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How to Maximize Your Vacation Days to See More of the World

If you are like most of America, you get the standard 2 weeks paid vacation a year. If you are lucky or have tenure at a company, you may get three. If you want to go on more than 1 trip abroad a year, this amount of time can seem minuscule. But not to fret! Here are some tips for making those 2-3 weeks really count and how to get the most out of your work-life situation.

Ask your boss for more vacation time

This may seem difficult or obvious, and it’s kind of both. But time is the most free thing a company can give you. Studies show that people get their work done anyway, regardless of if they are sitting at their desk for 3 more days per year or not. Now, don’t tell your employer that of course (that would invite more work, wouldn’t it?) When you have the whole “sorry, budget cuts this year, we aren’t able to offer you a raise” conversation, say, that’s ok, I understand, I would certainly take 3 additional leave days instead, at no additional cost the company!

Of course, phrase it appropriately for your situation. This doesn’t apply to everyone and won’t always work, but the worse they could say is no, right? In that case, you will still have the same amount of vacation days you current have, so you lose nothing by asking. Another strategy is to have a specific trip in mind to throw out there when asking for additional vacation days. This could be "my family has always wanted to go to the Grand Canyon and we have the opportunity to do so this year," or "My spouse and I are planning a trip to Paris for our 5 year anniversary, is there any way I could get 2 additional vacation days to cover this?" Sometimes a very specific, short term ask is an easier yes than a forever increase in your vacation day allowance.

Granada, Spain

Traveling over holidays or days your office is closed

If you are one of those lucky individuals in the work force that has extra days off around Christmas, or if your company closes for Presidents Day and all those bank holidays, take full advantage of those. Ask for the full list of days the office will be closed, or if you know them already, you can look up the federal holidays schedule for each year online. Put those dates in your calendar and pay attention to them when you are looking at flights and travel dates.

One of my favorite times to travel internationally is over Thanksgiving. If your office is closed for Thanksgiving Day and the Friday after, you essentially have a Saturday to Sunday - 9 days open by just taking 3 vacation days in the middle. Another great time is after Christmas. Depending on how the holidays fall during the week and when your office closes for New Years Day, you can get a few extra days out of this time of year. This of course comes with a sacrifice. Some families do it up big for Thanksgiving and you don't want to miss out, and that's definitely something to consider. I've had some serious turkey FOMO on past trips. You also want to book travel pretty far in advance for dates near holidays, as the prices tend to go up as demand goes up closer to the departure dates.

Offering to work a few hours remotely on the road

This usually isn’t my jam. If I’m traveling, I want to be disconnected from work and relaxed. But, if it helps you take that dream vacation or extended trip, this could work for you. Some companies are happy to wave a few days of leave (sometimes more!) in exchange for you checking in or working a few hours each day, especially if you are hourly or will be gone for a long time. This will take some pitching on your part, but again, the worst they could say is no. I know a lot of people who do this and it works for them. They wake up early each day of vacation and work for 1-2 hours on their laptop or phone before continuing on in their adventure. Just be sure to set some limits, you don't want to spend your whole trip working.

Make up a portion of your hours

If you are hourly, see if you can make up a portion of your hours the same week as your vacation. Say you are leaving to go to Munich next Thursday and will be gone for one week, meaning you will need to take 6 of your 10 precious annual vacation days. If you came in on the Sunday before your trip to work 8 hours, that would decrease your leave by a whole day. If you worked 3 hours more on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before you left, that would eliminate another vacation day you would otherwise be taking. Say you came in the Saturday of the week you returned. That's another leave day eliminated. Now you are down from taking 6 days to only taking 3. Not everyone has this ability, but it's always worth asking. You may be surprised to find how much your employer is willing to work with you on leave time.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Make the most of your travel location with day trips and side trips

Always look at a map of where your destination is and see if there are any destinations near by that would be good as a side trip or day trip, especially in Europe where the trains are excellent and the countries are close together. Say you bought those sweet $360 tickets to Munich I posted a few weeks ago. Google "day trips from Munich" to see what is near by, and then google "trains from Munich to Salzburg" to see how long of a ride it would be to each destination. After you invest your time to fly 16 hours to get to Europe, you might as well maximize your time there. There are often times some unique small villages or even some major cities just an hour or two by train from your destination. Just keep in mind, you don't want to stretch yourself too thin and feel haggard. I'm definitely guilty of trying to see too much on one trip. You can always decide last minute or on the last day of your trip to throw in a day trip by train, the trains are almost never full and you can go to the train station and purchase a ticket that day.

