Money is everywhere (when you’re desperate)

I’m leaving for Berlin in a few days. I am not a wealthy woman, nor do I enjoy having a job that isn’t freelance. In order to sustain this lifestyle, I’ve cut all unnecessary expenses and squeezed every last penny out of my surroundings. Here’s my income since I started planning and saving for the trip earlier this month. The only money I spent was on groceries and gas. I had to get pretty creative, as you’ll see, and look around for odd jobs and commissions:

 

 

  • Logo design for Yale: $100
  • Album sales: $25
  • Dog-sitting: $200
  • Old paycheck that came in late: $82
  • Euros found in a drawer: $4
  • Returned a book I didn’t like: $14
  • Cancelled Spotify membership: $10
  • Spare change found in my car: $9
  • Traded old gift cards for cash: $90
  • Window repair at Mom’s house: $50
  • Argued a refund for a missed doctor’s appointment: $60
  • Portraits: $125
  • Illustration: $25

Total: $794

Plane ticket: $330

Net gain: $464

Armed with my savings and that little income boost, I’m free to abandon my frugal ways and live it up in Europe for a little while. Eventually, I’ll have to take my banjo to the streets and start the cycle all over again. But I’m not complaining, it’s all part of the fun!

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Great expectation

I’m happy now but not with anything tangible. I’m happy with anticipation and imagination. Hazy impressions of a new life fill my mind as I fall asleep.

I used to think that expectation was the enemy of happiness. But what if expectation is just another form of happiness? And what if expectation is more reliable than the real thing?

Try as I might, I can’t let go of my hopes—love, friendship, fulfillment. And with these hopes come detailed scenes, scripted and staged. I can live in those scenes for a while, at least until fantasy and reality meet and the latter triumphs.

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My bedroom windows glow at night

But what is the harm of hoping, however foolishly, that hoping will help? If I’m stubborn enough in my beliefs, maybe reality will have no choice but to conform to them.

The truth is that my life will take its own course regardless, deviating from my plan in disappointing and incredible ways.

There are nights that I go to the grocery store with a stained sweatshirt on and come back hours later with a story I’ll never forget. There are people I despise who have introduced me to my closest friends. There have been terrible heartbreaks and beautiful songs about them.

So when it arrives, I will embrace the future unconditionally. But for now, I will dream.

 

6 Tips to Travel for Free

“Wow, you’re so lucky to be able to afford a trip to Europe!”

Who says I can afford it? I have a couple thousand dollars to my name. No safety net, no savings. Sure, my family would bail me out if I got deathly ill, but I know from experience that they won’t pay for my food even if I’m starving.

So is it possible to travel around the world and break even? It definitely is, if we’re not counting airfare (that’s your biggest cost). I’ve done it before, though only within this country. Here’s my strategy:

  1. Don’t pay (money) for a place to sleep. Everyone knows about CouchSurfing, but I feel like the resulting dynamic is unbalanced. One person is the generous host, and one person contributes nothing but their company. Things are a lot more comfortable when you can offer something in return: doing chores, buying groceries, etc. If you strike a mutually beneficial arrangement, you can stay longer and you’ll be less of a burden!
  2. Pick up a traveler’s trade. There are two ways to do this. You can get freelance work, as a lot of jobs in tech, design, and journalism are conducted online. Or you can become a street performer, and play music for money. Do some research before you go because some cities don’t allow it or require a permit.

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    Me performing in the New York City subway

  3. Be ridiculously frugal before your trip. Now that you’ve got the motivation to save, cut out all your expenses for a few weeks. It might sound crazy, but I’m walking everywhere and living off rice and beans. No more movies or restaurants—that pocket money will be more valuable to me in Berlin!
  4. Buy groceries. I know, I know, the whole point of traveling is the food. But why not limit yourself to one meal out every day, then cook something simple at your host’s house for the other ones? I’m sure they’ll appreciate it, plus you’ll save a ton of money and get to explore weird foreign markets (hey, they’re probably tourist-free).
  5. Blog about your experiences. This is one I can’t really attest to because I’ve never made my writing profitable. There are a ton of travel writers out there who bring in a lot of money from ads. It’s tough to break through but why not give it a shot? Everyone’s got something unique to say.
  6. Research! Do it! Don’t wait for recommendations once you get there. Look up free entertainment in advance. A lot of cities have movie and concert series, so you’re sure to catch some great events if you plan accordingly.

As for me, I’ll be “paying” for a place to stay by painting portraits of my hosts. I’m also going to bring my banjo and hit the streets for some busking. And lastly, I’ll continue to work on the freelance commissions I’ve been getting. Even if I don’t break even, I’ll spend less money and have more fun trying to get by on nothing!

Running away for real

Yesterday, I wrote about wanting to run away from my problems. A few hours later, I booked a flight to Berlin.

