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Strategic Splurging Vs. Living Beyond Your Means Vs. Solar Eclipse

Not long ago my husband stunned me with this question: “Aren’t you a little concerned that you will lose blog readers because of our fancy trip next year? After all, you market your niche as budget-friendly family travel.” He wasn’t being passive aggressive or insulting, just genuinely curious.

This was fascinating to me on two levels. First, my husband normally doesn’t give  a rat’s behind about the blog and its readers (sorry, guys!) He is supportive and all, but he is not interested in the nitty-gritty. And he most certainly would not shed one tear if I shut this thing down for good. I know that to him, the amount I make compared to the hours I put in makes the juice not worth the squeeze. (Ironically, if it wasn’t for the blog and you guys, we would not be able to afford this trip to begin with. So thanks from the bottom of my heart to all of you who’ve used our affiliate links!) 

Secondly, I never claimed that my blog focuses only on budget family travel. Long-time readers know that going to Tahiti and staying in an overwater bungalow has been a plan all along. I just didn’t know when I would get a chance to execute it. In fact, when I started writing, I mentioned that one of my most memorable experiences to date was staying overnight in a German castle. And it certainly wasn’t cheap.

Internet (and society as a whole) loves to put you in a neat little box. Are you a SAHM? Well, you must be obsessed with your kids, making cupcakes and watching soap operas, in that order. Are you a middle-class mom writing about travel with kids? You should stick to reviewing road trips and only Holiday Inn properties. Oh, and Disney. We can never have too much Disney, right?

Also, if you happen to have kids and mention them occasionally, you are automatically branded as a “mommy” blogger. It doesn’t matter how many award charts or credit cards I review, I will always be a “mommy” blogger in the eyes of many. And that’s OK. It honestly doesn’t bother me anymore. But I digress…

Back to my topic. When I started this site, it was very important to me to make it clear that we are a typical middle-class family. I went as far as reveal my husband’s salary, much to his dismay. I didn’t want the appearance of making more than $150k per year and claiming that most regular families can travel just like us. In no way am I suggesting that other family miles and points bloggers do it, it’s just that I didn’t want any sort of ambiguity in that area.

And believe me, I have nothing against those who do well financially. I know for a fact that some of my readers fall into that category. When I use term “one-percenters”, it’s not meant to be derogatory. Folks, if you like luxury travel and are able to afford it, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Why would you be? You’ve worked hard, go and enjoy the fruits of your labor. If you can utilize miles and points to reduce costs, that’s even better.

But we are not one-percenters. We are swamped with bills and last year took out a loan on a brand new car, which cost an arm and a leg. Looking at numbers, this is probably the worst time for us to go on an expensive trip to South Pacific. I plan to reveal the costs and be as transparent as possible about the whole thing. Like I said, I don’t want to sugarcoat this expense and yell “You can do it too!!!” when I know for a fact that most middle-class families can NOT do it.  

I’ll get into details later on, but wanted to mention just one specific sacrifice I’m making. I’ve decided to cut back on our retirement contributions till next year. I can just picture FIRE (financial independence, retire early) folks having a seizure right now. Don’t worry, I still plan to max out my husband’s 401K due to company match. I’m not that dumb. But that’s going to be the extent of it till I see where we stand financially. Fortunately, you can contribute till April 15th of 2018 for the year 2017. At that point, I’ll reevaluate.

Are you shocked? Well, I never claimed that if you read my site, you’ll get to retire early. In fact, I’ll take it a step further. If you travel like we do with the salary that we make, there is 99.99% chance that you won’t retire early. I’m just a gal who loves to travel, not a financial guru.

I do like to think of myself as money-savvy, relatively speaking. But I also love to explore the world, and I’m willing to pay for it. I wish I could say that you can do it for free, but that’s a load of garbage. Our trip next year will probably end up costing us a total of $7,500 out-of-pocket (conservative estimate). And that’s after utilizing miles and points.

Are we living beyond our means? Many would say that and in fact, I got cold feet and almost cancelled the whole thing. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is an opportunity of a lifetime. My in-laws are old and will never be going back to Australia. Also, next year we’ll be celebrating a major wedding anniversary milestone.

While there is obviously a cost associated with taking expensive/complex trips, there can also be a cost in not taking them. And it manifests itself in the form of regrets. Your future circumstances can change, your health may get worse, many things can preclude you from being able to go after your dream trip ever again.

