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With lower gas prices and a steadily improving economy, more South Carolina drivers will hit the road for a long weekend getaway this Memorial Day.
And, as the summer travel season kicks into high gear, it might be time to book that weeklong vacation so many U.S. workers have been putting off over the past decade, according to a University of South Carolina professor.
“We’ve got a trend toward shorter breaks,” said Simon Hudson, a tourism professor at USC.
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In conjunction with the U.S. Travel Association, Hudson is researching the benefits of taking longer breaks. “They’re looking basically to prove that travel’s good for you.”
Not only can a week or more of vacation – unplugged from the office – result in higher productivity when workers return, it also can boost the traveler’s health and sex life, and have a positive impact on family life, he said.
“People are time crunched,” Hudson said. “We’re all running around 100 miles per hour. I don’t think it’s good for us” to cut out vacation.
On average, U.S. workers have about 14 days of paid vacation time each year, as opposed to the four to six weeks that are common in some other countries.
And “we don’t even take them,” Hudson said of American workers. “We take about 12 (days), so we leave a lot out there on the table.”
As the worst recession in a lifetime raged, many people cut out vacations or got in the habit of taking a less expensive, long weekend trip. Those shorter trips, like the ones many travelers will be taking this weekend for Memorial Day, have become increasingly common, Hudson said.
In South Carolina, for example, an estimated 443,550 motorists will travel more than 50 miles from home this holiday, according to AAA Carolinas. That’s a 1.5 percent increase over last year, helped, in part, by gas prices that have dipped to $3.25 a gallon – nearly 40 cents less than this year’s peak in February and close to a dime less than last year’s Memorial Day weekend.
However, 5 percent fewer South Carolinians – only 31,450 – will fly this year for the holiday, suggesting more people are taking shorter trips.
While quick jaunts are fine, they often don’t last long enough to take the edge off stressed workers. “They’re just about relaxed, and they have to pack up and go home again,” Hudson said.
Still, getting away from the office for a full week or longer can seem unimaginable to some workers in the current workplace environment, which often places more demands on fewer workers.
But some employers are starting to grasp the benefits of giving workers time to recharge, Hudson said:
• A Denver company, Full Contact, made headlines last year for paying its workers $7,500 to go on vacation and totally disconnect from the office.
• Outdoor outfitter Patagonia allows its employees to take as much as two months off with full pay and benefits to volunteer anywhere in the world with an environmental organization.
• In 2005, the Australian government launched the “No Leave, No Life” campaign to tout the benefits of workers taking their vacation time, rather than stockpiling it.
“There’s a trend toward employers recognizing that employees are getting burned out,” Hudson said.
In South Carolina, the Hilton Head Health group recently changed its focus from solely being a weight-loss center to take a more holistic approach to improving health. The group offers a wellness vacation – six days for $3,000 – to help travelers rejuvenate and rethink their lifestyle choices for more lasting balance, featuring spiritual and physical programs.
“I can see that kind of facility growing, even in South Carolina,” Hudson said, as more and more people recognize that taking a break can help them be more refreshed and productive.
The key will be getting buy-in from bosses, who often expect workers to be readily available at all times through cell phones, tablets and laptops.
“That’s the society that we live in,” Hudson said. “People are recognizing (the need to get away and recharge), but it’s going to be tough to change.”
Less pain at the pump
S.C. drivers will score the cheapest gas prices in the nation this Memorial Day weekend. The average price Thursday of a gallon of regular unleaded was:
Myrtle Beach: $3.21
SOURCE: AAA Fuel Gauge report
Memorial Day traditionally has marked the start of the summer vacation season, an engine of the S.C. economy
Average number of vacation days taken by U.S. workers each year. Workers are giving up, on average, two vacation days a year for a total of 20 lost vacation days over the past decade.
Number of vacation weeks workers in many European countries commonly get.
Number of S.C. drivers who will travel more than 50 miles from home this Memorial Day weekend. That’s up 1.5 percent from last year’s holiday.
Number of S.C. travelers who will fly this weekend. That’s down 5 percent from last year.
SOURCES: AAA Carolinas and USC tourism professor Simon Hudson