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The part-time traveller’s guide to maximising your travel time

Passport stamps

When you read as many travel blogs as I do, it can start to feel like everyone else is either working remotely as a long-term digital nomad or is about to give up their job and home to set off on an indefinite round-the-world trip. But back in the real world, most of us have to combine our passion for travel with a whole lot of other priorities in life – whether that’s a career, a partner, a family or a mortgage. So how do you make the most of your travel time when it’s a limited commodity? Although I work for myself now so get to be a bit more flexible, I spent ten years mastering the art of squeezing as many trips as possible out of a limited holiday allowance. And with a husband who still has a full-time, 9-to-5 job I’m still putting those techniques to use now. So what are my top tips for making the most of your annual leave?

Turn any trip into a holiday

Any trip away from home can potentially be turned into a holiday. Work trips are the obvious example – your travel is paid for and you may have time free in the evenings or be able to extend your stay over a weekend so you get a couple of days to explore. My husband normally works a trade show in Las Vegas each spring, so we try and add on a US holiday afterwards as his flight out there is already paid for. It doesn’t have to be a trip abroad though or even overnight – when I have to go up to London for work I often book a later train home and use the extra hours to do some sightseeing while I’m there. And even if your job doesn’t involve travelling to anywhere more exotic than the stationery cupboard, you can use the same principle to tag a holiday onto a wedding or a trip to see friends or family.

The Las Vegas Strip, Nevada USA

Exploring the madness of the Las Vegas Strip last April

Use your Sunday nights

If you work within easy access of an airport, you can maximise your trip by staying over on Sunday night then flying back on Monday morning and going straight into work. Or if you don’t have an airport nearby, you can still travel locally. Hotels tend to push up their prices over the weekend then discount them on Sunday nights. So why not look for somewhere not too far from home where you can spend the Sunday exploring and have a night in a hotel, but still be close enough to get home in time for work on the Monday morning. Recently I’ve done Sunday overnight trips to Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon and have the Cotswolds coming up soon, all of which are within about an hour from my home in Cheltenham. Try looking at websites like Secret Escapes for good Sunday night hotel deals.

The Oxford Malmaison hotel, UK

A recent Sunday evening deal got us a night in a former prison at the Malmaison in Oxford

Make the most of public holidays

In the UK we get eight public holiday days each year, usually on top of our annual leave allowance. Often they’re on a Monday so are perfect for a long weekend away – or you can use the extra days over Easter or Christmas to get a two-week holidays for just eight days’ leave. The only problem is that everyone else has the same idea, so if you’re going to do this you want to book as early as you can. Or otherwise be flexible on destination – use tools like the Skyscanner to find out where there are cheap flights on the dates you’ve got available and plan a trip around them. I’ve ended up with weekends in cities like Venice and Belfast in the depths of winter after finding bargain flights between Christmas and New Year.

The Titanic museum in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Outside the Titanic museum in Belfast in December

Get to know your local area by showing it off

Technically this isn’t so much of a holiday for you as it is for them, but having friends to stay can push you out of your normal routine and get you trying new things close to home. When I lived in London pretty much the only time I ever visited a museum or saw a show at the theatre was when I had visitors staying. Or you can go even further and invite other travellers to stay through Couchsurfing or make extra cash by hosting people through Airbnb. It’s a great opportunity to find out more about things to see in your local area, but don’t just limit that to when you have visitors staying – follow your local tourist boards on Twitter or check local papers to find out what’s on near you throughout the year.

Tintern Abbey in Monmouthshire, Wales

A day out at Tintern Abbey at part of my local travel summer

Gain extra holiday

If you’re lucky enough to work for a company that lets you buy extra holiday, then you’ve got this one made. But there are other ways of earning extra travel time. At one of my previous jobs you could earn time off in lieu for working evening and weekend events, so I’d volunteer for anything, especially on Sundays when you got double time off in return. It’s also worth checking out whether your company has a policy on sabbaticals. My old employer let you take up to a year off as an unpaid sabbatical once you’d been there for five years. Even if there isn’t an official policy, if you can make a good case about why it would benefit (or at least not inconvenience) the company you might be in with a chance – I managed to get two months off to travel around New Zealand during a quiet time of year for my job.

