Kim and I are back from a week-long beach vacation with her brother and his family. We traveled to a luxury timeshare resort where it was super easy to practice social distancing because almost nobody was there. (The place was running at maybe 10% capacity because of COVID, and the level of cleanliness was mind-boggling. I felt safer there than at home! Sanitizer, mask, wipe your feet. Instant-read thermometers. Digital menus. Etc. Etc. Etc.)
This trip was a terrific early test of my spending moratorium resolve. I was mostly good.
The vacation itself cost money, of course, but I'm okay with that. We scheduled it months ago, long before I decided to take a year off from spending. I didn't cancel it, and I'm not canceling the other trip we have planned for March. Instead, my aim is to keep my spending as low as possible for both trips. Plus, I have no plans to book other vacations this year.
Because of my spending moratorium, I deliberately altered my standard vacation behavior. I'm the kind of guy who likes to get small souvenirs wherever I go: pins, patches, t-shirts, and so on. I didn't buy one this time. In fact, I only spent money on food. (On our first day, we stocked up on groceries so that we could eat most of our meals in our room.)
For the entire week, there were two purchases that violated the rules I've set for myself.
Hello from Portugal!
Last Thursday, I returned to Europe for the fourth time in the past ten months. This time, I'm here for work. I'm speaking at yet-another chautauqua about financial independence and early retirement. As always, it's fascinating -- and the people attending the event are amazing.
For this trip, I decided to experiment with ultra-light packing. I am not a minimalist, but I like minimalist travel. I wanted to see if I could carry everything I needed for 20 days of travel in a single small backpack.
I like to travel. Over the past decade, I've probably made an average of two international trips per year. But you know what? Never once in that time have I tried to track how much I spend while exploring the world. Sure, I log my numbers in Quicken (as I do for everything), but I've never analyzed the cost of an individual trip.
This month, I flew to Europe to hang out with my cousin Duane again. He and I enjoy traveling together. Because I was curious, I decided to be diligent about tracking my expenses for this trip.
Note, however, that I didn't try to do anything different. I didn't adjust my normal behavior simply because I knew I'd be reporting to GRS readers. I did what I always do. I spent in ways that felt normal to me.
I don't need a fancy hotel, for instance. Neither does Duane. We're happy with cheap, simple lodging. And because most of the time we don't book rooms in advance, we don't hunt for the best deal. When we decide to stop for the night, we look for a place to stay. When we find something reasonable ($50 per person per night is our target) and available, we book it. We don't continue to search. We'd rather use our time to explore our surroundings.
On the other hand, we're both willing to splurge on food from time to time. Our rooms aren't important to us, but what we eat is.
Similarly, we'll pay to see special sites, but mostly we're happy visiting free museums and/or walking around a city. We don't pay much for tours, etc.
So, how much did I spend for two weeks in Europe? Let's find out!
Howdy. My name is Michael Robinson. While J.D. is visiting Europe with his cousins, I volunteered to share how my wife and I have leveraged the power of geographic arbitrage to pursue our dreams -- and to build our wealth.
Geographic arbitrage means taking advantage of the differences in prices between various locations. You earn money in a stronger economy (San Francisco, maybe, or the U.S. in general) and spend it in a weaker economy (South Dakota or Ecuador, for instance).
Geographic arbitrage is a powerful tactic worth considering if you want to increase your saving rate so that you can better pursue your financial goals. Several times over the course of our lives together so far, my wife and I have managed to unwittingly stumble upon the benefits of geographic arbitrage.
It's a GRS tradition! Each year on Halloween, I publish a story about planning for death. Usually these are general articles about estate planning. This year's story is personal.
When my best friend died in 2009, one of my biggest regrets was that I hadn't made time to travel with him.
Sparky had previously asked me to join him on trips to Burning Man (in 1996) and southeast Asia (in 1998) and Mexico (in 2003). I'd declined each invitation, in part because I was deep in debt but also because I thought there'd be plenty of time to do that sort of thing in the future.
Turns out, there wasn't plenty of time to do that sort of thing in the future.
After Sparky died, I resolved to make the most of opportunities like this. Being in a better financial position helped. Having ample savings gives me the flexibility to join friends on short adventures or to explore the U.S. by RV for fifteen months without money worries. (Yes, I realize that's a fortunate position to be in.)
Here's an example. In 2012, my cousin Duane asked me to join him for a three-week trip to Turkey. Remembering my vow after Sparky's death (and remembering the power of yes), I agreed. That trip to Turkey is one of the highlights of my life so far. I'm glad I did it. It was worth every penny.
The Best Laid Plans
Early in 2017, Duane contacted me. "This fall will be the five-year anniversary of our trip to Turkey," he said. "Want to have another big adventure?"
"Sure!" I said. So, we started planning.
We bought books, watched videos, and browsed websites. We invited Kim to join us. Over the course of several months, our plans crystalized. We'd fly to Paris, rent a car, then spend three or four weeks driving around France and Spain and Portugal, enjoying festivals, experiencing the grape harvest, and exploring ruins. (Duane loves ruins!)
