How to Maximize Your Vacations With Limited Time Off

Road trip

For many of us, there are two things preventing us from traveling all the time: money and time off. Unless you’re a teacher and you have months off for student holidays, you probably have a measly few days to use annually for vacation, if that. The statistics are grim for travelers living in the US. As a result, most people only have enough paid time off (PTO) to take one major vacation a year.

Now I’ve done the math. If I was only able to visit one country a year, on average, I would only be able to visit about a third of the world’s 196 countries in my lifetime. And that’s simply not gonna work for me. Here is how you can scrimp and save your PTO days to allow you to take at least 5 vacations a year.

First, you have to let go of the idea that your vacations all have to be one to two weeks long. When you’re on vacation, if you make the most of your time, you can experience a lot that a city has to offer in 3-4 days. I tend to reserve vacations of 10-15 days for countries that are more remote, where I’m interested in seeing a few cities. For instance, I’m not going to fly all the way to Japan to spend 4 days in Tokyo. That would be exhausting and wasteful. But if I can get a reasonably priced direct flight to Oslo, Norway, I would gladly take a quick getaway and spend all my time getting to know Oslo. That’s certainly much more worthwhile.

Secondly, you should make the best of paid (or unpaid) holidays. There are certain times of the year where you know depending on where you work, that you will have a couple of days off. Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving.. there’s a good chance you won’t be working on these days. So plan your vacations around that. The great thing is that you know when these days are way ahead of time so you can start getting an idea of what flights and hotels will cost and save up accordingly. My first week at my last job, I had 5 PTO days per year. This included sick days. So I never missed a day. Even if I came down with Ebola, I would come in to work. But every time I had a long weekend, I would take off immediately after work on Friday and not come back until late on Monday night. On some vacations (particularly coming from the west coast), I would fly back on the red-eye and go straight to work from the airport. That year alone, I took 11 separate trips, including Seattle, Vancouver, San Antonio and Austin, San Francisco, Denver, Niagara Falls, New York, and Montreal over the long Thanksgiving weekend. Sure, I had a couple of days that I needed a coffee IV drip to get through, but it was worth it.

Related to the above, if you’re really serious about traveling as much as possible, you can’t take those bookend vacation days that you waste at home packing and unpacking and decompressing from your trip. Those two days could have been another long weekend vacation. If you don’t want to drive yourself crazy the day before a vacation, plan ahead a bit. Start your packing early in the week and finish it little by little throughout the week until your vacation starts. That way you can work the day before you leave (or the day of, if you book a flight that leaves in the evening).

Another way to maximize your time off is to plan vacations that don’t have a lot of transportation time. For example, a road trip across the country might sound great but you’re going to have to factor in several days of driving. A cheap flight that has 3 connections is also going to hold you back quite a bit because you could lose an entire day each way in airports. I’ve found the most efficient way to fly is to take a late flight out, sleeping the whole way and arriving the next morning refreshed in a new destination. You have to sleep anyway, so the travel time kills none of your vacation time at all. Similarly, if you’re taking a vacation that has multiple stops, I recommend flying into one city and flying home out of another. That eliminates the time (and cost) of returning to the city where your vacation started. Of course, in some cases, this is impractical or too expensive. But you’d be surprised what kinds of deals you can get by mixing and matching airports. And you save yourself a ton of time.

If you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way to make very little time off work to your benefit without getting fired. Just let your passion for travel give you life. If that doesn’t work, airports have coffee all over the place.