Tuesday, 14 June 2011

We're all going on a summer holiday. Or maybe not?

Over at Pond Parleys they are having a debate about the joy of staycationing, and it's prompted me to think about the differences I've noticed between the UK and America when it comes to the good old summer holiday.

As the end of term approaches, I know that in England there would be just one conversation at the school gates (not to mention in hairdressing salons everywhere). "Going away this summer?" But here, it is just not really a topic of conversation (other than the people who ask me if we're going back to England). You're more likely to be asked what summer camp the kids are signed up for, or whether you're planning on joining the town swimming pool.

The first summer we were here, I noticed that people didn't really seem to be going away, and I put it down to the recession. Towards the end of August, people mentioned either going down to the (Jersey) Shore, or 'out east' - which only means one thing, because you can't get much further East in the US than Long Island: ie the Hamptons. But this was only for a long weekend, or at most a week. Many Americans only get a couple of weeks holiday a year, so hardly anyone takes a two week trip anywhere.

Since then I've realised that this is a common phenomenon and probably not recession-related at all. People just don't seem to take off on summer holidays. Perhaps it's not surprising - after all, why go away on a beach holiday when you have beautiful beaches right on your doorstep on Long Island? Trips to 'beach' type destinations, like Florida, the Caribbean or Mexico, tend to be taken in the winter here. But even visiting different parts of the States seems to be fairly unusual, unless people have family there.

Taking a day trip to a theme park does seem to be popular - we have places such as Sesame Place and Hershey Park within driving distance, and people do fly down to Disneyworld, although usually not in the summer. As for travelling abroad, most people I know have been to Europe once or twice - but usually during their student years, or perhaps on their honeymoon. The idea of abroad with a family seems out of the question for most people- and I am sure it isn't that they couldn't afford it, as we live in a fairly affluent area. (I'm sure families with equivalent incomes back in London would be summer holidaying in Tuscany or the South of France.)

This summer we've decided we'll head to Canada, via Niagara Falls, with a few days in Montreal than heading back via Vermont (because we loved it so much in the winter). Although we're not even getting on a plane, this is fairly adventurous compared to what most of my friends are planning (not least because we're driving all the way. With the Littleboys. Are we quite mad?) I've spoken to many people here who have never visited either Canada or Niagara Falls (which is in New York State, on the American side, although a long drive from here). I suppose the equivalent in the UK would be never having visited France, or Scotland.

So I wonder; is it just that we Brits feel a hunger to get away because of our dismal weather? Or are we more natural travellers than the Americans, who seem quite content to stay close to home. Personally what I love about travel is the chance to experience completely different countries and cultures (whatever the weather, although obviously sun helps), not to mention different food. So the idea of only ever staying in your immediate area seems stifling, however good the weather and scenery. I'd love to know what others think, and what it's like in other areas of the States.

26 comments:

Sam said...

U.S. workers receive some of the lowest amount of vacation time in the western world - and, quite obviously, most Americans have to travel a lot farther to reach a different country or significantly different geographic area than do Europeans. I live on the west coast, and while I would love to visit the U.K., getting there certainly isn't the relatively quick and inexpensive jaunt that going from the U.K. to France or Spain would be.

Most times of year, one hour by car, six and a half hours by plane, and over a thousand dollars in travel costs would just get me to the other side of the country - before the cost of then crossing the Atlantic.

Amy said...

Second @Sam's comment. I live (and grew up) in New York. My parents, along with the majority of people I know as an adult, only got 2 weeks off for the entire year. What usually happened was that they would take a day or two off here and there throughout the year (which would cover Christmas, family events like weddings, and a day off for pure relaxation), so they would really only get a couple of long weekends in the summer. We would usually spend those at home or go on day trips to amusement parks, museums, visit family upstate, etc. The thought of going overseas (especially as a family of 5) was really one of those once-in-a-lifetime, if we somehow win the lottery, type of things. This was difficult for my family, since my parents are immigrants and we never had the chance to take a proper vacation to their original country. For most Americans, I don't think it's a matter of not having interest in others cultures and new experience; it's more a matter of expense and available vacation time. At least, that's how it is for me and my family. ;)

Almost American said...

