Travel & Work: Getting the Most Out of Paid Time Off

Travel & Work

It’s the beginning of a new year, the perfect time to take a look at your paid time off and start thinking about your 2017 travel plans.

In case you aren’t familiar I am not nomadic. Lots of travel bloggers these days are selling their possessions, hitting the road, and going wherever life takes them. I envy them. I dream of one day being able to travel on the whim, however, right now isn’t that time for me. I have a job that I actually really enjoy, I own my home, and have a furbaby. It’s just not in the cards to travel full-time…right now. So, I have to satisfy my travel need by utilizing my vacation days as best I can.

Last year I was able travel to Japan, Colombia, Estonia, Finland, and Russia and that was all using my limited PTO of 12 days. In addition to those trips, I explored Tampa over a three-day weekend, went to the Women in Travel Summit, and I went back to my hometown of St. Louis, MO for a bachelorette party, the wedding of said bachelorette, and the holidays. It can be done. Trust me!

How the hell did I pull that off?

For starters, I used ALL of my vacation days. Yes, you heard me…ALL OF THEM! They are mine, why wouldn’t I use them. I’ve read countless articles stating Americans are the worst at using their PTO. Why? You’ve earned that time. Use it!

Get more bang for your buck

Use company holidays to your advantage! Schedule your trips around these days. For example, in February I am heading to Iceland for five days and only taking two days off work. I get President’s Day off so I am using that three-day weekend in conjunction with two of my vacation days to get a lovely long weekend.

Book red-eye flights

I look for flights that leave after work so that I don’t have to take additional time off. Going back to my upcoming Iceland trip, I leave Denver on Wednesday night and arrive in Reykjavik early Thursday morning. I don’t waste any PTO on Wednesday and I get basically a full day of travel on Thursday. What about sleep?! Sleep on the plane. If you can’t do that, there are pills you can take. Not into sleeping pills? Try melatonin, it’s a natural sleep-aid.

Looking for my favorite booking sites? Check them out here.

Travel fast

I will probably get push back on this but this is how I travel and it works for me. Make a list of the things you want to see/do. Then break them out into things you “have to do”, “want to do”, and “maybe if time permits”. This list will help you decide just how long you need in a particular city. Can you hit all of your “have to dos” in two days? Or maybe you can do all of your “have to dos” and one or two “want to dos” in two and a half days. Try to plan out what you want to do and how long it will take to do them when planning your trip.

Example – On travel forums you will inevitably come across a post asking how long one should stay in a certain city, and then you will read some responses saying “oh, no less than a week” or “you need at least four days”. But, do you? Maybe you only want to see a few of the sites, you can probably pull off a three-day adventure instead of spreading it out over five days.

I like traveling fast because I am never bored. Downtime is occasionally nice, however when I go on vacation it isn’t for downtime. That’s what weekends are for. I can’t sit on a beach and sunbathe. I don’t want to people watch at a café all day (trust me I love people watching, but with limited PTO I can’t just lollygag around). I’d rather be up exploring. So, if you are a relaxer this might not be your thing.

Here’s a breakdown of how I fit in three international trips in 2016

I want to note that I am very lucky that in addition to my 12 days of PTO we occasionally get out of work two hours the day before a company holiday and have this amazing program where I pay $15 a month I get a half day off with pay for that month and all the money donated goes to charity. These perks definitely help when planning trips.


Cherry Blossoms, Japan

Where did I go? Tokyo & Kyoto

Total days of trip: 9

Vacation time used: 5

How I did it? Used the weekends to my benefit. I left on a Saturday and came back the following Sunday.


Cartagena, Colombia

Where did I go? Medellin, Cartagena, Isla Grande

Total days of trip: 8

Vacation time used:  3 vacation days

How I did it? I scheduled this trip around Memorial day. The trip was from Tuesday night to the next Tuesday. My flight didn’t leave until 11PM on Tuesday so I didn’t have to take any time off work for that day. Since it was a day before the holiday the company got out of work early on Friday. I also used my half day for the month and we have a company holiday for Memorial day.

Estonia, Finland, & Russia

St. Petersburg, Russa

Where did I go? Tallinn, Estonia – Helsinki, Finland – St. Petersburg, Russia

Total days of trip: 10

Vacation time used: 2.25 days

How I did it? This probably looks like sorcery to you…this trip was over Thanksgiving. For this holiday I get Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday off. I used my half day for the month, and the office closed early the day before Thanksgiving.  I also booked my flight to leave after work the Friday before Thanksgiving and come back the Sunday after.

If you total up this time, I only used around 10 days of PTO. So it is definitely doable if you don’t have those additional perks at your work.

My challenge for you in 2017 is to make travel a priority and of course make sure you use all of your PTO.

I’d love to hear your tips on how you fit in travel!


Travel & Work - Getting the Most out of Paid Time Off

13 thoughts on “Travel & Work: Getting the Most Out of Paid Time Off”

  1. Great idea using all the time around holidays to be able to travel longer. It sure is a fine balance managing travel and career! 🙂

  2. This is so great! I am not nomadic either, but I work from home. I have to plan my travel around my kids and my husband’s work schedule, unless I’m flying solo, which I love!

  3. I’ve also read that Americans are bad at using up all their holiday, often out of concern they’ll lose their job. I work full-time too and you’re right about having to make the most of your holiday time by keeping busy instead of relaxing doing nothing all day! Still, I am impressed by how well you’ve organized such long-distance trips in the past year!

    1. Thanks Shannon, travel is my passion. We have to do what makes us happy, and yes, I believe a lot of Americans are afraid of the consequences of taking too much time of work.

    1. I’d love to read your post when it is ready! I am always trying to encourage people that travel is possible even with a full-time job.

  4. Really great post. For most people that is the reality and unless we are only writing for other travel bloggers, our readers are working people that travel on their vacation and weekends. And, of course, that is possible!

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