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Making the most of limited vacation

R and I have full-time jobs with limited vacation hours. We are blessed to have more than two weeks of vacation a year, but we are still constrained by the amount of time we have to travel and go on adventures. Therefore, we have become experts in making the most of limited vacation time. If, like us, you find yourself with a bucket list a mile long, below are some tips and tricks to consider the next time you are feeling the itch to go somewhere new.

making the most of limited vacation Idaho yellow fields blue sky
As seen on a road trip while making the most of a couple of days off work.

Take a short trip

A friend of mine just got back from a three-month stay in Spain. She is lucky enough to be able to work remotely and her boss was agreeable to her changing her hours a bit to accommodate a European time zone. Sounds great. But let’s be honest, most of us do not have the flexibility, money or vacation hours to spend three months in Spain. A lot of people do not even have the flexibility, money or vacation hours to go on a two-week trip. If that is you, fear not, even a short trip is better than no trip.

Some Finnish researchers found that eight days is the ideal vacation length. But just because you cannot dedicate that much time to trip does not mean you cannot have a good time. A coworker of mine just spent a weekend with her kiddo and husband exploring a new (to them) part of Idaho. It was a quick trip, but they had a wonderful time. Best of all, it motivated them to start planning more trips and adventures in the near future.

If all you have time and money for is a short trip, go already!

making the most of limited vacation Michigan
My time in Michigan was short, but I enjoyed it none the less.

Expand your weekends

Weekend getaways are wonderful and if you can grab an extra day or two to make it a long weekend, even better. Often, we take a couple of days off before and/or after a weekend to stretch a vacation into a five-day trip. We have done that for places in the U.S. But we have also done that for places like Iceland and Puerto Rico. Would I like to spend more than five days in places like Iceland and Puerto Rico? Yes. But I will take five days over no trip at all.

making the most of limited vacation Iceland weekend getaway
A long weekend in Iceland was just the ticket.

Use your holidays

Twice now, R and I have traveled to Europe for Christmas. Between weekends and holiday hours, we got a 10-day trip and only had to take four days off of work. This year, we are going to utilize our Thanksgiving holiday to explore some parts of Florida we have never been to.

One thing I like about holiday travel is that I can see how other cultures celebrate certain holidays. The Christmas markets in Germany really are as adorable as everyone says they are. You can also experience a climate very different from your own. Thanksgiving is cold in Idaho. I am excited to see what a warm Thanksgiving in Florida feels like.

Note: holiday travel can be more expensive, so you will want to plan as far in advance as possible.

making the most of limited vacation Bruges Christmas Europe
Christmas in Bruges was a delight.

Take advantage of work trips

If you travel for work, make the most of those trips. (See these tips to make work travel more fun.) There is nothing more frustrating to me than traveling to a new city and only seeing its airport, conference center and a hotel room. If my schedule and budget allow for it, I try to fly in the weekend before or stay the weekend after. (Sometimes I have done both!) If you are traveling back east, you may even be able to see a couple of new cities and states simply because they are closer and connected by relatively short train rides.

R and I took a fun Northeast road trip because we found ourselves on the East Coast for work at the same time. I had a rental car so I picked R up in Boston and from there, we explored Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire on an extended weekend before buckling down and getting back to work. It was a road trip we both remember fondly, even though it was freezing while we were there!

making the most of limited vacation Kansas City
Taking a selfie in Kansas City after a week-long work trip.

Consider travel time

If you have limited vacation hours, you will want to consider the amount time it actually takes you to travel somewhere. Can you drive there in less than a day? Is there a non-stop flight available? You do not want to spend half of your vacation just getting to your destination. (Unless you are road tripping. Then by all means, enjoy the journey.) I find it hard to justify a plane ticket to anywhere in Asia for a short trip. It just seems like a waste of a 14-hour flight. I would save that for those instances I have more time to explore and use my long weekends for those places I can get to in a couple of hours.

And don’t be afraid to explore your own backyard. You might be surprised by the possible adventures that surround you.

making the most of limited vacation horseback riding Sawtooth Mountains
Horseback riding just a couple of hours from home.

Prioritize

Making the most of limited vacation time means saying no. This is the hardest part, in my opinion. Limited time means limited options for activities, restaurants, attractions, etc. Prioritize what you really, really want to do and try not to beat yourself up for the things you miss. Just tell yourself you will come back and try them on your next trip.

Prioritization is part of any vacation. But it is especially important on a short and sweet ones.

Anticipate and reminisce

A trip is made up of three phases: planning, the trip itself and recollection. You will want to maximize all three in order to get the most out of your vacation. Do not underestimate the power of anticipation. I love a good plan and feel that planning a vacation is the next best thing to actually going on one. Planning and research keeps you excited and focused on your next adventure.

After you return home from a trip, you can still glean enjoyment from your adventures. Even just talking about a trip can evoke feelings of nostalgia. I recommend you take photos, keep a travel journal or document your trip in some sort of way. Then go back and reminisce every now and then. Once in a while, I will read R a passage from one my travel journals. It usually ends in laughter and a whole lot of, “remember when…” This is especially true with my Ecuador travel journal. For some reason, that trip was particularly entertaining and reading about it brings back all of those funny memories.

making the most of limited vacation Ecuador travel journal
My travel journal from Ecuador is full of stories about our entertaining travel companions (notice Linda behind us).

Conclusion

For most of us, three-month excursions to Spain or year-long trips around the world are not feasible. Instead, we have to find the best ways to stretch our vacation hours and dollars as far as they will go. Our hope is that the tips and tricks discussed above will help you in making the most of limited vacation hours, money or both.

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