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Running Low on PTO? How to Travel Without Using Vacation Days

Your dream vacation can become a reality without needing to use paid time off. Here are some practical tips.

Woman standing on land near large body of water
You don't have to use your PTO days to go on vacation.
Solovyova/iStockphoto

You've planned a trip to the beach, only to realize you don't have enough paid time off to go. Fortunately, there's good news: You don't need PTO to go on vacation because there are several things you can do to make it happen without taking much time off from work (maybe none at all). We'll have you relaxing poolside and sipping your favorite drink in no time.

Need another reason to go on that much-needed vacation? Studies suggest you'll be even happier after coming back from a short trip than you would after a long one. Plus vacations can help give you increased mental motivation when you return to work.

Instead of giving up on vacationing altogether, check out these ways to travel this summer when you have limited time or money to spare.

Get more tools to work through your vacation

Taking your work with you while your family enjoys vacationing may sound soul-crushing, not to mention counter-productive. But if you absolutely have to work, you can at least make the most of it by working from home from somewhere else. An ocean view beats the back of your co-worker's head any day.

Pay for a plan to hotspot your phone. It's worth the expense to be in surroundings that lighten your mood, and you can stop the subscription after you get back. Bring an external battery pack to keep your devices going if lounge chair outlets are limited. A screen glare reducer can help you actually see what you're doing in bright sunshine.

Make sure you know how to work your corporate VPN so you'll be able to access your files. If you have important meetings you can't miss, that's what video chat apps like Zoom or Slack are for. When the sun goes down, you'll really be able to enjoy the local flavor, then stay for the weekend and really dive in.

woman using a laptop on a porch.

Airbnbs can make your business trip feel like a vacation.

Airbnb

Don't stay at a hotel for your next business trip

You already know that you can piggyback vacation days before or after a business trip, but consider booking an Airbnb for Work instead of staying in a hotel -- assuming your company will allow it.

You'll have guaranteed Wi-Fi, a 24-hour access lockbox and extra space to bring the family or a travel companion for local dinners out. An Airbnb will have a more homey personality than some anonymous hotel room, and you can extend your stay through the weekend -- you will, of course, have to pay for the extra days.

Stack your hours to buy more days

If you don't have much vacation time, talk to your manager about working extra hours during the week -- two extra hours every day, a Saturday shift or even a holiday -- like the Fourth of July or Labor Day -- to "buy" a day that fits your travel schedule.

Your boss might be more open if you can stack your extra hours around a deadline. Remember, you're not asking for overtime pay, just time in lieu.

A person taking a photo of mountains and a lake

A road trip to a new destination is a great way to make a vacation out of thin air.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Make Insta-worthy mini trips

On a budget? No problem. Take the staycation route and use apps like Eventbrite to check out local events and free concerts going on nearby.

Or, pick a spot on the map and see what adventure awaits you, bringing a lunch, blankets, one of these top coolers and something to read for an impromptu picnic somewhere new. You could also pick a new activity or destination every night for one week to do after work. You may not "go" anywhere, but you'll still get a thrill -- and new adventures to show your Instagram following. Check out Roadtrippers to make your short trips feel more spontaneous.

Give yourself a budget so you feel entitled to splurge -- try the Tripcoin app for iPhone and Trabee Pocket for Android and iPhone. It'll save you money overall since you won't have to pay for plane tickets or a hotel.

a rocky area with a waterfall leading to a small body of water

Hidden spots like this could be miles down the road.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Apps help manage weekend travel

Traveling over the weekend is a tried and true way to get some downtime, and you might be surprised how much ground you can cover in a few days if you're particularly motivated (or how much you can unwind).

If you're flexible on dates, an app like Hopper can predict when hotel and flight prices will be the cheapest. If it's more spur of the moment, Hotel Tonight finds you last-minute hotel deals.

Want to put miles on someone else's car instead of your own? Turo is typically cheaper than most rental companies and you pick the car you want to drive. Plus, you'll get on the road faster because you won't have to drive to the nearest airport to pick it up.