[Originally published in the Huffington Post]
Seeing the world can feel like an impossible feat, as it always seems that those who have time don’t have money, and those who have money don’t have time. Particularly in uncertain economic times, the priority of keeping a steady job tends to supersede the savory qualities of travel. We rationalize that you can’t have it all, and when push comes to shove, better to survive than enjoy.
Of course, there are the professions that integrate a fair amount of both–consulting, business development and private equity, to name a few. But, if you find yourself more limited to cubicle (or if your work travel is directed to the likes of Tuscaloosa or Cincinnati), is it still possible?
I’ve spent the past six years developing my career and averaging between four to six international trips a year for pleasure–without breaking the bank or exceeding my paid-time-off limits. I can say, with certainty, yes. How? In this first article, I’ll address maximizing time:
Take all your vacation days: According to Expedia’s annual vacation deprivation survey, after Asian countries, Americans are among the worst at depriving themselves of allotted vacation days. “Twelve days of paid-time-off? Thanks sir, but I’d prefer to take 10.” Silly, right? Take advantage of all your days; that’s why you negotiated them.
Make time work for you: There are pockets of time a year when companies give you freebie days off. The obvious ones: holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the slightly less obvious ones, like the Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day. Barring family obligations or traditions, these pockets provide the best return-on-investment for time. Aside from this, too often, people discount shorter one-day holidays that still provide an added value–take President’s Day, MLK or Pulaski Day (if you work for the City of Chicago). Taking four days of PTO during these periods still provide nine days net of vacation time.
Consider your destination time zone: I currently live in Chicago, and as much as I love Asia and Europe, when it comes to traveling over an abridged time period (e.g. two days wrapped around each side of a weekend), it is much wiser to fly south. Why?
- Time zones are close. The time difference between Chicago, Central and South America is only a few hours apart in most cases; in Central, there is no difference. Therefore, my body does not need to adjust and shift to a seven-hour time change that can leave me sluggish for half of an already short trip.
- Overnight flights use time efficiently. Many flights to South American countries from Colombia to Chile to Argentina to Brazil have red-eyes that depart from Houston, Miami or Fort Lauderdale (trying to be One World and Star Alliance agnostic here) around midnight and land in the morning. I’m an easy one to consume a glass of wine and sleep on the plane. It’s so simple: fall asleep in Houston; wake up in Rio.
Know your commodity. Don’t put money first when time should come first: A piece of travel advice I always give is to know your commodity. For most, this is either time or money. Assuming employment is the default, time should generally be the priority commodity. Don’t skimp on a $70 plane ride for a $20 bus in Tanzania just because the 10 hours of time you inherently “trade” can significantly impact what activities you can do. The bus ride may prevent you from going on safari for an extra day or keep you overnight in the capital city because you’ve missed the last ferry to Zanzibar. Actual cost is more than dollars.
Do your research: Research is ultimately the key to success to both preventing stupid, time-costly mistakes and squeezing the most out of a day. Going to Patagonia in South American summer (peak season) means that rental cars may not be available for a few days when you book them on the fly, particularly if you are a silly American who can only drive automatic vehicles (me). An overnight bus from Santiago north to San Pedro de Atacama can save you the loss of a day in transit. Taking the time to understand infrastructure challenges and possibilities prior to taking a trip has the potential to save a precious day.
Negotiate work flexibility: I personally believe that the age of the 9-5 is over. I can’t remember the last time I actually worked from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Some of my best thinking happens in shower; I fall asleep with my laptop in bed mid-email; and sometimes the conversations and experiences I have abroad inextricably affect my passion for my job. Most people are afraid to ask about flexibility: Can I do some assignments while I’m not physically in the office? Can I work remotely on Fridays? I personally believe in a world of hyper-transparency, and being honest about your personal desires can help identify points of intersection between what you–and your company–want. Retention of good employees is, after all, a corporate priority. But you won’t get anything until you ask.
There are many ways to stretch time, both on utilizing vacation days and maximizing each day on the ground. It takes just a few insights to help make time work for you. Next up: stretching a budget.