Are you in the habit of taking all of your vacation days? In 2018 Americans forfeited 236 million unused vacation days. Wow! Besides the few of us who are addicted to travel, most people need a reminder and a gentle push to take their vacations. Habits are formed over time until they become an automatic and a natural part of our lives. Learn how to make taking vacations a rewarding habit that improves our work-life balance.
Maybe you have made it a habit to go to the gym twice a week or to study Spanish every morning. Just like the worthwhile habits of working out or learning a new language, taking vacation time off from work and life must be a habit if you don’t want to take it for granted. Start experiencing the immense rewards of taking time off from work and life. You can embrace the joy of travel by making it a routine to plan frequent vacations.
Here are the top 8 reasons why travel can be habit forming AND why you should make it a habit to take all your paid time off each and every year.
When I used to feel too busy with work to take a real vacation, I would think back to my childhood. Family vacations were some of the happiest times growing up. Even though we typically did the touristy thing and went to Disney World or the beach or drive to a neighboring state, those memories last and last. It’s hard to put off your next vacation when you stop to remember the good times when you were taken on vacation as a school kid.
If you are old enough to have photo albums gathering dust in the closet, have you digitized them yet? Pull them out to recall the simple joy of being on vacation and not thinking about school or chores. Childhood photos stored in online photo albums (do you even know where to find them?) are easy to forget about. Take the opportunity to re-watch these family vacation slideshows and relive those good times.
The same vacation mindset should apply during your adult life. When you are overworked or get into a rut and fail to take regular vacations, refresh that habit by thinking about your past vacations. A vacation is one of life’s treasured memories. Bring back those cherished moments so you can make travel a habit when you lack a healthy work-life balance.
Task: Before those old family photos turn fade to yellow, use a flatbed, mobile, or film scanner to transfer those vacation memories onto your computer and uploaded to the cloud. If they are already in the cloud, consider making local backups on a drive locked away in a fireproof safe.
Vacation Habit Action: Collect some of your childhood vacation photos into an online album and set a reminder to look at them at least once a year. Cast them to your TV for everyone in your household to watch and be proud of past travel accomplishments. Ask if you want to revisit previous destinations or seek out new places to visit each year.
The reason I hate the term work-life balance is that is leaves out vacation from your measure of happiness. Work-Life-Vacation Balance is the term the team at VacationCounts invented. It refers to any time that you set aside time off from work and from life for family, travel and enrichment. When you focus solely on balancing work and life, there is insufficient free time leftover for you. Vacation is not work and vacation is not life, so don’t make this all-too-common mistake.
To get into the vacation-taking habit, start measuring your work-life-vacation balance. Think about ways to free up time from work and from life to do whatever makes you happy. It doesn’t have to be about travel and leisure. It can be about freeing up time for hobbies, to spend with family, for fulfilling spiritual needs, to learn something new, volunteer in the community, or to participate in a sport. The key is that you are not working on the clock at a job and not dealing with life’s chores and responsibilities.
Vacation Habit Action: Create a work-life-vacation balance document or notebook to track your own goals. Make a list of techniques to take back time doing your job and running your home. Search for tips on productivity, time management, automation, saying no, and outsourcing. Next list activities, in priority order, that you will pursue with this newfound free time.
We all love a bargain and travel bargains are no different. Even with limited vacation benefits like the two or three weeks (10 or 15 days) that are typical in the U.S., many of us still have more time than money. Make it a habit to maximize your vacation budget by seeking out deals on travel. Booking a trip at a huge discount or getting free flights, hotel stays, and upgrades can be very addicting. Feed your vacation habit by becoming a budget travel expert.
So how do I find the best travel savings? I subscribe to the newsletters for each of the major online travel agencies and tour operators like Expedia and Priceline as well as all the airlines that fly from my home airport. They send out tempting vacation offers throughout the year. I also join frequent flier programs before I book flights so I can earn miles with loyalty. The same goes for hotels as all the major chains like Marriott and Hilton have lucrative reward programs that are free to join. Finally since flights are often the most expensive part of long-distance travel, set up alerts at fare comparison sites such as Kayak and Skyscanner so you can book at the lowest price point.
Vacation Habit Action:Make a list of the airlines, cruises, tour companies, and travel booking sites that are familiar or you have used in the past. Subscribe to their email newsletters, join their loyalty programs, and/or follow them on social media to be the first to hear about travel deals. Bookmark your calendar for Black Friday travel deals and popular holiday periods.
Life is to be experienced and the more you travel the more incredible (dare I say once-in-a-lifetime?) experiences you’ll have. There are endless places to visit and incredible things to do on vacation. Just search the web for anything related to travel and you’ll be scrolling through page after page of jaw-dropping results. That’s why people make travel bucket lists.
Are you in the habit of taking the opportunity to experience the world in as many ways as possible? My philosophy is that every place is worth visiting at least once. You might have seen a place advertised online, on the big screen, or a featured in a travel magazine. Without stepping foot in a destination or tourist attraction, it is impossible to experience the real deal. There’s nothing wrong with going to the same vacation spot to have the same trip every year. However if you take the time to create a bucket list, you’ll expand your horizons and pick new destinations every year.
Vacation Habit Action:Make a bucket list! Use a spreadsheet (Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets) or note-taking app (e.g. Evernote, OneNote) to maintain your list of places to see and experiences to have before you die. Organize the list by things like priority, feasibility, and budget. Set a reminder to review and update your bucket list annually to research bucket list trips. It will always be there to inspire you to plan a vacation of your dreams.
