For 11 months of the year, we daydream about where we’ll go on vacation — beaches, safaris, canyons — until we finally arrive at the week or two when we get to fulfill the dream. We return to work temporarily refreshed, only to spend another year anticipating.
The thing is, all that waiting to wind down isn’t necessary. Sure, long trips are great, but they’re not the only way to experience adventure or luxuriate in relaxation. Many experts believe that even a long weekend can deliver an impressive bang for your vacation buck. “If you have 12 vacation days, you’re better off planning a number of three- or four-day vacations per year than one long trip,” says Dan Buettner, author of Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way (National Geographic, 2010).
By studying populations worldwide, Buettner discovered that the healthiest, happiest people “downshift” routinely, not just annually. “Scheduling a string of downshifting vacations every other month helps you get into the routine of de-stressing your life.”
Science confirms that regular time off from work can reduce your chances of becoming ill or dying prematurely. But there’s another factor in the work-play equation: how long the good feelings last after you return from climbing in Yosemite or surfing in Hawaii.
The postholiday glow can fade with shocking speed, says vacation researcher Jessica de Bloom, MSc, of Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. In the people she studied, vacations’ aftereffects — less stress, fewer physical complaints — usually disappeared within the first week of their returning home. But more regular trips offer a greater number of relaxed, postvacation days.
Besides shortening the length of time between post-vacation highs (and lows), frequent three-day vacations give you more opportunities to visit a variety of locations with diversified experiences — a short winter ski adventure followed by summer cycling and fall mountaineering, for instance.
There’s also an enhanced happiness factor. “Much of our satisfaction from vacationing comes from planning a trip and remembering its highlights,” says Buettner. “If your life is punctuated with short vacations, then you’re getting more of those opportunities.”
Here are three examples of quick, no-fuss getaways: one restful and romantic, one high adventure, and one memorable trip of my own that combined them both. A key tip: Go somewhere that’s three hours or less from home. Shorter travel time helps make the most of a brief escape.