Granted, travel is not a must. It annoys me how it’s sometimes romanticized and glamorized in the travel blogging world. According to  few, if you don’t travel, you are basically abusing your children and turning them into racists. Right. Let’s face it, staying in Hyatts filled primarily with white, well-to-do guests doesn’t exactly promote diversity. Well, unless you are my reader Cheapblackdad. Not judging, because we like Hyatts too!

My point is, most of what we do in this hobby is not a necessity. At times it’s better to stay home because travel burnout is a real thing.  Food and shelter are essential. And love, you can never have too much love. There is no question that proper balance and having your financial ducks in a row is super important.

But sometimes it makes sense to break the rules. I was debating on going up to Charleston to see the full solar eclipse. Ultimately, we decided to stay home because we have way too much going on, plus, kids just started school. When I saw the photos and videos of it, I regretted not taking advantage of this very rare and unique opportunity.

I told my husband that in seven years we are taking the kids out of school and going to Quebec to see the next solar eclipse.  That city has been on my “to do”  list anyway, so I’m planning to kill two birds with one stone. My kids will still be living at home, and I plan to turn it into an epic adventure. The cost? I don’t care what it will cost. We’ll drive to Canada if we have to. Although going to San Antonio instead doesn’t sound so terrible either. Well, I have seven years to ponder that one over.

Last week we got terrible news that my husband’s cousin in Oregon unexpectedly passed away at only 42 years of age. He and his wife lived in the path of totality and no doubt, looked forward to witnessing it from their own backyard. He died only two days before the solar eclipse. I debated on whether I should share this information with you because it feels wrong to exploit something like that for a blog post. So I won’t go into any more details.

I think that ultimately, it relates to my message. It’s good to be financially savvy and stay out of debt. It’s good to plan for the future. That’s certainly my goal. But sometimes it’s OK to break the rules just a little bit. This trip next year feels like my own version of total solar eclipse. And I’m going.

Image courtesy of zirconicusso at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

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Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

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30 thoughts on “Strategic Splurging Vs. Living Beyond Your Means Vs. Solar Eclipse

  1. I wish I would’ve went to this eclipse too. At the time, I was thinking that’s a lot of travel and fuss for 2 minutes 40 seconds, but I see now it would’ve been amazing. My in-laws live about an hour from the path of the 2024 one, so we’ll try and make that one happen.

    I don’t think you’ll lose any readers from the South Pacific trip. We’ll all be trying to figure out how we can do it. It’ll probably never happen for me but I can dream. I’ll have to settle for Hawaii for now. I know, poor me. It’s a trip of a lifetime and you’ll have no regrets.

    • Jennifer, you could totally kill two birds with one stone on the next eclipse! Family visit+incredible nature spectacle for the price of one. My kind of deal.
      I felt bad about not going to Charleston, though to be fair, it would have been too much on us. And it probably worked out for the best in light of family tragedy. This will be a busy weekend with non-stop travel. Not a fun trip, but it has to be done. Family comes first.
      P.S. Hawaii and the word “settle” don’t go together in the same sentence! 🙂 Plus, winter is the perfect time to view whales in Maui. Enjoy! And who knows, maybe you can make it to Tahiti in a few years. Start hoarding AA miles now.

  2. You’re scaling back retirement contributions but ensuring you still get the company match. That’s not too bad! I thought you were completely stopping contributions. You’ll have to play some catch up later, but you’ll be fine.

    I’m slowly becoming a Dave Ramsey acolyte in my early 30s here, but even I say it’s worth putting off a few financial goals to stop and smell the roses every now and again. After all, as you point out with what happened with your family member, you never know how long you’ll be in the garden.

    Now, if only my student loans were as sentimental about my desire to travel….

    • @Cheapblackdad Haha! Oh no, I’m not crazy enough to walk away from 50% match on 401K. In fact, I’ll take a look at our situation next year and may end up pulling money out of our emergency savings and fund an IRA for 2017. But I just can’t handle this type of pressure right now. One goal at a time, one mile at a time… 🙂
      I honestly don’t know what the right balance is in this kind of situation. My rational side tells me I’m crazy to go, and the dreamer in me says I’m crazy not to. I chose to listen to the second one!
      P.S. Not a fan of Dave Ramsey, but I can understand why so many people dig his philosophy.

  3. We saw the eclipse this week and it was way cool. We would have seen ~95-98% if we’d stayed in Charlotte but I’m glad we drove a few hours to get totality, it was worth it.

