It’s a typical night home from my full time job. I’ve dropped my computer bag on the couch, fired up the stove, and turned on the TV. Suddenly, my phone’s screen lights up, vibrating, coupled with a muffled ding sound. Grabbing the phone, I see a message notification from an old friend.
“Hey Kay,” it reads, “I’ve loved seeing your photos from [insert place here] on Facebook. Looks like you’ve been traveling a ton this year! I’m so jealous. What kind of job do you have that enables you to do that? Are you still working at all?”
I laugh to myself. This is not the first I have gotten a message like this. In fact, it’s one of the most frequent questions my friends ask me. “How on Earth do you find the time to travel so much?!” they’ll ask, dumbfounded. With the myriad of online articles proclaiming things like, “I quit my job to travel,” it can be somewhat discouraging for people who want to explore but must have a full-time job to maintain financial security, pay off debt, or simply build a career that they love.
In the past year, I’ve had ample opportunities to travel both domestically and internationally for work. However, I do have a ‘typical’ 60+ hour-per-week office job with a set number of vacation days, just like many of you who are reading this post. With the chaos of balancing work and my personal life, finding time to travel is often a challenge.
How can you find time to travel while working?
After receiving this particular message, I thought back to my travels over the past year. In the last 12 months, I went to 11 countries on 5 continents, flew over 75,000 miles, and stayed close to 100 nights in hotels and hostels. For 7 months last year, I was only home in my apartment for 7 full weekends. Needless to say, I’ve gotten around a lot since I started work, and I feel pretty lucky.
Traveling this much has required a ton of flexibility from my employer, my colleagues, and myself. Often, this kind of freedom only comes once you’ve established trust and rapport with your superiors in your workplace. Personally, travel can be exhausting and difficult to execute. It’s not easy, but travel is within your reach even if you work 40+ hours a week.
Although everyone’s situation is different, there are a few universal ways you can maximize your travel time throughout the year. In this post, I’ll break down the methods I use to find time to travel with my hectic job. Hopefully, these tips will be helpful for those of you with a full-time job who dream of seeing the world more in the upcoming year!
1. Be a weekend warrior
If you’re lucky enough to get weekends to yourself (sorry, i-bankers, medical professionals, etc.), this is a great way to start traveling a bit more without using vacation days. If you leave right after work on a Friday and return home on a Sunday evening, that’s ~48 hours you have to spend exploring a new city or taking a road trip somewhere interesting.
Here are just a few examples of trips I’ve taken over a normal weekend:
- Mexico City, Mexico – wandered around the city, climbed pyramids at Teotihuacan, went for a boat ride in Xochimilco, partied all night in La Condesa, and danced in the streets of the Zócalo
- Portland, Oregon – participated in a street art project, walked around the river, hunted for vegan mac and cheese, found it, drank coffee in all kinds of unique venues, visited Multnomah Falls and the Columbia Gorge, and lunched on smoked salmon at the Bridge of the Gods with a new friend
- Detroit, Michigan – explored Detroit’s surprisingly beautiful street art, meandered through the Eastern Market, smell-tested and bought a bunch of artisan candles, tasted too many liquors at the Detroit City Distillery, and attended a stellar concert by my favorite Icelandic band
- Arenal, Costa Rica – zip lined through the rainforest, hiked a volcano, relaxed in some hot springs, and explored the town of La Fortuna
Of course, traveling for such short periods of time isn’t always cost effective, especially since flights are often more expensive over the weekend than on weekdays. This is why I opt to use points and miles and search for cheap flight deals to keep my travel costs low.
2. Hug your holidays
If you’re like me, you probably have a limited number of vacation days you can take each year. The best way to maximize these is by planning trips around long holiday weekends, since you already get a ‘free’ day off. Luckily, if you leave on a Friday and return on a Monday, that gives you close to three full days to explore. Supplement a long weekend with a couple of vacation days (see examples below), and you could find yourself with up to 10 full days to travel far and wide. Choosing destinations that are direct flights from your city can also help with minimizing travel times. A few examples of trips I’ve taken over a long holiday weekend (while only taking 3 or fewer vacation days) include:
- Banff National Park, Canada – camped, hiked, photographed, and stargazed over Memorial Day weekend (3.5 days; 1 vacation day)
- Tokyo, Japan – explored the city of Tokyo, ate tons of sushi and ramen, shopped til I dropped in Harajuku, and climbed Mount Fuji over Labor Day weekend (4 days; 0 vacation days)
- Patagonia, Chile – traveled to Santiago and Patagonia, Chile over Thanksgiving weekend and trekked for 5 days (10 days; 3 vacation days)
In the United States, there are several federal holidays that are honored by many companies. Sometimes, the best places to travel during these holidays are those that are in their shoulder seasons (or low tourist seasons). Find out which days your employer gives you off and start planning your next trip!
