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Rethinking Trip Options

I posted several months back that my parents (who loved their tour in France last summer!) are gifting me with any Rick Steves trip I would like to take. I had initially settled on Italy in 17 Days, however, I've begun to rethink my options as I get 12 days of paid vacation per year (which I realize is generous and I'm thankful for!). Ironically, I could actually afford to take some unpaid time, however, I'm pretty sure my company would force me to use all my vacation time before I could take unpaid time. I just am having a hard time stomaching the thought of being entirely out of vacation time for the other 50 weeks of the year as I would really like to take a few small trips to visit family and it's always nice to have that time for when family visits or the holidays (I'm the oldest of 5 siblings, 3 of whom are living out of state with their families). I could certainly select another/shorter trip, however, I think this is probably the only time in life that anyone is going to offer to foot the bill for any Rick Steves tour I want so I'd like to take advantage of that =) I'm pretty torn here...

I'm in my early 30s and I'm currently an administrative assistant so I'm pretty low on the totem pole and don't work on salary or really have decades of experience under my belt with any one company (i.e. my Dad has been with his company for over 30 years so he has a lot more flexibility to take vacation time/time off as needed) so my available time off is pretty limited. I'm curious to hear from the rest of you as to how you have handled situations like this? Did you just use your entire vacation allowance at one time? Did you try to accrue it over a few years? Did you take unpaid time?

I appreciate any input!

Posted by
7727 posts

RG85, I dont remember your previous thread, but we loved the shorter Venice-Florence-Rome tour. I infer from your post that you can carry over your leave from one year to the next? Is there a max? I can only say that I let mine build up to the max over the first few years, so that I could take a long trip and still have leave (but that was a long time ago). But that's entirely a personal choice thing. Some people use leave up as soon as they get it. Unpaid time depends on how your company looks at that: some places frown upon people prioritizing life over work. Follow your gut instincts. Who knows what other life events or even better opportunities there might be in the future.

Posted by
1449 posts

I normally took all my vacation in one shot because we wanted to go somewhere (mostly in the US) and take our children with us. Once in a while I did accumulate vacation days for long trips (cross country) and even on very rare occasions I took days off with out pay, For a once in your early life, I would go for the 17 days trip. In future years, you will always regret not doing it.

Posted by
5711 posts

Wow, what an amazing opportunity!

I had enough work vacation across a year to take a European trip for 2-3 weeks and still have a few days here & there. But, I've had co-workers who traveled to the Philippines, etc. who would either save a week of vacation from the previous year or borrow from the next year. Best to talk to your manager and see what options s(he) would allow.

An alternate to the 17-day Best of Italy trip would be the 14-day Village Italy trip. Both of them would be wonderful options!

Posted by
92 posts

I agree with Bob. You never know what the future holds, if you have the chance to go for 17 days, take it. We rarely regret the things we do, but may regret the things we didn’t do. What a wonderful opportunity! Have a great time!

Posted by
1094 posts

Perhaps you could look at the shorter Italy tours: Villlage Italy, Southern Italy. Venice/Florence/Rome, Heart of Italy or Sicily.

When we first started going on Rick Steves tours. I was still working so our time was more limited. Our first two tours were the Paris city tour (7 days) and Barcelona/Madrid (8 days). We added time on our own before and after each of these tours.

Taking more time might be ok if the corporate culture where you work is tolerant of such things. I had a boss for most of my career who made sure he took all his vacation time every year, and he encouraged the rest of us to do the same. In places where I worked, people sometimes negotiated extra unpaid time in the first year of employment, often because they had already made plans. Unfortunately, American employers do not typically offer as much time off compared to other countries.

Having said all this, I can’t help thinking about my own travel experiences. When I was 20 years old, I spent the summer in Europe, but I was not able to travel abroad again for another 32 years.

Posted by
1163 posts

Usually tried to accumulate enough for Europe trip plus others. But I have taken days without pay.

Posted by
128 posts

I agree with those who say go for it. I am also in my early 30s and I do everything I can to maximize the lengths of my trips. The company I work for is a bit more generous than most in that I get 3 weeks of paid vacation a year, but I have been known to use every scrap of it on one trip and arrive home at 8-9pm after 24 hours traveling home and then be back at work the next day. I just can't stand the thought of missing a moment that I could spend exploring the world. Plus, I figure I'd better do that while I'm young enough to recover. :) Nothing against the more mature posters here, but I know when my parents have traveled overseas it takes them a few days to get over jet lag and feel normal again. I figure I'll sleep when I'm dead.

