By Josh Katzowitz, WCI Content Director

About six months ago, we started a new feature here at The White Coat Investor, writing about our travel adventures and what lessons (financial or otherwise) we can learn from them. Whether it's WCI Founder Dr. Jim Dahle writing about climbing to the top of the highest point in Wyoming, guest writer Michael Mulick describing how his working trek to Sudan reinvigorated his career, or WCICON23 keynote speaker Stacy Taniguchi reliving his nearly disastrous mountain trek on Denali, there is value in learning from others' world-traveling wisdom.

The new occasional feature is called WCI Travel Club, and our first edition featured essays from Jim on Growing Old on Half Dome; from WCI Columnist Tyler Scott on Thailand, Credit Card Points, and the Power of a 100% Tip; and from WCI Columnist Margaret Curtis on My Alaska. Today, we unveil our second edition of WCI Travel Club.

Before we get to the new travel essays, though, I again want to invite all readers to share their experiences with the community. If you have undertaken a trip that taught you lessons about finance, mental wellness, or some other aspect of medicine or life, I’d love to hear from you so that we can include your story in subsequent Travel Club columns. These essays can be inspiring, or they simply can be a nice break in the day to be transported to other parts of the globe. After all, the outside world is always there to teach us lessons.

If you're interested in submitting your own WCI Travel Club essay, email me at [email protected] so we can discuss it. It would thrill me to no end to publish these columns a few times a year.

 

My Peruvian Goat

By Liz Aarons, Guest Writer

The sun peeked over the mountains, greeting us in our Peruvian village, our home for the week. My colleague and I had traveled to the highlands of Peru for a volunteer medical mission trip. It was our first morning and the organizers were busy turning the local school into a pediatric clinic. They weren’t quite ready for us, and they instructed us to explore the town and take in some sights.

My colleague and I flashed apologetic smiles at the long line of children patiently waiting and wandered off. It was a crisp October morning, and we pulled our jackets tighter as the wind cut through, the dust billowing around us. We walked along the steep, narrow dirt roads, past the humble homes made with bricks and tin roofs, the playing children, and the women in colorful skirts. A nearby donkey startled us when he broke into a loud bray.

A few steps ahead of us, a man carrying a goat caught our attention, and we stopped to watch. The goat, with his hooves bound, bleated and protested. The man ignored him and instead, when he arrived in front of a home, he heaved him off his back. The goat landed with a thud on the ground. The man withdrew a large knife from his belt and bent over. There was no doubt about the goat’s fate. My colleague and I promptly turned on our heels and headed back to the clinic.

My Peruvian goat

A few hours later, we were told that a local villager wanted to host us for lunch. They were honored that we traveled such a distance to care for their children. We were led through the town on a midday field trip. As we turned right and then left, we soon recognized the area from the morning walk. As we approached the home, we knew exactly where we were and what would be on the menu. We stepped over the blood-soaked dirt at the entranceway and into the modest home. There was one small window, and it took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the relative darkness. The thick cement walls kept the home cooler, and I wrapped my arms around myself for warmth. The ceiling had several large wooden beams embedded in it. Suspended from a hook on the back beam hung a goat-sized piece of meat.

I sat at the wooden table and accepted the stew. I felt both honored for the meal and complicit in the poor goat’s demise. These were not wealthy people, and that goat likely was valuable. They chose to share it with us. The heaviness, the solemnness of the moment permeated the room.

As I took a bite, I caught the eye of the woman serving the meal. She was small in stature, with dark hair spilling down her back. I smiled and gestured that the food was good. She stood straight and folded her hands. A small smile crept across her face.

The bartering system has been around for as long as people have needed each other. Doctors have long walked up dusty paths to patients’ homes and left with warm eggs and tomatoes from the harvest. When money gained popularity and use, it allowed for better precision so that my larger healthier cow could cost more than your smaller cow. Plus, it took care of the physician who was lactose intolerant or just didn’t like vegetables. No doubt, monetary systems aren’t going anywhere, and their positives outweigh the negatives of the old bartering system.

