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6 Ways to Reclaim Your Vacation Time with a Full-Time Job

Updated: May 6, 2020

Have you ever looked at a travel instagram influencer and wondered, "Do you have a job?" No, but a real one. The kind that has you working 9-5 in an office. Not throwing shade, (well, at least not the kind from a thunderous cloud) but let's be real, the vast majority of us cannot afford to quit our jobs to live as a traveling nomad. Till that dream happens, let's get back to reality!

I have a full-time job and it is not a 9-5 one in which I can clock out and not worry about until I return the next day. My job, my career, is one that takes up time both physically and emotionally past the 9-5. I am an educator, more specifically, an Assistant Principal. In my role, I am often answering emails in the late evenings and weekends. I am the one who people text when they need to call out while I am trying to squeeze an extra 5 minutes of sleep. I love what I do, but it is definitely does not involve #fulltimetraveling!

However, despite having a career that more often than not pushes me to work over 40 hours per week, I still manage to travel at least once a month. To give you a clearer idea, check out what my travel schedule was for 2018:

I am often asked the question, "How do you travel so much?" Well, having that ability is actually one of the major reasons why I decided to continue pursuing education instead of medicine. However, this article will answer the question in greater detail. Hopefully, you will be inspired to do the same after you finish reading!


1. Do not leave ANY of your PTO days unused.

Not using #PTO days is a serious issue in the United States and I cannot stress it enough! I am actually confused as to why people don’t use their days. Realize that you are given personal days for you to use! I know that in some cases. you can cash them out. However, what are you cashing them out for? To have it sit in your savings account until you grow old and can't actually enjoy it anymore? You have one life to live so you might as well enjoy it! Don't be this couple right here:

You may feel like you are working non-stop. However, in reality, the data says that you are! Numbers do not lie. For example: More than half of American workers (55%) left vacation time unused in 2015. This adds up to 658 million unused vacation days. Yes, 658 million!!! In many jobs, these days are not rolled over or paid out, which means that billions of dollars literally went down the drain: $61.4 billion to be exact.

To prove my point further, look at this table. Only 23% of workers actually used 100% of their paid time off and just over 50% have half or more of their days unused. #Vacationshaming is a real thing, so do not fall victim to it!


2. Create a long weekend.

When many of us think of #vacation, we think of extended 1-2 week vacations. However, most of us do not have room in our schedule to take multiple extended vacations a year. Instead, one can easily take mini vacations instead!

You can create a #longweekend (co-signed by @umber07) by taking off one or two days around the weekend. For example, you can use two personal days to take off Thursday and Friday. If you leave Wednesday night, you essentially create a 4-5 day long weekend vacation.  You can also do something similar by taking off Friday & Monday OR Monday & Tuesday. Play around with it by checking to see which combination of a long weekend is cheaper to travel in. My travel tip article, 13 Tips to Travel and NOT Break the Bank reviews how to search for cheaper travel.

If you do not want to use two #personaldays, take off one personal day around a long weekend that already exists -- whether it is a #federalholiday or some other circumstance!

For example, just a couple of weeks ago I took off on a Monday to go to Copenhagen and Sweden because I knew I had Friday off. I took the latest flight out on Thursday (literally 11:59PM) and landed in Copenhagen around 12PM Friday. That allowed me most of Friday, all of Saturday, and all of Sunday to explore. I could have chosen a later flight on Monday that would have allowed me most of Monday as well while still arriving back in time. However, I decided to be responsible and opt for the option that allowed me more sleep when I arrived back home.

My most recent long weekend trip to Copenhagen, Denmark


3. Take advantage of the Federal Holidays.

Federal Holidays are definitely blessings sprinkled sporadically throughout the year because they are essentially free days off. Since many federal holidays fall on a Monday, that creates an extended weekend that you can tack on a day or two (co-signed by @cnm4real and @umber07). One thing to acknowledge though is that it can be become more costly (co-signed by @travel_foodie_beauty). However, you just have to either suck it up or be strategic on the destination as every place has a particular peak season.

