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Holiday strategies to refresh a frugal soul

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.

Happy holidays

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.

Happy endings

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.

What you can expect from a Staycation

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.

Happy staycation

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,

The Accumulator

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{ 35 comments… add one }
  • 1 ermine March 20, 2012, 10:57 am

    I’m with you all the way there. After passing through Stansted in 2006 discovering so many new ways to really, really, hate my fellow men who couldn’t organise themselves through security, had their ill-disciplined kids making life hell for everyone and the twats incentivised to charge you excess baggage or at least repack I’ve never travelled abroad on a plane other than for work. And the more frequent shorter breaks was a model I was coming towards before I grounded all that sort of thing in the interests of escaping earlier.

    Good for you. I aim to discover more of our lovely country in the near fuure – in my case using our small campervan. Britain has fabulous countryside and an outrageous amount of interesting artifacts due to our history. And I really hate sun and beaches 🙂

  • 2 Ash March 20, 2012, 1:49 pm

    Slightly pedantic but isn’t a staycation where you stay at home and do day trips out? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staycation

    I am on board with this idea though, after a rather extravagant honeymoon last year taking in a good portion of South America this year it’s Lake District all the way!

  • 3 Steve March 20, 2012, 4:36 pm

    For those that can’t quite face the full staycation experience, northern Europe provides plenty of different options, and you can drive or travel by some combination of trains & ferries. In recent years, we’ve visited Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark & Norway. To be honest, anything that avoids airports & flying is a winner in my book.

  • 4 Alex March 20, 2012, 4:53 pm

    I hear monevator.com is good at this time of year…

  • 5 Drew March 20, 2012, 6:04 pm

    I know what you mean about the striving to do more saving during these austerity years. Contrary to what seems like the rest of the country, for the last three years I’ve never saved nor invested quite so hard, I’ve almost relished the challenge to see where I could make savings and the most of the opportunity in the stock market. It’s exciting to think what’s possible when things do finally pick up.

  • 6 The Accumulator March 20, 2012, 7:59 pm

    @ Ermine – Wow! That’s hardcore. No holidays at all? I don’t think I could make it with that tough a regime. I suspect money would leak out in all directions as I sought to treat myself in other ways.

    @ Ash – Love a bit of pedantry. Stings to be on the receiving end 😉 In my part of the world everyone talks about a staycation as holidaying in the UK. I guess that definition makes sense in the US where they have a whole continent to call home. Have had some great times in the Lake District. Hope to get back there soon.

    @ Steve – good call. Maybe there’s a case for broadening our horizons if we do particularly well one year. No sign of any sun worshippers on this blog.

    @ Alex – But the nightlife is terrible…

    @ Drew – I feel exactly the same way. Feel like I’m bumping up against the edge of the envelope now though. Fear that inflation and pay freezes are going to undermine the effort. Going to have to get very creative with frugality to squeeze any more blood from the stone.

  • 7 Adrian March 20, 2012, 8:56 pm

    Aye,Scotland for me.Backpacking coast to coast,so no expensive hotels or b&b’s either.Beer & whisky is bloody expensive in the Highlands though 🙁

  • 8 ermine March 20, 2012, 9:09 pm

    @TA it’s easier for me than I’d guess for others because I am approaching the end of my working life. That changes the persepctive; any holiday spending now pushes out the horizon, and that’s within sight.
    Plus as well as hating anyone else in an airport, whenever I think of the grievous rushing that you have to do with travelling to pack things in to two weeks I think of deferring it to a time when if I want to go to Europe I can take a month about, enjoy the ride, travel fewer miles per day and get better fuel economy by not having to thrash down the motorways. I’m with Steve too – before locking down I found Eurostar pretty awesome. And unlike in the UK you can actually afford to travel by train in Europe – The Man in Seat 61 website is good for that. Coach travel, though associated with the decrepit, is really cheap to Europe and for German and Belgium fits a three day away scenario though not your 2-day ideal.

