Want to take vacation time off and not regret it? Here's exactly how much you should be taking

Jaromir Chalabala / EyeEm / Getty Images
  • An INSIDER poll revealed that over half of Americans felt that they “took the right amount of time off” last year.
  • Those people who took an average of 13 days off – just under 3 work weeks.
  • People who wished they had taken more time off took an average of 10 days off , and people who said they took too much were off an average of 14 days.
  • If you’re not sure how many days to take off, aim for more.

Summer is in full swing, and most of us are beginning to request time off for our warm-weather getaways. But it can be hard to know just how much vacation to take, and that’s a serious problem: millions of vacation days go unused by Americans each year.

To figure out what most people consider a satisfactory number of vacation days, INSIDER conducted a survey of over 1,100 Americans to find out how they felt about the time they took off last year.

The results showed that over half of Americans actually felt that they took “the right amount of time off” in 2018. The average number of vacation days taken by those respondents was 13 days – just under 3 work weeks.

By contrast, respondents who felt they should have taken more time off spent an average of 10 days on vacation, and those who felt they took too much time off spent an average of 14 days on vacation.

Compared with Europeans, who get a minimum of 4 weeks paid vacation mandated by the European Union, American vacation norms aren’t particularly liberal. Yet, 74% of those polled by INSIDER were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their employers overall.

Psychology researchers at the University of Tampere in Finland – which happens to be the world’s happiest country — have been studying the effects of work versus non-work time for years. A 2013 study they published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that benefits kick in almost as soon as a vacation begins.

“During holidays, health and well-being increase quite rapidly, often just two days into a vacation,” Jessica de Bloom, a lead researcher on the study, told the Wall Street Journal.

The positive effects were found to peak at day 8, after which they dropped off.

INSIDER’s poll found a similar point of diminishing returns in terms of vacation days taken per year: 13 days was the sweet spot. After that mark, there was a higher likelihood that respondents wished they took less time off.

The answers may have something to do with the perception of work, Art Markman, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin told INSIDER. “If you feel like you are stretched thin at work, then you may also feel like you cannot take any time off, because vacations will simply put you further behind,” Markman said.

In other words, people may feel like they took the “right” amount of time off simply because they feel too busy to get away for a long period of time without suffering consequences at their jobs. If that’s the case, American work ethic may be more deeply embedded in our psychology than we thought.

When in doubt, err on the side of taking more time off. That might mean taking shorter but more frequent vacations. The more time we take off, the more opportunity we have for our minds and bodies to recover from the stresses of work – and that’s something we can all benefit from.

SurveyMonkey Audience polls from a national sample balanced by census data of age and gender. Respondents are incentivized to complete surveys through charitable contributions. Generally speaking, digital polling tends to skew toward people with access to the internet. SurveyMonkey Audience doesn’t try to weight its sample based on race or income. Total 1,176 respondents collected December 28 to December 29 2018, a margin of error plus or minus 3.04 percentage points with a 95% confidence level.

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