Americans are never very good about taking all their vacation days. Last year, for obvious reasons, they were terrible at it. Why use up your PTO when you can't leave your sofa? No wonder one survey found 92 percent of workers canceled, postponed, or skipped a vacation because of the pandemic. That's a larger percentage of Americans than those who agree that the Earth rotates around the sun.

All that means there's immense pent-up demand for vacations, and with vaccinations up, restrictions down, and Memorial Day around the corner, the dam is about to break. The first, best response to that is certainly unbridled joy. We all really, really need a holiday. But post-pandemic travel does present its own unique set of challenges. 

There are questions about what is safe to do and with whom, but I'll leave those to the experts. There is also the issue of rising prices. Book early and rely on every trick in the book to find deals. Finally, venturing forth after more than a year stuck at home presents psychological hurdles, from rusty social skills to lingering anxiety to the pressure to make your trip particularly great after such a trying period. 

A recent HBR post by University of Texas at Austin psychologist Art Markman offers great advice for the last of these issues. The piece runs through timeless tips to maximize your vacation joy that are particularly useful for those stressed out about making the most of their first vacation in ages. 

  • Plan as far ahead as you can. This isn't easy given the volatility of the situation, but the further ahead you can plan, the more enjoyment you're likely to get out of your trip. Research actually shows that planning and anticipating a trip is often even more fun than taking it

  • Take at least a week. One recent study determined that the ideal vacation length for maximum relaxation is eight days. 

  • Go somewhere. Do you really need an explanation of why it's important to leave your house? If you do, Markman writes: "Your environment influences what you draw from memory, so out of sight is literally out of mind. Physical distance will help you think about work and other responsibilities abstractly rather than specifically." 

  • Minimize re-entry anxiety. It's hard to enjoy your beach lounger and pina colada if you're worried about the cranky customers and mountain of backlogged work you're going to find on your return. So be proactive about delegating work, communicating your plans, and setting expectations before you leave (perhaps radically). Your vacation will be more relaxed and your team more independent for your efforts. 

  • Put down your phone. Research shows the fewer photos you take, the more you'll remember your trips. Really. Plus, the more you interact with your devices the easier it is to get sucked back into work. "Make a schedule for your trip on paper instead of keeping it on your phone to minimize the number of times you engage with technology," Markman advises. 

Most of all, don't let anyone talk you out of taking as much time away as is realistically possible. Taking a vacation isn't an indulgence, especially in 2021. So if you feel guilty (or your boss suggests you should), remind yourself that mountain of evidence proves you'll be happier and more productive overall if you give yourself time to rest and recharge. 

So happy summer traveling!