Is the American Dream Holding You Back?

“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.

PoonjobAs 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.


Stephanie Yoder is a girl who can't sit still! She is the co-founder and editor of Why Wait To See the World. Learn more about her here.

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184 thoughts on “Is the American Dream Holding You Back?”

  1. 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.

    1. 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!

      1. 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.

      2. Well, here’s the bottom line: How you choose to use your earned time off from your job—and let’s remember that it is EARNED time off and that you WORKED FOR IT—is your business and no one else’s!

        We all have limits on our resources, sometimes money, sometimes time, and often both: So if your personal budget dictates that you should use your paid vacation time to catch up on personal projects, or just relax and enjoy your home and neighborhood as opposed to a fabulous trip to Paris or Tokyo, so be it.

        It’s your business how you CHOOSE to use your time off; the problem we US citizens face is one of too little time off from our job, regardless of HOW we might choose to use it.

        So, please, let’s not get sidetracked by secondary issues like “the best way” to use our very limited time off—that’s a personal decision and no one’s business but your own.

        What IS crucial is that we Americans—of all ages, but particularly twenty-somethings who need to take a leadership role here—start the challenging process of changing the way we think, speak and act regarding the amount of paid vacation time—or personal time, if that makes some people feel better—and begin a dialogue that will persuade both our largest employers and our elected officials that the time has come for the United States of America to join the “international standard” for time off.

        It’s essential for our physical and mental health, our relationship with our family and friends, and for achieving life balance—which everyone thinks is a good thing, but few are able to act upon, given the realities of the typical American workplace.

        And there is an organization that has made more paid time off, for all working Americans, their mission and focus: Take Back Your Time. You can visit them on the web at

        I’m the Executive Director of Take Back Your Time and so I’ll fess up to some self-promotion with no apologies; and those of you in your twenties can help lead the way on this, simply by being more aware that such a movement is underway and that each of you—and each of us of ANY age—can begin spreading the word on this and yes, in time, change our national mindset about the issue of paid time off and the right of all working Americans to have more of it.

        Feel free to inquire with me, Steve Nesich, Executive Director of Take Back Your Time at for more information or just to say hello. I’m enthused to learn of your website and I see our respective missions as ones that can support each other’s efforts.

        Thanks much and here’s to a better future for all of us who value time away from our work and realize—as numerous studies have demonstrated—that when we take time to “recharge the batteries” we’ll actually get MORE done at our jobs. (Follow up with me for more details!)

    2. 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.

    3. Or, even if you have both sufficient PTO per year *and* disposable income, your company has policies in place that effectively negate the ability to travel. Want more than five, contiguous days off? You either need significant lead-time to receive approval or physicians paperwork to justify the beyond-five. And that approval can be hard to get in some companies or job roles (“you’re our senior IT guy: we can’t afford for you to take all of your vacation in one go – especially if you’re going to be a significant distance away and/or unreachable!”)

  2. 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!

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

  3. 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.

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

  4. 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. GREAT POST!!!

    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 😉

    1. 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. 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.

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

  7. 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…

  8. 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.

    1. 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!

      1. 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.

    2. 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. 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. 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! 😉

    1. 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!

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

    1. 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!

      1. 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.

    2. 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.

      1. 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!

    3. 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 🙂

    4. 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.

      1. 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!”.

  13. 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!?

    1. 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.

  14. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  15. 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!

    1. 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.

  16. 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 🙂

    1. 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!

  17. 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.

    1. 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!

  18. 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?

    1. 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.

  19. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

    2. 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.

  20. Barbara Winter

    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

  21. 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.

    1. 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.

  22. 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 🙂

  23. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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?

        1. 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!

    2. 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.

  24. 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.

    1. “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.

  25. 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!

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

    1. @HostelDog
      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.

  28. 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!

  29. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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!

  30. 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.

    1. 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.’

  31. 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…).

  32. 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

  33. Verity Tipton

    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.

    1. 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.

  34. 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.”

  35. 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.

  36. 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

  37. 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 :)))))

    1. 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.


  38. 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!

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

  42. 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!

