Category Archives: Travel

Island Hopping in the Seto Sea and Trying to Find Peace

I haven’t traveled alone a lot thus far in my life. After my trip with a friend to Thailand half-a-decade ago I stayed on for a few more days, got food poisoning in Bangkok the morning of my flight to Singapore, managed to make it to my flight and wander around Singapore solo for a few days before traveling back to the States. That was a lonely excursion and it was only a few days solo, but I did enjoy seeing Singapore and it was easy-ish since everyone spoke English.

Japan has been different because English is definitely not common here. I knew Japanese would be the primary language, obviously, but I thought there’d be more English speakers. It’s actually quite strange how the country seems to be obsessed with American / English-speaking culture, yet few can speak the language. Case in point, in most hotels and spas, there is English jazz music playing… but no one understands what the singers are saying. Even many shops have their signs written in English… one wonders if the people who work in the shop have any idea what the sign says…

The good thing about Japan is that the train system is so easy to navigate. I heard this from friends who have been in the past but I didn’t really believe them. Japan has a crazy amount of train lines and for international visitors you can get a 7, 14 or 21 day “all you can eat” pass which (in my 14 day version) I’ve certainly been putting to good use. The pass doesn’t cover all the trains, but an app makes it easy to figure out which trains can be ridden between one destination and the next. There are local trains – which are subway style – and then there are long-distance trains which range from fast to super duper fast (the super duper duper fast trains are not included in the pass.) The train I’m on right now is going 170 MPH…

Most people on their first trip to Japan do the Tokyo-Kyoto loop, some adding in Hiroshima (which is south of Kyoto). My trip has been Tokyo-Kyoto/Osaka-Hiroshima-Kyoto-Naoshima-Hakone (extra fee)-???-Tokyo. I considered heading down to the south island to visit Nagasaki and get out of the normal tourist loop, but am glad I didn’t because they’re having crazy rains down there right now and bad flooding… so this worked out much better.

I’m spending too much on this trip– I don’t even want to add it up at this point — but I also acknowledge that once I have kids (and, hopefully, another full-time job) I won’t be able to travel like this. Even with PTO, I would never relax and enjoy traveling if I had a job to go back to. It’s unfortunate but true – I can’t NOT think about my job. So – traveling when I don’t have a job is something I can’t take for granted at all, even if it sucks that I have to pay for health insurance and such being gainfully unemployed.

The trip was extra expensive because I – probably in bad judgement – decided to offer my sister a free trip to Japan as a belated college graduation gift (I had promised her I’d take her to hawaii if she graduated college, which then turned into Japan somehow). The trip in total is probably about $7000-$8000 not including “free” flights w/ points (I’ll do a final tally once it’s over)… with my husband’s portion around $2000 so I’ve spend $5k-ish total on the trip. Was it worth it? (Is it?)  Yes, definitely. There are a few over-spends where I see I could have saved cash but overall, for 24-day trip it’s not so bad. Without stays at a few fancy traditional-style inns (Ryokans) and spurges on dining (A5 Wagyu was worth it) I could have cut out $2k probably, but – YOLO. Right? I said it. YOLO.

Hubby and I are still planning on going on our ACTUAL honeymoon in September… to New Zealand… and I’m itching to also explore Australia while we’re in the down under parts… but I’m not sure I want to do another 3+ week trip. Husband definitely doesn’t, he maxes out his travel acceptance at two weeks… and since it’s our honeymoon, I think it would be nice for us to fly there and come back together. Bummed we can’t stop in Fiji but Zika is still prevalent there and on the off chance that I can actually get pregnant I shouldn’t be getting myself Zika (Mosquitos love me so I doubt there would be any way to avoid them.) Supposedly there is no Zika in Japan… if there is, well, my bumpy, itchy legs are not a good sign.

I’m glad I’m getting to travel extensively now, it is helping me scratch that itch so I don’t feel like I’m locked up and away at work for the entirety of my healthy years. Even now at 33 and out of shape I’ve definitely noticed my body does not travel as well as it used to — my feet have taken a beating unfortunately. We had been walking about a half marathon a day for the first two weeks of our trip (from sitting on my ass all day) so I pretty much f’d up my feet badly. The last few days traveling solo I’ve been able to listen to my body a bit more… when I need a break, I take a break. When I need to take a bus, I take a bus. When I need to stay at my hotel for the night because I can’t move, I do it. I’m feeling much better.

