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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 many cases, the longer you stay with a company, the more paid vacation time you’ll accrue. As such, it may be beneficial for you to stay at a company for a longer time if you like what you do.
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.
Wooooow! I didn’t know that you guys have such a restricted policies for taking holidays in the USA!!! O_O In Spain we have 22 days paid holidays + the bank holidays and in the rest of Europe they even have more days… Maybe you should move here! hahahahaha It’s amazing how much you achieve with so few days off! you’re my heroes girls!
Aww thanks Midori!! Maybe we should move to Europe! Hope will be spending the summer in Berlin working at a startup company, so maybe that’ll convince her to move to Europe after university! So with all your holidays you have no excuse not to come visit us in Chicago sometime. 🙂
Well, when you want something badly enough, you figure out ways to make it happen. And when you don’t want it that badly, any reason is reason enough to not make it happen.
So true, Punita! You can always make excuses to not do something, or… you can just do it!
I think finding a job with a good work-life balance is the hardest on the list. I haven’t worked in many places but it seems like the mentality in the states is so much different than in many other countries like in France or Spain. This is my next step in life! Find a job that values work-life balance!
Yes, the mentality in the states is so different than in Europe! Maybe the secret to finding a job that values work-life balance is moving to Europe 😀
So amazing finding out tips to make the most of your time- feeling super inspired! Thanks for the brilliant article!
So glad you’re feeling inspired after reading this, Rhiann! Thanks for reading! 🙂
Great tips! Thank for sharing! I work as a nurse and still manage to create space for travel. When it’s a non-negotiable you will make it happen! 🙂
Absolutely, Kamelia! So glad to hear you’re able to balance work with travel. I’ve also been hearing more and more about traveling nurse jobs! Those sound awesome!
I do work remotely so I am lucky enough to have a flexible schedule to pursue travel when I want to. In the end, it is important to make a plan. You’re right – attaining a work-life balance is so important. You can’t be working all the time!
So true, Abigail! Great to hear you can work remotely – that is the dream!
This is one of the reasons we prefer to stay in Germany, where the minimum vacation per year is about 25 or 30 days! People freak out when I tell them that in Canada, the minimum required by law is 10 days!
I think it’s so important for one’s mental health to take at least one full week every once in a while off work.
We’ve actually gotten so much feedback (both serious and joking) after publishing this article that we should move to Europe! I completely agree it’s important for one’s mental health to take a week off work every so often. The sad thing is the majority of Americans don’t even end up using the vacation time they’re allotted!
Wow, you guys are motivated! I don’t think I could travel so much if I had a full time job! I’d be super tired! I’m looking forward to reading about your 10 new countries this year!
It does get tiring sometimes, James, but it’s so worth it for us! And we’re happy to have the opportunity to do it now while we’re still pretty young and have the energy to do it. We’ll be traveling to a lot of Southeast Asian countries this year, so stay tuned for those posts. 🙂
The first sentence of this article shocked me! I honestly had no idea US employers aren’t obliged to provide paid holidays – that’s an absolute joke! Next time any of my friends here in the UK complain about “only” having 28 paid holidays a year I’ll remind them of this little fact.
Some really good tips here! While I don’t currently work full-time (am trying to make ends meet working freelance) if I ever do fall back into the corporate world this post would really help me keep my itchy feet at bay. Flying all the way to Iceland just for the weekend must have been exhausting?! But I imagine it was worth it, Iceland looks so beautiful!
It is shocking, isn’t it?? I would love to have “only” 28 paid holidays a year! Flying to Iceland for a weekend actually wasn’t that bad – it was only a 5-6 hour flight from Toronto/US East Coast, which is not bad at all! We were more just bummed we didn’t get a chance to explore more of Iceland, but we’ll be back for sure. 🙂
Great post guys! I can relate to some of the things you mention, especially planning! We try and maximise our annual leave allowance, with lots of shorter trips, and to get the most of these trips everything is planned. From the basics of a-b getting around to sightseeing. It’s ok to still go off itinerary if you fancy, but at least you always have a back up of places to go eat and don’t waste time trying to find places.