  43. 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”.

  44. 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.


  45. 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.

    1. 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?

  46. Unfortunately, I completely agree. I am so envious of Europeans I meet that get a month (or more) of paid vacation every year. Now that I’m working a staff job (no longer freelance) I’m lucky if I get a week off at a time.

  47. Just found this post, and love it! So true. It’s very lame that US companies gives only 2 weeks of vacation. That essentially is no time to do anything. After reading this, I can’t wait to do my RTW trip.

  48. Hi Steph, I just stumbled across your blog while doing some research for work and I totally agree with the above! I am British and based in London so I get 25 days holiday a year, and I don’t for one minute take this for granted. The company I work for though, is US-based and our colleagues in the US also get 20 days now, as obviously our company operates in the travel industry so they want employees to have the time to spend on holidays themselves. You may in fact find our site a good resource as it lists vacation rentals worldwide, which is a great way to live like a local and get off the beaten track. I’m off next weekend myself to a place in Paris, thanks, of course, to my generous holiday allowance, this will be the first of (hopefully!) several trips this year.
    Happy Travelling!

  49. YES. A thousand times yes. That last line hits the nail on the head, Stephanie; “The only American Dream you should be following is your own.”

    That’s been my philosophy; I believe in dreams coming true, and I don’t know why others do not. I want to settle down one day, sure, but I want it to be in the land of my choice, after I’ve wandered the world for as long as I please.

  50. Just came across this today. Love this post. I consider myself very lucky. I live in Canada and work for a not-for-profit in a position that starts with 20 vacation days, the option to “buy” 5 more, bank time to take alternate Fridays off in the summer, get 10 statutory holidays a year, and we close down the office between Christmas and New Year’s. It’s the thing that’s sometimes kept me here when I might not want to stay. A number of people take off for a month at a time to travel overseas to visit family. Twice since I’ve been here I’ve taken 2.5 week vacations and it’s not a big deal. Having the flexibility and time to travel certainly makes it more appealing and way more accessible. The only problem I’m having this year is not knowing where I want to go next. I feel bad for Americans when I hear how little time they get. My poor cousin from Boston had to work double overnight shifts for over a week last year just to be able to get the time to come and visit for a week.

  51. Oh, wow. I realize this comment is pretty late, but I had to say thanks for this. This post is exactly what I’ve been thinking for several months now, but I couldn’t have put it so eloquently!

    It’s amazing that so many people are content (or if not content, forced) to live like hamsters in wheels, especially here in America. I’m in college, and everyone else seems to have their future careers all mapped out… I just can’t understand how they can be happy when they look ahead to 40 years of working 9 to 5 jobs. I tried to explain it to my dad and he looked at me like I was utterly insane for expecting anything better. Thank you so much for this post; it’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one who thinks this way!

    1. There’s definitely a generational difference involved to. It’s harder for some people (Baby boomers and older) to think outside of the traditional mold.

  52. This is so eloquently stated and so very true. It’s been by firm belief that people just absorb the views of society and don’t really give it another thought. Travel is the only way we truly see that there’s a great, big world out there with more options.

    1. Wow, this post received so many interesting comments. I just wanted to say that this was a well written article and that these types of reminders are important. I whole heartedly agree with this, yet I find myself struggling with my “American mentality” all of the time; especially lately as my big trip (1st ever solo vacation over 2 weeks- well any vacation over two weeks, solo or not) is upon me. Your posts have been informative, inspirational, and very much needed as I am also heading to South America. Keeping track of your adventures has been something that I have enjoyed reading and I thank you for keeping me on track. (would love to hear more posts on solo travel for females in South America….)

  53. Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling. I had the opportunity to study abroad a few years back. I would love to go abroad more. But is it really so bad that I usually choose to use my time off to visit a lake a few hours away? There is plenty to do nearby that is so much more accessible and affordable. Is sitting on a beach, reading a book with a cocktail for free somehow bad or worse?

    The united States is so huge, and I think that a lot of foreigners don’t understand that. Europeans were surprised that I had never been to California, but living in the eastern US it’s quicker to go to Europe.

