Do We Have a Right to Vacation?

PHOTO: Studies show we need time off. Too much work and the resulting stress can lead to depression, heart attacks and more.PlayGetty Images
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Do you laugh when someone says, "let's do lunch"? You do if you're a typical American worker bee, slaving away in a cubicle littered with vending machine sandwich wrappers because you never leave your desk for lunch, let alone "do" it.

Vacation: U.S. vs. Europe

Most of us don't even take all the vacation we're entitled to; something like 60 percent leave days off on the table. Not that we get that many to begin with, especially compared with workers in Europe. Did you know a typical German enjoys six weeks of vacation? And that isn't counting national holidays.

So where does that leave us? Pondering how to take advantage of the Declaration of Independence's inalienable right to the "pursuit of happiness." Does that right extend to vacation?

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Studies show we need time off. Too much work and the resulting stress can lead to depression, heart attacks and more. Now ask someone you know (if you dare) why they were laid off in the latest round of job cuts and I'll bet it wasn't because they didn't put in enough overtime.

So do you have a right to vacation? I think so, but it goes beyond that. We humans need vacations like we need oxygen - not just to recharge, but to live.

Don't Regret Staying Home

It's up to you whether to stay home or travel, and I know money's tight. While you'd be crazy to indulge in a $50,000 world luxury cruise if you're making eight bucks an hour, I've yet to hear of anyone on their death bed saying, "Gee, I wish I hadn't spent the money to see the Statue of Liberty or the Smithsonian or the Grand Canyon."

Or as Mark Twain put it, "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do."

The website TravelAgentCentral notes with a pardonable amount of glee that, "Large numbers of vacation loyalists are still traveling despite rising fuel costs." Yes, fuel prices remain high - as of last week, we were paying about a dime more per gallon than we did a year ago - but that's less than the record high national average of $4.11 for unleaded we paid in July of 2008.

On the other hand, a decade ago, we paid a mere $1.15. So today's prices stink -- but it's even worse for the airlines. The cost of refining oil into jet fuel has also soared, which is one of the reasons your summer flights look so expensive. So far, though, demand is holding steady, partly because so many of us didn't travel a few years back and cabin fever has set in.

Most Popular and Cheapest Travel Destinations

The travel experts at AAA report the most popular excursions for this summer are to Orlando, Honolulu, Rome, London, and Anaheim. Getting to some of these places will be pretty expensive but then, many of these trips were booked by travel agents who are typically consulted for complicated and pricy jaunts.

Most weary workers looking for a break will simply jump online and luckily, there are some relatively cheap options. Go ahead and check out prices to Orlando and Anaheim - the Disney destinations - and I think you'll be pleased. Add to your list, Boston, Denver, greater Los Angeles, the Florida panhandle beaches and Washington, D.C. (See? You don't have to miss the Smithsonian).

These spots provide a healthy dose of value plus fun. Value, thanks to plenty of low-cost carrier competition at these cities, but sometimes you must look outside the traditional airport box.

Look for the Cheapest Airport (it may be closer than you think)

Instead of assuming you'll get the cheapest prices by flying to Los Angeles' sprawling LAX - normally a pretty good assumption - check out nearby competitors like Long Beach Airport. This small facility has one very big thing going for it: it's a hub for popular discounter JetBlue and prices reflect this. In fact, the entire LA area is blessed with a wealth of airports like Burbank's Bob Hope in the San Fernando Valley and Santa Ana's John Wayne in Orange County (and no, I don't know if California is developing a Brangelina International).

So go ahead and go someplace this summer, and I'll close with a continuation of the Mark Twain quote from above: "Throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."