A side effect of investing a growing share of my disposable income in pursuit of the dream of financial independence is that I’ve come to rely ever more on a good holiday to refresh the soul.
My response to austerity, no pay rises, the threat of unemployment, and galloping inflation of the past few years has been to save harder. I want to build my financial fortress as soon as I can.
I’ve never been a believer in all pain for some far-off gain, though, and that’s where holidays come in.
Holidays enable us to keep the wheels on our frugal wagon. The memories of getaways past and thoughts of escapes to come keep Mrs Accumulator and I going strong in the here and now.
But holidays and a frugal lifestyle can be dangerous bedfellows. Holidays are an escape – a few days of fantasy that break with the routine. Holidays are also a major expense, especially as I’m not about to prescribe living under a tarpaulin in the local woods, catching rabbits to eat for breakfast.
What living frugally is about is devising strategies that enable you to extract maximum satisfaction and value from expenditure, rather than mindlessly blowing a wad on pretty pictures out of a brochure, just because simply everybody is riding giant tortoises in the Galapagos this year.
I’ve therefore devoted a considerable amount of energy to devising a strategy that enables us to have more positive getaway experiences for less money.
Some time ago, I heard a piece on the radio about research into the selectivity of memory.
It’s well known that human beings create positive or negative memories by screening out contradictory aspects of past experiences. But what are the key drivers of this process?
The conclusion was that two factors were liable to create more positive memories:
1. Change – a break from the everyday routine.
2. A happy ending – even a bad experience may be remembered more positively if it ended relatively well.
I decided to try and apply these findings to our holidays to increase their value to our lives. To see if there was a way we could get more holiday for less money, just by playing with our minds.
Creating more breaks in our routine obviously means going away more often. With no more money in the pot, that means more frequent, shorter holidays instead of one or two annual blowouts.
Instead of going away somewhere for a week, we now go away for three days (two nights) and do it twice as often.
A shorter break and the obvious bear trap of doubling your travel expenses has a number of implications that feed into the second component of our more positive holiday experience: making sure it ends well.
A good ending means not spending the last day of the holiday being endlessly shunted around airports, enduring delays, frustration, and the stress of not being somewhere at the right time with the right piece of paper just so you can join the next queue.
A good ending means being in control of your own schedule, so if you’re a little late along the way, it’s no drama.
It means keeping travel times relatively short, cheap and ideally part of the adventure (simultaneously dealing with the expense of going away more often).
Let’s face it, I’m talking about a staycation. A good ending is far more likely if you holiday in the UK.
Packing everything into the car for a staycation carries with it nourishing notions of the spirit of independence. “I’m master of my own destiny, I can drive to our destination in my own sweet time, and there’s no worry about passports, baggage allowances, missed flights or security checks”.
Then there’s the freedom of the road (peak hours and bank holidays excepted), which enables you to plan or meander as you see fit. You can even work in a pleasant stop-off on the way home, to break up the journey and increase the chances your memory banks will register a happy ending to the tale.
Most Accumulator holidays now take place within two to four hours drive of our home. We pick a point on the compass and find somewhere along that bearing that we’ve never been.
Staycations are a revelation:
- You discover much you never knew about your own country.
- You find new places where you might want to live one day.
- You stop writing off dear old Blighty as a miserable toilet in the typical British style.
Another way of ensuring a holiday ends well is to not make it the actual end of the holiday. The advantage of the three-day getaway model is that, during a week’s leave, you can time it so you’re back home for the weekend.
No more getting home in the wee hours of the last day, thinking “Oh my God, I’m back at work tomorrow.”
Instead, you’re back with days to spare, with time to sort out any overhanging chores, and time to buffer the shock of your return to everyday life. In the years ahead, you’ll forget the weekend and be left with the pink-hued memories of the time away.
Obviously this strategy doesn’t work if your holiday absolutely has to involve baking yourself at 40ºC next to a pool, hand washing a Thai baby elephant, or mixing it with the playboys in Monte Carlo.
Chances are though, if that’s the kind of holiday you need, you’re doing it more for the bragging rights back at work.
Try the staycation alternative. Try something less ambitious and less costly but more frequent and full of soul food.
And with Brexit turning the pound into the new peso – making spending overseas around 10% more expensive at a stroke – there’s rarely been a better time to do your bit in Britain.
Take it steady,