Splurging on My First Love

It’s Valentine’s Day, a day in which schoolchildren exchange slips of paper and candy, grown-ups exchange flowers and fluids, and a whole lot of money is spent.

I’m not exactly a big spender. In fact, it’s fair to say I pride myself on being relatively frugal. I try not to be smug about it, but I have to admit it’s freeing to know that our family gets along very well and lives quite happily on a five-figure annual spend.

Still, there are times when frugal habits need to be set aside. When you enjoy the salary of a high-income professional, there’s nothing wrong with an occasional splurge. How you splurge is up to you, but it shouldn’t be a broad concept of throwing caution to the wind and your dollars down the drain. Splurge on the one you love.


I Love to Travel


I consider travel to be my first love, and I splurge on travel. “Splurge” may not be the best word — when traveling, we find ways not to break the bank — but I don’t know that I’ve ever turned down an opportunity to travel due to the cost alone. Traveling costs money, but for my family and me, it’s money well spent.

Flowers on the other hand… I would receive cross looks from my other true love if I spent our money on some plants that were destined to die in a matter of days. I know better than to buy a bouquet of thirsty greenery, a “chore in a vase” if you will, to commemorate this Hallmark holiday.


Falling in Love


As a boy growing up in the upper Midwest, I was fortunate to have relatives in sunny California. I was in first grade the first time we traveled there. We saw towering palm trees, the expansive but cold Pacific Ocean, and a honey bear at the San Diego zoo. I wrote a blog post about it. I wrote the blog post on a piece of notebook paper because we didn’t have blogs or anything resembling a personal computer back then.


san diego zoo journal

honey bear don’t care


Later on, some of my California relatives moved to Idaho. In junior high, my brother and I visited them in Sun Valley. We had a blast learning to ski, watching the Olympics, and enjoying the hot tub at the home my relatives were house-sitting. I wrote a blog post about that, too.


Sun Valley Journal

nice cursive, guy


Around that same time, my Grandparents decided to treat their four kids and the two grandkids to a trip to one of his favorite spots — Mazatlán, Mexico. It was a wonderful trip, and we splurged for the parasailing. It was my first foray outside our nation’s borders, unless you count Canada. When you live so close to Canada, you don’t count Canada. Sorry, Canada.


Parasailing in Mazatlan

me, south of canada


As a freshman in high school, our parents finally took us to Disney World. This was definitely a splurge, as many of our previous family vacations were relatively frugal. We did manage to save some money, though, by doing a fly / drive vacation. We flew to Orlando, then did the rental car company a favor by driving one of their cars Up North where it would be needed over the summer.

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The lesson I learned from this trip is not to over-prepare. I memorized two guidebooks cover to cover and couldn’t wait to experience those rides and slides firsthand. But I had taken away any hint of an element of surprise. I had a blast, but the thoroughness of my research made much of it almost anti-climactic. After this trip, I wrote my first self-published book.


disney scrap book

my next book should be better


As a college student, I looked seriously into studying abroad. I was absorbed with the idea, but frankly I was having too much fun where I was and didn’t want to miss out on what little I had left of the college experience, so I never left #FOMO.

I finally rectified the situation as a medical student, spending my final rotation in Stockholm, Sweden. Now, I get e-mails that sound hilarious when you read them in the voice of the Muppets’ Swedish Chef.


Traveling: Past, Present, and Future


I was recently chatting with a fellow blogger who is known to splurge on occasion. Compared to me, he’s got a nicer vehicle, bigger home, and better boat. Whenever the conversation turned to travel, though, we were suddenly on the same level.

Alaska came up. We’ve been there. Hawaii? Twice in the last four years. Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean? Check, check, and check. Japan? Of course. Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, and Europe? We’ve been, and we’re just getting started.

Next month, I’ll see Iceland for the third time; it will be my wife’s second visit, and my boys’ first. It’s a great place to spend a couple days on the way home from Paris, which is where we’re spending our family’s spring break. I couldn’t say no to $417 round trip tickets.


