When people ask me about traveling, they usually add one or two sentences onto their inquiries: “I would love to travel, but I just don’t have the money,” and “I would love to travel, I just don’t have the time., not enough vacation days.”

Both valid points. Travel can be expensive. I’m a teacher who works a part time job and just recently started making over 40k a year. I still manage to travel several times a year. Read about how I saved up money for traveling here. 

Americans and Vacation Time

Girl in Athen's Greece

The time thing is a bit of a touchy subject for me, as I’m sure it is with most Americans. Businesses in the US usually (if at all) only offer about 10 days of paid vacation per year (and again, that is if you’re lucky).  Most countries in Europe, New Zealand, and Australia average 4-8 weeks of vacation per year. 

It’s no coincidence that when I travel, I usually only see younger Americans (college students, young adults, etc) and a plethora of people from every other country but the United States. Travel just isn’t as possible for Americans because of our lack of vacation days. 

Now you may be wondering, Kelly, you’re a teacher, you have summers, spring break, winter break, and Thanksgiving break off from work, plus national holidays. 

And I get it. Teachers are some of the lucky few that actually do have a decent amount of time off (that is unpaid by the way) but nevertheless, it is easier for me than it is for most people.

girl skydiving in Virginia

However, recently I’ve been taking short trips during the school year-3 day tours of European cities, and 6 day trips where I see 3 countries. I don’t wear myself out, don’t rush, but still see everything that I want to see in that time period, and have some magical adventures each place I go.

I am passionate about making travel possible for everybody, including 9-5ers.

So if you are a 9-5er, and don’t have a lot of time off, here are 10 ways that you can make the most of your vacation days and travel the world!

Actually Take Your Vacation Days

According to US Travel, in 2018 Americans didn’t take 786 million of their vacation days, which is a 9% increase from the previous year.

The study is even more fascinating when 80% of workers say that travel and using their days is important.

So why don’t American workers use their days?

They say because of cost, difficulty getting away from work, and air travel issues. 

…If these are your issues, let me help you out:

Cost. Read my article about how I saved up money to travel. Get a part time job, give something up, lower your travel expectations, search groupon for travel deals. Most people can afford to travel. 

Getting Away From Work. If you’re in a toxic work environment where your boss doesn’t want you to leave, try for a different job, this is your life and it’s too short not to pursue your passions. 

If you yourself have a hard time leaving work, start small. Take a day off in the middle of the week and do something that you enjoy. Meet up with friends for a long lunch. 

When you do vacation, don’t check work emails, don’t bring your laptop. Better yet, go somewhere with no internet or cell reception, camping or something similar so you will have no distractions. 

Air Travel. Search google flights for affordable deals, or search skyscanner. Sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights or Airfare Watchdog or secretflying.com for flight deals. Buy domestic tickets 1-3 months out and international 2-4 months out to save money. 

If you’re scared of flying, try meditation, take a flight fear class, practice deep breathing, and do research about just how safe airplanes are. Or, opt for a cruise, train, or road trip instead and avoid the flight altogether. 

Just take your days!

I promise you it will help you avoid burnout, I promise you, you will learn something and enjoy yourself! Don’t let your vacation days go unused!

Plan Your Trip in Advance

bean in chicago

 The same study from US travel says that if you plan your trip in advance, you are more likely to actually go on said trip.

U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow says, “Year after year, the evidence shows that Americans who plan for their vacations at the start of the year take more time off to travel and are healthier in many aspects of life.” 

I know that I try to plan all my travel out about a year out. Planning gives you a sense of anticipation, excitement, something to look forward to. 

Spend time researching the best things to do, the best places to eat, fun activities, and unique experiences. Put a picture of your travel destination on a screen saver at work. 

Planning will also help you get motivated to save money. Try and buy things for your trip throughout the year-the hotels, the plane ticket, travel accessories so you don’t have to spend a ton of money at one time. 

