“I prefer slow travel because I don’t like to feel rushed.”
Sam and I have heard this phrase from countless travelers over the past few years.
These same people often write blog posts about how they sold all their stuff, moved back with their parents for a year, then spent the two years surfing in Asia, driving through South America in a converted minivan, or backpacking through Europe.
While there are times I’d like to jump onto the “slow travel” bandwagon, I also have one pesky problem.
A 9-5 job.
And though we happily forgo many luxuries (such as a big house and eating out) in order to pad our travel fund, Sam and I face an even bigger, non-financial restriction: vacation days.
Each year, we receive a grand total of two weeks vacation time, plus the occasional federal holiday.
Though we’d love to spend time slowly working our way through Asia, our bosses probably wouldn’t understand why we missed three months of work in order to visit every sushi restaurant in Japan (not to mention, sushi freaks me out).
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against people who quit their job and travel the world endlessly. I read their blogs!
But the reality is that spending large amounts of time in each destination is simply not an option for most people.
If you happen to be caught in the 9-5 grind, here’s another reality: You can have enjoyable, life-changing travel experiences even if you only get two weeks of vacation days per year.
Last year, Sam and I visited Europe twice and took numerous trips around the United States. We went horseback riding in Iceland, marveled at St. Peter’s Basilica, explored the Smithsonian museums, and strolled Montmartre. In fact, last year was super epic.
We already have a road trip through Ireland and a safari in South Africa on the agenda for this year. We realized that if we waited until we had time to “do it right,” we’d never go anywhere until we retired.
Here are some ways Sam and I have maximized our travel experiences despite working full-time jobs:
Maximize the Time you Have
How many days do you need to visit X or Y destination? Exactly how many days you have.
Sam and I live by the philosophy that two days in Rome is better than zero days in Rome. So rather then wishing you could stay longer, make the most of what time you do have. Last year we spent a total of six hours in Florence, and still made great memories!
That said, using vacation days strategically is the key to maximizing travel while working full-time. We always travel over weekends to minimize the number of vacation days we burn. For example, we always try to depart on a Friday and return on a Sunday. That way we can stretch one week of vacation time over 10 days.
Another way to maximize vacation time is to travel over holiday weekends. We planned our trip to Europe last fall over Labor Day weekend. By tacking weekends on to both ends of our trip and utilizing our holiday Monday, we were able stretch two weeks of vacation time over 17 days.
If you have a job that allows you to bank vacation days by working overtime or weekends, take advantage of those opportunities as much as possible. Even though working extra-long days may not sound fun, you will be grateful you did when you’re lounging on a beach in the Caribbean.
An inescapable reality of “fast travel” is that you won’t be able to see everything. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a great experience!
Whenever we plan a trip to a new city or region, we always start by making a list of everything we’d like to see. From there, we whittle the list down to places we most want to see.
For example, Paris has an endless number of incredible museums. No one could possibly visit them all in three days. Instead, choose the two or three that most appeal to you and plan to visit the others on a return visit.
If you come away from a trip having done and seen what interests you most, you will be less likely to regret the things you missed.
When we visited Iceland last year, we only had three full days to spend in the country. Despite our limited time, we managed to squeeze in the Blue Lagoon, horseback riding, driving the Golden Circle, road tripping the south coast, and exploring Reykjavik.
Had we postponed our trip until we had enough time to “do it right” we would have missed out on some incredible experiences!
Don’t “Wing It”
A popular travel trend is to travel without a set itinerary. Doing so leaves you more open to fun, spontaneous experiences. Or so we’re told.
Sam and I take a vastly different approach.
We rarely leave for a trip without making all our hotel accommodations and a rough daily itinerary. In part, we’re both far too type A to leave anything unplanned.
But the main reason we plan our itinerary in advance is to maximize our time and finances. When you only have three days in a city, having an efficient plan of attack means you’re able to cover more ground with less stress. Rather than spending hours each day deciding where to go and when, all you have to do is execute the plan.
That said, travel is all about the twists and turns. So we try not to beat ourselves up if (and when) things go wrong!
Just because you can’t quit your job and live a nomadic lifestyle doesn’t mean you can’t have amazing travel experiences!
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