I’ve been reading The One Thing, recommended by the authors of the No Spend Challenge (both read via a 3-month, 99-cent Kindle Unlimited subscription). The latter, alongside The Year of Less by Cait Flanders, constitute a number of books that have come out now on going a year without buying stuff. In addition, blogs and social media blaze with fierce no-spend challenges, including feats like going years without buying new clothes.
I could relate to the need for the last one in the past. After a tough time in 2012, I went through a phase of buying clothes. A lot of clothes, though never an obscene amount, and of decent quality. It was very much retail therapy, which for me precluded places like Kohl’s or Target. The upside is that most of what I bought lasted until now, and I was able to sell a good amount before leaving Las Vegas.
Moving frequently has ensured that I am not a pack rat, and that most of my belongings can fit into two suitcases (though not all! I do have treasured memorabilia and some childhood things stored back in the U.S.). In addition, for whatever reason, leaving Vegas killed a lot of the consumer appetite in me for buying stuff.
When I lived in Beijing (2014-2015), I enjoyed eating out a lot, and I spent a couple thousand dollars to visit my family twice in the one year I lived there.
Once in Florida (2015-2017), I spent most of the two years strapped, but liked eating out and discovered craft cocktails after getting a second job (which then, essentially, paid for the sushi and cocktails).
Here in Fuyang, since I began this journey in November (2018), the desire to eat out or go to the one local place with fancy cocktails has faded away. Getting hit by a motorcycle and laid up for a month definitely helped reset me in this regard, as did the lack of Western restaurants in general.
The one desire that never fades, though, no matter what my situation, is travel. Travel! That euphoric, otherworldly place in between cultures, countries, cities, et al. I love travel the way some people love cake. Or Ferraris. Or lattes.
And by “travel,” I don’t mean “I survive the process of arriving at a cool new place, and then stop, look around, and declare myself Victor.” I mean that I actually enjoy the process. The actual flight, the actual menagerie of insane amounts of people flooding through a place. One of the greatest simple joys of my life has been sitting at an airport bar or in a “cramped” seat in “coach” (it’s called the MAIN cabin on Delta. #Fancy), with meals and drinks included for the next dozen hours.
I love flying, from beginning to end: the check-in, the thrill of skipping the long lines to enjoy TSA Pre-Check (and, by the way, if you aren’t paying $100 for Global Entry and you plan to leave the country in the next five years, you are MISSING OUT), the thrill that shoots through my body when a boarding pass with another country is pressed into my palm.
Then, when I make it through security with an hour-plus of time, I love the ability to wander and see what places to eat and chill are available. Of lining up to board, and with my Delta AmEx, getting priority boarding and checking a bag for free (no, they don’t pay me ;-)).
The sense of being suspended in space as you fly backwards or forwards in time, escaping from all external pressures, worries or tasks, is invaluable. In addition, without paying a single extra cent beyond the flight, I’ve met individuals from all over the world, and heard fascinating life stories. I’ve sat next to retired military commanders who pointed out the Navy SEALs sitting around me; Secret Service agents who couldn’t tell me who they were flying to guard; parents whose daughters and sons are in school for education, like me, or who enjoyed asking about Teach for America or other things with which I have experience.
I’ve exchanged cards and numbers with people from a dozen different countries, without ever leaving the plane. I’ve met psychiatrists and ministers and authors, young moms and grandpas and migrants. Immigrants and dentists and people whose stories inspire me to no end–just by boarding the “metal tube” so many decry.
On a practical note, when overloaded with teacher tasks, I’ve found a (figuratively) stationary place to sit and grade or lesson plan for five or ten hours, when back at home, such focus would feel impossible. This quiet space has also provided the impetus for a great deal of reading, entertainment and reflection that my Type-A self finds hard to do on the ground.
When I sit at the airport and view the great stream of people heading to and from nearly every conceivable place on earth, I feel elated by proximity. It’s like I feel a million times richer from standing near billionaires, except that for me, billions of dollars = endless possible destinations, and a million different life stories. The opportunities of such a place inspire me like almost nothing else, just knowing that outside each gate is a plane headed for somewhere new.
