Americans work harder and longer hours than just about anyone else in the world. That may be great for our gross domestic product, but it doesn’t help our minds and bodies. Americans are taking fewer vacation days than they used to, which means they are more stressed out and overworked than ever before. When we don’t take vacations, we’re setting ourselves up for burnout, which doesn’t do you or your employer any good.
A report by Project: Time Off, showed employees in the United States took about 16 vacation days in 2013, which is a significant drop from the 20 they took in 2000. That spells trouble for your mind and spirit.
Vacations are your time to get away from work, get away from home and recharge your biological batteries. Studies have also shown that some types of travel can even change the way you think. One study published in the Academy of Management Journal found that international travel can boost creativity. Just immersing yourself into a foreign culture can force your mind to think differently, seeing different solutions to common problems. Scientists call it cognitive flexibility, which is a fancy way of saying creativity.
Another study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that in addition to making you more creative, it can make you a better problem solver, more trusting and more open to trying new things.
If you’re in addiction recovery, travel gets you out of your daily surroundings and allows you to focus on self-care, particularly if you travel solo. You can take all the time you need to explore a museum, relax on the beach or chill at the spa. No one there to insist you indulge in bottomless margaritas, and no one there to inadvertently create stress triggers that could lead you down old paths. While self-care may seem a bit indulgent, it’s the foundation upon which you build your recovery.
Navigating a new world, different from your own, can also give you a great sense of accomplishment, which is essential to those suffering from depression, anxiety and many other behavioral health issues. It can also give you a sense of how large the world is — that there are many other cultures that are similar and completely different at the same time. It’s very humbling.
Active vacations, such as camping or hiking can be a great way to spend your vacation with your dog, who would love to go anywhere you go. Your pup loves to explore as much as you do, and having your canine companion with you can be a great way to ease anxiety in challenging situations.
While you’re away, take the time to recharge. Some trips have very packed itineraries, which can add to stress. Try not to schedule every moment of the day, so that you can take some time to relax and smell the flowers, so to speak. Make it a point to enjoy the moment, as well as appreciate that you’re in a new place and living in a life-changing experience. You’re making memories, either alone or with a friend or family.
While you don’t want every moment to be scheduled, you still want to plan ahead. If you’re spending an hour each morning negotiating with a travel partner about where to go, you’re wasting precious vacation time. If you don’t at least plan some things in advance, you may miss some of the best parts of your location. Knowing how to get a particular tour in English or getting advance tickets can save you a lot of heartache. You don’t want to wait until the last day of your trip to see the most important attraction then find out it’s closed.
Whatever your reasons to get away or your destination, travel is good for you. Take those vacation days: You’ve earned them!
Written by Henry Moore
Henry is the co-creator of FitWellTraveler. The site blends two of his favorite subjects (travel and health) to provide readers with information about how to get the most out of both. He believes travel can change you, and good health preserves you. He combines both in his work on FitWellTraveler.