It feels refreshing to write again! It is easy to lose track of all the new stuff I am processing, especially when surrounded by natives who find local culture the epitome of normal. Composing it all explicitly reminds me how much I am learning. Reiteration is an effective learning technique, but this also has the added benefit of connecting me more with friends back home. Thankful to have begun again.
It is time for my next adventure! One year ago, I returned from Central America, thrilled with traveling and hungry for more. So I secured a Working Holiday visa to travel and work in Australia for a year before I (a) turned 31 and ineligible, and (b) my traveling can-do spirit was tempered. It has been a ticking time bomb in my pocket ever since.
After a year in Seattle, I’m finally taking the plunge and bought a ticket to Perth, Western Australia. There’s nothing like the nerves right before pushing the “purchase” button for an international flight. I learned from my past mistake: when going on adventures, never book round-trip. Anything can happen, don’t overly plan if you don’t have to.
I am nervous. I’m never consciously bitten off a trip this big. How long will I stay in Australia? What will it be like to work in a foreign country? I’ve gotten comfortable in Seattle; will I get homesick? Will I get into the Outback? Will I scald myself on a meat pie before developing proper technique? Who are my future friends that I don’t know yet? How different *is* Australian culture and vernacular? What’s out there for me to learn? Does my travel insurance cover drop bear attacks? If I have a terrible horrible no good very bad day, where do I run away to? (See image below… yuk yuk.)
So many questions, yet I take solace: seems like a sign that I’m moving from one WA (Washington State) to another (Western Australia) and upon my arrival one of my favorite people is taking me on as a houseguest to soften my landing. Plus, the weather report for Perth looks drop dead damn gorgeous. [Deep breath.] Here goes nothing!
|Alexander from “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”.
Via Google images.
|The things I do for money… 🙂 Biking Billboards, at the Seattle Wedding Expo.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Tat.
Breaking away for longterm travel is more financially accessible than many people think. But people ask me “you traveled for so long, how do you pay for it?”. If it’s a priority, you can make it happen. There are lots of ways people do it, but here are a few of my tricks.
This is the obvious one: when I was working a steady job, I saved. Over three years, I lived below my means and put away over $20,000 with the intention of spending it on something big, either a trip or an apartment downpayment or a wedding (trip always being the heavy favorite! :-P). Since returning to my home town of Seattle in October 2013, I picked up some work and replenished my savings so now have the resources head off to somewhere new (Australia? Indonesia? Mexico?). I am conservative with my money (all credit cards paid off each month, no true debt), with a goal of leaving again to travel in mind.
Travel in cheap countries.
When I went abroad in February 2013, for six months I traveled in cheap countries (Central America) and kept my travel costs fairly low (I spent roughly $1,500 per month all-inclusive). I lived it up for a backpacker; I know I could bring those costs down if I tried harder.
Live cheaply when you aren’t traveling.
In America, we live in a strongly consumer culture where it is normal to buy far more than you need or use. It feels natural, but is far from necessary. It’s actually amazing how easy it is to not spend money! I used to save a decent amount (see point #1), but after returning to the US from Central America and realizing I wanted to devote more resources to travel I cut my monthly expenses by more than half. It took adjusting (I used to have Amazon packages delivered more days than not), but I rarely buy things anymore. For the most part, I live off what I already own.
The majority of my current costs are rent, food, alcohol, phone, and gasoline. For clothing, I thrift. For health care, I go to a free clinic. I go out, but usually at happy hour. For entertainment, I buy tickets sparingly, volunteer in exchange for tickets, or go to free events. I tend to spend time with people who act frugally too. I drink a lot more beer now, whereas two years ago my typical order was a $10+ cocktail or glass of wine. I eat eggs instead of meat. Not to say I don’t splurge sometimes! 😉
It won’t substantially change your life to go without a few luxuries. The experience of travel will. So save your money, clip coupons, and be happy with what you have. Recognize what things you buy are unnecessary and quit buying them!