Iceland Geysir

iceland. suprisingly green.


I realized that travel is one thing that we refuse to skimp on. Now that doesn’t mean we don’t find ways to travel affordably. I’ve been rightfully accused of wanting to walk everywhere and not adequately providing three square meals at appropriate times of the day. I’m working on being better about all that (right, dear?) and my travel companion has gotten better about stashing food in pockets and backpacks and wearing only the most comfortable sneakers.

There are lots of ways to travel affordably that don’t rely on withholding food and motorized transportation, and I will expand on some of those in future posts. I should have a lot to talk about, as travel factors bigtime into our early retirement plans.

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Before I fully retire, I may work a schedule that will be decidedly slow-travel friendly. If we can figure out the schooling aspect, we could have an incredible opportunity to show our boys the world. After retirement, an RV or motorhome tour of this great nation is high on the priority list.

Financially, I could have retired a couple years ago while maintaining our current spending. I’m just not sure our current budget involves enough travel, so I soldier on, one more year after one more year, earning money to have financial freedom and a substantial travel allowance.

To me, travel is worth the splurge.


This post was inspired by an e-mail from a representative at Personal Capital. I was asked to consider writing a post one thing that makes me feel like I’m “ballin’ on a budget“. Since I don’t necessarily use language like that unless I’m belting out some Lil’ Troy, which is something I don’t do nearly enough, I needed a little clarification.



“What’s the one thing you have to splurge on?” I was asked. Oh! That’s easy. Travel it is.




  • This is what personal finance blogs is all about. It is about finding what you love, and saving and budgeting to help you enjoy those things. For many personal finance bloggers, the area to splurge is on travel, but for others it could be a larger house, nicer car, charity, or their children’s graduate school. The higher income you have, the more of these splurges you can have. Thanks for sharing!

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  • Dorf

    I am impressed by your early blog posts, PoF! Clearly you’ve always had the writing urge… I am tickled, because I didn’t know boys kept diaries.
    We also spent way more on travel than other people, although living frugally otherwise. It’s primarily because my family live a long haul flight away in another country. It was important to me that our kids get to know their grandparents and cousins, so I don’t regret the trips (although flying is super stressful for me).
    … this may have backfired for us, because my kids now say they want to live with their relatives in the USA when they grow up. Will I never be free of long distance air travel?!?
    Happy St. Valentine’s Day. Thanks for your enjoyable blog ♥

    • “I didn’t know boys kept diaries.”

      Me neither! I think two were for school, and one was a start of a “travel journal” that only ended up with two entries. It is fun to look back, though.


  • I love to travel, although I don’t do it as much as I might like. That’s one of the things I’m looking forward to about FI – the ability to travel more. We did take an awesome road trip last year, and we’re planning another one this year. I went to China and France as part of my MBA, and my husband and I went to Japan for our honeymoon (unusual choice, but it was amazing!). My family didn’t travel much beyond some driving trips when I was growing up-travel wasn’t important to them. One of my goals is to take the family to Europe once the mortgage is gone. I want my boys to have the chance to see more of the world while they’re younger.

  • VagabondMD


    I could not agree more. I love travel, just about anywhere, and plan to travel extensively in retirement. Even working full time with two high schoolers at home, 2017 has/will include trips to So Flo, Scottsdale, Costa Rica, Memphis, New Orleans, Boulder, and NYC (and that just takes us to the end of July).

    For the physician readers of the blog who enjoy the outdoors and adventure travel, I am going to make a plug for the Wilderness Medical Society. They have great trips, er, I mean, meetings in locations like the Grand Canyon, Croatia, Yellowstone, Park City, and Everest!

    • Dang! You are a busy man. Just imagine how much free time you’ll have to travel when you’re working part time.

      Northwest Anesthesia Seminars is a CME provider designed around great destinations and events. I’ve only been to a couple, but they were a good mix of education and fun. One was “New Jazz in Anesthesia,” which was in New Orleans during Jazz Fest, and the other was in Maui. I’m planning a CME trip to the Big Island (Hawaii) about a year from now.


