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How To Travel While Working Full Time

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If there’s one question I get asked most often, it’s how I manage to travel so much (or to so many countries) while working full-time.  So, why not address it here?

First of all, it’s not hard to travel.  Anyone can do it as long as they make it a priority.  It’s prioritized pretty high on my list as I’ve always known I’ve wanted to travel… so, I’ve always looked for jobs that provide ample vacation days or allowed me to earn travel rewards like mileage or hotel points.  Like I always say, “Will work for SPG points!”  🙂 Along the same lines, it also helps to date someone who also earns travel rewards through their work – just kidding (sort of).  In all seriousness though, here are some ideas for satisfying your wanderlust while working full-time:

Maximize your long weekends

If it’s a long weekend, you’ve got at least 3 days off work already.  All you have to do is take another couple of days off and you’re at 5 days.  That’s enough to jet off to at least one city (or city in a nearby country) for a quick break.  If you don’t believe me, here are some random places that are totally doable in 5 days just to get your ideas flowin’:

  • Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
  • Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
  • Napa & Sonoma, California’s wine country
  • Montreal, Quebec
  • Any of the Hawaiian Islands
  • San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • Nassau, Bahamas
  • New Orleans, Louisiana

Heck, if you don’t want to take any days off, you can still use the 3 day weekend to do some exploring.  3 days is actually plenty to go to most cities in the U.S. especially if you just want to drive somewhere.  If you need help, pick up this book.

Celebrate your holidays abroad

Companies usually give people Thursday and Friday off for Thanksgiving, and Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Years off during the winter holidays.  This is the perfect time to get a string of days off and head somewhere exotic while using minimal to no vacation days.  If you can’t fathom celebrating the holidays without your loved ones – you don’t need to!  Bring them along!  In fact, I’ve seen lots of families that are on Thanksgiving trips together or Christmas/New Year trips together – start a new tradition (this is going to be my tradition one day).

Work remotely while you’re away (a.k.a. embrace a fakecation)

I know, you’re supposed to be on vacation so doesn’t working defeat that purpose?  Not if working remotely helps you extend your trip longer!  I did just that on my last trip to Maui.  I took a few days off, worked a couple of days, and planned my trip strategically to fall over two weekends.  That instantly gave me 9 days away (1 work week + 2 weekends)!  Even accounting for flight time, that is plenty of time to explore a new destination.  If your job already lets you telecommute or “work from home” every now and then, you’re already half way there.  If it doesn’t, it never hurts to ask.

Work extra hours to save for vacation

If your job offers you flex-time, you can work extra hours to “save up” and then use all those extra hours as part of your vacation days.  For instance, if you worked 9 hour days instead of the normal 8 hours, you’ll have 1 extra “vacation day” after about 2 and a half weeks.  Combine those days with your real vacation days and you’ll be able to take more time off… which means you can explore cities or countries farther away.

Ask for unpaid time off

No one said you have to stick to the number of vacation days your company allows.  If want to take unpaid time off, there’s no harm in asking for it.  One of my friends used to do just this and had no work issues with this ever.  And she was jetting to  India, Jamaica, Aruba – wherever and whenever.  Just be responsible about it.  Work out a plan with your boss and make sure there’s coverage for you while you’re away.

Take a leave of absence

Save your paycheck and take an extended leave from work.  Use that time off to travel the world (or to look for a job with more vacation days) – you’d be amazed how little it takes to travel the world.

Visit a “region” and see more in one trip

With all the strategies above to increase the number of days off you can take at a time, plan your next trip so that you’re visiting a region of the world.  For instance, hit up a few neighboring countries at a time instead of just one country.  Or, spend an extended time really exploring all the major cities in one country.  Below are examples of regions that I’ve explored and the approximate number of days it took:

  • Belize (Belize City, Ambergris Caye): 6 days
  • Panama (Panama City, San Blas Islands): 6 days
  • Germany, Netherlands & France (Cologne, Amsterdam, Paris): 10 days
  • The Baltic (Tallin, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Riga): ~10 days
  • Germany & France (Bavaria & Paris): 14 days
  • Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay & Chile (Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Foz de Iguazu, Montevideo, Santiago, Vina del Mar): ~ 15 days
  • Switzerland, Egypt & Greece (Zurich, Cairo, Aswan, Luxor, Athens, Mykonos, Santorini): ~18 days
  • Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia & Malaysia (Bangkok, Phuket, Krabi, Siem Reap, Kuala Lumpur, Bali): 22 days

The only word of caution if you’re visiting a region is to do your research and (obviously) plan for the type of traveler you are.  I like to see the major sites, get a sense of the culture, and taste the local cuisine.  I’m working full-time so I don’t have the leisure of hanging out in a city for a long time; I’ve got to maximize that airline ticket and the few days I have.  It also helps that I’m not a big museum person nor do I usually shop for souvenirs (unless I’m in Paris) so I don’t need to plan extra days for those activities.  But, you might.  Take all that into consideration when you’re planning.  By the way, if you’re not sure how to plan a trip like this, read this post: How To Plan A Trip In 4 Easy Steps.

There you have it!  I wish I had something more magical to say about optimizing the vacations while working full time, but it just comes down to maximizing your days off and planning your trips so that you’re taking full advantage of your days off.  And back to my original point, if you make traveling a priority, it’s totally doable.  You don’t need take big multi-country trips to see the world; you can start by exploring your own state, country, and neighboring countries.  Happy travels!

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Mark - March 11, 2013 - 4:56 pm

Great post.. didn’t know you went to Belize.. that’s high up on my ‘to scuba’ places!

Just Wanderlust - March 11, 2013 - 11:05 pm

Thanks, Mark. Belize was great. It was a bit more “authentic” than a lot of other places – you should definitely check it out sometime… maybe over a long weekend. 😉

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