In addition, at our age you never know how your priorities might drastically change in a short time. Will you buy a house soon? Get married? Have kids? Not that you can't do those things and still travel, but when I bought my home it meant that I couldn't travel internationally for a year or two until I had "recovered" financially. It's just something to think about. Of course, if you do decide to go on a shorter tour, you'll probably still have a great time, but if you stick with the 17 day trip I doubt you'll spend any of that time thinking, "I sure wish I was at work right now instead of wasting these vacation days."

Have fun, whatever you decide to do!

Posted by
845 posts

Looking at this from another angle, anything less than two weeks is pretty much a waste of time when you have to spend two days traveling to a destination. Add in jet lag and what you end up with is a trip where you don't really relax enough to enjoy it and return home felling tired. That's no way to make a good memory.

Take the vacation time now when the major expenses are paid for. If you have a family emergency at a future date use unpaid time off.

One last thing, don't go in July/August; you don't want to be there when all of Italy is on vacation too.

Posted by
4980 posts

How do you earn your vacation? Do you get 12 days for the year upfront or do you earn it gradually (e.g., 1 day a month)?

I’ve always worked for companies where leave was accrued over the course of employment and thus I simply waited until I had enough leave accrued. Even if I used all my leave, I always knew that I’d start earning as soon as I returned to work. I took advantage of holidays for shorter trips. One time when changing jobs, I negotiated 3 weeks of unpaid leave in order to take a pre-planned vacation a couple of months after my start date.

Some options you might consider:
- Choose a shorter trip
- Choose a trip that falls over a company holiday (e.g., Memorial Day to save a day of vacation)
- Ask your employer about the option to take unpaid leave

Posted by
1515 posts

I have loved EVERY Rick Steves tour in Italy. I have taken Ven/Flo/Rome, a week in Rome, Sicily and the Village Italy tour in no particular order of preference. Any tour you decide on will be wonderful. I understand about concerns about vacation days. In the US we get so few compared to Europe. I used to take unpaid leave when I could afford to as travel is my number 1 priority.

Posted by
184 posts

Totally understand choosing a longer RST to maximize enjoyment of this awesome parental gift. As a f/t salaried employee, my vacation time-off decisions are made with many factors in play. I, too, prefer multiple mini vacations (plus, at least, Christmas Eve day off) as opposed to a single, use-it-all-up-in-one-chunk sojourn. Many European trips from the states require an overnight in transit which even if not the most thrilling part, when occurring on a weekday/workday counts against the vacation days tally. Taking an RST you are wise to add, at minimum, a day/night before tour start date as well as a post tour day/night(s). In my 7 RST experience (Heart of Italy #8 on tap this April) booking additional nights at tour hotels has been easy/enjoyable though not always most economical but I value not having to move to lower-priced bed more than saving money. Have been on 8- up to 14-day RSTs and you will note, the first 'day' on a Rick Steves tour is a meet-up in the afternoon generally between 14:00/16:00, and the final 'day' is over at breakfast. I love, love, LOVE traveling with my daughter just as much as she loves, loves, LOVES being taken on a trip but we both openly and freely admit any more than 18 nights (lengthiest for us so far) together and our bond frays in understandable ways. (Is it absence or distance which makes the heart grow fonder?) Longer RSTs take up more valuable vacation time in one fell swoop, arranging for the plant-watering/pet-caring can be more of a challenge and the pace of being on a tour with multiple stops can result in the admittedly first world problem of needing a vacation from your vacation. I would choose a shorter tour and add nights before/after for doing your own thing, e.g. 10-day Venice-Florence-Rome with adding 1 night extra Venice/2 nights extra Rome. Including the overnight travel to Italy, that's 13 nights/14 days. Enjoy making your decisions and have a great trip!

Posted by
23999 posts

My first trip to Europe was a summer-long trip when I was 20 (between college and grad school), for which my mother loaned me the money, bless her. It was 3 years before I had enough vacation time to travel again, and another 3 years before my third trip. At that point I was earning more vacation days each year and could go to Europe roughly 2 years out of every 3 without totally running out of leave.

I agree with those who say to take a long tour and figure in a pinch you'll be able to get a bit of unpaid leave if something crops up. But this is a decision you have to be comfortable with.

