How I Traveled To 8 Places in 2015 (Despite Working Full-Time)


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“Here’s your official offer letter and benefits package,” the HR girl said at New Employee Orientation. She handed me a folder stamped with the organization’s name. “Welcome!”

I was so happy and relieved I had landed exactly the job I wanted: working in Admissions for a university. After working multiple travel jobs overseas with both American study abroad students and international high school students, I knew that if I were to get a full-time job back home it would have to include an education component. If I wasn’t going to be traveling full-time, at least I’d get to work with students - this was something traveling helped me realize.

I took a seat inside the orientation room and scanned the info packet: Annual salary. Health benefits. I needed to choose a retirement plan and a parking pass. I could get the student rate for the gym. This was a really great offer and benefits package for an entry-level (2-3 years experience) position.

And then I saw it: 10 days of vacation per year.

Ten days of vacation...per year. Per calendar year. Two weeks off work. Two of the 52 weeks. Off a full year... a full, calendar year.

I knew that going in, but it took some getting used to. Only 10 vacation days per year?!!!

As someone who had just returned from traveling for the past 12 months - 11 countries while working in Europe, working on the east coast of the US, going back to Europe, and road tripping to my new home in the States - 10 vacation days, while standard, seemed minuscule in comparison.

Nonetheless, I pressed on and came to actually enjoy my job. My job was cool and rewarding and I got to help students. I could afford to pay my bills. I worked in a cubicle. *Gasp!* A travel blogger who works in a cubicle?! Yup, that was me! I was living pretty much every travel blogger’s nightmare, but it actually wasn’t so bad.

My chronic case of wanderlust is never going to be cured, so I knew I had to get creative when it came to traveling around my limited vacation time.

How to travel when you have a full-time job

First, I narrowed my travel list down to one big trip I could potentially take after accruing time off: China in July of 2015. After getting the approval from my supervisors, I applied for a competitive 2-week contract position in China through a different company and ended up getting the offer. I used the bulk of my vacation time (plus some unpaid vacation time) to take the trip in July.

I used holidays and weekends to my advantage last year and also traveled around the US to Denver, New York City, San Diego, Washington DC, Montana, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles.

Sometimes when I think the “only” international country I visited in 2015 was China, I feel discouraged or disappointed in myself because there are SO many places I want to visit. But then I remember that even making one trip happen - China nonetheless! - is a pretty amazing accomplishment and that I should feel proud of myself.

I never would have been able to afford the same (or even a budgeted down version) of that trip to China if it weren’t covered by the company I worked for during those two weeks. Working abroad allowed me to go to Asia for the first time while having a memorable and meaningful experience. I’ll never forget my trip to China.

You don’t have to quit your job to travel. Short-term opportunities are another great option for working abroad, especially when you’re tied down to commitments at home like a full-time job.

Doing a short-term work + travel opportunity can also help you test the waters with a certain type of job, or give you a taste of a place to see if you’d really like to move there long-term. Also, if your situation doesn’t allow you to travel long-term right now, at least there are options to do so in the meantime.

It’s pretty great. And definitely not a nightmare.

Sweet dreams my travel friends :) AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Let’s make this year AMAZING!

Now, for an EXACT breakdown and behind-the-scenes look of how I made all these trips happen:



How to travel when you work full time

I kicked off the new year in Denver to visit a few of my best friends from college. It was refreshing to catch up with them as it had been a while since some of us had gotten together!

How I did it: I had just started my full-time job and didn't have vacation time accrued yet. I flew out on New Year's Day, which was a holiday off work, and took an unpaid vacation day on Friday.

I flew home Sunday night and luckily was able to book the very last seat on the last flight to Phoenix after my original one was cancelled due to a snowstorm...and made it back to work 8 am Monday for a huge team training.



How to travel when you work full time

May brought an exciting long weekend to one of favorite cities in the world, NEW YORK! I was originally going to go solo but my friend April from DC was free so we met up there and had some adventures around Manhattan.

How I did it: I went over Memorial Day weekend, where we had the holiday (a Monday) off work. I went to work as usual from 8 am - 5 pm on Friday, took a red eye, and got to NYC early Saturday morning.

I don't typically suggest red eyes for short flights such as these because it often leaves you really tired for the day you arrive. My hotel room was available for early check-in, which I was really grateful for so I took a short nap before my Gossip Girl tour!



