Experimenting with ultra-light packing: How I packed light for 20 days on the road

Hello from Portugal!

Last Thursday, I returned to Europe for the fourth time in the past ten months. This time, I'm here for work. I'm speaking at yet-another chautauqua about financial independence and early retirement. As always, it's fascinating -- and the people attending the event are amazing.

For this trip, I decided to experiment with ultra-light packing. I am not a minimalist, but I like minimalist travel. I wanted to see if I could carry everything I needed for 20 days of travel in a single small backpack.

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How much I spent during two weeks of travel

I like to travel. Over the past decade, I've probably made an average of two international trips per year. But you know what? Never once in that time have I tried to track how much I spend while exploring the world. Sure, I log my numbers in Quicken (as I do for everything), but I've never analyzed the cost of an individual trip.

This month, I flew to Europe to hang out with my cousin Duane again. He and I enjoy traveling together. Because I was curious, I decided to be diligent about tracking my expenses for this trip.

Note, however, that I didn't try to do anything different. I didn't adjust my normal behavior simply because I knew I'd be reporting to GRS readers. I did what I always do. I spent in ways that felt normal to me.

I don't need a fancy hotel, for instance. Neither does Duane. We're happy with cheap, simple lodging. And because most of the time we don't book rooms in advance, we don't hunt for the best deal. When we decide to stop for the night, we look for a place to stay. When we find something reasonable ($50 per person per night is our target) and available, we book it. We don't continue to search. We'd rather use our time to explore our surroundings.

On the other hand, we're both willing to splurge on food from time to time. Our rooms aren't important to us, but what we eat is.

Similarly, we'll pay to see special sites, but mostly we're happy visiting free museums and/or walking around a city. We don't pay much for tours, etc.

So, how much did I spend for two weeks in Europe? Let's find out!

Chateau Chenonceau

Chateau Chenonceau in France's Loire Valley

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Big pleasure from small things

Hello, friends. I have returned from France and recovered from jetlag. (I'm not good with jetlag.) Later this week, I'll publish an article about how much my cousin Duane and I spent during our ten-day drive across Normandy and Brittany, but today I want to share one small epiphany I had on the trip.

J.D. geeking it up with Proust stuff

I am a Proust nerd so was happy to stumble upon Combray

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A postcard from Europe: A mid-journey update on my travels

Greetings from Prague! I'm just over halfway through my European vacation, so I thought it'd be fun to share some of my adventures and to take a glimpse at the financial side of this journey.

This trip is unusual for me because I'm traveling with a party of six. My cousin Duane has terminal cancer and wanted to see some more of the world while he still can. A few family members decided to join him. We're exploring Christmas markets as a group.

The Roth boys in Vienna

For the most part, Duane's health has been fine over the past two weeks. He tells me that he's felt great lately, and he's hopeful he has more life left in him than the doctors say. (Who knows? Maybe he and I can squeeze in another trip before his time on this Earth expires.) That said, he did have to take a short rest yesterday because he became dizzy and disoriented as we strolled the cobblestone streets of Prague. He's obviously not feeling 100%.

Our group doesn't have a set agenda. We're merely moving from city to city, exploring the Christmas markets and other touristy delights. Often when I travel, I'm a traveler not a tourist. Right now, I'm a tourist. I wouldn't want to do this every trip, but I'm fine with it at the moment.

General Impressions

So far, we've been we've been to Vienna, Budapest, and Prague. I liked Vienna. I loved Budapest. But after 24 hours here, I'm ambivalent about Prague. I didn't like it at first, but the city is growing on me. I think one problem is our location.

In the first two cities, we were a mile or two outside the downtown core. We stayed in residential neighborhoods. (In both cases, we were relatively close to university areas too, but that was pure chance.) We were directly across from metro stations each time, so it was easy to get where we wanted to go.

Here in Prague, however, we're staying in the downtown core, which means we're immersed in the tourists. (Yes, I realize that we ourselves are tourists and thus part of the problem.) There's no escaping the crowds and commercialism because of our location. This is an interesting lesson to learn for the future: Stay close to downtown in popular cities but not in the downtown. If you're close to a transit station, it's plenty convenient to get where you want.

The Christmas markets have been festive and fun. They remind me of Portland's Saturday Market, a craft market held every weekend in my home city. Vendors erect small stalls where they sell either food or wares.

