That Time I Spent $44,000 On A Two Week Vacation
Getting to financial independence is difficult, especially in a luxury-demanding, spendy culture. If you’re budgeting, living frugally, investing, and trying to increase your earnings, then you’re checking the major boxes and are on a path to FI.
But are you depriving yourself of happiness? Are you delaying all fun now in hopes of reaching that magical state of financial independence?
People do get hit by buses ya know….
As detailed in my journey post, I reached FI a few years ago and am now semi-retired. I did it “accidentally” meaning I was always a saver and lived pretty frugally for my income level, but never had the intention of reaching FI. Mainly since I was kind of oblivious to the concept until I was practically there.
So as someone who is FI and who can look back, it begs the question – did I deprive myself of happiness on my journey?
In short – HELL NO!
I prioritized. I spent on the things that make me happy. Sometimes a lot.
Like that time I dropped $44,000 to climb the highest mountain in Antarctica.
Yep, you read that right. Forty-four thousand dollars for a two week trip. It looks more expensive when I type the words out. Did I do that?
I’m a climber, and I love climbing in all its forms. One of those forms is called “alpinism” or mountaineering. Or more commonly still, just “climbing mountains”. After getting the climbing bug in my late 20’s, I decided that I wanted to climb the seven summits. If you’ve never heard that lingo, the seven summits means the highest mountain on each of the planet’s seven continents. Dick Bass was the first to complete this achievement in 1985, and to date still only about 400 or so people have ever done it. MEN WANTED…
For Hazardous Journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success…
I don’t mess around when picking bucket lists.
In 2014 I decided it was the right time to climb Vinson Massif, the highest mountain in Antarctica. You might be thinking “I get it, Antarctica is far away, but could it really cost $44k?”
Here’s the trip I took, in case you have $44K laying around and care to go yourself. Why did I pay $44,000 when the website lists $42,200? Well that exorbitant price does not include getting to Punta Arenas Chile. Damn small print!!! It’s kinda like “batteries not included” on a gizmo except way way more expensive…..
Additionally, even though at the time I had enough mountaineering gear to outfit the 10th Mountain Division a few times over, I needed to upgrade some of my stuff. Temps would be dipping to -45. Better bring a good scarf.
An Expensive Click
You know that feeling you get when you buy something kind of pricey online and you’re ready to hit the final “submit order” button? Maybe you second guess yourself or feel a little anxiety. Well, for this one I vividly recall staring at that submit button. Once clicked, there was no refund. Forty-two thousand buckaroos.
And on my mind was the fact that there are a hundred things that could prevent us from summiting the mountain anyway. Hell, the weather could be so bad on Antarctica that we could be kept from even getting there. This was a click of faith.
But happiness called. I thought “I’m in my climbing prime. I’m confident this luxury won’t derail my financial progress too much, it’ll just delay it a little”
The main reason the trip is so expensive is the flight from Chile to Antarctica. The vast majority of tourist trips to Antarctica arrive by boat. The industry has been steadily growing over the years and that growth has dropped prices substantially.
You can now take a cruise to Antarctica for around $6,500 or even less if you shop around which will usually include a couple brief jaunts on the continent itself, along with the expected encounters with penguins, leopard seals, and orcas. And ice. There’s lots of ice.
But Vinson Massif is in the Ellsworth Mountains of Antarctica, very far inland. The only way to get there is by plane.
Since Antarctica is a giant ice field, planes land on the ice. Or in this case Union Glacier. Yes, you land on a glacier. And regular planes cannot do this of course, so you take a huge Russian cargo plane called an IL-76 that departs from Punta Arenas Chile and deposits you on an ice sheet 5 hours later. It was epic.
They keep a GoPro Camera on the front of the aircraft and give us a big screen of the live feed in the cargo area where we sat. Enjoy this video of the final approach. Sorry about the shaky ending but after wheels went down I had a hard time holding the camera still while peeing my insulated pants.
I gotta admit, it was tense….
The flight alone costs around $25,000. And worse yet for all you travel-hackers, they don’t take points.
This is not a climbing blog so I’ll spare you all the details of the climb. The cliff notes version: it was amazing, challenging, and an adventure that I’m very blessed to have been able to have. When you’re that far from civilization (and rescue as well if something goes wrong…), you might as well be on the moon. Indeed, the whole experience was otherworldly. I’d be remiss if I didn’t show some pics…..
Ok enough showing off…. Back to priorities. How was I able to drop $44K on this trip and still reach financial independence at such a young age?
As the saying goes, you can have anything you want, you just can’t have everything you want. I pursued and spent on the things that mattered to me, and I ruthlessly cut the rest. Because to me, those other things just don’t matter.
I saved on my house by buying modestly and not upgrading. I drove beater cars. Ugly beater cars. I’ve never owned a video game system. I’ve probably been to 2 movies in the theater in the past decade. I’ve never had Netflix, or HBO, or any of that stuff. I cut cable years ago. I’ve forgotten to bring my lunch to work maybe 15 times in 20+ years. I’ve never purchased a single thing at Whole Foods in my entire life, and I’ve reluctantly given Starbucks money maybe 8 or 10 times. I still have the same $19.99 Mr. Coffee maker that I bought 15 years ago and it still makes great coffee. Keurig-schmurig. Waste. Of. Money.
But a Keurig might not be a waste for you and your situation, I get it! Let me be clear, if you’ve had these things or spent on them, in no way am I judging you. Some personal finance bloggers can perhaps appear judgmental at times.
I have my priorities and you have yours. Mountaineering and adventure is one of mine, and surely it’s not for most. I do understand that climbing up 17,000 feet of mountain in -40 degree temperatures with 75lbs on your back, on ice, isn’t for everyone.
Movies may be a passion of yours and you might go often – that’s great! Different strokes. Don’t judge me for being passionate about the admittedly quizzical act of climbing a big rock and coming back down, and I won’t judge you for having HBO premium.
The key here is, spend on what you enjoy, but only if that spending is still well within the bounds of reason in that it allows you to save elsewhere and progress toward FI. If the numbers aren’t working out for you, I’d suggest you keep the happy-spending part, and find more ways to mercilessly cut the stuff that doesn’t matter. Yes, be merciless.
Chances are you’re spending money on plenty of things that either don’t provide value or that are perceived “necessities” but have much cheaper alternatives. Get out the big knife and cut. Slash. Destroy. Every dollar you save on things you don’t use or care about is another dollar towards what makes you happy.
How bad do you want more of your happy-thing? Well you need to put that same level of desire and passion to cutting non-essentials.
My Antarctica trip is only one example of “are you nuts!?” spending on my journey to FI. There are others. But how did this crazy expensive trip impact my net worth and path to FI? Well, I did a post a while back showing my 20+ year net worth trajectory with charts from my beloved spreadsheet. Here’s one of the charts
That dip in the blue line? Yeah, that was Antarctica! And this is that future post. It clearly was a strong right upper-cut to my net worth. Could I have reached financial independence earlier if I skipped that trip? Of course. But would I have been happy?
No. I needed to climb that mountain, for me. I want to lead an active and adventurous life. Activities like that are part of who I am. And just thinking about the trip and the experience still makes me happy today.
If I learned anything on my journey to FI it’s this – don’t deprive yourself of happiness. And if happiness involves some spending, then so be it. Happiness is good. The goal in life isn’t to see how much you can save before you die, it’s to be happy and serve others.
But if you want to be happy and get to financial independence, you need to calibrate your spending and your overall finances accordingly. Follow that formula and you’re bound to succeed. Climb on financial warriors, and bring a good scarf!
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