How to Maximize your Paid Time Off or Vacation Days.

You have probably wondered how others seem to manage long or frequent trips when paid time off/ vacation time can be so difficult to come by. While some people are fortunate enough to have great vacation time and flexible schedules built into their line of work, most people have to find ways to stretch the little paid time off they get.

Sometimes referred to as PTO, paid time off or vacation days are the amount of time (in days or hours) your employer will pay you while you are on leave. Some employers have a set amount of paid time off for all employees, while others are more flexible, but as long as paid time off is an option, you can find ways to make the most of it.

So how does one go about maximising their paid time off?

  1. Plan your vacation around holidays and/or existing days off.

This is one of the best ways to maximise your paid time off. If you are fortunate enough to have statutory holidays off or days in the year when your company is closed, and you are paid for it, adding a day or two on either side of the statutory holiday can extend a 3-day weekend into a 5-day trip.

Easter is one of my favourite times to travel because it is a four-day weekend. Depending on where you are headed, you may not even need to use any of your vacation days. However, travelling during easter can be expensive compared to other times in the year so keep this in mind.

2. Book direct flights.

If you are like me and you want to save on travel, then you know that flights taking you on a world tour before reaching your final destination tend to be cheaper. If you have limited time off, it may be better to book direct flights or flights with shorter/less layovers to maximise your time in your destination.

You should determine your threshold for booking direct flights vs flights with multiple connections based on your budget. For example, you might decide than an extra $100 for a direct flight is worthwhile, while $200 is not. I tend to think of how many hours it would take me to earn that extra amount for the direct flight, compared to the amount of extra time I need to take off/can’t spend in my final destination because of the round-about flight. Other times I am just simply not willing to spend 20 hours travelling when it could be 10.

3. Choose your flight times wisely.

Instead of booking my flights on the first day of my vacation time, I typically book my flights on my last day of work. This can be a hassle because it often means I have to bring my luggage to the office and head straight to the airport after work, but it can earn you anywhere from a few extra hours to a full day extra in your vacation destination.

Booking red-eye flights is another great way to do this, especially if you can sleep on the flight. Booking a red-eye that gets you into your destination early in the morning means that you can hit the ground running as soon as you arrive, instead of wasting a day of your vacation time in transit to your destination. The same can also apply to your return flight. Booking a flight later in the afternoon on the day of your departure, means you can user the half day before your flight to get in any last-minute exploring or relaxation before returning home.

4. Negotiate additional time off.

I saved this for last because as we know, not all employers are flexible, so this may not be an option for everyone. However, I have suggested 3 different ways that you can negotiate your work schedule for additional time off.

  • One way to negotiate additional time off is right when you are offered a new position. Always check or ask how much paid time off is offered and propose a counteroffer. The way I see it, the worst that can happen is that they say no. Do not try and negotiate this as part of the interview process, only after you have been formally offered the position.
    • If you will not be changing jobs or positions any time soon, you can still try to negotiate your paid time off with your employer. This will likely mean you will have to showcase your contributions to the company and how additional time off will be a benefit to both you and the company.
  • Another option is baking overtime as lieu instead of taking the payout. Some employers already offer this option to employees, but if not, you can always try to negotiate with your employer.
  • If you are due for a raise, you can also request additional paid time off instead of a pay raise. For example, you could ask to have the full pay increase banked as vacation time, or a percentage of your pay as banked time off. Not all employers will be willing to accept this proposal, but again, it is always worth giving it a shot.
  • The final way that you can negotiate additional time off is requesting to work remotely while travelling. If you have a 12-hour flight, you might request to complete work remotely while flying, and earn yourself an extra 12 hours of vacation time while you transit to your destination.

These are some options that you can explore to maximise your paid time off. Is there an option you are willing to try? Do you have other ways that you maximise your paid time off? Let me know in the comments!

Did you try any of these options and how did it go? Share your experiences in the comments!

5 Apps to Help you Manage your Social Media like a Pro!

Two popular questions I get are, “How do you edit your pictures?” and “How do you manage your social media, especially while travelling?” I’ve decided to answer these questions through this blog post by showing you 5 of my favourite social media management apps :

1. Adobe Lightroom

This is by far my favourite editing tool. Lightroom allows you to edit the details of your photo including: vibrance, exposure, contrast etc. Lightroom includes some free presets to simplify this process, my personal favourite preset is ‘Vivid’. You can also purchase presents and other tools such as the selective editing tool (allows you to edit select portions of the photo) and the healing tool (good for removing items/people from the background).

