What Is Vacation Shaming And Where To Spot It

Have you ever been told you go abroad too much? That you’re always on holiday? Or if you ever actually do any work? I’m talking about vacation shaming; the phenomenon where colleagues, bosses, friends, and family choose to judge or discourage your choice to travel. Let’s change that, shall we? 

Motivational message about work-life balance on small card

Following on from my post where I looked into the ways in which I’m aiming to make my dreams a reality and travel more, I recently came across this Forbes article on how vacation shaming is a serious management issue for companies. It got me thinking a number of comparable situations I’ve encountered, both in the workplace or in my personal life which I thought would make for an interesting post.

I tend to felt uneasy about discussing holiday leave. I know it is a huge privilege to have paid annual leave the way we do in the UK (compared to some countries), and I often take long haul flights to places such as New Zealand and Australia so understand that this too is extremely lucky. Nonetheless, should I be made to feel guilty for taking those trips? If I explain why I choose to take fewer, longer trips does it make a difference to people’s opinions?

Here are a few of my own observations around the problem of vacation shaming, and where it most commonly occurs.

What Is Vacation Shaming?

Vacation shaming is where a person is made to feel guilty, ashamed, or even discouraged from taking holiday time off. The term is most commonly used in reference to a work environment, however, can also apply to a number of situations where travel is frowned upon.

Vacation shaming is an especially modern issue, most prevalent in the millenial age group who have shown in studies to list “nervousness” and “guilt” as top reasons for not taking holiday that they are entitled to.

Pen and passport on map

Annual leave can feel like an awkward topic to talk about. Sometimes it feels like letting people in on a secret, or revealing personal details about yourself. Or maybe that’s just me. I feel my excitement to get away could call into question how much I value my career, friends, and family. Does taking my allocated annual leave make me selfish? Lazy? I really don’t believe so, in fact, there are numerous reasons to argue that why travelling and taking time off is great for your physical and mental health. So why are we so reluctant to do so?

Granted, not all of us feel the pressure from vacation shaming. And to those people: Thank you! Thank you for continuing to show us (currently) less courageous folk that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and freedom awaits. Thank you for being the examples to prove a healthy work/life/holiday balance IS possible.

Who Experiences Vacation Shaming?

I thought long and hard about why there is an increase in vacation shaming in recent times. Surely years ago our parents and grandparents were not made to feel regretful when taking a holiday? Travel and holidaying were celebrated and no one gave two hoots as to whether you were doing it too much or too little. Why have things changed?

From my perspective, a lot comes down to the highly-connected world we now live in. Long-gone are the explorers discovering new mysterious places. Nowadays it’s a quick Google search and you’ve got thousands of pictures, guides, tips, and info on any given place in seconds. It literally looks like people are travelling and living their #bestlife at every click.

Pen and passport on notepad

Being bombarded with so much stuff online has changed the way we live, and the way we travel (Note: I’m super aware this is written on the internet… Sorry). There is so much more to learn, so much to do, so much to cram into each day. And, that means we’re seeing so many more people travelling, and it looks like it never ends! Our saturated minds are filled with others’ doing amazing things from every corner of the globe, yet our realities feel so, so different.

In a nutshell, this means that pretty much anyone and everyone can experience vacation shaming, such as the world we live in has made it so.

Do you agree with any of the following scenarios where vacation shaming occurs?

The Influencer Lifestyle

The influencer lifestyle is one of extravagance, and can often appear self-indulgent and excessive. It’s important to remember that when complaining about influencers’ seemingly constant jet-setting, this might not actually be the case. Furthermore, for some this is a real job that they work hard for.

Influencers are some of the most-judged travellers. In fairness, their worlds seem so far removed from real life, it can be hard not to think that yet another retreat to Bali just sounds unnecessary. But that’s a whole industry and subsection of marketing now, and there are many aspiring influencers out there also highlight-reeling their travels in this way. So, instead of shaming we might consider appreciating the context behind such posts and remember that they take a lot of effort and time to create this content.

Map with phone and lights

Social Media FOMO

Social media presents a fake reality. We know it, but we don’t always accept it. I’m not always abroad but I work hard on editing photos and enjoy sharing stories from my trips, even when I’m not there!

