Top 10 Ways to Take Your Use It Or Lose It Vacation Days

Simple Fact: A majority of Americans will fail to take all of their earned vacation days*. As the end of the year approaches and your accrued time off is treated as use-it-or-lose-it, look up exactly how many leftover vacation days you have. Perhaps “leftover” is a term better served during the Thanksgiving holiday. Let’s call them “vacation opportunity days.” So the real question is how are you going to take every paid day off you’ve earned by working hard this year.

Use It Or Lose It Vacation Days - 10 Ways

* 52%of employees reported having unused vacation days at the end of 2017.

U.S. Travel Association and Project: Time – The State of American Vacation

Have you thought about what you going to do with your remaining vacation days to avoid losing them when the year is up? Perhaps your HR vacation policy allows you to roll over a day or two into the New Year. Do so if you must, but I think the best policy for you and your family is to take every vacation day in a calendar year. Remind yourself that you earned and deserve every vacation day granted at your job – it’s your benefit and reward. Before the thought of planning a big trip gives you stress, remember you don’t need to go far or spend a lot of money to take quality vacation time.

Never Forfeit a Paid Vacation Day

Time off from work is a right and a valuable benefit that should never be taken for granted. Your employer considers your untaken vacation days as a liability on their books. Time off not taken is money they owe you. If it is a financial liability to them it must be a valuable asset to you. Now is the time to stop treating paid time off like a privilege or a favor or an inconvenience to your manager and team. Never give up your paid vacation days by living the VacationCounts way.

For many people the final months of the year is a busy, stressful time, not to mention the upcoming holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year. You probably have a lot of work to wrap up along with taking care of responsibilities at home. That is why you should consider each of these top 10 ways to take every vacation day this year and every year. Before you fall into the trap of losing a vacation day or two and believing that it’s not a big deal, put a few of these time off usage tips into practice. Make the most of every vacation day since you should never regret taking back your work-life-vacation balance for family, travel and enrichment.

1. Halloween Wake-Up Call – Boo!

As the October and November holidays approach, stop to verify your final vacation day numbers! Set a calendar reminder on October 1st (the 4th quarter), Halloween or on Thanksgiving at the very latest. Remind yourself to stop and review your remaining vacation days. Schedule every last one during what is left during the months of November and December. Do not wait past this point or risk running out of available working days left to take off during the holidays.

Since you may need to request approval and coordinate non-working days with your co-workers, advance notice is the best way to enjoy a vacation day when you prefer. Get your time off approved for Thanksgiving and Christmas weeks before it’s too late.

2. Schedule 12 Months of Vacation

Allocate every vacation day on paper at the start of a New Year! In late December or early January, grab a calendar and mark off a majority of your vacation days in advance. Don’t forget to also check which days you’ll receive as paid company or official federal holidays. Now think about which months you can plan for a long week or full week of vacation. Use post-it notes if you prefer paper, otherwise an online calendar will be best for playing with dates. Also keep in mind school holiday periods as well as the vacation policy of your spouse or travel partner to coordinate couple or family vacations. Have you been at your job long enough and earn a generous number of days to be able to take 1 vacation every month?

Once you are confident about the vacation periods you want, get those paid time off requests approved by your manager and in the HR system. The sooner you plan it out the better you can go about your working year without the worry of running out of time to take your vacation days.

12 Month Calendar Schedule Vacation Days

Bonus Tip: Try the VacationCounts web app to allocate your vacation days using the Time Off Tracking feature built in. It’s free and private. Learn more.

3. 60/40 Vacation Calendar Rule

One way to take your PTO before it’s too late is to front-load your vacation calendar. To prevent having too many earned vacation days during the last few months of the year, use at least 60% of your paid time off in the first six months of the year. By the time July arrives, you should have no more than 40% of your annual vacation allotment left to be taken. Taking more of your vacation days early makes it more likely that you will not run out of time to use the rest.

Of course it makes sense to save a day or two for emergency or family purposes, or if you find a last-minute flight deal during Black Friday 🙂

4. Take One Big Vacation

Plan one monster vacation each year! Every year, make it your goal to take one big trip that takes advantage of a bulk of your paid time off. For example if you have 3 weeks per year, go on a 1.5-2 week vacation and if you are fortunate to have 4 weeks, try to take a 2.5-3 week vacation. Add in your official company or floating holidays to the mix to save a day if it matches up with your vacation calendar. Since some employers limit the number of consecutive days you can be out of the office, be sure to clear this with HR or your manager well in advance. Now you can get excited about planning a major trip.

