Archive for the 'WTER' Category
I’m not going to wax poetic about turning 30, which I did on Thursday. I don’t have any sage words about passing into the third decade of my life. But I will say that the idea for this round-the-world trip germinated during a 30th birthday. It just wasn’t mine.
Maikael turned 30 last June, which was a bigger deal for me than it was for him. I remember lying in bed one morning sometime around his birthday, staring at the ceiling, when an absurdly simple thought shot across my mind like a rocket: the rest of my life is no longer ahead of me. Of course I knew this on an intellectual level — life starts ticking by from the moment we’re born. But until that moment in time I had always felt as if the world was full of limitless possibilities. While I had accomplished a fair amount during my 20s, I didn’t feel as if I had tackled any of the personal goals that I had set for myself a decade earlier. Indeed, the only thing I had truly wished to complete was to travel extensively and learn Spanish fluently. In nine years I hadn’t done much to nudge myself toward either of those goals. Now was the time to get busy living life.
Fast-forward 11 months. I am sitting in a very frou-frou chi-chi restaurant in Santa Fe, New Mexico, getting ready to order the first dinner of my 30s, which I am expecting to be sumptous. I request the lamb sirloin, garnished with favas, morels, sunchokes, and shallots, in a demiglace with French feta salata atop. The waiter asks me, “Would you like the mushrooms with that?” I assume he is referring to the morels. This is not insignificant. Admittedly, I am not the biggest mushroom fan (nor is my friend, Nikki, a vegan blogger who writes eloquently about her dislike of mushrooms). However, I have been trying to broaden my culinary horizons in preparation for this trip, so I respond, “Sure, why not.” Thirty minutes later I am delivered, alongside my entree, a steaming plate of crescent-shape fungi, dusted with fresh parsley. This is not an inconsequential amount of mushrooms. It is a plate-full, fit for a true fungi fanatic.
For a moment I consider digging into the mushrooms. Has there been some sort of a mistake? Did they extract the mushrooms from my entree and give them a place of honor on their own plate? But no; I see the morels nestled amongst the favas, their jaunty caps a stark contrast to their more pedestrian-looking cousins on the next plate over. I determine this is mushroom overkill, and realize that I have been upsold an additional side of mushrooms that I never intended to order. These mushrooms are coming at a great cost.
To appreciate my next move, you must know I dislike conflict with a passion. I will usually do anything to avoid rocking the boat, but I’ve made conscious strides in the last year to overcome this. Now was the time to test my mettle. “I’m not paying for these extra mushrooms,” I tell Maikael. I call the waiter over with an expectant eyebrow-raise. “I’m a little confused,” I say, in the sweetest voice I can muster. “I thought you were asking me if the existing mushrooms in the dish were okay, not if I wanted an entire side of mushrooms.” The waiter and I share a look. “It wasn’t clear to me.” Pause. “I would like to send these mushrooms back.” The waiter screws up his face, in a look I can only describe as whiny. He starts to say something and stops himself. “I’m sorry about the confusion. I’ll take care of that.”
This moment was, quite simply, exhilirating. The 29-year-old Elizabeth wouldn’t have sent the mushrooms back. Instead, she would have stewed about the mushrooms, talking incessantly about how she hates to be upsold, in effect ruining the meal. It suddenly dawned on me that the Elizabeth of Her 20s would never have been prepared to take a trip of this magnitude. The Elizabeth of Her 20s had some growing up to do.
I am further elated when the check comes. The waiter explains that he has comped the side of wild mushrooms. When he leaves, I lean across the table and ask Maikael, “What did the mushrooms cost?” “Fifteen dollars,” he says. My mind quickly calculates what I’ve just saved us in WTER terms! Nearly 1/3 of a plane ticket from Madrid to Lisbon! About 1/2 of a room in our Lisbon hostel!
My 30th year is bound to be memorable, inextricably linked with embarking on a round-the-world trip. The iPod I received for my birthday from my mother-in-law was engraved with “Round the World Trip 2008.” I got a lot of cool travel-related gifts: custom-designed business cards for our trip from a friend who’s a graphic designer. A metal spork (who knew they made these? – ingenious!). But there’s no better gift I could ask for than to start living out a long-held dream.
