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Las Vegas Part 1: The Basics

I love Las Vegas, and that is coming from a budget traveler. I’ve been there twice, both times with my mom and dad. The first time I went was five years ago as a broke college student. My parents took my best friend and I for my 21st birthday. I think I brought about $100 cash with me and felt like a high roller.

This time I brought even less, and my parents didn’t hand me money like it was going out of style (although they did each slip me about $20 at one point – thanks mom and dad!). In a series of posts I am going to tell you all about how I had a great time without breaking the bank.

Accommodations

Okay, I crashed on a roll-away bed in my parents’ Bally’s hotel room, so I stayed free. However, I know there are ways to find budget accommodations, on and off the strip. A traveler I hosted on Couchsurfing recently got a hotel room on the strip for under $50, so apparently it can be done, but I don’t know that from personal experience.

Couchsurfing can be another great option. You can find a host who lives nearby – I actually met up with one for a night out – and stay for free. You won’t have a luxury suite in the Bellagio, but you will have a local on hand for advice on where to go and what to do.

Gambling

I’m not a big gambler. I don’t know how to play any poker games, and I don’t like feeding all my money to slot machines. However, I do play a few slots here and there while in Vegas. My mom and I will find a 25¢ Wheel of Fortune Machine while my dad plays at a table. She’ll put in up to $100 in, and I usually stick with $5 and play slow until a waitress takes my drink order, then watch mom once I lose all my money.

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On this trip, though, I actually won! The first night I was there I put my usual $5 into a “Wheel of Fortune” slot machine. I was down to my last credits and hadn’t won a thing. I thought “well, that was fast” and pressed the max bet button, expecting absolutely nothing.

I hit a Triple Crown symbol along with two other symbols that were similar to each other, and all of a sudden the numbers on the screen showing how much money I had started going up, up, up! It took a while and we had no idea when it would stop.

When it was finally done I had $226.50! I went straight to the cashier’s cage, cashed in my ticket, and put the money in the hotel room safe. In the end I came home with $270, which was promptly deposited into my Adventure Fund savings account.

A note about “free” casino drinks

Yes, you can get a complimentary drink if you are playing on the casino floor. First of all, tip $1 every time, no matter what. I recommend sitting close to the bar or nearby a waitress if you see one. For slots, sit at a machine and wait to start playing until you see her close by. Play slow to stretch out the number of drinks you can get per dollar. If every time you want a drink, you blow $10+ on gambling, you might as well purchase one from the bar.

Food

Las Vegas has some incredible food. I have not had a chance to not dive deep into great cheap eats or high-end restaurants in Vegas. On this trip I hate to admit that I mostly ate orange chicken and pizza from the fast food restaurants at my hotel, but I do have a few suggestions outside the cafeteria.

The best food I had on this trip was at Tacos El Gordo. It is on Las Vegas Blvd., but it’s off of the main part of the strip, and was recommended to me by a local. This is a chain restaurant, which I am typically vehemently against, but it’s a small chain and it started in Tijuana, Mexico.

When we walked in, it was clear that this place was not a tourist attraction, and it was completely packed. You had to stand in different lines for different kinds of tacos – why my parents and I didn’t divide and conquer, I do not know. We got three each of three varieties of tacos: Adobada (spicy pork), Cabeza (beef head), and Asada (steak). They had other stuff on the menu too, but the tacos were no doubt the main attraction.

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Each taco was very unique, and the ingredients were extremely fresh. Highly recommended!

Another great cheap option is the 7-7-7 deal at Mr. Lucky’s 24/7 Café at the Hard Rock Hotel. For $7.77 you get a 7-ounce sirloin steak, four medium sized shrimp, salad, and mashed potatoes (when I was there five years ago it was three jumbo shrimp and you got a roll).

You won’t see this special offer on the menu, but ask and you shall receive. And if you don’t accidentally order four shots of patron to go along with it (if you don’t specify what kind of tequila you want, they’ll bring out the good stuff) you’ll have a full belly and a full wallet.

There is one high-end restaurant experience I can recommend. When I was there the first time my dad won about $600 so we pretended we were high rollers for a night and had the most fabulous dinner at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant, overlooking the Bellagio Fountains.

We had cocktails, appetizers, wine, dinner & dessert – the whole nine yards. Everything was expensive and came in small portions, of course, but it was all delectable. I specifically remember my dad tipping our waiter 25% with a $100 bill. So, if you have $500 to spare for dinner for four, I would definitely recommend the Eiffel Tower Restaurant.

 

Of course, you can also enjoy plenty of classic Vegas sights for free. Here are my favorites:

  • Visit the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada” sign. Take an Uber instead of a taxi and ask your driver to wait while you snap a quick photo.
  • Walk the strip and wander in and out of all the fancy casinos and malls.
  • See the Bellagio fountain show before heading inside to check out the glass ceiling and indoor botanical garden.
  • Check out Freemont Street. Go at night to see the light show on the ceiling.

Up Next: Las Vegas Part 2: Street Art Tour.

