American Vacation Policy Fails Again

travel is the only thing

I am a traveler. I also have a full time job as a meeting/event planner.  I am a bit of a workaholic.  I love what I do. I also love to travel.

There has been many a discussion regarding how infrequently American’s travel. How we work to much and lose money each year by not taking those 2 weeks of vacation the corporate world has allowed us to earn..  There is even a  MasterCard commercial about it!

What I have figured out is that it is hard to take a proper vacation with only 10 vacation days allotted to us each year.  Relaxing vacations to a beach location can yes happily occur with only 10 vacation days a year. But a true trip, the ability to actually see and explore the vastness that is Planet Earth – 10 days per year is definitely not enough.

I am single, I have no children, very little over head and bills I pay off each month. I can afford to travel.  I NEED to travel. Yet I run up against a vacation policy that isn’t very forgiving when it comes to grand trips, experiences, adventures.

In the past 8 years, I have spent 2 weeks in Italy, 2 weeks in China, and 2 weeks in South Africa.  At the time of each trip, I was freelancing.  I worked as an independent contractor for meeting & event planning companies. I may have ‘lost’ money by taking each trip because I wasn’t working as a salaried employee, so I was not given paid time off (PTO). In the long run, I am ok with that, I gained so much more by the experiences I had, the things I saw, the things I ate, the people I met, the world I ventured in to.

However, in addition to those trips, since I was freelancing and working remotely at the time, I was able to take a few other shorter trips throughout the year: a long weekend in Maryland, a long weekend in Las Vegas, wherever I wanted to go I was able to. I could easily take my work with me.  However, had I been working full time and not freelancing, I most likely would not been able to do that as I would have used up all 10 of my days.

We are an overworked society that places to much emphasis on learning and working then on experiencing the world, or even our own country.  Case in point, if you haven’t already seen the letter floating around social media from the father back to the school principal regarding his children’s “unexcused” absences so the father could run the Boston Marathon! (Yes, there is not scandal within the running community as he may not have legitimately qualified for the Boston Marathon)

American’s have falsely been labeled as non-travelers.  This is probably because it has been said how few passports American’s as a whole actually hold.  A 2011 article on CNN informs that only 30% of all American’s hold a passport.  I can believe this number.

Truth be told, our country is a phenomenal one.  The amount of things to see and experience are astounding.  Each state has its own historical value to showcase, even if it is not as historically long as many other countries around the world; each state, each city in America has it’s own historical flare.

IMAG3027We have our National Park system, we have various national landmarks or monuments scattered around the country.  There is plenty to see domestically, but we just do not put a priority on see it all, we put the priority on working long hours, on making more money then your neighbor.

To push that point home even more, according to an article in the Atlantic (The Only Advanced Country Without National Vacation Policy? It’s the US), America practically the only developed country that does not have laws in place requiring a certain amount of paid time off per year.

Every time I travel, I run in to folks from countries with amazing vacation policies thus allowing their citizens to take a two weeks grand trip somewhere and still have vacation days left over for shorter trips somewhere else!

There are now some companies that are giving unlimited PTO.  This can be a double edge treat. To me this can mean the work is going to so continuous that the employee will not actually get to use their unlimited PTO?

Why do we put so little value on traveling and vacationing while the rest of the world is always out there seeing it all?  Is it because back in day when the country started there was a bit of an isolationist mentality? Is it because of how high a premium we put on making/having money?

This article on CNN, Why is American the ‘No-Vacation’ Nation?, puts everything in to nice little boxes of why we don’t do it and why the rest of the world embraces it.  A large part has to do with our limited vacation time compared to countries like German or New Zealand who are given 6 weeks vacation a year, from day 1 at the job.  This is in addition to the national holidays they are given.

How did our super advanced, democratic championed nation lose the focus of how important vacation and travel is.  Now only in terms of relaxing and decompressing, but for those with children, for educational purposes, for learning about other cultures, other historys, other lands.

As I noted in the image above, Travel is the only you BUY that makes in RICHER in the end.

What are you next big trips planned?
I’m working in either a Mediterranean Cruise, Iceland, Peru, some good old American Road trips…I just can’t decide, and I’m not sure I have enough PTO to handle all of that (even though I do work remotely, and wouldn’t mind working while away, to a certain extent, I still want to SEE the places I venture to!)

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South African Adventure – The End

Well, our third morning in Pilanesberg was grand.  We awoke to no rain coming which meant our re-scheduled sunrise game drive was still on!  As we walked out of our chalet, we walked in to native wildlife.  There were Zebras and warthogs and klipspringer all around, it was quite a phenomenal moment.  More so when we got to watch a zebra walk across the drive no more than 10 feet in front of us!  The things that seem to be such a natural element to life in South Africa.

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As you can see, we saw good deal of the wildlife on our last morning out.  I was able to leave feeling fulfilled.  A bucket list item of mine was to go on a safari in Pilanesberg National Game Reserve and in Africa, I feel, in the 3 days day we were gone, on the 3 drives we went out on, I was happy with what I experienced.

