I used to travel at least once a month, but the pandemic made me realize I haven't taken a real vacation in years

Sophie-Claire Hoeller
·6 min read
sophie mexico
I wish I had stayed in Mexico longer. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider
  • I used to take "micro-trips" — or short-term getaways — instead of real vacations.

  • Now, I realize these mini trips weren't worth it. Post-pandemic, I'm planning fewer, longer trips.

  • Traveling this way will be better for my mental health, wallet, and the environment.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Between work, weddings, and personal travel, I had a minimum of 15 trips planned for 2020.

I managed four before the coronavirus hit, narrowly escaping Europe the day before President Trump put a halt on travelers to the US from certain European countries. That was March 13, and the last time I set foot on a plane.

I got on my first transatlantic flight at the tender age of four weeks, and with family strewn across Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the UK, and the US, flying has always been second nature to me.

In the past, I thought nothing of going to Oktoberfest in Munich for a long weekend, visiting a friend in Florida for one night, or flying to Cabo for three days (with a stop in Mexico City, no less).

Maximizing trips by minimizing time away, and thus vacation days spent, was something I prided myself on.

'Micro trips' or 'micro-cations' were on the rise pre-pandemic

Iceland sophie
I spent a single night in Iceland. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

Read more: Millennials are taking multiple 'micro-cations' instead of long trips, and it says a lot about their work-life balance priorities

Usually defined as less than four nights, micro trips were becoming increasingly common, with people flying to far-flung locales for short amounts of time because fares were cheap and the sharing economy, like Airbnb, was booming.

It also allowed travelers, especially workaholic millennials, to prioritize their jobs while fitting in more destinations annually.

The limited vacation policy in the US - coupled with the rise of Instagram-trendy destinations in recent years - might have something to do with this trend. The Department of Labor doesn't provide a legal minimum for paid annual leave, leaving it up to individual employers and making the US the only wealthy nation that doesn't guarantee time off.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019, around a third of workers in the US received 10 to 14 days of paid vacation after a year of employment - far less than what workers in many other countries get. New Zealanders, for example, get four weeks of paid annual leave after a year of employment, and in Spain, 30 days of vacation a year is the bare minimum.

Business Insider's Allana Akhtar reported that Americans average 10 vacation days a year, of which they spend 3.5 (35%) on other peoples' weddings, birthdays, and baby showers - and they're not happy about it. A survey of 1,000 Americans found that 80% of respondents said they'd rather spend their days off on themselves.

Read more: Your friends don't like using their vacation days to celebrate your wedding

According to an Allianz Global Assistance Vacation Confidence Index in 2019, 57% of Americans did not take a vacation longer than four nights in 2018. Further, the study found that the longest trips 21% of millenials had been on that year were three to four nights; 12% said they didn't take any trips longer than one or two nights. Most reasoned that it was easier to take time off for shorter trips.

Short trips aren't relaxing, and they're bad for the environment and your wallet

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The last time I truly unplugged was on my two-week honeymoon in 2018. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

Looking back at some of my flight receipts, I would, on average, spend a minimum of $350 for a weekend round-trip flight somewhere nearby, such as Miami or Savannah. Sometimes, these flights would cost almost $500 - and that was only for a two or three-night trip. And that's not including hotels or Airbnbs and food.

Now, I think it makes more sense to spend $1,000 to go somewhere farther away and spend a full week or two there - as I did for my honeymoon in Rio de Janeiro - rather than take two or three unsatisfyingly short trips for the same cost. With more time, you can also avoid flying on Fridays and Sundays, which are generally more expensive days to fly.

Of course, this depends on your personal preference, but going forward I'd personally rather save up for big vacations than spend nontrivial amounts of money on short trips that don't leave me feeling recharged.

Often, I would come back from mini getaways more exhausted than before. I realize now that I've gone years without a proper vacation that let me unwind and recharge, frequently choosing to work remotely from destinations, rather than take more precious days off.

A 2015 study of 54 vacationers by the University of Tampere in Finland found that eight days is the ideal vacation length to maximize happiness and relaxation.

"It could be that eight days is the ideal to fully gain the benefits of a holiday," Jessica de Bloom, an organizational psychologist and one of the study's researchers, told The Wall Street Journal.

Taking fewer longer trips wouldn't just be good for my mental health; it would also reduce my carbon footprint.

The New York Times writes that flying less often is "the most effective way to reduce your carbon footprint," adding that if everyone did this, airline companies would burn less jet fuel overall - which could have an enormously positive impact on the environment.

The BBC cited data from the Global Carbon Project in September that found the dip in flights during the pandemic had reduced CO2 emissions from aviation by up to 60% at its peak.

Read more: Before-and-after photos show the dramatic effect lockdowns had on pollution around the world in 2020

Post-pandemic, I'm planning more meaningful travel

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Rio de Janeiro was on my bucket list, and I saved it for my honeymoon. Sophie-Claire Hoeller/Insider

For me, the pandemic has put into perspective what a privilege traveling truly is, and shown me that fewer, longer trips will ultimately be better for my mental health, my wallet, and the planet.

Going forward, I want to make every trip count and dig into that bucket list that's fallen to the wayside for weddings and quick visits to family and friends.

Forget a long weekend in Mexico - when it's safe again, I'm finally going to the Maldives.

Read more: Cheaper flights and flexible cancellation fees might be here for a while. Here's what air travel may look after the pandemic.

Read the original article on Insider