    There a quite a few Americans who never leave the US but do more traveling that anyone I’ve ever met.

    Now I agree It would be better if we could have a little more time, slow down and smell the roses. The majority of the people I know don’t have the luxury of taking time off, and it’s not usless crap they spend their money on, but important things like food, and keeping the leaking roof over their heads.
    Some people choose to spend their downtime with people they love, and if that’s what they want, they shouldn’t be looked down on for it.

    It’s not only more time we need.

    1. I definitely agree with you that the economic situation in the states is pretty messed up where people don’t even have time for real leisure time.

      I also totally agree that people should spend their vacation time however they want. I just think it sucks that there is a prevalent attitude in the United States that leisure time is not necessary or that wanting a vacation is some sort of weakness.

  54. Great post! I would say “great sparkle” 🙂
    It is a very complicated subject. So much involved in this- Culture, Work, Money, Intelligence, Mentality… In my opinion, the most important answer would be- the Desire to Travel. Many Americans have money and vacation, but prefer to use them for something else.

  55. I love loved your post! I had almost this exact conversation with my mom like two day before I read this post. I am completely fed up with the “American Dream”. My husband and I are planning very long term travel starting in Jan 2013, we will be doing work exchange programs like Staydu as well as some online business. And while we have only told a few people so far most either think we are going to be racking up debt the whole time, or they say they wish they could drop everything and travel the world too, but they can’t afford it. I really just want to say of course you can, if you didn’t have a ginormous house, four new cars with high payments, and all of the latest toys and gadgets. When you want something bad enough you will make it happen, so my husband and I are selling all of our possessions to live out of a backpack and travel the world indefinitely. Reading your blog articles just reaffirms that we need to chase our own dreams…whether other people understand it or not.

  56. I love the idea of travel and have always wanted to do it. I just turned 21 last month and hope to travel soon. However, it kind of hurts when I see comments about how everyone’s European friends have all visited NYC and how Americans haven’t. I have $40 dollars on me, live 2,500 miles away, have no job (I send out tons of applications but no call-back) because they all want experience but I can’t get any without a job.

    I am a currently a student and hope to study abroad in an exchange. This is one of the best options for me because the government pays all of my school (Pell Grant) since my EFC (Expected Family Contribution) is 0. All of my tuition is covered and with study abroad you only pay local tuition.

    Hopefully I get a job this fall and I want to save up about $3,000 to do some short-term traveling in Europe or South America since I plan to study abroad in South Korea. My family has never been crazy about saving money and we always take random trips back to California.

    My dad’s brother always tells him to work more, to save money for when he gets sick, etc but thankfully we don’t need it and live quite well. My dad got sick and had his appendix removed but thankfully he qualified for ACESS which is AZ health insurance for those who can’t afford insurance and that paid most of it off. He always tells us to not get caught up in work life because we’re all going to die anyway and someone else is going to enjoy the money we leave behind. I actually think we have too many luxuries like laptops, smartphones and such. And no, we don’t live off welfare- at all.

    I hope i get the opportunity to travel when I have the means to do so. My sister always says how it’s impossible on her salary, yet she has a new car, and when she looks into travel she’s always looking at cruises, fancy hotels, and guided tours. Looking at that way, she’s right, she’ll never get to travel.

    /end random rant.

  57. This post and the comments really got you to thinking about what is important in life. I see people killing them selves where I live to only end up broke at retirement. Nice article

  58. I couldn’t agree more. This article says so much about where our priorities lie. What’s the point of earning all this money if we never have any time to spend it or any time to spend with the people we earn it for? I have been working in Taiwan for a year and a half now and I think they are worse workaholics than even Americans in a lot of ways. They work sometimes 12 hour days and usually 7 days a week. I had a conversation with a colleague and she said that one day she and her husband got a day of vacation and they were so used to working and never seeing each other that they couldn’t even think of something that they both enjoyed to do together. It’s pretty sad that people can let work take over their lives to the extent that they don’t even know their own families anymore. I’ve done the workaholic thing and to be honest I’m way happier having less money and less “stuff” and having more nights to just read a book on the couch with my husband or go for a walk. It’s amazing how trained we’ve become to believe that more things equals more success…

  59. I actually started reading your blog a year ago because someone I met traveling re-posted this on facebook, and this is still my favorite post. I’ve done two backpacking trips–one for 3 months, one for 2 months–and people always say, “Do it now,” “Do it while you’re young,” “You’ll only be able to do that once.” Even IF someone gets to do long-term travel, why does it have to be for the young?

