Archive for the 'Living on the Cheap' Category

Yes, I Travel; No, I Don’t Have a Trust Fund: Budgetary Breakdown of a Working-Class Frequent Traveler

It’s happening again. I’m busily getting my life in order—writing post-dated rent checks and filing my taxes (before Feb 1!) and generally preparing my life at home to cruise on autopilot while I go travel—someone will eye me narrowly, a half-slit of suspicion, and ask, “So, how do you get to travel so much?”

Which is actually a question within a question—an implicit way of asking, “Where the hell do you get the money?” Which, given that I work as a waitress, is also to ask, “Who’s giving you the money to travel?”

They initially don’t believe me when I answer, “I save a lot.” Which is to say, “I budget like crazy.” Which is to say, “No one’s giving me money; every penny I have I earn.”

I’ve found myself breaking it down, taking it further, explaining my budgeting technique and demonstrating iPhone apps as Exhibit A in the No, I’m Not Secretly Rich defense trial. Which isn’t so much an effort to prove myself to other people (okay, maybe it’s a little that), but really to answer the question for myself. Because honestly, I don’t know how I afford it all either.

Through this recent round of explaining, I’ve begun to see more clearly that I’m a bit peculiar when it comes to money. I’m not sure where that comes from either. My family was pretty poor when I was growing up, and money was always a stressful issue, so it might grow out of that. Or it might just be who I am.

Either way, I’ve always been a budgeter. I’ve always kept meticulous track of my finances, my expenditures and income. I’ve never paid a bill late. I can always tell you exactly how much I have in my checking account. This is not normal. There weren’t any other 19-year-old punk kids who drew charts in their organizers with savings schedules and projected income based on the averaged income from the previous months. (Where there any other punk kids with organizers to begin with?)

So it’s not a new development, not solely a product of having a goal, something I love, to work towards and save for. Nor is this meticulous budgeting necessarily a product of not having anything but my own ability to work to fall back on. My background is purely working-class; there’s no trust funds, no investments or money market accounts, no heirlooms, no looming inheritances, nothing to pass along the generations but a propensity towards denial and socialism. My parents have done everything they can for me, given me everything they could give me, so it’s not like I’ve never had help. But I work for everything I have. Here’s how I do it.

Exhibit A: Realistic Budgeting

I live comfortably on $2,000 a month. This includes everything from necessities like rent and health insurance to indulgences like lattes and dinners out. It’s really important for me to work in modest indulgences, and to hold myself to them, to not try to “work harder, push more, save more.” Because it’s important for me to not feel like I’m constantly scrimping and saving for some future goal (and thus living in the future), but also allowing myself to enjoy today (and thus live in the present).

I long ago figured out how much I need to live comfortably and happily, to not feel like I’m depriving myself—a budgetary form of crash dieting. The number has slowly crept up the older I’ve gotten, because adult life is expensive; but my income has also crept up. Which brings us to…

Exhibit B: Knowing How Much I Earn

This sounds pretty basic, but when you work in a cash-based industry, it’s really easy to lose track—to wind up with a drawer full of twenties and no real idea how much you’re actually earning. A lot of people I’ve worked with over the years have no clue how much they make, and no idea where the hell the money all goes.

I currently take home between $2,500 and $3,000 a month. Which means I’m earning $500-1,000 more than my expenses. There’s a fuck of a lot you can do with that kind of money. Such as travel. And get tattooed.

Exhibit C: Treating Saving Like a Bill

I deposit money into my savings account on the 15th of every month. I treat it like another bill, instead of a if-I-have-money-leftover kind of thing. It’s pretty simple, and that’s all I have to say about it.

Exhibit D: Keeping Track of Everything I Spend

And I mean everything. I like to think of this more as “thorough” than “neurotic” (you say “potato”…). iPhone apps have made this infinitely easier, but I used to do it by hand, in my organizers, with crooked-line charts and bleeding ink.

