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The 6-Step Plan to Maximizing Your Vacation Time

traveler on vacation
Allianz - traveler on vacation

Fellow Americans, we need a vacation.

On average, an American worker gets 17 paid days off after staying with an employer for two years.i But we aren’t using all of those days. The average person uses only half of their vacation time.ii It’s been more than a year since half of Americans (53 percent) last took a vacation, and nearly four in ten (37 percent) haven’t taken a vacation in more than two years.iii

Don’t be a vacation waster! Here’s the six-step plan to maximizing your time off.

Step 1: Get over your vacation guilt. 

Our survey found that one in four Americans (25 percent) report feeling negative emotions when asking for time off from their employers. Millennials (aged 18 to 34) are the most likely to feel nervous, guilty, afraid or shameful because of a time-off request.iv Ironically, workplaces with unlimited vacation policies often foster vacation guilt: “Instead of having an allotment they can spend largely as they see fit, your employees now have a complex tribal negotiation about how their requests stack against others, whether they’re dedicated enough, and how it will reflect on them,” explains Jonathan Nightingale of Raw Signal Group.v

Just remember that vacation’s not a gift bestowed on you by a benevolent employer. You earned those days. They’re part of your total compensation, just like your salary and benefits. That’s why you shouldn’t feel guilty when you ask for time off.

Step 2: Start planning your vacation for next year right now. 

Don’t wing it! “Individuals who plan [vacations] are more likely to use all of their time off, take more vacation days at once, and report greater levels of happiness in every category measured,” according to Project Time

Without a strategy, vacation days either go unused or get eaten up by family obligations. So request your time off as soon as your workplace allows. That way, when your in-laws pressure you to join them at their condo in Atlantic City (ugh), you can tell them your vacation days are fully committed.

Step 3: Use the piggyback technique to get the most out of your 17 days.

Scan the calendar for opportunities to combine your vacation days with paid holidays for longer, more restorative breaks. For example, July 4 is a Thursday in 2019. Take off the day before and after, and boom: You have a five-day vacation.

Most people opt to take off the preceding Friday for Monday holidays like Memorial Day. A better strategy, Smarter Travel suggests, is to take off the day following the holiday. You still get the four-day break, with the added benefit of a three-day work week. Also: If you have kids, check their school calendar for random days off. Instead of being caught unaware by a teacher work day, you can fold it into your vacation planning.

Step 4: Work when everyone else is on vacation (and then vacation when everyone else is at work).

Working the week between Christmas and New Year’s can almost feel like an office staycation. It’s quiet, because everyone else is gone — and your colleagues are grateful that you stepped up to take care of things while they were out. New Year’s Day is a Tuesday in 2019 and a Wednesday in 2020. Why not take off the rest of the week and enjoy a restful start to the year, while everyone else is recovering from the holiday daze?

Step 5: Take off at least one whole week.

Long weekends are great, but they only recharge your mental batteries halfway. For a real vacation, you need a full week  — nine days, counting the weekends. And you can go farther than you probably think.

Travel+Leisure offers 20 suggestions for the best one-week vacations overseas, including Patagonia, Granada, Slovenia, and Hanoi. Thrillist suggests some great overlooked destinations In the United States, like northern New Mexico, the Mississippi Gulf Coast and Door County, Wisconsin (“The Cape Cod of the Midwest”).

Step 6: Do some long-range vacation planning.

Someday, you’ll take the kids to visit your cousin in South Africa. Someday, you’ll rent a Tuscan villa with your sisters. Someday, you’ll finally get to see the majestic Iguazu Falls.

The trouble with someday is that it never appears on your calendar. Financial, work and family obligations keep pushing back your vacation plans. By the time you’re finally ready, you might already be retired. So plan out your vacation not just for the coming year, but the four years after that. Here’s our guide to making your travel bucket list a reality .

Step 7: Protect your vacations with annual travel insurance. 

What’s worse than letting precious vacation time go unused? Booking a wonderful vacation, and then having it get ruined by a family emergency/hurricane/serious illness/some other crisis. That’s why travel insurance is so important. Trip cancellation/trip interruption benefits can reimburse you for prepaid, nonrefundable travel costs when you have to cancel or cut short your trip for a covered reason. Emergency medical benefits can reimburse you for losses due to covered medical and dental emergencies that occur during your trip. Emergency medical transportation benefits can provide medically necessary transportation to the nearest hospital or appropriate facility following a covered illness or injury.

Travel pros know that the best way to protect multiple trips — long or short, domestic or international — is with annual travel insurance. An annual plan provides robust coverage for an affordable price, and it covers 365 days’ worth of trips. Travel happy!

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