There’s something about the cover of night that lends a sinister air to, well, anything. Like when I’m out for an evening run and the sun sets faster than I expected, I find myself picking up the pace just a little, hoping to beat darkness home.
A few weeks before we left for our trip, I was walking through downtown at night. I saw a swarthy, scruffy looking guy approach a young girl at the bus stop. I was walking past at the time, but I slowed down and kept looking over my shoulder to see what was happening, relaxing only once he walked away. I don’t know what I would’ve done if he’d tried anything – screamed? Rushed back to confront him? – but I felt somewhat obligated to keep an eye on that particular encounter.
In KL I was urged not to make the 5-10 minute walk to Times Square from our hotel alone by my friend. My parents, who still keep up with headlines back in Malaysia, always seem to be relaying news of some stabbing, kidnapping or home invasion.
In Bangkok, and Naples, and Athens, I always heeded my aunt’s warning to hold my bag close to my body. Busy spots like Times Square and the Trevi Fountain always seemed like prime spots for pick pocketers to haunt. I never went as far as to carry a fake wallet to deter any would-be muggers, though.
In six months away, however, I never once felt actively uneasy about my personal safety. That may have had something to do with the fact I almost always had T with me, who cuts a reasonably imposing figure. I definitely looked like a tourist, with my camera, day pack, and often, my trusty zipoff travel pants. It’s probably worth noting that we didn’t venture into any ‘dangerous’ territory, sticking to stable, fairly popular destinations. Safe travel is much easier when you follow well worn trails.
I have to admit that we took a few risks, getting more and more lax towards the end. The more cautious traveller might lug a laptop around all day in tropical heat; we almost always left ours back in our hotel rooms, many of which didn’t have safety deposit boxes. In the US, I stopped wearing my passport pouch under my clothes, leaving it in my bag instead (I did have digital and paper backups of the important pages, though).
You always think that these are things that happen to other people. Even to experienced travellers, sometimes! In hindsight, there really was no excuse for my slacking off. I am immensely grateful that we had such good luck with weather, political stability (no riots, uprisings, and no real impact from the US government shutdown) and safety. The closest we got to any whiff of crime was Sunday brunch at a restaurant about a block away from this shooting in San Francisco.
So when I’m asked about any mishaps we had along the way, really, the worst I have to point to is the infamous ceiling fan incident. It could be worse.
Do you have any travel horror stories to impart?
Good news! I’ve survived my first week back at work (despite coming home to this epic public transport clusterfuck)! I’ve veered between wondering how I would ever cope again, to feeling something along the lines of ‘this is what I was meant to do’, thankfully finishing out Friday on that more positive note.
It’s strange to see how quickly some things have changed (shops and houses disappearing, being replaced by others) and how others have stayed static.
As I said last week, the part I’m struggling most with is the air. Give me dry, polluted international city air over fresh, pollinated NZ air any day if it means the end of this respiratory misery. Sheesh.
Thankfully, I’ve been sheltered a little from sticker shock, as I’m staying with my parents till we find a place to live. (That said, we did go to the supermarket today and spent the entire time griping at the price of literally everything we saw.) This is weird for me, as I moved out at 17 and never looked back. I had a lightbulb moment, however, when we were all out to dinner and happened to run into some of my mother’s friends at the restaurant. How she gushed about having me back in the country, newly married, and her friends’ responses – all along the lines of how nice it was to see the family together again. And you know what? It IS surprisingly nice. I’m glad T has been pushing me to make more of an effort, and I am super grateful to them for helping us out and easing the transition.
While I wait for the latest Scandal episode to buffer, here’s my picks of the interwebs for you this week.
