Fighting Cubicle Nation: Why You Have More Time to Travel Than You Think

having the time to travel nomadic matt Time. There just never seems to be enough of it. I mean, it’s already October. Didn’t we just celebrate the start of 2012? I feel like I was just ringing in the New Year in Thailand weeks ago! Time moves too fast (and every year it seems to just move faster)!

And time is something people always tell me they don’t have enough of and is one of the main reasons why they don’t travel as much as they would like. (Money is also an issue but I’ll cover that in depth in the coming weeks.)

Now, I won’t pretend that people with 9 to 5 jobs can travel like I do or even want to. My travel lifestyle suits my needs. It’s not for everybody. I’m lucky enough to have found a way to make a living while being my own boss and traveling when and how often I want. (The same is true for any Internet-based profession really. You don’t need to be a blogger to be your own location independent person!) People with office jobs have to be at work Monday through Friday. I don’t, and that means I can travel a lot more than others are able.

But even if they don’t want to be nomadic, most people I know with office jobs want to travel more than they do. They just think they don’t have the time to do so.

They are wrong.

Let’s say you work 50 weeks a year and get 2 weeks vacation (Not American? Then you probably get a lot more and you should consider yourself lucky). Counting your vacation time and every weekend brings the total number of days per year you can travel to 110 (104 weekend days plus the 10 days in your two week vacation). That’s a lot of time to travel. Throw in three-day weekends and holidays and we can add even more days to our total. It may not be all continuous, but you can do a lot with that much time.

Let’s think about that for a second – 110+ days of free time per year. That’s close to 4 months of potential travel time per year! 4 months!! The world is your oyster with that much time.

When looking at it this way, our busy schedule becomes a lot more open. What are you doing with that time? When you say you don’t have the time to travel, maybe it’s because you haven’t made it a priority. It’s like when I say I don’t have the time to go to the gym. I have plenty of time to go the gym – I’m just spending it elsewhere.

having a vacation fortune cookie I find the problem to be most people associate “travel” with a long-term, big expensive trip and thus discount all the short-term methods of travel. When people think “I want to travel” they envision a two week vacation, a cruise, or some long multi-month journey. It’s a big trip to a far away land.

That’s not really their fault — I used to think that way too. It’s just how the travel industry tells us we need to travel. We internalize that idea and never consider other options. The industry’s marketing machine tells us that travel means a long trip where we spend lots of money. And if you hear something enough, you believe it. I used to. It’s why Jessica is never going to Ireland and Bob will always be a hater.

Like many, they don’t think about all the small, little ways one can satiate the travel bug when time is not on your side. But there are plenty:

Weekend Getaways – Spend a weekend away somewhere. Two days isn’t a lot of time but it’s still enough to explore a city, town, or camp in a national park close to you. I spend a lot of time in New York City. From there, weekends away can include Atlantic City, Fire Island, the Hamptons, the Berkshires, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. – and those are just the ones within a few hours of driving! Try to incorporate more weekend trips away. Even a couple of days somewhere are better than no days anywhere.

Go Somewhere Close – Only have a week? Don’t travel halfway around the world, wasting tons of time getting to your destination. Go somewhere a short distance away. In Miami and Fiji’s too far? Head to Central America! In Sydney and America’s too far? Go halfway and stop in Hawaii, visit New Zealand or a Pacific island nation! In Europe? Well, hell, 90% of the continent is a 3-hour flight away! Stay close and you’ll need less time to do what you want. Additionally, the best flight deals you can find are often for destinations close to you.

Be a Local Tourist – I don’t think people are tourists in their own city often enough. How often do you visit the museums, explore new areas in your town, or visit the major attractions of your city? I know New Yorkers who have never been to the Met, Bostonians who have never walked the Freedom Trail, and Amsterdamers who have never wandered through the red-light district. Take the weekend, move out of the house and into a cheap place to stay, and be a tourist. I love playing a tourist in my own city because it helps you learn and understand where you come from.

Important: If you are going to do this, leave your house and stay elsewhere. Otherwise, it will be too tempting to wake up, run some errands, and then “run out of time.” For this to really work, you need to break your routine and not staying in your house is important to do that.

