5 things I learned while I was 25

Today I turn 26. Here, I present some life truths I learned this past year. They are MY life truths, anyway; some may apply to you, too.

Thou shalt always wear a bra. You never know when you might have the urge to take a dip in a river.

Eyeshadow makes the best eyeliner. That’s for ease of applying, specific colours, and staying power.

Even old dogs can learn new tricks. Who knew my stance on pets would change so dramatically last year? A month hanging out with five dogs on a farm and I’m a goner. Or that I would embrace merino, overcoming my deep-seated aversion to wool. Seriously, merino is the most amazing fabric – despite all the pieces I’ve read (and written my fair share of) about various NZ companies doing amazing things with merino clothing.

I am probably always going to feel somewhat conflicted about my race. I never know quite how to feel when a shop assistant approaches me and greets me in Mandarin, or a random person (security guard/bus driver/passerby) chucks out a ‘Ni hao’, or an Asian person comes up to me on the street and starts asking me something in a language I don’t understand. Also, in a weird way I’ve finally come full circle; knowing Chinese would definitely be a boon at my job – though even if I’d been interested in learning it as a kid I don’t think I would have been very successful.

Aspiring to more is what defines me. I’ve been thinking about this (inspired by Natalie’s post) and decided that the one thing that best sums me up is I’m always looking to the future, thinking about what comes next and how to get there. And to that end, I’m also starting to think beyond my own little selfish bubble. With age, I’ve finally begun to truly understand how people become political. My top passions are still words, travel, and personal finance (and food might sneak in there too) but increasingly, urban issues are becoming a real priority for me. So much so I’m starting to wonder how I might be able to work in that space at some point down the line. I aspire to live in a world class city, and I feel like Auckland has made so many strides lately; we just have to start working on transport and housing. What we need are more sustainable choices – investing in transport beyond new roads, and bringing the standard of properties up to a basic humanitarian level.

Hitting the financial reset button

Comparing myself to others is always going to be something I struggle with. I’m old enough to realise that this is not a part of myself that’s going to change. And the best way to slay that demon is not to try and squash it, but kill it with reason.

Mostly, whenever I fall into the pit of comparison, I wind up feeling pretty depressed. Yes, we are mid 20s with no debt, but also no assets to speak of and little hope of escaping the hamster wheel of grim, mouldy rentals anytime soon. I can’t help but feel like we’re never really going to pick up pace.

When I think about the people our age I know who’ve managed to buy houses, they’ve all had advantages in one form or another. Most have had parental help – parents who paid some or all of their deposit, either using cash or equity in their own houses. Some have lived at home for years rent free. A couple have had cars bought for or given to them. Some have one partner in the relationship who earns significantly more.

For our situation to change, I think we need two things. One, steady and reasonably-paid employment on T’s part – considering his stints of unemployment add up to a couple years, plus a few more months’ worth of reduced and lost income from injuries on top of that, maybe it’s a wonder we aren’t even further behind. As this Billfold piece wisely observed last month, we really need to start accounting for unemployment in the current environment, and adjust financial advice accordingly.

Two, a steady and reliable car. Going the cheap secondhand route has not served us well. After so many years and a handful of different cars, we’re still exactly where we were on the car front as when we first started out – treading water with maintenance and repairs, with nothing really saved for a better and newer vehicle. Debt-averse as I am, I’m increasingly open to the idea of borrowing for a decent vehicle that we can drive into the ground (10 years at least?) so depreciation doesn’t matter. Vehicle financing options here are still kind of unappealing, but the other day I saw what might be the best offer I’d ever seen – something like 2 percent on new cars? – so things may be changing on that front. I’d much rather pay 2 percent on a new car than 10 percent on a used car that could have had any kind of history, and T’s experience from his stint in car sales should help us in the negotiation stage.

But for my own peace of mind, I think I need to scale back on my expectations. In some ways, this year has worked out better than I expected, but in many ways it also worked out much worse. The long term goal remains buying a house and escaping the terrible Auckland rental market for all the reasons I’ve covered on this blog before, like health, stability, pets, kids – but I’m going to refrain from setting a timeline or any hard measures, because I honestly don’t know what the next few years hold for us.

