Is the American Dream Holding You Back?

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“Two weeks a year?! That’s IT?”

Sigh. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been drawn into this conversation. I’ve had it with Australians, with Germans, with Brits, all staring at me in wide-eyed amazement. They’ve probably just asked me why American’s don’t travel, a common enough question in Asia where I can go weeks without seeing another of my kind. I have a whole host of theories on that one, but it’s easiest for me to point out that well, most of us don’t really have time.

I get the same disbelieving look sometimes when I share with my friends back home that most first world countries get a minimum of 4 weeks of vacation time a year. It sounds so luxurious to be able to actually take a vacation longer than a week or two, to be able to actually visit another continent instead of squeezing in long weekend trips to see family. To be able to visit somewhere like Asia without having to quit your job or take a sabbatical. What a luxury of time.

Honestly though, it shouldn’t be a luxury. Recently I read an article on CNN entitled “Why Is America the No Vacation Nation?”It basically lamented the same issue I’ve been going on about across the world. Mainly that America is the only advanced nation in the world that doesn’t mandate employers give their workers vacation time.

I was nodding along enthusiastically with the article, then I made the classic mistake: I read the comments.

Poonjob- As it is the world thinks we’re fat, lazy and stupid. Some people work 2-3 jobs to make ends meet. Others work like dogs. If you want to be a bum, leave the USA and be fat, lazy and stupid in another country. Our work ethic is what makes us strong.

Ouch. I know Poonjob up there is just one person, but I’ve seen that attitude reflected in so many people. This idea that working like a dog is virtuous and personal enrichment is self-indulgent. As a country we don’t want to change- many people don’t even take advantage of the vacation time we have! Just look at poor Don Brock, profiled in the article. The last time he took even a week long vacation was ten years ago.

Look America- I love you, but your priorities are WAY out of whack.

if this is wrong, I don't wanna be right.

What are we working so hard FOR? It’s true that some people are just trying to make ends meet, to survive, and my quibble isn’t with them. For many Americans though, their needs are well met, and they still can’t wrap their heads around the idea of slowing down. For many Americans though, what we are working for is money. And things. We’ve been taught from a young age that what we really need is STUFF. A nice car, a nice phone, a nice designer handbag.

I’m sorry, but that’s crap. It’s a trick: an endless void of things we can throw money at: there’s always a new phone, a nicer car, a bigger house to be aspiring to. The problem with the American Dream is it’s always slightly out of reach.

Someone has played a cruel joke on us. They’ve taken advantage of our deeply engrained Protestant work ethic, our passion for being the best, and twisted us worker bees who can barely wrap our heads around the concept of time off.

I’m not a minimalist, I like shopping and owning nice clothes and I have an addiction to used book stores that I can not shake. It’s not wrong to want nice things, but maybe it’s time to start examining WHY we think we need them so much. Why has a country we take out massive loans and rack up loads of credit card debt for stuff we do not need. At this point, the stuff you own literally starts owning you.

It’s more insidious than that really. It’s a herd mentality, that I’ve railed against before: this idea that you need to do what everyone else is doing. This extreme pressure to go to school, get a job, work really, really hard for 45 years, and then maybe when you’re retired you can do the stuff you really want to do. It’s a powerful cycle and it’s extremely hard to opt out of it. I think, more so then the lack of vacation time, that is why Americans don’t travel: so few realize that the only American Dream you should be pursuing is your own personal one.

So- don’t think you can afford to travel the world? Maybe it’s time to think about what you’re paying for instead.

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175 Responses to Is the American Dream Holding You Back?

  1. Benjamin May 31, 2011 at 8:40 AM #

    I think the most frustrating thing is the fact that I get two weeks of vacation each year, but I don’t make enough money to actually afford a real vacation. Most of my co-workers, including myself, use our vacation time but we just stay home and get things done around the house. I’d much rather travel but I have no disposable income. I don’t want a month of time to just sit around my house.

    • Steph June 1, 2011 at 10:23 AM #

      This is a good point. The problem extends beyond just vacation time.

    • dolphin June 3, 2011 at 10:14 AM #

      This is a fair point, but you do have more options than simply travel or sit around the house. I am very much looking forward to my upcoming “staycation” and plan to spend very little of it at home. For most of us, there is alot more to do right where we live than we think about. Think about your city as if you were a tourist.

      For me, I have plans to go hike some mountain trails with my dogs, go swimming in a local lake, browse and explore the interesting little stores and multiple art galleries downtown, and other out-of-the-house activities. All of which is local and most of which is completely free. Plus I get the added benefit of sleeping in my own bed at night, and having friends around in the evenings for cookouts or whatever strikes my fancy). Would I love to do some traveling? Sure, when/if I can afford it (and I’ve been making some lifestyle changes lately that just might make that happen sooner rather than later). But in the meantime, I’m not going to let lack of money stop me from having a great vacation!

      • Steph June 3, 2011 at 10:37 AM #

        Whether you’re physically travelling to another place or not it sounds like you are taking advantage of your vacation time to the fullest. That puts you leap years ahead of a lot of people who mope around their houses or worse, don’t even bother to take their vacation time at all.

    • Tara July 16, 2013 at 11:58 AM #

      I feel like most Americans don’t give themselves the freedom to travel because they assume it will cost too much. Obviously our country as a whole is encountering some serious financial woes, so that contributes to the ‘stay at home’ mentality, and for some, a feeling of gratitude that they are fortunate to have a job and those exciting 2 weeks of vacation time.