Absolutely, Garth. I definitely like to have some spontaneity in my trips, but it’s just nice to have a plan to fall back on so we’re not sitting in our hotel room not knowing what to do and wasting time that way. Glad you can relate to our time maximizing efforts. 🙂
Great tips! I say every year that I’m going to make proper use of my weekends to travel but I end up stuck in front of my laptop writing blog posts for a lot of them! I need to work on getting that balance right 🙂
I totally know what you mean, Kiara! “Luckily” for me I can take advantage of my time stuck here to keep up with the blog and then it won’t be so bad taking a few days off to travel!
I now consider the US my home base as my Mum lives here and I’m travelling full time. I find it incredible that there is no law to provide employees with holidays. I always took this for granted in the UK. I think this makes it so much harder for Americans who want to travel. you are so fortunate to work for such a great company. I was also really grateful when the companies I worked for let me go freelance so I can now work for them wherever I am in the world. Unfortunately this also means I’m always working so taking actual time off to focus on adventuring is a balancing act! Not as glam as at sounds being a full-time digital nomad!
That’s a really interesting point, Claire – I’d love to hear more about what life as a digital nomad/freelancer is really like. Hopefully your mom is getting some decent vacation time in the US. Which city does she live in? Come say hi to us in Chicago next time you’re in the states! 🙂
Golly. I get 36 days a year – at least 6 weeks off to explore. I know I honestly need to make the most of it. Last year we had 2 weeks in France & Spain and 2 in canada. I’m eternally grateful to work in the UK.
Wow – I can only imagine all the trips I’d like to take with 6 weeks off each year! Seems like you utilized it pretty well with your trips last year though. I didn’t realize UK had such a good vacation policy – I’d always thought Spain or France awarded even more vacation days.
You’re so lucky with your employer! I also have friends with full time jobs who take advantage of conferences they are sent to in travel destinations! They either use the conference evenings to explore, or tack on a few days before/after. Turns out jobs may even have traveling PERKS, who woulda guessed!! Even so, it’s so impressive what you’re doing!
That’s awesome for your friends! Great to hear they’re taking advantage of their work travel days to do some of their own exploring. I know some companies are more flexible than others in terms of letting you stay additional days to explore a city. It does sound pretty ideal to find a job that has traveling perks though! Thanks for reading, Sarah 🙂
Great suggestions here, you have really shown that it is possible to travel a lot which is great! There are no excuses now not to travel – people should just have a read of this post and start booking so thank you for sharing! #feetdotravel
Thanks so much for your comments, Angie! Hopefully others who read this post have the same reaction and feelings as you and will be inspired to travel more like you said! 🙂
Great post! And I totally agree that with a little planning it’s amazing how much travel you can squeeze in. Sometimes I think I appreciate my vacation time even more since it’s so precious. My other suggestion is to look at where you live from a tourist’s eye and make a point to explore around home more. Thanks for the inspiration! (And I’ve Stumbled this as well)
Thanks so much, Jennifer! I totally agree with your suggestion to look at your city from a tourist’s perspective and explore around home more. I’m really grateful to have friends from out of town come visit pretty regularly so I get to play tourist with them when they’re visiting. I have some friends who grew up in Chicago and lived here their whole lives and haven’t done/seen a lot of the things that travelers who came here for 5 days were able to do and see. Thanks for reading 🙂
Planning ahead is definitely key. People are always surprised when they find out just how little vacation time people in the US have. I try to use long weekends for places close by and visit places in my own backyard and neighboring states. Happy and safe travels!
That’s a great tip, Lisa! I think oftentimes we forget to explore our own homes when there are a lot of hidden gems in our own backyard! Thanks for reading 🙂
There were some great tips in this post and I used to use a lot of them myself back when I had a full-time job. I was notorious for slipping a few extra days on my trips that I didn’t have enough holidays for. The bosses never noticed until after I was gone. Its a good job they liked me otherwise I probably would have been fired!
Haha I’m glad you were able to get away with it! It’s just a running joke at my office now that I’m always traveling somewhere. Whenever I see my boss in the office on Fridays, he’ll ask, “So which country are you going to this weekend?” The answer usually is none but still makes me smile. 🙂
I cannot believe US employers do not have to provide any paid annual leave. That is just insane. I was pleased to hear that most Do however. Sounds like you make every day off count and that is amazing … Iceland in a weekend is a tall order!
It is insane – I completely agree. I definitely try to make the most of all my time off! I’m usually not one to enjoy lounging around all weekend, although that is still nice once in a while. And Iceland is surprisingly much closer to the US than people think! It’s only a 5-6 hour flight from the east coast 🙂
Some incredibly useful tips there for maximising your travel opportunities! Luckily, we have fairly generous leave packages in the UK so we are not faced with some of these issues but some great tips on planning and prioritising!