Guest post: To Shores New— Touring Europe By Sea

Europe is a pretty big place, with all kinds of different places to explore. Taking a cruise is often the best way to see it, even though flights are plentiful. Cruises are much more relaxing, much more convenient, and there’s so much food! In light of this, here are some of the best/coolest locations you can visit by sea.

Barcelona

The land of Gaudi and home of Europe’s hottest football club of the moment, Barcelona has personality in excess. From the magical La Sagrada Familia to Park Güell, there’s no shortage of cultural sights to see. The cruise port is a healthy walk away from La Rambla, a long boulevard with various stands along the way that sell flowers and all kinds of quirky trinkets. The city itself is one of the most walkable around, with a cheap and efficient tram system thrown in.

Flickr user austinevan 

Istanbul

Istanbul is an eclectic mix of the old and new. There’s the Byzantine- and Ottoman- influenced architecture, mixed in with an ever growing array of clubs, bars, and restaurants. Collectively, this results in a place that’s been called “the hippest city in the world.”

Flickr user mickpix 

Corfu

Rooted in art and intellect, Corfu is the Grecian town that Homer called his “beautiful and rich land.” Dramatic mountains and tranquil coast lines create the setting for soaking up the sun and brushing up on local culture and history. Lush trees and olive groves give the island a green glow.

Naples

In terms of sheer beauty and scenery, Naples might just top the list. Take a stroll on this Italian coast and you’ll be entranced by the city’s natural beauty, with Mount Vesuvius staring at you from a distance. Of course, the most unique sight of all might be Pompeii, where the ruins are an example of Mother Nature’s power.

Sights, culture, and sun all await you on a cruise around Europe. Now all you have to do is pack up and go. What are you waiting for?

In defence of touristy places

tourist spots i love - in defence of touristy spots

While I suspect I may lose some cred for admitting to adoring all these destinations, I don’t care. I love them anyway.

Hoi An

nzmuse hoi an

Basically the definition of a tourist town. Were it not for tourism, I’m not sure it would exist. It’s colourful, with fantastic food, a little bit of a time warp in the middle of the country.  As I wrote last year: “It’s all a show, really, but it doesn’t make it any less magical.”

Halong Bay

nzmuse halong bay tourist spot

Yup, another Vietnamese spot!  I had heard negative things about the rubbish and pollution in the waters here, but it was surprisingly clean overall (note that we went during low season). This is a World Heritage site that will leave you feeling humbled and awed.

Santorini

nzmuse santorini tourist spot

The light here is like nothing else. Eat, drink, swim – try to hit the black, red AND white beaches – and be merry. Quite possibly the most romantic spot we visited. Fairly affordable, too.

Venice

nzmuse venice touristy spots

I was prepared for the worst – smelly, grotty, humid canals. But there was absolutely zero stench and while it was rather sweltering in August, I looooved the tiny alleyways, the gelato, and our overpriced gondola ride. ALL OF IT.

Queenstown

nzmuse queenstown touristy spot

Picture-perfect, even if it does get bloody cold down there. (The razor-like winds will cut you almost as deep as Iceland’s gusts.)

 

Link love (Powered by lemonade and spring rolls)

nzmuse blog link love

I got super excited the other week when I saw my bank was pushing a special June offer for its low-interest Visa, with no fees for the life of the card. Anyone in NZ knows that it’s impossible to find a credit card with no annual fees here (though there is now Kiwibank’s Mastercard Zero – I’m not sure when that launched, because I never heard anything public about it and only learned of its existence through a random Quora thread).

Alas, you cannot earn rewards with that card.  Even with account fees, and my bank’s irritating tinkering with the rewards scheme, I still come out ahead overall sticking with my current setup. (And come to think of it, what is the life of a card anyway – is that the life of the physical card, or the actual account? Because if it’s the former, then it would only be a couple years before it expired and I’d have to start paying fees on the new one.)

