America’s Vacation Problem

While I’m not going to get into the circus that is our presidential election (talking politics just never goes over well), there is one “problem” in particular our country has that’s been weighing on my mind. The vacation problem.

Lets talk about America's vacation problem.

What is America’s Vacation Problem?

On average, American workers receive two weeks of vacation time each year, which is less than any other advanced economy in the world. A few months ago, I heard an alarming report that 55% of Americans didn’t use all of their PAID vacation days in 2015 (a 13% increase from 2014), resulting in approximately 658 MILLION days of unused PTO (paid time off) throughout the country. Yikes!

The Facts

  • 40% of Americans don’t use their vacation days because they’re afraid of work slipping through the cracks, things falling apart in their absence, or struggling to unplug.
  • In 2014, Americans used only 1/2 of their available vacation days.
  • Nearly 25% of American workers receive NO paid time off.

Are Millennials to Blame?

Several reports I read are blaming millennials for the sudden decrease in vacation time used, going back to the early 2000s when the oldest millennials joined the workforce. But this is something I don’t agree with at all. Contrary to the bad rep we get, millennials are extremely hardworking and committed to proving themselves. Looking at the stats above, I think it’s clear that the workforce as a whole is afraid of what will happen if they’re not in the office – even if it’s just for a few days.

What Can Be Done?

First and foremost, take the days! Whether you’re going out of town for an actual vacation or hanging home for a “staycation,” breaks are incredibly important. Work/life balance has been a huge debate in recent years, especially with the constantly connected world we live in. People report being overworked, stressed, and burnt out. In fact, there’s a pretty clear correlation between the stress/burnout and not taking time off. If you take some time off, sure there will probably be a lot more on your to-do list, but you’ll come back feeling much more refreshed and willing to take on all the things.

Which brings me to my second point. We need a culture change. Did you know that in Europe, workers are legally required to get at least 20 paid vacation days per year, and can get up to as many as 34? It’s also mandatory that they take a certain period of time off consecutively (usually two weeks in August). It’s no wonder the majority of the world’s happiest countries are in Europe! So why aren’t we hopping on this train?!


What are your thoughts on America’s so-called “vacation problem?” Do you take all of your vacation days?

  • Joules (Pocketful of Joules)

    I am really lucky to get a lot of vacation time at my job…. but my husband hardly gets any. So, I’ve started using my weeks in the summer to take our son to the beach alone giving both me and my husband a little break. =)

    • That sounds like s much fun! I think taking time off is so important!

  • Yes! I’m a farmer and I truly believe in taking time away when we have it. Otherwise we work pretty much around the clock. We usually get away in August and September for a little fun.

    • As long as there’s a break in there somewhere :) What kind of farming do you do?

      • It’s a diversified farm. Corn and soybeans as well as cattle, goats, sheep and chickens. I’ve also started keeping bees.

  • I don’t understand how people can’t use their vacation either! They give it to you for a reason! I wish that we had more time off too, and you’d better believe that I’d be taking them all during the year! We also could use a change in the maternity leave policies in the US, but that’s a whole other discussion too.

    • Right! It drives me crazy when people have so many days left over. I’d be jetting off all the time if I had more days (and of course money)! And oh yeah.. the maternity stuff is ridiculous too!!

  • American definitely has a vacation problem, but I think it has as much to do with the way management happens as anything. Surely I’m not the only one who’s had that weird implied pressure or passive-aggressive frustration by my bosses when I request *my entitled* PTO?

    • I totally agree, Valerie! I like to think things will change more as more millennials enter the workforce, but only time will tell!

  • Leslie Guzmán Anderson

    I agree! I take my vacation time seriously and make my husband unplug. I have to make sure I schedule vacation time, if we do staycation he will likely still be on calls or emails. Can’t do that if we are off in another part of the world or even a road trip.

    • So great to hear that! I try to unplug completely too, it’s tough to do sometimes being so connected!

