A No Buy Vacation

When you calculate the cost of your vacation do you add in all the things you buy for it and on it?

New outfits, luggage, swim suits, travel devices and that afternoon spent shopping at the outlet mall everyone told you to go to can drive up the cost of a family getaway.

Those costs used to be a given for me. If we were going on a trip I needed a new outfit, possibly a new laptop case and I definitely wanted an afternoon to peruse the shops in places like Florence, Paris and pretty much any big American city.

We were in Spain last week and I realized I don’t shop for and on vacations anymore. When we budget out how much the whole thing is going to cost us there is no need to add in some blow money for that French department store or the half dozen garments we’ll buy before we go.

Food. Shelter. Transport. Fun. Those are the only things we spend on. Fun is entry to a zoo or a tram ride up Tibidabo mountain. Not a dress that looks amazing on the hangar, okay on me and that I’ll probably wear once in two years. We will visit a local market to see and smell the sites, taste a pastry or purchase local fruit, while on vacation. That’s quite enjoyable to me. But I no longer scan stalls for something, anything, to bring home with me.

Downside to no shopping: our pool wear wasn’t that exciting.

Our son was wearing swim trunks, a t-shirt and hat in the pool instead of a fancy UV suit. There was no flotation vest on just a pair or two of watchful eyes nearby to keep him safe. His sandals have seen a lot of miles this summer and have a certain odour. I don’t have a maternity swim suit so just wore an old two piece. My husband wore a pair of black running shorts as swim trunks. We weren’t impressing anyone with our wardrobes.

My clothing for the 8 day trip consisted of two skirts, one dress, a pair of jeans for travel days and a small mix of tops, tanks and light cardigans. Nothing was new or purchased specifically for the vacation. The whole thing fit into a medium packing cube like this one.

Upside to no shopping: more time in the place we’re visiting, less luggage and no mystery holiday costs.

We had three days in Barcelona and to lose an afternoon to the mall would have been a shame. At one point we ducked into a mall to use the bathroom when we were lost or as my husband says, just not sure where we were. It was like a lot of other malls I have been to. Except everything was in Spanish.

I’d rather spend an afternoon lost in an interesting city than an afternoon in a mall in an interesting city.

After walking through that mall I remembered that that hasn’t always been the case. When I was an athlete I went to Europe for competitions and my teammates and I always looked forward to an afternoon of shopping in places like Hamburg, Lucerne and Milan. Later when I traveled with my husband I always carved out time to visit a big American or foreign mall. Shipping while on vacation was part of the to see and do list.

Things have changed a lot in the last two years.

Less shopping means more travel.

If I still wanted to go to the mall we wouldn’t have been able to afford the vacation. Actually, we probably would have gone but most of it would have been on credit. Credit holidays are a lot less enjoyable in my experience.

There were no souvenirs, no t-shirts, no mini Sagrada Familia replicas or Park Guell snowglobes brought back with us from Spain.

I’m fine with that. The pictures and memories are enough.

Do you factor in preholiday and holiday shopping costs when you vacation? Any reformed outlet mall shoppers like me out there?

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  • I’m off to Edinburgh for a few says on Saturday and am planning lots of touristy things. We will probably splash out on entry to the castle and maybe the Royal Yacht Britannia but I’m also hoping to find some of the less well known (and hopefully free) places too. I’m sure we’ll browse some shops as walk to somewhere else but will avoid the ‘chain’ stores and malls as they are the same the world over!! I may buy a memento but I have started to buy jewellery that has some link to the place as it is small and I do wear it!!

  • The same chain of shops are to be found in most countries anyway. :)

    The packing cubes are sooo practical, aren’t they?

    • Love those packing cubes. So handy when you share one piece of luggage with three people.:)

      Back when I was rowing H&M hadn’t arrived in North America yet. So if you had a few things from H&M it meant you had also been to Europe with the national team. H&M was status 😉

    • “The same chain of shops are to be found in most countries anyway.”
      So true! We were in Hong Kong, and except for the Asian majority, we could’ve been on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

  • Great post and I agree completely. We spend a week camping each Spring Break with extended family, and despite paying for (cheap) camping well in advance and not dining out during the trip, I always seemed to spend a ton at the last minute, preparing with the latest gadgets or clothing items etc.

    I used to travel a lot with my sons’ travel soccer teams and the “entertainment” after games was to seek out the local mall. I don’t even go to the mall at home. On one particular trip, I found out later that some Dads took their kids to a local hike/overlook and I swore from that moment on, I’d never spend my time traveling in a mall. And haven’t.

    We (hub and I, kids are in college) are planning a big (for us) trip to Yosemite, SF, and Big Sur next fall, and I admit that I am thinking about what we “need” to take with us that we don’t have. But I can guarantee there will be no “shopping” on this trip. I can’t say I won’t grab a few items from REI’s “deal of the day” over the next 10 months though. :-)

    • Eileen, With camping you definitely have more of an excuse. You do have to be prepared. But I suppose like any sport, there are all kinds of tempting gear (especially the “new and improved” stuff that promises to address all the problems of the older versions) that you could probably do without.