Wellington cable car, North Island, New Zealand

Looking out over Wellington on my New Zealand sabbatical

So those are my tips as a ‘part-time traveller, full-time travel obsessive’ trying to make the most of a limited travel time – do you have any of your own?

66 Comments Post a comment
  1. Loving these tips, especially the one about utilising your Sunday nights. I actually work in the afternoons, so am planning to fully take advantage of that and turn what would otherwise be day trips into overnight trips.

    When I was back in the UK and saving up to move to Taiwan, I resolved to visit places within the UK that I’d never been to before (or hadn’t been to in a really long time), too. I ended up visiting the likes of Hereford, Oxford and Edinburgh, and loved them all :)

    February 7, 2014
    • Thanks Tom, that’s great that you can work afternoons and add an extra half day into a trip. Love that you went to Hereford too! I’m from Ross-on-Wye originally, just down the road from there, and it’s definitely not a place that gets a lot of love from travel bloggers usually!

      February 7, 2014
  2. Great tips Lucy – we often have people to stay and it’s great to discover little gems in our local area. Sunday night hotel stays are a great way to extend your holiday time too.

    February 7, 2014
    • It does motivate you to search out different things to do doesn’t it – especially if they’re repeat visitors and you’ve already done all your obvious visits!

      February 7, 2014
  3. Very good tips! The Sunday night one is my favourite. I keep that in mind!

    February 7, 2014
    • Thanks – I’ve had some great Sunday trips in the last few months, it’s a really good way to get away without using too much time or money.

      February 7, 2014
  4. I’m with you, Lucy. I turn every “trip” to visit relatives or got to a posrting event into something more. I always add on extra time to business trips (though those are becoming fewer :( ) and take advantage of long weekends. I wish I could be one of those digital nomads you mention, but I have a job, a family and a mortgage. Full-time travel will have to wait til retirement.

    February 7, 2014
    • Sometimes I think I’d like to be a digital nomad but that brings its own set of problems as you have to balance work and travel at the same time then and probably always feel like you should be doing the other! Squeezing in lots of mini holidays around my big trips works for me now though.

      February 7, 2014
  5. Buy holiday? I had no idea that was possible!

    We can take time off in return for working over time – either by leaving an hour or so early or, once we have enough hours saved up, taking days off. If you manage to gather enough overtime while it’s busy you can have a day off in quiet times without having to take any holiday.

    My tip is to use night trains. In Germany at least if you book enough in advance you get them fairly cheap, and spending the night sleeping on the train means you arrive the next morning with an entire extra day of holiday. We did this when we went to visit my friend in Delft – if we’d taken a morning train, we would basically have spent an entire day’s holiday travelling, so we took the train at midnight and arrived in Delft at around 10 a.m (after a slight delay). Perfect!

    February 7, 2014
    • I’ve never worked anywhere you can buy holiday but know people who have, though I’d find it hard to resist taking half the year off! Good tip on the night trains, I’ve done the sleeper train up to Edinburgh from London but there are lots of different options around Europe.

      February 7, 2014
  6. I live in New Jersey and I’ve purchase a guide book to nearby NYC so I research this nearby city like I would a city in another country, like Paris. I don’t think of myself as a tourist when in NYC, and I really should.

    February 7, 2014
    • New York is such a great place to have nearby – there must be enough things to see there to keep you going for a few years!

      February 7, 2014
  7. I completely empathize with the desire to travel with limited time off from work! Here in the states it’s amazing that I am even given TEN full days of time off, not including a couple holidays like Christmas Day & New Year’s Eve. I always wish that I lived in a culture that valued ‘vacation time’ and more of a work-life balance.

