I’m putting off Christmas purchases

After being bombarded with ads and deals both online and in fliers I receive in the mail, I’ve been enticed to shop (round of applause for the marketers out there) – however, I’m not going to buy anything.

I don’t need them.

I may want new gym gear but I don’t need new gym gear.

I have so many NikePro gear lying around, it’s just a matter of finding them hidden somewhere in the corner of my closet. I don’t need to update them since they’re still functional, even though the branding might’ve worn off – but that’s not an excuse for me to shell out money I don’t want to spend just because the JUST DO IT sign is fading.

To add to that, I really don’t see the point of getting dressed up to the nines at the gym. Especially if the goal is to get all sweaty and gross – yeah.

I’d rather do more things, see more things, than own more things. 

And the same notion goes for all the other things I’ve been wanting – Do I really need them? Or is it just holiday marketing playing tricks on my mind?

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Happiness is when I’m under my travel budget!

Last night I did some number crunching and I’m happy to report that I’m below budget, even though I have not been too ‘restricting’ with my travel plans, in fact, this year I thought I’d go try out first class seats on trains – since I’m going to be on them a lot – hence, I splurged on those train rides, some which also include meals, thank you Swedish rails and DB Bahn! Oh and train vs. plane? It all depends on how much luggage you have and whether you’d like to sit down and enjoy the view, or get somewhere really fast. I’m hoping that I’d get some work done while on the train – which are promised to have WiFi connection.

That aside, I’ve been somewhat frugal with my stays again – the rooms I’ve booked on average are all below 100 Euros (though I know for some this number might seem a little high – but I’m a firm believer in mix and matching where it counts) and all of the places I’ve booked comes with breakfast included – which means, stuffing my face during the AM really and going out exploring for the rest of the day (to which I can already imagine how sore my legs will be) but then there will also be a lot of street food, and oh god, BEERS, yes more beer, bier, biertje, öl, øl consumed…haha, now how many languages is that?

Also another tip is prepay everything. I don’t mean pre-pay in a huge lump sum before your trip – no. I mean, incorporate your travels into your monthly bill – like for the plane tickets I’ve booked are already paid off months ahead of time. And that’s a very freeing feeling because now I only have to take care of the other 2/3 portion before my trip which gives me wiggle room for…

You guessed it.

More beers with friends!!!!

(And if I’m really adventurous, an extra city during my visit this time! Stay tuned!)

One-upping high rental prices, how to pay less and still get to be in Amsterdam!

Just when you thought I’d break my budget to be in Amsterdam for a week?

Hah.

Nope.

I’ve got a solution for this and it’ll cut the projected cost of $1000+ to at least 1/2 of that and still be comfortable. How would I do this without crashing on the couches of friends and or sleeping for half of the week on the streets? The answer lies in the unique geography of The Netherlands. You see, the Netherlands has a landmass of 41,526 km², which is relatively tiny – when you compare it to the State of California, which has a landmass of 423,970 km² which is more than 10x the size of the entire country itself.

Hence, I’ve decided to use this fact to my advantage – why would I need to actually be in Amsterdam, when I could just look for rentals in a nearby town that’s about half an hour to Amsterdam itself. It’s still very ‘central’ given my North American expectations – if a commute doesn’t take more than 30 minutes, then it’s very convenient for me, and even if the commute takes more than 30 minutes but less than 60 minutes, it’s still reasonable, given the money I’d safe – and of course, let’s not forget, I can actually say I’ve seen more of the Netherlands than ‘just’ Amsterdam… which according to a previous professor I’ve had in school from Holland – “Amsterdam is not representative of true Dutch culture at all. You have to go out of Amsterdam to explore!”

So there you have it – I will go out to ‘explore’ this time, as I have more incentives to! And make sure to take a bunch of wonderful images to share!

Why is rent in Amsterdam so high?

“Amsterdam is a victim of its own popularity.”

Or so I remember reading sometimes way back, then thinking to myself – it’s alright. That was probably in 2013. Now fast forward almost 3 years – “Woah, why is rent in Amsterdam so high?!” I say to myself as I scroll through AirBnB, various hotel booking sites, and as last resort – hostels.

I told myself I’ll never stay at the same hostel again – you just gotta try something new – so I thought, why not AirBnB, after all, AirBnB is the place where I found cheap rentals for Oslo, Norway (one of the most expensive places on earth, where a grande Starbucks latte cost $10, yup.) So imagine my surprise when I checkout dates on AirBnB for Amsterdam around the New Years…

And I realized.

Shit.

I’m going to have to shell out $1,000+ for a week worth of rent aren’t I?

Yes…that’s like a month of normal rent crammed into a month. Ha ha ha, Amsterdam, you’re funny. Not.

I guess that’s the price you pay for wanting to be smack center in the middle of the action, as price often correlates positively with desirability. Still, I haven’t made a decision yet on which adorable yet expensive canal house I’m going to rent. But a part of my brain is already nagging – you deserve this for working so hard all year and forgoing all the fun – you should do it already – but the more frugal part is already fuming at me for even considering such a thing – I could do a lot with $1,000+ even book another trip – see more things.

