Unless you’re lucky enough to live in one of those awesome European countries who value work-life balance and mandate two months of vacation each year, your vacation days probably come in limited supply. Here in the US, most of us are limited to about two weeks of vacation per year. That’s 10 days. How can you possibly travel with only 10 days of vacation a year? I’m lucky enough to get about 3 weeks at my job, helping make it possible for me to travel frequently throughout the year. Last year, I spent two weeks in Europe, a week in the Rockies, 4 days in Panama, and took several weekend trips around the US, all with a 9-5 job and limited vacation. How did I do it? Budgeting vacation days. Here are some of my favorite tips to help you do it, too.
1. Never use a vacation day if there’s the possibility for being let out of work early. We sometimes are let out early the days before holidays (Christmas eve, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving). Never take these days off. You’re burning 8 hours of vacation on what might have been a 4 hour workday.
2. Plan trips over holidays as much as possible. That’s one less vacation day you’ll have to use.
3. Or, offer to work the days around holidays instead of using vacation days. No one else will be there on Christmas Eve and it will be quiet. What are you going to do at home anyways? Fight with the family? Besides, traveling tends to be more expensive around holidays.
4. Combine trips with going to visit your family. Have parents in Florida? It’s just a quick flight to Central America or the Caribbean from there. Tack on a long weekend after visiting mom.
5. Move near your family. That way you don’t have to use vacation days visiting them.
6. When flying out for a trip, try to book a flight in the afternoon or evening so you don’t have to burn a whole vacation day.
7. Taking lots of short long weekend trips allows you to travel throughout the year instead of only one big trip per year. Not every trip has to be a week long.
8. Condense non-travel related appointments and tasks into one day off, if needed. Have one super-productive day off of work instead of several different days with random chores.
9. Use sick days instead of vacation days for doctor appointments, if allowed.
10. Don’t ever, I repeat, EVER let your vacation days expire. Keep a close eye on your allowances and make sure you’re using them within the time restrictions. Like the miles and points game, there’s no sense hoarding if you’re not going to use them. Hoard then purge.
11. To save up for a longer trip, say 3 weeks of hiking in Patagonia, see if you can roll over a certain number of vacation days from one year to the next. Most companies allow this.
12. Ask to work remotely instead of using a vacation day.
13. Tack a day of vacation onto a work trip. If the conference ends Friday, stay through Saturday. Your airfare is already covered and you don’t need to burn a vacation day.
14. For longer trips, optimize the weekends. A week long Wednesday-Wednesday trip has you burning 6 vacation days but an even longer Saturday-next Sunday trip has you burning only 5.
15. Take red-eyes to optimize time away. Instead of flying home Sunday morning, fly back Sunday night and pump yourself with caffeine to get through Monday.
16. Prioritize your trips. Is burning 1 vacation day for a long weekend in Baltimore worth it or would you rather save that day and put it towards a week in Thailand? Budget carefully.