  60. I can’t believe I’m just discovering this blog. Truly fantastic. You and I are a lot alike. Sixteen months ago I got fed up and abandoned ship….left a secure job, apartment by the beach and everything that came with it. Traveled all over Asia and Australia solo and my life has changed for the better because of it. Visiting family in the states now, but leaving for NZ in a few days… the travel bug is real! I’d given myself a year to roam, but now I can’t see myself ever going back to the corporate world. I’m working on a book right now and this blog has given me newfound inspiration to keep writing. Keep up the good work, Steph!

  61. Hi Steph,

    Great post and something I fully agree on! Sometimes we all get caught up in chasing “the dream” we don’t even realize its not OUR dream were chasing

    For years I worked 70 hour weeks to get ahead in the business world and what did it get me? Nothing more than high blood pressure!

    I thought being able to afford the nice car, the designer bags and all the other trinkets meant I had made it in this world! I couldnt have been more wrong.

    It wasnt until I started living my REAL dream of full time travel, and got rid of all those trinkets, that I truly found success and happiness.

    I wish more people would let go of the corporate dream thats been instilled in them and start living their own dream.

  62. I just found this post (not sure how I didn’t come across it earlier) and all I have to say is AGREE!

    I live in Spain and choose to work part-time, and a lot of Americans I meet here are stunned that I don’t work more. They think I should want more money, and I’ve had people tell me I’m “wasting my potential”.

    But I do get paid lots – I get paid in free time to do whatever I want, to not have to think about my job when I’m on holiday, and to enjoy my life abroad. That’s something worth so much more than money.

    1. Hi Jessica, I am curious, what kind of work do you do in Spain? I lived abroad in Barcelona for about 8 months studying and working at a bar and absolutely LOVED the city, people, and my quality of life. If only I could leave corporate America and go against normality… scary huh?

  63. This is just perfect. Not only is the US the most overworked modern nation, but people will demand it stay that way. They seem to have no understanding that time off makes people more productive when they come back. Plus, what’s the point of working hard? Just to say you did? Sigh. A work ethic is great, but a work ethic without any purpose is like a hamster on a wheel.

  64. I came to this country in 2001 and I’m a citizen now. We’re a one-salary family, have traveled the world and have seen more of the U.S. than most locals. We thought it was our bad luck to have missed out on the American Dream, until we realized it only put a lot of junk in people’s attics.

  65. Having spent 1/2 my life in Europe and then marrying an American and raising kids here, I can so relate to your post. I workout at a local 24-Hour Fitness and I am so sick and tired of hearing people sounding the same. The “herd mentality” you mention, the fact that no one really speaks about anything than work, their kids,scholarships,sports, school and their kids games, 3-day weekend holidays, and remodeling their house, or buying a new car.

    People I know all seem to go to Hawaii, as a “special” vacation, as though that’s outside the U.S.

    Television repeats the same over and over, and we get stupid pharmaceutical ads all the time in the middle of the news, focusing on the “fear factor” again.

    My English friend pointed out the media tries to make Americans scared to do anything. Scared to travel, scared to try new food, scared to let their kids play outside, scared they will get cancer if they drink too much coffee. I thought the U.S. was full of innovators, explorers, etc. What happened?

    We moved our family to Belize, to get our kids away from the entitlement attitudes, peer pressures, and to have some adventure in our life. This was the best decision we ever made, as we no longer care what others have accumulated or purchased.

  66. Well, after 25-30 years of working 60 hour weeks we ran off in an RV in2007 and started traveling full-time.

    What we discovered is that less is more.

