How to Take Vacation When You're a Freelancer
Every worker needs a vacation, a time to recharge your batteries, let your stress levels sink back to tolerable levels, and just plain give your brain and body a rest. When you're a freelancer, you might need a vacation more than most—the very nature of your job means that you can wind up working 24/7, when people who work for employers are enjoying those mysterious things known as "weekends" and "holidays." The challenge, of course, is how to make it happen.
When you work for yourself, there are no bosses to approve your time off, but also no co-workers to pick up the slack while you're gone ... and no payroll department to keep those checks coming while you're catching some rays.
You might be forgiven for thinking that taking a vacation is impossible in your situation, but the good news is that it's really not. To pull it off, though, you'll need to do a little extra work to make things go smoothly. Here's how.
Tips for Taking Vacation When You're a Freelancer
Plan Ahead as Much as Possible
The farther ahead you can plan, the better. This doesn't mean that you can't ever spontaneously take a long weekend, but for those one- and two-week breaks—the kind that really give you the chance to unwind – you'll want to plan as far in advance as you can.
Vacationing as a freelancer often means putting in more hours ahead of your vacation, and then burning the midnight oil for a bit when you return. Don't make it harder on yourself by trying to do it all on the spur of the moment.
More importantly, your clients will appreciate the notice. Working as a contractor is all about maintaining relationships with the people who hire you, and that means being reliable and conscientious and considerate of their needs and goals. Give them a heads up as soon as you can. They'll appreciate it.
Make a Budget
Possibly the biggest bummer in the freelance life is the lack of paid time off. Lessen the financial hit by making a budget when you make your plans. That way, you'll know exactly what you'll need to pay for your vacation and absorb the loss of income that results from not working during your time away.
If you crunch the numbers, and things come up short, don't give up on your vacation dreams. Sometimes a staycation can be just as relaxing—as long as you commit to not sneakily checking email when you're supposed to be catching some rays on your patio.
Ask for Help
Do you have freelancer pals in your field? Now's the time to use them. Over the years, I've formed sort of informal coop arrangements with friends of mine in the writing and editing space; I cover for them when they go on holiday, and they cover for me when I do the same.
Of course, the most important considerations when making these types of deals with colleagues are reliability and skill. You need to make sure that their work will reflect well on you so that you don't have to spend your first days back unsnarling a mess and mending the damage to your client-freelancer relationship.
If you don't have day-to-day projects that need looking after, you might be fine without arranging formal coverage for your time off. Just make sure that you let your clients know what to expect, in terms of whether you'll be answering email (my advice: don't), taking phone calls (ditto), etc.
Communicate With Your Clients, and Then Communicate Some More
This is a situation in which more communication is better than less. Send your clients an email as soon as you're planning to take time off, even if you haven't chosen the exact dates yet, and follow up when you know precisely when you'll be away. Then send a reminder a week or so before your vacation, reminding them of your coverage plans and asking if there are any last-minute details they'd like you to attend to before you take off.
Finally, put up an email away message while you're gone, so that anyone who wasn't on the initial email chain won't think you're ignoring them.
Most Importantly: Understand That You Need and Deserve a Vacation
If you've read this far, you might be reconsidering whether or not it's even worth it to take a vacation. It is. In addition to the myriad health and productivity benefits that time off provides, it also reminds you of why you became a freelancer in the first place: to be free to enjoy your life, to the extent that most people just can't achieve.
Bottom line: you deserve a vacation. Plan ahead, communicate considerately and effectively with your clients and enjoy your time off. You've earned it.