When was the last time you checked your vacation balance? Have you not been using your vacation days because of the pandemic? Consider a stay staycation, a mental health day, and begin planning your vacations this year!
The United States of America doesn’t have the best work-life balance, so it’s important to maximize your PTO days! Over the past 5 years of working, I’ve picked up a handful of tips and tricks to stretch my paid time off, weekends, and holidays to the limit to travel as much as possible! While many people online quit their jobs and go freelance, I like many do enjoy the benefits of a 9-5, especially when it comes to financial stability, healthcare, my job contributing to my retirement, and still having a consistent income while I’m out of the office.
Did you know Americans leave billions of dollars worth of PTO on the table? The pressure to work and not take your OOO days is real in the United States, which frequently leads to burnout and unhappy employees who are much more likely to quit and find a different job. I’ve rounded up a handful of tips to inspire you to take, maximize, and create better work-life balance while you enjoy your time away from your work computer. For those with “unlimited” PTO, understand the appropriate number of days that you can take and agree upon them with your boss, as this expectation can vary based on your role and company.
Here are my top tips to take your paid time off:
1. Plan out your days and get approval several months in advance.
This will help mentally prepare your boss and team for being out, not take anyone by surprise, help you coordinate team responsibilities while you are OOO, and show that you are planning your PTO during a time that is good for the business and not during a busy period.
2. Plan during a slow period at work
Do you have seasonal work or monthly deadlines? It’s better received to plan your time off during the slower periods to show that you are being considerate of your team and boss, rather than leaving when things are “on fire” and very stressful.
3. Don’t know where you want to go yet? Add days to the calendar anyway.
At a minimum, I recommend planning out your potential vacation days and blocking off that time on your work calendar. It’ll much easy and better received if you modify the specific dates by a few days rather than surprising your team and/or boss with a longer trip they knew nothing about. Simply having tentative OOO days on your calendar will increase your chance of taking your vacation days!
4. Create a team OOO calendar
An Out of Office increases transparency within the team and everyone’s PTO schedule. This will help to coordinate when everyone is OOO to avoid the entire team being out at the same time and around any key deadlines. This is also great if you have appointments or smaller time conflicts.
5. Utilize your work email signature
Put your next two vacations or planned time off at the bottom of your email signature. This helps keep anyone you are working with, especially those not on your direct team, be aware of your upcoming travels in the remote/hybrid environment. Additionally, it’s motivating to have the next two adventures on the calendar and make sure you are utilizing all your PTO days.
6. Send Weekly / Frequent Reminders to your Team
You’ve set up the calendar and added your days to your email signature, but it’s important to have a call with your boss/team 1-2 weeks prior to being OOO reminder them, and plan accordingly.
7. Create an OOO Document
Create a 1-2 page document with key dates, assigned to team members, links, and even a calendar invite reminder with all the key information they need. Make it easy for your team to take over your work while you are OOO rather than having a headache. This will keep positive morale around you being OOO instead of dread and negative tension of missing a key resource.
8. Get ahead of schedule and wrap up any loose ties before taking your vacation.
Think ahead and make sure to prepare as many of your deliverables as you can! For anything that remains open and needs to be addressed, make sure to add it to your OOO plan (see above).
9. Treat your PTO days like CASH
Do you have a fixed number of vacation days that expire at the end of the year or if you accrue too many? Remember that your PTO is part of your compensation package! You wouldn’t throw away several hundred dollars just for fun? Treat your PTO days like your health insurance, your company’s retirement match, and any other benefit they provide. Your PTO is like cash, so don’t throw it away!
10. Get a job with unlimited PTO days and actually take them!
Many companies offer unlimited PTO days, so it’s important to actually take your days! I recommend getting approval from your team and understanding the typical amount of days everyone takes to stay on good terms at work.
11. Use Travel Credit Cards (responsibly)
Sign up for 1-2 travel credit cards such a Chase Sapphire Reserve or Capital One Venture X and make sure to earn those huge sign-on bonuses typically 60K-100K in points aka FREE TRAVEL! This will help to reduce your costs and still be able to visit those bucket list destinations.
