Industry NewsStudy: U.S. Vacation Days Hit a Seven-Year Peak

Study: U.S. Vacation Days Hit a Seven-Year Peak

WASHINGTON—U.S. workers took an average of 17.2 days of vacation in 2017, according to new research from Project: Time Off, jumping up nearly a half-day (0.4 days) from 2016. This marks the highest level for U.S. vacation usage since 2010 (17.5 days) and a more than full-day increase since bottoming out at 16.0 days in 2014. The report on U.S. vacation days comes as the country recognizes National Travel & Tourism Week from May 6-12, 2018.

Market and consumer research company GfK surveyed 4,349 U.S. employees who earn time off and Oxford Economics provided economic analysis for Project: Time Off’s annual State of American Vacation series. While the report showed progress in U.S. workers taking vacation days—something that may signal the beginning of a cultural shift—it also indicated that there is still more room for improvement. A majority of respondents (52 percent) left vacation time unused in 2017, which is down from 54 percent in 2016. Further, nearly a quarter (24 percent) of U.S. workers have not taken a vacation in more than a year.

Project Time Off Vacation Days Report

The findings also show Americans are not fulfilling their wanderlust. The majority (84 percent) of U.S. workers say it is important to them to use their time off to travel. Yet they use less than half of the vacation time they take—just eight days—to travel. It follows that 86 percent say they have not seen enough of their own country.

“While Americans are now using more vacation time, the benefits aren’t being fully realized because most workers are using less than half of their time off for travel,” Project: Time Off Vice President and the report’s author Katie Denis explains. “Simple and avoidable barriers to travel end up costing American workers in the long term. When we forego travel, we miss out on defining moments, experiencesm=, and memories, and end up costing our economy, too.”

The 52 percent of Americans who left vacation time on the table accumulated 705 million unused days last year, up from 662 million days the year before. The increase in unused days, despite Americans taking more vacation, is attributed to employees earning more time off—23.2 days in 2017, compared to 22.6 in 2016. America’s unused vacation days are a $255 billion missed economic opportunity that has the potential to create 1.9 million jobs.

Barriers to Taking Vacation Days

While the survey respondents ranked cost (71 percent), children (45 percent), and pets (39 percent) as the top barriers to travel, these barriers have little impact on actual vacation usage. Respondents who agreed that cost was a top barrier take about the same amount of vacation time as respondents overall—53 percent leave time unused, compared to 52 percent overall. Those results are similar with those who reported that children and pets were barriers to travel.

In fact, it is work-related challenges that continue to have the most influence on Americans’ ability to vacation. Employees who were concerned that taking vacation days would make them appear less dedicated or replaceable were dramatically less likely to use all their vacation time (61 percent leave time unused, compared to 52 percent overall). This held true for those who felt their workload was too heavy (57 percent to 52 percent) and no one else could do their job (56 percent to 52 percent).

A Traveler’s Advantage?

Respondents who took all or most of their vacation days to travel reported dramatically higher rates of happiness than those using little to none of their time for travel. Further, these “mega-travelers” were more likely to have received a recent promotion (52 percent) compared to Americans who use little to none of their time to travel (44 percent). Mega-travelers were also more likely to have received a recent raise, bonus, or both than those staying at home (86 percent to 81 percent).

Happiness with…

All or Most

(more than 75%)

Little to None

(less than 25%)


(% points)

Physical health and well-being




How you spend your paid time off




Your company




Personal relationships




Your job





The always-on work environment has created a new trend of workcations: traveling somewhere with the intent to work remotely for all or part of the time you are away. This new trend may be just a fad as only 10 percent of Americans have taken a workcation and a majority (70 percent) called the concept unappealing. Millennials will be the driving force if workcations become more mainstream—39 percent say they find the idea of a workcation appealing, compared to 28 percent of Gen X-ers and 18 percent of Boomers.

Work Perks

This year’s study also found that some workplaces are starting to understand the benefits of a positive vacation culture. The percentage of workers who say their company’s culture encourages vacation jumped five points from 2016. The research found a major split when it came to the happiness of employees at companies with encouraging cultures versus their peers at firms that are discouraging or ambivalent to vacation (72 percent to 42 percent). These employees are also much happier with their job (68 percent to 42 percent) and how much vacation time they use (77 percent to 51 percent).

“Companies are increasingly realizing that an encouraging vacation culture has the power to positively influence the bottom line,” Denis adds.


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