Happy 2016: A Mid-Way Update on 25 for 25

IMG_1191Happy New Year all! I hope you’ve had a good couple weeks of eating well and merrymaking. I certainly did. January 1st always rolls around and the cookies and eggnog are swapped for cold-pressed green juices and promises to lose 10 pounds by spring. While I could certainly stand to lose a few pounds after the holidays, I didn’t make any New Years resolutions, weight loss or other, besides a commitment to myself to try and ride my bike to and from work as long as it’s not snowing or bitterly bitterly cold out.

In lieu of travel or wellness related New Years resolutions to share with you all, I thought now was the perfect time to give you an update on how the 25 Travel Goals for Turning 25 that I set for myself on my birthday in June are shaping up. The halfway point, the end of Q2, and New Years, my June birthday really positioned me well for this one. I haven’t hit all of my goals yet, but I’ve still got half a year to go, and after 11 days of doing nothing but relaxing at home over the holidays (with an ever so slight case of FOMO for not traveling during it), I’m feeling refreshed and rejuvenated and ready to make the most of 2016. Without further ado, here is the low down:

1. Really get The 9 to 5 Wanderer up and running as a full blown travel blog with lots of great content on a regular basis. This blog has been such a cathartic outlet for me, and I hope you all have enjoyed reading it so far too!

Not much of an update from Q1 here, I’m afraid. I’ve got a long long list of blog articles in draft mode waiting to be written, but life has gotten in the way. I have so much to share from my travel to Istanbul and Cairo in October, and in the meantime I also went to DC and haven’t even had a chance to do a Weekend Wanderings update on that. I guess I lied earlier, a goal I would like to set for myself is to write an article on The 9 to 5 Wanderer at least once a week. I love doing it, but it does take time! Up until this holiday vacation, time has been a  very very low commodity.

2. Finally get the quantities of travel toiletries right. I’m always double what I need or way under-equipped. True nirvana where you’ve got just enough shampoo to make it through your last day? Never achieved it.

So I was very very proud/excited about my toiletry preparations for my trip to the Middle East in October. I transferred what I thought were 10 day sized amounts of my lotions, face creams, hair products, cleansers, etc, into mini travel tubes, and bought a few very compact face masks to bring my skin back to life after the long haul flights. The problem I have with toiletries is that I have a liiiiiiittle bit of a skincare fetish. I don’t have a lot of expensive branded products, but I do have a pretty rigorous nightly regime.  I don’t even wear a lot of makeup, especially when I’m on vacation, but going to bed without eye cream and face cream and maybeeee a moisturizing serum underneath is unthinkable to me. 

Despite my major downsizing and compartmentalizing efforts, I still had good amount of product left over. It didn’t hurt that I travelled with my mom and sister, and they had some products I tried out while I was there. I was overall happy that I had enough of everything I wanted to use, but almost every one of my little tubes and pots had something leftover in them when I got back to Boston. 

3. Solve the travel shoes dilemma. This is always my light packing downfall, I’ve got the rest nearly right, but then I go and throw 5 pairs of shoes in there for 7 days of travel. Sigh.

Solved! Well…sort of. To Istanbul and Cairo I brought my gold heels that went with my dress for the wedding (much to my chagrin because I wore them once), a pair of slip on Keds, and a pair of flat sandals. I did kind of cheat and buy a pair of sweet blush colored leather lace up shoes which I wore a fair amount, but overall, I’m chocking this up as major progress. I wonder how I would fare in a cooler climate once boots are involved. TBD. 

4. Travel somewhere entirely new, either in the US or overseas.

Istanbul in the fall and the Hamptons in the summer, US and overseas, check ,and check!

5. Buy a travel towel. I’ve never had one but I’m convinced it will be a GAME CHANGER.

Still haven’t done this one yet, but I did buy a pair of Turkish towels in Istanbul, which are very thin and apparently dry quickly, so they halfway fit the bill, kind of? I haven’t used them yet because it’s chilly in Boston and when I get out of the shower I want the warm fluffy terry cloth towels. This one’s still on the list. 

6. Go to at least one of my three cousins’ weddings in Cairo this year (yes, three in one year). More on why I’m not going to the one in August in a different post.

One already down- it took place in the garden of a former Ottoman Palace turned hotel at the foot of the Pyramids of Giza. Simply breathtaking. More on this at a later date (see list item 1). 

7. Go to Istanbul and Marrakesh, my top two travel dream destinations, some time in the next four years, if not sooner.

Woot woot, Istanbul done! No immediate plans to go to Marrakesh, but I think in the next four years sounds reasonable. 

