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Not Good: Half of Americans Aren’t Using All Their Vacation Days

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It's time for a wakeup call for all of us, Americans: We all need to be taking our vacation days – every last one of them. And we've got lots of work to do.

A new survey from the the Pew Research Center shows only 48% of U.S. workers say they use all their allotted vacation days each year. And frankly, that stinks…

In our eyes, this is a big problem. Taking time off promotes a healthy relationship to your work, giving you time focus on yourself, your family, and your loves ones. Time away from work also opens the door to travel and all the world-widening, perspective-bending, and experience-sharing that travel delivers time and time again. And while we might be biased, we think that's really important, too.

To me, there are two separate issues here: Our workplace culture … and the misconception that travel is too expensive.


Vacation Time and Office Culture

The same study that showed roughly half of Americans don't take all of their time off makes it clear exactly why we're leaving vacation days on the table.

  • 49% of Americans say they fear more time off would make them fall behind at work
  • 43% say they feel badly that their coworkers take on more work while they're gone on vacation
  • 19% of workers say they fear they'll lose out on promotions by taking time off while another 16% say they feel their job may be in jeopardy
  • 12% of workers say their managers discourage taking time off

Those last three statistics point to what I can only describe as an awful, regressive company culture. But most people can relate to the Americans who fear falling behind or leaving work to their coworkers when they take time off. That's a downfall of American corporate culture, too.

Watch Thrifty Traveler Founder & CEO Jared's TedX Talk: “Life is Short, Travel Now”

Personally, I'm always happy to cover for my colleagues when they take time off. Knowing that our Senior Editor Allie was on a week-long destination dive trip in Maui or that our Thrifty Traveler Premium flight deal guru Jon was galavanting through the Philippines on his honeymoon made me happy for them! And I'm more than happy to pick up the slack at the office if it means they'll do the same when I leave town, too.

But not every workplace makes their employees feel that way. Here's a small way to start to change your office culture: Chat your coworkers up!

If you're worried about being a burden, talk to your coworkers about how excited you are for your trip, how badly you need this, what you're going to do abroad, and the prep you're doing to make sure they're not drowning in your work while you're gone.

Skardsvik Beach
Yours truly, on Iceland's Skardsvik Beach

But more importantly, chat them up about their upcoming vacation! Where are they going, or is it just a much-needed staycation? Why are they excited about it? If they think you're psyched about their vacation time, they'll be way more likely to reciprocate.

Ultimately, more and more companies are offering more lenient (and even unlimited) vacation time policies. The national unemployment rate was a super-low 3.6% in February, creating a hyper-competitive hiring market. As a result, companies are starting to offer better vacation policies to attract and retain good workers. Major companies like Microsoft, Netflix, and Salesforce are even offering unlimited vacation policies.

This policy, of course, works better in some industries like tech than others – some doctors and teachers may be rolling their eyes at the concept of unlimited vacation time. But no matter where you work, all the vacation days in the world don't make a difference if the company, its managers, and the office-wide culture doesn't encourage and allow workers to actually take that time off.


Vacation Time and Travel Costs

Ready for another depressing stat? A 2021 poll from YouGov and the Economist showed that only 37% of Americans have a passport.

That's right: Just over a third of U.S. citizens have the documentation needed to leave the country. With record-setting demand for passports leading to long delays, that may be changing. But not fast enough.

urgent travel passport 

Of course, travel doesn't require crossing international borders: There is so much to see here in the United States. But if you've been abroad, you know how life-changing it can be exploring another country can be.

What that 37% number says to me is that only about a third of the people in this country even see international travel as an option, let alone a priority. Some people may have health, safety, or cultural reasons to not leave home, but the data shows that the passport/no-passport divide falls along financial lines.

The same YouGov poll showed that the percentage of Americans with a passport and a household income over $100,000 was 64%. For household incomes between $50,000 and $100,000, 44% of Americans had passports, and for households with an income below $50,000, that number was just 21%.

Think about that: Two-thirds of Americans with a household income of $100,000 or more have passports, and yet the national average is still just 37%. That's a huge difference. It means lower-income Americans think they can't afford to travel internationally.

Of course, money is a constraint on travel. A passport itself is $165 total and $130 each time you renew every 10 years. But traveling doesn't have to be expensive – that's pretty much our whole thing here!

how to find the top cheap one way flights 

Read all our tips on how to find cheap flights!

Whether you fly overseas or stay close to home, there's no question that flights have gotten more expensive lately. But when you fire up Google Flights and see flights to Europe for $1,300 in economy, flights to Mexico and the Caribbean for $800, or flights to Japan for $2,400 or more, there's no wonder why many Americans are ruling out international travel.

But just because you see some high airfare doesn't mean better deals aren't out there – you just need to know where to look. In just the last few weeks, we've found a resurgence of cheap flights to Europe for under $499 roundtrip. We've sent Thrifty Traveler Premium members nonstop Delta flights to Mexico for less than $399 total. And we've even seen fares to Tokyo for $679 roundtrip!

Check out our full list of the best destinations where you can still find cheap airfare!

So get a passport, get organized, take time off work, and go see the world. It won't cost as much as you fear.


Bottom Line

Nearly half of Americans don't use all of their allotted vacation time. That stinks.

Workplace culture around paid time off and the cost of travel have led to two awful statistics: Only 48% of Americans use all of their time off and only 37% of Americans have a passport. We think that needs to change.


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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