Tag Archives: travel

My "Free" Trip is Costing Me a Fortune

I’m going to Israel for free in a month. That’s all fabulously frugal.

But my passport is costing me about $200, all-in-all, to get replaced.

I’m missing at least 2 weeks of work or about $2400 of income while I’m abroad.

Now I’m finally looking into the price of a flight from SFO to New Jersey. How much could it be?

Uh — $450 is how much it could be. Talk about inflation hitting home. A flight home used to cost $330 at most, and that was on the high end. A month ago, for about one day, the flights dropped to that price, and then they went up again. Should have booked then, but what-can-ya-do?

I have the money in savings to pay for all the associated costs that go along with this “free” trip and I know it’s a great opportunity, yada yada, but still, it’s painful to justify taking such a huge “free” trip that is costing me, including lost income during my vacation time, about $3000.

$3000 for a “free” structured vacation. That’s hard to chew on.

I was (and still am, sort of) considering staying on for another week… but to change my flight it will cost me another $150-$400. Then I’d also have to figure out how much it would cost to travel and stay there… more income lost… and then there’s the cost of hostels, transportation, and entertainment. Some of the people going on the trip are thinking of going to Greece or Turkey for a bit, and that would be awesome, but now I’m thinking it’s a bad idea.

Then again, I’m getting a free flight, and mostly free living expenses for two weeks in Israel. My rent will still be due back home (sigh) but at least I’m not paying for a hotel and such elsewhere during these two weeks. Plus, I’ll be spending some time in New Jersey before and after the trip, with my parents, who will hopefully feed me and such – so maybe my other costs for the month won’t be that huge.

BUT — my boyfriend was supposedly going to meet me in Jersey after I got back for a small vacation of his own. We’d stay at my parent’s place, which would keep costs low, but if we want to do anything… like go see a Broadway show, etc, those costs are going to add up too.

All the sudden, I feel like this entire experience that sounded so great from afar is going to cost me $5000.

I have the money… I have $5000 in a liquid CD. Is it worth spending it all in June in hopes (and with the expectation) that my income is going up and I’ll be able to earn that money back? How often do I get a free trip to Israel? I’m so glad I traveled around Europe for a few weeks in college and I’ve been dying to go back.

Oh… and then there’s that $1300+ camera I promised myself if I ever went back to Europe.

oh, god.

It Costs WHAT to Get a Passport These Days???

I lost my old passport and I’m traveling to Israel at the end of May. Crap. A new one, with expedited service, costs $179. Serves me right for losing my old one that wouldn’t have expired until 2010. Oh well, this one will just last me until I’m 30 or something, so I can hopefully use it on a honeymoon!

So today I did all the things I thought I had to do to get a new passport. Printed out the forms and filled them out. I was ready for a quick (albeit painfully pricey) trip through the passport line at the local post office. But things can never be that simple in my life.

First off…

Went to Long’s Drugs to get my passport photo taken. Stood at the photo counter for 5 minutes before a sales clerk noticed me. She called for a customer service rep to come to the counter. 6 minutes later and no rep had arrived. She paged the customer service rep again. 4 more minutes later, a customer service rep comes to the counter and I ask “can you do my passport photo?” I find out the one person who knows how to do passport photos there has gone to lunch. Buger.

Left Long’s and went to Walgreens, which luckily is a few blocks away. Got my passport photo taken fairly quickly there. Was told it would take 10 minutes to print. So I started to wander around the store. The lady who told me that came and found me and let me know that someone else was printing a huge order so it would take more like 25 minutes.

25 minutes later I return and get my passport photos. Pay $8 for them, and I’m off to the post office, which is another 15 minute drive away.

Get to the post office and of course there are a few people in line. I wait, somewhat impatiently, but minimizing my impatience because I know I have every single item I need to get that passport as soon as I arrive at the front of the line, right? Right??


First of all, it turns out I didn’t have the lost passport form filled out. Or maybe I did but I must have lost the lost passport form. (hah). So I stepped aside and filled that out. Then waited a little longer.

Finally, it was my turn again. I handed the woman the various items she needed to see or take to get me signed up for this new $179 passport.

She took one look at my birth “certificate” and informed me that it’s not a certificate at all. It’s a birth registration or something like that.


It was the same stupid piece of paper I used last time I got a passport.

