Vacationing Broke

Island vacaton resortBeing poor can feel like you’re stuck, and when everyone you know disappears into the world when they have the chance, you realize how truly stuck you are. When you’re young, it’s simple stuff like not being able to go to day camp, anywhere on spring break, or to anything but the free stuff you flipped and wrote essays for all school year. When you’re a young adult, you start to feel guilty for not exploring the world, for only being able to experience what’s right in front of you.

You feel guilty about all the spring breaks you couldn’t go on, for not being able to expand your mind in Thailand, and even stupid stuff, like not being able to earn as much money on your side job during your vacation as the person with more starting capital. A world where everyone lives for the weekend is not a privilege of the poor. The run-ragged either don’t have time to take leave, don’t have the money to go anywhere, or they are stuck in a grind that keeps them closer to home than they need to be.

Don’t Have Enough Money

While backpacking across Europe sounds like a dream, and round-trip tickets to Amsterdam are only like 700 bucks, many people are living month-to-month. They can’t even afford a train ticket to the beach, let alone paying for a vacation rental when they can barely afford to pay monthly rent. It’s so frustrating when you see tips like using public transportation or quitting daily Starbucks as a means of getting money for travelling when you’re already using those methods just to survive.

It’s unrealistic to expect that everyone has a large sum of cash to blow once a year. It’s insane to judge someone or imply that their experience on this planet isn’t complete if they don’t have the option to travel.

You know what you don’t have to do before your life is complete? Travel. Flaunting travel as an experience instead of as a material good is hard to to swallow for those who work too hard to be paid too little and can’t follow the oughts and should-dos. It hurts to be told that you aren’t living your fullest life, because you can’t afford to – or to be branded as just too lazy or unmotivated to take advantage of your dreams.

Some promote credit cards [as a way to afford travel], which is dangerous. While understanding and improving your credit can be very beneficial, getting a credit card for the sole purpose of blowing it on travel (something that is sold as a necessity in life) is not recommended. “Travel-hackers” do not recognize a genuine inability for some people to purchase a luxury item.

Don’t Have Enough Time

Even if money were not an issue and unlike 63 percent of Americans, you had enough money for a trip, finding time is tough. There are no federal requirements for paid vacation (many people don’t even have the time to get sick). This can be super frustrating, affects performance and leaves workers fatigued. Unless you are a low-income worker with state or city laws that require sick days, like California’s new sick leave law, remaining low-income reduces your chances of getting a sick day or vacation days off.

(And it’s not just personal travel, but it’s time to take your kids to camp or go to scheduled appointments or go for a drive or time to stretch and not have to work for just one extra day.)

A world where everyone lives for the weekend is not a privilege of the poor.”

Why the Guilt?

Not only is vacation billed as the standard in a country where there is no guarantee of vacation time, but it is deemed necessary for your life or your relationship. It’s not fair to place that guilt on an individual or claim that they aren’t really living life. Obviously, jet skiing across an endless ocean  will help make you a little bit happier than the physical and mental stresses that come from working 365 days a year or trying to refinance your student loans. But suggesting that a summer vacation is the norm flaunts middle-class privilege (and the benefits of first-world countries that aren’t America) to the poor.

It’s cruel to say that someone will not lead a complete life, because they are not able to afford things beyond their needs. Life’s for living, every life. No matter if you’re poor or rich – or just can’t go on vacation. It doesn’t make your experience as a human any more or less valuable.


On a more personal note, paid vacations increase productivity, support the economy, don’t cause job loss, and are great for employee health. Paid time off is part of a stronger economy and a stronger nation.

2 Responses

  1. Mary

    Thank you for this perspective! I had this exact experience growing up (Q:”what did you do for the summer?” A: “I worked.”), and somehow felt deficient for not travelling and adventuring like my classmates. You’re right on to point out that normalizing the vacation where you get to travel alienates so many who can’t dream of doing that. It’s almost invisibly divisive.

  2. Betsy Leondar-Wright
    Betsy Leondar-Wright

    Y’know what seems like an example of the kind of travel-shaming you’re describing, Mary? The best-selling book title “1000 Places to See Before You Die.” Who named that book? Did the author actually believe readers will go on 1000 trips? Can’t we read about special places without being bummed out that we don’t get to go to all of them?

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