  • Personally, I don’t splurge on much… come to think of it, I probably only splurge on food… I love sushi, salmon and shrimp. The Triple S!

    Happy Valentine’s Day, I’m wearing red and trying to spread the love!

  • We’re the same. Travel is the one thing that we open the wallet up a little more for. We don’t stay at expensive hotels or fly first class. We spend our money getting there and exploring as much local food and activities as possible. I really enjoy experiencing new places and the opportunity to reboot and relax.

  • POF,

    You have found my weakness as well! In fact, it is one of the few areas that I had in common with other physicians that I know. I have had several conversations with other docs where they are trying to “figure me out”. They say my house is a nice “starter” house and ask where I’m planning to move. They look at my car and ask about my “fun” cars. They are always baffled with my life choices until they ask about travel. Then they go, “Aha! Got ya!”. Although, looking at your list, I need more originality…

    So far, we’ve been to Alaska, Hawaii, Europe, Central America, the Caribbean, Mexico, several other US states including Utah and Southeast Asia. No Ecuador yet, but I’m heading to Chautauqua in October, so there ya go. If you’re interested in Thailand, Vietnam or Cambodia, I’ve got great tips! The difference between me and my physician friends is that my family backpacks and tends to stay at cheap Airbnb places instead of resorts. We’ve walked for over a mile to save a 150 peso cab ride ($7.50) in a tourist area because it was overpriced. Cheapskate, I know. I’ve learned not to talk as much about how I travel as where I travel with my spendthrift colleagues so that we have at least one thing in common.

    Joe Nomad

    • Awesome, Joe!

      Enjoy the Chautauqua — I’ve read many positive reports. Southeast Asia is on our list, but will probably wait until we’re at least semi-retired. I may hit you up for some tips then.

      We’re staying at AirBNB apartments in both Paris and Reykjavik on our upcoming trips. Not cheap ones exactly, but 2 br 1 ba ones with full kitchens and centrally located, and no more than the cost of a single hotel room.


  • I love travel also. I’ve been all over the world, but as I get older, 43, I realize that the typical 1-2 week trip staying in a hotel in touristy areas just isn’t cutting it for me anymore. Especially since I don’t have kids. Now that I’m semi-FIRE’d and only work part time, I don’t feel the need to just ‘get away’. So, going forward, I’m planning a year of slow travel where I plan to volunteer with animal rescue/conservation missions, try some homestays in exchange for tutoring, ‘live’ in places for a month or two at a time. I have a science background also, so I’d love to be able to work as a docent at places like the Arecibo Telescope or the Darwin Research Institute. I also did a 3-week solo backpack trip to Australia the year I turned 40. While that may not be too adventurous for some, as a female traveler, going half way around the world by myself with no itinerary at all, was pretty exhilarating. I definitely recommend more women try solo travel. Very empowering. 🙂

    • Slow travel is where it’s at! The closest I’ve done is locum tenens work where you temporarily live like a local in a new location. The difference is I was working.

      Your plans sound amazing. We drove up to the front door of Arecibo (which is not easy to get to) 15 months ago only to find it was closed for renovations. We did get to tour the Darwin Institute, and saw Lonesome George in his final years.

      Australia remains on our list. Soon enough.


  • The Grounded Engineer

    Thanks for sharing, PoF. Do you have any tips or recommendations for traveling with babies? My wife and I love to travel, and now we have our daughter who is almost 5 months old. Generally, I bring my wife along on work trips I have to save $$!!

  • Fun! I would still consider your travel love as “intelligent spending”. You find great deals on travel and take advantage of them. Sure, it costs more than a local road trip, but incredible value for getting halfway around the country.

    Many docs I know don’t even have the time to do the travel! The key is to prioritize.

    • Thanks, SMMD.

