on the road – 3 ways to travel as a couple without going insane

As I type this, it’s two minutes to midnight, A is in the shower, I’m supposed to be packing…

And we have a cab coming to take us to the airport at 4:30 a.m.

Yep, for the first time in a very long time, we are going on vacation.

photo credit - wolfgang staudt, creative common
photo credit – wolfgang staudt, creative common

Traveling in a couple is hard. Not only is there insane pressure to have fun and “make memories”, there’s often differences between what each person sees as “fun.”

And when you don’t talk about budgets or finances, every decision becomes fraught – “can they afford their half of this?” “should I offer to pay?” “Will they think I’m cheap if I say that’s too expensive for me?”

We live in this crazy culture where the size of your hotel room, the comfort of your airplane seat and the cost of your dinner actually means something, not just about your financial situation, but about you as a person.

I hear this all the time, “I only fly first class,” or “four star hotels or nicer for me.”

I’ve flown first class and I’ve stayed in four star hotels and I promise you, it’s the person beside you that makes the difference, never the thread count.


Here’s 5 things we do that I would suggest to any couple traveling together:

1. Understand Your Partner’s Definition of Fun.

When I first met A, he would tell me all these crazy stories about going to Vegas with his childhood friends – the drinking, the clubs, the fancy hotels, the $200 bar tabs.

I had been to Vegas before with my best friend. We stayed at a cheap hotel, packed our own liquor and snacks, ordered in pizza one night and a great time lying by the pool and talking together (and I won $9!)

My dream vacation involves sunshine, swimming, hiking, biking, and a comfortable bed. I don’t like fancy anything. I’m all burrito, no bling.

Up until me, A’s vacations involved drinking, drinking, and spending money. So I assumed that he liked to go big on vacations (yep, this caused several panic attacks before our first vacation…) but it turns out that what he really wanted to do was to see new cities / countries, instead of going to Vegas like his friends preferred.

The lavish spending was really a result of him just going along with someone else’s vacation plan. When I suggested an alternate spending plan, he happily agreed.

Now, when we plan a vacation, we make sure both of our “fun” ideas are included – nature and swimming for me, someplace new for A.

2. Start a Travel Fund.

This was a game-changer for us, and I suggest it for every couple, or even two friends, who are planning on traveling together.

Every month, we put $100 each into a shared travel account*. Even when we don’t have a trip planned, $100 goes in.

That money builds year round, and when it’s time to go on vacation, you already have a budget ready to go.

I don’t know about A, but once the $100 gets subtracted from my checking account, I forget about it.

So every time we start talking about our trip and check our travel account balance, it’s a nice surprise that our entire vacation is already paid for.

Planning a big vacation? Put in $300 each a month.

We also put random funds in there – like our piggy bank ($67!) and the money we got selling furniture on Craigslist ($400).

When it’s time to go on vacation, dust off the travel fund debit cards, and get started.

3. If You’re Feeling Anxious, Talk About It NOW.

The first trip I took with A was 2 months into dating. I remember standing in line to get on the plane, and asking him if he drank coffee every morning. I literally didn’t know if my (not-yet) boyfriend drank coffee! It quickly became clear we knew nothing about each other, including our spending habits.

From $100+ buffets, to a 4-star hotel, A did his best to impress me. And I was not a happy camper.

The entire trip, I was having a mini anxiety-attack about the cost of the hotel. How much was it, and was he expecting us to split the cost? (I had picked up the tickets, so wasn’t sure if he was planning on picking up the hotel bill).

“Just ask him!” my mom told me, when I called her crouched down by the ice bucket.

But I couldn’t. I didn’t want to seem cheap, and so instead, I spent my vacation stressing about our hotel bill.

Don’t make my mistake – if you’re unclear about who is paying for what, or how much something is going to cost, just bring it up.

4. Set a Financial Expectation.

You can’t control the costs of a trip, but you can realistically prepare and make sure you’re on the same page.

Flights, hotels, car rentals -> these costs don’t fluctuate that much, and can be figured out beforehand.

Drinks, dinners, $100 show tickets, zip-lining, ATV rentals, boat rentals, scuba diving -> this kind of trip add-on can get expensive pretty quickly and it’s good to know if your partner is planning on dropping some serious dough on your vacation.

For this trip, I figured hotels would be about $150 a night, car rental would be $200 for a week, and we already had our flights booked. So, we decided we were comfortable paying $400-$500 on gas, drinks, food, etc.

Sure, we might end up spending $300 more than we thought, or $300 less. But at least we’re not coming home with $1500 in expenses that we weren’t planning for.

5. Once the Plane Takes Off, Let It Go.

Vacations where I’m counting every penny don’t feel like vacations to me.

When the plane takes off, I force myself to let go of any anxiety about costs and just have fun.

Later, when I get back home, I can evaluate what I spent and make decision about future vacations.

Travel is one of the goals that keep me and A on track year-round with our frugality, and so when the plane lifts off the runway, money worries stay at home.


Alright folks, 3 hours until the cab gets here. Have an awesome week – I know we will!

*For an easy, simple no-fee checking account, I suggest USAA. It’s totally free (including checks!), easy to open online, and they offer great customer service while you’re traveling.

mind blown: millionaires are depressing

I haven’t been blogging so much lately.

A couple reasons – Quora, last minute summer-is-almost-over hiking, my co-worker’s obsession with giant rabbits, and also, this.



But seriously, Quora is insane. It’s liking having the deepest, funniest, most intellectual conversation of your life with a million new friends – all of whom are incredibly well-spoken. And the kicker? You can be in your pajamas!

Here is my absolute favorite Quora thread, and so applicable to this blog: What is it like to be wealthy?

