In Pursuit Of The Dream: What You Have To Do For A 2-Year Vacation

“What if I quit my job and traveled the world with you?”  Katie uttered those words to you over beers at the Beverage Place in Seattle on Memorial Day Weekend.

You peered at her suspiciously from across the table, cradling your beer like a hot hand of poker.  “Don’t play with me,” you said quietly.  “Don’t play with my emotions.”

“I’m not playing with you.  I’m serious.  What if I quit and traveled with you?”

Your chest tightened.  “Listen, I’m also serious.  I’d want nothing more in the world than for that to happen.  Don’t say something like that unless you mean it, because I’ll take that idea and run with it.  I’ll make it happen.”

You are, after all, an instigator.  A mover of ideas.

And she was serious.

You slowly stretched your torso until you were sitting upright in your chair, leaning slightly forward.  You gingerly pushed your glass to the side and placed your hands on the table as though you were about to deliver a travel sermon.

and they’re off!

The plan streamed out of you with acute precision.

First, she needed to know about the necessities.  The backpack, sleeping bag, boots, clothing, rain gear, odds and ends.  The lifestyle was not for everyone.

“Everything you need to survive you have to carry on your back; if you’re not willing to carry it, then leave it.  The bag gets heavy.  You need to think about what is essential.  But you also will have more than that.  You will need to have an item for every kind of occasion.  You’ll be camping, working, partying, maybe ending up at a holiday gathering or a wedding.  You never know.  You need to pack items that have at least three uses.  You’ll need gear for all seasons, all climates.

“Some of the time, we’ll be crashing at farms, staying in common areas, private rooms, or even shanties.  We’ll also be crashing strangers’ couches and flats.  And if we’re not doing either of those things, then we’ll be sleeping in a tent, usually off the side of the highway or on the outskirts of town, or out in the wilderness.The tent will be our home.  It’s the insurance policy.  No matter what happens, how fucked up our day might get, we know that we’ll have a warm, comfortable, dry place to sleep.

“We’ll hitch hike everywhere, with few exceptions.  Sometimes we can grab a cheap flight if the time it takes to hitch hike there would actually cost more than flying, but you can get anywhere hitch hiking.  Getting into a city is easy.  Getting out is harder.  I used to walk 10 miles to the outskirts of a city, but eventually learned to shell out the two euros for a tram to the edge, where you can find the highway and start thumbing.

“The only cost you’ll have to worry about covering, beyond an occasional museum entrance fee, will be for food.  We’d shop mostly at supermarkets, and save up for an occasional restaurant meal.  People share their food with you though, and you’ll get a lot of freebies.

“I’ve traveled around Western Europe on 10 euro a day, which was anywhere from 13-15 dollars a day.  But as I got better, I dropped it to 10 bucks a day, and then even lower in Eastern Europe.  Basically, you can eat and travel comfortably on 300 bucks a month.

“300 bucks a month, multiplied by 12 months, and you get $3,600 for the year.  But if you want to live more comfortably, you can round that up to four grand, or even five.”

You explained to Katie that the first time you left for Europe, you had $10,000 in the bank.  You thought you’d be gone for 5 months of so.  You were gone for 20.  And when you returned to the states, you still had over $5,000 remaining.

“And the second time I went, I left with $5,000.  I set aside one thousand for an emergency plane ticket home, and gave myself a budget of $4,000 for the entire year.  I had plenty of money left when I got to San Francisco.

“I’d say a reasonable savings goal would be $10,000, and you can plan to be abroad for two years.”

Katie had about $2,500 in her savings account, much of which she’d accumulated since knowing you.

You personally had $4,300 in your travel fund, already put away, just waiting for a green light for South America.  But since Katie was willing to travel, you’d be willing to go back to Europe a third time, as long as it meant the freedom to which you were so addicted.

After going over Katie’s monthly expenses–rent, phone, internet, gym membership, groceries, and toiletries, you determined that she could safely save a bare minimum of $1,000 a month.  She would also need to buy the gear, plan for moving expenses, pay for vaccinations, and budget a little extra “cushion” money for unforeseen costs that inevitably crop up in life.

Then there was the matter of Katie’s $30,000 of student loads… ahhh… yes.  As you previously wrote in “The Cost Of Your Sedentary Life Is Astronomically High:”

Have debt?  Call your creditor and ask to re-negotiate.  You may be able to suspend your payments.  Re-finance.   Find someone else to assume your debt.  Obtain a private loan.  The world economy is one of debt; it’s debt piled on debt piled on debt.  Shifting debt is normal.

That’s what she would have to do.  Use the ring of keys are her disposal, unlock her prison door, and simply step out.

You determined that it would take her at least eight months to reach her net goal of $10,000.  The set departure date would be February.  This sounded reasonable to Katie, as she felt apprehensive about quitting her job too early, feeling a duty to her abusive boss.  To you, February seemed like a very long way away to you; you’d been planning to leave in September.

But at least saving additional money for your own travel fund would be a piece of cake; you literally had the lowest cost of living of anyone you had ever met in San Francisco: $515 a month.

