Americans have a very complicated relationship with vacations and the concept of time-off. The qualities that have defined us over the last 243 years are also ones that tend to limit us a bit, namely our unending desire to “do stuff.” It was great when it meant finishing the Transcontinental Railroad on time, but in 2019 it’s making us unhappy, unhealthy and behind the rest of the world in understanding what work-life balance really means. I started thinking about all of this after reading the results of a survey commissioned by Allianz Global Services, their 11th annual Vacation Confidence Index. This year I’m working with Allianz to share more about the joys of travel as well as the importance of travel insurance, and when I read through the findings of this survey I knew I had to share my own thoughts.
The Good & The Bad
Unlike most travel surveys about Americans, this one isn’t all doom and gloom. As it turns out, a significant percentage of us do indeed like to travel and go on vacation. The survey finds that 42 percent of Americans say they are confident they will take a summer vacation this year. However, on the flip side that leaves 52 percent who are not confident that they’ll be able to go on holiday. A majority of them cited financial reasons, which makes sense, but a whopping 40 percent of them said work and time constraints were to blame, and that’s a terrible reason. The survey goes on to share that a third of Americans have not taken a vacation in more than two years and that more than half have not gone more than 100 miles from home in at least a year. So, what does this all mean?
It means, frankly, that Americans do a great job at being American. Defining a vacation as going more than 100 miles away from home is fairly generous, and yet so many people haven’t even accomplished that small feat. Unless you’re in incredibly dire circumstance, then it’s always possible to take a few days, leave the house and explore something new or even visit places you know that you already love. Citing work as a reason not to travel isn’t a good excuse either. While we have no national mandates for time off, salaried workers all receive an allotment of vacation days and they should be used for more than running errands on a mental health day. Every year Americans leave millions of vacation days on the proverbial table, all in an effort to look busy or impress their bosses. This is the modern workplace that we’ve created over the decades and, honestly, it’s killing us. There are so many benefits to travel and any employer would be smart to encourage staff to take time off in order to return as more productive employees if for no other reason. Here are just some of the many ways travel benefits me and I know benefits just about anyone who leaves home to explore the world.
Benefits of Travel
Happier and Healthier
Yes, it’s true, traveling helps us be healthier people. Studies have shown a whole host of benefits including a lower risk of heart disease and coronary death in people who take annual vacations. No surprise there really, taking a vacation helps us relax and calm down in what is an increasingly stressful world. The act of travel itself is also healthy, I know I get much more exercise when I’m on the road than when I’m at home. That same study also showed a lower percentage of depression amongst people who travel, so getting out there and seeing the world helps us be happier people too. Happier people are of course healthier people, so the act of travel helps us physically and mentally. Most Americans do not use all of their annual vacation days, a shocking statistic given how few we get in the first place. Trips don’t have to be long or expensive for you to realize health benefits, the simple act of taking time off and leaving the house, even on a short trip, yields tremendous benefits.
I live in Washington, DC and am therefore a natural born cynic prone to cranky outbursts. Over the years though I have been drawn out of my shell of skepticism through the people I meet, most notably when I’m not at home. All over the country and the world, I have seen countless examples of good acts and genuine kindness from mere strangers. This has a unique pay-it-forward effect. I truly believe that this behavior is imprinted on all of us as we travel and when it comes time for us to aid someone in need, we are standing by the ready to help and assist. Sure, there are always going to be bad actors and unfortunate events that happen when we travel (that’s also why we buy travel insurance), but on the whole it is a wonderfully positive experience that (almost) always makes me proud of my fellow man. Then I come home to Washington.
The biggest impediment to travel is fear; fear of the new and unknown, fear of danger and risk. Visiting new places helps us conquer these fears, to push our travel envelopes and become more confident in ourselves. Travel also gives us the ability to face specific fears. For some reason many people take on a mantle of bravery when they go on vacation and do and try things they would never do at home. I experience this frequently, like the time I was in South Africa and decided to bungee jump off of a soccer stadium. I still can’t believe I did it and I really don’t want to do it again, but the fact is that I did it once. I faced my fears and literally made the leap. Many of us experience this same phenomenon, whether it’s trying out a new language (fear of making a mistake) or swimming with sharks (fear of being eaten), we all become braver, more confident people when we travel.
Travel doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated in order to be fun and beneficial. Many of us have misconceptions about what a vacation should look like, but anytime you leave home to enjoy yourself it’s a positive experience, whether you go to Florida or Timbuktu.
What other benefits would you add to this list?