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The American Family Vacation: A History

Americans look forward to their vacations with much anticipation! Interestingly, we have not been taking vacations for all that long. Due to Puritan roots in the 19th century, Americans were leery of idle time. Work, work, and more work made for upright citizens. It wasn’t until after the Civil War that wealthy and middle-class families began to vacation.

Kids Playing on a Cape Cod beach

Prior to the 1950’s, if family vacations were taken, they were usually spent seeking spiritual or healthful experiences like church retreats or a stay at a sanitarium, which in those days was somewhat like a spa resort. Vacations could also include trips to visit families, although the travel by train or coach could be very time consuming.

Vintage Family Going to the Beach

In the 1950’s, a generation of young parents, who had lived through the Great Depression and World War II, saw family togetherness as a symbol of security in the wake of so many years of upheaval and uncertainty. Post World War II prosperity, the increase in employee paid vacation time, unprecedented car ownership, and the newly constructed interstate highway system resulted in the family road trip. These vacations were family oriented, and everyone benefited from time away from work and the enjoyment of experiences that helped us see all the possibilities in our world.

Walking to Paines Creek, Brewster
Walking to Paines Creek, Brewster

Until the 1970’s recession ended three previous decades of prosperity and the traditional family began to splinter, these family vacations were an undisputed part of American life. Whether traveling to the shore, to the country, or to national treasures such as the Grand Canyon or Washington, DC, vacation time meant quality family time. But during the 1970’s, double digit inflation and high unemployment rates, the gas crisis, and rising divorce rates brought a change to vacation habits. Some families could not afford to take even a week’s vacation. But as the economy began to improve, vacations once again became part of American life, and it was not unusual for all vacation time to be taken at once, often with extended family and friends, and for as long as a month or even a whole summer at a time.

Kids playing on Skaket Beach, Orleans

Currently, statistics show that families (now primarily with two breadwinners) are taking more vacations – but they are of shorter duration. Logistics are not as difficult, and it’s much harder for both parents to be away from work and other responsibilities for too long. Thus, the vast majority of families nowadays takes multiple vacations, but rarely are they for more than a week.

A summer vacation with friends and family is a tradition that many American families look forward to each year. Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard are magical vacation destinations with endless activities for families, couples, and friends to enjoy. Create special memories with your loved ones with a vacation in a Cape Cod summer rental, Martha's Vineyard summer rental, or a Nantucket summer rental.

About Susan Hutchins

About Susan Hutchins: I joined the WeNeedaVacation team in 2012 and write website and blog content as well as promote WeNeedaVacation.com through social media. Having grown up spending summers on Nantucket, I have a strong connection to Cape Cod and the Islands. I now live in New Hampshire with my husband, two children, and golden retriever, and we are frequent visitors to the Cape. I love running local road races, the Brewster in Bloom 5K being a favorite. My family enjoys biking on the Cape Cod Rail Trail, hiking in Nickerson State Park, and relaxing on the beautiful beaches (usually a dog friendly one!).