Americans: You’re Still Not Making the Most of Your Vacation Days

A recently published report shows that U.S. workers are using more paid vacation days than they have in years, but still nowhere near as much as is possible. And they’re using only half of them to travel.

Americans: You’re Still Not Making the Most of Your Vacation Days

A surfer heads toward the waves on Oahu’s North Shore.

Photo by Adam Chang

In a new study titled the State of American Vacation 2018, researchers found that last year, American workers took the highest level of paid vacation time since 2010—an average of 17.2 vacation days.

The survey, which was part of the U.S. Travel Association’s Project: Time Off initiative, examined 4,349 adults who work full-time and earn paid time off in the United States. The research marked the third consecutive year of increased PTO usage in the United States—a clear sign that workers and employers across the country are increasingly appreciating the value of vacation.

Still, however, not quite enough.

Although 84 percent of survey respondents said it’s important to travel during vacation, the study’s findings revealed that on average, U.S. employees used less than half of their vacation days to travel last year—citing eight days total on average.

There are significant differences that show that travel—not just taking time off—is the best way to get the most of vacation days.

“While Americans are now using more vacation time, the benefits aren’t being fully realized because most workers are using less than half of their time off for travel,” said Katie Denis, vice president of Project: Time Off, in a statement.

The study found that nearly 24 percent of U.S. workers have not taken a vacation in over a year, and 86 percent percent reported they have not seen enough of their own country. Among the main barriers cited in taking vacation time to travel were cost, concerns of safety, lack of coverage at work, children, and pets. (For the record, traveling with children and with pets is easier to manage than most think.)

For those who reported using vacation time to travel, there were tangible benefits, the study shows. More than half of those who traveled during most or all of their time off reported promotions, raises, and/or bonuses in the last two years. (This, presumably, is a by-product of the increased levels of confidence, creativity, satisfaction, and—as a result—productivity, that travel can inspire.) In contrast, only 44 percent of U.S. workers who use little to no time off to travel reported similar results.

With 705 million unused vacation days, it’s no wonder Americans feel they haven’t seen enough of their country. It’s time to #TakeADay. — Project: Time Off (@ProjectTimeOff) May 8, 2018

Beyond rewards in the workplace, there are significant differences that show that travel—not just taking time off—is the best way to get the most of vacation days and improve your personal well-being.

According to the State of American Vacation 2018 survey, those who used all or most of their vacation days to travel reported dramatically higher rates of happiness than those who didn’t travel at all. And in terms of happiness with physical health, 61 percent those who typically travel during time off reported feeling content, compared to 39 percent of those who stay at home—a notable gap in overall satifisfaction.

These findings have major implications for not just work culture in the United States, but also for general attitudes toward the benefits of travel and time off. As demographics change, interest in working remotely is growing—and doing so is becoming easier than ever. The rising trend of the “workcation”—traveling with the intent to work remotely on a regular schedule—provides a viable option for those who want to enjoy a destination without having to count it against their paid time off.

Project: Time Off’s report shows that employers are demonstrating signs of having more encouraging vacation cultures, and employees are feeling more confident about using their earned time off.

So be sure to email this to your boss, then get out there and start planning your next trip.

>>Next: These Countries Just Made It Easier for Americans to Move and Work Abroad

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