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Category: Finance (page 1 of 2)

Half the world in a nutshell

A few numbers

12 years (gah!) in the making
3 months in the doing

96 Days
13 countries
21 trains
8 long distance buses (too fucking many)
2 ferries
1 bamboo raft
Numerous metros, taxis, tuktuks, motorbikes, and other local transport
1 pair of hiking shoes
1 pair of sandals
1 pair of dance shoes
10 forms of currency
Temperatures from -39C to +39C
23 hostels and guesthouses
7 locals hosts
1 budget hotel
1 resort
8 Lindy socials
1 weekend dance camp

I don’t know how many kilometers or miles I traveled. I probably should have kept track of the distances as I went, but you can see on the map that it’s a bloody long way. I’m happy to leave it at that.

So what did it all cost?

£715 on new gear pre-trip

I didn’t keep track of what I was spending pre-trip. Some of the things I bought I needed for other stuff (like the hiking shoes for the trip to the highlands) and some things I got as gifts. So this is a rough estimate of the total cost of what I bought new within the past year if I’d had to pay for all of it myself (I probably only paid for about half).

It looks like a lot of money, but actually almost everything I bought is really good quality, was on sale when I got it, and will come in handy for trips within Scotland and just in general, so I’m happy I have it all now. The only thing that I’ll need to replace soon is my shoes I think (the bottoms are pretty worn out).

£230 on clothes, shoes, and shipping in Hoi An

I have kept the cost of the stuff I got made (and shipped home) in Hoi An separate from the main budget, mostly because I want to show what all the normal costs added up to on their own. I did some buying of stuff within the budget, but only little bits here and there that were more like standard travel costs. I’m perfectly happy to tell you what I spent though!

overview£4338.52 spent on the trip

This should be pretty accurate, with a relatively small margin for error. I was obsessive about recording absolutely every expense, down to the 5 Baht or 1RMB it sometimes required to use a public toilet (categorised as ‘health’ of course). What I think I probably missed out on were things like adding extra Skype credit or buying ebooks here and there. So let’s say I could be up to £100 out at most, but I’d be surprised if it was even half of that.

 

A word on the cost of full-time travel

When I compared the daily spending average of this trip to the month I obsessively kept track of for a baseline idea of what my life costs (September 2014), I found it was almost exactly the same. The costs I kept track of included all rent and usual bills aside from my US student loan payments, which I also kept out of this trip’s cost within trail wallet, but saving for 4 months payments was a big part of the challenge of saving for this trip – it added £1200 to the cost of things.

The point is, it costs pretty much the same to live while traveling that is costs to live in Edinburgh. And I know the traveling would cost even less if I hadn’t moved so fast.

It’s nice to see proof that it’s affordable, so if you’re the sort who has a location independent job already, you could definitely take it on the road. But I will not tell you it’s easy to work on the road, and unless you want a whole lot of extra stress, I wouldn’t recommend the digital nomad life if you don’t already have the job you’re going to do before you set off. It’s just as hard to find work wherever you are, and unreliable WiFi connections are more common than not.

I’m not saying any of that is impossible, but it’s also not as breezy as some travel bloggers make it out to be. It’s also not for me.

Breakdown

fullpiechartThe categories are as close an approximation I could get to what the money was actually spent on. For example, a lot of hostels included breakfast, but those costs are still filed under accommodation. Any gifts I bought for Couchsurfing hosts are also filed under accommodation.

Drinks includes all alcohol bought on its own as well as coffee or other random drinks during the day (coconuts!) All water is filed under health. If I bought a beer or glass of wine with dinner, it stayed in the food cost.

Miscellaneous includes gifts, postcards, and various clothes and supplies I needed along the way.


Food £876.82 20%
Transport £1309.18 30%
Entertainment £525.89 12%
Accommodation £538.68 13%
Miscellaneous £141.66 3%
Drinks £222.84 5%
Health £475.96 11%
Visas £247.49 6%

Daily averages

Entire trip: £45.19 per day


Europe 7 days £129.78*
Russia 23 days £36.46
Mongolia 5 days £66.60**
China 19 days £49.02
Vietnam 14 days £22.78
Cambodia 17 days £24.83
Thailand 10 days £56.68***

 

*Includes all my first aid kit stuff and various other bits, but the week in Europe WAS incredibly pricey, thanks to going via Scandinavia.

