“I need a vacation!”
Who among us hasn’t uttered those words occasionally, at least in our heads? The very concept of taking off from work for a few days (or a few weeks) – and actually going somewhere fun, interesting, exciting and/or exotic during that time – has become deeply engrained in western minds. And, increasingly, the idea of taking a vacation – or as most of the English-speaking world puts it, “going on holiday” – is taking root in Asian, African and South American cultures as well.
My name is Josh Leibowitz, and from my perspective as the Chief Strategy Officer for the world’s largest cruise company, Carnival Corp., that’s a good thing. We’re thrilled any time you decide to take your vacation with us. But beyond my own –and my company’s – economic interests, I believe the very concept of “vacation” to be an increasingly important one for modern civilization. In our urbanized, high pressure, and productivity-focused world, people not only want, but need – often desperately – pleasure- and relaxation-focused breaks in order to maintain their perspective, their health, their most important relationships, their good humor, and even their sanity.
Oddly enough, going on vacation has been a “thing” for only about two hundred years. And for more than half of that time, it has been an “only for the wealthy” thing. For the vast majority of human history, people had very little opportunity, and even less economic ability to leave work for more than a few hours at a time, and even then only on rare occasions. In primitive economic systems that featured mostly subsistence farming, a trade-and-barter support network, and the low-technology industrial production of only rudimentary tools and implements of war, most people worked from dawn to dusk, seven days a week. And they did it all year, every year. Even young children worked in the fields, in the kitchen, around the house and in their parents’ shops. Boys who stood no chance of inheriting property because they were not first-borns often left home by age 12 or 13 to serve in armies, become sailors or apprentice themselves to tradesmen. Girls often were married off around the same age to reduce the economic drain on their parents and, if the parents were lucky, to fetch a nice dowry payment.
Survival was a no-nonsense matter, and our modern concept of vacation, had it existed at all, would have been seen as nonsense. That’s not to say that the ancients didn’t have their leisure pursuits; they did. Music, athletics and games have existed throughout recorded history. But in their 24/7-365 work world, anything close to what we would understand to be a “vacation” simply was not on the menu.
True, there were occasional feast days or holidays in most ancient cultures. In fact, Roman leaders sometimes sought to gain favor and help settle the masses by declaring public holidays or “games” that would last for months on end. Still, slaves and lower classes continued to work. And in any case, these holidays did not much resemble what we would call a vacation.
The first record of anything approaching the modern concept of “vacation” comes from the 11th Century A.D., when under the rule of Norman invader William the Conqueror, law courts in Britain would take long summer breaks so that clerks and others working in the courts could tend their own fields, gardens and other enterprises. The courts, in those cases, were said to “vacate” their offices for the summer. The idea spread to the Universities of the day. Still, only a very slim number of elites participated in “vacation,” which in any case did not include going on pleasure trips.
The vacation concept as we know it didn’t really begin to take hold until the early and mid-19th Century, when very wealthy Americans – think the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, the Carnegies, and the like – began de-camping from their mansions and moving en masse to the mountains of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and North Carolina to escape the summer heat of the big East Coast cities where they lived the rest of the year. Later in the 19th Century and early 20th Century, other elites began “summering” at the beach. Summer beach resort towns became popular destinations, as did islands like Martha’s Vineyard and secluded locations like the Hamptons on Long Island.
Still, large numbers of ordinary people didn’t start thinking of “taking a vacation” as a real possibility for them until industrialization and the rapidly developing U.S. and European economies in the first half of the 20th Century triggered a brand new social phenomenon: upward economic and class mobility. As people began to have a little bit of discretionary spending money in their bank accounts, many began choosing to mimic the elites by using their discretionary dollars to go on scaled-down versions of the “vacations” that the elites had popularized.
The Great Depression and World War II interrupted the growth pattern of vacationing, but did not stop it. By shortly after World War II ordinary middle, and even lower class people in the Western world began to think of going on an annual pleasure trip as a normal, to-be-expected practice. Businesses began offering, then extending periods of paid vacation time off to attract and retain good employees. Vast new highway networks and the growing – and increasingly safe – airline industry helped make vacationing easier, and made distant exotic and fun destinations both reachable and affordable. New vacationing formats created lots of travel choices. The old, antiquated ocean-going ship transportation system was reconstituted as today’s vacation-at-sea cruise industry. And now, 14 years into the 21st Century, the concept of “vacation” is deeply engrained in western culture, and is well on its way to becoming engrained in most other cultures.
In the weeks and months ahead I plan to address why, in detail, and how you can get the most satisfaction, the most relaxation, the most excitement, the most value, and the most personal growth out your future vacations. And I hope to do that in a fun and engaging way. So I invite you to become a regular reader and follower of my blog. I also encourage you to take the time to add your comments to mine, and to share both my blog and your comments with your friends, family and associates through your favorite social media channels.
Experiences become memories.