    I do find your tips very useful. By biggest tip to anyone is to ALWAYS thoroughly read through your company’s Human Resources manual… you know, that 100+ page document you get on the first day of the job that you never even open? :) Especially pay attention to the ‘time off/vacation/holiday’ section – you could have extra opportunities you were never even told of! For example, 1 year into my job i finally decided to read it and discovered that employees are allowed 2 additional weeks of time off (unpaid) so long as you receive permission from the company. Sometimes there are hidden secrets your employer doesn’t want you to take advantage of. ;)

    February 7, 2014
    • Wow I know it’s a lot tougher in the States, here we get it a bit easier with around 20–25 days being the standard annual leave allowance, plus those eight public holidays. Great tip about making sure you know what your company offers in terms of holiday – it’s very true that the hidden bonuses aren’t usually too widely advertised!

      February 7, 2014
  8. Reblogged this on The Keen Cosmopolitan: and commented:
    Here’s quite the blog, I have to say, especially after having visited London for the first time last year. She has great insight much like I do as to how to make the best of a weekend getaway that doesn’t have to be too far…all while squeezing it in between work obligations.

    February 7, 2014
    • Thanks so much for reblogging and your lovely comments!

      February 10, 2014
  9. Great post

    February 7, 2014
  10. I love this! There’s nothing else to say really besides “What Lucy said” because you’re so right! The only thing I don’t get a chance to do really, is the Sunday night thing. Not so easy when one of you is a teacher. I’ve realised as time goes on though, how lucky we can be in the UK with our holiday allowances compared to our friends elsewhere. Though I still wouldn’t mind a bank holiday in October. August to Christmas seems an awfully long time with too many dark nights not to have a free day off!

    February 7, 2014
    • Thanks Clare! Definitely true that we are lucky in the UK, both with the holiday allowances and the number of bank holidays – but an autumn one would be good, maybe we should get a campaign going!

      February 10, 2014
  11. Great tips Lucy! It’s so refreshing to read of other part-time travelers trying to balance working and traveling. I love the Sunday night option and have spent many a Monday struggling through the day for that added night of vacation! I also love tacking time off to long weekends as you get just as much vacation with less days off.

    February 8, 2014
    • Yes those Mondays can drag on a bit when you’ve just got off a flight home! Worth it though to get as much holiday time in as possible.

      February 10, 2014
  12. I love these tips. I would love to live life as a digital nomad but I do not have the courage nor the finances to quit my office job yet but someday I will. I often have to make do with my days off and holidays to be able to travel and see the world. This is such a wonderful article!

    February 8, 2014
    • Thanks so much – I think the digital nomad lifestyle is a dream for a lo of people, and definitelty seems to be getting easier to do these days with all the advances in technology.

      February 10, 2014
  13. thetrustedtraveller #

    Great tips Lucy. I have been using most of them over the past few years and it has really helped me to see more of my own country while still getting my big trip o/s every year. This year in Australia we have Easter and Anzac Day holidays very close together so I will be taking the few days off in between giving me a week and a half off with minimal impact on my annual leave quota.

    February 8, 2014
    • Thanks, we have it a bit easier in Europe than you do in Australia as your distances are so much greater! Great idea to combine holidays like that so you can get a nice long period of holiday in one go.

      February 10, 2014
  14. Not sure if it’s the same with girls and hen parties, but I’ve been on loads of stag dos to European cities over the last decade. The priority is obviously to get drunk and embarrass yourself, but I always try to see as much as I can of the city while still sober. Not too many left now though – just about everyone I know has got married now!

    February 8, 2014
    • The overseas pre-wedding do definitely seems to be more of a thing for the guys than the girls – my last few hen dos have been Oxford, London, Newquay and the Forest of Dean. A bit less exotic but still a chance for a bit of sightseeing too, though I’m pretty much out of unmarried friends now as well!

      February 10, 2014
  15. Fantastic tips Lucy. I WISH I could make the most of my Sunday nights, but my 4am Monday morning start makes that a bit tricky. I tend to sneak time at the other end of the weekend by stealing away before lunch on Friday (as my work is usually finished by 10:30am). A few extra hours can make all the difference.

    February 8, 2014
    • Wow a 4am Monday start sounds like hard work! Good plan to tag on some extra hours on the Friday though and make the weekend as long as you can.

      February 10, 2014
  16. I almost always use work trips for holidays – that is the best!!!

