I do not deserve to be on this flight. The fact that I am sitting in my seat at all is a sort of perverse incentive for my worst habits. I’ve already burst out laughing twice, when reality has popped up and confronted me with its realness yet again.
The thing about dumb mistakes is that they tend to cascade into more mistakes. I’ve started with a doozy.
I booked my ticket, I put the flight in my calendar, I told everyone I was coming, I checked into my flight a day ahead, I checked the weather forecast, I packed my single suitcase carefully.
Then I kinda sorta roughly memorized what time I needed to be at the airport and estimated from there.
I’ve started to learn how my inherent way of doing things (travel among several others) differs profoundly from that of a more punctual person. Let me compare my husband’s train of thought to mine.
“What time is your flight, 10:50?” he asked me. “Uh, yeah,” I responded, not checking, continuing a perfect track record since the moment I booked the ticket two weeks earlier. Immediately he started working backward. I’d need an hour to get through security and find my gate, and it would take at least 45 minutes to get to the airport, but we’d better add a buffer because this would be the roughest travel day of the year. It would be hard to make it through traffic to the airport itself. So I’d need to leave at 8:50.
Shrug, went my brain. Yah yah, sounds good.
He was right about the traffic, and he was right that it would take longer than usual to get through security, partly because the pre-check line was closed.
In my mind, I think I thought “10:50” meant boarding at 10:50, which meant I should probably leave the house around 9:30 PM. We had this discussion just before 8:00.
Well, hang on, let me hang onto the punchline for a while more. Imagine, if you will, a pure mind unclouded by troubled thoughts, filled with contentment and blind optimism. La la, la la, la la...
My hubby walked me out to the street, the only place near our apartment complex where we can get enough cell service to order a Lyft. The last time we took a ride share together, it took almost 15 minutes to arrive, and I know he was mentally pacing in worry.
OHO! My Lyft was due to arrive in ONE MINUTE, because... the driver was already in our driveway, dropping off another passenger. All he had to do was to turn around. He helped me with my suitcase.
It took us about twice as long to get to the airport as it does on an ordinary day. Forty minutes just to go the last mile and a half. I had to pay an extra $15 because of how long the trip took. Shrug.
I whimsically told the driver, who was getting concerned about the timeline, that I didn’t even care if I had to sprint for my flight, because it isn’t worth it to me to be the kind of person who throws fits or gets worked up over inconsequential things like that. I shared a story about a woman at Starbucks who demanded that her four drinks be remade because the whipped cream wasn’t squirted through the entire length of each straw. “I don’t ever want that to be me,” I said.
We finally made it through traffic to the drop-off point, having passed at least a dozen people dragging their suitcases along the road. Apparently a lot of people were worried about missing their flights! Wow, huh, what must that be like?
My driver helped me with my suitcase and we wished each other a happy Thanksgiving. I tried to go through a door that had been locked closed, shrugged again, and turned back to find a proper entrance. I went into a restroom, ready to get my head together and find my gate.
As I was washing up, I pulled up my boarding pass on my phone.
My flight leaves at 10:10! But it’s... 10:00 right now!
They’ve been boarding since 9:40!
I still have to go through security!
Uh oh, I think to myself, this isn’t good. I hustle down the hallway and start pulling my bag through what I think is the Pre-Check line. Nope, the ladies say, it’s closed, unless you want to sign up for Clear? “My flight leaves in ten minutes,” I say, heading toward the regular line. Oh dear. They tell me I can keep my boots on but that I’ll have to remove my electronics.
This is where I compensate in my utter failure to cope with the Time Dimension through my other organizing skills. I’ve been through airport security, I dunno, surely more than a hundred times. I always put the same objects in the same pockets. I think well in categories. As soon as I hear the word “electronics,” my 3D mental map of all my gear starts swirling around and highlights: my AirPods, my watch, my tablet, and my phone. I grab a bin and separate those things out, meanwhile feeling a very heavy, sinking feeling in my heart that there are two dozen slow people in front of me.
We experience a logjam on the conveyor belt, as the herd of young adults in front of me seem confounded by the process of finding and removing their things. All of them without fail leave the tubs on the belt, causing them to start colliding into each other and popping out of position. It’s a mess, a mess that is blocking my own stuff inside the metal detector.
Meanwhile THE CLOCK IS TICKING and my flight is about to take off without me. I try to reassure myself that even this disaster of a line will still take maybe three or four minutes, and that even if I have to get a patdown, I might still have a chance.
I start grabbing bins and stacking them on top of the metal detector, and amazingly, my stuff rolls out just as I finish. I make an effort to clean up after myself and stack my own tubs.
THEN, THE SPRINT.
I grab my bag and run up a flight of stairs, realizing it will be slower to wait for the escalator. This is another of my many organizational skills, the many times I’ve slapped the handle down into my bag and grabbed the straps and darted up the steps.
I sprint along the concourse, relieved that my gate is in fact the first one around the corner. I still have four minutes to spare!
I run up, laughing at myself, because it looks like the plane has not yet taxied off. There are three agents standing in conversation. I ask them about my flight, and they say it’s been moved... six gates away.
I sprint off again, planning my path between slow-moving bodies at least twenty feet ahead, another necessary skill of the time-incompetent.
I roll up to my gate THREE MINUTES BEFORE WE ARE SUPPOSED TO DEPART. Twenty-seven minutes after boarding time.
Everyone is still there. Something has happened, probably to do with moving gates, and nobody has boarded yet. Not only do I have time to catch this flight, this flight that I don’t deserve to be on, but I have to hang around and wait for it.
In the greatest comedy moment of all, this flight that I vaguely, obliviously thought of as leaving at “10:50” - actually DOES leave at 10:50. Either I have major psychic powers or I’m a daffy space cadet.
This is the main difference between a punctual lark like my husband and a wandering flower such as myself. He is pessimistic about everything that could go wrong; he’s an engineer and he’s literally paid to think that way. Therefore, he correctly anticipates problems. I had to tell him that he was right about every single concern he had: the traffic, the delays at security, his estimate of transit time, all of it.
On the other hand, I am optimistic, partly because I’m reinforced in my sloppy behavior by unbelievable serendipity over and over again. What shouldn’t have worked often does. Minimalism, experience, physical fitness, kindness, flexibility, keeping my wits about me when the situation warrants a crying jag. Drop any of these and the picture changes.