  2. Kelly Mullen May 31, 2011 at 8:42 AM #

    Someone after my own heart! I have to say I totally agree. 3 years ago I began a journey down a VERY different direction than most everyone I know and it has led me to the most fulfilling life I could have ever envisioned. And to top it off, I haven’t worked a 9-5 job in those 3 years. My sanity, my health and my spirit are far too important to me to subject myself to living a life that is not mine. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity…and I don’t mean minimalist, I mean just get simple, let go of the crap (physically, mentally and emotionally) and start understanding what it might mean to BE alive. :) Thank you for this post!

    • Steph June 1, 2011 at 10:27 AM #

      Good for you! I think it can be really challenging to define like on your own terms, but rewarding as well.

  3. janet May 31, 2011 at 8:48 AM #

    once you opt out, I wonder how easy it is to opt back in? just food for thought..
    not that you’d want that once seeing the ‘light’

    i think our culture has tricked us into believing hard work is lots of work and vacation is self indulgent too.. it’s all part of the illusion.

    • Kelsey May 31, 2011 at 10:22 AM #

      My family opted out before I was born. As a result, I’ve never been able to opt-in. I’m very glad.

    • Steph June 1, 2011 at 10:28 AM #

      I have a feeling it’s easier to opt back in then to opt out in the first place. People embrace “normality”

  4. Paul Swaney May 31, 2011 at 8:53 AM #

    Good questions indeed. It took me a long time to realize that the more you have, the more it takes to maintain. I love travel enough that I am trying to make it my career. To do that, I will need to accept a lot less income.

  5. Superxicana May 31, 2011 at 9:02 AM #


    You did an awesome job explaining how our society discourages us from traveling past a couple of weeks, if that, at a time. “Consumerism” & “capitalism” are so drilled into our heads everyday, it is a miracle any of us pushed through all that b.s. to travel around the world.

    I’m so glad to see more and more travelers writing about the great trap the U.S. dream really is. I substituted America cause gladly not every country in America shares this belief ;)


    See ya around the world sometime hahaha ;)

    • Steph June 1, 2011 at 10:29 AM #

      Thanks! It’s a big omnipresent system. Once you begin to see it then it’s much hard to ifnore.

    • Brad July 19, 2011 at 9:26 AM #

      As George Carlin so brilliantly put it: “It’s called the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it”

      I’ve been traveling for a year and a half now and will be for at least another year. I’m not sure how I’ll adjust when I go back.. probably won’t.

      Just getting into your blog.. good stuff!

  6. amber May 31, 2011 at 9:02 AM #

    America isn’t the only one. Where I’m living (Asian country) has only a 2-week holiday leave for employees as well.

    Maybe for other 1st world countries, but certainly not this part of the world, where people overtime like it’s a normal thing. Asians have the longest working hours.

    • Steph June 1, 2011 at 10:31 AM #

      This is very true. Particularly in Vietnam and China people work incredibly long hours with not much reward.

  7. Brett May 31, 2011 at 9:09 AM #

    I’m very happy my 9-5 company was bought out by a European company. In the Netherlands, they get 5 weeks of holiday, plus another 3 weeks of flex time due to the scheduled 40-hour work week while the national labor agreement calls for 37.5 hours and that has to be made up as well, plus any overtime hours can be “paid” in additonal flex time. In the US, I was never able to take vacation, in the Netherlands, I couldn’t even use it up! Here in Taiwan, it’s more like the US System, 2 weeks base vacation, with some additional days based on seniority. Luckily, I’m up to 4 weeks now based on years of service. Just wish flights to/from Taiwan were as cheap as in Europe, or there were drivable destinations. I was lucky that my job also gave me incredible opportunities to travel around Europe and Asia, including some weekend trips to other locations in the middle, and now offers me the opportunity to live and work overseas. And all this started with a temp assignment! It is possible…

    • Steph June 1, 2011 at 10:43 AM #

      Lucky you!

  8. Allison May 31, 2011 at 9:12 AM #

    I think this is just the tip of the iceberg…. as one who is tied down with a lot of debt due to medical bills, due to lack of health insurance, I can’t take much advantage of the 2 months a year I technically do have off! Too busy having to find another job to cover the bills…. :(
    I think we’d, as a whole, be a lot less “fat and lazy” if we did have more time off. The work habits of most North Americans – long work hours, time off spent doing other chores or in front of the tv/computer, and poor eating habits because of our busy lived contribute to the obesity, and the tendency to want to “not do anything” when we do get time off.

    • Elizabeth May 31, 2011 at 10:52 AM #

      I agree! Working too much contributes to some being “fat and lazy” — or others trying desperately to fit in a healthy lifestyle around a busy work week and work year! Also, as one who is tied to loads of student loans, it’s difficult to balance the budget sufficiently to travel….. but definitely NOT impossible! =) All good suggestions here!

      • Steph June 1, 2011 at 10:35 AM #

        good point- with a lack of free time a lot of things suffer, not just wanderlust.

      • Zach August 28, 2012 at 8:45 PM #

        I agree I have a massive amount of student loans too. I’m going to teach English to support my travel and loans. There are ways. Get out. Get out as fast and as far as you can from the consumerism illusion.

    • Steph June 1, 2011 at 10:43 AM #

      You are so right, there is a whole broken system built up which makes it very hard for normal people to live, yet alone travel.

  9. Dennis May 31, 2011 at 9:30 AM #

    Thanks for the hard dose of truth. We have allowed commercialism to dictate what we want instead of individually following our own hearts. I truly admire people like you who have charted their own course and defined their own American dream.

  10. Holly May 31, 2011 at 9:56 AM #

    Travel has always been my #1 love and even I got caught up in ‘stuff’ and what I should do.

