People change: A proven strategy for saving money and traveling the world

La Laguna

My name is L.R. and I’m the founder of Blank Plate Boulder. In my 20s and 30s I lived paycheck to paycheck. I would have been bankrupt and homeless if it weren’t for my sister and mother. With their help and the reception of some sort of grace, I was able to turn things around and after a few years I had what might pass for a “normal” life. I waited tables, paid rent, bought a car.

I recently took off for some traveling and will be chronicling my walkabout here.

Feedback of any kind is welcome; comment below or email me: LR [at] blankplateboulder.com.

JLo, Steven Soderbergh, and an impressionable young mind

In a car trunk talking about Bonnie and Clyde
In a car trunk talking about Bonnie and Clyde

Spoiler alert. Sorry.

During the climax of the movie Out of Sight (for a time, one of my favorites), after having courted and consummated, FBI agent JLo foils a robbery by shooting George Clooney. I remember reading an interview with director Steven Soderbergh and he said that the motivation behind that unhappy ending was that in his experience people don’t change. In other words, once a criminal, always a criminal. Once a ______, always a ______.  For some reason I bought into Soderbergh’s philosophy; maybe I was resistant to changing my own self-destructive behaviors. But I’ve since realized…

People do change

We see it all around us. At the extreme there are hard core drug addicts and alcoholics who get clean and turn their lives around. Less extreme (and maybe more relatable) examples can be found at your local yoga studio or CrossFit gym. Talk to ten people and one or more of them will have had some sort of transformative life experience because of their new commitment to health and fitness. Or you can read heartfelt voluntary testimonials online in the comments sections of any article on Nerd Fitness or Mister Money Mustache.

It was because of Mister Money Mustache that I took a look at what gas cost me for a year of driving my sweet Subaru WRX wagon around the great state of Colorado. I took the numbers of miles I had driven, estimated gas cost (at the low end), and gas mileage (at the high end) for a conservative estimate. Turned out that I spent the equivalent of two weeks of take home pay to fuel my “sweet” ride.  Two weeks of working so I could drive around, and that amount didn’t include insurance or maintenance.

I made sure my bike was in good shape and convenient to use – fenders, rack, lights – and sold my car. I joined a carshare program, just in case. (Full disclosure: Since selling the car I found out that I’ve been blessed with people around me who are willing to sometimes loan me their vehicles. But if I needed to buy a car I’d be happy to do so, and it would get over 30 miles per gallon.) 

People’s interests change too; and Facebook is a bizarre thing

Sometime in the past few years I caught the travel bug through various lifestyle podcasts and blogs and I began imagining eating my way around Southeast Asia. Around the same time it was becoming clear to me that in my job as a restaurant server, my learning curve was too flat to continue for much longer. During this “what’s next” gestation period I came across a friend’s Facebook post. 

Even though it’s been around for over ten years, the constant stream of personal and general information on Facebook still strikes me as bizarre. Scroll scroll scroll pause; scroll pause scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll….  What are we hoping to find? That dopamine, man – addictive.

Anyway, six or eight or ten months ago – I could check, which is another disconcerting aspect of FB – a friend of mine posted an article on her timeline (“timeline”–bizarre) featuring a retreat center in Guatemala. With only a little research (i.e., a few clicks) I realized it was the right thing at the right time and an itinerary evolved naturally: Work, head to Guatemala for a retreat – beginner travel, sort of – cruise around for a few weeks, check in at home, then head to SE Asia to eat.

So I find myself in San Marcos La Laguna, the lagoon being part of Lake Atitlán, Guatemala. It’s beautiful here, as you can see in the photo up top.

“Well…how did I get here?”[1.Talking Heads anyone? My friend Danbro has a theory that it’s impossible to go a day in Boulder without hearing the Talking Heads. If you’re reading this in Boulder, consider this your daily dose. Or keep it going with this rad 80s video. Click this arrow to go back to where you were reading >]

It’s too early to tell what I’ll receive from my time in San Marcos — our Moon Course group of 25 seekers is on the third of 28 days of yoga, metaphysics, and meditation.

What I do know is that getting to this point has been one of the most satisfying, instructive periods of my life.

Once I made the decision to travel extensively, warming up with this retreat, my universe shifted. One of my favorite quotes:[2.I first came across this in the epigraph to Charlie Trotter’s first cookbook. Turns out that he, like many others, misattributed it to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Click this arrow to go back to where you were reading >]

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back– Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

Another quote, this one from Peter Drucker:

The proven strategy: “What gets measured gets managed.”

The measuring part. I set a savings goal, worked backwards from my intended departure date, and determined how much I needed to save each week. I set up an automatic transfer every Friday from my checking account to my savings account. My income was variable but the percentage taken out was usually half of my take home pay.  That set amount came out of my checking account automatically every Friday, no matter what — even if my paycheck was less than the savings amount (which is what happens when you’re a day laborer and you take time off). 

An aphorism from the personal finance realm is, “Pay yourself first,” the idea being that your priority – putting money in savings, paying off your debt, whatever – deserves more than the leftovers of what you don’t spend. This probably isn’t rocket science for most people reading this; for me, once I saw that it worked, it was new, empowering behavior. Every week I would log into my bank and look at the numbers, and week by week the number in my savings account grew substantially. It seemed unreal.

The managing part. Knowing I had a goal and knowing how much money I had in my checking account–aka my spending account–changed the way I spent my money. In particular, eating out became a painful experience that I avoided unless I really wanted to socialize with someone.

Because of my life history I used to think that I could never do anything like this–put into place a plan to save money and actually do it. But three weeks before my target date I was impatient and I pulled the trigger, transferring the remaining amount I needed from checking to savings. In six months I had paid myself $10,000.

Gearhead

The savings period was also the planning period and for me that didn’t mean overplanning my trip. The retreat as the cornerstone was a start, and having a roommate, Eva, who is a world traveler, was all I needed to flesh things out. I have a three week post-retreat outline, subject to change, with a flight out of Oaxaca on December 15th, home for holidays with mom (because I’m missing Thanksgiving) and a New Year’s Eve pop-up (which is gonna be awesome. For real.).

So my pre-trip planning focused instead on gear. Drawing primarily from the blogs of Spartan Traveler and Tynan, I downloaded a spreadsheet from the former, added, subtracted, cross-referenced, and took advantage of my Amazon Prime account, receiving packages almost daily. This is what I ended up with:

Quintessential gear shot
Quintessential gear shot
That's all of it
That’s all of it

Though I know there’s room for improvement, I received the ultimate compliment from one experienced traveler: “You’re traveling light mate.”

Reality sets in (in a good way)

As with the money adding up in my bank account, the travel part seemed unreal as well. The type of thing that other people do, not me. Even after booking flights and reserving a spot at the retreat, the experience I was headed for was so unknown that I couldn’t imagine it, much less that it would happen to me.

And then…it was Wednesday, October 21st, and I was on a 1:30am redeye out of DIA; a week later, I’m typing these words in a small cabin in Guatemala.

It is possible to change your behavior, and to change your life. Cheers!

 

Footnotes

  1. Talking Heads anyone? My friend Danbro has a theory that it’s impossible to go a day in Boulder without hearing the Talking Heads. If you’re reading this in Boulder, consider this your daily dose. Or keep it going with this rad 80s video. Click this arrow to go back to where you were reading >
  2. I first came across this in the epigraph to Charlie Trotter’s first cookbook. Turns out that he, like many others, misattributed it to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Click this arrow to go back to where you were reading >

Leave a reply:

Your email address will not be published.

Site Footer