Traveling Full Time: Financial Matters

(photo credit: Jeremy Dorrough/Unsplash)

This will not be a post about how much money is required to travel full time. People of all different income levels travel full time, and create their own way of doing it that works for them. You definitely don’t have to be rich to become full-time nomads, but there are things you need to account for financially to travel full-time successfully.

The main thing to be figured out before starting is how will you support yourself while you travel. Do you have a steady income? Will you or can you work while you travel? Can you live off of savings, and if so, for how long and how much should you give yourself every month? How big an emergency fund do you need? What expenses will you have? All of these questions require research and deep thought. But, once you know the numbers you can create a travel budget that fits your needs.

Regular recurring expenses (in our case: my student loan payment, our phone plan, and some insurance for automobile non-owners, so we are covered if we rent) are taken care of first, and are automatically withdrawn each month. After those, the big three items that need to be accounted four out of our net income are lodging; transportation (between locations); and an emergency fund. Once those are subtracted, how the rest of your net income is divided is up to you. We came up with a limit for how much we’re willing to spend each month on lodging, future transportation, and for our emergency fund, and then divided the rest of our net income into four sections that work no matter where we are: 1) food (i.e. local grocery shopping); 2) local transportation; 3) dining out; and 4) miscellaneous expenses.

Because everyone’s income sources and amounts, along with their needs and wants, will be different, no two budgets are ever going to look the same. Our budget works for us, but it’s just one way of doing things. In many ways though our travel budget is similar to our non-travel budget, but with some slight differences.

Because we stay in Airbnbs, and will be staying for at least two months in each place we visit, the first thing we have to decide is the maximum amount we are willing to spend each month on lodging. For us, this is 50% of our net income. Do we actually spend that much each month? NO WAY!! We made this amount quite large because the first month’s payment for any Airbnb rental always includes a service fee (which has increased) and a cleaning fee. These two extras can make the initial reservation payment unexpectedly large. Later payments are typically much, much less than the initial payment, but we put the difference between that 50% we’ve budgeted and what we actually pay each month into a separate lodgings savings account. These savings are then available for making future Airbnb reservation payments (if staying more than a month in a rental, Airbnb divides the total amount owed into monthly payments minus the fees). As I’ve noted before, Brett and I try to reserve a rental around six months ahead if possible because there are usually more available rentals in our price range to choose from, but others wait to reserve six week in advance or less. Basically, we are swapping out our current rental payment for lodging during our travels, and by saving and paying upfront for the first month of our first three rentals we have given ourselves some wiggle room to settle into the new payment schedule. By the way, one of the benefits of staying for longer than a month is many Airbnb hosts offer significant discounts for long-term stays, sometimes in the thousands of dollars (weekly discounts are also often given). There are also no utility payments or Internet fees with an Airbnb rental.

The second budget item set up is an amount to go into another separate savings account each month to cover transportation costs from location to location. This money is only used when buying airline or train tickets to a new location – sometimes that’s a lot, other times thankfully not so much. Once again, using some of our pre-departure savings to purchase tickets will allow us to ease into paying for other transportation later.

We also put a set amount into an emergency fund each month. Part of what we have been saving pre-departure has been used to create this fund but we will continue to add to it every month.

The rest of our net monthly income covers the costs of daily living no matter where we are in the world. After some trial and error on our last adventure, we figured out that an envelope system works best for us. That is, at the beginning of each month we withdraw our total monthly allotment in cash, and then divide that into four envelopes: 1) food (local grocery shopping); 2) local transportation; 3) dining out; and 4) miscellaneous (admission tickets, clothing if necessary, souvenirs, and other miscellaneous shopping). If there is money left over in any of the envelopes at the end of each month, we withdraw less the following month to bring things up to the same starting point. We found that the envelope system made a huge difference in our spending versus using debit and credit cards; that is, we spent less. We always had money left over at the end of each month in each envelope versus being over or right at our budget limit.