Maximize Your Time – Don’t try to see everything under the sun. You’ll run around too much. I field a lot of emails from people who want to see half of Europe in two weeks or want to conquer all of South America in a month. When you think that is how you have to travel and try to cram everything in, it’s easy to get burdened by your itinerary. You look at all those destinations, get overwhelmed, realize there is not enough time, give up, and hold off until you do “have” the time. I get that you don’t have a lot of vacation and want to see a lot, but don’t! Sticking to just one or two places suddenly opens up a lot of time and opportunity! You’ll never be able to see it all. Even with my open schedule, I still can’t see everything I want. I stopped trying long ago. In travel, less is more.

Nomadic Matt on a cruise

You may not have months to travel, but that doesn’t mean you can’t travel at all. There is a plethora of ways to get out and see the world without having to be a nomad like me. Telling yourself you don’t have time is just an excuse. You do have the time; the problem is you probably aren’t thinking of how to spend that time beyond the typical “two week vacation.”

So the next time you think “I don’t have the time”, think of all the places nearby you could explore. Yes, you’ll have errands to run and things that require your attention. But by using your time productively, prioritizing travel, and thinking outside the box, you’ll find you do have time to explore the world. Travel is about exploration, and that exploration can happen anywhere for any length of time.

  1. I did the same calculations like you did once upon a time and found that yes I could be travelling for more than quarter of a year! Yes, people do not realize this that there is quite a lot more ‘time’ on their hands than they think there is.

    Another point I observed back home in India with my friends and office mates was they never end up utilizing the amount of time offs ( which is anywhere from 3-4 weeks a year) available to them. They think of encashing it at end of year to do ‘don’t know what’. And of course another factor is they they are shy of availing these offs for the fear that they might be seen as ‘not serious’ types at work. When I was working people would ask how I travel so much and how do I get so much time off from work. It was simple that you plan well ahead and ask you boss . Something most people don’t do.

    Great post Matt!


  2. Cat

    Nice post! Looking forward to when you discuss the money issue, which is our main reason for not being able to travel as much. With me, my husband, and our daughter, plus having to pay to have our dogs boarded while we’re away, it is definitely challenging to travel on our budget.

    • Mike

      Try arranging to swap pet sitting services with friends or neighbors. Also, if you are willing to consider it, look into home exchanges. Someone may be interested in a weekend in your area too!

  3. I chose to live overseas. For five years I lived in Thailand, while there I made the most of my time. When ever I had a break I would see different places, but nothing epic. in the course of five year I saw most of SE Asia, along with China and Sri Lanka. Now I have taken this principle with me to Morocco. Not every trip needs to be epic. Great article!

  4. Great post! I agree, people really do have a lot more time to travel than they think. We just went on a weekend trip to Toronto, and people thought we were crazy because it was such a short trip. I would rather go for 3 days than not at all!

  5. This is so unbelievably true. It’s exactly what I have been doing since I got my new job (money has to come from somewhere, right :-)). I’m seeking out opportunities to go see new places all the time. Especially close to home there always is some place you have never been to.

  6. Amy

    this is really true Matt, but unfortunately living is Australia is really BORING, the are only few surrounding cities that exist and I’ve explored them all for the past 20 years that I’ve lived here. Plus it takes 5 hours just to fly out of Australia (I live in Melbourne), so it’s really hard to get out of here without the big trip budget and few days more than a weekend. Any suggestions? – Amy

    • Amy, I hear you. Australia is a long way from anywhere (except New Zealand), but with more low cost carriers offering cheaper airfares, Asia and the Pacific are options. Yes, it’s still going to take 8 or 9 hours to get there, but if you plan your flights well and can get some sleep inflight, a long weekend is still possible if you stick to seeing just one or two places. Also, we are lucky in Australia to get four weeks annual leave (I would have died with only two weeks, like in America!), and can often extend on that with flexi time – making a trip to Europe quite a viable option. Just grab a special on airfares, the rest can be done so cheaply – I look forward to Matt’s blog on budgeting for travel.
      By the way – have you been to Tasmania? It is awesome! Moved here nearly 3 years ago from the Gold Coast – best move I ever made!

  7. A great post, Matt! Really looking forward to the next part (about the money aspect of travel.) I am still looking for practical ways to spend more time on the road. In the last two years, I have spent more than 1.5 months travelling. And I agree, if we try the number could be a lot more.