I am a very big proponent of taking a tour that covers territory that wouldn't be drop-dead easy for a new traveler to handle alone. Therefore, I would not choose a tour that basically goes to Rome, Florence and Venice. I think Best of Italy sounds great, as does Village Italy. You'll have a wonderful time no matter what tour you take, but the transportation advantages of being on a tour will be more evident when you are not going solely to places connected by express trains.

The point about arriving early for any tour is a good one. Transportation glitches with transatlantic flights are, sadly, not terribly uncommon. Tours are expensive. You don't want to miss the first day of yours. Plus the early arrival allows you to work through the worst of the jetlag before the tour begins (assuming you don't encounter a delay).

Edited to add: All of my trips have been independent ones. I used to fly back home, arrive mid-afternoon to late afternoon and go to work the next day. Jetlag didn't affect me too much when I traveled in that direction, and my job did not involve anything that would have been dangerous even if I had been a bit fuzzy-brained.

Posted by
777 posts

This is such an amazing gift and if you choose a shorter trip, I am sure you will have a lovely time. Like you, I have traditionally worked at companies with two weeks vacation and when I travel internationally I prefer to take at least two weeks and extend longer if I can. It takes me a day or two to recover from jet lag (and the stress of work) and having less than 2 weeks just doesn't seem enough time to immerse myself in a place, although I have done internationally trips in less time (India in a week--not recommended).

The key for you is how much time do you have to take off: both your paid and unpaid as even unpaid vacation time off needs approval. I would then look at trips within that time frame. You mentioned to you want to bank time off during the year for short trips, but remember, you will be accruing vacation time throughout the year that you might be able to use. Do you have floating holidays that you can apply?

If it were me and I had a choice, I would opt for the longer trip. You never know what the future holds and taking advantage of travel opportunities is something I have never regretted.

Posted by
3740 posts

I would take a 14 day trip and try to start it on a Saturday so you have 3 weekends.

Posted by
5668 posts

Allie, just a comment about jet lag. My first trip to Europe I was 20. And after spending a summer in the then-Soviet Union, it took me over two weeks to get over the jet lag. Which was really a problem, because I came back just a week before my wedding and starting a semester at a new university! I learned my lesson then; allow plenty of recovery time.

RaysGirl, I like the idea of a shorter trip - there are several Italy tours that are wonderful. I highly recommend Village Italy, but if it's your first European trip you might prefer Rome or the Venice-Florence-Rome tour. You're in for a real treat, whichever tour you select.

Posted by
2643 posts

Contrarian view: go shorter. The enjoyment of a RS tour is not proportional to the length. The tour you’ve chosen is very long and you’ll use up all your PTO and have an unpaid leave (if they will allow that). Last year we did the Best of London tour. We’d been to London multiple times. It was fabulous! So much so we booked Rome for this year. Life is long, you’ll go back to Europe.

Posted by
1038 posts

I'll give you my opinion, for what it's worth. I would chose the 14 day best of Europe trip, you will get to see some of the truly wonderful parts of Europe and it will be a trip of a life time, then go back over the next 20-30 years to the places you want to spend more time.

(Hope you have a great trip, please remember to "pack light", it will really make a difference on your trip)

Posted by
2316 posts

I didn't go to Europe when I was young because of money. You have this wonderful opportunity, I say go for it! You never know how long it will be before you have the time and money to go again. Did you sign up for the 17 Day Italy tour? I went on this tour and loved every minute, it is a wonderful introduction to Italy. I went in October and was able to combine it with the Columbus Day Holiday (I realize you may not get this holiday) which used up fewer of my vacation days. But, you could combine the vacation days with another holiday that you do get.

As someone else mentioned, you might go on the 14 Day Best of Europe tour, which is a broader introduction to Europe overall. Good thing is it spends 6 days in Italy - Venice, Florence and Rome. This 14 day tour will require fewer vacation days.

I hope you will come back and tell us what you have decided. Then, book your flights, get packing and start planning the activities you want to do in your free time. Enjoy!

Posted by
14 posts

Thank you so much to everyone for the input! I wasn't sure if I would get many replies and I really appreciate all the thoughtful and insightful comments =)

Just to answer a few questions I think were asked...

