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The Importance of Vacation For The American Worker

All of the statistics in this article are from a study conducted by the U.S. Travel Association as part of their National Plan For Vacation Day initiative.

In 2018, Americans did not use 768 million vacation days.  That is an increase of 9% over 2017. Let that sink in. More than half of American workers do not use all of their PTO and average only 17.4 days per year.  Of those 17.4 days, only 9 days were for vacation.

American workers have not always operated like this.  Between 1976 and 2000, Americans averaged 20.3 days of PTO per year.  The difference is equivalent to 447 million additional vacation days used by workers prior to the year 2000.  

What is especially surprising about the vacation trends of the American worker is that they actually have more vacation days to take than ever before.  However, as their access to vacation increases, they are not using their vacation days, thus increasing the percentage of unused PTO.

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Why Do Americans Not Take All Of Their Vacation?

Culture

There are no mandates in the United States requiring companies to give mandatory paid time off or holidays, but luckily most of them do. This leads to a culture that does not value vacation like the rest of the western world.

Lack of Paid Vacation

For those who do not have the luxury of working for a company that provides PTO, they can not afford to lose wages and must prioritize spending ahead of leisure.

Priorities

For those who do not face the challenge of not being paid for time off, many are still reluctant to travel.  Americans tend to focus more on things than experiences. There is a minimalist movement growing in the United States encouraging Americans to focus less on commercialized objects and more on the experiences of life.  As people realign their priorities, they will understand that adjustment in (or perhaps the creation of) their budget allows for vacation spending.

Inability To Leave Work Behind

With all the advantages that are new mobile lifestyles bring, there are many disadvantages including the inability to truly unplug and disconnect.  A boss who expects you to answer emails during vacation is not allowing you to experience your vacation. It is hard to justify spending the money on a vacation when you still have to work.

Lack of Planning

Finding the time to plan a vacation in our hectic society seems too hard, even in this day and age with everything at our fingertips.   In fact, 46% of American workers admit to not planning their vacation. Lack of planning is at the core of the problem of the American worker not taking all of his or her PTO.  

The Importance of Planning

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Why is it so important to plan vacation time?  An overwhelming number of American workers agree that planning for vacation actually makes it easier to take vacation days.  However, less than half of American workers actually take the time to plan out vacation for the upcoming year.  

This is why National Plan For Vacation Day by the U.S. Travel Association is so important.  It is a day where the message of planning your vacation is front and center so you actually stop and do it.  Whether you do it yourself or pay a professional travel advisor to plan your vacation, National Plan For Vacation Day is the day you commit to making it happen.  In 2020, National Plan For Vacation Day is Tuesday, January 28th.

Barriers to Planning

According to a study conducted by the U.S. Travel Association, the top 3 barriers to planning vacation are as follows:

  • Lack of Certainty With Personal Schedule – 64%
  • Lack of Certainty With Work Schedule – 57%
  • Coordination Children’s Schedules & Extra-Curricular Activities – 50%

These reasons highlight Americans’ inability to prioritize travel and vacations.  If vacations were a priority, then personal schedules would not be as big of a concern.  Employers actually prefer workers to give notice of vacation far in advance so they can plan coverage.  American children have more extra-curricular activities than any other nation, so again we are looking at an issue with American culture and priorities.

How Planning Benefits Companies

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Most workers say that they are not actively encouraged to plan their vacation in advance.  That is not to say that employers are discouraging vacation planning, but if there are some benefits to corporations if they encourage employees to plan ahead for a vacation. The following graphic by the U.S. Travel Association illustrates the benefits of planning vacation time ahead of time:

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Why Do American Workers Need to Vacation?

The advantages of vacation are endless.  However, to the company employing American workers, there is a very important reason to encourage employees to use their vacation time.

Avoiding Burnout

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Employees feel valued by their benefits with a company.  PTO is an extremely valuable benefit and it should be treated as such.  Employees who use their PTO for vacation prevent burnout by reducing stress, improving happiness, and improving morale.  When employees work to live a life full of experiences, they are infinitely happier than those employees who live to work.  

Additional Benefits of Travel

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When we get away from our daily lives and surroundings, it allows us to engage with each other in new ways.  While we engage with each other, we connect with our world through our experiences while traveling. We open our minds to new points of view when we interact with people outside our communities.

Excitement. Adventure. Memories. These are all words associated with vacations.  

Relaxing and spending quality time with our loved ones are ranked as the top benefits of taking a vacation.  It is clear why vacations are so important. It is time we as Americans find the time to prioritize vacations.

What Can Be Done To Encourage Workers To Take Their Time Off For Leisure Travel?

An overwhelming majority of managers say that knowing their employees’ vacation schedules at the beginning of the fiscal year would be helpful and will allow them to easily approve the vacation request since they would have time to plan coverage.  However, employees feel like it makes them look irresponsible to be thinking about their vacation in advance. This is a huge disconnect made worse by the fact that most managers do not actively ask for employees to share their vacation plans in advance.

What can be done about this disconnect?  Companies need to create a culture of prioritizing vacation planning.  Again, the U.S. Travel Association has created a useful graphic giving companies ideas on ways to accomplish this task:

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There Is Hope

While older American workers take more PTO, likely because they earn more as their years at a company increase, younger American workers are using more of their vacation days for vacations.  

Another reason for hope is how positively vacations are viewed by families.  Families with children view vacations as very important for strengthening bonds and making memories.  An interesting trend is that Americans with older kids tend to take more time off than those with younger kids.  However, traveling with younger kids is actually easier in many ways as travel can take place outside of peak season since school and extracurricular activities are not a concern yet.

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Read More: Family Greece Vacation in Naxos, Greece

How Travel Advisors Can Help?

Clearly, lack of planning is a huge part of the problem with Americans not taking all of their vacation time each year.  Some people are okay with using an Online Travel Agency like Expedia or Priceline and winging it. Simply having a day like National Plan For Vacation Day to make people remember to plan is enough for the DIYers.  

For others, not only do they lack the time to plan a vacation, but they are overwhelmed by the choices and may even view the task as a chore.  Perhaps a person does not feel they have enough experience traveling to know what they should do and what is a good value Some people are worried about the details when they arrive and what to do if something goes wrong while traveling.  For all of the above scenarios, a person should consider hiring a travel advisor.

Travel planning is a service. Some people are willing to perform services themselves.  However, life can be much easier when hiring help for things that other people can do more efficiently than oneself.  For those wanting to protect their valuable vacation hours, utilizing the services of a travel advisor is highly recommended.  Planning a vacation is time-consuming, particularly to do it correctly and thoroughly. This is why it is often overlooked.  

Both companies and employees benefit when employees utilize vacation time.  To solve the problem of vacation planning by American workers, corporations should work more closely with travel advisors to educate their employees on the importance of planning a vacation and bringing the service directly to workers.  National Plan For Vacation Day is a good place to start.

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Read More: Explore More’s Top 5 Travel Destinations

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