Travel – is it self indulgence or self care?

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I love travelling.

Discovering new destinations, learning about different cultures & customs, eating new foods, enjoying a new activity or mode of transport …. What’s not to love?

When I was growing up, we lived in a different country to the rest of the extended family. We always travelled in the school holidays, alternating between visiting two sets of grandparents in neighbouring countries.

So from a young age, I was very used to travelling – long days cooped up in cars and immigration queues at customs checkpoints; big and small aeroplanes; even helicopters.  Armed with a book or two, I could withstand any travel inconvenience, delay, cancellation or simply just the boredom of waiting. 

Since the family immigrated to Australia, we have all continued travelling, even if it was just visiting family back in Asia. My parents travelled until recently when my mother’s dementia made it increasingly difficult. My brother now lives in London and his family travel a lot especially before they had children.

To date, I have travelled to 24 countries. The tally should increase to 26 by the end of the year. I do not include any countries where I’ve only been to the airport on transit.

But since discovering FIRE, I have felt guilty about spending money on travel.

Related post: My conflict between FIRE and YOLO

I suppose because I don’t usually travel on the cheap … unless the cost of living in the countries I am visiting are low or the currency exchange is in my favour.

It is expensive to travel from Australia

We are so far away from the rest of the world, which can be a good or bad thing.

A one to two hour flight from Melbourne takes you to Sydney, Hobart, Canberra … whereas a one to two hour flight from London takes you to Dublin, Paris, Lyon, Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam, Zurich, Geneva ie cities in a different country!

Don’t get me wrong – there is no need to travel overseas to have a good holiday. There are incredible places within Australia to see and experience – Uluru, the Whitsundays to name a few. Though to be honest, I haven’t seen that much of Australia besides all the capital cities – yep, I have visited every capital city in every state and territory.

That leaves the majority of the continent to explore – I want to visit Broome, the Kimberlys, Kakadu, Kangaroo Island, driving across the Nullabor to Perth … My logic though is that I will visit my own backyard when I am older, when the thought of being in a plane for twelve hours is horrendous …

Travel hacking

Unfortunately for us Aussies, travel hacking is not as lucrative as in the United States.

I am very envious of their credit cards awarding generous reward points for dollars spent. These reward points can then be redeemed for flights and hotels within the States or overseas. As in you may be able to travel for FREE!! Check out travel miles 101 if you live in the States for lots of ideas and strategies to start travel hacking.

I do use credit cards to earn Qantas frequent flyer points (I pay off the full balance each month). I take advantage of sign up bonus points each year by getting a new card and closing another. All of my bills are paid by credit cards via direct debit; I pay by credit cards whenever I make a purchase, big or small.

Still, it takes me 2 years to earn any decent points for overseas travel. A one way economy flight to London costs 60 000 points.

Accommodation is the killer

I don’t have any cards that award points for hotels. Sometimes I use Qantas to book hotels if it is the cheapest rate and I can earn more points along the way. It is far better to redeem Qantas points for flights rather than for hotel stays.

And I feel like a fraud in the FIRE community in that I don’t like staying in hostels. Airbnb has let me down in the past so I am not a fan. Just thinking about couch surfing gives me palpitations. House sitting – I don’t mind but without the pets please as I am too scared of what can go wrong.

So while there is some scope to save on flights using frequent flyer points, I still need to pay for accommodation. Not 5 star hotels but a basic 3 star hotel in Europe may set you back $200 a night.

What I do have is a separate Travel fund that I diligently pay myself each week.  I realised how important travel was to me when I would readily pull money from my emergency fund instead of touching the travel fund.

So how do I justify this expense?

It is a toss up between self care and self indulgence …

I love the whole process, even the initial research of – where will I go? Where will I stay? How will I get there? What sort of activities or sights should I plan for? How long do I need at each destination? How much time will I allow for this, that and the other?

There is something about the anticipation of freedom, of new experiences that excite me and draw me again and again to travel. Just thinking about travel makes me happy.

Of course, sometimes there is stress and anxiety about how everything will come together.

But that satisfaction and sense of achievement when all planned activities have proceeded without a hitch … that is priceless! I am guilty of scheduling lots of activities, meals at specific restaurants etc while on holidays.

Note to self – next holiday, I need to schedule more rest and relaxation time. So I don’t come home from a holiday needing another holiday to recover.

But overall, I am a much more relaxed person when I am travelling versus the me at work.

