The No Spend Vacation


Congratulations to Bettina who won the Versalette 2.0 and Carrie who won a copy of Minimalist Parenting.

A post from the archives today on how we shop less for and on vacations in recent years. Topical for families gearing up for summer getaways.

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. Shopping 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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  • We took a vacation to visit my grandparents a few years ago. The vacation involved a cross country drive and then we met my parents at our destination. While visiting we all stayed at my grandmothers house. My parents grew up in that area, so they acted as tour guides while we were there. The crazy thing is, every day the destination for our daily tour was some retail store or shop. We visited farm stores, sporting goods stores, malls, and some local shops. It was very much contrary to our typical vacation. We typically visit historic sights, museums, parks, and the like.

    This was before we started going minimalist, but even then we saw how absurd it was to make retail stores the primary focus of your sight seeing. Now that we have gone minimalist, we pack light and rarely buy new things for trips. And we still avoid shopping on our trips and prefer to take in the sights instead.

  • My husband and I went to Spain on our honeymoon and didn’t come back with a souvenir, just the memory of olive trees for as far as the eye could see on a train ride. The trip was our memory/souvenir and that’s enough.

    Later, we lived in Argentina for six months. Besides buying two small inexpensive wooden plates at the local grocery store, our souvenir is a $5 “left-over” peso bill that my husband carries in his wallet. Every time we look at it, we smile and think of our time in South America.
    (A side note on the wooden plates: Asados, or BBQs, are HUGE in Argentina – a great time for people to spend the whole day together cooking and visiting. The awesome part is that people bring their own plates (small wooden platters), silverware and cups. I loved that but have yet to replicate it back in the U.S. I did go as far as buying a bunch of metal forks at Goodwill for parties.)

  • We are getting ready to head to Europe for our honeymoon in a few weeks and have essentially eliminated the pre-trip shopping by borrowing. Borrowed a European plug adapter and Spanish phrase book as I likely won’t need either of these items anytime soon, and if I do, I know where I can borrow them again :) We are doing a trekking trip and needed sleep sheets so I had fun making my own from old sheets around the house (and while not as nice as the $75 silk ones, there is a sense of accomplishment in making them myself!).

  • Shopping used to be a part of any vacation for me – until I was in Montreal for 5 weeks on a French course. I bought a ridiculously expensive pair of jeans and then couldn’t afford a painting of the city I found (by a local artist). I vowed then and there – Never again.
    I generally don’t buy anything new for a trip unless it was needed anyway – replacing sandals with a broken strap ect. I want to see the sights, the things I can’t see at home, otherwise why am I here?

  • Something very similar! Minimalism all the way. We also started going on packaged (all inclusive) holidays more, to control the cost and not overspend

  • Great post! Visiting fascinating new cities and places, there is usually so much free stuff to do, why go out of our way to spend money? For me, the nicest thing is usually strolling the streets and enjoying the sights and local life. It’s all so fascinating!

  • My problem is that my family and my friends are the “shopping” tourists. They don’t care about sights as much as they do about stores and shopping. I went to Milan for couple of days with my best friend and we spent half of each day shopping! When I go visit my family in Europe, same thing, mom is anxiously waiting for me to come so that we can go shopping together. Unless I start traveling alone, I can’t escape it. I sometimes buy something too, sometimes not, but it is never anything I really need. I used to like shopping but less and less every month/year and I see how silly this is, instead of enjoying nature, sights, each other. How do you change other people without offending them?

  • I’ve never liked shopping, so that hasn’t been a part of my vacation experience, but when my sister and brother-in-law were visiting us from out of town, they spent all of their time that they were out of the house at a new shopping center. My husband, kids and I didn’t go with them. Kinda sad…

  • I firmly believe in experiences over possessions. And more so, I believe in the power in travel. But I must admit, I have a hard time not spending on travel. Particularly in the preparation phase. There is always something to purchase, particularly with kids now. It’s an area for improvement. I never leave on vacation with extra room in my suitcase. It cuts down on purchases while traveling! Thanks for the lovely article.

  • I am on vacation as I read this…since April I have been particularly focused on letting things go. Today, I purchased two items–a scarf I will wear to work and a bar of soap that will be a gift. I deliberately reasoned with myself over the purchases and was willing to not buy them. Then I thought that I will be glad later for something simple to make a new outfit AND a gift checked off my birthday gift list. So I did it. Does this deliberation count?

  • Okay – 3 things….
    1. Seeing the photo of Chris and Henry is different now I have met them. The photo really came to life! I’ve just listened to a podcast between Leo Baubata and Johnathan Fields where they discuss meeting with virtual friends IRL and how good that connection is. It truly is.
    2. Thought this was a current post when it pinged through yesterday and I just glanced at it. Nearly e-mailed and said, “how was Spain?” Duh!
    3. This was very interesting from another angle for me. I have had clutter problems from holidaying due to collecting no-cost items/souvenirs. Receipts, tickets, maps, guide books, menus etc… as well as way too many photos. In fact I posted about scrapbooking going bad yesterday just before your post pinged through. I’ve learnt that my collecting was bordering on hoarding, desperately trying to capture the moment. But what has occurred is tremendous stress trying to record those memories. As I have continued to simplify, I understand that a snapshot of the holiday/vacation physically (minimal tickets/photos) is as effective (if not better) of retaining the memory in the heart and mind. Your great FB banner comes to mind!

    • 1. Feel the same. Reading your posts is a different experience now. I can hear your voice!
      2. That was my last ‘big’ trip in the fall. Perfect getaway for sun and some sites before Wil arrived.
      3. Read your latest on sentimental clutter. You’re making progress!
      It’s been a jumping off point for me to think about how I am preserving memories for the kids. Pretty thin baby book for Henry and nothing started for Wil. I am mulling over creating little videos for them. Still photos, some video and listing in the video their firsts. I really enjoy creating and editing videos so two birds one stone??
      4. It’s hot here!!! :)

  • We just went on our first vacation at the end of April. We spent 2 weeks in Puerto Rico. I didn’t include pre-trip shopping in our costs. All items purchased were things we needed. We went to the mall a few days before leaving to buy a charger for the DS that our 4 year old left in the car. We got each of the boys a used game there too so they would have something to occupy their flight time with. We counted that in our expenses. We didn’t have room to shop. We had 2 backpacks as carry-ons & a diaper bag with everything the 5 of us needed.

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