Years ago I met Danielle through a friend – she had been to Uganda and I was dying to go! We were both nurses and travel-lovers. She is still a nurse but still finds time to travel all the time and has her own travel blog, Nurse to Nomad. I love that she can balance work and travel, and she offered to share with you all how she does it so seamlessly! Here’s Danielle.

12 ways to balance work and travel

If travel is important to you, it is absolutely possible to travel while working full time. I’m a nurse, and I have traveled to 16 countries and 37 states while working as a nurse. I know these numbers aren’t record-breaking, but they also would not have happened if I hadn’t worked hard for these adventures. There are some tricks to balancing work and travel.

Every country varies in how much vacation time a person gets. It would be amazing if we could all be as fortunate as Brazilians who receive 30 days of vacation per year, but some of us live in countries like the United States where there isn’t a minimum required amount of vacation time. And traveling year-round isn’t a feasible option for everyone.

If you’re working full time, you might have to get a little creative in how you fit travel into your busy life.

1. First, Make Travel a Priority.

If traveling while working full time is your heart’s desire, you need to ensure it is a priority in your life. Below is a quick checklist:

  • Is travel important to you?
  • Are you willing to sacrifice from other areas of your life to be able to travel more?
  • Do you consider it to be something you are most passionate about?
  • Is travel where you want a good portion of your money to go?

If the answer to these questions is yes then you know where your priorities are. You won’t have to question if you are making the right choices in life as you plan your trips, spend money on them, and use all your paid time off to see the world. You will know you’re pursuing your passion.

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2. Use Your Vacation Time Wisely.

Never ever let vacation days go to waste. Use those babies. You literally get paid while you are traveling, yet studies say that 41% of Americans let vacation days expire. Don’t be that person. If your vacation time does not roll over, your time-off bank better be empty by December 31st.

Often, employees feel pressured by bosses to always be available at work, but you have the right to take a break from your job. Your vacation time is earned and should be used.

If possible, exclusively use your paid time off for travel. I’m a nurse, so I won’t tell you to go into work if you’re sick or in deep need of a mental health day. But I will advise you to not take the day off because you’d rather not get out of bed. Every hour of vacation time that you save can go towards the adventures that you are pursuing.

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3. Take Advantage of Weekends and Holidays.

The weekend is a full-time employee’s best friend.

If you work Monday through Friday, plan your trips around weekends or holiday weekends so that you can use less vacation time. I recently flew to Seattle on Friday night after work, had Saturday and Sunday to explore, and flew back on Monday. It was a decent trip across the country, and I only used 1 day of vacation time.

If you are planning a long trip, 5 days of vacation time will give you 9 days of travel (Saturday through the following Sunday). 10 days of vacation time will give you 16 days for a trip if you plan the weekends out properly. You can see a lot in 16 days.

If you work random days, as some nurses or service industry workers, cluster your work days and travel while you are off work. Work the beginning of a week, travel, and work at the end of the next week. You can travel for a long weekend and not even use any paid time off.

Finally, if you work somewhere where it is not required to use vacation days during holiday weeks, work your full hours and keep the 8 hours of vacation time that week. For example, I chose to work my full hours during the week of Thanksgiving so I could save a day of vacation. I understand working a holiday might be a sacrifice, but remember working full time and traveling may require a sacrifice or two to maximize your vacation time.

4. Be Organized about Taking Time Off.

Talk to the person who makes your schedule, and seek out the vacation policies. Learn the best way to plan your dream trips.

Be organized. Don’t miss out on an epic trip to Chile because you forgot to submit a time off request. Mark your calendar and make plans.

Depending on how your schedule is made, you have some options on how to plan your adventures. If you have your heart set on a certain location, figure out when you want to go, request the time off, and book the trip well in advance. If you want to go where the wind takes you and you have flexibility, take a chunk of time off and then research the best flights during that time.

If you are looking for good flight deals and are up for going anywhere, subscribe to Next Vacay and use Skyscanner’s or Kayak’s Explore features.

5. Be a Stellar Employee.

A manager or scheduler might pay zero attention to your frequent vacation requests if you are totally pulling your weight when you’re present. Work hard, play hard.

6. Visit Destinations that Require Shorter Travel Time.

Consider a road trip to a nearby town that offers new adventures. If the drive is less than 4 hours, you could drive after work on Friday and be back Sunday evening. You can also search nonstop flights from your home airport to save time (and money!) on short trips. Most airline apps or websites offer a filter for nonstop flights.

