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How to take PTO in the post-vaccine travel boom

Americans are notorious for leaving vacation days on the table. Here’s how travelers can make sure to use their time.

(iStock/Washington Post illustration)

Even before the coronavirus pandemic fundamentally changed how we live and work, Americans have never been very good at taking days off. The pandemic only further tipped the scales of our work-life imbalance.

“The concept of being totally removed from work has become really foreign,” says Andrea Bonior, a licensed clinical psychologist who writes an advice column, “Ask Dr. Andrea,” on The Lily. “We’ve been absorbed in this little work-life murky blob that swirled everything together.”

Because of lockdowns and travel restrictions, the potential for days off was limited. Many felt like vacation time would be wasted if it wasn’t spent traveling. But now with the world’s borders reopening for tourism, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying that vaccinated people are able to travel with less risk, taking PTO is looking more appealing than ever.

After a year of not going anywhere, travelers may have forgotten best practices for requesting time off — or have new anxieties due to the pandemic. Here’s what to keep in mind as you begin putting in your vacation requests.

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Coordinate your PTO with the post-vax travel boom in mind

Everyone who was saving their PTO for a time when they could travel is finally gearing up to take those trips again.

Keni Dominguez, a career coach and workplace culture strategist, recommends working with your manager or co-workers to stagger vacation time between your team — particularly during the summer while “vaxications” are on the rise, kids are out of school and wedding season is in full swing.

Once you decide to take time off, Dominguez says, let your boss know as soon as possible. If you are taking a substantial amount of PTO, give them a heads up a month in advance. A shorter trip may only need a couple weeks’ notice. Dominguez recommends telling your manager in person, over the phone or Zoom, then following up with an email to seal the deal.

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Keep any feelings of guilt at bay

As more workers end their remote-work saga and return to physical office spaces, some employees may feel guilty taking time off. Dominguez says people worry that there is no one on their team to do their job in their absence, or they are fearful of the mountain of work they will face when they return. Dominguez says it can be helpful to remember that your vacation time is not a “perk.”

“We have to stop looking at our vacation time like this gift that your company gives you,” she says. “It’s earned compensation. It’s part of your total reward. They’re not just giving it to you; you’ve earned it.”

Bonior says companies know it is in their best interest to encourage employees to take time off, particularly after last year.

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“Productivity and engagement and morale increase when we’re not chronically stressed,” she says. “So [taking vacation days] is actually better for everyone.”

Set boundaries for your vacation time

While you do need to tell your boss you will be gone, Dominguez says, there is a common misconception that employees need to explain how they will be spending their vacation time.

“For one, you’re not required to do that. And two, you don’t need to send your vacation itinerary to your boss,” she says. “You’re asking for the time off. You’re not asking for permission to go to a wedding or take a flight to Florida or England or wherever you want to go.”

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What you can tell your boss is whether you will be reachable. If you would like to fully disconnect from work during your vacation to enjoy the glory of travel again, Bonior says, it is important to set a clear boundary that you will be unable to answer emails, Slack messages, fax memos, TikToks, telegrams, etc.

“Just because the technology is there for us to be in touch all the time doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a break,” she says. “It actually just means that we have to be the ones to uphold it.”

So have that conversation, set up your out-of-office message. and log off work mode.

Not ready to travel? Use your PTO anyway.

For various reasons, many will still be understandably apprehensive about traveling. There are those who are concerned about traveling with underlying conditions, and others worry about the safety of their unvaccinated children.

Bonior says you don’t have to travel to benefit from taking vacation time. “All of us need some semblance of a break,” she says.

Instead of planning to travel, Bonior recommends taking that time off to focus on self-care and doing things such as catching up on sleep, getting outdoors and socializing with loved ones.

Read more:

Vacation and a vaccine? Some tourist sites are offering shots to visitors.

What new mask rules will tourists face? Depends on where they are.

Italy is reopening to American travelers — on Delta