  8. Ian [EagerExistence]

    As a travel lover as well, of course I agree with your points. To folks like us its second nature to make travel a priority. All of us have the same 24 hours in every day, it’s how you spend your time that makes the difference.

  9. Yep definitely agree with all of it. I have a 9 to 5 job and not a lot of vacation (although more than in the US), and I ctually do travel quite a lot, almost once a month. Week-end getaways are my specialty. I take night buses to be able to have two full days somewhere and explore the UK and Europe.
    I also visit a lot my city (London) and I don’t need to stay somewhere else to convince myself, there is so much to do…
    So people, get out there!

  10. Maria Lourdes

    for a mini wanderlust fix i explore the tourist attractions in my place (manila), and the neighboring towns and cities during weekends. yes, we do have a lot of time to travel, we just have to make time for it.

  11. I love travel. In my holiday I spent my time with my friends and visit own beautiful place in my city or other. I totally agree with your points. I like your post. Actually I really enjoy this type of post.

  12. Matt, definitely agree with all you said. It is very interesting to see that people are realy looking at you as a real tourist when you are playing as such in your own city. We experienced this and it was amazing, plus you’ll see things, otherwise you didn’t noticed before. And you will discover many places just near were you live, in your own country 😀

  13. Great post! I graduated with my masters in July, so for two years, it wasn’t an excuse – when I wasn’t at my 9-5 job, I was studying furiously. NOW though, for the first time, I’ve recently discovered how much time I really have. Since July, we’ve been all over the US – Chicago, San Diego, NYC, Las Vegas, Seattle and Portland. I’ve found weekends are the best time when you have limited vacation – taking a Friday and Monday off over the weekend DOUBLES the amount of vacation time I get! Thanks for the insights Matt!

  14. Kyle

    Exploring new people, places and things, for me, is the whole reason I travel. A lot of times this can be accomplished right in my backyard! Making a concerted effort to leave the normal routine, however that is accomplished (I love your tip about staying some where cheap away from your own place), is the first step in discovering and having new experiences.

  15. I am such a believer of taking the time to travel local and get to know the secret wonders of your local region. Great inspiring post for those stuck in a non-travel rut!

  16. I’m a big fan of travelling close to home, in fact that’s what my blog Day Jaunts is all about, places I can visit within a day from home.
    I am lucky that I live about a half hour drive from one of Australia’s most well-known tourist attractions, The Great Ocean Road but if you start to think a bit more like a traveller you can find plenty of places to visit.

  17. For those living in Europe: we do have more holidays than the Americans, let’s make good use of it. And especially: make good use of public holidays! Might not be rocket science, but it’s a good tip for travel more: if your job role allows it, take your annual leave just before or after or in the middle of a public holiday, this way using the same number of days from your annual leave you can travel longer.

    Examples? Last year I spent 10 days in Hong Kong at Christmas time, it only took 4 days of my annual leave. This year using 6 days from my annual leave I was able to spend 11 days in Italy, and the next year (if my managers approve my holiday plan!) I will be able to travel 3 weeks using only 11 days of annual leave ’cause San Patrick is so close to Easter that I can take advantage of both and make a long holiday (this last example only applies to Ireland… but have a look at the holiday calendar in your country and you might find more fortunate coincidences!)

    Flights in/around public holidays might be more expensive, but if you plan carefully and you play a bit around the dates of your travel you can still find a decent price. Also, most people take a short holiday during these dates, if you travel longer your flight expenses won’t be affected by the “peak time” fares 😉

    Hope this helps!

  18. True. When there’s a will, there’s a way. People overlook weekends and places nearby sometimes. Now that I’m back to being a 9-5 worker, I have to plan my trips more carefully, and it is doable.
    I have some tips here, might help anyone with the same ‘problem’.

  19. It’s also about taking advantage of any benefits your work offers. I have to be on call throughout the year. I can bank that as time-off later.

    Also, I have a “second city” that I travel to frequently just to enjoy a new place, see live music or try some new restaurants.

