The car is packed and off we go, headed south to begin our August American west road trip. Can’t wait to do some exploring in my own backyard, especially the red rock national parks that have been calling to me for years… Oregon, California, Nevada, and Utah here we come!
|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.
|The lake and our cabin’s lower deck.|
Ah, summertime. What better place to welcome the solstice than lakeside?
I joined my family up in the Cascades at our family cabin on Lake Cle Elum. It has been a special gathering place for my family for twenty years and is the perfect spot to reconnect. We definitely hit our quota of storytelling, bullshitting, and laughing! Something unusual about this gathering: we had a high concentration of new boyfriends in attendance. Three brave men jumped into the family fray, all made it through gracefully.
Before the weekend, I expressed to my plus one, Court, my desire to go out rowboating. He promptly promised to take me. We got our chance on our final morning at the cabin. Throughout the weekend, he had wanted to prepare, “Erin, where’s the rowboat? Should we check it out?” Nah, I replied. It’s downstairs outside, it’ll be fine! Finally, the last morning, we inspected our equipment… Turns out, not only was the boat incredibly jenky, the longtime home of many insects and dustmites, and probably not watertight, but we were also missing oars. Drat.
|Court, skeptical of our trusty chariot.|
|But how can you go wrong with a name like that?!|
I collected the paddles–a two-bladed plastic kayak paddle, but better than nothing!–and the guys brought the boat down to shore. Court gave it an in-water look-over and deemed it ready, despite the fact we were already taking on water. I daintily and precariously stepped into the boat. Off we went.
|The launch and inspection #2. Is that water dribbling in already?|
|Court, second-guessing agreeing to be my escort, not sure we’re going to make it!|
The first thing to figure out? How the hell to row a boat with those damn kayak oars. Court began in true kayak style, but the boat was just too wide. We quickly split the paddles and began booking it canoe-style, with me paddling backwards at the bow for essentially no reason. When we “rowed” by our neighbors who lent us the paddles, they laughed and supplied us with additional extenders. With that little extra length, we became a two-man crew. Stroke!
|Paddling canoe-style, regular and reverse.|
|Happy summer! Celebrating with boat selfies… and Court laughing at me for taking too many pictures.|
But my favorite way to row a rowboat? Kicking back and be spoiled by a gentleman who takes both paddles and does all the work! Court did a great job of good-humorly indulging me all morning. Including taking requests to lose his shirt. 😉 This boat ride just keeps getting better and better…
After a taxing time out on the water, I was in much need of refreshment. Luckily, Dad is on a potato salad kick and bowls of it keep appearing in the fridge. We can’t seem to eat it fast enough. But I was happy to try. Amusing end to a lovely weekend. I’m excited summer is here, and looking forward to many more lazy lake days in the coming months.
|Lunch on the porch. Yum!|
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.
|Twelfth man represent!
Photo from http://seattletimes.com
- In 1917, the Seattle Metropolitans became the first American hockey team win the Stanley Cup.
- In 1979, the Seattle Supersonics made it all the way to win the NBA Championship.
- The Seattle Storm won the WNBA championship twice, in 2004 and 2010, but I’m sorry (and I feel awful saying this, but it’s true…) does anyone *really* care about the WNBA?
|Look familiar? So freakin’ awesome! Image via flightaware.com|
|Don’t they look so lovely?|
|Sport in art. Images: Denver Art Museum, Seattle Art Museum|
|Photo courtesy of the Woodland Park Zoo.|
Photo by @rodmarphoto.
Today’s the day. The one we’ve all been waiting for. Kick off is 3:30pm PST. Put on your best blue and green, and GO HAWKS!!!!
I was almost tricked. The drive down the North California coast was beautiful. Across the California border the air smelled enchantingly sweeter. I was surrounded by things about California I love: the color of the dry landscape and the feel of the sunshine and the scent of eucalyptus trees. Why don’t I live here anymore? Maybe I should move back…
|The Route 1 coast north of San Francisco, as the sun goes down. Stunning.|
|Yeah, I appear in non-selfie pics occasionally.|
But then I arrived in San Francisco. It took forty-five minutes to drive six miles through town from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Mission. I arrived at my dear friend Simran’s house irritated and ready to bitch. It’s a nightmare to drive anywhere, pedestrians and drivers alike are super jerks, the city lacks an effective thoroughfare, and there actually is no parking. Public transport (IMHO) sucks; BART only serves the Financial District, neglecting most of the city. Even when you’re not going anywhere, it’s still horrid; every time I go get my car off the street–which is every two hours to move it–I pray that it won’t have a ticket or its window smashed or both. In the first 36 hours, I got a $62 parking ticket because of freakin’ street cleaning. Street cleaning! I really aught to have known better; I did used to live here. But in Seattle we have something called rain, which means street cleaning and subsequent parking restrictions AREN’T A THING.
