How long should your vacation be?

how long should your vacation be
How long should your vacation be?

Long-term Travel vs. Short-term Travel

How long is long enough?

How long is too long?

We took the “year off” trip many people talk and dream about. Our’s was actually a 14 month trip where we sold our house, our cars and most of our possessions. This is by no means required to have a life-changing trip – it was just what was right for us at the time. It is not what would be right for us now.

So, how do you decide how long your trip should be? Is it a two week vacation or a two year sabbatical? There’s no one right answer, but there is probably a sweet spot for you, right now.

Here are the big questions to consider before booking those plane tickets.

Where do you want to go?

Distance and length of travel matter. Some places are just hard to travel to for a short period of time. If you are going to travel for 24 hours across a collection of time zones, you should consider doing it for more than a week or two.

For instance, a trip from Denver, Colorado to Richard’s Bay, South Africa, a popular safari starting point, takes 40 hours and that’s if all 4 of the flights are on time. From experience, once you arrive, you’ll want to sleep for about 24 hours, unless you are a much better plane and airport napper than me.

Once you’ve arrived and caught up a little on sleep, you are already 3 or 4 days into your trip and you haven’t even seen a giraffe yet. Remember that you’re going to need to allow a similar 2-3 day transition on the return trip as well.

That means you can easily spend nearly half of a two-week vacation in transit. This is something important to think about when wondering how long should your vacation be.

Are you looking for a break or a life change?

If you are at a point where you are thinking of making a break from a job/career or location, it could be a great time for a long trip. You can take the natural intermission in your life, stretch it just a bit longer and really take advantage of the opportunity.

On the other hand if you really like your job, have kids or pets that depend on you or are generally not interested in uprooting your life, perhaps a shorter trip is what you need. Shorter trips have the benefit of being able to really plan out what you want to do and see, while long trips can have the opportunity to fly by the seat of your pants and make things up as you go a bit.

There is more time to be relaxed and spontaneous. It may seem like having a year gap on your resume is a big deal, but our personal experience is that this fear is unfounded. This was a complete non-issue for us in terms of finding employment post-trip.

If the fear of “missing things” while gone looms large, we also found that surprisingly little happens for most people during the average year and within months of our return it felt quite a bit like we’d never left at all. The only noticeable changes really were some new restaurants to try and that our friend’s children were noticeably larger.

How much money do you have to spend?

Or in other words how much value are you looking for?

Sometimes time is money. If you have time, you can save money.

For instance, we took buses and trains from Cape Town to Victoria Falls, while a lot of the people we shared our safari with only had two weeks for their trip so they took expensive charter planes to Victoria Falls. Many of them were in high paying professions, so its reasonable to believe they had money and not time, while we had time but not money.

Also, when you are travelling somewhere with an expensive ticket, and you only have 14 days over which to spread the cost, it really drives up your trip cost. For example the cheapest round-trip ticket to Richards Bay, South Africa from Denver, Colorado right now is about $1,500 – that’s $100+/day when you average it over a two week trip, but only $17/day if you were on a 3 month trip. Add that to the huge percentage of the trip spent on planes and in airports and you can get a lot more bang for your buck and a lot of trip for your flight on a longer trip.

Ultimately, cost savings is the factor that convinced us we needed to take a long trip.

What commitments and responsibilities do you really have?

Undoubtedly, you’ll come up with a long list of things you’re involved in and people you will miss if you leave for a chunk of time. What I am really talking about here are the big things, children and elderly parents who might be counting on you for care, furry family members that can’t come with you, properties that need upkeep. There is undoubtedly a period of time where getting away for a long trip won’t fit into your schedule if you have kids or elderly parents counting on you, but a shorter trip can still work fine.

This is the key: you can always figure something out. You can enlist home health care. You could travel Europe on your kids summer vacation? Pets can be boarded or watched by friends. Property managers can be hired. Or you can just go for a shorter trip. So be sure to look for solutions and not just challenges when thinking about how long should your vacation be.

If you want to go long and are afraid of what you’ll miss, try a month. You might be surprised how many people didn’t realize you were gone or are “surprised you are back already”.

Here’s how we made our decision to travel for a year.

For us, we looked at our tremendously long travel life list and saw not just a lot of places, but a lot of faraway places. We didn’t have a lot of money to spend on a trip, but we were both at points where we were ready to make job changes.

For us, it was the right time for a long trip and it was easy to answer the question how long should your vacation be?

I was going to be job hunting anyway and I figured a year wasn’t going to hurt me. Some employers would see a trip like this as an example of a go-getter who sets ambitious goals and makes things happen. Sure some might hold the gap in my employment history against me, but those aren’t the people or companies I want to work for anyway.

On the top of my travel list was an African safari – a great example of the kind of trip that needs some real time. We had purchased a 5 day safari at a charity auction and we could have easily done a nice 2 week vacation. However, once we’d purchased the airline tickets to South Africa, it didn’t actually cost that much more to stay for 3 months and hit Zimbabwe, Kenya and Botswana as well.

Another key is that there is a point at which we felt that making the trip longer no longer added negatives.

Basically, we felt that if we were going to quit our jobs and sell our house, we sure as hell weren’t going to do it just for a one-month vacation. If we were going all in, we were going ALL IN.

We settled on an open-ended one year journey that in the end stretched out to 14 months. Now that we’ve had that experience, are now settled back in and gainfully employed, we’re planning some shorter, closer to home trips. In a few years, I foresee the timing being right for another long trip, but most likely of the 1-3 month non-house & possession-selling variety.

So how long should your vacation be?

It all depends on where you are in your life and where you want to go, but the very most important decision is the decision to go.

To go somewhere, anywhere and to do it soon. And let us know how long should your vacation be!