Published in: Credit Cards | Sept. 10, 2019

8 Ways to Make the Most of Limited Vacation Time

Photo of Lyle Daly

By: Lyle Daly

You don’t need to stay home just because of limited vacation time.

Almost anyone would love to have a nice, long vacation. A longer trip means you’ll have a lot more destinations to choose from, and you’ll also have more time to relax and enjoy yourself.

But sadly, taking multiple weeks off is out of the question for many people. Some don’t have enough vacation time available, some can’t afford it, and some are just far too busy at their jobs to realistically step away for more than a few days.

If you’ve been craving travel but you can’t get away for long, there are several ways you can maximize the time off that you do have, no matter how long it is.

A family taking in the desert view of red rock formations.

Image source: Getty Images

1. Pick a destination that doesn’t require too much travel

When time is short, you don’t want to spend too much of it on the travel itself. The goal is to have as much time as possible at your destination, so you should pick a destination that you can reach in a reasonable timeframe.

Here’s my rule of thumb on this -- I want to be able to spend at least one full day at my destination for every one to two hours of travel it will take to get there.

So, if I only have three days to spare, I’ll look for destinations that I can reach in three to six hours (and preferably on the lower end of that range).

2. Consider booking a redeye flight

A redeye flight can be a good way to combine resting into your travel time, and it’s especially useful if you want to take a longer trip. Instead of wasting most of the day on a flight, you can sleep on the plane and arrive with a full day ahead of you.

If possible, it’s well worth booking a seat in business class for this. They’re much more comfortable, which makes it more likely you’ll be able to sleep and that you’ll wake up feeling refreshed. While business class can cost three times as much as economy, you can often get a better deal by booking with travel rewards

3. Make the most of the weekends and holidays

By scheduling your trip around weekends and holidays, you can have a longer vacation without needing to use too much time off.

An easy way to do this is to leave on a Friday night redeye, take the next work week off, and then return on Sunday. You get an eight- to nine-day vacation, which is more than enough for an international trip.

Can’t get away for a whole week? Try taking the Thursday and Friday off before a holiday weekend, and you’ll have enough time for a four- or five-day trip.

4. Focus on one or two cities

One common mistake travelers make is trying to do too much in one trip. They’re going somewhere new, they want to see it all, and so they try to set up some crazy itinerary, like five cities in seven days.

The problem is that this adds much more downtime to your trip. Not only do you have to consider the travel time between cities, but you also need to factor in all the little things, such as checking into and out of accommodations and waiting for your train, bus, or flight. They all add up and eat into your vacation time. 

A better approach is to aim for three to four days per city. You’ll get to know that area more, and you could save money since you don’t need to book a bunch of transportation from one city to another.

5. Fly nonstop or take the most direct route possible

Even though it’s not always possible to book a nonstop flight where you want to go, you should aim to take the most direct route possible.

Each stop is more time you need to spend waiting around, and it also increases the likelihood that you run into travel issues that delay you even more. Direct flights can have a higher price tag than flights with layovers, but it’s well worth budgeting for that or saving up more credit card rewards.

6. Be selective about popular tourist attractions

The most popular tourist attractions generally draw big crowds and long lines, so going to one can take up a large chunk of your day.

Now, if there is a tourist attraction that you 100% want to check out, you should go for it. Just be selective about the attractions you choose and don’t feel like you need to make time for one you're not so keen on just because people say it’s supposedly a must-see.

With the attractions that do catch your eye, see if you can reserve tickets at a specific time in advance.

7. Stay in a convenient location

Whether you decide to stay at a hotel, hostel, or vacation rental, it’s best to find accommodations that are either centrally located or in a neighborhood with plenty to do.

Although you may have to pay more for a convenient location, you’ll save time every day because you’ll be closer to the action. This could also save you money on taxis and Ubers.

8. Start with excitement, end with relaxation

Consider scheduling the most exciting activities for the beginning of your trip, and then having at least one day of relaxation at the end of it.

For example, if you want to go hang gliding, snowboarding, or spend a night barhopping, do that early on. Save the time at the beach or spa for the last day before you leave.

The logic here is that you’ll have a fun trip with some great memories, but then you’ll also be able to rest up before you go home.

Taking full advantage of your time off

Most of us don’t have the option to just take off for as long as we want, so planning well can make a big difference in getting the most from our vacation time. With the right approach, you can have an amazing trip with any amount of time off.

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