By Caitlin Kelly

If you live or work in the United States, vacation is a taboo word for many people — their employers don’t offer paid time off and/or they just can’t afford to take any.

Or they’re such workaholics they can’t bear the thought of missing a call/email/client meeting.

The typical American workplace offers a measly two weeks off each year. As someone who runs at a very high speed, and who loves to travel, taking time off whenever I want and can afford to is one of the reasons I stay self-employed.

I tend to work at a pretty intense pace. The harder/faster I run, the more downtime I need to recharge and come back at it, hard, with gusto — not weary resentment.

The seal of the United States Department of Labor
The seal of the United States Department of Labor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apparently, the tide is turning, says The Wall Street Journal:

The two-martini lunch may be extinct, but another perk common to yesteryear’s workplace, the two-week vacation, is making a comeback. No longer limited to students, honeymooners and retirees, drawn-out holidays are finding converts in overachieving professionals.

“It used to be that Americans did the drive-by vacation,” breezing through major tourist attractions, said Anne Morgan Scully, president of McCabe World Travel, an upscale travel agency in McLean, Va. “They’re not doing that anymore.” Her company has seen a 25% to 30% increase in longer holiday bookings over the last year, she said.

Plenty of Americans have a hard time taking vacation at all. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about a quarter of private-industry workers didn’t get any paid time off in 2012. And some who have holiday packages are loath to max them out, for fear of seeming dispensable in a still-shaky economy.

The lack of American vacation time strikes people living in many other nations — Australia, Canada, much of Europe — as weird indeed. But here, where affordable health insurance is tied to your job, and you’re scared to lose both, going anywhere for very long feels too risky to many people. (Talk about a capitalist culture!)

I try to take off six weeks a year, or more, if possible. My trips are rarely exotic or costly, but I desperately need to get out of our apartment, where I work alone all day, and our (lovely) town where I’ve lived for 24 years.

I need new scenery, new experiences, foreign accents, adventure!

Our recent two-week trip to Arizona was perfect, even with temperatures that could soar to 100 by noon. I saw old friends, made new ones, did a bit of work, bought some pretty new clothes, took lots of photos, read for pleasure, lay by the hotel pool, did a long road trip, stayed in a funky hotel, stayed in nature for five days.

The best part?

No computer. I didn’t touch my laptop for five full days, which made me feel like I’d been gone for a month, not merely five days off the net.

I came home blessedly and gratefully refreshed, ready to pick up the traces again.

Our next vacation is planned for two weeks mid-September.

We had hoped for Newfoundland, but are doing some planned, costly renovations instead. Luckily, we now have a tent and sleeping pads and a car that will accommodate our sports gear, so even a two or three-hour drive in any direction can take us to somewhere fun and new — the shore of Long Island Sound in Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, even as far as Delaware.

Here’s an unlikely essay, in yesterday’s The New York Times, from an American employer who actually gives his first-year employees four weeks off. Hire me, dude!

More than ever, we live in a culture that overvalues the ethic of “more, bigger, faster” and undervalues the importance of rest, renewal and reflection. I preach this lesson for a living, but I, too, can get so passionately immersed in my work that I intermittently forget to apply the lesson to myself.

A growing body of evidence suggests that more overall vacation time – intense effort offset regularly by real renewal — fuels greater productivity and more sustainable performance…If you’re in any sort of demanding job, it makes sense to take at least a week of true vacation every three months…

The United States is the only developed country that doesn’t mandate employers to provide vacation time. Most companies do provide it, but often stingily and insufficiently.

To my fellow leaders: Two weeks isn’t enough if what you’re seeking from your people is their best. Is there any doubt, for example, that the greater the demand, the more frequent our need to replenish and rejuvenate? Demand in our lives is rising so relentlessly that I’m beginning to believe even four weeks of vacation a year isn’t enough.

The most basic aim of a vacation ought to be restoration – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.

A recent national survey of 977 people, published in Vanity Fair magazine offered some funny, and not so funny, statistics about Americans on vacation:

— 90 percent said they’d try to help a lost tourist

— but 21 percent (cheap bastards!) never leave a tip for the daily maid service for their room; luckily 29 percent said they leave $3 to $5 a day

— not at all surprising, only 1 percent said they prefer to travel by bus; 50 percent said car and 39 percent by plane. Only 5 percent (!), which is very American, chose the train — by far my favorite! But American train service is costly and atrocious compared to that of many other nations.

English: The Long Island Sound steamboat Rhode...
English: The Long Island Sound steamboat Rhode Island (1836). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you able to take vacations?

Where do you like to go?

What do you like to do when you get there?