Here is a before and after of a photo edited through Lightroom.

I used the ‘Vivid’ preset on the entire picture, then I used the selective edit tool to sharpen the castle, brighten it and increase it’s saturation.

A closer look of the final edit is available on my Instagram.

Lightroom is available on mobile and desktop.

Tip: Lightroom allows you to copy and paste edits from one photo onto another. Use the ‘Previous’ feature to quickly edit similar photos!

2. Canva

Canva is a graphic design app that allows you to make social media graphics such as story posts, YouTube banners, posters and even logos

My favourite things about Canva are the variety and amount of templates available, You can also customise templates or you can build your own.

Canva is available on mobile and the web.

3. Mojo

Mojo is an Instagram story building and editing app. It includes a variety of templates for free, though it has far less variety than Canva.

However, mojo has animated text, which is my favourite feature about the app. I often build a template using Canva, and add animated text to the template using Mojo.

Check out some examples here: https://mojo.video/

Mojo is available only for mobile devices.

4. Planoly

Planoly is primarily an Instagram scheduler. It helps you to plan and schedule your content for Instagram, Facebook & Pinterest. You can prepare your post, draft your caption and hashtags, and schedule it to be automatically posted at a later date and time. It also helps you to visually plan your posts by allowing you to do “mock” uploads to see where a picture best fits on your feed.

The best part? You do not have to be awake/on your device for it to post! So while your busy living your life, your scheduled posts can be posted to your social media.

This comes in handy if your optimal times for engagement coincide with your busy time during the day, or if you’re travelling but want to continue making posts without taking away from your vacation time.

The app is available on the Apple Store, Android App store and desktop.

5. Photo Editor-

Available in the Apple app store, Photo Editor- helps you to fix any imperfections in your photos. Need to fix a blemish or blur something out? This is the perfect app for that. This tool are all available on the free version of the app.

Photo Editor- is an easy photo finishing app. It is my go to app for fixing minor imperfections such as red eye and blemishes.

Which of these apps are you most excited to try? Try one today and let me know what you think!

Kayaking/Canoeing in Lake Louise, Alberta

Lake Louise, June 2020

General Info

The Banff area has some of the most beautiful waters for canoeing and kayaking.

Canoe and kayak rental season in the area begins whenever the lakes thaw, which is usually around June, and ends towards the end of September.

The hours of operation vary from 10/11:00am to 6/7:00pm daily, though no rentals are typically allowed in the last hour. For example, in mid-June, Lake Louise kayaking closed at 6pm, so the last rental was at 5pm.

Boat rentals are typically available for either a half an hour or an hour. During slow seasons, you may be lucky enough to be allowed to rebook for additional time when you dock.

Lake Louise

Lake Louise is famous for its stunning turquoise lakes, the beautiful Victoria Glacier in the backdrop.

Though you can experience this beauty from the shores, canoeing/kayaking is a truly magnificent way to get even more up close and personal!

There is only one kayak/canoe rental on Lake Louise and it is operated by the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel aka. the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Boathouse. The boathouse is located on your right hand side if you are facing the lake, with the hotel behind you.

Canoes are available on a first come, first serve basis. They can’t be reserved.

The lake is patrolled by lifeguards who are employed by the canoe rental company. Life jackets are also provided, and are not optional.

Prices

Prices for rentals vary by season: early season (June/July), peak season (late July/August) and late season (Fall/early-September). Early season prices are $65 CND per hour and $55 CND per half hour. These prices do not include taxes. Line-ups can get quite long; get there early!

Lake Louise Canoe/Kayak Rental Prices, June 2020

Early season prices for Fairmont Chateau, Lake Louise hotel guests are $45 CND per hour and $35 CND per half hour. Prices do not include taxes. There is a guest priority line that is separate from the general public. A room key is required as proof you are a guest of the hotel.

Hotel guests can book an evening canoe experience where they can avoid the daytime crowds for $85 CND per canoe for one hour. It departs at 8:15pm. Reservations must be made by 6pm the day before and cancellations after 6pm and no shows will not be refunded.

Requirements

The maximum number of people allowed in the canoes is 3 adults or 2 adults and 2 small children under 55 lbs. One person in the boat must be at least 16 years of age. For more information, visit the Fairmont Chateau, Lake Louise.

