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Vacation-challenged America

Americans may envy Europeans for their many days off, but how about using the ones they have?

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A friend is vacationing this week at a monastery. She says she needs spiritual regeneration. Later, she'll take a month to visit family. This amount of time off work is possible, of course, only because she's European.

Many Americans envy Europeans for their generous vacation time, but would they even use it if they had it?

This year's annual vacation survey by Expedia.com, the travel company, shows that about a third of all working adults in the US don't take all the time they've earned – 14 days on average.

Even when they do, are they really on vacation? Nearly a quarter of those who leave don't totally leave – they're still checking work e-mail or voice mail from under the beach umbrella (the exact figure is 23 percent, up markedly from 16 percent just two years ago).

The advice to "get a life" is common, but what if Americans just took their full two weeks? That could go a long way toward fulfilling the real meaning behind that pat phrase.

The European friend – who will remain nameless because she doesn't know she's being written about, and besides, why disturb her if she's on vacation? – has identified some important benefits of vacation: regeneration and reconnecting with family.

The family vacation seems to be going the way of the family dinner hour. Compared with 1970, a third fewer American families are vacationing together, according to "Take Back Your Time," a group that seeks to make three weeks of paid vacation a presidential campaign issue and a national law.

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