The Lyft driver who was already in our driveway when I called? He got a new pickup just as he was dropping me off, pointing to a strange efficiency in this holiday travel method. My joke about not caring if I sprinted to my gate? True, and I could make that joke because I’ve been in that gate so many times that I know exactly where everything is. I’ve been flying for 35 years, and I have a pretty good mental database of airport reality vs. ticket reality. When I realized my flight was supposedly already boarding, and I had yet to get through security on the busiest travel night of the year, I felt 10% UHOH and 90% okey-dokey. As an expert one-bag traveler, I can get away with things that should not be considered within the realm of possibility.
This is what possibility thinking is all about. What are all the many manifold options from this point in time and space? How many ways are there to solve my problem?
Being better prepared prevents most of those problems, and I’ll go back to the drawing board on that process. In the meantime, I’ll continue blithely expecting most things to work out in my favor, fool that I am.
The Cabin bus from Santa Monica to San Francisco caught my attention before it even began operations. As a startup idea, I thought it was brilliant. All I needed was an excuse to visit someone in the Bay Area. Any opportunity to indulge my fixation on alternative travel would suffice.
The adventure began when I lucked into an empty berth with only a day’s notice. There wasn’t another available spot for ten days, so I used reward miles and booked a flight for the return trip. This sort of arrangement involves a certain amount of planning what to pack, in what sort of bag, because there are things that can be brought on a bus that can’t go through TSA, and also things that fit in a suitcase that you don’t necessarily want in your bed, especially a narrow one. This is foreshadowing.
I took a Lyft from my home to the pickup location, which is scenic and convenient as can be. Unfortunately, when I got out, I wound up on the wrong side of the street, facing the wrong direction. All I could see were city buses. My driver took off. I checked the street address of the nearest building, realized I was in the wrong spot and had no data reception, and freaked out. Where am I?? Where is my bus?? Then I turned around and saw it parked a block away, the lights of the pier behind it. Derp.
Onboarding couldn’t have been simpler. I walked up, showed the hostess my confirmation email, and left my bag with her. I stepped inside, climbed the stairs, and took an empty bunk at the back of the bus.
Getting into the bunk proved a bit complicated, possibly the hardest part for people regardless of size. Slightly above waist height, I couldn’t just lie down or throw myself onto the bed. I had to hoist myself. I’m 5’4” so this would probably be harder for a shorter person. On the other hand, a taller person might have more trouble kneeling or crouching to get into the lower berths. My compact frame was definitely an asset when it came to spending eight hours in a confined space, a space I later jokingly referred to as a ‘ComfyCoffin.’
The bedding on these things is first-rate. Probably the most comfortable pillow I’ve ever used, I’m sorry I forgot to take a picture of the tag so I could order one for myself later. I also really loved the sheets and the duvet. I am a chilly sleeper, so I was a bit paranoid about being too cold. Not a problem.
What was a problem was that it’s impossible to sit up in the berth. There’s nowhere to use a restroom or change clothes before boarding the bus (except at home, of course), and if I tried it again in future, I would definitely brush my teeth and all that before departure. One bus restroom for twenty-plus people isn’t really enough for everyone’s bedtime routine. It would have been nice to have a curtained changing room on board, or popped up on the sidewalk at the bus stop for that matter.
I managed to wrestle myself out of my clothes and into my pajamas. I waited about forty minutes from departure for an opportunity to use the restroom before trying to sleep.
The fact that I was able to sleep on this bus speaks volumes for its overall comfort. I have a major parasomnia disorder and sleep is what I do worst. Out of the eight-hour trip, I think I slept about six hours, which is amazing. I’ve slept worse in my own bed at home. I took 10 mg of melatonin, double my usual dose, but then I’ve done that at home too and it hasn’t always worked.
The passengers were, as a rule, quiet and professional. The one exception was the gentleman who claimed the upper berth opposite mine. He coughed throughout the night, waking me up several times, and evidently also giving me his cold, because I wound up being really sick for over a week. Thanks, jerk. I don’t care WHAT is going on in your life, do not leave your house and cough on people when you are ill. We really need to get some sort of fishbowl for folks to wear on their heads. Especially when they are sleeping three feet away from someone else’s face.
The disadvantage of arriving half an hour early is that you claim dibs first, and then later arrivals set up camp around you. If I’d heard coughing I would have known to go to the other end and stay away.
Enough about that; back to the foreshadowing. Something funny happened. I was having a vivid dream about a horrid black millipede crawling on my foot. It felt like something was physically crawling on me and tickling me, and I woke up nearly screaming, shaking my foot. In the morning, guess what I saw? A weird little black beetle on the curtain, right next to my foot! It was easy to see what happened: my shoe bag with my boots on the left, leaning against my bare feet in the middle, with the curtain a couple of inches away on the right, making a direct path. Obviously I carried the creepy-crawly in on my own footwear. The moral of the story is to never bring your shoes into bed without thoroughly inspecting them first.
That’s one of the major drawbacks of this form of transit. Anything you want with you while undressing, sleeping, or dressing is going to have to spend the night on the mattress with you. There are no shelves or cabinets, just a little mesh pocket. If I’d understood this better, I would have probably taken off my boots and changed into flip-flops outside when I handed over my suitcase.
I packed a protein bar and a bottle of iced green tea for my breakfast. There are coffee and hot tea, for those who like them, but the bus doesn’t arrive all that near civilization and I like to eat the moment I wake up. That was 5:55 AM, incidentally, when the bus started to approach the city and the rhythm of the road changed. This gave me plenty of time to use the restroom before anyone else and then get dressed and packed before arrival.
Overall, I liked this style of travel, and I’d do it again. I’d especially do it now that I know how nice the bedding is, how quiet it is, and how to organize my stuff and my routine for the most streamlined trip. I’d take some extra vitamin C for a couple of days ahead of time. (A wise precaution before traveling anywhere, by any means). I’m just not sure I’d take my husband, who is 6’2” and who I can’t really picture fitting into one of these bunks. Finally, there’s one area of life where it pays to be a short person.
We didn’t spend our anniversary together this year. How could we, when my husband was off on a business trip? It’s hardly the first time this kind of thing has happened: he’s been sent on travel on our anniversary, on his birthday, on Valentine’s Day, and he was even in China on my birthday one year. That’s okay. At our stage of life, we fit in marriage where we can. We’ve been together long enough that we’re clear on our priorities and how we fit together.
