Why You Should Spend Money on Travel

One thing I’ve learned about the journey of personal finance is that it’s personal. We all have different priorities for our money.

But today, I’m going to argue that everybody who can finagle it should spend money on travel. Whatever you call them–get aways, mini breaks, vacations, holidays–no matter how close or far from home you go, I believe there are major benefits to regular travel.

Spend Money on Travel--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Our family has been a fan of traveling for a long time. Because, what better way is there to prepare for a life where you can travel anywhere than to travel, well, somewhere? If you’re interested in becoming location independent, I recommend making it a priority to take at least one trip or mini-trip per year.

Yes, there is always debt to pay off, emergency funds to fill, and possessions to pare, but the benefits of travel are many. Taking a small percentage of your take-home pay and reserving it for a trip each year, even a brief, close-to-home one, is worth delaying those other goals by a few months.

Mr. ThreeYear and I took a weekend trip to Montreal several years ago, and it was nectar to our traveling souls. We’re only three hours away by car from Montreal, so we booked a hotel using our credit card rewards (thank you SPG card), drove up, and spent a fabulous weekend exploring the Museum of Fine Arts, the eponymous city park Mont Royal with the fabulous view of the city (boy were my legs tired after that climb!), and the heart of Old Montreal. We ate delicious ethnic food (including Korean BBQ and Szechuan) and drank lots of cappuccinos. Our trip lasted three days, and cost us about $350, but it reminded us why we love to travel so much and why we’re working so hard to become location independent.

A long weekend in Quebec was a balm to our parenting-weary souls.

Michelle from Making Sense of Cents recently highlighted a blogger, Penny from Penny and Rich, who spends $53,000 a year on her family of six, with $22,000 of that going to pay back student loans. Even though the family earns so little income that they qualify for federal food assistance, her family makes travel a priority. They set aside a little less than $2500 last year for vacations for their families. Some snarky commenters gave Penny a hard time for spending money on vacation while qualifying for food stamps, but I believe she has her priorities in order. Here’s why you should spend money on travel:

Travel Gives You Perspective

When you’re stuck in your everyday routine, it’s easy to look around you and get frustrated. Maybe you’re working hard towards financial independence, but it seems like everyone around you is buying a new car, adding on a finished porch, or going out to eat all the time. Or maybe you, like me, get a bit depressed by the long winters (or summers!) in your part of the country, and would love to see different landscapes, to know that there’s more to the world than your small vista.

Traveling, even to somewhere relatively close by, shows you that the world is a lot bigger than you think it is. If we spend a weekend in nearby Boston, I’m always struck by how much hustle-and-bustle there is less than two hours from my front door. When Mr. ThreeYear and I visited Asia last year, one of my most profound “ah-ha” moments was realizing that there was an entire hemisphere of people who knew nothing about what was going on in my side of the world–the Western Hemisphere–and, more importantly, didn’t care! There were populations of people I’d never even imagined, with interesting and complex cultures, going about their lives, and I had been absolutely ignorant of them my whole life. And they of me. That might sound depressing, but to me it was enlightening. The world is bigger than me, so, to me, that means my problems aren’t as big as I think they are.

There’s a whole continent of people who don’t have a clue what my world is like. Cool!

Also, when I’m feeling Facebook envy or find myself comparing my family’s situation to others who might make more money or have a higher net worth, traveling gives me a more global perspective. As I highlighted in Are You the 1%, if you make more than about $33,000US per year, you’re in the global 1% of all income earners in the world. We have a lot more than we think we do. Also, seeing how happy people are who earn and have a lot less than me always gives me the wake-up call I need to start practicing gratitude for what I have.

Travel Makes You Happy

We’ve all heard that experiences, rather than stuff, bring us the most happiness. The best memories I have are of travel. Rather than getting beaten up and rusty, and losing value, like a car, my travel memories get sweeter as I age.

This year, we had two full weeks of beach vacation with our extended family. Junior ThreeYear and my niece spent hours running around with their trusty sidekick, Oliver (my sister’s dog), pretending they were superheroes. Once in a while Oliver would be their evil villain, and they would chase him around while he hopped and barked in delight. I know I’ll remember those sweet little people running around the beach house forever. And those memories started the bonds of what I hope will be a lifelong friendship between two intrepid cousins. 

Travel Helps You Grow as a Person

Mr. ThreeYear and I have been after a friend of ours to take his family on an international vacation for years. He has a busy job, and has put off a vacation for many years. But finally, after listening to years of our nagging, he booked a three-week vacation in Europe for his whole family. They are staying in apartments and houses they found on VRBO and AirBnB, and are having an amazing time.

The vacation has allowed the whole family to unplug from the daily grind, and temporarily disconnect from their normal routine. It’s giving them time to make memories as a family, and space to allow their minds to wander, dream, and rest.

Our friends’ beautiful view from their rental house overlooking the Mediterranean.

When Mr. ThreeYear was in South Carolina this April, he purposefully took his work email off his phone and didn’t check a single work email for the entire week. He was present with our family. He got to enjoy the sunshine and waves and focus on making memories with his kids. Being able to disconnect your brain is vital to personal growth, because it gives you time and space to self-reflect.

Being immersed in another culture also forces you to rethink everything–even things as mundane as how and what you eat and drink, how you dress, how you communicate. We cannot be complacent when traveling. Since everything is new, we have to consciously think about how we do almost everything.

As Mark Twain said in The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It, 

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

You cannot vegetate in one little corner of the earth your whole life and expect to continue to grow as a person. When you leave the familiar, you’re forced to re-examine how you see the world because you have to see it through the lens of another place or culture. I’m always amazed at how alike human beings are, despite different languages, cultures, amounts of education, and upbringing. Despite that sameness, people from different cities, states, and countries have a lot to teach me about humanity when I’m in their home.

