6 Ways to Take Time off Work to Travel Without Using Vacation Days

If I count my sick days I get three weeks of paid vacation each year.  That’s not entirely awful, especially in the U.S., but it’s far from great.  Subtract the obligatory two weeks for Easter and Christmas holidays with family and I’m left with just one week.  One week to see and experience all the places I want in a year.  I need a week to write up the list of places to visit, let alone actually travel to all of them.  For someone who loves to travel as much as I do, having only one week per year for adventuring won’t cut it.

So how do you take time off work to travel without using vacation time?

The obvious answer is quit your job.  There are plenty of people out there who make a living traveling full time that can help you figure out how.  I’m not one of those people.  Sorry.  Maybe I will be someday but not today.

Assuming you don’t plan on quitting your job, how then do you take time off to travel without using vacation days?  The answer depends on how you answer another question – how much is travel worth to you?

There are quite a few ways to take time off work without using vacation days but they require extra effort on your part.  It’s a work hard play hard type situation.  You probably have more flexibility in your current job than you realize but flexibility doesn’t mean there’s less work to do.  If you’re willing to put in the extra effort to make your travel dreams a reality then read on.

Here are 6 ways to take time off work without using vacation days:

1. Have a baby

Whether you’re a mother or father, American corporations are starting to catch on about parental leave.  In the U.S., under FMLA, new parents are entitled to 12 weeks of leave in a 12 month period for the birth or adoption of a child.  While that’s awful compared to the rest of the world that’s way better than only three weeks of annual vacation.  Realistically you won’t be pumping out a child every time you want to vacation but the 12 weeks are certainly something to take advantage of.  By 8 weeks your little one should be a good candidate for travel, leaving you with a month of play time.  I carted Giota all over Washington State at two months old and we had a blast.

2. Volunteer

Corporate social responsibility has become a big deal these days and a lot of companies offer time off to volunteer in the community.  At my current job I’ve got four full days per year – almost a whole week! – to devote to a cause of my choosing.  Why not lump the days in with a weekend and travel somewhere new to do those hours?  There are plenty of programs like Habitat for Humanity that make it easy.  Four days of volunteering plus a weekend should give you a good taste of wherever you choose to go.  Even if your company doesn’t have a formal volunteer program, pitch your boss on how beneficial community outreach would be to your development and the company’s brand.  Guilt them into letting you go if you have to – it’s hard to say no to needy children.

3. Switch to a compressed work week

Some industries like nursing and manufacturing do this from the get go.  The days are long but the three to four day weekends are a huge perk.  It’s amazing how much more traveling you can squeeze in by adding a day or two to your trips.  I did this unofficially while I was interning one summer during college and it was the best.  I’d crank out a week’s worth of work in four days and use my three day weekends to tour the parts of New England I’d never seen.  (As any born New Englander can attest – anything further than 10 minutes away is considered a long drive so despite everything being so close together by normal people’s standards, native New Englanders rarely see the entire Northeast despite living there for most of their lives.)  So long as the work is getting done, your employer may be open to more flexible scheduling options.

4. Trade weekends for week days

If your manager cares more about what you deliver than when you actually work you may be able to exchange a weekend’s worth of work for some week days off.  On call hours are a great bargaining chip when it comes to haggling.  Uneventful on call hours are even better – you can knock out chores at home and have a perfectly clean house when it comes time to cash in on those extra earned days of freedom.  If you’re in an IT type role you may have better luck with this.

5. Take unpaid leave

Nobody really likes this option because it requires foregoing your paycheck but this gets back to the original question – how much is travel worth to you?  By taking unpaid leave you’re significantly increasing the cost of your trip – not only do you need to pay for your transportation, lodging, and food, you also have to include the income you’re giving up to go.  It’s far from ideal but if you’re offered the trip of a lifetime it may be worth it.  I’ll admit I have yet to take any kind of unpaid leave but working in HR, I know that orchestrating a leave usually requires an inordinate amount of paperwork.  Many companies frown on taking leave “just to travel” so be sure to sell your trip as a development opportunity and if possible, demonstrate how the trip will ultimately make you a better employee.

6. Work remotely

Alright so this one isn’t really taking time off of work but it IS taking time off from your commute.  How much time per day do you spend commuting to and from the office?  If you’re in the Bay Area like us then anything under thirty minutes is a certified miracle.  Working remotely gives you the option of traveling to a destination for a longer period of time, having fun instead of commuting, and the luxury of spending several weekends in a place instead of one.  Telecommuting is rapidly becoming the norm with webcams and Wifi, especially in the tech sector.  Take advantage of it – crash at a friend’s place in another city and enjoy some back to back weekends exploring somewhere new.

Until we start demanding more vacation time as a society, finding time to travel will continue to be a challenge.  In the meantime it’s important to creatively managing your time and build a strong relationship with your manager.  The more your manager likes you, the more flexibility you’ll have when it comes to your work schedule.  Remember it takes months to build the trust with your manager that provides you the greatest scheduling freedom and only one flub to ruin it all.  If your job accommodates your travel schedule then show your appreciation by maintaining your status as a rock star employee.


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