How to Make the Most of Your Vacation Days, Whether You Have a Few Long Weekends or Four Whole Weeks

Trip ideas in illustrated format
Planning vacation, take your days. .

Travel + Leisure has launched a new campaign encouraging everyone to #TakeYourDays and make time for a vacation this year. Still, it can be tricky to plan out your trips when it feels like there aren’t enough days to go around. That’s why we’ve broken down exactly how to do a year’s worth of trips, whatever your time-off budget.

If you’ve got two weeks

Trip ideas in illustrated format
Planning vacation, take your days.

For those with office jobs, ten days is generally considered the American standard, even though that total lags far behind what other developed countries typically offer. A popular practice is to take one week off during the summer, and perhaps a week-long winter getaway someplace warm. But you might want to consider spreading those days out: Use one of those weeks over a period of months to give yourself multiple long weekends.

Three or four days away is just long enough to feel like a vacation, and, this year, there are more airlines serving more destinations nonstop, so even places as seemingly far-flung as Hawaii (including the Big Island, which made our Best Places to Travel in 2020 list in part for the revamped Mauna Lani by Auberge Resorts) are accessible for a three-day weekend. Thanks, Southwest! If you’re looking to escape cool, rainy, or snowy weather, sometimes a long weekend is worth the airfare.

If you live in a large city (or even the suburbs), consider spending a few of your days in nature, too. These sorts of trips, even short ones, can do wonders for mental and emotional health. A recent research study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found that time spent in nature can lessen “risk for depression and other mental illnesses.” Co-author Gretchen Daily stated that “accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world.” So it follows that vacations in pristine natural settings aren’t just relaxing or ideal for family bonding—they can have positive effects on wellbeing. Consider resorts whose locations (the Arizona desert, rural Wyoming) are specifically meant to encourage unplugging from modern life.

If you have three weeks

Trip ideas in illustrated format
Planning vacation, take your days.

Three weeks’ worth of vacation time is fun to play with: You can take two weeks for a trip that couldn’t possibly fit into a single week while saving that third week for multiple long weekends. An obvious winner for a multi-week trip is a safari, especially if you’re choosing countries like Botswana or Tanzania, which are hard to get to from the U.S. without multiple flight connections and/or long drives to game reserves.

Australia, T+L’s 2020 Destination of the Year, is another trip that’s perfect for two weeks away—and not just because it takes so long to get there. Nope, you need that time because there’s so much to see and do—an epic coastal road trip, going hotel hopping in Queensland, eating and drinking your way through Adelaide—that you can’t scratch the surface in just a week. (Despite the recent devastating bushfires, the country is still very much welcoming visitors, and appreciates the business more than ever because tourism is a huge driving force of the Australian economy.)

For those with four (or more) weeks

Trip ideas in illustrated format
Planning vacation, take your days.

First of all, way to go: You’re getting more time off than most Americans. Even better, an entire month of vacation gives you ample opportunities to escape the day-to-day. Do like the Europeans do and spend a few consecutive weeks of summer away from work. Thanks to home sharing sites like Airbnb and Vrbo, the cost of an extended stay is possible at a fraction of what a hotel would cost. Find someplace during shoulder season, and it’s even cheaper.

A two-week stay in Paris, for example, allows you to actually live life like a local—long enough to have a “regular” morning coffee spot, to visit the Louvre multiple times, to explore some of our favorite bistros (and go back more than once). For a more under-the-radar European experience, we’re excited about Rijeka, Croatia (another one from our Best Places to Travel in 2020), on the Adriatic coast, which has so many amazing museums, restaurants, and beaches, it’s a mystery that it doesn’t get the same attention as more popular towns in Italy or Greece. And we love the country of Georgia in the European caucasus for its youthful energy. The former Soviet Republic is a bargain, yet is flourishing with creative scenes spanning food, art, design, and especially wine.

Even after spending a few weeks exploring Europe, you’ll still have time left over to do a few long weekends, plus maximize your time off by booking around holidays. If you take off the three days before Thanksgiving, you’ll be able to take more than a full week away, including weekends. That’s some serious space to recharge before the holiday rush.

What if you don’t have any time away from work?

Not to fear. Even if a week-long trip isn’t possible for you, there are still ways to get vacation vibes closer to home. The good news is that most of the health and wellness benefits of a far-flung vacation can still be had even if you’re just traveling across town. The simple act of breaking up your routine, getting away from work, and disrupting your day-to-day can have a profound effect on the mind and body.

It’s easier than ever to find a quick, affordable hotel stay that doesn’t require a lot of advanced planning. Apps like HotelTonight post daily deals on same-day bookings for properties including the hip Freehand properties in New York and Los Angeles, the Viceroy in Chicago, and the high-end Joule in Dallas.

If a hotel stay isn’t in the cards, a day off is still worth it because it allows you to explore your own neighborhood or city with fresh eyes—and to score that lunch table in your town’s hottest restaurant that’s always booked for dinner. Or you might visit a usually-packed museum that’s suddenly remarkably quiet when you go on a weekday afternoon. A visit to a spa, where a couple hours of uninterrupted quietude seems to be the equivalent of an entire weekend away, is always an option, too. The key is taking a moment to plan your escape—then going for it.

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