This week’s links

Ways to be kind to yourself, via Makeup and Mirtazapine

Alexis Grant lays out the cold hard truth: No one will pay you just to write

Kim from So Many Places tries to get her head around returning to the US – and all that entails

Cassie’s turning 30 and has a bunch of astute lessons to share

It’s a fine line … Exactly how confident are you allowed to be before it crosses the line? Via Yes and Yes

Sometimes things happen either all at once or not at all, as Lindsay observes

Athena shares her ‘why’ of personal finance

Here is a pretty awesome and free budget cookbook

A weirdly cool photography project spotlighting mixed race families (though I would consider some of them mixed nationality, not mixed race)

Finally, there are just so many amazing snippets in this piece about Britney in Vegas I have to share:

Single-named DJs pump their skinny arms as women in tight tube dresses and Lucite heels they bought online a year ago straddle mouth-breathing men on VIP couches like they just heard there was an asteroid headed toward earth or just took a handful of Ecstasy; platonic girlfriends decide to make out at no urging at all because we’re in Vegas bitchez! One does not have to go far to feel the erection of a stranger in the rear of one’s jeans. It is in these small, handsy hours of the night that Caesars’ hope for Britney was born…

The first thing you notice when you land in Vegas is all the breasts. Breasts are the shining, veiny centerpiece of the uniforms in Vegas; it’s a city built on the breasts and shoulders of women. The only thing women aren’t in this city are magicians, but they are the people being sawed and made to disappear nightly for the magician’s applause…

They refer to her not as Brit-Brit, which is her family’s nickname for her, but as an assortment of words to describe her made into portmanteaux with her name: When she’s practicing for her show, they call her Rehearsalney. When she’s caught learning choreography or participating in a new sequence, she’s Dancney. When she goes to Target, which is constantly, she’s Errandney. And when she inspires them or pulls something amazing off, which is practically always, if you ask them, she is Godney…

And yes, that does make two weeks of Britney links in a row. Not sorry.

Friday Five: Around the world in flavours

Most couples probably reminisce about their travels over photographs.

We kinda do the same thing … with our tummies.

I’d love to relive (in no particular order):

Flan in Paris

Filo pie in Greece

Deli subs in New York

Pho in Vietnam

All things Italian

An honourable mention also to a few beverages: watermelon smoothies, sugarcane juice, pink lemonade.


Why I love living in the suburbs

There is a certain local blog I’ve started following very closely (with transport being one of Auckland’s biggest growing pains as the city expands, I’m keen to keep up with what’s happening in that area).

One thing that does frustrate me is the sometimes excessively ideological stance it takes. City life = good. Suburbia = bad. Walking and biking and of course, public transport = good. Cars = bad.

Absolutely, we need to reduce car congestion particularly at peak times – and I think that’s our biggest opportunity in regard to public transport. But for the majority of Aucklanders, a car is still going to be almost a necessity for your leisure time. (Even more so for people who don’t work in the CBD and generally need to drive to work.) I don’t ever imagine there being enough demand for a regular bus from, say, town to Bethells beach, and I sure hope there never is, to be quite frank. That would be horrible – I can’t even begin to fathom it.

Most of us do not live in the CBD, and I’d say very few of us want to. (Not bashing the CBD! Just stating a general truth. The most desirable areas are undoubtedly the immediately surrounding suburbs rather than the CBD itself.)

Personally, the closest I’ve ever lived to town is Epsom/Mt Eden (about a 15-20 minute bus ride). Here’s why:

Location/proximity

We have to balance the ease of getting to work for me AND him. We are probably always going to work in very different parts of Auckland, and he will probably never be in a situation where public transport makes sense for his commute. It’s also ideal for us to live close to friends and family, who are all central-west/west. His side of the family has no car of their own; we always go to them. He also spends a lot of time with friends; the time and petrol costs when we lived over in Epsom sometimes got a bit silly.

Food

The best Asian food is found in the suburbs. None of my regular favourite restaurants are in town. YMMV depending on your tastes. Also, grocery shopping is wayyy better in the suburbs, both in terms of supermarkets and cheap grocers/butchers. When T’s sister lived way out west we’d bundle visits with a trip to the massive Lincoln Rd Pak’n’Save, the supermarket to end all supermarkets.

