making the most of your vacation time

Posted by susan on February 17th, 2011. Filed under: everyday adventures, travel tips.

This is a guest post by the lovely Maria Rainier, a freelance writer and blog junkie who loves to travel. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education where she writes about education, online universities, and what an online degree means in an increasingly technological world. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

Maria often combines her love of travel and blogging into helpful posts, from exploring beautiful Italy to sharing tips for great travel photography. For transient travels, Maria kindly offered to write a post that would speak to the more sporadic traveler – like me.

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Unless you can throw down like Bill Gates, you’re probably not able to hop on a plane anytime you feel like it, and your time – and money – are at a premium. If you’re like most of us, you have about two weeks of vacation every year (maybe three), and you have to find a way to make each of those days count.

With a little planning, you can make the most of your vacation time, whether you’re planning a quick weekend getaway, or you have a few weeks to spend abroad.

Manipulating Your Time

If you plan your departure just right, you can manage to add a few more days, or hours, to your vacation. Don’t wait until the day your vacation begins to leave: Schedule your flight for the afternoon before you are meant to begin your vacation. You can still work that day, and you don’t have to take an extra day of vacation for travel. If you can manage to sleep well on a plane, “redeye,” or overnight, flights work well for longer trips, especially those headed overseas.

With international flights, you should note the difference in time zone when planning your time. You may end up gaining time on the way there, but you’ll lose time on the way back. Decide whether a morning or an evening departure or landing will be better for your planning purposes. Don’t forget: With a significant time zone difference, you’re likely to feel tired and jet lagged. Even if you do manage to arrive on the morning of your first day, if you’re too tired to do anything, you’ll end up losing even more time.

Route Your Activities

If you’re looking forward to lounging on a beach for the next several days, you can probably skip this step. But if you’re trying to see as much of your destination as you can in the time allotted, it is best to make a list of all the things you would like to do and see while you are there. If the list is especially long, you can rank it according to your highest priorities. Then you can make a plan for the order in which to see things – putting activities and sights that are closer to one another geographically closet together in time. If you don’t take a little time to plan this, you could end up backtracking and taking long bus trips or walking several blocks to return to an area that you already saw, wasting valuable time.

Rent a Car

Waiting on public transportation can deduct hours from your vacation, and taking a taxi everywhere can eat a hole in your budget. Rent a car, and you’ll spend a little extra on overall transportation costs (compared to public options), but you’ll save on time and reap dividends on the autonomy it will give you. My husband and I managed to cover 10 cities in Ireland in one week because we abandoned the unreliable bus system and rented a car. We even ended up having enough time on our hands that we decided to let someone else do the driving one day and hopped on a tour bus around the Ring of Kerry. (A note to remember about tour buses: Only take them if the itinerary suits your needs. Otherwise, you’ll spend a lot of time in gift shops and touring areas in which you have little to no interest.)

Plan Around Festivals and Other Events

Most major cities have a significant festival or other event that happens each year. If you plan to attend during this time – such as the Lunar New Year in China, the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan or D.C., New Year’s Even in New York – you are sure to have dozens of built-in activities ready for your vacation, eliminating much of the planning work. The best news? Most of these activities will be free.

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