sea lions
Adventure in the the Galápagos Islands (Photo: Annie Fitzsimmons)

The statistics are concerning. Last year, Americans left 658 million unused vacation days on the table, which equals hundreds of millions of dollars of free work for their employers. According to Project Time Off, people fear taking time off for two main reasons: catching up upon their return, and the belief that no one else can do the job. Secondary reasons include financial concerns and wanting to appear dedicated to the job.

Plan For Vacation

It’s up to you to set professional boundaries and to understand the benefits of vacation, which extend to our health, stress, and productivity levels. Which brings us to the power of planning. Today, January 31st, is National Plan For Vacation Day. There’s something wild and fun about a spontaneous weekend getaway, but now is the time to map out your bigger adventures this year.

Planning – the anticipation, excitement, and learning process – is all part of the experience of time off. Even while working and going about daily life, you still reap the benefits of that ten-day vacation in Europe or one-week cruise.

An urban escape in Cape Town, South Africa (Photo: Annie Fitzsimmons)

Here are some ideas to make the most of it:

  • Indulge In Entertainment Related To Your Trip – Planning a trip to Scotland? Watch the runaway hit Outlander for scenes of the blustery Scottish highlands – and a gain history lesson, to boot. Of course, The Lord of the Rings movie adaptation showcased New Zealand’s natural splendor/playgrounds. A personal favorite is Only You, with Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr. Italy has never looked better (even with film techniques circa 1994), and neither has the Amalfi Coast’s Le Sirenuse. If you’re visiting New York City, the possibilities are endless: When Harry Met Sally, Manhattan, You’ve Got Mail, Ghostbusters, and many, many more. You can also build excitement through documentaries or travel shows (Anthony Bourdain, Samantha Brown, Rick Steves). After returning, look for books set in your vacation destination – like John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil for New Orleans.
  • Canvas Your Social Media Networks – If you’re active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or another social network, use it! “Hi everyone, I’m headed to Argentina in three months and I’d love to know any tips you might have.” From the best wine bar, neighborhood bistro, and museums to possible new connections with local friends, social media can give you a leg up before – and after – you go.
  • Dig Into A Recipe From The Country You’re Visiting – For an Italian vacation, this is a no-brainer: Browse cookbooks, food blogs, and clippings to find delicious new pasta recipes to make at home before traveling. Learn the nuances of a country through food – Northern and Southern Italian cuisine is very different, as different as New England’s is from New Orleans’. After recently returning from Egypt, I was determined to make koshari at home. It’s Egyptian comfort food, with ditalini pasta, vermicelli, rice, lentils, chickpeas, and fried onions, and I found a great recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi.
  • Work With Your Travel Advisor – Planning a vacation online can feel like trying to find a tiny diamond in an Empire State Building-sized garbage pile – the amount of content, “deals,” promises, and outdated information is overwhelming. Working with a knowledgeable travel advisor who has a black book of friends and contacts all over the world significantly increases the value of your time off. Let’s say you want to take a safari to Africa. It’s almost impossible to know where to should begin online. A trusted travel advisor can tell you the difference between South Africa and Kenya, Tanzania and Botswana – as well as whether you should visit multiple countries and where to stay in each, depending on your personality and wishes. Here are five reasons to use a travel advisor.
  • Enjoy Your Trip!! – Start thinking about the next one.

Watch travel host Samantha Brown encourage us to take time off in this one-minute video.