Being self employed comes with the dream of having the freedom to take time off whenever we want, without having to ask permission.
The reality can sometimes be quite different. For the first 5+ years of being in business for myself I found it very difficult to take off anymore than a long weekend here and there. When I had a few extra dollars I didn't have the time, I was too busy. When I had some spare time in my schedule I didn't have the funds to go on a vacation. Forcing a holiday when you don't have much work or money isn't very enjoyable.
Taking time off can also be tough because you can do it anytime you want...which means it can always be deferred to when the timing is right. The risk is that it never happens.
So over the years I had to develop a strategy to try and get some time off...
1. Book something somewhere else. Buy some tickets to a baseball game or a show, book a site at a campground, book a hotel deal on Groupon, book something. Then you have a date and something to look forward to - you've committed. If something comes up and you have to cancel or re-schedule, you are only out $30 - $100, not a huge risk. Some of my favourite experiences that I booked have been seeing the Tragically Hip at a small venue in Portland ($26), seeing The Sam Roberts Band at a small club in Portland ($13), seeing The National at a great outdoor venue in downtown Bend ($35?), seeing a Mariners game with the family ($12). All these tickets were bought on a whim, and I planned the trip around the event. I'm pretty sure if I had not bought these tickets, the trips would not have happened. So many adventures are awaiting you for a minimal initial investment of as little as $12! (and yes, my wife thinks I'm crazy when I do this...but it's my little hack for turning dreams into reality).
2. Plan on leaving town. Far enough away that it is not possible to return home quickly. No matter how much you would like to stay home and relax, enjoy being a tourist in your own town, etc...it won't happen if you don't leave. You need a mental break which requires physical separation from the home office and the disorganized storage and the endless chore list. Leaving town may also mean putting some distance between you and your devices, to truly disconnect from work.
3. If you are on a limited budget go camping. The great thing about camping is the more people in your family, the cheaper it becomes per person. Getting re-connected with nature does wonders for your well-being. You can enjoy cheap fun like rafting, berry picking, hiking, campfires, reading, photography, stargazing, etc. If you live in the Pacific Northwest there are tons of amazingly beautiful places to re-charge. In BC there are many BC Forestry campgrounds that are totally free to use. There are a few recommendations at the bottom of this article.
4. Consider using a rewards/points card for your business purchases like materials, gas, equipment, etc. I never did this for the first 10 years and I wonder how many free hotel nights, city passes or flights I missed out on. (This may not be a good strategy to use if you have challenges managing debt.)
5. Write off your travel. Is there a condo you can paint up at the ski hill? Is there a business workshop you can attend in a neighbouring city? Is there a trade show you can attend somewhere warm during the winter? Can you swap painting for some hotel time during the shoulder season?
6. Plan to take a trip during your busy season. This was hard for me to do initially - what if I have multiple projects unfinished? What if I have to turn down work? If you plan it far enough in advance, it will work out somehow. The benefits are that your cash flow will be good around the time of your vacation, there will be work waiting for you when you get back, and you will really benefit from a break
during your peak season. I know others prefer to take time off in the winter and make as much money as possible the rest of the year, so find a strategy that works for you and your family.
7. If nothing else, try working a reduced schedule in summer so you can enjoy some long weekends, more time with your kids while they are off school, and some visiting time with company.
Having a vacation is very important to your well being, your family relationships and your success. Try to exercise your agency to make a break happen.
Some favourite campgrounds:
Tumalo State Park, Bend OR
Waterton Lakes & Glacier International Peace Park, AB & MT
Syringa Provincial Park, Castlegar, BC
Cultus Lake, Chilliwack, BC
Green Point, Pacific Rim National Park, Tofino, BC
French Beach, Sooke, BC
Goldstream Park, Langford, BC
50 Free Campsites in British Columbia
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