Part of this trip, I hoped, was to lose some weight. I am really ashamed that I managed to gain back all the weight I lost and then some. I was at 182 at my highest and then got down to 170 fairly easily, but the 30 pounds I lost took a lot of dedication and hard work over six months… then I got depressed, started binging like crazy and was up to 184, unsure of how I went from 140 to 150 to 165 to 170 to 184… but I did, and I felt awful. With this trip only being 3 weeks, I realistically can only lose 6-9 pounds at most. I don’t think I’ve lost much, but I’ll be quite happy if I get back to the states and I’m under 170 (I was about 175 when I left on my trip.) If I can get to ~169 from Japan, I have the next month including a weightloss bootcamp I’m going to for a week, where I want to lose another 8lbs, getting me closer to 160 by mid August. I’d love to be back at 150 for my honeymoon (I was briefly at 140 but my wedding weight was 150 and I think that was a good place to be) … so I’m targeting 150-160 for mid September. Going to probably have to go Keto for Aug/Sept to make that happen… but it will be worth it. And maybe, with doing that, I can actually get pregnant… which will save a good $50,000+ in IVF fees when that probably won’t work anyway.

With so much going on, it’s good to be alone for a bit and slow down. It would probably be helpful to unplug but for better or worse this country has really good wifi and I have a rental device that has me more connected than I’d be back in the states. I’ve tried to put my phone down for a bit… and take it all in. I love seeing new landscapes and architecture, getting lost down random alleyways (as long as I feel safe, which I always do in Japan), and just embrace being a nobody in this world. Yes, I know a few random people who live in Japan but odds of running into them are quite slim. I’m anonymous here even though everyone sees me, as no one looks at me, no one notices, no one cares. And in forever terms that would be awful but for a week or two it’s kind of nice. I don’t have to worry about what I look like (as long as I’m culturally presentable) — if my hair is frizzy or my stomach is bulging out because I’m not wearing Spanx… no one cares. Despite my mother complaining that my digitally-shared photos don’t include enough Japanese people in the background for her friends to believe I’m in Japan when she reshapes the pics (face palm), I have no pressures here, no annoying parental voice that linger in my head despite my long departed youth, no worries other than getting to my hotels on time, not getting my things stolen, and not running out of cash.

I know the real world will be back soon enough… and I HAVE to figure out a model of real world that works for me in perpetuity. It’s becoming more and more apparent that a career change is a necessity. It’s still hard to make the decision to leave a career that pays $150k-$250k annually for a job that may, especially to start, pay $60k-$100k and only see $150k in many, many years, if ever. But, I really want to have a family, I want to have time with my family, I want to be able to travel but I don’t need to travel luxuriously, and I’m almost ok with not being able to afford property and just to be a renter for the rest of my life. I’m trying so hard to take it one day at a time, and failing frequently, but getting closer to finding some sort calm admits the whirling storm of my ever-anxious mind.

Why Being a Bridesmaid is Costing me Over $2000

Well, over $2500 to be exact.

There were a few comments on my last post about my budget over the next three months about why – despite my otherwise frugal expectations of spending – my bridesmaid budget was quickly draining my networth. Someone said “you do realize you are spending $2500 on being a bridesmaid and that is ridiculous.” Well, I wanted to break out my costs to show you all that it’s not really that ridiculous at the moment. As I noted in my response to that comment – also – my friend has three bridesmaids vs a larger party so all of the items we’re buying we’re splitting 3 ways, which quickly gets expensive. And she already had drama with one of her bridesmaids (having to replace her) so unless I’m going into debt over this I don’t feel comfortable asking her to step out of the wedding or pay less than the other bridesmaids (neither of whom are rich either.)

Bridesmaid Budget

Flights to NY area for 3 events: $1200  ($400 per flight avg)
Bridal Shower Cards, Favors, Games: $100
Bridesmaid Dress: $200 (already purchased)
Bridesmaid Dress Alterations: TBD ($100?)
Bridesmaid Dress: Silver Peep Toe Shoes (required) $75
Bachelorette Party Hotel in NY: $150
Bachelorette Party Activities in NY: $200
Wedding Day Hair/Makeup: $150 (required by bride)
Hotel Nights (2) for Rehearsal Dinner & Wedding: $300
Gift for Bride & Groom: $200
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TOTAL $2625

There are a few items here I could minimize to reduce that budget a bit — I can use frequent flier miles for my flight (but they’re still worth something and tends not to be worth it to use them to fly cross country.) I can hope my dress fits well enough to not require any sort of severe alterations, but these dresses are designed to need alterations, at the very least a serious hem. I can make a stink about the $150 of hair and makeup required on the wedding day but she really wants us to get this done professionally for photos. If I was completely out of cash I’d say something to the bride about it, but it doesn’t feel right. I can skip the bridal shower which I’m sure she’d understand worst case scenerio, but now my plan is to piggyback an old friend’s baby shower the following weekend on that trip, and given I’ll be applying for jobs on the east coast too that week actually makes sense to set up some interviews while I’m there.

