Want to know something frightening? Americans left 212 million vacation days on the table in 2017, according to the US Travel Association’s study. We missed out on 212 million days of relaxing on a beach, hiking through national parks, or exploring historical ruins. Let that sink in. We have more time to travel the world while working full-time jobs than we think! Reasons for forfeiting vacation hours range from work commitments, family needs, or finances. Let’s put a few things into perspective though…
The 212 million vacation days that we forfeited is equivalent to $62.2 billion in lost benefits. Each of us gave our employers $561 in free work.
Surveys show that some of the top barriers to using vacation days are:
- Fear of looking replaceable
- Heavy workload
- Lack of Coverage
- The logistical hassles of traveling
- Cost of travel
On the flip side, Americans who use all or most of their vacation days to travel report significantly higher rates of happiness than those who used little to none of their days to travel. Also, more than half of those who used their most or all of their vacation days to travel reported receiving a promotion in the last two years, compared to those who used some or little to none of their vacation hours to travel.
Let’s look at a few ways to overcome those barriers and start traveling!
- Prioritize your travel goals.
- Create an annual travel plan for your vacation hours.
- Find optimal times to travel.
- Consider traveling during the holidays.
- Explore different workweek options.
- Travel to places close to home.
- Use business trips to your advantage.
- Find a company that values work/life balance.
Prioritize your travel goals.
Whether you have hundreds of vacation hours saved or you only have a few days to spend, use your job’s vacation policy as a guide to prioritize your trips. Prioritize your trip itinerary for the must-sees or must-dos in a shorter amount of time. For example, if you want to see Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower, you could easily combine London and Paris for a one-week trip. Want to snorkel in the Caribbean? Try a cruise to explore multiple snorkeling spots.
If you want to take your time exploring a destination, then set a goal to save up your vacation hours. This may involve not taking single days off throughout the year, or choosing to earn compensated time off rather than overtime pay. When we planned our trip to Paris and Spain, we chose to give up taking random days off throughout the year because we knew our goal was to enjoy a month in Europe.
Create an annual travel plan for your vacation hours.
People who plan their vacation time in advance are more likely to use all their days off, and are more likely to use their time to travel the world. Planning a trip is also a simple way to improve your happiness! The survey showed that people who plan their vacation time are happier than those who don’t in every category measured, especially with their personal relationships.
If you have an idea of where you want to go and for how long, create an annual travel plan to submit your time-off requests months in advance. To make this easier, I track my leave credits on a spreadsheet to project how much time off I will need for each trip. Then, I know that taking a day off here or there won’t affect my vacation hours for my trips.
My annual travel plan helped me keep track of my and my husband’s hours when we took ten trips in 2018. We went to Los Angeles for an NFL playoff game, spent a month in Paris and Spain, celebrated my 30th birthday in Chicago, visited Disney World and Universal Studios, spent Thanksgiving in Cabo San Lucas, and had a few small weekend trips. My travel plan helped me confirm that we had enough vacation hours to cover each trip, without having to reduce our pay.
A travel plan could be plotted dates on a calendar, a spreadsheet, or your job’s time-off request form. Create a plan that keeps you on track with your vacation hours and your job’s time-off policy.
Find optimal times to travel.
Have a destination in mind and a flexible schedule? Find date ranges that are the optimal times to travel and are during slower times at your job. This way, you can enjoy your trip and not worry about a huge workload waiting for you when you return.
If you’re concerned about leaving your heavy workload behind, plenty of medical studies have shown that stress from work can cause health issues. Overwork and long hours could lead to several medical conditions, including diabetes and heart disease. Research has also shown that time away from work can improve your productivity!
Search Google for the “best time to go to [city]” and read about the best times to go to your chosen place, including weather, flight and accommodation costs, and crowd predictions. Champion Traveler and Google Travel are excellent resources for finding this information as well. Then, use Google Flights, or a similar tool, to find the cheapest flight dates from your departure city.
For my trip to South Africa, I knew that November was a slow time at my job due to the holidays, so it would be the best time to take a vacation. I researched the best months to travel to South Africa and found that November is the country’s shoulder season. I can expect low crowds, reasonable flights, inexpensive hotel rates, and great weather. Sounds like a win to me!
