Productive Loitering

Quintana Roo Mexico – Stepping in the unknown

The scariest moment is always just before you start - Stephen King

The scariest moment is always just before you start – Stephen King

On a cold January morning in 2011 I walked into my work place after winter break and sat down at my desk. It was the first Monday back to work after the Christmas & New Years holidays. It was slightly before 8 AM so few people were in the office. Prior to the winter break I had been very unhappy with my job. In fact I was hating it. I didn’t want to be there any more. The week or so vacation really hadn’t changed my feelings about it.

As I sat at my desk staring out the window at 8 AM on a Monday I knew I didn’t want to be there.  I acknowledged to myself the truth that I didn’t have to be there. I had chosen to drive myself to this place so I could walk across the campus, through the door, up the stairs and to this spot were I was now sitting.  By choosing to do all of that I had chosen to extend this misery I felt for being there. I had to accept the responsibility for this situation and this unhappiness.

You should never say you have to do something. You might feel obligated to do something. You may have the responsibility to do something. All of this does not mean you HAVE to do it. You can protest, you can fight, you can scream and run…When you get up every morning to go to a job you hate you don’t HAVE to do it. You chose to be there.

Acknowledging that I had made this choice was empowering! If I had chosen to be there I could chose to leave. I did just that! I opened my email and wrote a quick resignation to my manager before packing up my few belongings and walking right out of the building without saying goodbye. It was exciting! It was scary! It was a whole new beginning!

This was the first real job I’d ever walked away from without notice. I’d worked there for 3 years and had been promoted three times. I was well liked and it was a cushy job. I knew it wasn’t where I belonged. Taking that first step into the unknown was frightening! I had some money saved but I also had a mortgage! There was a feeling of panic! I needed money coming in didn’t I? I immediately start scrambling and applying for new jobs.

After a few weeks of unemployment it started feeling normal sleeping in every morning. I started finding new ways to fill all those empty hours work had taken up. I applied for my passport and considered going to Korea to teach English as my friend had. By the end of the first month all the panic wore off. I still didn’t have steady income but I discovered just how awesome I was financially.

One thing my parents had managed to teach me was good money habits. I’ve always liked to keep my mortgage at least one month ahead on payments just in case. After quitting my job I was excited to find at some point I’d managed to get my mortgage two months ahead! Go me! This was one little things you don’t appreciate it till you need it. With several thousand in the bank, my bills all paid up, and plenty of free time I decided to travel!

In 2011 I was 27 and had never left the USA. I’d seen around 35 states, NYC, LA, Chicago…but I hadn’t left the country itself.  It was a Sunday when I made the decision to go. After a quick visit to Expedia I had a one way ticket out of Kansas City MCI to Cancun, Mexico. My flight was on Wednesday!

I had three days to pack and scramble for a ride to airport. It was done! I took only a carry on messenger bag with about a week of clothes and a laptop. My flight was early in the morning so the plane landed in Quintana Roo a little after 1pm.  Now this was the first flight I’d ever taken anywhere to which I had no where to be after I landed. If you haven’t done that give it a try!

As I exited the airport in Mexico I had no idea where to go or what to do. I hadn’t reserved a ride anywhere because I hadn’t booked a place to stay. Like many airports Cancun arrivals is a bustle of people trying to find transportation into town and a plethora of locals offering it. I wasn’t sure which bus to pick so I simply watch the crowd of new arrivals for a few minutes. Eventually I saw a Canadian couple boarding a bus with their two sleeping toddlers to Cancun. I decided to follow them.

This bus took me to the central bus station in Cancun. There I fired up my laptop and looked for hostels in the area. Thank the Gods for interwebs! I found one within walking distance and headed out in that direction. Cancun was bright, sunny, and warm which seems like heaven after leaving cold wintery Missouri.

On my walk a local man stopped me and asked what I was looking for. I easily recognized him as a head hunter type. Sure enough he quickly started telling me about places I could stay. I wasn’t having any luck finding my hostel so I followed him to the one he suggested. Looking around it was good enough and I decided to stay.

I was very tired from the days travel & bad night sleep so I turned in early that night. The next morning I took advantage of the hostels small free breakfast. There I met an American woman also staying at the hostel and young man who had dual citizenship with Mexico & USA. Thanks to hosting couch surfers, I knew from experience he was probably the nomadic homeless type. His self declared expertise of the area hinted at a hustler lifestyle.

Some times these people can be useful. Sure enough he was. He took the two of us on a little tour around Cancun. He shared a wealth of knowledge about the bus routes, local customs, and locations of useful places. It was from him that I learned more of Playa Del Carmen. He suggested we should go there. From his stories of the place I decided to take the trip down there solo. In the end I’m pretty sure he stole $100 from me but I shrugged it off. The knowledge & experience I received was certainly worth it.