**High because I basically paid for a private guide as I had no one to split the cost with.

***Deceptively high because of The Big Bang. Thailand was cheaper than Cambodia in terms of food, hostels, and entertainment. And the cost of staying at a resort and dancing all weekend was actually pretty low compared to what it would be in Europe.

Resources

Not an exhaustive list, but the most important and heavily used

Websites

Seat 61
The train bible. This guy is a legend. His suggestion for a planning spreadsheet is also something that helped me immensely.

Legal Nomads
Jodi has a travel prep resource page that is second to none and covers everything you need to think of before you go. She also answered my questions about eating street food in Vietnam with a shellfish allergy, which was super helpful.

Too Many Adapters
I got a lot of my tech advice and ideas from TMA. It also has great reviews of all sorts of gadgets you may be thinking of buying for a trip.

Real Russia
Helped organise some of my rail tickets, provided visa support, and answered all of my related questions. They are fantastic and highly recommended.

Travel bloggers of the world
Numerous travel blogs found through Google searches on various different locations. I couldn’t possibly list them all, but I can tell you that if your Google-fu is strong, you can find info on any travel destination on this earth because of the lovely people who write about their adventures (and misadventures).

Apps

xe.com
Currency converter. Could not live without.

Google Maps
Using offline areas (which stopped working or were unavailable in some places).

Galileo
Offline vector maps.

Trail Wallet
Budget tool extraordinaire!

Whatsapp and FB Messenger
For WiFi messaging and sanity. Whatsapp also works in China without a VPN!

Wechat
If you’re going to be in China you pretty much need to get Wechat. Everyone uses it, and it’s also your gateway into a lot of the free WiFi available.

Skype
With Skype-Out credit for uber-cheaply calling friends, family, and on at least one occasion, my bank in the UK.

Google Translate
I used this mostly in Russia, where the instant offline photo translate was super useful for reading signs and menus.

Couchsurfing
For some absolutely lovely local experiences and accommodation.

Booking.com
How I booked most of my hostels. Although if I’d known about Agoda sooner, I’d have maybe gone with that because it lets you pay in advance by card.

Trello
For planning and pre-trip to-do and packing lists. Also how I organise most of my normal life.

My tech and data safeguard arsenal

Crashplan
Every time I was connected to WiFi, crashplan automatically updated my cloud backup. This meant I worried a lot less about my computer being stolen or destroyed because I knew all my actual stuff was safe.

Find My iPhone
Set up in iCloud before I left for both my phone and my computer. More peace of mind knowing I could immediately wipe either if they were lost or stolen (and include a snarky message to the thief should I so choose).

Flickr Uploadr
I took a lot of pictures and I did not want to lose them! Again, every time I was connected to WiFi and the Uploadr detected new images on my computer, it automatically loaded them to my Flickr pro account privately, so I was never in danger of losing any photos I’d put on my computer (and I was pretty good about doing this daily).

ExpressVPN
On both my computer and my phone, for safeguarding data when using banking, email, etc. Also got me under the wall in China whenever I had a strong enough connection.

Google Drive
Used to store copies of all important travel docs and my itinerary plan sheet. These were also shared with my parents and friends in the UK for emergencies.

Dropbox
Further backup for documents, as well as sharing photos with fellow travelers along the way.

Avast
Free anti-virus software to keep the computer squeaky clean.

And finally

This site is proudly powered by WordPress and hosted on Siteground, with a beautiful theme designed by Anders Norén.

This will be the last post for a while as I regroup and figure out what the future of this blog is (if it has one) or if I’ll start a new project. I have kept this up for nearly two years and it has been an adventure in itself. This kind of consistent writing is an exercise in serious self-discipline. It is incredibly hard work (but rewarding!) and it’s been really good for me. I’m at least as proud of myself for sticking with it as I am for completing such a bonkers trip.

So, know that I will be doing SOMETHING eventually, I just don’t know what yet, and I think I’ve earned a bit of a break in the meantime.

 

Beginnings and ends, plans and memories

Three months there, about 24 hours back.

Three months there, about 24 hours back.

This weekend I booked my first train and my flight from Bangkok back to Edinburgh. It’s really real FO-REAL now. I just have to fill in the middle bits.

I’ve been waiting SO LONG to start doing the proper booking it almost feels fake actually doing it. But it’s paid for and in the calendar and on the spreadsheet and all that. Done and done.

