America’s No Vacation Culture

Why is is so hard to take a Career Break?  Because the idea of breaks are foreign to us.

The average American gets 9 days of vacation per year.  Ouch.

However this lack of time off is only part of the problem.  When we actually get vacation, we don’t even take it.

Only 10% Americans will take their full 2 weeks of vacation off.

This is a two part problem – one that lies with our legislation and one that lies with our own deeply rooted work culture. At Briefcase to Backpack we energetically preach about the value of career break travel and sabbaticals; but we know the road to getting people to really embrace this idea is long and arduous.  This was emphasized to me recently when I saw this CBS news special on the No Vacation Nation study conducted in 2007.

(the video is about 8 minutes…well worth your time!)

Read the full No Vacation Nation Report

Read about the proposed legislation from Take Back Your Time

I would love to get some of our reader opinions  on the points covered in the video – so leave a comment below!

Do you take all of your vacation time?  Is it enough time each year or do you want more?  How much vacation should American’s get?  Do you ever feel pressure to NOT take all of your vacation?  Is vacation a right or a perk?

Other comments

9 Comments on "America’s No Vacation Culture"

  1. Hannah on Wed, 7th Jul 2010 9:16 am 

    Working for the state I could never take all the time off that I’m allotted. Its something like 22 days of vacation, 13 sick days, Christmas through New Years Day is closed (mandatory) and then 8 state holidays. Unfortunately, my husband only gets 10 days a year and he is not allowed to take them back to back so I’m not sure I’ll ever see all of mine.

  2. Alison on Wed, 7th Jul 2010 10:31 am 

    Ok, I’m pretty shocked that it’s legal to not give paid vacation. I’m not surprised that many people don’t take it when they have it. Andrew has been working for an American company now for 10 years or so and although has many paid vacations days, he often doesn’t get to use them all. When he does go on vacation he often spends time checking in with work. When get gets back he feels guilty that so much has piled up while he’s been gone. Our European friends and neighbours feel no guilt whatsoever about taking their holidays and wouldn’t dream of checking in with the office. Stores and restaurants close for weeks at a time in July and August because the owners are on vacation. Nobody thinks twice. Imagine that happening in North America…? People NEED time off to recharge. Why on earth is work/life balance a laughable idea?

  3. Tweets that mention America's No Vacation Culture | Briefcase to Backpack - Travel Advice for Career Breaks or Sabbaticals -- on Wed, 7th Jul 2010 10:58 am 

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  4. Backpacking and Travel Blog for Generation X & Y - Oh Hey World » Why Do Americans Get (and Take) So Little Vacation? on Wed, 7th Jul 2010 12:22 pm 

    […] by Drew Meyers under: Lifestyles . Sherry Ott at Briefcase to Backpack posted an article on America’s No Vacation Culture and included the CBS news feature embedded […]

  5. Adam on Wed, 7th Jul 2010 1:04 pm 

    People in this country would be so much happier if they realized that there is so much more to life than working, making money, and buying stuff. There is so much that has to change in our culture to get people to care about traveling. It all starts very early in life, and it’s hard to think differently when you’ve been raised to think that you go to school, you graduate, you get a job, you work your ass off, you get married, buy a house, have kids, raise them, then retire. Then hopefully you’re alive and healthy enough to enjoy the money you’ve made throughout your life, or you hope that your 401K wasn’t destroyed over the last few years.

    It’s just engrained in our culture, and it HAS to change. Luckily I do think it is beginning to change. There are more and more people realizing that work is not life, and they are doing something about it. I also think that the current economic crisis has people thinking about what they really want out of life. It’s not a given that everyone will be able to follow the above path and be successful doing it.

  6. Andi on Wed, 7th Jul 2010 2:59 pm 

    I think we should get mandatory 1 month off. But to be honest, if only 10% of Americans take the vacation days then they don’t deserve the month!!! That’s so absurd that more people don’t take their vacation days…

  7. Ali on Wed, 7th Jul 2010 10:02 pm 

    It should be noted that often Americans don’t take their vacation time because they’re simply not allowed to. I worked in NYC (my hometown) for years, where it’s very common to be told you have 2 weeks’ leave but that you’re not allowed to take them off together (ie concurrently). So having only one week to take at a time severely limits your options — you certainly can’t take that leisurely trip through Europe or China. Plus, most people need a few days to see family around Thanksgiving, too, so that takes away a lot of your travel

    That’s one of the reasons I now work in Australia, where we get 4 weeks’ paid leave as standard. Plus overtime accrues to allow a further 12 days’ paid leave per year (handy for taking a half-day for personal reasons, for example). My company also has a policy where you can take an extra 4 weeks of unpaid leave, with your salary is pro-rated over the year, so I was able to take a month off to spend in NYC visiting family and friends. So this year I’ll be working 10 months, and getting paid for 11. Like someone said, there are more important things in life than money.

    I miss living in NYC, but whenever I consider moving back I’m chilled at the idea of going from a potential 8-10 weeks per year of time off to having only 2 weeks, with only 1 week allowed at a time.

  8. Christine on Thu, 8th Jul 2010 8:30 am 

    I agree with Adam!!! what a crazy culture we live in. People in the UK or Australia wouldn’t dream of accepting a job if it didn’t come with at least 4 weeks off per year and they don’t have any qualms taking it and then some.

    I used to work at a psychiatric hospital and only got one day off per month to use for either sick leave or vacation. How can you ever take a vacation knowing that you might need the time in case you get sick. Especially working there, you need time off to regroup–it’s healthy in so many ways and we weren’t doing it ourselves. That’s why I went back to Seattle Public Schools where we got 3 months off per year–the only problem, my husband only got 2 weeks so needless to say, we still weren’t taking any significant breaks. That’s no way to live. Who says we will want to travel when we retire–might just want to sleep after working so hard for 30 years.

    Career breaks make so much sense to me and I am still in amazement at how cheaply you can travel around the world. This year has been amazing in so many ways and it didn’t cost any more than the average wedding. How can you not do it. Go Go Go–do not wait until retirement because it might be too late.

  9. Sherry Ott on Sat, 10th Jul 2010 5:58 pm 

    @Adam – I agree, I do think it’s starting to change slowly…but it’s a long road. Everything in our culture is about consumption; and consumption keeps us tied down – especially financially. Every time I leave the country for a few months and then come back, the marketing machine of American is overwhelming to me again. Let’s hope we do start to see the light!

    @Andl – I agree, I often don’t understand not using all of your vacation. I had a colleague I worked with that never took his vacation. I wanted to see if I could buy it off of him as it was going to waste!

    @Ali – Yes – some companies do discourage you from taking your vacation all at one time. My last job never wanted me to be gone for longer than a week at a time, which made trips to see my family in Singapore impossible. I finally decided to quit and see the world for as long as I want…that was 4 years ago and I still haven’t gone back!

    @Christine – Amen! You can travel cheaply around the world; it’s not as hard as we think it is, nor as scary!

    Thanks everyone for your comments! Please tell your friends about Briefcase to Backpack!

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