Valuing Stuff Over Experiences: One Third of Americans Have Not Taken a Vacation in Two Years

Americans don't have vacation confidence

Wondering why a third of your fellow countrymen and women seem so fearful, stressed, and mad at the world? Maybe they just need a vacation.

A new vacation confidence survey from Allianz Global Assistance finds that more than a third of Americans (36 percent) have not taken a vacation in more than two years and that more than half have not gotten more than 100 miles from home in at least a year.

This is depressing on a whole lot of levels, and not just because we’re running a travel site here. There are some very negative cultural implications in these stats. There’s the obsession with shopping over shared experiences and the over-scheduling of leisure time that prevents chunks of time away. Plus the short-sighted priorities of employers that causes them to value burned-out worker bees over creative and productive contributors.

The Vacation Deficit Might Be Your Fault

It’s not just stingy or mean employers that are causing this lack of vacation confidence. There’s blame to go around on both sides for sure, especially since an estimated 25% of U.S. workers are no longer tied to a regular full-time job. They’re contractors, freelancers, gig economy workers, or business owners. So if they’re not going on vacation, they’ve got nobody to blame but themselves.

Many workers are simply not taking the vacation time they have, which just seems ludicrous–and bad for your health. Here are some of the most telling stats from the survey that show how screwed up most peoples’ finances and schedules are.

  • Nearly half (44 percent) said they do not have the money to spend on a vacation.
  • 12 percent of Americans not confident they will take a summer vacation report that they do not want to take the time off work.
  • They are unable or uninterested in taking the time away due to a personal obligation outside of work (20 percent).
  • They find planning a vacation too stressful and time-consuming (10 percent).

So we’ve got bad money management, an inflated sense of importance, and over-scheduling to blame on the first three. That last one I’ve got to just chalk up to “making excuses” though. Sure, in the early 1990s when I started traveling, it was a bit stressful and time-consuming to plan travel since there was no internet.  Tougher still in the 1970s.The annual vacation confidence index says a whole lot of Americans aren't taking all their vacation days. Are you?

Now you can book a vacation as easily as you can order a new phone from Verizon or buy some socks on Amazon. Don’t believe me? Click this link and get a package deal for under $700 per person from your home airport. Done.

Or just get in your car and go! There’s no rule saying you have to book your hotel rooms in advance. Go any direction for 100+ miles and you’re almost sure to find something interesting to check out.

If one of the first two reasons is holding you back, try some experiments. Add up how much you spent on all those items collecting dust in your garage or attic that you will never use again. It’s probably enough for a week or two in Europe, right?

Now go home from work on a Thursday and come back on a Tuesday. Did the company go out of business? Okay then, your daily presence is probably not as vital as you would like to believe.

Take a real vacation and recharge.

Is Your Boss Leading by Example?

Not enough vacation confidence in America

Photo by Adrien Olichon

There’s a reason that the companies rated as the best ones to work for are usually the ones granting the most vacation time. Some of the most progressive ones, like Patagonia, force people to leave work by a certain time and give them as much vacation as they can take. How’s this for a statement of corporate culture from the founder?

We would not staff our trade show booth with a bunch of out-of-shape guys wearing white shirts, ties, and suspenders any more than a doctor would let his receptionist smoke in the office. We can hardly continue to make the best outdoor clothing if we become primarily an ‘indoor’ culture. So we seek out ‘dirtbags’ who feel more at home in a base camp or on the river than they do in the office.

Maybe that’s why 96% of their employees say, “I am proud to tell others I work here.”

For the first time this year, the Vacation Confidence Index survey asked not only about the respondents’ vacation history and confidence, but also about how their boss was behaving. It wasn’t pretty.

A sizable 52 percent of Americans say they take about the same proportion of vacation time as their bosses do, which suggests supervisors may be leading by example. Employees report that their bosses take 51 percent of their entitled vacation time.

So if you’re a manager or supervisor reading a company script about how you want everyone to take their allotted time off, but you’re not doing it yourself, that sends a clear signal. It means that the clearly proven benefits of regular vacations are not really a priority at this company. You’d rather have butts in cubicle seats, no matter how tired and out of shape those butts may be.

vacations are good for your health

How Does This Year Compare to Past Vacation Stats?

The economy is supposedly booming and the official unemployment numbers have kept marching downward since the beginning of this decade. So why is there so much anxiety, frustration, and outright rage? Why are only 42% of respondents confident that they’ll take a vacation this year?

It’s easy to jump to conclusions, but probably not wise. There are likely multiple factors involved in these results. More people are taking shorter “micro-vacations” instead of a full week or more away, for a start. A fair number of people are now working remotely, meaning they can make a beachfront condo away from home their office instead of spending their days in a formal one in a bland office park. Health insurance and housing keep going up. Workers in their 30s are still paying off student loans from their overpriced university degree.

Another explanation is that while the unemployment numbers are low, they don’t show how many people are under-employed in jobs they don’t want. The government stats don’t show how many people are afraid they can lose the job they have at any time because of a trade war or money going to executive bonuses instead of hiring more customer service help. It’s complicated.

There’s good news and bad news in the numbers from the survey:

Two in ten Americans (21 percent) took their last vacation in the last three months, which is up three points from last year and seven points from 2017. The importance of taking an annual vacation has also edged upwards slightly to 60 percent (up two points from 2018), but still ranks lower than three years ago (65 percent) and 2009’s historic high (67 percent).

In other words, we’re slightly more confident than last year, but still not as confident as when Obama was in office and not nearly as confident as we were before the recession of the Bush years.

The science is clear at this point that travel is good for your brain and people who travel more tend to be healthier overall. If you’re looking for answers on how to move a vacation up the priority list and take one for less money than you think it will cost, the well-traveled contributors to the Perceptive Travel Blog have plenty of ideas for you. We’ve got plenty of bargain USA vacation stories in the archives of this site, but hit us up with a question in the comments and we’ll get back to you with some solutions. Be confident—you can do this!

See the full vacation confidence survey results here.

This post is made possible by the sponsorship of our travel insurance partner Allianz Global Assistance (AGA Service Company) and we have received financial compensation via an ongoing advertising relationship. As always, all thoughts and opinions are our own.

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