I cannot stress the importance of tracking every expense every day when you’re traveling. We get a receipt for absolutely everything we purchase, and Brett meticulously tracks our spending in a journal (along with notes about what we did that day, how far we walked, how many steps, etc.). At the beginning of each month he divides our income after lodging and transportation are removed by the number of days in the month to give us a daily spending average to maintain, and then figures out each day whether we’re below or above it (a weekly grocery shop usually puts us over our spending average for a few days, for example, but it drops again in a couple of days). Between what’s in the envelopes and our daily average, we know every day how we’re doing for the month or whether we need to slow down our spending for a while.

Budgeting for full time travel is about figuring out how to get the biggest bang for your bucks. You may choose to spend your income on better lodging or great experiences or first class transportation, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In the end though it’s about living well, albeit carefully and realistically, on what you earn, with what you have, and in a way that suits you and allows you to make the most of what you have wherever you go.

Traveling Frugally: Travel Hacking

The best definition I’ve found of travel hacking comes from a post I found on Mom and Dad Money:

Travel hacking is essentially the process of signing up for a new credit card, spending enough to earn the sign-up bonus, using the points you earn to book free travel, and basically repeating that process over and over again.

Using credit cards benefits to earn free flights, free hotel stays, and other travel benefits is a popular way to save big on travel expenses. Travel hacking has been around for a while, but these days it typically involves using multiple cards at the same time to reap the most benefits. Most major airlines offer big rewards when you sign up for one of their credit cards and reach a certain spending goal during a specific period (usually within three months of signing up). Bank cards also offer similar big travel rewards: every iteration of the Chase Sapphire card, Capital One’s Venture, and American Express Gold Card, among others, all offer substantial travel rewards after signing up and charging a certain amount within a set period of time. Hotel chain credit cards rewards include free stays, discounts, and other perks for signing up and charging a pre-set amount within time limits.

These deals are especially easy to acquire when signing up for the first time. We know of people who set out on their travels with over 500,000 airline miles banked, all acquired from sign-up bonuses they received. Of course, they had to spend quite a bit to get those bonuses, and they also risked damaging their credit score because of all the new card sign-ups (multiple hard credit inquiries in a short period of time, and greater credit risk because of multiple credit lines). If they use the cards responsibly though, neither of those should be a problem. Experienced travel hackers however recommend signing up for different cards over a long period of time versus all at once or within a few months.

There is no “perfect” travel card – each one offers something different and the goal in getting started should be to find ones that work best to achieve whatever travel goals have been set. There are some important things to look for though when applying for a travel card:

  • No fee or low annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • A large (i.e. huge) initial bonus
  • Low required spending minimum
  • Special perks for travel-related items
  • Added points for special spending categories (i.e. groceries, gas, restaurants)
  • The bonus is something that can actually be attained.

Travel hacking is a great way to acquire some significant travel benefits but only if you already use credit cards responsibly and pay off your balances every month. If you don’t, they’re an easy way to quickly descend deeply into debt. Tracking all open cards and their accompanying expiration dates and spending limits also requires real effort, although a newer app, Award Wallet, helps track all awards in one place, including deadlines, and notifies the user when deadlines are approaching.

Besides free travel benefits, the big pro of travel hacking is that it’s easy to get started and find good deals; lots of points to cover flights and other travel costs can be acquired quickly.

A big reason against travel hacking however is that after acquiring the good upfront deals, finding new ones gets harder and harder. Points earned can become more difficult to use and the money spent to acquire all the upfront points may be more than expected or afforded. If too many sign-ups are done too quickly, one’s credit rating can be damaged, and credit card companies have been known to cancel accounts for those using too many cards of the same brand.

Our primary credit card when we travel is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. We took advantage of its sign-up bonus years ago, but we still use it to rack up generous reward points (which we usually redeem for a cash deposit to our bank account). It also provides some serious benefits that match those that come with travel insurance (car rental insurance, missed or cancelled flights, lost luggage, and a few others). Every month since we’ve been back on Kaua’i we’ve received a sign up offer for the Delta American Express card, with a bonus of 75,000 miles if we spend $2000 within three months after receiving the card. Delta is our preferred airline but we haven’t bitten. All Delta flights only go to and from the U.S.; we can’t use them to fly between international destinations. Also, we’ve had American Express cards in the past, but rarely used them, and honestly don’t think we need another card to track while we travel. Still, we think from time to time that it would be nice to have those miles banked if we need them.

