White Sands (2013)

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#memoryMonday – sledding down something white but not cold

Almost 3 years ago, my friends and I road-tripped to New Mexico to explore Carlsbad Caverns, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and White Sands National Monument. As beautiful as the National Parks were, I enjoyed the time at the White Sands best. It was quite spectacular being surrounded by an all white desert. Plus, was the set for the music video of one of my favorite Boyz II Men songs – Water Runs Dry. Too bad my friends weren’t too keen on recreating it. 😀

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Mendoza, Argentina (2010)

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my name on the side of a mountain in Argentina

It’s unlikely one would accuse my husband of being a sappy romantic. But then there are moments when you find proof to the contrary. He spent several months down in Argentina after we met. During his travels, he wrote out my name with pebbles in the Andes mountains somewhere by Mendoza. I have yet to visit this beautiful country. But I smile when I think that my name was somewhere there. Hopefully one day I’ll get to see this place.

 

Debt-free Detour through Madrid

It was just under two years ago when my husband and I made the decision to move abroad to Madrid, Spain. If you were to hazard a guess as to why, most likely the answer would fall along the lines of having a serious case of wanderlust, being disillusioned with life in the U.S., or fulfilling a lifelong dream of moving to the country. But the reason wasn’t nearly as glamorous. In fact, it was more practicality than adventure that led us abroad for a short time. Most of my friends don’t even know this, but we left because it was the quickest way to pay off graduate school loans and reach our goal of being debt-free.

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Coming to that conclusion wasn’t easy. It required leaving behind certain things like a full-time job that I loved and getting rid of the majority of our belongings – including a condo, 2 cars, and a really good bed set. (Never underestimate the value of a really good bed set.) I left the comfort of a good community in a city where I knew my way around and could easily communicate with everyone. Instead, we chose a life where half the time I felt like an insecure 6-year-old attempting to speak a new language and make new friends. But, after weighing the options and adding up all the numbers, it made more sense to follow this “promotion” abroad than both of us working full-time and staying in the States.

You may be wondering, “How are you saving money moving to Europe?”. Most people think living in Europe would cost more than the U.S. And it’s not necessarily wrong if we were being transferred to a city like London where cost of living is indeed high! But a typical monthly expense in Madrid was even less than half of what we spend now that we’re back in the States, living in the shadow of the great (and pricey) New York City!  For example – one-bedroom apartment for two in a great neighborhood near the city center = 725€, treating a few friends to a couple of rounds of beer and wine = 20€, three-course lunch menu with drink of choice = 12€.

For all other things that weren’t quite as cheap, I either bought it when visiting the States or grit my teeth and do without. (The latter felt like a chore until I adapted more to the Madrid lifestyle.) There were times it was as if we were college students instead of seasoned professionals. We spent the least amount possible and on a selfish note, did very little traveling than I had hoped. There were also moments when I wasn’t so sure my ego could stand not having a full-time job and spending my days instead with social and volunteer projects. I couldn’t have made it though without my awesome partner who helped keep things in perspective and reminded me to focus on the greater goal instead of the temporary challenges and discomforts.

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In the end, it was all worth it. With less money being spent, most was squirreled away to the loans. After 1.5 years of chipping off at that gigantic iceberg, I am so happy to say that the day has finally arrived when I am completely debt-free again! The only downside is that we’ve since left that wonderfully affordable city, following yet another practicality, and are now trying to save money in a very expensive part of the U.S. Wish us luck!

P.S. I know everyone’s journey is different, depending on necessity as well as preference. I acknowledge how incredibly fortunate it was that mine happen to include a stint out of the country when others have given a far larger sacrifice. Where has your path to a debt-free life taken you?

 

Kaunolu, Lana’i (2005)

#memoryMonday – Offroading in the quiet little island of Lana’i.

This place was one of King Kamehameha’s fishing spots. On this particular day, I had no luck catching a single fish. But I have yet to replicate the unique experience of being  so remote a place that not a single soul could find you without knowing you were going there. I felt a strange kind of peacefulness, walking on the slippery rocks at the side of the cliffs  and standing at what felt like the edge of the world.

When Less is More

After being back in the U.S. for 2 months, I can finally say that I have a “home”. The lease was signed last month and I worked on turning it into a cozy abode. At the moment, this place, all 500 square feet of it, feels perfect.