Think of taking time to travel as a benefit to your long-term mental and physical health. Everyone needs time to reset. I know when I have a really hectic or crappy day at work I think about my next vacation.

And after my vacation, I am much more relaxed at work and at home. It’s a win win. 

Trim your Bucket List and Expectations 

souveneirs in Greece

I would love to visit 10 different countries in one trip, two different areas of the world, in two months. But, it’s just not possible.

It is great to have a bucket list-I encourage everyone to have a bucket list and start planning a vacation. But sometimes your bucket list and your reality are very different. 

So your dream is to take a tour of southeast Asia and see Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Camboia, and the Philippines. Well, you may not be able to see all of those places on the same trip.

Which country most excites you? I adore Thailand and recently spent 8 days there-4 days in Chiang Mai, and 4 days on one of the islands. I didn’t see all of Southeast Asia, I didn’t even see all of Thailand, but I did have a blast.

Trim down your bucket list-break it down into reasonable, easy to digest chunks. Write down every country that you want to visit. Then break it up into cities. And then decide which of the cities excite you the most. Travel there first. 

You have a lifetime to travel. Better to trim your bucket list and see some of the world then never see any of it at all.  

Combine your Vacation Days with Other Holidays

Most people working 9-5 jobs have 10 days of paid vacation as well as federal holidays off. Pay attention to those days and work your vacation around them.

If you have Christmas Eve and day off-that’s two days. Take off 3 days and you get 9 days off! You can reach a lot of destinations in that time frame. 

Christmas is a popular time to travel, but consider Veteran’s Day or Columbus Day (October and November also have very cheap flights which is a bonus! And most destinations are pretty empty).

By doing this, you can stretch out your two weeks of vacation to almost three weeks, which is amazing. 

You can also think in terms of trips. You may take 4 days off for one week-long trip, and then only 1 day off for a long weekend trip- you get two trips for the ‘price’ of one, which brings me to my next tip. 

Travel During Long Weekends

Long weekends are my jam. Leave Friday night, and return Tuesday afternoon. I usually try to do this on holiday weekends where I have Monday off-like Labor Day.

You only take one day off (Usually a Tuesday), but you get a 3.5 day vacation. Which doesn’t sound like a lot, but I’ve traveled to Vegas, Asheville, Amsterdam, Munich, and a ton of other amazing cities in 4 day trips. It is a bit hectic, but it’s also awesome. 

The key to long weekend trips is choosing the right destination. You don’t want to try and do too much-I recommend choosing one city and staying in that city the entire time with maybe a day trip thrown in. 

If you live close to a post city, take advantage of a 3 day cruise to get away for a weekend. 

Make the most of your weekend trip with the following two tips. 

Travel Closer to Home

One easy way to get more out of your vacation days is to travel closer to home. 

Consider where you live-are there cool places you can visit in a 5 hour drive by car? 

Me for example: I live in St. Pete, Florida. I can take a drive to Miami, St. Augustine, dozens of cool springs and campgrounds, Naples, Destin, Orlando, the list goes on and on. 

A simple google search, or close examination of a google map will show you all of the possibilities you’re surrounded by. 

Another question to ask yourself is: are there direct flights to amazing places from an airport close by?

Tampa International Airport boasts direct flights to Washington DC, Denver, Amsterdam, Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and dozens of other cities. 

A lot of people don’t realize how awesome it is to hop on a direct flight and be somewhere completely new in less than 5 hours. By flying direct you cut out long layovers and get to your destination faster. Cutting out transit time will maximize your vacation time. 

Travel closer to home (for me) means a short transit time. Explore your city, your state, and your airport to find amazing trips that you can take without taking any vacation days!

Look for Early Morning and Late Flights

Another way to maximize your transit time is to take really late, or really early morning flights.

For example, Vegas is well-known for offering tons of red-eye flights. People fly in late Friday night and leave early Monday morning. They get two whole days to party and explore, without taking a day off from work. 

