Luci Gutiérrez

If you feel like you need a vacation, you’re almost certainly right. Americans get far fewer paid days off than workers in pretty much any other industrialized democracy, and the time we actually take off has declined significantly, from 20.3 days in 1987 to 17.2 days in 2017. [1]

Beyond souvenirs and suntans, the best reason to take a break may be your own health. For the Helsinki Businessmen Study—a 40-year cardiovascular-health study that also happens to be the working title of the solo album I’ll probably never get around to recording—researchers treated men at risk of heart disease. From 1974 to 2004, those men who took at least three weeks of vacation were 37 percent less likely to die than those who took fewer weeks off. [2]

Even if we don’t view time off as a matter of life and death, people who take more of their allotted vacation time tend to find their work more meaningful. [3] Vacation can yield other benefits, too: People who took all or most of their paid vacation time to travel were more likely than others to report a recent raise or bonus. [4] And time not taken depresses more than individual career prospects: In 2017, the average U.S. worker left six paid vacation days unused, which works out to 705 million days of travel nationally, enough to support 1.9 million travel-related jobs. [5]

From longevity to career growth to macroeconomic feats of strength, the case for vacation seems open-and-shut. Yet the picture’s not entirely rosy. Tourism’s carbon footprint grew four times as much as expected from 2009 to 2013, and accounted for 8 percent of all greenhouse-gas emissions in that period. [6] What’s more, the travel industry is expected to consume 92 percent more water in 2050 than it did in 2010, and 189 percent more land. [7] In other environmental news, people are less likely to recycle while on vacation (both because they’re unsure how to, and because getting away with things seems to be a key part of getting away from it all). [8]

The frisson of pitching plastic is not the only thrill tempting travelers. Interviews with tourists returning from various international destinations revealed that they used more drugs while on vacation than in everyday life. [9] Other studies have found that people are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior while traveling. [10, 11] We eat with abandon, too: On vacations of one to three weeks, tourists gain an average of 0.7 pounds, a significant portion of average annual weight gain. [12] Finally, a 2015 study found that “travel and leisure” provoked envy—perhaps the single most toxic substance known to man—more than any other attribute examined (including “relationship and family,” “appearance,” and “money and material possessions”). The effect may be especially acute on social media: 62 percent of people who described Facebook-induced bouts of jealousy said they’d been triggered by travel or leisure experiences—versus less than a quarter of people whose envy had been piqued in person. [13]

So for your own health and sanity, book that vacation. But for everyone else’s, please travel as sustainably as you can, and take it easy with the Instagram.


The Studies

[1, 4, 5] U.S. Travel Association, “The State of American Vacation 2018”

[2] Strandberg et al., “Increased Mortality Despite Successful Multifactorial Cardiovascular Risk Reduction in Healthy Men” (The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, Oct. 2018)

[3] West et al., “Taking Vacation Increases Meaning at Work” (NA—Advances in Consumer Research, 2017)

[6] Lenzen et al., “The Carbon Footprint of Global Tourism” (Nature Climate Change, June 2018)

[7] Gössling and Peeters, “Assessing Tourism’s Global Environmental Impact 1900–2050” (Journal of Sustainable Tourism, March 2015)

[8] Oliver et al., “Recycling on Vacation” (Journal of Global Scholars of Marketing Science, March 2019)

[9] Uriely and Belhassen, “Drugs and Risk-Taking in Tourism” (Annals of Tourism Research, April 2006)

[10] Whittier et al., “Sexual Risk Behavior of Men Who Have Sex With Men” (Archives of Sexual Behavior, Feb. 2005)

[11] Berdychevsky and Gibson, “Sex and Risk in Young Women’s Tourist Experiences” (Tourism Management, Dec. 2015)

[12] Cooper and Tokar, “A Prospective Study on Vacation Weight Gain in Adults” (Physiology & Behavior, March 2016)

[13] Krasnova et al., “Why Following Friends Can Hurt You” (Information Systems Research, Sept. 2015)

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