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Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer? Don't we wish

The Baltimore Sun

They return tan or not, re-charged or not. Your co-workers trickle back from summer vacation ready either to kiss or kill you, depending on how their holiday went. Then, the post-vacation questions:

Where did you go? Bethany Beach or Barcelona, China or Cooperstown, volunteering in New Orleans or volunteering for nothing at home? Or perhaps, they have returned from a girl spa vacation or "mancation" to Vegas to golf, gamble and attend the religious services of their choice.

How long did you stay? Two weeks? (Well done, sir.) One week? The increasingly popular four-day mini-vacation? The American standard: three days?

It's time to measure our leisure hours, and for many Americans, the time available is increasingly limited. Indeed, getting away for an extended vacation has become hard work.

Don't ask the sunburned hordes on the Eastern Shore this week - they're joyfully pedaling in the Saturday-to-Saturday rental cycle. More generally, U.S. workers appear to have a growing cultural or genetic propensity to use their hard-earned vacation time in smaller chunks, or not at all.

Vacation is not a legal right in America - the French and Spanish are required to blow off August. But most of us do have the right to some some time off - time that we aren't necessarily taking.

More than one in three Americans (35 percent) took five days of vacation or less last year, according to a survey by Orbitz, the online travel company. It gets worse. Only 17 percent of Americans took 10 to 15 days of vacation last year, down 8 percent from the previous year.

And when on vacation, the work doesn't stop. Nearly 30 percent of those surveyed said they felt compelled to stay in touch, presumably either by laptop, BlackBerry or Bluetooth. Coincidentally, 35 percent of workers surveyed said they still feel stressed by work while on vacation, says careerbuilder.com. Twenty-two percent of workers said their bosses expected them to stay in touch while vacationing - compared with 16 percent in 2004.

"In an ideal world, we'd be completely disconnected when we are gone. That would be a true vacation," says Orbitz spokesman Jim Cohn. "But as we know, it's hard for people to do."

As for summer vacations, roughly 50 percent of workers skip them. No fun in the sun for them. Such a vacation could only lead to, well, fun in the sun.

Of course, some Americans are challenging this dismal trend, expending every second of authorized vacation time in every year of employment. These individuals have the audacity to summer in Fenwick Island and turn off their cell phones and shut down their laptops.

(In encouraging vacation news, Orbitz did say 64 percent of those surveyed said they did not check their e-mail on vacation.)

Assessing just how much time Americans spend away from work requires practical and psychological legwork, in part because of the rich variety of modern vacation choices. Here is a breakdown, time frame by frame, of the vacation options:


Yes, some employees take a half-day. These are the most diligent and honest workers America has ever produced.

Pros: Jump start on the traffic.

Cons: If you develop a reputation for logging half-days of vacation, you will fall under immediate scrutiny when you dare to take a week off. You will be looking over your shoulder that week. You will report back to work a day early. You will bring coffee and bagels. You will stay late every day thereafter. You will be sorry.

Three Days or "The Long Weekend."

Now you see them, now you don't. The sneaky, carefully engineered long weekend is the most popular type of travel, with 52 percent of Americans choosing this option.

Pros: Packs a lot into a short time. Also, does not allow for work load to escalate to the point you regret leaving the city limits. Popular time frame for "babymoons" - getaways expectant parents take before the blessed moment when vacations will be impossible.

Cons: The long weekend calls into question the vacationer's character: Are they afraid of making a real vacation commitment?

Three days is not air travel-friendly. Throw in a flight delay or unexpected tarmac time and your vacation is spoiled.

"And in my opinion, three days is not enough time to unwind," Cohn says.

Four Days, or what the British call the "Mini-Vacation."

"We're seeing a lot of this," says Niloufar Motamed, features editor for Travel + Leisure magazine. "The mini-vacation is where you can really feel like you've removed yourself."

Pros: Four novel days. Time for Paris. Or snorkeling at Black Rock off the Sheraton in Maui. For example.

Cons: None.

One Week.

It's the classic circadian rhythm of any beachcomber. Rolls off the tongue so nicely when confronted with incoming work. I'll be off that week.

Pros: Vacationing for the week cycle. Actual unwinding. You can get anywhere or spend a productive week "working around the house." Why, we do not know.

Cons: "I find it dispiriting to get up on Saturday and have to leave. That's the last thing you want to be doing," says Motamed, who has spent her share of single weeks at the beach. "People start counting backward and not forward."

When your week begins, it's "We have the whole week off." By Thursday, it's "we have two days left." The grisly countdown has begun.

Ten Days.

For some vacationers, it's the magic - if more expensive - number. Not as hedonistic as two weeks off but not as pedestrian as one.

Pros: Allows for multiple destinations. Head to Maine and then maybe to the poor man's Paris - Montreal.

Cons: Unsightly electronic build-up. "A lot of people would be facing a thousand e-mails when they got back," Cohn says.

Also, beach rentals aren't 10 days.

Two Weeks.

The Holy Grail of vacation time. It shows a serious commitment to leisure. You're not playing around anymore.

Pros: On that first Friday off, you experience what other vacationers have only read about: You don't have to leave tomorrow. I have another week.

Cons: After three years of work, only 57 percent of us get two weeks off, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. So, blowing two weeks means you will be at your office the next 50 consecutive weeks.

If you start counting backward on a two-week vacation, shame on you.

Three Weeks.

"Wow. Now, I'm envious," Motamed says.

Pros: Time enough to rebuild much of New Orleans, gamble your entire savings at Vegas, and take a side trip to Thailand for that angioplasty you could never afford.

Cons: Three weeks off is crazy talk and un-American. Three weeks away, you're not on vacation, you're on leave.

Plus, so much work, e-mails and resentment have accumulated in your extended absence that you will require a mini-vacation to Paris.

If you can't swing that, there's always Montreal.


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