Exhibit E: Maintaining a “Prudent Reserve”

In addition, or underneath, all my regular saving for travel, there’s a baseline I never dip beneath. I maintain a $2,000 “prudent reserve” for total emergencies—my car explodes, I break my leg and can’t work, etc. So even when I’m coming back from a trip, I’m never completely at zero. If disaster strikes, I’ll have enough to live on for at least a month.

The end result of all this is that I know where all my money is going, and exactly how much is coming in. There’s no murky intransparencies. I don’t have to stress out; I can be comfortable in the fact that there’ll be enough.

I realize this sounds like a lot—when I’m done explaining it all to someone, their eyes have invariable glazed over and they no longer doubt me when I say that I don’t have secret trust fund. They’ll shake their heads and say something to the effect of, “I could never…”

And I realize that this all sounds terribly tedious and like a lot of time and work. But for me, the energy I put into budgeting is far less than the emotional energy of worrying that there won’t be enough, that I won’t be okay. Budgeting for me allows for a kind of freedom—and not just the freedom to travel and do what I love. But that’s nice too.

Would You Like Travel With That?: Why Being a Waitress is a Killer Job for a Traveler

As I’m planning my California road trip, buying plane tickets to Hawaii and Texas, and feverishly saving for a three-month galavant through Southeast Asia, I’m sometimes asked a question about work. Someone that doesn’t know me that well will wistfully gasp, “Your job lets you take that much time off?”

It’s at times like those that I realize how good I’ve got it. As a waitress.

That’s right—a waitress. It’s an inglorious job that people outside of the restaurant industry tend to look down on. It doesn’t exactly scream “motivation,” and at its worst, it screams “uneducated” or “Hooters girls.” Sigh. But the more I dig into the travel writing world, the more I’ve come to appreciate my “day” job. And despite the lack of benefits and security, it couldn’t be a better gig for me right now.

I didn’t plan it this way. But I majored in Creative Writing, and it’s not like there’s full-time gigs writing poetry. I hosted and served (and managed a local swimming pool) to get through college. I left the country for the first time after graduation, fell in love with traveling, and decided to stick around restaurants, if for nothing else than the time off (and getting to sleep in).

I’ve never worked a 9-5, never worked in an office, and never felt stifled or constrained by my job. I forget about the corporate trap of 40+ hour work weeks, because I’ve never lived it. I come across blogs with lengthy “About” descriptions detailing the karate-chop someone gave to the confines of corporate life (“I quit a job with XYZ company, sold everything and took to the road”), and I think, “Huh. That’s a life experience I totally can’t relate to.” I’ve certainly felt claustrophobic and stuck in my own life, but never because of my work.

There are trade-offs for the freedoms that come along with being a waitress—big ones. I work holidays and weekends, have never had a paid day off in my life, and the idea of a retirement plan or dental insurance is for me as exotic a fantasy as, say, traveling around the world is for some. But I swap all these securities for the one thing I can’t live, or travel, without: the ability to pick up and leave, yes, but also to not feel trapped.

And while I sometimes stress about the fact that it’s been nearly 10 years since I graduated high school and I’m “still a waitress,” I can’t help but feel I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be right now. Here’s why:

Time Off

Earlier in my “career,” I nervously asked my manager for an additional 4 days off during a month when I was already out of town for 2 weeks. He laughed. “Of course you can have the time off. That’s why you’re a server and not working for an insurance company.”

The number one plus of restaurant work for a traveler is the ability to take time off. It’s just a part of the culture—and why the cliche of a struggling artist or musician working as a server is so prevalent. The idea of being constricted to 2-3 weeks of vacation a year—paid or otherwise—scares the crap out of me. No wonder people quit their jobs to travel the world.

Flexibility

Allowing for time off is rooted in a deeper aspect of restaurant culture: flexibility. At most places it’s totally acceptable to switch shifts and in-times in order to accommodate whatever else is going on your life. Which is great for me now.

