Maximizing Your Benefits: Strategic Vacationing

Unfortunately, the American workplace doesn’t have a good reputation for paid leave. In fact, the U.S. is the only country in the OECD—a coalition of countries working to improve economic prosperity—not to have a federal law requiring paid leave for vacations, illness, or holidays. The Department of Labor website states “these benefits are matters of agreement between an employer and an employee (or the employee’s representative).”

These may be depressing facts, but you can still make the most of your paid time off (PTO) with strategic vacation tactics.


Why vacation?

According to the U.S. Travel Association, 97 percent of respondents to a 2020 survey conducted by the Institute for Applied Positive Research reported feeling happier when they had a trip planned, with 71 percent reporting higher energy levels knowing a trip was scheduled within the next six months.

Aside from the pleasure that comes from researching a new destination and planning a vacation, it’s possible trip planners feel better because they take more PTO. Additional U.S. Travel Association research found that those who planned vacations used an average of seven more PTO days each year than non-planners. In a world where Americans are letting an estimated 768 million days of leave go unused, that could explain the national mood.

So, step one to maximizing your PTO benefit is to plan and request time off, and take it. Don’t forget to use any floating holidays offered by your company.

Schedule your time wisely

In the U.S.,10 to 14 days of paid vacation is common after a year of service, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. One way to maximize your time off is to schedule PTO requests strategically so they coincide with paid holidays, giving you a longer break from the office. For instance, in July 2024, Independence Day falls on a Thursday, so it will be common for employees to request July 5 off to give themselves a nice four-day weekend. (Make these requests early—we can’t all take off at once!)

The Holidays Optimizer website offers a fun, interactive way to plot PTO time. Enter the number of days off you would like to take off during a certain period, then note any days you must be at work and any days you absolutely know you want off. Click “optimize it,” and the site recommends the days you should take for maximum stretches of rest. You can even set the calendar to account for any obscure state holidays.

Explore company policies about business travel

If you travel for work, it’s worth seeing if your company will allow you to use hotel or credit card points for personal travel. A free night in a hotel earned through long nights on the road is an extra perk. Similarly, if you’re traveling to a fun destination, explore whether you’re allowed to add on extra nights or even bring a family member or friend.

Set vacation boundaries for yourself and others

Some more troubling stats: According to a recent Elvtr study, 68 percent of North Americans admit to having worked on vacation, 46 percent have trouble “switching off,” and more than one-third feel an “implicit expectation” to work. The only way to reverse this trend is to set better boundaries. Plan ahead, delegate to others, and resist the urge to check your email—and when your colleagues are on vacation, avoid contacting them in the hope they’ll return the favor.

Use your vacation on something that makes you happy

If you have access to more than 20 days of PTO, but you spend those days cleaning your garage or on a multi-state road trip when you hate driving, are you going to feel rested and refreshed when you head back to work? Not likely. We all have different ideas of fun, and using your PTO in a way that restores you is the best way to maximize your time.

Life is short, and so is our amount of available vacation time. Let’s make the most of it.

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