Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Feeling Like A Local Abroad

I was born with insatiable wanderlust.  From a very young age, all I wanted to do was see everywhere.  Over the course of my life, I've been very fortunate to be able to see other places & experience other cultures.  While I still have a bucket list a mile long, my preferred mode of travel has moved from seeing as much as possible within a short window to leisurely inserting myself into local life.  The more people with whom I speak, the more I hear that people prefer this kind of travel as well.  If that's what you're looking for too, then, here are a few tips to experience a destination like a local:

1. AirBNB or other rental
In my opinion, there's nothing that makes me feel "on the road" more than the lack of private cooking facilities.  For as much as I love to eat out, at some point, my stomach and my wallet wave a white flag.  Eating a homemade meal on the couch while watching local tv or a movie can be very grounding, especially if you're in a completely different environment. 

Aside from the ability to self cater, renting a place means you're more likely to be in a neighborhood vs. a tourist or business area.  So, you'll have easy access to shops & services that locals need & use.

Advice: Make sure your rental has multiple, varied reviews over a span of time.  This indicates a legitimate property.

2. Shopping: Supermarkets & Pharmacies/Chemists
If you want a snapshot of where a place is at, check the supermarket and pharmacies.  Supermarkets will be showcasing the latest trendy foods while simultaneously tipping their hat to the latest wave of immigration.  Pharmacies can give you all kinds of clues to the general state of things.  Big end cap with allergy pills, tissues, & eye drops? Something ferocious is about to bloom! More contraceptives than baby items? Definitely a younger neighborhood so there's probably some good restaurants nearby. Etc., Etc., Etc..

Beyond the inferred social commentary of stocked products, supermarkets and pharmacies provide the best kind of souvenirs: Experience Gifts! Have you ever used Labello chap stick?  You'll be hoarding it like quarters for laundry. Love fancy chocolate?  Supermarket level bars in Europe (especially Switzerland & Belgium) are higher quality, fresher, and an incredible value compared to anything you can get here.  Enjoy taking baths?  A box of 20 fizzing bath tablets in Japan will run you under $5.

Advice: Be open minded & buy anything small that catches your eye to try while you're there. You never know when you'll find your new favorite sweet or sunscreen.

3. Classes
The 2 classes I love to take when I am traveling are yoga and cooking.   Travel is wonderful and life changing but it can be really hard on your physical body & mental state.  Between the jet lag, congested spaces, new food, & different environment, your body can go out of balance pretty quickly.   I've found a couple of yoga classes can get me right back to where I need to be.  Luckily, most yoga studios offer an introductory pass and equipment rentals.  I've never regretted spending money on yoga - ever.

Cooking classes are amazing for 3 reasons:
1. You get to eat something delicious.
2. You get to hang out with fun people (usually - food & wine people tend to be pretty open).
3. You get recipes to take home & relive your experience over and over again.

Advice: Check Yelp, Swarm, or other social media for best local options.  Trip Advisor is great for resorts, hotels, and other attractions but cater more to visitors rather than locals.

If there are things that make you feel like a local abroad, I'm all ears in the comments below!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Happy, Happy Money

This morning, I saw a quote that basically said once you figure out money, everything in your life becomes easier.  Given that we live in capitalist society, I would agree with that.  Money is inert but it solves problems & generates a certain type of freedom.

Lately, there's been a lot of talk about student loan debt, for profit schools, and inability to ever retire.   When I started college, I had no clue about student debt and how that would end up dictating my career choices and lifestyle.  Long story short, I was pretty broke through my 20s but, eventually, became debt free. Although, trying to pay off Navient turned into an exercise of red tape, requiring assistance from Elizabeth Warren's office (another story, another time).  Anyway, because of my experience growing up in a working class family & navigating post school debt, I ended up with a volunteer gig doing financial literacy seminars for inner city, college bound students. 

As we're moving into a new season and a time of reinvention, I wanted to share some of the concepts that I share with my kids:

Practical Tips

1. Never spend more than you earn.

2. Always pay your credit cards off & any debt down.  Better yet, don't get into debt.

3. Read your contracts. Know your obligations and for how long you will have them.  Think about how these obligations will dictate future life choices - because they will.

4. Budget for all your expenses - not just the big ones.

5. Use contraception #momoneymoproblems

6.  Save for a rainy day.  There's nothing worse than having a crisis and no way to make it better. 

7. Keep an emergency $20 bill tucked in your wallet.  You never know when you'll be stuck somewhere where you can't pay with your phone or cards.

8. Always have skills that will enable you to support yourself & your lifestyle.  Never stop learning.

9. Insurance. Insurance. Insurance.  Health, dental, car, renters'.  If you're inclined to get other types of insurance, make sure you know what the policy covers & decide whether it meets your needs.  Pet insurance is a notorious one for never covering what you need.

10. Take care of your health & well being.  Eating out, smoking, etc. are expensive and often not great for you. 

Emotional Tips

1. Find what you love about your work and value that.  It's almost impossible to love your job all the time - and you won't.

2.  It's better to be broke in your 20s when all your other friends are & you have no pressing obligations or dependents.

3. Spend money on experiences, not stuff.

4.  Earning your own money is empowering and intellectually stimulating at any age.  Over the years, I've worked with various age groups but mostly retirees.  By their own admission, those who worked part time or had outside obligations felt healthier & happier.

At the end of my seminars, I always recommend the book Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending, where 2 Harvard researchers explain from a scientific standpoint how spending money in certain ways can make you happier & more fulfilled.  I recommend it for those starting fresh, starting over, or just looking for a new way to think about old concepts.

If you have any tried & true money tips, leave them in the comments as I share this blog with my kids.