    Canada’s on my to-do list as well. Canadians have recommended Quebec City to me. I think TBB wrote up a big trip report for his trip there a while back. I’d really like to see Nove Scotia and Newfoundland as well.

    • @Nick I’m glad you got a chance to see the total eclipse. It really looked cool when folks shared their photos on Facebook. Maybe next time…
      I’m hoping to see Nova Scotia someday. In fact, we are talking about going there in few years. My in-laws went there for their 40th anniversary and loved it.

    • @Tscateh I’m glad you think so! It’s funny, this sort of craziness is OK in travel community. People get it. If I posted my story on a financial blog, I would be crucified. Probably rightfully so! 🙂

  4. Oh wow, what a great post. I love your transparancy, even if putting yourself out there that far might give you some flack.

    But you’re right, we only have one life and sometimes trips are take them or don’t, no do-overs.

    For the eclipse, we did travel to Kentucky to see it, and it was worth it and it was amazing. Absolutely pull your kids out of school (though it might be during spring break anyway?) and make the trip.

    Quebec looks fun however, I worry about April cloud cover up north. Texas makes a lot of sense for this one.

    I think $7k for a trip to the south pacific is an incredible deal for a family! Do it and don’t look back.

    The financial nut in me says to do what it takes to build up your cash emergency fund and to hit your retirement targets, not so you can retire early, but sometimes people need to do it to retire, period. Eep.

    However, not even retirement is guaranteed. Your poor cousin and his family 🙁 🙁

    • @Kacie Thank you for your kind words! I absolutely understand why many will think we are nuts for taking on such a trip, while having a car payment etc. I don’t blame them.
      It really is an irrational expense, and I’m the first one to admit it. However, not everything in life is clear cut. I wish it was. You don’t always get to have a do-over. Maybe I will regret it, but there is always an option of me going to work for awhile if things go south financially. We do still have an emergency fund, though it may get thinner if I don’t save enough money by next July. I may even apply for 0% credit card before the trip, and probably will. I’ve never done it before, but will make an exception just this once. Then I will have another year to pay stuff off. I’m braking a lot of my rules, so this trip better be worth it!
      I’m really glad you got to see the full eclipse. Everyone so far has said it was totally worth it. It sure looked cool. I agree with you on possibly picking San Antonio over Quebec in April due to weather. That makes a lot of sense. Plus, it will be cold in Canada that time of year. Well, I’ve heard good things about San Antonio, so maybe that’s a better choice.

  5. Don’t feel guilty about your big trip splurge. My family (wife & kids) have always traveled a lot, usu. getting by very cheaply with points & miles or great airfare sales. But one year we decided to go on a safari trip to southern Africa. We couldn’t use points or miles at all, but we found a way to do it relatively economically, compared with most packages at the time. It probably cost more than 4 of our other international trips, but it was totally worth it for wonderful experiences and memories. Yes, you have to the future, but things happen like with your cousin, too.

    • @Contextman Thanks for sharing! I can totally relate. We’ve never spent this much on a trip, and it just feels weird to drop that kind of money even after using miles and points. But we are kind of committed at this point, so might as well not stress about it. It will cost me a ton to cancel the award tickets, and I don’t really want to anyway. It’s done, and now I just need to come up with a savings plan to insure that we don’t end up eating cat food upon return!

  6. Oh, and I wanted to share — back in 2007 I took out a 0% interest AmEx card for the sole purpose of charging my honeymoon on it. We went on a cruise to Alaska. It was amazing! All-in including airfare, it was “only” $2100 or so, but as recent college grads we just didn’t have the funds. I don’t regret that for a bit. I know it could have turned south on me fast, but it worked out and we paid it off before interest kicked in.

    • @Kacie Honeymoon definitely qualifies as one time when it’s OK to break the rules. Come to think of it, a big milestone wedding anniversary does too! So that’s how I should look at it. I’m not a fan of paying for a trip long after it’s over, but it’s OK to do it once or twice in your lifetime. So, this is one of those times for me where I get a free pass.

  7. You have to find a balance, I think. If his trip is a dream of yours, go for it! You’re getting it for much less than it would have cost without miles and points.

    • @Leticia Thanks! I’m going for it. It’s funny, I can be ridiculously cheap on some things. Like today I cooked fish that smelled a bit funny. I should have thrown it out, but I couldn’t bare the thought of parting with $5 I paid for it. So, I ate it and it was funky tasting. I may end up paying for it later! 🙂
      And yet, here i am, dropping thousands of dollars on travel like it’s pocket change. Something ain’t right with me!

