Share:

Our vacation days are precious. The average American worker gets only 10 days of paid vacation per year, so we do everything possible to make them count. The best camping and hiking trips require more than just a standard weekend, so use these five tips to make the most of your valuable vacation days.

1. Use Mondays Before Fridays

There’s no better way to ruin a long weekend than a stressful workweek preceding it. It’s funny how that always happens—what should be an easy four-day week turns into what feels like a six-day nightmare. But the problem isn’t your three-day weekend, it’s the day you choose to skip out of the office. Most people will default to Friday for PTO but should instead use Monday as the end cap to a long weekend. The big issue with Friday is that it’s constantly the victim of procrastination. Work that builds up Monday-Thursday falls heavily on Friday and that’s why short weeks feel so terribly long. Instead, take off your Mondays and return refreshed on a Tuesday where all you have waiting are some extra emails.

2. Half Days Are a Game Changer

Here’s a first-hand testimonial: half days mean everything when they buy you an extra night at the campsite. We left early on a Thursday to get a head start on the seven-hour drive to Moab, Utah to enjoy one more night under the stars and a full Friday to explore Arches National Park (and yes, I know I just violated rule number one). PTO may not even be necessary if you can hold out until 2 or 3 p.m. before leaving. A reasonable boss will let that slide every now and then.

3. Work Towards Comp Time

The laws regarding overtime for salaried employees are always fluctuating—this is good for some but maybe not for others—but you could use them to work towards extra days off for your next adventure. Ask your boss about earning comp time for working late, attending a conference, or even representing your company at an volunteer event if overtime pay isn’t an option. It gets you extra days for long backpacking excursions or road trips and it earns brownie points for taking initiative. A win-win.

4. Be Creative Around the Holidays

National Parks are packed during holiday weekends. You could probably fill the Grand Canyon with all the people trying to visit over Memorial Day Weekend. Using holiday time off around your PTO makes sense on paper, but it’s less practical when visiting popular National Parks. Instead, use weekends like Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Fourth of July to explore the less traveled corners of the wilderness. You may still encounter small crowds but it will be nothing compared to the onslaught of people cramming the parks.

5. Ask for a Vacation Raise

A pay raise isn’t always on the table and that’s when you should negotiate for more vacation time. The Harvard Business Review walks through how to ask for what may be an unconventional request from most managers. Given the tough climate many companies face (especially small businesses), a bump in vacation days is a good deal for both financially-strapped bosses and employees seeking a better work-life balance.

How do you maximize your vacation days? Share your tricks in the comments below.