For other uses, see Vacation (disambiguation).
A vacation or holiday is a leave of absence from a regular occupation, or a specific trip or journey, usually for the purpose of recreation or tourism. People often take a vacation during specific holiday observances, or for specific festivals or celebrations. Vacations are often spent with friends or family.
A person may take a longer break from work, such as a sabbatical, gap year, or career break.
The concept of taking a vacation is a recent invention, and has developed through the last two centuries. Historically, the idea of travel for recreation was a luxury that only wealthy people could afford (see Grand Tour). In the Puritan culture of early America, taking a break from work for reasons other than weekly observance of the Sabbath was frowned upon. However, the modern concept of vacation was led by a later religious movement encouraging spiritual retreat and recreation. The notion of breaking from work periodically took root among the middle and working class.
In the United Kingdom, vacation once specifically referred to the long summer break taken by the law courts and then later the term was applied to universities. The custom was introduced by William the Conqueror from Normandy where it facilitated the grape harvest. In the past, many upper-class families moved to a summer home for part of the year, leaving their usual home vacant.
Impact of digital communications
Recent developments in communication technology—internet, mobile, instant messaging, presence tracking, etc.— have begun to change the nature of vacation. Vacation today means absence from the workplace rather than temporary cession of work. It is now the norm in North America and the United Kingdom to carry on working or remain on call while on vacation rather than abandon work altogether. Office employees telecommute whilst on vacation. Workers may choose to unplug for a portion of a day and thus create the feeling of a "vacation" by simply separating themselves from the demands of constant digital communications. Antithetically, workers may take time out of the office to go on vacation, but remain plugged-in to work-related communications networks. While remaining plugged-in over vacation may generate short-term business benefits, the long-term psychological impacts of these developments are only beginning to be understood.
See also: Tourism
Vacation, in English-speaking North America, describes recreational travel, such as a short pleasure trip, or a journey abroad. People in Commonwealth countries use the term holiday to describe absence from work as well as to describe a vacation or journey. Vacation can mean either staying home or going somewhere.
Canadians often use vacation and holiday interchangeably referring to a trip away from home or time off work. In Australia and the UK, holiday can refer to a vacation or a public holiday.
The Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, Carnegies, Huntingtons and other fabulously wealthy industrialists built their own spectacular “great camps” in the Adirondacks of upstate New York where they could spend time with their families in private luxury. The scions of New York City took to declaring that they would “vacate” their city homes for their lakeside summer retreats, and the term “vacation” replaced the British “holiday” in common parlance.
In Hungarian, the word vakáció can mean both a recreational trip, an officially granted absence from work (generally in warmer months), and the summer (longest) school break. For absence from work, the word szabadság (freedom/liberty) can be used, possibly as betegszabadság (sickness freedom/sickness liberty) when the reason of absence is medical in nature.
Family vacation refers to recreation taken together by the family. The intended purpose of family vacation is for family to get away from day-to-day chores and to devote time specifically for the relaxation and unity of family members. Family vacation can be ritual—for example, annually around the same time—or it can be a one-time event. It can involve travel to a far-flung spot or, for families on a tight budget, a stay-at-home staycation. Some examples of favorite family vacations might include family cruises, trips to popular theme parks, ski vacations, beach vacations, food vacations or similar types of family trips.
Many large corporations have generous vacation policies, some allowing employees to take weeks off and some even allowing unlimited vacation.
According to the U.S. Travel Association, Americans collectively did not use 662 million vacation days in 2016. More than half of all working people in the United States forfeited paid time off at the end of the year. Two-thirds of people still do work while they are on vacation. 
In popular culture
Family vacation and vacation in general has become a common theme in many books, films and movies. Writers often draw on common occurrences that take place during a vacation such as bonding and disasters.