    We got rid of everything we owned except irreplaceable memorabilia like photos, and simplified. We stopped going to Starbucks. We stopped eating out.

    Suddenly we could live on a fraction of what we had been earning before we left home.

    In the end most Americans make astonishing amounts of money. But we spend astonishing amounts of money too.

    Before we left home, we read a newspaper story about two Mexican twenty-somethings that came to the US illegally and returned home two years later with $70,000 in their pockets – enough to start a tomato farm in Mexico…

    To save that much money as illegals they probably lived with 10 other people in a one bedroom apartment on the bad side of town without a car or cell phone for 2 years, eating Ramen noodles and working at McDonalds… but they amassed a small fortune…

    How many twenty-something Americans would do that?

    It’s all about the choices we make, and many of us refuse to make the obvious choices when it comes to saving money.

    Here’s why we left home to travel full-time six years ago:

  67. Kevinator kevin

    I travel every summer to Greece for 2 weeks and have awesome time ……but after that I fly back home to Texas and work 87hr weeks and don’t have a min for anything 🙁 !!

  68. I too am a twenty-something traveler. We leave for Iceland Wednesday. However, the last place I traveled to really startled me with an awakening –

    I went on a yoga retreat in Hawaii, and I asked a biologist who lives there where he possibly can go on vacation to resemble the paradise he lives in. Having traveled quite a bit, our very own Hawaii is more exotic than I even realized. So I wanted to know if you live in paradise, where do you vacation? He replied that he only travels when absolutely necessary – major life events – because of the damaging effects fuel consumption has on the environment. He said all of the soda can recycling over your lifetime can’t hold a candle to the fuel burned through the air across the oceans.

    It really startled me. I felt selfish. I still feel selfish. Are we selfish and not thinking of Mother Earth?

  69. Not having money to travel is an excuse. If you have a regular salary, you can afford to travel, you just choose to spend money on other things. Make travel a priority and you’ll find that you have more than enough.

  70. “really hard for 45 years, and then maybe when you’re retired you can do the stuff you really want to do.”

    I think, one won’t have as much possible adventures at a travel at the age of 65-70 than at young age.

  71. Love this post!!!! ^^ I am Indonesian, but that “American Dreams” is already poison us here 😀 LOL. I always think about this materialistic thing to chase after, and finally stumbled by the result that it was nothing. I prefer travel and get new experiences, but still working through it tough. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

  72. One major problem I have with a lot of these comments is that they assume people want to travel, and there is the implication that people SHOULD travel or they are somehow lesser people. I get it: you’re well-traveled, you’re enlightened, you had a great f’ing time. Every situation is different. I’m sure it’s not that easy for a student coming out of college with loans out the wazoo to just pick up and leave to go to Paris. Or a disadvantaged inner-city youth. And you say “oh just get a job teaching English it’s so easy”. Then what? What about your crippling debt? Basically what I’m saying is this holier-than-thou attitude about traveling is not conducive to an environment that encourages travel and vacation time. The blog doesn’t address the broad spectrum of WHY people can’t travel, and in turn it just kind of assumes that anyone can as long as they take the right measures. Well, the reality is that these measures are damn near, if not completely impossible for a lot of people to take and traveling isn’t as easy as it could be. Sure, as Americans our work week and vacation time are completely out of whack as they relate to other countries. But it’s like that for a reason. It’s not that someone played a “cruel trick” on us. Rather, that’s just how America has developed over the past century especially, and the issue is far more complex than the assessment that “we need more time off”.

    1. Well sure, if people don’t WANT to travel they don’t have to, that’s a personal choice. I kind of figured that goes without saying. This is a travel blog, so I assume most people reading it are interested incorporating more travel into their life, or else they would go read something else.

      I’ve written plenty of other articles on how to save money for travel, why to travel, how to travel for less and all that jazz. My point is that the way the system has evolved is messed up on many levels, starting with that crippling student loan debt and reaching to the incredibly lack of vacation time employees receive. Whether you want to travel abroad or not these are real problems facing the American workforce. They system is messed up and it will never change if people don’t start separating the realities from the fallacies that the “American Dream” myth offers.