The actual bachelorette party in NY is super pricey. We were originally going to do it in Atlantic City which would have been cheaper but the bride really wanted NY so NY it is. I’m looking into ways to keep our budget in check so it’s no more than $300 per person total including the hotel room – as it’s very easy to spend much, much more than that in NYC for a night on the town.

In any chase when I agreed to being a bridesmaid I didn’t realize I’d be out of a job. I also wasn’t thinking necessarily about the costs but how honored I am to be chosen as a close friend of a girl who has indeed become a better friend of mine over the years despite our distance. It’s not like I have a ton of friends asking me to to be in their bridal parties (I was in one other wedding in my adult life — and that one had a ton of bridesmaids and all I had to pay for was my dress with alterations and opted for hair design at the wedding, plus I chipped in heavily for the bachlorette party because her maid of honor was refusing to throw a big party out like the bride wanted. Even that with a hotel in San Francisco did not come to over $600 or so total plus wedding gift.)

I’m not sure what to do now. Adding it all up on paper is a bit scary, especially given the no job situation. Also, if I do get a job and book flights for going back and forth that would be a pain in the first few months at the job. That may very well be what happens but it’s not going to be ideal. Anyway, now you all know why my bridesmaid budget is so high!

 

Total Cost of My Trip to Asia: $3000

My friend and I decided to take a trip overseas to celebrate our looming old age (i.e. turning 30.) Being as we both wanted a bit of culture with a tinge of relaxation without breaking the bank, all while not going completely third world, we settled on the ever-so popular Thailand.

Other than the flights, the trip could have been extremely cheap, but we decided to splurge here and there. The good thing is that splurging in Thailand is still extremely affordable. For example, on a day to myself I spent $60 on a THREE HOUR massage. It’s possible to get massages for $5/hour in Thailand, but this was in a reputable establishment. So that gives you an idea of how affordable a vacation is there.

One of the reasons our trip cost more than the typical trip to Thailand was our limited time and desire to “see everything.” Thailand is a small country compared to America, but it’s still too big to see without spending a significant amount of time traveling via ground transportation or paying for flights. After losing the two days of travel time each way, my friend had only seven days to spend with me on the ground. I decided to stay a few extra days to get my flight’s $$$ worth. Even so, taking on the role as travel planner extraordinare, I wanted to put together an amazing trip for both of us while we both were temporarily expatting. We went all over the place. Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Phi Phi, Sukothai, Krabi, Chiang Rai… and we did see a lot. It cost us. But it was worth it. Continue reading

Planning a 2-Week Trip to Asia for under $2500

While $2500 isn’t cheap, it’s not bad for a 2-week trip to Asia. My long-time friend and I decided we are going to make the most of the last days of our 20s by teaming up on a trip to somewhere in the far east. Well, that’s what we started with. We didn’t want to spend more than $2000 (but realizing flights from her city are $1500 we bumped this up to $2500) and we wanted to go for 10-15 days. She can do 10, I can do 15, so I quickly decided to stay on a bit longer since the flight was the biggest cost and I wanted to spend more time there once I arrived.

I’m pretty much an OCD trip planner. I’m not sure why I enjoy planning trips so much because I still get stressed during the trip that all the plans won’t work out. But I love knowing what’s coming next. At some point I’d like to take one of those “just go abroad and roam” type trips, but I want to make sure it’s in an area that I feel comfortable. Being as this is my first trip to Asia, I want the details – or at least the “where am I sleeping at night and how am I getting there” situations figured out.

Given that we want to keep costs low, and it’s both of our first international trips to Asia, we opted for Thailand. It seems this is a good “get your feet wet” city for Asia, and tourist friendly. Plenty of culture in the north, and if the rainy season doesn’t ruin it, some time at the beach. As of now, the plan is for me to travel on for 5 days on my own to end up in Singapore, where my flight back to the states will be. I was able to book a multi-city flight into BKK and back from SIN for $1050. Well, I have that flight on price lock as I try to sort out details with my friend to convince her to take the flight that connects onto my flight before heading over the Pacific. Unfortunately, she’s coming from a non major east coast city so her flight is $1500, unless she wants to travel on some creepy airline that has 3 stops and leaves from JFK – that is actually $1100, so it might be better for her, but she still has to get to JFK and for us time is very limited.