There’s a bit of a lie in the previous paragraph. True, we weren’t together on the date of our anniversary, and it’s also true that we barely saw each other the last half of the month. First I was out of town, then he left a few hours after I got home, and there hasn’t been a 24-hour period where we were both at home together for two weeks. We did, though, take off for a two-day weekend in Las Vegas - before he had to leave again the day after we got back.
Why Vegas? That’s the first place we went on our first trip together, and we’ve gone back every year, either for our anniversary or his birthday or something. We know our way around. We have favorite restaurants and shops. There are memories behind practically every doorway. The rest of our vacations are all about adventure, but Vegas is where we go to relax and play. We remember ourselves as a newly dating couple, as newlyweds, at all the milestones of our time together.
We celebrate that we still enjoy each other’s company. We celebrate that we still have chemistry together, that we’re at least as physically attracted to each other as we were when we started dating, and possibly more so. We celebrate that we agree on how to save and spend money. We celebrate that we can plan and carry out trips that we both anticipate.
After nine years, we’ve learned to appreciate more and more how rare it is for a middle-aged married couple to continue to have fun together.
We don’t fight - we make policies. For instance, I made us late for dinner reservations because I took too long to get ready. (Step 1: Be the first to take ownership when you are at fault). Then we reframed it. Policy: When we go out for a special occasion, I need an extra 15 minutes for hair and makeup.
We divide the labor. I’m in charge of researching restaurants (because of my fringe diet) and choosing shows (because let’s face it, I’m the best). He’s in charge of choosing our seats because 1. He cares more and 2. He has an easier time reading the seating chart.
We pack light. We’re both one-bag travelers. We help each other pick items for our respective capsule wardrobes. We backpack together. On Vegas trips, we check an empty suitcase, because this is where we do the majority of our clothes shopping for the year. Also, we both believe in the possibility of carrying an empty suitcase without encroaching on it.
We help each other put on our sunblock. That’s an especially big deal since his squamous cell carcinoma! I guarantee that nobody else would be as careful in applying *my* sunblock as *he* is.
We budget. OUCH, right? Not really. We save 40% of our income, and that’s after factoring in our vacation splurges. We’d simply rather live in a dinky, no-frills studio apartment on 20% of our income, and go on the occasional lavish vacation, than the alternative of paying double on rent, being in debt all year, and having to pinch pennies.
I have this thing about the hedonic treadmill. That’s what they call it when you adjust to a lifestyle upgrade, it becomes your new normal, and then you don’t even find it fun anymore. It’s really important to me not to become jaded or to expect luxuries as my baseline. I want to make sure I ENJOY THE HECK OUT OF my splurges. I’m pretty sure I can remember almost every dish of our fanciest meals, even years later, and that’s because we only indulge like that two or three times a year.
Frankly, this is part of why I’m married. Once I asked my husband why he married me, expecting that he would choose my sense of humor or my sweet nature. “Your frugality,” he said. Respecting your partner’s financial efforts, concerns, and priorities is the bedrock of marriage, unless you’re so rich you literally don’t have to care, which, that isn’t us or 95% of the world probably. Showing you don’t care about your spouse’s money worries is a fundamental rejection of what matters to them. Would you feel the same way about their health, their family relationships, their dreams, or their friendships?
That’s the other thing. We care about each other’s personal life, and we believe that we’re each entitled to one. We’re entitled to visit our families by ourselves. We’re entitled to have our own private friendships. We’re entitled to travel alone. We’re entitled to our own work projects and side hustles. We’re entitled to equal physical space in our home for our personal interests. We’re equally entitled to make requests about how we spend our time and resources as a couple. We support each other, because we each want the other to have the maximally fulfilling, fascinating life.
This is why it doesn’t bother me that I’ll spend my wedding anniversary alone. Our wedding day wasn’t our marriage, and neither is our anniversary. We’ll spend the day doing all of the things we’ve agreed on. He’ll give his utmost to this, his favorite and most interesting job of his career. I’ll bust my rump at the gym with my gym friends and work on my public speaking challenge. We’ll be faithful to each other and our budget. We’ll send texts back and forth throughout the day and discuss pictures of our pets. We’ll plan our next vacation and our next project together. We’ll try to decide what we want to do on our next milestone, our tenth wedding anniversary.
Better get it in the calendar now, or otherwise, who knows what we’ll both be doing?
Overpacking isn’t just something to do with a suitcase. It’s also something metaphorical that we do with our schedules. Every time I get ready to go on a trip, I tell myself all sorts of fantasies, from “You’ll definitely finish reading that, you should really pack at least two extra books just in case” to “What email backlog? You’ll just breeze through it at the airport on the way home.” HAhahahaha! One of the many myths I hypnotize myself into believing is that I’m totally going to work out on vacation. Yeah! In fact, maybe I’ll upgrade! Yeah! I’ll try out all these Olympian core workouts and go home with side abs!
In reality, what happens is that I forget to apply sunblock to key areas, I don’t get enough sleep, I barely read a page a day, I eat dessert once or twice a day, I bring five pounds of extra stuff I never use, and, of course, I don’t work out at all.
Well, that last part isn’t completely true. We walk a lot.
It never ceases to amaze me, the beautiful and sweet optimism of people who think they can erase ten years of recreational eating habits by walking half an hour a few days a week. Wouldn’t that be nice? What I know is that we typically walk 8-10 miles a day on vacation, and I can gain anywhere from two to eight pounds anyway.
Being able to walk long distances is great. Travel is a good enough reason to stay fit all by itself. Walking ten miles, including about twenty flights of stairs, while carrying a backpack all day is no joke. There are also those special moments of horking your suitcase up into the overhead rack.
Sadly, though, even ten miles a day is no match for vacation food. Someone of my size only burns about 70 calories per mile. If a slice of cake is about 500, sure, maybe I’ve managed to burn off an extra dessert every day. The cake, but not the sweet drinks, the appetizers, the snacks, or any of the restaurant portions. My husband and I can easily gain enough extra weight from our vacation eating habits that it takes the rest of the year to burn it off again. If we do.