Ahh lucky you! Maybe our next step is moving abroad 😉 Thanks for reading 🙂
Great tips! I definitely try to make the most of my weekends as well 🙂 as another full time worker it’s great to hear about how others are also travelling!
Great to hear that I’m not alone, Cathy! I think people who work full time almost value travel more in a way, since we know our time is limited and we really value every moment we have on the road.
Fabulous post! Great tips on working full time and travelling.
Thanks for reading, Kelly!
For me I’ve always liked the idea of packing up your job and taking it with you Diana ! Working abroad is a fabulous experience and really does enhance the CV. I often joke that most of my long haul travel was payed for by someone else and this eventually led to me leaving the UK and settling in Hong Kong – happy work and travels !
That’s awesome, Ben! HK is a great city. Do you have any advice for finding work abroad? Would love to hear first hand tips from someone who’s gone through the process before! Thanks! 🙂
My aunt lives in California and she gets hardly any holidays. I live in Scotland and I’m self-employed. I’m lucky that I can set my own work-time and holiday-time. I couldn’t handle a job these days. Sometimes I need to work harder than someone with a job but it suits me fine, freedom-wise. Interesting post, girls. Thanks for sharing.
I feel the same way as you – I don’t mind working hard at all, but being bound by such stringent and constricting work policies has become very difficult for me to stomach. Luckily my current company allows for more flexible work hours, but I would love to work for myself one day. Thanks for reading. 🙂
Makes me feel ridiculous for complaining about my 25 days a year annual leave! Though I suspect no matter how many days I had it would never be enough. The good thing about living in Europe (specifically London in my case) is how many other countries are near by and how easily / cheaply I can get to them, in less than 45 mins I can be somewhere with a completely different culture and language. So your point about using the weekends is a pertinent one!
Haha I know what you mean – there can never be enough vacation days. That is one thing I love about Europe – in the states, you can get on a 5 hour flight and still end up in the same country! London’s a great city – I’ll be back there in early March for a day! 🙂
Beautiful pictures! I never thought of it that way but you’re totally right. You technically could have 120 days on the road each year if you wanted to! Maybe I need to rethink my current plan haha : )
Haha yea when I realized just how many days I could be spending on the road, I became more motivated to re-think how I was utilizing my weekends and holidays as well. Maybe that’ll be a goal for 2017 – to better utilize weekends to travel. 🙂
Wow! That is truly inspirational. I never thought it could be possible to travel as much even if you have a full-time job. I guess everything is possible when it comes to your passion, Cheers to more adventures! 🙂
Absolutely, Shernice! If you want it badly enough, you’ll make it happen! Cheers to a year filled with awesome travels! 🙂
loved this!! so true you don’t have to quit your job to travel.
Thanks, Lerato! Happy travels!
Great! I wouldn’t travel to the other side of the world just for a weekend but we do make the best of our weekends (not all of them, some are just to lay low with friends but…) It is unbelievable that US still has no real paid vacations!!!
It is crazy, isn’t it?? Traveling to a different continent for a weekend trip may be a bit overboard, but desperate times call for desperate measures 😛 Happy travels!
I’m in the same boat as you, definitely try and take advantage of long weekends. So I saw in your post that you went to Iceland for just a weekend?? How long were you there? I feel like the time change would leave me crazy haha
Haha yea, that was a whirlwind trip. We went for 3 days. Our flight got in to Iceland at around 6AM, so the first day involved a lot of coffee to stay awake and energized to see as much as we could. All in all it was worth it though, and I’m so glad we decided to go because I am officially obsessed with Iceland and actually already planning to return in early March of this year! 😀
I basically live for weekend getaways at this point. I don’t get very many days off, but luckily I live somewhere that it’s easy to take off to new places, within reason. Hoping to find a new remote job soon enough!!