I third the previous comments regarding sheer lack of vacation time. Here in MA, there seems to be an obsession with spending time (usually a week) "on the Cape" (i.e. Cape Cod) in the summer, and most of my colleagues would love to have a summer home there (which then involves spending time travelling back and forth every weekend.) You couldn't pay me enough! Too touristy! The other destination of choice (tho not so much for summer homes among the people I know) seems to be Hampton Beach in NH, again for a week. No one has any more vacation time than that (unless they're teachers!)

We're not going anywhere this summer except maybe a long weekend with friends in Vermont because DH has too much work to do. We took 2.5 weeks last summer to go to the UK and people were very jealous.

The Russian families I know here regularly drive from New England to Florida (with 5 kids in the family van!) or to Pennsylvania for a weekend for a church/family event.

nappy valley girl said...

Sam - I know, I'm shocked by the amount of holiday people get here (or don't get). It doesn't exactly encourage travel, does it.

Amy - that sounds similar to what I've heard from other New Yorkers. It must have been very difficult for your parents not to be able to visit their home country.

Culturally Discombobulated said...

The US is the only industrialized nation that does not have some amount of vacation time for employees enshrined in law. Sucks, doesn't it?

Potty Mummy said...

I'm at the opposite end of the scale to your previous commenters, living in expat land in Moscow and married to a Dutchman (some of whom get 6+ weeks of holiday a year).

Consequently everybody I know here leaves on holiday, more than once a year, often every time the school has a break. Of course, the working partner in the relationship often has to stay behind, but will normally join at the beginning, middle or end of a long vacation. And before you assume that these trips are simply to return 'home' that's not always the case.

On the plus side, one does stack up cultural experiences elsewhere (in addition to those you stack up simply by living here in the first place).

On the minus, it means that kids always have an expectation that time off = travel, and a certain lack of connection with where you actually live...

Kelloggsville said...

I think it's partly mindset created by distance. The Australians are much like the Americans. It's a long way/effort/cost up go anywhere so why do it. The British have Viking genes, we come from travellers, we live in a 'where are you going for hols' culture. But some of the best breaks we have had are stress free staycations.

Iota said...

Yes, it's the same round us.

Our first summer, we went to Colorado for 3 weeks. I didn't realise at the time, but that must have seemed to people like a really huge trip. I can't imagine what they think when we disappear to the UK for the WHOLE summer.

I put the lack of travel down to the paltry vacation allowance. Two weeks is nothing, by the time you've had a day or two over Christmas, a day or two here and there for family events, etc.

I really can't imagine life without holidays, but I suppose it's one of those things that you're either used to or not.

Nicola said...

I found exactly the same in Chicago - most people didn't go anywhere. It was most bizarre and such a huge cultural difference. Booking holidays is also far more difficult. In the UK there are an abundance of travel choices and plenty of travel agents on every high street, with lots of options for every budget. Because most Americans don't travel in the same way and holidays are not in such demand - it makes the whole booking process a lot more work, both in terms of research and then the organising. I can't believe how simple it is over here. I had forgotten - and am feeling quite out of practice, with many families I know booking time away every single school holiday that happens, not just the summer!

Michelloui | The American Resident said...

When i was growing up in the States I never experienced this--my dad was a university professor so he did have to work over summer writing and prepping courses, but we were able to get away for at least a couple of weeks, if not more. And because he was a geographer we usually took a roadtrip because he always wanted to go via this or that. So when i grew up and lived in the UK I thought nothing of it. Until no one came to visit me from the States.

One day my sister said 'we only get two weeks vacation' (I was shocked, I didn't realise this) and explained that they needed a week of that to get stuff done through the year that couldn't be done on weekends, and that they didn't want to spend the second week travelling to England--and couldn't I just visit them as I had more time off?

This featured in one of my posts as one of the reasons why some Americans don't have passports (no need with such short vacation time). I couldn't bear it. It's really awful for people. Archaic.

