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It is holiday season, so I thought of re-considering my ways of holiday planning.

As a student, holidays in academia are somewhat shaped by the semester breaks and the lecture-free period. Working in academia things are slightly different. One still has to be available during the lecture times, also account for the deadlines and additional tasks.

Each time I want to plan some holiday, I remember my yearly tasks, and then I see that I don't have time to relax. Work seems to never end, I have to stay there in the office and prepare the exercises, work on the project, write paper etc. etc.

There is clearly something wrong with this, and I want to change it. But, I don't know how to distribute my holidays throughout the year, because I've been used to working all time. How often should I take holidays?

I know this question is somewhere between workplace and academia. And I know it also may provoke many opinion-based answers. But, I would like to know the different approaches from the more experienced people.

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I tend to combine my holidays with academic travel. In part, because it reduces the cost of going to conferences: I don't have to fly half way across the country just for two days. In part, it also reduces the monetary cost of holiday travel.

For example, adding 2 days for sightseeing/relaxing after a conference doesn't impact flight reimbursement. You pay for the hotel/airbnb, but that's it. That is especially appealing if you are going to a conference in Europe [US] and you're based in the US [Europe], such that the flight is a substantial part of the cost.

I've also gotten flights to other cities reimbursed. As long as the flight X -> Y -> Z is not more expensive than X -> Y -> X, neither my university nor others that have paid for my travel have had any objections. It almost always costs them less (and never more), so it's a win-win situation. In that case, I still end up paying Z -> X, but that's half the fare I'd otherwise pay. If the flight to Z costs more than to X, I let them know and claim less than the actual cost for reimbursement.

Another advantage of this is that it spreads out vacation days throughout the year. I never feel guilty taking off a day here and there and I'm substantially more productive afterward. Doing nothing for two weeks doesn't particularly appeal to me and would likely just stress me out once I got back.

  • 8
    This is heavily discouraged and often forbidden in some countries. (The UK and Finland, at least.) If you combine holidays with a business trip, the entire trip might be considered a taxable benefit, and the auditors won't be happy. – Jouni Sirén Dec 23 '15 at 11:08
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    @JouniSirén my UK University specifically provides for adding leisure days to a business trip in its expenses policy, so long as no expenses are claimed for these days (apart from flight home). I think it says something about the leisure not exceeding the business trip. – Phil Dec 23 '15 at 12:38
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    In the US, this is typically permitted as long as you provide competing quotes showing the price without the personal travel and then only claim the value of the competing quotes. Sometimes, of course, the arcane pricing of travel means that the longer trip is actually cheaper... – jakebeal Dec 23 '15 at 13:25
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    @JouniSirén: This is indeed very country-specific. While administration sometimes tries to cut down university expenses by introducing rules such as "the length of the vacation should not be longer than the length of the business purpose for the travel itself to be still reimbursable", my (possibly non-representative) impression is that this is heavily encouraged in Germany (well, by everyone except said administration ;) ), also based upon a general feeling that academics should grasp every chance they get to widen their horizon by experiencing foreign places and cultures. – O. R. Mapper Dec 23 '15 at 13:28
  • I think it's definitely important to be upfront with whoever is reimbursing the trip. I've only had reimbursements from institutions based in the US and UK so far, but the rules and norms may differ in other countries. In terms of taxation: that should depend on your home country only, no? e.g. someone based in the UK who is reimbursed by a university in Finland wouldn't be subject to Finnish taxes. – user2898391 Dec 23 '15 at 14:50
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I try to take all of my holiday allowance, usually spread through the year in a few blocks of 1-2 weeks (usually clustered around June-September), and then odd days here or there.

To expand a little, I have noticed that productivity is not directly proportional to hours spent in the office. In addition to the obvious benefits to family life, taking holiday means I am much more productive when I return to work and I am happy to rigorously defend my right to take holiday if it is ever questioned (which it hasn't been, to date). I book the holiday well in advance and make sure it doesn't clash with any prior commitments, then defend my calendar. When I'm on leave I remove my work email from my phone and set an out of office reply.

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Holidays have two uses for those of us who are based outside of their home countries. The first is to get to know the country where are based and its surrounding countries better. I usually take some days off when I can combine long weekends with them so that I can travel around. These short trips usually don't disrupt my work routine and provide well needed time away from my office so that I can relax and be more productive when I'm back. My field is social science and I could technically carry my work around, but I deliberately avoid doing so. Even so, many eureka moments happen when I'm out hiking during a long weekend. I try to have these long weekends at least once every two months.

A second use for holidays is to visit home and see parents and relatives. These are very disruptive, as they involve intercontinental flights and being away from my work computer for a couple of weeks. I tend to time these trips with Christmas and New Year, which are times of the year when nothing works in most Western universities anyways. These trips happen only once a year, and I try to use them to set a self imposed deadline for my research activities. Having to reach some key milestones in the project before leaving for these long holidays forces me to keep up a nice rhythm in the months leading to them.

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