Check out these snippets:


Read Quote of John-Charles Hewitt’s answer to What does it feel like to be financially rich? on Quora   Read Quote of Anonymous’ answer to What does it feel like to be financially rich? on Quora

The comparison of money to water just blows my mind. We can conceive of how lucky we are to have water on-demand, without limit, but we can’t really imagine the feeling of not having it. Is that really how it feels to be wealthy? To stop worrying? Fascinating!

That’s what I love about Quora: the answers are so authentic.

Read Quote of Anonymous’ answer to What does it feel like to be financially rich? on Quora Know any other good threads on Quora? Seriously, guys, it’s only Wednesday…I’ve got some work hours to kill here :)  

WARNING: giant rabbits are not a frugal pet...
WARNING: giant rabbits are not a frugal pet…


What’s $100, has 1 zipper, and is a total waste of money?

somebody was too cheap to buy his gown...
somebody was too cheap to buy his gown…

I graduated in a borrowed gown.

It was slightly too long, slightly too big, and slightly too blue (what kind of black graduation gown has a blueish tint?)

But it was free. I asked my co-worker if I could borrow hers since her school’s graduation was two weeks before mine. I even got it dry-cleaned after for a measly $8.

Everyone told me to just suck it up, and pay the $100 for my school’s official gown, the cap, and the tassel.

“You only graduate once,” my roommate told me (clearly, she didn’t think it humanly possible I would make it through grad school).

“I’m going to keep mine forever,” said a friend (and future hoarder.

“It helps support the school,” said another friend, because the $25,000 I’d already given wasn’t quite enough.

“We’ll pay for it,” my parents said, their go-to answer.

(Note to self: I really should have gone into the graduation gown business…)

Everytime that I’ve been told I should do something I don’t want because it’s the “normal” way, I’ll regret something if I don’t do it, I should splurge because “it only happens once”, they’ve been wrong.

I just spent 4 years hauling ass to get a degree, why would I give a crap what I was wearing on my graduation day?

Finding my first job, that was something I gave a crap about. Paying off my student loans? Check! Getting my photo taken with my grandma on my graduation day? That was pretty special. Am I wearing my gown in that photo? Nope. It was so hot out we all took off our gowns immediately after the ceremony.

Do I regret that I didn’t shell out $100 for the graduation gown? Definitely not. In fact, most of my friends later said they gave their graduation gowns to goodwill or they wish they had copied me and just borrowed one.

Four years ago, we thought graduation was the biggest freaking event EVER. The most important of our lives. Turns out, it’s not. You buy houses, get jobs and quit jobs, struggle to stay in touch with your college friends.

You want to know the thing that made me the proudest on my graduation day? That unlike 99.9% of the girls in my graduating class, I didn’t wear stripper heels.

Even an expensive graduation gown can’t hide heels that were meant for a different kind of stage…



saturday splurge: my $5k hotel bill

For those of you who are new to this, Saturday Splurge is a chance for us very frugal readers to revel in some ridiculous, over-priced, probably name-brand purchases. Send in your worst and craziest! 

Jessie, 34 years old, Sandusky, OH

The best night of my life...and I'm still paying it off!
The best night of my life…and I’m still paying it off!

(Note from Emma: this is a good one, so hopefully it makes up for my absence last week!)

Supposedly, a lot of women grow up dreaming of their wedding. The dress, the flowers, the ring, etc.

Not me.

I grew up dreaming of travel. I mean, I’m from Sandusky, people, what do you expect? As a kid, I had a binder full of photos I had ripped out of National Geographic – all the places I was going to go.

Well, fast forward 20 years later, and I’ve been to a measly 2: New York City and the Grand Canyon.

What happened? Life. And a job. And student loans. The same story we’ve all heard before.

So, when my boyfriend and I decided to get married, I said that I didn’t want a $20k wedding, I wanted a $20k honeymoon!

My idea was to take a month off work, and do see and do everything we possibly could.

One little issue – my fiance.

Not only had he traveled more than me, he has a very large family and really wanted a big wedding.

So, we came to an agreement. We would have a $10,000 wedding, and a $10,000 honeymoon.

Idiots that we are, we thought we were being frugal!

The honeymoon was freaking fantastic. It’s been four years, and I still get all glowy and moony thinking about it. Not only did I get to experience four (4!!!) countries, I got to fulfill a childhood dream: to stay in those beach cabanas that are on stilts.

Um…didn’t realize they cost $1k a night…(note to self: teach kids to have more frugal childhood dreams).

We stayed for 5 nights at the Hilton in Bora Bora, and it was totally unreal. So romantic, so beautiful, so peaceful.

I want to say it was worth every penny, but honestly, it probably wasn’t. Now that I’m a more seasoned (and more frugal) traveler, I know that it doesn’t take 1 grand a night to have a good vacation.

Whenever my husband and I look at the photos, he says, “$1000 a night in Bora Bora, and all I got was one lousy kid…”

ha. ha. ha.


When my daughter asks where babies come from, I'm going to show her this picture.
When my daughter asks where babies come from, I’m going to show her this picture.

the wrong time to be frugal

don't get me started on the price of organic vegetables...
don’t get me started on the price of organic vegetables…

There are very few things I wish I had spent more money on.

Certainly not eating out. Or furniture. Not Xmas gifts, or the fact that I didn’t pay for my graduation gown.

But there is one thing…one line item that could have used a couple more george washingtons…one little teensy part of my life that time and again, got passed over in the name of “saving money,” and subsequently went to hell in a handbasket:

my health.

For years, my priorities have always been skewed in favor of money. Money over friendships. Money over relationships. Money over health. Money over myself.

[Read more...]