how i afford my wanderlust

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It’s not just my favorite bug, it’s the only one I like: the travel bug.

I’ve had a serious case of wanderlust as long as I can remember.  I’m not sure whether it’s innate or a product of how I was raised; perhaps it’s a combination of the two.

As a kid, I grew up in a family (particularly my dad and his parents) that valued travel.  From age 6 or so on, my grandparents took my older brother and I on a trip every summer.  We went to Texas a number of times, staying at a ranch and riding horses a few times a day through the gorgeous trails of hill country.  We went to Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown.  We went on cruises galore, including one to Alaska.  My parents and other grandparents also made travel a priority, renting beach houses, taking even more cruises (I believe I’ve been on 9 total now), etc.

Just as often as they told us about the importance of travel for expanding your horizons and growing culturally, my grandparents told me how important it was to manage your money wisely to be able to take such trips.

Why am I saying all this?

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of traveling.  I went to West Virginia and Virginia in February, Colorado in March and am going to Utah this month.  All of these trips involved air travel, which as we all know is not cheap.  I’ve gotten a lot of questions from friends asking, “How do you afford all that?”  I’m here to tell you!

I decided at the beginning of 2015 to really take control of my life: doing the things I want to do and not just dreaming about someday.  Someday can be today if you want it to be!  You just have to be strategic.

With this decision came a realization that I needed to plan my finances accordingly.  Every month, I have $300 automatically transferred to my general savings account.  I don’t really have a plan for this money; I just know that I’m not going to touch it if at all possible and am, in some vague way, planning for the future and the unknown.  I also have $150 transferred automatically each month into a travel savings account.

I chose these numbers rather arbitrarily and will soon up them.  The beauty of automatic transfers (mine are scheduled for the day after paydays) is that you don’t miss the money in your checking account once you get into the groove.  In the instances that I’ve had unforeseen expenses, I have elected to charge something to my credit card (nothing crazy, think $100) and then pay it off immediately after my next check.

Let’s look at the big picture: even if I did no other saving, I would have $1800 in my travel savings account after one year and $3600 in my general savings at that same time.  Pretty solid!  However, I try to beat that every month.  $20 here, $60 here…every last bit adds up!

Once I’ve reached about $500 in my travel savings account, I’ll start thinking about where I want to go.  This amount works for me because by the time the trip rolls around a month or two later, I’ve accumulated more spending money after using that initial amount on airfare.  This is obviously going to be different for everyone, but here’s why it works for me: I’m young.  I’m traveling mainly to places where I have friends (read: free accommodations).  I eat (mostly) cheaply.  I find cheap airfare, often flying discount airlines like Frontier or Spirit instead of the big names.

Another reason that this works for me is because right now, my focus is on short-term, mini-vacations.  I spend about four days on most of my trips.  I’ve found that for this stage of life (where I’m in a full-time job with limited paid time off), it makes more sense (and makes me happier) to take more frequent shorter trips than one longer trip.  But again – that’s just me!

Really, I want to emphasize that travel can be accessible to you.  Make it a priority in your budget (you’ll rarely find me buying drinks at Starbucks or purchasing the latest gadget).  I know that seeing as much of the world as possible is important to me, so I’m doing what I can while I’m still young and independent (I don’t even want to think about how much it costs to travel with children…).

If you have any questions or tips for me, I’m all ears.  Happy travels!

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take me home, country roads

Last month, I had a great time BLAST visiting my friends in West Virginia!  My friend Jordan and her husband Evan moved there last summer and I’ve been plotting a visit ever since.  We wanted to go when we would have a chance to ski, so I found myself there in the frigid month of February.

photo[22]I drove from Gainesville down to Orlando, FL to fly out.  I flew Allegiant Air (super cheap but still good service – I highly recommend) up to Roanoke, VA.  When I landed in Roanoke, it was a whopping 5° F…talk about a change for this Florida girl!  I was wearing a t-shirt, some running pants and a light fleece pullover…but I wasn’t cold!  I actually think the excitement of being up north in the snow pumped adrenaline through my body keeping me warm.

In Roanoke, I rented a car and drove (two hours, in the snow and ice, by myself in new-to-me states) to Bluefield, WV where my friends live.  I arrived and there was even MORE snow than I imagined.  It was everywhere!