  • 9 JC March 20, 2012, 11:00 pm

    I like the idea and it’s something I do try to do but there are times when you just have to get out of Britain and visit a new culture.

    Since I turned 18 I’ve always had the goal to have visited at least as many countries as my age. We live in a fascinating world with over 200 countries, so even at my rate I’ll never see them all but at least I’ll die trying!

    Staycations sound like the things of middle age when the kids make leaving the country a right hassle (and damn expensive too).

    I save up for the big goals in life (like owning a property) but that doesn’t mean that I won’t indulge in travelling to another continent once a year (or every other year).

    Steve Jobs’s Stanford address reinforced my need to travel:

    “Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death”

    It reminds me that one day I will die and I would rather have experienced as much as possible of this wonderful world than not and if that comes at the cost of my financial health (obviously nothing too detrimental) then so be it.

  • 10 maria@moneyprinciple March 21, 2012, 10:44 am

    I agree with the two main factors for positive memories but…It will all depend how much change is enough ‘change’ and where one sees ‘the end’ – it can be before one starts packing for the journe back. What I am saying is that although I would gladly have holidays (even breaking the down to shorter but more; this is bound to create more memories :)) in the UK I also would like to continue exploring the rest of the world.

    What I would like to do in my overseas travel is to be able to spend longer in a place so that I/we can really explore it rather than bake for six days.

    And I have to say, that mixing with playboys in Monte Carlo (or anywhere similar) sounds good ;).

  • 11 Rob March 21, 2012, 12:21 pm

    What really matters is making an active choice. If you really want to see and experience a country that will be a wonderful holiday… it really will. If you’re just going through the motions it will be less wonderful. My friend’s mate went on holiday to sunny climbs and said the best thing was he could still get the same food as back home… then you really need to start questioning what you are spending!

  • 12 The Accumulator March 24, 2012, 1:25 pm

    @ Adrian – whisky expensive in the Highlands? I’m shocked. You’d think all you’d have to do is turn the tap…

    @ Ermine – thanks for the link. And godspeed to you as you near your Omega point.

    @ JC – you make me feel very old! Staycations are the things of middle age indeed 😉 Though I understand where you’re coming from, Rob’s comment points out the dangers. Sometimes foreign travel seems to be about collecting notches on the belt (or stamps in the passport) rather than developing any true appreciation of other cultures. I think Maria is right that that is often a function of time (as well as attitude). Surely only prolonged stay / living in a place enables you to even scratch the surface. The standard 7-14 day vacation timetable provides all the immersion of a series of revolving backgrounds, in my view. And looking back, my UK experiences have been as refreshing and valuable to me as foreign trips. Of course, I probably wouldn’t be saying this if I’d never been abroad.

  • 13 Jeff July 19, 2016, 11:06 pm

    I shall spend 5 weeks abroad on holiday this year.
    Just contemplating making it 5.5 weeks.

    And I still expect to save over 60% of my modest income.

  • 14 WestCountryEscapee July 20, 2016, 7:08 am

    One goal of moving to the West Country was to live somewhere that was more like being on holiday – beaches and locations are an hour away rather than requiring an entire weekend.
    However, we still go for the ‘big’ holiday as while we are both still working we are prepared to forego a chunk of savings each year. This is probably anathema to the hard core FI crowd and with no paid leave it’s doubly spendthrift but we both like travelling and even with children it’s not too painful.
    A fully inclusive holiday in southern Europe (or long haul but staying with friends) actually competes quite favourably on price with a similar duration in the UK as hotels tend to be expensive. Even for short breaks, once you include petrol, additional bar expenses etc. the foreign trip doesn’t look too bad.
    Once we hit FI and downsize our house, then part of the proceeds will go into longer winter breaks somewhere warm, possibly renting out our house, Airbnb’ing (both ways) or house swapping – I’d be interested in any others’ experience of this…

  • 15 goldghost July 20, 2016, 10:37 am

    Although I enjoy staycations for their own sake I strongly disagree with the money saving premise.

