How to Take a Vacation–Even If You’re Too Busy Or Too Broke

Freelancer VacationEveryone, including freelancers, needs regular breaks. Vacations are important for our productivity. Taking frequent breaks keeps the mind “sharp” and protects us from the dreaded burnout. Health considerations also require us to make room for more physical activity and adequate rest.

But, freelancers typically use one of these excuses–or both–to work without interruptions, until either illness or a nervous breakdown forces us to stop:

“I’m too busy”

“I can’t afford it”

Even if your project schedule and personal life are both full, and even if your income is barely enough to cover your basic necessities, you can and should take a vacation.

With this post, I’d like to convince you that you CAN afford to take time off. In fact, you can’t afford not to.

What’s a Vacation Anyway?

Before you start daydreaming about spending six weeks in a resort in Hawaii, let’s take a look at what the essence of a “vacation” is.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “vacation” as:

  • a respite or a time of respite from something
  • a scheduled period during which activity (as of a court or school) is suspended
  • a period spent away from home or business in travel or recreation

Therefore, to get a proper vacation, you must:

  • Have rest or respite from your freelancing work. Get away from your work, even for a few minutes every day. I highly recommend physically removing yourself from your home office. Or, if your entire home is your office, then step out of your house. That said, mentally disengaging from work is the bigger challenge.
  • Suspend all activity related to freelancing. It’s easy for anything to become work-related. Even chatting with friends can turn into a brainstorming session or market research activity for your work. Avoid this!
  • Use that time in recreation. Make sure you’re doing something that’s restful and refreshing. You should feel recharged and raring to get back to work, even if your mini-vacation required physical exertion.

Looking at these three requirements, it’s easy to see that you don’t need to spend a lot of time or money to have a REAL vacation.

If you’re extremely busy and/or budget-challenged, focus on taking small but effective vacations every single day, and slightly longer ones every week.

Daily Staycations

You don’t have to leave home give yourself a quick break. Set aside 15 to 30 minutes every day to step away from all work-related activities and engage in something recreational. For example:

  • Take a long, relaxing bath. Take the phone off the hook, turn down the lights, get a babysitter for the kids, and indulge in this activity without any guilt.
  • Read a novel by your favorite author. Borrow the book from the library or a friend so you don’t spend a thing.
  • Play a video game. If you’re a gamer, this will be recharging.
  • Go out for a run or ride on your bike. Like hitting two birds with one stone: you get away from work and do something good for your body at the same time.
  • Give yourself a home facial. Not for ladies only, even guys’ skins need a little TLC now and again.

No matter which option you choose, take a deep breath and relax!

Weekly Time Off

Once a week, spend a couple of hours to a full day to:

  • Have lunch or coffee with friends. Freelancers don’t get a lot of opportunities. Make time to reconnect with the most important people in your life.
  • Enroll in a class on something totally unrelated to your work. Before you became an overworked freelancer, you had varied interests and were an interesting person. Don’t lose that edge!
  • Pack some sandwiches and cold drinks and have a picnic at the park. Take advantage of the wonderful spring and summer weather.
  • Lose yourself in a bookstore or library, browsing through books and magazines. Admittedly not a relaxing activity for everyone, but if this is a favorite activity of yours, then indulge once in a while (watch the budget, though).
  • Pour yourself in a hobby, whether it’s crafting, gardening,  carpentry or something else. Hobbies nourish our souls.

On the other hand, I don’t recommend these activities:

  • Drinking
  • Overeating
  • Aimlessly surfing the Internet and TV

Drinking and overeating are bad for your body, and can have serious health consequences. Aimless TV watching and web surfing tend to drain rather than recharge you. Besides, if you already spend hours a day in front of a screen, then you need to step away from it to take a real vacation. There’s also something escapist about these activities.

The essence of a vacation is not to escape, but to disengage from something and do something refreshing, relaxing and enjoyable.

For more ideas, read about these five cheap and relaxing mini-vacations.

While these mini-vacations will be beneficial and will effectively keep burnout at bay, do make plans to take longer vacations. You know, the kind you have to save up for and plan for at least a couple of months ahead for? You’ll have to manage your workload and finances to pull off a longer vacation.

No Excuses

No matter what your challenges are–whether they be the lack of time or the lack of money or both–realize that you’re entitled to take time off to recharge regularly.

Don’t wait for somebody to give you paid vacation days; nobody will. But, I hereby give you permission to take a vacation as needed.

