Tips on optimizing vacation time and saving money

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Although I work 9-5 in online advertising, I would love to leave it all behind to travel full time, spending my days exploring new countries and learning about different cultures. As you can imagine, it is certainly more appealing to me than being stuck behind a desk 40+ hours a week. And although it sounds even worse when I write it down, my life is not so bad, so is it a viable and smart option to travel full time? I travel a lot at the moment, this year alone I have been to Iceland, Las Vegas, Florida and I have an upcoming trip to Europe scheduled, but that seems to me to be more of an itch scratch than fulfilling my dream. Like most people the two obstacles are time (I get three weeks of vacation a year) and of course money. During my relatively short working and traveling life I have picked up a few tips on maximizing both of these things and that is what I am going to share with you now, because well.. I am nice like that!

1. Take long weekends – You don’t always have to go far when you travel. There are plenty of places that are close enough to make taking a three day weekend worthwhile. You only have to use a day or two of your vacation time and you get to experience somewhere new! I’ve used many three day weekends to go to places nearby such as Philadelphia, Chicago and Florida. I can reach so many amazing places by taking a short 2-3 hour plane, train or bus ride.

2. Use public holidays to your advantage – One year I took off Monday-Wednesday, the next two days I already had off for Thanksgiving and Black Friday, combine that with the two weekends surrounding that week, that’s nine days for a trip and I only used three days of my annual work vacation time! It is all about planning early and paying attention to what days different holidays fall around. I know there are some family oriented holidays that some people wouldn’t want to spend away traveling, however there are plenty of other public holidays such as Memorial Day, Presidents Day, Columbus Day, etc that you can use to combine vacation days with.

3. Choose your flights carefully – If you are willing to be slightly inconvenienced by taking an early or late flight you can often get a great deal. I always take the earliest flight possible, so I have as much of my first day as I can. This is certainly important if you are taking a short three or four day trip, as you don’t want to waste a day by arriving when most of your first day is over. The same applies to coming home, I usually leave late at night, often on a red eye (which is also usually cheaper), then I get to enjoy some of that last day. I once took a red eye, arrived back in New York at 6am and went to work, which was a bit of a stretch, but completely worth it! Basically, what I am saying is optimize your vacation time, so that you can enjoy as much of your time at your destination as possible.

4. Go on tours – Tours are perfect if you want to see as much as possible in a limited amount of time. People that work full time rarely have the luxury of taking a month off of work to explore a destination in detail. Before you go on your trip plan out what you want to see. I went on a two week tour to Europe that took me to London, Paris and Barcelona. Although it was a relatively short trip to see so many great cities, I had an absolute blast and got to see the highlights of each city. Another plus of tours is that you don’t have to wait on lines for attractions/venues. I am sure it varies with different companies, but for example I did not wait three hours to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. It was more like three minutes and trust me I have seen some crazy lines during my trips! Tour companies get special deals and can book in advance for sights that regular tourists don’t have access to.

5. Shop around before you go – One word, the internet, okay well strictly speaking it is two words, but you get the gist. There are so many great time and money saving tools that are available to you from the comfort of your own home, so shop around. For hotels/accommodation, there are the obvious, such as Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline etc., but there are also some less obvious choices such as the Hotel Tonight app and AirBnB. Sky Scanner is great for booking flights as it pulls in all the lowest airfares from different airlines and alerts you when prices go up or down. You can also pick up amazing travel and tour packages on sites such as Groupon or Living Social. I always sign up for these in the city of my destination before I go, so I get all of the great deals that are being offered for my upcoming destinations.

6. Eat smartly – I always visit the local grocery store when I get to my destination and stock up on food items, water, etc for the trip. If you use your hotel shop you will pay a premium, so it really is worth spending a short time getting your essentials off site. Or you can shop at home and bring some stuff with you but I personally don’t want to have to carry any extra baggage while I am traveling to my destination. I do bring small snacks from home such a cereal bars and pre packs baggies of  pretzels and cereal to munch on.  I am not at my hotel too much while I am traveling, so I like to eat breakfast with the food I purchased before I head out for the day and bring snacks along for the journey. If I happen to come back to the hotel for a break or to change for the evening, then I eat my food as well. It is all about being smart and balancing the amount of food I eat out. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE to eat out. Being a bit of a foodie, it would be a real shame to me if I did not get to taste the unique food that my destination had to offer, so you can still eat out but you don’t have to for every meal. Saving some cash by eating cheaply for certain meals will allow you the luxury to indulge in others and not feel bad about it!

7. Stay in hostels – The biggest mistake on my first trip was booking a luxurious, expensive, five star hotel. It was beautiful and incredibly fancy, however I hardly spent any time there! It was a complete waste of money that I could have put towards something more valuable to me such as food or an excursion. All of the hostels that I have stayed in have been clean, convenient and much cheaper than a hotel. A good hostel can start as low as $30 a night depending where you are, while a hotel can range from $100+ for one that isn’t cruddy. You can shop for a hostel the same as a hotel on sites such as, hostel world,, etc. These sites give you prices, reviews, pictures and even show you where they are located on a map of the city so you can see how close/far you are from where you want to explore.

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17 thoughts on “Tips on optimizing vacation time and saving money

  1. I love your suggestions. Another option though not as inexpensive as a hostel is to rent a vacation home and split it with friends. We are renting a home on the beach in the fall with friends for $80 a day and plan to eat breakfast at home. Picnic lunch and eat an early dinner, because like you we are foodies.


  2. I completely agree with you about the tours. That’s what we did in Tuscany, and saw Sienna, San Gimigiano, and Pisa, in a single day – it wasn’t the way we would’ve preferred it, but we were pressed for time. It was inexpensive, because we did it through our hostel in Florence, and we made sure our parents did it as well when they followed a couple months afterwards.


  3. Great tips! When I travel, I always stay at a place that has a kitchen so I can cook (hostel, rental apartment, etc). We eat out once a day in order to get the experience and food of the place, but we usually cook breakfast and dinner. 🙂


  4. Totally agree with all of your tips especially the one about using weekends and public holidays. There are so many days throughout the year that we could be using to get out there and see more, even if its in our own backyard.


  5. Planning ahead and take days close to public holidays is definitely a good tip. You should book days off as early as possible though as your colleagues might have the same idea.


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  7. Great tips for all of us 9-5ers. It does help to ease that wanderlust with long weekend trips. I’ve used all of these except for the hostel part. We’re a family of four so we lean more towards centrally located hotels and apartments. I couldn’t agree more with planning everything in advance. Safe travels!


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