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I’m a teacher with a travel blog. There, I said it. I get that no one wants to hear about how early I wake up, or the afternoons I’ve given over to grading essays, or about my weekends spent planning lessons because, like it or not, we all have to acknowledge that awesome elephant in the room: I get two months vacation, and several long weekends scattered throughout the year.
Obviously, my schedule is conducive to traveling, but I understand that many people only get two weeks off with a handful of holidays thrown in. To others, even that’s venturing into fantasy land. More and more people are being forced to go unpaid when they take time off, and they simply can’t afford to replace their unavoidable sick days with a vacation.
If you’ve got a job, but you’re lucky enough to have both the time and resources to travel, I have a few ideas that might help you to budget your vacation days at work. Part 1 is about taking strategic long weekends. Part 2 is about planning for a longer trip.
My fiancée Sarah gets twenty-one days of paid time off every year – sick, personal, vacation, whatever – that she has to request. My time off is fixed, so when we plan to travel together we work around my schedule to maximize the time off benefits from our jobs.
Every so often, I’ll have a random three day weekend, like Presidents’ Day or Martin Luther King Jr. Day. These are government holidays, so maybe you have them off, too, but Sarah usually doesn’t. No big deal. For the past few years, she’s asked off for Columbus Day in October with me and we’ve driven up to New England. She’s only out for a day, barely long enough for her job to miss her.
Depending on how far north we go, it’s a five to eight hour drive from our apartment in New Jersey, but the time and distance is worth it to see the fall colors alone. Add to that the adventure and excitement of a few road-trip side quests, the breakup of the monotony a long weekend getaway provides, and the comfort in a tradition that always pushes us to new experiences, and we’ve got a great thing going for ourselves every year.
We use a routine that makes sense for us. We make sure to leave work right on time (or a little early if we can) and have our bags ready to go on Friday afternoon. Grabbing dinner on the road makes the rush hour crawling by outside seem a little bit shorter and helps us to unwind from the work week. It’s getting harder to avoid corporate fast food these days, but we prefer to exit the highway to find a family diner or some kind of roadside joint. Generally speaking, they make better food and better memories.Afterward, there’s still a fair amount of light during October, so the red and yellow trees and the old stone and iron overpasses are all wrapped up in a golden sunset glow as we meander up the Merritt Parkway through Connecticut. Beautiful. We’ll stop in Stamford to visit friends if we’re going as far as Maine, or push through to a late check-in at our hotel or B&B if we’re only going to, say, Massachusetts.
I like to arrive on that Friday night so we can settle in. I love waking up early the next morning and going for a brisk autumn walk while she sleeps in to bring back some fresh coffee for us both. After we’re caffeinated and ready to hit the town, we scout out popular places using smart phone apps like Yelp or Foursquare. Knowing myself, I’ll probably have done some background reading in the weeks and days ahead of arrival, too. Armed with information, we set out to explore and to see what new excitement we can find.
We were really into lighthouses at the time when we were in Portland, Maine. Because we had my car, we were able to travel along the coast, snapping photos and climbing the steps of several different lights in one day. In Boston, we followed the Freedom Trail – the long red line painted on the sidewalk through the historical part of the city – and enjoyed a Sam Adams Boston Lager across the street from the resting place of Sam Adams himself. In Salem, we partied day and night in the midst of the month long Halloween street celebrations, touring graveyards and going on ghost hunts in the hometown of America’s 17th century witch trials. Throw in a few brew-pubs and some leaf-peeping nature walks along the way, and we’ve had ourselves some pretty nice, if brief, vacations.
Every year we take two whole days to get away and have some fun, and there is always plenty of it. The point is not to do everything, but something. We sleep in on Monday, drive home in time to watch TV or check emails that evening, and go back to work on Tuesday, already dreaming of next year. The great part is that this type of trip is replicable no matter where you live. New England in October may not be convenient for you, but you might take a weekend trip to find the best deep dish in Chicago every spring; or camp under the stars in the Grand Canyon in the summer; or build a collection of Mardi Gras beads from New Orleans! There must be someplace within five to eight hours you were never sure was worth the drive: I’m betting that it is.
What do you think?
Where’s your weekend getaway?
What would 48 hours in your hometown look like to a visitor?