Short Hours

Shifts in most restaurants aren’t the grueling 8+ hour affairs they are in offices. My shifts currently average 5-6 hours, and are sometimes as short as 3 hours. This means that, even on days I work, I have time to write, and take care of all the tedious tasks/errands that come with being alive.

Internationalism

Because restaurant work is tough and doesn’t require traditional education, it’s chock full of immigrants. Mexicans and Central Americans fill the restaurants of California—which means you’re constantly immersed in Spanish. It’s impossible not to pick up a little Spanish in California restaurants. I’ve given myself pre-trip crash courses when I declare that no one should speak to me in English (this doesn’t really go as well as planned). As of late, I’ve been pretty lazy on the language tip; even still, I hear Spanish all the time and understand a fair amount (“Oh, Lorena, tienes un novio?”). I’m even picking up some random Mayan words (“pibil” means “baked”).

Being Active and Talking to People

Last year, I interned for several months at a rad travel website. Everyone was super nice and I enjoyed all the writing work I was doing, but the work environment felt totally alien: everyone sitting at desk, quietly clicking away on their keyboards. I was not used to the quiet, the immobility, the comfort and niceness of it all.

Restaurant work is visceral, and I like that. I tromp up and down stairs for hours, carrying trays of drinks and stacks of plates up my arms. I sweat. I spill salsas and half-eaten food down my apron. I sometimes have to pee for an hour, but am too busy to go. On a busy night, I’ll wait on over 100 people—interacting, reading them, talking and joking, making sure they have a good time. It’s intense and draining and I kind of love it.

But before you swap that comfy gig at the stifling job you say you hate, check out the other side of the scale: the restaurant work bummers.

When waitressing sucks your soul out...

No benefits

And I don’t just mean health benefits. These days, most restaurants in the Bay Area offer some kind of health insurance (albeit chintzy and hard to qualify for). What I mean are all the other “kushy” benefits (benefits that are automatics for all workers in some other countries—but that’s another post…).

I can take all the time I want off, but none of it is paid. That extends to paid holidays and sick days. If you’ve got the flu, tough. Maybe your landlord will accept a doctor’s note. Even those legally required 10 minute breaks are the stuff of waitress fantasy. Maybe someday we’ll unionize. Until then, we pop DayQuil and work sick.

No security

It’s not just the lack of unions; the lack of security in the restaurant world again goes down to the very nature of the job. When times are hard, as they are now, one of the first things people cut is eating out. Or worse, tipping. And there’s no safety net under the waitressing tightrope.

In most restaurants, you earn minimum wage (in some states, they can pay you under minimum wage; I knew a server in NYC who made $3.12 an hour!), which is usually just enough to cover taxes. So essentially all the money you’re making is from tips. If you have a slow night, get a string of 10% tippers, or, oh say, the economy totally falls into the shitter, you’re quickly screwed. There’s no guaranteed income to fall back on. By the same token, though, you can make insane amounts of money when times are good. But if you don’t know how to budget, it can devolve into a feast-or-famine lifestyle.

Hard on the body

The restaurant industry is great when you’re young and energetic and can’t stand the thought of sitting in a chair all day. But it’s not an industry to grow old in. Long hours on your feet, carrying trays and plates, seriously wears you down. By 23, I already had chronic lower back pain and an interstate roadmap of varicose veins criss-crossing my legs.

But these are the markings of someone who works for a living, like the calluses of my dad’s hands, the unwashable black under my brother’s nails: work you wear, that wears you. Whether I planned it this way or not, waitressing as become a part of me. And until I scramble my way to the top of travel writing heap (wink, wink), it’s not a bad way to earn my rent, fund my travels—and get the hell out of town.

It Itches!: Feeling the Burn of Wanderlust

Itchy itchy...

“I’ve been home for nearly 4 months. My feet are so itchy, it feels like I got athlete’s foot.”

Okay, it was a bad joke. But that’s what Twitter’s for, right?

