A few months ago I got back from Morocco where I had been living and traveling for two months. Rather than quitting my job, I took a leave of absence so I could go back to my position when I returned.
This is the fourth time I’ve had an employer let me take time off to travel for a month or so at a time. I wrote about my first two times in a previous post.
However in that post, I didn’t go into much detail about how I negotiated the time off.
Since then I’ve asked more employers for extended periods of time off to travel. I’ve gained a lot of experience in the best way to ask in order to get travel time off.
So I want to go into more detail about what I’ve learned about getting a month or more of travel off from work.
Think Beyond Two Weeks
I’ve made it a point to explore the option of traveling for a month or more from just about every employer I’ve worked for. It’s been quite enlightening for me. It’s amazing how often you’ll get something simply by asking for it.
Of course it’s a delicate situation to ask for so much time off from work – rightly so. You’re asking your boss to make an exception for you. It should be done carefully so you don’t give off the wrong impression.
The last thing you want to do is make them think you aren’t dedicated to your job. If you’re already on shaky ground, they might start looking for ways to dismiss you.
Personally I’ve never had an employer be mad at me for asking, but I can see how some might get upset with you. I’d just be careful.
Ideally, there are three conditions you should try to have before asking:
- Be a valued employee. If you’re in a great working relationship with your employer, they are more likely to bend the rules to let you travel.
- Try to make them need you more than you need them. The proposals that worked best for me were in hard-to-fill jobs.
- Have great rapport with the person who will ultimately approve the request. Ask that person directly for the time off when possible.
Also keep an eye out for slow seasons. Does the workflow always slow down during certain times of the year? Try and time your request around that.
How to Ask
Presentation matters. How you introduce the idea of having a month off to travel is the key to the proposal’s success.
You don’t want to tell them that your request is simply to fit more vacation time in.
It’s much better to tell them that you were just presented with an opportunity you want to explore. It helps your case if you explain it as an opportunity that came to you rather than you seeking it out.
This isn’t lying. A month of travel really is a great opportunity. All you’re doing is reframing your request from another perspective.
When I made my first request, I told my boss that a friend came to me and offered to take me along with him on his trip. I made my case to him that it was a huge opportunity and I wanted to explore options.
Tell them you’re just asking to see if it is possible and you want their help to make it happen. Say that you normally wouldn’t ask for so much time off, but the opportunity is too good to pass by without even looking into it.
Don’t say you’re completely committed, but that you’re just feeling things out at the moment to see if it is even possible.
By explaining it as a huge opportunity that came to you, you’re establishing two things:
- You’re in the exploratory phase and nothing has been decided yet. Since you haven’t made any firm commitments, there isn’t much they can be mad about.
- It’s a unique circumstance. This isn’t going to be a request you’re going to make year after year.
Be prepared to take this as unpaid time off or a leave of absence.
After you’ve made your case, you’ll probably have to wait. Even when I’ve got a no, the supervisor took a few days to look into it. In the meantime, be patient and wait for a response.
Whatever response you get back, this will be your one shot. Get a yes and you’ll likely only be able to do this extended time off once (although I did get one employer to say yes twice). Get a no and you’ll probably never get a yes from this employer.
If you get a yes, you’ll want to continue your great working relationship with everyone. This also means keeping in contact while you’re on your trip. If you have access to emails while away, check it regularly and interact with people back home.
Keep reminding them just how valuable you are to them. This will make it less likely for anyone to be upset that you’re traveling while they’re working.
There is definitely a risk to traveling for such a long period of time. If you’re not willing to take that risk then I wouldn’t recommend trying this. But if you’re like me and want to have more time to see the world than you’re getting, it’s often a risk worth taking.
photo credit: fotologic