With this (and pretty much every other) trip, the lead-up and the time I spend thinking about it afterwards far outweighs the actual three months I will spend away, and I have been thinking a lot about how much travel is about what happens in your brain, almost more than it’s about the physical act of going places and talking to people and eating things.

There was recently a New York Times article being passed around the interweb on what your holiday says about you, and how the planning bit has been, in some cases, proven to be more satisfying than the actual holiday because planning a busy and intricate itinerary is incredibly rewarding whereas actually DOING something so full-on is exhausting and stressful.

Well. Obviously.

I’ve tried to make my plans for this trip less about pinning down a detailed itinerary and more about amassing possibilities. And there IS a lot of joy in planning for me. Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I am A Planner and Organiser By Nature. I do think this reputation does me a disservice in obscuring the fact that I love spontaneity and surprises, and I often wish there was a little more of that getting thrown at me in my life. So part of this adventure is avoiding the temptation to plan the entire route in detail and keeping things a bit open-ended in places.

I will be booking my trains ahead of time through to Beijing, but after that, I only have rough ideas of where I want to go, and rough estimates of when I need to be crossing certain borders (mostly based on visa requirements). But I still have all sorts of lists of cool things I’ve heard about that might be worth seeing if I’m in the right place.

I should also say that the actual booking-of-tickets part of the planning is IMMENSELY satisfying because it means I AM GOING. And also coming back.

I think when I get back is when the trip really does its work.

Memory is a bizarre thing. Somewhat accidentally, I’ve been consuming a lot of media about it lately. I’ve just finished the memoir of a woman caring for her mother-in-law who has Alzheimer’s called Keeper: A Book about memory, identity, isolation, Wordworth and cake…. The book is half personal experience of the difficulties of caring for someone who is basically losing who they are and half musings on the research the author has done into how the brain actually works, how the disease breaks it down, and the history of Dementia, its treatments, and pubic attitudes towards it.

What we recall isn’t a matter of units of memory, but rather our brain pulling together a story and reconstructing something for us every time. We may think it’s the same always, and we may even think it’s the same as what actually happened, but really it’s probably not. Not the same as what we actually experienced and not the same recall all the time. Sometimes you remember slightly different details of an event and surely that shapes what you see in your head a little differently every time. It’s like watching a play instead of a movie.

From what I understand, Alzheimer’s breaks down the connections that allow your brain to pull memories together, so things disappear at different speeds, but you essentially lose the things that make you who you are, because that’s what memory is. Your personality comes in large part from your experiences and how you process them, and memories aren’t a digital things, they’re a constant, analogue process.

I also just saw Inside Out (how could I NOT?) which shows us Pixar’s vision of how memories and personality work. In their version, memories ARE actually units, but they’re kind of evolving marbles rather than static rocks. The way they portray memories having completely mixed emotions as their foundations and how they combine to create who we are is fascinating (islands of personality!) and gut-wrenching because it feels so accurate. And per usual with Pixar, EVERY ADULT in that cinema with me was all teary at multiple points from being hit hard in the feels.

Between the book and the film, I’m now walking around thinking about HOW my brain is pulling together the memories I’m flipping through at any given time. (Because I don’t have enough buzzing around in my head without getting all meta on top of it.) So I wonder how close the memory and the event are, and how they change depending on what mood I’m in when I recall them. BRAINS. They’re pretty cool.

The constant evolution of my travel memories connects those experiences to whatever present circumstance I need them to inform or whatever feeling I need to associate with them. This is true for a lot of experiences though. You do something you think is a bit rough or difficult or whatever, but when you look back on it you feel like it was maybe a lot greater than you gave it credit for at the time. Some of this is hindsight and analysis and, in my case, the fact that I have a hard time relaxing or not being a ball of anxiety about everything that’s happening because I can’t often quiet my brain down long enough to stop and really see what’s happening for two seconds.

But I sort of love this about travel. My memories of trips are things I call up and scrutinise on a regular basis, sometimes for daydreaming or escape, sometimes for self-criticism, sometimes for other things entirely. I’m sure they change a little every time, but I also know that it grows the experience to something much richer in my history.

And then there’s one trip I took just before a pretty traumatic life thing that I never got to think too much about in the weeks after I got back because I was Dealing With Some Hardcore Stuff. I honestly think this affected my ability to commit a lot of that trip to long-term memory in the way I usually do by mulling things over for ages in the background when I return from a place. I don’t have a lot of solid memories of that trip the way I do with every other trip I’ve ever taken, which is too bad, because it was a fantastic holiday and I know I had a lot of fun with my friend Sara who I went with. But it only exists in kind of pixelated bits in my head instead of rich dancing colours the way the rest of my travel inventory does.

