Why I blow my yearly holiday budget before the third week of February

The start of the year tends to be serious. It’s ruled by self-improvement and goal setting. Fun is at a minimum while we’re hunkering down with blankets and sticking to daily schedules.

For me, a strict January and February routine was both down to social pressure of “new year, new me”, but also seasonal affective disorder, the condition that leaves around 1.6 million people in the UK feeling depressed and tired during the winter months.

At one time, I was convinced that order and structure was the answer to beating the lows (lots of advice suggests routine is good for supporting mental health) – or, at the very least, that planning for the brighter months ahead would offer something to look forward to.

Lombok: Chloe has travelled to Indonesia for winter (Photo: Getty)

But, in the last couple of years, the best thing I’ve done for beating my winter blues is throwing out the routine and escaping overseas. By the third week of February, I tend to have spent all of my annual travel budget.

I know that statement might be eye-roll inducing. Of course, holidays aren’t the solution to mental health concerns. And I know the cost of living crisis has reduced many people’s disposable income.

But I’m not suggesting adding an additional break to your saving goals. Instead, I’m encouraging you to rethink how and when you go on holiday.

Data from ABTA, the travel association, suggests that 48 per cent of travellers planned to go abroad in spring and 46 per cent in summer, compared to just 28 per cent in winter.

Yet it’s during the UK’s coldest months that many Britons are most in need of a break. While the thought of blowing your holiday budget before the end of February might make you nervous, let me assure you that it can be worth it.

When I went freelance, I realised I could stay abroad over winter.

Young adult girls looking at vegetables in the Mercado de Jamaica, Mexico City.
Being in warmer climates with more exposure to vitamin D can be good for your wellbeing (Photo: Linka A Odom/Getty)

I emptied my holiday fund with a flight to Mexico and spent the month in bikinis, with my margaritas and tacos soundtracked by the sea. Back home in the UK a few weeks later, I felt unnervingly settled.

By May, I looked back and remembered I’d got through the entire winter without a panic attack, burnout or general low mood. By August, I was so obsessed with how well my winter sun holiday turned out that I started planning the following year’s trip (yes, I’m writing this from a cafe in Indonesia).

Dr Becky Spelman, resident psychologist for holiday company First Choice, tells me that I’m not imagining the link between a January break and improved wellbeing.

“Sunlight tends to be limited in the UK during the winter, meaning we are all at a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency.

“The nutrient is essential for bone health, immune system function and overall wellbeing and a warm winter getaway with safe sun exposure can support in replenishing your vitamin D levels.”

“Sunlight has also been linked to the release of serotonin – the neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of wellbeing and happiness. A sunny break abroad can help alleviate symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and improve overall mental health.”

She also notes that warm weather makes us more active, with the cold weather leading us to “hibernate” indoors. Outdoor activities such as swimming, water sports and hiking, for example, offer an endorphin boost.

“Holidays where you have the chance to do something energetic or [to try new things, such as a hobby] are proven to help boost your mental health, creativity and general wellbeing,” she adds.

I didn’t regret going without an summer holiday.

Of course, there’s a lot of privilege that comes with uprooting my life to avoid winter. I’m in my late twenties with few responsibilities: I don’t have children and school holidays to consider, for example (although, if I did, I’d choose the February half term for a big annual break.

But the decision to blow through my annual holiday budget doesn’t come lightly. I don’t make enough money to go galivanting around the globe without worrying about my bank balance.

I work through much of my winter trips to make them financially viable – a perk of freelance life but some employers are receptive to a few weeks of working remotely.

Winter trips may not, strictly, be a holiday, but they can still give my wellbeing a boost, according to Dr Spelman.

“Changing your environment can effectively take your mind off autopilot and wake up the neurons in your brain, making you more receptive to learning a new skill or habit when you’re away and implementing it into daily life when you return,” she says.

You also don’t have to be away in a far-flung climate to benefit from a break. For a closer-to-home option, the Canary Islands have a microclimate that means their winter is still warm enough to go out in short sleeves. But I stay firm in the fact that one of the best parts of the trip – aside from the warm weather – was shedding myself from the mundanity of typical UK winters.

Dr Spelman agrees: “While a holiday to warmer climes can offer unique and significant health and wellbeing benefits, taking a break, even in the form of a staycation during the winter, can also have numerous advantages.

“A change in routine and environment, regardless of the climate, can provide a much-needed mental refreshment. Breaking away from our usual surroundings can have a positive impact on both mood and mindset, promoting a healthier headspace upon return.”

Blowing your holiday budget by mid-February could do the most mood-boosting thing you do all year.