We all know that American companies are terrible at vacation time – the US is one of only 13 countries in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid time off, and even at companies with “generous” policies, we get much less than our European counterparts.
That’s much of the reason I started The Weekend Jetsetter – to prove that even with a measly 10-day vacation allotment, anyone can travel the world (click here if you want to start now!). Unfortunately, studies show that more than half of Americans don’t even use all of their vacation days.
Let’s press pause for a second.
More than half of Americans don’t use their vacation days. That means more than half of Americans spend days at work where they don’t need to be there — they aren’t getting paid any extra. Essentially, they’re working for free.
If you make $60,000 a year, you get paid about $1,154 during a week-long vacation. If you don’t take that vacation, you’re essentially just giving your company a thousand bucks.
If I told you right now that you had to spend a thousand bucks by the end of the year, or your company would take it, what would you do? You’d obviously spend the cash – even if it’s on something you don’t really need. That’s your hard earned money!
Americans gave up 206 million vacation days in 2016, according to Project Time Off. That’s $66.4 billion worth of vacation. Ouch.
So why don’t we treat vacation days — which are part of our compensation — the same way we do cold hard cash?
Well, it wasn’t always like this. Back in the 70s, 80s and 90s Americans were taking, on average, 20 days off per year. But starting in 2000, we started to take less and less – by 2015, that number was down to 16 where it still hovers.
Let’s look at the big picture: the economy is soaring. Corporate profits are soaring. But adjusted for inflation, wages have grown only 0.6% in the past year. And we’re taking 20% less vacation days.
So despite CEOs and large companies making more money than ever, us mere mortals are working more days than ever before, for only slightly more money. Sounds like workers are really getting the raw end of the deal, amiright?
I’m not going to tackle the complexities of wage growth in this blog post, but I can guess why those vacation days have been slipping – and that is: vacation shame.
Vacation shame can happen if your boss is annoying about approving your PTO requests or makes underhanded comments about them (we’ve all been there!). And the pressure can come from peers too – your coworker who’s also up for that same promotion isn’t taking any time off, so should you? But a lot of the time, the vacation shame is all in your head – it’s very likely that the only person counting how many days you took and stressing about how they will impact your career is you.
But vacation shame does no one any good at all. Not your boss, not your coworker and most importantly, not you! In fact, studies have shown that people who take all their vacation days are more likely to get a promotion or a raise than their counterparts who do not.
That’s right – by getting paid $1,000 to lounge on a beach somewhere, you’re likely increasing your paycheck and bettering your career!
That’s because taking some time off helps you recharge so you’re more productive when you return to work. It’s a win for all parties involved.
Have I convinced you that you need to use all your days in 2019 now?
If yes, then it’s time to start planning. A recent Priceline study revealed that a quarter of Americans still had 10 2018 vacation days left in November. That’s cutting it quite close!
Proper planning at the beginning of the year will help you space out vacations, ensuring you get a chance to relax and recharge throughout the year. That way, you’re not scrambling to use them at the last minute or forking over way too much money for a vacation around the holidays.
Here are all the critical steps for PTO planning and vacation budgeting in 2019:
- Set up a spreadsheet to track your PTO days and how many you have remaining, so you can strategically spread them throughout the year. Here’s one that I use that includes columns for sick time and “comp time” (similar to a bonus, my company gives out extra days off to reward performance or at the end of an especially tough project).
- Pick the Travel Plan that works best for you – I’ve outlined three options below!
- Set a budget for each vacation and mini-cation in your chosen plan. Divide the total budget by 12, and that’s how much you need to save each month to fund your travels. Download my annual travel budget template here.
- Use Google Flights to explore potential destinations for each trip that match your budget. This nifty tool allows you to search as flexibly as “weekends in the next 6 months” without a destination, so all your options are in one place. You can even limit results by budget.
Stumped on how to fit more travel and vacation into your schedule? I put together three “plans” from Advanced to Starter that will give you a good jumping off point.
The Advanced Weekend Jetsetter Plan
Ideal if you want to travel every month/as much as possible. Taking a red-eye and traveling a long distance for a weekend getaway doesn’t phase you.
- 10 Days of PTO: 1 day every other month, or 1/2 day every month (6 days total), with 1 week-long annual vacation tacked on to a holiday (4 days total)
- 15 Days of PTO: 1 day per month (11 days total), with 1 week-long annual vacation tacked on to a holiday (4 days total)
- 20 Days of PTO: 1 day per month (11 days total) with 2 week-long annual vacations, including 1 that’s tacked on to a holiday (9 days total)
- 25 Days of PTO: 1 day per month (11 days total) with 3 week-long annual vacations, including 1 that’s tacked on to a holiday (14 days total)
The Relaxed Weekend Jetsetter Plan
You’re somewhere in the middle. You want to travel quite frequently, but you’re not flying to Europe for the night. Only crazy people (like me) are that extreme.
- 10 Days of PTO: Take 5 2-day PTO segments (10 days total) adjacent to a weekend throughout the year, tacking them on to holidays for longer trips as you prefer (e.g. tack on to Memorial Day, President’s Day, MLK Day or Labor Day for a five-day trip)
- 15 Days of PTO: Take 5 2-day PTO segments (10 days total) adjacent to a weekend throughout the year, tacking them on to holidays for longer trips as you prefer. Take 1 week-long vacation (5 days total).
- 20 Days of PTO: Take 5 3-day PTO segments (15 days total) adjacent to a weekend throughout the year, tacking them onto holidays for longer trips as you prefer. take 1 week-long vacation (5 days PTO) during a month where you’re not taking 3 days off.
- 25 Days of PTO: Take one 2-week vacation (14 days total), one week-long vacation tacked onto a holiday (4 days total) and then take 6 long weekends throughout the year – including an extra long one to use your remaining day (7 days total). Tack those weekends on to other holidays to maximize.
The Weekend Jetsetter Starter Plan
You want to start traveling more but you really prefer longer vacations to weekend getaways, so it’s a must that you still have time for those every year. You’re looking to dip your toes into weekend travel and see how it is.
- 10 Days of PTO: Take 1 week-long vacation that includes a holiday (4 days), 1 4-day weekend (2 days), and 4 3-day weekends (4 days) – tack them on to a holiday for bonus points!
- 15 Days of PTO: Take 2 week-long vacations, including 1 that includes a holiday (9 days), take 1 4-day weekend (2 days) and 4 3-day weekends (4 days)
- 20 Days of PTO: Take 3 week-long vacations, including 1 that includes a holiday (14 days), take 1 4-day weekend (2 days) and 4 3-day weekends (4 days)
- 25 Days of PTO: Take 1 2-week vacation that includes a holiday (9 days), 1 week-long vacation (5 days), and 5 4-day weekends (8 days); you’ll still have an extra day so you can either make one of those days a 5-day trip or take another 3-day weekend at another point.
Ready to get started? Download my templates for budgeting and tracking PTO here for just $2 (you’ll receive a link via email).
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