1. Pick Your Dream Destination.
There are SO many places that I want to go to, however prioritizing them is important. Although I definitely keep an eye on some of them with the hopes that the price will drop by $1,000, I know it’s unlikely for a while. Focusing on places that you often seen flight deals pop up for is a good strategy for nailing a good flight deal–and ticking off your bucket list. Try to minimize long layovers unless you treat it as an opportunity to explore a new country (hello Iceland!)
I recommend making a list (or a joint one with your family!) about where to make a priority for the upcoming year. It can be simply a list on your refrigerator or a Pinterest board. (Pinterest can be a great resource for travel/tips inspiration no matter your niche.)
2. Write down all Public Holidays & Total up your vacation days.
Figure out when you’re off for public holidays and how many days you have off. Often these amazing flash deals (aka Secret Flying) involve taking massive number of days off in the middle of a random month (sure it’s cheap, but come on!) and honestly, even I don’t have that many days.
However, I definitely recommend tweaking your Facebook settings, so you see budget flight deals by liking Secret Flying then pressing “See First” under the tab where it says “Liked.” Sometimes you’ll find a steal–and even if you can’t use the dates they recommend, you might find inspiration OR an amazing deal on the dates mentioned. I found an amazing deal to Slovenia this way!
I am a huge fan of Google Calendar, which allows you to create “new calendars” where you can create a special one to keep track of your days. This allows me to know WHEN I have time off–and when I can’t take a vacation (due to an important unchangeable work thing or personal event).
If you click “My calendars”, create new calendar. Name it whatever you want although makes sure the square with vacation days is colored in. Then, make a new appointment on each of your days off. Remember: WEEKENDS ARE DAYS OFF.
3. Have you ever done a weekend getaway?
I’m currently based in The Netherlands where weekend getaways are much easier than in the US, but the short weekend trip is possible. This means leaving directly FROM work on Friday and flying back by by Sunday night. This way, you need ZERO days to explore a new place. (My coworkers think I’m ALWAYS traveling for this reason.)
Similarly, I like to see how far I can go in five hours by plane, train, or car. Inspiration is the hardest part as it’s easy to think I’ve done X, Y, Z…and there’s nothing else to do. My weekend/day trip inspiration is often gathered from a mix of Atlas Obscura (a website that catalogs the weird, wonderful, and historical!), blogs by locals about charming things in the area, pretty Pinterest pins, hiking guides, and local guides to the area. That’s how we ended up on the Dutch island paradise of Texel and in the beautiful city of Maastricht in the south of the Netherlands. Although what’s close might be so familiar, it’s often worth looking into places that you’ve heard about–but you’ve put off. It might surprise you.
4. Le Long Weekend
Be flexible with your dates. I always fly the nights before a major holiday or even my day off, so I wake up in a new country or I’m en route to my destination by the time work starts. I recommend checking prices for one of the following combinations: Thursday/Friday, Friday/Monday, OR Monday/Tuesday.
Travel can be exhausting, but if you book flights during your off day OR the day after, you lose out on a full day of vacationing when you could already be there. Sure, it seems a bit stressful, but it will be worth it when you’ve arrived smoothly at your destination. It’s science: Vacations boost your health, including stress levels, for a MONTH after you get back, so 1 hour of stress = lasting benefits.
If you’re not going that far, it might be worth looking into flying back the morning that you need to return to work. I know it sounds crazy, but I did a long weekend flying from Amsterdam to the US with taking a half-day off and arriving at 7am before heading to work in the afternoon. This isn’t for everyone, but it allowed me to see my family over a long weekend without losing two vacation days to being “in transit” or recovering from jetlag.
6. Do you get to go on work trips OR does a family member travel for work?
Not all of us can do this, but if you get to travel for work, consider adding on time at the beginning OR the end to travel after asking your manager to get a later flight back. You can minimize your days off by using the weekend to explore. You might need to use 1-2 days to tie it to the weekend, but in my case, my employer actually encouraged me to stay after a conference when I was able to prove that I could save them 200 euros in the flight cost by staying the weekend after the conference.
As the partner of an academic, I know firsthand that while you’re attending a conference, you’re usually not sightseeing too much, After a conference that my partner attended in Israel, we visited Jordan. If you can bring your family or partner along (they’ll need to pay their way, but you’ll save on your own expenses), they might be able to enjoy a free hotel room while sightseeing on their own daytime. You can travel afterwards together, but it’s a great excuse to travel!
6. Negotiate your work contract
Note on Flying On Major Holidays
If you work full time, you’ll know that (almost) EVERYONE travels on certain dates. Know that sometimes your dates will not be cheap no matter what you do and even if they are, you’ll pay a lot during that period whether in flights OR hotels/hostels.
This is especially true if:
A) There is a major public holiday [e.g. New Years Eve] where everyone takes off the same days (e.g. Christmas Day & flies back New Year’s Day).
B) You’re flying to a remote airport with very limited planes.
C) Very limited accommodation where you’re heading.
If you want to book over a MAJOR US holiday, book early and/or shift your dates just a bit to beat the rush. I found an amazing deal over a major US holiday for my parents going from New York to Morrocco. Direct. For $600 Roundtrip. It’s way higher now, but booking in advance can work well if you’re planning on traveling over a major holiday.