Why I’m relying heavily on AirBnB bookings this time

Because, sometimes, you just need an alternative from hostels and hotels. Because, there comes a time when a good night’s sleep becomes really appealing. In addition, AirBnB is something I haven’t tried before – and because, in cities like Oslo, Copenhagen, and Stockholm – it might be the better option, as even low end hotel rooms range from two hundred and up per night. I want to feel more at home in a city than I had. That said, AirBnB also comes in a lot more options than hostels and hotels combined. You get to choose where you stay and what kind of stay – depends on what you’re comfortable with. Also, I’m really digging this sharing economy idea behind AirBnB. So, you can look forward to my AirBnB reviews and experience at a later date!!

How much will my 2015 Winter Trip Cost?

One of the biggest reasons people don’t travel is that they think it’ll cost them an enormous amount financially. Now the act of ‘going somewhere’, I have categorized as two types, you’re either going on a ‘vacation’ or you’re ‘traveling’. The former term connotes it’s a time of indulging and pampering (spendthrift vacations) while the latter term suggests a more frugal approach to exploring a destination (of course, this is just my personal observations).

One of the first thing I did this year was finding myself an extremely cheap return flight to Oslo and that in itself is already paid off. What’s left is the 21 Days I get to stay in Europe, namely the 20 Nights I’d have to find somewhere to sleep. And the cost of hotel/hostel is going to be a big portion of cost (sometimes even more than the plane ticket itself). To lower that cost, I highly suggest looking into hostels, AirBnb, friends’ couch, or couchsurf.

How to balance the cost? As Northern Europe is notorious for being pricey? Here are some of my travel tips:

1) Estimate budget say you’re willing to spend $100 / day, for 20 days, then put aside $2000 and work from there. The $100 should include, food, transport, and housing. Of course, I do realize that this might be hard to come by in pricy places such as Scandinavia. Which brings us to: 2) Research ahead of time, or better yet don’t make the same mistake you did last time or last year. (Like last year, I didn’t even need the Welcome Copenhagen Card as all museums were closed around Christmas time so I did free tours outside. It was cozy and fun but a waste of $60 bucks on the card right there.) 3) Look out for deals or see if you could decrease your expenditure and save yourself some money. This is something I highly recommend for winter in Northern Europe, as most people are looking for some sun and fun. In fact when I told most my friends I’m heading to Norway in the middle of Winter, “Are you crazy???” yeah, but hey I see it as perfect museum going time. Plus I’m betting on a snowy (or perhaps rainy) winter wonderland. 4) make sure you have a balance of budget places and more pricy places, because at the end of the day, you still want to enjoy yourself thus don’t penny pinch too much, so one or two night of splurging somewhere nice (because why not) should definitely be a part of the plan. 5) Add it all up then book, make sure you’re happy with the budget and book away. The strategy here is to pay everything off so you don’t have to worry about it at a later date so you can enjoy yourself.

train travel vs. plane travel in Europe, which is more economical?

Weekend trip planning, I’ve been thinking, what’s the most economical way to go about things when it came to traveling within Europe, should I take the train, or should I take the plane? After a little research, what I found out is that train travel, albeit time consuming, is far more economical way of travel, given that 40 USD train ticket, gets you from one city to another city without having to first get yourself to the Airport, there’s no added luggage fees, and of course, you get to experience more of Europe this way, there are midpoint stops at certain cities and of course, one can always peer out of the window and admire the landscapes during travel. Another tip is book ahead of time to save money, because like plane tickets, prices do go up as it gets closer to departure time.

why you’re better off spending more flying direct

While I’m an advocate for budget traveling and shaving off costs whenever and wherever you can, recently I ran into this rather practical traveling problem. Say, I saved $200 dollars by not flying direct, but then multiple layovers and hours at the airport tend to turn even the most frugal of us into bleeding wallets. So did I really save that $200 like I thought I did?

There are a few things to consider when you’re traveling.

  1. Safety
  2. Comfort
  3. Hassle

1. If you can, shorten the trip for the purposes of saving on travel insurance: in this case, time = money, the more time you spend outside of your home country the higher the cost of insurance, so factor that in when you’re doing long layover, multiple connection flights.

2. food, pack your own non-perishable food: This is so important! I had somehow forgotten that security checks do not like you when you bring ‘perishable’ food into after security and I was very recently reacquainted just how expensive things could be inside the airport… 10 dollars for a pre-packed sandwich at LAX, which contains two pieces of white bread and mystery meat drenched in sodium? Like, why are we getting prison food at airports? And then you also realize, to get out of the airport is too much of a hassle – so think ahead of time.

Solution: Try to eat before you go through security, or pack really bland non-perishables that don’t trigger and set off alarms at security, like granola or oatmeal. PS: you shouldn’t bring jam or gel type items…as I learned first hand at LAX, Nutella is not flight friendly.

2. EMPTY WATER BOTTLE: not full because you’d have to chuck them out at security and everything behind security cost an arm and a leg.

Solution: bring your own water bottle and make sure it’s empty. Airports usually have water fountains post-security checks. You can fill them up and bring it onto the plane and make sure you do, because planes are very very dry, people often start coughing at the end of a long-haul flight.

