Travel & leisure are more important to our country than you might think

Americans are missing out on formative experiences. We work long hours, stay on call nearly 24 hours, 7 days a week, and don’t venture out enough beyond our neighborhood borders. Americans take fewer vacation days than citizens of any other developed nation and what’s more, less than half of vacation time used is spent on travel. By sticking around the office past dinner, responding to emails after the kids go to bed, and bypassing that vacation abroad, American workers are stressed out and missing out on enriching experiences.

Travel is critical. It provides new and fresh perspectives and forces a person out of their comfort zone. By engaging in new cultures, we’re forced to navigate new customs, languages, and environments, and doing so builds confidence and opens our eyes to different possibilities and ideas. The experience is something that can’t be taught in a classroom or replicated online sitting in the comfort of your own home. We have to be immersed in the experience to truly understand what it’s like.

2016 was a high watermark for international travel among Americans when nearly 67 million Americans ventured abroad. That means that nearly 80% of all Americans stayed stateside (in a record travel year), and among those that did use their passports, more than half didn’t leave the continent.

So why aren’t more Americans traveling and taking advantage of travel opportunities? One reason might be that many Americans have limited access to paid vacation time. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 30% of Americans – nearly 1 in 3 – only have 5-9 days of paid vacation per year, while 8% had 4 or fewer days off. And with the growth of the independent labor force, there are millions of Americans that simply don’t get paid if they don’t work.

But even among Americans that have access to paid vacation time, they’re not fully utilizing it. Forbes reported on a survey released by Glassdoor.com in which they found that only 23% of Americans use all of their paid vacation days, that the average employee only uses 54% of their paid vacation time, and that 66% report that they worked while on vacation. WTOP reported on a survey by nonprofit group Protect: Time Off in which they found that 24% of Americans haven’t taken a vacation in more than a year.

Survey after survey finds that work culture is a leading reason why employees are not using their vacation time. Employees want to demonstrate how hard working they are, how committed they are to their jobs, and feel as though workers who actually use their vacation time are looked down upon. The result is higher levels of stress among workers and lost opportunities for employees to broaden their horizons.

We need to rethink our culture of work because it means that Americans are missing out on experiences that make life worth living. Experiences that change the way we think and interact with our world. Experiences that we are choosing to miss out on because of unconscious pressures we’re putting on ourselves. We need to see the world beyond our communities to be able to strengthen them. It’s time to leave work behind and see what’s out there.

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