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Start using your vacation!

Summer may be ending, but many Americans haven’t spent a single day of the season on vacation.

According to recent articles published in Forbes, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic it’s probably been a while since you’ve used your paid vacation days.

This sounds crazy, right? Why would you choose to work when you have paid vacation days at your disposal? But it’s true. Studies show that the average American only takes half of their vacation days each year.

We’re all familiar with the narrative of how we puritanical Americans live to work while life-loving Europeans are constantly traveling to get some luxurious rest and relaxation. We can be flippant about the cultural differences, but it doesn’t change the fact that the stress of working too much is unhealthy, and that more vacation days may add years to our lives.

The stress that makes our jobs so dangerous may also be the reason we can’t leave. We are not only afraid that the world will come crashing down if we leave our desks for a week, but we’re also afraid of what our bosses might think if we should dare take that beach trip.

As always the economy is the scapegoat for this mentality. I’m convinced that even if the top economists in the world were to hold a literal summit on a mountaintop and decree that everything was okay and we could all start exhaling a little, it wouldn’t change a thing. The recession has left an indelible mark on the American worker. We are terrified of doing anything that could risk our job security, and have decided that vacations aren’t necessary, and therefore are too risky.

It’s noticeable when someone takes all their vacation days, or when someone is ever-present. We attach stigma to absences, starting with elementary school. Even as a kid I thought it was strange that schools gave awards for perfect attendance. Congratulations on not getting the flu this year?

So the first step would be to stop associating vacations with laziness or lack of ambition. Start thinking of people who take vacations as being so dedicated that they value the act of recharging and coming back to work refreshed and revived. The next time you take a vacation I highly recommend that you frame your decision in this way to any sanctimonious coworker who tries to shame you for not being chained to your desk. Your improved health will save your employer money in the long run.

The economy may also be to blame for Americans who don’t want to spend the money on a vacation. I can’t argue with that. International trips for the family are extremely expensive. Even a weekend excursion to the beach can add up quickly.

A lot of people might not have the money, and staycations are growing in popularity.

My only rule for staycations is to find a way to make them special. Binge-watching entire seasons of “Game of Thrones” does not count as a staycation. For a true staycation you need to get out of the house.

There are free and low cost things to do all over the Triad. Have the family put on festive staycation outfits and try something new. Visit a nearby town or your own city as if you were an out-of-state tourist.

We also need to make vacations a priority. Instead of viewing vacations as a way to spend extra cash, we should build them into our budget. Spending a little less on physical things each month can add up in savings for memorable experiences with our loved ones.

Then there are the vacation day hoarders. These are people that simply seem to take joy in accumulating vacation days like coins in a video game. I do not know what to make of these sad enigmas.

If you haven’t been taking your vacation days then consider this a wake-up call. You only get one life! You are growing older every moment of every day. There is no reason to feel guilty about spending time away from the office with your children, partner, family or friends. Put the phone down. Really leave the office behind. Let your mind and body relax a little. You can’t put a price on that. !

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