Of course, it isn’t just the food. It’s the break from routine. Daily reality is suspended. When we get home, it’s like we’ve gone through a wormhole, and everything looks similar, yet weirdly different. The apartment smells like paint. The dog has forgotten some of our hand signals and a couple of his new tricks. There’s an empty place in the schedule where “go to the gym” used to be.
This summer, we left town for a week, and got back just in time for my gym to close for five days for Independence Day. It just so happened that I had been down for a week with a stomach bug, trained for a week, left town, and then missed classes during the closure. Suddenly I was back at it, having only trained three days over the previous month. I had only two opportunities to prepare for belt promotion, and here I was still in vacation mode.
It’s not completely true to say that I didn’t train. I kinda did. It just wasn’t anywhere remotely approaching what I do on an ordinary weekday. Instead of an hour of high-intensity interval training, kicking, punching, and grappling, plus five miles of bicycling and 3-6 miles of walking, I did... I did less. I worked on my headstand for about five minutes a day, I walked, and a few days I did ten burpees.
I packed my jump rope. I had the best of intentions and it was small and lightweight. Did I use it? Not once. Course not. Anyone who does a serious workout on vacation has more discipline and strategic mindset than I do, and that’s actually saying quite a lot.
My first day in class, I actually crushed it. I did two back-to-back classes. I surprised myself by being able to get down and crank out thirty standard pushups, no problem. Thank the burpees for that. I had walked six miles earlier in the day and I rode my bike to class, too. If it weren’t for the belt promotion and my need to go to enough classes to earn my third stripe on my white belt, I never would have done it. I walked in sleepy and nervous, and walked out with my head held high, feeling much better about my prospects for the upcoming three-hour workout.
Exercise without a schedule, without deadlines, without specific performance goals has an annoying tendency to fade away into nothing. The best-made intentions are vapor. There’s no such thing as willpower or motivation anyway, and weight is definitely not lost at the gym, so it’s best to let those fantasies go. The work is still worth it, though, and it pays off. Being fit and strong makes daily life easier. Every hour of suffering and sweat is a force multiplier, leading to better posture, more energy, sounder sleep, clearer skin, better balance, more muscle and bone density, mood repair, confidence, mental focus, pride, and, if you do it right, friendships. Keep going, definitely keep going.
Vacation ate my workout. Two weeks away led to feeling slow, floppy, tired, unfocused, and out of form. Paradoxically, this reminded me of how far I had come, and that I used to feel that way (or worse) all the time. Why would I let my gains drift away into nothing? Class is back in session, so let’s get back to work.
We’re leaving for a trip tomorrow. There are three ways to go about this.
Freaking out is a common reaction. Most people manage their anxiety about change and transition by trying to over-plan and overpack. Just bring everything you can possibly carry, and most eventualities will be covered, right?? This attitude guarantees that you’ll have the maximum weight and bulk to drag around, which multiplies the hassle and planning time that you’ll need. The longer you spend worrying and fretting about what to bring, the more ideas you have of more stuff to cram into the suitcase.
The way I used to pack was basically, Look around at every single thing I own, exclude as few things as possible, and try to bring it all. Like, okay, I probably don’t need to bring the furnace but maybe it will fit? Do they have ovens where I’m going?
Harness this overthinking energy. It’s a rational, logical way to deal with uncertainty, and that rationality can be used more efficiently.
Start with the minimum. What if I just went in the clothes on my back, and all I had was my wallet and phone? Worst case scenario, my outfit would get smelly. Maybe I’d wash it and I’d have to borrow a towel to wear while it was being laundered. Second worst case, maybe I’d have to stop somewhere and buy a new shirt and pants. If that happened, I could bring the new clothes home and install them in my regular wardrobe rotation.
My hubby once grudgingly spent $80 buying a simple fleece pullover at a gift shop on a motorcycle trip. It was LUDICROUSLY overpriced. He loves it, though, and he’s still wearing it nine years later. It’s amortized down to less than $9/per year of ownership, and it still fits and looks great.
All we’re doing is taking that “WHAT IF?????” feeling and welcoming it, taking it seriously. Okay, what if?
What won’t happen is that we won’t vaporize or suddenly find ourselves in the eighth dimension. We won’t swap personalities and find ourselves suddenly in a different body. We won’t forget the names or faces of everyone we’ve ever known. All that happens is that we go somewhere else for a while, sleep in a different bed for a while, meet some new people, and, if we’re lucky, eat some different food a few times.
This is my method.
Pack four outfits and one extra pair of shoes.
Literally, that’s it.
I don’t fold them or roll them, either. I lay out the four distinct outfits on my bed, so I make sure that they match and I have the correct undergarments. In the past, I’ve often forgotten to pack socks, and this “stack for each day” method has helped with that.
Next, I take one garment at a time and lay it in the suitcase, matching the shoulder seams and waistbands to the edge of the bag. Pant legs, skirts, et cetera, are laid out flat, stacked one on another. When they’re all matched up, I fold over all the legs and skirts. Socks, underwear, and swimsuits get stuck in the corners and along the edges. Then I zip it closed. The extra shoes and my shower kit go in another compartment. It takes five minutes.
I’m able to do this because I just pack my regular wardrobe. These are the clothes I wear all season long. I know they go in the washer and dryer. I know they fit. I know they mix and match because I plan ahead and buy things that go together. I don’t tolerate singletons and I remorselessly ditch any odd garment that isn’t earning its space in my closet. My clothes serve me, period. I’m not a museum curator and I don’t run a boutique. I don’t owe a piece of fabric anything, anything at all. I’m not going to be the defense lawyer for something if it isn’t already obvious why I should bring it. No threes, no maybes, no almosts. Just four outfits.
If my trip is longer than four days, then I simply do a load of laundry during the trip. I’ve done it at hotels, I’ve done it at campsites, and of course I’ve done it at my parents’ house.
I have had a couple of trips over the years where the weather suddenly turned, and it was much hotter or colder than the forecast. The way I deal with that is to allow one extra garment for the off chance, like a tank top or a layer of thermal underwear. It’s not the end of the world.
What about all the other stuff? All the special travel gadgets and pillows and what-not?
I like to buy travel doodads for the same reason that I like to buy kitchen utensils. They look cool! Then I inevitably realize that I don’t need them and I never use them.
My priority when I travel (and remember, priority is singular) is to bring only one bag that fits under the seat.