      • OMG! That’s me! Once I used some canned food that was way past the expiration date. In the middle of the night I woke up, my stomach feeling funny. I listened carefully to make sure my husband and daughter were still alive and breathing. Some people may think we’re crazy, but unless you’re a millionaire, you have to save somewhere in order to splurge somewhere else.

  8. I really wouldn’t call this “living beyond your means.” This is one of those planned big splurges you make a few times in life, like a wedding, house or car purchase, etc. Different people value different things. Just think of the cars some people own (lol I know you’re paying off a Mustang, but you’ve proclaimed how humble your house and furniture are!). And you’re preaching to the choir here as far as placing a high value on travel. $7500 is a fraction of what such a trip would normally cost–in fact, I just talked to a friend of mine here in Germany who spent 5000 euros taking him, his wife and daughter to an island in Greece for 12 days, paying “normal” prices for a normal upper middle class vacation. That’s just a three hour flight from here, mind you… while you and a bigger family will be taking the trip of a lifetime on the other side of the world! We travel hackers and cheap people sometimes lose sight of what things really cost (and it’s rubbed off on your husband a bit if he’s saying such things, lol).

    But I totally understand you, I hate spending money and am allergic to even the idea of debt, and I am always freaking out about being able to afford things (even as our bills get paid easily month after month and we save a good amount of our earnings). A big chunk of change at once will put anyone under stress! You will have to plan and be careful for a while, but it will all work out! If I were you, I would definitely thin out the emergency funds, hit the bank bonuses, open a 0% card and skimp wherever I could to make it happen without going into (interest-paying) debt. You can do it–I believe in you!! I bet you will even be able to make your retirement contributions by next April. I can’t wait to read how it all comes together.

    • @Debra You are absolutely right that we as travel hackers sometimes lose sight of what things actually cost. I know many middle-class families drop $5k on a trip Disney and don’t think much of it. I guess it’s overwhelming for me because I have never spent this much on one trip. And to be honest, it will probably be closer to $8k or more, I’m just being conservative in my estimates. Bora Bora portion is what will cost an arm and a leg, but that’s the one I look forward to the most. I actually thought about skipping it, that’s how cheap I am. But it’s on the way to New Zealand, so it would be nuts not to stop. Paying for airfare again and spending days getting there during a separate trip is not logical. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. I do need to come up with a plan and write it down. You are right, things will probably work out just fine. As long as my husband has a job, we should be OK. It may take us some time to pay everything off, but we will. I absolutely intend to avoid paying interest.

  9. The 2017 eclipse was awesome! We live only 3-4 hrs away from the zone of totality depending on where you went. My plan was to just get a hotel somewhere on Sunday night that would shave off 2 hours of Monday drive time so we could get an early start due to the expected heavy traffic. Imagine my luck searching on Friday night and finding a Hampton Inn available that was dead center in the totality zone. I had searched in that area previously so someone must have cancelled (site said last room left). I gladly used 30K Hilton points to snag the double room.

    The drive on Sunday to SW KY was uneventful and took the expected 4 hrs. We woke up, ate our free breakfast, and watched the eclipse from the hotel pool experiencing 2 mins 40 secs of totality. We even had some amateur astronomers at the pool who had setup a viewing scope and were giving us some commentary. It was very neat to watch the sunlight slowly dim and then go dark. It wasn’t pitch black during totality, more like twilight because there was a 360 degree sunset around you. Totally worth it. The drive home, on the other hand, was crazy. Slow and stop/go traffic that took us 9.5 hours (including 2 stops: fuel and a fast food dinner). Like an endless traffic jam from multiple rock concerts. Wherever you go in 2024, I’d highly recommend staying the night before and after the eclipse in a hotel to avoid having to deal with traffic. I’d pick going to San Antonio over Quebec City, simply because the chance for good weather will be better in April. I had friends who were somewhat disappointed because they went to an area that had clouds obscuring the eclipse for some time. If clouds are forecast on eclipse day in San Antonio, you may be able to more easily reposition yourself to a clearer area within a few hours’ drive.

    I’m very much a “live in the moment” person when it comes to travel experiences, so I have no issue with the occasional splurge, if that’s what makes you happy.

