Study: Travel makes us happier

You know that feeling of not wanting vacation to end? You do anything to extend it — put off packing and make a few stops on the way to the airport.

There’s a reason for that.

Travel and happiness are linked, according to a new report.

While the survey by the U.S. Travel Association (USTA) focused on employees, it reflects a much broader group of people.

Employees who use most of their time off for travel are much happier than those who travel less or not at all, the report found. It also found that travel preferences — from vacation budget to what is packed into luggage — varies greatly from state to state.

Big Sur Hwy 1
AAA expects nearly two-thirds of the 88 million Americans planning a vacation this year to take a road trip. Driving along California Highway 1 (near Big Sur here) is a popular option. (Fred Moore via Creative Commons)

Overall, America’s work culture is starting to change, with more employers encouraging vacation and more employees feeling better about using their earned time off.

While the numbers have improved since 2015, most U.S. workers (52 percent) don’t use all of their annual vacation days. Those workers accumulated 705 million unused days in 2017, up from 662 million days in 2016.

Workers in Colorado, Virginia and Arizona lead the nation in taking vacation.

No. 1 is Colorado, where workers take average of 20 vacation days a year. In Virginia and Arizona, workers use about 19 days a year. The national average is 17 days.

Perhaps the more vacation time you earn, the more you use. Coloradans earn an average of 28 paid time-off days, more than any other state and higher than the national average of 23 days in 2017. Virginia workers earn an average of 25 paid time-off days a year.

Or perhaps it has something to do with office culture. In Virginia, 52 percent of companies encourage vacation, compared with the national 38 percent.

Workers in Montana, Delaware and Rhode Island are the worst at taking vacation. At the bottom is Montana, where workers take an average of 16 days. Montana workers also earn less time, an average of 21.8 days. That’s the third lowest nationally, after Rhode Island and Delaware (21.6 days each).

Translating time

Using more vacation days appears to create a positive economic impact. The increased vacation time from 16.8 days in 2014 to 17.2 days in 2017 generated $30.7 billion in economic impact nationwide. It also produced 217,200 jobs (direct and indirect) and generated $8.9 billion in additional income for Americans.

It also increases worker satisfaction, which may improve productivity. Workers in Arizona and Washington tie for highest rates of happiness with their company — 68 percent vs. 54 percent nationwide.

Who travels?

Even when workers take time off, less than half (48 percent) don’t travel.

Moreover, a recent Gallup poll found that 62 percent of all Americans took a vacation away from home last year, similar to 2005 but lower than 70 percent in 2001. Of that 2017 figure, only about one in five people traveled internationally.

Gallup found that married adults with children plus adults with higher incomes and a college degree took more vacations.

The USTA report concluded that baby boomers take more vacation days and travel more than other generations. That could be the result of boomers having longer job tenures to accumulate more time off and money to be able to travel more.

Once again, Colorado workers led the nation in using vacation days to travel: 57 percent vs. 47 percent nationally.

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The classic American road trip still rules

Despite higher prices at the gas pumps this summer, the classic American road trip remains one of the most popular travel options.

At $2.86, average U.S. gasoline prices are at their highest level in about four years. Though the price for regular unleaded gasoline on July 8 was up 60 cents from a year ago, it was down 7 cents from a month ago, according to AAA. Gas prices were highest in the West ($3.66 in California) and lowest in the South ($2.53 in Alabama).

However, AAA spokeswoman Jeanette Casselano said “elevated crude oil prices and other geopolitical concerns could tilt gas prices more expensive in the early fall despite an expected increase in global crude production from OPEC.” If U.S. demand remains strong, inventories rise and oil continue to sell at over $70 a barrel, drivers could see average gas prices hit nearly $3 a gallon in the coming months, she said.

In the meantime, families are hitting the road.

Nearly two-thirds of the 88 million Americans planning to take a family vacation this year expect to hit the road, according to AAA. About three-quarters seek a destination they’ve never been to before. Families also seek attractions, such as beaches and mountains (61 percent), sightseeing (59 percent) and relaxation (56 percent).

If you’re thinking about a road trip this summer or fall, here are some favorite road trips I’ve taken over the years:

Pacific Coast Highway: Fort Bragg to Los Angeles
This cliff-top, panoramic 123-mile drive on Highway 1 along much of California’s coast will leave you breathless. Start near Fort Bragg and drive south along rugged coastline. Build in time to explore the cities of San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Monterey and Los Angeles. Don’t miss Bodega Head, Old Mission San Juan Bautista, Carmel-by-the-Sea’s 17-mile Drive (see featured photo at top), Big Sur’s Pfeiffer Beach, elephant seals at Piedras Blancas, Hearst Castle and Venice Beach.