      We’re facing this planning for motorcycle trips. I just saw this in a catalog — Banana Guard: a plastic banana to keep your banana bruise free when you throw it into your motorcycle bag. Hey, maybe you need that for camping. 😀

  • My mother is no minimalist (in any sense of the word) but when we traveled together in my youth, we never bought a lot of stuff. Instead, we’d buy one thing and have it shipped home. I have a Greek ring, a Moroccan rug, etc. The idea of coming home with tons of junk always left a bad taste in our mouths.

    Anyway, my husband and I are going on a long vacation next March (our first vacation alone together ever), and I don’t plan on buying anything. I will savor the memories of seeing a few awesome things and having some time to relax with my overworked husband.

  • For me, travel – see the sights, meet people, enjoy different foods, and experience the culture or atmosphere. I pack light, carry-on only. I am not a mall shopper at home, I’m not a shopping-as-a-hobby person anyway and tend to feel numb in a shopping mall. However, if I see something special on a trip, an item that’s on my wish list – I will get it and ship it home if need be. Usually something small. A scarf, a piece of jewellery, a bag….

    I like that old Canon camera saying (I think it was Canon): take only pictures, leave only footprints….

    That tends to be my travel and shopping philosophy in a few words!

  • I agree with you, I personally dislike malls & tourist traps kind of vacations. I love going to places full of history or peace.

  • Shopping costs — before and during — do add up. I’m with you. I’d rather spend more on the actual experience. Not that we’re big travelers, anyway, (I’d much rather be at home), but we rarely buy souvenirs. Maybe a t-shirt for our son.

    It can be a fun experience to mingle with the locals at a market, but depending on the vacation, you’re often just rubbing shoulders with other tourists. Most of the time I prefer to be away from the crowds and commotion when I’m on vacation.

    My husband has work related resort trips and I’ve had to shop for those — partly because it’s work related and impressions do count, and partly because there are formal occasions and such. But once I got some basic pieces, I was pretty much set.

  • A few years ago I decided to stop buying trinkets (I hate cheesy stuff anyway and touristy stuff is rarely nice) and buy a piece of art on some trips instead. Then the art on my walls is a meaningful collection instead of possibly the same as everyone else’s from Ikea! A 5×7 photo from a vendor in Central Park in NY or a small painting from local in Mexico…these can range from $5-20.

  • I factor in transport/travel, accommodation, food (especially in those lovely little quirky restaurants where it takes all evening to dine) and some fun money for say a day of scuba. I have enough clothes to last me for some time although my work clothes could probably do with a bit of a sort out. I am to the ‘hate shopping’ stage now

  • My favourite holiday buy has to be a limited addition screenprint of a cornish harbour. We bought it b/c of its beautiful colours. I remember transporting it back to our rented cottage on a small ferry (Falmouth to St. Mawes) like it was yesterday, when in fact it was 19 years ago. It has been on one of our walls ever since.

  • I’ve never been a vacation “shopper”, but I did used to think I needed a souvenir or two on every vacation I went on. A few years ago, it hit me that my pictures and free pamphlets (used to make some awesome scrapbooking pages of the trip) were the only things I really wanted to bring home. I’m so glad I no longer feel the need to bring junk home from every vacation!

  • When I feel the need to have a souvenir I look for a scarf. I wear only a few pieces of solid color clothing and use scarves to change the look. Each time I wear the scarf from Paris I am transported back to that trip. My most recent scarf is a bandana from a national park and it has survival and first aid techniques on it. It gets used mostly to drape over the steering wheel when parked in the sun to keep hands from burning at the end of today’s sightseeing. Hopefully I never need to use it for a sling or bandage but it is there if I do.

  • Thanks for the reminder. I’m off interstate in a few weeks. Going to a gig. Planning this trip got me thinking about all the other holidays I have been on. Shopping made up a huge part of it. Well not this time. My only expenses will be flights, accommodation, meals–so much good vegan food to try out, fun–maybe a night on the town, and transport–hopefully my two legs for the most part.

  • My husband and I have agreed to buy only one thing while we are on vacation, a Christmas tree ornament. They’re cheap, small, and will remind us of all of our adventures every year we put the tree up.

  • I love the concept of not needing things to bring home as a reminder. You won’t forget your amazing family trip, and photos can jog the memory and stimulate conversations and reminiscing about the good times you shared.

  • I went to London a few year ago and then again this summer. Inbetween I’ve turned kind-of minimalist, and noticed how my luggage was so much lighter this time ! I still like to browse the shops while on vacation, but not at the mall. I think that I mostly do it for strolling the street and watching people :) I end up not buying anything most of the time, as I’m very picky anyway.
    I have some fashionista friends that enjoy spending days after days looking for the trendiest and most confidential shops or restaurants in each foreign city – I found out that I just don’t care enough about those to go out of my way.

    Last time, I came back with a lot of things. This time, I came back with a dress (so spot-on with my style it’s miraculous), some delicious herbal tea, M&S cookies and a soap. And lots of memories !

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