What’s wrong with the American vacation?


Over the past few weeks, I’ve been in four different countries, three of them for the first time. I’ve flown, taken long distance trains over mountain passes, rented a car and driven around (and around and around) fjords, stayed in hole-in-the-walls and $350-per-night hotels (the latter on points, of course), and in general have seen and experience so much greatness that Europe has to offer.

And yet, I have the suspicion that I’ve done it all wrong.

Vacation days

The following scenario is not too unlikely: An American, a European, and an Australian are sitting together in a hostel somewhere in Europe. They are all about to fly home to their various homes, and decide to compare notes on their travels. Interestingly enough, they find that they all went to the exact same places.

The Australian mentions how she took off from Melbourne six months ago. The European says that he went through the same itinerary in only three months. The American, a bit sheepishly, admits that he did it all in two weeks.

Get away if you can

It is not news that Americans get less vacation in their jobs than many other places. In fact, the US is the only advanced nation that doesn’t guarantee employees any paid vacation time, as compared to Europe’s 20. Depending on what source you consult, the average paid vacation amount per employee is in the 10-16 range. Assuming the number isn’t zero, of course.

This lack of vacation creates a scarcity problem: with the desire to see the world presumed equal among all peoples, how do Americans manage that effectively?

A common answer is the “whirlwind.” When overseas trips are involved, this involves flying overseas and seeing as much as humanly possible.

But I wonder if this makes sense. Having spent an average of 3 days in each of the places I’ve been to, what have I really seen? I feel like I’ve been viewing everything at full speed, even when I’ve been just walking around. And after so many different places, especially when in the vaguely same geographic area, I will admit that some of the details tend to blur together. (Was that old town area I liked so much in Stockholm or Gothenburg? Or Oslo?)

I once read that you can’t really get into the full swing of a place until you’ve been there for at least a few weeks. By that point, you can (as I’d put it) “stop going and start stopping.” Life doesn’t become a series of cities seen through drive-by, but instead you learn the pace of a city, and perhaps discover your own favorite places not found in Lonely Planet. This would certianly lead to less fatigue.

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Time not wasted

Ultimately though, what I’ve come to feel is that these types of tours are in fact not a waste of time: they are merely the first part of a series. As there is never enough time in life to go everywhere, we need curation; we need to know which places to spend time in. Books like Lonely Planet and the like help us do this up to a point, but as Henry Rollins once said, “you never know unless you go. You have to bust a [National] Geographic move.”

So I can consider this trip a kind of curation. I know that I want to see more of Bergen in Norway and its surrounding areas. (For more on Bergen’s serene beauty, watch this video by Kings of Convenience.) I want to see much more of Iceland, especially along the ring road and the eastern side of the country. And I also now have places that I know I don’t need to go back to.

Is this curation always accurate? Surely not, but it’s all we have. And until we all become responsible for our own income in a way that allows us to spend more time abroad, it’s the best we’ve got. Either that, or move to Australia.

But enough about me. Do you try to see too much on your trips abroad?

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