  • Its always so surprising to me how many people don’t use their vacation days!! I have so many friends who are afraid to take the time away from work.

    Rachel |

    • Same! I’m all about taking the time – it’s so important!

      • Right! I always tell people to negotiate that the unused one’s will roll over into the new year, since it’s so psychological where people feel like they need to save them.

  • Allison Lancaster

    It amazes me people who don’t use their days–R&R is so important!

    • Agreed! Without time off, burnout is so much more likely to happen.

  • Samantha

    I think some of the struggle too is that it’s so hard to get caught up after a vacation. Those days off are important though!

    • There definitely is struggle there, and needing a vacation to recoup after your vacation :)

  • Jessica Hughes

    Time off is so important to health and well being!

  • That would be the dream. This is the first year that I will have used all of my days thanks to the wedding!

    • I believe it! I try to use most (if not all) of my days. I love my travel :)

  • I completely agree that we need to stop being afraid to take those days. They are ours and we are entitled for all the hard work we do:)

    • Exactly! Plus, R&R (or getting away for an adventure) is so important!

  • Having moved from the USA to Germany, my company now gives me 30 (!!!) paid vacation days plus the public holidays. It’s amazing and I feel so spoiled.

    • Wow, that’s amazing! The US needs to get better about vacation time, it’s just crazy!

  • We so have a problem here! I get more vacation than my husband, so we are always trying to balance it. I take all the days I can though!

    • I try to as well! I feel like it needs to be a government mandated thing. It’s the only way we can guarantee vacation time for all!

  • I am right there with you on this! I always use my vacation because I feel everyone deserves time away from work. I do not worry about work slipping through the cracks while I am gone. That is what my coworkers are for. Of course coming back from vacation and things are a mess is not fun but vacations are a must. I’d be happy just staying at home doing nothing as well.

    • Everyone definitely does! We all work so hard when we’re at work so when it’s vacation time, we should all really unplug completely!

  • Totally agree. I think it also has to do with the attitude you (or at least I have) catch from managers or supervisors when you say you want to take your earned PTO. I take every second of my vacation time and always will.

    • So true! Glad to hear you’re taking advantage of all of your PTO – you deserve it!

  • I’ve only lived in the USA and Asia, not Europe–so I tend to think Americans have it easy! When we lived in the USA, my husband accrued PTO at his work and we used it for vacations, and could take a vacation for a week without having to deal with a week’s loss of income. Here, for him, there’s no such thing as vacation time or PTO–he gets paid for exactly the hours he works. He can take off time if he’s sick or we need to go somewhere, but that means his paycheck will be lower for the month–but it definitely gives more motivation to not take time off when you know there’s financial repercussions! So…yeah…I guess it’s all perspective! I miss 2 weeks of PTO a year! :)

    • Wow, that’s crazy! It definitely does put things into perspective. We all need to adopt the European vacation mindset around the world!

  • I’m so happy you talked about this because it is a problem. I know some people who get a little more freedom with vacation, but unfortunately–I don’t have that luxury. I hope this changes.

    • I really hope so too. If not, we’re going to be one giant, burnt out country!

  • Shani Ogden

    I totally think this is a problem! I’m not currently working right now (stay at home mom) but my husband is and he’s been at his job for a year and has only accrued one week of PTO. It’s crazy! Some places have this stupid culture where you can get PTO but it’s almost looked down upon to actually use it. Ugh.

    • Only a week?! That’s nuts! I really think something needs to change!

  • Girl props for writing this post! 4 weeks of leave was also required in Australia and now that I am looking at jobs in the US I’m freaking out with the limited days off to travel! Somethings gotta change.

    • Thanks, Shane! It’s so true. You really need to be strategic about planning travel with the limited number of days – I wish we didn’t have to deal with that!

  • I always try to make sure I use my holiday dates, even if I’m not going away. It’s nice to get a breather from work and recharge those batteries.

    • So true! We all need to recharge every once in a while!

  • Spot on! I have lived in the US for sometime and think that people do work really hard but do not take all the vacation time they should be taking to wind down!

