Feature

Editor's Letter: The great American vacation

The great American vacation is slipping away. It is increasingly reduced to a couple of days tacked on to a long weekend.

The great American vacation is slipping away. The number of Americans taking off from work for less than a full week at a time has more than doubled since 1990. Fewer and fewer workers are willing to risk a full two weeks away from the job, fearing perhaps that they’ll return to find their sales trophy in a box and a stranger in their cubicle. Instead, vacations are reduced to a couple of days tacked on to a long weekend, like a housekeeping addendum to an inter-office memo. Worse, the more senior the employee, the more likely she spends some part of that mini-vacation in the death grip of a digital-communications device.

This is no good. Foreign or exotic travel rarely accommodates a long weekend. And while it’s nice to stay on at a resort after the conference has packed up, hybrid travel in which high-octane stress gives way to solar-powered decompression doesn’t leave the traveler transformed, as a true vacation should. In their effect, or lack of it, short vacations stink. A real vacation is a genuine departure even if it’s a disaster. (“The worst trips make the best reading,” said Paul Theroux.) When I was young, my parents squeezed kids and collie into a sedan and drove 14 hours to the ocean. This was insane as well as miserable. We lived a couple hours’ drive from other vacation spots that, unlike our destination, had the added benefit of being affordable. But the sweaty, Freon-free drive, the sibling wrangles and roadside bathroom breaks, the bad air and worse food yielded to exultation upon reaching the promised land. Those beach vacations were hard-earned, hard-bought, and memorable. All two weeks of them.

Francis Wilkinson

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