Thursday, June 09, 2011

Americans need to relax (and travel): Discuss!

Over the course of my travelling life I've had a number of conversations with people from the United States* about taking holidays for more than a week or two, and about travelling long-term and what this might mean for my resume. Basically, they thought I could travel a lot more than they could, and we all wondered why.

Most often, they were absolutely amazed to hear that working Australians were often entitled to "long service leave" - depending on the company rules, after some time between seven and ten years of continuous employment (with four weeks' annual leave per year already), employees are then entitled to a longer paid break of between three and six months. This harks back to colonial times when Brits wanted to return home but needed to take that very long journey by ship to get there, and therefore needed such a long period of leave. Of course, we're very reluctant to give up that entitlement now, although we're fully aware we can now fly there in 24 hours or so.

Australians cooking Japanese food with Japanese and Slovak people in rural Slovakia - yes travel is good!
Anyway, this ramble was inspired by two things. The first is an email I got recently, and I'll leave it anonymously from E, if you don't mind ...

Your blog pretty much made me cry when I first found it. I am headed into two years of community college when all I really want to do is travel. Even thinking about different countries and places can jump start me out of bed. I cannot wait to step out, break the bond of routinely boring life that most Americans live, and see the world. I am determined, even while I am surrounded by people who claim money, time, and practicality will keep me from making my dreams, goals, and plans into my very own reality.

Of course, not being there, I can't be sure if this is really a typical attitude (would love to hear what you think), but it certainly rings true to me from other conversations I've had. And it's quite different to the attitude in Australia, where at the moment teenagers are being very positively encouraged to travel in between school and university (college), and where taking a year or two out of a career to spend some time seeing the world can actually become an advantage, since many employers see international experience (of nearly any kind) as a bonus.

And the second inspiration came from a blogger who calls herself Marlee in Debt. Despite being (as you'd suspect) in debt, and still being a student, she wrote about her fear of having an unused passport and declaring that she believes money can be very wisely spent on experiences rather than material things - and that therefore, she's planning some international travel this North American summer. Go Marlee!!

An Aussie sharing Germany with her Slovak friend ... yes, travel broadens perspectives!
I'm a bit biased, of course, but I think everyone can benefit hugely from seeing more of the world. Well, in fact, I think if everyone travelled widely enough to learn about other cultures and ways of life, then a huge number of the world's problems could even be solved. But perhaps that's just my idealistic travel passion talking.

Anyhow ... I'd love to hear from everyone (American and non-American) about your perspective on travel. Are you able to do as much as you'd like? Is it important? Should governments make sure people have enough annual leave so they can travel? (I think so!). Will travelling for two or three years ruin your chance of a good career? Tell me all in the comments.


(*Just for the record, I would like "United Statesian" to be a word. When I taught South American students they all said that "American" should include everyone from Chile to Canada; I actually used to say "United Statesian" in class to distinguish the kind of Americans I meant, when necessary. Just wanted to say so.)

19 comments:

  1. American workplaces definitely do not make it easy for the average American to travel. If you have a high-end sort of job and a particularly sympathetic boss, then you might be granted a leave of absence, but for the average person, that's not possible. Me -- I had to quit my job to travel. I'm fine with it and found new jobs abroad quite easily, but if I was supporting a family, it would be a lot scarier to do, especially since the job market seems to be shrinking within the U.S.

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  2. Travel has been in the forefront of my mind for the past few weeks. I've never been out of Australia, desperately want to go everywhere except Bali, just had my first child and have no funds to travel. Everyone around me is travelling this year and I feel so jealous (I haven't had this ugly feeling since I was a little brat!). I'm ashamed of my jealousy and I'm worried I will be unwilling to see everyone's travel snaps and hear their stories when they get back. Probably the best way to overcome these petty feelings is to travel, but with a husband who works full-time and a lack of funds because I'm a stay-at-home mum, I just don't see it happening.
    When/if we do eventually get to travel, I don't want to go where everyone else has been because I don't want to hear advice from a thousand people who have been there before. How's that for petty...?

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  3. @Odysseus Drifts, I've heard that from lots of travelling Americans, that they couldn't really travel much without quitting their jobs - which, as you say, is fine if your circumstances allow it, but otherwise is super-scary and restrictive. What do you think employers in the US would think about you if you tried to get a job there again now?

    @ Anon, hey, go easy on yourself, that's a real feeling you're having there so no need to apologise for being "petty". Sure, having a roof over your head and a healthy child are probably most important but your own thoughts and personal development are pretty vital too. I've felt similarly trapped at times and have tried to resolve it by reading and learning heaps about unusual destinations I'd really like to visit one day - it helps a little ...