Bodega Head, Calif.
You’ll see views like this from Bodega Head in Bodega Bay, Calif., which is on scenic U.S. Highway 1. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Oregon Highway 101: Near Portland to Cape Perpetua
This drive is similar to California’s Highway 1, but I think the Oregon coast is wilder and more lonesome. There are plenty of beaches, trails, state parks and small towns. Don’t miss Cannon Beach and its 235-foot Haystack Rock, Devils Punchbowl near Newport and Cape Perpetua Headland, which is the highest viewpoint accessible by car on the Oregon Coast. If you have time, drive farther south to Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, with sand dunes up to 500 feet high. Combine this with the Pacific Coast Highway for a longer adventure.

The Road to Hana: Maui, Hawaii
This famous 64-mile road on the island’s western coast features too-many-to-count ess curves and single-lane bridges. Start in the small beachy town of Paia. Watch the surfers at Ho’okipa Beach Park, stop at as many plunging waterfalls and walking trails as you like, sample banana bread and fresh coconut milk at roadside fruit stands, enjoy the view from check out Pua’a Kaa State Wayside Park’s waterfall and natural swimming hole, Hana Lava Tube and Black Sand Beach at Waianapanapa State Park.

San Juan Skyway: Southwestern Colorado
This 200-mile loop goes through some of the prettiest country in Colorado, a must-see national park, hot springs, an old railroad and lots of great hiking. Start in Durango: Take Highway 160 West, take 145 North, cut across on 62 and then head south on 550. Your first stop should be Mesa Verde National Park. After that, you’ll pass through beautiful meadows, see jaw-dropping mountain views in the ski town of Telluride, relax in the Ouray hot-spring pools, ride the train on narrow-gauge rails originally laid in 1882 in the mining town of Silverton and end with a nice meal in Durango.

Southwestern Colorado
This is what the terrain around Durango, Colo., looks like. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

The Blue Ridge Parkway: North Carolina
The Blue Ridge Parkway winds through the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia and North Carolina for 469 miles. Whether you like to hike, bike, swim or go antiquing in quaint little towns, there’s something for you. The velvety green valleys and the Blue Ridge Mountains often are shrouded in heavy mist. In North Carolina, stop at Grandfather Mountain State Park, 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell (the highest peak in the eastern United States), Linville Gorge and Asheville, N.C. before heading into the Great Smoky Mountains.

Highway 1A: Coastal Maine
Coastal Maine offers many quaint old fishing villages, historic downtowns, beaches and lighthouses. Head north on U.S. Highway 1A (later take smaller routes 9 and 77), stopping in York (the cliff walk near Stage Neck and Nubble Lighthouse), Ogunquit (walk on the beach or Marginal Way), Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, Kennebunkport Lower Village (shopping and scenic waterways) and the Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse. Don’t miss the city of Portland, which offers good food, craft beer and history. Just a bit beyond Portland is Freeport, home to L.L. Bean’s headquarters and the giant boot. I blogged here about my visit to L.L. Bean in November 2017.

Kennebunport Lower Village
Small coastal roads in Maine will take you through quaint places like Kennebunkport’s Lower Village. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Route 66: Tulsa, Okla., to Arizona
You can’t talk about road trips without mentioning Historic Route 66, one of the nation’s original highways built in 1926. The iconic route originally stretched for nearly 2,500 miles from Chicago through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to end in Santa Monica, Calif. Today, you’ll find lots of Americana in the form of landmarks, kitschy statues and vintage diners and motels. Drive this coast-to-coast route in sections. In Oklahoma, don’t miss the Blue Whale of Catoosa, Tulsa’s Art Deco architecture, Sandhills Curiosity Shop in Erick, Lucille’s Gas station in Hydro, Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Coleman Theatre in Miami, Tower Theatre in Oklahoma City. In Texas, stop at Cadillac Ranch, Palo Duro Canyon State Park and the MidPiont Café and sign. New Mexico offers Acoma Pueblo and old town Albuquerque. The grand finale is Arizona’s Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park and the Grand Canyon.

Cadillac Ranch
A stop at these 10 colorful, half-buried Cadillacs is a must on Historic Route 66 through Amarillo, Texas. It’s free and open 24/7. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Route 50: Colorado and Utah
This 3,000-mile route stretches from Ocean City, Maryland, to Sacramento, Calif., passing through a dozen states and following the same route as the Overland Stagecoach and the Pony Express. One of the prettiest sections goes through the mountains and canyons of Colorado and Utah. After picking up Route 50 outside of Colorado Springs, you’ll go through lots of mountainous national park land (check out Gunnison Gorge National Recreation area). Route 50 follows Interstate 70 for a while through Utah, passing near several outstanding national parks (Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef ) before living up to its name as “Loneliest Road in America” as it heads into Nevada.

Of course, there are too many road trips to mention in this blog post. One that tops my list to do is the Alaska Highway.

Next Wednesday, look here for my post on what mobile apps to download for your road trip.