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By The Way
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The ideal vacation length for peak relaxation, according to experts

Is there a magic number of days for a vacation?

An illustration of a graph and some airplanes.
(Illustration by Elena Lacey/The Washington Post)
9 min

Somewhere between a 48-hour Las Vegas bender and a nine-month world cruise lies an optimal number of vacation days.

In a 2012 study making the rounds again, researchers concluded that a traveler’s health and well-being peaks on the eighth day of a holiday. So for the greatest returns on your trip, should you hard-stop after a week?

Unlike the time we devote to exercise and screens, we do not have much guidance on how much vacation time we need to fully decompress and detach from our daily labors. While our annual PTO allotment and travel budget are key determinants, there is no algorithm yet to help us calculate the number of days necessary for a reset. So much depends on our personal travel preferences and our individual ability to switch from work to vacation mode and back.

“Overall, my conclusions are that the optimal vacation duration is (almost) impossible to investigate because you cannot assign people randomly to vacation durations,” Jessica de Bloom, one of the study’s researchers, told The Washington Post by email. “And even if you could, more factors would vary, such as vacation location, weather, social context, etc.”

In the 2012 study, which was published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, de Bloom and her colleagues determined that participants’ wellness levels rose early but crested after a week away. They also concluded that vacation length (for the study, the average duration was a very European 23 days) and most vacation activities (except “passive” ones) were only “weakly associated” with health improvements during and after their trips.

“We could see a peak on the eighth day,” said de Bloom, a professor at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, “but that does not imply that this would be the optimal vacation length.”

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