Five Tips to Travel More and Make the Most Out of Limited Time Off


Reading through travel magazines or even blogs, it seems that everyone else is always traveling to some exotic, far-flung locale. Such a lifestyle though is not possible for the vast majority of us. Like most people, I have a limited number of vacation days each year that, while I guard them jealously, I also use to their maximum benefit. If you love to travel but have limited vacation time, here are some tips at making the most of them.

Weekends are for travel
Whenever we plan a trip, we first consult a calendar, not just for picking the best time of year, but for timing the trip. Since your vacation days are limited, you need to use as few of them as possible on every trip you take. That means taking full advantage of weekends. Let’s say you want to take a nine-day vacation. In order to make the most out of your time, and possibly even extend the trip, it makes much more sense to leave on a Friday than on a Monday. If you leave on a Friday, then you get two full weekends and only have to take six days off from work. However, if you leave on a Monday you only get one weekend and you would have to take seven days off. More important to your mental health, if you leave on a Friday you can use the second weekend to relax and do laundry, otherwise you would have to return to work immediately after the trip. While the savings in this scenario is only a day, that’s a valuable commodity when you only get ten business days a year of vacation.

Waikiki and Diamond Head
Waikiki and Diamond Head

In the United States, the Federal government recognizes ten official holidays. In other countries, this number is usually must higher. Your employer may observe some or all of these holidays, but I guarantee that most people get at least a few of these days off. While you will want to genuinely enjoy some of these holidays in your own way, many others are great ways of getting free days to travel. Thanksgiving is an excellent example of getting a free vacation. It of course depends on your job, but many employers give the day after Thanksgiving to their employees in addition to the Thursday holiday itself. That means you have a free four day weekend at your disposal. This is the perfect time to take advantage of a long weekend deal or use it in conjunction with a longer trip. These holidays are an excellent opportunity for extending or creating your getaway.

Time wasters

Every employer is different in how they treat vacation, sick and personal days off. Regardless though, it is better to avoid wasting these days when you could be saving them for vacation. A good example of how most people waste their time off happens around Christmas and New Year’s Day. Because of their proximity, many people take a lot of time off during the holiday interlude. Unless you have a house full of relatives, or maybe because of it, this is a great time to go to work and save your vacation days for a real vacation and not lounging in your PJs on the couch. I love working during this time because it’s quiet and I can work without any interruptions. Also avoid using vacation days for silly things like doctor’s visits or personal errands. Either schedule these appointments around your work schedule or use non-vacation leave time. Never use vacation days unless you’re actually on vacation.

Santorini Greece
Oia, Santorini Greece

Don’t use vacation leave all at once

This is decidedly a personal matter, but my personal preference is not to blow all of my time off at once. I love the adventure of travel, that much is known, but vacation is also very important to me as a way to relax and turn off my professional side. If I were only able to do this once a year I think you would see my mug shot on the nightly news with neighbors commenting on how nice I seemed. Rather, we tend to organize one large trip a year that will use 5 vacation days at most, and then take several other breaks throughout the year using weekend, holidays and my remaining time off. This is a personal preference, but I find it makes a huge difference in my life and I always have something to which I can look forward.

Use them
As someone who loves to travel quite possibly more than anything else, it is incomprehensible to me that people may not use their vacation time, but many do not. According to a 2009 Expedia study, 34% of employed U.S. adults report they don’t use their vacation days. I honestly cannot wrap my head around the data. Even if you don’t have the resources to go very far, I guarantee you that within a day’s drive there is something of interest around you that you haven’t explored. I’m constantly surprised at the quirky little tourist sites that are a five hour drive or less from home. More importantly, taking time off, using your vacation time, is vital to your physical and emotional well-being. We all need a break, we all need to mentally and physically get away from daily life. Take advantage of this perk and use your vacation days!

What are your tips for maximizing your time off from work?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

15 thoughts on “Five Tips to Travel More and Make the Most Out of Limited Time Off”

  1. In Australia we get a minimum of 20 days a year of annual leave. The downside of this was always that Australia is so far from everywhere that you need to take a chunk at a time to make it worth the airfare. Even staying local it’s hard to go for less than a week. My tricks were to take leave around public holidays – then you can take four days and still take a 9 day holiday. We also had flexible salary packaging where you could purchase extra leave – so I had up to 8 weeks off a year!

    Now I’m in Canada it’s not so flexible, though I’m still lucky enough to get 20 days a year. I think I’m going to take a couple of weeks over the summer and then a week later in the year. I might try to use the public holidays to head home to Australia for Christmas. We’ll see.

  2. We are currently traveling indefinitely so we don’t have this problem at the moment. But there will come a day when we will be back in Australia and like Claire said, you kind of have to take all you holidays at once if you want to travel overseas. But we are living the dream for the time being. Great Post.

  3. Yeah it is. :) Lately we’ve been returning on a Saturday, and it’s nice to have Sunday to rest, run errands, etc. before going back into the office.

  4. Glad to see a post on this Matt. When I was doing the corporate thing last year, I really guarded my vacation days. It’s amazing how many vacation days go unused every year. Think I heard a number last year like an average of 500 million unused vacation days a year. I looked at it this way: I was getting paid to travel.

    1. Thanks Spencer! It really goes hand in hand with financial travel budgeting. If you don’t maximize your time off, then you are ultimately wasting money.

  5. We in New Zealand are similar to Auzzy but we get 4 weeks of annual leave a year plus 11 days of public holidays. Some employers such as the one I’m with, allow you to ‘save up’ your annual leave, so it doesn’t expire each year, you just keep accumulating it. In a country thats so far away from everywhere we often take a big holiday every couple of years and go to a different country. This is because its expensive and a long way to go!
    We are only 8 weeks away from a 6 week holiday to the UK and Europe. A lot of kiwis never get to go there and its only if you make an effort that you can achieve travel to such exotic places lol.
    I would say that Kiwis do tend to travel more than a lot of other countries, do you have the ‘big OE’ in America? Its something a lot of us aspire to do one day.

    1. No, we don’t, in fact I had to google it LOL The concept of extended travel or career breaks is still not widely accepted, although there are several groups trying to change that.

  6. I agree with all except your point about not using vacation leave all at once. Of course, it’s a personal preference, and everyone should do what works for them. For me, I found that I must take two weeks once a year to get away and truly feel like I shut off my “work-brain” and had enough time to really enjoy a place. That means having to be really careful about how I spent the other vacation days… because like you, I don’t think one vacation a year is enough.

    I consider myself very lucky to be able to take a travel sabbatical this year.

    1. Absolutely, definitely a matter of personal preference. I always need a trip to look forward to otherwise I get a bit antsy. :) And wow at the sabbatical! That’s so great.

  7. Great tips, i personally have had the chance to go on trips that lasted a month, but I just want to say that no matter how long the trip is, it is very important to plan either way. Planning each day at least a week ahead of time will help get the most out of your vacation time.

  8. I usually have Thursday as my set day off every week. I am able to maximize my time by simply taking a Friday off and turning it into a 4 day weekend. I get three weeks a year, but it feels like I take a lot more than that when I’m only really using one day per trip…

  9. Shanna Schultz

    Great tips, thanks! I am amazed as well at the fact that people don’t use all of their vacation time! We really need to learn to relax more in the United States (no wonder that stress is such a rampant health issue, especially compared to many European countries where people get 8+ weeks of paid vacation a year!)

    I am partially self employed, and the other two part time jobs that I have offer no vacation…so if anyone out there doesn’t want their paid vacation, I would be glad to use it ;-)

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