I’m a working American with a full time job. The thing about this country is that it really is a great place full of interesting things to do, great places to see, delicious things to eat, and wonders to behold. The problem is, we all work too freaking much to be able to get out and experience it all! The average worker in the United States receives about 10 days of paid vacation time per year. This is in contrast to many countries around the world who offer more. In Europe, for instance, workers in many countries receive around 20 paid days off per year. It’s enough to make me crawl into a little ball on the floor and cry about not being born elsewhere, but then I pick myself up, dust myself off, and try to come up with a solution to this problem.
Look…I get it. Employers don’t always want to offer paid days off for workers when they are not working those days, but what goes unreported in these statistics that I have experienced quite a bit over the years is that it is often difficult even to take unpaid days off. Employers often frown upon employees leaving too long for for too often. I’m very fortunate in that my current employer is flexible and understanding of the whole work-life balance thing, but I can tell you that I’ve worked in places in the past where you have to fight to even take a week off per year. Hence the fact that they are former employers, but that’s a story for a different day.
There is one story from my earlier days working where I got hired to work at this company and right away I told them that I had a week in Cancun planned for my best friend’s college graduation. We would be using my parents’ timeshare and I had a whole group of people coming, so I couldn’t reschedule the trip. They said this was OK and hired me anyway. Of course, when it came time a little closer to the trip and I reminded them that I would be out of town for that week, my manager threw an absolute fit about it.Apparently, she also had a trip planned that week and we couldn’t both be out so I would have to reschedule my trip. I told her no. I explained, again, that when I had been hired this was a condition of my accepting the job. She threw a fit some more and complained up and down, but I was going on that trip no matter what. I went and had a fabulous time. When I came back, I found out that she had canceled her trip! Why? Couldn’t we have figured something out? It was only five working days, for crying out loud. But I digress. This is what it’s like in many American companies.
Again, I’m so thankful that my current company is understanding about travel. The rule is as long as I give them reasonable prior notice, we’ll figure it out. They understand we all have lives outside of work that we want to live.
If you work somewhere like my nightmare prison no-travel job, however, you might be feeling despair about not being able to get out there and enjoy life as much as you would like to. To that, I have two pieces of advice:
Get out! I understand this is a simplification and you might not be in a position to up and quit, but if your company isn’t treating you right, you should work on finding a company that will treat you right. Send your resume out, apply for open positions, brush up on new skills. And when you do get out, tell your old company exactly why you’re leaving them.
In the meantime, you still need to live your life! What if you only have weekends free? I say, take advantage of those weekends! I find the weekend getaway to be a wonderful tool that I use even now to get me through to my next “big” trip. You would be surprised how much you can accomplish in a weekend. Find destinations that you can fly to within a couple hours, or that are less than a five hour drive away. Then, leave on Friday night immediately after work to your destination. Arrive Friday night and rest. You’ll have all day Saturday in your destination and most of Sunday as well if you schedule your journey home for the evening. From my home in San Diego, I can go camping in the mountains, down to Mexico, to Catalina Island, to Las Vegas, North up the California Coast, to Los Angeles, and out to Palm Springs in a really short time. If I’m flying, I can be in San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Phoenix AZ, or even Cabo San Lucas, Mexico in a short while. Where can you go from your home in a weekend? Maybe it’s time to get out there and do a little exploring!