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How Americans spend their vacation

Written by  Spreet Aulakh Monday, 23 September 2019 00:00

Bay bridge of San Francisco


Annual vacation days allow us to take a welcome break from working life and relax. But how we choose to spend our vacation is very much a personal choice. Is it a beach getaway or a city break? The Caribbean or Hawaii? Or maybe you just can’t afford to take time away from the office.

Our recent survey of 2,000 Americans has revealed the most popular vacation habits across the US. Results highlighted how many of us use our annual vacation days, and how we choose to spend them.

Unused vacation days

As many as 53% of people from the US don’t use any of their paid time off (PTO) for vacation. This means over a billion (1,068,159,160) paid vacation days go unused in the US every year! With 10% of US workers saying their employer offers no paid time off, some are left with no choice; but of those that are getting paid time off, many decide not to use this opportunity for a vacation.

One in ten Americans (13%) never go on vacation, and almost half (49%) miss out on annual vacations. By choosing not to take a vacation, workers are losing key opportunities to relax and unwind that could aid their stress levels and productivity in the long run.

As well as a huge number of paid vacation days going unused each year, many workers are forced into using their paid time off for practical reasons, rather than enjoying some leisure time. 20% said they use PTO to run errands; another 20% use them to cover sick days, and 14% to look after children.

The US is a popular destination

For those who do go on vacation, the most popular way to spend time off is soaking up the sun on a beach in the States. When it came to the perfect vacation, 39% had beach vacations on top of their list. This was followed by a trip outdoors (16%) and a theme park vacation (10%).

While revealing their favorite way to spend time away, the respondents were also asked what their ideal vacation destination was. The top four locations all fell inside the US. The South proved the ultimate place to spend a vacation, taking 68% of the votes. This was followed by the North East (60%) and the West Coast (51%). The Midwest (47%) completed the top four.

The top 10 vacation locations for Americans are listed below:

  • 1. South (US) – 68%

  • 2. North East (US) – 60%

  • 3. West Coast (US) – 51%

  • 4. Midwest (US) – 47%

  • 5. Caribbean – 37%

  • 6. Canada – 36%

  • 7. Western Europe – 32%

  • 8. Hawaii – 26%

  • 9. Latin America – 16%

  • 10. East Asia – 10%

Staying in the US is so popular that a high percentage of Americans don’t have a passport. 42% of Americans have only traveled outside of the US once, and 45% currently don’t hold a valid passport. Over a quarter (27%) have never held a passport, showing that the states have something for everyone when heading out on vacation.

The survey also considered how people like to spend their time away. Vacations can be expensive – a luxury holiday by the sea can take quite some time to save up for. On average, Americans spend $1,064.36 per person on their vacation.

When it comes to transport, using their car proved the most common way of getting around while on vacation. 84% of respondents said they regularly used their car to get about. Walking came second, with 49% of the vote, followed by Air Travel (39%) and car rental (24%).

Do Americans get enough time off?

The survey highlighted that a high percentage of people do not use their vacation days at all. But it has also shown that many of us who do use our PTO often do so to complete life admin and other tasks rather than taking a break. On average, US workers get 13.4 paid vacation days each year. 26% of Americans find they don’t have enough vacation days to cover trips and resort to using sick days to help them enjoy time away.

Just 26% of workers with paid vacation days actually use them all and for most Americans, there is no benefit to doing so. Just one in ten US employees can roll over their vacation time. This means outside factors are influencing workers taking vacation days. This could be down to pressure from their employer, or not having any spare time to take a break from the office. This coupled with the fact that just two-thirds (68%) of Americans use their paid time off for a trip, shows the US workforce isn’t getting enough from their vacation days.