One of Life’s Little Inefficiencies: Travel

Becky and I love to travel and are frequently looking forward to the next big trip where we can see and experience new and exciting things.  Ever since we starting travel hacking with credit cards and promotions, the amount of travel we’ve been able to do each year has continued to increase (and the costs haven’t!).  As we increase the number of days we’re away from home each year, a small inefficiency in the whole process bugs me just a little bit.  While we’re off exploring the world, the mortgage payments, utility bills, and numerous other things don’t simply wait for us to get back.  Not only do we have to keep making the payments, but we’re not even using what we’re paying for while away!

This act of paying for two places to sleep while one stays empty and unused is just enough to bother me a little bit.  Does it keep me up at night while we travel?  Absolutely not, it rarely even crosses my mind while away, but reviewing our past year’s expenses and looking for ways to optimize them just makes me wonder.  Is there some kind of magic alternative to this inefficiency?  Let’s explore that question below.

What Does This Inefficiency Cost?

There’s a certain portion of our expenses that are almost entirely tied to the fact that we’ve decided to stay in one place a majority of the time.  There’s the typical expenses you would expect like a mortgage (or rent) and utilities (these should be reduced while away), but you could also expand it out to include things like car insurance which don’t add any value away from home.  If you wanted to take it a step further, you could even depreciate appliances, furniture, and anything else that sits idle while you’re away.

I’ll keep it simple in my case and focus on our mortgage versus the number of days we were away.  During 2015, Becky and I spent 41 nights away from home or about 11% of the full year.  Over half of those days involved us paying some amount to stay in a hotel (or cruise ship room), while the other nights were spent with family and friends for free.  Regardless of what we paid, that’s 41 days we weren’t using the house we “own”.  Using our mortgage payments as the cost to live there, that’s ~$2,900 worth of unused time over the course of a year.

Maybe I’m the only person that looks at it this way, but it just seems inefficient to me.  Most people probably just chalk it up as the cost of travel, but there are some ways around it if you think outside the box.

How Can We Eliminate the Inefficiency?

The first thing that might come to mind is going to one of two extremes.  If you just cut out travel completely and spend every night at home, there wouldn’t be any unused time and therefore no inefficiency.  That doesn’t sound like very much fun at this point in our lives, but maybe we’ll get sick of travel some day (ha, I doubt it).  On the other hand, you could go the other way and question why you need a home base at all.  Why not just travel 100% of the time?

In this age of the “Digital Nomad“, it’s certainly not unheard of.  If you’re able to earn a living from just about anywhere there’s an internet connection, it’s certainly possible to live life on the road.  A great example of this lifestyle is Drew and Caroline of Travel is Free.  They found a way to generate enough money online and now spend their time bouncing around the world sharing their journey (and budget) online for everyone to see.  A one sentence summary of their life doesn’t do them any justice, so I encourage you to check out the whole thing here.

If earning a living digitally on the road doesn’t interest you, there is another way to break into the full-time travel lifestyle.  Financial independence.  If you’ve built up enough wealth that you can live entirely off of your investments, there’s little to stop you from selling off what you don’t need and hopping on a plane to live abroad.  On of my favorite blogs, Go Curry Cracker, is written by a couple that did just that.  By saving a large percentage of their income during traditional 9-5 jobs, they achieved financial independence in their 30’s and set off to explore the world at their own pace.  You can find the whole story here.

Either of these paths are achievable if you’re dedicated to making it happen, but the lifestyle certainly isn’t for everyone.  Fortunately, there is a way to at least cut down on the inefficiency without jumping to full-time travel.

Related: 8 Reasons Why Traveling Is Good for Your Health

What About Just Reducing It?

Instead of either completely eliminating or completely embracing travel, there might be a way to cut down on the waste while you’re away.  One way is to find a way to rent out your home while away.  That way, the home you’re paying for while away goes to good use and even brings some money back into your pocket.  It’s kind of the idea behind AirBnB and VRBO, but I think the majority of those properties’ owners are not renting out their primary residence.  That doesn’t mean you can’t though.

It would certainly come with a good amount of effort between paperwork, scheduling renters, taxes, cleaning, and everything else, but it does present the opportunity to get back some of the inefficient waste that comes with travel.  Certainly isn’t for everyone, but it is worth considering if you tend to travel in larger chunks of time such as a week or more.  In fact, it’s possible that you’ll actually profit from the whole exchange instead of just cutting your losses!

Another option to reduce some of the inefficiency is possible if you’re a renter, don’t mind some extra work, and plan to move at the end of your lease.  Instead of finding another lease to start right away after the first is up, why not bank vacation time and use that gap as an opportunity to travel!  If you’re not living in furnished places (or maybe even if you are), you’ll have to rent storage of some kind for that short period, but I’d be willing to bet it’s a lot cheaper than rent.

