One of my bedrock, foundational beliefs in life is: Take your vacation time.

Another is: Enjoy your vacation time.

That sounds simple, but I’ve been surprised by the number of people I’ve encountered over the years who say they often don’t use up their allotted vacation days. Not me. I know I need my vacation. My family needs it. And my marriage needs it.

One excuse people use for not taking vacation days is, “I can’t afford to be away from work.” I suppose for some people that’s true, but my attitude is, “My boss can’t afford for me to not take my vacations days.” As a writer and editor, my job is an intense mental exercise—hour after hour, day after day, year after year. It can consume me, and I know that without a release I could easily become a physical, emotional, and spiritual wreck.

For me, vacation days provide that release. Sometimes I will even take these days at home; I’ll tackle a big home improvement project, or I’ll play a round of golf. Something to provide the refreshment I need to stay sharp on the job.

In addition, my wife, Merry, and I have discovered that our vacations together are key to keeping our relationship strong. Whether we are going off for a long weekend together or traveling to someplace more exotic, these are times for romance, adventure, making memories, and just talking. Merry says she just enjoys getting me in a car to drive for several hours because I will talk a lot more than I do at home.

I’ve also heard people say, “We don’t really enjoy our vacation trips. We’re always tired and on edge, and we’re exhausted when we return home.”

I can certainly relate to that problem. Through our successes and mistakes, Merry and I have learned some keys to making sure we enjoy our vacation trips. Here are a few:

Don’t devote all your vacation days to visiting relatives. We enjoy spending time with our families, and it’s important for us to do that, especially because we live in Arkansas and our families are in Oregon and Georgia. But we also try to save a few of our vacation days to focus on our marriage.

Plan your time around things you like to do together. It took a few years for Merry and me to learn that there are two things we most enjoy together on vacation: 1) Visiting an interesting historical location; and 2) enjoying the beauty of God’s creation, especially at the beach. Sometimes we can even do both on the same trip, as we did a few years ago when we spent three days touring historical sights at Williamsburg and Yorktown and ended with a couple days at nearby Virginia Beach.

Plan your days around your pace and energy level. This affects everything from how far you drive each day to how many activities you try to squeeze in to how much time you spend on your feet. The first time Merry and I visited Washington, D.C., we spent the first two days in non-stop sightseeing. On the third day we woke up feeling totally drained of energy. We learned then that we need to pace ourselves on these trips and even schedule rest days when we don’t attempt to accomplish as much.

Leave your work at home. This is especially difficult in these days of hyperactive connectivity … how many stories have you heard of obsessive husbands or wives who constantly check their e-mails and make take business calls while on vacation? Doesn’t sound like a real vacation to me.

If possible, plan on a rest day at home before you return to work. After a long trip with travel by car or plane, I’m usually dead tired after I return home. I like that extra day of rest before diving back into office life.

Finally, enjoy the planning time. A recent study of vacationers revealed that people often reported the greatest level of happiness in the weeks before the trip. For them, the anticipation was more fun than the reality. I don’t want that to be true for us, but we do take time to talk about what we want to do and read up on the locations we’re visiting. As part of our planning for an upcoming trip, for example, we are looking at travel guides and reading a historical novel about the area. It makes it all more fun.

This article originally appeared in the April 26, 2010 issue of Marriage Memo, a weekly e-newsletter.