I have personally used this method less because it is frowned upon in the field that I am in. However, in most fields, it is fairly easy to do so as long you request way ahead of time. For example, I went to Haiti twice around federal holidays: Columbus Day weekend and Memorial Day weekend. In both instances, I took off Thursday and Friday. I flew out Wednesday evening or Thursday morning. This left me with most of Thursday, all of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday as well as part of Monday to enjoy my trip. However, instead of using up 5-6 personal days, I only used two!

Cap-Haitien, Haiti during Columbus Day Weekend


4. Workation (Work vacation)

To quote @biggirlbigadventures, travel for work = travel for fun. I am the biggest proponent of milking what is already a free trip. I talk about this in my other post, 13 Tips to Travel and NOT Break the Bank. In addition to the benefit of all or most expenses being paid to professionally develop yourself, there is also the benefit that you are in a new location. You might as well make the most out of it and explore! I am not suggesting ditching the main reason that you are there. Go to the workshops, go to the meetings, learn!

Be strategic on how you utilize your free time during your #workation. This does require some creativity. Although you may get less rest than you would like, you will leave your workation feeling like you truly maximized your time. During my 8 years as an educator, I have traveled to quite a number of states as a result of conferences, including: Chicago, Denver, Colorado Springs, Boston, San Antonio, and Nashville.

An example of turning a conference into a workation was when I went to Boston last year. The conference took place Friday through Sunday. On Friday and Saturday, I used the evenings to go out to dinner. On one of the evenings, I checked out a production of Hamlet.  On Sunday, since sessions ended midday, I took a free walking tour of Boston. I also caught up with a friend who was native to Boston and had one of the best dinners!

Walking Tour of Boston after my conference

With that, @jenbo1 suggests adding time to pre-planned work trips! I did that once when I went to Chicago when I visited a school in the suburbs on a Monday. I flew out earlier on Saturday morning and stayed with a friend so I could explore over the weekend before making my way to Aurora, Illinois.


5. Weekend Trips

We often underutilize our time. I am a lover of weekend trips (just like @fulana_trips) . Of course with a #weekendtrip, that limits how far you can travel. However, you can get the same travel high for a short getaway that requires using no personal days and spending less money.

To make a regular weekend trip work, I recommend not traveling any further than 4-5 hours by bus, train, or plane. Otherwise, the trip becomes draining and you will have little time for your actual trip. I think that weekends are the best time to take domestic trips. I am a huge advocate for domestic trips overall as there is so much to see in our own backyard, as I explain in detail in "My Clapbacks for Domestic Travel."

From NYC, you can easily travel to Philly, Boston, DC or Baltimore by bus or Amtrak for just a weekend. You can also decide to fly to Chicago, Detroit, or Atlanta for a weekend as well. Back in December, I surprised my boyfriend with a bus trip to Baltimore during their "Dollar or Less" Weekend to take advantage of unbelievable savings. A regular weekend is all we needed to explore!

Weekend Baltimore trip with my boyfriend


6. Leave right after work!

I love to do this as it allows me to truly maximize my time. You can waste a lot of time on travel time alone. I like to book an evening flight, which requires me to bring my luggage with me to work so I can head straight to the airport. This is probably why I have the reputation for #jetsetting even at work!

Let them come for you! Haters gonna hate.

This strategy truly helps if your trip is not long to begin with. A perfect example was my Dia de Los Muertos trip to Mexico City in November. I caught a Wednesday PM flight which landed me in Mexico City around 11 PM and allowed me to get a full night sleep and start exploring immediately on Thursday. If I flew out on Thursday morning, then by the time I landed, went through customs, and arrived my hotel, I would have lost of most of Thursday. Considering that I needed to fly out on Sunday, that would have limited my trip to 2 whole days instead of 3 whole days.

Long weekend trip to Mexico for Dias de Los Muertos

Hopefully these 6 strategies inspire you to take the vacation time you deserve. In the wise words of Auntie Maxine Waters, "Reclaiming my time" (or in this case, my vacation time!)


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How do you maximize vacation days with a full-time job?

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