    • It’s so important to take that time! We all need to get away every once in a while!

  • I 100% agree with all of this. After living in Europe for almost 3 years, I actually get angry when I discuss our lack of vacation time in the US. There’s definitely a stigma in our culture – the longer hours you work and the less vacation you take = the better, more dedicated employee you are. The more vacation you take/want = laziness… which is absolutely insane. The Europeans I talk to have a hard time wrapping their head around our 2 week vacation (on average) allowance. They don’t understand how we don’t burn out and can stay concentrated 100% without taking the occasional personal day to unwind and refocus. I totally think it’s something that affects quality of life and your work.

    • Exactly! We definitely need to figure out a better work/life balance. I feel like burnout happens so much easier over here. The vacation policy in Europe just amazes me!

  • Carolyn Fennell

    I agree that everyone should take their vacation time. It is weird that it is seen as a a badge of honor to not take vacation days. I think it is unhealthy.

    • Right?! I think so too. We really need to do something about the madness!

  • Melissa Chee

    I totally agree – take the days!

    • Yes!! I can’t believe so many people give up all of those days.

  • Adaleta Avdic

    I used to be one of those people who did not take their vacation days, but now I’m actually the complete opposite! xx

    • So glad to hear it, Adaleta! Taking time off from work is incredibly important!

  • This is probably why most Americans are overweight and have heart disease…. Ugh I sound so cynical.

    • You’re so right! I didn’t even think of it like that. Not taking time off definitely weighs on our health.

  • I’ve always thought this was so strange. Your work gives you vacation days, but you choose NOT to use them?! When I’ve worked a traditional 9-to-5 job, I’ve always used all of my days, but that’s probably not surprising given how much I love to travel. :D Get it together, America!

    • Seriously! I use my days up too, there’s too much travel to be done to not take them!

  • At my job, I get 23 days and heck yes I am using all of them. Some people have already used all of their vacation days already which is crazy to me bc we get a lot of them and I personally like to have a few days off around the holidays.

    xoxo, Jenny

    • Wow, 23 days is great! I can’t imagine having them all used at at this point in the year, but I guess everyone has their preferred time of year to travel. Mine’s always at the end :)

  • I hate the bad rep that millennials get. I know so many people who never use their days, and it just makes me so upset!!! This is everything that is wrong with America.

    • Me too!! I always try to encourage people to take them – it’s SO important!

  • Sarah Jean

    I ALWAYS take my days. I only get 10 right now which is difficult since both my family and my husband’s family are in other states. Take your days – it helps with sanity!! :)

    • Exactly! It’s tough too because you want to visit family but also want to travel to new places. Hopefully they’ll bump your days up soon!

  • I find this fascinating and utterly upsetting all at the same time. I feel like in America our priorities are pretty screwed up. If more of us traveled- especially outside of the states I think we would be a happier and more compassionate country.

    • I couldn’t agree more, Amber! It’s definitely eye opening to get out there and see other countries!

  • I can totally see how this happens.. but I always take my days! (but I do end up with a lot near the end of the year since I don’t realize how little time off I have taken!)


    • Hopefully you’re able to take them at the end of the year at least so you don’t lose them! I usually try to plan most of my days early in the year to take later on!

  • I wish America has a whole had a more flexible vacation policy. I’m at a company that gives me a fair bit, but that’s not the case for others! It’s hard to take vacation with my sister who gets very few days

    Characters & Carry-ons

    • So true! We need to have it mandated across the board for everyone to have at least a certain amount of (more) days!

  • i only get 2 weeks vacation, at home the national mandatory annual leave is 4 weeks.. so definitely an adjustment. next year i get 3 weeks, yay. i don’t have a crazy job or anything, but my work definitely falls through the cracks when i take vacation.. and you know what? i don’t care. ha. i deserve vacation, everyone does!

    • Wow that’s crazy! So glad to hear your vacation time increases next year. We all definitely need time away for fun adventures!