Having just returned from a five-day mountain vacation with my family, I was particularly ready for the New York Times op-ed article earlier this week on our personal vacation choices and what they say about us.

Times guest columnist Arthur C. Brooks noted a surprising amount of research on vacations and shared some interesting nuggets:

S00101: Hiker on Appalachian Trail at Max Patch, Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina, May

Blue Ridge Mountain Vista

  • Introverts prefer the mountains, and extroverts prefer the beach
  • Planning a trip is often the most rewarding part of a vacation
  • Overly structured vacations with jam packed itineraries and tight connections are seldom satisfying
  • A simple, relaxed trip is best for a happiness boost
  • Vacations can help career success

Score my extrovert-introvert personality test result as “ambiguous” – two weeks earlier we spent five days at the beach.   And while I tend to lean towards hyper-planned, heritage focused excursions, this year’s casual time at the beach and in the mountains did seem like a happier choice, especially for my two teen sons.

Yet largely overlooked, both by Brooks and by me in my initial enthusiastic post-vacation read of his article, are the almost one in four Americans who have no paid vacation or holiday time at all. For those Americans, the issue is not where they choose to have time away to recharge themselves or to connect with their families, but whether and how.

Boardwalk-Rehoboth-Beach-DE-03 (1)

Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk

That’s not the case in most advanced economies, and the disparities reveal themselves in unexpected ways. Brooks observes in America, our icebreaker topic with a stranger tends to be “What do you do for a living?” while in Europe, its “Where are you going on vacation this year?”   And for seemingly good reason: most European countries universally guarantee vacation time to workers. In the US, we have no legal guarantee.   And, compared to us, most Europeans have up to twice the paid holiday and vacation time to share stories about.

Our differences in national psyche around work-vacation priorities showed in a different way in a recent conversation I had with a Canadian colleague of mine who is involved with the International Social Tourism Organization.   Affiliated with the United Nations, the group advocates for destination tourism for low income people who have the right to vacation time off, but not the funds to get away.   There are about 100 organizational members from 15 countries but notably, at this writing, there are no US members.

Organizations like HI USA are helping to make travel more accessible. And, not surprising, “access to travel” is a core value of Hostelling International, with the hostel stay experience being an engaging and increasingly trendy way to travel on a budget.

No doubt, we can measure ourselves by the choices we make in our vacation decisions. And reflecting on those choices can be interesting and self-revealing.   Yet our American paradox between those full time workers who have paid vacations and holidays, and those who do not, is quite revealing too.   In the bigger picture, perhaps that’s the most important thing our vacations say about us.