Travelling While Indebted

Travelling While Indebted

Some recommend avoiding all luxuries while paying off non-mortgage debt – no travel, no meals out, no purchases other than necessities. I’m not one of those people. A few of my friends and family members have passed away at young ages, and I know that I can’t take the average 82 year lifespan of a Canadian woman for granted. If today was my last day on this planet, I wouldn’t want to feel like I’d saved my best years for the non-existent future.

There can be this attitude that if you have non-mortgage debt you’re failing financially and you absolutely must pay it off completely before allowing yourself any non-essential spending. I feel that there’s always a balance – you can be committed to paying off your debt in a reasonable amount of time and spend money on things that you value.

Our last vacation, excluding work travel, was to the Dominican Republic in 2015 to celebrate my graduation – on my bloated line of credit, of course! It was an amazing time, but I couldn’t truly enjoy it as much as I wanted to. I had $130,000 in student loan debt and wouldn’t receive a job offer for another two months. I was in paradise, but my chest still felt tight.

Last year, my spouse and I decided that we wanted to take some time away. We’d both been putting a lot in at work, and I’d just spent the year paying off $30,000 of debt. We knew we wanted to do things a little differently than our last trip together, so we had a discussion about an ideal getaway within our means for 2018.

Choose A Local Destination

We live in Vancouver, and we’ve been talking about a visit to Tofino on Vancouver Island since before we moved here several years ago. It seemed like the perfect time to head over for a few days of waves and chill. Visiting somewhere close to you is a great way to reduce transportation costs while exploring your own country.

Identify Your Priorities & Spend Accordingly

This trip was all about relaxation, so we decided to leave the excursions like surfing or boat tours for another time. Since we wanted to spend most of our time in our room and on the beaches, we made our accommodation and meals a top priority. Below is my portion of the cost of the trip – my spouse and I keep separate finances – and a few thoughts along the way.


We had several options to get to Tofino – air, public transportation, or rental car. Flights were $350 round trip per person, so that was out! We could have rented a car for a portion of the trip, but we like the hands-off approach so we decided to rely on public transportation.

We took the city bus from our apartment to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal which took about an hour. We could have taken a bus to the ferry terminal from Pacific Central Station, but it would have cost about $10 extra per person each way. Our city bus portion of the trip was included in the monthly passes we already have for commuting. $0 

Arriving at the terminal, we hopped on the ferry to Departure Bay in Nanaimo while enjoying the ocean views. The ride was about an hour and forty minutes, with a high school boys lacrosse team taking up residence among us in the seats with the best views. I am so thankful to be an adult. $16.95 

To cross the island from Nanaimo to Tofino, we walked outside the ferry terminal and boarded the Tofino Bus all island express which provides daily bus service from Vancouver to all major Vancouver Island points. Book online in advance for a few dollars off! The bus was nearly empty and the trip took about four hours. $45.60

By the time we reached Tofino, $62.55 lighter and just under seven hours later, we were ready to eat and head to the beach! We took the same route home, so double the amounts above for our visit.

Total: $125.10 per person


We stayed in the Lookout Suite at Chesterman Beach Bed & Breakfast, right on Chesterman Beach, so we could hear the ocean crashing first thing in the morning and while we fell asleep at night. The private patio outside of our room led to a path down to the shoreline. The proximity to the water cost a premium – $195/night, which we were happy to pay for the three nights we stayed there.

We visited during storm watching season which is generally Tofino’s off season for tourism. During spring and fall our room would have been $275/night and over the summer and holidays it jumps up to $355/night! If you’re flexible with your dates and don’t mind the cooler weather, try to book during off-peak travel times. 


Our dining table sat next to the large window overlooking the beach, and we had our own gas fireplace and a kitchenette with a dishwasher, microwave, and toaster oven. One of the best parts – a sinking tub with a heated towel rack. Yes.

Coming back to the suite after walks on the beach to turn on the fireplace and pour a glass of wine was the definition of relaxation. I think we were asleep by 8PM every night, thanks to the fresh ocean air, lack of light pollution, and overall coziness.

Total: $307.13 per person

Meals & Alcohol

I packed some snacks from the grocery store so we wouldn’t be tempted by anything overpriced on the ferry. Definitely pack your own snacks! For the cost of one combo meal, we had sustenance for the whole seven hour trip. $16.79

A brief walk from the bus stop near our B&B was the original Tacofino truck. We quickly fell in love with their vegetarian burritos – shredded cheese, rice, beans, salsa, cabbage, chipotle mayo, sour cream. So simple, yet so delicious. If you’re ever in Vancouver, Victoria, or Tofino, definitely check them out. This total is just for the first time we went – my spouse paid for our second trip on our last night there. $27.60 

On our way to check in at the B&B, we stopped at a small grocery store called Beaches Grocery and picked up some iced tea to accompany our tacos and some fancy locally made bread and cheese for the next morning. We could have paid $20/person for a full breakfast at our B&B but that definitely wasn’t in our budget. $18.40 

The next day, fully refreshed from a night of burritos, iced tea, and gorgeous views of the ocean, we set off to explore and buy supplies. We walked an hour into town and had planned to stop at Schooner for some lunchtime fish & chips. Sadly, our casual approach meant that we didn’t check their schedule which was dinner only and arrived hours before they opened. If you’re visiting somewhere on the off season, do some research online first to see what’s open. 

