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Like millions of others, I have been plotting my round-the-world journey and absolute cultural immersion for years.

Sometimes, a lengthy trip just isn’t possible. For various reasons (family commitments, financial priorities and other responsibilities), you may end up working a 9-to-5 gig. This means you are given a few fleeting vacation days off a year, often amounting to just two weeks. That’s 14 days out of 365 you can dedicate to venturing into the unknown.

Deciding how to use those days can be quite the challenge for those who equally love their careers and also love to travel. Having dealt with that situation numerous times myself, I’ve managed to figure out the best ways to stretch your vacation days into a full-blown adventure.

Pamplona
Pamplona © Lola Akinmade

#1: First Decide How to Spend Those 14 days

Do you want to take two (2) longer stints or four (4) short city breaks? Do you want to travel halfway across the world, or just hop over the Atlantic?

Choosing how to allocate those days is based on your individual travel style and travel goals for the year. A reasonable travel goal could be this: You want to volunteer in Nicaragua, experience San Fermin (Running of the Bulls) in Pamplona, and take a city break to Krakow, Poland before the end of the year.

Remember: You may also want to save a few days for when you are summoned by family for Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

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#2: Yes, Do Travel Around Holidays

By traveling around holidays twice or thrice a year, it allows you to make the most out of your allocated days.

Planning your trips around holidays means you can save vacation days.

For example, if you want to travel to Spain and spend 9-10 days, leaving on a Friday evening and returning the following weekend, with Monday being a holiday in-between means that you will travel for 10 days but only take four (4) work vacation days. This leaves you with a balance of eight (8) vacation days.

By traveling around holidays twice or thrice a year, it allows you to make the most out of your allocated days.

#3: Have Flexible Travel Plans

You can argue that airfare prices might be higher around holidays. By picking holidays that fall around or flank the international travel off-season (for example, Memorial Day weekend in May or Labor Day weekend in September), you will find reasonable prices.

For travelers intently seeking cheap vacations, this means watching for low fares and being able to travel on a whim. Airlines such as United and Delta send out regular emails with loads of international airfare sales.

Warsaw, Poland
Warsaw, Poland © Lola Akinmade

#4: For Short City Breaks, Use Budget Airlines to Cut Costs

Four or five day city breaks mean leaving mid-week (for example, on a Wednesday evening) and returning on a Sunday (or Monday if it is a holiday). This means you take only two vacation days off (Thursday and Friday), but use up your weekend as well.

For example, if you want to travel to Dublin or Edinburgh for a short break, flying to a larger hub like London will be much cheaper than directly to your destination. From London, you can hop on one of the many budget airlines like Easy Jet and Ryan Air which run roundtrip fares as low as 20 pounds ($40). If you’ve already looked into cheap travel insurance then you’ll be making a huge saving.

These budget airlines also fly to many cities in Europe such as Sofia, Bulgaria and Poznan, Poland so your city break options are limitless.

#5: Traveling to Farther Destinations Like Asia or South America on Only 12 Days

A short break to Buenos Aires or Tokyo seems very unrealistic; however, don’t strike them off your list just yet. Try focusing on one activity, event or festival when traveling to farther destinations.

If your goal is to go hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, you can take a 10-day longer stint (weekends included of course!) and visit Peru for this specific purpose. You can also visit Cuzco or nearby cities as a daytrip.

#6: Use Time Differences to Your Advantage

If you travel eastwards to Europe from the US, you will move ahead a couple hours. If you travel westwards to Central and South America, you will fall behind a few hours. So returning from Europe on a holiday Monday means you arrive on the same day. This obviously does not count towards your vacation days.

When traveling to South America, you will arrive on the same day you depart, which means you will not lose any additional days.

Nicaragua
Nicaragua © Lola Akinmade

#7: Volunteer Internationally

You can still get to off-beaten locations and paths by volunteering for 7-12 days (including weekends) with international organizations that operate in less touristy locations. You can work at an orphanage in a remote part of Central America or work with school children in Cambodia.

GlobeAware offers short-term (one week) volunteer opportunities that focus on cultural awareness and sustainability. This will focus your trip by allowing you to interact with the locals, and give you a real insight into their way of life and customs.

#8: Explore Your Own Backyard

Whether it is visiting Chinatown in San Francisco or learning more about Native American culture in the Southwest, you can still immerse yourself in culture without leaving the country. (Tim Patterson wrote an excellent article on the topic of local travel)

Overall, nothing beats extended travel and total immersion. As an avid traveler myself, I operate under that school of thought. Until you get to that point personally, you can still work with what you have.