I am perhaps the most literal embodiment of “the trip is about the journey, not the destination” you’ll ever meet.
This started early. As a child, we took trips every summer from Florida to visit the maternal side of my family in Pennsylvania. While few things will ever be as sweet as the smell of my grandma’s butterscotch cookies and tea when we’d arrive at midnight after a two-day haul, one thing was: the night spent in-between at a 2-3 star hotel.
That’s right. I have a fascination with cheap hotels!
In the movies, whenever people hole up to escape the authorities in some cheap motel somewhere, I am fascinated. Gone Girl and the last, stupid part of the Gilmore Girls reunion perfectly exemplify how awesome this is. I mean, sure you might be meeting a psychopath, and you may have flown all the way across the country for no good reason, but hey! First you meet interesting people with their own cool stories. And don’t even get me started on Ozark. You could be near a (drug lord?) millionaire and not even know it!
I’m being facetious, but I really have always loved the sense of “otherness” provided by overnight stays in hotels, no matter how humble. The advent of AirBnB just furthers this fascination. When I get to a new country and my new digs, I don’t rush out to exhaust myself in the new locale. When you’re renting out someone’s home, that house IS a part of the culture! Thus, I chill, look around, take a bath (if they have a tub–#Chinawoes), and read through the guides that the Super Hosts provide.
It probably helps that I love being lazy slow travel.
In any case, even at my financial worst, I have found ways to splurge on moving my body from one place to another. At the most strapped point of my life, teaching in Florida, I still spent money visiting Chicago, New York, and old friends in Las Vegas–money I didn’t have, that went straight onto credit cards–because travel is just that hard for me to quit. But now, sequestered in a place with a comfortable cost of living, paying for my past money sins, things must change.
As a person, I tend to be good at one thing at a time. Evidently, this is actually true of most people, but mothers and those with other commitments often have to juggle a heck of a lot more. Since I’m single, in a place where the only outlays are dinner and utilities, and have already started to cook and stay in most of the time, the only thing that can really sink my goal of paying off credit card debt in one year… is travel.
I had already cut out extra trips and stopped eating out almost entirely, but I have friends I want to visit in South Korea. Other friends I’d like to hang out with over days of vacation in Shanghai. And I have yet to begin to explain my love of directing my own road trips, or the easy access of the vast majority of my friends in the U.S. via freeways and cheap gas….access that is hard to deny once I land in Florida to visit family on my (for now) annual U.S. visit.
I’ve been there. I did that. And while I loved it, and I value those relationships, I need to breathe. I need the chance to change my habit of travel first, pay later to pay first, travel later.
What better way to do it than to put myself on hold for a year?
The aforementioned book The One Thing, and articles like this one, explain the concept of decision fatigue. The more decisions you must make, the weaker your will. The harder it becomes to choose to focus on that One Thing that matters. And so, rather than try to choose just a few small trips, exposing me further to my delicious wanderlust, I’m going to stop it.
I will take no overnight trips in 2019, to (for once) reset my travel life to a pay first, enjoy later form.
The last time I paid down debt, and went all in, I burned out.
Words like “self-care” now exist in the debt paydown community.
And I have eight nieces and nephews whom I love more(!) than travel.
This is my compromise to #futureme, to ensure this 2019 Year of No Travel has the best chance of success:
1. I will not take any solo overnight trips.
To be more specific, I will pay no extra money getting to a place for the sole purpose of checking out a new location, unless I can do that in a day. This will allow me to take day trips to local cities like Shanghai or Suzhou when I stay in Fuyang for Spring Festival, when we have over a month of paid time off. (I like time alone, and I will explore Fuyang a lot, but five weeks is a long time. I know from my side gig in Hangzhou that a few hours’ break from a place can be revitalizing.)
2. I will not pay for any hotel/AirBnB/etc. overnight stays.
Thankfully, I don’t have to pay a dime for a place to stay when I visit family.
3. My only travel for 2019 will be to see family
This = one round-trip flight to Florida in June or July.