We often forget to explore our own backyards, and it’s okay to be a tourist in a nearby town sometimes. If you are saving vacation time for a long trip to Europe in 6 months but have the travel bug right now – plan something small that still invigorates you. These types of trips can hold you over when needed.

7. Travel Alone.

If you are limited on when you can take time off, you might not be able to find a BFF that’s available on the only week you can make it to Ireland in September. Don’t always wait for someone else to accomplish what YOU want to do. Solo travel may seem daunting, but it can be one of the greatest experiences.

Traveling alone gives you the opportunity to really put yourself out there and meet other travelers. You learn about yourself and immerse yourself in new cultures. And most importantly for this post, it allows you the flexibility to travel when you want, on your own schedule.

I was living in Boston for a few months and learned that there were cheap, direct flights to Iceland in February. I asked a few friends to join, they all said “heck no” to Iceland in freezing February, so I went alone. I decided that my desire to explore Iceland and see the Northern Lights outweighed my desire to have a travel buddy.

8. Work Remotely.

If you spend most of your time at work sitting behind a computer, perhaps your manager will let you stare at that screen from a coffee shop in Spain. Approach your boss in the right way, provide assurance that you will perform your full work-load from abroad, and offer to do extra work before and after the trip if needed. Bonus points if you can network for your company while you are in the new city.

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9. Take Unpaid Leave.

This might be worth a shot. If you are financially stable enough and want to cross off a bucket list location or want to spend an extended period of time somewhere, it could be worth asking your manager if they would consider giving you unpaid leave.

If you are an amazing employee, your manager might allow you to take some time off to pursue your passion and grow as a person. It costs companies a lot more money to hire new employees than to retain current ones, especially if you’re that stellar employee like I pointed out earlier.

10. If You Have an Off Season, Maximize your Travel.

If you work as a teacher or construction worker or any career that gives you time off during the year, take advantage of that time. You should know what dates you will have free ahead of time, so you have the ability to plan ahead. Google what countries are the best to visit during your off time, pick a place, and then track flight prices. The Skyscanner app allows you to set notifications for specific destinations and will email you if there is a decreased fare from your selected airport.

11. Travel between Jobs.

If you are someone who changes jobs frequently and has the opportunity to take some time off in between, do it. This might seem like a scary time to travel, but there is something very freeing in not being held down in a job and being able to travel how you want. This might require saving up some money ahead of time, but it’s worth it. This also might be your best option for longer-term travel. A month in Thailand, anyone?

12. Budget for Travel.

So you took this advice and have a week off to spend in Europe. How are you going to pay for it? Some people have “emergency funds;” I have a “travel fund.” I always try to keep enough money in my checking account that I could take a week-long trip at any time.

(Don’t go empty your emergency fund after reading this. I have one of those too; it’s just a lot more boring.)

Creating a budget for travel means spending less money in your day-to-day life so you can spend it on travel. Everything adds up. An apartment that is $100 less per month can equal a flight to Costa Rica in less than 6 months. Cut down on shopping, eating out, alcoholic beverages, etc. I could live in a nicer place and have nicer things, but that would mean not traveling whenever I am able.

We live in the time of side gigs, right? If you need extra money to travel, you can try driving for Uber, picking up extra shifts at work, walking dogs for the Wag app, or babysitting. If travel is your passion, work hard for it. Rachel has some great advice on her 9 Tips for Saving Money for Travel post.

I understand most of this advice is not easy. Saving an extra vacation day might mean going into work tired after a weekend trip. Spending less money might mean ordering water instead of a cocktail with dinner. Traveling alone might take a leap of faith. Some of these tips are sacrifices, but travel will enrich your life and make the sacrifices worthwhile.

I hope this advice leads to more adventures and less time at work. Travel can be accessible to you if you really want it. Don’t let a lack of vacation time keep you from living your life to the fullest. Save money, save your vacation time, and pursue your dreams.

Pin Ways to Balance Full-Time Work & Travel More for later:

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Danielle Spindle is a travel blogger, full-time nurse, and lover of the outdoors currently living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her work as a nurse revolves around helping people, and she uses her life as a traveler to help others achieve their dreams of adventure. You can follow her on her blog Nurse to Nomad, Facebook, and Instagram.