A lot of the stuff being sold at the Christmas markets is the same from stall to stall -- ornaments, winter clothing, jewelry, souvenirs -- but occasionally there are vendors with unusual items, such as cookie stamps, wooden toys, and hand-forged knives.

Shopping at a Christmas market in Prague

I'm more interested in the food stalls. In each individual city, these "huts" are similar to each other. But the food offered varies from city to city.

  • Vienna food stalls sold wieners ("wiener" literally means "Viennese"), wurst, spaetzle, baked potatoes, toast with cheese, and roasted chestnuts. The drink vendors sold hot punch and glühwein. (Glühwein is mulled wine. It's very popular in Vienna.)
  • Budapest food stalls sold paprika sausages -- Hungarians love their paprika! -- and pig knuckles and delicious goulash. The drink vendors also sold mulled wine and a variety of punch.
  • Prague food stalls sell chimney cakes, fire-roasted ham, toasted cheese (with jam), and a sort of potato-onion dumpling dish. Here they sell mulled wine too, but they also sell hot mead and cold pilsner. (Pilsner comes from Bavaria, and it's available everywhere. I like the Czech word for beer -- "pivo" -- and I enjoy asking for it at the market: "Pivo, prosím.")

A food stall at a Christmas market in Budapest

The one factor our group failed to consider was the cold. Actually, we considered it...but not enough. We prepared for Oregon cold, not central European cold. (It didn't help that Duane emailed us from Paris to say that the weather wasn't as cold as we'd feared.)

We all brought warm clothes, but each of us has had a turn getting chilled to the bone. One night in Vienna, I was the coldest I've ever been in my life. While the rest of the crew enjoyed ice skating, I made a brisk one-mile walk back to the flat so that I could take a hot bath. Everyone else has been equally cold at some point.

I'm a little worried about Switzerland. The forecast low for when Duane and I arrive in St Moritz tomorrow night is -25 celsius (-13 fahrenheit). Holy cats!

J.D. enjoying Christmas market food on a cold day in Prague

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How we used geographic arbitrage to pursue our dreams (and enrich our lives)

Howdy. My name is Michael Robinson. While J.D. is visiting Europe with his cousins, I volunteered to share how my wife and I have leveraged the power of geographic arbitrage to pursue our dreams -- and to build our wealth.

Geographic arbitrage means taking advantage of the differences in prices between various locations. You earn money in a stronger economy (San Francisco, maybe, or the U.S. in general) and spend it in a weaker economy (South Dakota or Ecuador, for instance).

Geographic arbitrage is a powerful tactic worth considering if you want to increase your saving rate so that you can better pursue your financial goals. Several times over the course of our lives together so far, my wife and I have managed to unwittingly stumble upon the benefits of geographic arbitrage.

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Time is more valuable than money

It's a GRS tradition! Each year on Halloween, I publish a story about planning for death. Usually these are general articles about estate planning. This year's story is personal.

When my best friend died in 2009, one of my biggest regrets was that I hadn't made time to travel with him.

Sparky had previously asked me to join him on trips to Burning Man (in 1996) and southeast Asia (in 1998) and Mexico (in 2003). I'd declined each invitation, in part because I was deep in debt but also because I thought there'd be plenty of time to do that sort of thing in the future.

Turns out, there wasn't plenty of time to do that sort of thing in the future.

After Sparky died, I resolved to make the most of opportunities like this. Being in a better financial position helped. Having ample savings gives me the flexibility to join friends on short adventures or to explore the U.S. by RV for fifteen months without money worries. (Yes, I realize that's a fortunate position to be in.)

Here's an example. In 2012, my cousin Duane asked me to join him for a three-week trip to Turkey. Remembering my vow after Sparky's death (and remembering the power of yes), I agreed. That trip to Turkey is one of the highlights of my life so far. I'm glad I did it. It was worth every penny.

The Best Laid Plans

Early in 2017, Duane contacted me. "This fall will be the five-year anniversary of our trip to Turkey," he said. "Want to have another big adventure?"

"Sure!" I said. So, we started planning.

We bought books, watched videos, and browsed websites. We invited Kim to join us. Over the course of several months, our plans crystalized. We'd fly to Paris, rent a car, then spend three or four weeks driving around France and Spain and Portugal, enjoying festivals, experiencing the grape harvest, and exploring ruins. (Duane loves ruins!)