8. In the spirit of remembering that there is lots of global exploration to do here at home, eat at least one different cuisine from around the world here in Boston each month.

I wouldn’t say that I get to a new one every single month, but in December I tried Malaysia food for the first time, and Nepalese/Tibetan food for the first time as well. The Nepalese/Tibetan was a major home run, the food was divine, the restaurant is in my neighborhood, and the prices are inexplicably low. I’ve been back twice since I went for the first time a couple weeks ago. The Malaysian food was less of a hit for me, but I’m going to go back and give it a second go before I write it off. One of the dishes I had, a roti and chicken curry sauce was delicious, but my main course, a noodle dish, felt a bit greasy to me, and wasn’t super flavorful. It did however, reignite my love of Boston’s Chinatown. When I was little we used to drive up from Cape Cod to spend the day in Chinatown, going for lunch and then exploring the unusual treats at the Chinese candy shops. I haven’t properly been in years, so I will definitely be going back. 

9.Successfully negotiate a raise/promotion at work.

I ACTUALLY DID IT! I thought it was literally never coming, but the afternoon I left for the airport to go to Istanbul, my boss told me that my promotion had gone through, with a not enormous but nice raise. Don’t worry folks, I’m still very safely in the entry level salary range, and most definitely still on a budget.

10. Having acquired said promotion (fingers majorly crossed), don’t immediately blow money on random stuff/immediately elevate standard of living. Make small changes, top up the #travelfund, and put some in savings and towards student loans.

Ermmm I’ve definitely loosened the reins on myself in the past couple of months since I got my raise unfortunately. It doesn’t end up being a whole lot of money once taxes are taken out and it’s chopped up into 52 weeks, but on a tight budget, it does make a difference. November and December weren’t great on the budget and I’ve definitely allowed myself a few more treats than usual, and of course, the holidays are always bad on the wallet. In the new year I’m reexamining my finances and making sure I’m not living the high life, when I should be saving. 

11. Maximize my credit card flight rewards scheme. I opened one up, but I haven’t really used it to its full potential yet. There are lots of purchases I could be making with the card to gain points, but I still don’t trust myself enough to live fully on credit cards.

Still got the full round trip to Europe in points and am working on using the remainder for half of my fare on a  trip to Latin America (very much TBD). However, I’m super bummed because of course, American Airlines updated their frequent flyer rewards chart, and when airlines update, it always really means downgrading. If I don’t book before March, my points won’t take me nearly as far. Kicking myself on that one, but I held off on the Europe trip partly because going sooner didn’t really work for my hosts, and because going to Europe always means a lot of spending when you’re actually there. Visiting good friends is amazing, but it does mean a never ending rotation of lunches, coffees, dinners, and nights out, and that means the travel spending budget for that sort of trip has to have some extra padding than a normal trip. 

I also redeemed a round trip ticket to Washington DC a couple weeks ago, through my British Airways Avois account. Of course, for the new year, British Airways are also downgrading their Avios rewards, once again, a major downgrade. However, I do fly British Airways and their partners relatively frequently, so I signed up for the British Airways credit card, which offers a 50,000 miles sign on bonus. I think even with the negative changes, a 50,000 miles bonus for spending I’d already be doing isn’t a bad thing. I signed up for my American Airlines credit card about a year ago and my credit is very good. Also no foreign transaction fees, which is a god send for the frequent traveler.

12. Stay in a hostel at least once. I’ve been lucky that a lot of my travel recently has come with a friend’s place to crash at, aka no accommodation expenses, but I do love a good hostel experience.

Not yet. Stayed in a hotel in Istanbul because my parents decided to travel with me, although the hotel was amazing and the pricing was very reasonable. If I do go to Latin America in the spring, I will most certainly be staying in a hostel, so I’ll be able to check this one off the list. We shall see. 

13. Finally get How to Travel the World on $50 a Day on loan from the library. I have been on the waitlist 5EVER and I have a feeling it is going to change my life forever.

Still haven’t gotten back on the waitlist since my epic fail of waiting for 3 months, finally getting my turn, and forgetting to pick it up, forfeiting my spot. Putting that on the 2016 to do list, right now. I had completely forgotten about it.

14. On that note, start really getting serious about travel hacking. Does anyone have experience with this? I’m hoping the book in #12 will help, but so far I’ve only opened up a flight rewards credit card.

I’ve come across a few good sites and loopholes in maximizing miles on different airlines, but as I said earlier, a lot of the plans are being revised (read: downgraded), so those deals are no longer as enticing. I’m going to have to find some new travel tips and tricks in 2016. 

15. Go on a girly reunion trip with my two best friends from college. One lives in Philadelphia, the other in NYC, we are all poor, and our only rule is it has to be accessible by bus for all three of us.