As you’ve seen in the examples above, a vacation doesn’t have to be long drawn-out, complicated, time consuming or expensive. The most important thing is that you’re able to step away mentally and physically from your work to engage in an activity that recharges your body and soul.

You owe it to yourself, your clients and your family to be in the best of health, best mental state, and maximum level of creativity.

How Do You Do It?

How do you take vacations? What are your favorite quickie ways to recharge every day and every week? Or, are you in dire need of a vacation?

Do share.

Image by nattu


  1. says

    I’m an avid cyclist, and kayak and hike as well, so I’m always outdoors no matter what the workload. Cycling and driving are two of my major stress-relievers, leading from yesterday’s post. I go out for a ride and instantly feel at-home, and when I get back home, am usually refreshed and ready to work the mind instead of the body.

    Now, as far as drinking, I enjoy a good brew or two, but my boyfriend homebrews, so that’s his mini-vacation!

  2. says

    I’m on vacation at this very moment! I told myself that I wouldn’t work until WordPress 3.0 came out, and then I would only do it 2 hours a day. Well, I made it until yesterday when it did come out, and I’ve kept to my time allotment! That’s 6 days with no freelancing! It was crazy hard! But crazy awesome!

  3. says

    @Jordan Roadtripping is great! Last October I drive cross-country with my brother…I have a crackberry so I was still ‘in-touch’ in case of client emergencies, but for the most part for those 5 days I was on vacation.

    Actually, our cross-country drive turned into a side-project…going to be making a post about this at some point, but with all the photos I took (another hobby) and Twitter updates I did from the road, I’m working on a 70pg book.

    @Matt congrats! I just installed the update yesterday as well…time to play!

  4. says

    I haven’t been on holiday for a year – that’s because my husband got made redundant last summer and is still out of work, so we are dependent on my freelance income. I take time out to go to gym classes – it’s a great way to take a break from the computer and keep fit at the same time.

  5. says

    I’ve been freelancing on the side for nearly 10 years, but full-time for only a couple months now. When I quit my full-time job in April, I knew I had a unique opportunity to find out if I *could* freelance full-time. My typical day starts around 8:30 AM and ends around 11 PM, and I am all roles in the business: owner, accountant, designer, developer, marketer, etc. I have serious guilt about not spending every moment I can in front of the computer when it’s my only means to contribute to the household income. If I’m not super-busy with freelance work, I’m taking classes to hone skills or gain new ones.

    Just before my last vacation (over 3 years ago), I got a last-minute project and ended up working for several hours every day while I was away with my family. Vacation seems even further away now that finances are more tenuous.

    I make sure I take the dog for a long walk every morning before I get started with my day and that I take 10-minute breaks out in the sunshine every 3-4 hours to clear my head, especially between different projects. I’m ridiculously disciplined, so I when I feel like it’s time to take a break, I allow myself to take one. I try to bundle my errands so that when I can leave the house, I’m gone for at least an hour.

    Mostly, I remain mindful that not too long ago, I was wishing for the kind of day-to-day freedom I’ve enjoyed as a freelancer for all these years, and it behooves me to keep myself stable and productive.

  6. says

    A vacation to me is no phone calls and no computer for a couple of days. I can be at home for those two days, and that would be equivalent to a trip to Europe in my book.

  7. says

    With increasing frequency, when I do take a vacations or break ,I often take work along with me, keeping myself essentially still in the work mindset that I’m trying to escape!

  8. says

    I am at the burnout stage, but luckily my wife and I are going on vacation this weekend!

    I just feel guilty when I am home and not in front of my computer when I know there is work to be done. This vacation is the start of learning to balance work and other activities.

  9. Mary E. Ulrich says

    Just remembered, when I was in high school the nuns used to read us the definition, “recreation is a change in activity” and then try to convince us to use our recreation time to rake the leaves and clean up the campus insisting that was “a change”. No wonder I’m warped.

  10. says

    I’ve felt the burn out at the start of the year. And I’ve been thinking of taking a vacation, even if it’s just me. But it’s really hard to not work even for a few hours a day. I know that even if I do go somewhere, I will have my laptop with me and spend a significant amount of time working. It’s really a challenge to get away from it for a while!

  11. says

    Hey, everyone, thanks for the comments! Your vacation techniques are truly inspiring.

    @Freelance Factfile, @Sarah, @Wowie: I hope you get the vacation you need and deserve soon.

    I’ve also been on vacation and then semi-vacation mode the past three weeks. This week, I’ve been on vacation during the day and then squeezing in client work at night. It’s not ideal, since at my age, I can only take so many late nights, but it has worked.