Once in BKK, I plan to have us stay a few days in the city to explore, and then to head north to Chiang Mai and/or Chiang Rei, possibly for a hillside trek, since it seems to be the thing to do there, other than wandering around and taking cooking classes. I think we’ll head back down to Bangkok, spend a few days exploring the cities on the way back down, and potentially spend the last days together on a beach — though that would be October 6-8 and that sounds to be the end of the rainy season on one coast and the start of it on another. I don’t mind a little tropical shower but if it’s just pouring cats and dogs the whole time a beach isn’t that fun. Trying to get some more information on this time of year and which beach would be best there.

Once we finish on the beach, she’ll head back to BKK to head home, while I have another 5 days to get myself to Singapore. This is where the trip can get pricey for me. I’ve been daydreaming about spending time in Borneo with the Orangutans, either in Malaysia or Indonesia, but I’m not sure this makes sense for the trip. It is probably most sensical for me to fly from BKK to Kuala Lumpur for a quick exploration of the main Malaysian city (since the border of Thailand and Malaysia is supposed to be not very safe right now), then take a train down to Singapore, where I can spend my last 2-3 days exploring in a city known for its safety and, of course, English language, so I feel comfortable in my final days of exploration after a somewhat long trip.

I have a feeling if I love this experience as much as I think I will, I’ll be back, so I don’t need to cram everything in. I’d like to get a taste of Asia so when I do find the opportunity to take a longer sabbatical and hop around for 3 months or so, I’ll have an idea of where I want to go and where I don’t want to go.

It has been a while since I’ve really looked forward to anything so I’m extremely excited about this, and it feels amazing to have something this big to look forward to again. I’m scared too, but not that scared, I’m more nervous about being out of the office for two weeks straight and for the team to realize they can function without me, or worse, that they can’t. :/ Well, I’m not sure which is worse, but either isn’t a good thing. I potentially could work the last few days in Singapore, at least a few hours, just to make sure nothing is falling apart. Or I could come back earlier like my friend and just go for a week and a half, but that seems silly after spending over $1000 on a flight.

There’s so much still to do to prepare. Other than finalizing our flights, we both need to renew our passports asap, figure out immunizations (and the cost to get them – I probably need a ton, I haven’t had shots in years), and of course, plan the details of the entire trip. I don’t really have time for this, but planning trips is a hobby of mine so it’s fun to do before I fall asleep at night. The Internet has such a wealth of information, I can’t imagine planning such trips in the days of only Fodors travel guides. Especially when trying to travel for relatively cheap — without any crowdsourced reviews, it would be much more scary.

Have you been to Thailand or Singapore? What do you recommend we see?

 

Quit Your Job and Travel the World for a Year

Ayutthaya, Thailand

It’s a romantic notion. Walk into the office one day, your desk already packed up and straightened from the night before, computer hard drive emptied, and you tell your boss you’re done. It’s not that you hate your job, or that you aren’t doing a good job. It’s just that you’ve realized you’re only young (or young-ish) once and you want to explore before it’s too late and all the responsibilities of being an adult (ie parenting) tie you to one spot. And you’re gone.

They say do what scares you the most and you’ll rarely regret it. (How can I do that when I’m scared of everything?) I should start jumping out of airplanes and sign up for that one-way trip to Mars. But, in reality, traveling the world for 3-6 months isn’t that crazy. People do it all the time. I’m looking at my life these days and thinking, what am I working for? Maybe it is just to save for a house and a family that may or may not come in the semi-near future. I don’t know. It might just be that I’m burnt out. That my best work only comes when I feel part of something that isn’t just a basic business but instead a challenge as part of a small team, a puzzle to figure out. But I’m getting to the point where I’m spent. Not on my job, per se, but on my career choice du jour.

But I digress… the point I was making is that at some point in the next 1-3 years I need to make a drastic change anyway to get myself on a career path in product management or user experience design. This may require going back to school for an MBA or masters degree, or it might just be getting a lucky break in a junior-level role at a company that doesn’t require engineering experience for product management. Or I just learn to code. Regardless, a drastic change is imminent. That could be at 31, 32, or 33. But, alas, that’s also the age I’m “supposed” to be having children. That’s a very drastic change in and of itself.

My goal now is to at least go to one new place for 2 weeks each year until I have kids. This year the plan is Thailand. I’m a bit of a workaholic so it’s hard to put down the computer and relax, but god I need it. I’m going with a friend who has committed to at least an 8 day trip in October. I’ve made a tentative agenda. All we need are our tickets and we’re gone. That’s what got me started thinking… it’s so easy to make a plan and be gone… how hard would it be to not come back?

