Alaska or Bust??

I read The Box-car Children when I was in 3rd grade and decided then and there that I wanted to live in a boxcar. To my 9-year-old self, stealing milk off doorsteps and sleeping on a straw mat seemed an adventurous and independent thing to do. Then I read Where the Red Fern Grows and instead of boxcars, I wanted two little puppies to hunt with. Mind you, I never wanted to actually kill anything; just go out at night with my pups and a lantern…maybe steal some milk off a doorstep and sleep on a straw mat. Even now, I still read every day and I still want to go, see, and do the things that I read about.

A few months ago, Angie and I were on an Alaska kick. My mom had gotten us hooked on Alaskan Bush People and we had each picked up a few books about folks living in remote Alaskan villages (like If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name by Heather Lende and Forty Years in the Wilderness by Dolly Faulkner). As always happens, we started daydreaming about going there and even looked into Alaskan cruises. We both told our parents that “our next big trip would probably be to Alaska”. And it probably will be. But when we say the words “our next big trip”, we don’t exactly mean the next time we pack up the car and pull out of the driveway. It could be a few years before we make it to The Last Frontier. In the meantime, we have other plans, though none of those plans included hurting the feelings of someone we love. Yet, it seems that we did.

Angie’s mom said she wanted to go with us if we went on a cruise to Alaska. We said that sounded great, and we moved on without much of a second thought. Why? Because my mom always says that she wants to go with us to Hawaii the next time we go. My nephew tells us every time that he sees us that he wants to tag along if we ever go to Ireland. Angie’s aunt and uncle said once that we should all plan a road trip together and my niece mentioned at Christmas that we should go with them to Florida this summer. It’s something people say and sometimes it turns into a real plan, but more often than not, it’s just a way to daydream about a vacation together. But Angie’s mom was serious, and it seems she was expecting us to go this spring.

Of course, now we feel terrible. So terrible in fact that we considered hastily putting together a trip just so we wouldn’t let anyone down or make anyone mad or cause anyone to miss out on such an opportunity. Thank goodness we came to our senses, because we are in no way ready for such an undertaking!

And honestly, most folks aren’t either. Did you know:

  • 75% of Americans have gone into debt to pay for a vacation at some point in their lifetime,
  • 23% did so in the past 12 months,
  • 55% don’t budget for vacations (or factor them into their annual expenses), and
  • Over the past year, Americans borrowed $12.64 billion for vacations, racking up $778.77 million in interest and other charges?

Have you ever heard the term “debt-lag”? It’s what happens when you return from a vacation with debt. We’ve only ever had it once – when we hit a few snags on our 2014 trip to California and Hawaii – and we decided then and there, we would not have it again. Not for any reason. If we couldn’t completely pay for a certain vacation destination, we would simply not go there. There are way too many other, cheaper places to go when the “exotic” or “once in a lifetime” locales are not [yet] within reach.

Our plan for Alaska (or any other big destination) is to save up before we set off. Looking at cruises, lodging and activities gives us an idea of how much we need to add to our vacation fund and how long we need to save. You might say, a lot of dreaming and scheming goes into our travel planning process. I get that it’s not the same for everyone, and that’s okay. If you are ready for and able to take a big vacation, like an Alaskan cruise, and that’s what you have your heart set on doing, then that’s what you should do. We just aren’t there yet.

We gently and lovingly tried to explain our position to Angie’s mom. She was disappointed, but I’d like to believe she respects our decision to avoid debt. More importantly, I hope she understands that though we might not be going to Alaska this year, she is always welcome to go with us wherever we may roam…even if it’s just to the park. (We have plenty of hammocks, by the way 😊)

#5TF: August Recap

Five Thought Friday Challenge:  Week 10 – August 26 – September 1, 2017

This is the final week of my Five Thought Friday Challenge. Having a writing prompt has definitely helped me make sure I post something at least once a week and it’s been a great way for me to really think about my everyday life, those little things that we sometimes forget on the way to life’s bigger adventures. It has been fun so who knows, maybe this winter will bring with it some other writing theme. For now though, it’s time to gear up for travel season.

