Doing vacation wrong? Isn’t vacation kind of like pizza — even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good? Could there really be a right or wrong way to take a vacation? According to science and the experts, there is a better way to get away. Here’s what you’re doing wrong and how to fix it.
1. You’re not taking enough vacation.
Don’t waste your paid vacay. (Photo: Thinkstock)
According to a recent survey, Americans used only 51 percent of their paid vacation days in 2014. And 56 percent of Americans have not been on a vacation in the past 12 months. Not only is that sad, but it’s actually awful for you — bad things happen when you don’t take vacation. Like really bad: Lack of vacation is associated with increased risk of heart disease for both men and women. It can also cause your relationships to suffer, it can be a factor in depression, and it can hinder your creativity and your ability to perform at your best on the job.
The solution: Take shorter, more frequent vacations. “Holidays work more like sleep. You need regular recovery from work in order to stay healthy in the long run,” according to Jessica de Bloom, an organizational psychologist who studies the effects of vacation. And research shows your well-being gets a boost in as little as two days of vacation. But if you do have the luxury to take longer vacations, eight days may be the magic number. “It could be that eight days is the ideal to fully gain the benefits of a holiday,” said de Bloom.
2. You’re not relaxing enough on the vacations you do take.
One study found that participants who “did nothing” on vacation had longer-lasting feelings of happiness than those who spent their time engaging in physical activity. In fact, it’s a common mistake people make — planning adventure for every moment because they think they should be seeing the sights or trying things. They have FOMO (fear of missing out), says happiness expert Christine Carter, author of The Sweet Spot. “For most people, that’s not relaxing,” she says.
The solution: Pick a place and activities that you actually find relaxing, like lying on the beach and reading a book. Don’t feel compelled to always be doing something, because that’s stressful. And while you’re at it, sleep more. “Sleeping well and for longer periods [is] also associated with higher well-being,” explains positive psychology coach Genevieve Douglass.
3. You’re taking the wrong photos.
This is the wrong way to take a picture of the Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota if you’d like to remember it. (Photo: Leah Ginsberg)
This is the right way to snap the same thing if you’d like your own memories of it. (Photo: Leah Ginsberg)
A great thing about vacation is the memories, but taking photos can actually sabotage that. “Something we know about taking pictures,” says Carter, is that “you’re less likely to remember something if you take a picture of it. The mechanism here, we think, is in your brain — it unconsciously makes a note: ‘I’ve outsourced that memory. I don’t need to keep it.’”
The solution: “If you zoom in and take a picture of a small detail, it doesn’t have the same effect. Your mind still has to construct the rest of the scene,” explains Carter. “Plus, you get some really cool pictures that way.” Additionally, “if you spend the whole time behind the camera trying to get the best shot, you’re not experiencing it,” she says. “Since taking photos can be an act of creation that people enjoy, it’s really about finding a balance between taking pictures and allowing your mind to make vivid memories.”
4. You’re going where your kids want to go.
Disneyland isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. (Photo: Disneyland/Facebook)
“We do things for our kids that we don’t necessarily want to do, and they may benefit in some way, but they get the most from you if you’re relaxed and happy,” explains Carter. “You won’t connect with your family anyway if you’re miserable and stressed out.”
The solution: Nix vacations that are more stressful than enjoyable, and do something everyone can enjoy. Or take a vacation without the kids. “We actually have a no-Disneyland rule in our house,” Carter says. She’s not a fan of the theme park herself, but her in-laws love going, so she sends her kids with them.
5. You’re pretending like you’re not on vacation.
Put down the phone! (Photo: Thinkstock)
Not only are you working on vacay (77 percent in 2014), but you’re sabotaging your relaxation by not planning ahead at the office before you leave. If you know you’re going to return to a mountain of work on the other end, you’re going to be worrying about it.
The solution: “Have an assistant or an intern handle deleting promotions and putting other emails in folders by importance or category. Put on a vacation responder. That way you don’t have to worry about that horrible punch to the gut when you get back.”
6. You’re coming home too soon.
It’s natural to want to squeeze every last second of beach time out of your break and travel home at the very last minute. “But you can actually create anxiety by taking the last flight out, being exhausted, and not leaving enough time to prepare to get back to real life when you get home,” Carter says.
The solution: Leave a buffer day — instead of flying home Sunday before work on Monday, return on Saturday so you can use the extra day to acclimate and get ready for what’s ahead. Carter agrees: “It’s really important to allow enough time and space so you can settle in in a relaxed way when you get home.”