Got Vacation Envy? Even A Short Getaway Can Boost Well-Being : Shots - Health News Americans forfeited about 200 million days of paid vacation leave last year. And many U.S. workers now take shorter, partial-week vacations. But even a mini-break can be good for your health.
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Vacation Days Piling Up? Here's How To Get The Most Out Of A Short Vacation

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Vacation Days Piling Up? Here's How To Get The Most Out Of A Short Vacation

Vacation Days Piling Up? Here's How To Get The Most Out Of A Short Vacation

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Summer is almost over. And if you haven't had a lot of time off, well, you're actually not alone. As a nation, we are not great at using all the vacation time we earn, which means we're giving up opportunities to improve our health and our well-being. But it might not be too late. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports that you don't have to be away long to get some benefits.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Scott (ph) and Dave Schlosser (ph) have some advice for anyone who hasn't been on vacation - take a short one. Where are you guys visiting from?

SCOTT SCHLOSSER AND DAVE SCHLOSSER: Anchorage, Alaska.

AUBREY: All right.

Scott and his dad flew to the east coast for a wedding. Now they've tacked on a few days of sightseeing in D.C.

I stopped you guys on the street 'cause you look like you have that vacation glow.

SCOTT SCHLOSSER: Yeah. Yeah. No, it's been good. Today we're going to the National Archives Museum, and then we're going to the Spy Museum.

AUBREY: Then it's off to the airport. Schlosser says it's been short but sweet, just enough adventure to break the monotony. He likes to take several getaways like this every year.

S. SCHLOSSER: Smaller, quicker trips. So I don't want to be away too long, but I do want to get away and take some breaks.

AUBREY: The minibreak seems to have wide appeal. Data from the U.S. Travel Association shows that full-week vacations have declined steadily since the 1980s. And though the drop has leveled off, there's now a trend towards partial-week vacations.

KATIE DENIS: The partial-week vacation is really gaining in popularity. And there's a lot of discussion about the right length of a vacation.

AUBREY: That's Katie Denis of the U.S. Travel Association's Project: Time Off. She studies vacation trends.

DENIS: I'm a big believer that it's quality over quantity. If you have an experience that relaxes you or that excites you or that is an adventure for you, I think that that's really the bottom line. It doesn't necessarily matter how many days you take. It really is the quality of the time you have.

AUBREY: What many of us want from vacation is to unwind and recharge. But can we really accomplish this if we're away just a short time? Susan Krauss Whitbourne is professor emerita of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She writes about the emotional benefits of vacation.

SUSAN KRAUSS WHITBOURNE: Some of the benefit of a short vacation depends on what you actually do when you're away.

AUBREY: Take the results of one study published in the journal Stress and Health. Researchers kept tabs on a bunch of people who took a four- or five-day vacation with their partner. They found a few key factors were linked to improvements in well-being.

WHITBOURNE: This study suggests that when you only have a few days for a vacation, you unplug from your devices. You spend time in quality conversations with your partner. And then do the things that you want to do.

AUBREY: Whether it's cycling, sightseeing or just relaxing at a beach, a lake or a pool. This is just one small study, but it does help affirm what many people assume. If you can't bring yourself to disconnect when you're away, if you constantly check email or social media, you're not really present for the vacation. The study found that doing work on vacation negatively influenced well-being.

WHITBOURNE: Nothing is so important that's going on at work that you can't let it go for a day or two while you take that vacation and use it as a boost.

AUBREY: Our hyperconnectedness doesn't just threaten the quality of our time away. It can also be an obstacle to actually taking a vacation. Project: Time Off has found that more than half of Americans don't use all their vacation days. And Katie Denis says technology may be one of the culprits.

DENIS: It does make us feel like we're constantly in it at work. It's very difficult to pull away. It makes it harder to plan, harder to prioritize vacation time.

AUBREY: People may assume that they'll look like the go-getter or more ambitious if they don't take time off. But Denis says the research suggests this is not the case.

DENIS: Employees who take vacation are actually more likely to get raises, bonuses and promotions, for example.

AUBREY: Sound surprising? Denis says maybe that will motivate you to take a break.

DENIS: Turn a weekend into a long weekend. Be advantageous. It doesn't have to cost a fortune. We have so many things that we can do without breaking the bank.

GREENE: That story on vacations coming from NPR's Allison Aubrey. And I'm not done talking about vacations yet, so we have Allison in the studio with us. Hi, Allison.

AUBREY: Hey there, David. How's it going?

GREENE: Good. OK, really good because I now have this conclusion from your story that taking time off is the way to get promoted. Is that right?

AUBREY: Right. Well, I...

GREENE: The link is solid.

AUBREY: (Laughter) I would not go that far. But the research does suggest that time off might be good for your career. Let me explain this. Project: Time Off surveyed about 4,300 adults who receive paid time off from their employer. So this is an industry-funded study. Keep that in mind. They found that the majority of workers, 52 percent, who took most or all of their time off have been promoted in the last two years. Now, by comparison, just 44 percent of workers who took none or only some of their time off had been promoted.

So, you know, you can look at this two ways. It's not a huge difference. It could be that people who take vacations also have other habits that make them successful. But another way to interpret this is that when people take time off, they avoid burnout. And perhaps they're more productive or creative when they get back.

GREENE: And it doesn't have to be that long. It really can - you can see these benefits with just taking off a number of days.

AUBREY: Well, I will say that the fade-out is faster when you return to work after a short vacation. You lose that glow faster. At least this is what the research suggests. But on the other hand, the re-entry can be easier because the work hasn't piled up. You know, I'd say, David, if you have two to three weeks to take a vacation, go for it. But the reality is that many people can't or don't.

GREENE: And if you're taking those short vacations - I mean, I know not being on your phone and your device all the time is good advice. But what else? What else is there to make sure you're getting the most out of those few days you have?

AUBREY: Sure. I mean, what can really get in the way of relaxation is the hassle factor - so getting lost, waiting in lines, not having packed the right gear, logistical snafus. You can avoid a lot of this by planning. You need to have a road map for your trip.

GREENE: And, Allison, what about the true workaholics who just never seem to get to that point where they can say, I'm going to take some time off? Is there a way to, I don't know, convince them?

AUBREY: Sure. Think about what you're losing. The U.S. Travel Association estimates that workers in the U.S. give up, forfeit more than 200 million days of earned vacation time...

GREENE: Wow.

AUBREY: ...Every year. It's a little bit akin to working for free. I mean, David, would you show up and say, hey, I'm going to work through five of my vacation days this year?

GREENE: I would like to tell my bosses yes, but probably not.

AUBREY: Another strategy is put it on the calendar. Just block it out right now. Block out next year's vacation on your schedule. By doing so, you're more likely to go. Also, you have more time to dream about it. I've got a trip on the books for next February in Costa Rica, and part of the fun is just the anticipation.

GREENE: Well, I am very jealous. All right, NPR's Allison Aubrey telling us about her vacation plans and reporting on vacations and how they can help us whether they're long or short. Allison, thanks.

AUBREY: Thanks, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF D.N. HURTER'S "SHIGEO SEKITO")

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