How long was your last vacation? More importantly, when was the last time you took a vacation? My wife and I just returned from a twelve-day safari in Africa (photos and story coming soon!), and friends I have from the UK and Europe average three to four weeks off per year. Vacations like this seem to be the exception for Americans rather than the rule – Americans earn, and take, less vacation than virtually any other industrialized country in the world. The data for Americans are staggering:
- The US is the only industrialized nation without a national vacation policy.
- Only 77% of Americans working in the private sector receive paid vacation benefits – down from 82% in 1992.
- 41% of all Americans let part or all of their paid vacation days go unused.
- More than half of workers in the US have gone twelve months or more without taking a vacation.
Not only are fewer American workers eligible for vacation than any other time in history, even fewer people are taking the vacation to which they are entitled. Why is that, exactly? Reasons vary, but it often is directly related to one’s job or career. People don’t want to take long vacations because they might be perceived as being slackers, or due to the workload that would pile up in their absence, or they’re afraid of missing out on critical business. In short it’s not because the trip isn’t affordable, it’s because of the strong attachments many people have to their careers.
A 2013 article from Forbes magazine lays out the very strong case for the benefits of using all your allotted vacation time. Vacations help workers deal with job and life stress better, and actually help people become better workers. These, in turn, help companies reduce employee burnout, lost productivity and turnover – a significant problem in business today. A 2010 study from New Zealand shows that people derive mental and physical health benefits from the act of planning a vacation. From personal experience, I can say that the planning aspect of a vacation is at least half of the fun!
I was fortunate enough to take two separate two-week vacations this year. One was spent camping in some US National Parks out west, and the other was spent on my African safari to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Both vacations were wonderful, relaxing and fun. They also helped recharge my soul, which I really needed.
Careers are important, don’t get me wrong – but there is more to life than work. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking “Someday I will go to…” The time is now. Where will you go? Get out there, enjoy life and take a vacation!
Plan a visit to a city in the US you’ve never visited like New York or Chicago or Dallas. Take a few days to get away to Bermuda or the Bahamas. Or take a longer trip to the Caribbean or Central America when the weather at home turns cold. But do something – the change of perspective and the break from the ordinary will do you a world of good.