  11. Claire May 31, 2011 at 9:58 AM #

    Even if people cannot afford to travel the world, they can start out small. Take a day trip an hour away from home. Find something to do! Expand your horizons, even just by 50 miles. I live and teach in an area where, despite our close proximity to our nation’s capital, many kids will never see much of WV, let alone the world. Nearly every day I am trying to convey the message that the world is big and it is awesome and there is more to life than staying in a bubble.
    And my answer to the piddly 2 week vacation of the american dream? BE A TEACHER! ;)

    • Kelsey May 31, 2011 at 10:20 AM #

      Not only that, but people have no idea how cheaply you can travel, if you put your mind to it. They complain about how expensive it is to travel, and then they go and stay in a luxury hotel when they do. Um, hello!

    • Steph June 1, 2011 at 10:44 AM #

      You are in WV? We are practically neighbors! Or will be when I get back to Nova in a couple weeks.

  12. Nicole May 31, 2011 at 10:15 AM #

    This was fantastic. I am so glad you wrote this. I have been thinking about this idea broadly for a while but you really got it down just right. There are so many people I want to send this to!

  13. Kelsey May 31, 2011 at 10:19 AM #

    Yes! People’s eyes look like they’re going to pop out of their heads when I tell them about how I live. I only work 3 days a week and yet still have enough money to travel for multiple months of the year. “Why don’t you get a regular job? You’d make so much more money!” they say. Why would I want to work twice as much as I do now? My needs are met. My income affords me rent, food, an occasional item, and travel money. What more do I need? What are these people working for? I think that Americans seriously need some instruction on the want/need dichotomy. So many people have no clue how little you really need to live.

    I recently lamented my lack of a car to a friend of mine. He suggested that I get a better job so that I can get a car. I told him that it seems ridiculous to me to work longer hours so that I can get something that just takes more money, meaning I have to work more. How do people never understand this concept? It seems so obvious to me.

    Sorry, you’ve hit a nerve here.

    • Allison June 1, 2011 at 9:18 AM #

      Lack of a car…. that’s another issue with the States. I don’t have a car, so a lot of my travel options are considerably limited – add a need for some real good public transportation – country-wide – to the list!

      • Kelsey June 1, 2011 at 9:50 AM #

        I at least have a motorcycle, though it has a top speed of about 55mph, which limits me to backroads.

        The US actually has a pretty good interstate bus system, but the problem is that it’s almost as expensive as an on-sale plane ticket.

    • Steph June 1, 2011 at 10:46 AM #

      I had to buy a car to get to work last year and I kind of hated owning something so expensive and having to pay loans on it.

      I think you are right, the want/need thing is difficult for a lot of people to grasp.

      • Kelsey June 1, 2011 at 10:55 AM #

        I try to steer people toward cheap used cars or scooters, when possible. Sometimes needing transportation is unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. I’ve never owned a car that I paid more than $1500 for, and one of which I put 80,000 miles on!

    • Tom Pinit January 26, 2012 at 2:08 PM #

      Sorry I’m about 7 months late to the party, but better late than never as I’m finding in this thread!

      Kelsey’s story reminds me of the parable about the Mexican fisherman who owned one boat, caught enough fish to feed his family, and sleep, play with his kids, and play guitar with his friends the rest of the day. Then along comes a rich US businessman/tourist who tries to talk him into upsizing into a whole fleet of fishing boats….

      Google “Mexican fisherman parable” for the whole thing. I think you’ll enjoy it :)

    • Bethany December 15, 2013 at 9:01 PM #

      Um… if you were lamenting your lack of car, then what did you want him to say.

      “Oh, hey, why don’t I give you a car for free? I’ll pay for your gas, too!”

      It’d be one thing if you hadn’t brought it up, but if you’re whining about not having something, getting a better job is the only reasonable answer.

  14. Stephen May 31, 2011 at 10:24 AM #

    Excellent points, and something that makes me want to hit my head against things everytime I”m back in the States talking to friends.

    • Kelsey May 31, 2011 at 10:27 AM #

      Glad to know I’m not the only one with that reaction!

    • Steph June 1, 2011 at 10:33 AM #

      It’s hard to talk about too without sounding either paranoid or like a hippie.

      • Kelsey June 1, 2011 at 10:56 AM #

        They always tell me “If you love X country so much, why don’t you move there?!” to which my response is usually “I’m trying!”.

  15. Sasha May 31, 2011 at 10:36 AM #

    This really is such a great post! And I’m not even American! In my time in China I’ve learned a lot about this idea of the American dream from the many Americans I’ve met. Many couldn’t believe that instead of going to “college” I slugged my arse off working two retail jobs to save to travel. They couldn’t believe that I didn’t even care that I didn’t have a degree “how will you get a good paying job, how will you afford to have a good life?” I then have had to go through the long and tedious task explaining that Australia isn’t like America, gap years aren’t uncommon and more people don’t go to Uni then do because in Australia we’re told to only put yourself through the torture of further study if that subject is where you future lies. They couldn’t believe it when I told them how many people I went to high school with took gap years and travelled, some went to uni the year later others went straight into the workforce and some just never left London. I had to explain that travelling is encouraged and not uncommon. Many of the American’s I’ve spoken to could hardly believe the words coming from my mouth, they thought I was both crazy at the same time they envied what seemed to them to be a very free pressure free life. It really makes me sad to think that such a big country like America is programed to think in such a way that essentially takes away people’s freedom. All this talk about the land of the free, the more American’s I meet the more I wonder is it really free!?

    • Steph June 1, 2011 at 10:34 AM #

      I think that there is a lot of pressure in American society to conform to a certain model. It keeps people in line, but it makes the rest of us non-conformists look kind of crazy.