But yay for you! I got excited just reading about your roadtrip! I love roadtrips! And they're so much fun in the States.

Rhiannon said...

Hi NVG - interesting that you are going back to Vermont. We took the bait and are heading to Smuggs for a week in the summer to see how it compares with the winter fun. Will let you know how it goes.
Rhiannon

nappy valley girl said...

AA - we drove from NY to Florida last year! I think people thought we were completely nuts.

CD - indeed it does. And possibly the lowest allowance of maternity leave in the Western world too. I always wonder why there isn't more outcry about it. But just seems to be an attitude of 'it is what it is'.

PM - that is similar to the environment I grew up in, in Hong Kong. Everyone was off on exotic trips all the time. In the 70s, my father actually got a company-paid round the world air ticket for the family every summer so we could stop off in several places on our way back to England. When we were discussing this recently, I don't think either of us could quite believe this happened.

Kelloggsville - nothing wrong with a good old UK holiday, I agree. But at the same time I would still hanker after foreign travel.

Iota - I think that's right, but I think it's also become ingrained, in both our cultures. I reckon if everyone in England had 2 week hols, they'd still go away for at least one week.

Nicola - you're right, everyone in the UK takes off all the time. It's almost a national obsession. Before we had kids, we would go away for long weekends in Europe at the drop of a hat, on Easyjet.

Michelloui - yes, we're lucky to be able to do it as my husband's employers are more generous with the holidays than most. I love roadtrips too - even with whining small kids in the back.....

Rhiannon - we had the same idea. Maybe we'll bump into you (although we're going very late in the season...).

Anonymous said...

I have been extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel but I find it beyond annoying when people who live outside of the US (friends and relatives included) go on and on about how Americans never travel overseas, seeming to have completely forgotten (or don’t realize) how immense the US is and that the whole of the UK can fit in the state of Oregon. Driving from one end of California to the other takes 13 hours! If each of the 50 states were separate countries with distinct languages, cultures and cuisine I’m certain Americans would be considered more travel savvy than many Europeans. Most Americans I know have travelled through at least half of the 50 states.
Jane

Tanya (Bump2Basics) said...

Americans / US residents alike should join together and fight this crazy 2 week holiday norm. It's America, anything is possible, right? :)

Elsie Button said...

as always love to read your insights into life across the pond - really interesting. Tom is on a mission to save the planet so refuses to fly anywhere, so our holidays are generally camping trips a couple of hours from here to the coast (a bloody amazing one at that) but we are planning a whole summer of going across europe with kids in toe, in two years time, when it's not such bloody hard work(kids being older) by train - Italy me thinks! Great post as always x

Muddling Along said...

I think its partly a historic thing - we've been sending people overseas to fight various wars since the start of time. Your average Brit has almost certainly had ancestors that have travelled but most Americans, once they had made the journey to get over there, had arrived at their destination and so haven't felt the need to move on

And then there's the size - the US is huge compared to the UK and I guess we feel that there might be better things somewhere abroad so go looking for them. If you know you've got everything in your own country perhaps you don't bother to travel?

Have a wonderful holiday - no sorry vacation

Vinogirl said...

I thibk it's a abit of both; dismal weather and an explorative spirit.
Enjoy your hols!

Metropolitan Mum said...

How do people cope with only 2 weeks off a year??? We'll be off to the South of France in a few weeks (driving all the 16 hours down there and no, not mad, I like it!), and we are going to stay for four weeks. There's another week later this summer where we'll go to Greece for a wedding. I.e. five weeks used up for summer alone. I'd die on 2 weeks vacation, seriously.
I think if I had so little time off, I'd have to think very very hard about where to spend them, especially if I lived in such a vast country. Yay for holidays!

Metropolitan Mum said...

Btw, in my husband's native Sweden people have up to 8 weeks off...

About Last Weekend said...

