World Vacation Time Scorecard: Austria - 38, US - Zero

PHOTO:Tourist are seen looking at a map in this undated file photo.Getty Images
Tourist are seen looking at a map in this undated file photo.

Are you one of those folks who looks at a picture of a beautiful Caribbean beach and says, "some day," but some day never comes? Join the crowd. Many Americans take a perverse pride in overworking, as though taking a long or even short vacation trip is a sign of weakness.

That's nuts.

Vacation breaks are good for you mentally and physically, according to research. If you're worried too many days off will turn you into a dull-witted slug, everyone knows that travel is a learning experience, or, as Mark Twain put it, "Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime."

Many governments recognize this, too, at least according to recent figures. See the total number of paid vacation days plus paid national holidays in force for different nations. It's an eye-opener.

  • Portugal: 35
  • Spain: 34
  • Belgium, Germany and New Zealand: 30
  • United States: 0

That's right, zero legally mandated vacation days for Americans. On the U.S. Department of Labor website, it says the Fair Labor Standards Act "does not require payment for time not worked, such as vacations, sick leave or federal or other holidays. These benefits are matters of agreement between an employer and an employee." True, most full-time employees do get some paid vacation, but one survey reports that we only use half the time we've got coming, a mere 51 percent.

That's nuts, too, but it could be worse. A report by the state news agency in China says 72 percent of Chinese workers haven't taken a paid vacation in three years!

Believe me, I get it. In today's economic climate, some feel a strategy of working harder and working longer will keep them off the layoff list. Yet, vacations can make people more productive at work (while keeping family members on a first-name basis). I have a couple ideas for hard-working, non-vacationing folks out there to ease into the concept of taking time off.

Use it or lose it: Some companies (maybe yours) won't let you carry over vacation time, so as of midnight Dec. 31, those recharging days are gone for good. Don't give away precious perks you've worked so hard for.

Don't sit home

Re-read Mr. Twain's comment -- no vegetating.

Start slow: Take a weekend trip -- or two or three. Yes, flying on Fridays and Sundays is usually expensive (popular days to fly always are) but you can often lower the price simply by moving your itinerary to Saturday-Tuesday or Thursday-Monday. Or check out specific weekend deals offered by airlines such as American and United.

Fly short hauls

Another way to keep costs down is take hub-to-hub flights lasting no more than 90 minutes or so. These are usually immune to the big price swings.

Find a deal to a dream destination

If you've always wanted to go to Europe, by all means go. Airlines like Norwegian and WOW have incredible deals especially in the off-peak, non-summer season. Can't find a deal? Set airfare alerts for your dream destinations and let the deals will come to you.

One last piece of advice: Sure, take your phone, but could you leave the laptop at home?

The opinions expressed in this article are those of Rick Seaney and do not reflect those of ABC News.