Room to breathe

This might sound a little weird … and I completely understand if you don’t get it. Having grown up in a suburban area, these are the kinds of surroundings I’m used to. We spent about a year living in an apartment building when I was still a student and it just didn’t feel right. It’s not about raw floor space; after all our current one-bedroom flat (which is kinda like a big sleepout between two real houses in front and back) is probably about the same size as that apartment. It’s about little things like stepping out your front door and being outside. A little garden. Not having neighbours literally on the other side of the wall/floor/ceiling. That’s what feels right to me, probably because that’s how I was raised. And while we’re on that note … the beach and bush that we like are an easy drive away. I love that.

I was also actually going to say that it’s cheaper out here, but that’s not necessarily true. There’s always a glut of tiny shoebox apartments available for rent in town, but again for that breathing room/lifestyle aspect, we’d pick the suburbs any day. Caveat: I don’t mean the sprawly, soulless type of suburbia where you have to drive for ages to get anywhere – that end of the spectrum sucks – but the good kind, that’s near transport links and shops and parks.

It’s all about balancing and tradeoffs. Commuting is a bit of a pain, but it’s not like I’m not used to it, like every other Aucklander. We’re not after bar hopping, shows, and going to trendy places. Out of the years that I spent working in the suburbs, I can probably count on my fingers the number of times we ventured into town in our own time. CBD living doesn’t interest us (at least not with the CBD in its current state, for all the progress it’s made in the last decade). I love working in town, but am happy to go home to suburbia.

Link love (Powered by stops and starts)

nzmuse link love roundup

Have I ever mentioned how much I love you guys? Because I do. I really do.

Remember my refried beans dilemma? Well, who knew a little bit of fat could make so much difference? Lard was indeed the magic ingredient. Now we just need to play around with the spices.

Blogging has brought me so many things, but this ranks up there among the best.

Blast from the past

This time last year we were arriving in London (which I found a lot more to my liking than I’d anticipated), having made our way south to north in Vietnam and returning briefly to Bangkok where we couchsurfed (floorsurfed) for the first time.

This week’s links

A million times yes to this: Adjusting today’s financial advice to include unemployment

Maybe one day… How to travel the Maldives on $60 a day

It’s true – even us introverts can cherish those fleeting travel friendships struck up on the road

A lovely tribute to the late Gerry Goffin, half of the Carole King songwriting powerhouse

The Toast brilliantly analyses Baby One More Time, which is still my favourite Britney song ever  (never figured out the ‘hit me’ part – is it like blackjack – ie let’s go one more round?)

The Atlantic examines why we sleep together. Fascinating. (I think I do tend to sleep better alone but I’m a snuggler and hate falling asleep/waking up alone)

Proof that I live in quite possibly the most beautiful country on earth

And my weekly Auckland housing-related link (via economist Tony Alexander)

There is talk that the Reserve Bank could consider putting extra credit controls in place in order to try and stem inflation sourced from the housing market… limiting how much someone could borrow to a multiple of their household income…

If the restrictions were harsh enough house prices could even be pushed lower, though that is not highly likely given that the overwhelming impact of credit restrictions will be felt by the group of people who have already been shut out of the market to a big degree by the maximum loan to value rules – young first home buyers.

Is this something about which we in the lower, middle, and upper middle classes, and those silly enough to self-identify in New Zealand as in the upper classes, will feel greatly worried about? Heck no. We have already bought lots of investment properties over the past few years …

While we will tut tut about how difficult it is for a young person to buy a property these days our incomes will rise and we will, yet again, feel happy that we ignored the many doomsters and kept buying properties the past two decades.

Sorry young folk, but much as you may feel the future belongs to you and your smartphone tapping ways, for now the wealth and the power belongs to us – the Baby Boomers.

 

Haggling in Asia: Tales from the street vault

nzmuse bangkok haggling

It’s hard to believe that a year ago we were waving goodbye to Bangkok, hopping the Airtrain and winging our way to London. Suvarnabhumi was one heck of an airport, I’ll say. I’ll always remember it for the crazy fast travelators, our last fix of Mr Donut and oh, yeah, the fact I managed to lose my boarding pass somewhere between checkin and boarding.

One thing I wasn’t looking forward to about travelling in Asia was bargaining. I’m not used to negotiating, and even if it was expected of me, I just didn’t know how I’d cope.

As it turns out, we didn’t have much to worry about. We weren’t there for the shopping; we were there to eat and sightsee. We did buy a couple of things, though.

