How to travel when you only get 12 vacation days a year

How to travel when you only get 12 vacation days a year

If you’re like most people living in the U.S. (especially those just starting off at an agency) you might only get 12 days of vacation….per year…. This upsets me! But there’s not much I can do about it. That’s my current situation and has been previously. I’ve put together a list of tips on how to travel when you only get 12 vacation days a year.

Save your vacation days for actual traveling and trips

It’s tempting to take the day off to relax or clean the house.  If you like to give yourself days off for self-care, can you use sick time?  Or consider taking a half day – rather than a full day.

If you want some quick travel inspiration, check out these posts 🙂

Work remotely

Can you work remotely at all? This can be a great way to travel but not use vacation time. Maybe you can travel somewhere and work 3 days but take 2 days off. If you can’t work remotely full time, could you get approved to work remotely for one week during the year. Maybe you want to visit your family or a close friend, but don’t have the vacation time to use.

Can you get a flexible work schedule?

Half day Fridays for working 9 hours M-Th. Or 4 -10 hour days?! 3 day weekends are the life!

It might not be a possibility for you or it may be too difficult with your family life situation. But if it’s a possibility, it could save you some vacation days!

Can you build up comp time? 

If you work overtime could you save that time as extra vacation (rather than an extra paycheck)?

Weekend trips!

Travel during the weekend (wherever it is). You could make it a long weekend and take 1 day off (rather than 5 days).

This is my favorite solution for Midwest traveling. I don’t have to use much vacation time to visit family (which is such a luxury — I know! I’m so grateful they’re fairly close….).

For some of our Midwest recs and adventures check out the following:

Travel internationally, but in closer parts of the world

This way you don’t have to spend all your vacation time in an airplane. Think Central America!

For example: We recently traveled to Cartagena, Colombia for a good friend’s wedding. We did it in 4 days. While I wish we could have been there longer, that was what we could “afford” with our vacation time. If you haven’t already, read about our short trip to Colombia here!

Travel internationally, but for shorter periods of times.

While I love being able to spend 2 weeks in a new place, maybe this just isn’t a reality for you right now…. If you want to find ways to travel while only getting 12 vacation days a year, you might have to sacrifice how long you spend in each place.

Instead of booking that month long European adventure, maybe you just have to be realistic and be okay with a week and a half….

It might not be ideal… I know…. 🙁

But the whole point of this post is to remind you that if you really want to travel, sometimes you just have to go for it! It might never be the perfect amount of time, or the perfect budget.

But I bet it’ll be the perfect experience 😉


Sit down at the beginning of the year (or the end of the year) and think about the bigger trips that you want to do (whether solo, with a spouse, partner, friend, child, or whole family).   Prioritize your biggest trips/furthest destinations first.  See how you can capitalize your time there to be gone for fewer days. To get inspired on planning and budgeting for trips, check out my post on how to save and travel for less.

Then decide where else you will go that you will need to take time off.   

Plan ahead and prioritize travel when you only get 12 days of vacation a year

Leave on a Tuesday evening!

For a bigger trip, or further destination, a good trick is to leave on a Tuesday evening and return on a Sunday evening.  It will feel like a week, but you will only have used 3 vacation days (Wednesday, Thursday, Friday)!  

You could do 3 trips like this throughout the year and will only have used 9 vacation days

You could actually do a trip like this every quarter of the year! 

In addition, flying on Tuesday is usually cheaper! Experiment by checking out some flights that leave on Tuesday vs those that leave on Friday’s.

Plan on using 10 days of vacation

I like to plan for 10 days of vacation for bigger trips.  That gives me 2 days to use around the holidays for visiting family

Travel when you get paid holidays

There are some obvious 3-days weekends to travel, like Memorial Day Weekend or Labor Days weekend.  But do you also get MLK Day off (January), Presidents Day (February), or maybe Veterans Day (November) or a floating holiday? 

Plan your trip(s) to include one of these days.  For example if you planned to go to three places during the year and wanted to take a week at each place.  You could do that!

Just make each one-week trip around a three-day weekend.  That’s 4 vacation days per trip, which you could do 3 times throughout the year!

This may not be a popular one or feasible for many people, but plan your trip around Christmas and New Year.  

We purposefully booked our 2-week Italy trip (honeymoon that you have to read about!) for the end of June/beginning of July. I had 2 holidays within a small time period and my husband was out from teaching for the summer.

=perfect opportunity!

Travel around Christmas and New Years

This is a specific holiday, but it could be a prime time to take advantage of paid holidays. If you work in the U.S., you should get Christmas and New Year holidays off. You might even get Christmas Eve and New Years Eve as holidays.  You could plan a 10 day trip around these holidays and only have to use 4-6 vacation days.  That’s pretty amazing!

Travel around Thanksgiving

The same as above, but do your annual big trip around Thanksgiving.  If you get Thursday and Friday off, you could easily be gone for more than a week and only have to take 3 vacation days

Unpaid time off

If it’s a possibility where you work (and for your family’s budget), you could consider taking unpaid time off.  

A great tip here if you’re worried about finances, is to spread this out.  If you plan to take 3 bigger trips during the year that would mean about 15 vacation days, consider making one day of each trip unpaid.  You won’t feel this on your paycheck as much. 

Travel locally

This may seem obvious, but if you plan and put some intention into some local trips, you could use less vacation time, but also learn so much more about your area.  See my post on some recent Midwest destinations (Michigan and Minnesota).  

It’s so frustrating that so many of us only get 12 paid vacation days a year. This is nothing compared to other parts of the world. I could talk about this for hours. But instead of putting off travel forever, let’s find ways to make it possible — even if you only have 12 vacation days a year!


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