Be thankful for the generous support of others, and look forward to treating them back.
I am blessed with kind and generous family and friends. Since being back in the US, dear ones who know I’m on a shoe-string have fed and housed me for short and long periods of time for little or no rent. It’s an incredible gift. I couldn’t be more grateful, try to repay their kindness as best I can, and look forward to gifting I can do in the future.
Think broadly about potential work. Be flexible about your timeline.
Friends and family are a great resource in job hunting. Let people know you’re looking for work, attend events where you might make connections, and follow up on potential opportunities.
In December, I turned down two opportunities for three-month projects that paid around $10,000. I stupidly passed on both because I didn’t think I’d be in Seattle that long (she says, eight months later), didn’t want to do grunt work, and didn’t realize how tricky it would be to make meaningful money without getting locked into a multi-year job. Now I regret it. If an opportunity for decent money comes your way, be willing to change your plans. That leads me to my next point…
When you can, make some money!
Picking up extra cash is tough when you’re transient. Short-term work that pays well is scarce, yet committing to a long-term job is generally anti-travel (at least, the fun kind, typically). It’s a dilemma. In my eight months in Seattle, I picked up a number of jobs to cobble together an income. I managed to not only live net-neutral but rebuild my savings. Here are my income streams, big and small, in order of earning potential:
Contract/seasonal work in your field of expertise:
From March to June 2014, I was fortunate to work as a contract fundraiser for a music festival, which is my professional background. The job was a set, seasonal time period and paid a reasonable wage full-time. This was by far the overall most lucrative and reliable income I received in the past year. Travelers afraid of commitment, short-term (3-12 months) or project-based work in your field is where it the best buck for your time is.
What are your unique marketable skills that have the highest income potential? What industries/companies/organization might pay for you to work remotely or short-term? What will help bolster your resume for when you decide to truly return to the workforce?
|Festivals, while stressful, provide seasonal employment for the wanderers.
We’re pretty much modern-day carnies.
A side note to wanderers out there: Many people on staff at the festival where I worked have regular 3ish-month gigs with festivals around the country and move along the circuit. It’s hard work, but you can too! It’s a small festival world, so once you get hooked in you can network for other festival gigs.
Part-time or casual jobs tend to have lower hourly pay but are easier to get and leave. Good for those who are wary of committing to a job, but in my experience only pay enough cover cost of living, not generate savings. Get more than one; a few flexible part-time jobs put together like puzzle pieces make a more comprehensive schedule.
Job #1: I arrived in Seattle in late October so looked for work at local tourist attractions who might need extra help over the holidays. I got quickly hired by the Space Needle as an elevator operator team as part of their holiday relief staff. The the job was easy to secure, had no take-home stress, and I enjoyed being on-site at a landmark and sharing my Seattle joy with visitors. The downsides were low hourly pay and little control over my schedule.
|Taking a break from operating the Space Needle elevators to get attacked by a giant salmon.
It doesn’t get more Seattle-y than this…
Job #2: My sister works at Biking Billboards and hooked me in with a very flexible part-time gig, doing exactly what it sounds like: biking with a billboard and doing on-the-street marketing. I enjoy it, the pay is great for casual work, have complete control over your schedule, and it is a family company that treats its employees well. As you might imagine, there are more shifts available in the good-weather months as companies market outdoors at summer concerts, fairs, and other events. In the winter, I did 1-2 rides every 1-2 weeks. In the summer, I am doing 3-4 rides each week. Each ride takes about 4 hours so it’s very part-time.
|You meet the most interesting “people” handing out flyers on a street corner. Photo courtesy of @homerbassett.|
This is one of my favorite ways of getting a little extra cash. Selling your body to science is the best! This is not a primary money-maker, but a great way to make pocket-money. Studies are random, somewhat entertaining, and pay well per hour. My primary source for local, legit studies is Craig’s List etc jobs page, which I check daily as new studies pop up all the time. You quickly get a sense of which studies are most likely to call you back. Ignore big online survey companies like Murfite that promise small amounts of money or points; they aren’t worth your time.