Taking early or late flights guarantees you more time in each place that you visit. Which is amazing if you are trying to maximize your vacation days. 

Some people are intimidated by the thought of red eyes. I get it. It’s tiring. But with a little prep work, they aren’t too bad. Get a lot of sleep for several days before your flight. Start moving your bedtime up earlier and earlier to get as much sleep as you can. 

If you’re changing time zones slowly start adjusting your meal times and schedule so you can be more awake when you arrive. 

Bring a sleeping mask, ear plugs, and pillow on the plane and try and get some shut eye while you fly. Pay extra for more legroom or a window seat-the perfect place to snooze. 

Turn Family/Obligation Time into Travel Time 

I’m in my early 30s and a lot of my friends are getting married. Usually their weddings are on Saturdays and I don’t have to take time off of work. But, I’ve started taking a day or two off when they get married, and here’s why.

Most of my friends are getting married in the cities that they live in-ie not where they grew up. A friend’s wedding gives you the perfect chance to explore a new place for a day or two.

Recently my friend from Michigan got married. I spent about a day exploring lake Michigan, a national park, a cool fallish apple stand with apple butter and fresh flowers, and eating at some cool restaurants.

I didn’t get to explore for long, but I still had a great time. 

I’ve also rented cars on long layovers and gone out and explored the city (Detroit). Even if you don’t have a lot of time, get out and explore what you can!

The same can be said for family time. A lot of people visit their families over the holidays. Why not suggest a day trip to a neighboring city? Or a fun excursion in the next town over?

Exploration and new places are good for the system, good for the soul. Take advantage of obligations that you have and turn them into a little bit of travel fun.

Extend Business Trips or Work Travel 

Speaking of obligations, another way to take advantage of your ‘got tos’ is to extend any business travel that you do. Ask for a couple extra days off and explore whatever city you are doing business in.

I recently went to Orlando for a business conference. I arrived one day earlier, paid for an extra night in my hotel, and went to Disney for the day and then to Universal Studios for dinner. 

It was a blast. Your employer will probably be okay with you staying an extra day or two, especially if you offer to pay for some expenses like an extra night or two at the hotel and your own meals. 

Just make sure you ask your boss before they buy your plane ticket!

Ask your Employer about Unpaid Time Off or Remote Work 

girl in lithuania

Several companies today are offering unlimited time off from work (which is amazing). If you struck gold and work at one of those companies, lucky you. If you’re looking for a job, try and get one with generous time off. A lot of nonprofits in particular, or low-paying jobs will offer unlimited (or generous) vacation days as an incentive. 

Even more companies today, especially because of covid-19 are allowing their employees to work remotely. If you’re working remotely, take a vacation for a week and work from somewhere else in the world (preferably a country in your own time zone).

Travel during the weekend so you won’t miss any work. You may have to work during the day on vacation, but you will have your nights and weekends free to explore.

If you’re not already working remotely, you can float some ideas past your boss: can I work remotely on Fridays? (extra day for travel if you leave Thursday night). 

Or, can I take a week of unpaid vacation after this big project? (Save up some money beforehand to compensate for your next paycheck). 

Or, can I work abroad for a week or two during our slow season?

You know your job best and can edit how you can make travel work for you, your boss, and your company. 

Final Thoughts on Making the Most of your Vacation Days

girl in prague

If you’re a person who says that you don’t have enough time to travel, ask yourself this question: why am I not traveling when I get the chance?

After reading this post, are you a person who just doesn’t have time to plan a vacation? Do you not have a lot of days?

Hopefully this article inspired you in some way to take a vacation next year, even if its only a long weekend in a neighboring city, or a quick direct flight away, or a weekend cruise.

I hope you get out and explore, I promise, you will be more fulfilled and fall more in love with travel. 

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6 Comments

  1. Love this! So helpful – I’m definitely trying to be more tactical about when/how I take my annual leave days now. Gotta make the most of it!

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