Travel Philosophy: How we make travel and financial independence high priorities

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Before we got serious about achieving financial independence, we spent a lot of money on travel. In all honesty, we still do. We could reach financial independence a year or two earlier if we were truly frugal on travel. But knowing that tomorrow is not guaranteed, we try to balance today’s experiences against future financial freedom. Our financial planner commented on our annual travel spend during an early meeting. This was one reason we hired an advisor: to help us see our financial blind spots. It wasn’t a negative comment; we lived within our means and were still saving more than the average.  But we do not want average results. If we were spending according to our values, our travel expenditures clearly revealed what we valued. Even though it might be better to spend on experiences than things, we knew financial freedom was a high priority. To achieve it sooner, we needed to cut back on our travel spending.  But exploration is our highest priority, and the reason we are inspired to reach for financial freedom in the first place. We didn’t want to completely defer it until we had the means to do it full time. Travel and experiencing new places is one of our favorite things to do as a couple. We always want to balance living our lives now against the delayed gratification of striving for financial independence.

Our employers are fairly generous when it comes to vacation time, at least in the US. But that doesn’t mean it is easy to take time away from the office. Deadlines must be met and tasks accomplished. That means vacation often finds us working from a hotel room for a couple of hours in some beautiful place. We also have other demands on our time away from the office. Mr. Vine’s family plans an annual multigenerational vacation when our nephews are on school breaks. We also to to travel around our anniversary. Due to the holiday slowdown and his desire to escape Midwestern winters, Mr. Vine prefers to travel somewhere around the holidays (an expensive time to travel).

When I first finished grad school, we were so excited about our newfound freedom from the academic calendar and our increased paychecks, we found ourselves frequently taking long weekend trips. This quick travel minimized our time away from the office, but we often came home more tired. The cost of weekend getaways also adds up. Even at a great deal, a weekend getaway with a flight typically costs $800-1500. Adding on a couple of days to turn that weekend into a 5-day trip can drive the cost up to $2000 or more. So we started talking each other out of these types of trips. Instead, we try to plan some fun activities in our city or we’ll plan some home enrichment activities. “Home enrichment activities” include things like decluttering (finding things to toss, donate or sell to reduce what we own), deep cleaning, rearranging furniture, or even meal prepping for workday lunches. In short, these are low to no cost activities that keep us busy and make our home more enjoyable. 

In 2017, we almost eliminated weekend getaways. As a result, we saved $3,000 from our travel spend compared to 2016. We took some amazing trips in 2017, including Japan; Tulum, Mexico; New Orleans; Panama; Florida; Chicago; and one last weekend at our cottage before it sold. This year is shaping up to be much more economical. I will separately recap each of these trips and break down the costs in future posts. In 2018, our goal is to shave another $5,000 off our annual travel expenditures.

Our evolving travel philosophy means skipping weekend trips, especially those that require relatively expensive travel like airfare. Even a $100 per person flight adds up once airport parking or a car share is added. We may take one or two weekend getaways per year if it makes sense, but these shorter trips have to replace a longer one. Another aspect of our travel philosophy includes using miles and credit card points to bring down the out of pocket costs. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is serving us well, especially when combined with a Freedom Unlimited card. In a future post, I’ll talk about how this strategy made our trip to Japan ridiculously affordable.

Forgoing the weekend getaways allows us to spend money on airfare only when we will be away for some length of time, like a week or more. We try to redeem airline miles for those flights if we can’t get a great price on airfare. We have a timeshare that provides access to destinations we like. We find that it helps us save on lodging during expensive travel times, like the Christmas holiday. Lastly, we work with Mr. Vine’s dad, who sets the budgets for the annual family vacations to plan a destination that we are excited to visit as one of our major vacations. In 2017, we went to Panama. In a nutshell, the easiest way to save money on travel is to reduce, but not eliminate, the number of trips we take. 

We choose what times we most want to travel: for example, our anniversary, Christmas holiday, and nephews’ school breaks. Then, we figure out what travel deals exist around those times or what travel points we have available to redeem. We then pick the destination based on the deal. Planning this way feeds my desire to travel, and to feel spontaneous (even when the trip is planned months in advance), while still meeting budget targets. We have so much fun filling in the schedule by researching all of the restaurants and activities we can do in a particular city or area after we’ve booked the major items like airfare and lodging. If our travel budget allows, we might add in some of those weekend getaways.

How do you save money on travel? What are your travel ninja skills? How does travel fit in with your other financial goals?

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