Studies generally come in two flavors:
- User testing: Companies want feedback from normal people about their products. Apply for local in-person focus groups that pay cash or Amazon/Visa gift cards. Studies last 30 minutes to two hours, scheduled about a week in advance, and pay anywhere from $30-$120/hour. They’re also usually interesting! I have play-tested a MMORPG video game, made left turns in a driving simulator, given my opinion on blogging and texting applications, and had my brain activity monitored as I watched videos.
- Medical/Psychological: In Seattle, there are legit medical studies through the University of Washington, and sometimes Fred Hutch needs healthy subjects for cancer and HIV research. I like supporting medical research, as long as my health is NEVER impacted. I have done nothing I considered too invasive nor taken any medication. I have shared my drinking and dating habits (single ladies, check out Project FRESH through the UW pays up to $320), gotten medical exams I needed anyway (ladies again, check out the HOPE study through UW pays $200 for routine female exams), and given small tissue or blood samples for drug research ($30-50 each visit). I also learned about additional studies by asking clinicians and front desk staff about other studies I might qualify for.
When living more simply, you discover you already own a lot of crap you don’t need. I sold books and household items with resale value I could do without. My KitchenAid mixer now has a good home with a friend in California, making baked goodies I see pics of on Facebook often :-). This can be turned more into a business; I have friends who flip things they find at thrift stores and estate sales for a profit. If you have knowledge in a particular area, are able to fix things, or have an eye for spotting potential treasure, go for it!
Startups for odd-jobs:
Platforms for contracted labor have popped up everywhere in the past few years: TaskRabbit, Uber, Lyft, Postmates, just to name a few. I haven’t found much success in this area due to basic logistical constraints: my car isn’t new enough to be a chauffeur and my house is too far from population centers to be a bike deliverer. I tried TaskRabbit while visiting in San Francisco in January 2014. I found a quick-assign task at 11pm and made $35 in two hours the next morning making kid lunches. It felt ok, but inefficient and like slave-ish labor.
I should probably try to monetize this blog more; it’s an upcoming project for me. I added a PayPal donate button earlier in 2014 (see it up there all shiny and orange at the top right!) and have received a few gifts–thank you!!
Be aware of your money.
Once you have money, what can you use to spend and watch it responsibly? I’ve always had fun managing my money. International travel makes it a little more complex. I don’t create hard budgets, but am aware of what I have and where I want to be. I use a few financial tools to help.
- CREDIT CARDS: I use two no-annual fee credit cards with cash back.
- Chase Freedom for 1% or 5% cash back.
- Capital One for 1.5% cash back, no international fees, and lets you monitor your credit score–neat!
- I am conscious of which card is best for what circumstances and use them accordingly. In the US, I use Capital One for all purchases since it has a slightly higher cash back rate, unless my Chase card is running a special cash back deal (in April-June this year, they had 5% cash back for restaurants so I always used that card when I ate out). When traveling outside the US, I always use my Capital One card because it has zero foreign transaction fees.
- BANK ACCOUNTS: I have two bank accounts, each serving different purposes.
- I have the bulk of my money in a Wells Fargo checking account, which serves as my primary domestic bank for deposits and paying bills. This account works well in the US, but has high $5 ATM withdrawal fees abroad.
- As an auxiliary online bank account primarily for travel, I have a Charles Schwab Investor High Yield Checking Account, linked to my Wells Fargo account so I can easily move money between the two. This account is blissfully simple: managed online, no annual fee, no account minimums, and is special because you can withdraw money from any ATM in the world for free. (Can you imagine? Not having to pay money to access your own money anywhere? A dream!)