The feeling of being alone in a foreign city is unforgettable, especially for someone like myself who grew up in a family that didn’t let her cross the main, slightly busy road that split her suburban development into two, despite her promise to look both ways and be extremely cautious. I’ve always loved traveling but in small doses. Traveling independently has never been my style. I attempted it once, after working a project in London one summer I visited a friend in Berlin, took a flight to Faro Portugal to see another friend, and spent exactly 24 hours on my own on a bus to Lisbon, and wandered around the city for a night and a day before heading home. Come to think of it, I also spent a night and day alone in Haifa, Israel, where I stayed at a hostel and wandered alone down a street at night trying to find a beach area only to give up and take a cab home after getting cat called one too many times for my own comfort.

I’ve discussed the possibility of doing the travel for a year thing with my boyfriend, but it doesn’t seem to make sense as he has not held a full time job yet and is just on the beginning of his career path at 31, while by the end of this year I should have a quarter million dollars, or near that, in overall investments and savings, and think this accomplishment deserves a bit of a break at 30 to reward myself for being semi frugal through my 20s. I’d like to get to $300k before doing this, but there’s never a really good time to just stop what you’re doing and spend money instead of earn (or at the best break even) for a year.

Money stretches reasonably far in Southeast Asia, and I’m fine sleeping in hostels as long as they aren’t infested with bugs or rapists. There’s this little itch in the back of my mind saying don’t come back. Just go. Do what scares you. Take as long as you need. Prepare yourself for true adulthood. Stop leeching on to inspiration, be your own inspiration. Be terrified. Live.

I dream of traveling through Malaysia, volunteering at an orangutan orphanage, then maybe heading out on a trek with a group I find, enjoying sunrises and sunsets and mosquito repellant. Or maybe spending time in Japan and experiencing a culture more sophisticated than American society, eating Sushi every day and drinking Sake every night. Or wandering the Great Wall of China by myself, just like I did when I took a train from Lisbon to hike Sintra’s Moorish Castle, only wishing I had someone else there with me to share in the excitement of being in a completely amazing place so rich with history and stories.

Sintra’s Moorish Castle, outside of Lisbon, Portugal

Only, when I looked around, there was no one there to share in my excitement… except a bunch of other tourists speaking a motley array of languages I didn’t understand. I found it was a struggle to enjoy anything for myself without having someone to share in the moment with. As I glanced around, I studied the stones under my feet, the view of the castle on the hill, the feeling that any moment if I were to fall to my death from the short jagged rocks keeping me from smashing into pieces in the wilderness below, I might be at peace with my fate.

Being alone for just 24 hours wore on me. I waited in line for a bus back to the train, and then, if memory serves me correct, attempted to wander up to the main castle in Lisbon, getting myself entirely lost in the narrow, winding, and steep city streets, only to arrive at my destination just as the castle park was closing. Apparently the castle in Lisbon, unlike in Prague, has closing hours.

So I found myself eating alone at a Portuguese restaurant, probably one designed for tourists, a few steps backwards down the street. Alone, I sat and listened to conversations, occasionally in English, and attempted to enjoy being by myself. I never could. I wanted more than anything to talk to the tourists who spoke words I understood, but I was too shy, to socially anxious to make contact. So I remained alone for the night, finishing up my meal — I have no recollection of what I ate on the entire trip to Europe outside of one plate of extremely fresh shrimp complete with eyes that I devoured on my first night in Faro, sucking the juices out of their poor little heads — and wandered back in the darkness down the city streets, afraid I’d be entirely lost for the evening and end up murdered in some alley. As I quickly paced down the cobblestone roads, it briefly crossed my mind the death in Sintra would have been tres more apropos for my desired melodramatic moment of mortality.

Tease Bakery, Lisbon

Somehow I found a tram, which, as I do with trams and buses in foreign cities, I get on, and allow them to take me to wherever they might take me, as long as I’m convinced there is a stop nearby that can get me efficiently back to where I started. It was a yellow tram, filled with drunk tourists and locals alike, pouring out, nearly tackling the driver by accident at each sudden stop. When the tram stopped near Rua do Norte, the most fun of the drunks got off, and this was my sign to step of the tram and follow them to their destination. It turned out that the tram had taken me to city center, and a hip little neighborhood filled with evening entertainment. Alone, I was too shy to go into a pub, so I wandered around and peered into store windows. I found an adorable cupcake bakery called Tease – The Rock and Roll Bakery which I immediately fell in love with, and was determined to marry after devouring the most incredible Nutella cupcake I had ever tasted. I made a decision then and there that while I could not marry a bakery if I was ever to be married I would need to identify a way to ship a hundred cupcakes from Portugal to my wedding venue. Oh, and another hundred for my guests.