  16. Katrina Mauro May 31, 2011 at 10:37 AM #

    Love this post! I have been taking 3 week vacations for the past 5 years, with a smaller one fit into the year somewhere. If my employers are not willing to give me time off, I am not willing to work for them. People are always amazed when I say I am taking three weeks, and say “your bosses allow that?”. When I take time off I request it, and tell them I do not want to be paid for that time off so that I can have it. It’s a trade off, but I would rather have the time for my mental health.

    As of two days ago I’ve decided that I will take a 6+ month rtw trip, details to be worked out, but probably leaving by next June. I would love to figure out what I will do financially upon return before leaving, hopefully whatever it is will help me to continue my travels rather than sit behind a desk.

    • ehalvey June 1, 2011 at 10:12 AM #

      I concur! I have had the flexibility to take time off without pay if I needed more vacation time. Like for my wedding and honeymoon: I took 2 weeks for each within 2 months of each other. I only had maybe 8 days of vacation, so I split those days up over each break and didn’t get paid for the rest of the days. It was so worth it to have that much time off.

      • Steph June 3, 2011 at 10:08 AM #

        I wouldn’t mind too much being able to take off time w/o pay. Some employers really frown on that for some reason though.

    • Steph June 1, 2011 at 10:34 AM #

      Good for you for demanding your time off!

  17. Sherry Ott May 31, 2011 at 11:34 AM #

    Yup…don’t ever read the comments on posts like that – nothing will upset me faster! But it does go to show you that we exist in our little extended travel bubble…convincing the rest of our culture how beneficial travel can be is not easy. As we are definitely still in the minority!
    But hopefully not for long!

    • Steph June 1, 2011 at 10:36 AM #

      When I spoke at Meet Plan Go last spring that really hit home for me. It seems so easy for me now, but for the majority of people, it’s really hard to envision travel as anything but selfish.

  18. Julia May 31, 2011 at 11:41 AM #

    Although I come from the UK and we do get a minimum of 4 weeks holiday time a year, I can honestly say that the attitudes over here are very similar to the US in that many people are happy with their ‘fill’ and give you strange looks if you say you want to travel for an extended period of time, particularly if you are not straight out of uni (which apparently is the only time in your life you’re allowed to take such a trip!). I agree about material possessions starting to take over people’s lives and I actually wrote a post myself about how upsetting it is that we are conditioned to believe growing up that we must get a good job, get married, have kids and just be happy to work our whole lives for that. How much someone earns and the car they drive seems to be more important that someone’s personality or passion for life. How sad. Luckily there are many people out there that have bucked that trend and they are usually the ones with the big smiles on their faces :)

    • Steph June 1, 2011 at 10:38 AM #

      Thanks Julia. I really don’t think it’s a problem unique to the US. Every country has their own boxes and they are always tough to break out of!

  19. A Kiwi in Chile May 31, 2011 at 12:15 PM #

    Excellent article.
    I’m not from the States so can you clear something up for me… do you only get two weeks of vacation a year and not 3 weeks?
    I think the slaving away to buy things is not just an “American” thing but something that has spread across most nations now due to easy access to information (with large doses of advertising). It is now easy for people to fall into that trap anywhere in the world.

    • Steph May 31, 2011 at 6:28 PM #

      2 weeks is generally the standard for entry-level positions. If you’ve been with the company awhile (or if they are particularly generous) you might get 3. For awhile my dad had a job where he got 4 weeks but if he took a sick day it had to come out of that total!

  20. Scott - Quirky Travel Guy May 31, 2011 at 12:18 PM #

    Totally agree! People think of money as the ultimate goal, but they never really think of what they want to do with that money. I feel the same way about saving for retirement vs. spending your money now to travel. I prefer the latter, which I know goes against all the rules. But who knows if you’ll get hit by a bus tomorrow?

    • Steph June 1, 2011 at 10:39 AM #

      Yeah I’m definitely of the live for the moment variety (although I’m sure as I get older I’ll be more inclined to save). It seems shitty to me that we should have to choose one or the other.

  21. Amanda May 31, 2011 at 12:20 PM #

    I can’t tell you how many times I had this very same conversation when I was traveling around New Zealand. The only fellow Americans I met were those who are now living there, and that was a very small number.

    It frustrates me that Americans have this assembly line mentality – that they have to follow the same path as everyone else deemed to be “successful.” There’s very little room to think outside the box, and those who do are often seen as being frivolous.

    I talked with a few NZ families about gap years and years off between high school and university. In NZ (and Australia, and Britain, too), this year off is almost expected. But here in the US, taking a year off is seen as a waste; like you’re trying to postpone growing up. It’s sad.

    • Steph June 1, 2011 at 10:39 AM #

      Yeah, I think the concept of a gap year would be really beneficial to insular and stressed out American students, but I don’t see it coming into vogue anytime soon.

      • Kelsey June 1, 2011 at 10:58 AM #

        I took a gap year and while I could have used it better than I did, it was still one of the best things I did. I also took a gap semester in the middle of college, which helped me re-focus my life.

        • Michelle February 10, 2012 at 9:42 AM #

          My “gap year” trip came after University instead of before. I’d finished my degree and realized there were no immediate prospects for work so, instead of sitting around at home and taking on some crap job I didn’t want, I went backpacking around Australia with a few friends. I’m so glad I did. I see my friends who have never been anywhere or experienced anything other than their norm and I don’t know how they can stand it. Getting out of my comfort zone helped me figure out what to do next.

    • JohnnyPeacock March 7, 2012 at 3:39 PM #

      I don’t see anything wrong with postponing growing up! I just turned 28 and have finally made teh decision to quit my sensible job and take off… for as long as possible.

