How to maximize your PTO and take the trip of a lifetime in 2024


If you’re an American traveler, you’ve likely done this sort of calendar math, spotting where all the paid holidays fall this year and figuring out how to combine them with your own limited paid time off (PTO). 

There are videos upon videos on TikTok and Instagram from people who have done these calculations for you. But now that you know you have an extended period of time off – what do you do with that?

We’re here to help! Using the mathematical equation “PTO + budget + crowds = where/when do I go,” we did some complex calculus for you to come up with trip suggestions that would maximize that PTO, hit some off-peak spending and perhaps good weather too, so hopefully you’ll land in an incredible destination you may have not considered or experience something epic. 

(For our Lonely Planet readers who are not in the US, it still may be worth scanning this list if you are planning a trip to the US as these are the major US holidays for 2024 which may impact your travels in terms of prices and availability within the US.)

Here’s a look at the rest of the year.

A beautiful Malbec vineyard high in the Andes mountain range. Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. © Getty Images

President’s Day: February 19, 2024

The recommendation: If you get President’s Day off, take off February 20–23 to net a total of nine days off.

Where you should go: It’s a great time to head to Lisbon. Although not summer weather, it’s sunny enough that you can tour with a light jacket and enjoy dining at all of its marvelous restaurants.

Summer in Argentina is wavering so it is the perfect time to head south and check out the buzz of Buenos Aires, the beauty of Patagonia or sip your way through the vineyards of Mendoza.

It’s also a great time to head to Morocco and see the Sahara desert if it has been on your list.

If you can add in another week, spend nine vacation days to net 16 straight days off. For that, you can go to New Zealand and Australia.

If you can splurge on money and PTO, perhaps take the week prior off and head to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, and then have President’s Day to recover. 

A Roman bridge spans a calm river in Arcade, Spain, along the Camino de Santiago
A Roman bridge is part of the Portuguese Way of the Camino de Santiago in Arcade, Spain. © Melissa Yeager/Lonely Planet

Memorial Day: May 27, 2024

The recommendation: If you ask for May 28–31, you’ll have a total of nine days off. 

Where you should go: This is the time period and strategy I used when I did when I did the Camino de Santiago through Portugal and Spain. With Memorial Day off, I only had to spend nine vacation days to net a total of 16 days off. The Portuguese Way takes 14 days to complete, so that gives a bit of cushion for flights/sightseeing. 

Overall, this is a great time to go to Europe before the crush of visitors hits. My pick? Head to Croatia to get those gorgeous Mediterranean waters without the crowds.

Three cyclists whizzing past rocky mountains in Glacier National Park, Montana
The famous Going to the Sun Road that crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass in the heart of Glacier National Park, Montana. It’s the only road across the park and is open for biking during limited hours. © Getty Images

Juneteenth: June 19, 2024

The recommendation: Not all employers offer Juneteenth off, but if yours does, take PTO for June 20–21. That will give you five days for a trip. Add in June 17–18 and you can have nine days total.  

Where you should go: If you love biking and want an epic adventure, head to Glacier National Park in Montana. There’s a short window of time, usually around mid-May until late June, when the road is closed to vehicle traffic but open to cyclists.  During this time, snowplows are still working to remove snow at higher elevations and crews are making road repairs, but the clear sections are open to bikes (including e-bikes). Though you are permitted to bike by yourself, I highly recommend scheduling a tour with a group like Glacier Guides Montana Raft as there is a lot of wildlife in the area that, due to the road being closed in the winter, have forgotten about humans. And by wildlife, I mean bears. 

A wooden lighthouse painted bright white stands in the foreground, as the sun sets over a calm sea beyond.
Beautiful sunset at Covehead Harbour Lighthouse, Prince Edward Island, Canada. © Getty Images/iStockphoto

Fourth of July: July 4, 2024

The recommendation: To get the most bang out of your Independence day, take PTO for July 1–3 and 5, and you’ll get nine days to play with for your vacation. 

Where you should go: Island hopping in eastern Canada is a great way to spend nine days. Visit Prince Edward Island, and be sure to book The Inn at Bay Fortune and enjoy their summer-only Fireworks Feast. Spend a day out on the water and dig for clams, followed by slurping PEI’s famous oysters. Then head to Nova Scotia and explore the rugged Cape Breton coastline and finish up your island escape in Halifax.

