I could practically hear the thoughts and see the pity spreading across the faces of our new friends. My fiancé and I had landed in Cartagena just a few hours earlier and ventured into the balmy night air for a drink to celebrate our arrival in Colombia. As is often the case with travel, it took little more than a ‘Club Colombia’ cerveza and a smile before we found ourselves huddled around a table, elbow-to-elbow with fellow travelers hailing from around the globe.
While conversations in New York often begin with questions of job title, living location and education, these backpackers cared only to learn where we’d been, where we were going and how long we’d be on the road. Two of the girls had come from Germany and were on the last leg of a multi-country backpacking tour of South America, one of the guys was a sun-kissed surfer who was making his way down from Costa Rica to catch the best waves, while yet another was a soccer enthusiast hailing from Italy; we listened intently as our new found companions shared stories of treks through Brazil, adventures in Peru and surfing in Panama. Our table looked like a veritable United Nations convention with my fiancé and I representing the overworked, over-stressed Americans comically clinging to our 7 days (a mere 168 hours) of vacation time.
Having been bitten by the travel bug and struck with an insatiable wanderlust, we have made it our goal to turn our lives upside-down, break routine, leave New York and travel the world in 2016 for more than seven days at a time. Our dream, appropriately dubbed The Pin the Map Project, will eventually take us from the less-than-glamorous stage of saving money to the spiritual backdrop of Nepal, savory streets of Vietnam and temples of Cambodia.
But what started as an idea to travel the world became a balancing act between planning for the future and living in the present by finding ways to satisfy our love of travel while holding 9-5 jobs. Lacking a bottomless trust fund and endless vacation time, we became savvy to tricks and tips to make the most of our time off. Consider this your guide.
#1: Learn to Work With What You Have
19 days. Out of 365 days a year, I have 19 days with which I can escape the monotony of the corporate world and indulge in my love of travel. While 19 days may seem like a measly number to some, when that time is combined with the 16 company holidays my agency provides I am working with 35 days available for travel.
I’m often asked how I find the time to take a trip and the trick is to make the most of your time off and use your vacation days wisely. Pull out your calendar and mark off the company holidays your employer gives you, then look for how you can extend those holidays into a decent sized trip. Rather than using 10 vacation days at once, you can tack on less days to a holiday weekend while still saving days for future travel opportunities in the year!
#2: Think Like a Travel Agent & Learn to Sleep on Planes
Looking at the calendar, you realize if you add 3 vacation days to that 4-day holiday weekend you already have, you can take a week-long trip. It sounds like a great deal until you look up flight prices and find that the only affordable destination is one city over.
Save big by learning to sleep on planes and opting for red-eye flights. In short: plan to travel when most people simply don’t want to.
Planning how to use your time off is just one part of the equation. The other half is being savvy with flight prices and when to plan your travel. As a rule of thumb, flights that depart on Tuesdays or Wednesdays are less expensive and can save you hundreds of dollars vs. leaving on a Friday or Thursday evening.
Similarly, learning to sleep on planes and opting for red-eye flights can shave dollars off airfare with the bonus of arriving at your destination early in the morning and not sacrificing half a day to travel. In short: plan to travel when most people simply don’t want to.
Tip: February and March tend to be the cheapest months to travel, so research long weekends like President’s Day weekend to extend into a decent length trip. Similarly, holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve will always prove expensive travel times so focus on smaller bank holidays and always begin monitoring flights in advance! Flight prices—like the stock market—fluctuate each day and sites like Kayak.com will show the trend in price and help you predict the best time to make a purchase.
#3: Snag More Vacation Time
With family, out-of-town visitors and weddings, sometimes vacation time needs to be reserved for social commitments rather than exotic destinations. If your allotted PTO isn’t sufficient to feed your wanderlust, then speak with your company’s Human Resources team about ways to earn more vacation time or take unpaid days off. Some companies allow employees to accrue vacation time over the year, while some employers will allow unpaid time off so long as your work is covered.
#4: Explore Company Travel Programs
With offices around the world, my agency has implemented a program that gives employees the opportunity to “swap” with a co-worker of a similar job title from another global office. This company swap program gives everyone the chance to temporarily live in a different country, learn a new language and experience a new culture without sacrificing their position, title or income.
Most large companies with international offices have a variation of this program in an effort to increase global connectivity. So if living abroad piques your interest, speak with Human Resources about eligibility for your company’s swap program.
While I spend more time than I’d like to admit perusing travel deals online, the fact of the matter is that buying a last minute flight and slapping together an exotic trip is not always affordable. In times like these, when visions of Belize are dancing across my mind, I look for weekend getaways or day trips near New York City to quench my wanderlust.
Beyond the glass skyscrapers, packed avenues and crowded subways of the city rest the Catskill Mountains, beaches along the Atlantic coastline and charming towns just a train or bus ride away. While venturing to local destinations might not offer the same allure of visiting a seaside city in South America, changing up my scenery from the Concrete Jungle to scenic mountain views gives me a respite from routine, work and the city.
#6: Get a Trip on the Books
You’re dreaming of Southeast Asia, lamenting your cubicle and longingly scanning flights for affordable options—sometimes the spark of wanderlust is fanned into a fire that can’t be satisfied with a day trip to the beach. When that happens, plan a trip! Having a vacation on the horizon — whether it’s a month or 6 months away — gives you something to plan, research and get excited about.
Thanks to laptops, e-mail and smartphones, most work can be done anywhere with a strong internet connection and an outlet. If you work for an international company, speak with HR about working from one of their global offices or explore opportunities to work remotely short term.
Although setting up camp on a beach and working from Aruba for a year may be far-fetched, if you are traveling abroad and want to extend your trip by a few days, some employers may prove flexible in letting you work remotely.
#8: Make Travel Your Priority
Like most things in life it is not enough to want to travel, you have to turn action into words and choose to fuel your passion of globetrotting. Whether that means saving money by relinquishing happy hour or giving up a holiday to see the world, deciding to make travel your priority will start to frame how you spend your money and manage your time while balancing a 9-5 career.