Today I’m featuring my first-ever guest post, from Robert Waite, an ex-colleague of mine from the 1970s, when we both worked for Pacific News Service in San Francisco; I was an editor, Robert was a writer, and we still got along well. Bob now writes frequently for the Huffington Post, where this piece first appeared, from his home in Toronto.
By Robert Waite
When you are in the wealth-creation phase of life, discipline is critical. You may secretly lust after an F-Type Jaguar, but prudence prevails and you select a Ford Fusion or Toyota Camry, knowing that the 70 grand or so you are saving can instead be plowed into an investment that might actually appreciate.
The same goes with dream vacations. Sure, you’d like to go on safari in Africa or ride with the gauchos on the Pampas of Argentina while you’re still young enough to actually enjoy it, but you fear the sticker price of the trip will delay your retirement date by a decade.
I am here to say it doesn’t have to — if you play your cards right. You can check off at least some of these bucket-list destinations well before you actually kick the bucket.
My wife and I enjoy travel, including trips to far-flung, exotic locations, from Bhutan and Easter Island, to Iceland and India. Over the years we have developed some strategies that have made these trips affordable, even as we were saving for our children’s university fees and our own retirement.
Our first suggestion — and we know this won’t be for everyone — is to make camping part of your trip. We have camped in places as diverse as France, Spain, Japan, New Zealand and Costa Rica. Our normal pattern is a week or ten days of camping, followed by a day or two at a Four Seasons, Fairmont, or Ritz Carlton. The former gets you close to flora and fauna, the locals and often spectacular scenery (for a few dollars a night); the latter gets you pampering (and a hot shower). We followed this pattern religiously when vacationing in Hawaii over the years and it worked well
But OK, let’s say that camping is not your thing.
Our second suggestion is Silent Auctions.
That’s right, Silent Auctions, where you go to a charity dinner or event and bid on various items offered up by sponsors, friends and event patrons.
Often among the items up for bid are trips and vacations, everything from ski holidays to the exclusive use of a private island in the Caribbean.
Our own favorite hunting ground is the Royal Canadian Geographical Society Annual Dinner. We have snagged a couple of trips at this event, most recently a 12-day expedition to Antarctica with OneOcean Expeditions, a BC-based Canadian company specializing in Arctic and Antarctic tours.
This is a trip we wanted to do while we still had a reasonable amount of physical capability, but also stay within a relatively reasonable budget (any way you cut it, Antarctica is expensive).
So how good a deal can you get using this strategy? The trip that we wanted was put up for bid with a suggested retail price for two of $19,700. When the bidding music stopped we got it for $9,300. (The $19,700 price quoted was accurate, not inflated — we had checked it previously on the web site.)
Now of course there is a cost in attending the dinner itself — in this case, $200 per person. Part of that you get back in the form of a tax receipt. And part of it in the form of a pretty good meal. Plus you are helping a worthy cause. But what you are really doing is buying a seat at the bidding table.
The Royal Canadian Geographical Society Annual Dinner is typically held in Ottawa, which might be somewhat inconvenient if you live in New York, Washington, D.C. or Vancouver . But fear not — there are literally dozens of these events happening across North America, if you know where to look.
Some of the best are held to raise money on behalf of universities or private secondary schools. And, no, you don’t have to have gone to the school, have children there or know the school song or colors to attend. It is a fundraiser — the operative colour is green.
We attended several of these events on a regular basis in Toronto. The beauty here is that school parents and alumni often offer up private ski chalets or Barbados cottages to those wishing to bid — opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable to we mere mortals.
A variety of other organizations, from hospitals to museums, hold similar events.
The trick, of course, is to not get carried away — as they say, know your limit and play within it. Be willing to let someone else “win” the item if the price gets out of your range.
But our experience is that we have been able to get some pretty great trips for half price or less. And we’ve been able to go to places we’ve always dreamed about while still young enough to enjoy it.
(Robert Waite is Managing Partner of Waite + Co. and a frequent writer on travel topics.)