Why I'm Using My Kid's College Funds for Travel Instead

Wendy Robinson

Wendy Robinson

My kids are asleep for the night and I take advantage of the quiet to turn on my laptop. With a few clicks I’m back on Google flights, looking for cheap plane tickets for our next family adventure. We’ve never been to Europe, so maybe Amsterdam? I’ve always wanted to see Dublin. My husband lived in Panama for four years when he was about my son’s age. Maybe it would be cool to visit there during rainy season.

For now, I’m just window shopping. We’ve traveled a lot in the last year (Toronto and Montreal by train were the big highlights) and it will take us a few months to rebuild our travel savings account. The last time I did the math, I estimated that we’ve spent about 15 percent of our net income on travel -- which may seem like a lot to some people, especially given that we’ve saved exactly $0 for future college expenses for my kids (ages 6 and 10).

  •  The lack of college savings accounts for the kids would probably make most financial advisors cringe.

    Wendy Robinson

    I know we have friends who are putting aside money every month for their kid’s college funds who probably think we are crazy. It might even seem ironic given that my husband and I both have PhDs and work in higher education. I know all too well how expensive college is, a fact I’m reminded of every month as I dutifully pay $700 a month toward paying off my student loans. Although there is a part of me that hopes my kids won’t end up with the student loan burden that I have, that hope isn’t enough to make me want to prioritize saving for their future educations over having adventures as a family now. 

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  • I’m a believer in the idea that how you spend your money reflects your values. 

    Wendy Robinson

    Even though I value the idea of a college education for my children, that isn’t my highest goal for them. It’s cool if they go on to earn multiple degrees like their parents, but it is vital to me that they grow up to be curious, resourceful, brave, and tolerant. I want them to grow up knowing that national pride is kind of overrated because there are lots of great people and countries in the world. I want them to have the experience of being in places where nobody looks, sounds, or thinks exactly like them.

    There are things you can only learn through travel. There is some knowledge you just can’t get in college.

    Before I had kids, I did a study abroad semester in Ghana. When I was in my early 20’s, I moved to South Korea for a year to teach English. Both of those experiences were totally transformative for me. I left those countries a different, better, and even less-racist version of myself. How could I not want to give my kids the chance to become the best versions of themselves by giving them chances to learn to navigate new places and cultures? When I think about it like that, the idea of not traveling to save for college instead seems strange and even short-sighted.

  • I’d rather them have student loan debt later than not get to see the world now.

    Wendy Robinson   kid
    Wendy Robinson

    When we were in Montreal, we walked from an old neighborhood where every sign was in French down to Chinatown. We found a little restaurant in a basement and I watched my son practice mastering chopsticks while eating a plate of sweet and sour fish. Our waiter, who was a recent immigrant to Montreal from Singapore, stopped by and chatted with my son about British Premier League soccer. He smiled as the kids practiced a few French words on him, and I smiled as he somehow coaxed both of my kids to try hot green tea for the first time. It was one of those small moments that would never have happened if we had stayed at home. The world felt like a small and friendly place.

  • Travel is a privilege worth paying for.

    traveling with family
    Wendy Robin

    Although the trips we take aren’t always fancy (like the week we spent this summer in the north woods of Minnesota at family camp), I know we are fortunate to be able to have the option to spend money on travel. I also know that, because I work for a college, my kids will likely have some options for tuition discounts if I’m still here when they graduate from high school. But even if that wasn’t the case, I like to think we’d still figure out a way to travel as a family.

    Maybe when college gets a little closer, we’ll start trying to set aside a little money for tuition. But for now, Buenos Aires or Madrid or Cape Town beckon first. I’d rather pay for the education only a well-stamped passport can provide.

education saving travel