At the end of 2017, a majority of American workers reported having burned one or more of their vacation days during the year, for a total of a whopping 705 million days unused! The most common reasons cited for leaving time off on the table included the fear of returning to a mountain of work and the fear of making oneself appear replaceable to a superior.
But what about the reasons not to abandon your hard-earned days off? Talk about compelling — turns out your happiness and peace of mind may be at stake. Here are five reasons to get out of your chair and go.
1. It only takes a long weekend.
Say you’re based in Chicago. Where do you think a flight can get you, with four hours or less in the air? Don’t read on just yet — guess…
Exciting cities like Atlanta, Nashville, Denver, and New York might come to mind, and you’d be spot on. But did you know you can add to that list Cancún, Grand Cayman, Turks and Caicos, and the Bahamas? And while you certainly could pack your bags after work on Friday and skip right back on Sunday, all you have to do is add one or two of your vacation days, and you’ve got a solid three- or four-day trip in front of you whenever you need a break from the grind. Click into the Southwest Low Fare Calendar and start planning.
And just in case you haven’t done your own mental math, even if you only have 10 days off a year, that’s the equivalent of five four-day vacations. Every other month, your new office buddies could be salt, sun, and sand.
2. Nature is seriously good for you.
Seriously. Countless studies have linked nature with a heightened sense of well-being. According to Ming Kuo, researcher at the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois:
“Time spent in and around tree-lined streets, gardens, parks, and forested and agricultural lands is consistently linked to objective, long-term health outcomes. The less green a person’s surroundings, the higher their risk of morbidity and mortality […]. The range of specific health outcomes tied to nature is startling, including depression and anxiety disorder, diabetes mellitus, ADHD, various infectious diseases, cancer, healing from surgery, obesity, birth outcomes, cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal complaints, migraines, respiratory disease, and others.”
Put the short way, get out there. Your mind and body need it. If you work full time, you’re gone too early and home too late to sneak in many daylight hours outside. So take one of your vacation days — or a few — and head out for some camping, hiking, snowshoeing, or cloud-watching. You’ll breathe fresher air, reset your wild spirit, and benefit your health.
3. Your hobby can be your guide.
Photographer? Hop a plane to somewhere you’ve never considered and seek out new angles and new pockets of inspiration. Runner? Tackle a route you’ve never even seen before, with new turns and tougher elevation changes. Musician? There’s always a festival happening somewhere that will get your foot tapping. Bowler? Try out a new alley in a different state.
When you come back refreshed to your next league game — or gig or run or photo sesh — you’ll master that “slippery gully” like someone who practiced on an away-field. Because you did. Science actually backs this up: Studies show that those who’ve spent time overseas are better at innovating, thinking outside the box, and problem-solving. So travel on, maestro.
4. It’s all about human connection.
“Devoting time to people you enjoy has lasting benefits for your well-being,” says Dr. Andrea Bonior in a recent issue of Psychology Today. Among the benefits revealed by the studies she lists are lowered blood pressure, lowered risk of depression, and improved outcomes for fighting certain diseases (including cancer). So rather than finish the work year with discarded vacation days, use them to improve your life. Book that flight to visit your old best friend who moved away — you might not realize how much you miss them.
But remember that “human connection” is about strangers, too, and research shows that travel increases our faith in humanity. When we experience new cultures and meet new people, we’re better able to grasp the truth that we’re all human — and we all have more in common than we think. We become more trusting, more open-minded, less fearful, and, ultimately, happier.
5. Getting out of your zip code can change your life.
When traveling — especially abroad, or at least outside your home region — cultures you’ve only read about rise out of the ink-and-paper medium where you first learned of them into living, breathing communities you can walk among. The world becomes smaller and, as a result, easier to understand, navigate, and accept.
Ultimately, this changes how your brain works. When you see the world operating in a new way, you realize that the way you do things is just the way you do things — and there are dozens if not hundreds of other reasonable methods to reach the same outcome. Scientists call this “cognitive flexibility,” and if you don’t stretch your travel muscles, you’ll stiffen up. As Emerson succinctly put it, “The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” It may sound too easy, but becoming more innovative, creative, open-minded, and humble could be nothing more than a plane ride away.