Maybe this delayed photo sharing is caused by a habit of taking way too many photos on my part, or maybe it’s my unwavering wanderlust that causes permanent nostalgia. Either way, the comments of

“But you’re ALWAYS away!”

sound like a subtle dig for sharing photos from abroad. I’d rather not caveat every post with a disclaimer, instead it would be great to treat photo sharing as simply that – a place to enjoy inspiration and appreciate beautiful places! 

Bloggers

Travel blogging means writing and posting a lot about places far from home. Ergo, of course it looks like we’re always away! We’re obsessed with inspiration, sharing ideas, engaging discussion, and promoting places we’ve loved (or not!).

To quash a blogger’s love for travel is completely insane. And part of that can often come in the form of unsupportive shaming for taking the trips that fulfil the love of travel AND the love of blogging. Try supporting bloggers on their upcoming (and past) trips rather than imply or suggest that it’s not deserved or right to travel so much. You only see half the story, and oftentimes travel bloggers hold down full time jobs alongside those trips and posts!

Phone and lights on laptop

Global Jobs

There are many occasions when your work may take you abroad. In such instances, why shouldn’t you get the chance to enjoy the local nightlife or cuisine or maybe even stay a little longer? If you were meant to be there anyway, you might as well enjoy it after working hard. Are we expected to stay locked up and avoid all influence from the country we are hosted by?

While it can seem like a “holiday” to some, oftentimes people are doing their most important work when abroad. Whether it’s an event, conference, presentation, meeting, or negotiations – these tasks can be stressful and just as much you’d pop to the pub to wind down after work, you might get out and enjoy the new city you’re in while you can!

It’s all too easy to consider business travel as a vacation, and thus shame those whose work requires it. But this is far from a holiday. Take the time to understand the context of the trip, and accept that the choice to spend time out and about alongside work is totally understandable. We’d all do the same, given the chance.

Close up passport with pen and map

Digital Nomads

Encompassing all of the above points, is the digital nomad. Ahh, the lifestyle we all dream of. The job where all you need is an internet connection. You can sit by the pool with your laptop to hand, feeling your most creative self as you sip a green juice and nibble at a smoothie bowl. Idyllic right? This is likely not often the case. Digital nomads, global freelancers, remote workers, and all other synonymous location-independent workers put in a lot of graft to make their living. They work the same hours, live largely normal lives, yet somehow their distant location gives others the assumption they’re on holiday. And thus, get the shaming.

I’m fortunate enough that I can work remotely or at home from time to time. This means that even when I do take long haul trips, I’ll often work once I’m there before or in between taking my “real” holiday!

hand on keyboard with notepad

My hope is that, in time, the lifestyle of a digital nomad etc. will become normalised and carry less judgement around such a working environment. If people are productive and get their work done, who cares where they are in the world?!

It’s been regularly reported than many big corporations are working towards a more location-independent work environment. For example, did you know that the creator of WordPress itself is a huge advocate for this work model? As do many other hugely successful companies, his business is thriving and pride themselves on having happy, motivated staff.

I’m excited to see the future of such businesses, and I really believe in the idea that work shouldn’t be restricted to the office. If your employees are passionate and willing sprinkled with a dash of the right skills, they’ll do just fine working from mountains, beaches, skyscrapers, or the sofa.

Living & Travel Costs

Of course, we can’t talk about the problem of vacation shaming without talking about the costs of living. As if it isn’t hard enough to battle judgements and shaming about taking vacation in a professional or personal capacity, it’s also impacted by the sheer fact that travel can be expensive. But, annoyingly, so is living.

With rent prices in London (where I live) and other places around the world sucking extortionate proportions of a monthly salary, saving every penny counts. This looks like just another reason to be berated for travelling.

“Don’t you want to save for a house?” “Are you sure it’s wise to spend your money galavanting around the world?”

Just a few of the comments one might receive for embarking on a nomadic life rather than one that chooses to settle down and save up for a mortgage. The way I see it, settling down and choosing adventure don’t have to be mutually exclusive. It’s perfectly possible to live a stable life, travel the world with a partner, or go it solo, or whichever else way to live and travel. How you spend your well-earned money is nobody’s business, and just because it’s not how they choose to live does not mean you shouldn’t do your own thing.

View overlooking the Shard London

On top of that, you’re also trying to save for flights and accommodation (not to mention food and activities) on your trip, which only seem to pile up the bills. Vacation shaming for the places you travel to is the last thing you need after all the other battles to fight! If splashing out on a nicer hotel or a fancy restaurant makes the experience all the more memorable, go for it! Don’t feel shamed into booking the cheapest possible options, choose whatever suits you best.