Let’s Travel Frugally

There’s something for everyone when it comes to traveling. There’s luxury travel, cheap travel, nomadic travel, cruises, travel tours, RV travel, family travel and on and on. Almost everyone can find something to fit their needs and budget when it comes to traveling, and it’s not difficult to find ways to save both before and during one’s journey.

Brett and I consider ourselves to be experienced frugal travelers; that is, we are out to get the biggest bang for our bucks all while staying within a budget that works for us and doesn’t send us spiraling into debt. Being frugal while on the road not only means being thrifty, but avoiding waste and managing our funds with care. Being thrifty while we travel is not always about finding the lowest price but searching out the best value and getting the most for our money. For example, when we were in Rome in 2018 we signed up for a small group tour and visited the Colosseum, Palantine Hill, and the Roman Forum. The cost per person was above our usual price point, but after reading through what the tour offered compared to other lower-priced tours we decided the one we selected would give us a lot more for our money, or in other words, a better value. We ended up with a more in-depth look at these historic places (the tour guide was a local historian) and a group limited to 12 people, small enough that everyone could hear the guide and ask questions easily – no one was left “standing at the back” of a crowd . What we saw, learned, and discovered about the places we visited on the tour provided far more value than what we would have saved by booking a cheaper tour or trying to do it on our own.

To keep our travels affordable, we stayed in Airbnb rentals, shopped locally for food and cooked our own meals almost every day. We rode trains, buses, and took cheap flights, and we walked or used public transportation to get around in each location. Brett faithfully recorded our spending every day so we knew whether we over, under, or right on budget. We balanced stays in more expensive lodgings with less expensive ones in other places, and ended up just $38 over budget overall for our lodging.

In the next few months I want to explore what we’ve learned about traveling frugally, about different ways to save before and during travel, and how to get more for less while you’re on the road or visiting any location. I’ve already posted a bit about saving ahead of time for travel (located in the Saving category), but I want to learn more and better ways to travel while spending less and getting more, and I hope you’ll follow along.

The 2021 Highlight Reel

The past year was not the most exciting year we’ve ever spent for a variety of reasons. Brett and I practically turned into full-time hermits and stuck close to home, only heading out of our apartment for walks at the park or a few other hikes, a few trips to the beach, or shopping trips and a very occasional meal out. Our daughters’ visit was the first and only time we had others in our apartment all year, and we didn’t visit anyone else either.

I really didn’t realized how tightened down we’d become and how little we did until I went through this past year’s blog posts. I am so grateful we moved up our travel plans because I don’t think we could have survived another year of pretty much standing still.

Lots of important things did get accomplished however:

  • Health: Brett and continued to lose weight; segued to a vegetarian/vegan diet; and walked/hiked over 1,000 miles. We got our COVID vaccines and boosters; Brett finally got his wonky parathyroid gland removed, and I had an endoscopy and confirmation of a small hiatal hernia. Regular skin checks were done and we are up to date with our dental visits.
  • Travel: Plans for future travel went through several permutations, starting with walking tours in the UK and then Japan followed by short visits to some other places if possible. We then got caught up in the idea of permanent moves to first Portugal and then France, and finally ended up with a decision return to full-time travel. An itinerary was made, our Kaua’i departure date moved forward from 2023 to 2022, and Airbnb reservations were made in Strasbourg, Oxford, and Edinburgh. We have tickets to get us over to Paris in May of next year following YaYu’s graduation from college and are getting ready now to hit the road again.
  • Downsizing: We decided to once again sell almost everything before departing Hawaii, and started the downsizing process with the sale of my KitchenAid mixer in June. We sold something (or more than one thing) at least once a month, and the Etsy shop I opened to sell my hashioki collection and a few other Japanese vintage goods proved to be more successful than I imagined. All of our son’s and daughters’ things we’d been keeping were sorted and sent back to the mainland or Japan, either with them or through the mail, and Brett and I began the process of packing up the few things we will be keeping to be mailed to our daughter WenYu’s home for storage.
  • Savings: We made our last deposit into YaYu’s college savings this month. Through regular deposits, downsizing sales, the Etsy shop, the change/$1 bill bag, and other savings hustles we put away over $11,000 into our travel savings, more than enough to make our initial reservations and purchase our flight to Paris.
  • Family & friends: We had a lovely reunion with our niece and her family when they visited Kaua’i in June, and also were able to get together with another friend visiting the island the same month. While we greatly missed being able to see our grandkids, son, and daughter-in-law this past year, they sent loads of photos and we kept up through messaging and calls. The highlight of the year was having our three daughters together with us for 10 days for the Christmas holiday, and we made the most of our time together. I remain grateful for all the friends I’ve met and made through the blog, and your comments and interaction.

