Maximise annual leave days to get the best out of your adventures
It’s many people’s dream to travel permanently, wave goodbye to the 9-5, leave behind city life and explore the world for months or years.
However, the majority can’t do this and have to juggle seeing the world with a day job on annual leave.
Over time, we’ve been honing our efficiency on how best to see as many countries or regions we can in a year on 25-28 days leave (UK average). Here’s how we do it and hopefully some of the below tips can work for you too…
Yes it’s boring, but successful travel does take a lot of planning and organisation. We work one year ahead and plan on what we want to see in a year’s time. We then divide between our chosen destinations how many days we want in each and how many transfer days we will need to get from place to place. Decide which day would be best to leave on, but keep this very loose as it could all change on which airlines fly where and when.
By planning a year in front, this gives us a chance to save. Additionally, working a year in front enables us to plan for events that can be costly, such as Oktoberfest or St Patrick’s Day. The earlier you book, the closer the hotel can be to an event and the cheaper it will be, as prices ramp up to over double during popular festivals and places book out quickly.
Book hotels early
As mentioned above, booking hotels early means the price is lower. As soon as we decide where we would like to go, we choose a hotel on Booking.com, because we can book, but don’t have to pay straight away. This allows us to save for flights, tours etc instead.
Pick hotels on the website that are listed as ‘free cancellation’. These offers normally allow you to cancel one of two days before arrival. Using this option means you can cancel hassle free. It also means you can search for better hotels closer to your departure date if you wish, knowing that you have a hotel already saved if you can’t find a better option.
The ‘no prepayment required’ also means you can reserve a hotel room and not have to worry about hundreds of pounds being drained from your account straight away, when you still need to buy a flight. This option normally means you can pay upon arrival at the hotel.
Avoid booking hotels with the ‘non-refundable’ policy. This may seem tempting as the price can be lower, but it means if you decide to cancel, modify the booking or don’t show, you will be charged the full price of when you booked.
The Hotels.com ‘every 10th night free’ scheme is another useful site to take advantage of.
Take night flights
As we’re UK-based, we’re blessed to have Europe a hop, skip and a jump away, meaning many countries are reachable within a two/three-hour flight. We have seen the majority of EU countries during a weekend city break. This has been easily done by catching a flight on Friday night after work and a late return flight on Sunday.
Using a night flight after work can also be a great option for long-haul flights. Not only have you saved a day by not taking time off to travel on the Friday day, but hopefully it means you can sleep on the flight and arrive refreshed at your destination and get to see things after checking into your hotel.
To make the most of your time away, avoid buying return flights that leave around 1pm – 3pm, as this means you will only really get the morning on your last day to look around. Opt for return flights that depart in the evening eg, 7pm. Those extra hours can be a real help, especially if the church, monument or museum you want to see what closed the day before.
Use the big stuff for annual leave…
As mentioned above, we have used the weekends for geographical European city breaks, meaning we can dedicate our annual leave solely to long-haul destinations.
Again, take a night flight to save time. This is the same for trains. Where possible, choose sleeper trains to maximise your time.
… And visit more countries while away on one trip
Dedicating two weeks to one country is great, but if you find you become bored or it’s not what you expected, you’ve then spent two weeks somewhere that isn’t that great and taken a big chunk from your leave allowance. In order to save days and see more, think about visiting more than one country during your time away. We do this a lot: London – Brazil – Argentina – Uruguay – Peru – Bolivia – London, etc. Not only does this save annual leave days, it saves money as you’ve only had to pay for two long-haul flights – one departure from your home airport and one return to your home airport – instead of opting to do these countries separately and racking up expenditure on multiple flights.
This is also when open jaw flights come into their own. This is when you fly from one city to another but return to the original departure city from a different place. For example, flying from London to Skopje – Tirana to London. Open jaw flights can be cheaper and you can compare prices on both legs of an open jaw flight for each airline.
Some search engines or airlines do not offer these flights, but if they do, it is commonly under the ‘multi-city’ option.
This seems obvious, but pack light (especially if going for a weekend break) so your luggage can be carry on instead of checked baggage. Even with our long-haul destinations we pack one medium-sized backpack and one carry-on suitcase. This means when you get to your destination, you can simply take the bag from the plane and catch your train/taxi/bus/Uber to your hotel or city centre, instead of having to wait for a suitcase at the baggage carousel and then having to join the long queue for transportation. By doing this, you might be able to have a quick wander around or have a meal in town, before going back to the hotel to sleep. This is a great way to maximum your time during a weekend break.
This is something we’ve been doing for many years, but other people have now cottoned onto this and the likes of Ryanair now charge for bigger bags as carry on luggage, so always remember to check with the airline as to what is free baggage allowance.
Use bank holidays
Avoid going to religious countries during the bank holidays eg, Easter, as not only are prices ramped up, it will also be busier, meaning you spend an awful lot of time in longer than normal queues to see the things you want to see. In the past, we’ve decided to visit more secular regions during the bank holiday period and visit religious places and countries, eg, Rome, Italy on normal weekends.
Additionally, using bank holidays is a great way to double the length of your vacay. Book off any Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday after the bank holiday weekend to increase your days.
Become an off-peaker
Look into going away during the off-peak seasons, such as in the winter. Prices are greatly reduced and there are less tourists, meaning less queuing times. If using search engine sites, pick the ‘anytime’ option, which enables you to see the varying prices for the month.
Opt for more days
If your employer allows it, you can add additional days to your annual leave count via unpaid leave, the option to purchase more days or using half days. If using unpaid leave or buying extra days, remember to take this into account for future savings.
Checking out C & J.