Words by Featured Guest Blogger Kay Rodriguez
Some of the best advice I ever got was from an old boss. Four months into my very first full-time job, I approached her asking whether it was acceptable to use a few of my vacation days for a trip abroad.
“They give you vacation days for a reason,” she said, looking me in the eye, “Use them.”
After starting my full-time job in 2015, I learned that the daily grind of the corporate world can be really gruelling. Every day, I wake up, go to work, get things done, eat lunch, get some more done, and go home. Rinse, repeat. Needless to say, I’m constantly looking for ways to maximize every second of the 15 vacation days that I get every year.
It turns out that I’m in the minority here. Over half of Americans don’t take all of their vacation days leaving a whopping 662 million vacation days on the table each year. What gives?
Despite the fact that working can take up a lot of time and energy, I’ve found that it’s easier than expected to juggle the corporate ladder and travel the world. In fact, since starting my job, I’ve been able to travel at least once a month. Read on for a few of my best tips for maxing out my vacation days over the last two years.
plan your travels strategically
In my experience, the best way to maximize your vacation time is to plan trips around long holiday weekends. If you have one holiday off, you can get an entire week of travel while only spending four vacation days. Using my vacation days paired with long holiday weekends, I have gone trekking in Patagonia, summited Mount Fuji, visited Machu Picchu, explored Cuba, and went glamping in Morocco…all in the span of just one year. Yup – this strategy is that effective.
Another part of planning strategically is choosing flights that maximize your time in your destination. The best way to do this? Taking red-eyes.
I know, I know. It’s not super glamorous to take overnight flights, but they can save you precious time when you have very limited vacation days, especially when you’re traveling abroad. For example, if you’re flying to Europe from North America, round-trip flight time can take up to two entire days of your trip. Clearly, this is not ideal if you only have a week of time off!
My advice? Book overnight direct flights, and pair them with more comfortable accommodations. This way, you’ll have a cozy place to rest and recover once you land, and you’ll still maximize your waking hours in your destination.
take weekend trips
Whether you’re running low on vacation days or just don’t want to go too far, your next best option is to take weekend trips. When you add it all up, with 52 weeks per year, every working person has at least 104 days to travel on the weekends. Think of how much you can see in that time!
For the most effective weekend trips, I recommend choosing places you can get to in less than 3-4 hours from your home. This way, you aren’t spending your entire weekend in transit. Although cities are typically the easiest places to take a weekend trip, it’s also possible to drive out to national parks or more remote areas as well. The key here is to make sure you aren’t trying to pack too much into two short days. Instead, look for ways you can focus your weekend trips on specific activities or goals.
prioritize your activities
You know that analogy about putting large rocks, pebbles, and sand into a jar? The only way to make them all fit is to put the big rocks in first, then the pebbles, and finally the sand. Choosing your activities while traveling on a time crunch is just like this.
It’s natural to want to cram tons of activities into just a couple of days of travel time. However, if you’re traveling with a limited time frame, you probably won’t be able to do everything. Instead of trying to boil the ocean by hitting every single tourist destination and then some, make a list of the top 5 “must-dos” that you absolutely need to see. Afterward, fill in your remaining free time with everything else. This way, you’ll be sure to hit the most important things on your list, and you won’t leave feeling disappointed or unsatisfied.
make the mental leap
In my experience with fellow colleagues, there’s one unifying theme that keeps people from using all of their time off: fear. It all seems to boil down to a belief that asking for time off will reflect poorly on them as employees and may prohibit them from getting promoted.
Newsflash: taking off a couple of days won’t kill your career. In fact, studies have shown that people who take all of their vacation days get promotions, raises, and bonuses in higher numbers than those who do not.
In many cases, all it takes is a perspective shift. Instead of seeing travel as asking for permission, look at it as a way to take a mental break, refresh, and prepare to hit the ground running when you return.
If you work full-time, you have every opportunity to maximize your vacation days and see the world…so what are you waiting for?
Kay Rodriguez is the writer behind Jetfarer, a travel website focusing on helping full-time professionals see the world. Since starting her job in late 2015, she has traveled to over 15 countries on 5 different continents, all within the confines of 15 annual vacation days.