I always love coming to your blog because you articulate differences between the two countries that I realised but did not realise...if you know what I mean. I totally agree - we are always heading out to somewhere and many people here are staying nearby. Must be the weather think. I have such itchy feet, I find it hard to stay home even for the weekend. Off to France next Thursday.

nappy valley girl said...

Anonymous - it's true, it is a huge country, so huge that I think many people in Europe can't actually conceive how big. It's interesting that people you know have travelled widely within the US. The people I have met here haven't, on the whole - unless they moved to New York from elsewhere.

Tanya - you definitely should! Luckily we're OK but if we were in that position, I'd be furious.

Elsie - we love the train too. Try the train from Italy to Germany that you can put your car on - it saves a lot of driving!

Muddling Along, Vinogirl - I think you're right - probably a bit of both. Sadly the hols aren't until August, but yes I will definitely enjoy them!

Met Mum - lots of holiday is wonderful, but definitely a luxury in the US (and in the UK, 4-5 weeks is usually the norm). Your summer sounds wonderful!

ALW - and you're a Kiwi, aren't you - they are always off travelling. When I first went to NZ I asked the Kiwi girl in my office how on earth she could leave such a beautiful country for the UK. She replied that it was beautiful but too quiet.

'Cross the Pond said...

I've always had a wanderlust as has my husband. We've been all over the world together. We even took 16 days to drive around the US. And when we return to the states in a few years we plan to take the kids on a trip around America. I think it's just what you're used to. My family always traveled. And I will travel as long as I can. it's a big world, might as well see it! Niagara is very tacky and touristy but the Falls are worth the trip!

nappy valley girl said...

CTP - the trip round America should be fantastic. We hope to do something similar before we leave. Yes, I've been told Niagara is tacky but I think the boys will love it and I can't wait to see that vista.

geekymummy said...

Most definately the lack of paid vacation time. I'm luck in that I get three weeks. Also most employers raise an eyebrow at people taking two weeks off at a stretch. The only ones who do are the Europeans and the Chinese and Indian folk who save up their vacation time (another difference is that vacation time 'rolls over' so you can save up and take 4 weeks every two years (woo hoo)).
We do get a bit annoyed when doing business with UK and European colleagues (especially the French!) since nobody seems to do any work in the summer!
I wish we got more vacation though!

Anonymous said...

I'm late to respond but I know as a Canadian now living in America we were appalled at how little vacation time Americans get. We've always tried to take a two week vacation but as my husband got busier at work it's very hard.

People were amazed that we went to Italy a few years ago, and that when my son was younger, that we went to Florida most years to visit Disney World, and my Canadian "snowbird" parents who spent a couple of months there every year. Of course those weren't cheap trips but when we lived in Canada we often travelled within the country. When my son was 3 months old we went from the Toronto area to PEI, in an RV with the three of us, and our three dogs. Insane, but quite fun.

My son, now 17, has really benefitted from his travel -- he went to Thailand when he was 4, to Italy with us when he was 14 and this year (17) he went back to Italy with his school and then to Cambridge (England) to study. I think it's been great for him and he's made so many friends.

Really think everyone should make a two week vacation mandatory in the US -- people need a solid break to recharge. I've always wondered why it was never a campaign issue.

Anonymous said...

I'm late to respond but I know as a Canadian now living in America we were appalled at how little vacation time Americans get. We've always tried to take a two week vacation but as my husband got busier at work it's very hard.

People were amazed that we went to Italy a few years ago, and that when my son was younger, that we went to Florida most years to visit Disney World, and my Canadian "snowbird" parents who spent a couple of months there every year. Of course those weren't cheap trips but when we lived in Canada we often travelled within the country. When my son was 3 months old we went from the Toronto area to PEI, in an RV with the three of us, and our three dogs. Insane, but quite fun.

My son, now 17, has really benefitted from his travel -- he went to Thailand when he was 4, to Italy with us when he was 14 and this year (17) he went back to Italy with his school and then to Cambridge (England) to study. I think it's been great for him and he's made so many friends.

Really think everyone should make a two week vacation mandatory in the US -- people need a solid break to recharge. I've always wondered why it was never a campaign issue.