Here’s a helpful list of suggestions of how to enjoy your time off, from one of my favorite blogs, Apartment Therapy.

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29 thoughts on “Va-ca-tion!

  1. mylifeinfocusblog

    We’ve been bombarded with ads touting New Jersey, especially Atlantic City. So, I looked up vacations in Atlantic City and was shocked to find decent hotel rooms for only $69 to $99 a night! Walking on the boardwalk is free. So, are the beaches. You don’t need to buy a beach tag in A/C as all the beaches are open. DH and I don’t gamble, so we won’t be stepping into any casino. But we will go to the all-you-can eat buffets and hang out at the shore. We’re going mid-week, as the weekend prices skyrocket. We’ll use the weekend time to visit with friends and stay with them.

    Who knew a vacation for us this year was doable?

    Have fun! Just to get out of the house and not cook/clean/do laundry/dishes can be enough.

  2. Caitlin, when you really think about it – 52 weeks of work every year? Two lousy, measly weeks once a year. Even after 32 years with his company, my husband got 4 weeks a year. My family members in Canada? After maybe 20 years of work get six weeks. Even though my husband is retired and I do not work for a paycheck, I still work every day and when we take off for a few days in Utah in September you can bet there will be no PC going along.

  3. I MUST have a lot of vacation time. I tried working corporate jobs…7 days off after your first year. I just could not see the light at the end of the tunnel. Freelancing as well as teaching provide me with the type of flexible schedule I need to maintain some sanity.

    I also love to travel. I went to Seoul, South Korea in April, and (am so excited to be going to) Reykjavik & other areas in Iceland at the end of the month! It is so important to experience other cultures…and it keeps life interesting 🙂

  4. I enjoyed reading your comments and thoughts because you made some interesting points. However, i kept thinking, “There are always two sides,” and I would like to express some of my thoughts from the other side. I hope you don’t think they are coming from “The Far Side”. I have been retired for a number of years but, in the past, I have been both and employee and an employer. From that experience I would say that vacations are a necessary and good thing but that they are also a privilege, not a right. I would put tips in that category too. I view both of them as a reward for doing good work. not as something that is owed. I have seen plenty of employees who view their job solely as a source of income and their goal is to do as little as they possibly can without losing the job. For them I would say two weeks vacation a year is probably more than they deserve. There are many of the same type in the service industry with the attitude that they are owed a tip and that good service is not required. For those diligent and conscientious employees who take pride in their work and give everything their best effort, a reward of extra vacation is definitely in order. Another thing to be considered is the employer’s circumstance. If it is a big company with many employees vacations can be a rather routine thing but for small businesses with only a few workers it can be a real struggle to cover for those on vacation. As I said, there are always two sides. There are two sides and the key to harmony is for each side to listen to the other and try to understand.

    1. Thanks for weighing in…

      I can’t disagree with your points, as every workplace is different and some have lazy-ass workers doing the minimum and some work their staff to death and couldn’t care less if they burn out. The only field I know well is journalism, and I see the insane level of productivity now expected of people who still even have jobs (common in many under-staffed offices.)

      So while I can certainly see your point of view, I also see how exhausted people can be and the toll it takes on them and their work. By the time I’m able to take a break, I’m fried from doing twice the work in advance to pay for it!

  5. Loooooove my vacay time! I’m a therapist, so getting away is pretty important to me. I am lucky to work at a job where I get 4 weeks off per year as a first-year employee (and it will only go up from here!) Definitely a huge perk of the job that makes me never want to leave. I love to travel, so I hoard all my vacay time for actual vacations. The only downside is that I never allow myself to use the vacay time just to stay at home/relax/catch up, which would probably be good for me once in a while.

    I’m lucky to have a boss who encourages us to use all of our vacation time and makes it easy for us to do so. And yet, so many employees where i work simply choose to never use theirs. This does not make ANY sense to me. I suppose some people don’t quite know how to enjoy time away…

  6. This is an issue I find really interesting. I’m British, so I’m used to a culture where we get lots of vacation time; no-one would dream of not using up every single vacation day on offer, and their employers would not think worse of them because of it. However my fiance is American, and in the next year or two I’ll be joining him in the US – I think the lack of vacation time is something I will find really difficult to get used to!

    1. Ohhh, my dear. You are in for one hell of a culture shock! It is an attitude here I will never agree with or feel comfortable adopting — leisure, pleasure and time off are seen as…slacker-ish. I have a million things I’d rather do than make money all day every day. But don’t say that too loudly here.

      I work damn hard. But I treasure my leisure.

