Being a fairly-heavy Instagram user, it’s always difficult for me to tell what constitutes “frequent travel.” I travel a good amount each year, domestically and internationally, but my trips are almost always for specific purposes, professional or personal, and I only rarely find myself just “getting away.” This year, I’ve gone a few places within a couple-state range, and will be going to France in a few weeks to visit some friends and family. Then in June, I will be going to LA for work stuff, and in early July I’m going to try and make it up the coast to Boston for more family-visiting. That in and of itself, I realize, is a significant amount of travel for a lot of the population, and its cost is something that has always factored into my life in a practical way. (Marc and I have always been across an ocean from our family members, and many of our close friends, and my work semi-often necessitates travel. These costs have always felt like unavoidable necessities, even if they also happen to be very enjoyable.)
And as I’ve disclosed several times before, Marc’s work, which requires four days of travel a week, results in significant hotel and airfare points that we use for these things, and my work travel is either paid for by someone else or expensed when tax season comes. This means that more often than not, this semi-frequent travel that might seem impressive on Instagram or make it sound as though we’re unusually well-off simply means trade-offs. We can travel more, but barely see each other during the week. I can jet off for a meeting or event, but that comes out of company money that would otherwise be in my pocket. And so the necessity of our travels, combined with how they are usually paid for, means that I don’t consider myself a “traveler.” It’s not an end in itself for me the way it seems to be for people who make it a huge life choice, and who are constantly posting stunning photos from across continents I’ve never set foot on.
But this is okay, because I don’t aspire to be a “traveler” in that sense, nor do I think I’d make a good one. I’m content with the level of getting around we have now, and if things like a family member going for surgery means that we also get to traipse around France for a bit before we see them, I’m more than happy to take that. It’s not romantic, maybe, but travel doesn’t always have to come in the perfect package, or for the perfect reasons.
There is one bit of travel, though, which we have each year (five years strong, now!), and which for me fits into a category that is entirely its own on my budget: happiness. And I have found that budgeting for, planning for, and making a priority for, this very kind of spending is what makes my entire year wonderful. I spend my years, in a lot of ways, “looking forward to this trip” and “looking back on this trip,” and so I think of that happiness I budgeted for as something diffused throughout the year.
Every year, we go away for a week with about 10 friends to Marc’s family’s little house by the beach in the south of France. He and I and maybe his closest friend will stay some time after that to be with Marc’s family, but we always make it a point to align our schedules with the same friends and see each other each year, at the same place. This is an expense that isn’t ever a discussion or option, and I would rather do extra work for several weeks to pay for someone else’s travel than to have one of them not be able to go. For many of us, it’s one of the only times a year we’ll see each other outside of Skype or Facebook chat, and having that isolated time at the beach with a perfect little group made up of other, more diffuse groups, is essential.
Your happiness budget might look different from mine, but since it is always the time of year where my pictures look prettiest and most desirable, and it is a part of my budget that generally remains the same each year, I thought I’d break mine down.
This year, I’ll be spending:
$450 for a one-way ticket to Barcelona, where the five of us coming from the states will be flying in for two nights.
$100 for my share of two nights in a Barcelona AirBnb
$150 for my going-out budget in Barcelona
$50 for a train ticket from Barcelona to the family home on the southwest coast of France
$350 for food and drink while at the house (we mostly do grocery shopping and cooking at the house, which we all split, but we budget for a few nights out, and luckily the food and drink there is HIGHLY affordable)
$100 for extras/unexpected things/etc
$75 for a ticket from the house back to Paris (where we stay with friends)
$250 for going-out budget while in Paris
$450 for a ticket back to NYC at the end of it all
So that brings me to $1,975 for the whole thing, which will be taking place over the course of about two and a half weeks at the end of July.
Now this is a big expense, and I’m very aware that there are ways I could make it cheaper (though not having to pay for lodging for 90% of it is very helpful, of course). But the truth is, I don’t have a desire to scrimp here, and can think of a hundred things that happen throughout the year that I’d rather cut back on than to take something out of this. For most of these people, it’s the only time I’ll be seeing them for at least six months, and I have always found that money spent in quality, fun, extended time with people you love is never money you regret. And I have also found that, for me, the money spent here is the exact kind of “experience” that people always talk about putting your money into.
What the “experience” concept means, I think, is “the kind of event or time spent that you will remember, enjoy, and get joy from long after it is over.” It doesn’t just mean “doing things instead of buying them,” which is a false dichotomy I think many people make, to their own financial detriment. There are many concerts, restaurant trips, even vacations that I wish I could get at least a partial refund on. There are many experiences that I embarked on because I felt I should, or because I had some burning aspiration to be a “traveler” or even a “doer” for the sake of being it, not because that specific thing was tailored to me.
I wasn’t spending on happiness, I was spending on experience points, like I was in some kind of video game.
And when I actually take the time to budget a happiness column, and I think of the joy that even just planning for it and emailing logistical stuff about it brings me, I realize that it is one of the most important columns in my spending. I love the idea that, even separate from all the other “experiences” we may have throughout the year, there will always be at least one thing that stands out from the rest as truly the thing we spend on to make our lives rich, and give us something to look forward to (or back on). I know exactly what I’ll be spending on happiness this summer, and I couldn’t be more satisfied with my choice, even if your happiness budget looks totally different than mine.
I know that I could do “smarter” things with that money, but I also know that one of the smartest things you can do is take care of yourself and your mental health, and that a single purchase in a year can give you energy, motivation, and purpose to work hard and be smart through the rest of it.
If you’d like to share your happiness budget this year, write me at email@example.com, or leave a comment below.
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