Although we stuck close to home this past year we still accomplished quite a bit and moved a great deal closer to reaching our goals for next year. As busy as we’ve been recently, things will be picking up after the new year, and we know our remaining time on the island will be moving along at a quicker-than-expected pace.

So, it’s goodbye to 2021 with fondness and gratitude, and it’s on to the new year with hope for all it promises to bring.

The More Things Change . . . or Don’t

This ShopRite ad from 1976 is a little difficult to read, but it’s still not impossible to see that prices were much, much lower than they are today. But so were incomes, although those today haven’t really kept up with the price increases.

I think just about everyone has been feeling the pinch from this latest round of inflation, and how the price of everything seems to be going up and up and up these days. However, prices have been going up . . . forever. I remember my mother getting very excited about whole chickens going on sale for 29¢ per pound back in the early 1970s because that’s what she had paid back in the 1950s (so she went out and bought 10 chickens to cut up and freeze). The average price per pound for chicken then was around 79¢/pound, so 29¢ was a huge savings. Cut up chickens or boneless, skinless breasts weren’t available anywhere let alone any other boneless, skinless chicken pieces – you brought whole chickens at 79¢ per pound and brought them home and cut them up yourself (or paid more and had a butcher do it).

Just because things were cheaper before didn’t mean they were better, either. Gasoline in 1970 averaged 36¢/gallon, up from 28¢/gallon in 1952. In 1952 that price got you unleaded gas that burned in cars without pollution devices. I grew up in the Los Angeles area and remember going months without ever seeing the mountains that were less than 20 miles away, and days when I could barely breathe for all the smog in the air. Cigarettes cost 25¢ per pack, and anyone could get them right out of a vending machine. Many of the convenience or speciality foods we take for granted were unavailable, let alone the variety of foods we routinely find today. Brie cheese or a baguette? Organic? Good luck finding those at any price.

Anyway, for fun I looked up some prices for 1952:

  • Bacon: 39¢/pound
  • Apples: 39¢/2 pounds
  • Coffee: 37¢/pound
  • Medium eggs: 79¢/dozen
  • White bread: 12¢/loaf
  • Ground beef: 89¢/3 pounds (no wonder our family ate so much of this!)
  • Iceberg lettuce: 25¢/2 heads
  • Turkey: 49¢/pound

A hamburger at McDonalds cost 15¢ compared to 30¢ at most other diners or restaurants. A slice of pie in a restaurant was 15¢ and a prime rib dinner could be had for $2.75.

By 1970, prices had gone up some (or down in some cases thanks to advantages in modern farming and the rise of factory farms):

  • Apples: 59¢/4 pounds
  • Coffee: $1.90/pound
  • Medium eggs: 25¢/dozen
  • Bread: 25¢/loaf (that was for white bread. Other choices were pretty much limited to wheat or “brown,” rye, and sliced “French” or “Italian”)
  • Jif peanut butter: 59¢
  • Pot roast: 79¢/pound
  • Lettuce: 10¢/head
  • Bacon: 86¢/pound

Two lobster dinners could be enjoyed for $7.25, and a speciality salad (without meat) at a good restaurant could cost $3.95.

