Courtney Geter, LMFT, CST
Sex and Relationship Therapist

Vacations Improve Your Mental Health: Tips to Plan an Enjoyable Get Away

For most families and couples, vacation planning is a mix of delight and terror. We can’t wait for time away from work, alone with our loved ones…but the thought of too much time, or time doing the wrong things, can make us long for a bit of an extension on the holiday. These anxieties are the sorts of things that family, relationship, and individual therapists talk about all the time, and we can all benefit from some therapeutic insights when we begin to plan vacations.

Planning is half the fun!

With hectic work and school schedules, it’s difficult to find an entire week or two when the whole family or two (or three, or five, or more) partners can make their schedules jive perfectly. That’s why, when you find the time, it can feel like you need to plan the ‘perfect’ vacation: extravagant, exotic,expensive. Raising the stakes on a vacation can increase tensions and actually make a vacation experience worse. Indeed, in a 2010 study, sociologists found that vacation enjoyment does not correlates with what you do on your vacation, how much money you spend, and only partially with the length of vacation. Instead, vacationers who spent the most time planning the vacation – researching activities, talking with friends, anticipating it personally – were the ones who reported the highest levels of satisfaction post-vacation. So with this in mind, feel free to be a little more judicious about your budget and a bit more liberal with your approach to planning.

How long is too long?

Because of the relief we often expect vacations to bring, we can fret about how to allot our time: should we aim for several short vacations in a year, a few moderate ones, or one long one? Keeping in mind that advanced planning can add significantly to your vacation satisfaction, you also want to keep in mind that the vacation is supposed to separate you from your daily routine. Too short of a vacation can make this excessively difficulty. But too long of a vacation can make returning to your routine just as difficult, souring the last few days of vacation and making your vacation memories worse. The same study from above shows that participants tended to report the highest levels of satisfaction with vacations that lasted around two weeks, so if possible, try to aim for around that amount of time for your vacation.

Have to get away!

Part of disconnecting from your daily routine means refusing the chances for that routine to intrude on your vacation, in ways large and small. It seems easy to say you’ll respond to email before your partner or family wakes up in the morning. But consider how that routine, thinking about work intensively and hoping your family doesn’t wake up early, can establish an unhappy, unrelaxing note for each day of a vacation. And as we all know, when you give co-workers an inch, they’ll take a mile (because after all, they’re still working). The best parameters for enjoying a vacation requires you to treat work as non-existent except in cases of emergencies. As long as everyone knows in advance that they can’t reach you, they’ll plan to do without, just as you’ll be planning to do without them.

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