Which vacation model is best?

Marko, a loyal MR reader, asks:

Compare and contrast US vs European vacation model.

How much vacation do we really need?

That is a good question for August.  I think of the European "minimum three weeks in August" model as resulting from lots of collective bargaining, small families, fewer large dependent pets, higher tax rates, and many nearby desirable locales which do not exhaust themselves easily.  Plus you already live near the kids' grandparents, so you either don't need the four-day trip there or you wouldn't consider a full three weeks with them.  Head to Morocco and hire a guide.

Rather than comparing the vacations per se you also can ask whether the preconditions for the European-style vacation are desirable.  Overall I see the European approach to leisure as having higher private returns but lower social returns.  It reflects a very coordinated but less flexible approach to labor allocation and it reflects a weaker obsession with work and children, both of which in my view have larger social benefits.  If there is nowhere fun to go, as for many Americans, or your pets and kids tie you down anyway, you'll maybe have a better time at home.

One ideal is to have an American-style income and tax rate and then some free time in May and September rather than August, combined with a willingness to take longer flights; I have most of this (though I teach in September) and we don't have pets.  It is Yana who leads the charge to go places.

Addendum: Matt Yglesias makes some interesting points.


What's the "minimum three weeks in August" model? (I ask, as a European.)

a weaker obsession with work and children, both of which in my view have larger social benefits.

Now *that* is an interesting thesis. If it was true, why arent we all speaking chinese right about now?

In fairness, Tyler, you get to travel a fair amount for work, so I'm not surprised that you wouldn't be the one pushing for more travel.

If there is nowhere fun to go, as for many Americans...

Hmmm -- where would you have to live in the U.S. for there to be 'nowhere fun to go'?

@Jim: You can't take Tyler's "3 weeks in August" that literally. Typically these "3 weeks" are when the children have their 6 weeks of school holidays.

Also, there is (at least in Germany) no law that requires people to take vacation in any month. That can be negotiated with the employer, and I know many people who take 4 weeks of vacation whenever they see fit, plus of course the winter holidays around Christmas.


your comment reflects the assumption that all people in the world tick the same way and have the same utility function. This assumption, what I have seen, is wrong. Asians, Europeans, Northamericans, Africans and Latinamericans all have different utility functions and thus have different work/leasure optima. So, it is not your objective but the subjective factors that count. Another example is the pleasure people derive from sitting at a table and eating, which differs vastly around the globe.

If ... your pets and kids tie you down anyway, you'll maybe have a better time at home work.

Fixed that for you...

Yes, but clearly Europeans don't care about their children as much as Americans do. If they did, they would raise them in America.

fewer large dependent pets, They abandon them in the roads. Along with old people. the corpses of people that died during the vacation time heat wave remained abandoned for weeks
, and many nearby desirable locales which do not exhaust easily . So you have been to a beach in summer
And everything is closed in the cities while people from around the world id there to see those cities
No fun place to go in america so the millions going to Disney and New York are there boring

Huh. I'm an American, and for three years (my early 30s) I was very nearly perfectly set up to take extended vacations: no attachments, self-employed as a programmer (with a laptop machine I could work on). I didn't have the money to fly overseas or anything, but I did have places I could have snuck off a month for basically the price of gas and food.

And you know, I don't think that ever even occurred to me as something I might like to do. I took a lot of shorter vacations -- a typical year would have seen maybe five four-day weekends away from home and three week-long vacations. A lot of overnight trips as well. But I don't recall even a single two-week vacation in that period. Three weeks just seems like I would have found it completely unthinkable.

> If you were an employer, would you want to hire a worker whose priority was longer vacations rather than higher pay?

Yes. All the people I know value leisure time immensely more than more money. What gains would the employer have in denying leisure time from workers (within reason, of course)?

> Wouldn't preference for leisure time be a signal of a less ambitious worker?

No. Why should it? An unhappy worker is not always productive. Besides, as an employer I wouldn't hire an ambitious worker, just a knowledgeable worker (there is no substitute for knowing your stuff). I have seen devastating effects of ambitions in work.

Explaining the difference with the number of pets or kids (or worse, how much parents care about kids?) seems quite silly. People do take their kids with them for vacation. At least in Finland every family takes their kids with them for the four week vacations, generally to a summer cottage or sail boat.

In fact, in some sense having a kid is a reason you need long vacations: adults can compensate a short vacation by spending a lot of money on it (four days in Bermuda > two weeks in New Jersey), but with kids there is really no substitute for time.

The Mediterranean seacoast is horribly overbuilt with vacation housing and restaurants that are idle about 90% of the year due to everybody vacationing at once in August.

a weaker obsession with work is, or used to be, a preminent european (better: mediterranean-european) attitude that has much to do with the longer average vacation period. it is also a kind of generally not reflected upon kind of "memento mori", ie the three-week period is long enough to give up being workaholic and realize there’s (also) life beyond your desk.
i’m not sure a weaker obsession with children – if you mean a mitigated anxiety towards the highest standards your children have to reach – is typical of a “1,something† children european family. In this respect europeans seem to have catched up Americans.

Speaking as an american customer of european manufacturers, I wouldn't be surprised if companies lose orders because of this. One of our manufacturers in Italy shut down today for three weeks. If there was anyone else in the world who could do what we need, we'd buy from them instead.

that said, it's not just Europe. Our vendors in South Korea also do vacation shutdowns, although they're only one week.

Shuttering the factory and having everyone take their vacation at the same time has higher social returns but lower private returns.

This is extremely rare once you move a way from the mediteranean zone. I suspect that if you want an explanation, you should look to cultural norms that evolved before airconditioning.

In may parts, school holidays are slgihtly different between different parts of the country, explicitly to prevent people from taking their holidays at the same time.

The kids part of Tyler's post doesn't make any sense. Largely, it's Europeans with kids who take the long summer holidays to go somewhere with the kids in the kids' summer holiday, while people without (or with grown-up children) take smaller, more off-season trips.

"If there is nowhere fun to go, as for many Americans"...come on Tyler.

If we're anecdotal about things how about this: I lived in Germany for five years.

I knew Germans that were 35+ years old and have never been to France and anything west of Germany, anything east of Germany, anything north of Germany and had no interest to do so and possibly could not afford to do so but they did frequent Switzerland, Austria, and Italy only for the Alps and the beaches respectively.

I also know Germans that were under 30 and they have never left Germany because they could not afford to do so!

I knew Irishmen that I met in Germany who have never been to Great Britain (more so for cultural reasons) and a Londoner that has never left London to anywhere else in the UK or the Continent - I met him in the states!

A plane is a wonderful invention. Some people use it more than others. I can't speak for "many Americans" however. I guess you could also substitute "many Australians" or "many Canadians" also.

Cyprus is amazing

I don't think that your children can tie you down.You can always take them to a vacation I bet everytime they will appreciate it.I know my kids are always happy when I tell them that we are going to a vacation.Cruises from New York

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