      I was reading a book from Dr. Cory Fawcett that mentioned Docs staying home while the rest of their family went on vacation. Based on their level of spending, they couldn’t afford to be without the income for the week. How crazy is that?


  • Oh ho ho ho, sounds like you’re “ballin’ on a budget,” indeed, PoF. I used to travel pretty frequently, but it’s tapered off now that I’m an adult and no one is paying my way any more. 😉 Still, I think travel is a necessary activity to break up life’s monotony and to experience other cultures.

    • Just wait until you’re not only paying your own way, but also paying for family! Kids under 2 can fly free in your lap, but after that, they’re full fare. Travel hacking can come in handy; I’m no pro at it, but we’ve scored some free flights in the last couple years.


  • Studies continue to show, over and over, that spending on “experiences” (like travel) are some of the best values and uses of money. Looking at our personal budget, I’ll confirm for everyone that Vacation is our largest budget item. Yes, seriously. (We’re mortgage free or that might be biggest.)

    Solid personal finance is an exercise in prioritization. Travel and experiences are a priority for us, so that’s where we allocate funds. People should review their spending over time to make sure that their priorities are reflected accurately. And if not, make adjustments.

    • Indeed, Brad. Experiences > Stuff.

      If we didn’t get some of my travel comped (CME) and other trips with free flights and / or hotels, travel would probably be our top line item. Last year, I recorded about $5,000 in travel spending, but it was actually probably triple. Also, a fair amount of our travel is to and from our second home, which is like a vacation, but has its own line item.


  • Dude, I can’t believe you still have your first blog post backed up. No wonder you write so well. You’ve got decades of blogging experience! And that’s a sweet honey bear 🙂

    I’m with you on the travel splurging. We are always scheming to get the most bang for our buck when traveling, but it’s still our largest spending category. At least our upcoming Jamaica trip is going to be free since we travel hacked it 🙂

    Nice score on the Iceland/Paris tickets. The deals on flights to Europe are incredible this year, we did get cheap tickets to Barcelona. I almost feel like we should go twice!

    • Yeah, I’ve got crates full of old “blog posts.” I’ve wondered for years why I hang onto that stuff, but occasionally, it comes in handy! Still, I plan to digitize most of those memories. Not that paper takes up a whole lot of space, but I’m pretty sure I still have math homework in those boxes, too.

      I’m a terrible minimalist.

      Strong work on the Jamaica trip. Barcelona, too! One of the benefits of being out east is your proximity to Europe and the Caribbean.


  • It’s stories like this that make me question whether I would have chosen a low-income profession if I had to make the choice over again. I’ve never gotten to travel anywhere except for Florida, New Hampshire, and Canada.

    Honestly, I didn’t even really like reading stories like this before, because travel was just something that “rich folks” could do, but not me – so why even bother with it?

    BUT, I started travel hacking last year and I’ve been amassing a stockpile of miles that I’m planning on using some day to get out and see new places. I’m so excited about where I can go now – I’m just waiting for my husband to graduate so we can go see new places together!

    Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

    • Lindsay,

      Before being able to travel internationally like “rich folks”, my wife and I travelled extensively around the US. We even took a two month 10,000 mile trip years ago by staying in cheap or free campgrounds and eating ramen and spaghetti O’s for less than $2500! We saw so many amazing things and had a great experience. I definitely agree that where there is a will, there is a way! Best of luck on your travels!

      Joe Nomad

    • Good for you! There are lots of examples of people traveling the world on a shoestring budget. You need to be willing to be a little more creative, but there are plenty of ways to avoid spending the big bucks, as you have realized.

      Have you checked out Nomadic Matt?


  • Travel is my weakness (or strength, depending on perspective) as well. Toddler BITA is 2.5 years old and has been to 6 countries spanning Europe and Africa. She has also been to multiple cities within the U.S. (we just got back from New Orleans yesterday).

  • We love travel too. Actually we are off to Cabo tomorrow. Never been and will be interested to see what the hype is about. Beach vacations aren’t really our thing, but we are going with family.

