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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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