It’s not that I’m counting the days (not really). It’s not that I’m unhappy in my life at home or looking for escape. It’s just that I have this “incurable wanderlust” (what @cultoftravel speculated was worse than swine flu), and the more I read about travel, write about travel, tweet about travel, and am generally immersed in a virtual sea of travel, the worse it gets. I don’t have any problem going to a bar and not drinking, but reading travel blogs and knowing I won’t be doing any serious adventuring for a few more months—well, that’s tough. Ever since my first trip, I’ve gotten antsy when I’ve stayed at home too long. This whole travel writing business is adding a little more heat to the ring of fire.

I may be chomping at the bit, but it’s all good stuff that’s keeping me home. I have a niece on the way, my dad is retiring, and I have four friends getting married in the early half of the summer. All totally happy, exciting things that I’m grateful to be a part of. Plus it gives me a chance to save up for my next long trip, a three-monther around Southeast Asia.

In the mean time, I’m plotting a little solo California roadtrip for next month. Partly to visit an old friend, partly to see the swallows of San Juan Capistrano. Partly because I haven’t driven down Highway 1 since I was a kid, and partly because I’m curious what kind of conversations you get into with yourself after days of driving solo. Partly to debunk my own stereotypes of Southern California as a cultural wasteland of SUVs, strip malls and Kardashians, and partly to practice toting my laptop on the road with me. But, honestly, the trip is largely a keep-me-sane tide-me-over until the funds and circumstances—aka The Travel Gods—see fit to unleash me on the world again.

So as my feet are itching, my fingers twitching and my plans to high-tail it down the highway taking shape, I uncovered an old poem about restlessness, impulsivity and the physical road that hit the spot.

MacArthur Maze

Let’s drive this thing

into the blood burning sky.

/

Let’s take this road

potholed and hissing

past the pitched roofs

and pigeon wings,

past electrical wires

and blown-out streetlamps,

brown hills

where the grass cackles

and waits

to be lit.

/

Let’s curve

into the black, under

the overpass, past

the vacated bodies,

curled in and sighing—

/

Let’s take this thing

where it leads,

if it leads,

or stampedes

/

us into a sunburnt sky

the color of our own

sunburnt skin.

Now get me on the road!

Where Do Dirtbags Go for Valentine’s?

One of Aly's photos from the Burlington Hotel

It happened like this:

Making the rounds last Friday at the Art Murmur, I came across the photos of a friend of mine, Aly Su Borst. They were pretty bad-ass: a series of self-portraits set in some run-down opulence that got my spooky/awesome sensors spiked. I took some photos on my phone. At home the next day, I showed my roommate, “Hey, Luke, check out Aly’s photos.”

“Oh, rad, Port Costa.”

“Where’s that?”

That’s how I found out about the overnight destination all the local dirtbags have apparently been partying it up in for decades. And like most things, I’ve found out just in the nick of time: the reputedly haunted, ramshackle old bordello/hotel that serves as the heart of the 250-person town of Port Costa (that despite being 30 miles from my house, I’d never heard of) has plans to spiffy itself up, and recently received coverage by the San Francisco Chronicle. I knew no time could be wasted—I booked a room for this Saturday night. It’ll be a Valentine’s weekend overnight the way I like it: full of bats, bedbugs, dive bar denizens and rock n roll.

The Chronicle‘s article made the Burlington Hotel sound like the very definition of “hidden gem”—not in the Tuscan villa sense of the word, but in the gritty, visceral sense—which is to say, the sense I dig the most. Whether it was in fact an old whorehouse, and whether it is indeed haunted by the ghosts of prostitutes and shipyard workers, one thing seems for sure: the Burlington Hotel is a relic of the Old West California, the one Jack Black captured in the book You Can’t Win—the one that’s all but gone amid the Botox and SUVs of Southern California, and the Blue Priuses and Tibetan prayer flags of Northern California. Which is why I want in.