Work Place Pressure

As mentioned, the workplace is one of the most delicate places to feel vacation shaming niggling away. These might be just a few of the situations and reasons that have become more common in recent time.

The Nature Of Modern Jobs

I often impose self-guilt about taking time off because of the type of work I do. It’s not as easy to just handover campaigns that are running round the clock on social media – someone new needs to understand and monitor them. It takes time to prepare such a handover and you often feel as though although you get 2 weeks off, you make up for those lost hours in the weeks before a vacation! I must admit, the idea of leaving work behind has even made me contemplate if going is the right thing to do at all. On reflection, this isn’t a healthy attitude and is perpetuated by the “always online” way of modern life.

I’ve joked that the only time to truly relax away from the office is at Christmas when you KNOW almost every office is shut down, if only for a few days. It’s sad but it’s true, even on holiday I can feel a niggling thought at the back of my mind telling me to check my emails in case something awful has happened.

Aerial view over London

Competitive Workplaces

In some awful companies, taking holiday could be considered a sign of weakness. That you’re not committed enough to the job. That you don’t even care. With every 20-something looking for the next step in their career, it’s hard not to feel easily replaceable. And taking annual leave is just another mark against you in many offices, especially when there are so many willing and eager, and incredibly skilled, workers ready to take your place.

Have you ever had an interview go really well, everyone clicks, and then right at the end you’re asked

“So do you have any holidays planned?”

Mood killer or what. Panic sets in and you instantly reply “No, none at all!”. Followed by an awkward giggle trying to mask the fact you and the girls are going for a long weekend to Amsterdam in 2 months. But that doesn’t count, right? It feels like the ultimate example of vacation shaming. To feel so guilty about taking leave from a job you don’t even have yet. I’m sure there have been plenty of instances where job seekers have avoided booking a trip in case in disrupts their job search.

Pen and purse on keyboard

The fear that you could be rejected from a job because of your holiday plans are frankly absurd. Sure, it could be really annoying to fit around, or it might stunt a small part of your training, or might not work with colleagues’ holidays but if someone is right for the job, why not make it work? It’s only going to be a fraction of an employees total hours they put in, and if they’re not worth the sacrifice of compromising a couple of weeks holiday then it’s a real shame to lose that talent.

Maybe the hiring decision doesn’t come down to being rejected or not based on holiday plans, I truly hope not. But in some cases an honest answer could sway the vote if a company hasn’t already implemented an appropriate or organised system to allow for vacations for their current AND new employees.

Finding a company that respects your personal circumstances and interests outside of work is crucial to avoiding vacation shaming in the workplace. I’m fortunate enough to have such a company to work for, and despite my own concerns and stresses around taking annual leave, knowing it’s encouraged by my boss it’s a huge relief!

Management Miseducation

Working harder means working better. Doesn’t make sense, does it? A lack of proper training for managers, or even a gap in the knowledge of how staff work styles differ, might be causing dissonance between managers and employees.

A manager sees that their team member is not working to the full potential. Rather than think this might be caused by burnout or a sign that they need some time off, the manager may assume, incorrectly, that the employee needs to work through that struggle, rather than step back from it. A reluctance of speaking up, or possibly a misunderstanding of their own state, means the employee goes along with it and continues to be overworked.

In such a fast-paced world where young startups pop up and grow exponentially, industries are saturated with bright talent and eager-to-please workers, it can be easy to see why managers miss the mark when it comes to time off.

An “all hands on deck” attitude indicates that looking for time off makes you less of a team player. But in reality, each person in a team is pretty darn unique and requires to be treated so. Some people don’t necessarily enjoy longer chunks of time off. They might be satisfied with a few days sprinkled throughout the year. But that’s not an excuse to assume ALL staff will be similar.

People work at their full potential in vastly different ways. From early risers to night owls, from complete silence to headphones at full blast. Managers should listen to what their team needs, and remember that the way they work isn’t the way everyone else does.

pen and notepad on laptop

Millenial Fears & Finances

This one is more of a personal observation than anything else. I’m by no means knowledgeable about actual stats and data around millenial behaviours, so it’s really a guess from my experience. I’ve noticed that my peer group are very reluctant to take their annual leave, because they want to grow and progress as much and as quickly as possible. Somehow, we’ve got it into our heads that holidays could hinder that?! We so silly.

open purse with credit card on laptop keyboard

On top of our crippling fears that we’re inadequate if we even contemplate taking our eye off the ball, we simply struggle to afford it. As mentioned, extortionate rent and living costs in places such as London mean that saving for a trip anywhere is practically like taking out a mortgage. But we don’t have those either. Sigh. Even moving out of our parent’s home is a challenge. How can we even begin to consider spending money on going away?!

