Winning English - Mastering Idioms, Slang, and Cultural References

Vacation! • Running on fumes • Get away from it all • R&R • Staycation • Hit the road • Hit the beach • Travel on a shoe string • Off the beaten track • Kick back • Catch some rays • Home sweet home

Hi, everyone! I want to start with a short announcement. I’ll be on vacation next week, so look for the next edition of Winning English on August 12th. In the meantime, you can review some of my prior editions. I have a handy list in this this post. Enjoy!

Thinking about vacation inspired me to make this entire post about words and phrases for taking a break from work. Let’s get into it!

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US vs. UK words for a break from work

By the way, in the United States, we call our time away from work a vacation. Other kinds of English call it a holiday. They both mean the same thing. A slang word for vacation is vacay.

When you need a vacay

Work can be stressful and tiring, so we all need a break from time to time. There are many ways to describe this feeling.

Perhaps you’ve been swamped at work. You’re stressed out and running on fumes. Maybe you just need to unplug and get away from it all. I hope you’re able to get some R&R!

As you can tell, there are many words and phrases for times when you are ready for a break.

“To be swamped” means that you are very, very busy. A swamp is a watery and muddy area that’s filled with plants. Picture trying to walk through a swamp. It would be very hard and tiring. Sometimes work is like that.

You’ve likely heard the phrase “stressed out” before. It means that you are feeling a lot of pressure. It’s okay just to say “stressed”, by the way, but we often add “out” for emphasis.

To be “running on fumes” is an analogy from gas or diesel engines. “Fumes” are the gases that come off of fuel. You can smell fumes. Even when an engine is completely out of fuel, there are still some fumes left in the engine. It will run for a little while longer, but it is about to shut down. When you’re running on fumes, you’re ready for a rest.

When you need to “unplug”, it means you need to disconnect from everyday life, as if you are a machine unplugging from the electricity in a wall socket. “To unplug” has an additional meaning, too. It means you don’t use the internet or social media, either. You really try to ignore every part of the everyday world.

“To get away from it all” is a common way to say that you want to travel for a vacation. The “all” is everything that is stressing you out.

Finally, “R&R” is simply a short way to say “rest and relaxation”.

What kind of trip will you take?

There are also many words and phrases for the kinds of trips you can take.

For example, perhaps you will take a staycation. This word combines the words “vacation” and “to stay”. In other words, your vacation will not involve traveling to a different town. Perhaps you will rest at home or do some things in your hometown.

However, maybe you’re ready to take off and hit the road. Maybe you’ll fly somewhere or just take a road trip. You might choose to hit the beach or go to a city and hit the town.

Whatever you choose, you’ll have to decide how much money to spend. Maybe you’ll travel on a shoestring, or maybe you can afford to spare no expense!

If you are “ready to take off”, it means that you want to leave for vacation soon. Note that planes “take off” from airports, but this phrase doesn’t necessarily mean you will be flying for your vacation.

“To hit the road” has a similar meaning. It means you are leaving where you are to travel somewhere else. No, you’re not actually hitting anything with your fist or a bat! It’s actually kind of strange that we use this verb, now that I think about it. 😆 Note that this phrase doesn’t necessarily mean you will be driving. You might be flying.

However, if you take a “road trip”, you will definitely be driving somewhere. Usually on a road trip you stop several times to look at interesting sites along the way.

“To hit the beach” simply means to go to the beach. Again, you’re not actually hitting anything.

It’s the same with “to hit the town”. This simply means you are going out to restaurants or bars or shows in a city, usually at night. The word “town” is used humorously in this phrase, as if the city is a small place.

“To travel on a shoestring” means that you will spend as little money as possible. A shoestring is simply another word for shoelaces, which are the strings we use to tie shoes onto our feet. How this came to be applied to budgets and spending money is very unclear. Sometimes we just never know!

“To spare no expense” means you will spend as much money as you want to. When we “spare” something, we protect it and save it. An “expense” is something you pay for. So if you “spare no expense”, you won’t protect your money, and instead you’ll spend it on anything.

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What will you do when you get there?

There are many different kinds of vacations. Sometimes we like to have a little bit of adventure and get off the beaten track. Other times, we just like to kick back, maybe catch some rays and soak up some sun, and then cool off with a dip in the pool. Personally, I like a bit of both! ⚖️

Picture a dirt trail through a forest. The people that walked through that forest before have pressed down or “beaten down” the plants and leaves so that you can see the trail. But perhaps you want to explore. You want “to get off the beaten track”. In other words, you want to go where others have not gone before.

“To kick back” means to relax, usually by sitting in a chair or lying down. For example, you could kick back in a hammock on the beach. (See the photo above.)

A “ray of sunshine” is what we sometimes call the light from the sun. Sometimes we call it a “sunbeam”, too. When we are “catching some rays”, it means we are relaxing in the sunshine, usually by lying down. Think of it as if you are catching sunbeams with your skin. The other phrase, “to soak up some sun” has a similar meaning. Think of you skin as a sponge that is absorbing sunlight.

Finally, to “take a dip in the pool” means to go swimming. “A dip”, though, is usually more casual and relaxed than actual swimming. If you are taking a dip, you are not exercising.

When you get home

Personally, I think one of the best parts of traveling is coming home. It feels good to return to your familiar, comfortable place after time in unfamiliar places. When you get home, it’s common to say, “Home sweet home!” You can also say, “There’s no place like home!

“Home sweet home” is probably easy to understand. Sweet things are usually good, so home is good.

“There’s no place like home” might be a bit tricker. What it means is that home is the best place in the world. No place is better than it is.

By the way, perhaps you’ve heard of the movie, “The Wizard of Oz.” In that story, Dorothy uses “there’s no place like home” as a magic phrase to get herself back to Kansas. Yes, home can be that nice sometimes!

You’re probably justified in feeling tired and stressed out!

To wrap up this edition on words and phrases for vacation, let’s talk a bit more about work. Depending on what country you come from, you probably deserve a bit of vacay!

Here’s a chart from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD (pronounced using each letter O-E-C-D). It’s a group that has many of the world’s biggest and most advanced economies as members. It does a lot of economic research, including on people’s quality of life.

Check out the chart below. You can see that the average worker of the average OECD economy works about 1,700 hours per year - or 32 per week if he or she worked all 52 weeks.

Mexicans and Colombians work far more than that at about 2,000 hours! Only Koreans, Chileans and Israelis work more than people from the US.

Somehow Germans, the Dutch, and people from the UK work far fewer hours. I’ll need to look into that!

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