    Next week I am going to have a post about taking a gap year in medical training, actually more about how to work abroad during training….it may give some others ideas how to incorporate it into their training.

  • I couldn’t agree more. Travel is one are where we loosen our frugal belts. Last year we decided it was time for our little one to see Disney World. We didn’t stay at the Polynesian – although, I wish we would have – but we didn’t scrutinize every little purchase. We planned for it and we paid cash. This year, we’re starting to plan on next big family vacation. I don’t mind splurging on experiences because these are the things we will remember for the rest of our lives. When our little girl isn’t 7 anymore, we will remember the trip we took to Disney. If we didn’t make a trip like that, her memories would blend into one long summer at the day camp. Not cool. We prefer the former. And we’re working our butts off everyday to make sure we don’t miss out on LIFE.

    • That’s pretty great! We took our boys (then 5 & 7) on a Disney cruise last year, and spent a couple days at Universal Florida for the Harry Potter worlds after my wife read them every single word of all seven books!


  • Damn, POF is one budget-savvy baller! No surprise, travel is our biggest and most favorite splurge, too. Time flexibility makes it possible to travel much more affordably, whether it’s grabbing those $400 round trips to Europe, getting weekly or monthly discounts on lodging, or being able to go during off-peak months. If our stash didn’t allow for frequent travel, I’d be working more until it did — so I definitely respect your decision to keep building those investments!

    • Absolutely, Matt — as a seasoned traveler, you would know.

      Flexibility is huge when it comes to budget traveling. I’ve been on cruises where another couple having dinner with us paid half what we did, and at the last minute because they were flexible.

      The same goes for going at off-peak times, which also avoids large crowds. An early retirement gives you infinitely more flexibility.


  • Jacq

    My dad is frugal and we did many camping vacations when I was younger. Then mom hit a ‘omg no more air mattresses’ point and we’d stay at whatever AAA rated but not expensive hotel he could find. We did a lot on the east coast, and then 2 trips out west. While camping it would be cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch & then dinner out at a reasonable place. If the hotel didn’t have continental breakfast we’d get those packs of mini cereal & milk for the cooler, and did the same for lunch & dinner. Great way to stretch the budget.
    My mom’s parents traveled quite a bit, my grandmother moved all over New England before going out to CA, and then back to NY to marry my grandpa. She took lots of cruises in retirement. My grandfather had been with the Merchant Marines and was over the idea of being on a ship so he didn’t cruise as much. They would road trip from their place in CT to Florida visiting friends and family with their pop up camper too.
    Mom’s side of the family (her sister & brother in law) my Aunt & Uncle & cousin, mom, my sister & I have started doing family trips. We did Alaska in 09, and Hawaii fall of 16, with a Caribbean trip in 14. It’s so great to build these memories. In fact my aunt just texted a picture -her- grandfather took of Diamond Head in the 1940’s.
    My dad has 4 brothers and his grandmother lived with them (8 in the house!), so they traveled less. My grandparents & their siblings bought cottages on Long Island that was a family vacation/weekend spot. My dad & his brothers would work jobs to help pay for 1 of 2 weeks at a cabin in PA. We actually bought a cabin in the 80’s as our own summer place on that property.
    My hope is to get to Europe in the next year or two. I am involved with yoga studios that regularly go to Thailand etc & there’s a retreat in Peru. Work uncertainty caused me to decide not this spring, but maybe the next one.
    My mom also made us do trip journals on the out west ones I’ve got early blogs too. 🙂

  • I love that you not only “blogged” all those early trips but kept them all these years. I saw that deal on the tickets to Iceland/Paris and it almost killed me! I just kept thinking “How can I convince my mom to watch all 5 kids, so the hubby and I can do this!?” Then I tried to scheme if I could go with my BFF, but getting a week away seems impossible (we have been trying to plan a 3 day weekend for 2 months!). Maybe when the kids are old enough to walk and poop in toilets will will start doing more international travel with them. =)

    • Quite the deal, wasn’t it, Ms. M?

