There's No Excuse for Not Taking Your Vacation Days

Americans love to humblebrag about how much we work. We post pictures from the office at 10pm. We boast about never taking sick days, even when we're running 102-degree temperatures. Employers offer us quote-unquote unlimited vacation knowing we'll just come to work anyway.

The US Travel Association’s Project: Time Off conducted a study this year that found Americans left 658 million unused vacation days on the table last year. That's not just bad for would-be vacationers, it's bad for would-be workers. The lost spending from those vacation days totaled $223 billion, which would have created 1.6 million more jobs, and $65 billion in total American income.

True patriots leave the office. Still, we all have excuses for why we’re not taking more vacation. Katie Denis, the Senior Director of Project: Time Off, explains here why the top excuses for not taking vacation are misguided. Enjoy, then go play.

Woman on Vacation

"I’m going to come back to a mountain of work"

Anyone who’s ever made the mistake of looking at their inbox on vacation knows that dread of returning to the insurmountable. And checking that email might be a big part of the problem.

“The workplace isn’t a ‘place’ anymore -- it’s a state of being,” Denis says. “So when you see work piling up in real time, it creates some challenges. You have to prioritize your vacation or it’s not going to happen.”

The key here is to plan ahead, as painful as that is. Make sure everyone on your team -- from your manager on down -- knows about your vacation far ahead of time, and make sure you do enough prep work in advance of leaving. As Denis explains: “People aren’t just more productive after they take time off, but often times they’re more productive in the weeks before. The thought of vacation makes them happy and they work harder with something to look forward to.”

"Nobody else can do my job"

Many of us have an ego so big, we’re convinced our company will collapse during our two weeks on a beach somewhere. But your company (likely) isn’t in the habit of hiring morons. You’ll be surprised what the rest of your coworkers can do when asked. (Hell, you've probably pulled that weight for someone else already.) And your taking some time away can be a good thing for everyone.

“Vacations should be looked at as an opportunity to see who can can step up and handle other responsibilities,” Denis says. “I took four months off for maternity leave and at first, it was nerve racking. But what I found was my team stepped up in ways I never knew they could. It really grew all of us. We found some competencies we didn’t know were there.”

Monaco casino
Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock

"It'll cost too much"

Besides meteor showers and dance parties, everything worthwhile in life costs something. Workers named money concerns as a huge obstacle: it was the third-most common reason for skipping time off, with 30% of people saying vacations were too costly. But vacation doesn’t have to be a big fancy trip to some overpriced city. There are literally hundreds of ways you can save money when you travel. And America's full of dynamite cities for a cheap weekend getaway. Heck, time off doesn’t even have to mean leaving your house. It can just mean spending free time with your family, that’s not spent fighting for parking spots at Costco on a Saturday.

“There’s so much you can do, right in your backyard, like parts of your city you never explored or the outdoors,” Denis says. “But what was telling for me was a study we did on 8-to-14-year-olds. When we asked them about their favorite vacations they weren’t big, elaborate trips. It was little stuff. One girl said her favorite memory was a day her dad took off and they went to Target and bought a Slip-n-Slide and set it up in the front yard. It’s the quality of the time you spend with your kids that’s important, not the amount of money you spend.”

Patriot dads leave the office and buy their kids a Slip 'N Slide.

"I want to show dedication to my job"

Millennials get a rap for being lazy and entitled -- a pretty lazy, and frankly entitled criticism. The under-35s are the generation that leaves the most vacation days on the table. Denis says this is because they graduated into a lean economy with no jobs, and once they get a job they hold on for dear life, fearing taking time off will somehow make them look lazy.

Yet the opposite is just as true. Project Time Off did research with managers and HR departments and found that employees who take time off are largely better performers, more productive, and more likely to get bonuses. And though there was no direct correlation either way between vacation time and promotions, as Denis put it, “If skipping vacation isn’t doing anything for your career, then why are you doing it?”

Work team

"My company will realize it doesn’t need me"

Again, Wally Pipp, your taking time off doesn’t make you expendable. It’s an opportunity to see what others on your team can do. So when you return, you may find that you get to explore new and exciting facets of your job, since your manager learned that others can take up some of your responsibilities.

Going back to Denis’ maternity leave example, she says, “I have a whole new bandwidth now, and I’m able to pursue new projects I couldn’t before.” And if you are expendable? Well, maybe it's time to look for more suitable work anyway.

"There’s not time"

Even the busiest of companies plan to carve out time for employees’ vacations. And while managers might not make a point to encourage people to take vacations, Denis found they don’t discourage it either. The key to everything is planning.

“People who say they plan their vacation times rated happier in nine out of nine categories we surveyed, from financial situation to personal success to satisfaction with the company they work for," she says. "It’s obviously impossible to know what’s going to happen, but even if you have to take (your vacation) off the calendar, having an idea is hugely helpful to your happiness, and to being a good co-worker.”

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Matt Meltzer is a staff writer with Thrillist who has already used up his vacation days. See what he did with them on Instagram @meltrez1.