Have you ever wondered where this whole idea of a “vacation” or “holiday” came from?
Just as we have the aristocracy to thank for our lawns, it turns-out we also have to blame those rich hoity-toity types for our modern “vacation” culture.
It all started back in the 19th century. Very few people had the extra funds and job flexibility to travel. Typically only the elites could afford such pleasures.
When the heat (and stench) of summer hit London (or the other great cities of Western Europe), all the elites would pack their bags and leave their home in the city. Where did they go? They headed for the family estate in the country. All for a little rest and relaxation.
In those days it was considered healthy to ‘vacate’ the city and spend the summer months in the country. Too bad only the richest people could afford to do so.
At first, travel was slow and difficult. Horses and carriages were the normal modes of transportation. Then came the invention of the railroads, which opened the doors of travel to people from all walks of life.
The railroad companies caught-on to this phenomenon, and decided they could further profit from travelers — they opened hotels and inns at key rail destinations. This made travel far more accessible to the common man (who didn’t own estates around the countryside).
Thereafter, each successive wave of technological revolution made travel more accessible to the lower classes: The automobile, luxury cruise liners, airplanes, and eventually jet aircraft lowered the barriers to entry for travel.
Traveling is now affordable and accessible to the masses. Historical monuments and National parks are now swarmed with people every year… and the lines at Disneyland are just stupid long.
Vacations Before FI
Vacations used to mean a lot to me. After months of the stressful work environment, a vacation was the chance to get away from it all. Mrs. Tako and I could take time to relax and ‘live a little’. We’d typically stay in a nice hotel and eat at some fine restaurants.
We’d travel about once a year and visit places like Mexico, Australia, Alaska, Japan, Florida, Canada and the UK.
Typically these vacations were short — perhaps only one or two weeks for the entire year. (That’s all the time-off our jobs allowed.) Even so, some of my best memories were made on those vacations… probably because I wasn’t stuck in an office all day.
Of course, trying to jam everything a destination has to offer into just one week is extremely tiring. We would typically pack every day with a full schedule of activities. By the time our vacations were over, I was so tired that going back to work didn’t seem like a bad idea.
Here’s what I learned from these early trips: Spending thousands of dollars trying to squeeze a year’s worth of life experiences into one or two weeks is no way to travel. Frankly, everything is a rush and it’s exhausting.
After reaching financial independence, we found our travel habits changing. First and foremost, we travel a lot more frequently, but these days it’s usually a “mini-trip”.
What’s a mini-trip you ask?
Mini trips are short trips that last only a few days. We typically visit a couple destinations within a day’s drive. These kinds of trips take very little planning, and are extremely low stress (perfect for families with young kids).
A recent example, is a two-day mini-trip we took to visit our local beaches. The weather was extremely comfortable on the coast, and it was a perfect opportunity for the boys to learn about our lakes and oceans.
The first day, we went to a nearby lake to play in the water and cool-off from the unbearable heat of the Pacific Northwest (80F). The kids had a ton of fun trying to throw buckets full of water at me.
Even the local police boat had fun spraying down wayward beach goers with a water cannon.
The second day of our mini-trip we spent at the ocean. There was an extremely low-tide that morning, which made for some great tide pool hunting (and a good learning experience for the boys).
It was a ton of fun to walk along the beach, and hunt for sea creatures trapped in the tide pools — even the adults had a great time.
After picking up one starfish to show the boys, I was then required to pick up every single starfish on the beach.
“Daaad. Pick up that starfish!”
“I just picked up a starfish, can’t you pick it up this time?”
“Nooo. It might bite me!”
So, I was the starfish-picker-upper guy all day. With a little effort, we were even able to captured a number of very lively crab and shrimp species.
Mini trips like this are fantastic because they’re extremely low cost (we pack our own food), low stress, and we often don’t even need a hotel room. On shorter trips, we simply drive home that night to sleep in our own beds.
Traveling on the weekdays is also great for avoiding crowds, and getting to our destination quickly.
Mini-trips are easy… so easy in-fact we end-up doing trips like this all the time; perhaps a few times a month.
Yes, We Slow Travel Too!
While mini-trips are great, we occasionally find ourselves wanting to travel a little further to more exotic locations.
Slow travel is the name of the game here. Instead of trying to squeeze everything into just a week, we now travel for an entire month!
There’s no need to rush back to work, and Mrs. Tako’s employer is perfectly fine with her taking the entire month off. (She has a very flexible job)
Last year we went to Hawaii, and this year our “slow travel” vacation will be a month in Japan.
While we’ve visited both of these destinations before, slow traveling to them is a little different:
- We don’t create an agenda for everyday of the trip. We simply plan-out a rough idea the night before.
- We don’t stay at luxury resorts or hotels anymore. That doesn’t mean stay we in dumps either. Usually we rent a house with a decent kitchen and laundry facilities. Sometimes they even have a pool!
- We eat out at restaurants rarely. Because our temporary home usually has kitchen facilities, we save ourselves a huge amount of time and money by cooking our own food.
- We avoid high-cost organized tourist attractions, and opt for free or low-cost activities. These usually involve the outdoors, museums, and “sampling” the local culture.
While some people might call this kind of vacation “hard work” because we’re cooking our own meals, I actually find it to be far less exhausting than a rushed trip.
The Irony of Freedom
The irony of this whole travel-after-FI game, is that I find myself actually wanting to travel less now that I have more freedom.
Life has changed. My work life used to be really stressful — late nights, long hours, and working on weekends. One reason I traveled was just to get a mental break from all the stress. If I was traveling to some distant location, it was far less likely that my boss was going to be sending me emails in the middle of the night expecting replies.
Now that we’re financially independent, life is very relaxed. My stress level is almost zero. I simply don’t need to travel in order to relax anymore!
The whole idea of hitting up popular tourist destinations to stay in crowded all-inclusive resorts now seems extremely unappealing. Those kinds of vacations are just expensive “cookie-cutter” experiences — the same experiences millions of other tourists have experienced. I’d rather make my travels a unique experience, instead of a carbon-copy of the exact same trip my old work buddies are posting on facebook.
So why do we travel now?
Mainly to learn new things, to visit family & friends, and to enjoy warmer climates when the winter weather hits.
Now, if you’ll excuse me — I need to get packing for our road trip next week!!
[Image Credit: Flickr1]