Traveling Is Cheap, Time Is Expensive

I spend far too much time on Twitter. While I learn a lot and have created an amazing network of friends, I also see a ton of complaining. The complaining is mostly first world problems and it’s almost always annoying.

Recently I saw tweets about how expensive it is to travel so many choose not to do it. These are the same people who feed their animals organic food, lease luxury vehicles and pay for premium cable.

So let’s make one thing clear: traveling for Americans (and Canadians) isn’t that expensive. If you live in a major American city such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York City, long-term travel to almost anywhere will be significantly less than staying put! My last two posts prove this point.

A fraternity brother of mine used to spend every summer of college in Southeast Asia. I asked him how he could afford to do this? His reply surprised me, “It’s cheaper to move to Thailand for the summer than it is to pay rent here (Los Angeles).”

This was a major turning point in my thinking. At the time I had been to Canada, Mexico, and a few European countries but there were many places on my bucket list I thought would be unattainable until I was old and rich.

The next year I moved to Korea followed by Australia. While in Korea, I spent almost all of my vacation days outside the country. With the exception of Japan, everywhere else I traveled in Asia was relatively cheap. I traveled through Southeast Asia on $30 a day, staying in $2 Cambodian hostels and $7 Vietnamese hotel rooms.

A decade ago I spent a month in Europe with a couple of high school buddies. We visited eight cities throughout England, France, Spain, and Italy. The total trip ended up costing me about $3,500 which is on the low end of what most people spend simply staying put.

If you’re an American and your dream is to visit X country,  you have little excuse not to do so. Assuming no debt, you can easily travel hack 1-2 international flights per year by signing up for new credit cards. This allows you to only pay the tax and fly for free. Also, check out my friend Robert’s website The Earth Awaits which will help you understand just how inexpensive many places are to live. Some of my recent favorites include Porto for $1,600/month and Medellin for under $1,000/month!

However, the more successful you are in your career, the most expensive your travels become. This isn’t because the trip itself becomes significantly more expensive, your time just becomes that much more valuable. I’ve been working in technical sales for the past five years and vacations are frowned upon. In September, I took my first two-week vacation since moving back from Australia in 2012. My wife and I went to Portugal and Spain. Do you know what happened? I lost at least a couple thousand dollars in commissions! Also, upper management thought I was crazy, “He’s taking two weeks off?!” I guess that unlimited vacation policy has limits.

But you know what, they were right. The first week I was relaxed, the second week I was stressed out about missing my quota. Of course, being an overachiever, I still hit my quota but my commission was significantly less than the previous quarter. That time off is expensive!

Going forward, I’ll only take a week off at a time until I reach FIRE. The first week of the quarter is usually the best time for a quick getaway. I’m in the beginning stages of planning trips to Panama, Cuba, and the Azores for next year. It’s nice to have trips to look forward to, even if it means smaller paychecks. Are you planning any trips for 2018? How valuable is your time off?

This article has 7 comments

  1. FullTimeFinance

    I skipped a promotion to allow me to have a job where I can utilize my vacation time. And I do, all 4 weeks a year plus holidays. Don’t underestimate the value of a break when working you way up the ladder.

  2. Jeff @ Maximum Cents

    Based on your recommendations we are going to Spain in 2018. You’re right that traveling internationally can be cheap. We chose to go for a week in the off season and the round trip tickets were $335 for each of us. Also the hotels were around $100/night which is less than most places I’ve travelled in the US.

  3. mysteremoneyman

    I missed out on so many great travel opportunities when I was young. My father was a 40 year commercial airline pilot (just retired a few years ago) so I grew up having basically unlimited access to free flights. I traveled frequently, but it was always to visit family in different areas of the country. Had it occurred to me how inexpensive international travel would have been, I would have done more of it.

    We travel lots now, but with three kids, it’s usually road trips to, you guessed it, visit family. I love it, but when the kids are older, my wife and I will definitely travel hack some more interesting destinations.

    Btw, your friend’s website is amazing! Is it a pretty major site, it’s incredibly well laid out and interactive.

  4. The Luxe Strategist

    Thanks for the link 🙂

    I feel lucky that I have 18 days of vacation and taking two weeks of vacation isn’t frowned upon (my boss does it). Counting my lucky stars about that, because at previous jobs, taking more than a week was kind of unheard of.

    Are you still planning on going to Cuba with the new restrictions? Wish I went earlier since it’s not that far for me.

    I’m planning our trip to Peru next year!

  5. Ty Roberts

    Completely agree with the premise, but adding 4 kids to the equation changes things for me.

    Kids make traveling more expensive but they also cause me to value time differently because it’s time with them I’ll never have again.

    So we do our best to travel with them now and travel hack to keep costs down. Credit card points are helping us take a family vacation to Hawaii in a few months. Accumulating hotel and airline points from work travel is allowing us to fly home for Thanksgiving next week and have a two-night getaway in Vegas in a couple of weeks.

  6. Chris (Debt Free Geek)

    Points game for the win. I’m glad we traveled recently to D.C., and next year we’re hitting up Rome in the Spring. Never been to Europe so I’m excited about that. Taking both kids, too. We can’t easily go without them due to childcare needs…but we’re not letting that stop us.

    I’m glad you got to go to Portugal and be closer to your roots. Can’t believe it cost you that much in commissions! But we can’t let life pass us by. It was great meeting you, Steve!

  7. Back to Frugality - Steveonomics

    […] we are back on budget. Cooking more, shopping less. We have less vacations planned as well as our time is expensive. There are plenty of fun things to do in California so we might as well stay local for a while. […]