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Blissed-Out, Debt-Free, No-Guilt Vacations

So, it’s the season of it, isn’t it? We need to get away, we can’t really afford a big swanky event vacation, so maybe we choose something likely to be less expensive—say Colorado instead of the Caribbean. But because we debt-accruers live with so much vagueness about our finances, the Colorado vacation ends up costing us just as much as we thought the Caribbean one would. Or, we go to the Caribbean anyway, putting our heads in the sand and putting all the costs on the credit cards.

Here’s the awful part about running up debt to fund a vacation: a vacation is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to promote rest, relaxation, joy, refreshment, aliveness, and simple ease. There is nothing—I repeat nothing—fun about coming home to more debt.

Debting to vacation puts us on a nasty roller-coaster ride: we debt to get away, and then we’re plagued by guilt when we come back. We postpone pain to get some emotional refreshment, but our rest is compromised by our inability to relax over how we’re paying for it.

Rest and relaxation are necessary parts of a healthy life, and a vacation is central to a good life, so how do we fund one without running up debt? What if we’re already in debt trouble and we have no cash to fund a trip but we desperately need one?

Here’s what we do: we stop, right now, debting to fund vacations. If that means we have to give up event-of-a-lifetime mentality to stop the debt-vacation roller-coaster, then that’s what we do. As Lynne Twist says in her terrific book The Soul of Money, when did it get written someplace that a family camping trip was not enough?

Who says we have got to go Costa Rica or some swanky locale to vacation? So give up the thought that you have to keep up with the cool crowd where trips are concerned. The chic vacation-spot, dinner party chatter does not comfort you in the night when you’re spiraling and stressing over your debt issues.

So here’s how you’re going to fund a trip: you’re going to—you guessed it—save for a vacation.

Saving for vacation is simple: you open up a savings account and name it “travel” or “vacation.” Each month, you put in a small amount—or a larger amount—whatever you can afford. In my house, my husband and I put aside $100 each a month and then add whatever tax return money we get to the vacation pot. If we don’t get money back, then we vacation on the cash we saved all year. Whatever we have is what we spend and not one damned dime more.

Do this even if you have high credit card debt. Even if it’s $25 a month you’re saving, do it anyway. Do not pay your creditors more money and deprive yourself of a vacation. Start now, even if it’s a small amount you’re putting aside, and save for a cash respite from daily life, a trip that will get you some rest.

Here’s how to work it: first, take a look at what you have for a trip. Choose a couple of spots you think will accommodate your cash. Is it two weeks in a cottage on the nearest lake? Can you fly to the east coast to visit family and stay with your sister? Do you have to drive a few hours to find a place that’s affordable? Do you have to stay with friends instead of booking a swanky hotel? Do you need to do a ‘house swap’ to make Europe affordable? Then do it!

Once you’ve set your locale and affordability threshold, make a spending plan for your trip. Ballpark plane fares, rental cars, gas money, hotels or house rentals—all of it-and get three contrasting quotes for each item.

Comparing what’s available by getting three contrasting quotes is the rule that will save us debtors from ourselves. When we compare what’s available in our price range, we zero in on what we can afford. We don’t just say, “I’m tired of looking, I’m just booking a hotel.” No. That’s the debt-cycle response. We want a relaxation-preparation response. An action that will really help us relax on our trip—and that means no debt.

Once you’ve compared expenses—flights, cars, rental, etc—then figure out realistically what you’re going to need for daily expenses on the trip. On a recent Wisconsin trip, we knew we could get away with about $75 a day, and so we planned for a bit more, and it worked out fine. In New York City, we need $220 a day—for museums, cabs, subways, food, dinners, and more. If your daily allotted cash isn’t covered by what you have to spend, then you have to reduce your days or choose a cheaper trip.

When you’re on the trip use a simple tool like the one I call The Magic Little Notebook, explained in detail in my upcoming book The Debt-Free Spending Plan. Buy a 3 x 5 inch ring binder at the drugstore, and list all your daily expenses on one page—for instance:

Daily Cash Amounts

July 23 $100.00

Benny’s grocery 22.75

Wheelhouse restaurant 32.50

Harbor Bar drinks 12.69


Balance +32.06

If you have extra at the end of one day, roll it over to an “extra” page. It looks like this:


Jul 23 +32.06

If you go negative, then that amount has to come out of the next day, or your “extra” stash. It looks like this:

Jul 24 $100.00

Chatterbox restaurant $22.50

Springwater resort $35.66

Pik n save grocery $22.97

Embellishments $41.16


Balance -22.29

+22.29 from extra

And your “extra” page gets adjusted like this:


Jul 23 +32.06

Jul 24 -22.29

It’s a very simple way of keeping track of the daily amount you allotted for spending. My husband and I have come back with extra cash on every vacation on which we have used this easy plan.

Lastly, let me say a word about fun. Fun that brings joy, lightness, easiness-of-mind, relaxation and joy is what we’re after on a vacation. Debt brings none of these. We can’t lie to ourselves and pretend that debt will help us relax. It won’t.

If you have no money for a break or trip then get creative. Camping, trekking, farm stays (, house trades, visits to friends nearby, day trips each weekend can all help you relax with next to no expense.

If we want peace in our souls and rest in our spirits, then the only way to have a blissed out, unwinding, truly amazing vacation is to do it debt-free. Trust me—the first time you go on a trip with a spending plan and promise to not debt, your whole world will change. You’ll come home truly relaxed for the first time in years and you’ll be amazed how simple it was to accomplish.

So start now. Open your travel account. Save a bit each month. Take care of yourself by planning for a trip you can afford, and by coming home with no debt. Then, every moment on your trip—no matter how simple or humble the locale—will bring you the joy you’ve been longing for, the bliss that’s the true promise of vacation.

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