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Some don't get past their screen savers for vacation

By Kelly Pate Dwyer

The Denver Post

Here, the ocean water is the clear aqua of a swimming pool:and just as calm. The sky is deep blue. A strip of white sand gives way to palm trees and dense green hills.

Welcome to the screen saver on January DiTrani's computer.

Aside from a three-day mountain weekend last winter:laptop in tow:it's the closest she's come to a vacation in five years.

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"I should be a candidate to go on 'Oprah,' " says DiTrani, 52, an entrepreneur who works 70-hour weeks.

At first, she was trying to get her document storage business, Steamboat Springs, Colo.-based StructureTek, off the ground. Now she's running to keep up with demand.

Always, it seems, the beach is just beyond the horizon. Americans:in a perpetual vacation deficit as compared with Europeans and Canadians:say they'll take less vacation this year than in 2003, according to a spring survey by Harris Interactive for Expedia.com.

On average, U.S. workers expect to give up three vacation days this year, compared with two days last year, the survey showed.

The economy plays a part, said Karen Van Cleve, a Lakewood, Colo.-based personal and business coach.

Productivity is soaring. With so many layoffs the last few years, there's job uncertainty, she said. And budgets are tight. Those people who were laid off in the recent downturn, even if they're working again, are likely living more conservatively.

"They depleted 401(k)s and savings while they were out of work," Van Cleve said.

But Americans' reluctance to walk away from the office, she and others say, started long before the economy soured.

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"People love to feel needed and valuable, and one way they get that is to feel that they can't afford to leave their jobs to take a vacation," she said.

Summer vacations aren't likely for any of the seven employees at Adams County Economic Development Inc.

The group has been successful in attracting new employers to the county just north of Denver, said president Bill Becker, 55.

"Year to date, we're about 40 percent ahead on prospects," Becker said. But the budget isn't increasing, and neither is staffing.

"The team would back somebody that wants to do something really, really important," he said. "But most of our team doesn't have anything planned over the summer. We always think it's going to slow down in the next quarter. Then it doesn't."

Becker took vacation in February, but he laughs, "Don't tell anyone."

That sentiment gets to the heart of why Americans don't take more time off.

We view it as a luxury rather than a necessity, said Leaf Van Boven, a psychology professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "There are these cultural expectations that we work and be productive all the time."

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And people expect it of themselves, he said. Americans have an "unidirectional drive upward."

"Income is one aspect, status is another one," he said. "You can always have more status, more income, more clients."

That mind-set plays out in academia as well as the business world, Van Boven said. He and other professors are paid for a nine-month year, but it's understood that a promotion follows summers filled with research, teaching or writing papers.

"Very rarely is there a job where 'enough' is clearly defined," Van Boven said.

"It's easy to see if you consider a hypothetical example. You're looking for a contractor to remodel your house. One takes a substantial amount of vacation. The other works all the time. Who are you going to choose?"

DiTrani can't slow down this summer because her fledgling business won't allow it, she said.

A friend asked her to travel to Thailand in the fall. "That is a goal. I'd absolutely love to do that," DiTrani said.

Then she paused. "And if these large accounts come on board, I can see myself doing that."

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