With the taste of Nutella and soft, moist white cake lingering on my tongue I wandered back somehow to my hotel. The next day I believe I took a tourist bus around to ensure I got a good taste of not just cupcakes but also the city before heading back to the airport for my flight home. This day was more relaxing, I was more of a traditional tourist, I was exhausted from the stress of being alone, and got on and off the bus to explore a few museums and key sights. The daytime was less threatening, I enjoyed walking through the outdoor area before entering the Berardo Collection Museum, observing a very passionate dance class of those who clearly knew what they were doing and those who didn’t. The vibrance of life shook me far more violently than any painting I saw thereafter in the museum itself. The moment shot me back to the time I was on a ferry crossing the Adriatic from Croatia to Italy, bustling full of Italians who were loud, excited, and singing the whole way over, and I realized just how stale and sad American culture is in comparison to the vibrance of many cultures who aren’t ashamed to burst out into song and celebrate life.

It’s funny how moments like this are the ones I remember, as most of my life has faded into one big blur between beds. I know that in order to keep living, in order to stay out of depression, I must force myself into new experiences frequently enough to remember that I am, indeed, still alive. I must be careful, too, that the choices I make for these experiences are wise, it’s all too easy to fall prey to the lure of newness, to be entranced by the adrenaline rush of making a decision and failing to think through the consequences. Leaving a job to travel the world for a year may sound terrifying and exhilarating and maybe like the right thing to do, but when you’re earning $100,000 per year and you are approaching 30 and trying to save up for a family that you may or may not want to have, it may not be.

All I know, is if I’m going to do this, even for 3 months, it has to happen soon. Not today. Not in 2013. Possibly never. Or, I should listen to that voice in my heart that seems to always lead me to the right choices, no matter how wrong they may be, to learn more about myself, and to grow into the strong, confident woman that I thought I’d never be able to become, but who is, in fact, the woman who, deep down, I very well may be.

 

 

 

 

Spending on Life Experiences

Looking back on the past 29 years of spending, I recall only a few products I’ve purchased but most of the experiences I’ve had. I feel it is much more worthwhile to spend your hard-earned cash on experiences versus more stuff. Yes, I buy “stuff” too, but in my ripe old age of almost 30, I’m looking for better ways to spend my money. And if that means an extra month in a beat up car to experience something new, the trade off is worth it.

As I’ve written about previously, my boyfriend is currently unemployed, but I want to experience life with him. He’s working on getting a job and will probably return to graduate school next year, so one day he’ll have the cash to support traveling together. However, today, I can’t let him spend the little of his savings on paying for an entire romantic getaway. I still want that romantic getaway and I’m willing to pay for it. We only have a few more years before are married with kids, and with him out of work and my ability to take a few days off, this is the perfect time to travel together. Continue reading

Tis the Season of Weddings, Reunions, and Travel Expenses

So much for a frugal fall. I haven’t finalized any of my travel plans for the autumn months yet, but at this point the following trips and events are on the horizon…

August
Wedding #1 — relatively local, but still need to buy a dress that fits. BF will prob cover cost of 1 night hotel & 1/2 gift, since it’s his friends (though they are my friends now too!)

September
Wedding #2 — my good friend in Michigan. Flights into MI aren’t cheap, but worth it for her wedding. Might pay for my bf to come as well. It sounds like she has a cabin we can stay in for free for the night before the wedding (score) but it’s an hour from the wedding location and prob that far from the airport as well. Might need a rental car. Also, flights during reasonable hours (that don’t require me to miss any/ a lot of work are $$$)

Family trip to Minnesota?  My parents usually go out to my aunt’s house in MN each Sept. Every year I say I want to go but work and life gets in the way. With my father’s health deteriorating, we aren’t even sure my parent’s are going to make it out there this year — but if they do, I’d like to go. I thought it would be reasonable to go from Ann Arbor to the lake house in MN direct, but one-way flights are around $400 each (yikes!) not to mention the cost of a bus ticket to the small town far north. I did some more investigating and figured that renting a car for the trip would make more sense. Of course, if I do this trip that means taking off days of work… and losing the income from those vacation days. It might be worth it, but the travel may also be too much of a hassle for 2.5 days of Minnesota.

October

Personal Finance Blogger Conf, Chicago. The good news is KrystalatWork is going to split a hotel room with me (yeay, at least I’ll save some moolah there.) The bad news is… this is another flight to the midwest (for some reason this fall I have a lot of non-work reasons to be in the midwest, and none of them make sense on the same flight/trip.) I’m really looking forward to this conference, even though I haven’t been the most avid PF blogger lately. It’s still an expense, and one I need to factor into my pricey fall travel schedule.

