The Freelance Creative

Ask a Freelancer: Can I Afford to Go on Vacation?

We’re just about to hit the point in the year when most people stop being productive as they prepare for some much-needed time off. I say “most” people, because it’s not that simple for freelancers. We can’t coast and then get paid for a week to sit on the beach. So today, we’re going to look at a topical question that is relevant to all freelancers: Can I afford to go on vacation?

This question is particularly relevant since I’m flying to Los Angeles in seven days for a quasi-vacation. I put in the qualifier because although this trip will include vacation-like components, I’m also performing in two shows—one in Los Angeles on July 8 and one in San Diego on July 10 right outside the Comic-Con convention center. If you are interested in hearing me read short fiction about Mars, I’d love to see you there.

When I go on vacation, even the quasi ones, I do my best to keep my income steady. Earlier this year, when I spent a week on the JoCo Cruise, I worked ahead most of January so I could take a full week off in February and not lose any income. Since freelancers don’t get paid vacation days, we have to compensate with a heavier workload beforehand to make sure our vacations do not cost us beyond the usual plane tickets and hotel rooms.

So to prepare, I’ll write 20 pieces this week, the high end of my usual weekly output. (One of last year’s Ask a Freelancer columns was about how I wrote 20–30 pieces per week. I’ve cut that back to 15–20, and yes, they pay better. Progress.) Then I’ll write four or five pieces over the weekend. That means I’ll probably do some writing work on the Fourth of July, but I promise I’ll stop in time to see the fireworks.

When I get on the plane next Monday, I hope to have very little work to do while traveling. If I cut it down to an hour’s worth of work every morning—essentially, one new post for The Billfold per day—that’ll be great. We’ll see what happens.

Why not just tell my clients that I’m taking the week off so they can manage without me? Well, as I mentioned earlier, I like money and I don’t like the idea of losing money. Plus, working ahead is a bit like being there even if I’m not really there. They get the assignments, and I get to hang out in San Diego and learn about what’s going to happen next with The Avengers.

Freelancer Thursday Bram uses a similar tactic when she schedules her own vacations. As she wrote for Envato Studio:

We don’t have to tell our clients we’re going on vacation and risk them turning to another freelancer. We can make sure that we keep income coming in, making it easier to actually take a vacation.

Bram also pulls the same scheduling trick I use to ensure she doesn’t get stuck with a due date right in the middle of her travel plans:

Since my vacation went on the calendar, I’ve refused to schedule any new due dates during that week — or the week immediately after it. I’ve simply told my clients that I’m already booked up for that time, and offered dates a little before or after that deadline.

I have definitely used that tactic while planning for this upcoming trip. Unlike Bram, I’ve gone ahead and told clients I was going to San Diego for Comic-Con since I know it makes me sound extra cool.

But what does all of this mean for you, when you’re deciding whether you can afford to adjust your freelance schedule and go on vacation?

If you are worried about whether you should take a vacation this summer, I urge you to do it. Last summer, Freelancers Union reported that one-third of small- and medium-sized business owners do not take vacations, which is a pretty depressing statistic about freelancing. Taking time off is important to our mental health, and vacations can help creative types recharge their batteries and come up with new ideas.

If you are worried about telling clients about an upcoming vacation, don’t be. Give a few weeks’ notice, of course. I’ve told plenty of clients about various vacations over the years, from the week-long JoCo Cruise (with no Internet access) to the three-day family reunion trip I took last month. They nearly all say the exact same thing: “Have fun!”

If you feel like you can’t afford an expensive trip, consider a staycation, a long weekend hiking in a nearby park, or anything that sounds like an adventure and won’t put a strain on your budget. Even a four-day weekend spent sleeping in and marathoning Netflix can be refreshing—so don’t feel guilty about taking it.

If you’re worried about not being available for client emergencies, you can always take your laptop with you and spend an hour checking in every morning—or you can set an Out of Office email and let the working world go on without you. I’ve done both, depending on the type of vacation, and I’ll tell you that the “Out of office” email really works; when someone emails you and gets the out of office reply, they figure out a different way of solving the problem.

And yes, you might miss a job or two due to your vacation plans. But one of the key growth moments in your freelancing career comes when you realize that you don’t have to be available for every job—that you can say no and still be a valued and successful freelancer with a roster full of happy clients.

Nicole Dieker promises she’ll read all your submitted questions when she gets back from Los Angeles and San Diego. Send your Ask a Freelancer questions to

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