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Many employers will allow for time off without pay.

I've never had such an employer.

Last year I asked my current boss for time off in lieu of a raise, the answer was a firm no (but I did get a raise anyway). At my current place of work, there's a fixed amount of vacation: 15 days. You don't get increases for every year you stay there.

My only way out is finding another job which provides more vacation time, or quitting, or becoming a contractor. In my industry (software) 15 days seems to be standard. My impression is that contractors spend most of their off time looking for work, so that doesn't look like a great option. I also get the impression that people looking to take time off just quit, go do what they want for a while, and then look for employment after the break. That seems pretty risky to me. I'd much rather quit when I'm fairly sure I won't need employment again.

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