    The point is, whether we still do some work while on “vacation,” that we can take breaks and find moments to relax… no matter what.

  12. says

    Vacations are a MUST for me – it’s time to recharge the creative batteries and enjoy a change in scenery. I think it’s probably cheaper than therapy in the long run. With a partner who has a traditional job, he’s getting 5-6 weeks of paid vacation and making sure to use every bit of it. Vacations don’t need to be expensive. My business credit card is a mileage card and my partner’s is too. Each year we book a two+ week trip to the island of St. Croix using airline miles (we have to pay for the small amount of taxes), stay at a friend’s house and we are spending the money for food that we would at home. With a Wi-Fi connection I can work a little bit each day from paradise if necessary. I’ve also work-ationed from Italy several times, Mexico, Hawaii, cities around the U.S. and elsewhere.

    My favorite vacation each year is a 7-10 day goldmining trip to Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains with a group of 8-10 friends. Most are independent business owners so it becomes a bit of an entrepreneurial “think tank” around the campfire. The best thing is there is no cell phone or Wi-Fi coverage. It’s about a 30 minute drive out of the canyon to get a weak cell phone signal. You have to REALLY want to get your messages to make the effort.

    We also take mini vacations 3-4 days several times each year in the camping van we inherited from my partner’s grandmother. We got to the Oregon Coast, camping in Central Oregon or in the Columbia Gorge or even on a friend’s farm property about an hour outside of Portland.

    Just giving myself “client-free Fridays” is a bit of a vacation. I have no client contact on Fridays. It gives me time to meet friends for coffee of lunch; visit galleries, museums and bookstores; go for a bike ride; work in my garden; or do anything else I may want to do.

  13. says

    This is sooo right! I mean the things you do not recommend! I do that all the time and I feel myself that it’s just not right, especially monday morning when you check the news and there seems nothing new : ). Things which give me power are: playing games (and online too!), playing my bass guitar (and trying to actually compose some tunes : ), watching a movie with my girlfriend, even… shopping! I quite often overeat myself, especially sunday evening, the same with alcohol… it’s really important to remember the levels of everyhing that stuff… Great post, nice to hear you people think the same and have the same problems and issues to think about as me.

  14. says

    You’re right, the breaks are a must. Still, if you are broke, having a vacation is not a very good idea in my opinion. You might have a few hours per week off but otherwise vacations are prohibited and you really can’t have them as you don’t have any money.

  15. says

    A vacation to me is having a fresh air, a sunny day, doing nothing or going out with friends. But the idea of Losing myself in a bookstore or library is really a good one too.
    Thanks for this article :)

  16. says

    In my opinion, There is a difference between a break and a vacation. For me a break when I wind up for the day and watch a netflix movie and a bottle of wine before going to bed.

    A vacation requires staying out of the house for days at a time. As far as money is concerned. All I need is a plane ticket and some pocket money and Im ready to go.

    Vacations are a must for me!!! It gives my mind a chance to re-energize and be with family and friends…I can take a vacation anytime I want, This is one of the reasons why I decided to freelance fultime in the first place…

  17. sunshine says

    A client once told me that if you die, someone else will do the work for you. Don’t work yourself to death. You have to regroup. You have to take care of yourself first.

  18. says

    @ Wowie

    Yes, it can be difficult to get away sometimes, but hey I guess it is a must if you are already feeling that a burn out is coming your way. It takes more time to recover from it then to prevent it. Find yourself a hobby that indulges you that much that you cannot even feel guilty not working, plus it shows you that life is many more dimensions than just work :)

  19. says

    You’re right Nadine. Thank you for your insight. I do realize this, but it’s really hard to do it especially when you have so much stuff to do.
    I really want to refresh and recharge my brain. I really hope that in the next weeks I’ll be able to take some time off. It would be nice to get back to doing some of the fun things I don’t have the chance to do anymore.
    And yeah…I should start thinking that there’s more to life than work.

  20. says

    Lors de la signature de son contrat, l’employé aurait accepté une clause de confidentialité stipulant l’interdiction de révéler les informations, quelles qu’elles soient relatives à son entreprise, à un tiers, quel qu’il soit. Article très intéressant ici. Beaucoup d’information à ce suje


  1. […] How to Take a Vacation–Even If You’re Too Busy Or Too Broke – I take short little breaks quite often but rarely an entire week or two off. For example, the last couple of days have been perfect here – about 80 and no humidity. My daughter was also back after spending a week with her Dad. I took the afternoon off for two days to spend time with her. The work will still be there but perfect weather when we are together is very rare. […]

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