What Freelancers Really Do About Vacation

Whether you’re new to freelancing or have been freelancing for a while, you may struggle with what to do about vacation.

In a traditional job, an employee typically receives paid vacation. For a freelancer, however, vacation is different.

Vacation is an unpaid time and a freelancer must plan ahead and save before they are able to take one. Many freelancers are afraid to take a vacation because they fear that they will lose clients. Other freelancers don’t take a vacation because they can’t afford to lose income.

Did you ever wonder what most freelancers really do about vacation? With planning, it is possible for a freelancer to enjoy a vacation.

In this post, I’ll share how some actual freelancers handle vacation. I’ll also describe three types of vacations that freelancers can plan for and how to handle each of them.

How Actual Freelancers Handle Vacation

Have you ever wondered how your fellow freelancers handle their vacations?

Well, I turned to the Twitter freelancing community to find out. Here is what some of my Twitter followers shared about their own vacation plans when I asked whether they took vacations:

  • @NataliaSylv What would be the fun in working for yourself if you can’t take some time off every once in a while?
  • @deirdrereid I did [have a vacation] last week. I had an at-home retreat, wrote about it here.
  • @iampsjones In the past, I spent my vacation days writing bc I didn’t have the opportunity during the day. Now, it [what to do about vacation] is a mystery. “I’m so happy with my everyday activities I can’t figure out what to do on vacation.”
  • @helenbnichols Absolutely! Actually, more often now than before I was freelance.
  • @UrbanMuseWriter Yes, I take vacations, though not as often (or for as long) as I’d like. I think it’s necessary to avoid burnout.
  • @ldtranslations Yes, I do! More than once a year, but sometimes I do take my laptop with me and work a bit. ;-)
  • @tiffsilverberg Yes. When family vacations, I vacation… But I take “fun” work with me. Books I’m reading, stories I’m writing. Not my 9-5 tho.

Based on the replies that I received as well as my own experience, the three types of vacations that freelancers seem to take are: the staycation, the working vacation, and the complete break.

I’ll discuss each of these options in more detail, starting with the staycation.

The Staycation

“Staycations” recently became popular because of the poor economy. The increased cost of living combined with high unemployment and underemployment means that many people can no longer afford to go on a trip for their vacation.

The “staycation” alternative allows you to avoid the high hotel costs of a typical vacation trip because a staycationer participates in vacation-like activities within driving distance of their own home.

A staycationeer might act as a tourist in their own town by visiting local tourist attractions such as museums and zoos, or they might plan a relaxing retreat (such as a movie marathon) without leaving the comfort of their own house. One of our earlier posts on Freelance Folder has even more staycation ideas.

A staycation can be a great vacation alternative for a budget-strapped freelancer.

Now that we’ve discussed staycations, let’s take a look at the working vacation.

The Working Vacation

Another popular vacation choice, especially among freelancers, is the working vacation.

For a working vacation a freelancer scales back his or her work projects, but brings the most important work along with them on the vacation. Thanks to technology and increased connectivity, it is possible for a freelancer to work from many different locations.

A working vacation might seem like the ideal vacation solution for many freelancers–you can go on vacation and continue to earn money.

A working vacation comes with its own perils, however. Key among those perils is the hard feelings or misunderstandings that may occur when other family members on the vacation don’t understand that you need to spend time doing work instead of relaxing with the family.

This post provides some key tips for traveling and working.

The final type of vacation that we are going to look at is the complete break from work of any type.

The Complete Break

For many freelancers, a complete break from work seems almost unthinkable. Yet, a complete break is likely to leave you the most refreshed.

For a freelancer, taking a complete break from freelancing requires a great deal of coordination and advance planning.

Ideally, you would save money for both the trip and to replace the income you won’t be earning while you are on vacation. In addition, you need to make plans for how your client’s needs will be met while you are gone. This may involve farming work out to another freelancer, or just notifying your clients that you will be unavailable during a certain timeframe.

With careful planning and coordination, most freelancers will find that it is entirely possible to take a complete break from work at least once a year. For more detailed tips on how to break away from your freelancing business, check this post.