I can remember the same complaints I hear now about rising prices from my parents back in the day, and how my mother struggled to keep our family’s food costs and other budget items in line even though both my parents had good, white-collar jobs. Their first home in 1951 cost $15,000, a price my grandparents considered to be far too expensive for a first home. But in today’s prices that house should be $157,000, an incredible bargain in the community where it’s located. Instead, it’s current valuation is $1.5 million! Inflation in the early 1970s was high, and gas and food prices prices soared during the oil embargo in the early part of the decade. Steak, gas, and other consumer items might have been cheaper in the past than what they are now, but that still didn’t mean they were affordable for many. It’s fun to be nostalgic about prices in the past, but in reality some things weren’t often that much easier than they are today.

This is all not to say that I don’t get ticked off about prices and the cost of living these days, and that people aren’t struggling to put food on the table or with other expenses. The average car payment in the U.S. these days is $577/month for a new car for 70 months ($413 for used for 48 months). Things really are more expensive now than they were in the past in a big way, and salaries and incomes have not kept pace for too many. Housing costs or the price of a college education is enough to give anyone palpitations, and low income families now compete with the middle class and higher for financial aid. The only thing I can think of that gets less expensive every year is technology, although prices for the newest thing or next iteration always still seem to be in the stratosphere. There are bargains to be had, but you have to know where to look, and work for them now.

The more things change, the more they stay the same . . . or don’t.

Full-Time Saving

(photo credit: Mathieu Turle/Unsplash)

Yes, yet another savings post, but this is where we’re at right now.

Although travel remains out of picture for the rest of this year, Brett and I have big plans for the future, and our Number One priority now is to save, save, save. We want to sock away as much as possible to not only cover setting off on our next big adventure but to have enough to get ourselves to YaYu’s graduation in the spring of next year and to Japan in the fall.

Back in 2017 and last year I posted the list below of ways to save for travel. Since Brett and I are once again back into savings mode big time we are following our own saving advice and it’s making a big difference. Besides getting YaYu through school, future travel is our priority now, and in spite of rising inflation we’ve made a game of seeing how much we can put away each month.

Here’s how things we’re doing currently are going (using our own savings tips). Even on a fixed income there are still ways to save if travel or something else is a priority:

  1. Set up a dedicated travel savings account, and start a monthly allotment to that account. We have gone over our budget with a fine-toothed comb and found ways we could cut back so we’ve been able to increase the amount that goes into this account. The current amount will increase again once we get YaYu’s final bill paid in December – just a few more months to go!
  2. Save on regular budget categories, and then put the difference into travel savings. We do this every month, although it’s not easy lately with prices creeping up everywhere. One way we’re saving this way is rather than filling the tank when he goes for gasoline, Brett stops at a present amount about $7 under what a full tank would cost. The amount nearly fills the tank and seems to be enough for now to cover our driving. The extra $7 goes into our savings.
  3. Do a “no-spend” week, or month, and deposit all usual discretionary spending amounts into your savings. We have a full-time needs over wants mindset and do very little spending outside of fulfilling our needs. We have almost no discretionary spending, and what we do have is planned. Every week is pretty much a no-spend week, and almost all spending we do is planned in advance.
  4. Save change and $1 bills. Saving $1 bills and change is a habit for us now, but we are not shopping much these days and are putting away less than we used to. Only one store, Safeway, now lets us round up to the nearest $5, and we rarely shop there. The goal these days is to put away at least $300 per year. It’s not much, but like everything else, it helps. We have compared this to using a cash back credit card, and this method provides more savings.
  5. Recognize needs versus wants. We’ve got this down.
  6. Dedicate all refunds, rebates and gifts to travel savings. We don’t get many rebates/refunds now, but they still all go into the travel savings account when they do show up, like our Costco rebate last February. Once a year two of our three daughters refund us the cost of keeping them on our phone plan; next year all three will be sending us an annual payment.
  7. Get a travel rewards credit card. We use our rewards card to buy groceries and then pay the card balance immediately. It’s not a lot, but again, it adds up.
  8. Sell unused or unnecessary things. We have started going through our apartment and are already selling items we don’t use and know we will not be keeping. This includes items we have been storing for the girls and they have said they no longer want. I created my Etsy shop to sell our Japanese things, including my hashioki collection. We are putting nothing into storage when we leave this time, another big savings. We also try to sell one item a month through our local Buy & Sell group.
  9. Get a part-time job. We still have absolutely no interest in taking on jobs, even part-time, but I am now earning a small income from the blog, my Etsy shop is bringing in some income, we sell something on Buy & Sell, and we get a monthly payment from our neighbor for sharing our Internet. None of it is going to make us rich, but it does add up to a few hundred dollars a month.
  10. Be creative. I have earned three $500 Delta Airlines gift cards through Swagbucks for future travel and want to earn two more before we leave Hawaii. Swagbucks can drive me mad at times, but those gift cards will make a real difference. We still pick up change when we find it, and recycle bottles and cans as well. There are loads of other ways to earn extra money as well; these are the ones that work for us.

