My husband and I only get a limited amount of vacation days a year. So we try to be creative and use our annual leave as efficiently as possible. Here’s how we do it (Please don’t let me proudly posing with my file folder scare you off! NO FILE FOLDERS ARE NEEDED).
1.) Travel at Night – You would be surprised at how much time you can save if you travel in the evenings. Grab a quick bite to eat at the airport and then go to bed a little early by sleeping on the plane.
- If you’re flying from East to West, then travel at night and you arrive when it’s still evening. For example when we flew from Washington DC to Las Vegas, we left after a full work day and landed in Vegas at about 9pm Las Vegas time (Midnight DC time) and we immediately went out exploring to see the Las Vegas Strip at night! It was a great time to arrive.
- If you’re flying from West to East, then travel at night by taking a red-eye plane and wake up in a whole new place. If you’re arriving somewhere really, really early then book an inexpensive hotel room for the night before you arrive (send the hotel a message letting them know you’re arriving early in the morning), check in early morning and catch a few hours of zzz’s before all the museums and sites open around 10am. We use this method to fly from Washington DC to Europe.
- You should also try to leave Europe as late in the day as possible. You can still use that travel day for sightseeing. Then you arrive back in the United States at a reasonable hour and can head to bed and start work the next day without missing out on too much sleep.
2.) Travel early in the Morning – Okay, if you can’t travel at night, then it makes sense to book the earliest flight possible to wherever you are going. For one thing, those flights are always cheaper than flights in the middle of the day. Second, I generally don’t have any trouble falling back to sleep on the plane so I don’t feel sleep deprived when I wake up somewhere new (unless my husband steals my travel blanket which is critical to a good plane nap). Third, you can arrive with most of the day left to see things. This is how we travel to the Caribbean from Washington DC. We generally arrive right before lunch time and have a whole afternoon and evening to start exploring.
3.) Take a Cruise – Where else can you go to sleep and wake up every morning in a new country without doing any work? We would never be able to cover as much ground as we do without mixing a cruise or two into our vacation schedule each year. You only need a day to see many of the islands in the Caribbean and it’s so nice not to deal with any travel logistics after you board. We always try to cruise out of places that are closest to the islands we are visiting to reduce the number of “Days at Sea”. Cruising out of places like Miami and San Juan are great because they are so far South to start with. And if it’s a weekend you can usually get a fringe day or two in those places before you board the ship. (For example, this year’s Inauguration week in January, we flew into San Juan early Friday morning. We spent 2 days exploring San Juan. On Sunday evening, we left on a 7-day cruise and saw 5 Caribbean islands and flew home the next Sunday Night. This trip only used 3 days of annual leave for each of us. )
4.) Plan your Stops in a Logical Order – Probably the first thing I do before booking any trips is go on Google Maps and I use the Star (“Save”) feature to mark every stop we plan to make. It is awesome and they stay starred every time I log into Google. The stars help me visualize where everything is located in relation to other stops. Then we plan our route and book our hotels so that we’re doing things in an order that makes sense so that we don’t waste time by having to backtrack. (And then you could print them out all order confirmations, and package them together in chronological order, or maybe that’s just me. 🙂 )
5.) Stay in Hotels Near the Activities you Plan to Do – Yea, it might be more expensive, but we always stay in hotels that are conveniently located. We don’t have time to commute locally from our budget hotel to where the attractions are. And sometimes you end up with a pretty sweet view like the one we had of the Acropolis from our hotel in Athens.
6.) Take Day-Trips/ Excursions – If we have a long list of things to see and don’t want to deal with logistics, we aren’t afraid to do an excursion. A great example is Cosol Tours in St. Lucia. They whisk you around to a ton of sites while your cruise ship is in port. It’s a great way to see a ton and they’re pros so they’ve got the agenda down to clockwork. You can just sit back and relax. We also did a great tour like this in Iceland through Extreme Iceland. The tour lasted for 3 days and we stayed at hotels out in the countryside of Iceland. This let us see more of the beautiful scenery because we weren’t going back and forth to Reykjavik every day.
7.) Don’t Waste Extra days – Some people have the mentality that they flew all the way somewhere and that they need to use all their leave in that same place. We don’t think that way. We’re really not afraid of taking short trips. It’s just not our thing to sit and relax, we have things to do and see. So that means once we’ve seen everything, it’s time to go home. Some places only need 3-4 days and we’re okay with that because we know we need those extra vacation days to see somewhere else. We went to the Atlantis in the Bahamas last year for a 3-day weekend and we saw everything we wanted to see. We also use normal 2 & 3-day weekends to visit our families so that we can use our annual leave for longer distance trips.
8.) Don’t be Afraid to Mix Airports – You don’t have to book round-trip flights into and out of the same airport. We use Orbitz all the time to book multi-city trips. Sometimes it doesn’t affect the price much at all. Depending on where you are going you can waste a lot of time trying to get back to the same airport where you started. For example when we go on a roadtrip of Ireland next year, we’re going to fly into Dublin, road trip the whole North & West Coasts and the fly out of Cork. Going back to Dublin would be more than 3 hours out of our way.
9.) Holidays are Your Best Friend – My husband and I both have jobs that follow the federal holiday calendar. So we put those dates on our calendar every year and those are the dates that we plan our trips around. We may pay a little extra to travel around holidays, but we value time more than money. We do not waste a single 3-day weekend. For example, next year over MLK day, we’re going to Ireland for 9 nights and are only using 4 days of leave. Extra bonus is if you can get your family to meet you in destinations and celebrate the holidays together.
10.) Adjustable Work Schedules – My husband and I are both blessed to sometimes be able to work compressed schedules. This means we fit all 40 hours of our work week into a schedule that’s shorter than a normal 5 day work week. If we are lucky, those extra days off fall around the weekends and holidays, and you’d be amazed at what we can do. Last February we went to Iceland for 6 nights/6 days and didn’t use any leave. We left on Thursday night, had a compressed schedule Friday off, and Monday was a federal holiday, and Tuesday was a compressed day off. When we know those compressed days are going to be on our calendar to extend our weekends, we jump on them.
Hope this is helpful! Just this year we’ve been able to use our leave to go on a 7-day cruise, Iceland, a 24-day honeymoon to Europe, Las Vegas for a long weekend, and we’re finishing up the year with trips to Colorado Springs and the Christmas Markets in Germany. All of this plus we’ve gotten to see our families several times too. Happy Traveling!
(Note, cover image came from Google Maps. I just love their “Star” feature!)