LOCATION: Wicklow, IRELAND
Just one hour ago, you were standing at customs in the Dublin airport, firing answers as quickly as the guard could ask them.
Wintering in Ireland? Why would you want to do such a thing? Who do you know? Where are you staying? Oh, so you’ve been here before… this is your fourth winter in Ireland? What would you say your longest stay in Ireland has been?
It was your best guess, though that five months (technically!) was broken in half by a quick trip into Wales, England, and Scotland. But the guard didn’t like it.
“If this were America, I’d have to turn you away,” he said.
Your face remained neutral. “Please don’t do that. I’ve been flying all day.”
All night. All day. You had no idea what time it really was. The airport clock read 9:45pm. You’d left San Diego at that same time, the day before.
Despite the tourist visa transgression, which occurred in 2009, the customs guard let you in anyway–after a few more questions and identity confirmations.
Golly, this is tough!
At a previous security check in London, they wanted to know why you didn’t have a return ticket, how long you intended to stay in the country, how much money you had to finance your journey.
What fucking business is it of yours, anyway?
If you had told him you were traveling penniless, would you have been turned away? Would it matter?
“Sir, we’re both educated and fully employable. We’re not coming here to work. We just quit our jobs so that we won’t have to work!”
There is something positively eerie about flying lately…
Every time you leave the country, it gets harder and harder to get over the hurdles and entering the next one. This surprises you, considering your white skin, your American passport, and your gender. You should be among the least threatening immigration risks–(terrorism is an entirely separate issue).
While the English customs agent seemed satisfied with your answers, the Irish guard was not.
“Sounds like you’ve been traveling a lot. Have you ever been employed long term?” the Irish guard asked.
…EVER been employed long-term?
Zing! He nailed it!
Okay… no. You admit it. In your “adult life,” (life since college graduation in 2006) you have never been employed by the same company longer than eight months.
Granted, you spent the past year working in San Francisco, but not all for the same company.
You made it to 5 months with Crunch (and thought that surely you would make it past the milestone of 8 months) but a hyper-sensitive college chick changed everything.
Gold’s Gym/bodyFi added another 6 months.
So no, you’ve haven’t ever been employed long term. Such a thing would be a set-back to your lifestyle. But you didn’t expect the guard to understand.
In the past 4 years, you have spent precisely 14 months working for money–that is, earning a wage.
And the rest of the time, you were working for fun--as a way to pass time so you wouldn’t die from tedium of facebook stalking, gmail, and youtube.
Consider your plight:
The moment you start accepting money for your labor, you lose your enthusiasm for work (unless you are down to the threshold of your last few hundred bucks, in which case, money is very nice). It might be because your type of work–one which is akin to teaching–requires a close and more personal relationship with the people from whom you are accepting money. Given your tendency to like most people you meet, and to care about most of the people you work with, it becomes difficult to hustle people for their money when all you really want to do is help.
Hence, you prefer payment in favors and goods, more than money. Again, this is relevant only when you are above a certain threshold, which changes year to year, depending on savings, perceived need, and duration of current location.
In late-August of 2011, having arrive in San Francisco with 300 bucks to spend, you were feeling very eager to work (if only for a change of pace!). So eager, in fact, that when you received your first paycheck from Crunch–a mere 600 bucks for 80 hours at minimum wage–you leaped up and down like a five year old on Christmas day.
“Holy shit!” you exclaimed. “I can travel for like… three months on this much money!” And it only took you two weeks to earn it at 10 bucks an hour.
Your co-workers looked at you like you were crazy.
And when the paychecks grew to 800, t0 1,100, to 1,400, to 1,700… well, you felt yourself feeling bitter and entitled.
This, clearly, is a first-world problem. And a rare one, at that.
Who bitches about making money?
LOCATION: Normandy, France
Sure, at the time, it was nice to see such large sums of money coming in–each check growing larger than the last. You’d literally be high on prospects! High on ideas! High, considering the possibilities for future travel.
You dutifully paid you reduced rent, your astronomically high mobile phone bill, and your charitable contribution to Children International; you dutifully placed 20%-30% of your earnings into long-term savings; you dutifully doled yourself out some walking-around money; you dutifully allocated the same amount into your “friends/loved ones” pool, to make sure you shared your wealth with them…
…and then mischievously placed every last remaining cent into your travel fund!
The money piled up so fast, you weren’t sure whether you should spend more of it on yourself, or your friends.
But here’s the caveat: the amount of value you can squeeze out of your earnings is many times that of your peers.
You could not, for the life of you, engage in the same wasteful spending. You could not justify spending $15 on a taxi when you could walk the distance in 30 minutes, or bike it even faster!
You simply don’t know how anymore.
Think about it:
- $18 on a movie and some soybean-oil-soaked popcorn is nothing compared to $5 of wine, bread, and cheese on canals of Venice.
- A $5 cover plus $20 in drinks is fun; a runner’s high on top of a mountain is phenomenal.
- $70 for a concert ticket is cool, but a free summer music festival in Prague is better.
- $20 for a new DVD that will eventually collect dust on a shelf somewhere, or a pair of high quality wool hiking socks that will take your feet across countless miles?
You get the idea.
Yup, reconciling value can be tough, but as you are presently traveling with your lover, whose value assessments are nearly as fine-tuned as yours, you no longer wrestle with these feelings.
You are fully immersed.
But there remains one final consideration, brought to your attention by your current host, Sandy.
You’d been saying to her, “Yeah, working is hard. I like working–I just don’t like having a job, per se. I don’t need much money to do what I’m doing. Hell, even when I do have a job, I’m only working 4-6 hours per day. All this volunteering throughout Europe doesn’t make me want to work more that that.”
Sandy laughed. “That’s fine. Nothing wrong with that. My question is, though… if you’re not actually employed, then you’re not paying anything into Social Security. What will you do when you are older?”
For all the time you spend thinking about money, economics, budgeting, value, and so forth, this question stumped you.
Why is that important? you thought. Clearly, it must be. She seems adamant about it. She lives of her pension.
“Maria, you can have a retirement plan that isn’t the government,” Katie later reminded you.
Words of wisdom, from a 24-year-old.
For the record, here’s your retirement plan:
- Don’t have kids; the money it costs to raise a child to 18 years of age is much more than you’ll need to support yourself in retirement.
- Live below your means. This should be a lifestyle habit. Retirement costs are estimated on what normal people need to spend. You’ve never been normal.
- Invest in good health insurance when the time is right.
These matters need not concern you for decades to come. In the mean time, you’ll be doing all the things working people and retirees cannot.