Travel can be daunting for newbies – there seems to be so many barriers to travel, whether due to cost, security concerns, lack of sufficient vacation time – or lack of paid time off (PTO).
The latter reason is one of the biggest issues plaguing US employees. Project: Time Off’s State of American Vacation report shows that more than half of American workers (55%) left a record-setting 658 million unused vacation days in 2015. These habits are leading to higher than ever employee burnout rates, while the US slipped a spot to #14 on this year’s World Happiness Report.
While Americans blame unsupportive bosses, the need to show job dedication, and concern about returning to a mountain of work, 30% of participants claim they can’t financially afford a vacation.
Since I’ve already shared tips on how to travel the world for under $200 to address the financial barrier of expensive plane tickets, I wanted to also share how I manage to travel while holding down a full-time job.
My PTO and Holiday Schedule: I work for a public university, so I am fortunate to get more holidays off than most people -- I get 13 holidays (including 4 days at Christmas and New Year’s) a year. I also work a typical Monday - Friday schedule, so I have weekends off. And, I receive 15 paid vacation days a year. However, our university closes for the week between Christmas and New Year’s so I get a built in 10+ days off in a row, but I have to use about 3-4 vacation days during that time. So, I really get about 11-12 paid vacation days plus the 10 total days off during Christmas week. That translates into up to 3-4 weeks off a year if I maximize right and don’t have obligations in which I’ll need to use my PTO.
Use 5 Vacation Days Plus Weekends for a 10-Day Trip
As you should know by now, I plan my trips based on the cheapest airfare deals. The cheapest travel days are typically Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturdays. However, I’ve been lucky enough to score some great deals that allow me to travel from a Friday night to the following Sunday night for a full 10 days away. If you can combine this with a built in holiday, you can squeeze one extra day in.
How To Implement: Try to hold out for deals that allow travel on weekends, i.e. Friday night to Sunday night, and try to plan around a 3 day - or 4 day (hello, Thanksgiving) weekend. These deals do exist!
Work With What You’ve Got
I fully recognize some people don’t get more than a week of vacation time, or get weekends off. But, if you at least get 5 days plus 2 days off a week, you can still manage to go somewhere over the span of 9 days.
If you can’t swing a full 9 days, even just 4-5 days can be enough to take in a city or destination, and it gives you just enough days to unwind from the stress of work. You may not be able to jam a bunch of cities into that timeframe, but it’s the perfect length of time to really get to know one destination.
How To Implement: First, make sure you know how many vacation hours you have. Then look at your work calendar and identify some times you can take anywhere from 2-5 days off surrounding your weekend or typical days off. I then like to wait for a great deal or sale to pop up with reasonable travel time to have the most time available to explore the destination!
Maximize Weekends and Holidays
In a similar vein to above, 48 hours can be plenty of time to visit a new city in your own state, or a nearby state, and if you have a 3 day weekend, then that’s even better. Not all travel has to be international -- there is so much to do and see in your home country.
If I’m taking advantage of a weekend or 3-day holiday weekend for travel, I try to stick to less than 2 hours of flight time or 5 hours of driving, otherwise you’re just spending way too much of your precious time off in transport.
I also love to travel over Thanksgiving. Maybe you’re the type to prioritize the holiday at home with family and friends, but if you’re willing to forego a year of cranberry sauce, NFL, and turkey, unless you work in the medical field or service industry, you get a built in 4 days off. That’s enough to travel somewhere quick, or add on just 3-5 vacation days for a full week-week and a half international trip.
And, as I mentioned, I'm lucky enough to get a full week off at Christmas/New Year's. Although it's typically more expensive, this year I was able to book flights from Los Angeles to Barcelona over Christmas and New Year's for less than $500 per person round trip.
Last year, I used Southwest points to check off a new state capital -- Santa Fe -- and the year before I visited a friend. Both of these trips were over 4 days of my total 10+ days off. It gave me plenty of time to celebrate holidays with family and friends, unwind and catch up at home, and still travel somewhere new.
How To Implement: Pull up google maps and look at destinations within a 2 hour flight or 5 hour drive (about 1,000 miles flying or 300 miles driving, dependent upon traffic of course -- holiday weekends may result in increased travel times) and make a list. I like to choose destinations based on weather, time of year, least amount of crowds (if possible), somewhere new with enough things to see/do, or something that checks off a bucket list for me (i.e. state capitals).
If it’s driveable, I narrow down location or which weekend based on affordable hotel and airbnb accommodations. If it’s by flight, I wait for the next Southwest Airlines sale to pop up and book the cheapest late night Friday to late night Sunday or early Monday morning flights that allows me to get back to work on time.
BONUS - Maximize Business Trips and/or Take Advantage of Remote Work Opportunities
I’m counting these as bonuses rather than 4th and 5th tips, just because not everyone has the the flexibility to work remote, or travel for work. However, if you do travel for work, it’s a great opportunity to add on a weekend somewhere in or near your business trip destination to explore somewhere new. I travel several times a year to Washington, D.C. and this year was able to extend my trip by taking the train up to NYC and flying home from there (actually cheaper than a roundtrip ticket to D.C. at the time!). I’ve also made a stop on the east coast for work on my way back from a Europe trip.
The work remote option isn’t as fun -- I mean, who wants to work while on a trip in some exciting foreign locale -- but it can be a way to negotiate a longer trip out of your boss. Say, take 5 vacation days, and an extra 3-5 where you’re working remote so you can get away for a full 3 weeks.
BONUS #2: Get Deals From The RoundTrip
If money is still your #1 barrier to travel, don't miss any of the hottest error deals and airline weekly sales. Make sure you're signed up for The RoundTrip -- our weekly 5 min tipsheet on the week's top travel news and deals to get you to book your next flight! #ShamelessPlug :)
How do you manage to travel while holding down a full-time job? I’d love to hear your tips! Comment below with your favorite part-time travel hack.
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