People keep asking me, “How does it feel to be 30?” I can honestly say that I never dreamed the chrystallizing moment of turning 30 would come in fungi form.1 comment
A recent news article on MSN caught my eye: “Stimulus Plans? Gadgets Worth Blowing Your $600 On.” The article, of course, was referring to the Economic Stimulus Act monies that Americans began receiving at the beginning of the month. As a married couple who filed our taxes electronically, we received our $1,200 check a few weeks ago…and promptly deposited said check in The Trip Fund.
You may recall me writing here last February that I was I feeling a little guilty about using our rebate check to stimulate foreign economies. To assauge my guilt, we decided to put that money to good use by using it as fodder for the blog. After reading that PC World is encouraging Americans to put their money towards such useful items as $1,200 Japanese toys, a space-age looking gadget called a “modular synthesizer,” and something that allows you to pretend to be a rock star (something I do in my head on a daily basis without the help of any electronic device, thank you very much!), any remaining tinge of guilt faded away. (Only two of the fifteen PC World employees suggested that they might use their money for non-electronic-related purchases, like paying down existing debt.)
As I am fond of telling my career counseling clients and students, values aren’t good or bad: they are simply a reflection of what’s important to us. My mission is not to tell anyone what they should and shouldn’t spend their money on. I have no doubt that there are readers out there who consider traveling around the world to be a foolish waste of money. But I know myself well enough to know that I value experiences over things. People frequently ask us, “How can you afford to take a trip like this?” It’s certainly not because we’re independently wealthy (despite my best efforts to win the New Mexico state lottery). Travel is simply the thing we value most, and where we choose to spend our money. The editors at PC World would be disappointed in our spending habits: we’ve never had the latest TV or cell phones, we own approximately 10 DVDs, and I’m just now joining the iPod age.
As we promised a few months ago, we will be begin reporting how we spend that $1,200 — peso for peso — when the trip commences. It’s a big job, but somebody’s got to do it. In the meantime, if you had to spend your Economic Stimulus Act monies on travel, where would you go? What would you do? Or, would you spend it on something else entirely?3 comments
Has anyone been watching Oprah’s Big Give on Sunday nights? I happened to catch the first episode a few weeks ago, and the show’s primary goal seems to be employing hairbrained schemes to raise money. The strangest part of the first episode was when one team organized a fashion show to raise money for a worthy cause: helping a medical student to pay back his student loans. When the models’ purses snapped open on the runway, waiting for the $1,000 bills to fly inside, I felt downright uncomfortable when not a single dollar was donated (but fear not: Jamie Foxx came through in the end with a $50,000 donation).
But it got me to thinking: what wacky ways could we employ to raise money for our trip? I think we’re off to a good start. Maikael sold his desk and I sold my old camera on Craig’s List (WTER value: more than half of one airline ticket from Albuquerque to London; two nights in a Tokyo hotel; half of one night in an over-water bungalow in Tahiti). Maikael entered us to win a round-the-world trip, which I quickly countered with a raffle to win 100 New Mexico Lottery tickets. I have considered selling my plasma, but if anyone has other creative ideas to prevent me from doing so, I’m all ears.3 comments
We decided to take a weekend off from trip planning. Until we finalize our itinerary and purchase our plane ticket (which we’re not quite ready to do) we’re at a bit of a standstill, so now seemed like the perfect time to take a breather. I knew exactly how I wanted to spend my Saturday: seeing Be Kind Rewind, the new Jack Black film, costarring Mos Def. It is a film I had been been looking forward to for months, and Ebert called it a “whimsical…amusing film,” which was exactly what I needed.