These ways to save got us over to Hawai’i in 2014, and helped us set out on our Big Adventure in 2018, and we’re confident will get us on the road again in style in 2023! Game on!

It’s All Fun and Games Until You Have to Save Some Money

Dreaming about travel, thinking of places you want to travel, making plans, and making the actual trip are fun. But, actually getting someplace takes money, often lots of money. And, because we are not independently wealthy, making our travel dreams come true requires saving. And saving is work. It can fun work for some, but it’s still work, and takes determination and persistence.

We live on an adequate but not-very-big fixed income in one of the most expensive places in the country. We still have one child that we are helping with college expenses. However, we’ve always been able to find (sometimes creative) ways to save for travel without compromising other areas of our lives.

The big secret to our success? We make saving for travel a priority.

Last time we set off on a big adventure we needed to save a lot. Like over $30,000 a lot in order to upfront fund what we hoped would be at least three years of travel. We did it, but had the luxury of a little over two years to put that amount away. It wasn’t easy but we were persistent.

This time around we want to save at least $20,000 to get started on our next Big Adventure. We’ve put ourselves back in persistent mode again. We’re using the same playbook we used before and so far it’s going well. Here’s our game plan for reaching our our goal:

  • Not buying stuff. I can’t began to say how much we save by not spending. We used to be able to talk ourselves into buying just about anything, but these days we’ve become even more skilled at talking ourselves out of buying just about anything. It’s actually fairly easy because we don’t seem to need much these days.
  • Saving our change and $1 bills. We had been saving change and $1 bills for as long as I can remember and it does add up.
  • Saving credit card rewards. We don’t use our credit cards very much, and rewards we earn could be used toward plane ticket purchases, but for now we’re prefer to have what we do earn deposited into our savings account.
  • Earning Swagbucks. Earnings from Swagbucks this year and next will fund at least half of our airfare to Pennsylvania for YaYu’s graduation, and hopefully half of the cost of flying to Japan. That means more money will be staying in our travel account.
  • Gradually increasing our savings. We have a set amount automatically transferred from our income into a special travel account each month, and that amount will increase next year when we no longer have set aside anything to assist YaYu. Any cost of living increases in our social security and military retirement income next year and 2023 will also go into our travel savings as do any and all rebates, rewards, etc.
  • Selling all our stuff again. Before we depart in 2023 we will be doing some extreme downsizing – everything must go this time! While we put around 1,500 pounds into storage last time, this next time we plan to keep very, very little, just what can be mailed in flat-rate boxes to our daughters.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” – William Hutchinson Murray

We have committed ourselves to reaching our goal, and the work has begun. We know we can do this! With dedication and a lot of hard work in the past we’ve paid off our debt, made our dream of retiring and moving to Hawai’i a reality, and saved enough to travel the world full time. We are facing this next saving challenge with the same commitment and determination – we can do this!

