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Positive Self-FULL-ness

You're Doing What?! HOW?!

USA | Monday, 13 March 2017 | Views [1363] | Comments [2]

 

 

"You're doing what?! How?! That's awesome." Most common reaction to my life right now.

I knew that some heads would turn when I was recruited from my relatively “safe” state government affairs job for a riskier environment at a startup healthcare technology company. More would turn when I applied to grad school and quit that startup job in December. Eyebrows would raise when I told people that after spending time with family I planned to travel until starting graduate school in the fall. I've seen a mixture of reactions but most can be bundled into the following:

1) “OMG That's amazing! Good for you! How exciting! I trust you’re doing what’s right for you, and I support this.”

2) “Whoa! What? How? Why? I'm curious.”

3) “That's irresponsible and frivolous. Why are you wasting valuable time and money when you could continue climbing up and save for your future?” Or they reacted with jealousy in a negative way.

Luckily 98% of my closest family, friends, and mentors have been nothing but supportive and positively curious. And those who fall under #3 are clearly not meant to play a big role in my life... However, the decision had to be mine alone. I currently don't have many deal-breaking obligations -- I don't have a mortgage, spouse or children, student loans (until I start grad school!). The time is NOW. After seriously reflecting for quite awhile and considering my life, passions, goals, and regrets, I finally made some very difficult decisions in the fall of 2016, and I am the happiest I have been in a very long time if not ever.

 

 

So here's how I do it, since the world begs to know.

 

PRIORITIES

When we set our budgets we prioritize where we want to spend and save. I caught the bug at a young age and knew that's what I wanted to spend my money on -- experiences, not materials. It's a mindset. For me it's not going away. Ever.

I have always, always, always been a saver -- ask my parents! I was the first kid in third grade to save enough rewards sticks to take the teacher to dinner, requiring the highest # of sticks on the rewards chart. I was upset that I had to wait what seemed like forever for another student to save up enough to join because they kept spending them at the school store on gel pens and Lisa Frank stickers. So, saving has been in my blood since birth it seems.

In middle/high school, I was saving from my jobs and babysitting for travel. At 12 years old, I fundraised, wrote letters to family, friends, and businesses. I saved my money, sold raffle baskets, was sponsored by local institutions to pay to travel. I convinced my parents that I was determined to go to Australia summer before 8th grade… and later to Europe for three weeks in 10th grade, to China after freshman year of college, and to study abroad in France during my junior year. I went on family road trips across the USA and on medical trips in Central America growing up, but these experiences were all just me and a group of people I didn't know yet or solo.

 

PRACTICALITIES

Always pay bills first. ALWAYS. Then spend the remainder. During college, I started depositing a percentage of my budget into a separate savings account specifically for "vacation/travel" purposes. I automatically deducted that percentage each paycheck directly into my travel account so I never missed it in my real savings or checking accounts. I operated my life as if that money was not touchable. And essentially it wasn’t. I put almost 75% of my first two years worth of "travel savings" into a 24-month CD so I would face a penalty for removing it. This was intentional. I took the following two years' worth of savings and put it into an 18-mo. CD then purchased shares in my favorite companies, which luckily saw a value increase of those shares over the years. (Thanks for teaching and getting me started, Grandpa!) Furthermore, I opened a credit card that earned 3 points for all travel expenses and 2 points for almost everything else that a young adult likely spends money on - entertainment, coffee and restaurants, gas, groceries, etc.

 

 

SPENDING WISELY

I do realize I am very fortunate to not have to pay student loans from undergraduate school. And no, my parents do not pay for a single bill and haven't since before I graduated in 2013, thank you. I've worked since I was legally allowed to including summers and during the school year and have been on the rise since breaking out into the real world.

I'm not wealthy. I do have bills to pay, and yes, I do live a big-city single girl life. It's about spending and prioritizing what I spend money on. I'm a innately rule follower; I don't budge on my budget. At my first full-time job post-grad I earned $32.5k/year, as was standard and determined by law for me and my peers working for state government in that role. I lived in an apartment with a longer commute in a safe but not ideal part of the city. It was nice but nothing luxury, and it was worth it to me since I wanted to spend money on travel (in Columbus and beyond) and not on my apartment. I was determined to make my city worth exploring and view it as an adventure in my own backyard.