I’m self-aware enough to know that I have a pattern of looking outside myself for the solution to my problems. I know that running away is a superficial change and won’t fix everything. But at this point, I need something to wake me up, and I don’t care if it’s naïve or reckless or costs me a thousand dollars.

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Me on my last adventure, hiking the Appalachian Trail

I couldn’t even tell you what I did yesterday vs. the day before vs. last month. How many articles did I read? Which spices did I use on my lentils? What did I watch before bed? Did I even shower? I definitely didn’t leave my house unless it was a grocery day, which forces me to drive to the Stop & Shop a few blocks away.

This isn’t life. I’m living, but have no stories or relationships to show for it. I’m just burrowing deeper inside myself, losing my connection to everything else. If I stay here any longer, who knows how much more time I’ll waste, and how much closer I’ll get to giving up entirely.

I’m not ready to give up yet. There’s still a part of me that thinks I can build a healthy, meaningful life. So for better or worse, I’m running away in 3 weeks. I don’t have any plans so I’ll have to figure it out soon. All I know is that my life and this blog are about to get a lot more interesting…

P.S. If you or someone you know lives in Berlin, send me a message and let’s meet up!

How to run away

I always want to leave. I always have a next stop on my life itinerary. And when I get there, I start planning the next one.

I want to leave now because I can, because I have no reason to stay. I don’t know anyone here. I have no lease, no job, no commitments outside of my freelance work, which I can do anywhere.

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The place I call home, for now

I guess what I’m looking for is a place I can’t bear to leave. Friends essential to my well-being, an apartment of my own, maybe a book club and a favorite restaurant on my block. The first one is most important: a social circle.

I would move to the middle of nowhere if you told me I’d find a solid group of friends there. It’s not that I have any trouble engaging with people, it’s that I don’t meet any people to engage with in the first place.

I’ve tried art classes, concerts, even just sitting in coffee shops for hours with a welcoming smile on my face. I could always try harder. But then the thought creeps in: what if I could just go somewhere else and find the solution?

I imagine stepping off the plane in Chicago or California and being greeted by a slew of signs with my name on them. “Welcome home!” and “We love you!” in thick marker.

The truth is that I’ll get wherever I’m going, stay hopeful for a week or two, then give up before putting any real effort in. It’s easier to blame it on the wrong location than to blame myself.

On emotional originality

There are things you feel and do every day that you never express. They can be small and insignificant—like the way you put on your socks in the morning—or much bigger.

I spend most of my life alone. In fact, I can say with certainty that the only person I will talk to today is my therapist. Such a lifestyle breeds a multitude of quirks and neuroses.

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I did a screenprint of mundane household objects, titled “Adulthood”

I wonder often if other people feel the way I do. If people see the world the way I do. Sometimes, I find out that my feelings are shared by others. I’m at once grateful for the commiseration and alarmed at my own unoriginality.

If my inner life is not unique, then I am just like everyone else. But if I’m just like everyone else, why am I so withdrawn, so miserable, so incapable of fulfilling the basic expectations of life like work, romance, and family bonds?

I want other people to understand me, and yet I want to be cryptic, enigmatic, indecipherable. I want to be a puzzle, but I want someone to want to solve me.

On free time and self-doubt

When I was working 40 hours a week, commuting an hour each way, I longed for free time. My mind was full of plans and ideas that I’d surely get to if it weren’t for the job.

When I was in college, taking 5 credits, writing a research thesis, and running a dorm, I thought the same thing: “Once this is over, I’ll start work on the things I actually care about.”

And here I am, jobless and out of school, sitting in my father’s living room. “No events,” my phone tells me when I check my calendar. Clean and gray and empty, my schedule is still somehow overwhelming.

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Relaxing or terrifying?

If I had two meetings, for example, I could plan around them. Maybe I’d work on one thing before the meeting, have a break in between the two, then work on something else for the rest of the day.

Instead, I drown in the disparity between how little the world asks of me, and how much I ask of myself.

Here is another possibility: I am being productive. I am doing more than I could ever do with a job, but because it’s spread out over the course of 16 waking hours, it seems paltry. I’ve gotten a few illustration commissions, plus I’m recording music and submitting essays for publication.

It’d be impossible to work non-stop for 16 hours. Still, there’s gotta be a way to maximize my productivity and well-being, while minimizing the feelings of dread, anxiety, and utter uselessness.

I sometimes read blog articles like, “5 Ways to Use Your Mornings” and “10 Things You Need to Do Right Now or Else Your Whole Life Is Meaningless and You Do Not Deserve to Live.”

But I already wake up pretty early and work pretty hard and live pretty cheaply. Why do I need to push myself anymore? Maybe that’s what keeps me afloat. Maybe without the guilt over every silly TV show watched, dollar wasted, and morning alarm ignored, I’d give up on myself entirely.