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Columns: Boomer Bucks
Barbara Mlotek Whelehan   Expert: Barbara Mlotek Whelehan
Boomer Bucks
Americans are cheating themselves by not taking all the vacation days to which they're entitled.
Boomer Bucks

Take time off from work
 

Summer's in full swing. Have you taken your vacation yet?

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Yes, gas prices are high, the airlines are nickel-and-diming us to death and it's costing more money to eat, whether at home or in a restaurant. We can come up with dozens of reasons why it would be a foolish waste of time and money to take time off from our jobs -- which pay the bills, after all -- and visit some remote place for a week or two.

Here's the best reason to just do it: It's good for your mental and physical health to decompress. In fact, it's quite possible to recapture that childlike "joie de vivre" that can prove so elusive as one pressure-filled workweek follows the next, much like the blurred sights that flash past when you ride the subway.

The French know how
Notice I borrowed from the French language to express "joy of life." That's because the French must have a corner on the "joy market" -- they get a ton of vacation time.

France ranks highest for receiving and actually taking the most vacation days out of nine countries surveyed by Expedia last spring. The French, on average, get 37 vacation days per year and use all but two of them.

How do American workers fare by comparison? We get about 14 vacation days a year on average and leave three of them on the table, according to that survey.

In fact, nearly all of our neighbors across the Atlantic get much more generous vacation policies than we do. In ascending order, employed workers in Great Britain receive 26 vacation days; Germany, 27; the Netherlands and Austria, 28; Spain, 31; Italy, 33; and France, 37.

Employees in these countries generally give back between two and four days to their employers -- except for those in Italy, who give back six.

Back on this continent, Canada only nudges slightly ahead of the U.S., with 17 vacation days on average to our 14. But Canadians are better vacation-exploiters, using up all but one vacation day.

OK, so Americans are getting shortchanged on vacation days. But what's worse is we're cheating ourselves by not taking them all.

What's up with us?
Roughly four out of 10 (39 percent) Americans take a so-called "power week" off, and then scatter our remaining days here and there, according to the Expedia survey. The same number (39 percent) report feeling better about their jobs and are more productive upon their return from vacation. Only 14 percent plan to take a full two-week vacation this year.

Are we a nation of workaholics? Or, are we just so accustomed to living life at a breakneck pace that we've forgotten how to relax?

Next: "We've forgotten how to totally unwind ..."
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