Getting There

If you are driving, the best way to get to the canoe/kayak spot is to search for Lake Louise (North Lakeside). The closet airport to Lake Louise is the Calgary International Airport. It is roughly a two hour drive from Calgary to Lake Louise, but there are many other ways to get to Lake Louise and the Banff area from Calgary if you do not want to drive.

Tips Before You Go

  • Check the weather forecast: the weather changes rapidly and the rental office closes if it becomes too windy, rainy, fogged in or heavy snow falling.
  • Dress warm: the temperatures in the mountains (Banff and surround areas) remain lower longer than other areas of Alberta/Canada. Mornings and evenings, even in the late summer, may also be cold. I travelled in mid-June and though it was 10°C when we first arrived, it was almost 4°C by 4:00pm.
  • Bring Extra Clothes: water temperatures are typically 2°C or lower, so if you fall in, those extra clothes will come in handy!
  • Bring sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses: the crystal clear water is very reflective on warmer days, save yourself the discomfort and come prepared.

Have your own Kayak or Canoe?

You may also bring your own canoe or kayak to use at Lake Louise or any other lakes or rivers within the Banff National Park. However, there’s no official public boat launch spot, so you will have to carry your canoe from the parking lot area and launch it from shore of the lake.

More information on managing your own canoe or kayak is available at the Parks Canada website.

5 Cheap Things to do in Veradero, Cuba

Veradero is a popular beach resort town located along 20km of Atlantic Ocean coastline. It is famous for it’s all-inclusive hotels and spa complexes, as well as golf course.

Aside from it’s white sands beaches and crystal clear blue water, Veradero, like other parts of Cuba, has a rich history and culture, and of course, loads of classic cars.

As a beach town though, some of the activities like snorkeling and catamarans can be quiet expensive, so here is a list of some free/cheap things you can do:

Ambrosio Caves – Cueva de Ambrosio

If you’re scared of bats, this place isn’t for you because though the caves are beautiful, they are full of bats. If is possible not to wake the bats if you move quietly and shine your flashlight on the ground instead of the ceiling.

It costs CUC$5 or $5 USD.

Veradero Street Markets

You can walk around the local flea markets and find some nice souvenirs for to bring back home for yourself or loved ones. I bought cigar tubes (actually used as toothbrush cases) and had them customized with my friend’s names on them.

Customised cigar/toothbrush cases

Explore the City Centre

Walk around the city centre and try a pina colada served in a pineapple. Or perhaps you would rather try some home-made coconut ice cream served in a coconut with jelly.

Take a Ride in a Classic 1940/50s Car

Cuba is famous for its classic cars. These can be found anywhere and everywhere! It’s like one big mid-90s car show.

It costs anywhere from $5-10 to ride/take a picture in the car. The prices are negotiable and depend on whether you want to drive the car yourself, be driven, or just want to sit in the passenger seat for a picture.

The more well-preserved the car – fresh exteriors and interiors – the higher price.

Mi Casa Beatles

Whether you like to drink or not, this is a fun place to spend an evening or maybe lunch.

The bar has cheap food and drinks and fantastic live music.

It’s also a great spot to take a cheesy Beatles picture!

If you’re staying at a resort, then here’s an extra one for you!

Free Water Activities at your Resort

Many resorts include some free water activities as part of your booking such as kayaking, surfing. Usually the equipment, including a life jacket and a free beginner lesson, are also included!

Try one of these on your next trip to Veradero and let me know what you think below!

Guide to Devil’s Pool, Victoria Falls

Everything you need to know before venturing into the deep!

The Devil’s Pool is the highlight of any trip to Zambia or Zimbabwe – yes, this excursion can be accessed from both countries!

The Devil’s Pool is a naturally occurring pool of water that sits directly on the edge of the Victoria Falls, on Livingstone Island. Getting to the pool requires strong swimming skills because you must swim your way to the area where the pool is located. Part of the swim goes through an area with a very strong current.

FYI – THIS IS NOT HOW YOU SEE VICTORIA FALLS.

Devil’s Pool only shows you only a portion of the back of Victoria Falls. If you want to see the full Falls, you must cross the border into Zimbabwe. Both Canadian and US citizens need a visa to enter Zimbabwe, but the visa is very easy to purchase and can be bought at the border. For more details about Victoria Falls/visas click here.