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Remember summer holidays as a kid? Being released from school and seeing nothing but weeks of freedom, sunshine and sandy sandwiches lying ahead?…
It’s easy to forget that feeling as a working adult when heavy workloads and stress threaten to eat into our precious vacation days. Most people are owed a minimum number of vacation days a year but a lot of us don’t take them. In the US in 2014, for example, workers only took 51% of the small number of vacation days they were allowed and 15% of people took no time off at all . Many said that they were worried about falling behind in their work while others worried that they would lose their edge on the competition for promotions. But this reasoning may be flawed.
Research shows that not only are vacations good for you but that they may also increase productivity meaning they’re good for the workplace and for your career as well.
Here we’ve listed some of the benefits of taking a break for both you and your work:
Vacations make you happier.
Yes it may be an obvious one but it can be easy to forget in the face of a heavy workload when going on a vacation seems like another task on the to-do list. Research has found that after taking a vacation workers are less tense and stressed, they are more likely to be in a good mood and to have higher levels of energy . Better yet, people who come back from vacation are more satisfied with their lives in general when they return . Doesn’t a calmer, energised, happier you or a more satisfied, de-stressed employee sound like a good outcome?
Vacations are good for your health.
We’ve blogged before about the effects of stress on health. Chronic stress puts a strain on your body and puts you at risk of ill health. Although we all need some periods of stress in our lives it’s also important to know where to draw the line and how to take time out. A vacation offers a chance for your body to turn off the stress systems, to recuperate and to repair. Research has shown that people on holiday immediately feel healthier, have less physical complaints and even have a reduction in cholesterol levels on their return [2, 4]
Vacations increased productivity.
We’ve covered why vacations are good for the individual but are they also good for the workplace? The research seems to say yes. Employees who take a vacation have lower levels of job stress and burnout . Researchers also showed that at a company level there were lower levels of absenteeism for reasons other than ill health after employees had taken a vacation compared to before . In addition, employees who have had a vacation see the tasks they have to complete as part of their job as less effortful compared to before they took time off .
All of this indicates the benefits of spending time away from work. But there’s an important catch to remember if you want to see these benefits – a vacation should not just involve time spent out of the office but time off work as well. 61% of US workers in 2014 admitted to working while on vacation and this is something which can negate many of the good effects of a vacation . Studies have shown that people who spend a lot of time thinking negatively about work while on vacation actually had higher levels of exhaustion and disengagement from work when they returned . People who felt that their holiday was highly recuperative, meanwhile, experienced enhanced effects when they went back to work . They were happier and more satisfied with their lives even in the face of a heavy workload on their return.
This shows that it’s not enough just to leave the office, you also need to switch off when you take time off. Try not to think about all of things that annoy you in work, don’t log into your email unless absolutely necessary and limit your use of electronic devices. One PIP team member tried just this on her own vacation and lists the benefits of digital detox in another blog (Link coming soon!). So don’t feel guilty about taking the time off you’re entitled to. Vacations are important for a healthier you, a happier office and a more productive workplace.
- Glassdoor, Q1 2014 Employment Confidence Survey. 2014.
- de Bloom, J., et al., Effects of vacation from work on health and well-being: Lots of fun, quickly gone. Work & Stress, 2010. 24(2): p. 196-216.
- Strauss-Blasche, G., C. Ekmekcioglu, and W. Marktl, Moderating effects of vacation on reactions to work and domestic stress. Leisure Sciences, 2002. 24(2): p. 237-249.
- Strauss-Blasche, G., C. Ekmekcioglu, and W. Marktl, Serum lipids responses to a respite from occupational and domestic demands in subjects with varying levels of stress. Journal of psychosomatic research, 2003. 55(6): p. 521-524.
- Etzion, D., Annual vacation: Duration of relief from job stressors and burnout. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping, 2003. 16(2): p. 213-226.
- Westman, M. and D. Etzion, The impact of vacation and job stress on burnout and absenteeism. Psychology & Health, 2001. 16(5): p. 595-606.
- Fritz, C. and S. Sonnentag, Recovery, well-being, and performance-related outcomes: the role of workload and vacation experiences. Journal of Applied Psychology, 2006. 91(4): p. 936.