Travel Helps You Reach Financial Independence

Say what? Doesn’t traveling cost a lot of money? How does it help you reach FI? Here’s why: when you’re working hard to get out of debt, save up an emergency fund, and save larger and larger parts of your income, it is generally not easy. Lots of times, you have to work at behavior changes that help you on that path (not eating out, spending less on clothes, driving an older car, insourcing cleaning and yard care). For my family, those changes, although now a routine part of our lives, were hard habits to develop. By giving yourself a reward each six months or year, you’re reaffirming the power of your new financial habits. Because travel is probably the best bang for your buck you can get in terms of (lasting) happiness, and it’s also something of a financial accomplishment, traveling to new places sends your brain powerful signals: this FI stuff is working. 

So how do you go about making travel a part of your yearly goals? Decide on a location, figure out your budget, save for it, research airfare (may I recommend Scott’s Cheap Flights for great deals, by the way?), book an AirBnB, and just do it! Bring your whole family if you have one–don’t let that stop you. If flights are too expensive, find the coolest place to visit in driving distance and drive!

The truth is, travel isn’t as expensive as you might think. Especially if you’re willing to travel during off-peak times, you can get killer deals on flights and hotels or you can use travel hacking, like we’ve done, to get free flights or hotel stays. If you give yourself enough time (six months to a year) to plan, and are patient about when and where you’re going, you can keep travel costs low. Another thing we’ve done in the past is gone to visit friends who live overseas or across the country. Most of the time, they’re thrilled to have us crash in their guest room and that saves the cost of lodging. We always return the favor if they want to come to the lake or come skiing. Plus, it’s almost always more fun to stay with friends!

Alright, readers, what do you think? Is travel something that can help you achieve financial independence? I’d love to hear what you think!



Author: Laurie

Hi. I'm Laurie, and my family and I have set out to double our net worth and move abroad in the next three years. Join us on our journey!

12 thoughts on “Why You Should Spend Money on Travel”

  1. I really like reading about the perspective you have gained through travel. I have only been to Mexico and Canada, so pretty close to home. Mexico certainly was an eye-opener, it was a mission trip to a very poverty stricken area of Juarez (across the boarder from El Paso) and the memories from that trip both haunt and motivate me today.

    1. This phrase–“both haunt and motivate”–yes. I had a similar trip to Honduras in high school and remembering some of the kids I saw there… I hear Juarez is in really poor shape; I am sure it was eye-opening. I think Mexico and Canada can give us some pretty different perspectives, even though they’re “so” close to home. Heck, even traveling within the US if you’re American can be eye-opening. I think how different the Southeast and Northeast are, and how much I’ve learned from living in each place!

  2. Even travelling back to Poland with my parents and seeing where they grew up (their parents at the time were still living in their childhood homes) was such a cherished experience (each time). Especially when you remember that this is what they left so that my bro and I could have what we have now. My Babcia’s apartment in Warsaw (where she still lives) had my Dad, his two brothers, herself and my Dziadek all there at the same time. My Mum lived in a tiny town you could walk across in an hour, that was so small someone recognized her as “The one who went to Canada, because you sometimes say things like ‘Oh no, I don’t know’ and it sounds like English”.

    It’s really inspired me to pursue and make good on the opportunities that my parents’ sacrifices have given me. Financial independence is part of that – AND, through my own travels, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have the capability to take care of myself.

    Thanks for the post! And the perspective : )

    1. Ms. Raggedly Rich, what a cool story you have. I am always amazed by the gratitude immigrants bring to their new countries, by the stories of sacrifice that first-generations grow up with, that are woven into the family narratives (my family was also an immigrant family and we had similar stories). You hit on something I didn’t mention in the article–the self-confidence that travel gives. I think it’s similar to creating financial independence for ourselves: moving abroad or traveling abroad and figuring out how to navigate a place where we might not speak the language or know the customs, and managing to get around and thrive there. That builds immense self-confidence that we then bring home with us!

  3. I love traveling! I used to budget an annual $5000 (for myself) traveling and now it’s at $4000. One of my traveling/ bucket list goals is to go to a new country every year. It always gives me a new perspective and new wonderment for the world. Your trip to Montreal looks great, I loved the vibe of that city.

    1. What a cool bucket list goal. I would absolutely love to visit a new country each year. And I bet with even $4000 you can take quite a few great trips each year. I agree, travel gives you “wonderment.” Great word! We are due for another trip to Montreal, this time with the kids. I agree–it is a unique “European” city right here in North America.

  4. Hey Laurie — it’s Rich from Penny and Rich. Thanks for the link to our blog!

    I’m a huge believer in travel and international experiences — we’ve lived abroad for the past 2 years. The more you see, the more you learn about yourself and understand your place in the world. As you said, most of us have more than we think.

    Looking forward to reading more of your posts … –R

    1. Hi Rich! Thanks so much for visiting. Living abroad is something Mr. ThreeYear and I are really considering. You’re so right, you really do learn a lot about yourself when you live abroad. I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t lived in Chile for three years. Yes, the perspective on how much we have always helps, too! It’s so easy to forget how fortunate we, who live in first world countries, are.

  5. With 3 little ones, our travel isn’t too far yet. But we plan to expand our territory further out every year til we have traveled all over the US with our littles.
    We also want to travel abroad, something I haven’t gotten to do ever, as of yet. I agree that traveling helps you get closer to FI though. Every time we take a week or long weekend to travel, we come back renewed to work even harder to get to our FI dream.

    1. I so agree, Ember!! That’s such a cool plan that you want to travel the entire US. I want to take my kids to see more, too, especially DC and the West Coast, but it’s so hard to choose and prioritize!! Good luck to you guys with your travels! 🙂

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