An exercise in gratitude: The Vines’ improved travel strategy

This week Mr. Vine and I watched a show set in New York City (Billions on Showtime for the curious). Mr. Vine and I feel a special affinity for the Big Apple. We love the neighborhoods, the diversity, and the way New York appears to be egalitarian while also maintaining a huge gap between haves and have nots. We appreciate that NYC is full of endless cultural activities, dining, and green space among the concrete jungle. It’s a real city, a thriving city, a city where even the wealthy don’t own cars, full of energy. We’ve agreed that New York would top both of our lists if we ever wanted to relocate to a different city.

But I digress, the point is: we enjoy visiting New York. On this episode of Billions, two of the characters are eating dinner at Peter Luger’s. We remarked to each other, aghast: “How have we never made it to Luger’s?!” The next day I did some searching and came up with a great deal on airfare and our favorite hotel. Total cost for lodging and air would have been under $900 for a weekend trip. Not too bad for a midtown Manhattan suite just steps from Central Park and a nonstop flight. I proposed it to Mr. Vine. He responded responsibly that we shouldn’t spend the money. He’s right. We are making a concerted effort to reduce our travel spending this year. It’s working so far–we are on track to spend half of what we spent last year, with most travel for the balance of the year paid for, or at least earmarked.

At once, I was both disappointed and gratified. Disappointed that I wouldn’t get another morning stroll through the Met. Disappointed that I wouldn’t be eating one of those delicious looking porterhouse steaks from Luger’s. But also gratified. We avoided spending almost $2,000 with this trip. The flight and lodging would be just the beginning–there’d be restaurant bills, bar tabs, probably a pair of CityPasses (or other admissions fees), and some transportation fares. Together, we made the better choice for our future. Then I thought about all of the things we could do closer to home. Use the pool in our building, pack a picnic and take it to the beach, rent a pontoon boat, go tubing down a nearby river, and buy a porterhouse from a local butcher and grill it here at home. We could do all of those things combined for less than the $2,000 price for a weekend in NYC.

Since focusing on controlling our spending and prioritizing our primary careers in the near term, we’ve done this type of getaway planning only to abandon it before making the booking. Cancun, New Orleans, Florida have all fallen by the wayside. By my count the abandoned getaways in just this post have saved us nearly $10,000. This is a big example of purchase procrastination and of focusing on what is enough, all of which qualifies as delayed gratification. We are sacrificing today’s weekend getaway for tomorrow’s financial freedom.

But what we’re finding is that it isn’t exactly delayed gratification. It is practicing gratitude for what we have and doing more with less. We value travel and experiences, probably more than any other spending category. It is important to remember that pursuing financial independence is very much a marathon and not a sprint. We don’t want to completely deprive ourselves and our marriage of the fulfillment and joy that we get from travel. We’ve also found that we can have so many great experiences at or near our home. We are working on treating our weekends like vacations, which I’ll talk about more in a future post. Instead of giving it up, we are balancing our travel and developing a more strategic approach.

The strategy is quite simply: spend less, do more. Instead of taking every weekend getaway that catches our eye, we typically plan out a travel schedule a year in advance. It’s a flexible, penciled-in sort of plan. For one thing, our timeshare works best with advance bookings. Secondly, we find that there are certain times of year we always want to travel. We plan for those vacations when we know we’ll most need and want them. Having a vacation already scheduled, even partially, makes it easier to turn down a last minute deal. Instead of booking that extra trip, we’ll spend some time filling in those outstanding plans for the next trip on the books. Redirecting our wanderlust this way has proven very effective. We’ll invest that energy into finding a good price on airfare or a rental car, or even searching out free things to do in the city we’ll be visiting. This is where the “do more” part comes into play. The extra attention and time yields a better vacation.

Most importantly, skipping those weekend trips gives us more time to be present in our lives. We can use the weekend to build connections with local friends, enjoy our pets, and prepare our home as vacations approach. All of this alleviates the overwhelm that often comes with demanding, time-consuming jobs.

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