    When I was a teenager/in my early 20s I realised that it was too expensive to have a good time in Europe so I bought the cheapest air ticket I could (Tarom, Aeroflot anyone?) to Asia or Latin America. Once I was past the initial splash out to get there I found that the cost of living was so much cheaper in those places that I could live like a king and do loads of interesting stuff for less than the cost of UK petrol and pints.

    I still find the same now. In fact with the rise of budget airlines things are even better. I have just come back from Georgia (Caucasus) and I was paying 50p a pint, 5 quid for a B&B with breakfast and 10 quid for 2 hour taxi ride.

  • 16 oldie July 20, 2016, 10:45 am

    Of course many positives having hols abroad.

    But unless having a longish break the main negative can be time spent getting to airport, having to allow adequate time before flight, the flight (unless you can avoid cattle class), and getting to the final destination. You can get a long way in the UK in this time.

  • 17 living cheap in London July 20, 2016, 11:26 am

    I’m thoroughly on the fence with this one…. have currently been having holidays in the UK for so many years that all our 4 family passports have expired & haven’t felt an urgent need to replace them.

    That said, i did have a lot of wunderlust as a younger man, & again as a DINKY with Mrs LCIL, & some of those memories just cannot be replaced with holidays in the UK, no matter how wonderful our country is (& I do love our country as a holiday destination & as my home!).

    For me the things it’s worth going overseas for are the cultural diversity (other countries food, architecture… just the plain old “sites & smells” at it’s simplest), also for their flora/fauna (you cannot immerse yourself in a rain-forest in England sadly & the Eden Project is fun but not the same), & also for a deeper dive into global antiquity: exploring Petra in Jordan for example.

    We will at some point take our kids further afield, & it will be worth the expense in my humble opinion.

  • 18 L July 20, 2016, 12:52 pm

    @ Adrian/Accumulator – *everything* is bloody expensive in the highlands 🙂

    I don’t accept that staycations are only for the middle age – we’ve enjoyed them since our mid-20s.

  • 19 John B July 20, 2016, 3:30 pm

    Exotic destinations aren’t expensive once you’ve REd, as the dominant cost of the flights on short trips goes away if you stay for extended periods. 6 months in Central and South America was costing me less than staying at home. Mexico City to Rio overland (well, apart from the Darien Gap…)

    Once my commitments to Mum go away, I expect to be on holiday 4-6 months of the year, going in 2 month – 2 week lumps, but with some longer RTW adventures thrown in.

    54 countries so far, 150 odd to go, and every stately home and garden in Britain.

    If I spend £100/day, that will be within my forecasts.

  • 20 William III July 20, 2016, 5:28 pm

    Regardless of where you go, some upfront investment in (lightweight) camping kit pays itself off very quickly. Because we did this a few years ago, we kept two weeks of hiking in the Lofoten (Norway) in June within £800 per person all in. Of course that doesn’t beat our cycle camping trips here in the UK, but it is more than worth it, even though it compromises an ambitious savings rate target. In fact, in my view, ensuring you consciously spend money on great experiences is indispensible insurance against the ‘I wish I had lived a bit more when I was still able to do so’ regret that I all too often encounter in older people that have made a lot of money.

  • 21 SH July 20, 2016, 8:34 pm

    This year I rent a car and drive around in southern part of Sweden for two weeks, which we have done earlier.

    So, we are a family of three, living in Sweden, renting a very nice car, living in hostels and driving approx 2 700 km for the preliminary price of 1 400 pounds, gas included. Food we generally make ourselves and spend less than home (no lunches at work).

    Sweden is pretty big where one can drive for a long time without seeing another car. Suits us fine, really.

