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.

Place Shifting

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.

What Else?

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.

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