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  4. Hey there! I'm from the US and pretty much everything that you wrote about is true to the experience of all the other Americans I know. We pretty much get 10 days of vacation, standard, and if you work somewhere long enough, you might get that number up to 4 weeks, but ehhhhh. There are some places where you can take time off, unpaid, but depending on your position, it may not be that much time.

    Vacation is not really valued here. It's all about work, work, work. If you stop to rest, then someone can beat you at being better at something -- and we're always striving to be better and to climb up the corporate ladder. To not do that is to be a slacker and it's a bit un-American. People here on average work soooo much.... so many hours. And some people don't even USE their vacation time because they feel like they would get behind on their careers.

    I've determined to make travel my career; it's a priority for me. But in general, it is not a priority for most Americans. Work, money, advancement, family, a very comfortable life... those come way before travel.

    I think something that works to help this is the fact that most Americans believe that the US is the best country in the world. So, they don't really feel like they are missing out because who wants to go vacation some place that's "worse" than the US? And so, no need for a passport. And you can get anywhere in the continental US by plane in about 7 hours, so there's not a need to have more than 10 weeks vacation.

    Hope this clarifies it a little bit or helps! :)

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  5. Erika, thanks so much for your comment, both because it confirms a lot I already suspected and also explains it a bit more. The idea of not wanting to go someplace "worse" makes sense - although of course I totally disagree with it (as I suspect you do) - I still think my home country Australia is one of the best places in the world but that doesn't make me want to stop seeing other places (both "better" and "worse"). Anyway good on you Erika for making travel a priority and I hope that works out!

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  6. Just to add something I read from a new Matador story, linking to an old one (http://matadornetwork.com/abroad/travel-is-for-idiotic-idealists-three-americans-held-in-iran/) - Sarah Menkedick wrote, on three journalist/backpackers being held in Iran:

    The coverage of this story is a direct reflection of the way the U.S news media portrays travel to anywhere that isn’t Tuscany or Disney World: dangerous and inherently stupid, seeing as the rest of the world hates Americans and wants to attack them out of envy and hatred.

    Perhaps this is why so few Americans travel and why so many Americans returning home from a trip to Latin America or Africa or the Middle East will be confronted with gasps and wonderment over how they survived.

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  7. To answer your question about finding a new job when I finally get back to the U.S. -- I anticipate it taking a while simply because the job market isn't good right now. However, I believe having lived, traveled, and worked abroad will actually be an advantage in interviews and may impress future employers. It's unique, so if anything, it will set me apart from other candidates as being someone who can see the big picture.

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  8. @ Melanie, that's good to hear and I'm glad that obviously at least some employers think that way in the States, too (similar here - not all, but many). I would definitely employ someone with experience abroad over someone similarly qualified who'd never left home - you acquire so many new skills working abroad.

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  9. Dropping in from Rewind to say hello, and thank you for visiting me.

    The title of your post caught my attention. Y-E-S, we Americans do need to relax.

    But as you gathered from Erika, our culture is based on the Protestant work ethic. Validation comes from money, title and acquisition of stuff. Little room for enjoyment and relaxation.

    Then there's the other 75% of Americans (unofficial percentage)working from paycheck to paycheck so vacation/travel is a luxury that one gets to do once a year, if one is lucky enough. To take an entire month or a year off is so unheard of.

    I feel truly privilege for having come across your blog because I always wanted to get a non-United Statesian's perspective on travel. Thanks for the education.

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  10. @ Mila, thanks for your lovely and informative comment but above all thanks for helping to popularise United Statesian for me!! The only thing I'd like to mention, in relation to your comment that travel is a luxury, is that I think a lot of (especially young) Aussies would think travelling is something you might choose to do exactly when you don't have much money or not much of a job - I know that sounds contradictory but I'm thinking of that kind of long-term travel through Asia that requires little money and is actually heaps cheaper than staying home. But otherwise I totally get what you're saying - it's all about work, work, work!

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  11. Great read and glad to see this after I published my own post on this topic today. It's really been interesting hearing and talking to people in other countries. They just can't grapple with why Americans spend so much time working. Being a freelancer, it's tough for me sometimes, but I've started to actually have somewhat of a more regular schedule. I've been cutting off of work by 6 and taking a weekend. So many Americans can't even do this, let alone travel. It's not a matter of not traveling. There are deeper issues that are in essence marrying people to their work. It's really not healthy in my opinion.