Overall, I was thrilled with my time (our time) in Pretoria and it’s surrounding area.  Sam and Mike were absolutely amazing hosts, as was Joyce and the boys!  I saw a lot of things one does not get to see in the USA normally.  Watching an orangoutang run across a busy highway, that just do not happen anywhere else but in Africa!

Even though I have food allergies, I was able to step out of my comfort zone and try a few food items that are known to that area with no problems.  We experienced a culture so unlike what we grew up with.  We were surrounded by a history of change on par with ours, just two months after Mandela’s passing and an upcoming game changing election.

As fulfilled as I was on this trip and as content as I was as we boarded our 18 flight back to the states, I was left with this feeling of – what’s next!  Upon returning I dove right back in to work and to this day, nearly 3.5 months after, I still do not have my next trip booked (blasphemy for any traveler!).  I know where I’d like to go, but narrowing it is tough.  Finding someone to go with me, or just going on my own – decisions to be made, timing to be worked out and funds to find.

But as Susan Sontag once said:

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South African Adventure – SAFARI (Day 2)

We rise nice and early for our scheduled sunrise game drive only to find it’s pouring outside.  We make our way to front of the lodge as our pickup never showed and find 2 other groups wandering around the front of the lodge as well.  What we do not see is anyone there for the drive itself.

After a bunch of back and forth, a phone call or two, we finally get a driver out to speak with us regarding how rain could affect the drive and wildlife.  The drive informs us that due to the rain, there is good chance we won’t see as many of the animals as we would have liked.  In addition, the drive is now starting 30 minutes late and he is unable to add that 30 minutes back at the end.

Jess and I make a decision for ourselves to forgo the drive that morning, but we did manage to reschedule a morning drive for the next morning, our last day at the lodge.  So we walk back to our chalet and catch a few more hours of sleep before heading the afternoon drive.

We saw some great wildlife and I got some great photos as well!

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South African Adventure – Elephant Kisses & Cheetahs

So we saw some animals, then we did some site seeing – what else is there do you ask?  Well, see more animals of course!  Coming from the east coast of the USA, our animals are in a Zoo (the Bronx Zoo to be exact!), but a zoo none the less.  They are in specified dimensions and fed on a schedule.  You don’t really think of those types of things growing up on your yearly school field trips.

However, while visiting South Africa, I could not get enough of seeing the animals (and I’ll admit, I’m not normally a HUGE animal fan….).  I wanted to get as up close and personal with various types of animals as I could.  Let’s be honest – once I got there, I was petrified (see pics below).

So on this our 7th day in country, we went out to the Cheetah Preserve and Elephant Sanctuary.  We piled everyone, all 8 of us into Sam and Mike’s jeep and off we went to see about some wild animals.

Our first stop – the De Wildt Cheetah Research Center.  Here we learned about the threat of extinction of the cheetah population in Africa.  We also learned the ways in which the De Wildt’s started breeding cheetah’s in order to grow the population, as well the lengths to which they went to try and curb hunters from further depleting the cheetah population.  In Africa, the cheetah population is one of the many key animals in the circle of life, the food chain and in keeping order in the savannah.

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After we learned about cheetah’s it was off to learn about Elephants at the Elephant Sanctuary.   We learned about the habits and mating of the African Elephant.  Starting in 1999, the sanctuary now houses about 12 of these magnificent animals.  The sanctuary offers a unique chance for us to get up close and personal with the elephants.

While visiting, we each were given the chance to have one on one time with the animals.  We were able to touch their tusks, look in their mouths, rub their ear and touch their leathery skin.  I, of course, not one to pass up unique experiences, dove right in and then got a bit scared.  The animals are HUGE and I am all of 5 feet tall!  There were also tiny flies all over his skin!  We also got the opportunity to feed an elephant (you place the food in their snout and they do a bit of a trunk toss in to their mouth).  Afterwards, Jess and I each took the chance to ride an elephant.  It was at this point that I remember, I’m not a fan of riding a horse so why did I think I’d be ok riding an elephant?  Check the pictures, maybe you can see the fear? I know Jess and Sam said they could!

Lest we forget, we were even given a kiss from an elephant…..or more like a face suck.

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Elephant Experience:

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South African Adventure – Site Seeing Fun

So after relaxing and seeing about Diamonds, we went downtown to be a tourist.  We spent that Thursday downtown viewing the Union Buildings and surrounding gardens.  The Union Buildings themselves are, of course, gated off with high security as the Presidential Offices are located in these buildings.  But, still, I personally was quite in awe just standing outside of the buildings.  Now, this comes from a person who lived less than 10  miles from the White House in Washington DC, which, still leaves me in awe when I walk by, or the capital building, or any historical governmental building I see.