  22. Barbara Winter May 31, 2011 at 1:00 PM #

    Just before I read your terrific post, I came across an old favorite quote that seems to fit. “It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves. The domestic setting keeps us tethered to the person we are in ordinary life, who may not be who we essentially are. “~ Alain de Botton

    • Steph June 1, 2011 at 10:40 AM #

      thank you for sharing.

  23. simply three cents May 31, 2011 at 1:15 PM #

    COMPLETELY AGREE. An Italian guy I met while traveling in Argentina told me that it’s our fault, as Americans, for making two weeks acceptable. While I agree with him, what does he want us to do, revolt? Should I write my lawmakers and ask for four weeks of vacation? Probably not. But I am very willing to negotiate more vacation days over money. Always know what you are working for (in my case, to travel), and don’t lose sight of it.

    • Steph May 31, 2011 at 6:30 PM #

      I agree, on a personal level there’s not much we can do as individuals, except maybe try to live our lives out of the box.

    • Kelsey June 1, 2011 at 12:27 PM #

      You can choose not to work for a company that only gives 2 weeks of vacation! Vote with your choice of employment.

  24. Katie May 31, 2011 at 3:23 PM #

    This is awesome. I completely agree. One of my best friends is from Germany, and every time I talk to him and we catch up on life he laments on how much I have to work — while he fills me in on his upcoming trips to Rome, and the Canary Islands and such.

    Luckily for me, I have ONE WEEK LEFT at the 9-5. After a summer at home I’m chucking it all to teach English in Prague and travel for a couple years or so. I believe there’s more to life than stuff, and I’ve really enjoyed paring down my things. It’s more than liberating.

    So, yes, this post definitely resounded with issues I”ve been grappling with lately. Thank you :)

    • Steph June 1, 2011 at 10:41 AM #

      Congratulations!! Welcome to the free world.

  25. Jenna Vandenberg May 31, 2011 at 4:07 PM #

    Allison brings up a good point. Too many of us Americans are afraid to quit or take a leave in order to travel because of health insurance concerns. I’m taking a year off to travel and insurance is far and away my biggest expense. Sadly Obama wasn’t able to do much to fix this insurance conundrum.

    • Steph June 1, 2011 at 10:41 AM #

      Insurance is a big issue for me too. Unfortunately I don’t see our government doing much to help us out on that one anytime soon.

      • Alison June 1, 2011 at 6:40 PM #

        Having a pre-exisiting condition makes health insurance a whole lot more difficult, too. Quitting my job that leaves me with little disposable income makes it difficult to afford COBRA and medicine that I need to live a healthy life. Steph, I’ve always wondered and wanted to ask what you are doing for health insurance while traveling around the world. Do you mind sharing?

        • Steph June 3, 2011 at 9:45 AM #

          Well, my situation is a little different than yours in that I’m fortunately lacking in health problems. When I’m travelling I use MEDEX health travel insurance- it’s more comprehensive than something like World Nomads, although I’ve yet to make a claim with them so I can’t give much of a review. When I go home this summer I’m going to sign up for a month-to-month plan with a high deductible.

          Hope that’s at least somewhat helpful!

    • Kelsey June 1, 2011 at 10:59 AM #

      Are you planning on paying for US insurance while you’re overseas? Just get healthcare overseas. It’s usually just as good (or almost as good) as what you get in the USA, and only a fraction of the price.

  26. Ekua May 31, 2011 at 5:17 PM #

    I love your caption on the fruity beverage with the sunset photo – made me chuckle. Some of the ideas in this post resonate with me. As some of my friends climb the corporate ladder and splurge on fancy cars and other STUFF, the more I am realizing that my values are very, very different. I love my friends, but I can’t bring myself to care about a lot of those things… it seems vapid. Of course, at some point I’m going to have to think more about saving for retirement which might mean spending less on travel, but it does seem silly to put all your stock in living your dreams (travel or otherwise) when you retire. I know people who were able to do that, but I’ve also seen things change so radically that it didn’t happen.

    I do think there are aspects of being an American citizen makes it harder for people to live more freely – things like health insurance tie people down. Also, as much as Americans are afraid of other places, our cities can be dangerous. When people have kids, they especially want to be in safe neighborhoods and that requires $. Sometimes things like that make people feel inclined to achieve the typical American Dream and I get that. But I also think there are a lot of people who are mostly looking for the status and the fancy stuff. It amazes me how many people tell me they don’t have the funds to travel and then they tell me about the thousands of dollars they spent on a gigantic TV. I guess in the end, that’s their choice, but I find that that’s the norm, and it’s frustrating to have to defend myself for not buying into the stuff mentality.

    • Kelsey June 1, 2011 at 9:53 AM #

      “It amazes me how many people tell me they don’t have the funds to travel and then they tell me about the thousands of dollars they spent on a gigantic TV. I guess in the end, that’s their choice, but I find that that’s the norm, and it’s frustrating to have to defend myself for not buying into the stuff mentality.”

      So many people don’t understand that it’s just about having different priorities.

  27. Sheryll May 31, 2011 at 9:55 PM #

    This post was everything I needed to read today.

    “so few realize that the only American Dream you should be pursuing is your own personal one.”

    This really resonated with me. As a 20 something who just left her job in order to pursue a job that really makes me happy, I really needed to hear this. Most people think I’ve lost my mind. They don’t understand that I don’t want a house with a 30 year mortgage, a car that takes up gas I can’t afford, etc. I love shopping like the next girl, but I’ve realized having the latest pair of Prada pumps doesn’t define me.

    Thanks so much for this post Steph!

