As summer-getaway season draws to a close, it’s time to face a tough reality: America is not a great vacation nation.

In fact, one report goes so far as to call the United States a “no-vacation nation,” thanks to the paltry (well, nonexistent) amount of paid vacation time mandated by federal law compared with other well-off countries.

According to the study from Center for Economic and Policy Research, the European Union requires member countries to grant workers at least 20 working days of paid vacation. But many nations go well above that number, and some offer a heap of paid holidays to boot. France, for example, requires at least 30 paid workdays off, not including paid holidays, while the United Kingdom mandates 28, followed by Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Spain and Sweden at 25.

The United States, on the other hand —on the very worst hand — mandates no paid vacation or paid holidays. Zero days. It’s the only country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of 36 of the world’s wealthiest nations, that doesn’t require employers to give workers annual paid leave, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. That leaves 23% of Americans with no paid vacation and 22% without paid holidays.

“I see that as part of a whole set of benefits that people have in other countries but they generally don’t have here,” says Dean Baker, a senior economist at the policy group, which published the No-Vacation Nation report in May.

That’s not to say employers don’t offer vacation. According to the report, employers are granting paid vacation to 90% of full-time workers this year and 40% of part-time workers. But what might be shocking: Even when Americans get paid time off, they don’t use it all. And when they do use their days — it may not come as a surprise to learn — many of them fail to leave work fully behind.

Vacation might not even be an option for many in the United States, whether they can’t afford to lose wages or have to prioritize other spending ahead of leisure. The top barrier to taking a vacation is cost, says David Huether, senior vice president of research for the U.S. Travel Association. After that, he said difficulty getting away from work and dealing with the hassles of air travel stand between Americans and vacation.

Still, there might be some positive movement. According to the association, Americans used an average of 17.4 days of paid time off last year, up slightly from 17.2 in 2017. That’s based on a survey of more than 1,000 adult workers who work more than 35 hours a week and get paid time off from their jobs.

“Americans over the past few years are taking more time off to vacation, which is a positive trend over the past four to five years, which is the good news,” Huether says. “But the bad news is we still have a ways to go to get back to our long-term average. We’re still underperforming in terms of taking vacations compared to where we used to be.” Between 1978 and 2000, Americans on average took more than 20 days of vacation time, he said.

Every year, several studies come out to prove just how bad things have gotten for vacations in the United States. Here are some findings:

More than half of U.S. workers — 54% — reported feeling guilty about taking vacation time either sometimes, often or always, according to a survey of more than 2,000 full-time workers in the United States by TurnKey Vacation Rentals.

Americans left 768 million days of paid time off unused last year, according to research released by the U.S. Travel Association. The study found that 55% of Americans did not use all of their paid vacation time. Of the time they took, U.S. workers used nine days to travel.

More than half of Americans did not take a leisure trip of more than four nights over the past year, according to a report from Allianz Global Assistance. The travel insurance company said millennials were leading the so-called micro-cation trend, with 72% taking at least one trip of fewer than five nights. Nearly 20% of those surveyed in May said their longest trip in the past year was three to four nights long. The same survey found that 28% of Americans did not take a leisure trip of any length.

According to TurnKey’s survey, 70% of respondents admitted to checking in with their workplace from vacation at least occasionally. Twenty-nine percent managed to limit their work during vacation to every few days, but about 30% said they checked in at least once a day, and more than 11% said they did so several times a day.

Make sure you never miss our editorials, letters to the editor and columnists. We’ll deliver the News & Record's Opinion page straight to your inbox.

Hannah Sampson reports on travel news for The Washington Post.

Load comments