25 Responses

  1. Hal

    Great tips, Lola! I played the weekend/holiday buffer game all the time at my office job in Korea. Was able to visit something like 5 or 6 different countries in less than 2 years, plus explore most of the peninsula.

    Reply
  2. Scott

    I like #5.

    I’m already planning a 5 day weekend trip to visit Tikal and Tikal only. It allows me to visit the site for two days and three days for getting to and from there from Belize City. It won’t take that long but gives times for travel delays. If I have an extra day to poke around Belize City before I go home, so much the better

    Reply
  3. Lola

    Thanks guys. I still work a 9-5 and have to appease the wanderlust somehow.

    Reply
  4. Christopher Culver

    Considering that most of the developed world gives you a lot more vacation days than the 14 mentioned here, I’m unhappy to see such an American-centric article. I stumbled across Vagabondish and enjoy some aspects of it, but is it focusing on just US readers?

    Reply
  5. Lola

    Christopher – That’s actually the point.

    People in other countries get a lot more time to travel whereas the average for Americans is only 2 weeks per year, which makes it difficult to travel.

    Given the fact that Americans have also been criticized for not traveling enough, this article hopes to help them work with what they have.

    Reply
  6. Chris Cook

    And of course don’t forget about heading to those countries that are still relativly cheap such as Croatia or Poland…how about Thailand. And what about not even choosing a destination but let the cheapest flight you can find on a search do it for you. Maybe pick a country or continent and just find the most inexpensive airport to fly into. If you’ve never been before, its an adventure.

    Reply
  7. LordHox

    I agree #3 is good to be flexible, but like many others have commented sometimes those breaks from work just do not allow us the flexibility. Good luck everyone in your future travels.

    Reply
  8. La Digue

    I’ve worked too much since the past years and have hardly found the time to travel. Now, with limited time i know what to do thanks to your tips. I will definitely consider vacations this time round even if it is for a week….

    Reply
  9. Marina K. Villatoro

    Hey excellent post there. A perfect article for the people who are quite busy with their schedules. Hoping to get more of these and keep up the good work!

    Reply
  10. Mike

    Now that I live in the States, I’d probably want to explore this vast country. I have some vacation ideas for the kids too. Maybe Globeaware would be good when they are a bit older.

    Reply
  11. Laurie

    I highly recommend #7. I volunteered at an orphanage in Rabat, Morocco last year. Working alongside locals every day is a great way to get immersed in and learn about another culture. Also, I made friends with fellow volunteers from around the globe and we had the opportunity to travel together to other places in Morocco. I went with Cross Cultural Solutions (CCS), which I recommend.

    Reply
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  13. Catherine

    Great post. I prefer having multiple short breaks – more to look forward to in the year. Great tips, thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  14. suki

    Great post, Lola! I definitely make the most of my vacation days by taking time off around holidays or weekends. :) Thankfully there’s sooo much to see/do within driving distance or a short weekend jaunt.

    Reply
  15. Sarita

    Awesome post and lots of great tips.
    I try to plan my vacation around bank holidays, just to be able to stay longer without having to use up my holiday allowance.
    Living in England I make the most of using budget airlines like easyjet and ryanair. If you keep your eye out they too have super cheap deals and that on top of the already cheap prices.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  16. Katie Martin

    It is definitely a shame how few vacation days we get in America- and that is only considering if you work a job that offers vacation benefits. These are great tips though. What is the easiest way to find cheap budget airlines? I find that in America it can be difficult to find affordable flights from anyone, and searching for different countries can be a bit daunting.
    Also, just a quick notion- how does volunteering extend your vacation? I understand that it gives you a different perspective on your trip from just relaxing, and gives you an opportunity to help the local community, but I don’t really think it does anything to help extend your available travel time.

    Reply
  17. Linda

    I’ve found going to the same place by a different way also helps with showing another side of life. I tried a canal boat trip in our local area and saw sights I never knew existed!

    Reply
  18. Jack Martin

    Nice tips. Yeah with only a few weeks of vacation a year, we’ve turned to more In Your Own Backyard types of vacations, because you save a lot of time with less travel.

    Reply
  19. Peter

    Yeah with only a few weeks of vacation a year, we’ve turned to more In Your Own Backyard types of vacations, because you save a lot of time with less travel.

    Reply

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