And yet.

I bet those grateful patients hand-selected their largest tomatoes to pay their doctor. I bet they placed those eggs in his hand with care. There was something larger at play besides an exchange of goods and services. It was personal and intimate, a thoughtful exchange. We still do this in small ways today. We bring in a coffee to the resident who handled that tough patient with grace. We return our neighbor’s borrowed lawnmower along with a six-pack of beer. We think of them as a “thank you,” but they are more likely a leftover from that ancient system, a personal and thoughtful payment.

When I think back to that day, sipping that homemade stew, I still feel some guilt for the poor goat. But I’m also honored and grateful. That single meal has stayed with me longer than any Venmo payment ever could.

It really was delicious.

 

My Peruvian goat 2

Photo via Liz Aarons

 

My Peruvian goat 3

Photo via Liz Aarons

 

Is a Family Disney Trip Cliché? Not Financially

By Dr. Rikki Racela, WCI Columnist

I’m not as adventurous as Jim, and I am not as tough, brave, or interesting. I prefer my vacations to be safe, common, and mundane. Actually, that last quality is only true in comparison to climbing Half Dome, but if you are a true fan, going to Disney World is definitely not mundane (please see my previous Star Wars post). And despite not being as grueling a trip, my latest foray to Disney World had plenty to teach about personal finance and the money compromises that lie within.

 

A Compromise: Plane Tickets

Even before we got to Disney, the first financial decision that caused my wife and me some angst was compromising on paying for plane tickets. My wife has a huge aversion to budget airlines, and when I proposed the best tickets would be flying Spirit Airlines, her first comment was, “No! I’d like our family to get to Orlando alive. Please choose a better airline.” Showing her the options, there was the option of flying JetBlue around the same time out of Newark . . . for $60 extra. Multiply that by four tickets for our family, and we were looking at an extra $240.

Now, I am the cheapest man alive, and I’d like to think I am also realistic about where our money is going. To pay an extra $240 for tickets for somewhat questionable extra safety is something I don’t agree with. I tried showing the evidence that Spirit has a similar safety record as any other airline. I mentioned how that $240 would allow us to buy a nice dinner for the family. I even desperately mentioned that $240 invested in VTI would be worth 10x as much by the time we retire (using the rule of 72 and a 10% historical return for the total stock market—I am retiring in 23 years, so about three doublings). But my wife was undeterred. It was cemented in her mind that budget airlines were associated with a higher risk of death despite statistics to the contrary.

med school scholarship sponsor

Luckily, one of my friends and a fellow white coat investor put things in perspective. “It’s only $240 . . . for peace of mind and making your wife happy.” To avoid any further arguing (and not having to deal with those small conveniences that make budget airlines budget airlines), we went with the more expensive JetBlue option.

 

Not Exactly a Family Trip Made Disney Worth It

I titled this essay as a family trip, but that’s not exactly true. Yes, we did go to Disney as a family, but the reason we went was in the context of my kids' dance competition. Despite being only 6 and 7 years old, they are already performing in these types of competitions—not because they are so talented, but because it seems the dance world tries to suck in your kids early. The kids get excited over trips to places like Disney and also being on stage, performing in front of a large crowd and feeling the excitement of being a dancer. And when the kids are hooked, then the parents get hooked paying thousands of dollars on dance lessons, costumes, dresses, and dance-related merch.

But I digress.

It was kind of amazing seeing them perform on a big stage at such a young age, making the cost of the trip worth it to see them perform. Luckily, the dance competition adds in some downtime for families to hit the parks, and seeing the kids laughing and playing and enjoying the world’s most amazing rides with their friends is an experience you can’t really scale with the $10,000 price of the trip. I’m not exactly sure where the monetary breaking point would have been for my wife and me, but for those types of memories for our family with their friends, we would have paid much more.