Consider Open Jaw Itineraries

Open Jaw flights are when you fly into one city and fly out of another. This saves you time of having to travel back to your original airport that you flew into. Here's an example: You want to spend 8 days in Italy and tickets to Rome are on sale. Chances are, tickets to either Venice or Milan are also on sale. Often times you could choose to fly into Venice and out of Rome for the same prices as a round trip ticket to Rome. This way, you will only have to ride the 3.5 hour train ride between Venice and Rome once, rather than twice. These types of flights are also called "multi-city" flight itineraries and are still considered round trip flights because you book everything at the same time. All search engines like Google Flights, Momondo, and airline websites have the ability to look up multi-city flight schedules. This is a good option for longer trips to destinations that are well connected by train to other destinations. Brussels, Amsterdam, Luxembourg, Milan, and Paris are prime examples.

Pair 2 weekends together

To be gone longer and take fewer vacation days, that's the dream right? Try planning your next trip with 2 weekends in mind. Flights are generally (I say GENERALLY) cheaper when you fly on a weekday like Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Say you flew out on a Thursday and returned on a Monday with 2 weekends in between. That gives you 12 full trip days with only 8 vacation days taken. You could get even more wild and travel on a Saturday to Sunday with 2 weeks in between, taking 10 vacations days but having THREE weekends in the middle, giving you 15 days and only taking 10 days off work.

Cabo, Mexico

Seriously consider some 3 or 4 day weekend trips

Some of the best prices I've seen on nearby destinations like Destin or NOLA have been a Thursday to Sunday schedule or a Friday to Monday schedule. I think we as a society, and especially in the travel community, have this attitude of - if it's not a week than whats the point? I don't know how many TripAdvisor posts I've written with "We will be in ____ city of 3 days, what's your suggested itinerary?" only to be met with "You will NEVER see all of Paris in 3 days, it will take MONTHS to really know the city." Well the reality is, you can have a smashing good time on a domestic 3 or 4 day trip. If you consider that these types of trips only take 1-2 vacation days each, you are looking at 5-10 trips you can fit in per year with your 2 weeks of vacation time, not to mention if you can couple it will a holiday or long weekend. There is something to be said for mini escapes, especially to the beach where it doesn't take much planning and the main objective is to relax.

Consider driving destinations

Memphis is 2 hours from Little Rock, Nashville is 5 hours from Little Rock. Kansas City is 3.5 hours from NWA and so is Oklahoma City. Dallas is 6 hours from Little Rock. We've got Hot Springs, Eureka Springs, and everything in between. Arkansas and Tennessee are blessed with parks, outdoor activities, and natural beauty. I often feel guilty for flying to Europe more than I explore my own backyard (but I'm working on that!). Drive to one of these destinations after work on a Thursday night, drive home Sunday, and you could have a pretty good time. Sometimes the adventure is just getting out of the house, spending quality time with loved ones, seeing some art, and eating interesting food. Live in NWA? Spend a weekend in Little Rock and vise versa. Look up concerts, festivals, and events near you. Go on an Altus wine trail drive or the Fayetteville Ale Trail. Look at these Arkansas Attractions and Oddities for some really quirky things to do.

Your small allotment of vacation days doesn't have to be confining. Get creative with your schedule. Make a list of places you want to go and sign up for my email list to watch for cheap deals to those destinations. It's easy to concentrate on the difficulties of traveling and working full time, but it's a lot more fun to concentrate on the possibilities. What's the point of working all the time if you don't have a little fun?

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