Ten Days in Paradise for Less Than $1000

In a little over 100-days’ time, we’re going on a 10-day vacation to Costa Rica, our longest vacation together in over five years.

What prompted my research on the potential for us to go there was an invitation from my girlfriend Michelle (with whom I went on safari in 2014) to join her and her husband there this coming January. Unfortunately, our schedules didn’t align and we had to pass on their invitation, but all is not lost: we’ll be going about a month later.

I bring this trip up for a half-dozen reasons that I think might be worthy of discussion:

  1. It was an impulsive decision.
  2. It’s a place we’ve wanted to go to for some time.
  3. We don’t really have a need to escape, but we’re going for kicks anyway.
  4. It’s one of the least expensive trips we've ever taken.
  5. We’re being “reckless” with our money by self-insuring our trip.
  6. We used a credit card to do it.

1. It was an impulsive decision.

Michelle mentioned the trip she was planning to Costa Rica a few months ago. At the time, I considered it an option but didn’t really look into it much, though I did mention it to Mr. F2P. This all changed in early September. Our airline of choice was having a seat sale that included flights to both of Costa Rica’s major airports and that got me to do some serious noodling.

After some checking of dates and flights I realized that, though we wouldn’t be able to go with my girlfriend and her husband in January, we could go on our own in February. And that’s when I asked my better half if he was up for it. Turns out he was and so I booked and paid for the tickets within an hour of that quick discussion. (That’s also how we ended up going to Vancouver last Fall.)

2. Costa Rica’s a place we’ve wanted to go to for some time.

Though the decision was impulsive, there are a few details that somewhat mitigate the apparent impulsiveness: 

  • As I mentioned above, the idea had been planted a few months before and
  • As a SCUBA diver, Costa Rica has been on my bucket list for some time.

Based on the above, the turnaround for the purchase was quick, but the comfort with the idea has been with us for a long time, which makes it unlikely that we'll regret the decision. 

I can already picture us diving with giant mantas, bull sharks, groupers, barracuda and parrot fish. I get chills just thinking about it. The last SCUBA trip of this calibre was when we spent a little over a week on the island of Saba in the Dutch West Indies back in 2009!

3. We don’t really have a need to escape, but we’re going for kicks anyway.

My previous self would have been planning one to two international trips per year. Other than the safari (which I planned with Michelle over a two-year period) and travelling to attend conferences and training, we’ve pretty much stayed put.

Mr. F2P is taking a number of courses this year, so many in fact I don’t know how he does it all, but he seems to love it.

A big contributor to this behaviour as of late is the fact that we’ve had very little need for “escape” in the last few years. These days, we’re both usually engrossed in work we find engaging. We feel we’re growing and learning and that keeps us interested and involved with minimal reason to “unplug”. We’re focusing on our businesses, learning new personal and professional skills and living fully as we best know how—a life skill we all need to keep working on as part of this condition we call being human. 

In a recent interview, Brian from Debt Discipline asked what my dream job would be and my answer was that I was already doing it. Apparently, that is not a typical answer. I hope that, over time, many more will be able to answer the same way.

Of course, I wouldn’t say our day-to-day life is our own little version of elysium but it’s one that we’ve built and continue to evolve on our own terms. It’s ours to (re)define as we see fit and I dare anyone to tell me that that doesn’t keep a person engrossed, wanting to see where it's all headed. 

In the past, the less I felt I controlled the outcome, the more I sought escape. Now, I see the standard 2-week vacation as something that takes me away from the people, projects and activities I enjoy most, unless the destination's a pretty cool place with lots to learn, see and experience.

Adventure and discovery has to be the purpose for this vacation because there’s no need for distraction, no need to "recharge", really. Maybe Mr. F2P and I will even take the opportunity to have some of those deep discussions that don’t tend to happen often enough in close relationships. That. Would. Be. Awesome.

4. It’s one of the least expensive trips we've ever taken.

OK, I’ll admit the price was a factor in our (aka "my") impulsive decision to book the trip. So far it's costing us a mere $933.83 CDN (approx. $710 USD):

  • Flights: $213.82 ($1,557.82 without points and double that without the seat sale)
  • Hotel: $581.00 (nine nights at a beachfront property, includes WiFi, breakfast, free parking, was “prepaid” but not charged to our card)
  • Rental Car: $139.01 (compact 2-door, does not include fuel, “prepaid” but not charged to our card)

The deals above were a combination of using points, avoiding hotel chains in favour of local businesses, prepayment discounts and a seat sale. Truth be told, I would have considered paying twice as much for what we're getting a deal, so this is pretty amazing, at least to me.

5. We’re being “reckless” with our money by self-insuring our trip.

I know! Crazy, right?

No really. Other than having travel health insurance, we’ll be taking our chances. We’ve been self-insuring our travel for years and, at this point, if we need to pay for flight changes, hotel issues, etc. the amount we’ve saved so far would more than cover these costs.

At most, our exposure would be $3,000 if we had to pay full price for our tickets both to and from Costa Rica. I would find that highly unlikely and if we were faced with that situation, we’d likely just stay home. More realistically, we might have a $1,500-$2,000 exposure due to having to leave on a different day than we’d planned. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

Further to the above, one of the things I found amazing was that both the hotel and the car have a free cancellation policy up to 24 hours prior to making use of the service, which means we get all the benefit with none of the risk of having booked these services months in advance. Not much downside here.

6. We used a credit card to do it.

For all the self-proclaimed money gurus who tell us not to use plastic, I say “it depends”. Maybe using plastic isn’t a good idea when someone has a “taste for credit”. Given we don’t use credit and don’t currently have debt with any financial institution (though we’ve recently secured a HELOC in the event Mr. F2P finds a suitable house-flipping project), I would say we’re not “high-risk” users.

If we could get a cash discount on everything we buy, I’d go that route in a heartbeat and leave credit cards behind. As long as that's not available, I’ll take advantage of whatever's most effective, which means points, at least for now. 

We use our credit cards like debit cards for both our personal and business expenses wherever possible. We pay the balance in full every month, without fail, and take full advantage of the points schemes various credit cards offer (dividends and airline points). The cost of these programs is built into all the products we buy, with the price having been inflated by the 1-4% merchants have to remit to the financial institutions that enable electronic transactions (and I’m not including the interest/late & over-the-limit fees banks make off the backs of so many users), so why not get our fair share of the rewards? 

Without these rewards, our trip would have cost us $1,344 more ($2,277.83 vs $933.83). That’s a 244% difference! And for those who say the credit cards make us spend more, we’d have to spend more than an extra $112 per month for there to be no benefit in using a credit card…and that’s assuming that we were throwing this money away and not purchasing something that adds to our quality of life in the first place. I find that assumption to be quite a stretch, given that our biggest household expense is our grocery bill.

So there you have it. Ten days in paradise for under $1,000.

Thoughts? Insights? Objections? I'm all ears.