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Photo: Stocksy/Rene de Haan

You may save #travelinspo pins on Pinterest like it’s your job (guilty), but if you’re anything like most Americans, the majority of the paid time off (PTO) you negotiated to have in your employment agreement doesn’t go toward satiating wanderlust. According to a new online survey from US Travel Association’s Project: Time Off initiative, workers in the United States are taking more time off than they have since 2010 (17.2 days in 2017!)—but most aren’t using their vacation days to, you know, actually vacation. The survey further uncovered a few reasons why that’s bad news for both your happiness and your career success.

Although 84 percent of the 4,349 adults (ages 18 and older, work at least 35 hours weekly, and have employer-provided PTO) surveyed said they value travel during their time away from the office, on average, they only use eight days yearly to check off items from their destination bucket list. When asked why, most participants cited cost, children, pets, safety concerns, or lack of coverage at work as their main reasons for staying put.

More than half of the survey participants who maximized their vacation days by traveling reported receiving promotions in the past two years compared to 44 percent of those who used little or no PTO.

However, the survey provided some can’t-ignore reasons not to squander your hard-earned PTO. First, 52 percent of participants who maximized their vacation days by traveling—doing things like summer road trips, weekend waterfall hikes, or other dreamy options—reported receiving promotions in the past two years compared to 44 percent of those who used little or no PTO. Furthermore, 86 percent of those who used most or all of their PTO for travel received raises and bonuses, compared to 81 percent of those who didn’t.

As if that weren’t reason enough to book plane tickets immediately, the globe-trotting employees also reported higher rates of overall happiness (75 percent)—including contentment with their job, health, and personal relationships—than their staycation counterparts (25 percent). Plus, according to the most recent batch of LinkedIn data, the added R and R sparks an overall higher reported feeling of career fulfillment, which is really what we all want—right? As LinkedIn Career Expert, Blair Decembrele tells me: “While being productive on vacation can be great, don’t forget that taking time to relax and dedicate to ‘me time’ can be just as beneficial for your overall career success.” In fact, the majority of people surveyed (53 percent) reported feeling most successful after spending time with the fam. (So don’t forget to book that companion ticket, too.)

Lesson learned: Make 2018 the year you make it to December 31 with zero vacation days in the bank and a passport full of stamps.

Originally published May 11, 2018; updated July 11, 2018. 

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