We took a nice walk around the garden terrace just outside of the Union Buildings. The view of Pretoria was phenomenal.  The flora was gorgeous and colorful.  Let us not forget, this is where the statue of Nelson Mandela (Mandiba) is located.  The statue is a large as he was in person.  Right in the center of the terrace garden, centered among the Union Buildings is this stunning example of a true man of the people, a man who fought for equality and rights for all.

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That Friday, we ventured out to see more flora, the Pretoria Botanical Gardens.  We walked around for about 90 minutes in awe of the flowers and trees and bushes that were that, that we do not normally see in the North Eastern USA.  My friends little boy was running around enjoying the open spaces and it was adorable!  We located the waterfall, walked up to the top of it, then, of course, took tons of pictures (because that is what tourists do).

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The entire time, as I did for practically the entire 12 days in SA, I was fascinated and in awe of my surroundings, of where I was and what I was seeing.  This trip, for me, was just another example of why I love to travel.  To see things and experience things we don’t get to see and do normally.

Travel is my drug

South African Adventure – Seeing About Diamonds

On Tuesday we took a bit of time to see some local shops, malls and eateries.  It was a nice chill, relaxing day in Pretoria.  On Wednesday, we ventured out to start some site seeing interesting places and people – not animal related.

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Entrance to the secure area around Cullinan Diamond Mines

Our first stop, the Cullinan Diamond Mine.  This particular diamond mine is rife with historical value for South African and mostly the Pretoria area.  We learned about diamonds themselves, as well as the history of the Dutch in South Africa and how diamonds affected the growth of the country.

During our tour, we got to see the dead volcano where the mine is.  Cullinan, or Premier, started as an above ground mine and rose to prominence in 1905 upon the discovery of the Cullinan Diamond, the worlds largest diamond by Captain Frederick Wells.  This diamond was cut in to what we now know as the Greater Star of Africa and the Lesser Star of Africa, along with 7 additional bigger diamonds and 96 smaller stones.  The Greater and Lesser stones were given to the King of England as a “token of loyalty…”  Today we see these stones in the Crown Jewels.

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The History of the Cullinan Diamond

We opted to do just the above ground tour and did not get to actually go down INTO the mine, but that is an option for visitors.

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The mine itself, whose ceiling is roughly 10 meters in to the hole after the initial above ground mining.

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Trying to get a picture of the interior of the volcano

We were also shown a replica of what the underground mine looks like and the safety precautions taken to ensure the lives of the workers.  The explosion techniques and equipment used.  Mining is serious business in this area, and the Cullinan mines is one of the largest in the world.

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Cross Section of Cullinan (Premier) Diamond Mine

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Some interesting history, De Beers, the original owners of the mine sold it off to Petra Diamonds in 2007 because they hit their 750 meter drill depth.  De Beers drilled an additional 50 meters and found no additional stones.  After the sale, Petra drilled down to 850 meters and discovered the mine in fact did contain more stones.  Petra also started to sift through the waste from De Beers and made quite a few impressive discoveries (a nice sized Yellow Diamond) in the waste as well as their continued drilled below the De Beers line.

All in all, it was quite the interesting and informative attraction.  And it’s always fun when we get to wear hard hats!

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South African Adventure – Animals Abound

So, we landed, we relaxed, we started to adjust, and then on Monday, our first full day, Sami (Jess’ sister) and the kids and Sami & Jess’ friend Joyce and I went off to see some local animals!  We went out to the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve located to the Northwest of Pretoria.

As the boys go to a North American school, they had the day off for President’s Day so it was a family adventure.  The Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve is an animal reserve where you drive the park in your own car or can hire a guide to join you.  We opted to follow the map they provided and drove ourselves around hoping to see any and all types of animals we could spy with our eye.

Although we did not see any Rhino’s on this drive, we did see plenty of other amazing animals.  The boys were thrilled when we saw a pack of wild dogs and I was amazed by how close we got to the Lions and Cheetah!

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We might have caught the Lion’s waking from a nap! Stay clear of their teeth

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Those eyes fascinate me

We also saw some Water Buffalo, Ostrich, Warthogs, Zebra, Klipspringer, Waterbucks,

Upon entering the reserve, we paid our entrance fee.  The free here is per person, not per car.  It was R140 for adults and R100 for children.  After we drove the length of the reserve, we pulled over for a stop at a playground for the kids.  The playground had a swing set, jungle gym, two in-ground trampolines and a few blow up bouncy houses for the boys to play on.  Ok, I’ll admit it, the adults got in to the action a bit as well!

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After the playground we ventured in to the children’s section.  Here, for an additional R30, we were able to pet some baby lions!

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A little bit nervous, but just dove in and pet!

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Just before Jess’ lion up and ran away from us!

And because no trip to pet some lion is complete without a bit of a scare – one of them got a little nibbly on Joyce’s foot!DSC_0307

 

If ever you are in South Africa, around Johannesburg or Pretoria, I recommend this little reserve for a one day adventure with the animals.  They also have wonder caves, but they were closed when we were there.