Did you know that 40% of Americans who receive paid time off don’t take it? Or that unused holiday costs the US economy $224 BILLION per year? This general attitude of disdain towards taking time off — whether it be a holiday, weekend, or even lunchtime — is most prominent in countries strongly influenced by Protestant work ethic, which places a lot of value on industriousness and proving oneself.

On the other hand, countries strongly influenced by Catholicism (such as Brazil, Spain, Italy, etc.) hold opposing attitudes, due to it being a salvation-based religion. For example, in France, 90% of people take all of their paid holidays, despite having more than twice as much of it as most Americans.

Which of these approaches is more effective?

Of course, there are extremities at each end (being either stressed, exhausted, and overworked, or lazy, unambitious, and purposeless), which obviously must be avoided. But what if we could combine the two approaches, mesh the two cultures, and as a result, live a life of both hard work and relaxation, of productivity and recovery?

Too many people work extremely hard for their entire lives, thinking that they’re “saving for the future” so that they’ll “enjoy themselves in retirement”.

This is an outdated attitude.

Working to one day reap the rewards will strip your life of all excitement.

You’ll become one of those lifeless, long-suffering commuters you see on the London Underground, who look like they haven’t smiled or laughed in weeks. We should all be working hard and pushing ourselves to the limit. But not at the expense of our mental health, our sanity, and the quality of our lives. After all, how many memories are you making working at the same old job, day in, day out? And, not to mention, there’s the fact that not taking a holiday actually makes you less productive.

There are three specific ways in which travel boosts our productivity:

It Gives Us Something To Look Forward To
It Widens Our Perspectives and Unleashes Our Creativity
It Allows Us To Return To Work With Renewed Vigor
Entrepreneur smiling while holding a coffee cup and sitting with her laptop
Entrepreneur smiling while holding a coffee cup and sitting with her laptop

Let’s imagine two workers, both of similar age, named John and Paul.

In two months’ time, John will be taking two weeks off to explore the delights of New Zealand, while Paul isn’t planning on taking any time off because he’s “too busy”. In the build-up to his trip, John is excited and energized, resulting in a noticeable spike in his day-by-day productivity.

Paul, on the other hand, is not only jealous of John’s imminent adventures but unfocused and demotivated; his productivity dips as a result, as well as his general mood. John knows he’ll be away for a couple of weeks, which serves as an incentive to work more efficiently to finish all of his important tasks so that he can completely switch off while he’s in New Zealand. Paul has no such incentive or anything to increase his urgency, and as a result, his days feel long and laborious.

Then comes the day of John’s trip — he’s off to explore NZ!

You might think that, by the time he returns, John will be behind in terms of his workload, and that Paul will, therefore, be in a far more productive position. But you’re forgetting one thing: the prospect of a trip motivated John to maximize his working time before he left.

Plus, the thought of John enjoying his travels while he’s stuck at work lowers Paul’s efficiency.

By the time John returns, Paul is actually still behind him in terms of overall productivity.

John — bouncing with renewed energy and gushing about his Kiwi adventures — returns to the office with a spring in his step, feeling sharp, refocused, and ready to crush his goals. Who do you think is more likely to be promoted next? More importantly, who do you think has a more positive frame of mind, having been more productive, and made more lifetime memories?

It’s not even close.

The relentless, non-stop attitude of 1980s corporate America (think Wall Street, 24/7 ‘we’re never closed’, ‘just do it’, ‘what’s a holiday?’ sort of approach) still has influence today, despite overwhelming evidence of it being counter-productive.

That culture of presenteeism — being the first into the office in the morning and the last to leave at night — is simply a vain competition of work ethic.

If you can complete your tasks in 6 hours, why elongate your workday to 10 hours?

Parkinson’s Law = ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion’

An entrepreneur hiking through New Zealand
An entrepreneur hiking through New Zealand

I’ve personally felt the effect of Parkinson’s Law during lockdown.

With fewer time restrictions working at home, it’s tempting to not attack my daily tasks with as much urgency and intent as I ordinarily do, simply because it feels like I have more time available to complete them.

This is a common problem for people who are self-employed, although Parkinson’s Law can also be applied to the workplace; when you have all day to compile that report, you’ll likely go about it in a far more relaxed manner than if you only have an hour, right?

Here are five specific tips on how to make the most of your trip to enhance creativity, productivity, and reflection:

  • Relish the planning (half of the fun is in the anticipation)
  • Include some scheduled downtime (I’m a big advocate for being adventurous while you travel, but dedicating the first couple of days to relax might allow you to better recharge)
  • Find a majestic view to do some big picture thinking/discussing (an awe-inspiring view never fails to encourage bold ideas and moments of epiphany)
  • Leave the office behind (you won’t recharge your batteries if all you’re doing while away is checking your emails and taking phone calls – leave your laptop behind, turn your phone off, and focus on being fully present in your surroundings)
  • Be intentional about the timing of activities (use the first few days to ease into the trip, and save the best activity/meal/experience for the end – it will allow you to finish on a high, the peak you remember best)

I hope this has helped to open your eyes to the myths of time equalling hard work and productivity. Travel is an incredible tool for self-development, and I’ve shown you exactly why and how you can utilize it. The rest is up to you.

How does travel improve your productivity? Let us know in the comments!

This article originally published on GREY Journal.