A while ago one of my Facebook fans told me she’d like me to write a post about how I combine travel with all of the other things in my life, like family, friends, my job … (Small update: I quit my job!)
So that’s what I’ll do for you today. I’ll show you how I plan travel into my life, but also how you can do the same.
Living in Belgium and working the hours that I do, I’m lucky to have 30 vacation days each year. Boyfriend, who works more overtime than I do on a weekly basis, has 38, but the legal minimum amount of vacation days for someone with a full-time job in Belgium is 20.
There are countries where people have even more vacation days, but I know there are also countries where people have a lot less (America, two weeks, are you serious?). This means that the starting point for each of us is different. Some of us know that they’ll be able to travel for over a month each years (30 days means 30 working days, so that’s actually six weeks), others are only sure of two weeks.
In the little over three years that I’ve been working now, I’ve never taken up all of my vacation days purely to travel. Most of them, yes, but I usually keep two for ’emergencies’. Last year, for example, I had to go to the hospital a couple of times and I could only do that by taking a day off.
I also always take a day off on my birthday and usually on Boyfriend’s birthday as well.
The rest of my vacation days go to travel.
If you don’t have that many official days off, you can try to arrange something with your employer. For instance, you could propose to do overtime in exchange for extra days off or you could ask to get days off for overtime you have to do either way instead of being paid for it.
Theoretically we could all travel each weekend (if you don’t work a typical work week, you’ll probably have another day off during the week or so, but you get my point). If you would just take a map, pin where you live as the center and then draw a perimeter including everything that’s within a 4-hour drive from your home, you’d already have a lot of ground to cover. You can leave on Friday night or Saturday morning and do weekend city trips, visit nature parks, go hiking, bicycling, camping… and you can do it all without taking a plane.
There are 52 weeks in a year. That’s 52 weekends. That’s 104 days you can travel. That’s almost a third of the year. – Tweet this
Sounds crazy if you put it like that, right?
Now, most of us won’t travel every weekend because there are other things we choose to do. I explicitly say “choose” because I believe that practically every obligation we think or say we have is actually a choice we’ve made.
Do you have to visit your family every Sunday? Well, you probably go because you either really want to, and thus you choose going to family over traveling, or because you feel somehow pressured by your family (as in: it’s expected that you go), but in that case it’s still your choice to go. You could choose not to and yes, they’ll probably be mad and make some remarks, but you won’t drop dead (literally) if you shake off that obligation.
Some of you do sports during the weekend. That’s great and I totally understand that you want to be there for that important game or that you don’t feel like constantly missing dance classes that you’ll have to catch up later, but again: these are choices that you make.
I’ve made choices of my own as well. We don’t have a lot of big family gatherings during the year, so I try to attend the ones that have become a tradition, like our Christmas gathering and our Eastern gathering.
I’m also trying to build this blog and my freelance business, so I’ve chosen to work on that during a lot of my free time. That’s why I’m not exploring a new place every weekend.
Thirdly, I still love my dance classes. I’m doing fewer hours than I did last year so that I’m able to focus more on this blog and travel, but at the same time I’ve kept a class I really like which is on Sunday and which, thus prevents me from going on a trip every weekend.
Each time you spend time on something, each time you do something, you’ve made a choice. You’ve made the choice of spending time on that thing and not on something else. It’s a question of priorities. You have to decide how important it is for you to travel and, especially, how more important travel is to you than other things you spend time on.
I’m sure you realize that this isn’t absolute. You can choose travel over parties, but that doesn’t mean you need to feel guilty if you prefer your best friend’s birthday party over a weekend by the sea.
Long live public holidays! They can make a weekend longer or give you a break during the week. Party! Or better yet: get out there! In Belgium, we have 10 holidays that are on a weekday this year. That means 10 extra opportunities to go some place you haven’t been yet.
At the beginning of each year, I always have a look at these holidays to see which ones are on a Monday or Friday so that they make a long weekend. That way, when I feel like planning a short getaway, I know I can use those longer weekends.
If you’d like to plan a longer trip but don’t have enough vacation days, or if you simply need to get away for a week, you can always try to get some days off unpaid. I did this last year and it didn’t really hurt my wallet because I’d asked for them more than a month in advance so that I could adjust my spending if necessary. As I only took a couple of days, it didn’t really put me into financial trouble, though.
“Special” time off
I don’t know what the rules for this are in other countries, but in Belgium there are a few ways you can get time off for longer periods of time. For example, you don’t have to take up all your maternity leave at once, you can save some for later.
Another rule is that if you’ve been working for at least five years, of which two with your latest employer, you have the right to ask for ‘time credit’. This means that, if your employer agrees, you take a certain amount of time off (full-time or part-time). There are a lot of rules attached to this related to pay and other things, which I won’t go into here, but the point I wanted to make is that if you want to travel for a longer period, it might be worth it looking into the possibilities your country/state offers for this.
There’s no magic formula
So that’s how I plan my travels. I know there’s nothing spectacular to it. There’s no magic formula to be able to combine all the different things you have going on in your life. It’s up to you to decide which ones are most important to you and deserve a lot of your time. I’ve decided that travel is important to me and so I spend a lot of my time traveling and travel planning.
If you have any questions about this; about how you could make travel planning easier for yourself, free up time to travel or about how I plan my travel, just let me know in the comments and I’ll get back to you.