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