Her Every Cent Counts interviews a 31 year old programmer with no formal education who has amassed $943k in net worth
A reminder not to sacrifice relationships in pursuit of your dream, at Married with Luggage
A fun but practical post with personal finance advice for couples, via Financial Samurai
Blonde on a Budget shares the biggest lie she ever told herself
Budget and the Beach confesses to being a teenage shoplifter
At Make a Living Writing: why idiots make good freelance writers
The Asian Pear voices a lot of my own thoughts about personal finance blogs
I would never attend Burning Man (wayyyy too hot out in the desert) but was glued to this post about what it’s really like
Thanks to Funny About Money, I might start using conditioner as a bathroom cleaner
Finally, I thought this LinkedIn post on why you should avoid saying ‘you’re welcome’ was intriguing. It’s such an instinctive thing, and here we all say it reflexively – but I noticed in the States that a brisk ‘of course’, ‘sure’ ,’mmhmm’ or even just a silent nod of acknowledgement was more par for the course. (Service staff excepted, of course)
I’m fortunate to have parents who are way more together financially than I’ll ever be. That said, I also know not everyone is that lucky. Today’s guest post is for you!
Old age comes to us all and it can be difficult to see your parents grow older. Retirement brings with it a new set of financial worries, but a bit of advance planning can help your parents’ retirement to run smoothly. Here are five steps you can take to help your elderly parents plan their finances for the future:
Take stock of assets
The first thing to do is to take stock. It may be an awkward conversation to have with your parents but, once they realise you are trying to help, it should be a process that brings you closer together. Often, if people have financial worries, they bury their heads in the sand. So, whilst you may meet with some initial resistance, once you get into the practicalities it should be easier.
Sit down and make a list of your parents’ assets, don’t forget all pension funds and other investments, property, cash and any other items of value.
Make a will
This isn’t just important for older people, but for anyone that has any kind of possessions (yes that’s all of us!) We work hard for what we have and do not want our assets to end up in the wrong hands when we die.
If you don’t make a will then it is possible that your worldly goods will end up with someone you don’t want them to when the time comes.
Remember that a well-drafted will can help you to avoid paying unnecessary inheritance tax and other death duties.
Optimise your portfolio
Once you have made a list of your parents’ assets you need to help them to assess if they are the right investments for them. This will very much depend on their age and proximity to retirement. If you are unsure of your parents’ needs then it may be wise to use a reputable financial advisor to help. They will have access to specialized financial software such as that provided by Sungard.com/APT.
The nearer to retirement your parents are, the more conservatively they should invest. This means that they should hold a greater proportion of low risk investments, particularly where they are relying on the income for their retirement. Risk analysis of investments is a tricky business, click here to see the software used by the professionals.
It is important to structure your estate in the right way in order to pay the minimum of taxes upon death. In particular, the way in which your will is drafted will affect any taxes payable. Unless your estate is very straightforward, it is best to get a will professionally drafted to meet your specific needs.
For higher value estates, your parents may want to consider passing on some of their assets to their children now in order to avoid death duties. If you have a complex or high value estate it is best to consult a tax specialist. A little money spent on the right advice now could save a fortune in the long run.
Make a plan for the future
Once you have taken stock and reallocated any assets as necessary, you can turn to more practical matters, for example:
What would happen in the event that one of your parents loses their capacity to make decisions? It might be a good idea to speak to a lawyer and arrange for a power of attorney to be put in place.
Do your parents want to be buried or cremated? It may seem a little morbid to discuss this but it’s better than not knowing their wishes when the time comes.
- The last thing to do is to make sure you know where your parents keep all of their important legal documents. This means that you will be able to find the important paperwork and help them when they need it most.
Tags: photos, travel, usa
This, my friends, sums up the one thing that is wrong with American food.
(Well, there’s also the misspelling of ‘mayonnaise’, but that’s less egregious. Also, I dearly wish T hadn’t kept insisting on getting coleslaw so often, let alone in Disneyland, since it was always a disappointment – and of course, I usually felt compelled to taste it as well.)
But let’s not dwell on that for TOO long. See, we also had plenty of good eats in America – mostly Mexican, BBQ, and hole-in-the-wall diners, the kind of stuff we gravitated to since we don’t get it at home. Here’s a few of our favourites:
Best Burger – Hook Burger
Blows In-N-Out out of the water.
Best BBQ – Mrs Hyster’s
We had some pretty good BBQ in Memphis, but the downhome sloppy, saucy stuff in this New Orleans hole-in-the-wall edged it out.
Best Chain – Chipotle
Please, please, please, open up in New Zealand. In the meantime, I’m going to have to start making my own burrito bowls.