Europe 2017 Planning Map

In June of last year, I sent Duane an email. "I'm going to buy plane tickets tomorrow. Do you want me to buy yours?"

"Hold up," he responded. "We need to talk." He called me on the phone.

"What's going on?" I asked.

"Well, J.D., it's like this," he said. "I have cancer. I've been having problems with my throat for a few months, but I thought that was because of indigestion or something. It's not indigestion. I have throat cancer."

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A short conversation with Jillian from Montana Money Adventures

As I mentioned yesterday, Get Rich Slowly is making the leap to video. It's a brave new world! I've been skeptical about this for a long time, but one of the things that convinced me to give it a try was an interview I did with my pal Jillian (from Montana Money Adventures) a couple of months ago.

For those unfamiliar, Jillian Johnsrud (and her husband Adam) are from Kalispell, Montana. When they were married fifteen years ago, they had $55,000 in debt. After deciding to get better with money, they paid off that debt, then started to save for financial freedom.

What makes Jillian's story unique is that she and Adam are doing this with a family. And not just any family. They're doing it with a large family. They have six children -- two biological and four adopted -- all of whom are relatively young.

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Exploring the U.S. by RV: The price of adventure

Two years ago today, Kim and I returned to Portland after fifteen months traveling the United States in an RV. Believe it or not, I've never published an article about the trip and how much it cost. Although we kept a travel blog for most of the adventure (including a page that documented our expenses), I've never gathered everything into one place. Until now.

Today, I want to share just how much we spent on the journey -- and some of our favorite stops along the way. It seems like the perfect post to celebrate the start of summer, don't you think?

The Price of Adventure

The Lure of Adventure

All my life, I've wanted to take a roadtrip across the United States.

When I was young, I was lured by the adventure. I wanted to climb mountains, swim rivers, and explore canyons. The older I got, the more fascinated I became by the country's regional differences. The U.S. is huge, a fact that most foreign visitors forget. Most American citizens don't even realize how big the country is. I wanted to see and experience it all.

Although I've dreamed of a cross-country roadtrip, it's never been practical. As a boy, my family was poor. My parents didn't have money for something like this. As a young adult, I couldn't afford it either. For a long time, I was deep in debt. Besides, where would I find the time? I had to work! To top things off, my wife had zero interest in driving cross country.

But in my forties, a curious set of circumstances came together to move my epic roadtrip from dream to reality.

One day in early 2014, my girlfriend Kim asked me out of the blue, "What do you think about taking a cross-country roadtrip?"

What did I think? "Hell yeah!" is what I thought...

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Using the Priority Pass for airport perks

This guest post from Marla Taner is an example of the things money nerds do when they get together. I first met Marla five years ago. Since then, she's become a good friend. Plus, she's my "travel hacking" mentor. (Travel hacking, for the uninitiated, is the practice of using credit card points and various loyalty programs to get free or discounted flights and hotel stays.) Marla was in town earlier this week, so she took the opportunity to teach me about the Priority Pass.

I met J.D. in 2013 at the first-ever money chautauqua in Ecuador. We see each other just once or twice a year. When we do, we have a lot of fun.

Part of the fun for me is teasing J.D. about his seeming inability to master the basics of travel hacking. Let me give you an example. J.D. first learned about travel hacking in 2011 when some of his friends urged him to sign up for a Chase credit card in order to get 100,000 British Airways miles. (He even wrote about the experience for Get Rich Slowly!)

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5 ideas for a productive staycation

According to a recent blog by the Wall Street Journal, Americans leave $52.4 billion on the table each year in unused paid time off (not including sick or personal leave). This lowers employee productivity and can lead to burnout and retention issues. It is also quite expensive for companies themselves, since the time and money associated with PTO are liabilities on their balance sheets.

Sometimes, though, it is just not feasible to get away, even if you follow these tips to save money on a family vacation. However, even if you're not able to get away to an exotic (to you) locale, that doesn't mean you should let your vacation days go to waste. Here are some ideas for a fun and productive staycation.

1. Complete a Home-Based Project You've Been Putting Off

Is there a project you've been hoping to complete that's too big to accomplish in a weekend? It may just be the perfect candidate for a staycation! Ideally, you want to take enough time off to finish what you have in mind -- with a day or two left to relax and admire your creation, whatever it is.

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