It won’t be a relaxing, rejuvenating or romantic getaway. Its Yelp reviews reveal as much: “dirty,” “bad-ass,” “like a horror movie,” “whore-tel.” One person laments that it’s no longer the all-night rager spot it had been in previous years (frequented by the likes of none other than the East Bay Rats—nuff said). A raucous bar next door constitutes much of the clientele, including “bikers, transients, nazi crack addicts, and drifters. maybe tourists are in there somewhere, too.” (Really, there’s some effing gems on the Yelp page, read through that shit.)

Already pretty convinced, I came home from work the next night and found Liz and Melissa on the couch. “You guys ever heard of the Burlington Hotel?” They turned their heads slowly towards me. “Oh. Dude.”

They swapped debaucherous stories from their hard-partying youth—Liz being haunted in Room K, Melissa’s heshen friends getting permanently 86-ed (which apparently is saying a whole lot). “Make sure,” Liz advised, “that you bring your own sheets. Bedbug city, yo.”

I called to make a reservation, which wasn’t quite as difficult as the Chronicle article made it out to be. After a long succession of rings, someone picked up; muffled and scratchy, he told me they weren’t quite open yet, but to call back in a half-hour, and they’d be ready to “rock n roll.” I did, and they were. Butt rock blared in the background. All the rooms I’d been advised were the best were, of course, full, but I did get in on the “special” (Valentine’s Day special? probably not): the room and 2 surf-and-turf dinners for $99 total. Now that’s my kind of overnight.

Ridiculous photo from the Smokey's Tangle V-Day Photo Booth, February's Art Murmur

So sadly, since the Chronicle recently did a piece on the hotel, I’m gonna have to dig a little deeper to a) out-do their article, and b) find the right publication for it. The good news is that my partner in crime is bringing along his fancy camera, so the photos, well, they’re going to kill. Hopefully not literally.

Elephant Seals, Artichoke Bread and a Lighthouse: Cheap Kicks on the California Coast

The wind had something to say. Howling, moaning, rattling through the fog-swelled rafters, it talked to us all night. The next morning, it fingered our hair, pinkened our noses, and carried the cries of birth and battles, sea gulls and elephant seals…

I think I’ll start the article something like that, depending on how highfalutin I wanna get. It’s not as ridiculous as it sounds; the drama of the California coast during a winter storm evokes that kind of mulling, moody language. The main character, if you will, of my mini-trip down the San Francisco peninsula was the wind, urgent and unrelenting. But the supporting cast was pretty rad too.

I’m trying not to get too claustrophobic in my own life, and trying to keep the travel writing material a’coming. So despite a heavy-duty week-long storm, my friend Liz and I hopped into my beat-up little car and headed out for a little Northern California overnighting action in Pescadero.

Aside from being super accessible from the inner Bay Area, a trip down to Pescadero is also one of cheapest getaways around. We hiked around redwoods, espied an elephant seal colony, ate “world famous” artichoke bread and local goat milk cheese, and lazed in a cliffside hot tub—all for under $90 each.

Pescadero is an old-school fishing town down the peninsula between San Francisco and Santa Cruz. Aside from some seriously killer breads from Arcangeli Grocery, its main claims to fame are its surroundings: the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel, and Ano Nuevo State Park. Pigeon Point is a pretty basic hostel—except for its dramatic perch literally on the edge of the continent, its historic lighthouse, and its cliffside hot tub (yes, really). Ano Nuevo is a sandy stretch of shoreline best known as the winter home of migrating elephant seals, where they birth and wean and fuss and fight.

"Look, nature!"

The drive from Oakland was about an hour long, Highway 92 delving us down the spine of the peninsula into Half Moon Bay, a quintessentially quirky Northern California beach town. Then we headed down the 1, California’s most famously beautiful highway. It winds you past pastoral fields, green hills, a sprinkling of cove beaches and family farms, and a crashing, crumbling coastline. Everything was grey and heavy and wet. It was perfect Lucero-listening weather.

