How to use your vacation days wisely: The ultimate guide to traveling with limited time-off

When I relocated to the United States a few years ago and started my stress-inducing job search (another day, another story), one of my biggest culture shocks was finding out that most persons start new jobs with only 10 days paid time off (PTO).  Having just left a management position in the Caribbean where one of the benefits was five glorious weeks of down time, I had to figure out how to fix my new and alarming conundrum – quickly!

I’m an unapologetic travel addict with incurable wanderlust, so I’m not going to pretend coping with limited time off is easy. But I’ve found that while there is a will, you can find a way. It just takes healthy doses of strategy and ingenuity. With a little help, you can do it too! Below are all my tips on how to use your vacation days wisely.

Request days off around public holidays

At the beginning of each year, I check which days public holidays will fall on and try to plan my trips around the ones that will help me maximize my time most. The best possible scenario happens when a holiday falls next to a Friday or Monday and I can combine the weekend with the holiday, then add two, three or four days off. That way, two days stretch to five, three convert to six, and four days + the holiday+ two weekends magically becomes nine. 

However, be sure to note federal and regional holidays only, okay? As fun and indulgent days like National Bubble Bath Day (Jan 8) and National Chocolate Ice-cream Day (June 7) are, I suspect PTO requests for them are not going to cut it in your human resources department. [Oh, the shade! I can see the eye-rolls even now. lol]

Use time zone differences to your advantage

Source: Bing.com

If you’ve never heard of the International Date Line, look it up because it was designed to minimize time zone confusion for travelers. What it basically says is that when you travel west, you subtract one hour whenever you enter a new time zone. On the other hand, every time you go east and cross another time zone boundary, you add one hour. So, the key to maximizing your vacation days is figuring out the time difference between the city you’re in and the city you want to visit. In general terms, you gain more sightseeing time (on your day of arrival specifically) when you travel west of where you currently are.

For example, if you live in New Orleans and want to plan a quick four-day weekend away, you get more time on the ground if you fly out west to San Francisco as opposed to say Montreal or Washington D.C. that are both in the Eastern time zone.

Learn to love red-eye flights

If sleeping on planes is not a challenge for you, always try to reserve flights that depart late at night and arrive early in the morning. As inconvenient as they sometimes are, they definitely help you use your vacation days wisely! Not only do you save money on the ticket (which is usually cheaper as demand isn’t very high for that odd hour), but you also save on the accommodation cost for the night you spend in the air. Plus, you get to experience the destination from the moment the country or city starts coming to life in the morning.

Stay in a central location

If you’ve done your research and know exactly what you’d like to see and do on vacay, you’ll get the most mileage out of your vacation time by staying in a location that’s centrally located to your must-see attractions. Bus or car rides for day excursions, while exciting, can eat up several hours in a day, especially if you only have a short window of opportunity to sightsee. That’s why booking an Airbnb or hotel room in walkable cities and places with well-regulated and readily available public transportation networks is never a bad idea.

Book a short cruise

Even though I personally am not a fan of cruises, I must admit they’re a great way to travel with limited vacation time because you get to see more than one destination while away. With its bundled pricing, you avoid having to stress over sticking to a daily stipend as your room, meals, entertainment, and transportation from one port to another are all included. What’s more, you get to unpack only once and from that moment on, you can dress from a closet rather than a suitcase.

Piggyback off your business trip

Adding a few days before or after your business trip is another brilliant way to use your vacation days wisely. By extending your stay when you travel for work, you get the added benefit of a greatly reduced holiday since your flights and partial hotel stay are already covered. The tricks of the trade include scheduling your meetings for a Monday or Friday, asking your lodging and car rental firm to extend their company rate to you for the personal segment of your trip (while keeping the bills separate of course), and being efficient with your time.

Become very familiar with your company’s vacation policies

Even though vacation days are usually set, the more familiar you are with the policies, the easier it will be to find loopholes that can possibly gain you extra time here or there. For example, you can volunteer to work on weekends or late nights in exchange for comp time, use any job-based leave days you’re allotted first before you delve into personal PTO, or ask about the possibility of working remotely. Yes, it’s never too late to resuscitate your my dream of that 15-day trip through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam by negotiating for additional time instead of a pay raise if bonuses are non-existent or flat-lining. 

