Every travel nut has grappled with one, or both, of these issues at some point. Perhaps you wish you had more money to travel. Perhaps you have sufficient money but not enough time to go on your dream trip. Or perhaps you lack both!

While this blog and the newsletter (you can sign up on the right, to access past issues) have been focusing on saving money and travelling on a budget, I never really talked about the topic of time. As you would guess, money and time are closely related. And this always brings to mind a movie called “In Time” (released in 2011) where people have become immortal and money has been replaced by time as the currency in order to rein in overpopulation. (Very good movie. I recommend it.)

So in today’s post, I’ll talk about ways to get more time to travel. You’ve probably come across some blogs where travellers quit their jobs and sold all their possessions in order to travel for several years, even indefinitely. This is not the only way to see the world though. Perhaps you like your job, and having a home base. Perhaps you don’t want to travel for years. A month or two might be just perfect. But if all you have are two or three weeks of vacation a year (like most North Americans), what do you do?

The full-time employee – negotiating a leave of absence or remote work

If you’re like most people and work at a full-time job in an office, you may have to scramble to take two weeks off in a row. Between family visits and vacation days taken for appointments, you may be left with a puny week, grossly limiting where you can travel.

Europeans have an advantage as they normally have at least four weeks, and sometimes up to six weeks off a year. North Americans must do with two or three weeks, unless they have a lot of seniority.

So, what can be done? Well, assuming that you do not live paycheque to paycheque, and are able to save some money on a regular basis, there is this thing called “leave without pay” (or leave of absence). This just means that your employer lets you take additional time off without paying you. This can usually be negotiated, but the trick is to start well in advance.

Choose a time at least four months in the future when you expect to be somewhat less busy, or a time when you aren’t yet allocated as a resource in a timetable, and approach your manager with your proposal. The more responsibilities you have at work, and the more time you want to take off, the earlier you should have this conversation (possibly even a year in advance). If you can show that your trip will in some way bring benefits to your role (e.g. learning a language, learning more about a country your company is doing business with, etc.) so much the better.

But the key is really to start early. Since most companies these days only plan ahead for the next financial quarter, or software release, your boss will be hard-pressed to find a reason why you can’t go away for a month in six months time. Especially if it saves the company money!

A few companies sometimes offer sabbatical programs for their employees. These come with pay and usually have requirements attached to them, such as having been with the company for a certain number of years, taking a certain number of weeks off in a block, etc. In the 90’s I worked for a software company that offered a six-week sabbatical leave to anybody who had been with the company for four years. This is how I was able to go to Southeast Asia for the first time.

If you’re lucky enough to have access to such a program, then it’s a no brainer!

Update July 2020: Remote work has gained popularity recently, so this is now a real option for people with permanent jobs. See if your employer would allow you to work remotely while on your trip. If you work full-time, you may want to travel slowly, staying at least a week (preferably more) in each place. Keep it mind that it can be really hard to motivate yourself to work when there is so much to see at your new destination!

The teacher – 4 over 5?

If you’re a teacher in the public school system, you’re more spoiled than most when it comes to time, with 6 to 8 weeks off every summer. However, some destinations do not lend themselves well to summer travel (usually because of weather, high airfare, or tourist overcrowding).

Thankfully, you may be able to take advantage of a sabbatical program. Here in Canada, many school boards offer a “4 over 5” program where teachers get paid 80% of their salary for five years and are allowed to take the fifth year off to travel (or do whatever they want). This is a great option if you know you can live on 80% of your salary as you don’t have to worry about saving any money. It’s essentially “forced savings”. I know several teachers who have taken advantage of this.

Ask your school if they offer something similar.

With Ania in Santiago, Chile

My teacher friend Ania takes one year off every five years!

The self-employed – your time is yours

If you own your own business, you do not need anybody’s permission to take time off, but of course you are likely swamped and wondering how you can possibly “not work” for an entire month. Fortunately, thanks to the internet, many tasks can be handled online from anywhere in the world. Because you are travelling doesn’t mean that you can’t spend a few hours a day doing “work”. If you don’t have employees who can handle whatever needs to be taken care of at home, you could consider hiring somebody on a short-term contract.

Contractors, freelancers, and part-time workers – use the flexibility

And this brings me to contractors. For ten years, between 2003 and 2012, I worked contracts on a part-time basis. Contractors and freelancers have added flexibility in that they can chose to take some time off between contracts or assignments.

Part-time workers could offer to do longer shifts for a few weeks or months in order to be able to take more time off in a block. You should be able to negotiate a lot of these things with your employer if you start early.

In order to do this, it is crucial that you be able to save and manage your money very efficiently, as taking more time off means less income, as well as more money spent while travelling.

More on this topic…

Over time I have become very good at cutting both my home expenses and my travel expenses, in order to  travel for longer. At this point, it often costs me no more to travel for a month, than to stay at home for a month!  I can travel in most places for between US$1000 and $2000 a month (airfare excluded). You can find all my money-saving articles here.

Travelling more slowly saves you money, so the more time you have the better. Being able to pull together four weeks of continuous vacation time gives you a whole load of interesting options, in addition to having enough time to really relax and get into the rhythms of life on the road.


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