Wedding #3 — This one happens to be in Chicago at the end of October. I might have to skip this one, though I’d like to go… it’s an old college friend, and I’d really like to be there for the wedding. Too bad it doesn’t work out that it’s the same week or the week after the PF blogger conference, so I could just stay in Chicago…

November

Wedding #5 — yes, wedding #5 in one season. This is my boyfriend’s cousin. I’m not sure if I’m invited but my bf thinks I will be. This one is also semi local so shouldn’t be too bad on the budget. It’s just incredible that I have 5 weddings coming up in the NEXT 3 MONTHS. And I don’t even know that many people…

10 Year Reunion –– I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to this, but I feel like I’ll regret it if I don’t. My 10 year reunion costs $85 per ticket (so that’s a $170 expense to bring my bf along) and then the flight back to NJ. It’s around thanksgiving time, so I might have been out there around then anyway, but regardless that’s an expensive time to travel. $500 / flight probably, $1000 total if my bf expects me to pay for his ticket too. Luckily we have a free place to stay in NJ (at my parent’s house) but all these fall trips are going to add up fast.

Otherwise, I’ll try to be as frugal as possible over the next few months. It’s going to be tough!

America: “The No Vacation Nation”

If you’re an American, chances are you haven’t taken a real vacation in a while. Even those who can afford a nice vacation based on their salary alone wouldn’t have the time to get away due to work commitments. Unlike in Europe, where weeks of vacation are required, Americans get somewhere between 0 to 3 weeks of vacation, and are the first to be laid off if they think of actually taking their vacation and leaving town without a cellphone and wifi-enabled laptop. That’s just the price of being American.

Every day that I leave work well into the evening after the sun has set, that old adage whether you should live to work or work to live plays in my head. Seeing my father, who is turning 60 and dying of cancer, trying to squeeze all of his “vacation” into his last few years of life, with a body riddled with illness and unable to support the trips, also makes me think — what on earth is the value of life if you can’t actually live it?

There is a trap of American culture where you’re trained from a very young age that you should want stuff (and told you suck if you don’t have lots of stuff) and then you work and work to acquire said stuff until you realize you’ve spent your entire life acquiring stuff and not living it.

At least working for startups, I have an expectation of myself that I will dedicate my life to one project for anywhere from 2 to 4 years. Generally speaking, after this time either there will be some form of success or failure of the project, and I’ll be able to take time off before moving on to the next challenge. It at least guarantees me extended vacation (albeit likely while I’m on unemployment and worried about my next steps,) but that’s better than being stuck in a large corporation where your entire life is about retaining your position by proving you are the hardest worker and most dedicated to the company (ie your life doesn’t matter, you live for the company.)

Beyond vacation, I’m starting to question my values regarding money. Right now, if I never have kids I’d be completely satisfied living in a small apartment for the rest of my life. I’d be happy driving older used cars. I don’t even need to buy a ton of new clothes. I just am tired of accumulating stuff. If I have kids, I’m sure all that will change. I’ll want a “good life” for my kids, and thus I’d be stuck seeking out jobs with long term stability (ie no breaks until I’m more than half way to dead.)

So lately I’ve been thinking maybe I shouldn’t have kids. Not having kids gives me the freedom I need to take time off every once in a while, and to perhaps not make the highest possible salary in exchange for an enjoyable life. Selfish, yes, but having kids is selfish too. At least without kids, I have a shot at retiring early, and enjoying life (by traveling, not by buying stuff) before it’s gone.

 

 

 

Her Middle Class Ass Flying First Class

On my return flight from a recent business trip, a series of events and my “elite” status, for the first time ever, upgraded me to a seat in first class. I was overcome with excitement, as I’d never pay extra for first class even if I had the money, but it was nice to receive the benefits of being a loyalist of the airline I fly all the time.

When my name was called to the desk a few minutes before boarding, I was concerned I was going to be bumped off the flight. Instead, I was handed a new boarding pass — seat 2B.

For a minute, I thought I just got moved. But then it hit me… 2 meant 2nd row, and 2nd row meant first class.

In the brief minutes before boarding, I daydreamed about what it would be like in first class… after all, flying coach hundreds of times, I always assumed first class was an incredible experience worth the extra cost. Weren’t the seats going to be so posh? Was there going to be special entertainment? Would the bathroom be large enough to turn around in and not smell so darned disgusting?

Then, I looked down at my clothes and realized that it was very clear that I was an “upgrader,” a middle class gal flying first class due to my elite mileage status (thanks to so much work travel.) I started to get a bit nervous… more about all those people sitting in economy who would be walking past the first class seats, as I normally did, glancing over the first classers and wondering who these people are and why they are willing to spend so much on a flight from point A to B. I was going to be one of those people.