And those are my expert tips! Whichever methods you choose to employ, the bottom line is, don’t be a part of the statistic (a depressing one, in my mind) that says more than half of Americans leave their vacation days on the table.

How to use your vacation dats wiselt

How travel can change your life: everything you wanted to know and were afraid to ask

How travel changed me_ Travel transforms your life

(A version of this article was originally published in Island Origins Magazine)

If you’ve ever wondered about the impact travel can have on your life, well, you’re about to get some answers.

But first, are there any Fresh Prince fans up in herre? Bienvenido a mi page, fam!

Now, this is a story all about how
Travel flipped my life upside down
And I'd like to take a minute
So, just sit right there
While I tell you how I became the queen of booking Cheap Air...

{Insert multiple CRINGE EMOJIS while I recover from how cheesy my attempt at being the Will Smith level of cool was.

If you’re still here, thank you! Hey, enough shenanigans, right? Let me get on with the business of telling you my story.

As a kid, I spent a lot of time indoors. Unlike my sister who was an outgoing tomboy and my brother who was a natural at sports, I was reserved and accident prone, so I found my refuge in books.  Thanks to a childhood filled with fairy tales and literary classics, I minimized the usual skinned knees and bruises brought on by outdoor play, because I would curl up on my sofa and vicariously experience exciting escapades that were far way. 

However, that affinity for interior spaces began to dwindle after a trip to New York. Suddenly, as a wide-eyed six-year-old, I was catapulted from a plain-ink-on-parchment world to a vibrant, larger-than-life place.  The city’s sensory overload was palpable, so it whet my appetite for more.  

Even now, travel has a spellbinding effect on me that continues to grow. It has validated the power of dreaming and turned me into a go-getter.  It’s also helped me embrace differences by routinely exposing me to new languages, cultures and traditions. Plus, it’s been an unfailing guide to discovery and knowledge. 

If you’re wondering how travel can change your life, I encourage you to give it a try. Here’s why: 

Your dreams take flight

How travel changed me_Dreams take flight

Think about how much more we all could achieve if we freely granted ourselves the permission to dream. I’m not referring to fanciful desires like winning the lottery. I mean dreams that inspire. Aspirations that give your life purpose and help you set tangible goals. The soul-stirring type that kicks you deep in the gut, and propels you to get up and go.   

Decades ago, if anyone had told me a little ‘country girl’ from the tiny island of Jamaica would get to visit fascinating corners of the globe, I would have laughed and told them no. Now, I’ve gradually ticked off countries like Greece, Peru, Holland, Dubai, China, Egypt, South Africa, and several Caribbean islands from my bucket list because I took practical steps to do so.  

You learn the power of intentional action

American author John C. Maxwell once said, “dreams don’t work unless you do,” and it’s true. Visioning is great, but no matter how big or small the goal, none of us will get what we want in life without taking intentional action towards it. Planning for vacation is just one example of that.  All it involves is making travel a priority after life’s essentials. 

My three-step plan is: 1. Save consistently.  2. Live within (or below) your means. 3. Aim for little or no debt. It’s not about what you make, but about what you save. Always strive to be purposeful about making decisions that don’t tap out your monthly salary, so you can free up disposable income. Before every big-ticket purchase, ask yourself, “is this a need or a want?” It will work wonders for fiscal restraint. 

You unlock deeper insights about yourself from greater self-discovery  

How travel can change your life

Travel takes you out of your comfort zone, teaches you a lot about yourself, and opens your eyes to the broader human experience. No two trips are ever the same, which makes you learn to adapt to unfamiliar situations. Even if things aren’t going your way, past experiences assure you things will eventually work out. 

Being away from home also adds depth to character and widens perspectives. By regularly interacting with diverse groups of people, you observe new ways of doing things, realize all the little gems you take for granted, and discover that inconveniences you used to see as big problems are actually minor. 

Ultimately, I’ve found that regardless of geographic or cultural backgrounds, people just want to be acknowledged and loved.  When that happens, a light bulb goes off and you realize that the cost of what you spend on a trip is chump change to what you gain. In fact. the most valuable transactional currencies are warm and hospitable smiles, an open and non-judgmental mind during local interactions, and irreplaceable memories that last a lifetime. 

Now, it’s your turn to share. Has travel transformed your life in any way?