Va-ca-tion!

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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10 over-rated tourist spots — and 10 much better alternatives

By Caitlin Kelly

Having visited 37 countries, and a fair bit of Canada and the U.S., I’ve had that moment when you think — Really?

Some spots get breathless copy, (hello, free trips!), from travel writers who might never have gone there if they’d had to pay, and secretly hated the joint.

Toronto Skyline
Toronto Skyline (Photo credit: Bobolink)

In June 2012, my husband and I visited the Thompson Hotel in Toronto, lured by the fawning copy we’d read everywhere about how amazing it was. Not so much. The famous rooftop pool was closed the four days we were there, the bathroom door was so poorly designed it didn’t even close fully and they’d forgotten to put a handle on the inside of it. Like that…

Here are 10 spots everyone tells you are so amazing but aren’t:

The Paris flea market. Merde! I’ve lived in Paris and been back many times. An avid flea market and antiques shopper, I’ve been to the markets there and most often have come away weary and annoyed: snotty, rude shopkeepers, overpriced merch, items so precious you’re not allowed to even touch them. I’ve scored a few things, but the emotional wear and tear is so not worth it.

Instead: Go to London’s flea markets and Alfie’s on Church Street. I love them all and have many great things I’ve brought home from there, from Victorian pottery jugs to silk scarves.

English: Broadway show billboards at the corne...
English: Broadway show billboards at the corner of 7th Avenue and West 47th Street in Times Square in New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Times Square, New York. Puhleeze. If you want to be shoved constantly by throngs of fellow tourists, their backpacks jamming into your face and their five-across-the-sidewalk amble slowing you down, go for it! It’s a noisy, crowded, billboard-filled temple of commerce, with deeply unoriginal offerings like Sephora or The Hard Rock Cafe. They have nothing to do with New York.

Instead: Washington Square. It’s at the very bottom of Fifth Avenue, and leads you onto the New York University Campus. You can sit in the sunshine and watch the world go by, then walk down MacDougal Street to Cafe Reggio, an 85-year-old institution, for a cappuccino.

MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village, New Yor...
MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, between Bleecket Street and West 3rd Street, facing North. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Austin, Texas. I simply don’t get it. I was bored silly.

Instead: Fredericksburg. A small town in Texas hill country, it has antiques, great food, fun shopping and history.

Miami. Meh. Maybe if you’re crazy for dancing and the beach.

Instead: Key West. I’ve been there twice and would happily return many times more: small, quiet, great food and you can bike everywhere. But don’t go during spring break!

Vancouver. I was born there and have been many times. Its setting is spectacular, no question. But I’ve never found it a very interesting place.

Instead: L.A., baby! One of my favorite cities. Yes, you have to do a lot of driving. Deal with it. Great food, great shopping, beaches and Griffith Park, one of the best parks anywhere. I had one of the happiest afternoons of my entire life there — galloping through the park at sunset on a rented horse then dancing to live blues that night at Harvelle’s in Santa Monica. Abbott-Kinney rules.

Santa Fe, N.M. Heresy, since my husband grew up there. Cute, charming, gorgeous — for very rich people!

Instead: Taos or Truth or Consequences. Both are much smaller, funky as hell.

Quebec City: Beautiful to look at, some nice restaurants and an impressive setting on the St. Lawrence.

English: Atwater Market, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
English: Atwater Market, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Instead: Montreal. You can get the same sense of history in the narrow, cobble-stoned streets of Old Montreal, but still enjoy fantastic meals, great shopping and the legendary Atwater Market. Take a caleche up to the top of Mt. Royal then go for brunch at Beauty’s.

Las Vegas. I’ve been there twice, only for work. If you want to shop or gamble, you’ll love it. If you want to do anything else, forget it.

Instead: Stockholm. If you’re planning to blow a ton of cash  anyway, go somewhere truly amazing to do it. The city is beautiful, the light unforgettable, and the Vasa museum one of my favorites anywhere — a ship that sank in the harbor in 1628 on its (!) maiden voyage. I’ve been watching Wallander, a fantastic cop show shot in Ystad, and am now dying to return to this lovely (if spendy) country.

The South of France. I love it and have been several times, but $$$$$!

Instead: Corsica. I wept broken-hearted when I left, after only a week there. People were friendly, food was excellent, the landscape simply spectacular. One of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet; here’s my Wall Street Journal story about it.

Bonus:

Sydney. Call me fussy, but after 20 freaking hours in an airplane that cost a mortgage payment, I expected Heaven On Earth from this Australian city. Yes, it’s attractive. Lots of beaches. The Opera House. But I found the people there bizarrely rough and rude, much more so than anyone I’ve ever faced in New York City. I made a friend on the flight over and we went out for dinner — and were (!?) told to leave the restaurant because we were disturbing the other patrons. This was the oddest and most unpleasant dining experience of my life, especially when all the other diners applauded our exit. I assure you, we were neither drunk nor disorderly.

Melbourne_Flinders_St__Station

Instead: Melbourne. Lovelovelovelove this city! The Yarra River. The ocean. Elegant neighborhoods. Flinders Street Station. All of it. I’ve rarely enjoyed a city as much as this one.

Here’s one list, by a travel writer.

Here’s a list of 31 others, including the Grand Canyon (!), from readers of the Los Angeles Times. (They, like me, think Austin, Texas and Santa Fe, N.M. are totally not worth it.)

Where have you been that left you disappointed?

Where have you been that — shockingly — knocked your socks off?