Once I made it to their house (a feat in itself…I wound up parking in a church parking lot and hauling my stuff up a giant, icy hill because the car couldn’t make it into their driveway), Jordan informed me that we were going sledding!  I was psyched.  We ate some lunch, layered up and drove over to Bluefield College, the spot of the sledding hill we’d be conquering.

photo[11]Let’s just say, my first time sledding was far scarier than I would have guessed!  I had what can only be called uncontrollable speed and wound up with a lot of snow in my clothes, ears and even mouth.  I trekked it back up the hill and did it all over again until my hands were completely numb from the soaking wet gloves.  (Bear in mind, temps were still in the ‘teens.)

That night, we ate dinner in a gas station (because, West Virginia) and drove around to some of the surrounding coal towns for a tour.  It was such a beautiful natural landscape but some of the visible signs of poverty were absolutely shocking — formerly grand homes now falling to ruins, unoccupied houses looking like their owners had just stepped out, occupied houses looking like they ought to be abandoned…it was tough to see.

photo[3]On Saturday, we built a snowman (my first ever), had a snowball fight and watched entirely too many episodes of Friends.  We also went to an event called the Winter Warmer at Jordan and Evan’s favorite local bar/restaurant.  I’m pretty sure the entire under-30 Bluefield population was there…it was live music and lots of beer.  Tough to resist!  I even made a few local friends (which Evan would tease me about the rest of the night).  It snowed a LOT this day; I want to say it was at least 6-7 inches!  When you combine that with the foot of snow they’d gotten throughout the week, it truly felt like we were in a (dangerous driving conditions aside) winter wonderland.

photoThen on Sunday, we went skiing!  I hadn’t been since 2011 and wasn’t sure if I’d still be any good, but I was.  I skied all the way up to black diamond runs and I even did a few jumps in the terrain park.  It definitely wasn’t Colorado-level conditions, but it was cool to be skiing with my friends (and none of the snow was man-made).  We definitely exhausted ourselves skiing all day long, and went back to Bluefield around dinnertime.  At home, we ate dinner, played Monopoly (Evan was so ruthless) and watched more Friends; the perfect night!

photo[9]Monday meant my departure and let me just say, it came way too quickly.  I woke up at 5 am and Jordan and I had to dig my car out of massive quantities of snow and ice…like, it took 45 minutes.  Then I drove back to Roanoke where I boarded my plane for the Sunshine State.  I landed back in Florida later that afternoon where I immediately had to strip down to my t-shirt and enjoyed my drive back to Gainesville with the windows down.

m&m road trips: a recipe for success

As promised, here is part two of my road trip ramblings.  While our instances of bad luck typically outnumber our lucky ones, there have been a few neat things to happen to Maddie and me throughout our adventures.

John Stamos

1.  The time we met John Stamos: After seeing a tire catch on fire, we arrived at last in Magic Kingdom.  No more than five minutes after we stepped onto Main Street USA, I spotted Uncle Jesse aka John Stamos.  We approached him (he was dressed pretty incognito but I know my Full House stars) and let me just say, it was pretty odd!  He was alone.  In Disney.  Not getting recognized by anyone else.  We took a quick picture and he talked to us for a minute (he was actually very nice and friendly) and then we casually strolled out of his sight and into a nearby gift shop.  There, we squealed, happy danced and called our moms.  At that point we knew for sure that Disney was the place where dreams come true.

2.  The time we were in sweet treat heaven: During this same Disney day, Maddie and I had a second instance of good luck.  We were perusing the sweet shop on Main Street USA and talking to the workers inside (who appeared to be about our age).  We were lamenting about how tough it was to make a decision when the worker offered us a sample of a candy.  We remarked about its tastiness and then he offered us another treat.  Then, while we were eating that one, his coworker said that we just had to try this other goodie.  Twenty minutes later, our stomachs were full, our pockets were still full (we didn’t need to make a single purchase) and we had made the days of the boys working in the sweet shop.

3.  The time we got into Paula Deen’s restaurant (and shouldn’t have):  Pre-Paula’s racial drama, when she still had a cooking show and was wildly popular, The Lady and Sons restaurant was a hot-ticket place.  In fall of 2011, with no reservation, a wait list visible on the hostess’s stand and a group of at least 12 people, Maddie and I weren’t very confident we’d be enjoying Paula’s food that day.  However, after a healthy dose of charm from our friend Zach, the whole group was seated (in about five minutes) and was free to enjoy fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and all the other Southern deliciousness that place had to offer.

Apart from Maddie, I’ve had some pretty cool travel stories like meeting Fergie in Rome, seeing a Zac Efron movie get filmed in NYC, dancing the can-can on stage in Alaska and other random funnies.  I must say that while the positive experiences are enjoyable, the negative ones make much funnier and more popular stories.  I think I’ll be happy with a blend of both in my future trips (including one tomorrow to Atlanta)!