To that end, I bring only what I feel that I really, really want during the flight. I wear a heavy cardigan because I always feel cold on a plane. Wallet, obviously. Phone, tablet, charger, backup battery, headphones. Light snack. Hand lotion and lip balm. That’s it. Why would I need more than that?
The thing to remember is the reason for the trip. MY STUFF is never the reason for a trip! I’m traveling to be with specific people and to go to a specific location. I’m only there for a limited window of time. I can worry about MY STUFF when I’m home again, assuming I want to spend my precious life thinking about and stroking material objects. I want to channel my feelings of elevated adrenalin and remember, That’s excitement!
Now it’s time to chill out and pack. Remember, everything can be bought 24/7 and objects are consumable. Bring the minimum, remind yourself what you’re doing on the trip, and, yes, chill out and pack.
We’re going to World Domination Summit for the third time. At our first event, we had the opportunity to buy tickets for 2017 while we were still sitting in the auditorium. We took one look at each other and launched. Now it’s a core part of our vacation planning. This is a life philosophy thing. Plan your desired vacation first, then your desired retirement, and build the rest of your lifestyle around those poles.
How do you afford that vacation?
There are tricks to it!
The first thing is to focus on what you personally enjoy doing, and to realize that this may not look anything like someone else’s dream vacation. For instance, my husband and I usually go somewhere rainy on vacation, because we live on a Southern California beach where it’s summer nearly every day. Why pay more to go through TSA and fly to an island with lots of sun and sand when we can just do that at home? We’re willing to ride a bus and camp out in a tent in the rain because it enables us to travel longer. We like going to museums, exploring local grocery stores, and visiting historical sites. We don’t spend money on booze or dance clubs or shopping because we don’t care about those things.
On this particular vacation, we’re staying at my parents’ house. We’re able to roll WDS into a family visit. Granted, we’re almost never there, but there really is something special about being able to hug your parents in their kitchen on a regular workday.
We paid for our plane tickets with reward points. This comes about because our first financial priority is to maintain good credit, and because we systematically earn and burn those travel miles.
Here’s the thing. None of that constitutes a ‘trick.’ Anyone can fantasize about the perfect vacation, learn how to use points and miles, or cajole a friend or relative into playing host for at least a little while. The tricky part is that whole thing about building your lifestyle around your vacation.
We save 35-40% of our income.
That’s part of it. We simply refuse to spend money in ways that we find boring, unfulfilling, or unnecessary. We live in a studio apartment and we don’t own a car. The money we saved the first two months of car-freedom more than paid for this WDS trip. That doesn’t even begin to include what we saved by lowering our rent and utility bills for the year. I don’t spend money coloring my hair, getting manicures, or going for “retail therapy” because I see that as stealing from our vacation fund. We both went to Morocco for a day for $65, money that I could have easily spent on a single pair of shoes or pants that I never even wore.
Another part of “affording that vacation” is to build the idea into your life and make it a part of your identity. Travel is part of what my husband and I do as a couple. We decided to define ourselves that way, and make sure that other people see us that way. It’s fun to teach other people how to travel on a budget. A lot of the things we do on vacation have filtered into our daily life, such as our habit of having strategic planning meetings at breakfast. If more of your ordinary days feel like vacation days, then eventually it feels like you’re on vacation all the time. What that means is that you’re creating an intentional life. You see the potential in each day and the special things about your current location. You look at the world with an attitude of open wonder and adventure.
That’s what makes money and savings feel somewhat irrelevant.
I don’t feel “deprived” by not having cable television or a wine budget because those things don’t interest me, especially not in comparison to the awesome things that money can buy on vacation. I love the sense that we’re nearly always in vacation planning mode, that we always have a new trip to anticipate and research and plan. What amazes me is that people feel like they can “afford” routine daily and monthly expenses that I see as both extravagant and dull.
The other thing about “affording that vacation” is that it gave us the ability to make a radical decision. We live in a studio apartment that is, in point of fact, smaller than some of the hotel suites where we have stayed on vacation. We jokingly refer to it as “going back to the room” to remind ourselves that it’s temporary, and that it’s a choice. We deliberately live a minimalist lifestyle full-time because it provides the leverage for more interesting things. All we really do at home is to cook dinner, sleep, shower, and store our stuff. Why pay for the biggest, fanciest place we could possibly stretch to afford when we’re gone most of the day anyway?
What we want to be doing, as often as possible, is exploring the world. We like to be close to nature, watching the sun set or watching a crow toss food wrappers out of a trash can. We love the feeling of having hours to lounge around, deep in conversation, and we do that most weeknights. All of these are cost-free; they’re mindsets that anyone can adopt and fit into any lifestyle. Peace of mind, close connection, a feeling that the clock is turned off and that the next moment is full of potential. You can afford all of that if you choose to look at it that way.
As long as I’m making a contrarian stand, I might as well toss out there that a house most likely isn’t an asset, either, but that’s a topic for another day. An “asset” is an economic resource, something valuable that produces income. If a thing generates expenses, then it is not an asset, it is a liability. The concept that a car may actually be costing someone money, that it might not qualify as an asset, is something that can really be upsetting. Let’s explore it, though. At the end of the thought experiment, anyone who owns a car will still own it, and nothing has changed except for a bit of a brain workout. Let’s go. Why is a car not an asset?
When I owned a car, I was utterly shocked to realize that it was costing me a quarter of my net income. A friend of mine who drives a low-mileage pickup truck disputed my figures. Look, I’m sorry, but I didn’t have a very high income at the time. Almost everything I earned went to the three categories of rent for my cruddy apartment, my car, and my student loans. There are probably a lot of people in my situation, who have never thought about how much it costs to have a car in their life but who could technically be getting to work by other means.
Note: Driving your car to your workplace to earn an income does not make the car an asset. The job is the asset.
There are only three ways that a car could ultimately be an asset, which I would define as bringing in more money than it costs. That would have to be more than a break-even rate, too. I imagine a car could be an asset if it 1. Earned its own income, such as a classic car being used in commercials, but does this even happen? Would that income actually exceed the total cost of the car, including purchase price and lifetime carrying costs? 2. Sold for far more than its original purchase price plus lifetime carrying costs, but does this ever happen, either? Like a, um, what do you call them, a Maybach or something? 3. Enables the owner to earn more money than could be earned through other means. I don’t think this is true of 80% of ride-share drivers, for instance, because it looks like most of them aren’t calculating externalities such as depreciation of their vehicle. They also aren’t paying themselves for the time they spend waiting or driving the unpaid legs of their trips.
