How to Maximize 10 Vacation Days in 2024

So, you live in the US, you want to travel more, but you get just 10 vacation days per year. That’s typical, unfortunately, assuming you’re working a full time job. If you work part time, you probably don’t even get that.

Whether you’re a young professional just getting started or a seasoned pro that changed companies, there’s a good chance you won’t see more than 10 paid time off (PTO) days per year until you’ve worked for your current company for 5 years.

Now, I’m not going to rant about how ridiculous it is that the world’s largest democracy and GDP has basically no legal regulation or protections for its workers’ paid time off. You and I both already know how much that sucks.

Instead, I’m going to show you how to use your limited time off to your best advantage. Taking a week off in May and a week off for Christmas is not enough.

You deserve to travel more, and you can! You just have to strategically plan out your trips to maximize your vacation days in 2024.

Let’s find out how you can stretch 10 PTO days into 47 travel days each year!

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How to Make Your Vacation Days Go Further

If you’ve got a bucket list a mile long but no desire to give up your job, mortgage, or stable family environment, then a “12 trips in 12 months” mentality may be just what you need.

This setup lets you go on frequent, short trips. But don’t worry! It includes a few longer stretches, too, for those destinations that take a little longer to reach.

The key to making your vacation days stretch further is to use public holidays strategically.

The maximum travel days you can achieve with 10 PTO days is around 47 days per year. That includes every holiday weekend and several regular weekend days. (See the table below for how to pull this off.)

I say “around 47 days” because sometimes holidays fall on a day of the week that makes it easier to take more time off. Also, how many holidays you get per year varies from employer to employer and will affect your total travel days.

Generally, federal employees get more holidays per year but are paid less than private sector employees. The holiday policy is starting to shift, but not by much.

I worked as a civil engineering consultant for a decade and never once got Columbus Day off but always had Black Friday off. One year we got a “floating holiday” where we could choose to use it for Presidents Day in February or Veterans Day in November.

Which holidays you get may vary from year to year even if you don’t change employers.

To keep things simple, I’ve used the US government federal holiday calendar to showcase how to stretch your vacation time throughout the year for maximum time off.

Use it as a guide and apply the same idea to your company’s holiday schedule.

2024 PTO Stretch Schedule

Here’s the 2024 schedule if you observe federal holidays. Taking short trips every month and a couple of longer trips, you can manage 47 travel days this year!

2024 Stretch ScheduleHolidaysWeekend DaysPTO DaysTotal Days Off
Jan 1 (New Year’s Day)1001
Jan 13-15 (MLK Day)1203
Feb 17-19 (Presidents’ Day)1203
Mar 15-170213
Apr 5-80224
May 25-27 (Memorial Day)1203
Jun 15-19 (Juneteenth)1225
Jul 4-7 (Independence Day)1214
Aug 9-110213
Aug 31 – Sept 2 (Labor Day)1203
Oct 12-14 (Columbus Day)1203
Nov 9-11 (Veterans Day)1203
Nov 28 – Dec 1 (Thanksgiving)1214
Dec 25-29 (Christmas)1225

2025 PTO Stretch Schedule

Planning ahead? I like your style.

Here’s the 2025 schedule if you observe federal holidays. You could potentially spend 49 days traveling with this stretch schedule.

2025 Stretch ScheduleHolidaysWeekend DaysPTO DaysTotal Days Off
Jan 1-5 (New Year’s Day)1225
Jan 18-20 (MLK Day)1203
Feb 15-17 (Presidents’ Day)1203
Mar 21-230213
Apr 18-200213
May 24-26 (Memorial Day)1203
Jun 19-22 (Juneteenth)1214
Jul 4-6 (Independence Day)1203
Aug 30 – Sept 1 (Labor Day)1203
Sept 26-280213
Oct 11-13 (Columbus Day)1203
Nov 8-11 (Veterans’ Day)1214
Nov 26-30 (Thanksgiving)1225
Dec 25-28 (Christmas)1214

What If You Get Sick?

These stretch plans don’t save any PTO days for sick days. That’s because sick days vary from company to company.

Some companies have different pots for vacation days versus sick days. If this is you, you’re lucky! You can use your vacation days without worry!