- RETIREMENT: I have retirement accounts (a 503(b) with TIAA-CREF and Roth IRA with Vanguard) that I review often and rebalance a few times a year. This is where the bulk of my net worth is, so I don’t neglect it. Also, it’s good to note that a Roth IRA (though I don’t intend to use it this way) can serve as an emergency fund; principle contributions can be withdrawn any time tax and penalty free. Set up a Roth IRA in addition to your 401(k), people!
- KNOWLEDGE: I closely watch all of my accounts together using Mint.
Live cheaply, make money when you can, be aware of your money, and save save save! Then enjoy the trip of a lifetime, over and over again. Best wishes to all your bank accounts and happy traveling.
I remember leaving leaving San Francisco in October and noticing my key chain; I had just returned the 7 keys it took to get into my ex’s apartment and all I had on my ring was a car key and two keys for my storage locker. It felt indicative of where I was in my life–lone and transient.
But nowadays? My key chain is full: house key to my lovely burner household, two for work, one to the apartment of a super cute boy, one for my dad/sister’s house, a gifted rocket keychain, a Fred Meyer club card paired with my mom’s account, no storage key but one to the club for my car reminiscent of it being stolen, and of course–my car, ever the constant. Every time I fumble through them I am consciously thankful for friends, family, love, and work. How are keys such an indication of life?
Am I becoming boring?
Ugh. Dear god I hope not.
I feel conflicted with my current state of stability. Overall life is good, my days are happy. I’ve got a job I’m pleased with, dig my home life, enjoy time with my family, am smitten with my new boyfriend, and have a bustling social life. But that kind of routine happiness makes for boring stories.
My conversation topics have become more tame, and I hate it. I want intrigue, drama, honesty, stimulation! Nowadays my mental and emotional focus is largely on professional challenges and the private, sappy joys of a new relationship. But no one wants to hear about those, right? Back to old reliable small talk. I’ve even started chiming in about traffic; mortifyingly mundane.
In a land that supposedly values freedom so much, why the hell are we so rigid about time in America? Why do we leave ourselves spent? I long for the lazy days in Caye Calker and the “go slow” lifestyle. I yearn for freedom of time to do what you want, when you want. The time to socialize, write, play, adventure, and rest. The time to indulge and recover. Now I feel tired often, fatigue creeping into my bones from trying to do too much. Naps are key to living a rock n’ roll lifestyle.
I was reminded in the nicest way possible recently that it’s been a year since I landed in Utila. Unbelievable. I have the simultaneous urge to buy myself a plane ticket and leave TONIGHT, yet also while away my time pleasantly in Seattle. The weather *is* turning beautiful, and oh won’t the fall be lovely…
I’m happy, and it’s driving me crazy.
Is this the final stage of culture shock? Does it ever go away? Or is this the perpetual plight of a traveler, no longer moving?
A week ago, I walked outside my house to go to work and found my car was gone. I looked around to make sure I wasn’t crazy, left a note for the neighbors, called the primary Seattle tow company, then the police. Within an hour an officer was in my living room filing a stolen car report. When I told him the make and model he nodded; late 90’s Hondas are notoriously easy to steal. Thieves break in in under a minute and start the car with a screwdriver. Great, now they tell me! So, what are my chances, officer? He said stolen cars are recovered “more often than not, and more often than not are drivable”. In fact, 85% of stolen cars in Seattle are recovered, indeed most in driving condition. I already felt on the bad side of luck, but was hopeful.
There isn’t a lot you can do when you car gets stolen, but I took a few extra steps. My housemate posted on our neighborhood watch board. I recruited the garbage and mail men to keep an eye out on their routes. My sister canvassed my neighborhood with me for over an hour looking for my car the day it disappeared. As I scanned cars we passed, she pontificated on car modification techniques she would perform to disguise a stolen car and measures she would take to not get caught. I pshawed. They weren’t that tricky, right?
