10 Ways to Make the Most of Limited Vacation Days
Updated: May 29
When it comes to vacation time in the U.S., many of us don’t have much, if any at all. Most companies only offer 10-15 days of paid time off (unless we’ve been working there for years), and even then, we often struggle with finding the time to take vacation among all of our work duties and personal responsibilities. And what is the result? Not taking any vacation at all. What a waste!
Having tons of time isn’t necessary at all to take a nice vacation and in fact, you can still take decently long vacations without using a single day of your paid time off. Here’s how with a little planning ahead, you can take your limited vacation time and turn it into substantial time off:
1. Spread your vacation days throughout the year.
There are 52 weeks during the year, each having two weekend days. This means you have roughly 104 days of free time off, not including holidays! Instead of taking all of your earned vacation days and using them on just one or two destinations, spread them out over the course of the year alongside weekends and/or holidays and visit several destinations. It’s also worth it to mention that by doing so, you’ll be in a much better place when you get back to work knowing that you’ll only have a couple of days of accumulated emails as opposed to several! And speaking of holidays...
2. Travel over holiday weekends.
Holidays are free days off, and assuming your company observes all of the Federal holidays, you have 10 of them. Pair them up with a weekend and you have 3-4 days off at a time. Add on a day or more of your own vacation time and you have a good number of days off to travel. Yes, it is typically more expensive to travel this way, but if you plan far enough in advance, you can usually find some great travel deals. Sometimes you may even find last minute deals. It's totally worth it.
3. Use your earned days wisely.
For some reason, many people choose to spend all or most of their vacation days they have around Christmas and the New Year. This totally makes sense if you are traveling somewhere to see family or have plans for when family comes in town to see you; however, if you are just going to be sitting at home in your PJs all day, you are wasting your valuable vacation time. Go ahead to work while it’s quiet, and save your paid time off for an actual vacation.
4. Don't be afraid of long layovers!
Flights with long layovers tend to be on the lower end of the price range simply because most people don’t want to waste a full day or more making a long stop somewhere before arriving to their final destination. However, long layovers aren’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when you have limited vacation time. When booking your flights, take a look at the various layover options that are presented and book the one that has a long layover in another destination of interest. This way, you'll be able to spend several hours or sometimes even a full day to explore a second place before getting back on the plane. That’s just like getting two vacations for the price of one (and often at a very good price)!
5. Take late flights back.
By booking late afternoon or evening flights back to your home destination, you are giving yourself the morning or most of the day to enjoy your destination before returning home. This is a great time to dine at that restaurant you've had on your list, or to shop and explore the areas closest to your hotel, or even just to relax and do nothing!
6. Have your vacation itinerary planned out.
When dealing with a limited time frame, you will want to have your days planned out ahead of time so that you can make the most of them. Figure out ahead of time what it is that you want to do or accomplish during those trips. If you want to take a tour or visit a particular point of interest, plan them for early mornings on the full days of your trip. Save the beach-lounging or more low-key activities for your first day of arrival or end of your trip, or as a way to relax at the end of a long day.
7. Ask to work remotely.
If you have a job that can be done from any location, ask for a day or two to work remotely. Log a few hours early in the morning, and/or later in the evening. True, there’s nothing fun about doing work while on vacation, but I guarantee you it’s not so bad doing so with an oceanfront view as opposed to sitting in the office! Plus, doing so saves you from using a full vacation day.
8. Go to work and travel the same day.
Who said that you had to take a full day off to travel? Book your flights in the late afternoon or evening so that you can go to work for half of the day, and travel to your destination for the second half. If you’re lucky enough to work near an airport, you may even be able to work a full day before heading to the airport, therefore eliminating the need to use one of your valued vacation days. Another option is to take a red-eye flight, which will allow you to work the full day, go home for a bit to recharge or finish packing, and then head back to the airport. Planning to return home on a work day? Depending on where you’re coming from, consider taking a red-eye the night before or a crack-of-dawn flight the day of your return and then head into the office from the airport.
9. Use business trips to your advantage.
Need to travel for business? Do some research beforehand about the must-see areas around where you’ll be staying. More than likely, you’ll be working during the week, so consider extending your trip through the weekend to give yourself a few more days to enjoy the area. If time allows, rent a car and drive to a nearby city in the evenings. Not only will this give you more vacation time without actually taking vacation time, but in most cases you’ll also be able to eliminate the cost of booking your flight (and/or rental car) since it’ll already be paid for by the company. Just be careful to observe your company’s travel expense rules and only expense what is allowable under the terms of the business trip!
10. When all else fails, take a staycation.
When taking a flight just isn’t feasible or affordable, don’t forget about all of the things that are within driving distance of you! Take a short weekend road trip to somewhere nearby that you haven’t seen before, or haven’t previously given yourself enough time to enjoy. Just a change in scenery will be enough to give you the reset you need to return home refreshed, and you won't have to use a dime of your vacation time.
So next time you think that you don’t have the time to travel, think again. The time is yours, you just have to take it and make it work for you. How do you make the most of your travel time? Share your tips in the comment box below!
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