Sunday, September 6, 2009

Getting Away From It All

Vacations/Holidays -- do the Brits and the Americans feel differently about them?


Do Americans look upon vacations differently than the Brits? I think they do.

Speaking for myself, I have been on far more vacations (or holidays, as we say here) since moving to Britain seven years ago than in the 46 that preceded them. And we’re not talking about the American hesitancy in going abroad; we’re talking about going anywhere.

My family, and the families of all my friends, rarely, if ever, went away for a break during the year. Our fathers got one or two weeks of vacation per year and, as in my father’s case, the time was often chosen for you. If vacation time was looked forward to in my household, it was because that was the time my father could volunteer to work in the mill during “shutdown week” and earn a second pay check in addition to his holiday pay. And we were not the exception among my friends and acquaintances.

But in Britain, my wife tells me, they always went away somewhere. Even her parents had holidays when they were young. None of them were wealthy, but they considered vacationing important.

At least some of this may have come from the proximity of vacation-worthy destinations. From where we live in Sussex, the Isle of Wight, Bournemouth and, in a pinch, Brighton are within easy reach. And, if all else fails, there is a Butlins in Bognor. I lived in Columbia County, New York. Where were we going to go for a cheap holiday that was so close by? Binghamton? Utica?

So I think if the idea that a holiday break is important and worth investing in is more ingrained in the British psyche, it is likely due to the fact that affordable holidays have been a part of life for several generations and are seen as a normal part of the year.

Add to that the five weeks of holiday leave and the availability of inexpensive yet desirable destinations and it’s not hard to see why Britons are not content to sit home during their time off.


I remember when I moved to the States in 1990 and got my first corporate job - with a whopping two weeks holiday/vacation per year. Ten whole work days. To add to the shock, I had to earn at least half of that before I could take any time off. Vacation was accrued at just over a day per month, so even if I wanted to take the one week break that is more typical here, I still needed to work for six months first.

As Mike says, there's no doubt that Brits (and Europeans in general) have a healthier attitude towards down time than Americans. Most Brits I know wouldn't dream of going anywhere for less than two weeks, skiing trips being the exception. Anything less than about four days isn't even called a vacation/holiday.

And with the UK being so close to countries that are, well, completely foreign, Brits are quite well travelled compared to Americans. A four hour plane ride from London takes you to many exotic and culturally diverse places, while the same length flight from Chicago takes me to Florida, California. Oh yes, and Canada.

I often wonder though, if the UK had a guaranteed summer, how many Brits would venture overseas? Although many of us do indeed seek out strange and exciting places to visit, the majority of Brits just want a "bit of sun". (And who can blame us?) In the US, even those families who do go out of state for a bit of a break don't have to worry about finding the sun. And with the huge range of scenery on offer here, (think beaches, the Rockies, the dessert, Montana's Big Sky, etc.) I really don't fault Americans for wanting to see bits of their own country. Admittedly, there's less adventure when you know that there'll probably be a Wal-Mart nearby, and you won't have to worry about getting money out of the machine, or losing your passport; but this country is bloody vast and no two regions are the same.

My advice to Americans is to lobby for more time off, learn to chill a bit more and take to the roads!

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  1. This is a great post. I was shocked when I first moved to England that everyone always seemed to be going on vacation, it was just so foreign to me. We haven't even gone on our first trip, and I'm already some what dreading the day we move back to the US and lose the opportunities to travel that we have here.

  2. Very true. In London, everyone is always off on holiday. Here on Long Island, most people I've met take a week off during the summer to go to....somewhere else on Long Island (or possibly, if feeling adventurous, the Jersey Shore). I get the impression that Americans travel more either as students, or when they retire.

    I suppose they do have better weather, though -and not so much vacation time.

