You Spent $600? Well, Congratulations

Living in Okinawa, I sometimes write travel pieces for a website catering to English speakers on the island.

This site offers general information about places to go, things to see, where to take your sick puppy, and so on for the 50,000 or so expats who live here.

My official category is “To Do,” and I report on activities and tourist places here and on neighboring islands. While I tend to gravitate towards the offbeat like oxygen chambers, acupressure, and funky restaurants, I cover the mainstream too.

A while back, I wrote a short article about Club Med Ishigaki, an all-inclusive resort with unlimited food and alcohol, nightly entertainment, flying trapeze, every sports activity you could want, and childcare. The trip costs around $600 per person for 3 days including the flight to get there. The resort is very popular with Americans and Japanese, and I know several families who love it. My job is to report information, and that’s what I did.

Then I got this snide comment from a reader:

“You spent $600 for everything you could do here on this island. I don’t know what to say. Well, congratulations, I guess.”

My initial reaction was huh?

I thought about writing back politely and referencing all the features of this place that make it unique.(I already did that in the article, but she seemed to miss the point) One certainly cannot drink free-flowing awamori and then do somersaults off the flying trapeze anywhere else in this region. What about the included childcare, worth every penny according to a friend of mine? What about the fact that you don’t have to pay for your scuba diving outing or jet-ski time?

But then I remembered there’s something about spending money on travel that touches a nerve in a lot of people. A deep nerve.

It’s certainly not the first time travel enthusiasm has met with sarcasm and judgment. Whether it’s an anonymous reader, family member, or friend, the underlying belief seems to be travel is a luxury, not a necessity. Oh, and that person is fully entitled to tell you that (never mind all the ways they spend money).

It occurs to me that for many people, travel just doesn’t hold the same value. They have no clue how it is an educational and eye-opening experience. They have no concept of challenging oneself in different environments. They have no interest in exploring a new place. Why spend money to go to another island?

They make travel their last priority, if at all. And while they might go to Disneyland at some point, they’d rather spend it on something material and perceived as lasting for a long time. Maybe a big screen TV or designer purse? And so there’s judgment …

Am I a sucker for being excited about a 3 day trip that cost $600? How can another person decide? We all have our own value systems about what’s worthwhile and meaningful to us. As far as travel and new experiences, I’m getting something of greater value in return.

So, yes congratulations are in order!

Have you ever gotten a negative reaction to spending money on your travels?


19 thoughts on “You Spent $600? Well, Congratulations

  1. I have never really gotten a negative reaction towards money, it’s more directed at the time spent away. As in “you’re going to be gone HOW long? don’t you have a job? When are you going to settle down?

    And more recently…”aren’t you married now and supposed to be at home?”

    my personal favorite.

    • maryrichardson

      Hi Claire,
      I love that marriage question! What does that have to do with it? I’m always a little taken aback by those reactions.

  2. Mika

    I get similar snide remarks from time to time. They usually begin with, “It must be nice to have the _____ to do _____.” (In a tone of voice somehow implying that I don’t deserve it.) But people don’t see how hard you work, or scrimp and save to be able to spend the time/money to do these things…

    I just put them on studious ignore. 🙂

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Mika,
      I agree people are quick to pass judgment without really knowing what “sacrifices” we make in other parts of our lives. I think ignore is the right approach!

  3. I don’t usually discuss money spent so the resentment typically is aimed at the travel itself. The old, “it must be nice to be able to fly off to those places while the rest of us are being responsible and working.” is the attitude I sometimes get. I never take it personally, I think you definitley make choices about what’s important in life and focus on it. I don’t have a car, a remodeled kitchen or a new dining set, which many people consider essential but I don’t. Travel is essential to me and that’s what I choose to focus on.

    • maryrichardson

      Yes, there seems to be the idea that if you’re taking a trip, you’re wasting time or being irresponsible. Never mind that it’s educational or productive! It’s also true that many people would say certain material possessions are necessary in their lives, while we’d be willing to go without them if it meant we could travel somewhere new.

  4. Have I ever gotten a negative reaction to money spent on travel? I reply with an emphatic yes! It’s often from someone who has no interest in travel themselves or they want to travel, but don’t take the time to do it.

    Most of the time people will put my desire to spend money traveling by saying they have “a life” and can’t go because too many people need them here. I don’t believe them. Funnily enough, the few people that could actually make that statement (and it would be true for them) encourage me to spend money on travel.

  5. Interesting reaction from your reader. Your response focused more on the travel as necessity vs luxury aspect, which I think is right. Another aspect of it is, given that you’re traveling what are the “right” things to spend money on and what is the “right” price. The quotes around right are meant to underline the fact that the people making these judgments seem to have no qualms about imposing their values and value of money and budgets on other people who may differ in all of these. I sometimes say that if I had all the money in the world, the only two things I would do differently are live in a larger apartment and travel first or business class. Others have responded to this, even if we/I had that money, I still don’t think it’s worth it. Though I’m always a bit skeptical, I have to accept it’s a value judgment, and each to his/her own.

