I may be living the freelance life now (which includes lots of travel since I can take my laptop anywhere), but I worked at traditional 9-5 jobs for most of my 20s and early 30s. Even while holding down sometimes demanding positions, I did plenty of hitting the road, from 12 days in Egypt to a dozen long weekends in Vermont and one in North Carolina, from six-day trips to the Dominican Republic, Canada, and Costa Rica to eight-day jaunts to Maine and Morocco — and on a limited budget too.
I made it work through a combination of tactics, including these:
First, get more time off
Negotiate: Just because a job only offers you a paltry 10 days of vacation a year doesn't mean you have to accept. At two jobs in a row, I didn't haggle over salary during my negotiations, but I did ask for extra vacation days, since more time off was worth more to me than money. Once I was successful in my request, and once I wasn't, but it's definitely worth asking — and it's usually easier for your boss to OK more vacation than more money anyway. You can also ask for more time off after you've been hired. A great time to ask is just after you've scored one for your team or otherwise proven yourself to be a valuable employee.
Take unpaid vacation: I did this successfully at two separate jobs, both times giving my bosses plenty of notice so they could get the paperwork and approvals through fairly easily. In both cases I was simply docked a week of pay from my normal check, and it was totally worth it to me to have that extra five days to travel. Of course I made sure I could cover my bills for that cycle in advance. One of these weeks was used for my trip to Egypt, for which I took five paid vacation days and five unpaid ones. Frankly I don't even remember my coworker's names from that job, but I'll never forget flying over Cairo and seeing the pyramids for the first time, or cruising down the Nile River and seeing the stars twinkle over the distant dunes.
And I must mention, for those of you who think taking extra time off will hurt your career or change how your boss sees you: in both jobs during which I took unpaid vacation, I was also later promoted, so travel didn't hurt my reputation at my job.
Next, travel with time in mind
Go direct: Spend less time flying and more time enjoying your destination by limiting your list of places to go to those that will be a direct flight from your departing city. Be aware that even some smaller locales have direct flights — but only seasonally — so do a bit of research. (For example, NYC has access to the Caribbean, for example, but certain islands only offer direct flights for three or four months of the year.)
Travel on holidays: If you fly on Christmas Day, New Year's Eve or New Year's Day (or any other holidays), you can often get a great fare at an otherwise busy time — and use your holiday days for travel without cutting into your vacation days. This is the only way I have ever traveled during holiday weeks.
Utilize weekends wisely: If you take a Friday or Monday off (just one day) and leave Thursday or Friday night for your destination, you can have two full days to enjoy where you go (and maybe a leisurely morning as well), which is plenty of time to feel like you've really gotten away from your regular life.
Get creative about transportation
Grand Central Station is a public transportation hub in NYC. (Photo: Paul Matthew Photography/Shutterstock)
Don't forget the train or bus: Especially if you ride overnight, you can go surprisingly far from home, often at a discount. And no, it's not comfortable, but I've managed to get four or five hours of sleep sitting up, which is enough to get you through, especially if you sleep well the night before a red-eye voyage. If you're not near a hub airport, this can be a great solution to getting out of town quickly and on a budget. If you need to, you can also do some work on a train or bus if your job is laptop-compatible.
Train and bus travel has the added advantage of being a part of the trip, instead of time to endure until you arrive at your destination. Looking out the window from a train is what I call seeing "America's backyard" (it goes for other countries too) as trains travel through towns and not around them. If it's been awhile since you took a bus, many of them are much more comfortable than they used to be and some even have WiFi.
Add onto a work trip: If you have enough advance notice to plan, simply extend your trip to wherever it is you are already going. It shouldn't cost the company more and may even save them cash — if you fly home on a Monday night instead of a Friday, for example. If you can get your job to pay for transportation, that frees up money and travel time for you to explore a new place — beyond the expo, meeting or factory you're there to see for your job. Again, just ask nicely; you'll be surprised at how easy this is.
Christine Amorose, who wrote a travel post for Yahoo!, takes this concept a step further, and tries to plan work trips to places she'd like to visit. She writes, "I’m always looking for new cities that it makes sense for me to visit on my company’s behalf — especially ones I want to visit myself!"
Choose places where public transit rules: Of course most major cities are public-transit friendly, so you won't need to rent a car upon arrival. But there are even rural and tropical places where you don't need a vehicle or might only want to rent one for a day or two instead of the whole week. I was pleasantly surprised at the bus service in Mexico, Costa Rica, Barbados and the Big Island of Hawaii. It might take a little extra time, but it's a great way to see how the locals travel, and it's always much cheaper than a car.
Consider accommodation alternatives:
Use your connections: Do you have an old friend or family acquaintance you can stay with for a night? Most of us are more than willing to put up someone we know — and we might even treat them to breakfast. If you know someone who lives in a place you're going to, hitting them up for a night's accommodation will take a nice slice out of your hotel budget, and it's especially useful on your first night in town, as your friend might be able to give you some great local advice. I'm not advocating sleeping on your ex-roommate's couch for a week here — just suggesting that one night gratis with a friend might take a travel plan into the "affordable" category, especially in a place where rooms are pricey.
Take advantage of the sharing economy: You can often find better deals for places to stay at Airbnb and other similar sites, especially if you don't care much about where you sleep. If a futon and access to a shower once a day is all you need, why pay for an expensive hotel room? Hostels are also much cleaner and safer than they used to be, and more of them are open to travelers of all ages.
Go solo: It's a truth universally known that for each person added to an excursion, the time and expense of booking tickets and finding a place you can agree on increases exponentially. If you spend your time waiting for both your besties to become available for a trip, you might never go. Book your trip and don't be afraid to travel on your own, and if you want to invite one of your friends to join, you won't miss the boat if they flake out. Besides, solo travel is fun, rewarding and safer than you think.
Related on MNN:
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- How fast could you travel across the US in the 1800s?
- Take my hand: 15 amazing photos of one couple's travels