Best Diner -Welcome Diner
This is kind of a hipster diner, tucked away in Phoenix, where we were served by a dead ringer for Seth Rogen, who wrote the comics that you’ll find tucked into the shelf. For more old-school, downmarket dining, I tip my hat to Mike and Ronda’s The Place along Route 66 in Flagstaff.
Best Pizza – Joe’s
It wasn’t so long ago that we were enjoying pizza in Naples for real, but we HAD to try New York pizza too – and Joe’s is where it’s at.
Best Hot Dogs – Superdawg
Chicago institution. Enough said.
Best Mexican – Fat’s Burritos, Roswell / Garcia’s Mexican, San Antonio
Really dug the relleno plate at Fat’s, but beware, it’s tricky to find (it’s moved a few times – don’t be fooled by the mural/building that catches your eye on the way in! Keep driving till you hit the actual street number.) And Garcia’s breakfast tacos can’t be missed.
Tags: america, food
is absolutely astounding.
I envisioned couchsurfing across Europe; we ended up hostelling and hoteling. (We did surf a few times though, and hosts generously drove us to the train station/lent us bikes/gave up their beds for us). I then envisioned us couchsurfing across North America, and instead, we ended up staying with so many generous blog friends. Not to mention the many others who took the time to show us around, take us out to eat, or put together adorable goody bags/welcome packs for us.
We also miss your pets! We’ve met so many awesome dogs along the way, which was such an eye-opener for me; to date, almost all the dogs I’ve ever encountered back home are outside dogs that belong to, erm, Westie trash types and fall into one or more of the following categories: dirty/mangy/loud/ill-behaved/scary. By contrast, I now know that clean, housetrained, inside dogs DO exist.
I think it was a little weird for T, but he quickly got used to the idea that we’d be meeting semi-strangers in almost every city we visited. There was Manda in DC, Sandy in Massachussetts, Asian Pear / Save Spend Splurge in Toronto, Windy City Gal in Chicago, Athena / Funny About Money in Phoenix, Revanche / Untemplater / Financial Samurai in SF, Tiny Apartment / Erika / Stacking Pennies / Tonya in LA. I can’t forget Lesley in Iceland (formerly of 23toLife.com), either, plus we narrowly missed a few others along the way (so close!): Leslie, Amber, Daisy, Katie, Stephanie (I’m really hoping I haven’t forgotten anyone! Eek!)
I can’t thank you guys enough, and hopefully we’ll be able to return one day to relive the magic. It’s probably going to be quite awhile before we leave NZ again though … so, come see us soon. Okay?
Tags: reflections, travel
New Zealanders are big fans of travel, reports have revealed, but how do we fund our overseas trips?
According to statistics, the number of Kiwis jetting off for overseas holidays has increased drastically since 2003, rising by more than 11,500 people! For those who plan to combine a long distance trip with a long duration holiday, sticking to a strict daily budget can sometimes lead to missing out on many activities that were top of your wish list.
This can be prevented by using some clever money saving tactics, such as:
Try not to pre-book accommodation
Many nervous travellers have the obsession of having everything planned before arriving in the country. However, this is not always the best way and sometimes the best moments of your travels come from the unplanned. Especially if you are heading to a country that is under developed or has a lower cost of living than New Zealand.
You will be surprised to see how much money you can save by booking once you are there. By simply walking around the area you want to stay you could find many hidden gems at very reasonable prices.
Shop around for the right travel card
Many credit card companies can seem like a good deal at first glance but on a second look it is less transparent. From poor exchange rates to multiple charges when withdrawing from an ATM; it can all add up and put a strain on your budget.
American Express Credit Cards provide some reasonable offers in terms of travelling. With a straightforward conversion back to NZ dollars and being one of the world’s most recognisable cards it is accepted in most places.
Plus, when you buy travel with an Amex credit card you will also receive free travel insurance.
Research the trips you want to go on
Research into the trips you are interested in before you go to the area but don’t necessarily pre-book. While there are many stories of locals taking advantage and offering poor trips there are also hidden gems. By finding out as many details as you can before you book a trip you can figure out the legitimate tours and save money in the process.