I spent a week wondering, keeping an eye out everywhere I went. My supervisor and friend at my part-time job was incredibly generous and trusting to loan me his mother’s car for a few days. I received emotional support and disbelief from my friends and co-workers. I shared my stolen saga with a friend and he mentioned there might be a stolen car dumped in his neighborhood. (Something I never would think about–if a car looks abandoned, it’s worth giving the police a heads up just in case it’s stolen!) He notified the police, they picked it up, and he sent me his car karma. But chances of recovery statistically dwindled by the day. After a week, I started believing poor little Ginger was gone for good and began planning longer term transportation options.
Then, after dinner with my housemates at about 10pm, I received a voicemail from an unknown number. The sheriff! He told me to get down to Dearborn and 5th, by the stadiums: they found my car. My housemates and I raced to the scene. Unexpectedly, we found my car at a gas station surrounded by sheriff cars with their lights on. They had apprehended the thieves while they were driving my car. This was no joy ride theft (the most common scenario); the thieves had been planning to keep it. They swapped my plates with those from another another stolen car, removed the roof rack and other identifying features, just as my sister would have. They even decorated the rear view mirror with good luck tchotchkes. I anti-identified the tweaker driver (“nope, don’t know him and did not give permission to drive my car”) who was in custody.
I was shocked to get my car back, I really thought she was gone for good. The good news was she was certainly drivable, but the inside was a mess. All my possessions–save my ice scraper and a pair of shoes in the trunk that went undetected–had been thrown out and replaced with criminal crap. It reeked of cigarette smoke. We found various spills throughout, including tapioca pearls all over the center console and unidentified green goo on the passenger side. The police provided us with trash bags to cover the seats, plastic gloves, and anti-bacterial wipes. We rolled the windows down and drove off.
Back at home we inventoried the car. The cops didn’t want any of the stuff as evidence so tasked us with disposal. Time to loot. Highlights of the haul include shaved keys, bolt cutters, crowbars, other heavy duty tools, crack pipe, bowie knife, ski masks, many pairs of gloves, two prepaid cell phones, sugary cereals, watermelon, fast food trash stuffed in every corner, a Wii, computer accessories, and a shit ton of ramen noodles. As my friend Wendy said “Also: mouthwash. Because you don’t want your breath to smell like meth and Trix.” 😛
While the car was missing, I didn’t have an emotional reaction to it being stolen. People who I told were often more outraged than me. But I felt like a victim once it was returned. I’m in the process of getting the car cleaned and road-worthy, and notice small reminders of violation constantly. They adjusted my steering column angle. There’s a burn hole in the driver’s door from a cigarette; they used many surfaces as ash trays. The passenger’s visor is now busted. They superglued my AC button down (thanks guys, who needs fuel economy?). The plastic casing around my radio has been cut, even though the radio is in tact. All of my radio presets were changed to crappy pop music. Tonight I reset them all to the one station; I didn’t want to have any connection to the thieves, not even the music they listen to.
I’m very thankful to the police. It feels the same as when my tire blew out on the highway and the DOT Incident Response Team came to my rescue. There are so many people out there working to serve and protect who have your back if something bad happens. Feels really good we live in a society where that is the case. I heart public services.
I got new plates and registration, had the interior ultra detailed (super expensive!), and bought a club. I feel angry now. I want to do all in my control to make this guy regret stealing my car. I’m interested in the upcoming criminal proceedings and my options to participate. It’s difficult for me to understand blatant disregard for other people and property. Even if it’s stolen, why trash it? Fuckin’ jerk.
I have a lot of fun entertaining and chatting with guests in the elevator. I have so much Seattle-joy and silliness to share that sometimes it overflows even my normal enthusiasm. On one ride down that night, I gave my standard “if anyone has any questions…” prompt, but when no one spoke up I shared my guilty pleasure: singing in the elevator when no one else is there (great acoustics and way cooler than singing in the shower!) and threatened to break into Christmas carols. People called me on it then listened as I sang a solo verse:
There’s no place like home for the holidays
No matter how far away you roam
If you want to be happy in a million ways
For the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home!