The reason most people think of their vehicles as assets is that the thought of trying to get through life without one just seems hopeless or extremely annoying. Never put people in a position where they feel that they are going to lose something or have something taken from them. It’s the same with personal finance or fitness - people feel that “giving up” an inefficient habit is not worth the gain of being debt-free or more agile. It’s hard for us as humans to realize that letting go of one thing can be a significant upgrade, a tradeoff for something better.
I claimed that a car is not an asset, because it depreciates in value and because it incurs significant carrying costs. I also claimed that a bicycle is an asset. Let me back that up.
When I was 22, I got a windfall at my $9/hour job, a retroactive pay increase of $400. I sat on that money for about two months as I decided what to do with it. Then a sale came up at a local bicycle warehouse. I bought the new bike that I still own 20 years later. I had been paying between $30-$35/month for a bus pass, and I wanted to cut that expense from my budget. At just $30/month, the cost of the bike would be fully amortized in 13 months. That bike was my main source of transportation for the next three years, and sporadically in the following years, depending on where I was living. My bike became an asset because it allowed me to save money I had previously been spending.
There are other reasons why I regarded my bike as an asset:
At that time in my life, on $9/hour, I could not afford to own a car. I wouldn’t have dreamed of paying to join a gym. My bike, which paid for itself, was a major life upgrade. I felt stronger and safer, and I had more time and slightly more discretionary income.
After I originally sold my car in - I think it was 2007? - I got my old bike tuned up and started riding it around again. I paid off my credit card balances. I paid off one of my student loans six years early. I bought a new couch. Then I went on vacation to Cancun. I’ve remained free of consumer debt for over a decade now, and I’ve gone on yet more vacations, just longer, more often, to more interesting places, in much nicer hotels. Car ownership was draining a quarter of my income, and after I eliminated that expense, I was finally able to start saving for retirement in earnest.
I got married in 2009, paying for my share of our wedding in cash, and we both drove my husband’s pickup until it died a little after 200,000 miles. We switched to a sedan and got a great rate on the loan, because my credit score is over 800. It was still a loan, though. We sold it back to the dealership after the big emissions scandal, and due to that weird situation, we essentially drove it for two years for just the cost of the gas. The improvement in our cash flow since we’ve been car-free has meant an escalation in our retirement planning. We save and invest 35% of our income, a number we couldn’t pull off while our practical, economy car was bleeding off $700/month in total costs.
I got my old bike tuned up again. My hubby and I have started riding around and exploring our neighborhood together. It feels like we’re dating. More than that, it feels like we’re on a date on a vacation! There’s just something indisputably romantic about riding bikes on a bike path together. I can’t say I ever felt that way when we were spending our weekends driving through freeway traffic to go to the warehouse store. I know neither of us ever felt that way when we were commuting in freeway traffic to get to work. Riding our bikes is helping us to save thousands of dollars for our retirement, stay fit and mobile as we get older, avoid the worst annoyances of standard commuting, and even feel more connected and affectionate with each other. For all these reasons, I continue to claim that a car is not an asset but a bicycle is.
“I could never do that” is most people’s automatic response when hearing about an alternative of some kind, whether that’s getting rid of their TV, waking up at 5 AM (same), or not eating dairy products. Nobody is asking; generally people are just talking about something that they do, not campaigning for other people to do it. Living without a car is definitely, definitely on that list. For those who are curious, it’s not really all that complicated. Resolve how you’re going to get to work, and that’s almost all of your trips. Shopping and errands take different strategies than the work commute. This can be an interesting game in its own right.
The first secret behind car-free errands is to realize that many errands are really just excuses for something to do. Going straight home every night can feel boring and restrictive. Errands can be set up to include fun stops, like picking up some ice cream. In fact, I think the majority of the time we’re looking for reasons to swing by the drive-thru. Guess what? They don’t let you through the drive-thru unless you are, in fact, driving thru. Gotta go inside. If the treats and fun side trips are a hidden motive behind errands, those can be rewards for using an alternative mode of transport, whether that’s a bike, unicycle, donkey cart, or the city bus.
The second secret behind car-free shopping is that so much of it can be either eliminated or delegated. For instance, I refuse to buy any garments that are dry-clean only, so we never have to go to a dry cleaner. We order a lot of things online and have them delivered. Judging by how many different delivery services come through our apartment complex, more and more people are doing this, and it seems pretty efficient. It’s also possible to special-order various products, from groceries to books, that a conveniently located store doesn’t currently have in stock. Occasionally, we’ve been known to have groceries delivered. This feels like a true luxury, and it’s definitely cheaper than the carrying costs we were paying when we still owned a car.
The idea here is that we’re only making side trips when it’s fun, when we want to. We refuse to be daily freeway commuters, and we also refuse to spend our precious free time on evenings and weekends circling around looking for parking. When we go out, it’s an excursion.
Another very important strategy behind car-free shopping and errands is to consolidate them. We have various hubs where we group errands together, and most of these trips can be delayed until we have enough of them to make a real outing of it. Examples:
Movie theater/favorite casual restaurant
Movie theater/mall/chain bookstore
Independent bookstore/nicer restaurant/specialty dessert place
Grocery store/pharmacy/haircuts/UPS Store
Bike shop/bookstore/REI/nicer restaurant/indie movie theater
For many errands, there are multiple options. We may be going to one place because we’ve always gone there, because it was close to our old apartment or our old job, or because it’s close to our hidden destination of frozen yogurt or whatever. We can often find an equivalent, or a different location of the very same chain, that’s closer to another stop we need to make. Finding these places is a big part of the fun. Often we run across hidden gems, expanding our sense of possibility and enjoyment of where we live.
Another aspect of car-free shopping and errands is to choose what type of car-free option to use. My husband and I go places on foot, by bike, on the bus, and using ride-share services. We choose which way to travel based on what we’re trying to do and what time of day it is. For example, we rode our bikes together to get breakfast on Saturday at the cafe near my gym. On Sunday, we took the bus to the movie theater, walked to a restaurant to get dinner afterward, and caught a Lyft for the trip home. The local bus is cheaper, but it only runs once an hour at that time of night. We’ll eventually ride our bikes for more of our trips, as we get fitter, because our increasing physical strength will start to redefine what we consider to be “biking distance.”
