Good morning. I’m writing this post as I’m sitting at home with a sick toddler. Well, sick might be the wrong word – she’s getting over something from the weekend, woke up a bit grumpy still, and we decided to keep her home. If you’re a parent, chances are, you’ve been in the same situation before. The end result is burning a day of time off from work, and for may of us, that comes out of the same pool of days that we can allocate to fun things. I certainly consider myself fortunate to have paid time off, especially the amount that I get, but it’s always a bit of a bummer for everyone when it’s one day less that we can spend on vacation.
I’ve been giving it a fair amount of thought lately, but today seems like an appropriate time to write about it. At least for those of us based in the United States, we live in an environment where it’s fairly easy to acquire points and miles for free travel, but we also live in one where not everyone even gets paid vacation, let alone enough of it to really get out there realize the fruits of our miles and points efforts. I’m the last person that ought to complain about time off, and my intent isn’t to start a pity party. Rather, what I propose is a shift to “manufacturing” leisure time. I have more questions than answers on the topic, but we have to start somewhere.
One thing we’ve tried this year is shifting locations for a week, but otherwise continuing the daily routine. This worked pretty well for me because my main goal when traveling is to blend in. I don’t have a checklist of sights that I need to see. I prefer to try and live like a local as much as possible, even if that means working when we’re on the road.
To give an example, we traveled out to San Diego in early May this past year. We were out there for 9 nights at the Park Hyatt Aviara, thanks to an excellent rate and every 3rd night free with American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts. Over the two weekends, we did things as a family – Legoland, the Zoo, the Children’s Museum and of course just enjoying the weather. During the week, I worked. It was an experiment and I think it paid off. Thanks to a flexible manager, I was able to simply bring my laptop with me and continue to work and manage my team. Based on how productive things were, this is now an arrangement I’m comfortable approving if my employees want to try it.
I have to admit that this worked well primarily because I live and work on the east coast and my company is accustomed to east coast hours. Being on Pacific Time, I simply didn’t change my sleep schedule – I was working by 8am EST and off at 5 or 6 EST, meaning my day was over mid-afternoon Pacific Time and I could head out to meet the rest of my family for whatever the activity was. There were some definite drawbacks. First, we were in a hotel, which is decidedly un-local, but it was a worthy compromise because we could have breakfast and dinner downstairs without too much hassle and frankly the rate was better than what we were finding on sites like VRBO for that time period. Second, I missed out on plenty of fun time, but due to the time difference not as much as I would have thought.
This is an arrangement we’re likely to try again, probably in reverse the next time – with me taking the week off and my wife working from wherever we are. This can help us squeeze in an extra trip every year provided that the timing makes sense.
Maximizing Existing Vacation Periods
This might sound obvious, but another way to make more of our time off is to take long weekends or book week long trips over time periods that include company holidays or school holidays that we’d be obligated to take off anyway. The winter has Martin Luther King Day and Presidents Day. Summer has Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day. In the fall, Columbus Day is a school holiday. The downside is that we would be on the go over peak times, so everything is going to be a little bit more crowded.
One way to work around the crowds is to simply go where it’s off peak, or not quite peak, even during the holiday. Consider that European trip in the January or February time frame. Most of Italy, for instance, remains very temperate during that time. Rome and Florence might be in the 50’s during the day and as a bonus, absolutely nothing is crowded. During the summer dates, get away from the coast or head into the cities. We were able to book an award stay in Boston over Memorial Day Weekend this year and crowds were surprisingly light. For the Northerners, Canada is also a great destination over the summer. My town here in Maine becomes practically French-speaking over the summer, so last 4th we headed up to Montreal and had a nice time with light crowds since Canada is not busy celebrating American Independence.
As I’d said before, I’m short on answers to this dilemma, but I do want to manufacture more time to travel with my family. I want to keep this going as a series, although I’m not sure how regular it can be since I’m fresh out of new ideas on this front. I’m actively looking for more, though. Early retirement isn’t an option, but short of that, what other ideas do you have? Please share in the comments below.
You could move to Canada or Europe? 🙂
As you can see, I haven’t got any great answers either. We lived in England when we were first married, and when our kids were born (5-7 years ago). My husband and I each had 5 weeks of annual leave (aka vacation). Now that we are back in the states, my husband has 14 days + a floating holiday. And I stay home with the kids. This, of course, makes us more flexible than a two job family, but it’s still not great for me to go on trips with the kids while my husband is at work. He feels left out, and I enjoy the trip less because I’m doing all of the parenting work.
My husband works at a government lab, and we used to tag along on his once or twice a year trips to conferences. We rarely do that anymore, because it is such a hassle. Since the various scandals involving govt departments spending travel money on things that sounded ridiculous (some of them actually were ridiculous, others were extremely reasonable expenditures to anyone who knows anything about what travel costs), they have made it much more difficult for him to bring us along (paying our own way of course). For example, if we want to drive as a family, instead of him flying, we have to have it approved by someone very high up. Same with adding any extra vacation days before or after the work trip, or even staying there for the weekend preceding the start of a conference. It’s lots of little annoyances that for some people might not be a big deal, but to him (and by extension our family) it is so inconvenient as to cancel out the positivity of having us along on a trip.
As you can see, I have no good ideas on this subject, but would love for there to be decent options out there. One thing that we do is take advantage of basically buying three more days of vacation: the lab where my husband works closes down entirely between christmas and new years’. This leaves three days that each person either has to take as vacation or can take as unpaid leave, if they choose. We always take them as unpaid leave. It lowers his paycheck by three days that month, but the time is worth it to us.
I used to be a government employee. I take your husband is a contractor and not a Fed? He might consider getting hired on if leisure time is the goal. I came in with ~20 days of vacation, 13 days sick and all 11 Federal holidays. I got credit for my comparable private sector service, which most agencies do – the key is, the form HAS to be signed before his start date, so it’s something you negotiate once you have an offer. Most anyone I’ve talked to has been fine with doing it – many Federal HR departments are unaware of it, as mine was, so many don’t even know they have it to offer as a recruiting tool. I do miss that aspect of it, but ultimately we left the DC area because the cost of living is just ridiculous.
AWTY – thanks for your response. Yes, he’s a contractor, not a fed. I don’t think anyone other than a few special groups (like cyber security) are Feds where he works. It’s definitely something worth looking into, though. I really appreciate the input.
My husband used to work for a School Board before we had kids. He didn’t have summer off, but still, we had a ton of vacation time. He accepted a job offer form a local bank which came with a decent raise. But it also came with less vacation time, much less. You know how they say: You don’t appreciate something till it’s gone. Well, we sure learned it the hard way.
We are still better off than most, with my husband getting 3 paid weeks off per year. We usually break them up into 2 or 3 trips. We also take advantage of nearby PointBreaks hotels on weekends, which I highly recommend. Even if lodging is not located in a tourist zone, it’s a break from monotony. We’ve had some fun times as a family. And for 5,000 points per night, it doesn’t need to be perfect, so no pressure.
I think this is a great conversation to have! I have done the same as you – taken my laptop and worked from wherever it is we’re at (my mother-in-law’s house at Christmas, my mother’s house, my grandmother’s house when she was ill, a hotel when on a tour with my chorus, etc.). Used to work fro a company that allowed you to “purchase” an extra week of vacation and spread the purchase out over the year – I loved that! Current company doesn’t do that, but at least now they’ll allow you to carry over a week of vacation if you can manage it.
I really like this post – its very 4hourworkweek-ish. In that, really, in the world we live in, most folks can work from nearly anywhere. Its an amazing thing, and something that I hope more employers embrace.