Travel While You Are Young

Taking Grandma on her dream trip.

Many doctors have the dream of traveling the world. But this dream is constantly being postponed by various things that happen throughout our lives. We can’t travel now because of residency, after residency, then we can travel. We can’t travel now because of the new baby, when she goes to school, then we can travel. We can’t travel now because I just started a new job, after we settle in for a few years, then we can travel. We can’t travel now because I’m still working, after I retire, then we can travel.

The notion of living your dream someday usually turns into living your dream never. That’s how procrastination works. We keep putting something off until we realize we are never going to get it done. I want to see you reach your dreams, not postpone them. If you really want to travel, don’t put it off, begin planning now.

An event happened in my life that really brought this idea to my awareness. My wife was always talking about how she wanted to take a cruise to Alaska. For various reasons, that cruise never got booked. Then one day we found she had breast cancer. It made me think, what if she dies from breast cancer and we never did go on that cruise to Alaska she wants? She would die with unfulfilled dreams. We booked the cruise and took it the following summer.

You can travel while you still work. That’s why you have vacation time, to get away from work. Do not postpone your travel “bucket list” until after retirement, as your health may decline and not allow you to travel forcing you to miss out entirely. During our recent Mediterranean cruise, my wife and I noticed we were one of the youngest couples on the boat, and many of the other travelers did not get around very well. Travel while you are still young enough to be mobile.

Make good use of your vacation time throughout your career. Never let vacation days expire. Some doctors use the phrase “I never use all my vacation time” as if it were a medal of honor, when in reality it is a poorly thought-out decision. Most of us work long and arduous hours and the need for vacation should not be underestimated. Use your vacations to get a twofer; time away from work to recharge and check off one more travel destination from your bucket list.

Depending on your situation, vacation allotments may vary widely. Some doctors have greater control over their schedule and can take any amount of vacation they desire. The extra time off will only result in a lower income. I worked in such a situation and took nine to twelve weeks of vacation annually during my career. That is one of the benefits of being in private practice. Others may have vacation time more restricted by an employer and might be limited to four to six weeks a year.

The key is to use the time you have wisely. For example, add three vacation days to a weekend you already have off. This creates a five-day weekend. If you have six weeks off allotted for the year—30 working days—this method will give you ten five-day vacations throughout the year. This may effectively convert your six weeks off into ten weeks of travel. This becomes even more effective if you have one day a week out of the office to tack on as well. For example, if you have Tuesday off during the week and were to take three days of vacation on Wednesday through Friday, you effectively converted three days of vacation into a six-day trip. Flying out Monday evening after work adds on even more time to the trip. You can also use CME conferences for travel to a city you want to explore and, either before or after the meeting, add some vacation days to the trip. This has the added benefit of making a vacation partially tax deductible.

There are ways to get more time off if that is what you desire. If you are employed, you may be able to negotiate for more time off; if needed, you can lower your salary to accommodate this. Of course, this is more easily done during your initial contract negotiations for your employment. At that time, you have the most power at the negotiating table, because they want you to join them. Afterward, once you are in their employ, your negotiating power is much less and you might actually need to change jobs to obtain more time off.

If you are financially ready to retire, the lower income from taking extra time off will not be an issue, especially since continuing to work generates more income than being retired would. If you are not financially ready to retire, consider scaling back your spending to accommodate your desire to travel. The big house may have lost its importance to you, when your kids are gone and you want to travel.
One friend of mine had a clever concept he used during his career. He decided early on to move his retirement target date out an extra two years. This gave him an additional 104 weeks of income production during his working years. He then spread that over his career by taking an extra three weeks of vacation each year. He was able to use that extra time with his family when his children were young, instead of having more years in retirement. He and his family were very happy with that decision, and his lifetime income and number of working days were not decreased as a result. This had an added bonus of allowing his retirement account two more years of growth as well. Think outside the box and you will come up with some great ideas.

If traveling is on your bucket list, do it now and not someday when something is different. Otherwise, there will always be something in the way. If they truly are your dreams, then work them into your life now, because someday may never get here.

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3 thoughts on “Travel While You Are Young”

  1. During training with no kids and at least 15 days of vacation time, we made it a priority to do lots of traveling. Since we were making some income we could finally afford to do so, and savings took a backseat. It was well worth it and I crossed off many items on my bucket list. we always did 5 days book-ended by weekends, effectively a 9-day vacation.

  2. Great article — thank you.
    From residency, I always looked forward to the idea of attending medical conferences in exotic places to have the benefit of family vacation and medical education WITH tax breaks like you mentioned. But as a W2 employee, I have never been able to offset this against my wages. Is there any way around this for a higher income W2 earner?

    • AT,
      Yes there is a way to get it but you must do something to make a business. Employees don’t get this benefit, but they can get the employer to pay for the trip, which is even better than deducting it. For you to deduct it, it must be associated with a business and not appear on Schedule A. You could do some locums work on the side, one weekend every other month for instance. Your locums business could be set up to get a 1099 and thus you would have some business income to write off the CME against. You could start a side business, such as writing a blog, and then write the CME trips off against the blog. You could start a real estate business and go to investing seminars and write them off.

      Get creative in thinking of ways to have a business, or for your spouse to have a business, so you can take advantage of all the tax laws set up to help small businesses. If your only source of income falls onto a W-2 form, you will miss out on a lot of advantages in the tax system. That is one of the disadvantages of being an employed physician.

      Best of luck to you,
      Dr. Cory S. Fawcett


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