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Don't lose those vacation days: 5 tips for planning your time off

| Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017, 12:15 p.m.
By planning ahead, more families will  take much-need vacations and reap a multitude of personal and professional benefits, instead of leaving vacation time unused.
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By planning ahead, more families will take much-need vacations and reap a multitude of personal and professional benefits, instead of leaving vacation time unused.

According to advocacy group Project: Time Off, more than half of American workers leave unused vacation days on their company's boardroom table. Meanwhile, the research shows that by planning ahead, more families will actually take much-need vacations and thus reap a multitude of personal and professional benefits.

Here are five ideas to consider:

1. Make planning a priority.

Whether you begin by tossing up a tent in the backyard or strategizing to experience a safari in Africa, there is no time like the present to begin planning family travel. As children and grandchildren get older, their schedules become more complicated by their own commitments making it more difficult than ever to plan time together.

What's more, with dates on the calendar, you'll feel less stress at work, knowing you've provided the boss and co-workers with plenty of notice about your plans.

2. Longer vacations.

According to Project: Time Off, 75 percent of those who plan ahead were more likely to take a full week or more of vacation in a single stretch. By crafting a strategy in advance you'll have your pick of departures, the best cabins on a cruise ship and more options in popular resort areas.

While you are at it, scan the year ahead and be the first to claim vacation days around existing holidays and school breaks, creating a longer stretch for relaxation and enjoyment. Knowing good times are on the horizon, you'll have the added benefit of anticipating the getaway.

3. Bucket lists.

Taking time to create a thoughtful bucket list can make it easier to plan for meaningful vacations, those that are a deliberate reflection of your values, hopes and dreams. So before you begin listing desired destinations, ask yourself what aspects of the world — geographically, spiritually and culturally — you want to share with your children, grandchildren and perhaps other friends and family members.

As your ideas take shape, know your list will evolve over the years. Therefore, think about which destinations you hope to visit while your children are in the nest and which might best be saved for later.

And, when it comes time to involve youngsters in creating the bucket list, remember that kids don't know what they don't know. Certain theme parks and resorts will likely be on their radar screens. But they may not be aware of the glories of Yellowstone or Yosemite or the historical significance of Boston or Birmingham.

4. Celebrate milestone events.

Geographic spread, busy careers and school and sports schedules make it more difficult than ever to spend time together. Therefore, planning ahead to celebrate birthdays, graduations and anniversaries can be an important touchstone and meaningful part of a family's legacy.

With plenty of advance notice, you'll increase the odds that more family members will be able to take part in the fun. Ask your clan to save a date and then get to work creating a gathering that will be a lasting memory for all.

5. Reap the benefits.

In-depth research indicates that Americans who take time to plan their vacation time in the year ahead are happier than their come-what-may counterparts. Planners are happier with their health and well-being, their financial picture, their personal relationships and even their overall mood, according to the research. Further, an overwhelming majority of American workers report that time off helps them relax and recharge, and offers the opportunity to pursue personal interests. Nearly two-thirds of employees say their concentration and productivity at work improves with time off.

Business leaders echo this sentiment. Of those surveyed, 91 percent believe employees return from vacation recharged and renewed — and ready to work more effectively.

Lynn O'Rourke Hayes is a Tribune News Service writer.

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