“Seattle is my home, I’m so happy to be here and I hope you are too! Thank you all for coming to the Space Needle tonight and Merry Christmas!!” I’ll be here all week. I was tickled and flushed and oh so happy. My final ride of the night I made the same threat, then a woman said “why don’t we all sing?” and led us in a glorious chorus of We Wish You a Merry Christmas, ending just as we touched down. Best shift ever.
|All decked out for Seattle Santarchy 2013. Photo by IRDeep, http://facebook.com/irdeep|
I celebrated Christmas day at my mother’s house with family. My sister’s boyfriend Dave joined us for his very first ever Christmas; we tried to ease him into it but instead accidentally threw him in the deep end, discussing religion and making him pass out all the presents. 😛 I am usually a rather prolific and joyful gift giver, but it was nice to tone down gifts financially a bit this year and just enjoy the holiday and each other’s company. We ate beautifully the whole day, beginning with a champagne brunch, nibbly cheese/crackers/veggie/salmon lunch, and a steak dinner at my mother’s lovely table. We were visited by my stepsister and her husband at lunch and then my grandma for dinner, after which we played trivia games and listened to folk music (anyone with a Boston connection needs to memorize “Charlie on the MTA” immediately, btw). A chill and happy Christmas indeed.
|Me and my sister Laura taking in a midday Christmas hot tub. Photo credit: my mom! 😛|
|“The Space Needle is 605 feet tall
and was built back in 1962…”
Photo courtesy of JD Andersen.
Boxing Day. A day of detox, filled to the brim with awesomeness. It started with a morning at the Museum of Flight with my “travel buddy” JD. It was a super cool museum! We saw planes of all types, astronaut admin and gear, moon rovers (that must make it to the burn!), Space Needle memorabilia, Blue Origin’s Charon, so much more, and walked through the fake Space Shuttle used for training and the Air Force One that took Nixon to China. Extra baller to experience it all with someone who has the perspective of being in the space industry.
Keeping the fun going, we continued to the old Rainier Brewery for a surprise spa day. As I lay there being massaged and feeling crazy spoiled, I struggled to bring my mind to peace. My thoughts kept wandering, even as I wrangled them back to the present. Partway through, I realized that there was direction to many of my thoughts: I kept being led back by multiple threads to Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. I released my mind and let myself go back there, that place where I met so many, felt so relaxed and free, at such a critical junction in my growth last year. After a bit of extra basking in post-massage glow (I love how aware you feel of your body after; it always makes me want to move with intention and creativity), we capped it all off with happy hour sushi. Thank you JD for a lovely day!
After dinner, I headed to a viewing of “The Room” at Central Cinema (loved!) down in my old hood. Known as the Citizen Cain of bad movies and a cult favorite, it was all new to me but sure to be a blast. Beforehand, I almost died laughing en route to the theater as my friend Shaun made it rain Jeffersons all over the street. (That’s 10% of a high school cuddle right there! And I don’t even care because I’m an ADULT!) The movie did not disappoint and was insane with audience chanting, a crazy nonsensical “plot”, curry popcorn, throwing plastic spoons at the screen, and the most stilted dialog every uttered by human beings. The scene below was replayed for us five times in the theater so we could absorb all the nuances. Shaun, you only take me the classiest places.
After the faerie dust of Christmas settled, I couldn’t help but remember how difficult my life was one year ago at this time. The morning of the 27th, I snuggled into my bed, feeling reflective, surrounded myself with pillows, and dug out my journal from November 2012 to February 2013. My writings from that time are a swirl of anguish. Ben and I were in an on-going spiral of agony where I was filled with pain and confusion and fear, I had just left a job I loved, it was the one-year anniversary of my Grandmother’s death, the future was uncertain (I didn’t even know what continent I was going to travel to); tension was everywhere.
This year, instead I feel so happy to be here and now, connected to so many incredible people, having so much fun, reaching out to friends and loved ones who touch my life in wonderful ways. Thank you to everyone who made this Christmas and past year so special.
All my love and wishes for a wonderful 2014 to you all,