My parents taught me two important lessons when I was growing up:

  1. Always work hard and do your best.
  2. Travel as much as you possibly can.

They showed me that treating yourself to some time off is perfectly acceptable. It’s something that is deserved, and should be embraced.

Still, many people all over the world are not taking the vacation time they have earned. There are thousands—probably millions—of people in the United States who don’t utilize all the vacation time they have accrued.

According to a study released in 2015 by the U.S. Travel Association and Oxford Economics, Americans are throwing away over $52 billion USD every year because they won’t take time off work. And this isn’t just a reality in the US — Japan and China also have this problem. There is a mentality in many societies that we shouldn’t take time off, that we “don’t have time” to go on vacation.

I constantly hear co-workers or friends tell me that they’ll have time to travel when they get older or retire. But with retirement ages increasing and many people settling for a later retirement, I have to wonder, When will that be?

Vacation time is essential to my work-life balance. My goal is to take one big trip every year and, so far, I’ve accomplished it. Despite a limitation on time off at my 9-to-5 job, there are ways to travel and see places while also working full-time.

Here’s how I do it.

1. Plan Ahead and Be Efficient

If you know you want to travel, plan for it well in advance.

wanderful calendar

Give your supervisors or staff plenty of notice. When a company knows ahead of time that you won’t be there, it’s easier to prepare for projects that need to be covered in your absence.

One of the main reasons people don’t take vacations is because they think no one else can do their job. If you plan ahead, you can give instructions to co-workers, provide detailed outlines, and leave notes on anything and everything that might come up during your vacation.

Trust me, your co-workers can handle it. The world won’t end while you’re gone.

If you’re still a little nervous about being away for an extended period of time, try to get ahead on your work before you leave. When you know you’ll be traveling in a few months, you can be more efficient in the tasks you need to complete. That means less work for your co-workers to manage while you’re gone, less for you to worry about on vacation, and an even greater reward when you can finally step away and relax.

2. Be Flexible, Use Miles

If you have a job that can be unpredictable at times—last-minute events, spontaneous conferences—you have to be flexible when it comes to booking your travel.

This is where miles come in. When you book flights with miles, the fees to modify award travel are much more reasonable than when you purchase a regular ticket. If you have elite status on an airline, fees are often reduced or waived. If you have to cancel a flight, the miles are redeposited back into your account, and can be used for another trip. This allows you to be a bit more nimble with time off, especially during crazy times at work.

Even if you don’t travel on a consistent basis, you can still collect miles pretty easily. Most, if not all, major airlines have loyalty programs that include a credit card. There are usually bonus offers, too, when you first sign up for the card, which can get you thousands of miles within a short amount of time.

You can also sign up for a credit card that gives you points with every purchase, which you can then transfer to the airline loyalty program of your choice.

Using miles to book travel not only gives you more flexibility on the road, but also helps you save money—another reason people choose not to go on vacation.

vacation wanderful

3. Split Up Your Vacation Time

When I take a vacation, I like it to be as long as possible, especially if I’m traveling internationally. I usually take all my days off at once, but that isn’t always realistic. There may be obligations that prevent you from taking a two-week trip, or maybe you have anxiety about being away from work for long periods of time.

Bottom line: Any vacation is better than no vacation.

If you can’t be away for long, split up the time you do have and take numerous mini trips. A long weekend away with the family or some friends could be just the recharge you need after a tough month of presentations and reports. Small breaks from the grind are good for your health and your sanity.

4. Ride the Hump

One tactic I’ve been doing recently is leaving mid-week (usually a Wednesday), and returning the same day the following week. There are a few advantages to this:

  1. I can come into work for a few days to tie up any loose ends before leaving.
  2. It also gives me a chance to catch up a little when I get back.
  3. It makes me feel as if I’m not missing as much work, even though it’s pretty much the same amount of time if I traveled Sunday to Saturday.
  4. Flying on Wednesday tends to be much more affordable in comparison to Fridays or Saturdays.
  5. Bonus: Who doesn’t love two- or three-day work weeks?

5. Tack on a Few Days

If your job requires you to travel—either for client meetings or conferences—use that to your advantage.

I have friends who get to travel all over the country (and even to international destinations), and they barely see any sites because they’re too busy working. Tack on a couple days before or after your business trip. You’re already on the road for work; why not take some time to explore?

Many conferences take place during the week, which means that you can usually spend a weekend experiencing a new city, visiting museums or galleries, going shopping, or enjoying the nightlife. The best part about this is that, for the most part, companies cover the cost of flights, no matter when you go. An extra hotel night or two may be on your dime, but that’s a small price to pay for the chance to adventure.

airplane wanderful

6. Change Your Mindset

People make dozens of excuses to put off a vacation: not enough time off, not enough money, too much work at the office, fear of losing their job, etc. Sometimes, the biggest deterrent to going on vacation is yourself.

If you look for a reason not to go, you’ll always find one.

The best way to travel when you have a full-time job is to allow yourself to travel. Change the mindset that taking a vacation is a bad thing.

In fact, numerous studies have shown that taking a break from work is incredibly beneficial to your health. It can reduce stress, allow your mind to rest and recover, increase creativity, and even boost productivity.  

That said, I am not entirely blaming employees for having a negative outlook on taking vacations.

Companies and leading executives need to set an example. If your boss isn’t taking time off, and seems to have an issue when you want to go on a vacation, it makes sense that you would be less inclined to cash in that PTO. Businesses need to be more accepting of vacations, and encourage employees to venture away from their desks for a few days.

Co-workers should also be less critical of those who take time off. Vacation shaming is a thing, and it shouldn’t be.

There is no reason to make someone feel guilty for taking off time that they have earned. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve told a friend that I’m going on a trip and the phrase “must be nice” slips out of their mouth.

Yes, it is nice. My job gives me vacation time, and I am taking it. There’s nothing wrong with that.

flowers computer wanderful

Yes, you can maintain a full-time job and still squeeze in travel.

A little planning, some strategy, and a conscious effort is all it takes.

My last piece of advice? When you do detach from the desk, go completely off the grid. No emails, no work calls, nothing. It’s the only way to truly get away. And you deserve it.

How do you manage your work-life (and work-travel) balance? Share in the comments.

Featured image courtesy of Vanessa Day.