When was the last time the thought, “I need a vacation,” passed through your mind? Like just five minutes ago, right?

Despite the research that says vacations are good for us, we Americans take less time off than folks in other Western countries. An article titled, “Saving Our Vacation,” in Time magazine reported that Americans who had access to paid vacation days took an average of 16 days off, including holidays.

That compares with Luxemburg where the law requires employers to give workers 35 paid days annually. In Norway, it’s 29 and in Switzerland, 28. About-France.com states that the whole country of France shuts down in late July and early August except for shops and restaurants in tourist destinations.

“The U.S.,” says the Time article, “is the only advanced economy that does not require employers to offer paid holidays or time off.”

A lot of my friends, however, don’t take all of the few days available to them because they can’t afford to. Since the Great Recession, a lot of us are working more than one job, many of which are part time and have no benefits like paid vacation days. To tell the boss that you are taking two weeks off means that you will lose not only income but also maybe even your job to someone who is willing to be more available. If you ask the merchants on Madison Street if they get paid vacation days, many just laugh. There is no colleague in the next cubicle who can cover for them while they’re away.

Other friends can’t afford vacations because they don’t have the money. The least expensive vacation package for a family of four at Disney’s All-Star Resorts will put $2,216 on your credit card. Add another $800 for the cheapest airfare. And that’s not including souvenirs, food and booze.

But some say you can’t afford not to go on vacation. The Time article reported a guy named Bart Lorang, CEO of a software company called FullContact, created a concept called “paid paid vacation.” According to Time, “FullContact employees can put in for time off and receive a $7,500 bonus beforehand, meant to pay for the trip. But the bonus comes with a catch: the employee must disconnect entirely from the office. No email, no phone calls.” 

Why? Because Lorang has found that the investment of down time actually increases the productivity of his employees. If you pay for regular maintenance for your computers, why not for the humans who work for you?

And those three countries that require employers to grant time off? Some say it’s an example of European socialism, which reduces productivity. Au contraire: “Those three nations,” says Time, “happen to be the three economies in Europe that finished ahead of the U.S. in 2013 in gross domestic product per capita.”

Apparently God knew what he was doing when he rested on the seventh day and commanded his people to do the same. There’s something holy about resting.

But there’s a difference between palliative and therapeutic vacationing. Palliative means “keep them comfortable and pain free.” A lot of the pictures the American travel industry paints in their marketing, it seems to me, are palliative. They provide all the comforts of home, are pain free and everything is taken care of for you.

Sounds relaxing, doesn’t it? The problem is when you return home, your credit card bill has gone through the roof, you’ve gained 10 pounds and spiritually you haven’t matured at all. What my AA friends call “a temporary fix” is not worth the price.

Therapeutic vacations, in contrast, not only heal broken spirits and worn-out bodies, they also build muscle. Two years ago, after being involved in a car crash, my program of recovery included some palliative care. Thank God for the codeine. But it also involved two hours a day of physical therapy which temporarily increased my pain.

For me, a therapeutic vacation involves camping at Point Beach State Park, sitting by the fire in the evening staring into the flames for hours, and riding a tandem with a friend who hopefully has better balance than I do. It includes sitting in my car in a parking lot overlooking Lake Michigan, praying a psalm or two, reading a chapter from a devotional book and sitting quietly for a long time.

And when I return home I haven’t gained a pound, I’m not in debt up to my ears and my soul is a lot more peaceful than when I left. 

Who will mind the store while you’re gone? Your cousin Archie won’t do as a good a job, but that’s a price worth paying. The cost of the camping: $17 a night. The value of the therapy: priceless.

We need vacations, and, until we get our politics and corporate governance more in balance, we can afford them if we do them right.