Let’s start this article by saying that travel is a privilege, one that should not be taken for granted! There are so many amazing places in the world, and while I can never visit them all, I try my utmost to make travel a priority. In the past few years, I’ve traveled to 20+ countries while working a fulltime job (during most of these years). Now, is it possible to combine work and travel? I guess so, and here’s how:
How to travel while working a full-time job
People often ask me how I can travel so much, while also having a regular job (I’m currently a team manager at a large Dutch bank). The shortest answer to this is: it’s a choice! While there are many limiting factors preventing one to travel, ultimately it comes down to priorities.
Looking back on the past 5 years, here are some numbers before I dive into how to maximize travel while working a (fulltime) job.
- In 2014 I traveled a meager 2 weeks.
- In 2015 I traveled for almost 6 months.
- In 2016 I traveled for almost 3 months.
- In 2017 I traveled the entire year.
- In 2018 I traveled for only one month.
- In 2019 I traveled for one month and a half already and have an upcoming 3-week trip planned to Japan.
Take unpaid leave
Starting with 2014, as this was actually a terrible travel year. However, it’s important to include in this article about how to travel with a job. You see, the reason I traveled so little in 2014 is that I was saving up all my vacation days at my job for 2015.
Because in 2015 I went on a 6-month sabbatical from work, which I discussed with my manager almost a year in advance. This sabbatical was partly paid (with the vacation days I’d saved up in the previous year) and partly unpaid (my employer offered unpaid leave as a secondary benefit).
What you can do
Inquire at your employer about the possibilities regarding unpaid leave, many companies offer these secondary benefits! Keep in mind that you will have to save up enough money for these months to spend on your travels (read my travel budget-saving tips below).
Work fewer hours
In 2016, I was back at my job, the same one I had before my sabbatical. Nevertheless, I traveled for almost 3 months that year, a whopping 25% of the year How I did it?
First of all, I started working 36 hours instead of 40 hours (4 days 9 hours). This gives me one day off every week; I frequently use this day to extend my (weekend) trips.
What you can do
Enquire with your employer if you can work according to a similar scheme, this will already free up one day a week that you could use to make short trips closer to home.
Buy additional vacation days
My employer has a policy which allows you to buy extra holiday days and I have done so since I started working there. This gives me an additional three weeks of holiday each year, on top of the 27 days I already have. I know this is a luxury not many people (especially Americans) have and I’m very grateful this is one of the secondary benefits of my company.
What you can do
Check if your company offers similar policies, not many people know about these ‘secret’ secondary benefits. If your company doesn’t have such a policy, ask your boss if you can ‘pay for time’. Perhaps they will allow you to work extra during some weeks and use those extra hours to take a (longer) trip in periods where your company is experiencing a less busy month or season.
Bite the bullet and travel at inconvenient times
I often take short (city) trips to places in Europe. For these short trips, I am prepared to fly/travel at less than ideal times. For example, I drove from the Netherlands to Austria after having worked the entire day, driving the entire night to go skiing the next morning.
Similarly, I flew back from the Azores in the middle of the night, arriving at the airport at 5 am, falling asleep in my bed at 6 am and waking up for a conference call at 9 am. Not ideal, but to the trips are worth these kinds of inconveniences.
What you can do
When looking for flights, don’t immediately discard the ones leaving at 5 am or landing in the middle of the night. Instead, use these to your benefit! Not only can these flights be a lot cheaper, but they will also enable you to take short trips without needing to take (many if any) days off.
Consider quitting your job temporarily
Yes, I know the point of this post is to show how combining full-time work and travel is possible, however, I do want to include this option. Many people are scared to even consider this, but it can definitely be a great temporary option.
In 2017, both my husband and I quit our jobs and left for a one year round the world trip. It was great. It was amazing. It was the best.
We loved that we didn’t have to plan anything, we loved spending so much quality time together and we loved seeing so many amazing places before ‘settling down’.
However, after 11 months of traveling, we found ourselves discussing going back and after one year we set foot in our home country the Netherlands again.
