If you didn’t take a vacation this summer, you’re not alone.According to a study by Expedia.com, 1 in 3 workers don’t take all the vacation they earn. In fact, the average adult in North America gives up three of their days off a year. Even worse, we start out with fewer vacation days than workers in a lot of other countries! For example, the British get 24 vacation days a year, the Germans get 26, and the French get a whopping 36 days of vacation a year. That’s more than seven weeks off! So what’s the deal in North America?

Studies show that we’re worried about work piling up while we’re gone. We’re afraid our boss will decide we’re not dedicated enough if we take time off. We’re scared that the person filling in for us will be so much better at our job than we are that we’ll get fired when we get back. So, we try to make up for it by bringing cell phones, laptops and BlackBerries on our trip.  Along with all the office stress we were supposed to escape. Once you add in the headaches of planning a family vacation, the hassles of getting where you’re going, and the cost of the trip – a lot of us decide to just forget the whole thing.

Studies show that taking time off is important. It reduces stress, so it also reduces doctor visits and medical costs. Workers who take time off spend more time with their families and a well-rested employee is more productive, more focused, and happier – which is great for worker morale. So, how can you make sure you take off all the time you’ve earned?

  • Plan ahead. Sit down with your calendar, pick the dates you want to take off, and run them by your boss. Stick to your plans!
  • If you can’t take 2 weeks all at once – or even 1 week - consider a series of long weekends. For example, schedule time off on a Friday and Monday. That way, you’ll have a 4-day weekend in the middle of two 4-day weeks. Result: Relaxation!
  • Even if you’re not planning a trip, take the days off anyway. You can use the time to do the projects that never get done. Visit the attractions in your area that tourists come hundreds of miles to see. Or just grab a good book, a beach towel and an umbrella, and sit by the ocean, a lake, or in your local park – and chill out for awhile.