However, unfortunately, sometimes this means you get fewer vacation days. There’s really no grass is greener scenario when it comes to paid time off in the US. Sigh.

Other companies include sick time and vacation together in one pot, called Paid Time Off (PTO). If you run out of PTO and you get sick, you take the time unpaid.

Some companies might allow you to go negative on your PTO balance so long as you’re positive by the end of the year.

It’s usually better to ask for forgiveness than permission if you want to try that, but don’t take that as official advice. You know your employer best and whether or not you’ll get away with it.

Once Per Quarter Travel Method

If you’d rather take longer trips but would also like to break up your year with more than 1 big trip, try the travel once per quarter method.

It uses public holidays to extend travels, but there will be months without any days off.

The February to end of May slog is particularly depressing, in my opinion. I recommend several overnight weekend trips to break up that time period. Shoot for one every 3 weeks or so.

Here’s the 2024 Travel Once Per Quarter schedule.

2024 Once Per Quarter Stretch ScheduleHolidaysWeekend DaysPTO DaysTotal Days Off
Jan 1 (New Year’s Day)1001
Jan 13-15 (MLK Day)1203
Feb 14-19 (Presidents’ Day)1236
May 23-27 (Memorial Day)1225
Jun 19 (Juneteenth)1001
Jul 4-7 (Independence Day)1214
Aug 30 – Sept 2 (Labor Day)1214
Oct 12-14 (Columbus Day)1203
Nov 9-11 (Veterans Day)1203
Nov 28 – Dec 1 (Thanksgiving)1214
Dec 25-29 (Christmas)1225

Considering that January 1, 2025 is on a Wednesday, I’d probably take the PTO day from Labor Day and 1 PTO day from Presidents Day and use them December 30-31, 2024 instead. That way you have a full week off between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

If you’re one of the lucky ones that doesn’t have to accrue your PTO, meaning you get access to all 10 of your PTO days as soon as January 1 rolls around, then I’d definitely consider taking off December 25, 2024 – January 5, 2025.

That’s 11 days off!

Sure, spend a few days with family for Christmas, but then go on an epic week off somewhere amazing! Or, plan a Christmas vacation and invite your extended family along. Whatever works for your travel style.

Other Ways to Stretch Your PTO

There are other simple ways to stretch your paid time off even further, but these don’t apply to all jobs. If you can use these tactics, then by all means, get every hour of time off that you can!

  • Take half days to get out on the road earlier for long weekends.
  • Work remotely and use time zone differences to your advantage.
  • Take red eye flights, both on the way out and the way back.
  • Piggyback vacations onto work trips.

Need more ideas? Here’s 21 useful tips and hacks to travel more.

Keeping Up with PTO Accruals

Some companies require you to “earn” your vacation days or PTO. This usually breaks down as [X] hours of PTO earned per hour of work.

So, for example, say you get 10 PTO days per year, or 80 hours. There are 52 weeks in a year so a full time employee would work 52 x 40 = 2080 hours per year. Your accrual rate would be 0.03846 hours of PTO per hour of work, or 1.5384 hours per week worked. 

Your company may calculate your rate based on 50 weeks, or, if you’re a salaried employee, you may have a standard accrual rate per week.

Check your pay stubs. That’s usually where you can find your current PTO balance and the rate your company uses to calculate how much time off you’ve accrued.

Find it? Ok, now you need this PTO Tracker.

⬇️ Download this super simple *FREE* PTO Tracker! ⬇️

All you have to do is add your accrual rate and note the work days you plan to take off for vacation. The tracker will tell you how much PTO you have on any given week in the year.

This tool is vital for travel planning purposes!

The last thing you want is to book an amazing flight deal and then figure out a month out that you won’t have enough PTO in time for the trip. Better hope your company has a flexible policy and will let you go anyway…

Happy travels!

Headshot of Rachel Means at Clingmans Dome in Smoky Mountains

About the Author: Rachel Means

With six-figure student loan debt and only 10 PTO days per year, Rachel started traveling the world. A decade later, she’s paid off her loans, changed careers, and been to 38 US states and 17 countries. She’s an expert at planning and budgeting for travel and loves to help others do it, too! Read her full story here.

A man overlooking a blue harbor with arms stretched wide, with text overlay, How to Stretch 10 PTO days into 47 travel days