  73. I think that part of the focus of work is wrong in the US. Instead of so much structure, I think that companies would benefit more from allowing their employees to work more independently. Not all employees work at the same speed. Some people want to do things slowly and spread them out, and others want to get them done quickly. The ones that get them done quickly could potentially have more free time. I think that there are a few trends moving toward this and location independent workers that give employees more options though. People are starting to realize that the stress level without breaks is unbearable for most normal humans.

  74. Could not agree more! Americans priorities are completely out of whack. Kuddos to those such as yourself that act on the urge for something greater, something more than the materialistic.

  75. As an American, I know that I was raised to go for ‘the American Dream’. “Don’t even think about taking a break to experience life, work harder! Then, once you’ve put in your time, then you can enjoy it. That’s what retirement is for”. I don’t think so. So when my husband and I were in our late 20’s, we did something crazy to all the people around us. We left it behind. Sold the house, quit our jobs, got rid of all our belongings, and moved our lives onto a 34 ft sailboat. So far we’ve been traveling for a year and have been to 8 countries, and we hope to hit many more in our next 3-4 years of traveling. Forget the American Dream, I’ll take my own.

  76. This is very good post. American Dream is really becoming a dream. I live in touristic place and I see from year to year, from season to season, constant drop of money spent on vacations. Ok, room is payed, all inclusive resorts are full in season, but thats it. Earlier you had people going out, having a fun, renting a car and traveling around with friends, or on a day tours and buying presents for a whole family… Now, they are spending just a minimum needed to “survive” those two weeks and go back to their ideal life. It is not just for Americans, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have nothing against them, it is the same situation for Canadians, Europeans, etc. Paying power is not like earlier, economy is going down globally.

  77. Ahhh Steph, it is so sadly true. It’s an exponential situation: work your ass off to afford the life you lead, the life you lead becomes more expensive as more money comes in, and such you must make more money to lead the life you are now somehow leading.

    Or you can keep the same iPhone for longer than 10 months.
    Drive a used car far past its due date.
    And save like a mo-fucka and go travel.

    It makes me sad to meet so few Americans on the road, not because I want to meet MORE Americans than I know, but because it means that nobody is getting out there!

    I know you by way of TBS, but have only recently perused your site, and I love love love it.


  78. Hi Steph,

    Thank you so much for this insightful and, dare I say, brave article. I found MYSELF nodding my head enthusiastically. I often say I work to live and not the other way around. Kudos for having the courage to “come-out-of-the-closet”. I still have a hard time admitting to friends and family that my idea of a quality life does NOT include working 50+ hour work weeks.

    I came upon your blog while I was researching Sayulita where I will be spending the next couple of months. I have read two of your other articles already! I’m enjoying your wit and keen observations. Keep up the good work!

  79. Ashley Mithel

    I’m Britsh & I think it’s alot worse for us than you Americans! If the average person sold their house & moved to usa, they’d get double the size home & have about 3 more cars. We get about 28days holiday & that’s if you can afford to go anywhere? Most people use it up to rest. I’ve had to quit 2 of my jobs in the past to travel..

    1. The one thing you guys do have going for you is cheap flights around Europe! When I lived in London i was jetting off somewhere every other weekend.
      The cost of living IS crazy though.

  80. I have actually been struggling with this a lot lately. I studied abroad in Europe during my junior year of college, and I caught the travel bug! I just graduated from college in May, and I raised eyebrows taking a year off before applying to medical school. I really do want to be a doctor, but I have travelled a lot in the last six months. The question I keep coming back to is, “Do I really have to start medical school now?” One of the things weighing on this decision is that I have student loans to pay off already, but once you start medical school, that’s it! You don’t really get a break until after residency… SEVEN years down the road! I just feel like there is so much living to do before I start to make a living.

