Too many of us give up our vacation days or find ourselves working on vacation. Image from EyesWideOpen/Getty Images via

Two weeks ago I interviewed for, and received, a governmental position working with my county health department implementing the Affordable Care Act over the upcoming ten months.

For this socially-conscious former Political Science student, this, my first real-life “grown-up” job since college graduation two years ago, is like being handed Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket.

The catch?  I had a four-day excursion to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario scheduled the week of training and a week’s trip to NYC booked for the week after.

Speaking with my HR rep, it was clear these times off from work wouldn’t fly.  She tried her best to accommodate me, but the simple truth is that we’re hitting the ground running (and scrambling and ripping our hair out) with the ACA.  There’s no real room for Go Girl global adventuring.

Which led me to thinking about work-travel balance (which is kind of like work-life balance for those of us who feel the same rush from discovering a first-edition Willa Cather in a bookshop run by a wrinkled, wizened German man in small-town Canada that a parent gets from being able to attend her eleven-year-old’s production of Fiddler on the Roof).

WebMD has a featured article on their site entitled “Help for the Vacation-Deprived” that explains the phenomenon of the American worker’s unused vacation time.  The statistics sprinkled throughout the article reveal the following:

According to, Americans receive only an average of 14 vacation days per year, while the citizens of Canada get 19 days, Great Britain 24, Germany 27, Australia 17, and France a whopping 39.

A 2006 survey reported that 16 percent of workers feel guilty about missing work while on vacation, and 7 percent actually fear that time off could lead to unemployment.

According to the same survey, 33 percent of men and 25 percent of women are expected to work while on vacation.

I feel grateful, so grateful, to be employed at all in this economy let alone to be offered an opportunity to do work that fuels my internal passion and self-worth.  You bet I’m afraid of losing all that.  So I cancelled my trips and lost my deposits and felt sorry for myself for a couple of hours before switching gears completely and getting overly excited about being a part of our country’s history.

But with most Americans working during their vacations, how on Earth do we reap the rewards we Go Girls talk about . . . the expanded worldview, the decreased stress level, the stronger sense of self, and so much more?


Let’s start by taking the time we’re entitled to.  The average American doesn’t use a full four days of their vacation time (not counting sick days and personal time), giving an estimated $76 billion straight back to their employers.  We don’t have to envision our bosses and coworkers as the enemies in order to feel okay about simply taking advantage of what compensation has already been promised us.

Many employees receive money back for the time they don’t take off from work, so it’s fully understandable if a two-week jaunt to Paris is economically unfeasible.  And once that time is gone, it’s gone.  So, spread your days off throughout the year.  Take a Wednesday off to go apple picking at a local orchard and shamelessly stuff yourself with apple-cider donuts.  Spend a three-day weekend at a B&B three hours outside of your home city, reading all of the magazines you haven’t gotten around to in the last month.

Working Go Girls — have I gotten it right?  How do you negotiate your work-vacation balance?