Combine with others
Whether you are travelling on your own or with a small group by making friends and combining your trips together it could save you money. Especially when booking with a local you tend to be able to barter the price down and save money for all with a large group on the one trip.
Hit the streets
Sometimes eating out can become an extra expense than first thought in your initial budget. However, by going into the local areas and diving into the street food you could be saving a lot of money and immersing yourself into the food of the area.
When calculating your daily allowances always add around 20% extra. This way you won’t be too disappointed or worried if you overspend and will be pleasantly surprised if you are left with a bit more money!
The thing that stands out to me most about being back home is not the rain, the familiar accents, or the cars.
It’s the air.
About an hour before we landed, I started sneezing like mad, and have barely stopped since. A day later, it’s pretty obvious that it’s a lot more effort for me simply to breathe here than anywhere else we’ve been in the past six months. (It’s almost summer here, and while our summers are very mild by global standards, it’s definitely not super cold.) My chest feels constricted and in a quiet room, I’m THAT person huffing and sniffling nonstop. Might be time to seek out a doctor.
Continuing on in a slightly depressing vein, we’ve also come home to the news of the death of a guy I went to school with, and this Roastbusters stuff, which is already making headlines round the world.
But happily, there are lots of good things I’ve read recently too! Here’s my picks for this week.
Here’s Cordelia on 15 surefire ways to guarantee a dead end life
Jen Dziura on whether you should lean in to what you love, and Funny About Money on the perils of following your bliss
Figuring Money Out on 20 daily habits of the wealthy
An intriguing discussion on career sponsorship vs mentorship at Publishing Trendsetter
Ashley on reconciling our present selves with our former selves
Afford Anything on how to escape the ordinary, step by step
Get Rich Slowly on learning to bargain
Save Spend Splurge has put together a nice list of wardrobe essentials (male AND female)
Donna reminds us that time is something we can’t do over
Caroline joins me in hating the traveller vs tourist argument
Sydney shares five of her favourite inspirational travel destinations
Michelle ponders the American dream
Finally, APW on what feminism means and why feminism matters. For me, this used to mean shunning pink, and dresses, and pop music, and cooking. Now I’ve come to realise it’s really about doing whatever the hell I want; I can wear lipstick but shun heels, like Mariah Carey AND Metallica, and realise that sucking in the kitchen isn’t actually cute or something to be proud of.
New York – a full month before Halloween!
What’s the wackiest Halloween decoration you’ve ever seen?
Tags: photos, travel
“What happens when we go home? Do we just work till we die?”
(October 21, 2013, filed under Shit My Husband Says)
For the past six months, I’ve lived in a perpetual state of flux. I’ve never known what the week ahead will bring, let alone what lies in store for us the next day. I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with uncertainty, and now, it’s time to get used to routine again. To get up in the morning knowing, more or less, what to expect from the coming 24 hours.
I’m not unhappy about that. I could use some structure again. I want some of the conventional things that society dictates I should want, and I’m not ashamed to admit it: a steady income, a house of my own, maybe even a pet and kids someday.
What I don’t want is to sink into mundanity. The older you get, the faster the time seems to go, and I don’t want to lose precious weeks or days to a forgettable rote existence. I want to make memories, not just once a year, but throughout the year. A life that doesn’t warrant escape. One without the Monday blues. And I want this for both T and myself, with the knowledge that I’m much further along this path than he is, and that it’ll take work to craft that mutually happy existence.
If our priorities change, a few months or a few years from now, then maybe we could do this again. Work and save for a few years, travel for a while, then come home, rinse and repeat. Maybe we can craft a lifestyle where we work for 10 months a year and travel for 2. Or maybe we’ll choose the traditional middle-class route, and treasure the memory of the last six months like a precious stone, bringing it out every so often to admire, polish, and remind ourselves that once upon a time we were young and carefree with the whole world in front of us.
Work till we die, or work till we retire. Sound depressing? In a sense, it is … but it’s only a terrifying thought if we fail to make the most of life in between – in our careers, in our relationships, in our hobbies.
Tags: life, reflections, travel