4. While there, I will take no “side trips” out of state just to see friends
In other words, I will not drive in a big loop like last summer, going through cities like Chicago, St. Louis, or New Orleans–or to even one of these. If a friend visits me, or I can see them ON ROUTE to or from family in under two hours, okay, fine. BUT…
5. I will not stop off in “fun locations” between family members to check out a cool place to eat, drink or otherwise be merry.
These stops are completely gratuitous; they don’t build community and do anything beyond allowing me to consume.
I like fun as much as the next person, but this can be a serious money suck. My “YOLO” brain likes to enjoy fun spots and famous restaurants between cities in which family lives, and since they live near Nashville, Atlanta and St. Augustine, it becomes very easy to blow a lot of money for simple stuff.
The bottom line is that I love road trips, visiting friends, and good food and drinks. These are things I may resume in a more reasonable way once my debt’s gone, but I need a chance to reset.
While (I hope!) my friends will be there after a year, and there will always be nice places to eat and drink, those little cuties who are my nieces and nephews remain the one “can’t-miss” side of life for the new me in 2019.
In addition, I will still allow myself to eat out (mindfully) with family, and if I end up driving to GA or TN to visit family there, I’ll allow fast food like Chick Fil A on route. This is a treat in itself, but will not derail my goals like stopping at Mrs. Wilke’s in Savannah would (ohhhh, that sweet potato soufflé!).
Travel is my weak spot, my Achilles’ heel, and the one thing whose elimination will propel me fastest to my goals. So I will embark on this journey to reset myself in the best way possible: to ensure that I can travel in the future without fear or anxiety, by cash-flowing trips, and while avoiding further debt.
I am viewing this as a creative idea, and a challenge I would like to try. It is not a stunt, nor a thing I will keep doing just because I’ve announced it publicly. Yet I find it interesting enough to share, so here goes!
In much the same way as new places, new ideas and challenges are instructive. Back in 2013, I completed most of the challenges in Jen Hatmaker’s Seven, and found them interesting even when I’d fail to follow them 100%. I see this in much the same way: I am trying this for psychological reasons, out of a conviction that it will be a worthwhile endeavor. But I am not seeing it as a restriction; rather, I predict that it will allow me more time for contemplation, discovery of nearby attractions, and a chance to get much better at Chinese than if I’d been jetting off to other countries every chance I got.
Also, can we just mention what a freaking luxe life I have, that THIS is my “challenge”?! Many people dream of the day they could live abroad, and while Fuyang is no Disneyland, it’s no impoverished squalor, either. I get to live overseas WHILE flexing this new behavioral muscle. And I know I’m blessed, or lucky–however you label it, I’m grateful.
In talking this over with mentors, I have decided to allow myself to reevaluate this year-long goal at the halfway mark. Thus, in June, I will decide if this is feasible to continue, or if for some reason, I need to allow myself an overnight trip somewhere in the second six months.
But that’s it.
In the meantime, I hope to get a long-ago-started blog about my previous travel adventures up-and-running, as I have a ton of material, and enough photos for a book! This should prove quite the happy distraction, as will learning Chinese and continuing to glean truths from this amazing community. I look forward to every step, and if I succeed, my reward will be a trip somewhere TBD for New Year’s Dec. 31, 2019-January 1, 2020.
I stopped traveling over a month ago, but for simplicity’s sake, we’ll make the end point Christmas 2019. Then, depending on when we get off work, this time next year, I can head somewhere to celebrate three goals:
1. Paying off all unsecured debt
I.e, my $27,129 in credit card and personal loan debt;
2. A year of no travel except for that one trip home;
3. My first cash-flowed trip in a decade
since whatever I pay for next year’s New Year’s celebration will be the first trip I’ve taken without “stupid debt.”
NOTE: I know that some people will cry foul because I AM still taking one big international trip, but I’ve lived in China before, and I want the best chance of success. Visiting family is a bigger priority than an asterisk-free year of no-travel, and the parameters I’ve set here target the real money pits of my past. Hopefully, that will suffice it for those who have done their own no-spend challenges of any sort!