In contrast, there’s the trip I took to Paris earlier this year. It was such a fast one, and full-on, and manic. And I had a good time while I was there, but when I think about it now, it’s grown into something so much more amazing than I thought it was at the time. Sometimes it’s good to plow through things and work them out afterwards. All the processing is a big part of who I am, and it’s changing all the time. And I love that. It’s what builds bits of those islands of personality.

I think the fact that your inner landscape is such a major part of your travel or anything you do is why it’s so difficult to explain the full experience of your holidays and trips. You can tell stories and try to draw parallels between them and the stories of others, but I find it nearly impossible to impart the real impact of any trip. It’s so wound up in the rest of my life. I kind of just have to trust that people get that. I think at least most of them who’ve done a bit of traveling do.

If memory was made up of discrete units we’d probably be able to explain our feelings on ANYTHING a lot better than we can. It would be like being able to hand someone a book off a shelf instead of attempting to pull up a 30-year-old tree at the roots and show them what bit you mean.

But I think it’s kind of nice you can’t sum yourself or any of your experiences up simply, even if articulation can be a completely awkward and uphill human endeavour. After all, if it were that easy, what then would we talk about in the pub?

Financial anxiety

From the outside, it doesn’t look like I’ve done a whole lot this week in terms of travel prep. Mostly I’ve been promising myself up and down I wouldn’t spend any more money and then not delivering on that promise.

Payday this month is a Monday, which is crap because it usually means I’m out of cash for the weekend. YES, I AM 31 AND THAT STILL HAPPENS. And no matter how much I look at my budget and my wallet and try to convince myself that this will be the month I will be better at a budget, it just doesn’t happen, because life does not follow some arbitrary guidelines I set and it never will. Then I start getting really irritated about all the advice about how you SHOULD sort out your finances and have an emergency fund and savings and retirement money and spend the same amount every freaking month because who on EARTH is able to do that for real?

I don’t think I’m terrible with money. I’ve managed to do a lot of what I wanted to do and pay for it myself while maintaining a pretty normal life. I don’t buy a lot of clothes. I certainly don’t go shopping for the fun of it. I make most of my own food. I don’t take taxis or drink in overpriced crappy clubs. I’m overall pretty sensible on a day to day basis. But I still constantly feel like I’m one step behind where I want to be with my own finances. From what I can tell, this is probably pretty normal, so why does it feel like anxiety and failure?

I spent a lot of time this week scratching figures on scrap paper, adding and subtracting and projecting and worrying that I’m not going to have what I want to have before I go off on all my trains. And knowing full well that no matter how much I say I’m not going to buy things that aren’t related to my trip between now and then, that it will be a bold-faced lie. Beyond the fact that there are clothes I need and bits and pieces that come with being a new bike owner and all that, there is the business of living.

This Wednesday was the first incredibly warm, sunny day we’ve had in ages (YAY!) and I was determined to spend as much of it sitting outside in the Meadows in the sun. And despite the fact that I had brought all my own dinner picnicking food so that I wouldn’t have to spend anything, I realised I had no sunscreen, and unless I want to be completely red, in pain, and at higher risk of cancer in about 15 minutes, my transparent skin and I NEED factor 50. It is not an option. And forgoing sitting in the sunshine because I refuse to spend £7.50 on sunscreen is about the most depressing idea I can think of when Scotland is at long last creeping into summer.

This weekend wasn’t even some massive crazy money-spending spree. I stayed in with my friends and sewed myself a top for a Hawaiian-themed social dance next Sunday. But it was the first time I’ve seen Alex in a year and a half, and so when we all want to go for dinner and drinks in the pub, my budget is not going to say no, and my lack of cash is just going to say, ‘WHATUP, CREDIT CARD?’

I suppose you could say if I was a more responsible person I’d find a constructive way to avoid spending some of that money, but at what other cost? Spending time with people or erasing the suckiness of spending a day sitting at a computer by being outdoors is often more important than worrying about how I need to have more for train food. I mean, there’s not a WHOLE lot to spend money on while on a train.

I’m sure I’ll work out the money thing. And I’m sure a lot of my freaking out is due to the fact that I’ve just front-loaded a lot of my spending for the next 5 months by paying for 3 different dance events and a bicycle within a month. It will even itself out. I just still don’t feel like I’m doing a great job at having financial will power. And I probably never will.