This included rent, food, phone, and your monthly Children International donation.  You had two jobs, but the income of one job went to your new company and couldn’t be touched, so  you would have to rely on the meager hourly wage from Gold’s, or find other ways to make money.

So the plan was hatched.  You talked obsessively about the trip–dreamed feverishly–and put your head to the grindstone.  You schemed ways to save as much money as possible, generate as much business as you could, and find the best deals and the most high-quality, practical gear you could obtain.

This included a trip to REI practically every weekend.  You made good on their gear sales, practically exploited their return policy, but ultimately gave that company a lot of your money.  Week by week, your pile of gear grew.

You also started eating some of your emergency stockpile of food, which you had obtained after a Costco trip in anticipation for some kind of collapse–societal, or environmental.  It’s always good to be prepared.

It was white rice, all the time.  And vegetables.  You realized that you weren’t spending very much on food.  You’d begun to spend the majority of time at Katie’s place, and hence had to pay to feed yourself more often, rather than eat the food from home.

Then Katie proposed an idea that would make your heart explode with love.

“How about we see how little we can spend on food for the month of July?”

Honestly, sometimes you wondered if she just said shit you wanted to hear.  But Katie is always serious.

And you love a challenge.

The rule was that when you did buy food, it had to be organic.  The other rule was that it had to be healthy, and you set the bar high.

Rice, vegetables, soup, stew, and oatmeal all the time.  And a chicken, cut into different bits, would stretch for two weeks.  When you weren’t eating those things, you were feasting at 4th of July BBQs, eating heartily at Zynga every time you lunched with Chris (who worked across the street from your gym), eating store samples, street samples, gym samples, and buying up marked down produce.

The grand total at the end of the month-long experiment… $80.  For both of you!

It was an experiment that did not carry into August.  That was fine.  Because you were in the home stretch.

Through the travel fever of June and July, you and Katie continually revised your plans.  Why wait until February?  First it was, “How about $10,000, or February.  Whatever comes first!”  And then it was, “Let’s get the hell out of here by the end of August.”

Katie was fed up with her job.  Loyalties be damned!

And with that, you saved even harder.

Katie: “I cancelled my World of Warcraft subscription.  I taught myself to like beans.  I picked up every piece of change I ever found.  I took every opportunity for a free meal.  Stole the leftover ends of toilet paper rolls.  Didn’t buy clothes, used the free gym samples of shampoo and conditioner, started epilating and stopped using razors…”

As for you… You canceled your mobile phone months early.  You decided to try and sell your ova. You started a cash business  You also finally stopped bartering for kettle bells, pots and pans, and weapons from an eccentric little Chinese guy named Steven and had him start paying you actual money.

About a thousand bucks worth of nice stuff you don’t need and would never bother to BUY for yourself in the first place. All of it in storage. *sigh*

You were already frugal.  Being more so wasn’t much of a challenge.  The majority of your time went to contemplation on how to manage your money.

You had to barter for a new computer for the trip, cover the costs of registration, maintenance, and insurance for a beater car that was generously gifted to you by Gabe.  You had to pick up extra vaccinations, renew your passport, and buy your plane ticket.

(San Diego to Dublin for $580.  You bought them well in advance.  You knew you’d never see another deal like that.)

As the money flooded in and the summer months beat on with their brilliant weather than made you wish you were already leather tramping, your departure date approached.

The best part: you were on schedule.  Little is more satisfying than setting yourself a goal and accomplishing it.

Katie, left to her own resources, not only tightened her belt and lowered her cost of living, but she cracked her knuckles and busted out her supplies–she painted up a storm, covering every square inch of canvas that happened to fall into her lap.  Her artwork sold like a fire sale, and her savings goal crept ever-nearer.

It was time to quit.  You silently wound down your business, stopped selling training, and arranged for a professional departure from two jobs that treated you very well.

In three months exactly, Team Katie & Maria netted over $16,000–after several thousand dollars of preparatory expenses.  

In total, you had $10,000 set aside for travel, $1,000 for an emergency plane ticket, and enough walking around money for 10 weeks before your November 13th departure date.  Apiece.

In the second week of September, you crammed everything the two of you possessed into the old 1997 Chevy Cavalier and plowed 13 hours up Interstate 5–en route from San Francisco to Seattle.

There was only one thing left for you to do: egg extraction.

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Categories: Budget Travel, Money, Planning, San Francisco, United States | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “In Pursuit Of The Dream: What You Have To Do For A 2-Year Vacation

  1. buffycurtin

    Can I make a cameo appearance in one of these stories?

  2. Angus

    just so you know there will be ribs ( for Jane ) and steak at mine, budget days are behind me!!!!

  3. Pingback: How To Sell Your Gametes: Part III (The Extraction) « Fred Mertz' Triumphant Return!

  4. Pingback: On New Year’s Resolutions « Fred Mertz Travels The World!

  5. Pingback: Katie, Sweet Katie: Parting Ways & Why Maria Goes To India Alone | Life Of Travel - A Memoir

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