I didn’t go on a reunion trip yet, but I saw my two friends in New York as I mentioned in the last update. They came to visit me in Boston for Halloween, and I’ve got a visit to Philadelphia sometime this winter in the works. Not too bad, I don’t think. 

16. Keep up the French classes. Hopefully reach the point where I can have full conversations with native speakers.

The main reason this blog was quiet for nearly all of November and December. FINALZ. 

17. Enjoy home home, Cape Cod, to the fullest. I grew up in a beach travel destination that people all over the world die to go to, and there’s a lot of awesome fun stuff I should be taking advantage of this summer (not to mention quality time with the good old fam!)

I think overall I had a good summer on the Cape, and I’m writing this post in my living room at home, having spent the last week and a half here relaxing, spending time with the family, and taking beach walks. 

18. Have a healthier balance between my emergency fund and my travel fund (aka have separate funds and stop eyeing the emergency money to book your next flight, Amani).

UPDATE FROM Q1: Something I did do, and will write about more later, is open an online savings account a few weeks ago. Not only does it keep my emergency fund wayyyy out of sight, out of mind, and just that little bit more inaccessible, but it’s also earning me a 1% interest rate, instead of like .05% which is the rate of my main bank account. I’ve had the online account open about 3 weeks and have already earned $2.55 in interest. Not much, but it’s money I didn’t have before! And although the money is technically really easy to access, mentally it’s very far away, so there’s little risk of me tapping into it and depositing over to my checking.

UPDATE FROM Q2:  $14.70 earned in interest, and I haven’t touched it yet. Unlike my regular savings account which I have instantaneous access to and can transfer money to my checking in a matter of seconds, I forget I’ve got the money hiding away in this separate savings account. 

19. Once that is settled, start building a “when the price is right” travel fund. Over the last few months I’ve come across more than one flight flash sale, where if I had a liiiiiittle more financial flexibility (assuming #taxpocalypse didn’t happen) I would have been able to get some crazy steals. Australia for $600, Istanbul for $400? YES PLEASE.

Not quite there yet. But I think the separate online savings account is a super important step in the right direction.

20. Go to Cartagena, Columbia this winter with my girls from grad school. Not only are they the best and also fellow wanderlusters, but one of them has an uncle with a house there!

Cartagena, Columbia sounds like it’s no longer on the table, but my friends and I are looking into flights to Latin America in March. I’m planning on financing it with half of my flight covered by frequent flyer miles and staying in a hostel and taking advantage of the cheap prices and good exchange rate down there. Going back to Egypt for the final of my cousins’ weddings and cashing in on that free flight to Europe before the mile rates go up bump this trip down the priority list, but if I can swing it financially, I will be very happy with myself!!

21. Figure out more of a focused career trajectory, aka stop applying to jobs in Paris and/or Brussels and/or Geneva every month or so when you get unhappy or frustrated with your current role. Or do. Just pick one. Or more. No pressure.

UPDATE FROM Q1: HAHAHA. A girl can dream.

UPDATE FROM Q2: Basically the same as Q1 although I will say I’ve become much more placid at my current job now that my promotion has gone through. It feels good to be able to show progression for my efforts and to be recognized by my employer for them. 

22. Go back to London with enough money to buy all the tea, treats, and snacks and face creams I want, rather than accidentally run out of money on the last day like I did this time.

Nope not yet, but I have that free flight earmarked for a return to London. I’d love to stay two weeks this time, because one week never seems enough to see everyone I want to.

23. Be smart about vacation days and use them to their fullest potential.

I’ve got quite a lot of vacation days stocked up, waiting to be used when I can afford to go somewhere. I’m not a fan of taking a vacation day here and there just for the sake of it. I didn’t take any vacation days for Christmas even through being one of the last people in the office and in my apartment was torturous, but with 11 days off anyway and only an hour and a half of travel time to go home for the holidays, I’m glad I saved the days for another vacation. I’ve got two days left before I have to go back to work and the time I was given without vacation days felt like a very luxurious break. 

24. Be more laid back about travel and life in general. I can’t do it all, even if I want to.

UPDATE FROM Q1: Welllllll, let’s just say that we may have to push that goal back to Q2. Work has made that one pretty much impossible this quarter. So. Much. Stress.

UPDATE FROM Q2: Q3 anybody? I joke, I joke, I’ve been way better than Q1, but that’s not saying much.

25. That’s really all I’ve got to be honest, 24 is close enough, right?

We can add the riding the bike New Year’s resolution, I suppose?

How do you think I did?

Happy Wandering

-xo

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