In related news, I should probably pick up some freelance work.

Here is all my stuff. Please take it. (And maybe give me some money.)

This week, among many other little things like changing the type of current account I have to a non-fee-paying flavour (I Know, I know, THRILLING), I’ve told myself I really need to figure out which things I’m getting rid of that I need to try to get money for. And then actually list them or hawk them in some way instead of telling myself I’ll get to it.

Most of what I have I’ll be happy to just give to people. I’ll probably have some kind of weird party during which I’ll put all the shit I want to get rid of in the room, serve cake, and have everyone come take things away. If they want to buy me a drink or donate some cash (or better yet travel stuff I need!) to the cause in exchange, all the better. But I mostly just want to get rid of things with minimal effort.

But I need as much money as I can get and there are a few big items that I really need to try to sell properly. It’s just that it’s such a friggin’ PAIN. I just started writing an ebay listing and when I got to the shipping section I remembered why interweb selling makes me want to curl up and die. I don’t know how much my J Crew blazer weighs! I don’t know what kind of packaging I should ship it in! I don’t know how much that all costs! I just want someone to buy the damn thing, which itself isn’t guaranteed.

Related: why on earth did I ever buy a blazer of any kind, let alone one I spent £200 on and never wore? I don’t do things like that! When I spend that much on an item of clothing, it’s something I know I’m going to wear the hell out of. I blame my move to the corporate world and having absolutely no idea what I was doing with that. There were many bad clothing purchase choices. This just happened to be the most costly. And dammit, I will get SOME of that money back (and someone else will get a bargain on a very nice blazer that never had any business being on my back).

In any case, as this sort of thing is now taking up much of my free time, I straight up forgot about my own Thursday blogging deadline for the first time in a year. I was initially a little annoyed at myself, but now I’ve decided to give myself a permanent break from that. I have a lot of piddly, boring, tick-off-the-list things to be getting on with in the next 6 months, so I will now be posting once a week instead of twice to give myself the time to sort it all out. This will hopefully also mean better quality posts instead of a lot of churn-em-out ones, but that remains to be seen.

In the meantime, if anyone wants a bucket barbecue, I’ve got one going spare.

 

US May 2015

I didn’t do a lot of writing about this trip while I was on it, because I was SO TIRED the whole time. You’d think I’d learn by now that I shouldn’t try to cram so much into a short trip because of the burnout it causes, but it’s really hard to do that when I go to the US because there are so many people I never get to see and I just want to see as many of them as I possibly can when I get the small chances I do.

I had grand plans to do a lot of travel planning for the big trip, a lot of writing (blog related and not), and a lot of reading, particularly on my two 6 hour train trips, but I spent most of those hours listening to music, dozing, and staring into space thinking about stuff because I couldn’t handle much else at the time. And that’s ok. But it does mean I have a lot of writing down of those thoughts to be getting on with.

Here’s all the awesome stuff I did that tired me out so much:

A day of wandering around Georgetown with Liam and Bobby. A ridiculous brownie at Baked and Wired. Happy Hour Mexican food and a mojito. A brilliant, brilliant Ben Folds and yMusic gig at the Lincoln Theatre.

Driving out of the middle of DC in a rental car, fairly terrified and mostly lost the entire time. Steak for lunch at Kelsey’s house, watching the chickens and talking about life. Dinner with most of her family (who are pretty much my second family) in downtown Frederick. Sharing the couch with Miss Betty.

Buying lots of random stuff in Target while I waited for the rest of the wedding party to arrive in York. Sampling the hotel pool experience. A rehearsal dinner while flanked by some kind of optometrists’ party in one ballroom and a high school prom in another (high entertainment value). The nicest hotel beds. An amazing wedding on a gorgeous day.

Driving back into DC again, terrified and lost again, this time with added Hellish Nation’s Capital Traffic and nearly hitting a pedestrian. Lunch at ShopHouse to recover (very good). A 6 hour train ride on which I did very little aside from think too much.

A dark beer called Duck Rabbit (how could I resist THAT NAME) with Josh. Breakfast with Rachel and their two awesome kids. A trip to the Raleigh farmers’ market. Really good salsa (god I miss really good salsa). Fast food, North Carolina style. Sitting in on a high school creative writing magazine meeting, which was so great and so bizarre and so the same as I remember it. Real North Carolina barbecue including hush puppies, which are one of my favourite things. Wyatt Cenac at a local comedy club (very funny, recommended). Lunch and local beers in Fuquay-Varina. And a super chilled out night of dinner, chat and whisky.