Your Turn

Are you planning a vacation this year? If so, what type of vacation will you take?

Share your answers and vacation tips in the comments.

Image by kangotraveler


  1. says

    Last month, I decided to test out the working vacation and took my laptop with me to Costa Rica. I was able to keep in touch with clients and finish my most important project. I also felt very refreshed afterwards. Next time though, I would like to do a shorter vacation and not bring any work at all.

  2. says

    Is the Freelancer an owner of a business identity (sole proprietorship) which reports what was done on an IRS form 1040 Schedule C? Furthermore, the only purpose of a sole proprietorship is to make a profit.

    If Freelancing is the sole occupation or source of money then the vacation comes from that profit. I think that the accounting goes something like this. You need money (that was paid to you by your clients for what provided) that you have access to from your owners drawing account. The effect of that action reduces you asset account. Remember that money is there because of your clients action!

    Now who is paying for the vacation?

    What is a freelancer?

  3. says

    I’m going to take a 3.5 week complete break next week; I have not taken a long vacation like this since I started freelancing 2.5 years ago.

    I’ve been able to rationalize taking a vacation like this because I already met my monetary goals for the first 6 months of freelancing a couple months ago. However, I am already a bit worried because it did mean recently turning down a large project.

    Perhaps I should have done this at the end of the year after truly meeting monetary goals for the year. However. I’m burned out and do need the recharge.

    I do like the other options reviewed here (working vacation, etc.).

  4. says

    I have managed to plan trips and vacations in the past. But usually on the second on third day, I almost always freak out worrying about my business/clients. No amount of preparation, informing my clients, etc. really worked. So I learned to bring my laptop with me, but make sure to limit my time to just checking my email and responding to important stuff. This way, I can enjoy the rest of my vacation without worrying about anything.

  5. says

    I wouldn’t call it a vacation per se, but I’ll definitely be scaling back on my writing projects during late June/early July to accommodate the birth of my daughter. Since I’m still early in my freelance writing career, it should be much easier than it would’ve been if I’d waited until I were more established.

    I only have two regular clients right now, and both give me the option to pick and choose which assignments I want to work on and when. If anything pressing comes up during that time, I may have to pass, but I plan to take on work for as long as I can in the meantime. Great post! Something every writer should think about.

  6. says

    What a great discussion!

    It sounds like the freelancing community has lots of fun vacation plans in the works. :) Thanks to everyone for sharing their personal experiences/plans…

    Keep the comments coming.

  7. says

    I like Music events – For the second year in a row went down to miami for a full week and enjoyed the sun during WMC – This year I made sure to let all clients know that I was taking vacation!

    The year before I did not and had some fuming clients. It helps me regain focus. At moments you start managing lots of projects at once and are constantly working yourself. I need a full break to let my mind relax.

  8. says

    Really good topic! On the link to my website, I write about taking vacations, and how it’s hard for me to “shut off.” I’ve taken my share of “staycations” and “working vacations,” but I’ve resolved to take one “real” vacation each year. I’ll stay in touch with clients via e-mail, but you need some time just to yourself!

  9. says

    I should say that clients expect people to go on vacation, so never feel guilty about being away. The minute you can get through that mental barrier, you’ll have a much better time, whatever you decide to do.

    For me, I’ll typically take my laptop with me for emergencies when my family and I go away, and also for “inbox triage”, so when I return I can hit the ground running. But if you’re going away, enjoy it!!

    Oh, another great tip: give yourself one extra “catch-up day” when you return…maybe two. If you’ll be back from your vacation on a Thursday, tell everyone you’ll be back the following Monday (or Saturday, if you make it a habit of being available on weekends). Use the extra day to get organized, hit the bank (hopefully!), sort the mail, answer some emails, voicemails, etc.

  10. says

    Everybody needs a little break sometimes. It’s just not about work it’s also about you. As a freelancer, we all know how hard it is to have a little time for ourselves. I’d say once the project is done and there are no more pending jobs to do, why not take the time to have that much wanted vacation.

