7 Europeans Explain How They Really Use All Their Vacation Time

Hint: It's more glorious than you even imagined.

<p>Artur Debat/Getty Images</p>

Artur Debat/Getty Images

In the United States, there is absolutely no national legal requirement that compels an employer to offer any paid vacation. At all. This fact often comes as a shock to Europeans, who are afforded much greater legal protection of their days off.

According to EurDev, nations around Europe offer generous minimums when it comes to paid time off. For example, in Germany, workers are entitled to a minimum of 20 paid days off per year, as are their counterparts in The Netherlands, Greece, and Ireland. In Portugal, workers receive at least 22 days, while those in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden get, at minimum, 25. And those living in Estonia get a whopping 28.

Related: These Are the Countries With the Most Paid Vacations Days in the World

"Employees in full-time employment on a 40-hour week are entitled to 192 hours of vacation leave per year," the European Commission explains on its website. But that's not all. "In addition, where a national holiday or public holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday or on a weekly rest day to which the employee is entitled, that employee shall be entitled to another day of leave for each of those holidays."

Ever wonder how Europeans spend all that glorious time off? We asked seven people sprinkled across the continent to find out.

Related: 20 Best Classic Summer Vacations Everyone Should Take at Least Once

Discovering Local Hidden Gems

<p>Courtesy of André Casado</p>

Courtesy of André Casado

Name: André Casado
Home country:
CEO and professor
How you spend your vacation days:
"I have a daughter who is two years old, and so I have preferred to make small family trips inside Portugal. We usually take between three to five days four times a year and choose destinations within a three-hour drive from Lisbon, where we live. I prefer staying in quiet, small places with charm and local cuisine, as with the last three: Quinta de São Bernardo in the north, Pateo dos Solares in the Alentejo, or Quinta do Freixo in the Algarve. We went to our family house in Ericeira in August to enjoy the beach, where we stay at least two weeks."

Exploring for the Entire Month of August

Name: Georgi Zhekov
Home country:
Credit and funding in IT leasing
How you spend your vacation days:
"My family and I typically spent our summer vacation in August on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria. We spend almost every day on the golden beaches, drinking a very typical refreshing cocktail, made from mint alcoholic liquor, tonic water, and ice (I love it), playing with my daughter on the fine sand, building castles, sleeping under the sun umbrella, and swimming.  In the evening we go for a walk in the sea park, then to the port of the city — eating fish and salads, drinking beer, and enjoying the warm nights. We love exploring new places and beaches all over the world, plus two to three days of kids programming [like] the zoo or snorkeling."

Getting Off the Beaten Path in the Off Season

<p>Courtesy of Alexandra Schmidt</p>

Courtesy of Alexandra Schmidt

Name: Alexandra Schmidt
Home country:
U.S.A., living in Croatia
Travel agency owner at Mindful Travel Croatia
How you spend your vacation days:
"My Croatian partner and I work in tourism running our Dubrovnik-based travel agency, which means we don’t actually have that much time to take vacations during the peak summer season here. That’s why we typically go on vacation around Europe in either March/April or the end of October. We love beating the summer crowds and finding more affordable accommodation prices during the off season. For example, in March we visited Porto and the Douro Valley for five days. We also just got back from a long weekend in Salerno, which we used as a base to explore Capri and the Amalfi Coast. When we aren’t busy helping other travelers plan their own vacation to Croatia in the summer, we like to escape for the weekend to quieter places in Dalmatia like the island of Mljet or Lastovo."

Lounging on Local Beaches

Name: Patricia Palacios
Home country: Spain
Occupation: Web developer and co-founder of Espana Guide
How you spend your vacation days: "I love to spend my vacations close to the beach. One of my favorite destinations is the Canary Islands, Spain. And I am not the only European with that opinion, since they receive over 15 million visitors per year. Even though they belong to Spain, they boast a wonderful semi-tropical climate due to their proximity to the Tropic of Cancer. Winters are very mild and summers are warm, but not uncomfortably hot. That means they are a great place to visit any time of the year. Another thing that I love about the Canary Islands is the many different vacation options that they offer. Yes, you will find a fair share of mass tourism and popular beach resorts with all the amenities and activities to keep both adults and children entertained. But the Canary Islands are also home to one of the best surf scenes in all of Europe. And it is also a hiker's paradise, with beautiful and unique geological formations, flora, and fauna."

Cruising the Tuscan Coast

<p>Courtesy of Sara Maestrelli</p>

Courtesy of Sara Maestrelli

Name: Sara Maestrelli
Home country: Italy
Occupation: Owner of Violino D'Oro
How you spend your vacation days: "I spend my spring weekends (and summers) on the Tuscan coast. If you are from Florence or Milan, as soon as the sun starts to shine and the days get warmer, you run to Forte (dei Marmi) for the weekend. Many Florentine or Milanese will have their family vacation homes here or will just drive for the day to have spaghetti alle arselle on the beach with a glass of cold wine. Some of our favorite spots in Forte are Bagno Piero and Bagno Silvio. Shop at the local open-air market, where vintage-like stands set among pine trees sell cashmere and leather bags. And make sure to drink a Negroni at sunset. It is said that it is right on the beaches of Forte dei Marmi that Count Negroni invented his famous drink. It's the essence of the Italian dolce vita summer. Oh, and of course, sleep at Villa Roma Imperiale."

Surfing Unique Waves

Name: Tim Gunstone
Home country: U.K.
Managing director at Hotelplanner U.K.
How you spend your vacation days: "I typically have three types of holidays. First is days off in my home, Devon. Devon is a beautiful county with wild ghostly moors and two incredible coastlines. On my days off I explore. I have surfed these coasts for decades but still find new bits, hidden bits. Normally, we find a country pub for food on the way home. Next is city breaks in Europe – nothing beats going to Europe’s great cities normally out of season. The diversity of food and culture is astonishing. And finally, big trips. My wife is a Kiwi so every few years we take a long trip down there. The bad thing about New Zealand is it's so far away. The good thing is we have worked all over the place so can stop off and see friends on the way. India, Australia, West Coast U.S.A., and Africa. Once down there it's family, mountains, surfing, and brilliant seafood. I typically take off the month of August to spend with my family in southern Portugal. We adore spending our days at the beaches along the southern coast, specifically at spots like Zambujeira do Mar. We also spend plenty of time hiking the nearby Fisherman's Trail but especially love spending the evenings sipping on local wines."

Taking Multiple Trips Throughout the Year

Name: Jessica van Dop DeJesus
Home country: U.S.A., living in Belgium
Occupation: Freelance writer and consultant
How you spend your vacation days: "Instead of taking one long holiday in the summer, we break them up between the Easter holidays (in Brussels, schools take two weeks off), summer, and Christmas. We like to switch between road trips to places like North Holland or the Black Forest and flying to further destinations like Norway or Sicily. Last year, we spent our Easter holidays on a road trip across Norway. We flew into Oslo, spent the weekend walking around, going on a fjord boat tour, and eating lots of salmon. Then, we rented an electric car, drove cross country to Bergen and then up to Ålesund, where we have friends who live nearby. The west coast of Norway has many islands that you have to go to via ferry, which makes for a beautiful unofficial tour of the fjords. Every sight felt like a postcard. My 6-year-old declared she wanted to move to Norway when she grows up (I hope so!). Sometimes we like going north during the holidays because everybody in Belgium is flocking south to Italy and Spain. Going north, we are not only getting better airline deals, but we also love being in nature without the crowds."

Interviews have been condensed for clarity and length.

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