Get this. In 2016, Americans left more than 662 million vacation days unused. Let that sink for in a minute. Six hundred, sixty-two, million PAID VACATION DAYS were left on the table. Does that not just sound absolutely ridiculous?

Ann delivering a speech on behalf of her company at the opening of the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Honor.

Ann delivering a speech on behalf of her company at the opening of the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Honor.

Like many career-minded people, I was a work martyr, too, and didn’t always use all of the vacation time I’d accrued. After college, I spent a few years as a newspaper reporter before starting what would be a 19-year career in the cable industry at a Fortune 500 company. I spent much of my 20s and 30s trying to move up on the corporate ladder while balancing life at home as a single mom. I remember feeling really anxious whenever I asked for time off then felt guilty when I took it, knowing that others were having to take up the slack.

Eventually, as I started advancing into more leadership roles, I got over it.

At some point, I realized that taking vacation time was actually a good thing for both me and my company. I also noticed that most of the successful leaders took real vacations, too. I began to plan vacation days at the beginning of the year and encouraged my employees to do the same.

Meghan and Ann on a vacation to Chicago in 2009.

Meghan and Ann on a vacation to Chicago in 2009.

Vacation use is in decline

Sadly, since 2000, vacation usage has been steadily declining. In 2016, workers reported taking off just 16.8 days, almost a full week less compared to the pre-2000 average (20.3 days). What’s crazy to me is that we often look for and accept jobs that have stellar benefits, including paid time off (PTO), but then for one reason or another, don’t feel like we can take it.

Plan for Vacation infographicThere are all kinds of excuses for not taking vacation. “I’ll have too much work piled up when I return.” “No one else can do my job.” “Taking time off is harder when you’re in management.” “I can’t afford a vacation.” “I want to show that I’m completely dedicated to my company.”

The truth is, you can take vacation time and you and your company are going to be better for it. Still need some convincing? Here are a few reasons we think everyone should plan for vacation.

You’ll be happier if you plan to take time off

I’m a planner. Always have been. Always will be. I like looking forward to events, vacations, and time with family and friends. When you plan your vacation days in advance, you’re more likely to actually use your PTO and you’re more likely to take longer periods of time off at once. Here’s what a Project: Time Off study found.

  • More planners report they are “very” or “extremely” happy with their relationships (83% vs. 70%), health and well-being (57% vs. 48%), company (57% vs. 51%), and job (59% vs. 50%) compared to non-planners.
  • 52 percent of planners took all of their vacation time vs. 40 percent of non-planners.
  • 75 percent of planners were more likely to take a full week of vacation time or more at a time. Non-planners take significantly fewer days—zero to three—than planners at one time (42% to 18%).

Taking vacation days helps the economy

In 2013, the U.S. Travel Association commissioned a study conducted by Oxford Economics to better understand why employees do not take paid time off. The study also looked at the U.S. economy and a range of industries would benefit if workers used more of the leave they have earned. Here’s what they found:

  • If American workers used all of their available PTO, the U.S. economy could reap an additional $160 billion in total business sales each year. This would support 1.2 million new American jobs.
  • Furthermore, this additional economic activity would generate more than $21 billion in taxes, including $11.4 billion in federal, $4.1 billion in state, and $5.5 billion in local taxes.
  • If workers took their unused time, the travel industry could benefit from 581 million additional travel days and $67 billion in additional travel spending.
We helped the economy quite a bit with stops at The Pioneer Woman Mercantile and Magnolia Market last summer.

We helped the economy quite a bit with stops at The Pioneer Woman Mercantile and Magnolia Market last summer.

  • If that time off included overnight hotel stays, the resulting additional 288 room nights would boost hotel demand by 26 percent.
  • If just 20 percent of the trips include air travel, it would correspond to an additional 23 million enplanements, a 15 percent increase from estimated 2013 levels.

Did you catch that? If Americans simply took the time off that they’ve earned, our economy would gain $160 billion a year — that’s billion with a “B” — and support 1.2 million new jobs.

Taking vacation might get you a raise or promotion

That’s right, contrary to popular belief, work martyrs are actually less likely to get a raise or promotion than those who take their vacation time.

Steve had a glorious day of relaxation at Manuel Antonio Beach in Costa Rica while taking vacation days at Christmas in 2011.

Steve had a glorious day of relaxation at Manuel Antonio Beach in Costa Rica while taking vacation days at Christmas in 2011.

We’ve all worked with people who constantly stay late, come to work sick, and spend long lunch hours in the break room whining that they can’t take a vacation because there’s just too much to do. Don’t be one of them.