A bicycle is the most efficient way to get around for anything within a 7-mile radius. I confirmed this for myself when I first bought my bike twenty years ago. Not only could I beat the bus home, but I sometimes made it home before my evening bus would have made it to the stop by my work. Almost all errands involve items that can easily be carried in a backpack or panniers (which are special bags designed to hang off a rack on the back of your bike). An easy pace on a bike is about double a fast walking speed; I can speed-walk to my gym in a sweaty 35 minutes, or bike it in 15-20, including the time messing with my lock and helmet. There are only a few occasions when a bike is less efficient: When picking up very bulky or unwieldy items, like a garden rake; when combining a trip with bus travel, if the rack on the front of the bus already has two bikes on it; and, for us, if we’re trying to bring our dog somewhere. The existence of affordable delivery services and ride-sharing make these anomalies something of a moot point.
If you want to cut back on how much you drive, because driving is really a very annoying chore when you think about it, you can do it gradually. Test out one errand or one trip through an alternative method. If that didn’t work out so well, try the same errand a different way, or try something else. Then start keeping track in your mind of every time someone cut you off, honked at you, or stole your parking spot. Remind yourself every time you have to clean out your car, buy new tires, or send in your quarterly insurance payment that these are just part of the price you pay for car ownership. Or you can look at some of my vacation photos and see where else that money could be going!
See you at the beach. There’s plenty of room for you to lock your bike at the rack right next to mine.
We sold our car over a year ago, and we’re laughing. That was $700 a month that we now have available for other things. Most people will immediately shut down any exploration of that topic, because not having a personal vehicle is too radical to even think about. For the curious, this is the sort of strategizing to do.
The first thing we did was to look at our pain points. A “pain point” is any persistent area of stress, annoyance, or frustration in your life, such as losing track of your keys or running out of dog food. We determined that commuting on the freeway every day was the single biggest annoyance in our life. For us, it was worth doing anything possible to rearrange our lifestyle and avoid a freeway commute. We were able to do that very quickly by finding a rental house within walking distance of my husband’s workplace. That gave us about a year to feel what walking everywhere was like while still retaining our vehicle.
Walkable neighborhoods are not always all that easy to find. It’s a sign of privilege. We’re able to afford to live in a safe neighborhood with lots of shops and services nearby. Of course, walking in your neighborhood automatically starts to improve its safety! Each individual person who dares to go out, carrying a phone and video camera, helps the other residents to feel safer and more comfortable going out. (Martial arts training is not irrelevant to this discussion, and neither is dog ownership). In my opinion, car drivers’ assessment of the safety of a given neighborhood is often off-base and unduly paranoid. I’m much more afraid of car drivers than I am of pedestrians!
What about anchors? An anchor is anything that keeps you in a given situation. When my husband and I first got married, we had two anchors: His golden-handcuffs job, and my stepdaughter’s school. For other people, anchors might include home ownership, a spouse’s job, a probation officer, proximity to a certain doctor or hospital, caretaking for an aging relative, military service, owning a storefront business, or anything else that makes a permanent location strategically important. These anchors actually make it much easier to plan around going car-free, or at least ditching one vehicle. You know exactly where you need to be for the foreseeable future, so you can feel more confident in your other decisions.
There are a bunch of ways to transition to going car-free. Some households have multiple vehicles and are paying insurance even on “project cars” that aren’t running. It’s possible to do this if you have a big garage, a big driveway, a lot of street parking, or more than one property. In SoCal, where we live, most neighborhoods will have as many as five cars associated with one house. Street parking is almost impossible to find, and sometimes people are even living in converted garages. It makes sense when there are five or six working adults sharing a house. It makes less sense when it’s one married couple! Count up everything that needs insurance and ask whether any of them can go.
Getting rid of a vehicle frees up the monthly, quarterly, and annual expenses associated with it. Our “$700/month” figure includes car payments, insurance, gas, oil changes, maintenance, parking, bridge tolls, car wash, and every other car-related expense that we no longer have. If we had owned two vehicles, it would have been much higher. Getting rid of a vehicle might also generate a lump sump of cash, which could be used to pay down the loan on the main vehicle; pay off credit card debt; put aside for an emergency savings account; buy a motorcycle, scooter, or electric bicycle; or, what the heck - go on vacation.
We live in a walkable neighborhood, and the reason is that we chose it when my husband got his current job. He got the offer, we had twelve days to relocate to a new city, and we moved our stuff into storage and stayed in an AirB&B while we scouted the rental listings. Another valid point about going car-free is that we downsized from a suburban house with a garage to an apartment. Not only did we eliminate that $700/month of car ownership, we also significantly cut our rent and utility expenses. We were able to painlessly escalate our retirement savings.
Going car-free is about more than just the money. It’s a straightforward fitness strategy. My hubby just turned 50, and I’m cruising through my forties, so we have to start taking our health and mobility more seriously. He rides the bus for most of his daily work commute, using his folding bicycle to get between bus stops. (That was strategic also, because standard bikes are not allowed inside his building, but he can carry the folded bike and store it in his office). I ride my bike to my gym, adding 20 miles a week to my fitness program. The initial cost of a bike is amortized when you weigh it against what you would have spent on a car, higher rent, a gym membership, or other fitness equipment that you might have bought.
Our overall lifestyle was constructed from the ground up. We have a status meeting every week, and we sat in a cafe and talked out our ideal life. That made it easier to imagine ourselves living in a one-bedroom apartment instead of a three-bedroom, two-bath suburban house with a two-car garage and a car payment. In one way, it was an extreme, radical move, but in another, it was really straightforward. We spent two weeks downsizing our stuff and relocating, and then we were done. My hubby sits on the bus and reads the news for half an hour instead of being tailgated by road-raged caffeine junkies. I ride my bike and get a free warmup before my martial arts classes. Our retirement accounts are filling more quickly than they ever have before.
The result of going car-free is that we’re both fitter and more relaxed, partly because our finances are in such great shape. Because we were willing to downsize into a tiny living space, we can afford to live at the beach. It’s fair to admit that we’re in a position to go to a car lot, take out a loan, and drive home with a new car any day of the year. Most changes are not permanent. We didn’t really risk anything by making a radical lifestyle decision. There was much more risk involved in spending a higher proportion of our income, with comparatively less in savings. We originally agreed to reevaluate after one year, and we already have. We’re in no hurry to ever own a car again. It’s fun and freeing and helps us feel like a team. Plus, we never have to set aside time to “clean out the garage.” Think about it. Maybe going car-free for a while would work for you, too.
