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How we find time to travel (and how you can, too!)

“Where are you guys off to next? It seems like you’re always traveling!”

I hear that a lot. Too much. From some, it’s genuine. From others, however, it’s condescending. Judgmental. Snide.

I’m not always sure what they’re implying. Perhaps they think we’re all play and no work? Or maybe they think we blow all our money on travel and have nothing in the bank? Although neither of these assumptions could be further from the truth, I think what people are really saying is …

“I wish I could find time to travel as much as you guys!”

Ah, if only they would just come out and say it! Then I could tell them the great news — they can!

My husband and I both work full-time and still manage to travel the world. I’m here to help you do so, too. Having a family, a mortgage, and a career doesn’t have to be a travel dream killer. If we’ve managed to see more than 20 countries each, then you can, too! Here are some of the time-saving tactics we use to maximize our time to travel:

1.) See more than just one country at a time.

During our trip to Belize this summer, we also hit up Mexico and Guatemala since we were in the neighborhood.

During our trip to Belize this summer, we also hit up Mexico and Guatemala since we were in the neighborhood.

Most Americans only have two weeks available for vacation each year (and most don’t even use it!). If you’re from Europe, well, good for you. Most of our trips are just two weeks long. Although we don’t want to pack too much in (let’s face it, you’ll never see everything), we do try to see and do as much as possible in a country or region during the limited time we have. If we’re visiting a region of smaller countries, we try to visit more than one country. Other times, we spend two full weeks in one country, but travel around that country as much as possible.  For two weeks, we mean business.

2.) Buy an extra week of vacation time.
If you can afford it, take an unpaid week of vacation time every few years. Although this will not usually be necessary, it can be a useful approach if you are visiting a region that is quite expensive to reach (i.e. the U.S. to New Zealand) and you are unlikely to ever travel there again. We have done this before, though it’s not something we plan to make a habit of. It has helped us be able to take our annual two week trip, as well as to spend a week visiting my parents at a later point in the year. Just remember as you are planning your travel budget for the coming year, calculate in the amount of money you will be losing from taking an unpaid week. This way you will make sure you do not over-spend on your trip if you really cannot afford to.

3.) Broaden your definition of travel.

We live less than two hours from New York City -- one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world!

We live less than two hours from New York City — one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world!

Stop defining travel in terms of how many miles your destination is from your home or whether or not you can only get there by flying. Travel is about exploration, adventure, and learning — and you can experience that just down the street from your house. Be a local tourist. Our home base is New England — one of America’s most beautiful regions. We have it all — beautiful coastline, beaches, historic sites, and stunning wilderness. No matter where you live, there are places waiting to be discovered and explored. We just have to learn not to turn our nose up at them just because they are close to home!

4.) Use your 3-day weekends wisely.


The key to cramming in some quality travel over a three day weekend is to plan in advance. Do you plan to fly or drive? How long will that take, and what will the holiday weekend traffic be like? Leave the night before your holiday begins, if possible. Take advantage of flight deals offered by some airlines like Southwest. You may end up finding it’s not that much more expensive to fly somewhere farther away than it is to drive somewhere close. Use these long weekends to travel to places you couldn’t reach on a normal weekend.

5.) Invite family and friends to join you on your travels.
One drawback to traveling on the weekends is it diminishes your opportunity to spend time with your friends and family. Often it can feel like you have to choose between your two loves — travel and people! Why not bring them with you? Make it a group event. Split gas money. Book an apartment, suite, or large camp site and share the cost. Cook together at your accommodations rather than going out to eat. Bring beer with you rather than going out for drinks. This not only allows you to travel and socialize — but it also saves you money!

6.) Try expat life for awhile.


This option isn’t for everyone. As you know, we recently relocated to China, where we’ll be living for the next year. We’re able to do this because of Justin’s job. If your current job does not provide you with this opportunity, there are plenty of jobs that will. Try teaching English overseas for a few years. Or, is there a way you can perform your job remotely? If you really want the experience of living overseas, get creative and be willing to make the sacrifices required to make it happen.

7.) Leverage business travel opportunities.


Does your job provide you with opportunity to travel? Lucky you! Consider staying through the weekend and paying your own lodging to allow yourself time to explore. Is your job sending you to a country you might not otherwise have the opportunity to visit? Consider taking your spouse! This way you both get to explore the destination, but at less than half the cost in terms of airfare, food, and lodging! Last year, we were able to travel to Spain because of Justin’s job and it cost us 1/3 of what it would if we had gone on our own!

