Why Do You Feel Vacation Guilt, And How Can You Beat It?

Guilt and vacation are an odd pair. But it's not uncommon for the two to go hand-in-hand. Vacation is supposed to be a time to step away from your hard work, let go of your responsibilities, and take in a beautiful experience with the people you love. You wouldn't think that there is anything to feel ashamed of about that. But in reality, more often than not, people tend to associate joy with guilt. Think about phrases like "guilty pleasure," "guilt-free food," etc.

Guilt is built into our culture, but that's not your fault. There is no reason you should feel guilty for taking time off and exploring the world around you. However, it's very typical to experience a sense of disappointment in yourself before, after, or even during your trip. There are a couple of reasons why you might feel this way. As soon as you identify the reason, you can work through it and replace those negative feelings with the happiness you deserve.

Unmet expectations

A major cause of vacation guilt is unmet expectations. According to a study conducted by Resume.io across 197 countries, the U.S. has the second-lowest average of paid vacation days. In most cases, American employees receive about 10 days a year. Because employees have such a small window for their vacation time, this makes that once-a-year getaway even more important and special. But this ultimately builds up unrealistic standards.

Clinical psychologist PhD Carla Marie Manly explained to Well+Good, "To imbue vacation time with the idea of perfection is really self-destructive in many ways because no vacation is going to be perfect." Manly has a good point. Even when you think about your fondest vacation memories, there's usually a moment when things went wrong. Maybe you forgot your passport somewhere, got food poisoning, or maybe just woke up in a bad mood.

When things don't go as planned, many people will respond with a sense of regret, telling themselves they should have booked a different hotel or been more present or shouldn't have gone on the trip at all. Whatever it was, it's important to remind yourself that life is full of road bumps, and our vacations aren't above them. Not only should you remember this when something goes wrong, but also before you go on your vacation as a way of managing any lofty expectations.

Productivity guilt

In the United States, it's a pretty fair judgment to say we are obsessed with productivity. A major value in the American cultural zeitgeist is career success. Sadly, this cultural value has skewed our attitude toward vacationing. Not only are American employees allotted fewer vacation days, but what's more shocking is that many don't even take off the days they are offered! A study conducted by Pew Research showed that just about half of Americans do not use the vacation days that they are allotted.

Unfortunately, many people see vacation as a wasteful or indulgent use of time. Jennifer Moss, author of "The Burnout Epidemic," explained to Fortune, "People don't really know how to take time away ... Taking time off is not something they see as acceptable." If you find yourself feeling guilty about taking time off because you think it will impede your career growth, you couldn't be more wrong. A vacation can rejuvenate your well-being and lower your stress levels, ultimately increasing your productivity at work. And don't worry about any post-vacation pile-up — there are simple tips you can follow for a stress-free return from vacation. Taking a break and checking off your travel bucket list will actually be your best chance at boosting your workplace performance and avoiding burnout.