-I don't accrue my vacation, it's given in one chunk at the beginning of the year so I have 80 hours to use throughout the year. The vacation time can roll over to the next year up to 80 hours.
-I would be comfortable taking unpaid time, however, I'm not sure if that's allowed by my employer.
-One big reason I don't want to use all my vacation at one time, particularly this year, is largely due to personal reasons. I've had a lot of stress over the past few months and the concept of having no time off whatsoever outside of taking those two weeks in a lump sum is a little overwhelming right now.

I need to sit down and discuss my options with my manager as I'm not sure what the company policy is on vacation and unpaid time and such and then make a decision. I'm almost wondering if it might be better to consider waiting until next year to take a trip. Decisions, decisions!

Posted by
60 posts

At about age 35 or maybe 40 I realized something profound.

Work to live, not live to work.

I have felt better about myself ever since (and have travelled extensively)

Posted by
1096 posts

Hi. I am much older than you, though still gainfully employed and counting my PTO days. I did a junior year abroad in college and then did not travel till my 30s. When I did, it was successive years at Oxford, UK, for a week each summer. Magical. After another lapse of about 10 years, I took a RS tour – 7 days in Venice (not currently offered); after that I took Venice, Florence, Rome. Two years later, Venice, Florence, Rome again. I am a repeat traveler. At this point, I am driven to return to my favorite places. I have had friends who are once and done or who have a checklist (which can be pretty much multiple once and done experiences).

Maybe ask yourself what calls to you? When I first went to Oxford, it was a course on Jane Austen. I asked a friend to call and find out about it, I was so nervous. Ditto with the Venice tour. I am over that shyness now. I try to augment my tour with experiences that really, really call to me, frequently the Globe Theatre in London, and also the Saw Doctors – where-ever they play in Europe (hoping they will actually play again).

Perhaps like you, I am faced with shorter tours because of PTO restrictions, but each tour has been really memorable. I have been able to fit some longer ones in by overlapping fiscal years. For me, one year ends in June and the next begins in July, so I try to straddle the two and not be otherwise PTO-starved in either. In addition to travel, I really need my PTO for gardening. Conflict! The longest RS tours I have taken are Eastern France (such a broad experience of locales – Alps to wine to sea) & My Way Alpine – love the mountains. I have really loved Village Italy and the Switzerland tour.

Anyway, try asking yourself if this feels like once and done, at least for a number of years, or do you envision returning at some point – and what is your tolerance for waiting? For me, my 7 days in Venice were beyond belief great (it was November over Thanksgiving). I would take that tour again if they offered it – and most likely the similarly defunct 7 days in Florence.
Of course, the factor of your parents sponsoring this tour is important. Would they consider sponsoring two shorter tours a few years apart? Options?

Enjoy whatever you decide on. Just saying I understand the desire to not spend all PTO days in one swoop.

Posted by
1293 posts

I agree with Donald. Maybe take the Best of Europe 14 Days, get a mix of different places incase it is some time before you return to Europe.

Posted by
888 posts

Ironically, I could actually afford to take some unpaid time, however, I'm pretty sure my company would force me to use all my vacation time before I could take unpaid time. I just am having a hard time stomaching the thought of being entirely out of vacation time for the other 50 weeks of the year as I would really like to take a few small trips

From my perspective as someone well past their 30's I'll say memories last longer than things. So first find out the actual leave policy, review your finances to be sure you can afford the unpaid time. Then, if they will let you take unpaid leave (and you should discuss this with your boss, how much you may want to take this year) then I'd recommend going for the 17 day trip. It takes (me at least) a few days to a week to get over jetlag. And whether you're parents are throwing in airfare or you're paying it yourself the cost is the same for 7 days as 17, but the per-day average cost comes down so in a sense you're getting more for your transportation dollar.

Also its a good idea to arrive a day or two in advance of the tour start. This gives you a buffer in case your flight is delayed and allows you to start to get over jetlag.

Posted by
503 posts

I once was an administrative assistant and, like you, had an opportunity to go to Europe that I couldn't pass up. I quit my job.

Posted by
7727 posts

RG85, I'll say something more regarding unpaid leave. I would read the company rules very carefully, and maybe discuss with someone you trust who's been there for awhile. Where I used to work, unpaid leave was expected to be for family emergencies, serious health problems, military deployments, and other rare circumstances, after all other accrued leave was used up. Leave of absences were granted for things like school. It was also time that did not count towards your service time, throwing off some benefits. If you were in a probationary status, it was less likely to be granted. Just a cautionary word.

Posted by
30267 posts

I think that considering taking the trip next year and doing some off the little trips you want this year is very wise.

