How to Use Your Vacation Time

Americans often fear or ignore their vacation days. Here's how to use and enjoy them.


While most articles for young professionals provide tips for work, an all-too-often ignored aspect of work is not working at all. After graduating from college, working 40 to 60 hours a week is tough! When I graduated, I had two weeks to move before starting my job, and I'm sure I'm not the only one in a similar situation. It's only when you've worked for a few months that you realize how much free time you had in college. For most newly corporate types, two weeks a year and holidays are all the time we have to free ourselves from our cubedoms. We've all heard that Americans don't take as much vacation as the rest of the world; in fact, surveys report 35 percent of Americans don't even use all of their meager allotment!

As an American corporate worker, I was pretty used to my two weeks of paid vacation and eagerly awaited receiving more. After relocating to London, suddenly vacation took on new meaning with five weeks to use up. The fact that my U.S.-based manager has been working 15 years longer than me but still has less vacation makes me think a little more tactfully about how, when, and where I take time off. I've come up with a few tips that I think you can apply to your vacation scheduling to benefit yourself and your company.

Plan ahead, scheduling your vacations considerately.

Many companies require vacation to be scheduled in advance, but some are much more flexible. Show the company that you are considerate by planning around the busy seasons. Often there are weeks—Memorial Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.—when many people are traveling, and these are great times to take off without raising eyebrows. Whether you're a financial analyst around quarter close or a CPA before tax season, make sure you plan your holidays conscious of your company's cycles when possible. Even if you book months in advance, you're sure to annoy people if you're leaving early to go on vacation when they're buckling down for a tough few weeks. Take all of your vacation, and come back refreshed.

Most exempt workers don't get overtime pay, so all of your extra hours are going unpaid! Vacation is given for a reason—you're not impressing people by failing to take it. In fact, you're proving that you're not able to balance work/life. Taking all of your time and still accomplishing all of the goals that were set out for you is much more impressive than not taking any time off. While dedication to your company is important, especially at an early age, if you plan ahead you should be able to take a long weekend here and there and a trip in the summer without ruffling any feathers. One of the main reasons to take vacation is to take the opportunity to recharge. While maximizing your trip is important, do your best to come back looking ready to work—physically and mentally. If you come back all smiles, wide awake, with your nose to the grindstone, people are sure to notice, but not as much as if you come back tired and disheveled after taking the red-eye back from your location. If you're away for longer and can afford the day, try to come in earlier so you can settle down and get ready for your next work day. I've started doing this for longer trips so, come 9 a.m., I'm at my desk, coffee in hand, ready to check my pile of E-mail and start slaying the dragons.

When possible, don't skimp.

Vacation is your time! When you're old you're not going to remember what percentage of Grand Theft IV you completed, but you will remember the first time you saw the Grand Canyon. Even if you are unable to save a ton, you should be able to come up with some creative ideas for a vacation on almost any budget. (Camping road trip anyone?) If you have the funds, go all out! Staying at a hostel might be cheap, but staying at an amazing bed and breakfast in Dingle, Ireland, is a memory that will last a lifetime. Personally, with so much vacation time, it's hard to pull out all the stops for every trip and still have money to eat, but I make sure that at least one trip a year is first class. If you don't go nuts for at least your vacations, when else can you do it? While these tips are simple, I'm always amazed by how many people I work with who fail to take the full vacation allowance. With some advance planning and consideration, you can be sure to use all of your holidays while coming back recharged and ready to be productive. It's been proven—a happy worker is a better worker, which makes everyone a winner!

Grant Harmon blogs for Newly Corporate, where he has advised men on dressing for business casual and also serves as the resident expat-expert. He lives in London and previously spent six months in Belgium.