Living in New York, there is no shortage of interesting things going on, particularly when it comes to travel. One such event was a travel meetup I once attended held by Meet, Plan, Go in conjunction with AFAR. The topic of discussion: taking a “career break” to travel the world. The concept is interesting — leaving your job and life behind to experience different countries and cultures for an extended period of time. While I’m not at the point in my life where I envision myself doing this (note: I consider my “career break” to be when I moved to London to get my master’s degree and traveled to various countries in Europe and North Africa), it was fascinating and enlightening to meet people who had taken a career break. There were also people who had not taken a break but were very passionate about travel and incorporating it into their lives in some way.
The thing is, this country (the U.S.) does not make it easy. According to a study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the United States is the only highly developed nation that does not require employers to offer paid vacation time. In Australia and several countries in Europe, businesses are required to give a minimum of 20-25 paid vacation days. In America: A big ole 0.
In today’s global and hyper-connected world, this strikes me as a missed opportunity for the U.S. and a big reason why the idea of a “career break” can sound so alluring. We are an overworked nation; that cannot be denied. More than that, we are a nation that is not nearly knowledgeable enough about the world. Travel is one of the ways to become more knowledgeable. As the saying goes, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” With each trip I take, I am increasingly convinced of its truth.
During a flight from Thailand to Hong Kong two years ago, I ended up in conversation with the passenger next to me. At first I was more determined to sleep than speak with this person, but I soon found myself showing her pictures of my travels and hearing about her adventures roaming around Chiang Mai via motorcycle (clearly she was the gutsier one). We also discovered a shared background in journalism — her, a newspaper journalist in Dongguan in southern China, and me, a media and communications professional in New York City. I learned about what it’s like being a journalist in China and, in turn, she learned about working in media in New York and some of the ways in which the business environment is changing. It was, and continues to be, one of those conversations and experiences you can’t quite create when you don’t go anywhere.
As careers evolve and businesses adapt to the changing environment, global perspective is key. Thus, it is almost mind boggling to realize that not only do Americans barely travel and take vacation compared to the rest of the world, but also the vacation policies of many businesses do not encourage it. Some places are changing with the implementation of unlimited vacation, but most are still very stingy when it comes to PTO. Why not change your policy, encourage employees to take time off and travel, whether domestically or internationally, and see what new perspective they bring back? I have a feeling the long term impact would more than pay off.
Do you take advantage of your vacation days? If not, why?