  28. Alouise May 31, 2011 at 11:41 PM #

    Great post, it’s so true. Canada is quite similar to our American neighbors, but perhaps not as extreme. Each province has their own employment standards including vacation time. Where I live (Alberta) the standard is two weeks vacation after four years, and three weeks after five years. Most employers offer two weeks vacation after two or three years, but still that’s a long time to work just for a vacation. Me? I’d much rather spend time, energy and money on travel than on stuff – but to each their own.

  29. Garrett June 1, 2011 at 7:40 AM #

    Man, two weeks really is nothing, isn’t it? I read an article a while back that steps back and abstracts the idea of wealth. In the mid 20th century the United States, as a country, made the decision to extract additional wealth via higher salaries in exchange for fewer vacation days. Europe on the other hand, accepted lower salaries in exchange for more vacation days.

    Why that happened is a long debate (can we blame the Quakers?) but ultimately it’s an issue of where you put your wealth. We put it into our nice PRIVATE spaces, where most European countries put it into their PUBLIC spaces. A basic, but huge, dichotomy.

    • Kelsey June 1, 2011 at 9:51 AM #

      Yes! This is part of the key! Americans are inward-facing. Europeans are outward-facing.

    • Eyetravelsolo October 10, 2011 at 9:17 AM #

      Your right, I don’t remember when I last took a two week trip. Recently back from two and a half weeks in Costa Rica, I left knowing I needed 30 days to do it right. I missed too much. Where ever you go, take as much time as you can. Absorb the country and culture you visit.

  30. Alexis June 1, 2011 at 1:39 PM #

    You have no idea how much I’ve struggled with the idea that I only have 18 days of vacation (and if I call in sick, it chips away at those days). My boyfriend works for a firm that gives him only 5 days of vacation a year on his first year there! I was upset after hearing this!

    My boyfriend found this article also (no vacation nation), and I knew that people were going to have all kinds of comments. I couldn’t believe what I read also! I studied abroad in Spain and after realizing how life is in Europe, I realized more and more why people here are so closed minded. Almost everyone in Europe has been to New York. Even younger people have. My friends here in Arizona would die of happiness if they purchased a ticket to Europe. It’s like traveling is unheard of over here.

    It’s upsetting. Great article! Inspired me to write one similar. Thanks for sharing!

    • Steph June 3, 2011 at 10:04 AM #

      5 DAYS?! That’s ridiculous.

  31. Sabrina June 1, 2011 at 5:26 PM #

    This weird attitude towards vacation in the US is honestly the most difficult part for me to deal with (I’m German and moved here seven years ago as a student and now work full time since over two years).

    I have about 3-4 weeks a year if I time it just right. This means I travel to Europe or Asia or Africa about twice a year for about 2 weeks each to visit family and friends and just hang out. For me that in crazy short and I know I won’t do this forever.

    For my co-workers this is crazy long and I think they only really accept it because I am a foreigner – we’re weird anyways :) They also think I’m crazy rich to afford it. BS. I don’t even make that much money, but it’s priorities. I drive a super-old car. I live in a cheap rented house with my boyfriend. I don’t really have a whole lot of expensive gadgets. I don’t really eat out that much. Plus, travel is so much cheaper than most people think.

    • Steph June 3, 2011 at 9:57 AM #

      I remember when I was working full time I took a 10 day trip to Iceland and it was the HUGEST DEAL among my coworkers. From then on I was know as the “travel girl.” It was really confusing at the time, but I think most people just don’t utilize their vacation time that way.

      • Sabrina June 3, 2011 at 12:15 PM #

        I know!!! Whenever people introduce me it’s either “This is Sabrina. She’s from GERMANY.” or alternatively “This is Sabrina. She travels ALL THE TIME. Sabrina, tell them about your last trip to Egypt/Germany/China/insert whatever my last trip was.”. Love it… NOT!

  32. Erik June 1, 2011 at 9:11 PM #

    I was lucky when I got my current job. Two rivals had opened a bidding war for me (that sounds so conceited- just right place, right time).
    One offered a higher salary, the other offered a lower salary but more vacation time. Obviously I took the one with more vacation time. Not only that, I was able to negotiate an extra week for every year I work there. All in all, a pretty good deal.

    I took this post to heart. I am going to work at reducing my dependence on ‘stuff’. There are more important things.

    • Steph June 3, 2011 at 9:38 AM #

      Wow that is a lucky situation! I think you probably made the right choice.

      I’m glad my post was inspirational to you, I think most of us could do with a lot less ‘stuff.’

  33. Erin June 3, 2011 at 9:33 PM #

    We are currently in the US and hearing from our friends who have plenty of money but no time. I can’t imagine only having 2 weeks of vacation a year and have wondered what it’s all for, so this post was really interesting.

    It’s made us realise that although we don’t have much money we do have the wonderful luxury of time and I’d rather have that than a new Macbook Air (although that would be nice…).

  34. John D. Wilson June 4, 2011 at 12:34 AM #

    Too tired to read all your points, but you are on the right track! Short read was very positive.
    I have you marked on twitter and hope to come back and read more of your blog.
    Learn to be content no matter the situation – and like most, in spite of other people.
    John D. Wilson

  35. Verity Tipton June 7, 2011 at 10:42 AM #

    I had been working for the same company for 5 years. I never felt like I could take a vacation for more than a long weekend b/c there was no one that could ‘take care of things’ while I was away. Finally after 5 yrs of barely taking vacation, I decided to leave the company and go on a brief sabbatical for about 6 weeks in Antigua to learn some Spanish. Then I found an entry level job in Colombia that gives me 2 days of vacation ‘A Month”. You can bet that I’ll be taking it.

