Do Australians Say Holiday or Vacation?

by CiCi
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Australia, a country renowned for its stunning landscapes, rich indigenous heritage, and vibrant multicultural society, has its own unique way of expressing everyday concepts. One such concept is taking time off from work or school to relax and travel, commonly referred to as a “holiday” or “vacation.” But which term do Australians use, and what does it reveal about the cultural nuances of leisure in the Land Down Under? This article delves deep into the linguistic preferences and cultural underpinnings of these terms in Australia.

Linguistic Preferences: Holiday vs. Vacation

In Australia, the term “holiday” is the predominant choice when referring to time off work or school for relaxation or travel. This preference aligns with British English, as Australia is part of the Commonwealth and has historically been influenced by British culture and language. The term “vacation,” on the other hand, is more commonly associated with American English. To understand this preference, we need to look at the history, cultural influences, and practical usage of these terms.

Historical and Cultural Influences

Australia’s linguistic roots are deeply entwined with British English due to its colonial history. The first settlers and subsequent waves of immigrants brought with them the British lexicon, which has largely persisted to this day. As a result, many terms related to everyday life, including those for leisure and time off, are similar to those used in the United Kingdom.


The term “holiday” itself is derived from the Old English word “hāligdæg,” which means “holy day.” Traditionally, these were days of religious significance when normal work routines were paused. Over time, the meaning broadened to include any day of celebration or rest. This evolution of meaning has been mirrored in Australia, where “holiday” can refer to both public holidays and personal vacations.


Conversely, “vacation” comes from the Latin “vacatio,” meaning “freedom from occupation.” While this term was adopted in American English to signify time off from work or school, it has not seen the same widespread adoption in Australia. Instead, Australians continue to use “holiday” in both formal and informal contexts.

Practical Usage in Modern Australia

In everyday conversation, Australians will typically ask, “Where are you going for your holiday?” rather than “Where are you going for your vacation?” This usage is consistent across various contexts, from casual chats among friends to official communications and marketing by travel agencies.

Public Holidays and Annual Leave

In Australia, the term “holiday” encompasses several types of time off, including public holidays and annual leave. Public holidays are designated days when most Australians have a day off from work, often coinciding with significant cultural or historical events. Some of the major public holidays in Australia include:

  • Australia Day (January 26): Celebrates the arrival of the First Fleet at Port Jackson in New South Wales in 1788.
  • Anzac Day (April 25): Commemorates the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who fought at Gallipoli during World War I.
  • Christmas Day (December 25): Celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, observed by many Australians regardless of religious affiliation.
  • Boxing Day (December 26): Traditionally a day for giving gifts to the less fortunate, now also known for major sporting events and shopping sales.

Apart from these public holidays, Australians are entitled to annual leave, commonly referred to as “holiday leave.” Full-time employees typically accrue four weeks of paid leave per year, which they can use to take extended breaks from work. This period is often referred to simply as a “holiday.”

The Role of Tourism and Travel Industry

Australia’s tourism industry also reflects the preference for the term “holiday.” Travel agencies, airlines, and tourism boards consistently use “holiday” in their marketing and promotional materials. For instance, popular phrases include “holiday packages,” “holiday destinations,” and “holiday deals.” This terminology is deeply ingrained in the Australian travel lexicon and reinforces the cultural preference for the word “holiday.”

Domestic vs. International Travel

Australians are avid travelers, both domestically and internationally. Within Australia, popular holiday destinations include the Great Barrier Reef, Sydney, Melbourne, and the outback regions. When Australians travel overseas, favorite destinations often include Bali, New Zealand, Europe, and the United States. Regardless of the destination, Australians refer to these trips as “holidays.”

The tourism industry’s use of the term “holiday” is not just limited to advertising. It extends to formal documents and communication. For instance, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) publishes data on domestic and international travel under headings such as “Holiday and Tourism Statistics.”

Cultural Significance of Holidays

The concept of a holiday in Australia goes beyond mere semantics; it is deeply embedded in the cultural fabric of the nation. Holidays are seen as essential for well-being, providing a necessary break from the rigors of daily life. This cultural value is reflected in the way Australians prioritize taking time off and the emphasis placed on work-life balance.