It brings me so much pleasure later too, after the trips are done and dusted. When I am in my own home, eating the chocolates or snacks that I have brought home or seeing something on TV and thinking I have been there and the flood of memories open up …

This surely is self care? As defined in this article by psychcentral.com – “self care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health”

Planning my travels and travelling certainly takes care of my mental and emotional health directly and my physical health indirectly.

Is travel an escape from the reality of my daily life? 

I am currently reading Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Domingues (affiliate link). It raises many questions about how I am living my life and how I am using my time, my most valued and finite resource.

It also made me reflect on my love of travelling. 

Do I use travel as a way of escaping? Escaping the stresses of my job and the boredom sometimes?

The answer is yes – guilty on both counts.

It is difficult for work to contact me when I am travelling overseas due to the time differences. If I were travelling within Australia, I am still very available. The stress just melts away as the plane takes off  into the sky.

I once booked a flight to Tokyo because I was sitting at my desk working on paperwork for an upcoming accreditation and being bored out of my mind. An email alert from Qantas advertising a cheap fare to celebrate their direct flights from Melbourne to Tokyo flashed up. Ten minutes later, I have a seat on a flight to Tokyo. If that is not impulsive, then I don’t know what is.

This is probably the self indulgence part! As defined by Merriam-Webster, self indulgence is the “excessive or unrestrained gratification of one’s own appetites, desires or whims” Yep, definitely self indulgence.

So if my work is not so stressful or demanding, will I still love travelling?

Guess my answer will be evident once I stop working!

The Dilemma

However the question I come back to again and again after discovering FIRE is – if I indulge now and spend my money travelling, will I then travel less when I retire? ie will I run out of money for travelling by the time I retire? It will be supremely ironic that when I finally have all the time in the world to devote to travelling, that I cannot afford it.

I remember being on a tour through Europe in my mid twenties where several members of the group were not physically fit enough to climb the steps up to The Parthenon in Athens. I felt so bad for them – imagine spending your life wanting to visit these unbelievable far away places, only to get there and just admire from afar, not getting close enough to touch and interact.  It is still closer than watching on TV or reading a book, I know.

I resolved then that I would not leave travelling to the to do list at the end of my life (which was how I thought retirement was – the end of my life!) but rather, while I was working and physically capable.

There is also no guarantee that I will live long enough or not succumb to dementia early in my retirement. That thought is always at the back of my mind – my Mum has dementia and this has severely impacted her enjoyment, ability and desire to travel. (And impacted my Dad as well)

And speaking of ageing parents, I may not have the freedom and flexibility to travel for long extended periods once their health deteriorates even more in the future. I may be anxious about leaving them and worry that I am not there for them should something major happens.

Changing focus

My focus in travel has also changed slightly.

I now have a little niece living on the other side of the planet, in an expensive city. I want to spend time with her in her environment, getting to know her routines, learning what she likes to do – just building a relationship with her. It is important to me to do this now and not wait until she has grown up to be an adult.

So spending time in Europe is a top priority in my travel plans.

Final thoughts

In the end, travel for me is probably both self care and self indulgence. I need an escape from my daily stresses and so I indulge in an activity that brings me great joy – travelling. Although for now, my focus will be to spend as much time as possible visiting my niece in Europe.

Travel is an expensive hobby for me. So saving for my Travel fund is crucial in addition to earning frequent flyer points. Plus I haven’t totally written off Airbnb, housesitting ….

I just need to learn that it is ok to spend money on what brings value to my life. And not feel guilty about it.

What about you? Is travel important to you? What are your strategies to make it happen?

15 Replies to “Travel – is it self indulgence or self care?”

  1. I resonate with some of this – I don’t like hostels, don’t pull in CC rewards (for different reasons though) and hotels are usually my choice (usually in the $130 – $200 range as that seems average range for my wants/desires).

    I’ve found hostels now are including en-suite private rooms. That is something I do want to check out for my quick trips. But I do like the bit of luxury a hotel room offers (room cleaned everyday, bed made everyday). So I often fight with my personal choice in making a purchase.

    I think travel is both self-indulgent and self-care. For me it’s finding the balance between budget, desires and my checklist needs to step away from my everyday life.