As a first classer, I boarded early and sat in my seat. It was definitely more cushy and roomier than an economy seat, but I still couldn’t find a comfortable way to sit in the chair. Shortly after boarding the flight attendant took our drink orders for before the flight took off. Apparently, booze is free in first class. I ordered a bloody mary to calm my nerves, and because the man across the aisle also ordered a bloody mary and I wanted to fit in. One thing that hadn’t changed was how the flight attendant came by about two minutes later forcibly collecting the drinks, even if you weren’t finished. I drink slow, so I hid mine and she didn’t bother me.

After takeoff, another drink was offered. Another bloody mary. What the hell, I’m in first class.

The back-of-the-seat televisions were identical to those in economy (on this airline) but I didn’t have to pay $6 extra to watch for the entire flight. Score. I watched American Idol. A very middle class thing to do in first class, but I didn’t care. Others seemed to be watching business news or sports.

I had stuffed myself on airport food before boarding the plane, as I wasn’t aware I was to be upgraded to the fine dining portion of the plane. The only option left, when they got to my seat, was prime rib, or something like that, which sounded fancy but wasn’t something I eat. I had some chicken soup that was very good and some more alcohol. They poured wine for everyone with dinner. I wasn’t about to refuse. That wouldn’t be very posh of me, now would it?

The biggest disappointment, I must say, was the first class bathroom. It was identical to the bathroom in economy, except, of course, less people were using it. But I really wanted it to be some other color at least, something exciting and fancy. It wasn’t.

When I landed, I returned to my regular middle class regime. I certainly didn’t mind flying first class for once in my life, and if I get that “upgrade” call again, I’ll be fast to accept the offer.

Why "Vacation"

My family took yearly vacations when I was growing up. Usually they would be week-long trips to see family somewhere exciting, like in Los Angeles or Las Vegas. Occasionally we did a non-family-visit vacation like a week in the Bahamas or Disney World (we don’t have relatives in Florida.)

When I went to college away from home, and then moved further away from my family home after graduating, most every “vacation” I’ve taken has been a stress-filled trip back east to visit my parents and relatives. These trips are totally worth it, but I don’t consider them “vacations.”

Since I’ve graduated college in 2005, I’ve taken a few actual vacations. All on the cheap. I did a “free” trip to Israel through Birthright Israel and spent an extra week traveling around staying with distant relatives who often fed me. Last summer I went to Disneyland with my friend for her birthday… we went for one weekend. I did another weekend trip to LA to see a few people. My boyfriend and I have taken the occasional mini road trip halfway down the California coast for… a weekend. We’ve done two trips to Tahoe… though we haven’t skied or done anything vacation-y. His dad lives there so mostly we visited his dad and wandered. I haven’t taken any “vacation,” vacations, with the exception of the Israel trip. And that was one big timeshare sales pitch for moving to Israel anyway.

A few months ago, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go with her on a bootcamp fitness cruise for a week. It sounds awesome… relaxing AND healthy. But I couldn’t imagine ever spending THAT MUCH on vacation. It doesn’t help matters that now, as a contractor, I don’t get paid time off. Right now I’m new at my job so I wouldn’t consider taking a vacation any time soon. But even when the time came about when someone with my income should take a week to go somewhere, I can’t fathom going.

My coworker loves to travel around the world. I think he does it pretty cheaply, but he’s always traveling. He just goes on his own… I’m not independent enough to do that. I’d want my boyfriend to come with me… but given his income, either I’d have to pay for both of us to go on the vacation, or we’d be sticking to our mini weekend trips.

Camping is always an option, and one my boyfriend enjoys, though hasn’t done in a while. I like camping, but I don’t really see myself enjoying a week doing it. He wants to go to Yosemite for a week. I’d rather lounge by the beach if I had to do a week in nature… and have a shower nearby.

In any case, I wonder if I’ll ever vacation again. I just don’t really see myself enjoying vacation the way I used to… knowing how much it would cost. Maybe one day when I have kids I could justify the expense, but for me, I don’t know how I could reasonably take a week off and go to some exotic resort for a week of pampering and relaxation. How can anyone relax with the price tag?

But then I wonder, do I really ever need to vacation? Sure, I have this deep-seeded longing for luxury. I dream of a day when I’m “rich” and can spend as I please without worrying. But… unless I win the lottery, that day will never come. So I guess I’ll be sticking to my mini vacations, and try to enjoy my trips home… because that’s all the vacation I’m going to get.

Do you go on vacations? Who do you go on vacation with?