I recently read a statistic that bothered me and also made me sad for the state of our western culture. A recent survey (2014) found that 26 per cent of Canadians do not use their allotted paid vacation days from work. Many people claimed that they had too much work to do, while others said they saved their vacation time for emergencies and still others said that they just didn’t want a vacation. Seriously?! I almost couldn’t believe it when I read that. Travel is such an enriching and transformative experience filled with cultural experiences, exploring and learning. As someone who suffers from wanderlust, it really doesn’t make sense to me why people would CHOOSE not to travel, especially when they have paid time off to do so. I love travel so much that I would even take unpaid leave to pursue it. I understand that traveling is not everyone’s passion or interest and there’s nothing wrong with that. But they could still use their vacation time to spend quality time with their families or just have a stay-cation, relaxing at home and exploring your own backyard.
When you compare the vacation time that employees in other countries and continents are provided, to that which Canadians and Americans are provided, it is really quite sad. Our western culture rewards busy-ness and we live in a culture where success tends to means working hard, climbing the corporate ladder and focusing on building your career, first and foremost. Traveling is not seen as that important, and as a result, hardly any vacation time is given to employees in Canada and the USA. When I informed my co-workers that I would be backpacking solo in Mexico for 12 days, a lot of people thought I was crazy for doing so. But really, what is life without adventure, stepping into the unknown and being uncomfortable sometimes? That’s when growth and learning occurs.
I wish more people would realize and understand that working hard your entire life while saving your money for retirement when you choose to relax, travel and enjoy life, is no way to live! We are never guaranteed the future, so why not live in the present, pursue your passions now instead of waiting for “someday,” which will never come? There will never be a perfect time to do what you love, so stop waiting until you have less work to do and just follow your dreams now. I think it’s best to travel and do what you love while you’re still young and healthy, rather than waiting for a day when you don’t know what your capabilities will be. There is so much more to life than slaving away at work every day of your life. Life is short. Working is not the most important thing in the world. I guarantee you, when you’re old, you will wish you had traveled more or at least pursued your passions (whatever they may be) while you were still young and spent more time with family. You will never wish you had worked more and gained more money and possessions. In my opinion, our priorities should be spending our time wisely and investing in more experiences as opposed to more possessions and “stuff.”
The Canadian government only mandates 10 days of vacation time. In comparison, employees in Sweden, Greece, France, Finland, Denmark, the UK and Austria are provided with 25 vacation days; New Zealand, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Germany and others all receive 30 paid holidays per year. The United States has zero mandated vacation days. Check out this Wikipedia Page listing the amount of paid holidays for every country.
So far in this fiscal year, I have taken a 12 day trip to Mexico and will be going to San Francisco for 7 days next week. I am also planning on going to Mexico again in the fall for 17-18 days. All of these vacations would be using my regular paid holiday time. Want to know how to do it too?
As a full-time employee myself with only 13 vacation days per year, here are some tips for other full-time workers on how to maximize your vacation days from work and get the most out of them:
Take Advantage of Statutory Holidays – If Monday is a federal holiday (like Boxing Day, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day, etc.), then you can use a vacation day on either the Friday or Tuesday, or both, to make a long weekend of between 4-5 days. For example: If you book a trip from Saturday to Monday, you wouldn’t have to use any vacation days. If you include the Friday or the Tuesday, you would only have to use 1 vacation day. If you book a trip from Saturday to the following Sunday with Monday as the holiday, you only have to use 4 vacation days but get 9 days off. This is a decent length of time to go on a shorter trip, within Canada or the United States.
Take Advantage of Weekends – When I booked my solo trip to Mexico in May, I made sure that two weekends (4 days) fell during my time off. The more weekends you can fit in, the less vacation time you have to use. When you book a trip, try to book it so you are using both weekends on each side of the week. This automatically gives you 4 days where you don’t have to use your limited paid days. For example: If you book a trip from Saturday to the following Sunday, that gives you 9 days including two weekends and you only to use 4-5 paid vacation days, depending on if there is a federal holiday included there as well.
Ask to Work Flexible Hours – At my workplace, employees have the option of working an extra 50 minutes every day (either before or after your regular hours, or a combination of both) in exchange for every second Friday or Monday off work, making every second weekend an automatic long weekend. I currently work on this flexible arrangement. What I have also done in the past, is choose to work on my second Monday off, thus giving me a free day off to use at any point in the future. This has come in handy for booking longer trips.
Book Evening Flights – If you book an evening flight, you can still go to work during the day, and thus, use one less vacation day. Additionally, if you book your flight early in the morning on a weekend and fly back in the evening a few days later, you will have more time in your destination. Don’t book a midday flight, as then you have to take half a vacation day.
Book Weekend Trips – A weekend can be enough time to go on a short trip. You could go camping or hiking in an area close to where you live or take a short road trip. You could also take a short flight to a nearby city in your country. You could schedule your flight to arrive on Friday evening, giving you a full day Saturday and Sunday to explore, and then fly back home on Sunday evening.
Take a Day Trip – You could go on a day trip to a nearby city or destination. My family and I have driven to Grand Forks, North Dakota (2 and a half hours south of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) early in the morning, spend all day shopping and exploring and then drive back in the evening.
Be a Tourist in Your Own City – You could explore new neighbourhoods, restaurants and local attractions in your own city or town. You could also check out a new festival or event that you haven’t had the opportunity to attend yet. Do some research on local forums and blogs and see what you can find.
Use Other Random Paid Days Off For Travel – If your workplace offers you volunteer days, or personal days or family days, see if you are able to use those for travel in addition to your other paid vacation days.
Ask for an Unpaid Leave of Absence – If you have used all of your paid vacation days and are still looking to travel more, ask your boss if you can take unpaid leave. You never know until you ask.
Quit Your Job – If you are dissatisfied with the amount of vacation time you receive and you believe that your true passion is traveling, then quit your job. Make sure you have enough money saved up to support yourself for traveling. Sometimes in life, when you figure out your priorities and your passions, you have to follow them. You can always find another job, but your time is your most precious resource.
When you book your travels, always take advantage of federal holidays and weekends! You will have to ponder how you want to spread out your vacation time during the year. You could use all of your vacation time at one time for a big international trip; you could take a couple of week-long shorter vacations; or you could tack on vacation days to long weekends or weekends with federal holidays for shorter weekend getaways or family time.
Just remember one thing… ALWAYS USE YOUR VACATION TIME! Don’t save it up for emergencies or wait for “someday” which will never come. Use it now. Live in the moment. Travel and explore now. Pursue your passions. Do what you love. Stop waiting.