It can be hard to travel when you work full-time. Especially if you're American.

After all, the United States is the world's only advanced economy that does not require employers to provide paid vacation time. Thanks, (rampant, unchecked) capitalism.

However it is still possible to travel with limited paid time off. During my first year of working full-time, I only took off 15 days. In that time, I squeezed in trips to Jordan, Nicaragua, Las Vegas, and several trips around Colorado.

Here are some of my tried-and-true tips for traveling as often as possible while working full-time.

1. Extend a long weekend.

How to travel more when you work full-time

President's Day weekend in Mexico City

If you have Monday off for a national holiday, extend your long weekend by taking off Friday or Tuesday (or both!). That way you will have a three- or four-day vacation, which is plenty of time for a trip – even an international trip.

How I did it: I had Monday off for President's Day, so I also took off Friday. This allowed me to spend three glorious days in Mexico City.

2. Add a few days onto a work trip.

How to travel more when you work full-time

Champagne-tasting in Napa on Monday before a conference in San Francisco on Tuesday. Wine not?

If you're going to a conference, take a day off before or after. Odds are you won't have much time to sight-see during the conference, so it's nice to have an extra day to explore.

How I did it: My former company sent me to a conference in San Francisco. So I took Monday off and spent it winery-hopping in Napa and Sonoma, and then spent the rest of the week at the conference.

3. Travel over the holidays.

How to travel more when you work full-time

Thanksgiving in Nicaragua

Though it can be tough to be away from family over the holidays, taking a vacation during the holidays is a great way to maximize vacation days. For example, if you have off Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving, you can take off Monday through Wednesday to have the whole week off.

One caveat – flight prices are often higher over the holidays, so book as far in advance as possible.

Related: How to Plan an Awesome but Inexpensive Trip Abroad

How I did it: My last company gave us Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving. So I took off Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and spent the week in Nicaragua.

4. Travel somewhere for the weekend within driving distance.

How to travel more when you work full-time

Hanging out in Breckenridge, Colorado, one of my favorite ski towns.

You don't have to go far to travel! All you have to do is road-trip to a nearby town for the weekend. There is nothing better than cramming your friends into a house to cook, drink, and hang, even if you're only a town away.

Pro tip – rent an Airbnb. Airbnb rentals can be inexpensive when you split the cost between 10 or more people. Plus, you can cook your meals at home, which saves money.

Bonus – here's a $40 Airbnb coupon code for your next stay!

How I did it: When I lived in Colorado, my friends and I took tons of weekend trips to places like Wyoming, Breckenridge, Aspen, and Telluride. For weekend trips, I recommend driving somewhere less than three hours away if you only have a two-day weekend.

5. See where your local airport flies direct.

How to travel when you work full-time

A five-day trip to Iceland over Memorial Day weekend

Everyone knows that direct flights are (obviously) less hassle. But they're also usually cheaper.

Pro-tip – you can use Google Flights to see where your airport flies direct. In the “Where from?' box, type in your local airport. In the “Where to?' box, input a region or continent, i.e. Central America or Europe.

Underneath in the ‘Stops' menu, select non-stop. How to travel abroad when you work full-time

Google Flights will then generate a map of where you can fly direct.

How to travel abroad when you work full-time

As you can see, Denver flies direct to four airports in Europe:

  • Reykjavík, Iceland
  • London, UK
  • Frankfurt, Germany
  • Munich Germany

Flying direct saves you money, time, and headache. To see more of my tips on getting cheap flights, check out my Travel Resources.

How I did it: I used Google Flights to find direct flights from my home airport, which is how I found out Denver flies direct to Iceland. This allowed me to spend five days road-tripping in Iceland.

6. Try to fly somewhere (somewhat) close.

Roman ruins in Jerash, Jordan

Somewhere not like Jordan, ha

When you have limited vacation time, it’s easier to fly somewhere close. This is due to several factors: time, jet lag, and cost.

If you only have two weeks, don’t fly twenty hours to Thailand and spend your vacation popping melatonin. Head to somewhere closer that offers a similar experience, like Belize or Nicaragua.

How I did this (poorly): Two years ago, I flew to Jordan for an eight-day trip. While I had a fantastic time, I was absolutely wrecked after my trip – the jet lag was brutal.

7. If you do want to travel somewhere far, save up all your days.

What to eat and drink in Paris

My big trip to Paris and London

If you really want to go to, let’s say, New Zealand, save up all your days for one big trip. This way you’ll have plenty of time to explore your dream destination as well as recover from the jet lag.

How I did it: I wanted to spend two full weeks in Europe, so I didn't take much time off before that. Then I was able to spend two guilt-free weeks in France, Belgium, and England.

8. Get shit done at work. 

This is possibly the most important tip on the list. Work hard and become known in the office as a high-performer. If your boss and coworkers know you get shit done, they won't bat an eye when you take a few days off.


A few other job-related tips:

Look for a company that offers flexible paid-time off (PTO).

Flexible PTO means that you can take paid-time off as long as it's approved by your manager. When I worked in marketing for a tech company in Colorado, I took off 25-30 days a year.

More and more companies are offering flexible PTO (especially tech companies), so while you're job-hunting, keep that in mind.

Related: How to Find a Job after Traveling

Negotiate your paid time off before signing your contract.

Stress that it's a priority – many companies will be willing to meet in the middle.

Check into your company’s policy about remote work

Working remotely is another great way to extend your time in a destination.

9-5ers – how do you manage travel and working full-time? What are some of your tips for others trying to do so?

Note – this article was originally published in May, 2017, but didn't go out to my RSS or email subscribers so I decided to republish it. 

Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is an American travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Uganda. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Colorado. She's been to forty countries but somehow still gets lost in her home town. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour magazine.
Ashley Fleckenstein
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