Throughout my career as a travel blogger, the question I am asked most often is: “How do you get to travel so often?”
These days, I simply respond with, “Travel blogging is my job.” But there was a good number of years when my love for marketing kept me in the world of meetings and overtimes, a world where I need to ask permission to travel longer than three days. Back then, travel was tricky. Travel was the exception, not the rule. It was a reward, something I looked forward to at the end of the week.
Many travel bloggers are full-time employees, too. It takes skill to master the art of vacation leaves and long weekends. Thankfully, it is possible to experience the many wonderful things this planet has to offer despite my full-time disadvantage. It is possible to maintain a healthy balance of the two. Here are a few tips.
1. Seize the weekends for short trips.
Consider your weekends your regular time currency. You have 52 weekends in a year. Use them for overnight or two-night getaways. You’ll be surprised by how many beautiful destinations there are within just a few hours from where you are. For example, if you’re based in Manila, just drive or take the bus to Batangas, Zambales, Quezon, or Pangasinan. If you’re in Washington DC, the Virginia countryside is waiting for you.
More information: 15 Cheap but Amazing Destinations Near Manila
The key here is to not spend so much on transportation. It doesn’t make sense to book a pricey flight to somewhere you’re going to visit for only a day or two. Set aside your hard-earned money for longer trips and farther destinations. Instead, maximize the time you have. You may choose to leave on Friday evening or early Saturday morning, and return Sunday night. You don’t need to stay long. Because these places are near, if you end up loving it, you may return on another weekend.
2. Schedule your vacation leaves around non-working holidays and long weekends.
Look at it this way: vacation leaves are more valuable because it’s flexible and when to use them is up to you. Use your precious vacation leaves wisely by reserving them for longer trips and more distant destinations. How? Schedule them around non-working holidays or long weekends.
For example, December 24, 25, 30, 31 and January 1 are holidays in the Philippines. All these dates fall on weekdays. December 26-27 and January 2-3 fall on a weekend. The only working days between December 24-January 3 are December 28-29. If you file a leave for these two sandwiched days, you’ll use only two vacation leaves but get to enjoy a total of 11 days.
Another example for those based in the Philippines, the government declared November 18-19 holidays, too. They fall on Wednesday-Thursday. If you use one leave for November 20, which is a Friday, you’ll get to enjoy five days (including the coming weekend). You’ll find many similar cases given how many holidays we have here in the Philippines.
3. Consider not-so-popular destinations.
I know you’re dying to go to Paris, Tokyo, Bali, or Boracay, and it’s completely alright. But there are many other worthy places out there that you can enjoy for much lower price. Popular destinations tend to be more expensive and too crowded during the holidays and peak season. If there’s a promo for a destination, even when it’s not on my bucket list, I would try to find out if there’s something there that could appeal to me and if it’s positive, I’d book it.
For example, when Catarman (Northern Samar) was on sale, I googled it and found Biri Island, which I thought was curious. Booked it, and it was one of my best trips ever. I could say the same about Hualien (Taiwan), Mui Ne (Vietnam), Bandung (Indonesia), and South Cotabato (Philippines). Before my visit, I would never say it was a dream for me to get there, but I was delightfully surprised.
4. Take advantage of business trips.
I understand that not everyone is fortunate enough to be sent somewhere for official business, but if you are one of the lucky ones, take advantage of them. Following the principle above, extend your stay to cover the next weekend or file a leave for the days in between the business trip and the closest weekend. This way, you get to have your airfare and a few hotel nights for FREE.
My former client would always invite me to Singapore to meet with the regional team, and I would always try to schedule it on a Friday or Monday so I get to stay there for the weekend.
5. Book promo or discounted flights in advance.
Being able to travel frequently isn’t just a matter of time, it’s also a matter of money. While the cost of flying has dropped significantly over the past few years, a good fraction of travel expenses is still spent on airfare. But there are ways to find the cheapest flights. You have two options: promos and aggregators.
Stalk budget airlines on their social media accounts and subscribe to their newsletters. This way, you get to be alerted immediately when there’s a sale or a promotion going on. Here in the Philippines, promos are usually launched on the eve of a holiday. For example, Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines usually announce a seat sale at midnight of New Year’s Day, National Heroes’ Day, and Easter.
More information: How to Book Promo Flights
Another way to snag low fares: aggregators like SkyScanner. These search engines rummage through airline and travel sites to give you the cheapest flights.
