Freelance Diaries: How to Take Holidays When You’re Self-Employed

I think a lot of people assume that you can take holidays whenever you feel like it when you’re self-employed, but that’s really not true. Yes, it is much easier to take an afternoon off here and there, or treat yourself to a long weekend on occasion, but a longer holiday is a whole different matter.

Unlike most “normal” jobs, freelancers don’t get annual leave, paid holidays, sick leave or anything like that. So, basically, time off = no earnings. There are, however, some ways to make taking holidays much easier. As long as you pre-plan, it’s definitely possible to take a couple of weeks off and not see your earnings suffer too much in the process.

how to take holidays when you're self employed freelance

Check your diary

Before you even think of booking a holiday, check your diary. At what point in the year will your schedule be quietest? Have you got any upcoming projects or new clients that will require a lot of attention? If, for example, one of your clients is an event that happens in the first week of September… maybe don’t book your holiday for the first week of September. Try and then compare this with where you want to go (travelling in the off-season is usually much cheaper) and see which dates match up.

Hourly fees vs retainer fees

If possible, try to make sure at least some of your clients are ongoing projects which pay you a set fee every month. If you get paid hourly, you won’t get paid for any of the time you’re away on holiday. But if you get paid a retainer fee every month, your pay will be the same whether you’re working or not. Obviously, you’ll have to do a bit of extra work before you go away and will no doubt have lots to catch up on once you’re back so it’s not like you’re getting paid to do nothing. This just acts like your version of “holiday pay” and makes sure your income is as consistent as possible.

how to take holidays when you're self employed freelance

Plan and schedule everything

Before you go away, plan, plan, plan as much as possible. I like to plan things around 1-2 weeks in advance usually, so it’s not too much of a problem to add an extra week or so onto that to cover your holiday as well. As a social media freelancer, I like to plan out content calendars and then schedule in updates (using platforms like Hootsuite or Buffer) to make sure content is continuing as normal whilst I’m away. If you plan and schedule things properly, no one will even be able to tell you’re away.

Manage expectations

Tell clients in advance that you’ll be going on holiday, and make sure they know what this means. For example, you may not be answering any work emails whilst away, but will still respond to customers on social media. If you want a complete break free from work, though, that’s totally okay – just be sure to tell clients that you won’t have any access to social media (or whatever your field is). As long as they know where you (and they) stand, clients should be okay with things being put on pause for a couple of weeks.

how to take holidays when you're self employed freelance

Have a backup

As most freelancers work on their own, there’s no one else there to pick up the slack whilst you’re away. There are a few options you can consider, though. The client themselves may be able to keep an eye on things, making sure someone is there to respond to anything urgent but leaving everything else for you to pick up once you’re back. If that’s not possible, you might want to hire a virtual assistant (or outsource work to another freelancer in your field) for the week. They can make sure everything runs smoothly whilst you’re away, as well as keeping on top of tasks so you don’t have loads of work to catch up on once you’re home.

Just relax

It’s highly unlikely that anything disastrous will happen whilst you’re away, so just relax and enjoy your holiday. You shouldn’t feel guilty about taking time off – it’s necessary to keep you motivated, creative and mentally in the right place to work hard. As long as you’ve done some planning and have a support network in place just in case you need it, you totally deserve to put your out of office on and not think about work for a week or two.

Have you got any tips on how to take holidays when you’re self-employed?


Freelance social media and digital marketing consultant with a penchant for writing blog posts, drinking sickly sweet cocktails and exploring the cobbled streets of Edinburgh.


  • Emily says:

    I am planning to go away for a few weeks next year and I am just starting my freelance business so these tips will come in handy!

    Emily |

    • Gillian says:

      Hope you find them helpful Emily!

  • Claire Duffy says:

    Great tips – one thing I’ve been doing lately is travelling without taking holiday. I’ll still pick a quieter time and schedule as much as possible, but then work a few days or a couple of hours here and there, somehow the different location still makes me feel as though I’m having a break!

    • Gillian says:

      That sounds like a great idea. The best part about working for yourself is being able to decide what suits you best – some people work better by doing a little bit every day, whilst others are more productive working solidly then taking a whole week off!

  • This is a little different but my mum is self-employed and she’ll pick random notes to save for holidays. So like when she gets say an English £20 she’ll put it in her holiday box to save up. She says she doesn’t notice the odd £20 but it adds up. A bit different as she’s a hair dresser so gets paid mostly in cash

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