Here’s what we know:

  • Employees who take their vacation time are more likely than forfeiters to have been promoted within the last year (27% to 23%). They are also more likely to have received a raise or bonus in the last three years (84% to 78%).
  • Taking time off is associated with higher productivity, performance; more positive attitude toward work; increased happiness; improved mental and physical health; better relationships and social life.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Relaxing at Tabacon Hot Springs in Costa Rica.

Relaxing at Tabacon Hot Springs in Costa Rica.

Taking vacation means the world to those you love

For those of you who are parents, you have 18 summers with your kids. Don’t waste them.

Postcard Jar: Lessons I learned traveling with my mom

I can tell you from experience that my daughter doesn’t remember most of the birthday gifts I gave her but she does remember the time I took of work to spend quality time with her. Whether it was a day off to chaperone a school field trip, a long-weekend road trip across Nebraska, or a month-long missionary trip to Sri Lanka, it was the time off I took for that meant the most to her.

Don’t believe me? You can read her own words in this blog post she wrote called  “Lessons I learned traveling with my mom.” 

Likewise, when Steve and I were both working demanding, full-time jobs, we cherished every vacation day we got together. We took the train to Boston, cruised in Alaska with our daughter, and enjoyed weekend getaways to places like Chicago or Kansas City. We usually came back more relaxed, recharged, and reconnected.

You just gotta plan vacation time

I remember when Steve wanted to book that vacation to Alaska and I was hesitant. It was expensive and it meant I was going to have to take two full weeks (in a row) off of work.

We took a helicopter ride to the top of glacier where we were able to sip glacier water and explore the terrain.

On a cruise to Alaska, we took a helicopter ride to the top of glacier where we were able to sip glacier water and explore the terrain.

But after a lot of discussion, we decided to take the vacation days and just go. And I’m so incredibly thankful we did. One month after that vacation, I got very sick and was eventually diagnosed with a serious inflammatory disease. I had five surgeries in 17 months, had to leave my career in government relations, and since then, fatigue and pain have limited what I am able physically able to do. [Note: I am so glad I walked on a glacier when I could.]

My illness and having to leave my career has given me a new perspective. At the end of the day (and our lives) most of us are never going to look back and say, “My biggest regret is that I didn’t spend more time at the office.” My advice is this: Plan your vacations days. Take the time off. Have fun and enjoy life and the people who make it worth living.

Where are you planning to go this year?


Plan a vacation

Plan a vacation

  • There is nothing quite like preparing a perfect dish in your own kitchen. Courtesy of @thechefandthedish, Ann prepared a traditional Spanish paella with Cyndi Kane, a.k.a. Ree Drummond's BFF Hyacinth. Sure, learning to make the dish was fun. Savoring the meal, and the friendship that went with it, was the best part of that great afternoon.
  • In the chilly, pre-dawn light of an early spring day on the Platte River in central Nebraska you can be sure of one thing: soon you'll witness one of nature's greatest spectacles, tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes taking to the air for a day of foraging for food. If you have never witnessed this incredible sight, you must make sure you @visitnebraska so you can experience this for yourself. @visitKearney
  • A good cocktail is an experience. Instead of just having a drink to throw back, we love savoring a well-crafted beverage. Something we love about @celebritycruise is that good cocktails are easy to find. We aren't huge drinkers. Instead, we are strong believers in quality over quantity.
  • Something that always impresses us is the sheer size of a cruise ship. The fact that something that large can move and float and provide great service never ceases to amaze. But one of our favorite views is when we're docked next to another ship, and walking down a pier suddenly feels like walking through a canyon.
  • Here's a bridal shower idea...we put bottles of flavored water, juices, and sparkling wine from @wholefoods and @traderjoes in a large drink bucket with ice. We then served the drinks in stemless flutes with a cute, colorful straw.
  • We've been to many different farms in our lives, but never to one quite like this. Our cruise ship excursion in Grand Cayman took us to an actual turtle farm. We had so much fun walking the grounds, looking at the various turtles and learning all about them. Have you ever been to a turtle farm?
  • We just love tea time on @celebritycruises. Every day there are new, delicious treats. Take this delectable morsel, for instance. One bite of pure deliciousness!
  • Who remembers begging your parents to buy you a bag of these when you were a kid? Well, at the Archway Monument in @visitkearney, you can buy them for yourself! We just love these smooth, colored rocks and all the great family travel memories seeing them brings back.

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