I’m taking two weeks. Like it or lump it.

Last night I had the opportunity to attend Meet Plan Go in Minneapolis, a movement built on the idea that Americans should embrace what our European counterparts have been doing for years – taking time off from work. Not just a week of vacation, but long-term vacations or sabbaticals. As one of the 50 percent of Americans who do not use all of their vacation days each year, I was intrigued and looking for inspiration.

The Meet Plan Go event consisted of four-time sabbatical taker Kirk Horsted, Lonely Planet writer Leif Pettersen, and financial planner and contributing writer to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Ross Levin.

Horstead gave an overview of Meet Plan Go and then his personal philosophy of travel. From there he moderated the presenters, allowing Levin to speak first.

Levin grabbed me from the start, explaining that as a financial planner he saw two types of bad behavior – people who spent too much and people who saved too much. He reminded us that we have to have a personal plan, not a business plan when it comes to saving for the future. Levin went on to tell a story of a man he met while vacationing in Colorado. The man would drive Levin’s family from the ski lodge up to the ski hill every day. As the days progressed they began to talk during the drive, and Levin found out the man drove the van in the winter for the ski lodge, and during the summer months he was a park ranger in a nearby state park. He said that he was 40 years old, and loved what he did. But his father was disappointed in him for not taking more initiative with his life.

“I counsel people every day to save enough money to do exactly what you are already doing at age 40, ” Levin said. The man just shook his head in disbelief.

“If you believe you are enough, you will have enough,” Levin told the crowd.

Leif Pettersen nodded in agreement. An accidental tourist, Leif traveled the world, landing in Romania and securing freelance writing status with Lonely Planet. After spending a lot of nights on couches he came back to Minneapolis and bought a condo. But he says he still lives frugally by not owning a car and keeping life modest to maintain his travel writer lifestyle.

When the floor opened for roundtable discussion, the “how” of sabbatical taking was one of the first questions asked. Horstead acknowledged that some companies do not allow sabbaticals. If that’s the case, he advised the audience to take an assessment. If travel, vacation and sabbatical opportunities are a goal, work for companies who support those philosophies. If you’re in a company that might be flexible, do the footwork for them. Offer unpaid leave, line up co-workers to absorb your duties, and be willing to come back to a different job in order to keep your job.

Walking away from the meet-up my initial reaction was, “yeah, right.” Easier to say than do. But over the last 24-hours I have found my inspiration from Meet Plan Go.

I am 37 years old and have never taken two weeks of vacation in my adult life. Because I won’t use up all of my vacation this year, I’m rolling the maximum days allowed over to the next calendar year. That means I will have 20 days of paid vacation on the books in 2011 – technically a month. Will my employer tolerate my absence for a month? I don’t think so. But, I can take a minor (monumental) first step.

I hereby declare that I’m officially taking two weeks of vacation off in 2011. Not two weeks sprinkled over three months of summer. Two solid weeks away from the office. The time is blocked. The trip is planned. I’m going to do it. It’s not a complete unplug for a month, but it’s a start. Baby steps.

Do you take all of your vacation time each year? I would love to hear your story of why  – or why not.

15 thoughts on “I’m taking two weeks. Like it or lump it.

  1. Congratulations! I helped out at the MeetPlanGo in Toronto, and I’m so glad to hear that someone was inspired. If you decide to go all the way to India let me know — that’s my specialty 🙂

    • India is on my top three list right now, so thank you! I might take you up on that as soon as I have the gumption to take two weeks off at one time once again. And thank you for organizing the Toronto event. It’s an incredible movement and I’m happy there are people like you pushing it forward. 🙂

  2. I’m so happy that Meet Plan Go has inspired you to take off two weeks for yourself. Every journey begins with a single step! Kudos to you for taking yours. Do you have any plans about where or what you’ll be doing?

    • Thank you for the “way to go!” Next year my husband’s family is having a reunion in Colorado. At first it was going to be a quick in-and-out deal. Now we have decided to spend two weeks driving the back roads of the North Dakota Badlands, through Montana, down into Wyoming and into Colorado on our way to the reunion. From there we will roam the western Kansas Prairie on our way back to Minnesota. They are states I have avoided in the past because they weren’t exotic enough. While yes, I would rather be taking two weeks in Vietnam or Uruguay, this will be just fine. 🙂

  3. You might not believe this after what you read next, but I am a complete and utter Americanophile. I love the country, the people, the constitution, almost everything and everyone I’ve come across there or from there…..

    ……except for this one thing. This vacation thing. As a European, it’s really hard to understand how Americans put up with the grind without some time off to get mind and body together again. Just the time off, the time to refresh body and spirit is essential to one’s working life, and if you can fill that time with travel, then even better!

