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On January 1, 2015, millions of Americans will be saying goodbye to the hard-earned vacation days they didn’t use in 2014—to the tune of 169 million days! Make sure that in 2015, you’re not one of them.

American workers permanently lose 169 million days of earned PTO each year, according to an Oxford Survey from the U.S. Travel Association. The same survey found that despite earning an average of 21 days of PTO each year, Americans only use 77 percent of that time, forfeiting 4.9 days. The result has a negative effect on workers (higher stress levels), employers (liability of unused PTO) and family (less quality time).

Considering these statistics, it’s safe to assume that many of us fell into a “too little, too late” category as we reflect on time spent with our families in 2014. But it’s not too late for next year!

And isn’t this what New Year’s Resolutions are all about?

As many families gather together for the end-of-year festivities, it is the perfect time to plan out next year’s vacation. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Timing is everything: discuss what time of year works best for everyone. School calendars, work projects and other commitments are usually known in advance—plan around these!
  • Plan in advance: with plenty of notice, you can ensure that your work is covered and time-off is approved well in advance.
  • Paying for it: many people prolong vacation because they can’t afford it, however you are more likely to find cost savings when you plan in advance. Take it from timeshare owners—since their vacations are pre-paid, they are more likely to use all of their time off!
  • Planning: Try something new—a new location or a new type of vacation! Many people aren’t aware that you can rent a timeshare, which could be a great way to experience one before purchase. See for yourself the difference between a timeshare and the traditional hotel stay — have all the space you need for a family of any size.

Make a commitment to use all your vacation and spend time making memories with your family. After all, you’ve earned it.

Beach Family

Timeshare owners will tell you that the extra space of vacation products make it a great way to travel with extended family. That’s why more travelers are turning to timeshare vacations for their family reunions and get-togethers.

Don’t let the size of a family reunion deter you from getting your extended loved ones together! From spacious accommodations to activities for everyone, timeshare stays will ensure that you have the space to relax and still spend time together.

Read our Time for Togetherness guide for travel options and suggestions to help make family reunions fun, affordable and stress-free.

Blog-Picture-VB

With surging numbers that show how the timeshare industry is doing, it’s clear that vacationers are enjoying their timeshare getaways!  The industry association’s research group, along with Ernst & Young, just released its State of the Vacation Timeshare Industry: United States Study for 2014.  It shows that the timeshare industry enjoyed significant growth in 2013.  Here are a few of the highlights:

When comparing 2013 to 2012:

  • Sales volume increased nearly 11 percent, to $7.6 billion.
  • There are 29 percent more resorts planned for the upcoming year.
  • There are 1,540 timeshare resorts in the United States, representing about 192,420 units.
  • The average resort size was 125 units.
  • The average sales price was $20,460.
  • Occupancy remained steady at around 77 percent, compared to a 621 percent hotel occupancy rate.

There were some other interesting facts to note as well:

  • Beach resorts are the most common type of resort.
  • Urban resorts have the highest occupancy.
  • Florida has the most resorts—23% of the national total.
  • Florida has the highest total sales volume—$2.3 billion.
  • Nevada has the largest average resort size—283 units on average.
  • Hawaii has the highest average sales price—$27,712 and occupancy rate 85.2%.

For more details, check out our infographic and to learn more about vacationing with timeshare, go to www.VacationBetter.org.

[1] STR Monthly Hotel Review: December 2013, Smith Travel Research.

Too often we feel guilty about taking the vacation days we are given—three quarters of all American workers earn paid time-off, yet many of us fail to use them.

Research from Oxford Economics shows that American workers failed to use more than 400 million days of earned leave last year. We have become a society of workers conditioned to think of vacation as a luxury, even if it’s deserved—despite growing evidence that vacations are good for you. Taking a much-needed break from work has been proven to lead to lower stress, better job productivity, improved relationships, and a healthier outlook on life. Yet time and again, we make excuses for not getting away: I can’t afford it, I’ll use my days for a staycation to get things done around the house, I don’t know where to go, I’m too stressed at work to leave right now.

Guilty Vacation Syndrome

When thinking about taking a vacation, which best describes you?

  1. Dreading the inevitable “must be nice” sarcastic comment from your co-workers.
  2. Thinking about the right time to get away makes you sweat.
  3. Already feeling guilty about taking time off from work.
  4. Knowing you’ll probably do some work while on vacation frustrates your family.