Plan a Big Vacation - Travel Photo Inspiration

Check your bucket list for destination ideas, grab a travel guidebook, watch some YouTube travel videos, and get online to plan and book your exciting big vacation. To get organized try a note-taking app such as Evernote or OneNote from Microsoft so you can capture it all.

5. Birthday is a Vacation Day

Take a vacation day for your birthday! Mark your work calendar for a “me” vacation day on your birthday, plus one for your spouse or other family members if you choose. Of course this tip won’t work if your next birthday falls on a weekend or holiday, so adjust accordingly. Everyone deserves a day off on their birthday, don’t you agree? You can use this vacation day for some me time during the day and save the celebration for the evening when your partner and family are done with work and/or school. There are many ways to make the most of your “birthday vacation” such as a spa treatment, play tourist for the day, or treat yourself to a shopping spree.

6. Your 4-Day Holiday Weekend

4 Day Weekend Vacation Calendar

I love turning a 3-day holiday weekend into a 4-day holiday+vacation weekend. Simply make it a policy to always ask for a vacation day on the Friday or Tuesday before or after a 3-day holiday weekend. So many government or company holidays fall on a Monday, so this tip is easy to put into practice. By extending your holiday weekend you can avoid traveling on the first and/or last day of a typically crazy busy 3-day weekend. Review your official company holiday list, open up your Google/Apple/Microsoft calendar, and bookmark each of the potential holiday weekends today.

7. Book A Flight or Pay Deposit Now

When you are seriously thinking about a future vacation but not sure about being away from the office, your next action is key. Book your flights as far in advance as possible to get your vacation on the calendar and stop worrying. Or if you are planning to take a cruise or go on a guided tour that requires a deposit, put down that deposit to make a decision. Of course you will need to clear and approve those vacation days with your company first or risk losing your nonrefundable money.

By booking flights or paying a tour or cruise deposit far in advance, you are making it as difficult as possible to change your mind and forego this scheduled time off. This tip is especially helpful for planning an end of the year vacation. By booking flights early, you will use up those remaining days of paid time off without fail and save money by not waiting until the last minute. When you are locked in to taking a vacation with a significant cancellation penalty (and it’s on the work/HR calendar), you are sure to use it.

8. Half-Day Fridays

With Fridays being the start of the weekend for a majority of full-time workers, consider taking a half day on a Friday. This tip is especially rewarding when the weather is good and you can take advantage of the longer daylight hours. If you work in a job that allows this level of time-off flexibility, consider requesting 4 half-day Fridays in a row to make the most of 2 full vacation days. The disruption to your work output will be minimal and you’ll feel great starting the weekend before everyone else.

It’s critical that you plan on how to best use your half day of vacation. Don’t call it a vacation if you are just going to clean the house, go shopping for groceries, or make a doctors appointment. Plan for your half day just like any mini-vacation. Use it to do something that you choose to do outside of your normal work-life routine and responsibility.

9/80 Work Schedule

What if you work a compressed working week like 9/80? If you benefit from a full day off every other week (typically on a Friday) you’ll have to work within your time policy rules. As long as you earn paid time off in hours you should be able to apply them to your 8 or 9 hour day. Talk to your HR manager to see what’s possible as your total hours worked have to add up to 80 over the two weeks.

9. Just Say No To Working On Vacation

Make it your policy to leave work at the office by not sacrificing your vacation days. It is your earned time off after all and while there are certain occupations that are often on call, avoid agreeing to check your email and be available while away on vacation. The lesson here is that if you are using a vacation day but if you spend hours responding to emails, chatting on Slack, or calling into a team meeting, you are “losing” at least part of that vacation day.

Your employer might offer you additional time off in exchange for working a bit while on vacation. That certainly sounds enticing and you might even convince yourself that it’s a worthwhile compromise. While that is the least they should do, you should take a stand and say “No” to giving up vacation time at any price. Get into the vacation mindset from the moment you depart on your trip.

10. “I’ve Earned My Vacation”

Look in the mirror and tell yourself that it’s your vacation and you’ve earned it! This last piece of advice sums up the entire post. Your vacation days are earned time off and part of your employment contract. You work for pay and benefits. Besides health care, retirement plan, life insurance, and possibly a bonus program, paid time off is a benefit you earn by working at your job. Tell yourself that you are not too important to be away from your job several times throughout the year.

Paycheck Stub Sample with Vacation Hours

Think back to your previous vacations and how you returned refreshed, invigorated and ready to be even more successful. Vacations have been proved to help with creativity, productivity, and overall happiness. These positive effects apply to both your home and work life.


So never leave a vacation day on the table at the end of the year like it is no big deal. You’re getting paid regardless of whether you stay at home, get out into the community or travel the world. Losing vacation days is for losers, so be a winner and take all your vacation days each and every year.

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