      Our boys have been out of diapers for 4 to 5 years, and haven’t taken naps in nearly as long. This is the first time we’ve been brave enough to bring ’em along on a trip like this. Look for a report in early April.


  • Smart Provisions

    I like traveling too!

    It allows people to expand their horizons and see the world. There’s so many interesting things around us that we don’t know about and travel allows us to peer in and take a glimpse at all the amazing activities and sights around us.

  • Well look at that, you’ve always been a writer! And are you wearing a Michael Jackson glove in some of those pictures? I’ve heard that Iceland is amazing! I’d like to get back to the UK within the next 18 months or so and need to make sure week sneak in a pit stop at Reykjavik.

    Two final thoughts: I got that same ‘ballin on a budget’ email, but haven’t posted anything yet and #CanadaCounts

    • Better get going on that post, Ty. Don’t you want to be a baller? Shot caller? 20 inch blades on the Impala?

      Canada’s great, it’s just not much different than home. More than once, I’ve been canoeing on border lakes, not knowing which country I was in. There are portages that have you straddling the border.

      That “glove” is a hand sculpture actually. An art project of one of my wife’s college friends, I believe.


  • We love to travel as well. We’ve set a goal for at least one International and two domestic trips thisyear. We just wound down our international trip to Martinique in the French Caribbean. We’re thinking of Maine and Asiteague island for other big trips for the year. In general I use travel hacking to pay so splurge is probably not the word, but from the outside I’m sure it appears like splurging.

    • That sounds like a great goal, FTF!

      I need to get back on the travel hacking train. I recently fouled up a United card, stopping when I thought I had met the minimum, when I actually hadn’t, so I missed out on that bonus. It turned me off to the process, but it was my own dumb fault.


  • Hey Doc! Loved your first blog posts!! Too funny, I kept a “diary” in 4th grade, will have to see if I can dig it out and share an early post!!

    Writing this from Switzerland. Biz travel, but catching a day (tomorrow!!) while I’m hear to ski in The Alps!!

    Never miss an opportunity to experience the world! Life is better for it!

    • Find that diary and share some. How fun would that be? One of the reasons I’ve resisted tossing that stuff out is I figured I might enjoy sorting through it all when I have kids of my own and / or am retired.

      Soon, both could be true.


  • Am I the only one who spit out coffee for “grown-ups exchange flowers and fluids”…

    hahaha, was not expecting that!!

  • Haha! “It’s Valentine’s Day, a day in which schoolchildren exchange slips of paper and candy, grown-ups exchange flowers and fluids, and a whole lot of money is spent.” Best line I’ve heard this year. My brother’s nickname is Fluids because of his hyper-amorous ways. Anyway, I wholeheartedly endorse your weakness for travel. Mrs. G and I are on a quest to visit all 50 states and 6 out of the 7 continents (we’ll pass on Antarctica). Twenty-nine states down and only 2 continents. We have a lot of work to do, but we’re up for the challenge. Thanks for the post, Doc. Great motivation.

  • orif

    One resource that physicians may take advantage of for incredible eperiences is medical missionary work. Organizations like Health Volunteers Overseas are well run charities that have programs in places all around the world. My wife and our 4 kids have experienced living for a month in Bhutan and Tanzania. They were some of the best times that we have ever spent together as a family and were invaluable in teaching the kids (and the adults as well) about what the rest of the world is really like, We are hoping to do another trip next summer to South America. My goal, once I reach FI, is to do at least 2 trips a year. It is challenging, incredibly rewarding work with a focus on teaching. Living and working in different cultures with people who can do so well, with so little is enlightening.

    • Great tip, orif.

      I love the fact that not only do you volunteer abroad, but your family participates as well. I plan to head out and do something similar after I slow down to part time this fall. I’ve been in communication with a group that takes a few trips to Peru each fall, and talked to a couple surgeons who have been (with family). We’re only looking at opportunities that will allow my wife and boys to be part of the mission.


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