    Eventually I’ll go back to the US, but you can bet that I’ll be more demanding about taking vacation and even negotiating like Erik to get more.

    • H.D. Lynn September 12, 2012 at 9:46 PM #

      Exactly this. It’s not just that; it’s that the boss I used to work for understaffed our work place. When I decided to take vacation and another girl had emergency surgery the same week, the boss retaliated. No one person could be out of the office at once. Even if you had plans, you had to cancel them if some one else had an emergency. I’m not there any more. That was insane.

  36. Steph June 15, 2011 at 3:27 PM #

    I had to share this spam comment (left on this post) because it all too perfectly proved my point:

    “I will recommend not to wait until you earn enough amount of money to order all you need! You should take the credit loans or just college loan and feel yourself comfortable.”

  37. Libia July 18, 2011 at 5:52 AM #

    I totally loved this post and couldnt agree more.I believe anybody can travel is just a matter of making it happen.Let me share my personal journey ..years ago while working for a hotel in Florida I met a girl from Argentina she was on an internship, we became friends and I was so inspired by her leaving home ,family and friends just to try something different and new in a whole different country. At the time I had a career had a good job, had a house and a decent car. My life was set for the american dream. I promised my argentinian friend to one day go to Argentina and visit her. I had it all but I didnt feel completely happy. my friend left the US to get back to Argentina but we promised to stay in touch . By the end of that year I got my 2 week vacation and had a reason to travel. I promised a friend to visit her and her country. So I venture to Argentina alone, my friend picked me up at the airport and I spent the best 2 weeks of vacations ever! that trip opened my eyes to a completely different world. I visited Buenos Aires,Mar del Plata and spent 3 days in the Patagonia. I had the time of my life. when I came back to the US realized how much time Ive spent on fulfilling material dreams. I cut on credit cards, sold my house and got myself into an apartment . I started living simply and that helped me get rid of my debt and putting more money into savings. I sucked it up my job for 1 more year, just to save more money onto what would be my new goal ; travelling. After the year I communicate my friends and family that I had decided to travel for 6 months around South America. Everybody was soo surprised by my decision and even friends would tell me how amazed they were by me leaving it all for 6 months. I threw all my crap to storage and flew to my new home for 6 months South America. S.A is a fairly cheap destination not expensive at all the xchange currency works on our favor. My first stop was Argentina, then I headed to Uruguay,Bolivia,Colombia,Ecuador and Peru. I can not describe how wonderful were those 6 months All I can say is that I have never felt that happy before. My soul was full of joy. I met great people from all over the world learned about different cultures,visited amazing countries. I found a whole new experience and also I found my true self. I encourage anybody to do it. I hope you enjoyed my experience.

  38. barzakboy August 2, 2011 at 8:53 AM #

    Sad thing is that our founding fathers never had this dream in mind for us when our coutry was created. Some how “…the pursuit of Happiness” was twisted to mean “…the pursuit of Stuff”. sadface all the way

  39. Jess August 6, 2011 at 3:55 AM #

    Hi, i’m a high school student in year 12, living in sydney, from a borderline rural small town in florida, and not only do i agree with some of your theories and ideas presented, im wondering if i could quote some parts of this article as well as some individuals experiences, because i’m doing a research project for my society and culture course which is based reasons why the american passport ownership percentage is lower than most other western nations of equal wealth. Wow, thats a long run on sentence. I got to choose my topic for this paper and there are alot of opinions that would be of great value for my project. Specifically, its called a ‘Personal Interest Project’ or PIP :)

    Living in Sydney has opened my eyes so much to other cultures, simply because its a city. Or at least i think thats what it might be? i wouldnt really know, as i havent lived in any other big city. I really do appreciate having both an american and australian passport, but at the same time, i dont know if i could ever live in the US because of the points you made – the consumerism and capitalism disallowing people to see whats really important. I find it hard to understand why anyone wouldnt travel, not wouldnt want to, so many people want to, but why they woudlnt make it more of a priority. this lack of understanding is why i chose to research this topic and i’m finding it very interesting, but also, in a way uplifting, because beleive it or not, the percentage of passport owners in the US is rising, and im hoping it will continue to grow. Most of the people who responded this article are travellers and it was nice to read a bunch of posts supporting travel, rather than not supporting it or of people being very defensive about why they dont. travel that is.
    Anyway,everyone keep jumpin’ on those planes, go somewhere, anywhere. i think it be interesting to one day just go to the airport and say “i’d like to get on the next domestic (or international?) flight that leaves”, and just go, where ever it is :)))))

    • Steph August 6, 2011 at 9:31 AM #

      Hi Jess,

      Thanks for the lovely comment! I think that living in an international city like Sydney probably has a lot of influence on your viewpoints- in a good way! Feel free to quote my article, and shoot me an email if you need more information.


  40. JillGoAfrica October 4, 2011 at 1:15 PM #

    Add to the ‘we only get 2 weeks’, that most people don’t even use that…
    Also one thing that hasn’t been mentioned is that many Americans find airline travel uncomfortable and stressful. Not as many ‘love to fly’ or are even willing to tolerate it to get to their destination.
    Then add the ‘it’s hard to leave the job because there are things that I need to do’… the workplace does notice your absence! Somewhat because people don’t cross-train to take care of the work of another, everyone works so on their own… that literally only one person Can do certain things and it’s hardthen for them to leave. Europeans cross-train more. People here like to have their own comfort box.
    Lastly, with kids, it is harder to travel because kids are busy now. It’s hard for them to slow down too!

  41. Nancy October 6, 2011 at 11:52 AM #

    Y’know, Steve Jobs passed away yesterday, and he was quoted as saying that we shouldn’t waste our time living other people’s lives…How true.

