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Unused Vacation Days and Why You Should Use Them

My fellow Americans, we have a vacation-time problem. As a workforce, we’ve got among the fewest paid vacation days of any developed country. In fact, we’re one of the only countries that has zero—compare that to 28 days in the U.K., for instance—paid public holidays. But too few vacation days isn’t actually our main problem. The real issue is that we don’t even use all of the vacation days we have. Every year, we’re giving up more than 400 million hard-earned days of beach reading, museum going, adventure trekking, and new-city exploring.

This will not do. Luckily, there’s a solution. It starts with you checking your vacation balance. If you’re among the 51 percent of people Skift recently surveyed, you may have not yet taken a single vacation day in 2014. Yikes.

Taking your vacation time isn’t just financially smart, it’s also a good choice for your health. Study after study proves that vacations are good for you. WebMD says people who take vacations reap health benefits like a lower risk of heart disease, lower stress levels, and a more positive outlook on life. Vacations give people the room to reconnect, recharge, and find new inspiration. Even planning a vacation delivers a big happiness boost that can start up to eight weeks in advance of a trip.

Excuses, Excuses

In many states and at many companies, vacation time can’t be rolled over from one year to the next. Let unused vacation days expire and you’re essentially paying your company for the privilege of working.

And here’s the truth: Unless you’re the only person in the world who can do a certain life-saving and very time-sensitive surgery and you’ve got a line of patients out the door, you can probably take a vacation without everything falling apart.

Worried that it’s too late to pull together a trip before the end of the year? The great news is that, outside of peak holiday periods, November and December tend to brim with travel deals and discounts to places that are great—if a little cold—to visit at this time of year. Need inspiration? Check out our recent stories on the Top Five Off-Peak Destinations and Top Five Bargain Destinations for fall 2014.

If you really can’t swing a trip before 2015, take the vacation time to do that project you’ve been putting off. On my list this year: a wildly disorganized basement and a writing project I’ve been putting off all year.

Break the Cycle

Make 2015 the year you stop giving away your paid vacation time. Here’s how:

  • Start the year knowing exactly how much vacation time you have and whether you get it as a lump sum in January or you accrue it over the course of the year. If you’ve been at the same company for a few years, remember that you may be entitled to more vacation time.
  • Early in the year, sketch out a tentative vacation timeline. Research the best times to go to the destinations you’re interested in. You may also need to factor in school vacations, your travel partner’s schedule, and historically quieter times at work, depending on your industry.
  • Check in with your manager well in advance if you want to take time off during a busy work period or a popular vacation month. Do you need to do this? No. But it’s a way of getting your vacation on your manager’s radar early, and it can help manage workflow expectations during your anticipated absence.
  • Check in on your vacation-time balance at intervals throughout the year to see how you’re doing. Don’t wait until November 1 to realize you’ve got more vacation time than work hours left in the year.
  • Remember how wonderful it is to take a break from daily life.

(Photo: Woman Taking Photo at Sunset via Shutterstock)

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