How to Make the Most of Your Unused Vacation Time
Have you accumulated a lot of vacation time? It may seem like you're doing your employer a favor by letting those vacation hours expire – but the opposite is true. Taking a break to rest and recharge increases productivity, boosts creativity, and reduces stress-related health risks. As a result, you'll be happier, healthier, and more productive when you return to work!
Whether you're dreaming of a relaxing staycation or a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, we've got some tips to help you make the most of your unused vacation time.
1. Keep track of your paid vacation days (and when they expire!)
Yes, unused vacation days do expire. Many employees get so busy at work that they forget to keep track of personal time they've accrued. You may even be aware of your unused time, but you're banking the days instead of taking them.
Remember, there's no universal company policy on PTO, sick time, or vacation time. Be sure to refer to your employee handbook for details about any vacation payout, expiration, or rollover policies. If you're not familiar with your employer's time-off policy, you may accidentally forfeit hard-earned vacation days.
2. Prioritize your time-off request
When you decide to use your paid vacation days, make your vacation request well in advance. If you wait until the last minute, it may be more difficult for your employer to approve your time off due to work-related conflicts and other planned employee absences.
Planning ahead is especially important if you're coordinating time off with a spouse, attending a wedding, or booking non-refundable tickets. Ideally, you should put in your time-off request at least six months in advance for big trips. Shorter vacations and extended weekends may require less notice.
3. Stretch out limited vacation days
Even if your employer doesn't have a generous vacation policy, strategic planning can help you maximize your time off. One easy way to do this is to schedule weekends into your trip.
For example, let's say you have seven unused vacation days. You can finish up a regular workweek and start your vacation on a Friday night. Then, take the next five consecutive weekdays off. Include the following weekend in your vacation and take your last two vacation days on Monday and Tuesday. You've just turned seven vacation days into an 11-day break!
Another way to maximize your limited vacation days is to schedule them around federal holidays. For instance, if one of your employee benefits is paid holidays, taking time off around Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's won't require you to use as many accrued vacation days.
4. Bank unused vacation time for extended trips
You'll need to double-check your company's policy, but if they allow you to rollover unused vacation time into next year, consider banking your hours for an extended vacation. This strategy is a great way to plan an extended two- or three-week trip.
For example, suppose you get seven paid vacation days per year and your employer allows you to bank any accrued vacation time. As long as those days don't expire, you could plan for a 14-day vacation the following year!
Alternatively, you can take several short-term trips spread throughout the year. This can actually be a more restful option because you'll enjoy frequent mental breaks.
5. Start saving for your vacation as soon as possible
Before putting in your vacation request, make sure you can afford it — especially if you're taking any unpaid time off work.
Explore vacation destinations and decide what type of trip you want to take. Estimate how much everything will cost. Then, create a budget and start saving! The more time you give yourself to plan and save for your trip, the easier it'll be to set aside the funds you need.
In addition to saving money, consider alternative methods of earning extra cash, such as selling unwanted items or getting a temporary side gig.
6. Remember: vacations don't need to be expensive
When researching vacation destinations, look into accommodations that offer multi-night packages at a lower cost. You might also consider visiting friends or relatives, taking a family trip and splitting the costs, or staying at a destination close to home.
Camping is another inexpensive option for getting away and recharging in nature. Inexpensive outdoor activities can include kayaking, swimming, hiking, ziplining, boating, and fishing.
Finally, don't overlook the benefits of a staycation! Vacationing at home affords the perfect opportunity to relax, work on creative projects, and make memories with the family. It can also be fun to act as a tourist in your area! Spend your staycation visiting local attractions, exploring the outdoors, and dining at new restaurants.
7. Plan your vacation details in advance
Whichever type of vacation you choose, map out your itinerary as early as possible. Do you need to make reservations? Ask someone to house-sit or feed your pets? Are there any special discounts or offers available for seasonal travel?
Also, research the attractions you're hoping to visit, as it's not uncommon for museums and amusement parks to close on certain days of the week. You'll also want to check for any seasonal closings or planned renovations.
Figuring out all these details can determine when you can make the best use of your paid time off.
8. Slow down and enjoy your vacation time
In an ideal world, we'd all have unlimited vacation time. But, since you only have so many vacation days available, it's easy to feel rushed during your getaway.
To make the most of your paid personal time, try to get as much work done as possible before taking off. Remind your supervisor or team that you're going on vacation, and to bring anything they need to your attention before then. The more you can get done in advance, the less you'll worry about work piling up while you're away.
Be sure to pack your bags in the days leading up to your trip. If you're going on a road trip, fill up your gas tank the day before and pack sunscreen, extra clothing, medications, water, snacks, and a cooler. Loading up the car the night before can also alleviate stress. That way, all you have to do the morning of your departure is get up, get ready, and go!
9. Avoid checking your work email on vacation
Going on vacation is your chance to unplug. While giving up your phone entirely may not be an option, you can turn off notifications for your work email and work-related apps.
And, it goes without saying that you shouldn't email or call the office to check in. You've earned those vacation hours, so savor them!
Start making your work-life balance a priority
Don't let any unused vacation time go to waste! Taking time off work to rest and recharge is essential for both your personal well-being and professional success. Whether you schedule a few days off here and there or book a dream vacation, you'll come back feeling happier and more productive — and that's better for everyone!