A question I always get asked by friends is how my husband and I manage to make time and set aside money for travelling – especially when they know that my husband hardly goes on leave at the embassy and that I usually have a ton of things to do for my freelancing career. Since we arrived in Berlin in April 2017, he’s only missed two days of work on separate occasions. To top it off, both were slow work days. One of them was even sandwiched between the weekend and a holiday.
In the past nine months, we’ve been to: Potsdam, Gießen, Bonn, Nuremberg, Hamburg, Schwerin, Frankfurt, Leipzig, Heidelberg, and Cologne in Germany. We’ve popped by Krakow, Auschwitz, Poznan, and Warsaw in Poland. Went on a beach trip to Dubrovnik in Croatia, then popped by Copenhagen in Denmark and Malmö in Sweden to visit my family. Spent Christmas in Amsterdam in the Netherlands with my mom, and have also been to Prague and Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic. Oh, and Vienna in Austria.
That’s a LOT in 9 months. But yes, we’ve done it. Granted that some of those trips were related to his or my work and three cities here I actually went to alone, we were still able to squeeze in some time in between to do a little bit of exploring.
I often joke about how our only vice is travelling. We do it a lot and we enjoy ourselves. But – and this is a big BUT – we make sure our leisure time doesn’t get in the way of our work and responsibilities. Basic adulting, people.
Since you probably got to this post looking for ways to do this yourself, let me assure you – yes, it’s possible. And we’re going to go through some of the ways you can do it yourself! Read on for more details.
Remember: You have responsibilities
Firstly, you have to accept that you have responsibilities. And those come first! The good news? You can travel and have fun without sacrificing too much time off work.
A huge part of my husband’s as well as my former full-time job as a TV reporter was to show up. There’s no such thing as remote diplomat and writing and shooting my reports without being at the scene of the story would have made me a bad (not to mention cheating) TV journo. We do, however, believe in working smart. We find quicker yet effective ways to finish the job and try to prepare for the following day before going home to make sure tasks don’t pile up. Okay, him more than me ever since I started freelancing.
We’re not big on loooong vacations. We’re more of travellers who love to explore without staying away for too long. I’m not someone who can sit on a beach for three weeks. I would probably get bored.
Being away for too long also ensures we’ll have a major backlog by the time we get back. But going beyond what you have to do on a daily basis makes sure you chip away at your task list and eventually have days that are pretty much relaxed.
You’ll have to learn how to maximise your time. But we’ll get to that a little later.
Don’t believe that friend
We all have a friend who tells you to drop everything and travel. To care less about your responsibilities and see the world weeks at a time. Spend on experiences and don’t worry so much about your rent. Newsflash: You have to think about your rent and actually set aside money for it. While it does have so many benefits to your mind and soul, travel is not a necessity. Putting food on the table, paying bills, and having savings are.
If you’re someone who’s wondering why your boss still thinks you don’t take your job seriously, then you must look at what you’ve been doing as well. Do you show commitment and dedication? How often do you go on leave? And yeah, that three-week vacation just a few months after being accepted in your new company may not have been a good idea.
First Tip: Embrace Reality
I’m not an advocate of slow travel. It takes me away from my real life for a little too long. I travelled once for three weeks to see family and relax. Towards the end of the first week, I was texting instructions to my reliever and going all micromanager from thousands of miles away.
Notice that the title of this article says ‘travelling’ and not ‘vacation’. Slow travel costs a lot of time and money. Also, it’s for people who want to get some R&R. Honestly, I rarely travel to relax – I do it to explore. When I get to a place, I want to see what’s on my list, eat all the food I could stomach, and get to know the locals while I do both of these things. I make friends in restaurants and stop for a chat with people who give me directions.
There’s no right or wrong way to see the world. Don’t let people tell you which one is better – you have to find something that suits you. If you’re someone who has a remote job and you enjoy the luxury of time and extra money, go ahead and do slow travel. If you’re someone who wants to see the world while keeping your demanding job, become an adventurous weekend warrior.
