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What I Did On My Summer Nocation

An American family heads to the beach during more vacation-friendly times. Nowadays, vacations seem to be shrinking — from the staycation to the workation to the nocation. H. Armstrong Roberts/Getty Images hide caption

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H. Armstrong Roberts/Getty Images

An American family heads to the beach during more vacation-friendly times. Nowadays, vacations seem to be shrinking — from the staycation to the workation to the nocation.

H. Armstrong Roberts/Getty Images

First there was the shorter vacation, then the workation and the staycation. Now comes the latest signpost that the recession is changing the way Americans live — the nocation.

Brooke Woolfson, 23, works in a comic book store in Eugene, Ore. For the past few years, she has combined her vacation and her work — a combo known as a workation — by attending the annual convention for comics aficionados called San Diego Comic Con International.

This time around, she says, "I started saving early for my trip, but as the date got closer and closer, I realized that the costs of travel were just too high this year compared to last year. I had to cancel my trip because I just didn't have the money to go."

Instead of taking a summertime break to hang around the house or see local sites — in other words, a staycation —Woolfson will be working her usual schedule at the comic book store. Just like the rest of the year.

She'll be taking a nocation.

Going Away

The American vacation is an endangered species. People are getting away from work and home less and less. Responding to CareerBuilder's annual vacation survey, some 35 percent of employees say they haven't taken any time off in 2009 and don't plan to. (That's up from 20 percent in 2007.) More than 70 percent of those settling for nocations this year said it was because they can't afford to stop working or to go anywhere. The survey of more than 4,000 workers was conducted in February and March; results were published Monday.

An Associated Press-GfK survey also released in May found pretty much the same thing. Fewer Americans are taking extended breaks this summer, and one-third of the respondents said financial anxieties have forced them to cancel at least one trip already this year.

In toto, the survey shows that only 42 percent plan a leisurely getaway this summer, down from 49 percent in an AP-Ipsos poll of May 2005.

The AP-Ipsos poll also shows that the more money you haul in, the more likely you are to take a holiday. Duh. More than two-thirds of the respondents who make more than $100,000 a year will take a "leisure trip" in the next few months. About 48 percent of those who earn between $50,000 and $100,000 will take a summer vacay. And only one-third of Americans with family incomes under $50,000 will get away.

Travel promoter Arthur Frommer points out in a recent online post that the United States is "one of the few countries to have no legislation whatever (either federal or state) guaranteeing a day of vacation to anyone." To that end, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) has proposed a bill that would force smaller companies to guarantee vacation time to employees.

But for now, as the economy — and, consequently, earning power — shrink, so do summertime escapes for workers.

In fact, the aggregator site Newsvine recently ran a poll asking people: How has the economy affected your summer vacation plans? More than 2,500 people responded. Nearly one-third said that all trips are off, and an additional 10 percent said they didn't have the time or money for a vacation in the first place.

Summertime Blues

Virginia Zuccari, 41, lives with her husband, Paul, 38, in Sanborn, N.Y., a mostly rural community just outside Niagara Falls. Paul teaches fifth grade, and Virginia stays home with their three children.

This year, the couple took one look at their financial situation and decided to forgo their annual trip to Ontario, Canada. "We usually spend the week in a cabin on Lake Huron," Virginia says. "We bring everything, don't eat out, spend most of our days swimming and playing at the beach."

The family usually scrapes by during the summer months on Paul's salary and the extra $1,000 he picks up for teaching summer school. But this year felt different from previous years. "We just had a feeling," Virginia says. Sure enough, Paul's school district downsized their summer school program.

Paul has applied for other summer teaching jobs. Virginia is looking for seasonal work as well. "We haven't heard back from anyone as of yet," she says. "It's getting a little scary. We certainly don't live a life of luxury."

They drive old cars. Their house is paid for. "We pay cash for everything, which is probably why we don't have a lot of things," she says. "We've tried to live responsibly, but it sure hasn't gotten us very far. It's disappointing to give up the one extravagance we allow ourselves yearly."

Back in Eugene, Brooke Woolfson is singing the same summertime blues. "For me, this is worrying," she says, "not just because I'm missing out on a fun trip, but also because I do a lot of work at Comic Con. I'm graduating from college soon and would like to get a job in the comic book industry. Right now I do freelance work off and on, but going to conventions and meeting potential employers is important in a tightly knit industry like this."

She says, "I imagine that if I had to cancel a trip I've thought of as a necessary trip — one important to keeping my job and finding one in the future — many people have had to cancel their less necessary vacations."