Taking the Time to Travel

In the November/December issue of National Geographic Traveler, an article addresses what they have deemed “Vacation-Deficit Disorder,” referencing a recent study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research called No-Vacation Nation. The article focuses on both the sad state of paid vacation available to most U.S. workers and the fact that many Americans don’t use the few vacation days they are given.

Among countries with advanced economies, the United States is the only country that does not mandate vacation days. Throughout Europe, companies are required to give employees anywhere from 20 (Belgium, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, the United Kingdom…) to 30 (France) vacation days each year. Even workaholic Japan stipulates 10 vacation days each year. No wonder Americans are so poorly traveled in comparison to the rest of the world. A two-week European vacation or a trip to Australia isn’t going to fly for the majority of working Americans.

So, how, I can hear people, asking is it possible to take an entire year out to travel? Well, as I see it, there are a few options. First, if you have a job that you like, check with your higher-ups to see if they’d be willing to give you a leave-of-absence or a sabbatical. This will give you the freedom to travel with the security of a job to come back to. Unfortunately, I must say, that the likelihood of your job allowing this is slim. But, as my momma always told me, the worst they can do is say no.

Second, if you’re still a young’un, consider taking your first year out of college to travel, or even put off college for a year to travel right out of high school. In the United Kingdom and Australia this is a common practice, referred to as a gap year. One problem might be that having never been employed, you’re unlikely to have much money. The good news is that as a young person you’re likely to need less money. You haven’t yet got used to the luxuries that older people find hard to give up. And you can always do odd-jobs as you go to bolster the bank account. Though this idea is still a bit radical in the U.S., it’s starting to catch on, meaning that universities and employers are beginning to look at it as a positive experience, not just a year of goofing off.

Third, you can say the heck with the job and give your notice. That, effectively, is what we’re doing. Or, more precisely, what I will be doing. Jeff is completing his PhD, so in some ways, he falls more under option two (although thankfully he is making money). I, having moved here with the stipulation that we’d leave D.C. once the PhD was in hand, would be quitting my current job regardless, so in many ways this is a natural break for us. But instead of moving to a new place and getting new jobs, we’re going to move to a lot of places and have no jobs. Obviously, a good choice.

In some ways, that’s a little scary. What in the heck are we going to do when we get back? We’re not 18 year olds who can just head on to school, we’re not retired folks who have no plans to go back to work, and we’re not beloved employees of a company dying to take us back upon our return. But you know what, I’m not too concerned. We’re both intelligent, hardworking, talented people (in my humble opinion, of course). We have education, and we have experience. We’ll find something. And if I have to work some weird jobs while I find a good position, well, that’s okay. I once pulled garbage bags full of maggots (see job at the Louisville Zoo). I can handle anything.

There’s never a perfect time. But there are plenty of good times, and in my opinion, it’s about priorities. This is what we want to do. There probably won’t be a better time to do it. So, hey, that’s it, we’re doing it. I’m not going to miss the rat race. Would you?

(And, yes, I know that the other question on everyone’s mind is how in the heck can we afford this. We will be addressing that in a future post, and while rumor has it that it’s not polite to talk about money, I’m going to do it.)

2 Replies to “Taking the Time to Travel”

  1. First, I wrote up a course description today for my 102 spring class, which is going to address the place of work in American society. Anyhoo, I think I might make one day dedicated to this idea of work/vacation.

    Second, the only people who tell you that it’s not polite to talk about money are those with money or those who think playing by the rules will one day get them money. Honestly, we should feel obligated to ask people how much they make, what they do with it, and, ultimately, if they sleep well at night. If you know what I mean…

    Karl Marx

  2. So if your plan is to leave DC for good where will you be settling down when you get back?

    I think it’s so great that you’re doing this! I’m leaving my job next spring, but unfortunately Boris will be tied to his for the next ten years and by then we’ll have kids. Maybe we can do something like this when we retire… (also, we’re lucky in that the military gives you 30 vacation days a year so we still get opportunities to travel)

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