A Fun Distraction

Road trip! (photo credit: Katie Moum/Unsplash)

A couple of weeks ago, with all the bad news about the COVID pandemic around the world, Brett and I took a deeper look at our Plan B, an extended road trip around the continental U.S. We wanted to see if it was indeed possible and what it might cost compared to our original Big Adventure II plan.

The Ultimate National Park road trip

The exercise really got going when I came across a map for the Ultimate National Park Road Trip. Brett and I have often dreamed of doing a western National Park loop trip, but here was one that stopped at all the parks in the U.S.! For a few days he and I poured over the map trying to decide which direction we’d go and where we’d stay. I investigated Airbnb rentals in the areas we chose, we figured out the best state to set up residency before we set off (Washington), and we evaluated whether to buy an RV or a car (new or used), and with a car should it be hybrid or not, sedan or SUV, and so forth.

For several days we were caught up in the excitement of trip planning, imaging a nomadic life on the road for a few years before settling down. We even figured out how we could still fit in an annual trip to Japan and started heading down the road of convincing ourselves that maybe this was the better way to do the second round of the Big Adventure.

And then we crunched the numbers. Comparing those to our original plans we discovered there was no contest: overseas travel was the easy winner. A road trip would cost us a whole lot more.

The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid was the best choice for size, comfort, MPG, and cost. We were quite surprised to find that buying used made only a slight difference in the price.

The reason? Purchasing and operating a car put a huge dent in the budget. Even with a substantial down payment, even with choosing a economical car (our ultimate choice was the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid), the cost of owning and operating any car would take a big chunk out of our monthly budget. It didn’t matter whether we bought new or used, the total cost each month would be a lot (not just the monthly payment but also the gasoline, insurance, and other operating costs). We told ourselves that at the end of our journey we would at least own a car, but then remembered our ultimate goal is to not own a car. An RV purchase was even more out of the question, but we also found Airbnb rental prices to be higher in the U.S. than many places overseas. It would be something of a struggle to stay within or under our monthly budget for lodging for almost any place in the U.S., even staying in one location for a month.

We also realized we are not crazy about being in the U.S. during another election year.

It was a fun diversion to think about doing a big road trip versus traveling overseas again, but in the end our original plan proved to be the more frugal and exciting choice for us. Our goals for the future are solid and we want to stick to them. We know we can do a road trip if things comes to that, but for now it will continue to retain its Plan B status.

The Neighborhood Next to Ours

The neighborhood next to ours in Portland

Back when we lived in Portland, the neighborhood next to ours was filled with street after street of large, beautiful homes, with big, green, well-manicured lawns and exquisite landscaping. The homes run the gamut of styles, from English Tudor to French Provincial, 50s Post Modern to Old Portland Foursquare, Mediterranean to Dutch Colonial. Volvos, BMWs, Mercedes and other high-end or new cars often sat in the driveways, and several of the homes had swimming pools. It seemed at least two, if not more, homes on each block had signs in the yards proclaiming that renovations, remodeling, or landscaping work was currently taking place there. The streets were lined with huge, leafy elms which kept the streets cool and inviting even on the hottest days, which was why I enjoyed walking there in the evenings during the summer.

It used to be my dream to live in this neighborhood. I wanted a beautiful lawn and landscaping, a bigger house for our family, a big elm tree in front. And for a while, Brett and I probably could have bought one of these homes. We instead bought a cheap house with a tiny yard up the hill from this neighborhood, with no trees at all in front. That turned out to be one of the best decisions we ever made considering what happened to Brett’s income a few years later. Because we bought the cheap house we were able to weather his loss of income and then climb out of the debt that we accrued. We’d have gone bankrupt if we’d bought the bigger house, but instead made a profit when we sold our house before moving to Hawaii.

The cheap house turned out to be a great house, perfect for our family in a perfect location.

These days I shudder when I think about the prices of homes for sale here on Kaua’i, or in other places we considered moving, and the annual taxes on those homes. I can only imagine how much the upkeep would be, as well as things like heating them in the winter or cooling in the summer. We had a small patio installed at our cheap house, a real wake-up call to what extensive landscaping and maintenance would cost (a LOT). I don’t even want to think of how much we would have paid to furnish a larger home, even with vintage or used furniture. Actually, a bigger home would probably have ended up mostly unfurnished, but I’m sure we would still have been craving stuff to fill it rather than feel satisfied with what we had. We would have been living in neighborhood full of Joneses, trying to keep up with and most likely failing and feeling miserable about it.