  2. Oh, I must check out the hostels with private bathrooms – that is the one thing I cannot handle & why I don’t like hostels.
    Yes, the key for me too is finding a balance between self care and self indulgence – too much of anything is bad!
    Happy travels and thank you for reading 🙂

  3. I can totally appreciate travel being self care! I never thought about Australia being so far from everything which makes it more difficult and expensive to travel to and fro.

    I have a not so frugal hobby which is skiing. So I do set aside money in my budget every month for this expensive hobby. I’ve used travel hacking this year to go out west but haven’t figured out a way to hack the cost of the ski lift tickets.

    I am all for enjoying life along the way rather than delaying everything for a date which may never come.

    1. I think the difference for me now since discovering FIRE is I question the expense more – do you really want to spend $XX on this? Whereas in the past, I’d think well, I have $XX in my travel fund so yeah, let’s spend it.
      Here’s to enjoying life along the way! Well said 🙂

  4. Thanks for the article and very timely for us. It is a big dilemma. FIRE v YOLO, I like that. I have a retired client whose motto is “Adventure before Dementia”! We’ve only had two overseas trips in 10 years of marriage, its time to start while we a still fit enough. Its true about the travel hacking not being as lucrative here in Oz. I am trying to do some research, but I think you need to keep you eye out for promotions and jump on it.

    1. You do need to keep an eye out for cheap deals – but sometimes timing can’t be helped; for example, I want to spend time with my niece in London during her summer school holidays which coincides with peak season. Travelling to South East Asia eg Bali, Phuket will often have cheap deals.
      I like that motto “Adventure before Dementia” – I am going to adopt it!

  5. The best sentence in this blog post is the following……I just need to learn that it is ok to spend money on what brings value to my life.

    You only get one shot at life!

    I am well on my way to FIRE, however I don’t want to be the richest person in the graveyard! For me it’s just as important to enjoy the NOW, as well as the future. My passive income enables me to the freedom to only work 4 days a week!

    1. “I don’t want to be the richest person in the graveyard!” – I am going to adopt this motto too!
      Yes, I am working on growing passive income from now on …

  6. Nice! I’ve been struggling with the same thing. This year, me and the hubs mostly try to combine work trips with vacationing, and it’s been working out ok.
    We did go visit a friend in Chicago around Thanksgiving and are visiting another this summer. That will just be fun, and I can’t wait.
    Happy travels!

  7. That’s a good compromise if you can lengthen your stay. I did that when work won a trip to Darwin and my friend and I extended our trip by visiting Uluru. Other than that it’s just a weekend trip to Sydney for a conference or buying trip for work.
    Happy travels 🙂

  8. I resonate with the part about not wanting to stay in hostels when travelling – particularly as a single woman travelling! Like you I don’t want to put off travel till I’m older due to the risk that I might not physically be well enough to enjoy it the same way at that stage. Unlike you, my fear is not about dementia but about losing my eyesight. as I have recently been diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease – and though I have excellent vision now, this is unlikely to be the case in my 60s and 70s!

  9. Oh, no! Let’s hope that it is a slowly progressing disease … It is a good reason to do your travelling while you can

  10. Travel is definitely food for the soul – so many awesome places to visit in this amazing world!
    I’m finding I like to have my own bathroom these days, although a few years ago I stayed in a hostel for the first time (in my 50s) and it was fine. I hate spending a lot on accommodation as I’m a cheapskate when travelling.
    It’s going to be wonderful when we’re able to plan our next holiday.

    1. I’ve stayed in YMCA places but always with my own bathroom – that is my one rule 🙂 I’m looking forward to slow travel when I eventually retire – let’s hope borders are opened by then!

  11. I enjoyed reading this blog post so much. The paragraph under the heading “So how do I justify the expense” where you talk about enjoying the planning, finding places to eat, the anticipation of it all coming together – I literally could’ve written every.single.word!

    My husband likes to say he’s a minimum 4 star kinda guy so I don’t see hostels in our future, however on our last trip to Europe I managed to find a balance with some Airbnb’s and some 3 star hotels that were well reviewed and well located. He seemed to cope quite well haha.

    We are not exactly on the FIRE track, although my husband would like to retire at 60 so I guess that could be called early retirement these days. I’m just trying to find the balance between planning for a comfortable retirement and enjoying travelling until then. I don’t have any regrets about the money I’ve spent on travel and the memories we’ve got get me through everyday. I am actually looking forward to the challenge of still enjoying these adventures, doing it as frugally as possible and still fitting in little amazing moments.

    I’m so glad I found your blog!!!

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