When to visit:

The best time to visit is during the drier months: mid-August to mid-January. The water levels are much lower, and the currents are not as strong.

I went on January 2nd, 2020 and the water levels were just perfect

Safety! Safety! Safety:

Since the tour was established in the early 1990s, there have been no fatalities at the Devil’s Pool. The staff are very knowledgeable, strong swimmers and make sure to put your safety first.

While on the boat across the Zambezi River to Livingstone Island you are provided with life jackets.

At the Devil’s Pool, there are ropes in place just before the edge of the pool, in case anything goes wrong, these would be able to hold you back.

Tour details (times and prices):

There are five trips a day to the Devil’s Pool, each lasting roughly 2 hours. Alcohol is served on each of the lunch and high tea options, details below:

Morning Breezer – 7:30am/9:00am/10:00am – US $100

  • This option does not include food.

Lunch – 12:30pm – US $165

  • This option includes a three-course lunch and alcoholic beverages after the swim.

High Tea – 3:30pm – US $140

  • This option includes an assortment of sandwiches and teas and alcoholic beverages after the swim.

The Morning Breezer was my preferred option but it books fast so I ended up on the lunch option. I have no regrets; the food was amazing!

How to book:

  • In person – tour operators like Wild Horizons and Tongabezi and more; or
  • Online – trip adviser or Tongabezi’s website (tour operator) and more.

Though you may be able to get a discount of up to US $10 off by booking in person, please, please book in advance! This tour is one of the best selling in the Victoria Falls area and sells out fast, especially the Morning Breezer option.

What to bring/wear:

I never leave my water shoes behind for any water activities!

Bathing suit

You can also do this activity in shorts and a t-shirt if you like, but if not, don’t forget your bathing suit.

Camera/phone to take pictures

While some activities will hassle you for ‘professional’ photographs, there are no photographers available for this activity. All pictures are taken for you by the guides, but with your device. They do not have a photographer or cameras on site. You must bring your own.

Water shoes

The rocks in the pool are quite jagged but also slippery. Water shoes will help you maintain your footing as you make your way to the pool and when you are at the pool. They will also keep the little fish in the water from accessing your feet.

You do not need to bring a towel; plenty are provided.

Can’t swim? No problem!

If you can’t swim, you can still take the boat ride to Livingstone Island – the place where David Livingstone first saw the Falls. Here the guides will explain a little bit about his history and show you the plaque commemorating him.

You can also take pictures in the Angels Pool, located right by the plaque. Its is a very shallow pool that offers comfort and safety while still experiencing the amazing view and thunderous roars of the falls.

What to expect – from the Zimbabwean side:

  • Meet your driver at the Elephant Hills Hotel.
  • The driver will take you to the Zambian border and help you cross over and hand you over to the Zambian driver waiting for you on the other side.
  • Zambian driver will take you to the ‘Launch Point’ where you will catch the boat Livingstone Island.

Tip: If you are taking this tour from the Zimbabwean side, I highly recommend you get your own driver instead of the one you’ll be offered through the tour companies. It will cost your group US $5.00 from your hotel to the border and US $5.00 from the border to the ‘Launch Point’, if you find your own taxi. This option also allows you the flexibility to remain in Livingstone and explore the surrounding markets.

If you take the driver offered by the tour company, it will cost you $15 per person round trip from Elephant Hills Hotel AND you will have to find your own way to Elephant Hills if you are not already staying there.

What to expect – from the Zambian side:

  • 5-minute boat ride to the Livingstone Island
  • Welcome drink – Mahue – traditional southern African fermented beverage made from ground corn meal.
  • Short tour of Livingstone Island including the David Livingstone monument.
  • Here you’re also provided an opportunity to change if you don’t already have your bathing suit on.
  • Begin your Devil/Angel’s Pool Adventure!
  • Lunch or high tea
  • 5-minute boat ride back to the ‘Launch Point’
  • Back to Royal Livingstone Hotel

Is Devil’s Pool worth it?

By now I’m sure you’re wondering, “Is this activity worthwhile?” The answer is, “Absolutely!” This activity was so thrilling. Both my sister and I had an awesome time. There is a reason this activity has grown into the most popular and profitable activity in Victoria Falls!

Have you been to the Devil’s Pool? What was your experience like? Feel free to add to this guide in the comments below!

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