You know you live in Southern California when you realize you don’t have any shirts with sleeves.
You know it’s autumn in SoCal when you have to wear socks.
We moved suddenly in March. Like every time, we went through all of our stuff while we were packing, because there’s no point in buying boxes to pack stuff we know we’ll never use again. Everything went either to Goodwill, a charity rummage sale, or our half-day yard sale. This included any and all clothes that didn’t fit, had problems like stains or holes, or that we just weren’t interested in wearing anymore.
The result of this clothing purge was that I moved with one long-sleeve button-down shirt, three long-sleeve t-shirts, three cardigans, and five sweaters.
The plan was to wait until the weather turned in autumn and then go out and buy whatever I needed. Changing regions tends to mean a change in microclimate. We moved in early spring, and we found that it was cloudier, cooler, windier, and more humid near the coast than it was in the hot, dry city we were leaving. I could have bought more cool-weather clothes then, but I wanted to feel like I understood what the weather would be like first.
Planning a wardrobe, as opposed to the entropy method, involves the experience of wearing the clothes. Not how cute they are, not what we had in mind when we bought them, not how much we wish they suited us. The experience of actually wearing clothes in the time dimension! HOW do they FEEL? HOW do they FIT? HOW do they LOOK? Today?
When am I going to wear this?
Where will I be?
Who will I be with?
What will the weather be like?
What will I wear with this thing?
One person will need to plan around a dress code at work. Another person will need to plan around bending, lifting, and carrying toddlers. Someone else will need to plan outfits that merge well between work and social events. Those points are for those people. My points are different.
My two big factors are:
I walk anywhere from 5-12 miles a day;
I have trouble regulating my body temperature.
Thus, I plan my outfits around comfortable, flat shoes and extra layers. I want to plan my outer garments and my footwear first, and then coordinate other clothes around that. In fall, my look is a boots-and-jacket look. In winter, it’s hat, scarf, coat, boots, sweater, thermal underwear.
(We don’t really have a winter where I live, but my family and my in-laws both get snow).
Let’s say that autumn lasts for three months. Before that, it’s too hot to wear long sleeves and long pants. After that, it’s too cold for shirts and blouses without an extra layer. My seasons are going to be sleeveless, long sleeve, and sweater seasons. I need clothes to wear for twelve weeks. What do I do with my time during those twelve weeks?
On weekends, I want something cute and casual for going out with my husband. We’ll probably go to the movies, get some burritos or falafel, and maybe hang out at the bookstore or go to the dog park. He’ll only notice if I wear something strange, so this “look cute” rule is for me. Do I need twelve separate outfits, so that every single weekend I’m wearing something totally different? Do I need thirty-six separate outfits, so I have something different for every single Friday, Saturday, and Sunday? *snort*
Excuse me while I fall about laughing.
I probably need four casual outfits. That means I have something different each weekend, and then if I start the cycle again, I’m wearing each outfit three times that season. Right? Four times three equals twelve? On the off chance that someone at the mall is stanning me, it’ll be a month before they see me wearing the same top. On the casual, lounge-around day of the weekend, it doesn’t matter what I wear. Isn’t that the entire point? Comfortable, familiar, low-maintenance.
What else do I do with my time?
I go to two meetings every week. They’re both Toastmasters meetings, one at my husband’s work and the other in our old city. I like to dress up a bit for these outings, something business casual. These are the types of outfits I also wear when I travel, go to a book signing, or most other social events. Basically 80% of my wardrobe is in the range of business casual. It has to be machine washable, go in the dryer, and not require ironing or the wearing of pantyhose. I buy my business casual stuff in a narrow range of colors; my pants, skirts, and sweaters are always in solids. (Black, navy, gray, white [not cream or beige], red, purple, and maybe hot pink). Bright colors and patterns are for casual or more transitory items, like sundresses, halter tops, and tank tops.
What about the other 20%? That consists of workout clothes, t-shirts, a couple of pairs of shorts, sundresses, and dresses that I only wear for special occasions. This is the opposite of many maximalist wardrobes, when people find it impossible to let go of special occasion clothes even though they never wear them. All my clients except for one have had at least fifty shirts! It’s totally okay to have only one go-to dress to wear to weddings or surprise invitations. If you really desperately need something you don’t own, first consider whether this is really your type of event. Second, just go out and buy something when the specific occasion comes up. Not the “what-if” occasion but the real-life actual occasion. That’s why I no longer own an interview suit.
Let’s say I need four business casual outfits. By ‘outfit,’ I really mean ‘top’ or ‘blouse,’ because nobody is going to remember whether I wore pants or a skirt and what color they were. I can wear the same range of stuff to both meetings, because their membership doesn’t overlap, and nobody but me will know what I wore to the other meeting. If I wear a different top each time, it will be a month before I cycle through again, and I can wear a different necklace or combination of garments if I like. With these four outfits, I can take off for a long weekend trip and have a full travel wardrobe.
Boy, was that a revelation and a surprise to me. All the pinboards I saw with travel capsule wardrobe layouts? They didn’t have to be for the trip. They could actually represent a person’s entire seasonal wardrobe!
One of the factors I consider when planning a wardrobe is how much laundry I have to do and how often. I’m never going to stop at four changes of clothes, because that would mean I had a laundry emergency every three days. That also means the clothes wear out faster, which means I’d have to shop more often, and that’s simply not happening. I am, though, going to stop at a certain limit. I don’t want a bulging closet, I don’t want to fret when I choose what to wear, I don’t want to haul suitcases that are heavier than necessary, and I don’t want to spend money on extra clothes that I could be spending on travel or upgrading my electronics.
Let’s just say I can add four casual tops and four business casual tops, which will probably last for the next three years, and keep what I still have from previous years. I have pants in black, navy, and gray. I have blue and black jeans. I have a black skirt and a navy blue skirt that I can wear with tights. I have several t-shirts that I can wear with a cardigan when I’m working at home. If I buy eight tops, and it isn’t enough, I can go out and buy a few more. After the first month I’ll have a sense of what I really need, rather than what I imagine or fear I might.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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