According to the U.S. Travel Association, more than…wait for it…768 million vacation days went unused in 2019.
WAIT…WHAT?! That can’t be right. The number is hard to comprehend. Despite the fact that Americans are known by the rest of the world to be overworked and overstressed…,why the heck aren’t people using their days to unwind and disconnect?
That can’t be good for anyone’s mental (or physical) health…right? We all need a break!
And so National Plan for Travel Day was born. Yup, it’s a real thing! Celebrated on the last Tuesday of every year, it’s a day to encourage (even force) Americans to plan their time off.
This year it falls on January 28 – that’s just three days away! So I ask, are you prepared? Have you given thought to how you’ll use your vacation time to decompress from professional work and reconnect with family and friends…or maybe yourself?
If not, what are you waiting for??
Amazingly 83% of Americans DO want to use their time off to travel. But sadly, few do.
And no, you don’t have to be American to benefit from this initiative. DUH! Take it as a note of inspiration if you also happen to fail miserably at planning the year’s travel in advance.
But before we get into the planning, let’s chat about WHY exactly people let those sacred vacation days go to waste each year… Here are some of my theories!
Why So Many Days Go Unused
1. Afraid to take off work
Most people recognize the need for a rest but are simply too afraid to take it. What if they miss critical projects or fall behind on existing ones?
Or worse, what if fellow employees look down on the fact that I take my vacation days? Sounds silly, right? Not to a society that prides itself on being overly scheduled and over committed.
You’ll never NOT have crap on your plate or stuff to do. If you wait for the perfect time to start planning, it’ll never come.
2. You don’t want the kids to miss school
As a mom, I totally understand this one. What if your child falls behind in Math or misses that important Geography test?
Listen, if he or she got sick and needed to miss one week of school, you would simply catch them up on the work once he or she got better.
In the case of a family vacation, just be proactive! Ask the teacher in advance what work your child will miss and try to pepper it in throughout your travels.
Read a book at night, study multiplication problems while sitting at the airport. It’s all possible. Your children should be the reason you take time away from work, not the excuse for why you can’t.
3. Possible payout of vacation days
Some companies have a policy of paying out their employees for unused travel days, which means CASH. Okay, I might not be able to debate this one if a financial payout is your ultimate goal. But this should only apply to people in the middle of a job transition, right?
For everyone else, use em! No amount of money can replace time with the ones you love, especially your children.
Benefits of Planning Yearly Travel
Friends of ours here in Barcelona have a habit of sitting down at the beginning of the year and literally mapping out what their business and personal travels will look like for the next 12 months. This includes planned family vacations too!
We tend to be a bit more spontaneous with travel in our home, but I sooo wish we would get into the habit of planning ahead!
The U.S.T.A. reports that planners are more likely than non-planners to use their time off. I envy this ritual for a couple reasons.
First and most obvious, planning ahead allows you to stay organized and committed. Many people talk about traveling or taking a trip – but the more time that goes by, the less likely they are to plan it.
By planning travel time throughout the year, you have something to look forward to! Maybe it’s a trip to Disney, a visit to see relatives or maybe just sitting home and doing nothing at all but catching up on sleep. Either way, it’s time you’re not pounding through the day on someone else’s watch.
Planning travel ahead forces us to prioritize our mental and physical health, which in the U.S. is a serious issue. People are burned out! While it’s wonderful to work hard and be committed to what you do, don’t let it take priority over your down time. Everyone needs balance. After all, I have yet to see a tombstone with the words ‘Wish I had worked more’ written on it.”
Budgeting for travel becomes way easier when you know what your travel looks like for the entire year. For example, if you plan to take that extravagant 12-night cruise to Italy in May, you’ll know to plan for a more conservative and shorter trip in the second half of the year. Without this important forecasting, many people end up over spending in one trip what they hoped to spend for the year.
So, Where Do You Start?
To me, the thought of sitting down and planning out the next 12 MONTHS of your life seems daunting at best!
I’m sure most people feel the same way. But honestly, let’s not make it harder than it needs to be. There are loads of tools and resources that can help make the process more simplistic.
So here’s where you say, “Okay, I’m in!” and make the commitment:
1.Grab a sheet of paper or a notebook with a pen
List Work Commitments
2.Draw a line down the middle of a sheet and across each side to make four quadrants. On the top left side list any work commitments you have throughout the year. These are non-negotiables so better allocate the time early on.
List Personal Commitments
3.Next in the top right box, write down any personal obligations you may need to take vacation time for such as a wedding or Uncle Ed’s 70th Birthday across the country. Also, usually not flexible events.
List School /Extra Cirricular Dates
4.In the bottom left box, place any important school dates (if you have kids) such as holiday breaks, days off, final exams, sports competitions. Can’t forget about those.
Create a Travel Wish List
5.And in the last box (this is where it gets fun!) write down a list of places you’d like to visit or trips you want to take with the family. Realistically, most people take two to three vacations each year so try not to get too carried away (I know it’s hard not to!)
The Big Picture
Now plug in all of those dates and predetermined travel into a single view 12-month calendar like this amazing dry-erase wall one . This will now give you a bird’s eye view of the year’s events and allow you to determine where a vacation or other travels are possible.
Sounds so exciting right?
The U.S. Travel Association feels so strongly about the need for people to take their vacation days, they’ve created what’s called a Travel Planning Tool. By simply entering your PTO (Paid Time Off), the tool calculates how many days would be left after entering a potential trip.
This means you won’t loose track of those travel days while planning.
Kind of an important step in the planning process, don’t cha think?? Some people like to set their budget first and then plan travel around that cost.
Others like to identify which trips they most definitely want to take during the year, estimate what those costs would be and then plan according to the budget.
There’s no right or wrong way to go about it, just really a personal preference and how you feel the expenses are best managed.
Remember that fourth box we completed earlier? The FUN one with all your dream vacations for the year? Take a look back and number them in priority order.
Then number them once more in order from the most to least expensive trip. This part allows you to prioritize getting the most bang for your “buck” so to speak.
Once you’ve identified the top two or three trips that work within your budget and work around all the other “have-to’s” of the year, write them into the calendar too!
CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve just set yourself apart from the 83% of people that want to use all of their vacation days but never get around to it!
No one, not even the U.S.T.A. is going to force you to take your own vacation days in 2020. It’s up to YOU to initiate the planning, set your budget, plan around existing events and make traveling a priority this year!
You’ll be so glad you did and I can’t wait to hear how the planning exercise went. Please please share your thoughts and feedback here so others can also read about the benefits of planning travel days!