What Is the Perfect Vacation Length According to Science?
On average, Americans spend $ 1,000 a year on vacations (1).
For the British, that amount is even higher, between £ 1,000 and £ 4,000 a year (2). In fact, the Daily Mail claims that the British spend an average of two months of wages per year on their holidays (3).
Is vacation worth this investment? Do we actually need a vacation? And if so, how long is the ideal holiday duration?
In a 1910 New York Times article, William Howard Taft, 27th President of the United States, said the ideal vacation length should be two to three months so that one can resume work the following year with the same energy and effectiveness (4) .
STUDIES ON THE EFFECT OF VACATIONS ON OUR HEALTH
In the 1980s, a study already found a link between taking a vacation and an increase in life satisfaction (5).
In the 1990s, another study showed that employees were less likely to experience burnout after taking holidays (6). The results of this study were confirmed in 2011 by a more recent study (6.1)
These studies were complemented by a study in the year 2000 that proved that taking a vacation improved our mood (7). This research was also confirmed later, in 2010, by a more recent study (7.1).
In 2006, a study also linked taking vacations to a reduction in health complaints (8).
However, a study in 2009 proved that all these positive effects linked to taking a vacation were short-lived and completely disappeared shortly after returning to work (9).
In summary, several studies have observed a small increase in life satisfaction as well as a small decrease in the degree of exhaustion and the number of health complaints. After two to four weeks, the positive effect of vacation was no longer apparent in all studies (10), (10.1), (10.2), (10.3).
OUR HEALTH DURING A VACATION
Several studies indicate that for many people the start of the vacation is associated with an increase in stress, high blood pressure, poor sleep quality, and bad mood. The start of the vacation can also be accompanied by physical symptoms such as headache, fever, or stomach ache. (11), (11.1), (11.2)
According to Doctor Anita Sanz, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist, depression tends to increase during the holidays due to the high expectations that lead to stress, family problems, and the inability to live up to these high expectations (12).
A Dutch study also found that the health and well-being of the people studied was already decreasing a week before their departure on vacation. This was due to the increase in workload just before leaving for a vacation. This decrease was more noticeable in women who also experienced an increase in domestic tasks (13).
WHAT IS THE IDEAL VACATION LENGTH?
IDEAL VACATION LENGTH / DURATION
The University of Tampere in Finland studied about 50 vacationers during their stay and found that the feeling of happiness and satisfaction peaked around the eighth day of vacation and then gradually diminished (14).
Dr. Jessica de Bloom, who headed the research team, told the Wallstreet Journal that, “Eight days appears to be the ideal length of vacation to get the most out of it” (15).
After reading this article in the Wallstreet Journal, HR expert Tim Sackett wrote that he thinks it would be ideal to leave work a little earlier on Friday to start your vacation so that you have some time before and after your eight-day vacation. (16).
You can always choose not to go on vacation at all, but research has shown that this is a very bad idea in the long term because skipping vacations is associated with illness and premature death (17).
GO ON VACATIONS REGULARLY
A team of Japanese researchers found that people who went on regular vacations tended to have a healthier lifestyle in terms of smoking, physical activity, sleep, and nutrition (18). This proves that vacation is difficult to study on its own but rather is part of a lifestyle.
WHAT DOES THE IDEAL VACATION LOOK LIKE?
During the ideal vacation, activities should be combined with moments of relaxation. The balance must be struck between the satisfaction you get from new experiences and the pleasure and relaxation that low social expectations coupled with low physical and intellectual activity bring about (19), (19.1).
During our vacation, we should visit new places because discovering new places challenges us to adapt to new environments, cultures, and routines. This produces a spike in dopamine, the feel-good hormone.
Peter Vuust, Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Aarhus in Denmark says: “If the experience is one-dimensional, you will get tired of it very quickly. But if the experience is diversified and challenging, it will remain interesting. In that case, the bliss point will be postponed (20) ”.
Slightly less than half of our vacation joy turns out to come from the novelty or feeling that the stimuli are different from the ones we experience in our daily life. On longer vacations, however, we have more time to get used to the stimuli around us.
Jeroen Nawijn, Researcher at the University of Breda, says about this: “I don’t think that holidaymakers experience bliss point during relatively short holidays” (20) One theory deduces from this that during longer holidays people just start to get bored, like when you listen too often to the same song consecutively. However, this can be counteracted by taking the liberty to change activities regularly to avoid boredom.
According to Ondrej Mitas, Emotion researcher at the University of Breda, the above is precisely why bliss point is reached much faster during family holidays. During family holidays, it is much more difficult to take the liberty of anticipating our individual needs (20).
It will take deep introspection, trial, and error, to figure out what makes us happy and for how long. This is the only way to delay the bliss point of our vacation.
TIPS FOR THE PERFECT VACATION
It is recommended to exercise after your last working day. Exercise will help you get rid of the stress associated with your work. This way you get rid of your stress hormones and clear your head. It is important to disconnect mentally from work in order not to develop stress-related physical complaints during the start of your vacation (21).
It is not recommended to take only one long vacation per year. The positive effects of a vacation fade quickly regardless of the length of your vacation. That is why it is better to regularly take long weekends off combined with short vacations in order to feel fresh and rested all year round (22).