The next day I took a bus to Playa Del Carmen. It was in this awesome town that I had the time of my life! Not only that but I found the best job I ever had. I’ll leave those for another posting. ^_^

SHORT: Took a brave step by walking out of a job I hated into the unknown. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. 

Playa Del Carmen Mexico

Playa Del Carmen Mexico

How to retire at 30

In my early 20s I decided I was going to retire at 30. Since then I’ve been telling everyone of this decision. People often mutter in disbelief or give me a look of “hahaha right….” Some simply jest that I must be rich. Very few take my declaration seriously and over the years I have been uncertain myself from time to time. Maybe 30 is too young. Would 35 be better?

I’ve always tried to put away some money every month for rainy days. Last year I pushed to get my savings account up to $10,000 just in case I turned 30 and really carried out this crazy plan?!? Now only 4 months from my 30th birthday I am concrete in this decision to retire at 30! We are down to the wire. As of last month I’ve started making real preparations for world wide travel & retirement. Today when I tell people I’m planning to retire at 30 I still get some disbelief. Most are demanding HOW!?! Well good friend I shall tell you my secret.

First & foremost lets get our definition of the goal here. We’ll pull out ye ole Google and search ‘retirement definition’.  I’ll even Google that for you! What we get is a noun meaning ‘the action or fact of leaving one’s job and ceasing to work’. That is pretty easy to understand right? Quit your job and stop working.

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. - Confucius

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. – Confucius

Hold onto that definition and lets add another piece of the puzzle! Our wise friend Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” That is it! It is that simple! Step 1 quit not loved job. Step 2 find job you love which according to Confucius would not count for work. Step 3 PROFIT!  I don’t mean profit as in money but instead as being happy and living a life worth living.

When I said I would retire at 30 it never meant I’d sit at home doing nothing and never earn another cent.  This is the conclusion most people jump to. They imagine you’ll retire, play golf, and collect a check from a retirement fund. If you know retirees who are able bodied, you’ll know many continue to work after retirement. It might be less than the use to and might not be in there former “career”. They will continue to hold a job of some sort whether it is a easy work for simple pay, hobbies, or volunteering.  Research has proven that we are happiest when we work.

Never doing any type of work ever again sounds miserable to me. My retirement was never meant to be this.  The goals I set were to stop working for other peoples profits, to stop wasting my life on meaningless tasks, to no longer work just for a pay check, or climbing cooperate ladders…Why wait until 70+ to do this? Why not do it now while you are young & can enjoy it?  So if this sounds like a good retirement to you then lets get into the how to do this.

1. Stay as debt free as possible. There are people willing to run away from debt but if you can work 10 years accumulating savings with virtually no debt you’ll be in the perfect place to retire young. Debt is a huge anchor and is often the excuse people use for not living the life they want.

If you are still in college now DO NOT TAKE OUT STUDENT LOANS!!!! At the very least only take out bare minimum of subsidized loans. Keep a job of some sort to help pay for school! Degrees are nice but employers value a person who is tried and proven. In most career fields work history & experience is more valuable than a degree.

2. Start saving early even if its just a little every month. I started trying to save for my retirement around 22. At first it was very small goals. Always keep $1,000 in my savings account. As my income increased I set a goal of $5,000 then $10,000…Every travel blog will give you a different number of how much to save. Aim for $5,000-$12,000. You can do it with less! Budget traveler blogs are a dime dozen on Google with some great tips. This one will includes some soon.

3. Live a minimalist life style. Do you really need that giant sectional couch or lava lamp? If your goal is to travel full time that stuff isn’t fitting in your backpack.

4. Lower your standard of living. This partly goes back to the staying out of debt. Burdening yourself with a car payment isn’t going to help you retire early. Keep expenses like this in reason and always prioritize paying bills or debts first! If possible move to a nation with a favorable exchange rate. ^_^

SHORT: Nail down what your definition of retirement is. If you want to sit on a couch all day and watch TV stick to the traditional work till age 65 & 401ks.

Many people die at twenty five and aren’t buried until they are seventy five

Inventory Your Cultural Norms

It is always important to be mindful of where you come from. That is the place which shapes your baseline for norms and how you see the world. As you move along in the world you’ll find new norms and if you stay somewhere long enough you might pick those up but the home base norms you grew up with will often be the ones you fall back on. Before you leave for a new culture you should take a critical inventory of the behaviors you consider normal and if you have time find out about the behaviors of the new place you’re going.

Some things to consider are the following questions.

  • Do you come from a Individual or Collectivist society?
  • Is there a strong importance on age? Do greetings or how you address some vary depending on age?
  • Are women equals or is your culture filled with machismo?
  • When greeting some one how touchy are you? Are you okay with person kissing your cheek on greeting or holding your hand?
  • How much personnel space do you need to feel comfortable in a public area?