Another 6 hour train ride, not bad considering it was right after a pretty awful day for Amtrak. Again, didn’t do much but doze and think. A mojito sorbet while killing time waiting for happy hour with all the DC Washington College Dramalumni at the District ChopHouse. More beer than I should have drank, which is easy when it’s only $3.50 a pint. A Trader Joe’s dinner back at Liam and Bobby’s while watching a whole lot of Daily Show.

Lunch with my parents at Farmers Fishers Bakers and a walk along the river on a lovely day before my long trip home.

It was a lot, but it was worth the exhaustion. I’m lucky I got to see so many people in such a short space of time.

I was also incredibly homesick on this trip considering how short it was. I feel more like a foreigner than ever when I’m in the US, and I was probably realising that’s going to be standard now. I’m ok with that – I love the UK – I guess I just didn’t expect it to hit me so hard. I was VERY happy to see Edinburgh when I got back (and my fantastic friends who I spent the rest of the day with at the Summerhall FestiveALE – a lovely way to force myself to stay awake and fight the jet lag).

Cost

I was under budget again (£1500), which hooray! But as usual with trips to the US, I didn’t have to pay for much accommodation, and lots of people bought me food and drinks and things, so most of the cost was transportation.

Trip total: £1334.47

That’s an average of £121.32 per day.

£899.75 on transport. SO MANY DIFFERENT KINDS of transport. This was Planes, trains and automobiles for real.

£144.77 on food. And I finally got my airport sushi in Dulles on the way home.

£36.28 on entertainment. Ben Folds!

£72.56 on accommodation. Two nights in a shared hotel room in York PA. Pool view. John Oliver on HBO. Beds to die for.

£55.05 on gifts. Stuff for people I was staying with. Chocolate and whisky mostly.

£65.49 on drinks. At least half of this was for other people. I drank relatively little on this trip.

£60.57 on miscellaneous. A bunch of random stuff at Target and a bunch of cold and heartburn related medicine. FUN.

Posts

In which I realise there IS such a thing as too much research

Another reason to be excited about DC

Delayed (again)

Weddings!

In the headphones

Nico

Ray Charles

Lucy Schwartz

On the Kindle

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter by Richard Feynman

Keeper: A Book about memory, identity, isolation, Wordsworth and cake… by Andrea Gillies

In-flight films

Shaun the Sheep Movie (SO MUCH FUN)

Wild (more on which later)

How much I’ve spent on becoming a British citizen

It’s a lot of money, people.

Cha-ching!

I have gone back through all the records I have and wracked my brain to think of all associated costs. I have not been able to find the specific figures for everything, so I’ve made best guesses in some cases. I’m sure if I wanted to, I could find the proper facts, but I’ve already spent about an hour researching what I COULD find, so I think that’s plenty.

All in, I have spent approximately £15,000 on visas and all associated costs in the past 9 years. The true total is probably much higher than this because I’ve probably forgotten some bits and pieces that should be included.

The biggest chunk of that is actually the cost of my Masters degree. International fees for an MSc in Design and Digital Media at the University of Edinburgh were around £10,000 in 2007/2008. Some might say that’s not a directly related cost to citizenship, but it actually is because it got me a post-study work visa and I wouldn’t still be here without it.

Post-study work was one of the 5 visas I’ve had over the past 9 years. Visa fees alone (not including the citizenship application, as it’s not technically a visa) make up for about  £2,300 of the total.

Other costs included in that £15,000 include any travel I had to do in order to get visas, including one set of return flights to the US, legal fees for advice, checking service and biometrics appointments, Life in the UK test fees and materials, passports, pictures, and all the other little things that go along with this volume of paperwork.

And MAN is there a lot of paperwork. I still have copies of most of it.

I should also note that the route I took to citizenship literally does not exist anymore. Some of the visas I’ve held have changed or disappeared altogether. For the ones that do still exist, many of the rules around things like timings and income requirements have changed drastically, often right after I obtained them under the previous rules. I got in under quite a few wires. And I have had a lot of luck and a lot of help.

It has not been an easy or cheap endeavour, and the costs above are only the monetary ones. There is a lot of stress and emotion involved in all of this, even for the most straightforward of cases. It’s actually really hard to represent what that portion of the experience is like to people who haven’t been through the system. But people who have been, REALLY know.

