Making the most of your travels—lessons from Fresh Off the Boat


In a recent episode of the ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, the Huang family goes on vacation. Most of the jokes in this episode come from Jessica (the mom) and Louis (the dad) and their wildly different ideas about what it means to go on vacation. Surprisingly, there are a lot of personal finance and travel lessons to learn from the Huangs’ wacky trip to Gator World.

First things first: take time off.
The episode begins with Louis packing for what is ostensibly a “business trip.” Jessica notices that he packed his swimsuit (an odd item for a business trip, in her mind) and confronts him about it. She thinks that vacations are a waste of time and money for a large family with a restaurant to run. To ensure that he has nothing to hide, she tells the rest of the family that they’re all going to tag along on this business trip.

When they make it to the theme park resort where Louis was to have his “meetings,” Louis reveals that this was indeed a boys’ weekend away. Jessica is satisfied that she blew his cover, but now has trouble getting herself in the vacation mindset that she’s dismissed all along:

“I don’t know how to relax. It seems like a waste of time. I could be marinating meat or driving.”

Louis makes her get a massage, which changes her mind entirely. She finally comes to understand the importance of taking time off and letting go.

Lesson: Self-care is important. No matter what kind of work you’re doing, you can’t be at the top of your game if you don’t take some time to take care of your physical, emotional, and social needs. If traveling is something that meets those needs for you, that’s great! Start saving for travel so that you can afford to reward yourself with a trip to somewhere you want to go.

However, travel is also a big investment and one that doesn’t happen all that frequently. Smaller, more frequent investments in self-care (taking the weekend off to spend with friends and family, perhaps, or having a spa day at home for yourself) are just as important.

Combine business with pleasure

Louis reveals that he takes “business trips” every year with his colleagues. They sneak off for some R&R and tell their wives that they’re at some sort of convention. When Jessica storms into a restaurant at the resort where Louis is having a “meeting,” all of his friends duck down and scream out their wives’ names in fear.

Lesson (that Louis didn’t learn): Business trips and vacations don’t have to be completely separate events. If you’re going on a legitimate business trip, see if you can turn that into a mini travel experience. Even if you can’t spare an extra few days in that location, you might be able to have a meal at a local restaurant or spend a few hours wandering around a museum or a new neighborhood.

Get the most bang for your buck, but don’t sweat it too much

When Jessica gets to the hotel, she tries to get the most bang for her buck. She turns up the air conditioning, throws all of the toiletries into a bag, and even packs the hotel robes in her suitcase (not advisable). When she finds out that the theme park tickets cost money, she refuses to let her kids into the park. Her cheapskate antics make her family miserable. Eventually, they convince her to turn down the air conditioning, let the kids enjoy themselves, and even spend a little money on herself at the spa.

Lesson: Travel should be a treat. You should not be making yourself miserable. The point of saving money is to spend it at some later point. If you’ve made saving for travel a priority, you should not feel too guilty spending the money that you’ve saved. Do what you want, within reason. Your hard work made it possible!

Don’t throw all your frugal principles out the window, either

When they check out of the hotel, the Huangs find out that they’ve been charged for resort fees and other hidden fees that they didn’t know about. Jessica uses some unconventional tactics to negotiate down these fees.

Lesson: Even though you’re treating yourself, your frugal sensibilities should still be guiding you during your trip. Find affordable (but reasonable) transportation and accomodation options, and know in advance what fees to expect. Don’t eat out for every meal if you’re in a place where restaurants are expensive. If you feel confident in haggling, negotiate some of your fees–you don’t know what you could get unless you ask.


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