After your leave, gradually start to build up the workload again. After your vacation, keep one or two days off before resuming work and avoid overtime at all costs during the first weeks after your leave. A stress-free return to work combined with relaxing activities after work allows you to enjoy the positive side effects of your vacation for longer (23).
It is also important to be able to disconnect completely from your work. To enable you to do this, you must make clear agreements with your office regarding when you can and cannot be reached (24).
According to Expedia’s Annual Study on Vacation Deprivation, Americans plan to take one extra week (five days) of vacation by 2021. With this new mentality that favors taking all vacation days, vacation deprivation will soon be a thing of the past.
In 2020, Americans enjoyed an average of only 8 vacation days.
This year there will therefore be a reversal and most of the Americans have already planned to take all their days (13 days). (25)
4. How long should a man’s vacation be?, 1910, July 31. NYTimes.
5. Lounsbury, J. W., & Hoopes, L. L. (1986). A vacation from work: changes in work and nonwork outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 71, 392–401.
6. Westman, M., & Eden, D. (1997). Effects of a respite from work on burnout: Vacation relief and fade-out. Journal of Applied Psychology, 82, 516–527.
6.1 Kühnel, J., & Sonnentag, S. (2011). How long do you benefit from vacation? A closer look at the fade-out of vacation effects. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32, 125–143.
7. Strauss-Blasche, G., Ekmekcioglu, C., & Marktl, W. (2000). Does vacation enable recuperation? Changes in well-being associated with time away from work. Occupational Medicine, 50, 167–172.
7.1 Nawijn, J., Marchand, M., Veenhoven, R., & Vingerhoets, A. (2010). Vacationers happier, but most not happier after a holiday. Applied Research in Quality of Life, 5, 35–47.
8. Fritz, C., & Sonnentag, S. (2006). Recovery, well-being, and performance-related outcomes: the role of workload and vacation experiences. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 936–945.
9. De Bloom, J., Kompier, M., Geurts, S., De Weerth, C., Taris, T., & Sonnentag, S. (2009). Do we recover from vacation? Meta-analysis of vacation effects on health and well-being. Journal of Occupational Health, 51, 13–25.
10. Lounsbury, J. W., & Hoopes, L. L. (1986). A vacation from work: changes in work and nonwork outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 71, 392–401.
10.1 Westman, M., & Etzion, D. (2001). The impact of vacation and job stress on burnout and absenteeism. Psychology and Health, 16, 95–106.
10.2 Gilbert, D., & Abdullah, J. (2004). Holidaytaking and the sense of well-being. Annals of Tourism Research, 31, 103–121.
10.3 De Bloom, J., Kompier, M., Geurts, S. et al. (2009). Do we recover from vacation? Journal of Occupational Health, 51, 13–25.
11. Pearce, P.L. (1981). ‘Environment shock’: A study of tourists’ reactions to two tropical islands. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 11, 268–280.
11.1 Vingerhoets, A.J.J.M. & Van Huijgenvoort, M. (2002). Leisure sickness: A pilot study on its prevalance, phenomenology, and backround. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 71, 311–317.
11.2 Blasche, G.W., Weissensteiner, K. & Marktl, W. (2012). Travel-related change of residence leads to a transitory stress reaction in humans. Journal of Travel Medicine, 19, 243–249.
13. Nawijn, J., De Bloom, J. & Geurts, S. (2013). Pre-vacation time: Blessing or burden? Leisure Sciences, 35, 33–44.
14. De Bloom, J., Geurts, S.A.E. & Kompier, M.A.J. (2013). Vacation (after-) effects on employee health and well-being, and the role of vacation activities, experiences and sleep. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14, 613–633.
17. Gump, B. B., & Matthews, K. A. (2000). Are vacations good for your health? The 9-year mortality experience after the multiple risk factor intervention trial. Psychosomatic Medicine, 62, 608–612
18. Tarumi, K., Hagihara, A. & Morimoto, K. (1998). An investigation into the effects of vacations on the health status in male white-collar workers. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, 3, 23–30.
19. Stone, A. A., Kennedy-Moore, E., & Neale, J. M. (1995). Association between daily coping and end-of-day mood. Health Psychology, 14, 341–349.
19.1 Tinsley, H. E. A., & Eldredge, B. D. (1995). Psychological benefits of leisure participation: a taxonomy of leisure activities based on their need-gratifying properties. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 42, 123–132.
21. Vingerhoets, A.J.J.M. & Van Huijgenvoort, M. (2002). Leisure sickness: A pilot study on its prevalence, phenomenology, and background. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 71, 311–317.
22. Strauss-Blasche, G., Muhry, F., Lehofer, M. et al. (2004). Time course of well-being after a three-week resort-based respite from occupational and domestic demands. Journal of Leisure Research, 36, 293–309.
23. Strauss-Blasche, G., Muhry, F., Lehofer, M. et al. (2004). Time course of well-being after a three-week resort-based respite from occupational and domestic demands. Journal of Leisure Research, 36, 293–309.
24. Sonnentag, S. (2012). Psychological detachment from work during leisure time. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21, 114–118.