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The orchards in Fruita Historic District inside Capitol Reef National Park, near Torrey, Utah, USA. © Getty Images

Labor Day: September 2, 2024

The recommendation: Take off September 3–6 and not only will you get nine straight days off, you’ll position yourself into shoulder season prices. 

Where you should go: I love this time of year for spending PTO as this is when the summer crowds start to subside. 

This is the time for a Utah National Parks road trip. However, you have to plan your itinerary to avoid the crowds. Start off at Capitol Reef National Park, known for its orchards that you can pick from when the harvest has started.  Then hit some of the other national parks in the week after, as families head back to school. Don’t sleep on state parks either. Utah is a gorgeous state with so much to see and do. 

This is another great time to head to Europe. Places like Greece, Italy and Croatia will still have warm weather and, while they may be busy, there won’t be the crush of visitors like in July. 

If a safari in South Africa has been on your list, schedule it during September. It’s the dry season so you’ll have more opportunities to see wildlife on the move, as they look for water sources. 

Finally, the weather has turned more temperate in Jordan, making it ideal to see sites like Wadi Rum, the Red Sea and Petra. 

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November is a great time to plan a visit to the Maldives. © Getty Images

Fall Break (Indigenous Peoples’ Day on October 14, 2024, or Veteran’s Day on November 11, 2024)

The recommendation: If you have Indigenous Peoples Day, take October 15–28 and you’ll get nine days straight. If you have Veterans Day off, take November 12–15 and your four vacation days become nine days off.

You can do a lot with this set of fall days. Worldwide, the seasons are in transition but also it is the middle of low travel season so you’ll find lots of great deals.

This is a great time to head to Southern Europe – places like Italy, Portugal, Spain and Greece have cooled off but it is still wonderful weather to travel through these areas.

If you’re looking for that over-the-water bungalow trip, October is a great time to visit Tahiti and Bora Bora and November is a great time to schedule that trip to the Maldives, when monsoon season is moving out but it is still low season so you’ll find some better deals.

The traditional Christmas market on the historic Market Square in Goslar, Germany at dusk.
The traditional Christmas market on the historic Market Square of Goslar, Germany at dusk. © Getty Images

Thanksgiving: November 28, 2024

The recommendation: You could spend four PTO days (November 25–27 and 29) to get nine days to play with. Or do November 29 and December 2–6 to get 11 days straight. Or make a power play by doing both of these options and spend nine days to get 16 straight days off.  If your employer offers the Friday after Thanksgiving off, you’ll reduce this PTO spend to three and eight days respectively.

Where you should go:  Thanksgiving (and the week after if you have the PTO to do it) is one of my favorite weeks to travel. My advice is to choose any of the recommendations above and leave the country. Domestic airfares soar during Thanksgiving but international flights are inexpensive at this time. So if you don’t mind skipping the turkey dinner, use this week to book any of your dream international trips.

Some trip ideas: 

Christmas markets open in Europe typically the last week in November or the first week in December. 

It’s also a fantastic time to head to Asia as the rainy season is ending in places like Thailand, Vietnam and Bhutan. 

If you were unable to do it in February, Australia and New Zealand are both options if you make that PTO powerplay. 

A person sits on a rock in the dark wilderness, looking up at the ethereal green glow of the Northern Lights.
See the Northern Lights in December. © Paul Schlemmer / Stocksy United

The Christmas–New Year holiday

The recommendation: Take December 23–24, 26–27 and 30–31, and your six vacation days will become 12 days off.  Add January 2–3 and you’ll have 16 days off for eight. 

Where you should go: With Christmas Day and New Year’s Day landing on Wednesdays, it’s a bit weird to do calculations here. Especially since it’s going to be expensive everywhere you go. This is often the trip I cash in all my miles to work around the expense. 

So what should you do with them? 

Antarctica. Listen. It’s an expensive trip so if you’re going to do it, why not do it over this stretch of holidays? At least, this is the time frame I’m aiming for if I can ever save up the money to do it. 

Northern Lights. Head to one of the countries where you can spot the Northern Lights and put a little celestial celebration into your holidays. I personally love Tromsø, a small town in Norway full of charm. 

Head to the Caribbean. I know it’s prime season and thus pricier but one of the best New Year’s Eve celebrations I had was in Grand Cayman. We splurged for a NYE party on the beach at our hotel and it was so worth it. Buffet and drinks were included with a champagne toast and fireworks over the ocean. Best of all, we could walk back to our room, with no crowds to fight or Uber to summon.



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