As the weather warms up, some of us are considering detouring on the way to work and heading for the beach instead. But while research suggests taking a vacation can be exciting, it can also be stressful — and many benefits may come from the planning instead of the trip itself
Time Off or Tied Down — Why It Matters
Looking up convenient flights, researching the best mountain to ski, or finding the hotel with the sweetest pool: As it turns out, these pre-vacation planning activities could just be the happiest times of the vacation. One study found that while to-be vacationers might be happier before their trip compared to those staying at home, there was little difference in happiness levels between the two groups after the vacation
So what’s so great about planning a getaway? Dreaming about the great activities on that cruise is often more enjoyable than the actual trip, and sometimes vacations aren’t all they’re cracked up to be
Pack the Suitcase or Stay Home? — The Answer/Debate
While they aren’t a magic prescription for positivity, vacations do have some tangible health (and happiness) benefits. Busting out of the cubicle gives us the opportunity to get in a good workout, either by touring Rome on foot or lifting giant margaritas to our lips. Some research even suggests vacations can decrease mortality among people at risk for heart disease
And lose the earplugs on the five-hour flight: Vacations where we spend time talking to friends and family may be the most restorative
Ready to plan that great escape? Use these five tips to squeeze as much happiness from vacations as possible:
- Try shorter, more frequent trips instead of one long annual vacation. It’ll bring on the excitement for vacation time more often and the happiness that comes along with it
Vacationers happier, but most not happier after a holiday. Nawijn, J., Marquand, M.A., Veenhoven, R., et al. Applied Research in Quality of Life. 2010 March; 5(1): 35-74..
- Stay active! A good mix of exercise and relaxation can lead to an overall happier vacation experience
Do we recover from vacation? Meta-analysis of vacation effects on health and well-being. de Bloom, J., Kompier, M., Geurts, S., et al. Department of Work & Organizational Psychology, Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Journal of Occupational Psychology 2009;51(1):13-25..
- Do what you actually enjoy, and not what you’re supposed to enjoy. Leaping off the edge of a cliff might not be everyone’s favorite way to relax. Instead get lost in an activity you really love, whether that’s a painting class or a scenic hike.
- Unplugwhile on vacation. Leave a detailed out-of-office message and call it quits. If it’s necessary to check in, designate a specific time each day to do it — and then put away the smart phone.
- If possible, return home on a Friday to ease the transition back to real life. Having a weekend to get back into the groove can make the return to work or school on Monday a lot less stressful.
Returning from vacations might add stress to the experience. But by planning ahead and transitioning slowly back to reality, it’s possible to truly relax and take a break from the daily grind.
What’s your favorite way to kick back and relax on a vacation? Tell us in the comments below!
Originally posted August 2011. Updated April 2012.