  20. I hear ya, mate. I’m settling back into a 9-5 routine after being a constant traveller for nine months and four years living abroad before that. It’s not always easy but I’m still managing to get my travel fix, exploring my own country and the new city that I find myself in right now after being away for so long.

  21. Now that I’ve retired, I have all the time in the world to travel. Unfortunately, all I want to do is work on my online business!

    Came back from Scandinavia last month. Loved it and plan to return!

    Best, Sam

  22. A very true post, Matt. I made the decision to live overseas on the grounds that I’d be able to travel more, and so far I have been proven correct. However, it is not always about having more time but being active and actually carrying out your dreams. I’ve often been asked how it’s been possible to live the nomadic life I do. My biggest advise is to stop sitting around talking about trips and stand up and fulfil them.

  23. I hate running into the limitations of office work. While I love my job in engineering, the 100k in student loan debt is the thing that is really keeping me from pursuing a more flexible career so I can travel more often. Until that gets paid off, I have to suffice with one or two big trips per year and a bunch of local 2-3 day weekend trips!

  24. Use your time productively. Based on my travel, I always limit my list where to go. This is to avoid cramming and catching up. I find it easy following a simple bucket list which can open more greater possibilities. I agree, less is more in travel.

  25. Amanda

    Excellent tips in this post. Completely agree that people (myself included) usually envision travel as a long journey to a far-off, exotic land. It’s nice to be reminded that great vacations don’t have to break the bank or take up too much time. Growing up just outside of New Orleans, I have spent a ton of time there with my family who still lives there or just as a day trip with friends. But even so, there are many things in the city that I’ve yet to experience. Thanks for sharing your ideas about travelling locally.

  26. SB

    Hi Matt,

    Great post, really can’t wait for the money ones as I have none! (and therefore none to save towards travel) but am trying to rectify this with a job for a few months.

    I just wish I could borrow from my Future Cubicle Self :p

  27. I’m currently living in Ireland and I totally agree with u. Low cost flights allow me visit many places in Europe in a really fast and cheap way, just around 15 pounds for going Liverpool, Manchester or London!!

    And if u are living in south Europe like I was u have also the chance for visiting north Africa…I spend such a good days in Morocco a few years ago

  28. What a great post! I’m a big fan of weekend getaways too and you can actually travel pretty far if you hop on a plane. But it’s very true that most people will miss what’s under their nose and I’m trying to consciously make more of an effort to explore my local area.

  29. Stewart

    Excellent Post Matt, here in OZ we get 4 weeks annual leave a year and because of changing work environments a lot of companies now prefer you to take the break in shorter increments, but like you i too have been doing the tourist in my own city and staying in a hotel in the centre of the city then tour around it for the 2 days on the weekend or just recently we did a 3 day mini break and toured around the local area covering about 1000k’s in that time and saw heaps of interesting tourist sites and country side, but we also hop a plane to another city for a few days as well as air travel is now affordable.

  30. Great post and I like it because it makes me wonder why I didn’t seder it that way. In fact, inIndy, with so many festivals through the year, we actually get a lot more breaks than we actually think we do! Really looking forward to the money post! Thanks Matt!

  31. Im a huge advocate of “be a local tourist”, I do it in Norwegian cities all the time. In fact the local Oslo governments gives away the tourist passes to locals one day a year – an initiative called “Oslo as a Tourist” – wonderful idea!

  32. anna

    I used to take long weekends and travel to Europe. Sure it was a quick trip and brutal with jet lag and the pocket book but I could still have 2 days in Paris or London or Madrid that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

  33. Shay

    im not afraid to ask for time off. i am blessed to work at a company that offers about a month’s worth of yearly PTO, but there is a huge fear in my office that asking to use that time off makes you come off as “less serious” about the job. so people end up taking very little vacation time and almost wearing that as a badge of pride. the fear of requesting vacation IS somewhat well-founded. but not enough people ask “so what?” is it REALLY worth missing out on travel to impress my boss? i do good work and make sacrifices elsewhere (for example, I always take lunch at my desk and stay late in the evenings) in order to demonstrate dedication and be a good worker. but i won’t sacrifice vacations. i’ve taken over 4 weeks off this year so far (2 weeks to travel to asia, 1 week for a staycation, 1 week for a trip to central america, a couple days here and there to take weekend trips around the US) and i intend to take another week off for christmas/new year’s. i don’t regret a single day of it – especially because my personal life has benefited from taking real, long vacations with my SO/family.

