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So little time, so much to see

It is a catch-22. When I was in college I had loads of free to time to travel—three month of summer vacations, five weeks in the winter, spring break—but no money to really take advantage of that time. Any money I made doing various part-time jobs was not nearly enough to do much traveling. But now that I have a full-time job which allows me to make enough money to travel, I have precious little time to do so, having only two weeks of vacation a year. I suspect that this predicament is similar to ones faced many others, especially those living in the United States, where my two weeks of paid vacation is a lot.

Despite this situation, in my first year and a half at my current job, I found the time to travel to the U.K (twice), France, South Korea, and China. Not to mention some domestic travel too. To do this, with those weeks of vacation I get a year has been difficult, but I use a few methods to get the most out of those precious days.

I always try to schedule my travel around holidays. I am fortunate that my job gives me 11 paid holidays a year, most of which fall either at the beginning or at the end of a weekend. Generally, I will try to book vacations around these long weekends. For example, when I went to London and Paris in 2014, I left the day after Christmas and came back on January 4. That way I was able to save one of my vacation days because of the January 1st holiday. For me, this had the added benefit of letting me celebrate New Year’s Eve in London and then after my trip through the Chunnel New Year’s Day in Paris!

A similar strategy I have used is to book my travel in such a way to ensure that that two weekends are included. For example, will generally leave on a Thursday or Friday and return on a Sunday. That way I can maximize the amount of time I am gone, while losing as few vacation pays as possible. If possible, I try to leave in the evening after work, so I can combine a work and a travel day.
Some of these strategies I have learned the hard way. For example, it is probably a good idea to give yourself a day to recover before going back to work. When I flew back from London, I was able to work the next day with relatively little effect from the jet lag. I assumed it would be the same thing returning from Seoul. Unfortunately, I did not realize that a 12-hour difference is much worse than a 6-hour difference. Returning to my office early the next morning after getting home at midnight following a fifteen-hour trip from Seoul to San Francisco and Boston, was not the best idea in the world. It has never taken me that long to recover from jet lag.

With this lesson in mind, when I flew back from Shanghai this past January and made sure to give myself one day to rest before I went back to work. It was painful to lose one day of potential travel, but probably a lot less painful than many days have struggling to stay awake at 2 PM. This is often easier when travelling back to the U.S. from Asia where they are roughly a half day ahead of us. If you book your flight right, you can leave on a Saturday afternoon and get back to your local airport the same day.

Getting back as quickly as possible is important too. While I might have scheduled myself to be back in Boston, a day before going back to work, the time it took to get there was exhausting in its own right. It was a few hundred bucks cheaper for me to fly from Shanghai to Vancouver to Toronto to Boston, which took about 24 hours, then to fly direct to Boston from Shanghai. Those few hundred bucks might have seemed like a lot when I was booking the flight, but I gladly would have spent them when I was boarding my second connecting flight. Another important lesson learned for my next trip.

Obviously, this is not the optimal way to travel. An ideal trip is based on the whims of the traveler and not the rules of where he works. I hope after I have saved up some money and have spent more time at my job, I can go on a month’s long vacation and not have to worry about the day of the week I leave or whether I can find time to travel during any holidays. But until then, I think making use of these strategies is the next best thing.

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