Jonathan Clements of HumbleDollar mentioned in his talk at one of the WCICON conferences that, “Friends and family do not just make us happier; they could also help us to live longer, an effect on life expectancy equal to that achieved by not smoking.” He then jokingly said, “So, if you are going to smoke, never smoke alone!” The social aspect of our Disney vacation likely added years to our lives.

 

There Are Things to Skimp Out On

Knowing the immense cost of a trip to Disney, we tried to implement some WCI principles to limit the cost. During the dance days when our family was relegated to the Swan and Dolphin hotel all day, my wife on the first morning of the dance competition asked me, “Could you look up the nearest Publix—I’m gonna get food and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for us and the kids.” My response: “Dominating! I’ll text you the address!” I guess my frugality has rubbed off, but my wife recognized that buying food at the hotel for breakfast and lunch just isn’t worth it. Breakfast just for bagels and coffee could set us back $40! Lunch could be twice that amount! Yes, buying food at Disney can be super expensive, and we were willing to add some extra inconvenience of buying food at the supermarket to save money.

 

There Are Things Not to Skimp Out On

By contrast, there are items to purchase that, despite the heavy price tag, were absolutely worth it. One of these things included meals at the parks itself. Yes, a meal for lunch for a family of four could cost $200, but when in the middle of a Disney park while it’s sweltering out, the cool air-conditioned interior beats packing a lunch and eating outside. Plus, you have the added experience of Disney characters.

 

rikki disney world

Photo via Rikki Racela

 

You can purchase additional experiences for your children on top of the rides that come with your park ticket. After already paying a few hundred bucks for park tickets, do you really feel like splurging on these extra experiences? Just as long as you’ve budgeted for it and continue to save 20% of your gross income toward retirement, my answer is a resounding yes.

For example, for $300, you can build your own lightsaber! Or get a princess makeover (at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique) for another $300.

 

rikki disney world princess

Photo via Rikki Racela

 

Despite these experiences costing as much as the actual park tickets, Disney does not mess around with what you get. The extra added experiences were worth it, and the memories will last a lifetime.

 

Cliché, But Definitely Worth It

Yes, doing Disney World is not as interesting/dangerous/cool as some of the trips the owner of this website and other WCI staff and readers have taken. But it was still wonderful, deeply personal, and enduringly satisfying for our family. You might already know the concept of rosy retrospection, where humans tend to recall the past more fondly as time goes on. Clements says, “The pleasant memories of a trip could be revisited again and again in your mind, bringing great satisfaction at both the time of the trip as well as later on when the memories can be called back up again.” Our trip to Disney, despite being cliché, is no exception.

 

Walking the Camino de Portugues

By Dr. Anthony Ellis, WCI Columnist

When I told our friends that my wife and I were going to “walk the Camino” for our 30th anniversary, many were excited for us. But some told us it did not sound like a vacation walking 118 kilometers (about 73 miles) in six days. The Camino to Santiago de Compostela has been a Catholic pilgrimage for over a millennium, but my wife and I were inspired by the 2010 film, The Way, starring Martin Sheen. In this century, the Camino can also be a saunter across beautiful countryside for people from all cultures. Despite the religious history of the Camino, not all pilgrims walk for spiritual reasons. The most famous complete route is from the French Pyrenees, and it's almost 800 kilometers (500 miles) in length.

The Portuguese Camino Central route is more “pilgrim friendly,” and it has more restaurants, accommodations, luggage porterage services, and English-speaking staff. We chose the last 120 kilometers of Portugal's central route as we wanted to explore Porto before the Camino walk. Porto is the second largest city in Portugal after the capital city, Lisbon, and it's a walkable city on the Douro River. We arranged a three-night stay and had a wonderful time exploring Porto. The food and drink were noticeably less expensive and delicious, and it was sourced locally. We took the “Seven Bridges” river cruise and enjoyed the cuisine, the culture, and the Portuguese people, most of whom spoke English. We tried port wine after touring a port vineyard. Our taxi driver talked us into trying the local famous sandwich, the francesinha. The seafood dishes with shrimp, scallops, and fresh fish at half the prices we have become accustomed to in the States were a highlight.