If you chose any of the above answers, chances are you suffer from “Guilty Vacation Syndrome.” The first step towards recovery is to change the way you think about vacation: it is a necessity, not a luxury.

You not only deserve a vacation because you work hard every day, you need a vacation, and you should not feel guilty or let someone else make you feel guilty for taking one.  We can’t afford to overlook the importance of regular time away with family and friends as a positive contributor to achieving a better work-life balance.

Enjoying a guilt-free vacation is about overcoming the guilt of being gone, committing to not working while on vacation, and embracing some much-needed time off. Here are few tips to get started:

  • Use your earned vacation days. Don’t get to the end of the year and have days left on the table!
  • Discuss with your boss an appropriate time to get away and offer help to colleagues when it’s their turn to take time off. Sharing the workload will lessen the likelihood of resentful co-workers when you go away!
  • Make sure you prepare well for your vacation so your work doesn’t fall apart while you are away, and so co-workers can find information if needed in your absence.
  • Set boundaries and stick to them. Do not agree to be “on call” or “readily available” while you are away. If your workplace knows they can reach you while you are away, they most certainly will. And you may need another vacation when you return to work!
  • Toss out the mindset that the company will fall apart if you aren’t there. The company, and your workload, will be there when you return.
  • Remember that if you don’t take some time off, your health, your family, and your work will eventually begin to suffer. Vacation time is not just a luxury— it’s a necessity for being a healthy, well-rounded human being.

Take a vacation, you deserve it!

The trend of women vacationing together has exploded in recent years because there are more career women with expendable income who are taking charge of their own vacation plans. They are busy, stressed out and tired from the multiple roles they perform at work and at home—and are looking for vacations with their like-minded girlfriends to pamper themselves and leave behind the stresses of daily obligations. No offense guys, but the girls deserve their own getaway, too!

two women relaxing in chairs

Going on vacation with girlfriends is about much more than simply having fun. “It offers huge benefits,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. “Medical studies show that the bond between women is critical to emotional and physical health,” Lombardo says.

The nature of how women interact with each other also has a lot to do with why vacations with your girlfriends are so healing. “Women share a confidential kind of talk when they are uninterrupted and free from daily responsibilities,” says Deborah Tannen, PhD, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and author of You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation.

The travel industry has recognized the demand for vacation experiences that cater to you and your girlfriends by offering more options than ever before—look no further than timeshare resorts. More and more timeshare destinations have expanded activities to offer experienced-based packages such as spa packages, wine tastings, cooking classes, fitness retreats, even nutrition and wellness sessions. Any timeshare owner will say they love the intimacy and space that vacation products provide. There is enough room for everyone to relax, as well as a kitchen and dining table to share meals and conversations together.

Family vacations are great, but time away with your closest friends is an emotional necessity too. Think about getting away with your girlfriends to heal your inner self with good friends, good conversations, and good times.

For more ideas on how to plan a girlfriend getaway, see our Girlfriend Getaway Guide (PDF), which is packed with tips on how to plan your dream getaway with your friends.

Remember that Cadillac ad in this year’s Super Bowl? The guy asks the question, “Why do we work so hard?” Then he razzes Europeans for taking so much vacation and lists some hard-working Americans who changed the world.

It ends with him unplugging his $75,000 ELR hybrid coupe in front of his awesome house and reminding us that the upside of all that work is the “stuff” it buys.

Whether you loved that ad or hated it, it’s clear somebody hasn’t been reading Forbes or the New York Times.

Because for at least a decade now, there’s new research every two or three years that comes to the same conclusion: Experiences, not things, make us happy.

Based on all that data (and actually more), it’s pretty safe to say that travel makes us happy. Because really, what better way to pick up new experiences than through travel?

So if someone asked you, “What does travel mean to you?” what would you say?

Your answer could win you an all-expenses-paid weekend getaway anywhere in the United States courtesy of the U.S. Travel Association. In honor of National Travel & Tourism Week (May 3-11), U.S. Travel is asking, “What does travel mean to you?” You can answer by submitting a short video statement by May 11.