Huddled on a cliff next to an run-down, chained-off old lighthouse, Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel smells like salt, and the ocean winds rattle the humble buildings endlessly. The hostel is divided into three houses, each with its own kitchen and common room. There was only one other couple in the house, fellow overnighters from the East Bay. It was $25 for a dorm bunk; we had a whole room to ourselves.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse

The main draw of the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel isn’t the ocean views or its precipitous perch; it’s the hot tub. I don’t know how a youth hostel came to have a feature like a hot tub, but it’s about the raddest thing you can imagine. A trip to the hot tub cost $7 per person; you sign up for a half-hour slot when you check-in.

We stumbled in the dark to the hot tub, shuffling in our sneakers and shivering in our towels. We kicked it in the hot tub, listening to the sound of wind and waves. It was a dark, cloudy night; there were no stars, just the white froth of water on rocks, and the lonesome beam of the lighthouse.

The next morning, we drove 10 minutes down to Ano Nuevo. Celebrities may have Miami; elephant seals winter in Ano Nuevo. They arrive from Alaska in mid-December; moms birth pups, wean them, and they hang around confused and blubberous until about late March. Mid-January is the best time to check out the seals; on our tour, we saw a birth, a fight, plenty of sulking and lots of squealing.

Hella seals

The seal tour is pretty popular, especially as a field trip for Bay Area schools. You have to take a guided tour, and it’s best to book ahead, but here’s the good news: the tour is an hour and a half long, and only $7. (Parking in the lot, though, costs a $10; there’s not any other viable parking around.)

Our naturalist docent guide was a cool old dude that solidified my opinion that being a park volunteer after you retire is about the most bad-ass thing you can do with your time. Our group of 13 people, mostly all Californians on day trips, headed out into the sand dunes, a mile traipse from the parking lot.

First we passed “Losers’ Alley,” where male seals that have lost the fight for prestige pout and sulk in solitude for the remainder of the season. We got pretty close to one; he arched his back up, his nose/trunk hanging like an absurd, uncircumcised phallus. A guttural, grunting nose erupted, bursting out of his mouth in a gust of white breath; it sounded like a stopped-up toilet. It was his get-the-hell-back cry, and we obliged.

We climbed up a dune that overlooked the colony, and spent about an hour watching them flop around in the sand, squealing and moaning and rumbling their enormous selves around. The pups were adorable, too fat to do much of anything but wiggle their fins around and cry for milk. The moms flipped sand over their backs, rolled over to let pups nurse, and grumbled. The men did what men do: fight.

Bashing chests...

We caught a pretty good fight, full of plenty of screaming, biting and butting. It broke out amid the crowd, dominoed its way through the colony, pups wiggling to get out of the way; it rumbled all the way down to the shore, where the loser got 86ed. “It’s just like a bar fight,” Liz surmised.

Going mad for the placenta

We also got to see a birth. Well, not really. It was too far away to see, but we were alerted by the swooping, squawking riot of sea gulls. Sea gulls, apparently, love to eat placenta, so you can always tell when a birth is going down when the gulls start going crazy, a frenzy of white wings and diving beaks.

Muddy and wind-tossed, we tramped back to the car, cranked up the heat, and headed home. It was invigorating to get out of town, even if it was just for a night. Aside from gathering info for an article (not yet sold, if there’s any takers out there), I needed to clear my mind. It’s so easy to get tunnel-vision, to get caught up in the everydayness of my own life. It’s a good life, but there should be more to it than errands and work and my computer. I really am happiest when I’m traveling, and my mini-trip confirmed that. And reminded me how much killer stuff there is within an hour of where I live. And that it doesn’t need to cost any more than a new pair of pants.

Trudging the Road to Travel Writer-dom: Struggles, Successes and a Couple Happy Dances

DSCN3924

The ole ball and chain

It’s been an exciting, exhausting week in my journey (bad pun alert) to become a travel writer.