Before coming here, my husband and I expected that a move near one of the most expensive cities in this country would be a challenge. We wanted to find a way to keep a lifestyle close to the one we had in Madrid. That meant the place had to be affordable, close to reliable public transportation and within walking distance to restaurants, groceries etc. It also meant keeping a simple, relaxed way of life by a city known for being the complete opposite.

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Many people may consider this rented space too small – the kind you get if there’s not enough money to spend for bigger or the kind you keep before you have kids. Not to mention, as a rental, this place seems far off from the ideal. After all, many people in the U.S. would consider owning as a checklist item for adulthood. However, our apartment in Madrid was all of 52 sq meters (560 sq feet) and the condo we owned in Austin was 516 sq feet. So, the only differences are that there is no separation for the bedroom and the nearest bakery is several blocks instead of 2 doors down.

After taking into account our life goals and personal tendencies to travel and move around, having this small place fits what we need. Here’s just a few personal reasons why less is more:

1) Less space to clean = more time for preferred pursuits
I know I’m not alone when I say that I do not enjoy cleaning (except washing dishes which I find weirdly relaxing). But it is a necessary evil. So the less time spent doing it, the better. It means there’s more time to go take a walk, read, binge-watch Netflix or catch up with a friend or two – anything but cleaning!

2) Less stuff to worry about = freedom to move around
After two transatlantic moves in two years, we’ve trimmed off most of the excess accumulated over time. Before the moves, plenty of clothes and household goods were donated to friends and charities. What we have left is more or less what we need/want. Plus, since the place is a rental, we don’t have to wait around for a buyer to take the place off our hands like the one in Austin. Though we have no set plans to leave in the next couple of years, it’s good to keep the possibilities open. Who knows when a great opportunity might come this way? If it does, we’re ready.

3) Less room for things = save money for traveling
While in Madrid, I barely went shopping. It’s not from lack of good stores. Quite the opposite. But there were better uses for my euros and the apartment had little space for unnecessary extras. With so many places to explore nearby, the money instead went into the travel budget. Now, I realize it’s hard to escape shopping in the U.S. It’s so easy with online shopping and credit cards accepted everywhere. That’s one of the biggest temptations I noticed when I returned. However, what will really make me happy, a brand new dress or a check in my “places to visit” list? Okay, that’s a hard one because I love dresses. But at the end of the day, it’s more fulfilling to be on a plane to a new place than put a new dress in the closet.

Overall, less keeps things simple. It’s one less thing to think about on the to-do list. One less room to furnish and clean. One less accessory to consider. One less toy to pay for. One less (insert item here) cluttering (insert already overstuffed part of life). The simpler you keep life, the more time you have for little pleasures. And that ideal is the best part of our old life in Madrid that we hope to hang on to no matter where we go.

out with the old (hat)

This new year has crept up too fast! I feel barely ready for it. The last time I had a good grasp on what was happening in 2015, my husband accepted a job offer in the U.S. From that point, we had one month to close out a life in Spain, find an apartment the month after and yet another month to set up a new home.

Whew! It is exhausting me again to think about what ensued to reach this point.

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Goodbye old neighborhood! (Madrid)

So here I am, back in the country where I grew up. Even more, I am back to the metropolitan area that closely resembles “home”. After over a year of life in Madrid – feeling like I’m on perpetual blind dates in search of new friends, having cafe con leche and vino on terrazas when I actually found amazing friends, kissing everyone on the cheek twice (even if I didn’t like them), maneuvering Spanish bureaucracy and other challenges and joys of being an expat – that chapter is closed (for the moment).

Now, a new challenge is in front of me. It’s no longer about integrating into a new culture and new country… at least not that much. I’m still having lunch at 2pm, dinner at 9:30pm and hanging out at “night” starting 6pm, sounds odd. But that aside… knowing that I’m back for a couple of years, there must be a way to merge wandering tendencies with finding peace and contentment back in my old haunts.

So, how can one look at an old place with new lenses? Guess that’s what I will find out. After all, wandering never really ends no matter where you live. There is always something to explore.

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Hello new neighborhood! (Jersey City)

Here’s looking forward to a 2016 full of new discoveries and friendships! Happy New Year!

What are you looking forward to this year?