About two years later, I finally felt that I kind of had this adulting thing at a balanced place and had a solid budget figured out. I reevaluated my life after a series of personal events, and I was reminded (or strongly urged) by a few close friends that personal travel was a great healing and learning method for me, and I needed it. Desperately. I accepted a promotion that I ended up disliking almost immediately and moved to another part of the city, but I was still unfulfilled (note: I didn't say unhappy. Though an argument could be made that I was not living to my fullest potential.) I was comfortable. Too comfortable. Something was still missing. I was not truly living.

I needed to change. I got rid of cable, switched to a slower bandwidth for internet, turned my thermostat down 3-5 degrees and wore blankets/dressed appropriately/opened windows depending on the weather. I bought all of my furniture at garage sales and Hobby Lobby/IKEA or made it myself. Most of my artwork in my apartment is photography or maps that I've collected from my trips. I go to the library instead of buying books. I listen to podcasts, Pandora, Spotify and the radio instead of buying music. I even fixed my car's basic repairs by myself after watching videos and having a friend (and the wonderful guys at Advanced Auto Parts) confirm I did everything correctly. I use the free CBUS Commuter bus for downtown area travel in Columbus and rode my bike before it was stolen (they probably needed it more than me). I don't pay for a gym membership since my new apartment already has one, and I found a group fitness studio near my office with reasonable prices or I workout at home with BeachBody On Demand. I stopped splurging for amazing seats for all of my cultural arts affairs in favor of finding out when they had special events, free days, or I simply walk in last-minute and ask for cheap seats and smile. These aren't drastic changes -- just a simpler lifestyle. I became less stressed at home as well.

I DO spend money on good, comfortable shoes, outerwear, and wine. I also like to try new breweries and restaurants with my friends when I am home in Ohio -- BUT I skip the apps and dessert and order tap water. I try to cook as much as possible and say no to that latte in favor of making my own or doing walking meetings when possible. It's also helped me to become healthier!

Every decision I make I think about the financial, practical/logistical, and overall goals I set for myself and balance those with my mental health and passions in life. There are ways to save every day making life more practical, less stressful, and overall more fulfilling.

 

 

DESTINATION DECISIONS

Think about HOW you travel, the value of the US Dollar, and your destination of choice. For example, it was significantly less expensive to spend a week traveling and exploring the beaches and rainforest in Costa Rica than it was to spend a week in the heart of the spectacularly lovely city of Paris.

When I book flights, I consider convenience vs cost. I often use Momondo, Skyscanner, Hopper, and Hitlist (an app) to browse nearby airports with flights departing or arriving near my destination or home. I also receive cheap flight alerts from my favorite airlines! For example, I live in Columbus, Ohio with several cities’ airports within two hours driving. My parents live in West Virginia with close proximity and a hopper flight from the municipal airport to Pittsburgh and Washington D.C. It saved me about $400 to drive the 3.5hrs to see my family, get on the 6-seater airplane to D.C. and fly nonstop to San Jose, Costa Rica than it would have been if I departed from CMH with 1-2 layovers and pay more. Plus my mom loved seeing me for a day. I also ran into a friend in D.C. at my gate who happened to be on the same return flight home!

While traveling, public transit is often cheapest and surprisingly easy in many places. Uber and taxis add up quickly anywhere, but especially in Europe and U.S. major cities. I walk everywhere whenever possible. This is great for my health and my wallet. Many places now have rentable bikes that you can use throughout the day, too. Totally worth it! Greyhound bus, MegaBus, Amtrak are other seriously good considerations.

 

WHAT KIND OF TRAVEL

Consider your needs vs wants vs could live withouts.

I love using Hotwire for last-minute savings on great hotels! My favorite was in Montreal when I booked a few hours before I planned to arrive and landed a quirky boutique hotel regularly around $250/night that I paid $45/night!! You don’t know what specific hotel you’ll get until you pay, but I’ve had all excellent experiences so far. (Thanks to my mom for introducing this to me!)

Hostels are also quite common outside of the USA for solo or young travelers. They often have kitchens, laundry, food options right there and are a great way to meet other travelers. Camping in the USA is a fabulously inexpensive and relaxing option! Many have water and electricity access with communal bathrooms and showers available nearby, and you can even rent equipment online if you don’t own any. You could give couchsurfing a shot, too, if you're open to it!

