The United States is virtually the only country in the world that does not require employers to provide any paid vacation days by law. As such, it is a challenge for working Americans to travel very far, or at all, without sacrificing their status at work within their company. However, even in a country that places so little value on work life balance, it is still possible to travel if you know how to work hard, play hard, and take advantage of your days away from the office. In fact, I’ve traveled to Iceland, Norway, the Faroe Islands, Turks and Caicos, the Virgin Islands, and more while working full time as an attorney in the U.S. Here is my seven step guide for how you can travel 120 days each year with a full time job.
1. Take advantage of your weekends
First, let’s do some simple math. Assuming you’re not one of those crazy corporate people who spend their nights and weekends in the office, you’ll have 104 days off each year just from weekends alone (See: 52 weeks per year x 2 weekend days per week = 104 weekend days per year). Of course, it’s not really as glamorous as it sounds since those 104 days are broken up into two day chunks, but there are still plenty of places you can travel to in a weekend wherever in the world you are. For instance, I could easily travel from Chicago to just about anywhere in the contiguous U.S. or parts of Canada or Mexico for a weekend trip. I’ve even made it all the way to Iceland for a weekend.
2. Rely on the generosity of your employer
Thankfully, most full time employees can also rely on the generosity of their employers to occasionally bump up their two day weekends to a three or four day weekend, making it a lot more feasible to take a trip abroad. Although employers in the U.S. are not required to provide any paid vacation time to their employees, most employers still provide on average 16 paid holiday and vacation days to their employees each year. At the end of the day, companies want to retain employees and will strive to make their employees happy by providing certain perks such as paid time off. With 16 extra days each year, you could easily take five of those 16 days between weekends to give yourself a nine or ten day vacation. That’s plenty of time to take a trip to nearly anywhere in the world.
In some cases, you’ll have a particularly close relationship with your employer, such that they are aware of your passions for travel and will do their best to accommodate, even if that means going outside the bounds of your company’s established vacation policy. Every company is different, and your goal is to understand the culture of your company, the relationships you have with your employer, and the ways in which you can leverage those to elicit sympathy and generosity from your employer when it comes to taking time off to travel.
3. Look for companies that value work-life balance
I’ve been fortunate enough to work at a law firm that values work-life balance (a rare find!). There is no clocking in/clocking out at my firm. I don’t have to stay at the office until 9 PM every night just to say I was there. I don’t have to show up on the weekends to show how hardworking I am. All I have to do is bill a certain number of hours each year, and outside of that, I am pretty much free to work whenever and wherever I want.
Well, that actually sounded a lot more glamorous than it is. What all that actually means is that if I want to take a vacation, I can, but I am working 12 hour days leading up to my trip. And although I can technically work from wherever, there is still a preference for all employees to work on site at the office unless there is a specific need that necessitates the employee working off site for a day.
However, compared to many of my friends, I still have it really good. I’ve never felt guilty for taking a vacation; on the contrary, my co-workers seem genuinely interested to hear about my travels. Try to find a company like this where your co-workers and bosses will be excited for you to travel rather than make you feel guilty for taking time off work.
4. Work hard, play hard
Once you find a company that prioritizes work life balance, get ready to work hard and play hard. As I alluded to above, the weeks prior to and following my travels are painful. I work long hours so I don’t feel like I’m playing catch up for the next month. But to me that’s worth it. When I’m here, I’ll work hard to get my job done, but when I’m traveling, I’m completely checked out of work and focus solely on doing what I love.
5. Have a plan
If you’re constantly jetsetting to faraway places for a short amount of time, chances are you will want to take advantage of your time in a new city to do and see as much as you can. Thus, it helps to have a plan before you embark on your travels. What sights are on your must-see list? Which hip neighborhood do you absolutely have to walk through? Where’s the best viewpoint to see the city from, and how long does it take to hike up there? What alternative art scene unique to the city do you have to see? How do you get from Point A to Point B? What is that one restaurant you absolutely have to try? Do you need reservations for any of the above? Having a clear plan for your travels and setting yourself up to take the most efficient route around town will allow you to maximize your short time in a new city.
6. Prioritize your spending
One problem with “fast travel” (I hesitate to use that term because it has such a negative connotation these days of being anti- sustainability and eco-friendliness) is that it’s expensive. Rather than paying for a $300 flight to visit a city for a week, you’ve only got two days. Thus, the average cost of transportation for you is going to be much higher.
In order to afford this type of travel lifestyle, you’ll probably need to make some budgeting moves. Decide which areas of your spending are necessary and which are dispensable. Then, think about which areas of your dispensable spending actually bring you a great amount of enjoyment, and which areas are simply “stress spending” or habitual spending, and immediately eliminate any dispensable spending that falls in the latter category. For example, I am unwilling to give up my day to day eating out costs because I genuinely enjoy discovering new restaurants and bars in the city, and more than that, I enjoy being in the company of friends and sharing those experiences with them. However, I am willing to give up my shopping expenses because I realized that (1) I truly do not enjoy going to the store and browsing racks of clothing, and (2) most of the time when I buy things (like clothes), it’s because I’m stressed out or bored and not because having one more article of clothing truly brings me great joy. The goal is not to deprive yourself of everything fun and unnecessary in life but merely to prioritize which fun and unnecessary things you truly value and cut out the rest.
7. Find remote work
Lastly, if at all possible, find location independent or remote work. If you can work from anywhere in the world, then you can travel for much more than 120 days each year with a full time job. The most common types of remote work are freelancing (either for others or as an entrepreneur), writing, programming, or other creative jobs. However, as our society becomes more and more reliant on technology, even traditional fields like the law are beginning to offer remote work options. For instance, the law firm I work at is a paperless firm, which means all documents are stored on a platform that I can access from any computer anywhere in the world, as long as I am connected to wifi. NoDesk has a great list of remote work opportunities that I’d recommend checking out.
Another option, if much of your work is computer based anyway, is to pitch a remote work option to your boss or HR department. If you love what you do and the people you work with, this might be your ideal starting point.