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Hey Millennials: If You Don’t Take that Paid Vacation Time, I Will

millennial vacations

If you’re looking for permission to turn that email auto-responder on, this is it.

Is anyone else noticing how the media’s portrayal of millennials is shifting?

When we started The Reply in October 2014, we did so with the intention of dropping some truth bombs about who millennials really are, what they want out of life, and what sacrifices they are prepared to make to achieve their goals.

No longer are we the entitled couch potatoes our bosses, neighbours and extended family loved to point fingers at for believing we could have the world served to us on a gold platter, with a side of gravy at no additional cost. The labels are changing. Instead of being selfish, we’re self-starters. We’re not financially dependent; we’re frugal. And now, you can erase “slackers” from the list of Gen-Y generalizations and put “work-martyrs” in its place.

At least that’s what the latest research says.

That’s right, millennials are so obsessed with their working lives that they won’t even take paid vacation.

An online survey released by Project: Time Off, a research initiative launched by the non-profit U.S. Travel Association, found “millennials are the most likely generation to forfeit time off, even though they earn the least amount of vacation days.”

Leave it to millennials to overcompensate. Our efforts to dispel the stereotypes have instilled a workaholic complex that could be even more destructive than an extra decade spent living in our parents’ basement.

I can’t help but feel this recent discovery was a long time coming. For years, our society has worn the “busy” label as a badge of honour. We define our worth by the length of our to-do list. When we do finally find a spare hour or two to relax, we are consumed with feelings of guilt for all of the things we should be doing instead.

I know these sentiments are real because I’ve experienced them firsthand. I’ve been running my own business for almost two years now and I still feel guilty when I take a break mid-afternoon to run errands or hang out in my garden, even though I know I’ll be back at my laptop for another two or three hours later that evening.

What’s the point in risking it all so you can create your own schedule, when you won’t even give yourself permission to take advantage of the flexibility?

This past summer I travelled to Newfoundland for the first time. I spent a week with my family in St. John’s and then my husband and I rented a car and headed west to Gros Morne National Park, where we stayed for another six days. Laptop case in hand, my work came with me everywhere I went. It took a full six days of “vacationing” before I finally figured out how to truly unplug and relax.

The truth is, I completely forgot what it felt like to take a real break. I became so consumed by editorial deadlines, business planning, an overflowing inbox and constant social media notifications, my brain was turning to mush.

Had I stuck to the single week vacation I’ve limited myself to ever since I started working full-time after university, I’d be heading straight for burnout. I can’t imagine taking off no time at all.

As millennials, we know it’s not easy to disrupt the status quo. It’s a struggle to break the rigid 9-to-5 boundaries established by generations past. But this 8-to-10 routine? It’s not working either. Even if you did get away from your desk for 20 minutes in the morning to walk the dog, or an hour in the afternoon for your hot yoga class. You need more than that. You deserve more than that.

I love my job, but I love my personal life too. And in order to integrate the two in a way that works for me and my family, I need to set firm boundaries. And I need to get comfortable with the fact that not everyone is going to agree with them.

Know what makes me more miserable than being judged by people who don’t know me? Choosing to live a life out of fear of said judgment.

So, my fellow millennials, I have one simple piece of advice to share: If you don’t want to become a self-righteous workaholic who puts everyone else’s opinions above his own, then take the fucking vacation time (and shamelessly share the photos of your trip on Instagram).


Charlotte Ottaway

Charlotte is Co-Founder and Managing Editor at The Reply. She is a writer, blogger and amateur photographer with interests in positivity, creative muse, generational differences and the future of work. She has written for Canadian Business, Zoomer Magazine, The Globe and Mail, The Huffington Post Canada and other Canadian publications. At her company, Web of Words, she helps solopreneurs and small business owners create real human connections online through blogging and social media. Better known by family and friends as Carly, she currently resides in Newmarket with her husband and dog-child. To learn more, check out her website at charlotteottaway.com and follow her on Twitter @charlottaway.