Wherever we’ve got these ideas that we CAN’T take time off are really the crux of the problem. I believe that the attitude towards time off and travel have been changing slowly, and very much so in line with the rise of technology, social media, and a worklife shift. All of these examples of vacation shaming express those exact areas of modern life, and until we start changing our attitudes as quickly as our smartphones, we’ll be stuck with vacation shaming.

Writing travel plans in notebook

These are just some of the circumstances I can think of where I’ve observed or experienced vacation shaming, and I highly doubt that’s all of them!

Subscribe to my blog to keep up to date on the next instalment of this topic, where we look at how to tackle vacation shaming and why it matters!

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11 Replies to “What Is Vacation Shaming And Where To Spot It”

  1. Fantastic post, Suzy! I think I’m lucky in that everyone is very supportive of my travels, including my parents and past workplaces. But it was kinda funny when I lived in Australia and people acted like my entire 18 month trip was a holiday. Like, they genuinely didn’t realise I was working full time out there! So yes, I was having lots of fun, but it wasn’t like I was lounging on a beach every day lol.

    But I totally relate to that bit about being asked in a job interview about holiday. I’ve been asked a couple of times recently, and I’ve been relieved that I haven’t got anywhere booked. And then I worry if I DO book something, will that stop me getting a better job? It’s so stupid. So there’s still that worry even though it hasn’t affected me in the past!

    1. Thank you so much! I’m so glad to hear you have such a supportive family and jobs, it makes a huge difference sometimes! I totally understand the working abroad thing – I’ve faced a similar problem in NZ!

      Yep, I had the same issue with jobs a few years back. I had my gap year planned out a year or so in the future but worried that I should tell future employers about it, despite only looking for temp jobs! It’s nuts what we put ourselves through, but if we try to overcome it the best we can I’m hopeful there’ll be less judgement in the future 🙂

  2. Omg. This is such an interesting post and couldn’t agree more with you. Last time someone I didn’t know at all started telling me I should save money for my future instead of travelling…
    Well done for that post, it needed to be written and now needs to be read !

    Anaïs | http://anais-n.com

    1. Thank you so much, I really appreciate it! It’s a really fascinating problem, and one that does seem to affect so many of us. I wish there was less judgement from others, I hope by talking about it we can point out what’s happening!

  3. Thanks for sharing this Suzy. I fully agree on it and I’m happy you put this on “paper”. I actually noticed well these comments from all different groups in my life and yes sometimes or almost all the time it makes you feel bad for going on holidays and this is the last it should feel. I work hard enough to go on holidays and I believe people just judge/comment because they are jealous, still not easy to cope with it sometimes.

    1. Thank you so much for reading! I completely agree, holiday’s should not be something one is made to feel guilty for. I do hope by confronting the issue we can try to overcome it and see less judgement of one another!

  4. I get that a lot too ; the don’t you want to save for a house thing. I hate it. At the minute, I reall do not want to save for a house, I don’t even drive because every spare penny I get I want to use to fuel my travels. At work just this morning, the manager asked me where I’m off to next week, and he asked was it a ‘Valentines trip’ and when I said no, it was to celebrate my birthday I was told I used any reason to travel 🙁 In humour of course, but still – why shouldn’t I use my leave to do what I want and go where I want. (I’m going to Istanbul on Saturday!)

    1. Yes! You should absolutely be able to do what you please with your money – it’s really no one else’s business. It’s these such throwaway comments that can really start to affect travellers, which is what I hoped to highlight here. In any case, Istanbul sounds AMAZING and you’re going to have a wonderful trip!

  5. Omg this post was spot on! I have four weeks of vacation at my job now- the first year I worked here I had zero vacation days. Now whenever I take off my boss always questions it. I deserve these days and a few vacations a year!

    1. Glad you could relate to this, Sarah! I think it’s crazy how often people are made to feel guilty for their time off – you’re so right. You absolutely deserve it, it’s literally a part of your contract, it’s not like you’re breaking any rules! Hope you continue to enjoy your travels guilt-free in the future 🙂

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