It’s pretty counterintuitive when you think about it—trying to become a travel writer. As Tim Cahill said, travel writing is a forgiving genre, “because as soon as you step out the front door it’s travel writing.” By the same token, the moment your fingers start scribbling or typing, you’re writing. So, bingo-bango—I’m a travel writer.

But when it comes to the more pressing business of business, of embarking upon building a profession around overlapping passions, in an industry so tumultuous seasoned experts are scrabbling to make due—well, that’s another story. I’d like to say I’m writing that story, but I suspect that this is a story that’s writing me.

First with the successes. They say bad things come in threes, but I’m convinced good things do too. The travel-writing stork delivered three little bundles of joy to my laptop this week.

My run of good luck started on Tuesday, when a StumbleUpon link to my blog generated 346 pages views, making the day’s total 494. My previous record had been 97, so, yeah, I was a little stoked. I knew it would only be downhill after that (indeed, the downward slope in the line graph is a little sad), and the busted link-back kept the original Stumbler a shadow-shrouded enigma. But I was tickled nonetheless. There may or may not have been a happy dance involved.

Wednesday I discovered that a local TV station’s website had published an excerpt from my Dia de los Muertos post, along with a link to my blog. This is the closest I’ve come to being on TV. (Happy dance #2)

Thursday, the editor from the new female-oriented travel site Girl’s Getaway contacted me to see if I’d be interested in writing for them. Um, yes. While I brainstorm ideas of girlie stuff to do around the Bay, my post on getting hassled and humiliated in Marrakesh will be appear on their site (guess my grand entrance will be on the bummer-ish side). I’m now listed on their writers page, which evoked more of a happy giggle than a dance. My feet hurt—it’d been a long night at work.

Which brings me to the “struggles” side of things. I don’t mind the long hours at the computer, and taking my laptop over to the cafe and eating cake while I work may or may not be the highlight of my day. But that’s also indicative of the adventure level of my life right now. Which, even if you don’t want to be a travel writer, is pretty lame.

Here’s the scenario: this week, I wrote the post on Dia de los Muertos; worked on a sizable, ongoing freelance project from NileGuide (fun with regional descriptions); continued reading the Pico Iyer book I’m deep into; spent hours online reading and commenting other people’s blogs; wrote an article on Caracas—and worked full-time. This means that pretty much every minute I wasn’t at my actual job (the one where I make enough to support myself), I was at the computer, doing what I love. Now, I love writing, but this scenario doesn’t leave a lot of time for friends, for going out, for doing the kinds of things that generate compelling writing in the first place. If great writing is the end product of great living, this ain’t cutting it.

Something’s gotta give, and I don’t think it’s gonna be the writing. I’ve been grappling with financial insecurity this week, on working up the nerve to release my grip and leap into the unknown.

I face, of course, the American Dilemma. No, not Gunnar Myrdal’s—I mean health insurance. If I cut my hours at work, I lose my health insurance. I can stay on the company’s plan and pay out of pocket for up to 18 months, but the last time I did that, it cost me nearly as much as my rent. But wait—if I cut my hours at work, how will I afford another monthly bill? Ah well, who needs thyroid medication anyway? Oh wait—me.

So I’m working (in addition to working) on letting go of my comforts, and getting comfortable with the idea of less security. Or no security. Careers that offer security don’t appeal to me—thus the debauched grant writing stint. Sometimes, a lot of times, I wish they did. But we don’t get to pick what we love, now do we?

I read an excellent interview with writer and fresh lady (and perhaps role model) Daisann McLane, in which she talks about how scary a life without security can be, the life of a travel writer. But, she says, “when you travel to so many different places, and you see how people live outside of your little bubble, you realize how ridiculous the very idea of security is, from a global perspective” (Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing, p. 140).

Well, amen, sister. But now I’ve got some margaritas to sell… do you take salt?


Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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