Vacation Math

How will you pick your vacation days this year?

Most standard American workers are allotted two weeks vacation in their jobs, especially when first starting out. A lot of companies might say, ‘ok work with us for 5 years, and we’ll reward you with an extra week of vacation.’

Other companies (including one I worked for in the past), allowed workers to effectively buy an extra week of vacation, the value of that week was deducted out of each paycheck, so in reality you were paying for it, but for some people (like me), it was worth it for my sanity.

So two weeks is kinda deceptive though, right? It’s only 10 days. Ten tiny little days. Conventional wisdom estimates that an average worker in a 9-5 spends 260 days a year working. Throw in your ‘two weeks’ and some holidays and sick days (if allowed) and you might be down to 240 days.

That sucks.

Less than 10% of our working year is given back to us for time off. No wonder people view their vacations as precious. But therein lies the problem.

What if I want to spend two weeks in Europe? Poof goodbye vacation for the rest of the year. Same thing if I wanted to go to Southeast Asia, or Australia or Kenya.

Unfortunately the math is hard to get around.

What you can do is divide and conquer.

10 vacation days can equal 10 long weekends.

10 vacation days can equal 5 four day weekends – getting better.

10 vacation days can equal one week off and 5 long weekends, or one week off and 2 four day weekends with a play day left over.

Then add in a little strategy based around holidays.

The biggies are easy, Labor Day and Memorial Day, always Monday’s off. Add in a few days before (like the Thursday and Friday off) and/or after (say the Tuesday off) and you’ve got yourself a mini-holiday.

A floating holiday like the 4th of July can also be used to your advantage. This year, the 4th is a Thursday. Take off Friday and a four day weekend appears.

Now the key in many offices is the competition. Especially in the world of finance, there can be rules that not everyone on one team can be out at the same time, or more senior people get first pick on vacations.

My recommendation is to think about using off times. Everyone in their brother will want to take kids spring breaks, 4th of July week, and the week between Christmas and New Years. So don’t compete unless you have to. Plan a trip at an off time, May or October and more than likely you will be able to get it off.

My other suggestion: get your ass in the book first. Block off time, even if you aren’t 100% sure you are going to take it. It’s a lot easier to trade a week, or make a switch if you have something to deal with rather than being stuck with one day in November and three in February come vacation time.

And if you can, try to save a day or two for anything that may come up. Sometimes you just want to blow off a Tuesday and go to the beach.

It can be hard to make it all work, but a lot of people (myself included) kinda prefer a bunch of mini trips than one or two longer vacations. So, this is more of the method I have used in my own vacation planning.

Thoughts, do you like to do mini breaks, do you have a vacation strategy that makes you feel like you have more time off than you really do?

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  • Brandy

    I totally have a strategy for vacation days! I do some of the things you suggested, like using three-day weekends wisely and requesting vacation days during off-peak times. I might be weird, but one thing I don’t mind is taking my week-long vacations during months like February. The weather is usually crappy at home, and the dreary days make me depressed, so having a vacation to look forward to all through January and part of February is really helpful. I always make sure to go somewhere warm, though, like somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere.

    • Liz

      Thanks for your tips, Brandy. Having a plan makes a huge difference. Both my big vacations this year are not very far apart during the summer, so like you I just took a few days off mid week in Feb to go to NYC, makes a difference just getting away if only for a few days.