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  12. I Am in LOVE with this Blog! I live in New York and I'm Miserable!! And I'm happy about it. As I've seen on a lot of websites about reverse culture shock, the fact that nobody wants to hear your experiences is hard. Well my cousin just finished 4 months of studying abroad in Italy, and We talked about it for HOURS! I was so interested and in one night I turned from being a "typical work,work,work" United Statesian to an "Open minded, hopefully future European" I hope she moves there too because she told me that if she could choose between living in Italy and being an Italian, And living in The USA and being a United Statesian. She would choose Italy in a heartbeat. This has made me realize that the USA isn't the best country, in fact, other than most 3rd world countries, I think its one of the worst.

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  13. @timmy, well, that's just about the biggest compliment I've ever had, thank you!!!
    I bet your cousin was super-pleased to have you to talk to - I wonder if you were the only person of everyone who actually wanted to hear about her experiences properly? She's lucky to have you. Obviously you are lucky to have her too as you've learnt so much from her. So have you got some travel plans of your own soon? I hope so - happy travels. Stay in touch!

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  14. Hell Amanda,
    Great to see that there are more people on the United Statesian bandwagon! I hope to get it added to accepted vocabulary...not to replace American, but as an option, especially when speaking with Spanish speakers.
    As far as travel goes, I think that everyone should increase travel to increase understanding. A year abroad is cheaper than a year at most universities...and much more educational!

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  15. Thanks United Statesian, yes I loved your blog title! And you're so right about how much more educational a year abroad is than pretty much anything else - uni or work or anything.

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  16. Yes, several posters here nailed it. In the U.S. we value business over pleasure. I think that has served us well in some ways, since the U.S. (until recently) was the global business leader. However, we are now losing that global competitive edge, and I think a lot of it is because the younger generation is being exposed to other cultures, and realizes that they can go abroad and probably work less/make less but have a higher quality of life. Many younger folks are opting for this lifestyle, and while it fits into your point that Americans need to relax, it does have a downside on our economic competitiveness.

    I am a traveler and have the luxery of working in a great job/company that supports me, so I can see both sides on the coin on this one. Just my 2 cents!

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  17. Thanks for your comment Anon - you make a really interesting point about this being related to the economic downturn! Perhaps it just needs time to pass before employers catch up and become more flexible and provide more attractive conditions - and then everyone will be happy? Hope so.

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  18. honestly, as an american, these sorts of posts do annoy me some. I agree that the amount of vacation time is definitely a hinderance to many. obviously its hard to orchestrate a overseas vacation on a time-span of just a few days, and to justify the cost. But this post is missing the reality that even stateside, there is opportunity for a rich and very varied travel experience! I dont think that travelling abroad is somehow "better" than simply staying in america...even someone who has lived here their whole life probably wont be able to see and experience all there is to do and see here! I'm sure the same can be said of australia.

    its also important to note that until recently, travel to neighboring countries in america didn't require a passport, so many americans have travelled and exerienced other cultures even without flying across oceans to do it. Heck, for me as a simple southern girl, just visiting new york city was a cultural experience! many of my american friends have gone abroad on church mission trips, others have done volunteer abroad opportunites, etc...there are so many ways to go abroad without breaking the bank or taking up an extraordinary amount of time :)

    Finally, on a related point, I often hear many people quote statistics that only something like 10% of americans even have a passport...obviously this doesnt include those who have passports that have expired. many people may have travelled before, but due to various contraints that have come up since, are no longer able to do so. such is life no matter what country you're from. It shouldnt imply that only 10% of americans have ever been abroad, which is how it's often misconstrued.

    I realize I'm arguing the opposite of many Americans here, and maybe i've just been especially blessed, but I simply don't believe that the majority of americans are as naive and uniterested in the world as the media would have everyone believe. I think that intial emailer has a totally different college environment than i did---we were practically handed airplane tickets and told to go somewhere, study abroad was that encouraged! making money and being able to afford to live is important, and no i dont think that companies should be forced into giving everyone lengthy vacations....but those who desire to do it find a way. and IMO, we work hard but we relax plenty, so no worries on that front either.

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  19. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous, and I certainly didn't mean to suggest that most Americans are naive and uninterested in the world. I have plenty of American friends who aren't like this at all. However, I would make the point that travelling abroad, especially to a country where they speak a different language to your own, is definitely a different experience to travelling in your own country - when suddenly you can't read any signs, or can barely make yourself understood, then that's a circumstance where you can learn a lot about yourself and the world. But otherwise I certainly don't disagree with your comments, thanks for stopping by!

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