For the past two years, vacations, holidays and breaks away from our screens have been seen as a distant dream — appealing yet unattainable. With travel restrictions, closed borders, self-isolation and infections almost destroying the travel industry from the outside in, it’s been almost impossible for the individual to book a well-deserved break. But now, as travel destinations slowly begin to open again and the vaccines are containing the spread, it might be time to think about stepping away from your desk for a little luxury holiday this year.
So, as a freelancer — when is the best time to take a vacation? And how exactly should you take one?
Why is taking a break as a freelancer so difficult?
Unlike full-time workers or dedicated employees, a freelancer’s vacation time is not an accepted, paid for agreement in their contract. They won’t get paid for their time away and there won’t be anyone to cover their role while they’re gone. It can also be difficult getting clients to agree to this holiday as well, as you’re often working to their calendar rather than your own — with upcoming projects, sales, launches and deadlines dictating your schedule.
Another factor to consider is the work itself, and the type of industry you work in. In marketing, for example, time off needs to be carefully planned around your daily posts, scheduled content and live interactions on social media. If you typically plan content a week in advance, then taking a week’s holiday requires two weeks of content to be created and scheduled before you go. Even whilst you’re away, certain posts need to be manually uploaded such as Instagram stories, meaning you might be spending your sunny trip away sharing product shots and hashtags by the beach.
Personally, I also feel an element of guilt in booking my holiday time. When you work for yourself, flexibility is one of the biggest advantages, yet taking an extended break means shutting down your business completely. You know that you won’t be making any money during that time and that your business won’t progress without you — you’ll be shutting it off from opportunities, even for that small length of time. It can often feel hard to splash out on a day out or a fancy AirBnB, knowing your income has been stopped whilst you do so.
So how do you take a trip guilt-free?
The first thing to acknowledge is that you are entitled and worthy of a break. If you want to travel abroad, visit family or even just stay in your house and binge Netflix for a week, it is within your right to do so. You aren’t a slave to your job and it won’t keep you hostage unless you let it. Give yourself a reward for the hard work you do and treat yourself to something fun. It might even help to spark some new ideas for client work or for a new project and clear out some of the cobwebs of the daily grind.
We choose to work as freelancers because it gives us control — control over the work we do, the services we offer, the people we work with and the time we work. So take advantage of this, and do something good for you. Your business won’t collapse because you spent a week camping or went for a three-day city break abroad. Plus, there’s no reason you can’t grant yourself half an hour of ‘laptop time’ whilst you’re away, catching up on emails and ensuring that everything is running smoothly before continuing to enjoy yourself.
But for some useful, practical tips about booking your guilt-free vacation, take a look at my advice below:
Choose your timing well
The best time to take a break is generally after a big project has finished or just before one starts. The intensity of working for yourself or dedicating your time to a big piece of work can be mentally exhausting, and it’s important to take care of your physical and mental health as you work. Try to choose a block of time that can either give you the space to rest and recover from a big, busy period or one that can give you the space you need to prepare for the work ahead.
Even better, try to determine the type of break you’re going to be taking and factor this into your planning as well. If you’re set for a week in a spa, with days spent swimming by sun loungers — the time you spend there can be great for refreshing your mind and helping you find peace before returning to work. But if you’re planning a crazy adventure trip, with noisy family members and chaos-filled days, perhaps choose a time when work is pretty quiet so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
Give your clients notice
I believe that the length of notice you need to give your clients can depend on the amount of time you plan to spend away. When it’s an expected break, such as the Christmas holidays, I prefer to let my clients know at the start of December my plans for stopping work, and when to expect me back at my desk.
If you’re planning a two-week vacation abroad, a month’s notice is generally considered polite — especially if you can reassure them that any essential work will be completed and scheduled before you go away. If you’re only going to be away for a couple of days or even just a long weekend, two weeks notice should be fine.
In your notice email or call, it’s also important to set some boundaries. If you want to go full no-contact and work-free on your holiday, it can be helpful to specify this in a polite but firm way. By letting your client know that you will be entirely away from your computer throughout your trip and aren’t likely to be replying to emails, it can hopefully prevent them from reaching out and disturbing your vacation.
You might prefer, instead, to simply leave an emergency number for them to call or message if something goes badly wrong. Be clear that this is to be used in a crisis situation only and relating to an issue you can actually help with.
If you do plan to be checking your laptop whilst you’re away, set specific times where you will be reachable i.e. 8am-9am or 5pm-6pm to help your clients know when they’re likely to catch you. This also saves them from becoming frustrated if their 10am email goes unread. Be clear, however, that outside of these hours, you won’t be working and any issues should be saved for that one hour slot.
Set up your out of office
An Out of Office is a useful tool if your inbox seems to be interrupting your break. Set up your Out of Office the week before you go away and try to ensure that it begins the morning of your first day away. In your outgoing message, be sure to clarify the length of time you will be away, the best way to reach you (if at all) and when you are likely to be back working again.
If your holiday is for two weeks, for example, but ends on a weekend, it’s useful to specify that you won’t be available until the following Monday and include dates to help people plan ahead.
You can also use your Out of Office to screen your emails if you do plan to work a little throughout your vacation. You can customise your settings to allow some emails to filter through, i.e. ones from specific clients or from people you really need to hear from.
Plan your work in advance
No matter which industry you work in, it’s never going to be a professional move to take an unexpected break and leave your clients in the lurch. It’s your responsibility as a contracted worker to put systems in place that keep your client supported and satisfied before you go away. For some services, this might mean scheduling things in advance, working overtime the week before, gradually increasing your workload or planning with your client for the work to be completed when you return.
For many clients, time management and organisation are the fundamental skills they look for in their freelancers, and it’s important you remain considerate and dedicated as you prepare for your time away.
It’s also useful to note that you can even schedule emails to go out whilst you’re away — particularly those concerning invoices or end of month reports. There’s no reason you shouldn’t get paid for the work you’ve done just because you’re taking a break. Set up a timetable of emails and invoices to send out whilst you’re on vacation and simply let them go whilst you relax.
Be kind to your future working self
Who else went away before Christmas leaving their 2022 self a mountain of admin and emails to complete? Don’t let the excitement of your vacation stop you from helping out your future self.
Before you go away, make sure to give future you a helping hand by writing out a couple of notes, a to-do list or even a schedule of things to get stuck into on your first day back. Vacations and breaks can cause everyone a little bit of brain fog and it can take a while for us to get warmed up again and working, so to make the most of your first day, trying to work through a list can be a big help.
It’s also helpful to write down some reminders of where certain projects are at when you leave — i.e ‘X client has 7 posts scheduled for next week, but hasn’t paid the invoice yet.’ ‘X client emailed asking about deadlines, needs a response.’ ‘Two blog posts written for X client, need editing.’
Finally, try and be kind to your future self. Don’t give them a mountain of work when they’re still fighting off jetlag and putting off unpacking their suitcase — give them easy jobs that don’t require too much brainpower, and put the hard graft in before you go.
Inevitably, taking a vacation from freelancing can be quite a unique experience and does come with certain pitfalls to avoid. But if you stay organised, set yourself some boundaries and be considerate towards both your clients and yourself, you’ll have a great break from work!