On National Plan for Vacation Day, America Should Take Notes From European Countries
Did you know there is an unofficial holiday that exists solely to encourage Americans to plan their yearly vacations? We have a holiday to promote taking a holiday.
Because more than half of American employees report having unused time off. Annually, nationwide, we leave approximately 705 million vacation days on the table.
Since we’re all so busy we find it challenging to take a (paid and earned) breather, let’s slow down and read that again. Seven hundred and five MILLION vacation days every year — not being used.
Rough estimate, if those days were tennis balls, they would fill about 117 Boeing 747 airliners.
More importantly, those unused days represent friends, family, and co-workers who are damaging their mental and physical health. Numerous studies show that taking annual vacations increases heart health, decreases stress and depression, and strengthens relationships.
Alarming studies like these led Project: Time Off to create the unofficial U.S. Holiday, National Plan for Vacation Day. Celebrated on the last Tuesday of January, this is a day to encourage Americans to plan and request their time off early in the year because failure to plan is one of the key reasons vacation days are left on the table.
Here at Austin Adventures, we’re big fans of National Plan for Vacation Day. Year in and year out, we see the astounding benefits of people taking time to unplug, leave work behind, focus on fun, and enjoy intentional time with friends and family in remarkable destinations around the world.
We also have a unique cross-ocean perspective on this concept with an office in Holland and a smattering of well-loved European guides who lead our adventures in Europe. It’s no secret that Europeans prioritize — and take — their ample vacation time. Maybe it’s time for us Americans to stop being jealous and take some notes from our friends across the ocean.
Consider Time Off a Normal Part of Your Life
The United States is the only developed country in the world that does not legally require even one paid day of vacation or holiday. By law, countries in the European Union must provide a minimum of 20 work days of paid vacation. Many provide more, along with 7-13 paid holidays.
Austin Adventures guide Rob Jansen lives and works in the Netherlands. Last year, he took 15 days off to guide trips — and he took another three weeks for his own vacation in southeast Asia. He personally gets 30 days of paid vacation, seven paid holidays, and can even “buy” 12 extra days of unpaid leave as a fringe benefit used to make an employer even more attractive.
Many of our European guides tell a similar story. For them, vacation is normal and encouraged.
“Everyone asks you where you are going this summer or this year,” Rob said. “You don’t want to be the one to stay at the office year-round.”
Furthermore, European employers seem to intrinsically appreciate the value of time off for their employees, even when — or perhaps, especially when — things are getting busy and stress is building.
“My team leader said last year: ‘I know it is really busy at the moment, so take some time off,’” Rob said.
Can you imagine? Many American employers require the opposite. Busy often means requests for overtime and denial of time off.
While we can’t likely change the amount of paid vacation days or holidays we receive from our employer in America, we can change our own perception on taking time off. We can encourage ourselves and those we know to plan for and use vacation days, thus making them a normal and valuable part of our lives.
Learn From a Different Ethos
The fact that European law requires paid time off is a reflection of a different ethos. In general, Europeans like their jobs, but they do see them as jobs, not their life.
“I think it is a matter of perspective and maybe even priorities,” Rob said. “What do you value more? For me, and I guess a lot of Europeans, it is family, our own health, personal growth outside your work.”
Alice Gibson, wife to Austin Adventures European Operations Manager Adam Beecham, has worked on both sides of the Atlantic and seen the difference.
“As an American working in Europe the past 10 years, it is sad to go back to the states and see how tired, stressed, paranoid, fast-paced and angry the population seems as a whole,” Alice said. “Maybe with more workers rights and more vacation time, the people would feel more secure for their families and be happier people overall.”
Is it any coincidence that nine of the 10 happiest countries in the world as ranked by the World Happiness Report require at least 20 days of paid vacation per year?
Again, you may not be able to change the ethos — the spirit of a culture as shown in beliefs and actions — but you can change your own values within your given constraints.
If you are allowed to take one week of paid vacation, go big! Plan a trip to remember. We’d be happy to help!
Take Your Time, Every Year
Sometimes, Rob will return from guiding for Austin Adventures and tell his friends and colleagues a crazy story — and no it doesn’t involve anything illegal.
It is not unusual for Rob to have guests who are taking their first two-week vacation in 10 or 15 years. YEARS! In that same timeframe, many Europeans would have taken 75 weeks of vacation. There’s a wide margin of living and enjoying life between 2 and 75 weeks of time away from work.
When he tells that story, his fellow Europeans think he is joking.
“I hear things like: ‘Are they crazy? Where are they working for? What are they living for? The USA is basically a second-world country,’” Rob said.
Rob realizes how bad that sounds. But his friends and colleagues see free time and taking vacation as a normal “right” for a typical first-world country and simply can’t fathom living otherwise.
Take your vacation time — all of it — every single year.
Travel. See the world. Spend the money you worked for all year. Rest. Do the things you love. Invest time in your loved ones. Decrease stress. Find happiness. You won’t regret it.