|Double whammy–ticket and break-in, just around the corner from my car. Yikes.|
This city is unfriendly to those without money. It is an economic system that assumes all the participants have lucrative tech jobs. The fight between “old” and “new” San Francisco is alive and well, just look at the protests against the Google busses that have raged over the past few weeks. Real estate is a particular problem. In 2013, San Francisco supplanted New York City as the least affordable housing market in the country. Any rent under $2,000/month (for a one bedroom or even a studio) is considered a steal. More people move to the city every day, but the city is resistant to changing to accommodate its growth. Seattle is held up as an example of adapting to the influx of new people, as for 2010-12 it experienced the same increase in residents (12,000) yet issued nearly three times the number of new housing permits (26,000 vs 10,000). Come of SF, admit you have a problem–make that, crisis–and do something about it!
It is no surprise that San Francisco’s cost of life is expensive given the continued economic boom of Silicon Valley, but reentry is a shock to my system. As a traveler on a shoestring budget, I feel constantly intimidated by prices and luxuries taken for granted. And I dig quality. I believe it’s worth it to pay more for a better, more responsible, healthier, etc product. But SF takes it to a whole new level. For instance, the new Big Thing hipster cuisine craze is $4 designer toast. A year ago I probably would have sampled many and had opinions. Now I feel it’s ludicrous. How did I used to think this type of thing was “normal”?!
|I should be all about this, but instead I hate it.|
Sim and I have been largely hunkering down in her apartment together and cooking. One night, we needed a red cabbage and head of cauliflower. If we had a bigger list I would have trekked to Safeway, but as it was only two things I went to nearby Bi-Rite, a famous local grocery known for high quality and prices to match. My two vegetables came to eight dollars. EIGHT DOLLARS. At the register, individual caramel candies–just like the sea salt ones I made as gifts for my couchsurfing hosts, about the size of a quarter–were priced at two dollars apiece. I made pretty kick-ass 50 candies from $4 worth of ingredients. I used to think Bi-Rite was crazy, but now I believe it is downright out of control.
Walking along Valencia Street, everyone looks hip and rich. I feel I have to strut to keep up and express my own coolness. (Yeah, I’m rocking knee high boots with shorts, on purpose, right. It’s alternative.) Looking around, I realized lots of people wear hoodies in SF too–something I’ve come to see as a signature of Seattle–but here they’re brightly colored and expensive-looking or branded with a startup logo. I stopped into Betabrand–a creative hipster company I had seen online–and was immediately propositioned to take a picture with Bigfoot dangling from the ceiling. They handed me a compound bow, snapped a pic, put it up on their site, and emailed me a copy. Flash and dazzle, selling $200 hoodies. I’m ready to go back to Seattle, where people rock the same grey hoodie they’ve had for fifteen years. Legit.
|This photo makes no sense…|
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had an excellent trip here catching up with friends. There are some people in the Bay Area who I completely and utterly adore (you all know who you are! xoxo!). But how can San Francisco as a city, economy, and culture simultaneously have so much that I love and hate? I’m so frustrated.
|My happiness is best expressed with salami.
Photography by Decktor.
Oh Sandwiches. How is it possible for you to be so simple, yet so delicious? I love a good sandwich and will go to great lengths for an exceptional one. Favorites of mine dot the country: roast beef with peppers and cheese at Sam La Grassa in Boston (I laughed for *years* at their claim to be the World’s No. 1 Sandwich until I finally had one. Oh. My. God.), Jim Rome or Elvis Kieth at Ike’s Place in San Francisco, or pastrami at Katz’s Delicatessen in New York.
|Make-a mine with-a mott-zer-rellah!
Left, from http://www.salumicuredmeats.com. Right, photography by Decktor.
|Time to dig in!
Photography by Decktor.
I started with my half of the meatball sub; it was served hot, dripping with sweet tomato sauce, with sautéed peppers and onions on top and melty mozzarella underneath. The roll was just crispy enough on the outside, substantial enough to hold up to the drippy goodness, yet soft enough to eat easily. Pork meatballs broke apart softly with each bite. I found it all a lovely savory balance, the homey flavors hitting the spot.
Photography by Decktor.
I devoured my portion, licking sauce from my fingers. It completely filled me up, so I took my half Muffo back home for dinner with a cup of tomato soup. I crisped it in the toaster oven, partially melting the cheese. I really dug the olive tapenade and the overall flavor, but wished for an extra helping of salami! I’m still getting up the guts to try their other hot sandwiches: Porchetta (their tribute to pork; looks insane!) and Grilled Lamb. Always good to save something for the next trip.