Then you can do it properly, without worry.

Posted by
407 posts

You might look at taking a trip in early September. You have two holidays close together Labor Day (September 2) and Patriots Day (September 11). So whatever trip you decide upon you can utilize every single day. Remember you need to fly out 2 days before your tour so that you have one day to get over jet lag. I loved the Best of Italy tour. It goes to some fabulous locations. The food is awesome and you will really bond with your tour mates during this trip. It was my first tour of Europe. I also think that Don from Wichita has a great point. The 14 day best of Europe would give you a great overview of many locations and you can decide what area you want to go back and visit.
Let us know what you decide to do. The forum people will help you with anything you need help with.

Posted by
996 posts


I remember being in a position much like yours. When I had the money to travel, I didn't have the time. When I had the time, I had no money. It wasn't until I hit upon a job with a very generous PTO policy that I was able to take advantage of longer trips, and even then I couldn't really go for more than a week at a time because there was literally nobody to cover my stuff. So you are not alone in this situation!

If this were my trip - and it's all going to be paid for - I'd consider one of the following options. I'd look at one of the city tours (Best of Rome in 7 days would be a fabulous introduction to Italy!) and maybe add a couple of days on the front of that. There are two reasons I'd add those extra days on front. First - jet lag is not your friend. Second - unless you are lucky enough to live somewhere with a direct flight to Rome, you're going to have to change planes at least once to get there. If your first flight is delayed, you risk making your connection on time. If that happens, it's not the end of the world. As long as your airline tickets are booked through on a single PNR/reservation, the airline will get you where you're going. It just may not be until the next day. With limited touring days, you want to be sure you arrive on time to start the tour with the rest of the group!

And as somebody else said above, look at tour dates. I don't know if you work M-F, but maximize your days off so that you're touring and not counting those toward your PTO. Also look at the big holidays if you're allowed those off as paid days as well.

Whatever you decide, just remember that you're still young enough to do this again! I can't wait to hear what you decide to do.

Posted by
1763 posts

RaysGirl85 -
You said one thing that you may want to pause and reflect on:

One big reason I don't want to use all my vacation at one time,
particularly this year, is largely due to personal reasons. I've had a
lot of stress over the past few months and the concept of having no
time off whatsoever outside of taking those two weeks in a lump sum is
a little overwhelming right now.

Consider carefully what impact taking an overseas trip may do to your stress levels. If you spend your entire trip worried about the fact you won't have flexibility when you return, it may not be worth it right now, no matter how long the trip might be. And if you're really stressed out, the stress of travel (flying, logistics) can make your regular stress even worse and prevent you from enjoying the trip altogether.

If your parents are really willing to foot the bill now, ask them to set aside the full value of the tour you want to take (say the Italy 17 day). Have them invest it in something safe (e.g., short term CD, not the crazy stock market) so it doesn't go anywhere. That will give you some breathing room to save up time off as well as make the right decision about what works for you, your job, and your sanity.

Posted by
206 posts

How about Village Italy? It covers some stops on the 17 day tour, but you get a more cultural feel for the country vs the big cities. It's only 14 days.

Personally I don't see the appeal of the BoE tours. Not that the stops are bad, I'm just not a fan of appetizer sampling various places. The cities are great, but alternating 1 full day of the city with a 6-8-hour bus ride isn't appealing to me.

Some city tours are a good value, but many (like Paris, London) I feel you could do on your own for less... if you don't mind the research and planning.

Posted by
5668 posts

Listen to Justin. Village Italy is a wonderful tour. Lots to see, lots of experiences, not too much bus time, and some very nice hotels. Go for it!

Posted by
103 posts

Bob and Justin make excellent points. I'll chime in as well in support of their views and I'll add this: initially you chose Italy in 17 Days, so I'm guessing that is what you REALLY want to do. If you "settle" for less time or a different trip (Granted ANY RS tour is better than NO RS tour!), would you be happy? And if you are willing to take days off without pay for the trip, would you also be willing to take days without pay for and personal needs that may (or may not) arise? My vote is to go on the trip you envisioned and figure out the rest of the year as needed. As a gray haired retiree, my regrets tend to be the choices I did NOT make. Better in the future to look back on memories than opportunities lost. Happy travels! - Polly

Posted by
184 posts

Life is short. Don’t put off for later, what you have the opportunity to do today. The opportunity may not be there in the future.