Plan ahead but also learn to take advantage of deals
Know the non-working holidays for the year and plan. Booking your flights and hotel stays can also be cheaper if you do it way early.
File your leaves right away so as you don’t end up competing with your colleagues for them – especially for popular holidays like Holy Week or Christmas. Be a good workmate and don’t take all the good ones, though.
Should something come up for a weekend that you’re free, say a seat sale on one of Europe’s many budget airlines, then don’t be afraid to grab this too. I usually have airline apps with activated alerts. Writing about travel also has its perks. While I do get invited to some places to stay there for free every now and then, I also get to know about certain travel promos in advance. If you’re not working in a field related to travel, you can also just sign up for airline and hotel chain newsletters.
Know a place’s peak time and avoid it. For example, Paris. I absolutely hate going there in the summer as it is even more expensive than usual and there are a ton of other travellers making every single place you want to visit jam-packed. My favourite time to go is during winter. Prices magically drop along with the temperature! But don’t worry – it doesn’t get too cold there anyway. Also, Paris looks so romantic during this time with all the lights. It would also be extremely easy to get photos around the city that aren’t littered with so many heads.
Sometimes, you can also offer to take turns with your colleagues when it comes to going on leave. This, especially, if your company needs people to work on holidays. Volunteer to go on leave before or after the actual holiday so others can go on the actual dates. This way, you curry favour with your colleagues and bosses and you get to travel with lower rates for hotels and flights.
You also get to avoid crowds. Have you tried flying from Tegel or Schönefeld right before Christmas? Don’t. Don’t even try it. We only did it for my mom and it would probably never happen again. Once was enough to show my love.
Become a warrior
A weekend warrior that is. We’re lucky to be quite in the middle of Europe so driving out of the city for a minimum of two hours is practically enough to get you to another country. Train lines, bus routes, and budget airlines also have a pretty good connection to Berlin. So going away for the weekend with a EUR7 ticket to another city or even a different EU country is always possible.
Just this weekend, we were in Leipzig to visit our friends who are based there. We walked around the city centre, went ice skating, and pigged out before watching Coco on our friend’s sofa on Saturday. Then, we had an easy Sunday morning before visiting the Monument to the Battle of the Nations. Leipzig only takes about two hours by bus so we were back home in Berlin by 10 PM on Sunday night with Alvin having enough time to rest before going to work on Monday morning.
Travelling on weekends doesn’t automatically mean you’re just going on a tiring trip. When done right, it can become a rewarding break from a stressful work week!
Maximise your stay
Going away for the weekend? Got lucky with your boss who gave you a 5-day leave? Good! Either way, it is best that you maximise your time while you’re there.
Make a list of all the things you want to see and do. Then, group them into areas and see them on a per area basis. While going all whimsy and getting lost in a new city sounds like a wonderful movie plot, it can eat up a lot of your time. And time is the most expensive currency these days! It is better to have a plan. One that’s flexible too!
My husband is particularly good at this. Since I started travelling with him, I’ve spent less time on transportation going from one side of the city to the other just to see another site on my list.
No Need to Fully Disconnect
Yes, almost every travel blog would say you should leave your phone when you travel or block work e-mails while you’re away. But it’s 2018 and this is just impossible for people like us who tend to obsess over our work. Simply put, it’s not for everyone. So stop shoving this ideology down our throats and making us feel bad for being online or too available to our bosses.
Just because we don’t totally disconnect from the real world doesn’t mean we aren’t enjoying ourselves while travelling.
In fact, totally disconnecting from my responsibilities is something that would end up making me jittery. For Alvin too. What if there was an emergency?
We check our e-mails and answer instant messages while travelling. But how do we make sure we enjoy our trip? EASY PEASY. We set aside a few minutes per day just to look at what’s going on. Maybe read an email or two that looks important or reply to some colleagues who are asking important questions.
This is also flexible. Maybe five minutes after lunch or another five after dinner. Just to make sure nothing has blown up without us knowing about it.
And there you have it! How we get to travel while not leaving any work behind and even saving a couple of bucks. Got tips of your own? Share them in the comments below!