How I Used 15 Vacation Days to Visit 12 Countries in One Year

Who says you can't travel if you work full-time? Here's how I visited a dozen countries in a year while working a normal job.

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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.

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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!

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Kay is a full-time working professional located in Washington DC who takes every spare vacation day to get outside and explore the world. When she travels, she loves visiting the most iconic and naturally beautiful destinations in the USA and abroad. You can typically find her wandering the streets of a city, running through a park, taking ridiculous self portraits, or hiking a mountain somewhere. Connect with Kay: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


  1. Wow that’s pretty impressive, just goes to show what is possible with some good planning.

  2. Dang, girl! This is impressive!
    I saw that you had a couple “remote days”. How often are you able to work remotely? I’m also curious if you plan a budget at the beginning of the year for each of these trips or if it’s just spur of the moment?

    • Thanks so much Alisha! I always have to pre-negotiate remote days with my employer/boss (see here for a post that relates to that a bit more), but usually I’ll take 1-2 per month. I don’t really plan a budget at the beginning of the year; instead, I decide how many vacation days a trip is “worth,” just like money! For example, if I’m going somewhere nearby like Costa Rica, I’m more likely to plan that trip around a long weekend, whereas going somewhere like Europe or Patagonia requires a little more time. Hope this helps! 🙂

  3. Yessss! I do the same thing! People always ask if I’m ever at work, but I work a ton! It’s all about maximizing your time off!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Christine! I work my butt off when I’m working, but it’s all so that I can afford the luxury of travel in my free time!

  4. I love the tips about budget and planning! I really wish that I was this organized. How do you handle the short trips with the sometimes long flights? I think that’s something I’d have trouble with!

    • Thank you for your comment! I almost ALWAYS do red-eye long flights so I don’t lose out on time during the day. On there, I’ll drink some tea to relax and go to sleep, or if I can’t sleep, I’ll read a book or do some other relaxing activity. That way, I’m ready to hit the ground running when I arrive!

  5. Wow this is AMAZING! This will definitely be my New Years resolution 😀 looking forward to seeing where to next for you!

    • Thanks so much for your kind comment Ashley! Excited to have you along for the journey 🙂

  6. Really impressive! this is what I try to do as well even if it means exploring nearby cities …. just a junior executive now so can’t afford to go everywhere I want to… but i do try! I saved enough and borrowed for Vietnam this year!

    • Hi Yashodhara! Saving for a trip to Vietnam sounds like a lot of hard work, but it will definitely be worth it! You’ll have to come back and update us on how the trip went!

  7. Woah, that’s so impressive!! So many new places & adventures. With all that travel, you must be exhausted! At my job, I get 18 days off a year, but I still only make it to about 5 countries a year– I definitely prefer the slow travel route!

    • Thanks, Max! So glad you stopped by. I agree – slow travel is amazing. If I had it my way I’d definitely travel a lot slower! Sadly, I’m usually not allowed to take off more than one week at a time. This puts a but of a damper on slow travel, so instead I just get up and go when I have the chance. 18 days sounds amazing – live it up! 🙂

  8. This is awesome! I just hate how Alabama has such a small airport, I am not sure if there are tons of good deals coming out of BHM airport! I am going to have to remember this and also maybe keep out for deals through different airlines! #gltlove

    • Thanks so much Chasa! That sounds like a limiting factor for sure, but always remember that you can jump in a car or a bus to some pretty sweet places too 🙂

  9. Some seriously impressive planning right there. I mostly just end up begging for unpaid leave by the time it gets to the end of the year. I also tend not to get any long weekends because I work in a hospital but if we work a bank holiday we get it back to tag onto holidays whenever we want so that’s a bonus.

    • That’s so nice to have that flexibility, Emma! If you get the chance, stack up those holidays for an extra long weekend trip!

  10. Wow! That’s super impressive. I’m always surprised by the lack of Americans I meet traveling because they only get 2 weeks off of work a year, but you’ve really made the most of every second!

    • Thanks so much Michelle! I mostly work to travel so I’ve got to take advantage of any days off and flex days to make it work!

  11. This is seriously awesome! Just curious as to what you do. #gltlove

    • Hi JV! Thanks for stopping by! I work in business development for a large media company that you probably know 😉 So my normal life is basically a 9-6 type of job. What about you – what do you do?

  12. That is definitely impressive! Gotta take advantage of the additional days you get plus the actual vacation days. Well done.

  13. Wow! This is impressive! Just goes to show how well you can travel & use vacation days with planning. You go girl!

  14. That’s incredible! I thought you’re gonna say, you backpacked through one region of the world for three weeks, but the spread of countries you fitted into so many little trips is insane! I think I’d be sad every time I had to leave after such short amount of time, but it’s cool how you can maximise your experiences! Would love to go trekking in Patagonia – which route did you walk?

  15. Wow this is definitely something that I have done in my 20s! I think nowadays it’s harder for me to travel to several countries back to back, now that I get tired easily, etc. But this is def a way to do it if you’re short on vacation days!

  16. Awesome, super inspirational. One of my hesitations about travel contests is the taxes you need to pay if you win them. Could you provide some insight on this? Did you have to pay taxes for the Iceland contest?