  3. I think Toni misses one of the great things about America, though, the cross-country road-trip. And I'm not sure I'd agree that going on vacations in Europe actually makes Brits better travelled. If you go to an English speaking resort on a package holiday, exactly how much culture is one likely to glean from being "abroad"? I had a work conference at one of these places in Crete and the Brits there were most certainly not learning about the Minoan civilization :-)

  4. The 'cross-country road trip' is mostly driving from one Dunkin Donuts, one Wal Mart to another, wasting precious resources, looking at scenery from inside the car, while the culture and cuisine remains constant :-) Last year I was astonished at the number of americans in their beautiful national parks who failed to leave their cars at all - they may as well have stayed at home and watched Yosemite on television. Even when americans go abroad, they usually go on guided tours, with other americans, and in my experience are very unlikely to actually mix with any 'natives'. So yes, the Brits are likely to be better travelled, and dont rely on work conferences to see places. Taking a package tour is a cheap way to a flight and accommodation, what you do with your time at your destination is up to you. In Crete, I would go to see Knossos - and would find that 99% of the visitors are British and Europeans on package holidays. It seems a shame to be so snobbish about people who have actually got off their a**** and gone somewhere. Only 27% of americans even have passports!

  5. In saying, "take to the roads" I was acknowledging the potential for a road trip, but I have to say that a lot of even wealthy Chicagoans I know, simply drive for an hour or two either round to the Michigan beaches or up to the Wisconsin lakes.
    Again though, I really think that if the UK had guaranteed great weather in the summer, the seaside resorts would be full of people who normally hop on the cheapest fllights to warm destinations.

  6. I'd love to move back to the US eventually, but I'm not sure I can give up my holidays! Twenty eight days minimum, plus my company offers a holiday purchase scheme where you can buy an additional eight. I get to travel every few months, take time off when friends visit and still go home for three weeks at Christmas every year. It's almost too good to be true.

  7. Honestly, I had more vacations while living in the US, both in my youth and adult life, than I've had since being abroad, although I'm trying to keep up. Now it seems that even 4 weeks won't be enough, what with yearly visits home, so I'll have to at some point up it to 8 weeks with purchased leave. But hey, at least I now have the option!

  8. Those of us who were children in the '60s have seen vacation travel styles change significantly.

    Back in that day airplane travel was a grand occasion, done very rarely and required dressing in "best" clothes.

    For a trip from Richmond to Quebec we took the train! No one would dream of doing that now, except for having a train-experience lark.

    Now people hop on flights as easily as hopping the bus! And dressing up has flown out the window.

    Summer vacations in my childhood were mostly spent at home, with a two-week trip to Grandma's house.

    I do give my parents credit for loading us in the car and driving around the state in an un-air conditioned car to show us the historic sites of Virginia, of which there are many.

    Mt Vernon, Montecello, the Natural Bridge and much more were seen by us because my parents took the time and effort to take us.

    We never stopped at restaurants to eat! My mother always packed a picnic--pimento cheese on Wonder Bread--of home-made delights that came with us. We'd pull over to a picnic area and eat outside at the tables provided.

    Different times.

  9. I have been stunned by how few people here take vacations. I can't blame them - they simply don't have the time. Where I live, you either have to drive for about 10 hours to get to a change of scenery, or fly, and flying from here is expensive.

    I think I would go barmy if we lived here long-term. I so miss holidays, but also the short breaks that we do so well in Britain. Schools have holidays throughout the year, and then half-term breaks too. You're never far away from the opportunity for a long week-end.

  10. I work in a UK school. LOVE the 13 weeks off here and there throughout the year. Used to work in corporate America so know the 2 weeks/vacation/per year horror/madness...... America just doesn't do it right. Besides health care change they need vacation time change...... Best medical insurance programme for an American????? Dual citizenship!

  11. I do like the additional amount of holiday leave we enjoy here in the UK as opposed to what people get in the US. I have discovered I like taking vacations; in fact, I think I'll go on one tomorrow. See ya ;)

  12. This is one area where the UK wins, hands down!

  13. Two weeks?! Is that all?! *faints*

    Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.

  14. Hear, hear! I live in Minnesota, and after 300 or so years in the workforce (I may be exaggerating) I'm finally up to four weeks of vacation a year. Unbelievable!


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