We say it a lot over here at Traveler: Americans are really bad at taking vacation. So much so that in 2017, we left 705 million vacation days on the table, the U.S. Travel Association reported. Think of all the walking tours, island naps, and life-changing meals that were missed! And while we always urge you to take all of your days—be they five or 25—we don’t always practice what we preach, either. One of us (cough, Meredith) left nearly half of her vacation days unused during her first year at Traveler, for fear of being gone from work too much.
Thankfully, we’ve since learned the error of our ways—but we could all use the reminder that we’re actually devaluing our salary by leaving those days behind. (Especially given women are already earning about 19.5 percent less than our male counterparts, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.) We tapped the keeper of our vacation days, Traveler‘s director of editorial operations Paulie Dibner, and contributor Cassie Shortsleeve to chat about vacation guilt, how to ask for time off, what to do when you have unlimited vacation, and what to actually do when you get it.
Before we got into the studio, we put out a question in our Women Who Travel Facebook group and on our Instagrams: do you, dear listeners, take all of your vacation days? We got a mountain of responses, and decided to run a few of them below. Which side do you stand on? Let us know by tweeting @ohheytheremere and @LaleArikoglu to share your thoughts.
Yes, of course I take them all.
“I do use all of mine and feel comfortable using it. I make it clear to my supervisor that my travels are very important to me and I plan far enough in advance and also when others may not be traveling (during school time) to try to help manage coverage.” –Danielle L.
“I just started working but I’ve always been passionate about travel so I make sure I use my vacation days (or other type of leave). I’m really lucky that I work in a position where I can get time off instead of overtime pay. I took two weeks over Christmas and New Years and only had to take three vacation days (also three holidays). I’m pretty much the only person who uses all their leave in my office but my first supervisor told me that no one is too important to take time off. If you died in a freak accident, your job would still get done somehow.” – Sierra L.
“I use up every last bit of vacation time I can!! My work is very strict on you having no unpaid time off, which really sucks, so it’s important that I travel every time I use my vacation time. I feel guilty when I take off time that somebody else in my department also wants, [but I also] feel guilty when I’m not at work and not going somewhere cool, because I’m lucky that I’m not chained to my desk at work.” – Chelsea
“Yes every single one—and any chance at half days. Not only do I crave to explore a new place every single day, [but] we also all need to take a break for our mental health. I come back from vacation feeling refreshed and more productive. If you truly love work, hats off, but otherwise you should be able to take time off and enjoy!! I only get 10 days off, which I feel is ridiculous (oops sorry work), but I do know that I am always going to want more time off.” – Brooke H.
No, I leave some vacation days behind.
“It’s super, super, super stigmatized to use any of your days in the teaching profession unfortunately. I rarely use even half of mine each year.” – Emily T.
“I actually tend to not use all my vacation days but it’s not because I don’t take vacations, it’s because that while my workplace is very generous with leave, I don’t have unlimited funds for travel. I tend to take two big trips a year using vacation time, plus I get time off at the end of the year that I usually plan a trip for as well. If one year I did want to use all my vacation time, I know my work would be fine with it because pretty much everyone here is well traveled!” – Carrie L.
“As this came up, I discovered cheap flights to visit my fiancé and booked them immediately. I always feel guilty for asking for time off, even if I have it in my bank. It seems to be the American way, you need your boss to be in a good mood, not to be a burden on anyone, and to make sure that you’re being fair. I swear to My Future Self that I will be a manager who encourages you to take every opportunity, even if it’s not something I would personally do. Happy people are productive and loyal people!” – Marisa S.
…And What’s the Deal With Unlimited Vacation Days?
“While it’s marketed as a great perk, it can be stressful when there isn’t a line drawn in the sand for how many days you’re expected to take! I’ve found that many of my colleagues take LESS time off because they’re nervous to cross some invisible line. I definitely get nervous when I take more than two weeks vacation, even if some colleagues take five – six weeks off. If they had set vacation days, I would plan on taking every single day! It’s tough on people who are used to guidelines or set days off.” – Nicole R.
“I’m one of the lucky/unlucky ones who gets “unlimited” PTO. I absolutely feel guilty about taking vacation. I even feel guilty about working remotely. I like my job and want to keep it, but sometimes when the policy is no policy, it makes it harder to take time off.” – Kelly K.
“I just started a new job that has unlimited PTO at the manager level. Thought it would be great, [but I’m] still unsure about it. I still feel guilty telling my boss (the CEO) that I’m taking off. I am trying to not do more than 20 days but also, why is it unlimited if they would care? I want to know how they feel about it.” – Marissa Y.
Responses edited for clarity.
Thanks to Paulie and Cassie for joining us, and to all of you who joined the conversation. And thanks as always to Brett Fuchs for engineering and mixing. Check back every Monday for the latest installment of Women Who Travel. To keep up with our podcast each week, subscribe to Women Who Travel on Apple Podcasts or Spotify and if you have a minute to spare, leave a review—we’d love to hear from you.