There is an overwork epidemic happening in America right now --- and you're probably feeling it too. While most Americans are given 15 days of paid vacation each year, a 2016 study by the U.S. Travel Association showed that 55% of American respondents didn't take their vacation days.

This choice left a mind-boggling 658 million vacation days unused.

The truth is that there are very real consequences to this amount of overwork. Multiple studies by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and others show that too many stressful hours worked can negatively affect sleep and cause depression, impaired memory, and even heart problems. Our communication skills erode and relationships are harder to maintain.

Before you start Googling heart conditions or scheduling an EKG, consider this easy solution: take a break, already!

Psychology Today confirms that taking even short vacations away from work reduces stress on the body and mind, helps us gain perspective and rest, and even improves family relationships.

We need to wrap our minds around the fact that taking a vacation is not selfish!

It's an absolute necessity.

No matter how much your boss needs you, vacation time is essential to keeping you healthy and mentally balanced. It's an investment in your time and your social life, whether you're living out of a backpack or lounging on a beach, downing endless cocktails.

Luckily, you don't have to be rich to take a weekend off at a lake or to add more pins to that global travel map. Instead, you need to plan your spending, make smart choices, and use great strategies to stretch your money further!

Here are some tips to make sure you have the funds set aside for a vacation and to help you save as much money as possible while you're away from your desk.

Before you travel

Woman flying in a hot air balloon travel concept happiness
Image by Anastasia Yevtushenko for MoneyWise © 2576250 Ontario Inc. 2017
You need to plan your spending, make smart choices, and use great strategies to stretch your money further!

1. Put money aside for travel

One time-honored strategy that works amazingly well to keep you on the road and out of debt is to open a dedicated savings account just for your vacation spending. It doesn't matter if you're a student or if you only work part-time, you should put some of your money into the account regularly.

Making this a constant habit is the key to helping you save money faster. So, rather than setting a monthly reminder in your phone to add money to your travel account, you could deposit a smaller amount from every single paycheck. Using this strategy, even a part-time job should allow you to save enough for a short, refreshing getaway.

For a larger vacation like an all-inclusive beach romp, set a target goal (let's say $1,000), split it into 4 months (so you should save $250 per month), and divide by two if you're paid every other week (so you should put aside $125 per paycheck). This translates to $62.50 per week, which is actually not a lot. Consider that a single night out with dinner and drinks can easily cost more.

Planning for your vacation is all about having priorities and just a little restraint with your daily spending. With this in mind...

2. Spend less on going out day-to-day

Every time you go out to eat at restaurants or to have (possibly) more drinks than you need with friends, you're spending money that could be going towards vacation and travel. So, have a pre-drink at your place before going out, learn to cook a few more simple and cheap meals per month, and get familiar with weekly and daily restaurant specials in your hood.

Most importantly, don't take a credit or bank card with you when you go out. By estimating how much money you'll spend when you go out and taking that much cash with you, you'll be able to shrink hefty bar and restaurant tabs and control how much you spend once you've had a few drinks.

3. Get a rewards credit card

It's really amazing how much money you can save if you're collecting rewards with your credit card. A quick Google search will tell you which travel reward credit cards are available in your area or from your bank. If you don't want to wait forever to collect points on a frequent flyer card, then other credit cards offer cash back just for spending on things you have to buy anyway, like groceries and gas. These cards usually send a check in the mail once you've spent a certain amount of money, and this check can go straight into your vacation savings account.

Planning your vacation

Straw umbrellas on beautiful sunny beach in Bulgaria resort
Dundanim/Shutterstock
For those who want to go farther away, choosing to stay in one city or region for two weeks instead of visiting three islands in that time can result in saving a huge amount of money

4. Stay close by or take a road trip

Even with high gas prices, splitting the bill for a car rental and fuel is cheaper than taking a plane farther away. Renting an apartment or a cottage with your friends at a nearby lake can also be more cost-effective than renting a hotel. Take care to stick to lesser-known lakes for maximum savings, as certain areas may have had their pricing jacked up for celebrity visitors. (Seriously.)

And what about camping? Remember, any time away from the grind will do you good. Just make sure your destination has a fire pit or barbeque for maximum home-cooked food savings!

5. Stay longer in fewer places

For those who want to go farther away, choosing to stay in one city or region for two weeks instead of visiting three islands in that time can result in saving a huge amount of money. This tactic means you spend less on plane tickets, train tickets, luggage fees, taxis to and from the airport, and other associated travel costs. At the same time, you really get to know the area well and aren't forced to rush from one expensive attraction to another. Hotels usually offer discounted rates for longer stays, too.

6. Be flexible with your travel dates and times

When searching for tickets online, always check the “flexible dates" box. The website or search engine will display the dates and times before and after your preferred flight and there are often great deals to be found. The same goes for hotel rooms. Finally, while taking a flight early in the morning or overnight is not the most fun, it's often cheaper.

7. Plan like a tour guide, but act like a local

Areas that are popular with tourists usually have well-developed city and regional tourism websites in English. These sites helpfully list major and minor festivals, museums (which often have free visiting days each month or discounts one day each week), main attractions, and much more. Use this information to plan out your week with maximum savings! And don't forget local foodie and travel blogs. There's a wealth of free information out there if you look for it.

As long as it's safe or during the day, take public transportation or walk any chance you get. Traveling like a local is the best way to get a front row seat to local life, street art, and cheap street food.

Clearly, going into debt over an unplanned vacation will not reduce your stress levels — but taking advantage of these money saving tips will make it possible for you to afford to take a little time off work to relax and recharge.

Your health, relationships, and happiness will all benefit when you make the decision to step away from work and reduce stress on your body and mind. Take time for yourself, connect with people who are important to you, and get some rest, already!

As a wise meerkat once said, "Hakuna matata." (It means "no worries").

Words to live by.

If you know a hardworking friend who needs a vacation, share this article with them. It might just be the push they need to take a break and live a happier and healthier life.

Additional Sources:

U.S. Travel Association