3. SIT TIGHT: say what? More sitting in the waiting area, wouldn’t it be great to stretch your legs before a flight? Yes and no. Yes you should move around and stretch before you’re crammed into a plane, but try to steer clear of anything that calls out to your wallet – the duty free might be ‘tax free’ but always ask yourself, do you really need it?

Solution: load your e-reader up with 100+ books, and have fun.

4. Comfort: if you’re skimping out on hotels to sleep in the airport to save $$$, of course, but be prepared for achy and possibly grumpy mood and a feeling that the time to board is never going to come.

Solution: bite the bullet and repeat, ‘this too shall pass’ while reading books on your e-reader. Because, it most likely will.

All in all, saving money requires tenacity and organization. If you don’t get it quite right the first times, take it as lesson well learned.

why everyone should start a travel fund

If you asked me who should travel, I’d answer: everyone.

Everyone should at some point in their lives, pack up and go somewhere, no matter how close, or how far, for how long or how short – but go somewhere in the sense that they should step out of their normal ‘everyday’ and explore something previously unknown to them.

I love traveling, in the sense that it’s always an adventure – hanging up the ‘pause’ sign and stepping outside of your world for a moment. Every time I travel, I feel as though I insert myself into a part of a greater narrative – a story that’s more interesting than my own. I get there and step outside of myself in order to explore that said narrative – feel the universe outside of my personal bubble if you will.

However, aside from the myriad of benefits, I’m also aware that there are usually financial constraints in place that stop most people from taking the time off to travel, or even go on a vacation. Hence, I promise that everyone should just start a traveling fund that is separate from your usual checking, saving and investing accounts to make your travel dreams come true.

For example, streamline your budget and stick to it: it is very very easy to overspend or buy things you don’t need (as I would know, a coffee here, a lunch there, or a drink with a friend on a Saturday night, then there’s post-brunch shopping with friends) they all add up and last month alone (I wasn’t being very vigilant with spending, give and take with the trip to Seattle) I estimated I overspent by…quite a bit (meaning in the hundreds…a good chunk to get me half way across the world.) And if I had elected to go out in my city tonight, that would’ve ate a good chunk out of my wallet, to the equivalent of an EasyJet return trip (no jokes, I just checked, an EasyJet return trip from my two favorite European cities is actually cheaper than a night out in the city. Talk about my priorities.)

Yes, I say this because I was recently at a focus group on money and finances. And I observed the following – finances and money management were never things taught in schools – budgeting, goal setting, retirement plans, and spending are often seen as personal responsibilities – however, without good examples from role models such as parents or teachers, how will we know how to handle our finances? Especially in an age consumerism seem to cure all ills. Stressed, depressed, unloved? Buy something to make yourself feel better, or so the logic goes. But in the end, this proves to be unsustainable and debt accumulates, and some institutions are profitable because of limited financial literacy of consumers.

So I say, everyone should start a travel fund, because your $5 lattes will add up to $1270 a year if you have one every day, per weekday (not including weekends/holidays) over the course of a year.

The difference of the $5 vs. compounded $5s over the course of the year is felt dramatically.

And those work lunches, if averaged $10 a day, would average out to $2540 over the course of a year – and $2540, to some might not be a big deal, but for a travel enthusiast who knows how to make dollars stretch, $2540 is a big deal (if you are smart with that, you could very well cover the cost of flight and accommodation, food for at least a month somewhere really cool)  – and really who wouldn’t mind having an extra lump sum at the end of the year to do something they really want to do?

time versus money debacle, would you spend extra to save yourself grief?

So, recently I realized, I made a dumb mistake – possibly because I found a more efficient way to accomplish the task and I should’ve researched better before I hastily made the decision.

It is way cheaper to fly out of Los Angeles LAX than Seattle Tacoma, wow, I should’ve realized that before…considering LAX is a much bigger airport. But given the flight time and the distance, I had naively thought shorter distance on a flight would mean lower airfare, again, very naive of an assumption as I just found out that is not the case.

It actually costs less to fly home from LAX than from SeaTac, even though flying home from LAX would be more lengthy of a journey.

The reason is possibly because, “it’s a popular route thing,” people fly in and out of LAX all the time to all sorts of places, hence supply vs. demand vs affordability. Simple economic principle I had not remembered when I was booking.

The sad thing is, I already booked with Virgin America during their flash seat sale and the seats I booked are non adjustable, hence that $$$ on the return ticket, I may not even end up using, is already sunk cost.

If I booked direct to fly back on the 21st instead of the 22nd. I could be in my bed recuperating then getting back to work sooner. Even as I write this, I want to ask myself, where’s my sense of adventure? However,  on the other hand, I’m just imagining myself crying on the trip back, not out of exhaustion but out of the stupid realization the excursion’s over. The airport would be limbo space. Sure, I could easily rough it out in the airport or mingle in the Los Angeles night life if I wanted to. Alas, it’s not where I want to be.

Still, do I want to hand over an extra $150, for the swift trip back home? Or do I actually want to stew in the airport and further contemplate life?

Which one would you choose if you were in my shoes?