  • 22 Inside the head July 20, 2016, 10:37 pm

    While working I always organised regular breaks away – however when I retired I found that I no longer felt the same need to “go on holiday” to get away or re-charge the batteries – for me, this provided an unexpected boost to my financial calculations ( I realise though that many people plan to travel in retirement)

  • 23 Paradise gone July 20, 2016, 11:35 pm

    William III makes a good point. We live in a fast disappearing world where many investments, of the soul lifting experience variety, will soon be gone for good. Many years ago my partner made an unexpected extra lump sum on a house sale. Our initial instinct was to invest it for the future either by reducing our mortgage or investing it. However, after some thought we decided to blow the lot on 3 weeks on an island in the Maldives (still relatively undeveloped back then). It was the most heartwarming holiday of our lives. Living in a primitive grass hut, snorkeling our own home reef teaming with every variety of sea life and diving into Shark Point between the two main atolls, it was paradise. Twenty five years later, I went back on a family holiday and whilst we had a very enjoyable stay. The experience was nothing like our previous trip. For a start, the home reef was now lifeless and bleached (rising sea temperature or pollution from over development, who knows?) and half decent snorkeling involved a boat trip. A chat with the dive master was also depressing. The stunning dive places we had explored, clearly no longer existed. His exact words were “wow you dived here 25 years ago! that must have really been something else. We hear stories about the diving back then and how incredible it was”. The sum spent on that holiday, if invested in a FTSE tracker for 25 years, would have enabled me to retire 18 earlier than I did. Looking back would I have been willing to forgo those 3 weeks to gain an 18 month earlier retirement. No way!

  • 24 Brendan July 21, 2016, 10:41 am

    Can I make the case that UK holidays are actually not cheap at all?

    1) You probably need a car. If you’re young, frugal, and working in the South East, you are aiming not to have a car.

    2) Accommodation in the UK is expensive, and that applies to things like B&Bs. If you want to go camping, fine, but that brings its own problems (it’s pretty miserable when it rains!).

    3) It’s easy for the weather to turn foul, easily causing a massive waste of time. I’d rather be in the nice dry office when it’s raining! If we’re accounting, this risk is a cost.

    The ideal solution is to be single, with a job that requires some travel to interesting places – that lets you take some extra time off to enjoy the foreign lands on your own money before the company flies you home again.

    But even failing that, a budget airline and a cheap apartment in south/eastern Europe is usually comparable to the cost of a trip to Scotland, Cornwall or the Lake District – with better weather and more exciting/novel experiences to boot.

  • 25 John July 21, 2016, 1:12 pm

    @TheAccumulator “Chances are though, if that’s the kind of holiday you need, you’re doing it more for the bragging rights back at work.”

    Projecting your own petty insecurity onto others much?

    I’m really not sure what having someone proselytize about their preferred style of holiday, and also critiscise the choices and assumed motivations of others, adds to this blog.

    If you were reading another blog that said the chances were your preference for staycations came down to your incompetence at arranging more complex trips and a lack of imagination based on nothing but the authors uninformed opinion of you and people like you would you think it was good content?

  • 26 theFIREstarter July 21, 2016, 5:04 pm

    I also thought a staycation was where you literately stayed at home but I totally agree with the premise of holidaying in Britain, there are so many lovely places in our country I don’t know why the default choice for many is to go abroad. Especially when most are just going to overpriced resorts full of Brits and not getting the benefits of actually being in another country anyway. People eh!?

    Totally agree that seeing other countries and cultures is worth it though and well worth the money. As recent parents it will be a good few years before we bother spending out the money on that though!

  • 27 @algernond July 21, 2016, 10:03 pm

    @Brendan The kind of UK summer holiday I’ve had for the last couple years has been rather cheap:
    Get on bike –> sometimes sleep rough or camp, sometimes youth hostel, sometimes friend/family –> catch the odd ferry across river–> maybe a short distance on the train –> cycle back home.
    Is really cheap, and it’s amazing how stress-free it is without having to drive a car or get on a plane.

