With July just around the corner, we’re all gearing up for that big summer vacation. From the sun-kissed streets of Italy to the cities of India, here in the US, we’re ready to go.
With vacation season upon us, the question of paid leave is on everyone’s minds – and it’s a tricky subject for Americans. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
, the average American earns 10 days of paid vacation after one year on the job.
Compare that with the 25 days of annual paid vacation that our friends in France get, the 20 days in the U.K., and the 22 days in Spain – it just doesn’t seem fair. On top of that, about 25 percent of the American workforce don’t get any paid time off, as a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research showed.
But until the legislation changes (where do we sign that petition?!), here are 10 ways to maximize those 10 measly days into some valuable vacation time.
1. Use remote work days to extend your vacation time
If your company allows for a certain number of work-from-home days, use that to your advantage by traveling after hours two nights before your first day of vacation—and then working from your destination for a day, so that the moment you sign off, you’re already on vacation.
For example, if you’re taking Friday off for a three-day weekend, fly out on Wednesday night and log in to work Thursday, so that you start your getaway from the moment you log off on Thursday night. This, in essence, gives you an extra evening of vacation.
2. Take advantage of half-day policies
Here’s another company policy to look into: half-day vacations. Dividing up your days like this is an effective way of extending your time away.
Oftentimes, instead of taking one whole Friday or one whole Monday off, splitting it into an afternoon off on a Friday and a morning off on a Monday can allow you to avoid peak travel times and get to your destination faster for road trips or find better prices for plane trips.
3. Turn Summer Fridays into long weekends
This year, 55 percent of U.S. companies offer a Summer Friday program, which can vary, but tend to fall between Memorial Day and Labor Day (or for some companies, they start up after the Fourth of July).
A common Summer Friday practice is to close up shop anywhere between one to five hours earlier. Combine that with the above two strategies and you can really milk the vacation time, either by working less hours on that remote day or only taking a half day off on the Summer Friday to get a full day off (pending the company policy, of course).
Another way some companies do Summer Fridays is by giving employees a set number of Fridays completely off. Since they’re not national holidays that everyone else has, you can often find better deals for travel to popular destinations at a great price. (Case in point: On a random Friday my company had off, I flew to Savannah from New York for $48.20.)
4. Find out if you have personal days
Depending on your company’s specific policy, PTO may all be lumped together. But in many cases, on top of the vacation days, there are two more days, either called “personal days” or “floaters.” These are “free” days off, meaning that if you leave your job, you won’t get them back. So always use them first—before any vacation days—since they’re typically use-it-or-lose-it.
But since they are personal days, it’s up to you to do what you want to with them, so transform them into extra vacation days and suddenly you’ve upped your vacation day count by two!
5. Piggyback your days onto US public holidays
With Fourth of July falling on a Thursday this year, if your company doesn’t have the Friday off, taking that one day off can still stretch it into a four-day weekend.
Take a look at your company’s holiday schedule for the year and put in for your days off surrounding holidays in order to get more consecutive vacation time. Of course, those will likely be the hardest days to get approved since your coworkers will likely try to get them too (especially those around the December holiday), so snag the holiday piggyback days as soon as you can. In fact, why not put in for those end-of-the-year days off now, if you haven’t already? You can always rescind them later.
6. Learn how to strategize vacation math
Take the vacation piggybacking strategy to the next level by really squeezing the most days out of the year by looking at how the company holidays fall. For most people, the best “deal” will be Thanksgiving week since most companies will have both Thanksgiving Thursday and Black Friday off.
That means, if you take off the Monday through Wednesday before, you’ll get nine days off for the price of three. There’s no better deal than that! Plus it’s the perfect time of year to take a solo vacation.
Following that logic, taking four days off on any three-day weekend (Presidents’ Day in February, Memorial Day in May, Labor Day in September—and if you’re lucky, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January and Veterans’ Day in November), will also get you nine days off for the price of four.
Fourth of July and Christmas can be trickier depending on what day of the week they land. Oftentimes, if they do fall on a Tuesday or Thursday, generous companies will also give you the Monday or Friday, so that you can pull off the Thanksgiving three-days-for-nine-days math. Or if not, the four-days-for-nine-days is still a sweet deal.
7. Strategize your rollover days
Learn your company’s specific rules about how unused vacation days are handled. Some roll them over into the following year, but they max out at a certain number of days (often 30 days), while others have an expiration date (for instance, at one company I worked for, if you didn’t use them by March 31 of the following year, you lost them).
And if you’re looking to take longer vacations, make sure that “saving” your days from one year to the next will still be effective by the time you’re booking your trip.
8. Ask about unpaid days off and comp time
Dreaming of that South Africa adventure? Been eyeing that Japan getaway? Between the long flights and time differences from the U.S., those all comfortably require two weeks off—basically the bulk of your vacation balance.
But don’t let that hold you back from your bucket-list vacation. If you’re short a day or two, inquire about unpaid days off. If you’ve been putting in overtime on weekends and after hours, also ask about the compensation ‘comp’ time policy. Some companies may allow you to link your comp days to a vacation in order to give you more consecutive days together. So if that’s the case, maybe volunteering to work on a Saturday could be a good investment!
9. Read the employee handbook
Now and then, it’s also a good idea to browse the company handbook to see if there might be some other policies that might offer additional time off.
For instance, some companies give you a bonus day off on your birthday, which you can redeem on the actual day or save for later. Other companies also have additional allowance for time off tied to volunteering, which you can redeem by going on a voluntourism trip.
10. Actually use all of your vacation days
Sure, we can blame the embarrassingly low number of paid days off in the United States as the reason we don’t travel as much as they do in other countries, but the truth is, many of us simply don’t use our vacation days.
While we tend to fall into the American habit of hoarding all our days (as a nation, we waste 705 million days a year!), the best way to maximize your annual vacation time is simple: take every day you have. After all, you’ve earned them.