Back to Europe we go …

In 2011 husband and I drove over 4,000 miles throughout the United States for our summer vacation. Road trips are our specialty. We both love to see the countryside through a car window, and eight hours of driving is considered a good day.

However, it was the first year I hadn’t been overseas since 2005, and the thought of taking a big plane over the ocean began to pull on me almost as soon as we got home from the Great American Road Trip.

So back to Europe we go, starting in Prague, then dropping to Vienna for a few days (one of our favorite cities that requires another visit), and finishing off with a week in Budapest. Hopefully there will be day trips and stops along the way as we country jump on Eurail. Historically we dump our plans once settled into our vacation, so we’ll see where we really end up.

I am looking forward to street markets and language barriers and the smell of a neighborhood bakery. I am looking forward to the comfort that Europe brings to me, the quieting of my somewhat-chaotic mind and the reminder to enjoy life with family, good food and a glass of wine.

The map is the route we have sketched out so far. Do you have favorite sights or experiences from any of these cities? Let me know. Any and all suggestions are welcome!

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.