  34. This is a great post. We’ve left the rat race and the typical “cubical” lifestyle and are teaching English in China, which feels like travelling every day.

    Even so, we still go on weekends away to a nearby city. Even though it’s so close to home, it still feels like an adventure. Getting away from the routine of everyday life is always a good idea.

    Cheers for the article.

  35. An inspiring post Matt. I know you wrote this post a few years ago but it’s as valid now as it was then…..!
    So true. I travel to “exotic” countries every three years, in between its Europe and North Africa. Pretty much not more than 4 hours away by plane or 12 hours away by train!

  36. True, there are solutions to have a full time job and still get away on weekends and for holidays.. but it’s definitely more difficult and how far can you go? Just as you said, be a local tourist – there’s not much satisfaction into that I believe.

  37. Matt, thank you for the article. I have the same mindset. Short-haul trips are enough for me as every repeated short-haul trip to a city one year after seems a challenge to me. I have to recall how to travel to the places in a city like Hong Kong. From Hong Kong, hop to a nearby city by ferry or by plane. I like exploring places related to airlines.

    Do you have a travel article about how to pack and travel to a city in rainy season?

  38. When I was working I had two, latter three, weeks off a week. Our company also gave 12 public holiday days off as well. Because our company was usually open on these holidays, a worker could use the holiday on another day….as long as it was used within a month. With all the holidays over xmas and new years plus MLK day, I could put them all together to take an extra week vacation off. Other times I would add the paid holidays on to vacation days to make for longer trips. The company was ok with me taking a few days off no pay a year too…..I would usually add one such day on to an overseas vacation trip. Sometimes the company paid for me to go on a trip….then I would extend my stay there to the weekend…and make the use of a work paid ticket….even if meant staying at a hostel.

  39. It is a very interesting post and I learned much from it. The thing I don’t travel at all and I so wish I can travel, my problem is not that I don’t have time it is because I always thought that I can’t afford travelling. I want to travel to new york but I can’t because is too expensive. My problem is not time is money if could have all the money see europe, america and even the rest of continent africa.

    I’m from south africa and have not travel even the half of it but I know some places I used to travel to but that was years ago they do have changes and development now an then. I think I have to start by travelling the whole of south africa first before I cross the boarders. Maybe I’ll get a chance to build connections and also get sponsors that will help me see new york as that is my dream.

  40. Matt – This is great, thanks for sharing! I love the anticipation of planning an extravagant and long vacation, but also take advantage of my long weekends and agree that many people don’t realize how much time they actually have if they pack in their adventures. I am a huge fan of weekend/long weekend getaways (gotta bank on those free weekends to maximize the 10 vacation days given by work), and have also been a local tourist. Living in Boston, there’s always something new happening to take advantage of, and plenty of tours and sightseeing spots to visit no matter how long I’ve lived here. But I definitely agree that to make this strategy work, you need to leave your house. Staying in a hotel within the city you live might sound a little silly, but it makes a huge difference on the experience!

  41. Pamela Cronin

    Hi Matt
    You do inspire. I have spent the last few years travelling solo, seeing different countries in Latin America – two months at a time, this year will be Nicaragua. So, I am retired and in my sixties – rarely admit that – and even though the flight is relatively expensive, although I always do a number of ‘fare watch’, it is cheaper to take a long break than to live in England, backpacking of course. Best wishes Pamela

  42. Wow, I love this! Excellent points, and it really blows my mind to think most people have 4 months of vacation time a year! Totally sharing this info with people! Thanks!!

  43. Great post! I realize it’s from 2012, but it’s still an extremely valuable read today. You’re right that the time is there, but it all depends on how we use it. And, it definitely helps to live within a few hours of interesting places to explore. We recently moved from Illinois to California which has opened up a lot more opportunity for travel by proximity alone.

  44. Paula h

    When I first started working for Eastern Airlines, many years ago, a neighbor told me: “never wait until you have both the time and the money to go anywhere, because you never know what life will bring you.” That has always been my mantra and I wouldn’t trade anything for those quick trips to places I might never have visited if I had waited to afford them.

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