So she told me that I had to call up New Jersey, my home state, and request that they send me a new birth record so I could apply for a passport.


I’m traveling abroad on May 27. I already have my ticket. WHAT???

It should be ok. I went home, and called the NJ agency. They had an online site where I had to pay $38 for the new birth certificate and rush delivery of it. I still have to fax them a copy of my driver’s license before they can send me anything.

I also called up the federal passport agency hotline and was told that it’s wise to include another $17 check in my passport application to pay for rush delivery of the passport once they process it.

So all-in-all my lost passport is costing me about $200 to replace.

It’s my fault for losing it and waiting until the relative last minute, but still, I’m a little p-o’d about all this. Especially after finding out that I owed $1243 on my tax return this year.

Going to Israel – For Free!

One of the benefits that comes along with being born Jewish (besides being, uh, one of The Chosen People) is a free trip to Israel.

The program, called Birthright Israel, provides free trips to Israel for Jewish youth under the age of 26. They send a lot of us kids to Israel each year… trying to get us to feel connected to our past and perhaps carry on the religion for a few more years of history.

I’m not a Zionist by any means – I’m pretty much agnostic on the issue of Israel (and religion in general).

So the trip actually is FREE. It requires a $250 deposit but as long as you go on the trip you get your money back. When the deposit was do my checking account was way low so my parents spotted me the deposit money but they’ll be getting it back.

However – small costs for the trip that’s free can and will quickly add up. I don’t exactly have all of the suggested packing items. I still have to pay for a roundtrip ticket from California to New York to get to the flight to Israel (though I’m going to make the trip a vacation home to New Jersey for a week or so as well as long as I can work from New Jersey for a week or two.) There are other costs as well… (not counting souvenirs and such) so my free trip costs…

$100 passport (I lost my old one. At a bar. Don’t ask.)
$350 round trip flight to New York
$30 water shoes “teva shoes” (from suggested packing list)
$60 sleeping bag (I’m going to try to get one used? Or borrow one?)

and then the big cost that I’ve promised myself (If I can be good and save for it…)
$600-$2000: A DSLR Camera – either Nikon or Canon.

For the past few years I told myself if I get on the Birthright Israel trip (or ever travel abroad again) I will be bringing a nice DSLR camera to take pictures. Last time I was in Europe I had a film SLR camera that broke a few weeks into the trip… but seemed to be working. So I wasted tons of film and lost dozens upon dozens of pictures. My digital camera that I brought was kind of crappy and while it took a few good shots, the quality was not that high.

I want to get more into digital photography anyway and I can’t think of a better excuse then to save up and splurge on a nice DSLR.

That’s coming last, though. First I need to pay my estimated quarterly taxes!!! But it’s a good excuse to try to work extra hard over the coming months.

I Love Spending Money

Besides spending a gadzillion reimbursable dollars on my credit cards, I’ve been pretty good about spending money this past month. And that’s been a good thing too, since all of my retirement and stock accounts have lost hundreds upon hundreds of dollars. My plan to spend frugally while the stock market takes a hit is not working as well as I’d like in terms of balancing my net worth. I’d like to not lose money, even if I have to deal with not making any. But my net worth keeps going up and down, and now it’s on a downward trend. I don’t feel like I’m spending a lot, but with half of my savings tied up in stocks and such, the recession is hitting hard.

I do trust that over time most of my stocks will go up. Or at least I hope they will. I’m not going to pull out now just because I’ve lost lots of money. But I’m less excited about putting more money into stocks.

I kind of wish I put more money into that liquid 4% rate CD that I got a bit less than a year ago. Now the CD rates are at like 2%. Ick. After paying off my credit cards and bills, I’m not sure where to put my money right now. I still want to max out my Roth IRA for the year, but I only have $1700 left to do that.

I’m also planning on going to Israel this summer for the birthright program. It’s a free trip, but i still have to pay to get to the airport in New York (a $300 flight) and then I’ll have to pay for anything I want to buy while I’m there. Also, I might want to add on some time and travel a round a bit after the official trip, which will cost more. And I promised myself that next time I travel abroad I will buy a good DSLR camera to take with me. So… I think that time might be coming up.

So I do want to have some liquid assets. But I don’t want to just keep it all in my ING account, that seems kind of wasteful. As I’ve written before, I’m slowly adding more funds to Prosper (I’m up to $250 and 5 loans so far)… that seems to be the best way for me to make a decent rate of return on my money in these sour economic times. But the risk makes me nervous as well.

All I want to do this year is get my networh at least up to $30k. It’s at $27k now but it goes up and down all the time. I’d love to get my networth to $35k this year, but it really depends how the job situation pans out, and if I can manage figuring out where to save money without losing it.

Labor Day Wrap Up

Investments: I’ve been avoiding checking my Vanguard accounts for a few days. My losses, however temporary, were too painful to look at on a daily basis. After checking a few minutes ago, I’m happy to report Wall Street’s latest recovery has brought my losses to an amount I can deal with.

Career: Has its ups and downs. My job is, quite frankly, amazing. I’m still not sure I’m right for it. Then again, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be “right” for anything that could be described as a “career” or a “job,” even. Figured out my biggest problem with my current job is not my inability to fact check properly (although that’s a huge problem that I’m going to fix, hopefully with the help of ADD meds that I might be getting this week), it’s my massive issue with social anxiety. It’s not ideal to be a journalist with social anxiety. Can I overcome my fear of talking to strangers? Can I find confidence in my intellect so I can stop spending my life apologizing for my errors and worrying about future ones, and focus on just doing a good job? Tune in next time…

Love: I’m lucky in love. I think. I’m just stressed out about life, overall, and that’s affecting my relationship. It isn’t fair to my boyfriend. He’s a great guy. I used to think that happiness meant being successful, ie, figuring out some way to lead a life that would make my parents go “wow.” Now that I realize this is impossible and/or unimportant, I’ve almost given up at that dream. Instead, I now understand that happiness in life is about the people who we meet along the way, especially the person (or people) who we love. I need to figure out how to live love. I’ve spent so much of my life finding security in the dramatic, and I’m tired of it. My parents’ relationship is a joke, despite that they’ve been married for more than 25 years. I’ve grown up to believe marriage is a joke as well. I’m not sure I still believe that. It’s odd that I can see myself one day having a husband and a family. It sounds really, really weird to hear myself think that. I’m not sure if my current boyfriend will be the guy I end up with forever, but I wouldn’t want to be able to foresee that clearly now anyway. On my Labor Day vacation, a bunch of strangers kept asking if we were married, or calling us husband and wife. It was weird. I still feel like I’m 16 years old, even though I’m really pushing 24. Geez, 24. You know, I hadn’t even thought about the significance of turning 24 until just now. That’s old. I mean, not old, old. But old enough that I’m no longer a young adult. I’m, well, an adult. Plain and simple. And I need to start living like one.

Sleep: Lacking. I need more sleep. Insomnia is destroying my already limited ability to focus and function properly.

Budget: Spent $125 on six pairs of shoes while on vacation. Yes, six. That includes California tax. Did I need six pairs of shoes? Probably not. But outlet stores plus a need for new shoes and finding shoes that actually fit me (a rarity) equals buying a lot of shoes. I find shoes are a worthwhile investment, especially if they’re good quality footwear sold at a relatively cheap price. At the Nine West outlet store, I actually bought a pair of shoes I already own. They are pretty gross right now and my gut instinct has told me throw them out for months. Finally, I found their replacement. The same exact pair, for $15 on a sale rack on extra sale. There is something orgasmic about walking into a shoe store that has a sale rack where prices are already marked down about 50 percent, and then there’s a giant sign that says “take 50 percent off already reduced prices.” Sometimes I think I could live on the thrill of buying $70-$100 shoes for $20.

Travel: Labor Day weekend in Tahoe was great. I felt bad that I ended up spending so little on the trip. My boyfriend’s father footed the bill for our motel and my bf covered most of the gas, so I ended up spending about $200 on the trip for food and a show. (And then I spent $125 on shoes (see above)). I’ve got a few upcoming trips that will pinch my wallet a bit… a roadtrip to LA coming up in a few weeks, and then I’m off to Miami for my childhood friend’s wedding. Overall I expect travel to cost me another $400-$500 over the next two months. My mother still wants me to take a trip to Vegas to visit my grandmother, but I’m not sure it makes sense to spend even more money on that. And then there’s the possibility of taking a trip home to the east coast for the holidays, though I might just not go home this year. There’s not much left for me there. Being around my parents, in my childhood home, just depresses me. It reminds me of all the things I’ve been trying so hard to get away from (and failing, but trying nonetheless).