Generally, more Americans are leaving paid vacation time unused. They are, essentially, working for free! More importantly, research suggests that's not good for them professionally OR physically.

Several articles emphasize the stress relieving benefits of stepping away from the office. One contributor to "Medical Daily" also suggests that the new experiences offered by vacation destinations opens the mind to creativity, thereby making them more productive once they return to the workplace. She also encourages managers to be an example to those on their teams. If a manager takes the appropriate and approved time away to destress and recharge, he or she sends the message that it's okay for employees to do the same.

Physically, studies have shown that people who take vacations have lower stress levels and less risk of heart disease. Those who take trips in the summertime spend it outdoors soaking up much-needed vitamin D. Employees' behavioral health is also impacted positively because they tend to spend more quality time with their spouses and children during family vacations.

Full-time employees typically have paid vacations built into their compensation packages. The question often becomes do you stay home during your time off or do you take a trip somewhere?

My family and I decided early on to plan every year to take some sort of trip somewhere. Getting away for us is the best way to recharge. It's always within driving distance, as is the case with many south Louisiana families.

Of course, the challenge is and may always be finances, so we make sure to plan accordingly. That plan involves many parts, but there are a few ways you, too, may be able to afford to get away like we do each year.

1) WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO WITHIN DRIVING DISTANCE?

A favorite destination for me and my family is a beach we can drive to. We decided this the first year we began our vacationing. Galveston? Biloxi? Gulf Shores? Destin? We find a place to stay, and we entertain ourselves at the beach and pool while we are there. We cook, we don't eat out much, and we just enjoy being together. Maybe your family likes a lake area or the mountains. Fortunately for us in south Louisiana, we can get to any one of several beautiful, relaxing destinations by car. Little Rock? Sam Rayburn? Toledo Bend? Deciding on "where will we go?" is a great place to start.

2) WHERE WILL YOU STAY?

Hotels are always a fantastic option, but I know for me and my family, we like to be able to cook and eat our meals rather than eating out (which can add substantial cost to the price of our trip). Whether the beach, a lake area, or the mountains of Arkansas is your destination, there are numerous condos, cabins, or homes for rent nightly or weekly. I will warn you that it takes time to sift through all of them to find the one that fits your needs and your budget, but the time investment is well worth it! Websites like homeaway.com or vrbo.com feature vacation rentals by owners. You can search by destination and travel date, and even do an advanced search to include more specific requests. I have used both of these sites several times with great results.

Additionally, a Google search of "vacation rentals" in the area you would like to visit will bring up a list of real estate companies in the area who manage particular properties. Agents are well-versed in not only what is available for rental, but also attractions and other information that may be helpful.

3) TIMING IS EVERYTHING

For those of you who have not ever taken a summer vacation before, there are a few tips I have learned through the years.

  • Pay attention to the "peak times." Most rental pages will have a chart of the rates. You will notice when these peak times are. If you can wait until later in the year or plan your vacation for next year earlier, you will save some money.
  • If you aren't in a hurry to book and don't mind doing so last minute, owners and agents will often times offer a percentage off or a price cut for unsold nights a week or two before the travel date. So, if you're thinking about taking time off (or already have it scheduled) but haven't booked a vacation, check in with the sites often and watch for prices to go down.
  • Sign up for notification email from some of the real estate management companies. They will send you their special rate packages throughout the year. Having these appear when you least expect it will remind you to start saving for your next dose of stress relief and help you plan early. You may even save some money by doing so!

Can you afford a vacation? Most people say "no" automatically before they've even started trying. It really should be a priority in everyone's life, whether it's a week or just a weekend.

WebMD says not only is the trip good for you. The planning makes you happy, the anticipation is exciting, and the trip is beneficial to you health. Sounds like a vacation is just what the doctor ordered!