12. Take your vacation days near a holiday or firm shutdown.
Take your PTO near a holiday to enjoy longer vacations, especially for those international trips! Combining your PTO days with firm holidays is one of my favorite methods for maximizing my PTO and traveling more because you can plan for longer trips, but more importantly, your team is likely checked out and you won’t be missing any key deadlines since everyone will be OOO together.
13. Skip a holiday at home and encourage the family to travel for it instead!
Holidays can be precious travel time and make it easy to take only a few PTO days and get an extended trip. Either go solo over the holidays or convince your family to travel for the holiday over staying home.
14. Take half days
Getting to the end of the year or are you about to lose some of your PTO? Half days are the easiest days to get approved and give yourself a little me-time or even a staycation. They are also great to get your extended weekend started early! Flying out Thursday evening? Consider working the morning and then only taking the afternoon off to catch your flight.
15. Go on a solo trip
Have you always wanted to take a trip somewhere, but it’s difficult to align budgets and PTO with your friends or family? Go on the trip solo! Learning to travel solo was such a valuable gift that has given me the confidence to go on my bucket list trips regardless if I’m solo or with friends and family.
16. Can you work remotely?
Consider working remotely for a few days or even a half-day to save your PTO time and still enjoy exploring a new destination. I personally love this option and have worked remotely all across the country! This is especially great because it helps to reduce travel time to a destination. You can also make the most of your weekdays and explore after work hours.
17. Stay at a company longer
Many companies offer incentives to stay at a company longer, including more vacation days. While company vacation policies vary, a majority of them provide an increasing amount of PTO days the longer to
18. Get a job that includes travel
There are a variety of jobs that will require you to travel such as consulting, flight attendant or pilot, travel nurse, and things in the travel industry, there are plenty of options to choose from that will allow you to travel for work and get paid to travel! Plus you can build status and earn miles paid for by your company.
19. Extend a work trip!
Is your company already paying for you to travel somewhere? Get approval to extend the weekend or work remotely in that destination for a few extra days. This was one of my favorite ways to travel more pre covid since I traveled weekly with work because it took so many weekend trips across the country instead of flying home.
20. Work at a travel company to get free flights or great discounts in the travel industry
If you work at an airline (even in the finance department), you can get travel benefits and be on standby. Consider a hotel company for great hotel discounts for your travels! There are various options to choose from that can help reduce your travel expenses.
21. Plan out the entire year (loosely)
While they might be more tentative, simply having that time blocked on your calendar will increase the odds of you taking your vacation days! Plans will change, but it’s extremely helpful to plan out your vacation days throughout the entire year to make sure you are maximizing your days, aligning with your budget, and that you use all of your days! If you opt to not plan your days, time can quickly get away from you and before you know it you’ll have to try to take your vacation days in a short time period. This could potentially not make your boss/team very happy, so I recommend planning ahead and getting those PTO days approved as early as possible!
22. Create an annual budget/savings plan
Prepare an annual budget to prioritize saving for travel every month! You may not have a vacation for one month, but you can save for your adventures throughout the year depending on your travel preferences.
23. Create a travel savings account
Saving up for a huge bucket list trip? I recommend creating a separate Travel savings account so you can clearly see your progress and be less tempted to spend the money in this account. Studies show that having a specific financial goal in mind and being able to clearly track your progress will increase your odds of reaching that goal! Bonus: if you also create this account as a high-yield saving account to earn more interest on your account than a traditional savings account.
24. Create a travel emergency fund
Life can be very unexpected, which is why I highly recommend having a travel-specific emergency fund. This can go into your travel savings account so keep things simple. Having a travel-specific emergency fund will provide you peace of mind in case something unexpected happens.
25. MAKE TRAVEL A PRIORITY
At the end of the day, all these tips essentially mean you’ll need to make traveling a priority with your time and money.
Have you done any of these tips? Which of these tips are you going to implement to help maximize your PTO days and explore even more this year??