Some of these questions may seem funny but they are important ones to keep in mind. Consider in many areas of Asia age is important and how you address some one is based on your age in relation to theirs. A person from America, Canada, Asia, and North Europe will be more accustom to less touchy greetings which could result in discomfort with the cheek kissing greetings common in Latin America, Mediterranean, Lower Europe, and Middle East. In many Arab countries male to male cheek kissing is common place for people who are well acquainted. These are just a few examples of why it is best to prepare yourself for the norms of other cultures on top of knowing what your own norms are.

This norm inventory can be doubly important for women. As a woman traveling alone in the Dominican Republic I discovered first hand how not knowing the cultural norms can ruin paradise. I was unprepared for the sheer amount of macho behavior of the men there as well as the all the unwanted attention I started receiving when they learned I was not there with a husband. Women from countries with strong feminist cultures traveling  to South America or Middle East may find men treat them differently than they are accustom to at home. Several of the women travelers I met in South America spoke of having trouble finding recreational drugs in certain countries. Many times the pushers would only sell to men. When possible traveling with a male friend in macho countries may save you headaches or unwanted attention..

SHORT: You can’t hold different cultures to your norms. This will only create a rift between you and the locals. You’ll have a much better time if you educate yourself in what is normal for the region you are in and accept them as they are. 

Helpful links:

http://www.culturecrossing.net/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheek_kissing

Language Learning

If you are planning travel take the time to learn yes, no, and thank you.  These simple phrases will go a long way and no thank you is an essentially in tourist areas were you will run into a plethora of people trying to sell you things.  A common solution the vendors in Vietnam employed during bargaining was to show you a calculator with their price. Then you enter your number and the two of you will go back and forth until a price is agreed on. As a general rule if some one wants your money they will communicate with you some how but it makes a good impression to use simple courtesies.

Like many Americans I’ve always wanted to learn another language but have never done so. High School, College, private lessons, books on tape…have all lost my attention teaching me barely anything useful. These first attempts were at Spanish which should be an easy language to learn for any American. There are a plethora of native speakers in los Estados Unidos to learn from. On top of that  many phrases have been adopted into American English thanks to pop culture.

My trip to Mexico & the Dominican Republic revealed the key that was holding me back. My inability to speak & learn Spanish was mostly hurt by my cowardice to just do it. I had a strong aversion to being embarrassment. This is a very common problem in which I know I’m not alone. I really suggest checking out Benny’s blog about these sort of mental blocks. http://www.fluentin3months.com/ He has a lot to say about his own experience trying to learn a new language.

One silly thing you’ll hear people say is, “When I’m drunk I speak Spanish better.” Did that tequila shot suddenly give you a new super power for languages? Of course not BUT it will let you be more bold in trying to actually use the language. Children learn their first language through trial and error. Kids are bold with few reservations of embarrassment. Guess what this is how you should be too! Drinking wont help you learn a language but that little kick will loosen you up to just going for it.

A tool I’m finding extremely helpful in learning is a website called Memrise. I’m really addicted to it. Part of this is my long time gaming addiction. ^_^  Many of the language lessons have fun pictures to help you remember. The real success of this site is the repetition you’ll receive. It works some what like flash cards for the courses and many of the lessons include not just the written words but also the pronunciation. This is  what hooked me over some other similar sites I’ve tried like http://freerice.com/.

After only three weeks on Memrise I can now have  a basic conversation in Spanish. This excellent site offers more than just language courses. It has classes on everything from capitals to art.  If you sign up follow me, cllevett.

SHORT: Use whatever language you are trying to learn immediately. For every new place at least learn yes, no, and thank you. For a great web site to learn from check out Memrise, http://www.memrise.com/home/.

Street Musicians Columbia, Mo 9th & Cherry

Airports & Hub cities

Nailing down where to go or where to start this world wide journey is a question I keep getting asked. In today’s age the answer could be anywhere!  For a budget traveler starting halfway across the world may be silly. A great starting place is a hub city. You’ll have more fight options out of a hub.

What is this? It is a city where connections are made. In the USA some examples will be JFK, O’Hare in Chicago, San Francisco, CA, Orlando, FL, Washington DC, or Dallas, Texas. You’ll notice when searching for tickets overseas that your smaller airports will likely fly into these where you will then board some giant plane to your final destination. If you are wanting to save some cash you can find a cheap land route to these places then fly from there. The downside is expect more hustle and bustle at the security line due to a larger number of people.

Finding the right hub city is pretty intuitive flights heading to Europe will come more out of the eastern cities like New York while San Francisco & LAX will will head to Asia. Before picking a hub city make sure you google ways to travel to it. Land travel is cheaper if you have the time to spare but make sure you can actually get to the air port. America is notorious for bad public transits in parts of the country.  The older cities like New York & Chicago which were built pre-car have wide spread public trans. If you head to a California city you make have trouble getting where you wanna go on public transit.