3. Offer to travel for your employer
Many jobs have positions that include some kind of travel. For example, a few friends who work in the energy industry get to travel to Europe for work each year to network and attend international conferences. A few friends in sales can travel around the country to meet with potential clients. This year, I was stationed on a project in Canada for a few months, which enabled me to explore the surrounding parks and nature areas. Sometimes, employers are open to letting you transfer to a different office in another city, either temporarily or permanently. Even if you’re early in your career, there may be ample opportunities to travel for your job if you look for them.
The best way to approach this is to look around. Are any of the people in your department (or related departments) traveling for any work-related reason? If so, offer to take them to coffee and see how you can get involved with whatever it is they’re working on. Also, if you perform very well at your job, you’ll likely be a top candidate for some of the more interesting assignments, like attending large conferences or temporarily transferring to your company’s other offices. Although traveling for work isn’t quite the same as traveling for fun, you can always take evenings and surrounding weekends to explore your new environment.
4. Explore remote work options
In today’s working world, remote work options are becoming more and more prevalent. Many employees are able to work from home on occasion, preventing them from having to use vacation days when they’re out of office. For example, some of my friends are allowed to work remotely on Fridays. This makes weekend travel a lot easier because they can leave on Thursday night and return on Sunday, adding an entire day’s worth of time to their travel plans.
Find out if your employer or your direct supervisor will allow you to work remotely. The best way to maximize your chances of success is to build a good relationship with the people you work with. If your manager or team trusts you, they are more likely to be willing to let you work away from the office on occasion. Of course, you still have to do your work even if you are traveling, but it can be a really enjoyable experience to camp out in a coffee shop in a new city and work while watching the world go by.
5. Take a sabbatical
Dying to travel but hate having to squeeze it into a few short days? Some employers offer a sabbatical option to take a few weeks or months of unpaid leave once you’ve been working for a certain amount of time. If you’re financially able, this can be a great option for more prolonged travel, while still maintaining your job security and career trajectory.
If this is something your employer is open to, have a good explanation for why you’d like to take some time off. Providing a foundation for why your time off would be beneficial to your employer is a huge plus. Would the extra time off help you rejuvenate and come back even more productive? Will some extra travel help you learn a skill that you could use in the work place? If you can find a concrete reason for taking your sabbatical, it will help convince your employer that it is a good idea.
6. Plan way in advance
You know exactly when your job is crazy busy vs. slower and more routine. Often, the easiest times to travel are when things have slowed down in your office. At my job, the few weeks surrounding the Christmas and New Years holidays are typically pretty low-key, and a lot of supervisors will allow people to work remotely during this time of year. If you work retail, the opposite is likely true. Start observing what things are like in your office during different times of year, and if you can predict when things will be calm, that’s a good time to plan a trip.
Regardless of timing, if you know you want to travel, plan your trip and put in your vacation notice as early as possible. That way, it’s on your boss’ radar early-on, and there’s a lower chance of you having to back out of your trip because of work-related concerns. Planning early can help alleviate some of the high costs of travel, too, as flights and hotels are normally cheaper when booked earlier.
7. Value your time
You can make a million different excuses for why you can’t take time off to travel. If you keep making these excuses, it will never happen. If you have an itch to go somewhere, forget those voices in your head, put in your vacation request, book your trip, and go. So many people spend months or even years at work without taking a single vacation day. Don’t be afraid to take your vacation days! You get these days off for a reason, so use them.
If travel is a priority, you can make it happen, even with just a few vacation days. When you’ve found a great flight deal or an opportune event in another city, you should absolutely use that as a jumping point to plan a trip. Value your time and resources, and realize that your job doesn’t have to consume your entire life.
Like many activities, traveling requires an investment of time, energy, and money. While working full time, these resources can be hard to spare. Finding a travel style that works for you and fits in with your job’s requirements is a critical first step in being able to see the world. At the end of the day, you should ask yourself — are you working to live or living to work?
Do you have any tips for how you manage to juggle travel and a full time job? Share your strategies in the comments!