I am 100% in the same boat as you, Caitlin! Good luck with the job search – let me know if you have any luck and maybe I’ll see you somewhere around the world when we’re both digital nomads one day 😀
Wow. Right back at ya! Totally agree. If you set your priorities right, you can travel extensively even with a full time job! Nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it 🙂
So true, Raksha. If you want it badly enough, you can make it happen. Happy travels! 🙂
Loooove your tips! I am so happy to live in Germany with my 30 days Vacation claim 😛 but it’s so good that you are making the most of your time 🙂
Lucky you!! Hope (my sister and blog counterpart) lived in Germany last summer and will be living in Germany this summer again, so I keep joking that she’s just going to move to Germany after university and live/work there! The 30 days of vacation would be one more reason for her to do it. Thanks for reading, Anne, and happy travels! 🙂
This “fast travel” is the best solution for me because I live in Europe and there are so many destinations within two or three hours of flight. Unfortunately, I rarely prefer this option because I am trying to save some money for a longer trip somewhere more tropical, to the places I will enjoy the most!
I will surely try to find a remote job in the future because it gives you a huge advantage in traveling. I wish my company was paperless as well!
I would also love to learn more about your 10 destinations for 2017! 😉
Glad you can relate, Efthimis! A remote job would be ideal – good luck with the job search! Our goal for 2017 is to travel to (at least) 17 countries, with 10 of those countries being countries we’ve never traveled to before! The new countries we’ll be traveling to this year are: Ireland, Scotland, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Cuba, and Slovenia. We’ve got a post up with more details on that. Check back in with us at the end of the year to see how we did. 🙂
Thank you for sharing your experience! I’ve been seeing your post EVERYWHERE, so I’m glad I checked it out. Good for you for being able to travel so much with a full time job. It’s always so great to find employers who are supportive of that lifestyle. Definitely taking note of a few of these things!
Thanks for checking out our post, Erica! I certainly lucked out with having a flexible employer. Do you work full time while traveling too?
I joke with my American family and friends all the time, telling them to work for European or British companies where they value vacation time! I live in the Caribbean and feel fortunate to have my job where I get 21 days of paid vacation per year. Plus living here enables staycations!
21 days of paid vacation sounds great, Victoria! Where in the Caribbean do you live? We’ve been to about 10 islands in the Caribbean and try to make a trip there every year for Christmas! Lucky you that you get to live there! 🙂
Thank you for such great tips regarding short term travels. I am all for traveling as much as possible but I live in suburban Seattle and geographically it is not the best location to travel to Europe for short term. But still there are some amazing destinations within a relatively short distance from Seattle like Vancouver British Columbia (2 hour driving) or Southern California or Las Vegas (2 hour flying).
Hey Dmitriy, I love Seattle but that’s a good point about the inconvenience in traveling overseas. The PNW is great though, and there are plenty of places to explore within the PNW alone. Same thing with British Columbia and California. All great options for weekend trips if you’re working full time!
Being a full time software professional working for a US based company in India, I can greatly relate to what you have penned down here. It is not as easy as said to balance work, travel and blogging as well. However, with a little bit of planning, I’m able to take two long vacations and many short weekend trips during a year.
Great point about the planning, Sindhu! I am not a planner by nature but realized that I have to plan out some trips in advance if I want to take advantage of all my vacation days. Glad to hear I’m not the only one who works full time while wanting to travel everywhere. Happy travels!
Well, when you want something badly enough, you figure out ways to make it happen.
with best wishes.
I admire you fo your really organized planning. This absolutely takes a lot of planning, I mean with work and all the stress we absolutely need to take vacation, but planning a trip can be stressing too. Maybe you can go and visit Bali next time! Rent a luxury villa in Seminyak and explore Bali, I tell you that it’d be the best experience, with all the culture Bali has! Please do visit us! Thank you.
Just discovered your blog and this post really inspired me to get my travel game going more. I’m an attorney as well (so don’t always have a ton of free time) and a bit of a homebody, but planning out this trip to Puerto Rico for my honeymoon really got that travel bug in me going. Definitely going to be implementing some of your tips.
We miss you Diana…but are enjoying the travels vicariously 🙂
Miss you too Linda! Thanks for keeping tabs on me 😀
Absolutely loved this post, I am graduating this summer and applying for jobs that are travel friendly when I am back from travelling is definitely high on my list. I will definitely be using these trips to ensure I cater to my wanderlust (:
Before I started to travel I thought that having a job and traveling do not go together. However, after a while, I completely agree with you, Diana! Your post should serve as a motivation for people who cannot decide to start traveling!
I love to hear that, Agness! You absolutely can work and travel – no reason to sacrifice one for the other if you enjoy both! Kudos to you for doing both, and go out and inspire others to do the same! 🙂