This is our dream apartment for the future. Brett and I can happily imagine living a space this size these days (photo credit: Beazy/Unsplash)

I never saw it coming back then, how minimalism has become more and more attractive to us as we grow older. We don’t want or desire so much space now, so much room to fill and maintain. We’ve learned how to live in small spaces, including how to carve out individual space so we don’t feel crowded, even in a one-room studio. The older we get, the fewer things we want to own. It’s been a surprising journey finding how little we need or want, and what we can easily let go of.

I can no longer imagine myself in one of those big houses back in Portland. These days I admire houses around the island but don’t covet them any more. I’m no longer looking at real estate websites and dreaming about the houses that might work for us somewhere. Our dreams these days are of living in other places around the world, borrowing someone else’s house for a month or so, for as long as we are able, and then finally ending up in a small apartment, with just the right amount of stuff.

Saving, Saving, Saving for Travel Once Again

Posted on  by Laura & Brett

For some people, saving is easy. For others it’s a matter of discipline. We fall somewhere in the middle, but tend move closer to the easy side when we’ve got a goal to meet.

We’re saving now for a return to our nomadic life. We’re throwing every spare dime we can into our travel account and making saving a priority because once again we have a big goal that we’re excited about.

Our unexpected and sudden move to Kaua’i last year was expensive. We had to buy a car, rent an apartment, and purchase everything from scratch to set up housekeeping again, from furniture to kitchen goods to linens to small appliances. Because everything was shut down because of the pandemic, there were no yard sales, and thrift stores were also closed so bargains were few and far between. While we got lucky and were able to buy our old car back from friends, everything else had to be purchased new, from Costco, Walmart, Amazon, and two furniture stores on the island that graciously opened for us and allowed us to shop privately (but no delivery – we had to rent a van and pick up and move our purchases ourselves). We paid $$$$ to have our stored items shipped back over to us, but it was good to have our own stuff back with us even if the movers did lose one of our boxes.

To put it mildly, the move decimated our savings. Still, we’ve been able to live well on our income, help with YaYu’s college expenses, and put a small amount away every month into our travel savings. We were able to pay for our recent car repairs. But there hasn’t been much of anything else left over for travel except for that small allotment every months and from saving change and $1 bills.

However, now that we have a travel goal once again, to say we are once again motivated to beef up our travel savings would be an understatement. Wants, other than wanting nice, healthy balances in our travel account, have been set to the side. Brett and I have everything we need, and are now working at finding ways to tuck more into savings any way we can. I will continue earning Swagbucks to earn as many airline gift cards as possible. We’ve decreased our grocery budget a bit and so far are doing fine with a smaller amount. We have found ways to cut back on driving to keep those expenses lower. YaYu’s college costs will finish in January 2022, and after her final payment the amount we now dedicate to her will be directed into travel savings. I’m not sure there’s ever a good time for this, but Brett ages out of his life insurance policy this year, and that long-time monthly payment will go into savings instead. We are already making adjustments to future travel plans in order to save more. For example, while we still plan to go to Tokyo in the fall of 2022, we’ve decided to only visit for a month, and that there will be no fancy walking tour this time. We can do some great day hikes in the Tokyo region and through the city on our own. In other words, every spare dollar or cent that comes our way for the next two years will be saved.

We’ve accomplished big goals before – we paid off nearly $60K of debt in three years, and in the 18 months between when we decided to take our Big Adventure until the time we left, we saved just over $30,000, and with less discretionary income than we have now. We won’t have much to sell this time to add to our savings, but by carefully sticking to our budget, and keeping to needs versus being tempted by wants, we believe we can come close to that amount again in the next couple of years.

We’ve once again moved ourselves over to the easy side of saving, but are bringing our former discipline back again to reach our goal this time. We can do this!