The Benefits of a Short Vacation

By: Marie Donlon

A new trend is shaping how Americans vacation and it involves taking abbreviated vacations instead of the traditional week-long vacations of yesterday.

Considering that 700 million vacation days went unused last year, it is surprising to discover that Americans are vacationing at all. But they are taking time — albeit less time — and that short time away is proving beneficial.

"The partial week [vacation] is gaining in popularity," said Katie Denis of the U.S. Travel Association's Project: Time Off.

According to a number of related studies, shorter vacations can help reduce stress levels.

"Some of the benefit of a short vacation depends on what you actually do when you're away," says Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor emerita of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

In order to achieve some of the benefits of a shorter vacation, experts recommend planning.

"When you have a short amount of time, you've got to be on top of your game in planning activities," says Whitbourne. Map out restaurants, sights and events in advance of your trip, making sure to agree on those plans with your travel mates. Additionally, book tickets and reservations in advance so that you don’t waste time debating each day's activity.

In addition to reduced stress levels, taking a short amount of time away, particularly with a loved one, may serve to deepen the bond between the two of you. According to researchers observing vacationers, people who took short vacations with their partners expressed feeling more relaxed and had more positive feelings toward their partners.

Another finding about short vacations was that people who took short vacations and used that time to do even the slightest bit of work did not get any of the benefits from being away, often returning worse than when they left for vacation.

As such, Bart Lorang, the CEO of technology company Full Contact, encourages people to stay off of their devices when they are using vacation time, going so far as to offer those employees a $7,500 incentive to use their time without interruption.

"They can immerse themselves completely in a new experience without feeling tethered to anything work-related," Lorang said. "Most employees come back feeling refreshed and recharged, ready to jump back into their responsibilities with a fresh perspective."

Considering how connected the world is, it is almost impossible to really “unplug” from work. Yet, experts on the topic of vacation insist that it is necessary.

"I delete all business apps, email account apps, social apps and news apps from my phone and tablet," said Lorang. He says when he goes on vacation, "I load up on e-books and music, and sometimes I'll even hand over my device to my wife to avoid checking anything prior to leaving."

Putting a plan in place to limit the amount of time spent looking at mobile devices could be one way to “unplug” without entirely “unplugging,” according to experts.

"Checking e-mail, news, social media can generate stress responses in us that we could certainly take a break from while on vacation," he said.

Make sure to set aside time on your calendar before year-end to devote to time away, even if it is a short block of time.