Ahhh, the start of a new calendar year: the beginning of tax season, implementation of new company initiatives, and that hangover you just can’t quite kick from that corporate New Year’s Eve party. Not to mention, it’s cold. Funny, isn’t it, that the time of year you seem to need a vacation most is right after it starts? Coincidentally, all of your PTO is back to full stock. Oh, the possibilities.

Before you get too excited, let’s take a deep breath and think this through–most travel sites give you a 15 minute hold on those tickets to Bali in your shopping cart anyway. The average number of vacation days in the United States for employees of under five years tenure is less than two weeks! You may see upward of 100 hours of PTO on your time sheet, but that still only comes out to about 1 meager day off per month! You can’t just go around spending them on anything, no matter how tempting it is.
Everyone knows that Bill takes his trip to the Bahamas the last two weeks of February, bringing back tales of adventure and sandy beaches for all. Bill is everyone’s favorite person in January–he’s cheery, energized, and chock full of positivity, looking forward to his big trip. As the mighty fall, however, Bill is nobody’s favorite person in March when he realizes he has no more vacation to use for the next 9 months, and will be working every single day for the rest of forever. Don’t be Bill. We’ll show you how with this step-by-step process to Vacay like a champion.

Step one: Choose your “By-Invite” events wisely. Weddings, family reunions, bachelor party weekends, so on, so forth, etc, and on and on and on and on. That’s how it feels, anyway. First thing you should do is take a good look at the all the events for the year you already know about and separate the musts from the “should”s from the “but it might hurt their feelings”s. . Your brother’s bachelor party? A must. Your cousin’s wedding in Phoenix? Ehhhh…you probably should go, but nobody can blame you too much for missing it. Your mother-in-law’s housewarming? Feel free to skip it (especially after how drunk you got last time; better lay low for a couple years). You’re going to have some tough choices, and you will likely feel a little sad that you have to send off your regrets on paper, but  it’s important to remember that stuff like this is by invite, not command. Don’t feel bad about saying “no” now and again. It is unlikely that someone’s wedding will be destroyed because you can’t make it (if anything, they’ll be happy to have to pay for one less plate). Once you’ve narrowed down your list, it’s on to step two.

Step Two: Plan on being home for the holidays (or at least use them to your advantage) Different companies handle holidays differently: some might give you the day off, others might give floating holidays that you can apply on these days or elsewhere throughout the year, or you might work in retail and never get a holiday off because capitalism. If you have any say in whether or not you work on these days, this step will be very similar to the last one. If your mother wants you home for Christmas, because it’s been a year, Kyle, and everyone here would love to see you, for Pete’s sake; it’s like you don’t even care about the family anymo–I digress. Point is, much like weddings, you know when the holidays are. If you know you’re gonna need to be home for them, get that time set aside pronto.

You can even work holidays to your advantage. “Linking” your weekends around the holidays can save you a ton of Vacay days while maximizing time at home, or on an awesome trip (with family, of course). If your company already has Thursday and Friday off for the holiday, you can just use three days and head out the preceding Friday for a whopping nine day weekend!. All you gotta do is get it on the books soon enough.  With the more mandatory vacations off the block, let’s get on to your discretionary spending.

Step Three: Schedule a vacation for yourself right out of the gate. What most people forget about vacation time is that it is meant for you. Holding onto it all for a while in case something should come up is wise, but holding onto it while looking forward to something is even better. Set up some days off for yourself right out of the gates. A camping trip, a weekend in the city, a few days on a beach somewhere–whatever tickles your fancy–just set it up straightaway. Instead of risking those shifty stares when the company just scored a new contract but you REALLY wanna go on a week-long backpacking trip in August, request those days in January and dare your boss to try revoking your time off once they realize how busy things are going to be with the merger.

Step Four: Leave some floaters. Everybody has bad days or weeks (or months). Leave yourself a day here or there to spend on mental breaks or to de-stress in the middle of a rough week. Even if you have nowhere to go, take a lazy at home, go see some movies, run some errands, work on a project, anything. You work hard, you deserve some time off. If you REALLY have nowhere to go, go anywhere. It’s a great big world out there, and you should go see it.

Step Five: Don’t wait until it’s too late.  Over 55% percent of Americans didn’t take all of their allotted vacation time, amounting to 600 million+ vacation days going to waste last year. People save save save their PTO until December and then realize that 1) a day off in winter kinda sucks compared to a day off in summer, and 2) they have so many deadlines coming up that all they’d do if they weren’t working is stress about how they aren’t working.. There is a difference between budgeting your time and not using it at all. Your employer gives you PTO as part of your compensation plan. Opting out of it is just like opting out of your paycheck. You’re owed that time, and should take full advantage of it..

There you have it. Budget your time wisely.  Much like everything else in life, we’re only allotted so much of it, and it should be used properly. Though it may feel like it now, maybe you can hold off just a little longer before that big vacation. Just ask Bill.

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