Here's How You Can Turn 10 Days of PTO into 34 Days of Travel in 2016

The average American gets 10-15 paid vacations days a year. Plus most full-time (and some part-time) jobs will also provide paid time off for national holidays, like Thanksgiving or Fourth of July. This obviously will vary by sector – if you work in the public school system you probably have more days off (particularly during the summer) than most; on the other end of the spectrum, if you work in the food industry, you may not get any paid leave at all – because unfortunately the U.S. is the only advanced economy that does not mandate paid vacation or other types of paid time off (PTO), like maternal, paternal, or sick. Until the U.S. gets their act together and follows the leads of France or Slovenia we can only dream of having 20 (or even 35!) days off.

Under a normal workweek, 10 vacation days gets you 14 days off (10 work days + 4 weekend days). It might not seem like a lot – and let’s face it, it isn’t! But if you’re strategic with your planning and take advantage of weekends and national holidays, you can stretch your measly 10 vacation days to more than 30 days off! And if you’re lucky and have 15 days of PTO, you can stretch that even further! Here’s how:

*Note that these examples assume you have most U.S. national holidays off. If you don't, the same principles can be applied using the national holidays you do get!


.. And you want to go somewhere far for a long time

Like Australia or Southeast Asia - traveling in November will give you the most bang for your buck in terms of PTO. You might have to make some sacrifices on weather (depending on where you're going); but if you'd prefer to have more time to enjoy yourself, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better deal. 

For example:

  • Travel: November 11 – 27
  • Take: 8 vacation days
  • Equals 17 travel days

If you want to make your trip even longer, add on your 2 remaining vacation days on either end to make the trip 19 days total!

Otherwise, you can use your 2 remaining vacation days around any three-day weekend, like Memorial Day (May 30), July 4th, or Labor Day (Sept 5). This equals 5 travel days!

You’ve just turned your 10 vacation days into 19 – 22 days



...And you want to take multiple short trips

Your best bets are going to be extending three-day weeks! 

For example: 

If you take 1 vacation day before and/or after a three-day weekend (which there are six of in 2016 where national holidays fall on a Friday or Monday)... 

You’ve just turned 6 vacation days into 24 days for travel! 

You can use your remaining 4 days over the Thanksgiving or Christmas Holiday, which would stretch your days even more!

For example:

+ Travel: November 18 – November 27

  • Take 4 vacation days
  • Equals 10 travel days

Alternatively you could travel: December 24 – January 1, 2016, using 4 vacation days but actually getting 9 days off (*assuming your company will observe Christmas on Dec 26th). 

So in total, you’ve just turned 10 vacation days into 33-34 days for travel!



If you’re lucky enough to have more than the average PTO, you can use any combination of the above to stretch your days.

For example:

Use 5 vacation days - one for each day before or after 5 three-day weekends. The five weeks would be the same as the above, minus Veteran's Day weekend - which you can now use to combine with the Thanksgiving holiday (using 8 more days that stretch to 17). Now tack on 2 more days for Christmas, which ends up giving you 5 days total. Confused?? Here's the breakdown:

+ Travel: February 12 – 15 or February 13 – 16

  • Take 1 vacation day
  • Equals 4 travel days

+ Travel: May 27 – May 30 or May 28 – May 31

  • Take 1 vacation day
  • Equals 4 travel days

+ Travel: July 1 – July 4 or July 2 – July 5

  • Take 1 vacation day
  • Equals 4 travel days

+ Travel: September 2 – September 5 or September 3 – September 6

  • Take 1 vacation day
  • Equals 4 travel days

+ Travel October 7 – October 10 or October 8 – October 11

  • Take 1 vacation day
  • Equals 4 travel days

+ Travel: November 11 – 27

  • Take 8 vacation days
  • Equals 17 travel days

+ Travel: December 23 – 27

  • Take 2 days
  • Equals 5 days *assuming your company will observe Christmas on Dec 26th 

And just like that you’ve turned 15 days into 42 days off!! 


Tips for stretching your days EVEN further:

  • Get familiar with your PTO system. If your company has a PTO accrual system you may have to save up hours/days before planning moves like this. But you can check your pay stub, online employee platform (if you have one) or HR department to find out exactly how PTO is accrued. That way you can figure out how much time off you’ll have when you’re ready to take that big trip! If you’re lucky, you might have vacation and sick leave combined into an overall PTO count. The advantage to this system is that if you don’t get sick very often, you have more days you can allocate to vacation. 
  • Find out if your company allows roll-over accumulation – where any unused PTO carries over into the next calendar (or fiscal) year. If so, take advantage of it! If you have an extra long trip (say, a honeymoon) that you already know you want to take time off for, figure out how much PTO you’ll need to save and, based on the advice above, calculate how far you can stretch it!
  • Pay attention to the yearly calendar. These planning tricks may stretch your PTO even further depending on how the holidays fall on the calendar each year. Unfortunately for 2016, Christmas and New Year's Day fall on weekends – unlike in 2015, when they fell mid-week, which allowed people to take off nearly two weeks of work while only sacrificing 4-5 vacation days. But as you plan ahead for future trips, keep your eye out for trends like these. 
  • Take advantage of work perks. If your company allows you to work remotely sometimes, for example on Fridays. You can plan your travel for a Thursday evening, work remotely from your destination on the Friday and start your vacation as soon as the clock strikes 5! This will prevent you from having to use a weekend or vacation day just for traveling. Similarly, if you travel for work, take advantage of it! This can save your time off from flying to your destination (and money on a ticket)! And if your work travel requires you to be away on weekends, be sure to take this time back. If you were flying on a Sunday, which is normally not a workday for you, talk to your supervisor beforehand to ensure you’ll be able to take the day back as PTO or, at the minimum, be compensated for that time. (Your arrangement may depend on what your employment contract outlines; if you’re not sure or have questions, don’t hesitate to chat with HR).

Even if you're not based in the U.S., the same principles apply! Some travel companies will even help you figure out what calendar set up will work best for you. For example, Skyscanner has already made a great cheat sheet for Aussies.

No matter where you plan to go or what you plan to do with your paid time off, it never hurts to get the most out of them. You work hard all the other days of the year - or you at least pretend that you do, haha - so enjoy yourself! Even if you can’t afford to go anywhere far, a good ‘ol stay-cation is always a good idea. Small trips and mental breaks help prevent burn out. And sometimes it’s easy to forget how beautiful your hometown is – take the time to explore it more; check out that restaurant you’ve been dying to try or do the ‘touristy’ things you’ve never done. And if you are planning a big trip, stretching your PTO means you’re stretching your dollar too! Long-haul flights, like those to Asia or Africa, cost you a pretty penny – but prices won’t differ significantly if you extend your trip by a day or two. Actually, stretching your days might mean you can travel on a Monday or Thursday, which may be cheaper than flying on a Friday or Saturday. Wherever you go, enjoy the adventure! 

How do you stretch your PTO? We'd love to hear! Share your thoughts with us and others in the comments below!


Calendars were made using template provided by FreePik