How to Unplug on Your Next Vacation

You've planned your vacation for months, but now you need to leave the office behind. Here are some tips that will help make it a relaxing trip.

In the midst of the daily grind, do visions of vacation bliss dance through your head? You know the scenes: lazy days at the beach, bonding with friends and loved ones, or finally reading that novel you've had on your nightstand for months. You long for a vacation, but feel too guilty to take time off. You’re not alone. American workers lost an estimated 169 million vacations days in 2013, due largely to a culture that makes it difficult to take time off.

Despite Americans citing quality family time as the most important benefit of travel and recent research showing vacations help workers be more productive, sleep better and even improve posture, nearly half of Americans say they plan not to take all their paid time off. Leaving vacation days unused means Americans are forfeiting the health benefits and additional family time associated with time off. However, taking time off doesn’t necessarily mean a total respite from work. The majority of Americans report working while on vacation. This is hardly a surprise, given that technology now makes it easier than ever before to check emails and take business calls while on vacation. This tendency affects a person's ability to fully relax and enjoy vacations with their families.

But, not all hope for a work-free holiday is lost. These seven tips will help you make a guilt-free transition from work mode into vacation mode, so you can enjoy what matters most without facing negative consequences when you return to the office.

1) Give Notice and Prepare in Advance

Let no one say your vacation caught him or her off guard. Plan your vacation well in advance, and notify co-workers of your pending absence as early as possible. Block out your vacation dates on your work calendar so co-workers will see you are unavailable for meetings or calls on those days.

In the weeks before you depart, do any work you can in advance to save yourself from stress or being overwhelmed when you return to the office.

2) Establish a Chain of Command in Your Absence

Select one or two co-workers to act as your backup during your absence. Fill them in on all projects and commitments they might need to handle while you're away. If you work closely with clients or outside vendors, let them know of your departure and whom they can connect with while you’re away. 

3) Leave Emergency Contact Information

Hopefully, nothing erupts at the office while you're relaxing at the hotel pool. But if something does ignite, make sure your primary work contact has your emergency contact information and can quickly reach you. Be sure to specify what qualifies as an emergency so you're not getting pinged for faux fire drills continuously throughout your trip.

4) Create a Detailed Out-of-Office Reply

Draft an out-of-office reply email that indicates how long you'll be away and provides specific contact information for the person filling in for you while you’re gone. Here is your opportunity to let your contacts know that you won't be responding immediately to emails, and that they should email you again after your return to the office. This allows you to depart for your vacation guilt-free, because anyone who emails you will be told you’re not there and who to contact if in need of immediate assistance.

Every workplace has different standards for disconnecting during vacations. It may not be realistic to go completely dark. In that case, communicate to bosses and co-workers about exactly how often you will be available to check emails or return calls during your absence. Also, let your travel companions know in advance so they know how often you might be checking in with work while you’re away. Once on vacation, stick to your plan.  

5) Disable Email Notifications and Develop a Check-in Routine

Few things can put a damper on vacation more than hearing your phone ping with new email alerts. Who sent me something? What’s wrong? What do I need to do? And just like that, you’re distracted. Eliminate these distractions by disabling your email notifications or deleting your email app entirely.

If you can’t afford to completely turn off your work emails, establish a specific time — and time limit — for checking email each day. Then only address the highest priority items and delegate the rest. Doing this will help you stick to your plan and maintain consistent expectations for yourself and your team.

6) Go Analog: Leave Your Smartphone in Your Hotel Room

Remember when you looked at your watch to check time and took pictures with a camera rather than your smartphone? Revert to that simpler time by leaving your smartphone in the hotel so you'll avoid the temptation to peek at work emails. At first you might find yourself reaching in your pocket to check email or Facebook, and feel a flutter of anxiety when you realize your smartphone is missing. But soon you'll discover the freedom that comes with being disconnected from the digital world and the joy of living in the moment with your family.

7) Re-acclimate After Your Return

Alas, every vacation must come to an end. When you return home, skim your emails as you unpack. You'll eliminate stress and save yourself time your first day back at the office. And while you’re at it, picture the next few places you’d like to visit. Having a vacation in sight is always a good thing.

Now pack your bags, take a deep breath, and enjoy your hard-earned vacation.

About the Author

Valerie Conners is a travel writer specializing in southeastern U.S. destinations. She’s contributed to Condé Nast Traveler, BBC Travel, Travel Channel and Frommer's travel guides.