Fourth of July weekend was spent visiting a couple of my friends and former teammates from Italy! We actually hadn't seen each other since Europe so it was fun to catch up, go to the beach, and experience the nightlife in Pacific Beach.

How I did it: Another holiday off work meant a three-day weekend. It's about a 6-hour drive each way from Phoenix which is relatively short. I drove out early Friday morning and returned Sunday evening.

If you have a long weekend, a road trip in a nearby city is one of the best ways to have a quick getaway!


How to travel when you work full time

The turnaround time between SD and China was really short. I drove back from San Diego on a Sunday night, went to work Monday and Tuesday, and flew out Wednesday morning for Beijing. Everyone told me I was crazy, but I felt exhilarated. 

I went to China for two weeks to work for an international education conference. I had worked the same conference in different cities previous summers in Europe and the US.

How I did it: I had about 6 paid vacation days accrued, so I used those and then 5 unpaid days. Despite the unpaid days I still came out with more money in July than I did in June or August, because:

  • All my travel expenses were paid for, except for personal expenses: round trip flights, in-country transportation, airport pickup/drop-offs, hotels, all meals, and included activities

  • Since I was traveling I wasn't paying for regular expenses at home, like gas for my car, lunches at work, Starbucks, groceries, etc.

While getting to China (my #1 2015 goal) and having my travel expenses paid for was amazing, the best benefits were working with a great team and having an awesome group of students. 



Exactly one week after stepping foot back in the US, I was off on another trip to Montana for the wedding of my friend Abbie! It was a lot of fun and a great reunion to see some of our good friends from college. Also, Abbie's family is the sweetest ever and treats all of us as an extension of their own. Their hospitality and love is so sweet and always makes going to Montana a treat.

How I did it: There was no way I could miss this wedding (and I was also a bridesmaid!) so my work allowed an unpaid vacation day on a Friday. I flew out Friday morning, got there just in time for the rehearsal, and flew back Sunday. The timing was tight because the flights included multiple stops (there are no direct flights from Phoenix) but it was entirely worth it.



How to travel when you work full time

The second weekend of September was spent in Washington, DC, another one of my favorite cities in the world! (My list of favorite cities is quite long, haha). Since I had spent a summer in DC two years ago and a month there after returning from Italy, I was excited to make it back. And to catch up with some good friends.

How I did it: I had 1.5 vacation days accrued by then so I took one and spent a long weekend there. I flew out Saturday morning and returned Monday night. A long weekend is never enough time in DC for me, but it was better than not going at all!


Only four days after returning from DC I hit the road for Vegas for my sister-in-law's bachelorette party! It was a fun weekend filled with champagne, David Guetta, Calvin Harris, and the Venetian. It was nice to spend more time with my now sister and her friends!

How I did it: So the other 0.5 vacation day was spent on a half day at work on a Friday. I left work at noon and the drive was about 5 hours so I made it in time to get ready and have a few glasses of champagne before heading out.



The last trip of 2015 was spent for a very special brother's wedding in Long Beach! I was a total sap and cried up on the stage during the first few minutes, embarrassing...haha but it was a wonderful event and my brother and his wife have so much love for each other. 

How I did it: I had another vacation day accrued so I flew out Thursday night after work and returned to Arizona Sunday night.

Since I had 10 days of paid vacation I used those for my China trip and a few other smaller trips. I took a decent amount of unpaid vacation but since I was saving on travel expenses in other ways (working, or staying with friends) it didn't make much of a dent in expenses.

So if I haven't proved that it IS possible to live a work + travel lifestyle when your main work is a non-travel job, I don't know what else to say!

When you make travel a priority, you may be surprised at how much you can actually travel despite other commitments, factors, or mental blocks.

Don’t want to work on your vacation? No worries! Here’s how to get free flights

You know my “big trip” that year was working in China, and the company paid for my flights, hotel, food, etc. in exchange for work.

But what if you don’t want to work on vacation? One of the best ways to travel internationally while working full-time is to find ways where you can cut down flight costs, or get free flights.

I use “travel hacking” or “award stacking” strategies strategically with airline miles/points. However, the method I use allows me to earn points very quickly and only pay taxes (typically $5-35 per international flight!) Learn more about how to do this here.