While February was a cold and bitter month for most of our friends and family in the Northeast part of the US, we got to spend 15 days on vacation away from the cold Philadelphia climate, and in the paradise of the Caribbean sea – Punta Cana, DR. When we returned from the trip, our peers wondered how we could afford to get away for “so long” and travel “so often”. Besides the point that most of them have the same amount of time off available and make comparable income, they can’t picture themselves being away for so long. Is it because they would get bored if they’re not out everyday giving their hard earned money to the tourism industry? Is it because their spending patterns might be different from ours when traveling? So how is it that we can afford it and they don’t seem to be able to?
One thing counting in our favor of taking longer vacations is having a generous paid days off policy (according to American standards) from our employer. As of now, we get 26 combined days of personal time off, including sick days and are able to “buy” up to five additional days, which is essentially giving part of our salary back. We also get nine holidays, which we try to take advantage of when going away. While by other developed countries’ standards, it’s not much, we’re better off than most by U.S. standards. The average private sector U.S. employee receives 16 paid vacation days and holidays, but that falls short by European standards: by law, every country in the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation.
Another plus is that we don’t have any debt and that’s not because we got lucky and had an easy life. I struggled with debt while pursuing the American
Nightmare Dream. After becoming determined to crush it, I was able to wipe out over $50,000 of debt in three years! Unlike many Americans who spend the money they don’t even have on junk to impress others, I’ve learned a great behavior from my wife of shying away from debt. We run from it like the plague.
If you kill your debt, part of the money that you used to send to the bank in finance charges can be allocated to your travel budget. You couple that with cutting unnecessary expenses and that makes it much easier to have a budget for discretionary spending such as traveling!
NO DEBT = BUDGET FOR TRAVEL! 🙂
All-inclusive resorts are optional
After a few years of traveling together, we’ve become more accustomed to “slow travel”. It’s expensive and hard to endure “slow travel” staying at resorts. I enjoy the convenience of staying in resorts, but after a few days I get tired of the same routine. We’re also no longer fans of traveling for short periods of time and trying to jam pack our vacation schedule, just to come back needing a vacation from the vacation.
To “slow travel”, you need time and money, but you don’t need a ton of money. If you’re wise about your travel spending, you can have an awesome vacation at a low cost. Instead of opting for resorts, we’re experimenting more with renting guest houses and condos. We make sure that we get the most value for our money. For example, for what we could spend on a 5-day all-inclusive resort package, we can stretch that cost over a 2-week period and enjoy it even more. And there are other travelers that are way more cost-conscious than us, like Nomadic Matt, who does much more with less.
Use the weather to your advantage and avoid peak seasons
It’s a matter of priorities. We live in the Northeast and it gets frigid cold here in the winter. We love escaping the cold weather as much as possible. We’d rather escape the cold and spend two weeks away from winter in DR than one costly week at the Jersey shore in the summer. The weather, beach and experiences aren’t even in the same category.
We avoid traveling over the holidays in December due to the higher demand and costs, and instead take advantage of better deals in January and February each winter. Drool alert: in our recent trip to the DR, we rented a car and got to spend our days at new beaches every day. One of our favorites was having fresh fried fish and local Presidente beer at the virgin beach of Macao.
In the summer, we stick around the Northeast due to the warmer weather, but we stay away from renting houses by the Jersey shore, which is our closest beach destination. The prices are ridiculous during the summer and once you get used to the clear DR water, there’s no turning back!
Getting drunk is optional
When you stay at an all-inclusive resort, you’re inclined to drink more to “get your money’s worth”, but the truth is that most cocktails suck at the regular all-inclusive resorts. When we stay at the resorts, we usually end up ordering local beer, wine, or drinks with very basic ingredients. By staying in a condo instead, we pay a la carte for awesome drinks and get to explore the local restaurants for a fraction of the price.
Opt for cooking with affordable groceries
Groceries are usually cheaper in 3rd world countries than in the U.S. Staying longer in a place allows us to set up a healthy routine that involves cooking our own meals. We take advantage of inexpensive fresh groceries that are particular to that place. On our last trip, we spent approximately $6 on this bagful of groceries. We were able to buy avocados, eggs, limes, passion fruit, peppers, bananas and a cucumber.
Dining out for every meal is optional
When we go on vacation, there are days when we prepare lunch and go out for dinner, and vice versa. We don’t eat out for every meal. Cooking gives us something to do and provides a nice routine that gives us a sense of being home. When we do go out, we try out new dishes that inspire new menu items back in our kitchen.
Exchange rate matters
We try to travel to countries with more favorable exchange rates. For example, we love going to Puerto Rico, but since they use the dollar, things tend to be more expensive than in to the Dominican Republic. By default, we tend to go the DR more often because our dollar goes further.
Entertainment can be free
You don’t have to go on an expensive excursion every day to have a good time. I have fun just talking to locals when traveling. You can find amusing characters along the way that can make your day. We go to the beach and bring our books, sports and a speaker to play our favorite tunes. We go for long walks along the beach or in the local area where we stay. There are times when we decide to splurge, but these are thoughtful decisions that don’t derail us from our goals of reaching financial independence and retiring early.
The most important thing about getting away is the time that we spend with each other away from the routine, exploring new territories and meeting new people. Our way of traveling allows us to submerge ourselves into the local experience.