But first, our August recap…

We made progress on our walking/hiking goal by adding 48.2 more miles to the total. We also completed our goal to find 100 letterboxes this year. For the month as a whole, we decluttered 11 more items, giving us a total of 707 items this year. We earned $223.90 in side hustles. $65 of that was from selling 2 items on OfferUp. We enjoyed 61 meatless meals (or 20 completely meat free days) and picked up 50 of our 62 free bagels from Panera this month. (I love bagels but I sincerely hope they pick someone else for a free month of bagels for the rest of this year. We’re a bit bageled out!)

Though we’re no longer tracking “no spend days”, we do still try to stay within our budget each month. For August, we saved 15% of our income toward retirement and investments. 48% went to essential living expenses (rent, utilities, and insurance). 10% was allocated to paying off my student loan. 21% was spent on groceries, household goods, and transportation (not including a car repair). 6% went to gifts and entertainment.

I don’t know about you but zero-sum budgeting sometimes makes me feel broke (since there’s no dollar floating around out there without a dedicated purpose – no mad money, if you will, beyond what’s been designated as such) but it’s also the best way I know to ensure we stay on track with our financial goals. I have 2 student loans to pay off before the end of this year and I intend to get there. To do that though, we need to revisit the amount of money we spend enabling others. Or rather, we simply need to revisit the whole “enabling others” scenario. We spent $120 this month on gas and groceries for other people. For some that may not seem like a lot but for us, it represents about 5% of our overall budget.

One thing I really enjoyed this week was visiting Rock Island State Park. With the exception of getting eaten alive by chiggers (again!), we had a great time picnicking, hiking, letterboxing, and taking in the views of 3 stunning waterfalls. The best part though – our cell phones had no service for most of the day, which gave us a chance to really unplug and enjoy our time away. I wish we could have taken a dip in one of the swimming holes but it started to rain and we didn’t want to chance slipping on the steep trail leading down to the river. You can read more about our adventure here.

I am grateful for good neighbors. Judy has been my mom’s neighbor and friend for 20 years now. She’s a great person who has helped my mom a lot over the years, from watching her cat, Daisy, to bringing her medicine when she was sick. Last weekend, she let us borrow her lawnmower to cut the grass. Thank goodness, because it has rained almost every day since then! She also connected us with someone who could repair our mower on-site at a reasonable price. (Sadly this means we did not get to ride the mower uptown dressed in costumes on Saturday.)

Speaking of repairs…

I need to let go of the fear of failure or rather, the fear of messing things up if you make a mistake. We like to pride ourselves in being hands-on DIYers. We’ve tackled toilets, installed floors, and once even renovated a 30-year-old camping trailer, including the wiring! So why did I second guess myself this week in repairing our car? Because it’s new(ish) and I didn’t want to mess it up if I was wrong. So we took it to the shop and as it turns out – I was right. There was a crack in the coolant reservoir tank. To fix it ourselves would have been $60 for the parts and about an hour of our time. To have Firestone fix it – $299 – and they had to keep it overnight. Let’s just say – this was an expensive lesson learned!

Ticky’s hula shorts

The funniest thing that happened this week was when Ticky came over on Monday with her little friend Gracie. Having two 2-year-olds running around the apartment was entertaining enough but watching them play dress-up with my night clothes and a basket of shoes would have made even a stone statue crack a smile. Ticky found a pair of striped shorts that I’d laid out and asked Angie to put them on her (which she did). For a while, she paraded around with her “hula skirt” on, managing not to trip on the length. When she discarded the shorts and ran off to other things, I thought it would be okay for me to put them on. Oh no! Ticky grabbed the hem and tried to pull the shorts down and then tried pulling them from the waistband. “My pants,” she said. “Can I borrow them?” I asked. She answered with that simple little word made famous by all 2-year-olds – NO – so needless to say, I had to change clothes. (Photographing children is like photographing wildlife. They move so fast, you often get just a blur. This is the best photo I could get of Ticky wearing my shorts.)

As I mentioned above, travel season is about to begin. The garden is coming to an end and our lawn chores are slowing down so it’s time to go out and have some fun. In addition to our road trip and cruise in October, we are planning a few Fall camp-outs, another visit to the beach, several meetups with family throughout the country, and we’ll be at the Tennessee Tiny House Festival next weekend. It sounds busy but it’s not. Every trip is an opportunity to relax, unwind, and enjoy the great company of friends. We’re looking forward to every adventure we have planned for Fall.

How was your August? Were you able to cross any items off your happiness bucket list?