We decided to grab quick paninis from a coffee shop down the street instead, and come back for dinner. Did I mention that this coffee shop was cash only and we hadn’t brought any with us? The two banks in town weren’t ones that we used and we didn’t want to pay service fees or hassle to get them refunded, so we did what any resourceful travellers would do – we purchased alcohol instead and requested cash back!

Three bottles of wine and some beer later.. it might have been a better idea to pay the service fees, but we made sure it was put to good use. $58.09 

Armed with cash, we finally got our paninis! Nothing memorable, but enough to keep us going. $16.00

With several hours left before dinner, we meandered around town which took approximately six minutes. Then we set off for Tonquin Park, which is a short walk from the main street and a leisurely hike to the beach. The trail was well maintained and had stunning lookout views. We lingered on the sand for a while, watching the waves come in and exploring the shoreline – starfish sightings! There are some nice properties on the cliffs by the beach and we daydreamed about  purchasing a little slice of heaven of our own someday.

We wanted to walk straight back to the B&B after dinner, so we stopped by the grocery store on the way to pick up some supplies for the rest of our trip. Frozen pizza, croissants, chocolate, an entire black forest cake. You know, just the essentials. We probably should have shopped after dinner. $52.32 

By the time we returned from our walk and grocery trip, Schooner had opened! We shared an order of fish & chips with fresh local red snapper and the halibut bawden bay which has been their signature dish for over 30 years – for good reason! I’m just going to post the description and let your imagination cover the rest: hand picked crab, baby shrimp, creamy Brie cheese and scallions are tucked inside winter halibut – oven baked and finished with an apple-brandy green peppercorn cream sauce. Yum! My mouth is still watering. I didn’t pay for this one but it was $100+ with a few beers, taxes, and tip.

The next day, we made croissant sandwiches and frozen pizza in the toaster oven in our room and spent the rest of the day walking the nearby beaches – Chesterman, Cox Bay, and Wickaninnish. Also, lots of cake! At night when the cloud cover wasn’t complete, we walked out to the beach again and stared at the stars for what seemed like hours – you don’t get that in the city.

We didn’t venture back into town again – I think most of the locals were annoyed that we infringed on their off-season quiet with our big city vibes. The “f*ck off and go home tourists” graffiti was a little bit of a giveaway. The only friendly interactions we had were with our host, our bus driver, and a few of the people we passed on the trails and beaches. If you’re visiting, try to blend in. Wear ruddy neutral colours like browns and greens that look worn – my black snowboarding jacket and my spouse’s bright yellow windbreaker were a dead giveaway. Together, we looked like a hornet’s nest of tourism ready to destroy everything that was good in the world. Then again, maybe most of the locals were just annoyed to be at work rather than enjoying the outdoors?

After three short nights, it was time to make the trip home – with leftover croissants and snacks for the ride. On the bus home, my chest started getting tight again. The ocean air was gone from my lungs and I was already anticipating the overstimulation of the city. It was a sign for me to spend more time in nature and take deeper breaths.

Total: $189.20


Accomodations $307.13

Transportation $125.10

Groceries $87.51

Alcohol $58.09

Restaurants $43.60

Total $621.43

Again, this is just my portion of the expenses so our total was closer to $1,200 for a couple over four days and three nights. Our goal for this trip wasn’t to have the lowest budget – if it was, we could have just stayed home. We wanted to enjoy our first trip together in almost three years, maximizing our priorities while spending less where we could. We don’t know when our next trip will be, so we wanted to live large for a few days!

For context, my average spending on debt repayment in 2017 was $2,859.26/month. To allocate 20% of that this month for a trip was an easy decision for me to make, and I know we’ll remember our days in Tofino as some of the best we’ve had together.

If you’re wondering about travel hacking – I don’t do it. I’m not sure that I’d meet the minimum spends on enough of the cards we have in Canada to really make an impact on travel costs. It might be an option if you live in the US though, so look into it. Just make sure that you’re not spending more than you’d save in travel rewards – that kind of defeats the purpose.

Should you travel while indebted? I have, and I think it’s important to keep a few things in mind:

  • the length of your debt payoff timeline – if it’s short or near its end, can you wait a few more months and enjoy a guilt-free vacation paid for in cash?
  • the type of debt you have – if it’s high interest consumer debt, will you regret paying the extra interest?
  • the attitude you have toward debt – some people despise debt and want it out of their lives as quickly as possible, no exceptions, and I support you on that!

It all comes down to personal choice. Make the best decision for you, and try not to feel guilty for enjoying yourself once in a while!

As a final note, the lack of pictures in this post was due to our technology pause for the trip. We used our phones for navigation and to take a few photos, but for most of the time we put them away and enjoyed our surroundings and each other! If you want to see more of Tofino, there are many photos from talented photographers online – or you can plan your own visit!

