Woman standing on a beach facing the ocean wearing a hat

10 Ways to Maximise Your Vacation Days and Travel More With a 9-to-5 Job

“I quit my job to travel the world!”

How many times have you read a version of this story online? Sure, it’s an exciting narrative, but it just isn’t realistic for most people. Plus, it perpetuates the idea that you have to ditch your 9-to-5, sell all your belongings, and live on the road full-time to see the world. 

Spoiler alert: you don’t have to set off on a year-long backpacking trip or start working as a digital nomad to travel frequently! Yes, finding time to gallivant around the globe can be challenging when you have a “regular” job and a measly two weeks of vacation, but it’s definitely doable — especially when you start getting strategic about how and when you use your paid time off.

If you’re keen to maximise your vacation days, we’ve got 10 tips to help you hack your paid time off and travel more while holding down a day job.

Palm trees alongside a path with two hammocks
It’s still possible to make your travel dreams come true with limited vacation time | © Cristofer Jeschke/Unsplash

1. Plan vacations around holidays

Okay, so this one may seem obvious, but it’s easily one of the best ways to maximise your vacation days without eating into your PTO. Most holidays fall on Fridays or Mondays in North America, which means you only need to use four paid days to get a full week off. You can make the most of those holidays that happen to fall mid-week, too; just book off the two days immediately following the holiday for a five-day break.

Now, this strategy does come with one caveat: travelling around major holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas can be a nightmare when it comes to crowds, queues, and skyrocketing flight prices. If you’re willing to travel ON the holiday itself, however, you can score a great airfare deal and preserve your sanity in the process.

2. Fit two weekends in during your time off

If you plan it right, it’s totally possible to take a nine-day holiday and only use five paid vacation days — just make sure two weekends fall during your time off! For example, if you book a trip from Saturday to the following Sunday, you’ll get nine consecutive days worth of travel — four of which fall on the weekend. And, if there happens to be a holiday during that time, you can take a nine-day trip using only four paid days off. 

A pair of sunglasses sitting atop three books with a beach, lounge chairs, and umbrellas in the background
Be sure to leverage existing holiday weekends when planning your travels for the year | © Link Hoang/Unsplash

3. Stay (somewhat) close to home

We get it: you want to travel to all the far-flung destinations of your dreams when you have time off. But, in some cases (read: when you can only take a week off) spending a full day travelling to your destination — and then recovering from the awful jetlag afterwards — isn’t the best way to maximise that week-long holiday.

If you live in New York and you’re dying to visit the palm-fringed islands of the South Pacific, why not consider dreamy islands that are just as exotic but also a little closer to home, like Panama’s San Blas Islands or Isla Holbox in Mexico instead? Live in Australia and want to take a ski holiday in North America? New Zealand’s South Island is a great — and easily accessible — alternative.

4. Perfect the art of the long weekend trip

Leveraging long weekends is crucial when you’re working with limited vacation time. When you tack a day or two onto a weekend, you’ve got yourself a three or four-day trip — and although it may seem not seem like much, you can see and do a lot in that timeframe.

Destinations within driving distance are always a safe bet for a long weekend getaway, but don’t be afraid to head a bit further afield as well. Travel search engines like Kayak feature a flight duration filter, so you can narrow down your options to cities that are only a short flight away.

A pair of aviator sunglasses beside a pool
Even a short break is hugely beneficial to your wellbeing and mental health | © David Lezcano/Unsplash

5. Turn a business trip into a mini getaway (or tag along on someone else’s)

Already travel for work? A business trip is a great excuse to plan a short-but-sweet vacation at the same time. Add an extra day to the beginning or end of your trip, or see if you can extend your trip into the weekend and spend Saturday and Sunday exploring the sights. Even an extra day or two means you can plan your own adventure and get more out of your time away.

Don’t have the opportunity to travel for work? Chances are you know someone who does! Whether it’s your partner, a friend, or your second cousin, ask if they could use some company on their business trip and see if you can tag along. You’ll have to stay busy while they’re at their conference or event, but you can also crash at their hotel for free and make a fun trip of it.

6. Choose your flight times wisely

I think we can all agree that red-eye flights aren’t fun, but if you learn to love them, you can squeeze even more out of every last vacation day.

When you’re booking your trip, opt for an overnight flight after your last day of work before your vacation officially starts. This way, you’ll arrive at your holiday destination on the morning of your first full day off (without wasting half a day in transit).

The bottom line? If you’re willing to suffer through (or if you can actually manage to catch some z’s on) a red-eye flight, you’ll be able to fall asleep in your departure city and wake up in your vacation spot — so don’t overlook those late-night departure times when searching for flight options!

View of an airplane wing from the window with a pink sky in the background
Book a red-eye flight to cut down on transit time and make the most of shorter trips | © s-o-c-i-a-l-c-u-t/Unsplash

7. Don’t try to pack too much in 

Less is more when it comes to maximising your weekend getaways and ten-day holidays. You won’t be able to see and do all the things, and trying to cram too much in is a surefire way to feel overwhelmed by your itinerary and even more exhausted than when you left. Stick to one or two places and schedule in enough time to actually relax, sleep in, and do absolutely nothing.

8. Spread your vacation days throughout the year

There’s nothing wrong with splitting your vacation time into two longer holiday stints, but if you want to feel like you’re travelling more, it’s best to spread your PTO between multiple mini vacations throughout the year. The upside of taking several short holidays is that you’ll always have something to look forward to!

Man laying on a deck with a lantern overlooking water
Remember to carve out time in your itinerary to relax and do nothing | © Nick Karvounis/Unsplash

9. Make the most of every minute when you’re travelling

Time is precious when you’re travelling — especially when vacation days are scarce. To ensure you’re making the most of every minute while you’re away, keep these tips in mind when you’re in vacation-planning mode:

  • Cut down on travel time by choosing the shortest flight time and book non-stop flights wherever possible.
  • Do your research and plan ahead so you don’t waste precious time flipping through guidebooks or trying to figure out how to navigate a transit system.
  • Travel during off-peak times to take advantage of cheaper prices and fewer crowds.
  • Book centrally-located accommodations so you spend more time exploring and less time commuting.
  • Decide which attractions and experiences are most important to you, and then prioritise those when planning your itinerary.
  • If you want to hit multiple destinations in one trip but you’re short on time, consider booking an extended layover in an airline’s hub city (like Reykjavik if you’re flying with Iceland Air) on your way back home.

10. See if it’s possible to negotiate more vacation time

If all else fails, get creative and try to finagle a few extra holiday days for your next adventure. Can you use a personal day or family day for travel in addition to your paid vacation days? Are you able to take unpaid leave? Can you earn comp time in exchange for working late, attending a conference, or volunteering for a work event? Would you be willing to request more paid days off in lieu of a pay raise? Is it possible to work on a holiday in exchange for a “floating holiday” that you can use whenever you please? Can you request to work remotely?

These options won’t be possible with every job, but there’s no harm in asking!

Woman standing on a beach facing the ocean wearing a hat
Just because you have limited vacation time doesn’t mean you can’t try to negotiate more | © Jens Kreuter/Unsplash

How do you make the most of your vacation time? Share your tips and tricks in the comments!

Ashley is a Content Editor at TourRadar. When she’s not writing, travelling, or obsessively checking flight prices on Skyscanner, you can find her attempting to fine-tune her photography skills or watching a shark documentary.

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