Illustration by Upasana Agarwal for 1 Finance Magazine

The Irish call it a Claddagh ring. It’s a pretty ring: two hands clasping a heart, which has a crown affixed to it. The lady at the souvenir shop tells me the heart symbolises love; the hands, friendship; and the crown, loyalty. The rings are worn in a particular way depending on your ‘status’ in life: single, in a relationship, engaged, or married. It’s a spiel: one that takes a small truth, wraps it up in a legend, and sells it as an overpriced ring. The ring is double the price of the other sterling silver jewellery I own. Yet, I am hooked. There’s the briefest moment of hesitation. “I’ll take it.”

It took a pandemic to help me overcome my guilt about spending my own money while travelling — a pandemic, and an expensive holiday in Ireland.

This April, I went to Ireland. It was a birthday trip, which came at the right time and helped me realise all my pent-up travel dreams. Predictably, I overshot my travel budget and was reminded of this by notifications on my phone each time I swiped my card. Barring some twinges, I didn’t feel much guilt. I had to remind myself of the most important thing — this is why I had savings. To travel. To eat at fancy restaurants. To visit libraries and museums. To eat and drink well. To splurge on gifts for the people I love, including myself.

The trip reminded me of a valuable lesson: when you are single and have few financial responsibilities, you can afford to be selfish.

I am selfish when it comes to my money. I wasn’t always like this.

I grew up in middle-class Goa, and though we lived in a big house, money didn’t flow freely. My mother would scrimp and walk the extra mile to save a few rupees — something she does to date. When my dad, the only earning member of our family, retired, money became tighter and was spent on my siblings’ and my education, and on buying a house that was close to our schools. We didn’t get allowances, we carried a tiffin from home — eating in the canteen was a rare treat. I grew up learning about bargains and discounts. We didn’t go on vacations like the families in movies and TV shows did. Travel was a luxury we couldn’t afford.

When I started earning, I was frugal. Living in Mumbai was expensive but I didn’t have lavish vices, so much of my salary went into savings: mutual funds and tax-saving investments. Money, for me, was about independence. In my early 20s, a well-meaning relative suggested that I should marry soon because ‘who will take care of you?’. I decided then that I would take care of myself, at least financially. Instead of saving money for marriage and children, I was saving for what I envisioned to be a big part of my life: travel.

For a person who grew up saving every rupee, the first time venturing on a vacation is difficult. It’s why I started researching my trips beforehand: beyond the information of what to do and where to go, I noted what was affordable, where to buy cheap food, how to use public transport, and so on. My souvenirs were limited to fridge magnets and bookmarks. I couch-surfed or stayed with friends.

Over the years, as my guilt has lessened, my travel has changed. I have become an extravagant (within reason) traveller who spends on comfort (choosing a hotel over a hostel) and experiences: booking an expensive tour to see penguins in South Africa, buying a ticket to briefly see the oldest manuscript in the world; drinking overpriced cocktails at a fancy bar because the bartender is cute; eating at an award-winning restaurant; and more. As for souvenirs, I’ve upgraded from magnets to food, like chocolates, cheeses, and meats, and alcohol. From Ireland, I carried jewellery, bottles of whiskey, treats and toys for my dog, and baby clothes for my new nephew.

My savings and limited financial responsibility enable this luxury. I still prefer investing in a vacation rather than a house. Why wouldn’t I? Travel fills my soul and feeds my mind. It offers me joy, memories to cherish, a broader understanding of the world and life, and teaches me a lot about myself. And, sometimes, it gives me a beautiful piece of jewellery.

Joanna Lobo is a freelance writer from Goa who specialises in writing about travel, food, culture, lifestyle, and all things Goan. 

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