When I decided to get into blogging, I was amazed how so many travel bloggers visited exotic and far-off lands with 9-5 jobs and one to two weeks of vacation days. The truth is often glaringly simple: **they didn’t. **While many travel bloggers used to have 9-5 jobs and marketed their sites accordingly, they have since transitioned to blogging full-time or found remote work that allows them to travel since this is their priority. This is awesome, but it can also make those of us in conventional jobs feel like we’re struggling to catch up.
For those of us who dream of travel but don’t yet want to make the leap to a nomadic or freelance lifestyle, I’ve got the information you need to use those precious vacation days wisely. This year, I put my vacation to the test and have visited a record number of places with 10 vacation days. I know that I’m very fortunate to have vacation days and the funds to travel, but no matter how much time or money you have, it’s possible to explore more than you might think.
My 2018 10-Day Plan
To show you what’s possible with 10 vacation days, here’s a summary of my 2018 travel and plans for the rest of the year.
Countries: 2 (Belize and the United States)
States: 6 (Texas, California, New Jersey, New York, Michigan, New Mexico)
Belize (One week in April/May)
Houston, TX (a weekend in May)
Bay Area, CA (a weekend in June)
Los Angeles, CA (a weekend in July)
New Jersey (4 day weekend in July)
Ventura, CA (4 day weekend in August)
Good Hart, MI (Labor Day weekend in September)
Bay Area, CA (Thanksgiving holiday for 4 days)
Santa Fe, NM (5 days, using Christmas Eve, Christmas, and a personal day)
This is all with 10 vacation days and just making good use of 4-day weekends and holidays. Only the Belize trip was a full week! This amounts to over a month of travel over the course of the year. You’ll notice that a good portion is domestic travel – often we’re so obsessed with places we can’t get to, that we forget to take advantage of the amazing places right in our own (figurative) backyards.
Next year, we’re planning to visit Boston, Croatia and Montenegro, and Mexico City!
Why I Have a Full-Time Job
It’s tempting to quit my job and travel full-time. With some savings and savvy budgeting, travel for a year or more is feasible (just check out Nomadic Matt). While I absolutely plan to explore long-term travel in the future, I’m not quite ready for that yet.
Some people prioritize living in the now and think there’s nothing more important than traveling while they’re young and settling down later. I absolutely get it – there’s no time like the present, and your future health and ability to travel is uncertain. However, I’m playing the long game. There are other goals I have than travel, and saving up for those goals (starting a family, retiring at a reasonable age) means that 24/7 travel isn’t my top priority. This does not mean waiting until retirement to travel – do not wait to live your life! I just want to enjoy all of my life, not only my mid-twenties, and I accomplish this by creating a healthy mix of living in the present and planning for the future.
I like having a regular life, as it makes travel feel more special. While there is a lot of the world I want to see, there are things at home that are important too. I like hosting friends for dinner, competing in trivia at the local brewery, and reading a book with my cat in my lap while listening to the rain on the roof. Living life spontaneously doesn’t have to mean traveling all the time – it just means getting out of your comfort zone, which can happen in your own home.
The Limitations of Traveling with a Full-Time Job
Time to play devil’s advocate! A great way to evaluate if I’m happy with life is to poke holes in my own way of living. Am I truly content with the balanced 9-5 lifestyle while the world waits for me to explore in small doses? Are these trade-offs I’m happy to make?
This travel schedule does come at a cost. I work hard to book flights that leave after work and return late on Sundays to maximize my time in destinations. This makes it difficult to take advantage of flight deals, as I need to travel during prime times. Flights tend to be more expensive as a result, but it’s a trade-off I’m happy to make to have the security of a full-time job and life back home instead of a nomadic or freelance traveling lifestyle.
It’s also difficult to travel spontaneously, as there is a need to optimize every vacation day. However, I follow the philosophy of the spontaneous monthly trip: plan when you’re going to travel, not where. You can plan to take a week off but still leave the actual destination up to chance and wait for a flight deal. Or, plan your big trips in advance but leave space for some spontaneous 4 day weekends to take advantage of flight deals and not box yourself out of opportunities as they come up, like a last-minute getaway with friends or a must-attend destination wedding.
The final downside is getting travel fatigue. This summer, I was traveling nearly every other weekend for trips ranging from two to four days, and it definitely impacted my normal routine at home. It was a pleasant surprise when summer travel was over and I was able to fully settle into my regular life filled with smaller adventures like learning how to bake bread, playing the guitar, learning about dinosaurs and mountains on Coursera, and starting a book club with friends.
How to Use Vacation Days Wisely
Here are some tips and tricks for using those precious vacation days wisely.
- Flight Alerts – If you know you’re going to travel over a certain span of dates, set up an alert on Kayak to know when prices are lowest. This is especially helpful over holidays or busy times of year.
- **Spread Out Vacation Days – **While it might seem like a two-week trip might be necessary to fully see everything in Europe or Australia, you’ll soon be out of vacation days for the year. Try splitting that trip into two one-week trips to completely different locations and at different times of the year. This avoids an 11-month travel drought, but means you need to be more focused with your travel as you “only” have 9 days each time. It just depends on how you prefer to travel.
- Tack Vacation Days Onto Holidays – A rushed 3-day weekend trip can easily become a more relaxed 4-day weekend if you tack a vacation day onto one end. This can help save money on flights, too, as you have the flexibility to avoid traveling during the peak hours (after work on Friday, or Monday evening).
- **Be Willing To Travel During Holidays – **I always used to go home over holidays but have realized that this is prime time to visit new places. Now, I’ll use either Thanksgiving or Christmas to visit someplace new, and spend the other holiday with my family.
- **Travel With Your Family – **Visiting family is great, but you don’t get to see new places if you only visit them at home. To spend time with your family, try traveling with them! Plus, you end up with great memories and stories that are way better than disposable holiday gifts. Last year, I visited New Orleans over Thanksgiving with my family and it was surprisingly empty and affordable.
10 Vacation Day Template
- One week-long international trip using 5 vacation days (bonus points if you use a holiday to extend the trip)
- One 5-day weekend using 3 vacation days – immersive domestic travel or a trip to Mexico or Canada, if you’re based in the US
- One 4-day weekends using 2 vacation days – great for domestic travel to new cities and optimizing flight deals
- Christmas holiday (4 days)
- Thanksgiving holiday (4 days)
This doesn’t count 3-day weekend holidays or ambitious weekend travel. If you have more than 10 vacation days, use them to extend one of your longer trips or create another 4-day weekend (perhaps spontaneous?) to give yourself a break.
Travel with a full-time job is possible, folks!
Creating a Bucket List
When planning travel (and life itself) in the long term, it helps to have a list of places you’d like to go or experiences you’d like to have. By having a bucket list, I have both a record of places I’ve visited in the past, and places that I aspire to visit in the future. This list acts as a guiding light, especially when planning our next week-long trip. When my husband and I were thinking of honeymoon destinations, there were so many places in the world that we wanted to go that it was overwhelming. If we had a list, our search would have been more focused, and instead of thinking of the trip as “this is the only time we’ll ever be able to take a week off!” it was more like “we have plenty of time to travel in our lives – let’s just pick a place from the list and see if the flights make sense.” The list can keep changing and be in a flux as you hear about great places from friends.