Ever feel more exhausted after a vacation than before?
Taking time off has the potential to help our bodies and brains perform at their best, but too often it has the opposite effect. Thanks to our ever-present smartphones, truly getting away is harder than ever. We spend our breaks rushing from sight to sight, snapping selfies and answering work emails when we should be restoring our minds and bodies.
A new Glassdoor study found that 66 percent of Americans report working during their paid time off (PTO). Worse: the same study found that the average American worker only takes about 54 percent of their eligible vacation.
It defies science. Psychologists have long agreed that time off correlates with wellness. Our brains need downtime to improve attention, motivation, productivity, and even creativity. So don’t think of vacation as a setback. Think of it as a chance to boost your long-term performance.
Luckily for the more ambitious travelers among us, getting a restful vacation doesn’t mean lying in the sun for a week straight. You can have the vacation you want and still get the rest you need.
Build Rest into Your Itinerary
It’s tempting to spend every second outside the office traveling, but you’d be wise to leave buffer days on either end of your trip. You’ll feel more prepared at the start of your vacation and more relaxed at the end. It also provides time to buy groceries, do laundry, and check on things at home before getting back to the grind.
After 20 years of research, sociologist Sabine Sonnentag has identified a system for restorative vacations. She found that a combination of the below factors leaves us feeling the most rested:
- Relaxation – engaging in an undemanding activity, like going for a walk.
- Control – lavishing the power to decide how to spend your vacation.
- Mastery experiences – doing what you’re good at. Whether it’s chess or cooking, this will improve your spirits and make your vacation feel more meaningful.
- Detachment from work – psychologically removing yourself from the stresses of work and embracing vacation mode. This includes avoiding work-related interruptions.
Let Yourself Disconnect
One way to guarantee distractions won’t get in the way of vacation is a digital detox. That’s right: leaving your beloved devices aside as you let your mind and body live completely in the moment. Studies have found that truly unplugging on vacation leads to reduced stress, improved concentration, and increased mental acuity.
If you’re up for going cold turkey, there are entire resorts dedicated to the concept of phone-free vacationing. These retreats have been linked to better posture, deeper conversation, improved memory, and more efficient sleep by neuroscientists. Perhaps most notably, the lack of distractions freed people’s minds to contemplate important personal matters.
If that’s too extreme, there are smaller steps you can take, like disabling push notifications or keeping your device’s wifi switched off during the day. And since you’re on vacation, go ahead and turn your phone off while you sleep. The blue light your devices emit can greatly degrade your quality of rest.
Recharge On the Go
Avoiding your phone is a good start, but almost everyone can agree that the best part about vacation is catching up on sleep. Unfortunately, you’re not always near your bed when exhaustion hits. Instead of chugging another espresso or caffeine alternative, head somewhere designed to help you unwind.
This May, entrepreneur Maria Estrella Jorro de Inza opened Siesta and Go in Madrid, where customers can read, chill, meditate, or catch some zzz’s for a price (€10-14 per hour). While primarily geared toward weary workers on their coffee or lunch breaks, there’s no reason her 19-bed siestadome can’t be used by worn-out vacationers too.
Similar spots exist in Paris, Brussels, Krakow, and Tokyo. Even notoriously sleepless New York is getting in on the trend. We suspect more cities will soon catch on to a theory many scientists already agree on: two sleeps are better than one.
One last tactic to consider? Embrace mini-breaks. As opposed to long-awaited, stress-inducing 10-day vacations, taking more regular, shorter breaks can enhance vacation’s restorative effects. You won’t put so much pressure on the time off or feel as guilty missing work, allowing you to be fully present in that glorious, out-of-office moment.