If the thought of booking flights and trains and hotels gives you a headache, hire someone to do it for you. Knowing everything’s taken care of may help you breathe a little easier and enjoy yourself more. A specialized travel agent who is familiar with the destination you’re interested in can also often get you better deals or better access.

5. Think about leaving the kids behind.

Of course, there’s a time and place for family vacations, but sometimes a break from the kids is just as important as a break from work. “Kids like to see their parents connected, in love, and having fun,” says Dr. Hafeez. “It makes them feel secure.” Plus, they might actually have just as much fun staying with the grandparents for a few nights.

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