The science-backed way to plan the perfect vacation

Oh sure, we can plan a vacation — book some flights, a place to stay, a plan on where to eat and drink — but let’s admit we’re all winging it. What does science say about the best way to truly plan a vacation?

With a nod to the great minds at TED Ideas, here are scientific ways to make sure your time off is as rejuvenating as can be.

Start visualizing your relaxing trip beforehand

The best part of your vacation may not be anything you do, but the anticipation you feel beforehand while you’re planning it. So, while picking flights and imagining yourself in different hotel rooms, savor the preparations for a trip.

An article in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life explains why. The researchers studied how vacations and happiness are related. They asked 1,530 Dutch people, 974 of whom went on vacation during the study. The researchers asked the travellers questions on how they felt beforehand and following the trip).

“This study demonstrates that vacationers are happier, compared to non-vacationers,” the researchers found, unsurprisingly.

But, they added, the happiness did not come from the trip itself, usually, unless the trip was extremely relaxing.

“A holiday trip does not add much to their happiness. Generally, there were no differences between vacationers‘ and non-vacationers‘ post-trip happiness. Only vacationers on a ‘very relaxed’ holiday trip benefit in terms of post-trip happiness. The pre-trip happiness difference between vacationers and non-vacationers could be an indication of vacationers looking forward to their holiday,” the authors wrote.

So how do you get happy and extremely relaxed? Read on.

Stay entirely detached from work

The American Psychological Association reported in 2013 that according to a survey released by the organization, 49% of respondents ages 18-34 reported looking at “work messages” at a minimum of once per day during vacation. Thirty-eight percent of those 55 and up said they did the same thing.

This is a bad idea. Research shows that answering email for longer than an hour while you’re on vacation wipes out nearly all your good memories of the trip.

That’s why it’s important to set boundaries.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang writes about detachment in an article on TED’s Ideas website.

In referring to research unnamed in the text, Pang writes, “detachment also requires being able to escape work-related interruptions. Employees who carry their work smartphones or other devices during non-work hours or who must keep in touch with the office while on vacation show higher levels of stress and work-family conflict.”

The article was excerpted and adapted this information from the book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang (also the author of the article), with permission from the book.

Can’t fully disconnect? There’s a way to handle messages in a limited way.

Martha C. White features advice from Rusty Lindquist, vice president of insights and human capital management strategy at recruiting software company BambooHR, in a 2015 article on TIME’s Money website.

“If you absolutely have to check emails while you’re gone, give yourself a short time period and stick with it, Lindquist says. The key is to keep it quick, and the key to that is being ruthless. If it doesn’t say ‘urgent,’ it goes in the trash folder,” White writes.

Take more than one vacation a year

Vacations refresh our minds and bodies, making us more open to creativity and attuned to the world around us.

That cannot happen in only one week a year.

It’s beneficial for employers to work ample vacation time into employees’ schedules and to encourage time off. The alternative: employee burnout and frustration.

The authors of a 2013 article in the journal Organizational Dynamics write about this concept.

They write that “because the positive effects of vacation often fade out quickly, encouraging employees to take a few days (or more) off more than once a year will help maintain employee well-being in the long term. Furthermore, providing employees with a ‘transition day’ before and after vacation would allow them to phase in and out of their work responsibilities gradually.”

Go big before getting home

While anticipation before a trip makes you happy, and shutting off work during a trip boosts your relaxation, your memories of the trip will depend on how you end it.

2015 article in The Wall Street Journal explained the concept behind positive time off: “Studies show people often reflect on an experience, including a vacation, based largely on how it ends,” adding that psychiatrist Dr. Samantha Boardman told the publication,“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 said.

The next time you dream about your ultimate trip from the confines of your desk, consider putting these tips into action, ask your boss well in advance and prepare to go for it.