A Year Less Traveled / How we slashed our travel budget

In 2019 we decide to make an effort to adjust our travel. Our goal was twofold. First, we wanted to spend less money. Second, we wanted to devote some extra energy to our career jobs. Now that we’re in the final quarter of the year, it seems like a good time to check in on how this effort went. Our travel is planned for the remainder of the year and we’re unlikely to throw in an unexpected pricey trip at this point. We have a good idea, within a 10% margin of error based on flights we need to buy, of where our travel spending dollars will end for the year.

The year kicked off with a big trip to Vietnam. It seems somewhat disingenuous to say the year was light on travel. But most of the trip was planned and paid for during 2018, so the bulk of the cost was absorbed in that year.

Did we spend less money?

Yes! Our travel spending in 2019 is on track to be roughly HALF of what it was in 2018. In full disclosure, a portion of our Vietnam travel expenses were reimbursed by our travel companions. We’re confident that everything came out fairly, but we didn’t track those reimbursements diligently so we counted all of that spending as our travel. Our actual, unreimbursed costs might have been about 10% less than what we recorded. Either way, 2018 is a high water mark in our travel spending since we began closely tracking our expenditures. By contrast, we are on track to spend a new low on travel in 2019. We’ll have to watch for 2020 to find out whether 2019 was low only because we pulled much of the costs into 2018.

What about our careers?

It was helpful for our careers to spend more time in the office. This wasn’t necessarily a dramatic change, though. Also, my current office has a more demanding workload so my lack of travel was less noticeable. I’m also not sure we actually spent less time away–it just occurred mostly during the winter months. We also took more blocked time, that is, a couple of week-long trips instead of more frequent long weekends. This helps us save money on airfare, but may not serve the workplace goals. Even though our weekends are often filled with more local travel to see friends and family, we still enjoy some recovery time. Using our weekends this way, rather than to take a quick getaway, has been helpful for our career goals. We feel a little bit more refreshed on Monday morning than we do when our Sundays are consumed with traveling home from a getaway. 

How did it feel?

Overall, it felt pretty good. During the summer, it was tiring to pack so much adventure into each weekend with all of the fun we had locally. But it was nice to be close to home and spend more nights sleeping in our own bed. 

There were many times that I’d see a deal email or airline fare sale and want to book some spontaneous getaway. Then we’d consider our budget (or our calendars!), ultimately deciding against it. This was a bummer. This was also a side effect of our newly-implemented zero-based budget. It was easy to see whether we had enough room in the budget to accommodate travel. This year we rarely, if ever, did. 

At times, wanderlust was strong and I felt restless. When this happened, I tried to refocus the energy into an upcoming trip. Where were we going next and what could I do to contribute towards that trip? This proved quite effective. Another tactic I used was to plan a quiet weekend or evening at home. Sometimes the restlessness came from doing too much, rather than not enough. 

We stepped up our financial game with this year’s travel decision-making. Delaying gratification and becoming responsible isn’t always the most fun, but we know it will be rewarding later. It was a fun challenge to figure out what we could do with less money. I also wanted to avoid tapping into our travel points stash too much. 

This year’s travel involved a lot of time with friends. Road trip destinations meant that it was easier for others to join us if their schedules permitted. That was nice. Our new travel strategy is less accommodating of travel with our friends. We plan and start booking trips further in advance than many of our friends. They also may not feel as excited about traveling to the destinations we’ve selected. This remains the biggest wildcard in our future travel spending because we’re generally willing to say yes to an unexpected trip if others will join us. 

What do we have planned for 2020?

In the winter, we need an escape. We always try to plan a vacation around the Christmas holiday and another one in the middle of winter–usually in February or March. I have a placeholder hotel booked on points during this timeframe for a warm weather destination. We’ll see if that comes to fruition or turns into something else.

We like to travel in the middle of the year for our wedding anniversary. We’ve booked our timeshare for a few days in a new-to-us state for that trip. For now, this feels very far into the future.

Christmas 2020 remains too far on the horizon for even our timeshare booking. We anticipate using our timeshare for a week-long trip to somewhere warmer than our midwestern home. Although, with a lot of warm weather destinations on the schedule, maybe we would enjoy another holiday trip to Europe. Our current budget forecast estimates an even lower 2020 travel spend. If these three trips turn out to be our only ones, we might be able to achieve another new low in travel spending. 

Is this true to our identity?

We are the Traveling Vines. Travel is important to us. It has sustained our marriage and fed our souls. We’re not giving up travel. We aren’t even taking a hiatus from it. We are instead changing how we travel. As we advance in our careers, it has become more difficult to get away from the office. And more difficult still to disconnect, even when we are away. Rather than fight this reality, we are choosing to be more strategic about the trips we take. We are also reducing the frequency of our travel. We’d say we’re improving efficiency. It is a big world and we want to see all of it. We aren’t sorry for prioritizing less expensive, more local destinations in the near term while we’re short on time anyway. We can still live our values while putting more of our dollars to work towards financial independence. 

Travel priorities are regularly changing for us. For now, the focus is on asset accumulation to achieve financial independence as soon as possible. When our lives no longer have office-imposed location and time-off restrictions, our goals will likely shift again. We’re looking forward to once again redefining how we travel. The dynamism of life is what keeps things interesting. A simple change in objective forces us to exercise our creativity while planning vacations that suit us best, at every stage of our journey. 

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