How to plan a satisfying vacation

Getting the most of a getaway starts even before you leave, experts say

Can science help you plan the perfect vacation? The Wall Street Journal's Sumathi Reddy spoke with several experts about how to get the most out of your time away from the office.

Longer vacations are not always better, says Jessica de Bloom, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Tampere in Finland. It only takes a few days for health and well-being to "increase quite rapidly," she says. De Bloom suggests people take shorter vacations more frequently to maximize their benefits.

In a research study, de Bloom found well-being benefits peaked at about eight days. But planning and anticipating a getaway can provide their own benefits, experts say. A 2007 study in the journal Experimental Psychology: General found anticipation prompted more satisfying emotions than remembering past experiences.

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"Once it's in the past we tend to adopt more of a distant perspective from the experience," explains Leaf Van Boven, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado-Boulder and lead author of the study. "We pre-live experiences—that's very emotionally arousing," he says.

Maximize the benefits

While on vacation, experts say it is important to break from your regular routine and disconnect from the office. For instance, de Bloom says you should try to wake up naturally—not when the alarm clock goes off.

But disconnecting completely also can make some people anxious. Samantha Boardman, a psychiatrist, says if you must stay in touch with the office, then you should set limits. "Designate a time in the morning and maybe a time in the evening to check email," she suggests.

It is also important to wind things down properly. "Do your best to make things end well. If you're going to splurge and fly business class, don't do it on the way there, do it on the way home," Boardman says.

Unfortunately, a 2010 study in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life found the psychological benefits of vacation can be short-lived. According to Reddy, workers can maximize their vacation by making sure they don't overwork themselves when they return and continuing to relax in the evenings post-getaway (Reddy, Wall Street Journal, 7/20).

Got tips for making the most of your vacation? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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