There is a camaraderie among those of us who have gotten to know the head-spinning ins and outs of the UKBA/UK Visas and Immigration processes and ever-changing rules and regulations. And I am more sympathetic than ever towards anyone going through any kind of immigration process anywhere in the world. No one does this lightly. You have to really, really want it. It’s not for chancers or freeloaders by any stretch of the imagination. You need to be completely on top of it. It’s a difficult road and it sometimes feels like you will never have to stop proving yourself. It’s an exhausting and occasionally Kafkaesque way to live.

As of this Tuesday, that’s over for me. While not without it’s faults, I still believe the process was absolutely worth it. But now I can spend my money on exercising my new British passport (when it arrives)!

(And if you know someone going through any stage of this kind of process, for Pete’s sake, give them a hug or a drink or a ‘Hang the fuck in there’. It’ll be well-appreciated.)

Paris/London 2015

NOTHING BESIDE REMAINS. (Ok except some wine, but that was short-lived.) #canard

So my quick trip to Paris and London was pretty full-on. I crammed a lot into less than a week, but it was good fun. I don’t have any pictures of the London portion, but this whole trip grew out of the need to go down there so I could get a bridesmaid’s dress from David’s Bridal in Stratford. And that went just about as you’d expect spending two hours in a large American chain bridal store on a Saturday would go. Eeesh. I did pick out a nice dress though, and I didn’t even have to carry it home because it needed ordering, so that was pretty successful.

I then headed straight for the chaotic centre of London to check out the Revival Retro boutique, which was the complete opposite experience. Absolutely lovely and everything on the sale rack was in my size (NEVER HAPPENS). I straight CLEANED UP in terms of vintage style early birthday presents to myself, including this dress, which I love love love.

New clothes!

If only I were so lucky every time I had to get new clothes.

Anyway, after that, I grabbed some gelato at Gelupo to bring back to my fantastic hosts’ place for dessert. I stayed with David who I went to college with, his husband Jason and their housemate Krysta. They made me dinner and cocktails and had great chat and wine (Jason is a wine seller, check out his shop if you’re in London!) and were pretty much impeccable in every way.

Sunday, I met my friend Chloe and we had an epic Sunday roast in a pub then a walk along the river in the sun before wiling a away the afternoon before my flight out of London City in The Understudy, which is a great new bar at the National Theatre looking out on the river. Excellent beer AND coffee.

Photos

My full Flickr set for Paris.

Cost

I couldn’t remember if I’d factored in the cost of the bridesmaid’s dress when I set the budget for this trip, but I’m going to guess that I did because the dress was £110 and all my other spending was about £120 short of my full budget, which was £600. I did not count the money I spent on clothes in London in budget spend because it was just kind of normal shopping I needed to do (ALL of my clothes are falling apart at the same time, ergh.)

Trip total: £475.49

At 6 days, 5 nights, that’s an average of £79.25 per day. Higher than my average for Finland, which was slightly surprising, but I did pay for accommodation for part of this trip, and I didn’t do that in Finland.

I'm loving the updates to Trail Wallet by the way!

I’m loving the updates to Trail Wallet by the way!

Breakdown

 £187.90 on food and drink. I TOLD YOU this trip was all about eating. This was my biggest expense, and I’m perfectly happy with that.

£113.95 on transport. This is mostly local public transport, as I only spent £35 on the flights since I got them with BA miles/Avios.

£9.76 on entertainment. A ticket to the Louvre and a donation at Notre Dame. I did so much walking and wandering on this trip that most of my entertainment was free. The Louvre is kind of expensive, but I’d say it’s justified.

£125.00 on accommodation. My first Airbnb, which was fantastic! I’ll definitely be using it much more now.

£3.70 on stuff for me. This was some travel bits and pieces at Muji in London.

£35.18 on gifts. For my hosts and for a few treats to bring in to work.

Posts

Paris: Less money or less hurry?

In which I realise there IS such a thing as too much research

Paris plans

Paris, part one (and being a wimp)

Paris, part two (I am so very full)

In the headphones

Nina Simone

On the Kindle

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

In which I realise there IS such a thing as too much research

I have two trips I’m currently organising: Paris/London in February, which grew out of the need to pop to London to get a bridesmaid’s dress, and the US (again!) in May, where I will be wearing that dress. And recently I briefly fell into the travel research black hole of trying to find the best bargain for these trips to the detriment of all else.