Leisure Activities

Australians have a strong affinity for outdoor activities, and holidays are often centered around enjoying nature and engaging in physical activities. Popular holiday activities include:

  • Beach Holidays: With its vast coastline, Australia offers numerous beach destinations. Surfing, swimming, and sunbathing are quintessential holiday activities.
  • Camping and Hiking: National parks and wilderness areas are popular for camping and hiking, allowing Australians to connect with nature.
  • Sporting Events: Many Australians plan holidays around major sporting events, such as the Melbourne Cup, Australian Open, and various cricket matches.

These activities are integral to the Australian holiday experience and highlight the importance of leisure and relaxation in Australian culture.

Comparative Analysis with Other English-Speaking Countries

To further understand the Australian preference for “holiday,” it is useful to compare it with the terminology used in other English-speaking countries.

United Kingdom

In the UK, “holiday” is the standard term for taking time off for leisure. This is consistent with Australian usage and reflects their shared linguistic heritage. In both countries, public holidays and personal time off are commonly referred to as holidays.

United States

In contrast, Americans predominantly use the term “vacation” for personal time off and “holiday” to refer to specific public holidays, such as Christmas and Independence Day. This distinction is a notable difference between American and Australian English. For example, an American might say, “I’m going on vacation to Florida,” whereas an Australian would say, “I’m going on holiday to the Gold Coast.”


Canada presents an interesting blend of British and American influences. While “vacation” is commonly used, particularly in the English-speaking parts of Canada, “holiday” is also understood and used, especially in reference to public holidays. This dual usage reflects Canada’s linguistic and cultural duality.

New Zealand

Much like Australia, New Zealand uses “holiday” to refer to both public holidays and personal time off. The similarities between New Zealand and Australian English are strong due to their shared geographical proximity and cultural ties.

The Influence of Media and Pop Culture

Media and pop culture play a significant role in shaping and reflecting linguistic trends. In Australia, television programs, movies, and literature predominantly use the term “holiday.” This reinforces its usage and familiarity among the Australian public.

Television and Film

Australian television shows and films often depict characters going on “holidays,” whether it’s a family trip to the beach or a romantic getaway. These portrayals help cement the term in the collective consciousness.


Australian authors similarly use “holiday” in their works. From children’s books to adult fiction, the term is pervasive and helps to normalize its usage across different generations and demographics.

The Evolution of Language: Is “Vacation” Gaining Ground?

Language is dynamic, and while “holiday” remains the dominant term in Australia, the influence of American culture through movies, TV shows, and the internet cannot be ignored. There is some evidence that “vacation” is gaining traction, particularly among younger Australians and in contexts influenced by American media.

Youth Culture and Social Media

Younger Australians, who are more exposed to global cultures through social media and streaming services, might use “vacation” more frequently than older generations. Platforms like Instagram and TikTok, where American English often dominates, contribute to this shift. Phrases like “summer vacation” or “spring break” are becoming more familiar to Australian youth.

Corporate and Professional Contexts

In some corporate and professional settings, particularly in multinational companies with American ties, “vacation” might be used more frequently. For instance, employees might discuss their “vacation leave” when interacting with American colleagues.

Despite these influences, “holiday” remains deeply entrenched in Australian English and is likely to continue being the preferred term for the foreseeable future.

See also: What is holiday pay in Australia?

Conclusion: The Enduring “Holiday” in Australian English

In conclusion, the term “holiday” is the clear favorite in Australia when referring to time off for relaxation and travel. This preference is rooted in historical, cultural, and linguistic influences that align closely with British English. While American English has introduced the term “vacation” to some extent, particularly among younger Australians and in certain professional contexts, it has not supplanted “holiday” as the dominant term.

The choice of terminology is more than just a linguistic quirk; it reflects deeper cultural values around leisure, work-life balance, and the significance of taking time off. Holidays are a cherished part of Australian life, providing opportunities to explore the country’s natural beauty, engage in beloved activities, and reconnect with family and friends.

As language continues to evolve, it will be interesting to see how these terms develop. However, for now, Australians proudly and predominantly use “holiday,” a term that embodies the spirit of relaxation and adventure that is so integral to the Australian way of life.


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