The logistics involved with this example can be quite complex with moving and storing your items, negotiating a lease to start at just the right time for when you get back, and a number of other factors, but the money saved by not leaving an empty apartment when you travel could actually open up the opportunity to do some really awesome travel (or just bank the difference!).

Let’s Be Realistic

I’ve laid out that travel is somewhat inefficient by nature because you leave behind places and things that go unused, but realistically this probably doesn’t even bother most people.  There are ways to reduce or eliminate this inefficiency by significantly modifying your lifestyle or putting in a lot of effort, but most people will choose to pass and I don’t blame them.  You don’t have to be like most people if you choose not to though!

We’re choosing to simply live with the inefficiency for now, but you never know what the future will bring.  As we work towards financial independence, the idea of a spending 6 months to a year (or even more) traveling once we achieve it is definitely fun to think about.  By my rough estimate, we currently spend ~$35k per year on stuff based around us having a home in a specific location.  That means our full-time travel would allow for ~$95 per day towards hotels keeping other expenses constant (many locations are actually much cheaper than our regular spending for things like food), which is very achievable in many parts of the world, especially if you know how to maximize miles and points.

For now, we continue to pay for more than 365 days of lodging per year…


Does anyone else think about this small inefficiency of travel?  Anybody have a better solution to reduce or eliminate it?  If so, please let me know.


P.S. Bogey decided to help me proofread this one, so any errors can be blamed on him.  If you look close enough, you can even see he tried to add his own edit by placing his face on the “u” key, but his words didn’t make the final cut.


10 thoughts to “One of Life’s Little Inefficiencies: Travel”

  1. Hey there. We actually do rent our private space when traveling. It does not cover all of our expenses but it does reduces the cost of traveling for sure. However, there is something when we come back. Little things, but it’s still worth to rent.

    1. That’s great! Renting out your space while away is a great opportunity to reduce expenses while traveling.

  2. Great post.

    I think the most efficient and easy would be if you had a basement flat or some kind of externally accessible guest accommodation that you rent out. Get the process automated with a cleaner and a combo key lock and you are smooth sailing (maybe get a neighbor/friend to check in once in awhile if you can’t). My girlfriend and I are “digital nomads” and we’ve stayed in lots of airbnbs that were seamless like this. Definitely takes some set up and initial investment though to get your property stocked with all the right amenities.

    I will also add that it can be far more expensive being a digital nomad in first world countries than renting a place or paying mortgage. It’s near impossible to stay under $100/day with rental car, lodging and food (unless you stick to roadside motels :p). With travel activities you should look at ~$140 a day average for two if you cook most of the time (which is why we choose Airbnb over hotels) and don’t do anything pricey (which kinda sucks since you want to explore restaurants and cultural activities).

    1. If you plan to travel often, keeping in mind the optimal renting scenario when buying a place would be ideal. Probably not a major consideration for most, but could make a difference on your bottom line long term.

      The $95/day number I threw out was only meant to apply towards housing while abroad, I decided to keep other categories the same although I’m sure there would be some fluctuation. Maximizing hotel promotions should make staying around that number possible in quality accommodations, but staying for a week or longer in one place might still allow an AirBnb or similar to come out ahead.

      Thanks for the insight!

  3. Another option is to do house/apartment swaps. For example, swap with someone who lives in London or Berlin for a week, or even within the US.

    1. Not a bad idea if you can arrange it. Are there websites with the intention of setting these types of things up, or do you kind of have to wing it?

  4. To me paying rent while traveling feels more like paying for your stuff to have a place to stay while you are gone. So in that way it doesn’t seem quite so inefficient. You could always invite a house sitter to stay and look after things at which point it’s like a positive externality… I don’t know if that seems better to you.

    1. What exactly does a house-sitter do? From my limited knowledge, it usually involves the standard tasks of getting the mail, watering plants, and other small tasks? And I assume there is usually some kind of compensation provided? That makes the financial part of the situation even worse, but maybe I’m misunderstanding.

      The financial part of the inefficiency is my main concern because as you said, you’re paying a significant sum to house your stuff while you’re away. Storage units can accomplish this for far cheaper if we’re just looking at keeping stuff, but subtracting that cost out of the inefficiency does reduce it a little. Thanks!

  5. Hello, Travel bring a positive change in thinking. But due to expensive, it is impossible for many people. To me paying rent while traveling feels more like paying for your stuff to have a place to stay while you are gone. So in that way, it doesn’t seem quite so inefficient. You could always invite a house sitter to stay and look after things at which point it’s like a positive externality… I don’t know if that seems better to you.

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