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End of the relaxing vacation
Want to unwind by doing nothing? Forget it. Marketers pitch modern vacations with a hectic pace.
February 8, 2005: 11:48 AM EST
By Gordon T. Anderson, CNN/Money staff writer
Working Class Heroes
Annual average hours worked in 2002, selected countries.
CountryAvg. hours
South Korea2,447
United States1,815
Source:International Labor Org. (UN)

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - There's a saying in Italian, dolce far niente, which means it is "sweet to do nothing."

Meandering around lake country, snoozing on the beach, or just sipping a glass of chianti in a piazza cafe -- idleness is bliss, particularly on a vacation.

It's an ancient notion the Romans may have invented, or perhaps the Greeks.

But for an increasing number of Americans (and I'll plead guilty), holiday downtime is a contradiction in terms.

Take a recreational breather to recharge one's mental batteries? As the ever-skeptical Gary Coleman used to say, "What 'choo talking 'bout, Willis?"

Consider a recent marketing pitch from Equinox, a New York City-based chain of health clubs. The company's Trip Equinox division markets group travel packages, organizing holidays in such places as Ireland, Italy and the Peruvian Andes.

Imagine a leisurely bike ride through the rolling hills of Tuscany. Ride a bit, soak up the sun, brake for the occasional vineyard. Sounds nice, doesn't it?

On this trip, it's all about the workout, not the wine. The brochure makes it clear: "Top Equinox instructors will be right there to help you play hard and work out harder!"

In other words, no cheese for you, fatso. Pedal faster.

Too busy to chill

It's been widely reported that Americans, on average, work considerably harder than other people in the developed world.

According to the International Labor Organization, U.S. employees spend something like 300 more hours a year on the job than Europeans.

Experts like Juliet Shor -- the Harvard scholar whose "Overworked American" is the classic text in the laziness genre -- argue that our warped national perspective on work is the reason for all those long hours.

But I have a hunch the real culprit is our warped perspective on vacation.

In fact, about $21 billion worth of earned vacation time went unused in the United States last year, according to Expedia, the travel company. It makes no sense to give us more time off. We'd just squander it.

Maybe that's not as crazy as it seems, because the dirty little secret is this: vacations are exhausting.

It's not just testosterone travel like the Equinox packages. It's the 5-days-10-cities jaunts through Europe. It's the 24-hour go-cup culture of a long, drunken weekend in New Orleans.

It's all the trains, planes, and automobiles that make you spend more time getting away than actually being away.

Even the cruise, arguably the most slothful vacation there is, has joined the Achievement Society. It's no longer enough to board a boat and stare out at the sea. These days, the industry has taken to hyping trips that keep you busy at all times.

There are investor cruises, in which money managers come on board to lead financial seminars. There are policy cruises, where you can talk about Iraq or Social Security with the likes of William F. Buckley.

There is even a forthcoming cruise with the cast members of "The Apprentice." Donald Trump won't set sail, but he will see you off.

So let's see, I can go on vacation to balance my budget, keep up with the news, and not even miss a moment with my favorite TV characters?

I might as well just go to the office. It's less work.

The Good Life is a weekly column that chronicles products, people and trends in luxury consumer goods, travel, and fine food and drink. Write to:  Top of page


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