Examples of international hubs are Cancun, Mexico, Buenos Aries, Argentina, and Guangzhou, China. Keep these in mind as flight might be cheaper but also travel by land to these places can be worth the trip.

Short: Save money traveling to land to an international hub city.

Financial Preperations

How much money should I take to travel the world?

You’ll find a different answer from blog to blog. I’ve known travelers who barely had any money. Many will range from $5,000 to $13,000 for Americans seeking travel. In Mexico I met a couch surfer from Guatemala who spent 14 months in Europe being homeless. This was some rough living particularly in Eastern Europe during the winter. If you can do it $10,000 is a good safety start.

If you are open to any adventures adjust your plans to your budget. During your time at home you are only able to save$5,000 consider traveling to Southeast Asia or South American were your dollar will go farther. When you land in a new place shop around for hostels. Once you start getting into the travel groove ask other hostel patrons were they have come from and recommends for staying. Most travelers will be happy to share their experience and you will learn good places to check out next.

For my trip I’m aiming for $10,000 over 5 months for a total saving for $20,000. By normal nomad terms this is a big excessive. I currently own a house that I do not intend on selling. I hope to rent it out next year when I start my travels but to be safe I need a buffer for that $800 a month mortgage. Doing some budgeting I believe my monthly expenses are about $1300 a month. With an income of ~ $3200 a month there should be a flexible difference of $2,000.

Saving all that a month will probably be tough. So the goal is $1500 in saving each month. That will put me a little short of my $10,000 goal but selling the rest of my junk on craiglist will make the different I hope. ^_^ Wish me luck!

Preparations

Timbuk2 Aviator Bag

Combination Lock

Charles Schwab bank account for over seas ATM withdraw

Plane ticket to Buenos Aries for ‘Test Run’.

Chase United Explorers card. Purchased above ticket. Should be receiving 30,000 bonus miles as a promo, $50 credit on first statement, and 11,000+ miles after first trip in December.

Don’t forget to call the bank & credit companies to let them know I’m traveling.

Exchange Rates

http://www.xe.com/

Now I’m using this spot to save things & resources for traveling:

Tickets/Travel
http://www.journeywoman.com/ (Dress code for women in countries)
Travel Insurance
Muslim countries
Safety
Vaccines
Jobs:
This is a crude list of some of the resources I’ve been using. I’ll narrow down the useful or not as I go. Would recommend checking out some of these if you are preparing for around the world travel.
What to pack:
Language
Money Handling
  • Get a world map or go to Google Earth and make a list of all the countries you want to visit. If you have no idea where to start, go to Skyscanner. Type from your country to “Everywhere”. It will show you the cheapest airfares out of your country. You can use the flexible search for a whole month or even a year. I love Skyscanner. One of the best flight search engines ever.
  • Get a Passport, if you don’t have one yet. And if you have one, make sure it’s not going to expire in the next 12 months. Or better yet, in the next 2 years. Depending on how long you travel, keep in mind that some countries won’t allow you to enter if your passport expires in less than 6 months.
  • Check the visa requirements for all the countries you’re planning to travel to. Some visas you can get on the road, for others you have to apply from your home country. Don’t underestimate the importance of visas. You’ll probably spend days or weeks, have to call a bunch of embassies etc. to get all the information you need.
  • Get a credit card! Or two! Please don’t be like my dad who doesn’t believe in credit cards and carries a huge pile of cash in his pocket whenever he travels. I don’t recommend Traveler’s cheques anymore, not since I got ripped off in Mexico in 2005. Please make sure you remember all the passwords and PIN codes or record them in a safe place.
  • Yes, you need vaccinations! Don’t take this lightly! Please check Netdoctor to see which vaccinations you need before you hit the road.
  • Please get a travel insurance. You might never need it, and and if you don’t, be thankful. Don’t consider it a waste of money. Travel insurance is often cheaper than your regular health care plan. I pay 350 EUR per year. This is the cheapest I’ve found so far, but prices are different, depending which country you are. I highly recommend World Nomads. They cover residents from over 150 countries. You can buy, extend and claim, even while traveling.
  • Buy high quality travel gear. Yes, you heard me right. Buy a good backpack. Don’t go for the cheapest one. As much as I encourage people to live frugally, if you want to travel a long way, you need durable gear. My backpack is from Eagle Creek, it cost me about 200 EUR, but I can tell you, it’s lasted longer than any of my relationships. So far. If you asked me what one of the most useful things I bought for my trip was, I would have to say: A padlock with a 4-digit combination. Not for my backpack though – for locking rooms or safety boxes.
  • Look for a job abroad. If your budget is tight and you have to work during your travels, you’d better investigate the job market beforehand in order to find countries where it’s easier to find paying work. Keep reading for useful links on finding jobs abroad in the next step.
%d bloggers like this: