Tag Archives: vacation

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?

 

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.

 

 

 

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?

Leaving (your money in) Las Vegas

I learn the most about personal finance when spending time with families. Single folks usually can hide their personal finance problems, but families tend to talk about them more openly — even if it’s just to argue about how to spend money for the day. It’s valuable to listen to people in their 30s and 40s to learn about PF issues before you encounter them.

This weekend, I got a schooling in how gambling — and more importantly, financial honesty — effects a marriage. My aunt and uncle are both fairly well off, yet own an expensive home and live in a very pricey area with two kids, so for them — even making approx $400k a year, every cent counts.

Both of them look at bills after meals and with a gasp exclaim that the meal was pricey. They offer to pay for my meals, on occasion, but you can tell in the way they offer they really want me to pick up my portion of the tab (which is fine, I just wish they’d come out and say it.)

However, the most uncomfortable part of my weekend with my aunt and uncle in Vegas was when my aunt inquired about my uncle’s gambling. Now, he wasn’t high rolling or anything… he just played a few hundred bucks in video poker. But he didn’t seem to want to tell my aunt. What made the situation worse was that he would gamble a twenty here and a ten there in front of his children, then get upset at them when they brought this up in front of their mother.

If you’re in Vegas there’s nothing wrong with gambling a little bit, but you have to set limits and more importantly, if you’re married, you have to be open with your partner about how much you’re going to spend. I don’t understand how the same couple constantly worried about every penny can function with gambling involved.

All in all, my trip to Las Vegas was depressing, especially from a personal finance point of view. Watching all of these people… rich, poor, tourists, locals, everyone – just giving away their money in hopes to win big, is almost too surreal to believe. My grandmother, for instance, plays video poker non stop. She puts in $100 and goes through it in about five minutes, only to go to the atm, pay another $5 fee, take out $100 more and go through that. She says she comes out ahead but I can’t really believe her. She does have a strategy which seems to help her “hit” on occasion, but I can’t imagine anyone who is a gambling addict could actually come out ahead always. Granted, she’s alone and her boyfriend of five years recently passed away, and she has nothing except the video poker machine to keep her company. She doesn’t travel, she doesn’t go out to fancy restaurants or shows, she just gambles. That’s her life. That’s a lot of people’s lives in Las Vegas and in the state of Nevada. It’s a sad, sad place.

At least when you are visiting the state there is a beginning and end to your gambling, but when you live there, it easily turns into an addiction. I spent about $50 on video poker, more to bond with my Grandma (who constantly screamed in my ear that i’m doing it all wrong and that I shouldn’t gamble but instead play the game the way it wants to be played) than to get rich quick (though of course in the back of my mind I was still hoping…)

I don’t understand Vegas. It would make more sense in the old school sense with cheap buffets and entertainment, all to get people to come and spend their money on roulette. But these days everything there is just so expensive. The shows, the rides, the hotels, the spas, the food… who has money left over to gamble after paying for your vacation?

If anything good comes out of my grandmother’s gambling addiction, it’s her thousands of “comps” which basically provide free room and board for her visitors a few times a year. I didn’t feel so bad wasting $50 on video poker when my entire stay was otherwise free. I can’t imagine ever going to Vegas and actually paying just to be there. It might be fun to go with a group of friends and party the night away — if you’re super rich — but otherwise, how is what happens in Vegas ever worth the price?

Julie & Julia — A Lesson on Loving Your Work

On my Continental flight home for the holidays, I spent $6 to watch Direct TV and movies… maybe not the best use of $6, but it was worth it. They were playing a movie I had wanted to see for a while and haven’t got around to it — Julie & Julia.

Wow, I loved the movie! As a blogger, of course I could relate to the main character who wrote about her life every day. For Julie, her blog was all about trying to complete the recipes in Julia Child’s cookbook. The real-life Julie actually did start out as a blogger, then got a book deal, and then a movie deal. Such things do happen, apparently.

I always dream about getting a book deal off this blog. I don’t know if I’d have enough interesting things to write at this point, but by the time I’m in my 30s I hope I know enough to write a book about personal finance. It’s certainly inspiring to watch a movie about how for some people, blogging about what you love can go somewhere beyond just putting writing out there into cyberspace. The movie was all about turning 30, and while I’m not quite there yet, I’m getting closer. I’m 26, I’m really close.

One thing that really spoke to me about the movie was how it’s all about following your passion. For both Julia and Julie, they went against the odds and took a risk to dedicate much of their time to cooking. Cooking is not my passion, but there are plenty of things that are — writing about personal finance, painting (which I haven’t done in way too long), and, well, really I don’t need more than two passions. One is enough.

I’d really like to get back into painting next year. I have paints and just need to buy a canvas and I’m ready to go. Maybe I’ll even blog about it.

By the way, here’s Julie Powell’s current blog… where she writes about her life post the Julia Child Project. Awesomeness.

Exchange Rate, and How Traveling Years Ago Would Have Saved Me Dough

One of my readers left a comment asking about traveling with the current exchange rate in Israel.

The exchange rate in Israel is about 3.2 shekels per dollar. It is always hard to figure out what the exact exchange is in terms of what commodities you get per your penny since the cost of living is often higher outside of the US. I found a small Iced Tea which would run $1.25 or so in the US would be sold for $2.50 to $3 in Israel. Certain products like suntan lotion were extremely expensive, about $25 per bottle that would cost $10-$12 in the states.

I had some cash on me at the beginning of the trip, but I charged most of my purchases. The credit card exchange rate was about 2.9 shekels per the dollar. I probably should have spent some time before the trip figuring out the conversion rates and costs, but I really wanted to just let the trip happen without much planning. In the long run, I may be a few hundred dollars short because of my desire to avoid planning.

Traveling is tough right now with the dollar being so weak. One of the reasons I didn’t end up traveling outside of Israel after my organized trip was because of the dollar suckage. I wanted to take a ferry to Greece, spend a few days there, then maybe go on to Italy – but it would have been impossible without putting myself into bankruptcy.

In any case, I’m hopeful that by next time I can make a trip out of the states, the dollar will have recovered. Looking at the gas prices around here — at $4.67 and up, I’m not sure that will ever happen.

Back from Israel, How’d the Bank Account Fare?

In short, I spent too much money in Israel, but I might be able to balance the books due to a variety of upcoming life changes that will involve spending less money and taking in, hopefully, the same amount of income (as long as my company still wants me to work there!)

As I wrote previously, the trip to Israel was, in itself, free. The flight was free and for the first two weeks, the housing and most of the food was free. So spending on other things seemed to make more sense… I mean, when is the next time I’ll be back in Israel?

My big purchase – my Canon DSLR Xsi – was the best purchase I’ve made in my life. I took over 4000 pictures and they’re my favorite souvenirs from the trip. Meanwhile, on the trip I bought extra food, some clothes, jewelery, gifts, etc. It all added up. To quite a bit of money.

But… even in the last week of the trip, I barely spent any money on room and board. I stayed with family most of the time and while I didn’t expect them to feed me, they did… they fed me a lot. And I got them gifts for their kindness, but having to pay for my own food and housing would have cost a lot more. I stayed in hostels for only two nights of the trip, and i didn’t have to, but I wanted to have that freedom. So each night in the hostel cost me about $20-$30. Otherwise, I had all free housing. It was a good deal. And my family was awesome and so nice to me. Even family I never knew I had. All second cousins and such, but they took me in like I was their own daughter. It was awesome.

I know, at the moment, my spending far surpasses my normal budget. And I only worked one week out of this past month, so I haven’t been taking in any money either. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that in a week I move into my friend’s house for, probably, a month, while trying to find a new place to live. I’ll offer to pay her something for my time there, but it will not be anywhere near the price of my current rent (of $1050 a month). And I’ll be starting back to work again on Monday, so I’ll be taking in money and spending very little for housing. When I do find a new place to live, I’m trying to find something that’s even less than what I’m paying now. It might not be an ideal living situation, but it’s not like my current place is perfect. The studio thing was awesome – I love, love, love living alone… but other than that, it was just a waste of money. Utilities were included, which was good, but I still had to pay my internet and cable bill all on my own. Living with even one other person and splitting that bill will lower my costs a lot.

So I’m pretty much looking for a shared living situation, at $600-$1000 a month. My rational side keeps telling me to get a tiny cheapo room with or without access to cooking and to just save my money. I’ve been thinking how much I want to get my teeth fixed, and how if I live super cheaply for a year and save I can afford to fix my teeth in about a year. That alone makes living in a tiny room worth it. Besides, even though I work from home a lot now, there’s no reason I can’t make a habit of going into the office more often. I want to do that anyway, and if they keep liking me, eventually take on a full time position with my current company (fingers crossed.)

It was kind of weird being away for a month and not focusing on money as much as I normally do. I haven’t been obsessively tracking my stocks, or checking to see if anyone of my borrowers defaulted on their Prosper loans. It’s been kind of nice. As soon as I get all the bills paid off and my old paychecks cashed, I’m going to tally up just how much I spent in Israel and how much I have to make back. I’m a little scared, but not too scared, as I know I can make it back within a few months if I’m smart about it.

Just remind me to be smart about it. 🙂