They’re calling it the “What’s Your Travel Effect?” contest, and you can get all the official info here.

vacation better national travel and tourism week

The fact is, Americans do work hard. We have one of the longest workweeks of any industrialized country. And yes, work earns money, and money really can add to our happiness. But not through more and more stuff.

Work hard and get that car you’ve always wanted. Then take some time off, take it on the road and get back to your Travel Effect. Because the experiences and the memories we gain with travel don’t come with a limited four-year/50,000-mile warranty—they last a lifetime.

It’s hard to pinpoint what makes a vacation a happy experience. Is it the location you’re in? The people you’re with? The great weather? It’s certainly all of those things, but you may be surprised to learn that the all important factor is actually the kitchen!

Kitchen-Infographic-for-VB-blog

A recent survey* of 1,000 vacationers indicates an impressive 90 percent of respondents who had a kitchen on their last vacation said it improved their vacation experience.  Think about it—kitchens are a welcome option for families traveling with children, those who enjoy cooking, and anyone that wants to save some money.

While dining out is a treat many vacationers look forward to, being able to grab a snack or have a breakfast or lunch at your convenience throughout your stay cuts down on costs and allows more time for other activities. It also allows for separate meal times for kids and adults, so  adults can enjoy “grown up” meals and conversation. Timeshare owners have known this for some time—and it’s one of the reasons they love their timeshare. What could you dream up with a timeshare kitchen?

* 2014 Leger omnibus survey

Kids love vacation because it means more days away from school. But if you think your kids aren’t learning on vacation, think again! In fact, there is proof that traveling kids are smarter kids. According to several studies that analyzed the impact of vacation on childhood learning, kids who travel with their family score higher on academic achievement assessment tests than those who don’t.

One study, from the U.S. Department of Education, explored whether going on a vacation, the number of days spent on a vacation, and places visited were linked to academic achievement in the areas of reading, mathematics, and general knowledge. The results revealed a significant correlation between academic achievement and taking a family summer vacation.

kids-learning-infographic

Family travel is a valuable part of a child’s education that “contributes to cognitive growth and stimulates a child’s sense of wonderment,” says Dr. William Norman, associate professor in parks, recreation, and tourism management at Clemson University in South Carolina. “Providing kids with the experience of travel broadens their horizons and opens up their minds to learning,” he says.

It also shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that adults who experienced educational trips in their teenage years were more likely to attend college and earn a higher income. According to a consumer travel survey conducted by the U.S. Travel Association and Travel Effect, learning-focused travel impacts academic performance and career growth. The data found that adults who took educational trips in their youth make 12 percent more per year and were significantly more likely to graduate from college than those who did not take such trips.

With summer quickly approaching, vacations are a strong reminder of why spending time together as a family has lasting benefits on mom, dad, and the kids in all aspects of their lives. Think about how your next vacation could transform how your child approaches learning, deepens their understanding of the world, and expands their career possibilities.

Need further convincing? Ask your kids!

The notion of unplugging while traveling seems tranquil to some people—while others say periodically checking work email reduces the stress of returning to an overflowing inbox. So who’s right?

It’s important to distance yourself from the clutter of everyday life while on vacation. Health experts say that frequent checking in with your life back home while on vacation does not help you relax even though it may ease your workload upon your return. And it certainly doesn’t help you reconnect with your loved ones or your traveling companions.

In fact, contrary to popular belief, Americans do know how to unplug, unwind, and rejuvenate on vacation. According to a survey of 1,000 vacationers, 75% of respondents don’t do any work on vacation (Source: The Research Intelligence Group 2013). And while you do see many travelers using their phones or other technology while on vacation, in most cases, it is for pleasure and not work—uploading vacation photos, finding nearby restaurants, or searching for tickets to a local museum.

If you’re unsure of how to take the first step of unplugging while on vacation, here are few hints to make your next vacation better:

  • Disconnect: leave work behind, especially your work-related technology.
  • Plan accordingly: let your work colleagues know that you will not be checking email or voicemail until you return.
  • Plan the right amount of time: you need enough time to relax, rejuvenate, and unwind. For most people, that’s a week.
  • Reconnect: encourage everyone in the family to put down their phones, laptops, and screens and reconnect with each other!
  • Create a memory: pick one activity to do together each day, take a picture, and hang it up in your office to remind you of a more relaxed time.