Consider traveling during the holidays.
It could be worth paying more to travel during holidays or allotted breaks (eg. school breaks, Christmas week, etc.). While airfare and hotels may be more expensive, you can take advantage of “free” time off, without using your own vacation time.
Surprisingly, holidays and school breaks might be the best time to travel to certain places for the best weather, crowds, and cost. For example, we have Thursday and Friday off for Thanksgiving, so we spent our holiday in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. It made for a perfect holiday because the resort wasn’t crowded and the weather was perfect. The best part was that we only used one vacation day for a five-day trip!
Explore different workweek options.
Does your job allow you to work remotely on occasion or weekly (lucky you)? Why not use that day as a travel day? You can easily connect to airport Wi-Fi to work while you are waiting at the gate or during your flight. You can still attend conference calls and answer your emails during a road trip.
Can you work a condensed work week, such as four 10-hour days? Then you can have one free day every week, without having to use your vacation hours. Talk to your supervisor or Human Resources specialist to learn about your options.
Travel to places close to home.
We often overlook incredible destinations that are in our backyard. While the idea of jet-setting to a faraway place sounds like heaven, we shouldn’t forget about the fun places near our hometowns. If you have a few days to use, plan trips that are direct flights or quick road trips so you don’t spend your time on a plane for most of your trip.
Take advantage of your nearest hub airports that offer direct flights to different destinations. You can avoid spending an entire vacation day in the air by choosing places that are short flights from your hometown. Google Flights is an excellent tool for finding quick flights. You can plug in your departure city and desired dates (optional), and leave the destination city blank. It will show you Suggested Trips that are optimal destinations from your area.
Living in California gives me quick access to nonstop flights to Mexico and Hawaii. If you live in the South, you can catch a quick flight to the Caribbean. Live on the East Coast? Bermuda, Canada, and Europe are popular nonstop destinations from eastern airport hubs. Residing in Europe? Lucky you – you have quick and inexpensive flights to other European countries and parts of Africa.
Road trips are also a great way to travel in a short amount of time. They can also save money since you can avoid paying for airfare, which could also make family travel easier. Play around with Google Maps or Roadtrippers for ideas on where to go and what to see for your road trip. If your budget allows, I also suggest renting a car to avoid putting a ton of miles on your car.
Use business trips to your advantage.
Your job has to pay for your roundtrip ticket, so why not use it to your advantage? If you’re going to some place fun or interesting, ask if you can extend the dates. You can offer to pay for your lodging for the days that you aren’t working. This is an easy way to maximize your time off and lower the costs of a trip!
For example, I had to travel to Anaheim, California to host a conference on a Tuesday, and coincidentally, my husband had to be in Anaheim the weekend before to coach a basketball tournament. My supervisor agreed that I could leave on Friday afternoon, pay for my hotel room for the weekend, and return on Tuesday after the conference. My job covered the hotel room for Monday night and we only paid for my husband’s flight and three nights in a hotel. I booked the same hotel that I planned to stay at for the conference and asked the front desk to link the reservations to avoid moving rooms.
Find a company that values work/life balance.
I know switching jobs or careers might seem daunting, but if your current job doesn’t value employees’ lives outside of the workplace, find one that does! What’s the point in working hard if you can’t enjoy the rewards? If you are asking for a raise or negotiating a starting salary, think about including Personal Time Off or vacation hours in your proposal. Or if you are in the market for a new job, find companies or sectors (like the government) that offer substantial time off packages.
One reason why I plan to stay with the state government is the generous leave benefits. I have every state and federal holiday off, I accrue vacation hours, and I receive special days off as well. It’s rare for my job to deny my vacation requests, and I’ve been fortunate to have managers who understand my passion for traveling.
Don’t let your job stop you from living your best life! There are simple ways to maximize your vacation hours to reap the benefits of your hard work through traveling. Remember to be flexible, plan in advance, and take advantage of any breaks, holidays, and business trips to get out of your office and enjoy life!
Pin for later