What’s Better for You: Long or Short Vacations?3 min read
Summer is winding down and that means two things: you’re counting how many more weekends you could possibly take a last-minute summer vacation or you’re looking ahead a couple months, to when the weather is cold and blustery, to make an escape to a warmer destination.
A vacation is not only an opportunity to get away from work and everyday life stressors, but it’s a time to relax, have fun, and reset before returning to your normal life. There have been many studies looking at how vacations boost your well-being, relieve your stress, and help you recharge before going back to work in a way that positively impacts your health by way of reducing your risk of heart attacks and depression. In addition, vacations are credited with improving work performance and creativity.
With the healthy benefits vacations can provide you, you may be thinking “the longer the better.” The more days you spend consecutively on vacation, the more health benefits you reap. But one study is saying that may not be the case.
A study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that longer vacations aren’t necessarily better than shorter ones. Health and well-being rapidly increase when vacation starts, often just two days into the holiday. And, according to the study, health and well-being peak on the eighth day of vacation.
The takeaway from the study? Take shorter, more frequent vacations. Since when and how long you get away from work for vacation often depends on the amount of vacation time you’ve accrued, this approach encourages you to spread out your vacation time throughout the year instead of cashing it all in at once for one long trip.
Researchers in this study equate vacations to sleep – you need sleep on a regular basis to recover from your daytime activities and stay healthy; binging on sleep doesn’t do you much long term good. Similarly, you need regular recovery from work in the form of vacations to stay healthy in the long run.
And, speaking of sleep, depending on the type of vacation you go on, you likely get more of it while you’re away. The study found that vacationers slept longer and better, increasing their health and well-being during and two weeks after vacation. Cause and effect remains unclear – the research team can’t say if vacation allows you to get a good night’s sleep, improving health and well-being, or if the vacation itself improves your health and well-being, resulting in improved sleep quality and quantity.
The days before your vacation have their own set of benefits. Simply anticipating your vacation, what you’ll be doing and looking forward to where you’re going provide you with greater emotional rewards than looking back and remembering your trip when you return home.
On your very first day back at work, the positive effects your vacation had on your health and wellbeing have already “entirely faded out,” which makes perfect sense if you’ve ever had to play the e-mail catch up game after a few days away from it all.
The autonomy you have on vacation further increases its benefits. While away, your day isn’t dictated by your alarm clock, deadlines, clients and higher-ups’ needs. You don’t have to set an alarm to wake up to and you decide how to spend your days on vacations, only doing what you truly want to do. You’re in control of your time.
Think about it: vacation improves your health and well-being. If you only take one long trip each year, you’re only given the opportunity to reap these benefits once. But, if you plan out your PTO and schedule several, shorter trips throughout your year, you’ll be reaping these benefits on a regular basis.
Photo from Community Power Works.