  11. says

    How about “living your vacation”, if your job permits you.
    Sure for some, vacation means lying and doing nothing. But for many people like me, that means doing even more activities than in your workday, and resting really isn’t needed for more than a day or so.
    So why not move to the place, where you’d go to a vacation, and work there. Schedule your time sort of like 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours of work, 8 hours of vacation.

    I know there’s a lot of little details (kids, school, meetings with customers, owning a house or apartment,…) that prevent most of you from doing so. But for some (including me) it’s doable (online customer meetings via webcam if needed, rented apartment,…). and it’s the best vacation/life i’ve had in a while :)

  12. says

    I still have non clue at all about my next vacation. Anyway, I think freelancers are so used to work hard, to their working rates, that it becomes very difficult to fully enjoy vacation time. But that’s not a problem at all since we actually love keeping our mind busy and checking e-mails, reading articles, posts, news, being informed can be a good comprimise not to feel too guilty.

  13. says

    My last holiday was a few days in September but I have a week’s trip planned soon. I usually take two one-week breaks plus 3 or 4 long w/ends. But due to the economy and the fact my husband is out of work, holidays are fairly rare events.

  14. says

    I tend to take working vacations, scaled down. I’ve taught class on vacation, and finished projects. What I won’t do, however, is take calls. Planned work is actually a breather for me, like heading off by myself with a good book, but calls are an interference and likely to bring about unplanned activities. Send me an email and I’ll get back to you!

  15. says

    When I go back to freelancing full time I am going to aim for 2 weeks of vacation plus holidays, I would do more but to me, freelancing is a vacation in and of itself. :)

  16. says

    Great discussion topic. I’ve enjoyed reading the comments.

    Years ago one of my mentors wrote an article about taking vacations, asserting that entrepreneurial types really do need regularly planned time off to recharge in order to be at their best. She suggested one week off a quarter, minimally. Since reading her article I have made it my practice to do schedule one full week off a quarter. After all, didn’t I (and most of us?) start a business, in part, so that we could have more freedom to create life on our terms?

    I don’t always travel on those weeks. Sometimes they are simply client-free weeks. Some are staycations, some are working vacations and others are “real” vacations. But, one week off a quarter I take.

    To do this I have a virtual assistant who can back me up and directly reply to people who have a request that requires personal attention via email. An autoresponder informs people I am away, and a programmed voice message does the same. An online appointment system, TimeDriver, allows people to make an appointment with me if they want to, which they can link to from my contact page.

    Financially, if you bill by the hour rather than by project, some planning is definitely required. If someone new asks for you while you’re away, and they can’t wait a week for your return, they may not be someone you want to work with! If your clients can’t live without your for a week, it might be time to revisit the model. Just saying.

  17. says

    Very nice article, Laura. I don’t think there’s a perfect answer. I can tell you that if I don’t take my laptop with me on a vacation, it does make me unhappy.

    I love to make sure my blog is up and running, that I respond to e-mails, etc. I don’t think there’s any harm in responding to your clients while vacationing as long as you keep it under check.

    If you know that taking your laptop with you will result in you being obsessive about being online and checking e-mails, then that’s a serious problem.

    It’s so refreshing to step away from the computer for a few hours… surprisingly refreshing!

  18. DRoss says

    I’m on about a 2 month vacation at the moment. Doing a few small jobs here and there but after working for literally 10 months straight for 10–12 hours a day I got totally burnt out. Luckily I made a lot of money working those 10 months and lucky to be in this position.

    My plan for the next few years is work my butt off during the fall/winter and take a lighter work schedule in the summer. I don’t care about scraping every single dollar and there’s plenty of work out there so if I lose a client not a huge deal as I have too much as is!


  1. […] Stepping away from your freelancing web design business doesn’t mean that your online web presence that you’ve worked so hard to build up also needs to take a hit. In this post, I’ll share four simple tips for maintaining your web presence while getting your much-needed break. If you enjoy this post, you may also like the post, What Freelancers Really Do About Vacation. […]

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