We still love the ultimate freedom long-term travel brings, but we both also really liked our jobs. It felt right to go back, find a new job to use our skills and contribute to society. Luckily, we quickly both found new jobs and have been working at these respective companies since than.
Mind you: we both selected our employers because of the secondary benefits they offer, such as the option of working part-time, taking unpaid leave and buying additional vacation days.
What you can do
Perhaps you’ve been in a job that you’ve gotten the most out and feel it would be time for a new career move. Instead of starting a new job straight away, consider negotiating about the starting date of your new job with your new employer.
Or, if you dare, quit your current job and don’t start looking for a job until you are back from your travels. Taking a step back from everyday busy life will actually help you to think about what you find most important.
Traveling can help you find new insights, which you wouldn’t have discovered when you are part of the never-ending rat race. You can even use these new insights in job interviews after your travels, as you’ll be able to communicate very clearly what’s important to you.
Instead of thinking about those travel weeks or months as wasted time, think of it as invaluable time you spent discovering your true priorities. Interviewers love people who can clearly communicate their core values and why something is important to them!
Find a work and travel balance
Even I have to accept that I can’t travel for three months every year, at least, not in my current job. It’s also about balance. While I may be able to travel a lot in one year, I’ll travel less next year.
For example, in 2018 we didn’t travel that much, mostly because we had a baby in July but also because we both started a new job and wanted to make the most of that.
Nevertheless, when our son was three months old, we took a trip to Greece and later that year we took a short city trip to London.
More importantly, we both bought the maximum number of additional vacation days so we could save up travel days for 2019.
Which brings us to this year, where we took a one-month family trip to Russia, Mongolia, and China (on the Trans Mongolian Express) and will travel to Japan in October.
What you can do
Ask your employer how many vacation days you can carry over to the next year. That way, you can alternate between a year of lots of travel and years of less (or no) travel.
Other things you can do
In the Netherlands, there is another great secondary job benefit which we use to maximize our travel days, which is called parental leave. This unpaid leave is given to all parents with kids below 7 years old. Check your county’s or company’s policy meticulously, often there is more option than you know about.
Furthermore, try and plan trips during National Holidays. Of course, these are usually more expensive, but at least they don’t cost you any paid holiday leave.
How to save as much money as possible for your travels
Obviously, making the time to travel is one thing, having money to buy tickets, pay for hotels, delicious meals and once in a lifetime experiences such as hiking to the Everest Base Camp or making a New Zealand road trip.
While there are people who say you can travel the world for free, I for sure don’t know how they do it. Furthermore, while I’m not necessarily a luxury traveler, I do like a bit of comfort and being able to splurge on a nice hotel or a fancy dinner every once in a while.
The great thing about having a full-time job is it allows me to save up money for travel quite easily. Nevertheless, there are several ways I try to maximize my monthly contribution to my travel fund. For instance, I save lots of money because:
- I rarely buy any clothes. When packing for a long-term trip, you quickly realize you don’t actually need that many clothes. Instead, I invest in a couple of quality items that will last longer. It’s not just better for your wallet and closed space, ultimately, it’s better for the environment as well! My carbon footprint is definitely not the smallest due to the number of flights I take, so I try and compensate by downscaling the number of things I buy and own at home.
- Each time we move, I sell (or give away) everything we didn’t use since our last move. Since we have moved pretty much every three years, we don’t own many unessential things.
- I try and minimize buying things during the day, such as a coffee at Starbucks, a sandwich for lunch at work or a bottle of Diet Coke on my commute back home. While these are small expenses, if you make them every day these amounts quickly add up! I make coffee at home which I take with me in my reusable bamboo cup and make sure to always bring my own reusable water bottle. Again, it’s not just about saving money, but about saving the environment from all the plastic and disposable items as well.
There are many other things you can do to maximize your travel fund, for example, we didn’t own a car for years but instead did everything by public transport. Now that we have a baby, we succumbed and bought a car but not owning one for many years saved us heaps of money.
All these measures add up and soon you’ll both have the time as well as the funds to book a trip to your next dream destination… Happy travels!