Let me begin by saying that I really wanted to love this film. But what I thought would be mindless fluff quickly devolved into mindnumbing boredom. The characters were quite possibly the stupidest grouping of humans that I have ever seen assembled on the silver screen. The plot was ridiculous, and not in a good way: there is the suspension of disbelief, and then there is just plain disbelief. I have only walked out of one movie in my life, and I really wanted to make this one my second. But it was my day off, and I was supposed to be having Fun. Not only that, but the film’s WTER stared me straight in the eyes. In researching visas on Friday afternoon, I discovered the $13 spent on tickets would nearly cover the cost of my Egyptian vistor visa (good for 30 days). How could a two-hour movie — especially a really bad one — ever equate to 720 hours in Egypt? The guilt was palpable. (I also learned, in the course of my research, that overstaying your visa in Indonesia could result in five years of imprisonment. And, while you are eligible for a stay upward of 90 days in Peru, the operative word is upward: the Peruvian official will make that determination when you make your way through immigration in Lima, based on unstated criteria, so good luck!)
I soldiered through the movie. After returning home and taking two aspirin, I determined that my lovely day off was ruined. So why not do our taxes?
More WTER moral conundrums abound. Today I called the totally awesome New Mexico Travel Health Clinic (who, incidentially, has the best billboard EVER) to figure out what vaccinations we would need to receive prior to departure. It turns out we need to start with the yellow fever vaccine, because some South American visas require proof of this particular vaccination. It also turns out that this vaccine costs $99 per person (certificate included!). My dilemma is this: can trip-related costs carry a WTER? Technically, a vaccination is a WTER. But it’s just not very much fun, and I can’t help but feel that only fun trip-related costs should receive a WTER . Then again, visas aren’t a lot of fun, either; although, visas lead to more fun things than vaccinations. Japanese encephilitis, anyone?No comments
I read an article on the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, and was disappointed to learn that we won’t get our estimated $1,200 check until mid-May. This means no bolstering our trip fund until we’re nearly ready to depart. But there is a silver lining to this seemingly dark cloud. Our friend, Pete, happened to read my post on the rewards we will reap from the Act. He had a brilliant plan: why don’t we track how we spend our stimulus act monies, and report it via our blog in WTER terms? So, beginning in July, get ready to be wowed and amazed by how we will stretch $1,200 over the course of eight months. Thanks for the idea, Pete!1 comment
I was pleased as punch when President Bush approved an economic stimulus act this week, for this will mean an additional $1,200 for Our Trip Fund. But I couldn’t help but observe the irony: the very money that is supposed to stimulate the U.S. economy will, in our household, be spent entirely in overseas markets. Ca-ching!
I can’t feel too bad, though, even if we haven’t really done our part to stimulate the economy in the past six months. Saving for this trip has been an exercise in ascetic self-control. It has meant cutting back and prioritizing in nearly every area of our lives. Items that were once referred to simply by their monetary value — “that Starbucks coffee is $5″ — have now been assigned a World Travel Equivalency Rate (WTER). A Starbucks coffee, therefore, is now referred to as “a night in an Indian hostel.” We’ve learned that you can boil just about anything down to its WTER and, because of this principle, one can’t help but be wracked with guilt when buying, well, just about anything.
The WTER principle was painfully illustrated to me last month. The universe, apparently testing my resolve, sent Anthropologie into my life shortly after we made the decision to travel around the world and save all of our discretionary income. I hate to shop, but Anthropologie is a store that makes my heart sing. Upon walking through the doors, I typically covet about 84% of its merchandise on any given shopping trip.
Last month was no exception. Hoping to snag some post-Christmas deals, the only thing I really wanted was a dress. It cost $138. I loved this dress. I wanted this dress. But all I could see was its WTER, staring me in the face: a full day of spa treatments in Bali. A week on the Milford Track. One-third of a tour up Machu Picchu. A bus ride from Montevideo to Sao Paulo and back (plus snacks along the way). Using the WTER metric, buying the dress just seemed frivolous. The budgeting chapter of our round-the-world travel guide contains a “Spendometer” chart. Basically, it tells you how far $1,000 will take you, depending on where you’re traveling. For $1,000 you can spend 15 days in Japan…or 71 days in India. I realize I’ve become a human Spendometer. I reluctantly put my New Zealand hiking trip back on the rack and headed out of the store and into the cold.4 comments