As summer arrives with Memorial Day this weekend, you probably want a vacation. You're not alone. For the third straight year, the number of vacation day used on average ticked up in 2017. A recent study by Project Time Off discovered this trend. The study also pointed out lots of positive correlations with vacation takers--they're happier, more socially connected, and even sometimes more productive at work.

Vacation helps our economy too--seems like the American thing to do when we're celebrating Memorial Day. "The increase in vacation usage from 16.8 to 17.2 days delivered a $30.7 billion impact to the U.S. economy," the study found, looking into last year's numbers. "It also produced an estimated 217,200 direct and indirect jobs and generated $8.9 billion in additional income for Americans."

Vacation travel linked with happiness, productivity

Not only is travel correlated with more happiness, there's a slight correlation between getting promotions and vacation travel too.  While taking time off is better than not, "travel--not simply taking time off for any purpose--is how to get the greatest benefit out of vacation time," the study said, basing its conclusions on survey responses.

Vacationing like it's 1999

Up until 2000, the macro trend is you would have taken about 3 weeks of paid vacation a year on average. But somewhere around then, the number of vacation days American take dropped. Today, the average number of vacation days you're likely to use is 17--just over 2 weeks for the whole year. 212 million vacation days were left on the table at the end of 2017. That means just over half of Americans got to the end of last year with unused vacation days--days that weren't banked, traded in or played forward. 

Trusting offices take more vacations

The study found the biggest reason people leave vacation days is that taking them might make it appear that they are less dedicated. In other words, job insecurity in the workplace culture. Don't let this be you. Instead, plan ahead to snag the vacation time you deserve. Get the reboot and refresh that comes with it and talk through issues at work that may be holding you--and your coworkers--back.

Planning for play

It's not just company culture buy-in you need. If you want to lock into this trend of taking most--or all!--of your paid vacation time, experts say you need three strong habits of your own:

1.     Planning ahead about six months. This window helps you maximize the value of your investment by getting the lowest airfares, having enough time to research great stays, and so on. Consider sharing your dates with your manager sooner rather than later. In an earlier study from Project Time Off, they learned 88% of managers wish they knew about vacations far in advance. A whopping 95% employees didn't feel comfortable sharing that early. Think about the culture in your workplace and your own management style, and perhaps there are some updates you can instigate.

2.     Budgeting. If you set a budget and stick with it, the study shows it makes the vacation more likely to happen. One of the reasons it can be harder to take the "next" vacation is blowing more dough than you expected to on the one before. One of the hottest trends in affordable stays is alternative vacation rentals--something you might want to check out.

3.     Traveling.  While stay-cations and working vacations are both trends that can work for you, most of the people in this study showed that actually traveling--getting away--helped make them the happiest. One interesting tidbit from the study is that even after someone took a "working vacation"--where they logged in and worked regular, available hours from a destination--they tended to like it more than they had expected to. 

Work your bucket list like your to-do list

The summer's still early. 82% of Americans say they haven't seen enough of their own country yet.  There are lots of destinations that can make the view from your desk a lot sweeter when you get back. Which one is highest on your bucket list?

Published on: May 24, 2018
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