August 17, 2007
The incredible shrinking vacation
This summer Erick Lopez won't be taking the two-week adventure trip he did last year to New York and Memphis. He will stay closer to home and shorten his vacation, maybe zipping down to Key West for a four-day weekend.
"I'm not in a situation where I can afford more than that," says Lopez, a customer-service specialist for Best Buy in Hialeah, Fla.
More people are finding tight finances and work overload are affecting their ultimate way of achieving balance – vacation.
Whether they can't afford it or are too overwhelmed, new research shows workers are taking shorter vacations, staying closer to home, turning work trips into family getaways and using technology to work while away.
The relaxed, two-week family vacation is becoming a thing of the past, according to recent studies by Orbitz and the Travel Industry Association. Three- and four-day getaways are now the most common way for Americans to take some time off.
"Our sense is that people are busier than ever with their lives, their family activities, their kids," said Jeanenne Diefendorf of Orbitz. "So they find it difficult to take an extended vacation and easier to balance if they're only gone a couple of days."
Brett Engelhard, of Plantation, Fla., is taking his family on short jaunts this summer – extended weekends in the Florida Keys or Bonita Springs. For Engelhard, president of a hospitality company, these trips with his young sons are ideal.
"There's no stress coming and going," he says.
"After a few days you're back at work and they are back at camp. With dual-income families, it's hard for both people to get that much time off."
Global outplacement consultant John Challenger calls these minivacations the equivalent of "10-minute power naps." He says employers prefer them.
"The worker is refreshed" and "productivity doesn't suffer, because they are gone for less time," Challenger said.
Some workers are reacting to demands on their time and money by combining business travel and family getaways. This summer, at least 57 percent of business travelers plan to invite a friend or family member to join them on a business trip.
In June, Margaret Marr of Albany, N.Y., wrapped some leisure time with her husband around her business trip to Miami Beach, arriving four days before her conference.
"It makes the vacation more affordable," Marr said.
Meanwhile, this summer a grass-roots effort is under way seeking legislation mandating at least three weeks of paid vacation.
The United States is the only industrial nation in the world that does not mandate paid vacation, leaving about one in four employees without a single day of paid time off.
But even among those who do get paid vacation, about one-third don't take it all, often claiming it's too hard to get away from hefty workloads.
In an Expedia survey, one in four workers believed their bosses did not encourage them to take vacations, and about 19 percent responded that they've canceled or postponed vacation plans because of work.
For some, long vacations aren't worth the hassle, particularly the stress of clearing their plates before leaving and handling the backlog when they return.
"That's why people don't want to get too far away," said Challenger of Challenger Gray & Christmas.
"They are worried about the 500 e-mails in their inbox when they return."
Workers are increasingly using technology to stay connected while away.
Eve Brown, a Jacksonville, Fla., CPA, called some of her recent trip to Miami "a working vacation," peering at spreadsheets from her oceanfront hotel room while her kids played in the pool.
For Brown, combining business conferences and family travel allows her kids to go places she would never be able to get away from work to take them.
"I've never really been able to take long, extended vacations anyway," she said.
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