In June of last year, I sent Duane an email. "I'm going to buy plane tickets tomorrow. Do you want me to buy yours?"
"Hold up," he responded. "We need to talk." He called me on the phone.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"Well, J.D., it's like this," he said. "I have cancer. I've been having problems with my throat for a few months, but I thought that was because of indigestion or something. It's not indigestion. I have throat cancer."
Two years ago today, Kim and I returned to Portland after fifteen months traveling the United States in an RV. Believe it or not, I've never published an article about the trip and how much it cost. Although we kept a travel blog for most of the adventure (including a page that documented our expenses), I've never gathered everything into one place. Until now.
Today, I want to share just how much we spent on the journey -- and some of our favorite stops along the way. It seems like the perfect post to celebrate the start of summer, don't you think?
The Lure of Adventure
All my life, I've wanted to take a roadtrip across the United States.
When I was young, I was lured by the adventure. I wanted to climb mountains, swim rivers, and explore canyons. The older I got, the more fascinated I became by the country's regional differences. The U.S. is huge, a fact that most foreign visitors forget. Most American citizens don't even realize how big the country is. I wanted to see and experience it all.
Although I've dreamed of a cross-country roadtrip, it's never been practical. As a boy, my family was poor. My parents didn't have money for something like this. As a young adult, I couldn't afford it either. For a long time, I was deep in debt. Besides, where would I find the time? I had to work! To top things off, my wife had zero interest in driving cross country.
But in my forties, a curious set of circumstances came together to move my epic roadtrip from dream to reality.
- I sold Get Rich Slowly, which meant I suddenly had a surplus of both time and money.
- My wife and I got a divorce. When I began dating again, I chose a partner whose adventurous spirit surpassed my own.
One day in early 2014, my girlfriend Kim asked me out of the blue, "What do you think about taking a cross-country roadtrip?"
What did I think? "Hell yeah!" is what I thought...
This guest post from Marla Taner is an example of the things money nerds do when they get together. I first met Marla five years ago. Since then, she's become a good friend. Plus, she's my "travel hacking" mentor. (Travel hacking, for the uninitiated, is the practice of using credit card points and various loyalty programs to get free or discounted flights and hotel stays.) Marla was in town earlier this week, so she took the opportunity to teach me about the Priority Pass.
I met J.D. in 2013 at the first-ever money chautauqua in Ecuador. We see each other just once or twice a year. When we do, we have a lot of fun.
Part of the fun for me is teasing J.D. about his seeming inability to master the basics of travel hacking. Let me give you an example. J.D. first learned about travel hacking in 2011 when some of his friends urged him to sign up for a Chase credit card in order to get 100,000 British Airways miles. (He even wrote about the experience for Get Rich Slowly!)
According to a recent blog by the Wall Street Journal, Americans leave $52.4 billion on the table each year in unused paid time off (not including sick or personal leave). This lowers employee productivity and can lead to burnout and retention issues. It is also quite expensive for companies themselves, since the time and money associated with PTO are liabilities on their balance sheets.
Sometimes, though, it is just not feasible to get away, even if you follow these tips to save money on a family vacation. However, even if you're not able to get away to an exotic (to you) locale, that doesn't mean you should let your vacation days go to waste. Here are some ideas for a fun and productive staycation.
1. Complete a Home-Based Project You've Been Putting Off
Is there a project you've been hoping to complete that's too big to accomplish in a weekend? It may just be the perfect candidate for a staycation! Ideally, you want to take enough time off to finish what you have in mind -- with a day or two left to relax and admire your creation, whatever it is.
It's been a long time since my wife and I had the luxury of thinking in terms of vacation. When we came to America more than 30 years ago, we also discovered two things:
People in America work very hard, probably harder than anywhere else in the world. Two weeks' vacation seems to be the norm here, while in Europe and the rest of the world anything less than a month is inhuman, insane, or both. (I am not convinced they're wrong, by the way.)
With all our family on other continents, we needed to spend those two precious little weeks every year with them. That led to employing all manner of strategies and devices -- like accumulating as much vacation time as we could and squeaking out an advance on the coming year -- so we could spend two whole weeks with our family and another week just for travel, there and back.
It's getting to be summertime, and the living should be easy. But if you've ever priced out a week-long vacation, you already know what a shocking experience it can be. Even when you're frugal, the costs that come with domestic and international travel are inescapable and really add up quickly.
Not only are you on the hook for lodging at a hotel or resort typically, but you may also have to pay for airfare, a rental car, resort fees and travel-related taxes. And if you want to have any fun or eat, your expenses won't stop there. Add in the cost of park tickets, excursions, shows, and meals and you're ponying up a great deal of cash for your relaxing getaway.
Combined, all of these costs can take a heavy toll on the average American family's pocketbook. According to a recent study from American Express, an average vacation in 2013 cost approximately $1,145 per person, or $4,580 for a family of four. That's a whole lot of money to spend for an annual trip, especially when you consider the fact that the median household income still sits at around $52,000 a year.