The historical Campanha train station was the embarkation point for the two-hour train ride to Valença, Portugal, near the Spanish border and our first tour company lodging during our Camino. We were allowed to use an old deposit toward this trip since the pandemic canceled our original 2020 plans. Our luggage was ported daily to the next hotel or guest house, and a hearty daily breakfast of meat, cheeses, pastries, eggs, juice, and coffee was always included. The lodging was mostly in the middle of the price range for the region, and it was fine for sleeping and resting, which we did a lot after our daily mileage. The tour company also included stays at two country homes with locals for a more authentic experience.

We walked an average of 20 kilometers (about 12.4 miles) per day. It was clear after Day 2 that even in May, setting off early and finishing close to 15 kilometers by noon was imperative as the temperature rose to 84 degrees by mid-afternoon making the hills more difficult. The last 100 kilometers of the Camino de Portugues qualify for the certification of completion (Compostela). Food, drink, and excellent coffee were frequently found just when needed on our chosen path, so we carried a light pack with mostly water and snacks. The prices were one-third to half what we would pay for similar food and drink in the US.

The Spanish countryside was beautiful, and it seemed that along the Camino in Galicia, many houses had their own gardens and small vineyards. The owner of a guest house told us that she grew her own grapes and then had wine made from them by a local winemaker. The cathedrals along the Camino were spectacular. We spoke with; walked with; and drank local beer, wine, and port with pilgrims from dozens of countries across the globe. Meeting people from diverse cultures and backgrounds was a highlight of the Camino experience. We never had to worry about getting lost, and we never felt unsafe. The well-marked route became more crowded as we got closer to Santiago de Compostela.

The Santiago de Compostela cathedral was one of the most beautiful we had ever seen. Our tour company saved the best for last and arranged lodging at Parador de Santiago de Compostela, the oldest hotel in Spain. The champagne breakfast, grounds, service, and proximity to the cathedral were excellent. The champagne breakfast to order was spectacular and the best one on our trip.

Our Airbnb lodging for an extra night in Santiago fell through, setting up an interesting wrinkle. We tried to get another night at the Paradores, but it was booked, and we ended up in a pension hotel, which was quite an experience with a room and a communal bathroom. Getting back to our Airbnb in Porto via the taxi, train, taxi route was going to take all day, and we opted for a private car arranged by the Porto Airbnb owner. The road distance to Porto flew by and made the weeklong walk amusing in contrast. Instead of banging around with our luggage in and out of taxis and trains, we took the ride in a nice car with a professional driver. That transportation choice will be repeated on future trips as we gained a half-day to explore more of Porto. We followed the recommendations of our Airbnb host, and we went to her favorite restaurants and took the tram to a beach town to the north of Porto (Foz do Douro), ending the trip on a gustatory high note.

 

Camino Portugal Spain

Photo via Anthony Ellis

 

Camino Portugal Spain

Photo via Anthony Ellis

 

So, what did we learn from all of this?

We found out that eating and drinking delicious, inexpensive food and drinking wonderful local wine with abandon requires about 75 miles of walking to have a chance at gaining no weight on vacation. Our trip was from Charlotte to Newark to Lisbon to Porto. We paid for the Newark portion with points, but it was still $1,600 per person. Bracketing the walking portion with three days in Porto at the front and two days at the end was a good idea, as it is a wonderful city to explore on foot if you are in shape. Flying to Lisbon is another option, but the chosen 120 kilometers of our Camino was near the Portuguese border. The Portuguese and Spanish people were friendly, informative, and accommodating.

It was one of our favorite trips since we traveled to Peru in 2013 and walked 120 kilometers through the Andes to Machu Picchu. But that is another story for another day.

More of WCI Travel Club:

Meaningful Trips to Half Dome, Thailand, and Alaska

 

Do you have your own travel stories where you learned a lesson? What else have you gained from your journeys? Comment below and/or email me!

[Editor's Note: For comments, complaints, suggestions, or plaudits, email Josh Katzowitz at [email protected].]