I’m not sure I want to know how many times I checked flight prices and set up Skyscanner alerts for EDI-IAD return trips in the past month because it may well amount to more time that I’ll actually spend on the freakin’ plane. And I wasn’t even thinking about the ridiculousness of this until I called my friend Liam, who I will be staying with in DC, and asked him if he thought it was better to get a train back up north from North Carolina, spend the night and fly out the next day, or fly back up and go from Reagan to Dulles in a few hours. He and his boyfriend pondered this aloud for quite a while, my wifi dropped out, and when I reconnected, he said ‘Well, you could really debate this for ages and find good reasons for either way, so, I don’t know what to tell you. I guess just pick one.’

Talking sense.

And this is when I was like, ‘GAHHHH, WHAT HAVE I BEEN DOING?’

Getting a good price on flights and accommodation and all that is fairly important, but also, so is my actual time. I can’t really put a price on it or anything, but it kind of felt like those times at work where someone goes, ‘Well, if we have many more meetings about this, given the day rates of the people involved, it’s starting to get more expensive to talk about this thing than just DOING IT and seeing what happens.’

Sometimes money and time ARE good motivators.

So I picked one (train, overnight, flight). Then I got off the Skype and booked my US flight. And the next day I picked an Airbnb for Paris and booked that. And made a list of the other things I need to book and put deadlines on them and forbid myself to do any more than half an hour’s research on each one. And I feel a lot better about all of it now. And I’m pretty sure I will give zero shits if the price happens to drop again, because I got some life going on.

This kind of made me realise this is the exact reason people use travel agents. I like the planning, but the research DOES take time, and you can get carried away. If you can trust that someone else is going to do all the best research for you, then why not? I sued a travel agent when I booked Africa for the first time ever. And they were great! (Trailfinders by the way. Recommended.) But I totally didn’t do it right because I was still researching everything anyway. Not because I didn’t trust they’d get me the best deal they could, but I guess because I just didn’t believe it was possible to get a better deal with a company than on my own. But it IS. And I didn’t find anything better than what they got me. PLUS they had all the knowledge I do not. So maybe I’ll do it again. It doesn’t even cost extra!

But I can’t bring myself to use a travel agent for something as simple as a trip to the US, which I do regularly enough that I should be able to book it in my sleep. So from now on, no endless searching and price tracking. I know what it should cost. I need to just get on with it.

Paris: Less money or less hurry?

I’m going to London in February for bridesmaid dress acquisition, and I’ve been planning to use it as an excuse to go to Paris as well. Originally, I was going to get the train down and use some air miles for a Eurostar ticket. (I reeeeeally want to go on the Eurostar!)

Then I saw that I’ve already missed out on super cheap train tickets to London and if I do it by train, I’d spend way more on transport than if I used my miles to fly, because I can get a flight to Paris with a stopover in London on the way home for 9000 miles and £35.

The main problem with this is that I would SO much rather take the train. But I can’t justify spending nearly 3 times as much for the privilege.  Not this time anyway.

So I may be resigned to the flights. And now I’m trying to decide if I should just go for a more full-blown holiday in Paris as well.

Initially I was going to spend three nights in the cheapest hostel I could find and just wander around for two days. Now I’m wondering if 5 nights in someone’s lovely little airbnb’d flat is a much better idea. It will cost much more, but A: I’ve never done airbnb before (exciting!), and B: if I do 2 full days in Paris and one full day in London, I’ll be spending an equal number of days doing the actual traveling between them all.

On a train, that might be ok, but three days in airports, especially when one of them is effing Charles de Gaulle (my least favourite, thus far, in the world), does not a relaxing time make. And saving money is an important goal here, but so is meaningful travel.

And an excuse to sit at a different cafe every morning drinking coffee in no hurry to go anywhere at all.

And food.

So.

I don’t want to go to Paris just to tick it off. I want to do it properly.

Sometimes I feel like I think too much about these decisions when I should just go for things a little more impulsively. But we’ll see how I feel about the price tag of this plan in the morning. (Be sensible, Kate, you just paid off your credit card!)

In the meantime, any Paris-related suggestions greatly appreciated.

 

Goal number one: BOOM!

As of today, my credit card balance from my trip to Africa (and from life in general) is CLEARED.

So, from now on it’s paying off in full and saving everything I can for the trip.

Short post, but big friggin’ deal.