  81. Yes, yes and yes!!! It’s like you know my heart. I grew up in Hong Kong, traveled quite a bit within Asia growing up, then moved to the middle of Indiana right before my 17th birthday… You can imagine how stir crazy I was! Since then, I’ve lived in California, traveled to Mexico, all over Europe, all over Southeast Asia… and now, I’m back in Indiana. I have people telling me that they think it’s irresponsible for me to work for a while then travel for a month at a time, but I have trouble seeing the logic behind that statement… Here I am, almost 8 years after I moved away from my childhood home, and still in Indiana. I’ve been unwittingly sucked in to the ‘American dream’!

  82. I love your blog and can learn so much from it. It is because I was looking for vacation club. After reading your blog I definitely agree with you and I won’t mention hear. I know I have not gone through all your blog but I am just looking for ways to travel without spending big. Thank you so much for your blog.

  83. I think the author of this article is fairly presumptuous to assume that achieving happiness in one’s life requires travel and vacation. This speaks with a universal sense on an issue as un-universal as personal happiness. I personally hate to travel and I find the extravagant cost of hotels, flights, and rental cars not even close to worth the cost. The money my significant other and I spent on our last vacation could have paid for us to attend a pro sporting event and a concert every single day for 2 months, and that was a really cheap vacation. I think the authors enthusiasm for vacation plays right into his own discontent with the American dream. When all you are living for is the make enough money to escape your home life for a few weeks a year, maybe the answer isn’t more weeks of escape but instead improving and embracing the life you have in the area you live the rest of the year. Some people love travel, and that’s great, more power to them. But I know and observe so many people who strongly defend their vacation time and value it like it’s the only thing that will make their year of work worthwhile. More vacation time seems like a workaround to the actual problem for these people. This article suggests a societal-wide issue when one doesn’t necessarily exist.

    1. You definitely have a point- if you don’t like your life, no amount of vacation time is going to fix it. My point was less that American’s need more vacation time (although they certainly do), but that people should think outside the box and really examine what they want and why.

    2. Granted, Jim. But don’t you think that if you work all year long you’re entitled more than 10 of those weekdays to yourself?

      What you choose to do with that time is 100% your own business. But please understand that all of us need adequate time off if we are to live lives that are truly more in balance. Lack of time, or “time starvation” policies that are the norm in the USA but virtually unheard of in every other country on the planet, are literally killing us prematurely, enhancing the stress of everyday life, hurting our ties to family and friends and taking an awful toll on each and every one of us.

      Studies show that those people who work 44 to 48 weeks a year are MORE productive, overall, in the course of a full year, than those who work 50 to 52 weeks a year.

      On the surface, that seems that it can’t be true. But it is: Would we get “more done” if we “only” slept 3 hours every night? We we accomplish more, in our work and our lives, if we worked 18 hours a day, every single day?

      If you can accept the concept of “recharging the batteries” on a nightly basis, why wouldn’t the same hold true for the year as a whole.

      If you hate to travel, that’s your business; but we ALL deserve an adequate balance between work and life and all we have is this one lifetime. Please consider the needs for all us to have more time for any reason and help us build a more decent, humane and yes, PRODUCTIVE culture! Thank you.

  84. Couldn’t agree more… I sometimes wonder if we can be too greedy for the more. Because I don’t just want to travel and have freedom/flexibility. I also want community and I want a nice house and a good education for my children and a sense of accomplishment… And I want to save for some toys and some privileges… And on the list goes. We aren’t satisfied very easily.

    As exciting as it sounds in other countries, I wonder if the real challenge is to determine what we actually want and what we are willing to sacrifice to get if.

    You can’t always have your cake and eat it to!

  85. I know this post is like five years old – but IT IS FANTASTIC. I just read it – out loud – to my whole family. YES. Memories. Travel. Moments. THATS WHAT MATTERS. Thanks for this. Love your voice, love your blog 🙂

  86. Great post! I just watched Michael Moore’s Where to Invade next, he interviewed a couple – they were working class Italians and they were traveling all over Europe and Asia. Michael asked how they could possibly afford to travel so much. It’s because these vacations are fully paid for.

    One factor that makes it easier to travel though is proximity. Once you’re in Europe you can hit several countries easily, not like in the US where we have to fly all the way across the ocean

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