This poor American with her one week of vacation time...
I could practically hear the words crossing the minds of my new found friends as they asked me how long I’d been traveling for. I was working at a busy advertising firm in Manhattan and―after careful planning and supervisor approval―had managed to snag five days off to fly to Cartagena.
As is often the case with travel, it took little more than a cerveza and a smile before I found myself huddled around a table with travelers from around the world. Two of the girls had come from Germany and were on the last leg of a multi-country backpacking tour of South America. One of the guys was a sun-kissed surfer who was making his way down from Costa Rica while yet another was a soccer enthusiast hailing from Italy.
I listened as my new found companions swapped stories of treks through Brazil, adventures in Peru and surfing in Panama over months of travel. Our table looked like a United Nations convention with me representing the overworked Americans, comically clinging to their seven days of vacation time.
I wanted to travel without the threat of a gargantuan Outlook inbox waiting for me at home; but that wasn’t my reality at the time. I had a full time job and an insatiable appetite for traveling and needed to find a way to balance the two.
There are countless articles touting the benefits of quitting a job to see the world; but what if you aren’t ready to give up your career? What if you love your job and simply want to travel more? Before I left my own career to become a full time travel writer, I became savvy to the tricks of balancing a full time job with a desire to travel. Consider this your guide.
1. Use your vacation time wisely.
19 days. Out of 365 days a year, I had only 19 days with which I could escape the monotony of the corporate world and indulge in my love of travel.
While 19 days may seem like a measly number to some, when that time is combined with the 16 company holidays my agency provided, I was working with 35 days available for paid time off.
The trick is to make the most of your time off and use your vacation days wisely. Pull out your calendar right now and mark off the company holidays your employer gives you. Next, look for how you can extend those holidays into a decent size trip.
For example, rather than using 10 vacation days at once, you can tack on 2-3 days to a holiday weekend. The key here is to avoid using all your vacation days at once!
2. Know how to find affordable airfare.
Planning how to use your time off is just one part of the equation, the other half is being savvy with flight prices and when to plan your travel. As a rule of thumb, flights that depart on Tuesdays or Wednesdays are less expensive and can save you hundreds of dollars versus leaving on a Friday or Thursday evening. Similarly, February and March are the cheapest months for travel, so look at long weekends like President’s Day to extend into a decent length trip.
Consider opting for red-eye flights as well, in order to shave dollars off airfare with the bonus of arriving at your destination early. The trick here is to travel when others don’t! Middle of the week, red-eye flights, off-peak seasons will ensure your flight is affordable!
3. Learn how to ask for more vacation time.
With family, out-of-town visitors and weddings, sometimes vacation time needs to be reserved for social commitments. If your allotted PTO isn’t enough, then speak with your Human Resources team about ways to earn more vacation time or take unpaid days off.
Some companies allow you to accrue vacation time over the year, while some employers will even allow unpaid time off so long as your work load is covered. Another smart move is to look into whether your vacation days roll over! Perhaps you are dreaming of traveling to Vietnam but want to take at least two weeks off for the trip. If your vacation days roll over, then save some of your PTO for next year to double your time off!
4. Explore your company travel programs.
With offices around the world, my former agency had implemented a program that gave employees the opportunity to swap places with a co-worker from another office. The company swap program gave everyone the chance to temporarily live in a different country, learn a new language and experience a new culture without sacrificing their position, title or income.
Most large companies with international offices will have a variation of this program in an effort to increase global connectivity. Speak with Human Resources about what programs your company offers; but note that most of these opportunities require you be at the company for a few years in order to be eligible.
5. Quench your wanderlust with weekend getaways.
Beyond the glass skyscrapers, packed avenues and crowded subways of New York City are the Catskill Mountains, charming Upstate towns, vineyards and beaches along the coast. While venturing to local destinations might not have the same allure of visiting South America, weekend getaways are an excellent way to travel without using your vacation time.
6. Get a trip on the books.
You’re dreaming of Paris in the Springtime, lamenting your cubicle and longingly scanning flights for affordable options. Sometimes the spark of wanderlust is fanned into a fire that can’t be satisfied with a day trip to the beach. When that happens, plan a trip! Having a vacation on the horizon—whether it is a month or six months away—gives you something to plan, look forward to, read about and get excited about.
7. Consider working remotely.
Thanks to laptops, e-mail and smartphones, most work can be done anywhere there is a strong internet connection. There are different ways to explore the option of working remotely. If you work for an international company and will be traveling to a city where there is an office, speak with your HR team about working from one of the other global offices.
For example, if you’re traveling to Paris for a week but wish you could stay for two (and your company happens to have an office in Paris) then ask about working remotely from France. Sure, you’ll have to work but if your backdrop is Paris, isn’t it worth it?
8. Switch your full-time contract to freelance.
One of the best ways to balance travel with work is by switching to a freelance contract. Before I left my career in advertising, I switched my contract to freelance in order to have more flexibility with my schedule. In my case, the main changes between full time and freelance came down to a switch in pay (from yearly to hourly) as well as benefits (freelance benefits often differ from full time employee benefits).
You can also consider going full time freelance, where rather than be committed to one company you are taking on multiple projects from different clients. The benefit of full time freelance is complete freedom to plan your schedule and take off time as needed to travel. I like to use Upwork, which connects clients with freelancers for a variety of projects from editing to marketing.
9. Make travel your priority.
Whether you stay in the corporate world or consider going freelance, it is not enough to just want to travel, you have to turn action into words and choose to fuel your passion of globetrotting.
Whether that means saving money by relinquishing happy hours or giving up a holiday to see the world, deciding to make travel your priority will start to frame how you both spend your money and manage your time while balancing a full time job.
Nikki Vargas is Travel Editor of Culture Trip, and a freelance journalist with bylines in VICE, FOOD & WINE, Roads & Kingdoms and more. She is also the founder of top 100 travel blog, The Pin the Map Project. Follow Nikki and her travels on Instagram or Twitter.