When I was younger, I dreamed of traveling the world as a digital nomad. I even considered living in a van to travel cheaply around the United States while I worked from my laptop.
But after my first solo trips to Mexico and Las Vegas, I realized how quickly you can blow through money when you’re traveling, even if you’re trying to be frugal. I eventually came to the conclusion that spending my money on travel isn’t worth it to me. Here’s why.
Budget Travel is Still Expensive
When you’re trying to achieve financial goals like paying off debt, even budget travel may be out of your budget. During my first few solo vacations, I found out that frugal vacations are still expensive.
Hostels and motels in big cities can cost $40 per night or more. If I were to stay there for a month, it would cost more than my mortgage. And when I’m home, I don’t have to sleep in a dorm or share a bathroom with strangers like I would in a hostel.
When you have to pay for all of your regular monthly bills on top of plane tickets, lodging, and food, it can be a bit of a financial stretch. That’s probably why more than two in five Americans have gone into debt to pay for a vacation.
Personally, I don’t want to lower my savings rate for travel when I can have just as much fun at home and stick to my budget. But if travel is an enriching experience you don’t want to miss out on, make sure you save up for it. A week of fun isn’t worth struggling to pay off your credit card for a year.
I Don’t Get PTO
Another financial challenge of vacations is that 25% of American workers don’t get paid time off. I’m a freelance writer, so I don’t make any money on days I don’t work.
I’m not just spending money on travel expenses when I take a vacation—I’m also losing a whole week’s worth of income. That’s too much of an opportunity cost for me to stomach. So when I want a break from work, I usually take a day trip instead of a full-blown vacation.
Travel Isn’t an Asset
Studies have shown that spending money on experiences like travel makes you happier than buying material goods. But at the end of your trip, you usually don’t have any assets to show for the money you spent other than the souvenirs you bought.
Even though most of the material items we buy depreciate as soon as we take them home, they do have some value that we can recoup by selling them. If you’re ever in a financial bind, you can pawn your jewelry or resell your used clothes on Poshmark.
But you can’t sell your travel memories for money, and you can’t experience your trip over and over again either. I’ve gotten hundreds of hours of enjoyment out of material goods like my Nintendo Switch and ping pong table. On the other hand, I’ve only thought about my trips to Mexico and Las Vegas occasionally.
Overall, I usually enjoy my material purchases more than my travel experiences. Although taking a trip packs a whole lot of fun into a week, I get more continued enjoyment from my fancy coffee maker and basketball hoop.
To sum things up, travel doesn’t feel worth it at this stage in my life. I’m trying to pay down my mortgage early and invest aggressively so I can retire comfortably someday.
When I’ve met those goals, I might get bitten by the travel bug again. But for now, I’m content taking day trips to tourist destinations that are near my home to save money.