    February 8, 2014
    • That’s a great plan if you have a job where you can travel – none of my previous jobs took me out of the office much unfortunately, but now I work for myself I’m trying to find some excuses for a work trip!

      February 10, 2014
    • I used to travel more for work before the invention of the conference call!! Totally put a dent in my business travel!

      February 11, 2014
  17. I do most of my trips courtesy of work related travel. My other trick is to be a tourist in my own town – complete with guidebook!

    February 9, 2014
    • I always wanted a job where I got to travel but unfortunately it never happened – though as my husband has to go to Las Vegas and Amsterdam every year for work I know there can be a lot of work involved too! Good idea to get a guidebook of your home area, it’s always surprising how many new things you can find.

      February 10, 2014
  18. Great comments and ideas Lucy :)

    February 9, 2014
    • Thanks so much, hope they come in useful sometime!

      February 10, 2014
  19. So true! I like to turn everything into an excuse to add an extra day or just one more stop. It really makes me feel like I have a lot more vacation.

    February 9, 2014
    • I’m always planning how I can squeeze in an extra day’s trip wherever I can, definitely helps keep you going between longer trips.

      February 10, 2014
  20. This was so helpful! All the tips made so much sense :) Really going to keep them in mind!

    I wrote a travelogue about how to enjoy a place in a day and a half. Check it out!

    http://melangeofmusings.com/synesthesia-experiencing-amritsar-in-a-day-a-half/

    xx

    February 9, 2014
    • Thanks so much – and good tips for seeing a destination in limited time!

      February 10, 2014
  21. Reblogged this on "I go to seek a great perhaps." and commented:
    A great read!

    February 10, 2014
  22. This is such a great blog – it’s so easy to forget how much there is on our doorsteps, especially in the UK, which is pretty small and easy to get around really! As an employee I’m a bit biased, but I also love being able to pop into National Trust properties and the like – great add on to a trip, or way to break up a long journey (and the cafes are better than a service station too!).

    You’ve inspired me to plan a few Sunday stays, too – why not start the week with a Full English breaky?!

    February 10, 2014
    • Thanks – yes I’m definitely guilty of overlooking the great places we have in the UK sometimes so hope this will sort me out! Love National Trust properties too, there are so many I’d like to see, even in my local area, so will have to get some day trips planned.

      February 13, 2014
  23. Great tips that I often use myself, especially about turning every trip into a holiday and exploring my local area. We really maximized our travel opportunities when I’d go along on my husband’s business trips and we’d add on a couple of days. When I would travel on my business, I’d do the same. And it’s always fun to show visitors around — familiar places and trying new places that I’ve heard about.

    February 10, 2014
    • Thanks Cathy, I try and tag onto my husband’s work trips too, though do feel slightly guilty when I spend the day by the pool and he did a 12-hour shift at a trade show! We do make sure we add on some holiday afterwards to make up for it though.

      February 13, 2014
  24. Great tips Lucy! I always try to have weekend trips when I was studying and on summer I would do longer trips (1-2 months). And it’s always fun to look for new places to hang out in your own hometown, the result can be surprising!

    February 11, 2014
    • Thanks Aggy, yes I am always looking for new things to do near home – it’s surprising how many things there are out there that you might not have heard about.

      February 13, 2014
  25. I worked for a company that allowed me to work a flex schedule – so I worked 9 hours M-Th and then got every other Friday off. It was perfect for weekend trips and also really helped for longer trips because I didn’t have to take as much time off. My dream is to eventually convince my employers to let me work remotely for a couple of months out of the year. Haven’t gotten there yet, but I feel like it would be a great compromise.

    February 11, 2014
    • Flexible working is perfect for long weekends, I used to have a job that let me built up time too so I got a long weekend once a month. Fingers crossed you can get your remote working sorted too – that’s a great middle ground between being nomadic and having a home base.

      February 13, 2014
  26. Great tips Lucy, maximising time off is something we’re committed to doing now we’re home. Using Sunday nights is a great way to make the most of weekends and I’m currently stalking all low cost airlines for cheap flights anywhere. I used to have to spend so much time in London for my last job but I never once thought of using down time to play tourist!

