The way things are going these days -- with high gas prices, crowded highways and airplanes, and security checks everywhere you turn -- millions of Americans would certainly agree with the innkeeper Thenardier in the musical Les Miserables, when he sings, "Travel's a curse!"
It's so bad that, according to the cable news network CNBC, 40 percent of Americans took no vacation at all this summer.
Such an idea would be unthinkable in places like Italy, where workers get -- and by all accounts, take and enjoy -- an average of eight full weeks off each year, counting all the public holidays.
But in America, even though most employees get nowhere near that much time off, about 60 percent of private-sector employers allow workers to convert unused vacation hours into the equivalent amount of wages. And a survey in June showed ten percent of U.S. employees do just that, taking the money rather than the time.
In another survey, by the online travel company Expedia, many Americans said they might as well stay on the job, since they work all the time on vacation anyway, writing reports on their laptops, checking with clients by cellphone, keeping in touch through their hand-held devices like BlackBerries.
But some companies believe people need time away to clear their heads. CNBC cites one big accounting firm that completely shuts down for several days twice a year, so that even workaholics can't busy themselves with e-mails and the like while they're away.More essays in Ted Landphair's Only in America series