Our first haggle came courtesy of T, who took it upon himself to acquire a flip-knife he spotted amongst the treasures at a street stall. (Result: 50 baht off for a total of 300 baht. If I recall correctly. I don’t think that was hugely successful.)

There was also his tattoo, a totally out-of-the-blue purchase. While he’d been bugging me about getting inked in Thailand, I simply kept giving him The Look. Then, one night, we headed out to Khao San Rd for a drink run at about 10.30pm. (I think the hardest part about Cambodia and Vietnam, for him, was the absence of 7-11s and his beloved Big Gulp drinks.) We stopped so he could flip through yet another tattoo parlour’s lookbook. The owner ushered us inside and started doing his sales spiel. To say it was a tough sell would be an understatement – I totally stonewalled him. He threw out an initial quote of maybe 6000 and eventually came down to 5000 in an attempt to convince me… and since T was able to pull up his second family crest online to show the artist, and the price was way less than we’d pay here, I conceded.

And that’s how we ended up going out for a Coke and coming back many hours later with a tattoo.

The other occasion where we found ourselves forced to haggle was with drivers. You might find drivers unwilling to use the meter, for whatever dodgy reason, who quote you absolutely outrageous fares for a 5-minute ride when you KNOW it should cost, at the most, half of that number.

And yet … the sums involved are usually fairly small in the grand scheme of things. There’s the principle; you know what’s a fair price to pay, and you don’t want to get ripped off. At the same time, we may have been budget travellers , but a dollar or two would have meant a lot more to locals than it did to us.

Got any haggling stories to share?

Planning To Travel With Diabetes? Here’s What You Need To Know

Planning for vacations seems like an idyllic endeavour until you start packing. That’s when reality knocks on your head: you’ve filled the carry-on with backup toiletries, a pair of shoes, and a few wardrobe essentials – but what about keeping supplies for your metabolic disease?

Individuals with diabetes will always have more preparations to consider. On vacation, you may be in a new time zone, encounter new cuisines, or not have access to your regular medications. This can make it more challenging to manage blood sugar levels and disrupt your daily routine. But if you’re equipped with the right information and supplies, traveling with diabetes can be smooth and healthy process.

Here are some considerations that will set you off on a stress-free vacation:

Prepare ahead with appropriate food

One challenge of managing diabetes when traveling is that you may not have access to the usual diabetic-recommended foods. Whether you’re traveling by train, car, or bus, the available foods (crackers, packaged juices, etc.) aren’t the best choices for managing blood sugar. They are high in calories and low in nutrition. And after you’ve reach a foreign destination, the local fare may can be a problem too.

To counter these issues, you should take along some healthy snacks to avoid low-nutrition choices at convenience stores and at airports. This could save you money as well. Some healthy snack examples include natural peanut butter, protein bar, fresh fruits, whole-grain crackers, and diabetes meal replacement shakes. If you’re taking the plane, bring a note from your doctor to avoid any issues with the airport security while carrying these food items.

Pack enough supplies

Even if you’re taking spare prescriptions, it’s not a good idea to go without your supplies and medications on the road. For example, you will need to check your blood sugar level before, during, and after travel to avoid high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and the health problems these variations can cause.

So make sure you plan ahead when you are traveling with your insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor for managing diabetes as effectively as possible throughout the journey. Dexcom highlights the importance of portability in a continuous glucose monitor. They and many other companies are making portable models that are ideal for travelers to carry – they take up a mere amount of space and can even be kept inside a pocket.

Additionally, models with long-lasting sensors would offer added value to travelers with long-distance schedules (some companies make sensors that are approved for up to 7 days of use).

Carry identification and discuss your disease

Diabetic patients don’t like to share their condition with everyone. It seems embarrassing, makes you the center of unwanted attention and sometimes just seems tacky. However, it could be a lifesaver in case you’re surrounded by unfamiliar people in an unfamiliar destination. If no one near you knows about your condition and you have an emergency, you might not be able to communicate during that time.

It also means that you should carry details of your disease, medication and identification with you during travel. That could include a keychain fob, an identity bracelet or even a wallet card. You never know they could end up saving you in an emergency.

Traveling in ease with diabetes is no difficult feat. You just have to be smart about it.