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What are smaller than we want them to be, but bigger than we consume? What are healthy for us, but something we shun?

Vacations., an online travel provider that flourishes when vacations flourish, runs an annual "vacation deprivation" survey – a title that says a lot about the state of mind of the average Canadians who respond. It finds that we continue to take fewer vacations than we are allowed. We self-deprive.

A interesting additional result this year, to the contrary, is that Canadians say they aren't granted as many vacation days as they would like – they want roughly double what they get. We receive, on average, 17 vacation days a year but we want about 30 days (which is roughly what Europeans get).

Forty per cent of respondents feel vacation-deprived, claiming they aren't getting enough time off or they aren't taking all the vacation owed to them.

In fact, 27 per cent of the respondents – more than one quarter of Canadians – are carrying over unused vacation time from last year. The most common reason cited is they are too busy and/or the organization lacks sufficient staff resources to allow them to take their full vacation.

"I found it surprising," says Beverly Beuermann-King, consultant on work-life balance with her firm Work Smart Live Smart, based in Little Britain, Ont. "We want more but we have trouble taking what we've got."

In workplaces, she meets people who feel guilty about going away because the pile of work on everybody else's desk goes up. Downsizing of workplaces continues apace, and that means there are fewer people to replace those on vacation.

But it also leaves individuals fearing that if they go away, they may trigger their own departure. People want to be seen as dedicated and indispensible. It's a badge of honour to forsake vacation for work (even as you dream of more time off when surveys stir the imagination).

We're fooling ourselves, and hurting ourselves. You can't continue to rev a car engine without some maintenance, Ms. Beuermann-King notes, and human work machines can't keep chugging along without similar relief periods. "Life was meant to be a rhythm. You have push-push time and relaxing time," she says.

But we're go-go, from the moment we get up and frantically try to get ourselves and the children out the door until we fall into bed at night.

Vacations provide a break, to relax and reconnect with others. But it's important to know what you need on your vacation and to plan accordingly, or you may be squandering this precious time. If your job always pushes you, you likely want a vacation with a lot of down time – sitting on a beach rather than being highly active.

On the other hand, if work is repetitive, not exciting, you may be seeking stimulation, something hectic or highly challenging, like mountain climbing. "Put some thought into the vacation – especially if travelling with kids or grandparents, or both, as increasingly happens these days. Plan it so everybody's needs are met. Tell them, 'we are thinking of going to X. What would you want to do?'" Ms. Beuermann-King advises.

She remembers a vacation she eagerly anticipated at a time share in Florida owned by her husband's parents. They had waited until their two boys seemed old enough, but the younger one, then six, couldn't walk as much as they had wanted. So they had to carry him a lot, which dragged them down. Finally they had to change plans so every second day was spent by the pool.

If a couple is not compatible on vacations – one of Ms. Beuermann-King's friends likes to climb cliffs while the partner never intends to do so – plan some separate trips, but also make sure you spend some time together. Also, plan some vacations without the children, so you can revive the romance in your life.

One distrubing finding Ms. Beuermann-Kings points to in the survey is that nearly half the respondents say vacations are less likely to involve sexual intimacy than just being at home. "I would have though the reverse – there was more intimacy – but it's important who is going on vacation with you," she says. "As couples, it's important to have that time together."

Here are some vacation mistakes she urges you to avoid:

  • Waiting to find the perfect vacation time is foolhardy. It may never arrive. Pick a time, and make it work.
  • Don't let your work swamp you while on vacation. Ideally, shut it down. But if you need to stay connected, maintain control, picking when you will check in. Perhaps read your e-mail in the morning but not throughout the day.
  • Don't finish work at 4 p.m. on Friday and rush to catch a 5 p.m. plane. Similarly, don't return Sunday night at midnight and head to the office at 7 a.m. Monday morning.
  • Give yourself time to respond to the e-mail that has piled up. If you're returning Monday morning, on your vacation voicemail advise you'll be responding to all e-mails by the Tuesday.
  • Use online tools to see if you can catch a last-minute sale that can extend your vacation. Given it takes a few days to hit vacation mode, you're much better with a 10-day vacation than a seven-day one. Maybe you can add those extra days cheaply.

Don't deprive yourself of vacations – or the best vacation possible.

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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