Cruises are excellent for solo vacations (notice I said vacation, not travel. It’s not the same.) I find that cruises are about the experiences on board or excursion trips and less about the ports of call in many circumstances. Many cruise lines have major discounts as dates get closer and often have single-accommodation options. Plus, you'll never have to worry about where to find food, drinks, or entertainment! It was a brilliant last-minute decision to go to Key West + Cozumel, Mexico in December for 5 nights solo. I met people everywhere and relaxed toute-seule when I wanted to.

On many of my travels, I choose locations where I know people or have third party intros. I have stayed on couches, floors, and guest rooms on many of these visits, and it saves quite a bit just on accommodation. Plus, you have a local to tell you his/her favorite places to visit, see, eat, and perhaps even join you! Like my friends Lucas and Michael in Colorado.

 

 

GROUP TRAVEL VS SOLO TRAVEL

Group travel has many benefits, especially for newcomers to the idea of solo travel. It can be a little intimidating, but hands-down worth it. You’ll save on transportation and accommodation costs, and it lessens the planning time and stress levels to have a guide and your itinerary relatively mapped out. I went to Costa Rica with Under30Experiences and am booked to go to Morocco with Intrepid Travel, both sharing a room with another single female and using public or joint transportation to cut down on costs. Both groups have small sizes around 10-15 people mostly young/mid-life professionals. Amazing!! My U30X trip to Costa Rica was the launch pad for what is becoming my favorite travel year. I am so grateful for that experience and the people I met. I continue to keep in touch and share with U30X alumni, even meeting two during my spontaneous trips who I had previously only interacted with virtually!

Solo travel allows more flexibility for going anywhere at the drop of a hat.  It forces you to get out of your comfort box (more than a zone) to meet and interact with locals. You realize how much you have in common with people if only you quiet the voices in your head causing fear and worry. I never would have met Camille who sat next to me at a restaurant in Quebec, talked for 3hrs in French or be invited to see a local band if I had a fellow English-speaking travel companion. The freedom to pick up and climb a new hiking trail or randomly wander around town and “get lost” only to find the most incredible hole-in-the-wall serving local craft beers is infectious!

 

EMBRACING THE FEAR

Traveling solo and semi-solo with a group of new friends has been incredible. I have met and talked with interesting people every single day and that has helped with the fear that a lot of people experience about being lonely. Like my dancing bartender in Jaco, Costa Rica, the Texan Harley bikers while hiking at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, and Nina who commented on a U30X post asking for recommendations to spontaneously go to Canada in winter. People really are friendlier than you'd expect if we allow ourselves to be open to seeing it. I find that even if I'm not directly interacting with people, I still enjoy people-watching at a local cafe for a brief pause in my adventures.

So far since my epic decision, I spent 6 weeks with my aunt in Florida during her surgeries to remove an absolutely insane cancer. I took a last-minute cruise solo to Key West and Cozumel, Mexico for 5 nights and took a spontaneous trip to Canada via train for 12 days with 36hrs notice (Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and Niagara Falls). I drove to Milwaukee, Wisconsin (twice), saw Maroon 5 in front row seats after a friend scored them last-minute, stopped in Chicago, Cincinnati, and Dayton to see friends. I visited a graduate school in Denver, Colorado with excursions in Golden, Boulder, Aurora, and Colorado Springs and saw two APO friends from college plus a cousin. I booked my dream trip to Morocco for three weeks (probably to add Paris, Lisbon, Barcelona, and Madrid before/after), and I am planning tentative trips to see more of the USA's National Parks this summer and perhaps a trip to Eastern Europe or Southeast Asia before moving for grad school this fall.

This is a series of the best decisions I have ever made, and I am proud of myself for making them and for allowing myself to take this time to travel. I have no regrets!

 

 

Tags: solo travel, women who travel

Comments

1

Excellent article from a thoughtful young lady!

  Jo Friend Mar 16, 2017 1:57 AM

2

Perfect blend of responsibility and wanderlust! A daughter any mother could love!!

  Ginny W. Mar 17, 2017 12:20 PM

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