  42. Kevin October 10, 2011 at 4:18 PM #

    It held me back briefly back in the “Yuppie” day’s. I hate to admit it, but the money & materialism got to me in my twenties. “Had to keep up with the Jones’s.” Had to have the best of everything, one day I woke up and thought, I don’t even use this crap. I buy it and it sits there, some things I have two of. I might as well have flushed those thousands of $$’s. That cash would have allowed me to at least double my Travel’s, exploring countries, studying other cultures, the freeing of my mind on Solo Trips which are always an adventure. Memories that last a lifetime and that can be shared with those who rarely even venture from their own backyard. Within no time, I left the Corp. World, the big city, sold the Rolex, brand new car, Ties & Suits went to Charity, etc…moved to a small town in the Rockies with every outdoor adventure you can imagine and like minded people. My backyard is now millions of acres of protected land and my Base Camp. My mind now uncluttered with Bulls… , even though I will be leaving this slice of Heaven behind, I am liquidating everything and relocating to an area 8,000 miles away..the big jump, “The Journey Never Ends if Your Mind is Free and you Engage your Dreams.” It will never happen if you come up with one excuse after another, just do it. Never been happier. Did I just write a Blog or an Article? ha…ha… :) Stimulate your mind.

  43. Emily @Travelated October 11, 2011 at 1:24 PM #

    I saw the headline of this post and my first thought was: Exactly. Americans are so held down by that long-standing belief that if you don’t work yourself to the bone, you aren’t a valid human being. I believed it, too, until recently, and now I’m flinging myself into the world. I hardly make any money, but I’ve never been happier in my life. I am truly free right now, and I’ll never go back to the corporate grind. Never.

    • Steph October 16, 2011 at 10:16 PM #

      I’m glad you’ve broken free!

  44. Rease October 13, 2011 at 8:42 AM #

    AWESOME post. I am still struggling with the guilt mentality after over a year working in Argentina. I went into work when I was miserable sick, thinking I just had to. My boss told me to go home. No docked pay, just compassion. I am a workaholic and always will be, but I work hard so that I can enjoy my life, and that means vacation!

    • Steph October 16, 2011 at 10:00 PM #

      I know, it amazes me that most countries don’t ration out sick days like in the US. Sigh.

  45. Lusso Bags October 14, 2011 at 6:56 PM #

    Gotta appreciate your honesty in opinion sharing and love the caption, “f this is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.” :)

  46. Active Planet Travels October 19, 2011 at 1:49 PM #

    I get the same response all the time. In fact, family and friends are upset because all I do is “play” all the time. The way I look at it is that if I were to work the typical 9-5 job and have a house, car, insurance, and all these other payments I would actually be worse off than I am right now. You hit the nail on the head…this “American Dream” that we should be following should be “Our Dream”.

  47. Sebastian Aquitaine Ste. Claire October 27, 2011 at 10:14 AM #

    Hear, hear, Stephanie. The Ste. Claire boys are encouraged to visit Ste. Claire arboretum and botanical gardens for at least one hour every day, particularly the statues of Grand Pa-Pa and dearest brother Richard. It is there they can pay homage, recite prayers and declarations of obedience, leave precious knick knacks or what-have-you. By my count, Stephanie, that is no less than 3650 hours of vacation time per year or, in layman’s term, a whole heap of time to fill the heart with whatever passions it so desires.


    • Steph October 30, 2011 at 12:53 PM #

      I don’t know WHO you are but you are hilarious.

  48. Osvaldo November 5, 2011 at 8:40 PM #

    this post really reminds me of George Carlin famous video on the “American Dream”

    hope you enjoy :)

    • Steph November 6, 2011 at 7:13 PM #

      Thanks!! George was a wise guy.

  49. Ryan December 6, 2011 at 5:06 PM #

    This video pretty much explains the stuff part.

    I think you hit the nail on the head with this article!

  50. Tacrewigrl December 17, 2011 at 8:50 PM #

    I absolutely, love, love, love this posting. I’ve already posted it on Facebook (including the CNN article) and emailed to friends.

    I’ve just recently returned from a two-week vacation abroad and was met with the same response from backpackers with pity and my co-workers with envy/lazy worker. I actually met a guy while traveling who just packed up his life in the Netherlands and headed to Central America to live with no prior plans. Luckily, however, he can work from wherever (IT), but nonetheless, he jumped into the unknown and beauty of traveling and living abroad.

    Traveling at all is the purpose of this article, akin to the person who responded with staying and traveling locally. I do not want to diminish that realm of leisure, but even within a 50 mile radius, people rarely set foot outside of the boundaries of their town. I agree that sometimes that the simple art of relaxing at home is a good way to refresh, but doing it every day and every weekend does not allow you to learn and experience life as it was meant to be experienced and celebrated.

    It so said that the children will grow up with parents who may never take them on a family vacation which is now becoming synonymous with a ‘staycation’.

    Kudos and bravo for writing this article which I’m sure resonates with many American backpackers who still have a 9-5 and can only escape in two-week chunks.

    • Steph December 22, 2011 at 3:21 PM #

      Glad you liked it! I agree, it’s a shame more people don’t teach their kids to value vacation and exploration.

    • dhar September 5, 2013 at 2:24 PM #

      So sad that parents may never take their kids on a family vacation? How do you expect them to earn the extra money to take an extended vacation? Oh yeah they are working their asses off in an office for 40+ hours a week. Do you see the vicious cycle developing?

      • Steph September 5, 2013 at 2:57 PM #

        … Right and that lack of American leisure time is exactly what this article is about.


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