Can travel be called a sport? It does get competitive at times like when someone asks you how many countries you’ve visited or what frequent flier status you’ve achieved. I don’t believe that vacations should only be about ticking off countries and top attractions in the world (though that can be fun). Still a bit of competition can help drive your travel habit to new heights. Whenever I meet someone and the conversation turns to travel (it always turns to travel), I’m thrilled to learn about a destination that was not on my radar.
While I don’t want to compete on country count, I do want to continue to be inspired to expand my travel horizons. Meeting someone who visited a place that I never considered visiting before serves to reinforce and motivate my travel habit. It piques my interest and often leads me to search online or buy a travel guidebook about that part of the world. While it may be years before I even consider going to that destination, it feeds my passion for travel and achieving work-life balance. Fortunately my wife and ultimate travel partner is in full agreement.
Vacation Habit Action: Join a travel meetup group or travel book club in your city. It’s a wonderful way to meet people who are passionate about traveling in order to share personal advice and tips. On the Web you can participate in the conversation happening on popular travel forums such as:
Habits are easier to form when they don’t take a ton of mental and physical effort. At first you may find researching destinations and planning trips to be a challenging exercise. Like all new habits, it takes time to become proficient. After you get used to tracking your vacation days and making plans for your time off, it will become as simple as doing laundry; though infinitely more fun 🙂
You may feel nervous on your first vacation from the U.S. to Europe for example. However like all activities you will begin to notice familiar patterns. On your second and third trips to Europe you’ll feel at ease communicating and getting around. The same applies to countries in Asia, South America, Africa and across the globe. You’ll quickly recognize the little differences between your home country and the country you are visiting. Eventually you will become an expert in planning the perfect vacation for you and your travel partners and taking successful trips.
Vacation Habit Action: Write down trip-planning goals that will over time take you from beginner to expert. You may not feel ready to go on African safari right now if that is on your life list. However you can trek to see exotic wildlife in Central America and learn from those travel experiences. The same applies to any type of trip. Whatever makes you nervous about leaving home, plan incremental steps to form a long-term travel habit. Think about the small steps you can take to build confidence when planning your next vacation.
Also not everyone wants to travel solo or independently. That is why tour operators offer premade itineraries. Let them gently hold your hand and guide you to the most amazing destinations whatever your style from luxury to adventure to budget and for every age group or interest.
You could spend a lifetime traveling and still not experience all the amazing people, places, and things out there. There is more see and do on vacation that you can ever imagine. However the fear of missing out (FOMO) is embedded in our culture. It’s hard to ignore the constant stream of images and videos on social media showing us what we’re missing. Instead of worrying about not being on vacation at every moment, leverage FOMO to plan your next vacation.
Most of us can’t give up work and we have ourselves and our families to take care of on a daily basis. Vacation isn’t a full-time job. We all have to balance work, life, and vacation without our time and budget constraints. So please remember that the meaning of “vacation” is not just taking a multi-day trip by car, train, or plane. Spending time on vacation doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or take you far away from home. The key is to plan a vacation that makes you happy instead of feeling stress about missing out.
When you only have a day off or can’t afford a week or two away, open your local newspaper or search twitter or the local events calendar online. Head outside your house and visit a new neighborhood, regional park, or tourist attraction. As long as you decide what to do for your own enjoyment, fulfillment, and enrichment, you are “on vacation.” It is good to have travel goals as long as you fulfill short term needs with mini vacation experiences.
Ideas for where to go are everywhere from celebrity Instagram accounts to YouTube travel vloggers to travel magazines. Make it your habit to stay informed about exciting destinations so you never run out of vacation ideas. At the same time tell yourself that it’s up to you how you wish to spend your vacation days and holidays. You don’t have to listen to peer pressure and travel someplace right now.
Vacation Habit Action: Like you do for keeping informed about travel bargains, sign up for every email newsletter that tells you what there is to do in your area. Follow festivals, theaters, tourism bureaus, sports teams, museums, nature areas, cultural activities, and whatever interests you on their social media channels. Keep a notebook of vacation day ideas and add scheduled events to your calendar. You won’t miss out on what YOU want to do.
Do you have a vacation planning tool that makes it simple to schedule your days off calendar? You should know that people who plan vacations in advance are much more likely to take vacations. Planning your preferred days off for the year is the first step. Find out how many vacation days you’ll accrue as well as your other paid time off (PTO) benefits such as personal time or floating holidays. Add in your list of official company or organization paid holidays – when you get paid NOT to work. That makes up your total for the number of days off your earn this year.
There are a handful of vacation tracking apps and templates that can help you put your vacation-planning habit into practice. You can also go low-tech and use a paper calendar or day planner with post-it notes to flag your chosen vacation periods.
Vacation Habit Action: Consider giving the free VacationCounts web app a go as it tracks your PTO numbers for the work year. Given how many days off you have in total, you can allocate and document days off to plan future vacations. If you input your past vacations into the app as well, you’ll see calculated trends and statistics such as how many places you’ve visited in a lifetime. Your data is kept private and the software runs in any web browser.
Now that you know how planning and taking your vacations can be habit forming, one that benefits your work-life balance, how do you make it so?! The steps to turn any desired activity into a habit are well-known, but there are several proven approaches to consider. You’ll want to reinforce the idea of taking all your vacation days each year without even thinking (or feeling guilty). Here are a few of the best resources on the web about forming new habits that stick.
Sticking to a Habit: The Definitive Guide (Zen Habits)
How To Start New Habits That Actually Stick (James Clear)
Apply these lessons to make planning and taking trips a regular habit. Hopefully you’ll get so good at using weekends and days off to travel that you’ll be motivated to take the 1 vacation every month challenge. It’s my own prescription for happiness, especially when the stress of career and home make it seem impossible to get away. It’s never too late to form new positive habits when you are excited by the opportunity to travel. Your work-life balance will thank you for taking more vacations this year and every year.
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