Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Travel Effect

In case you didn't know: It's National Travel & Tourism Week!

This is the annual salute to travel and tourism in our country, and it is marked by hundreds of events across America. The theme this year is the Travel Effect. This is an industry-wide campaign to showcase the benefits of travel, both on an economic and personal level.

The economic impact of travel is astounding. It generates around $2.1 trillion for the U.S.; supports nearly 15 million jobs; contributes more than $134 billion to the federal, state and local tax base; and it is America's number one services export. And now you know!

But it doesn't stop there (how could it possibly?) It's proven (yes, research backs it!) that travel has a positive effect on relationships, health, education and more. According to the Framingham Heart Study, female participants aged 45-64 were asked how often they took vacations. In a 20-year follow up study, the women who vacationed every six years or less had significantly higher risks of having a heart attack or a coronary death compared to those who took a vacation at least twice a year. The results were similar in men, even when accounting for factors like pre-exisitng conditions or affluence. These studies have noted that one of the most important benefits of travel is the reduction of stress. The Mayo Clinic found that not taking a break from everyday stressors can elevate cortisol (stress hormone) in the body and speed up the aging process. Now who wants wrinkles in their early 30's? I know I don't!
And many other Americans agree with me. According to the U.S. Travel Association's report on the benefits of travel, a survey found that leisure travelers believe vacations are a necessary practice, and 82% believe they need a vacation as much if not more during tough economic times. So why then is there this "day off deficit" taking place in America?

A study from Oxford Economics found that 40% of Americans leave some of their earned time off unused. That equated to 429 million untouched vacation days in 2013, just over three days per worker! That figure cost the U.S. economy $160 billion in spending, which could have supported 1.2 million jobs. Not only that, but those folks who chose to forgo using those vacation days have, in a way, debilitated their health, hurt their productivity and jeopardized time with their families.

So what's holding us back? Our demanding jobs. I'm just as guilty as the next person for leaving a few unused vacation days on the table because I just couldn't take the time away from work. But the truth is, those days off would have helped me and my company. Maybe taking that long weekend would have given me the stress break I needed to think more clearly about a project or given me a new perspective on an assignment.

I'm usually pretty good about taking the time that I've earned, but every once and a while, I find myself checking email on my phone or thinking about my to-do list, when I should be enjoying my time away. So while this effort to get people to take their paid vacation time is a necessary initiative and definitely one I support, I hope some attention is paid to the fact that many people are still working, even when on vacation, and that's something that can hurt their health, too. Because the stress and the demands are following them on their trips, causing them to feel guilt for not working, pulling them away from family time and creating emotional turmoil.

We must find a way to encourage Americans to let go, unplug and truly leave it all behind. Your job will be there when you get back, you are not the linchpin of your company (at least I'm not) and you (should) have a team that will carry the weight while you're gone.

So go ahead, take those saved up vacation days and go somewhere you've always wanted to visit. The Travel Effect is a powerful one, and we should all be open to its benefits.

*All logos and images are credited to the U.S. Travel Association and National Travel & Tourism Week.

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