Book in advance. Usually, the closer the travel dates are, the more expensive it gets. Plane seats are tiered by price and there’s a ceiling price per tier. (This tiering has nothing to do with the physical location of the seat, except for premium seats and business class.) Say in the Economy Class, 30 seats can be sold for USD100, some for USD200, others for USD 500. Most airline booking systems work in a way that it will sell you the cheapest flights first, and if they’re sold out, it will give you the next cheapest, and so on. This means that the farther the travel date is, the more likely the cheap ones are available.
6. Set up a travel fund.
Another plus of booking in advance: you’ll have time to save for your trip. Thus, it is best that you keep a travel fund. This is a separate bank account that, ideally, you can use overseas. Take a percentage of your monthly salary and put it into your travel fund, and whatever happens (except if it’s emergency), DO NOT TOUCH IT.
You need to be smart in how you spend your money even before the trip. If you want to travel more, you need to cut down on unnecessary spending. Travel comes with a price tag: plane tickets, transfers, accommodations, etc. For you to experience much of what a place has to offer, you need to have the resources to make it happen. Stop eating out, shop less frequently, quit smoking. All these little things eat up your budget, which could add to your travel fund.
7. Empower your co-workers.
If you have a team working under you, empower them by sometimes letting them take on the leadership role. Train them in making wise decisions and make them understand the complexities of your job. Pick someone who could take your place and ensure that your team can function excellently even when you’re not around. Not only is it good for their morale, it also allows you to be worry-free when you’re away.
If you don’t have a team under you, strike an agreement with a colleague to cover for each other should one of you be away for a holiday.
8. Leave work at the office.
As much as possible, don’t take work with you when you travel. The whole point of being on vacation is for you to get away from the madness of corporate life. Checking your emails every now and then is okay, but ditch the hard work. Leave it. Forget about it. Just enjoy and relax. You need it, and you probably deserve it.
Being preoccupied with work kills the joy in travel. Trust me, you’ll get to appreciate more of the journey when your mind is with you, not wandering elsewhere. There had been many instances where I failed to explore (Ugh! Amsterdam. Ugh! Cairns!) just because I was working my ass off the whole time, and I regret it even up to now.
9. Be open to possibilities to maximize your travel time and money.
Here in the Philippines, there is a popular saying, “Kung maiksi ang kumot, matutong mamaluktot.” Literally, it means if the blanket is too short, then learn to curl up. It’s a more poetic way of reminding ourselves to suck it up and make do with what we have. If you have limited time and money, it’s time to get resourceful.
Choose a hostel/homestay. Five years ago, before traveling full time, I would have never imagined myself staying anywhere other than a hotel. I liked the comfort and privacy. But as I was slowly embracing backpacking and my funds were rapidly depleting, I learned that hostels and guesthouses have their own charm. I got to meet like-minded individuals in hostels, and experience local life first-hand in homestays. Now that I’m back being a full-time employee, my love for hostels and homestays remained with me. They’re cheaper too. (Couchsurfing is free, by the way.)
Make friends. The best part of staying in hostels is that it’s easier to make friends. And since you now have travel buddies, you now have people to split the cost with. For example, a one-day tuk-tuk tour around Angkor in Cambodia costs USD15 if you’re alone, and USD 18 if you’re a group of three (which is USD6 each). That’s a 9-dollar difference. In Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, it’s cheaper to just rent a car if there are three or four of you, than to join a group tour.
Take overnight transfers. One thing I like to do is taking overnight trains and buses. Saves me airfare and hotel nights.
Bike away. In many cities, biking is safe and is the cheapest mode of transportation. I didn’t know how to ride the bicycle before, but I learned it in Cambodia. Since then, I would bike whenever possible.
Get up early. Maximize your stay by starting the day early. Ideally, right before sunrise when the streets are just starting to come alive. It’s always a great experience. Getting up early means you have more hours of daylight, more hours of exploring.
Forget expensive gifts. Coming home from a trip carrying loads of gifts (or pasalubong) is, of course, very admirable. But you don’t need it, and they probably don’t. If I would bring home gifts from each of my trips and given how often I hit the road, I’d be broke. If you’re planning on traveling more often, forget about it or settle for cheaper items.
10. Be awesome at what you do.
Whatever it is that you do for a living, be awesome at it, awesome enough that you become indispensable. Although this doesn’t hold true for everyone, excellence can mean higher pay (bigger travel fund) and, if you can pull it off, more vacation leaves (longer trips). If your arrangement is contractual and your contract is up for renewal, you can negotiate for more leaves. If you’re a regular employee, you can talk to your superior for it. (Results vary depending on how good you are or how much of a douche your boss is.) But if they see your value, you can strike a reasonable deal.