    February 12, 2014
    • Thanks Maddy. I go to London a lot but it only just occurred to me to actually go see something while I’m there – I still have a big London to-do list despite 10 years living there!

      February 13, 2014
  27. paularociio #

    Great guide, very helpful for part-time travelers like me! :)
    I am lucky to work for an U.S. company that also gives U.S. holidays, so flights and transport are much cheaper if I take the opportunity to travel on holidays that are not local.

    February 13, 2014
    • That’s a really good point – I know someone in the US working for a UK company so they get UK holidays and can travel off peak and get some good deals.

      February 14, 2014
  28. Good tips, Lucy! And practical for so many folks out there who are part-time travelers.

    When I had a 9-5 job, I learned to maximize weekends and holidays. E.g. Thanksgiving in the USA often means 4 days off (Thu-Sun), so all you need is take a few more and be able to travel for a week. Si se puede. :)

    February 13, 2014
    • Thanks Pola, yes it’s good to try and use those extra holidays and add in a few more days to get a whole week off.

      February 14, 2014
  29. Great advice Lucy. We have been tying our best to utilise long weekends around public holidays of late.

    February 16, 2014
    • Long weekends are great – just a couple of extra days can make it feel like a nice long break.

      February 17, 2014
  30. Some excellent tips, Luce.
    A husband with a yearly ticket to the States- definite bonus :) He’s a keeper!
    Never heard of the Airbnb site so I’ll look that one up. Happy travels!

    February 18, 2014
    • Funnily enough he’s just found out he doesn’t need to go out to the US for work this year for he first time in ages, but we’re going anyway! AirBnB is definitely worth a look, I’ve just booked a couple of apartment rentals with them for trips later this year, especially good in Norway where hotels are so expensive.

      February 18, 2014
  31. Hello, Cheerio #

    Really great tips; I especially love the one about Sunday’s and also traveling locally which I plan to do once my move to England is complete. Thanks for this!

    February 18, 2014
    • Thanks, there’s so many places to see in the UK within a fairly small area so you should be kept busy for a while!

      February 20, 2014
  32. Reblogged this on The Bookworm and commented:
    Para os fascinados em viajar, como eu! :)

    February 21, 2014
  33. Liz #

    I’m late to the party here, but as one of those Americans with limited vacation time, I thought I’d add in a few tips.

    I used to run my own consulting business where I’d work on contract. Whenever possible, I would pursue international projects so I could tack on travel (and not pay for the plane ticket) – or short-term projects where I could take a month off in-between. Between projects, I managed to squeeze in Israel, Egypt, Turkey, France, Greece and more. But the constant job uncertainty started to wear on me and I eventually took a more permanent job.

    Here’s how I’m still traveling:
    – Negotiate vacation time up front and make it clear it’s your number one priority. I accepted the salary offer as-is, but scored an extra week of vacation time instead.
    – Use the government holidays for long-weekends. Sometimes I’ll just do the Sunday night of a Monday-off long weekend to avoid too many nights of hotel. 48 hours in Philadelphia, NYC and the Virginia countryside have been great – and affordable!
    – Look for paid holidays near each other that you can combine to extend your vacation days. i.e. Veterans Day to Dec. 1st is only 11 vacation days for me, but that’s 3 weeks of steady travel. Almost like I used to do.
    – I don’t say yes to every wedding. Terrible, I know – but maybe 1/3 of the invites I get are truly “can’t miss” friends or family. That’s a lot of money and travel time – and they’ll likely still have a lovely wedding without you.
    – I volunteer for every possible work trip – and have made it clear to my employers that I’m up for anything. I got assigned Alaska and Vermont trips this year covering for other people who has schedule conflicts.
    – Do the work of finding a great airline miles credit card and put as many purchases as possible on it to fund the flight for the “big trip” of the year. Sometimes the ones not tied to any one airline are the best – just dollars spent -> points -> buy a ticket on any airline.

    Good luck to my fellow travelers! And thanks for the terrific blog.

    August 10, 2014

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