It's an unfortunate statistic that more than 40% of Americans claim they don't take vacation time at all. But while permanent employees with paid time off might have an easier time getting away here and there, taking vacation becomes all the more challenging when you're self-employed.

For one thing, no one's going to pay you for that time away, which means skipping even a day of work could put you at a financial disadvantage. Furthermore, if you're a one-person show, escaping the daily grind even briefly could cause you to fall dangerously behind.

Man with backpack facing ocean and mountain scenery


It's important to take time off because if you don't, you're more likely to succumb to job-related burnout, which could compromise your productivity (and finances) long term. The good news, however, is that if you plan accordingly, you can get away from work without leaving too much of a mess behind. Here's how to do it.

1. Give your clients plenty of notice

If you're self-employed with no guarantee of a steady paycheck, the last thing you want to do is skip town for a week and leave your clients in a lurch. But if you communicate with the clients who have come to rely on you well in advance and let them know you're planning a getaway, the repercussions should be minimal or nonexistent.

As a courtesy to the clients who depend on you (and whose payments you depend on in turn), reach out before you officially make your plans to ensure that there's no glaring conflict. If there is, aim to be flexible. It could be that postponing your time off by even a couple of days will make a client much happier.

Once your plans are booked, send periodic reminders letting your clients know. You might, for example, opt to reach out two weeks before you're set to be away and then a week before you're out of the office so that no one is caught by surprise.

2. Bank more of your earnings for flexibility later on

One reason why so many self-employed workers forgo vacation is that they can't afford to lose out on the pay. But if you start saving for that time off in advance, you'll have more options for taking an unpaid break later on.

Imagine you typically earn $1,000 a week, which is money you can't live without. If you decide you're going to take off the last week in December, start planning for it in July. Banking just $40 extra a week for six months will leave you with enough extra income to make up for that lost $1,000 in earnings.

Now you may be tempted to tap your emergency fund when you're self-employed and are looking at a number of days without pay, but don't do it. That account should be reserved for unanticipated expenses only. If you plan your time off strategically, you'll have an opportunity to save for it rather than fall back on your emergency cash.

3. Hire a backup

Just because you're used to working solo doesn't mean you can't enlist outside help when you want or need to get away. If you know you'll be out of the office, it might pay to outsource your work to somebody else or hire someone to tackle certain projects in your absence. Will this cost you some money? Sure. But you may be better off paying someone to jump in than missing out on the income you'd normally collect during your time away.

Of course, finding a backup is easier said than done. You'll need to do a good job of vetting the person you hire to ensure that you don't compromise on the quality of your work and your associated reputation. But if you find the right fit, it could end up being a good arrangement for both of you -- especially if you're able to then serve as each other's backups on an as-needed basis.

Though it's not easy to take time off when you're self-employed, there comes a point when you just plain need a break. With any luck, if you follow these tips, you'll have an easier time leaving your workload behind and taking the personal time you need.

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