  7. Yasmin Mond

    This was an very interesting read.
    I loooove the holidays. I think life’s all about travel and enjoying free time. Travel opens your eyes to new worlds, cultures and possibilities; you grow as a person by becoming more tolerant and less ignorant. A life spent working really is, to me, a life that has been wasted.
    I like to go to countries I haven’t been to before.
    There are some countries I’ll go to once and never want to go to again. There are some countries I love and want to visit again. There are some countries where it is a stupid decision to go (like a war zone) because that might end your life, not enrich it 😛
    So having said that travel is wonderful, it is only wonderful if one travels smart.
    woo, I digressed there. Anyway I think holidays are a great topic to talk about 🙂

    1. Thanks…

      I have been to 37 countries, so far and am eager to see many more: Croatia, Hungary, Japan, to name only three. A friend’s wife was recently posted to Ecuador for work so we’ve been invited there. I’m up for it!

  8. I live so far from my family, most of my vacation time is spent visiting them in SF, NYC, and DC. Granted, I love all those cities, it’s great to have free places to stay, and I love my family! But I sometimes yearn for ‘real’ vacations, out of the country, adventure, a little pampering, a lot of relaxation. My goal is to one day have a schedule and financial base that allows for this as well. Either that, or live closer to my family on the East Coast.

    On a different note, I used to work at a company whose home base was in France… and those folks (the French) seemed like they were always on vacation. They would be out of the office for weeks/months at a time, especially in the summer. It was a bit frustrating to be on the other end of that.

    1. I hope we’ll meet when you get to NYC next time! I hope to be in L.A. in 2014 doing some book research, but we’ll see if that happens.

      I hear you on that point — I go back to Ontario 2-4 times a year to see family and friends but I am really eager to visit NEW places! I’ve seen most of Canada and my hunger is for places that are all long-haul flights of 10-15 hours — Argentina, Japan, South Africa…$$$$$????!!!!!

      1. Yes, we definitely need to meet up! I’ll probably be there before you’ll be here, will give you a heads up. As for far-away places, if you ever find yourself in Greece, let me know. My uncle has a house in Mykonos. He makes his own honey! 🙂

  9. one of the main reasons i changed careers at age 40, time became more important than money to me. i take vacations throughout the year, some short and close and some long and far. both replenish my spirit and soul.

  10. I have 4 weeks of vacation because of being at the same company over 12 years. My husband only has 2 weeks of vacation which he’s already used up for the year. We’ve got to juggle that with time off of school for the kids so it always feels like it’s not enough. We just got back from Cape Breton and it is lovely because we don’t have Internet or cell phone access so work just has to wait until I get back.

  11. I always wondered how people in the US did it with 2 week vacations. In Australia, 4 weeks are the norm. The last couple of years I was in the Matrix, I took 7 weeks (3 extra weeks supplemented by overtime, which I opted to take time off in lieu for, rather than get paid out – free time is worth way more than extra pay which they tax you like hell for IMHO). And even that wasn’t quite enough.

    I too like to work hard and play hard. Also, I’m of the variety that needs a few days to decompress from whatever it was I was doing, before being able to really enjoy being away from the regular environment (this applies to being nomad as well – it takes a while to understand the rhythm and flavour of a new place). For me, a vacation was a minimum of 3 weeks, or it was more akin to a long weekend. Being somewhere else for a week would drive me loco!

    1. Too true!

      My last break, of two weeks, was Arizona…I loved it and found that when I am REALLY happy, that’s enough time for me. My five days at the Grand Canyon were like a month away in the richness of my experiences and the beauty I saw.

      We take our next two weeks in mid September but are now $$ challenged as we start a complete kitchen reno…so not sure we will be able to go anywhere. I plan to be in London/Paris, elsewhere in January/February and want to stay for at least a month or more. I do need a long foreign break. I get REALLY sick of always being in the U.S. and hearing only its “news.”

      1. I know what you mean. I was starting to feel like that back in Perth, that the world was closing in on me, getting very claustrophobic with the particular Australian (or maybe just West Australian) take on life and the rest of the world. These days I read Australian news (apparently our former PM, who was ousted, has ousted his successor right back – seriously people?!) and it sounds downright exotic.

        I am meeting, connecting with and relating to more individuals than I have ever done, as I travel, but strangely, this means I am more disconnected and confused by people en masse than ever.

        Fingers crossed you’ll be able to find some $$ for a quick getaway next September, Arizona sounds like it did you an incredible amount of good.

      2. Well, September is now barely three weeks away, so not sure what we’ll be able to do. Not much, probably. We start a total kitchen renovation in a few weeks so $$$ is being spent on things like shelving and meals out…

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