Mother’s Day Gift From a Nomadic Child

Mother’s Day is upon us. It is a day to celebrate the women who brought us into the world, but for anyone who is living abroad or traveling long-term, especially on a budget, gift giving can become a challenge.

I have not yet started my round-the-world adventure. I am on a tight budget and I wanted to give my mom something meaningful for Mother’s Day, so I decided to create Travel Vouchers for her! She can redeem them any time she is traveling with or visiting me in any foreign country. We have done a lot of traveling together and always have a great time.

Some include activities I will pay for, such as one tourist attraction (up to $20 USD!). Most are freebie things such as a day at the beach or an off-the-beaten path adventure. Of course I tailored these to my mom and our travel style when we are together, and they could be tweaked to fit you and your moms’ travel styles!

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We love to eat good food and have cocktails. Some of the best foods I’ve tried have been while traveling with my mom. We love the coasts and seafood; we have eaten fish & shrimp tacos on Venice Beach, CA, fresh-caught lobster in Maine, and cheesy crab dip in Washington D.C. We have also enjoyed some great drinks on our travels together, from the hotel room to a sailboat in the harbor to hole-in-the-wall dive bars.

Travel Vouchers (food & drink)

We also love anything outdoors and off the beaten path. Whether it’s a day at the beach, hiking through a state park, or sitting around a camp fire chatting and drinking late into the night, we have done it all.

On a trip to the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri last fall we set out to find my great uncle’s old lake house, both by boat – to spread some of my grandmother’s ashes in the cove- and by car. It had been over 20 years since my mom had been there and the landscape was completely different. There used to be only a couple houses in this cove, and now it’s lined with dozens of new homes and docks.

We had a strict two hour time limit on a boat rental, and we barely found the cove in time before we had to turn back. We then hopped in the car and took old unmarked un-maintained back roads up to the old house, because she wasn’t familiar with the new paved roads of course! The next day we found the stunning Ha Ha Tonka State Park and took a breathtakingly beautiful hike. It was a trip I will never forget.

Travel Vouchers (outdoors & offbeat)

Of course, we don’t always go off the beaten path, and have seen our fair share of tourist attractions. Together we have enjoyed views from the Seattle Space Needle and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, visited the monuments in Washington D.C., and watched the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas.

On these well-worn travel paths there are also plenty of silly and touristy photo opps. We even got a selfie stick on our trip to the Ozarks, and have been known to take silly pictures now and then.

Travel Vouchers (tourist attraction & photo opp)Travel Vouchers (up early, sleep in)

Last but not least are the vouchers for trying something new and having a live-like-a-local experience. These will be new for both of us, and who knows what we will do. Eating bugs, snorkeling, and meeting up with a local family for an authentic home-cooked meal are all within the realm of possibility. I can’t wait for my mom to visit me abroad so we can create some awesome new memories and share new experiences together!

Travel Vouchers (try new, local)

Places I’ve traveled one-on-one with my mama:
  • Southern California
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Eureka Springs, Arkansas
  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • Springfield, Missouri
  • Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

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Make Your Own Travel Vouchers:

To download the Word document with the travel vouchers listed above, click the link below. You will be able to edit the document to put in your own names and customize it in any way you wish!

Travel Vouchers Template

 

How American Consumerism and Resort Destinations Limit us From Seeing the World

Why I’m Not Staying In Town For My Cousin’s Wedding

“Your relationships are the heaviest components in your life.
We weigh ourselves down until we can’t even move.
Make no mistake – moving is living.”
– Up in the Air

Life is full of special events. Weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, babies, holidays, and family reunions all fill my calendar throughout the year. I love celebrating these special moments with my family and friends.

My cousin – with whom I am close – is getting married in November 2016, approximately six weeks after my planned departure. She asked me to be a bridesmaid, to which I politely declined, reminding her about my plans (which were announced to the family just a few days before he popped the question). She knew it was unlikely I’d be able to attend and was very understanding. We actually talked about her & her husband-to-be going to Europe on their honeymoon and meeting up (fingers crossed!)

There have been a few others, however, who have almost recoiled in shock that I’m not willing to put off my plans for this wedding. “What do you mean you’re not waiting?! It’s only six weeks!” I get it, this lifestyle change may be difficult for folks to wrap their minds around, but I have my reasons. They may be selfish and offend some, but I’m okay with that.

The second I decided to sell all of my belongings, quit my job, and set out for solo travel around the world, I started living my life for me, focusing on my own quality of life, and doing what will make me happy.  My plans are set, and I have zero intention of changing them to work around anyone else’s schedule.

If I did change my plans and wait until after the wedding to go, the next thing just around the corner would be Thanksgiving.  Then Christmas, mine & my sister’s birthdays, New Year’s, and the list goes on. If I waited to leave until after every special event, I would never get out of here. Yikes! That is so not happening.

I have a pretty large family, and this wedding definitely will not be the only special event I’ll be missing. I have another cousin who just got engaged, several newlywed relatives who will be starting families, and one who is currently planning to have another baby. I also have ill & aging family members who I may not have a chance to see again after I go.