I’d love to hear about your own travel stories on your way to becoming debt free, whether you decided to go or wait. Share your thoughts in the comments.

14 thoughts on “Travelling While Indebted”

  • Sounds like a perfect getaway – especially that halibut dish! And what a nice idea to have a tech break – I love when vacation puts me in a place where I have no internet or cell reception. It completely changes my attitude, but I just know it’s not realistic in every day life unless I want to be a hermit.
    On another note, how do you two decide when your spouse treats you to something vs sharing the costs? Do you reciprocate at some point? I’ve been thinking a lot about how Not Your Average Boyfriend and I would split finances if/when we get married and I’m a little torn on sharing vs. maintaining separately vs. something in between.

    • It was amazing! On the finances question.. that’s a tough one. I wrote some thoughts on it here: but I’d like to write a follow-up post at some point about the logistics. Overall I think everyone should have at least some money of their own in separate accounts, in case of emergency, death, or divorce and as an insurance policy if the relationship starts to become unhealthy. While I was in university my partner bought most of our meals out. When we moved so I could start a new job and he wasn’t working yet, I paid for most of our meals out. I also bought all of our furniture. Since we’ve been living together we’ve split rent evenly. I pay for the utilities. He pays for Netflix. We each pay our own cell phone bills. If we make major purchases together we usually split them. We take each other out for dinner on birthdays. We each buy groceries. We don’t really worry too much about the split and if we’re even. If there’s a point where our incomes are drastically different, which is possible, we might move to a proportional percentage of rent. He’s just started tracking his spending whereas I’ve been doing it for two years. We both have debt. We both have different approaches to spending and paying it off. We do talk about finances quite a bit and we have shared goals, but we handle the details in our own ways. We don’t have children, but that’s another layer of complexity – especially if one person stays home. Everyone has a different setup and it all depends what works for you! You might want to try a few different things and see what you like. There’s no one best approach. The most important thing is communication and making sure you’re on the same page with your priorities.

  • I’m so glad you took this trip. You could have easily spent that money in small increments – coffees – over the last year, and that would have felt just like little “treat yourself” splurges that didn’t make a big dent in your overall payoff. Much better to hang on to that cash and use it all in one go on a vacation. And we’d pick the ferry over air travel every time, regardless of cost.

  • I’m so glad you took a vacation even though you’re slaying your student loans! What a great example for the debt-free community. When people are paying off debt I think it’s so easy to just go into “monk mode,” but there should always be room in the budget for fun (as long as it’s not too much and totally planned for!). Like you said, waiting until you’re debt free at 82 is insane–there needs to be a balance.

    Also love the tech free policy, although that wouldn’t work for my husband and me. We both love taking pictures and that’s part of why we choose certain destinations over others.

    • Me too! It was definitely worth it. I find if I feel restricted I just want to spend more. If I’m intentional, I tend to hit my financial goals faster! We took some pictures and video but only for a few moments and then we put the phones away and enjoyed the view. It’s all a balance!

  • That view from your hotel room is gorgeous! We road tripped out to Vancouver Island last summer and had such a great time that we’re planning another road trip this June. My bf has family on the Island so we didn’t have to pay for accommodations on that portion of the trip (but that comes with a lot less free time). The island is such a great getaway, I’m a little jealous you’re so close!

    I’m with you that it’s ok to travel while paying off debt. It’s always a trade-off, but I have a hard time sticking to something without any small breaks. Yes, it might extend your timeline but if it motivates you to keep on trucking then that’s a win in my books.

  • I love traveling, so that’s always been a non-negotiable for me even though I’m still paying off student loans. I’m compromising by holding off on any fancy international trips until I’ve put a significant dent in the high-interest loans. Although, my friend just offered to treat me to the Bahamas to make up for flaking out on a previous trip to Paris so I’ll get an overseas trip for free…winning!

  • I love this! My husband and I have practiced some very similar travel strategies, even with large amounts of debt. I won’t let myself feel guilty about enjoying my life now, even with debt, especially when I’m being smart about it. We take long weekends and drive or find cheap flights. I’m a total foodie, and when it comes to travel, food is the one thing that I am prepared to splurge on.

  • Oh goodness, this sounds like an amazing vacation! I’m so glad you decided to take this (and that it was so relaxing, minus the weird “you’re not welcome here” vibes) because you’re right, what’s the point of paying off debt if you don’t enjoy life in the meantime?

    Also a black forest cake is most definitely a grocery staple, especially on vacation 😉

  • Good on you doing something intentional about something that’s important to you. Paying off debt is very important but you don’t want to have burnout / completely lose motivation when you have years of debt to deal with.

    I like posts about how much it costs to vacation in other countries. I think we’re quite lucky in Europe (or I’m now quite obsessed with keeping costs low) because I aim for a spend of around £250 (all in) for a 3 day vacation and under £500 for my longer ones. Some vacations are a lot more expensive though. San Francisco will cost me over £1,000 easily and I think I’m OK with that but I’ll avoid this kind of vacation (going forward) until I’m completely debt free.

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