    • @Erik That sounds amazing! I seriously can’t believe you found a hotel last minute. Wow! Best 30k Hilton points you’ve ever spent, right? I imagine the CPP on that one was off the charts. We live about 6 hours from Charleston and I would have loved to go. But it has been a crazy month already, and the latest emergency certainly didn’t help. We are traveling this weekend to be with family, and my husband and son are sick. Ugh! So maybe it’s for the best that we didn’t go to see eclipse.
      I do agree, Sam Antonio it is. I have wanted to visit it anyway, and it seems like a better option in April. I would hate to travel all the way to Quebec and miss out. Well, I have seven years to prepare for that one.

      • If I would have paid, the room rate was $499/night. Dynamic pricing was in full effect. Normally the hotel is 7500 HHonors points/night but they were able to get 30K for the eclipse. No regrets!

  10. I doubt many, if any, non-traveling individuals read this blog and all travel lovers understand the allure of the South Seas. I think most readers are rooting for you to accomplish this trip–I know I am! Your transparency is great, but personally I love your sense of humor.

    • @Russ I’m so sorry, your comment originally went to spam. This is a recurrent issue on my site lately, and something I can’t seem to figure out.
      Thanks for your encouragement! I do try to be transparent, maybe a little too transparent. It’s a delicate balance. I don’t want to have an online persona that tells people what they want to hear.
      I have no doubt that my dry sense of humor has caused me to lose a ton of readers. I guess it’s a European thing. Either people love it or hate it. I’m OK either way.

  11. We wanted to drive up to the eclipse too but with several recent family emergencies ,I couldn’t miss anymore work. The next one we plan to rent a sailboat to stay on and sail out onto Lake Errie for the eclipse.

    I am looking forward to the trip report from the south pacific!!

    • @Emily That sounds like an epic way to witness the solar eclipse! I’m sorry you couldn’t see this one up close. To be honest, it would have been too much on us as well. We just spent a weekend going to the funeral, and all of us are currently sick. But it’s good to be home.

  12. Leana, I’m so happy that you’re taking this dream vacation, and $7,500 is realistic for a family of 4 (especially with points, etc.). Can’t wait to hear how you planned everything, your experiences, and definitely costs. Your blog is very down to earth, and that’s what I love about it. I cannot relate to first class suites or beautiful rooms with only a King; I don’t live in that world, and I’m not sure that’s how I really want to spend my points. Just enjoy all the planning; I’m sure you’ll figure out a way to scrimp and save for it.

    • @Stephanie Thanks for your encouragement! I’m usually not a fancy gal, but do plan to splurge a bit on this trip. This is a special year, a big wedding anniversary milestone. Of course, like I told Cheapblackdad, once cheap= always cheap. I just can’t see myself going totally nuts without thinking about financial consequences.
      Fortunately, things are working out, for the most part. I was able to reserve many flights via miles and points. I still have a few things left to take care of, but my plan is coming together nicely. But as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men… and you know the rest!

  13. Hi Leana, I’m a bit late to comment on this post, but I recently discovered your blog and just started binge reading past posts because I totally adore your honesty and sense of humor!

    My fiancé Ryan and I are DINKs (double income no kids) with no plans to ever change that, but we LOVE the way you write about travel. Definitely did not peg you as as any one specific type of blogger 😉

    I really like how you are different from others bloggers (i.e. writing about redeeming miles/points for lodging, travel burn out, etc). We actually started a blog of our own recently (about overcoming personal adversities and taking a risk to travel as a digital-nomad couple and rock climb all over the world) and I draw quite an inspiration from the way you maintain your personality in your writing. Writing a blog is quite hard! Kudos to you for doing all this planning, taking care of your family, and writing this interesting blog! Your flair makes topics seem new and funny. Can’t wait to read more!

    • @Army @ ClimberMonkeysAbroad Thank you so much for stopping by! My apologies, the comment originally went to spam. My SPAM filter has a mind of its own at times.
      I appreciate your kind words. Blogging is very hard indeed. It’s fun, of course, and something I do enjoy. Otherwise, I would not be at it after four years. But it is a huge time commitment, for sure. It can also be quite draining. I don’t mean to be too negative, of course, or discourage you from blogging in any way!
      I’m extremely grateful for my blogging partner Nancy. A lot of the best posts (including the one on travel burnout) are actually written by her.
      I do appreciate you saying that the blog can’t be pegged as this or that. Very often it’s “mommy blogger”, “budget travel mommy blogger” , “luxury travel mommy blogger” etc. I’m not interested in claiming any of those titles. Human beings, including us mommies, are more complex that that. 🙂
      Thanks for following!

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