    The US is so vast and varied that it goes without saying that you could travel all 50 states and still not get to travel abroad, yet have an incredible travel experience. Yet, if you can get to travel outside of the US it would be so great for us and for you too. For different nationalities to come together and understand one another is crucial to making the world a better place for us all, maybe even crucial to our survival. Circling the wagons won’t do it. Going out, sharing, exploring will.

    Much luck to you!!

    • First, thank you for the kind words. Once in awhile during my travels I see “ugly American” behavior and I cringe. I’m elated you have only come into contact with the majority of Americans that are friendly and mean well.

      The American workaholic culture definitely stems from our roots. Unfortunately somewhere along the line we didn’t stop to say “enough.” I feel that vacation is seen negatively by many, but I am also the problem. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve checked e-mail on holiday and found a note from the office that reads, “I know you’re on vacation, but can you call me?” And I do because that is what is expected. Guess I need to learn to say no!

      Seeing Europe for the first time changed my life. My favorite part of adventuring is meeting other people, and as you say, understanding one another. I hope your world is filled with many new friends and special people in the future! All the best!

  4. SHERRY: Thank you for your comments and encouragement! I do believe Meet Plan Go is an excellent idea. I know many of us have challenges with taking a leave of absence from our jobs, so I hope others were encouraged to take action, no matter how big or small.

    Next year my husband’s family is having a reunion in Colorado. At first it was going to be a quick in-and-out deal. Now we have decided to spend two weeks driving the back roads of the North Dakota Badlands, through Montana, down into Wyoming and into Colorado on our way to the reunion. From there we will roam the western Kansas Prairie on our way back to Minnesota. They are states I have avoided in the past because they weren’t exotic enough. So I guess I’ve changed my attitude in two different ways, huh? 🙂

    AYNGELINA: I also appreciate your encouragement. You are right – I should step out and be bold. ASK. The worst answer is no, and I’m already used to that. Good thought!

    • Colleen, We just returned from a 6-day trip to western Colorado, my childhood home on a fruit farm on a mesa near Paonia, Colorado from 1943 to 1949. My husband wanted to see where I had spent some of my childhood years. After 62 years I realized one can’t really go home to one’s roots without some shock of the changes. Three fourths of the fruit trees are gone, 15-20 ft. fences surround the farm already bordered in rock walls to keep the elk, bears, and mountain lions away from the black Welsh sheep they have there now, my old 2-story school in town is gone, no one in town cares that there aren’t postcards, booklets or pamphlets about the town, etc. But the house we lived in had been completely renovated and had full basement added. My husband has never liked going on vacations so we have rarely gone anywhere except maybe a 3-day trip to look at bulldozers or the like. We enjoyed the beautiful mountains though he said he wanted to get out and hug the Welcome to Kansas sign when we were coming back as he didn’t like driving down the mountainsides. We both agree is was worthwhile and wonder why we haven’t gotten away from home to be revitalized oftener. Hope you get to do more traveling. Judy

      • JUDY: I didn’t know or remember you had lived in Colorado as a young child! What a wonderful story, especially finding your childhood home had been renovated. We are very much looking forward to the journey, taking the back roads and even seeing Western Kansas. (Can you believe I never ventured west of my own home state?)

        I’m so happy you were able to wander and have a little adventure!

  5. Great decision! Two weeks away is a world away from trying to cram things into one week. Do it in the first part of the year and you’ll be scheduling another two weeks for the end as well. So cool to hear that Meet Plan Go is already having an influence.

    I left my job to travel in April, but took a two weeks vacation in Nov 08 and went to the Galapagos Islands for a week and mainland Equador for a week. I loved both of them and being away for that long was great for me. Everything was still up and running when I got back and the world didn’t end. Enjoy your trip!

    • BRIAN: What a great story! How long were you on your sabbatical to travel in April? I would love to hear how you approached your employer about the subject.

      Thank you for sharing. I need encouragement like this to JUST DO IT. 🙂

      • This time I actually quit my job. In 2006/07 I took a one-year leave of absence from my company. I hadn’t heard of anyone doing it with them before (or since), but they were very receptive. Sherry interviewed me for Briefcase to Backpack earlier this year about my trips. Here is that.

        Take a look and I’d love to help out anyway I can. I really wanted to be on one of the MPG panel’s, but my travels ended up taking me away from their locations this year. I’ve been on my motorcycle from Texas to Alaska and now San Diego this year so check my blog for ideas for your upcoming road trip.

      • Thank you so much Brian. I plan to devour your blog this evening. And I might hit you up for some back roads tips next year!

  6. BRAVO! We are here to cheer you on in your two weeks! All great things start with a couple of small steps. Once you begin a little bit of change – it may seem hard – but it does get easier and easier and soon you’ll be making bigger changes!

    Where will you go for your two full weeks of vacation?! Remember, half of the fun is the planning and dreaming of it – so enjoy every moment!
    Glad you enjoyed the presentation!

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