"I'm out of vacation days, but I can come visit you for the weekend. I get a comp day for working the Fourth of July, so I can take a Friday off, " said my friend Liz. She is planning on flying to Colorado from New Jersey to visit me. I will drive two hours from my house to Denver and pick her up at the airport, returning her on Sunday afternoon. She will spend six hours on an airplane, three hours waiting in airports, and six hours traveling to and from airports, in order to spend approximately 30 hours visiting me. I am grateful for the visit, but it got me to thinking about vacations.

Liz, like many working Americans, only gets two weeks vacation each year. A recent article in Time magazine listed 14 major western countries and their "legally mandated vacation days." Sweden led the list with 32 days, and the U.S. was at the bottom of the list with 16 days. The article noted that for the U.S. these were not legally mandated vacation days, but an average for working Americans. It seems that other countries have laws requiring a certain minimum number vacation days for their working citizens, but we do not.

Consider the case of my friend Jeff who worked for one of the big three auto makers. He was a maintenance supervisor in a plant that made transmissions for trucks. He went to work each morning about 5 AM and often didn't get home until 6 PM. For the last year, in addition to working Monday through Friday, he was required to work every third weekend. His company then increased his mandatory workdays, and he only got one weekend off each month. It should be illegal for Jeff's company to do this. Jeff had no life, and the few vacation days he did receive did not make up for it.

The U.S. Air Force was the first full-time job at which I stayed long enough to earn vacation days. I earned 30 vacation days a year and a reasonable amount of time off when I was not on vacation. I was happy with that. Once I became a civilian and started interviewing with corporate America, I was hearing interviewers say: "After a year with us you get a week's vacation." Yikes! My job search suddenly focused on finding a career where vacation time was maximized. I wanted to work to live, not live to work.

I went back to school for my MBA and then a doctorate so that I could teach. As a college professor, I don't make nearly as much money as Jeff was making. My reward for going to school twelve more years than Jeff did is the vacation days I get. I have three summer months of vacation (two without pay), a month at Christmas, and a week in March for spring break. I wouldn't trade my 100 annual vacation days for a half million dollar a year salary.

There use to be a web site,, where you could sign a petition to congress stating:

"We the undersigned urge you to amend the fair labor standards law so that every American who has worked at a job for at least a year gets three weeks paid leave, increasing to four weeks after three years--by federal law, as they do in Europe."

Since congress gets a lot more vacation than most Americans, I didn't think they would be motivated to do much, but it was worth a try. I know Liz signed it, and so did Jeff. Unfortunately the web site disappeared shortly after G.W. Bush took office. Hmmm... I guess you could go back to school, get your doctorate and become a college professor.