How to Actually Travel When You Work a Full Time Desk Job

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You scan pinterest and instagram, come across an incredible beach sunset pic, sigh, and think “I wish I could travel like that, without a care in the world” and your daydreaming soon turns to anger as you exclaim, “…too bad some of us have bills to pay!”

I know how this scene goes, because I work a full time desk job. So does my husband, Shane. So we know how easy it is to fall into a routine of: work, watch tv, sleep. Even those who want to take a vacation have a hard time finding both the time and money to do so, which means many Americans end up not even using all of their vacation days. But taking time away from work is so important to your well-being. It clears your head, puts situations in perspective, and helps you prioritize your life and make decisions. You’ll come back to work from vacation refreshed and with a better sense of purpose!

Despite the fact that we are practically chained to desks from 8–5 Monday through Friday, we have still managed to travel to 21 countries together while working full time jobs. Just this past year we hiked to Machu Picchu in Peru, had mojitos in Havana, explored Petra like Indiana Jones, slept in the desert in Jordan, saw Star Wars in Istanbul, stood in the holiest of holy places in Jerusalem, and climbed the pyramids of Teotihuacan in Mexico.

So, how do we do it? We’ve put together a list of 10 practical tips we utilize to make sure we always take that vacation time.

1) Make the most of your vacation days
Most of us working full time jobs in the U.S. get an allotted amount of paid vacation days to use per year, but many end the year without even using their time off. It’s hard to find that perfect work/life balance but the fact is: your job is not your entire life. Don’t let yourself get addicted to working. Your company will survive without you for one week while you take a vacation. You work hard for them and one of the ways you’re compensated for that work is in paid vacation days. USE THOSE DAYS!

A rare glimpse of Salkantay Peak

Hiking the Salkantay trail to Machu Picchu in Peru.

2) Book your trip around public holidays
Planning your vacation around a public holiday, like Independence Day, allows you to maximize your vacation time in a big way. Using only 4 of your vacation days, you can book a trip with weekends on each end for a 9 day vacation!

Shopping in Marrakech, Morocco.

Shopping in Marrakech, Morocco.

3) Ask off way in advance
If it’s first come, first served at your office, then turn in your vacation request as early as you can. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know where you’re going yet, as you can always adjust the exact dates later on if you need to. Plan first, book later.

Inspecting Stonehenge in England.

Inspecting Stonehenge in England.

4) Take unpaid leave
If a trip of a lifetime comes up that you just can’t pass up, but you don’t have the right amount of vacation days left, ask if you can take 1-2 days of unpaid leave. More than likely, your boss with be cool with it.

Enjoying the hospitality of our boat driver who took us to his home in the Nubian village.

Enjoying an afternoon with new friends in Aswan, Egypt.

5) Get a vacation day raise
Time for a raise, but your boss can’t swing it? Ask for extra days off instead. In a tough economy many businesses can’t afford an increase in payroll, but other compensation such as extra vacay days is an option worth considering.

Running from bulls in Pamplona, Spain.

Running from bulls in Pamplona, Spain.

6) Leave as early and return as late as you possibly can
I’ve known people who purposefully flew home a day early and used their last day of vacation at home “recovering” and doing laundry. In my opinion, that’s what Monday night is for! Use every bit of time you have to make your vacation longer. Have your bag packed on Thursday night, take it to work with you on Friday and leave immediately after work. Fly home super early Monday morning as long as you can get to work by 8am! You have the rest of the YEAR to recover at home and do laundry—don’t use a potential vacation day for it.


Hiking in the Swiss Alps.

7) Stay healthy
Some companies don’t differentiate between sick and vacation days and sadly, many people spend a good chunk of their paid time off sick in bed. Take care of your body by eating real food, going for walks, taking probiotics and not antibiotics. In the long run, staying healthy will also save you money!

Petra Packing List | Penny Caravan

Discovering the ancient city of Petra in Jordan.

8) Save, save and save some more
Set up a travel savings account and have part of your paycheck directly deposited into that account each month. It doesn’t have to be a lot—you’ll be surprised how quickly it adds up. In fact, there are plenty of little ways to save: take your lunch to work, learn how to make your favorite coffee at home, share a ride. And when it comes to big ways to save, well, cutting out your shopping habits will do it quickly. Just ask yourself if you’d rather buy this new dress here at the local mall or use that money to buy a cool new dress in India.

Pyramids of Giza

Riding camels around the Pyramids of Giza.

9) Get inspired
Make sure you don’t fall into the humdrum of city life—follow travel instagram accounts to keep your wanderlust fueled. Watch movies about exotic places. Read books about places you want to travel. Keep your luggage in plain sight so you’re always thinking about your next trip.

Highly recommend renting an ATV to explore the region!

Driving the crazy landscapes of Cappadocia in Turkey.

10) Make travel a priority
Despite your daydreaming, life happens and sometimes it gets to be too much of a hassle to plan a trip. Don’t let this happen. Decide right now that you will visit a new place this year. For us, it’s not even a question whether or not we will take a vacation—only a question of when and where.

Think about how you can utilize some of these tricks at your job and in your life, get psyched about that far off destination you’ve been longing to visit, and turn in that vacation request form!

How to Travel When You Work Full Time | Penny Caravan

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