For the majority of my professional life I did everything in my power to save my vacation days, I hoarded them, afraid of what would happen if I missed even a fraction of a day. Then about a year and a half ago I made a decision to put travel at the top of my priority list. I felt burnt out, exhausted, and uninspired- emotions that are not conducive to a high productivity level at work. So I began to travel here and there, feeling rejuvenated and a strong sense of wonder and appreciation for the world; to my surprise my work-life didn’t suffer at all! In fact, there is a study that claims that employees who use all of their vacation days are seen as more productive by their managers and more likely to get a promotion.
I started traveling short distances, by taking a off select Fridays, eventually leading up to an entire week! In this past year I have traveled more than I ever have in my life, all while working full time and abiding by my company’s time-off policy. I’ve visited 13 national parks (my go-to destinations) and have learned a few tricks along the way on how to maximize my vacation days. I have Facebook friends who think I don’t work, and even a few coworkers, who are convinced I must have negotiated some sort of deal with my boss. While that is possible in a less corporate company (see tip #6) I assure you, and them, that I didn’t- I’ve only learned to use my time wisely. Making travel a priority, with a full time job, is possible – here are my tricks to make more time for travel.
1. Take More Weekend Trips
This is the easiest way to add more travel into your life. I love weekend trips, it means I can add adventure and explore without missing any work. I typically pack on Thursday for a weekend trip and leave right from work on Friday evening. I recommend making a list of places you have always wanted to visit that are within a few hours driving distance from you. You will be amazed at how many quick weekend getaways you can go on without missing a beat at the office. Plan the most activities on your full day on Saturday, and try to stay as long as possible on Sunday.
2. Use Federal Holidays as a Freebie Vacation Day
Every Memorial and Labor Day you can bet I am traveling somewhere. This is the perfect opportunity to visit somewhere too far away for a weekend trip to be possible. Yes, traveling around these holidays can be chaotic, but careful, strategic planning and flight alerts can save you from these headaches. Holidays are also a great opportunity to take the remainder of the week off after a holiday and only miss four days of work for nine days of traveling. Bookending weekends are a special trick, and a pretty sweet deal!
3. Be Strategic With Flights
Whenever I am choosing a flight (train or bus ride) I choose the departure time that is closest to quitting time on Friday. Then I choose the latest possible flight to get me home. Redeye flights can be exhausting but they have also become my best friend. Twice now I have landed on a Tuesday morning and gone straight to work; it’s a tiring day but a few extra hours of exploring a national park are well worth it. Many people like to decompress after a trip and instead choose sleep, and is completely understandable! But, if you don’t mind forking over some z’s in exchange for some sightseeing, then go for that redeye!
4. Capitalize on a Business Trip
Many people will have the opportunity to go on a business trip at some point in their professional lives; if that business trip falls into the “must-visit” category – don’t spend all your time at the hotel, convention center, or airport. When the business trip is over, see if you can extend your stay through the weekend and get some extra travel time in; expenses will only include extended lodging and extra adventures. No need to use vacation days or airline miles!
5. Make a List and Get Specific
I often hear people exclaim that they want to travel more, but they don’t have specific destinations in mind. I recommend jotting down a list of places you have always wanted to visit and a list of activities you want to do there. When you have a specific place in mind, you’ll be more motivated to get serious about planning.
6. Negotiate Unpaid Time-Off
This tip won’t be applicable to everyone. My company, for example, has a very rigid PTO and vacation day policy with no room for negotiation. Other less corporate companies may offer wiggle room in their time-off policy. When you are offered a position at a company and are still in the negotiation phase, don’t be afraid to broach the subject of more vacation days – the worst that can happen is they say no.
7. Schedule Doctor and Dentist Appointments on the Weekends or Outside Work Hours
I rejoiced when I found a dentist that offered Saturday appointments, for that was one less hour I would need to take off of work for something as uncomfortable as a stranger poking my gums! Dentist and doctor appointments may not take up much of your time-off but an hour or two here and there can add up for time off. When I’m making any appointments I always ask for the earliest or latest possible appointment just so that it isn’t eating up a large portion of my day. This also works well if you can make up time by coming in early or staying late.
8. Read Travel Related Books or Listen to Travel Related Podcasts
Even if you don’t have the time or resources to take a trip you can add travel to your life in other ways. Reading travel books or listening to travel podcasts will act as an inspiration, outlet, and motivator for you. For the longest time I have been fascinated with Alaska- I have a strong desire to visit the vast, rugged, and remote state, but I just didn’t have the opportunity to make it there. So instead I read books about Alaska, fiction and non-fiction, to hold me over until I could make a trip of my own to the “final frontier”.
Sonja is an adventurer based out of Madison, WI. She has a passion for exploring the great outdoors and her favorite way to get outside is by hiking and camping. She loves the challenge of walking miles through the wilderness to find hard-to-reach spots that others may not make the time or effort to explore. You can follow her writings, adventures, and photography at her blog, The National Parks Girl; and follow her on Instagram at @thenationalparksgirl.