    One more example, which brings up the number 600. A few years back (2003 perhaps) I was in Paris and decided to have dinner at Arpege, the 3-star Michelin restaurant that unusually caters extremely well to vegetarians. I was traveling with a friend, who had barely enough money for the ticket and hotel, and decided to invite her: 660 Euros for the two of us. It’s the second-most expensive dinner I’ve ever had. But my view was, I’m spending that much to fly to Paris, that much to stay in a hotel (in keeping with my odd tastes, I stayed at a very cheap hotel), and on other nights I ate at relative inexpensive places. Personally I would rather have one truly memorable dinner in Paris then 8 decent ones. Those are my values. But then others still cannot get over the fact that I paid that much for one dinner (and I almost never would when I’m at home)…

    This, I imagine, is the challenge of being a travel writer. You need to write in a judgment-free way. Alas, your readers are unlikely to be!



    • maryrichardson

      Hi BB,
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Ah, yes, readers don’t have to be judgment free at all, do they? But I guess as writers, we reveal personal about ourselves to the world, so countering other people’s opinions is just part of the territory!

      Like you, I tend to spend more if it’s a unique experience even though I rarely will at home. I’ll scrimp away for months (which I don’t mind) and then just spend it on one experience somewhere else…

  6. Sarah

    Hi Mary,
    I saw that comment on OkiHai and my husband and I had a long conversation about it. We were struck with some of the same thoughts as you were. For us, the price of travel insures time away with each other without the constant intrusion of military life. Experiencing new things and making memories that is worth more to us than designer this or latest gizmo that.

    Thanks for your posts here, your other blog, and OkiHai. It can take thick skin to post parts of your life on the internet and have strangers make judgment. Your posts have led us to some awesome places here and I’m sure they’ve done the same for others!

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Sarah,
      Thanks for your kind words! As you know well, living on Okinawa can be an insular experience at times. Most travel writing feedback is positive, but there’s always one who feels entitled to criticize based on limited knowledge. Glad to hear you’re exploring the area and enjoying yourselves!

  7. Hi Mary! When I turned 18, I received a few thousand dollars that had been held in trust for me since I was 5. For two years before that, I had been planning to use the money for a car. Then I met a woman who was one of the chaperons from my town, for a senior trip to Hawaii each year. She talked me into coming to an informational meeting, and then I was SO torn! I wanted (and felt I needed) that car…but a trip to Hawaii (for a girl that had traveled hardly anywhere) would be the opportunity of a lifetime. I remember something she said to me…”Cars will come and go…but you will have this experience through your memories for a lifetime.” Fortunately, I was smart and took the trip. 23 years later, I still love to think about that trip…and all the others that I’ve had the opportunity to take. I also think about how many cars I’ve owned (and TVs, couches, outfits, fill in this blank with whatever material things people spent their money on) and I think travel is the better investment in every case. I never regretted not buying the car. I’m so glad I had that example to live by when it comes to raising my own kids. It’s funny, we are not big on providing our 4 teens the best clothing labels, or the latest and greatest gadgets…but I will gladly make sacrifices for them to travel. Living here on Okinawa, high-schoolers have so many great opportunities to travel around Asia with the school. And…I am washing cars and baking cupcakes so that my 16 yo can take a trip to NYC with his drama class over spring break. I’ve never been to NYC myself, but I am SO excited for him to have the opportunity to look back (for the rest of his life (like I do) and say, “Man, that was an awesome trip!”

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Carrie,
      I’m sure lots of people are in that same position of choosing car over trip, or something similar. For lots of people, it doesn’t make sense to take a trip if there are pressing financial needs at home. I’d never advocate that, but like you, I tend to think of travel as a once in a lifetime experience and material things like cars come and go. Glad your family is enjoying the island! You guys have explored a lot and it’s fun to do it with kids in tow! How great you’re supporting your son to travel to NYC! I’ll gladly buy cupcakes from you anytime!

  8. I’ve definitely had people make me feel awkward for spending money on travel. People make a lot of assumptions about how much it costs to travel. But they don’t factor in things like my travel style (budget) or the fact that that I don’t buy a lot of “stuff” at home. When it comes down it, plane tickets are the biggest expense and then after that things are typically relatively cheap for me. It always amazes me that it’s so accepted to spend hard earned cash on a fancy big screen TV or designer something or other but travel is seen as frivolous. I think part of that has to do with the fact that a lot of people always see travel as a “vacation” and for me, it typically isn’t!

    • maryrichardson

      Yes, I think many people view travel as frivolous and a waste of money in the sense that you don’t have “something” to show for it. I also think many people aren’t comfortable as travelers, so it would never make sense to them deep down. Like you, I don’t think of my trips as vacation! I love how diverse and interesting your travel experiences are.

  9. I remember once having a conversation with my frugal father and telling him that I have no desire to ever drive an amazing car or own a huge house. If I’m able to travel when I want to, that’s all I really need. A car loses half of its value once it’s driven out of the dealership. A home, as we’ve seen from the financial crisis, can plummet in value overnight. But no one and nothing can ever take away the memories and the unbelievable experiences that travel brings. I saw a change in his demeanor when I said that, and he’s always happily spent on travel since.

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