One of the hardest things about transitioning to adulthood is having a limited number of days off of work. I know I struggled a lot with having set school breaks in the summer and winter, to having just over a dozen days off. As you may imagine, the most common complaint I hear from other young professionals who want to travel is that they don’t have enough vacation days to make it happen.
It’s simply not true.
To prove this fallacy wrong, I spent a whole year attempting to travel as much as I could. My job at the time gave me 15 vacation days, plus all of the standard holidays, so I knew what I had to work with. During this 365-day period, I was able to go on over 9 international trips, spanning 12 different countries, and a few domestic trips as well.
If you don’t believe me, read on to learn how I did it. Pics or it didn’t happen, right?
Country #1: Arenal, Costa Rica
Time off: 2 vacation days
After finding a crazy-cheap flight deal to San Jose, Costa Rica, I hopped on a plane with one of my best college friends and spent a weekend in Arenal, Costa Rica. Famous for its beautiful cone-shaped volcano, this region is an easy bus or shuttle trip from San Jose. While there, my friend and I relaxed in a hot spring, went ziplining, hiked a volcano, and spotted beautiful wildlife in the Costa Rican rainforest.
Key takeaway: If you feel you’ve gone too long without a vacation, put in your request and go somewhere. If you have to, buy the first cheap flight deal you see and plan a trip from that.
Country #2: Alberta, Canada
Time off: 0 vacation days, long holiday weekend
Over Memorial Day weekend in the US, I hopped on a plane to Calgary, Canada, where my boyfriend and I rented a car and drove to Canmore and Banff National Park. Here, we camped and hiked amongst some of the most stunning mountains, glaciers, and night skies in the entire world. Little did I know I’d actually be stationed in Calgary for work later this same year, where I got to explore even more of the beautiful province of Alberta.
Key takeaway: The best way to get the most out of a nature vacation is to camp. This way, you’re immersed 24 hours a day in fresh air and beautiful views.
Country #3-5: The Netherlands, Portugal, and Belgium
Time off: 5 vacation days, 1 remote day
A bunch of people decided to travel to Europe for a company function in Brussels (self-funded), and I was one of them. Instead of just going for a weekend, I extended my trip and visited Amsterdam, the Azores, Lisbon, and Brussels. It was definitely a whirlwind trip, but I’m so glad I got the chance to be on the go for a whole week, without having to worry about work.
Key takeaway: Take advantage of an entire week off by doing as much as you can with that time. Using budget transportation and being flexible definitely helps!
Country #6: Tokyo and Mount Fuji, Japan
Time off: 1 remote day, long holiday weekend
This trip to Japan really came from left field, but since I had a long holiday weekend and there were cheap direct flights available to Tokyo, I decided to take advantage. Aside from wandering around Tokyo and eating the most incredible sushi and ramen of my life, I also took a day and a half to summit Mount Fuji. It was an absolutely incredible experience, and an accomplishment I’ll never forget.
Key takeaway: If you have limited time, make a list of everything you want to accomplish so you ensure it gets done.
Country #7: Mexico City, Mexico
Time off: 0 vacation days
Four friends and I were sitting at a bar drinking margaritas when we decided to spend a weekend in Mexico City. What we found there was a city of lively, fun people, incredible food, and fascinating history. While there, we visited the pyramids at Teotihuacan, went boating in Xochimilco, partied in La Condesa, and spent a leisurely morning dancing in the Zócalo. It was an easy weekend trip that ended up being the time of our lives – no vacation days necessary!
Key takeaway: You don’t need to take vacation days to have an incredible trip!
Country #8: Iceland
Time off: 2 vacation days
No year-in-review roundup of mine would be complete without visiting one of my favorite countries – Iceland. So, when I found a contest that was open to all Americans for a free trip to Iceland Airwaves music festival, I entered it. A few weeks and several thousand votes later, I found out that I won! With our grand prize, my boyfriend and I were flown to Iceland and given a free hotel and passes to the festival. During the day, we explored the southern part of the island by rental car.
Key takeaway: Enter each and every travel contest you see. You never know if you’ll be the lucky winner.
Country #9: Chile
Time off: 3 vacation days, 1 remote day
Patagonia had always been on my bucket list, so I finally bit the bullet during Thanksgiving week and booked a trip. I always love booking trips during Thanksgiving because I get the most time off for the least vacation days (just 3 for a whole week!). After landing in Santiago, I made my way down to Torres del Paine National Park, where I backpacked for 4 days on its various trails.
Key takeaway: Travel during Thanksgiving week to maximize time off vs. number of vacation days.
Country #10-11: Madrid, Spain and Marrakech, Morocco
Time off: 2 vacation days, long holiday weekend
After much urging from my fellow travel-loving colleague (pictured above), I decided to travel to Spain and Morocco in January. I definitely didn’t regret it! Some of the highlights of my first international trip of 2017 included glamping in the Moroccan desert, exploring the medinas in Marrakech, and running through the Retiro in Madrid.
Key takeaway: If it’s a long weekend, use it to travel. There’s no better time to go.
Country #12: Cuba
Time off: 1 vacation day, long holiday weekend
I didn’t have any immediate plans to visit Cuba, but when I stumbled upon a $116 flight deal to this Caribbean country, I couldn’t say no. Luckily, this impulse buy ended up being one of my favorite trips of 2017 so far. In 4 days (with 3 other friends), I visited Viñales and Havana, exploring this unique country in one of its signature old cars. While I didn’t smoke any cigars, I definitely enjoyed watching the sun set over the green tobacco fields of Viñales.
Key takeaway: You really can’t go wrong when a flight is just $116 round trip.
The Bottom Line
Needless to say, if you budget carefully, take advantage of flight deals, and make travel a priority, you can make it happen even with very few vacation days. Although being on the go can often be tiring, the rewards of travel are always worth the effort.
* * *
If you’ve used your vacation days to travel anywhere interesting this year, share your story with us on Facebook or in the comments section!