  • 28 Finance Solver July 22, 2016, 4:01 am

    I’ve never been able to coordinate a staycation for a vacation. I do understand that it’s a great way to experience around your area and get to know the environment that you are in. I think staycation has the highest returns to fun because it’s something that you plan deeply and you’re getting to know something that you’ve set foot on for so many years!

  • 29 Brendan July 22, 2016, 11:16 am

    @algernond That’s certainly a cheap ‘holiday’, but for a lot of people that probably wouldn’t count on a holiday. I did that a lot of a student, but if people had asked me if I’d had a holiday in the last few years, I’d have told them ‘no’.

    It’s a great, stress-free, enjoyable time though!

  • 30 Claire July 22, 2016, 5:19 pm

    If you do fancy a UK holiday with bragging rights, it turns out that people seem very impressed when I’ve returned from narrowboating holidays. And they can work out quite cheap – with groups of friends I’ve never paid more than £200 per head for a week’s boat hire, and self catering means you can keep the food costs down (or not, if you want to take advantage of good canalside pubs!).

    (Although I’d advise against the Scottish canal. They’re not kept to anywhere near as good a standard as the English and Welsh canals, and they don’t let you work the locks yourselves so your plans have to work around the waterway team’s schedules)

  • 31 ermine July 22, 2016, 7:52 pm


    The ideal solution is to be single, with a job that requires some travel to interesting places – that lets you take some extra time off to enjoy the foreign lands on your own money

    Ah, yes, fond memories of an EU RACE project in the mid 1990s to early 2000s, and before the company screwed down paying for business class. That was the way, indeed 😉 And I still know one of the guys I worked with in a Danish company from then. Whereas towards the end of my career although I travelled to the States flying was low end and inflexible as hell, although I did manage to tail end two of the trips.

    Low cost airlines have really screwed up air travel since then. I’d rather short-haul were priced £300 and up to control numbers, I’d consider flying again. It’s got a lot more horrible as it got cheaper, and it’s a big gap till you can fly on Warren Buffet’s NetJets.

    Not only that, the rise in numbers means an incessant rumble over most of the SE. I grew up in SE London and occasionally recorded the song thrushes and blackbirds 40 years ago, every so often punctuated by aircraft noise. In their garden now it’s continuous jet aircraft roar in the daytime with about a minute and a half separation, presumably bound for LCY and LHR. There’s much to be said for staycations 😉

  • 32 Factor July 23, 2016, 11:50 am

    Which camp are you in?

    Personally, I’m a find a good place keep returning person; a different location every year will probably turn up a bad one sooner or later. My mantra is, “Don’t change a winning team” but you might say that’s boring?

    Chacun son goût!

  • 33 The Investor July 23, 2016, 11:54 am

    @Factor — At last, a man/woman after my own heart! I am notorious for insisting on a return to a great restaurant for a second night even when holidaying in cities/countries that I’ll probably never visit again. I think the term for us is “satisficers” versus “maximizers” in the language of behavioral economics).

  • 34 Peter July 24, 2016, 8:43 pm

    Interesting discussion. I’d say the costs do depend (particularly now the Euro isn’t such a good deal), but abroad can be good value. 2 years ago we rented a static caravan in the Dordogne with a large UK operator for over 2 weeks, and including a couple of meals out, petrol, ferries et al it worked out cheaper than the two weeks we had the following year in the Lake District. The only place it was more expensive was in paying to go into places, whereas in the LD we mostly walked.

    I am always surprised how expensive UK accommodation has become – even youth hostels, if you don’t want to be in bunk rooms. Or AirBnB now more people have cottoned onto it.

  • 35 John B July 25, 2016, 12:13 am

    I’m a maximizer, I travel to see the new, not the familiar, the world is far too big to repeat yourself, apart from perhaps a decade when you’ve forgotten what it was like (and gardens, which always change). Of course as you age, you have more places that satisfy the decade rule, and you forget them more quickly. I ought to go back to those European capitals I Interrailed round 30 years ago, but there’s all of the Eastern block now, and Africa, and, and.

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