8.) Combine holidays with your vacation time.
Pretty much every country offers holiday weeks or long-weekends. Take advantage of this free time off and combine it with a vacation day or two. Turn your three-day weekend into a four or five-day getaway. Or, plan your trip during a time when you get a holiday off so that you save one vacation day for a future trip. If you get a week off from work at Christmas and New Year’s, why not take your two weeks of vacation time, combine it with your holiday, and give yourself a three week trip?

Finding time to travel doesn’t have to mean abandoning the rest of your life to do nothing but travel. These tips, combined with some tricks of your own, will help you maximize your opportunities to travel.

Although we used to find ourselves pining to just travel the whole world in one go, we’re finding that desire has waned. We’re learning we prefer to travel in smaller doses. We actually like being home. We like having a routine. We like knowing that there are endless places out there that we have yet to explore. It gives us something to look forward to.

Travel at your own pace. Travel to your own places. But don’t let time be an excuse not to travel at all.

What ways have you found to make the most of your limited time to travel?

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35 comments

  1. I would say it’s a better idea to plan your vacation destination in advance. If I am going to visit one place I always make sure to visit nearby countries if they are not much far. Because going vacation is not cheap and I believe it is better to visit nearby places on the one go.

  2. Travelling with friends is something I do a lot of. Just make sure they are the they are the friends you can travel with. Not all friends stay that way if you travel together!

    • Ellen
      Author

      We certainly do! I’m always amazed at how much there is to see and do close to home if you just take the time to look and get over the stigma.

    • Ellen
      Author

      I’m always surprised at how hesitant some people are to travel — just take the plunge! I’m glad I don’t struggle with that much, either.

  3. I certainly traveled plenty with my 2-3 weeks while living in the US. I travel more with my 5 weeks in Germany, but it still doesn’t really feel like a lot. I guess that shows the depths of the travel addiction. It is really nice being able to take several 2 week vacations in a year and not have to cut it up to tiny pieces. The big benefit is not necessarily seeing more places, but seeing each place more.

  4. I do the same things you do! I have a full-time job in NYC (which is not a bad place to be “stuck” when I’m not on the road) :) But I do make the most of my 4 weeks of annual vacation time. (And my work colleagues enjoy seeing the travel mementoes that I display in my office.) And my firm has just opened an office in Seoul, and I’m going to be pushing hard to get a posting there starting in late 2013 or early 2014!

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  6. Ali

    I do a lot of these things when planning a trip, although it was more of a necessity when I was living in Atlanta with a traditional job. Working in long weekends or holidays you’re getting off from work anyway, adding a vacation onto a business trip. One year I had 4 vacation days left and begged my boss to let me take one day without pay so I could spend the whole week in Europe, but he wouldn’t let me. Now I’m an expat living in Germany, and I love how close by so many great places are.

    If you really want to travel, you have to make it a priority, simple as that!

  7. This is some great advice! Thanks for the post. Although I dream about leaving everything behind and going around the world, my partner’s job doesn’t allow it and i don’t want to leave him for a long time, so I can only travel during my holiday from work. Your post made me think that despite the difficulties I can also be a traveler.

  8. My ideal for short trips is to do a week plus the two weekends either side.

    I run my own offline business so I can take the vacation days I want, but it’s funny how now the cost of time off work (lost income) is almost always more than any trip expenses.

    When I’m only missing a week, I can usually just pack in more work in the week before and after to minimize the lost income.

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  11. Shannon

    I work an office job, but it is hourly, which has given me more flexibility with my time off. My boss lets me work 10 or 12 hour days some weeks, as long as I get all my 40 hours in during the week at some point, which gives me a couple extra days off during that week for travel. Its not for everybody,working 3 12 hour days in a row is hard, one week I even worked 16 hour shifts, but it has given me several 4-5 day or even longer “weekends” without having to use my vacation time! If this were during a holiday you could probably stretch it even more. If your job is hourly and your boss/work is flexible with the way you work your 40 hours, its worth a try!

  12. An excellent article, very well written with many useful ideas that can actually be put into practice in real-world situations. Let’s face it, not many people have either the desire or opportunity to travel full-time, but still want to travel and see as much of the world as possible. As you say here, it takes some planning AND sacrifice and discipline for many of us to save the money throughout the year in order to be able to afford an annual travel trip. I don’t make a lot of money but my wife and I scrimp and save in other areas of life to make our travel plans a reality. I believe this is where most of those “how do you guys travel so often” questions come from, most people have neither the discipline or readiness to sacrifice other “extras” in their day to day life in order to afford travel.

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  14. This is a great piece guys. So often we associate travel with long haul flights and stressful long distance drives. Sometimes travel can be exploring somewhere close by that you’ve never seen.

    We’re trying the expat thing at the mo and are relishing the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a new culture!

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