Am I happy about missing these special occasions? Of course not – but in the grand scheme of things, the world will keep turning and life at home will go on just fine without me. As Bebe Rexha says, “it’s just me, myself, and I.”

How I Plan To Save $15,000 In 7 Months

Saving up a large sum of money in a short period of time may seem impossible. I haven’t proven that it’s doable yet, but many others before me have. I have student loan debt and, although my salary is decent for non-profit, I don’t make a ton of money. However, I still plan on saving aggressively over the next several months to make my dream of living a nomadic lifestyle a reality. In this post I will explain how I plan – and hope – to achieve this goal.

My goal is to have at least $20,000 in savings by the end of September. I started saving mid-November 2015 and have just over $5,200 in my Adventure Fund. (And that’s not counting the $1,000 I have in a separate account in case of emergencies at home before I go).

Selling Stuff

One of the biggest thing I’m doing is selling all of my belongings. Of course I’ll have a few sentimental items that I’ll leave at my parents’ house, but otherwise everything goes! Read more about that process here.

I have also decided to sell my car sooner rather than later and buy a cheap junk car to get my by until I go. I love my car and giving it up will not be easy. But I can potentially save upwards of $1,500 on monthly payments, depending on when I sell, and hopefully put a couple thousand more in the bank after selling it paying off the loan.

Cutting Costs

I am drastically cutting down on everyday expenses. My biggest weakness before this all started was eating out for lunch during the week; I have a busy job and it is much more convenient than going home or making something ahead.

I also never buy coffee out anymore. This wasn’t a daily expense for me, but I would buy an overpriced latte at Starbucks a couple times a week, and that can burn a hole in your wallet in a quick hurry.

Just like any other 20-something I enjoy happy hour and hitting the bars on weekends I rarely go out to eat or go out drinking with friends anymore. Instead I invite friends over to make dinner, watch Netflix, and drink boxed wine.

Switching Phone Carriers

By switching from AT&T to T-Mobile I will be saving about $30 per month on my cell phone bill, totalling approximately $210. This plan also has unlimited talk, which I didn’t have before, and unlimited data. I get 2GB hi-speed data, which is what I had before. If I go over 2GB I don’t get slapped with an extra fee like I did with AT&T, and I still get data, just at a slower speed.

Mobile Apps & Websites That Make Me Money

I use a variety of mobile apps, and one website, to make extra cash. My top picks are listed first.

InboxDollars: This is the only money-making website I use. It also has a free app on the App Store & Google Play. I’ve checked out a few others but to me this one is the easiest and most efficient. I have been a member since the end of November 2015 and have earned about $60 so far. There are a variety of ways to earn with IBD – learn more about it here.

Field Agent App (App Store & Google Play): Field Agent is a secret shopper’s app. I have earned $35 in about two months. There is no fee for cashing out and it sends it straight to your PayPal account, which you can then transfer to your bank.

SlideJoy App (available on Google Play only): SlideJoy pays you to run ads on your phone’s lock screen. I wish this app was available on the Apple App Store, because after I turn in my Droid work phone I won’t be able to take advantage of this app. I’ve had it for about six weeks and I have earned 451 carats, or $4.51. You have to keep the app open, but it doesn’t seem to drain my battery or use up lots data. Cash out options are available through PayPal, various gift cards, or donate your earnings to charity.

 

Taking On More Responsibility at Work

I have to be vague here, to maintain anonymity, since my employer is unaware of my plans. I am taking on some more responsibility at work, possibly in a couple of ways.

One will allow me to earn up to an additional $300 per month after I complete the training process, for which I will earn a $250 bonus. So I am looking at approximately $1500-$1700 in extra income before taxes.

There are some additional job duties that may be changing, for which I could earn a $3000 annual salary increase. I’ll be in my job for another seven months, so if this change does occur I will earn about $1500 extra.

Second Job & Odd Jobs

I now have a second job some evenings and weekends. I make $9.25/hr and work about 10 hours per week, give or take, so I could earn approximately $2,500 in additional income over the next seven months.

I am considering driving for Uber. I signed up but I haven’t actually done it yet. I have no idea how much money I can make with this.

I made $400 house and pet sitting for the week after Thanksgiving. If those friends need a house or pet sitter again in the next seven months I’ll be the first to sign up.

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The above tips may not be for everyone, but this is what I hope works for me. Take what you like and leave the rest.

Have you saved up a large sum of money in a short time frame, for travel or other reasons? If so tell me about it in the comments!

Taking Stock of My Life and Selling All My Stuff

Does that sound overwhelming or what?! That’s because it is. But for me it’s overwhelming in a  very exciting way. It is a very eye-opening experience to take inventory of all your belongings and, one-by-one, sell it all off. I have only just begun (I’ve sold almost $500 worth of stuff), and at this point I would highly recommend it. 

Ridding yourself of worldly possessions is like a spiritual awakening. All the burdens of everyday life and material things are being lifted from my shoulders and washed away. It’s actually a huge relief. 

I don’t need a ton of clothes & shoes, kitchen tools, books, and home decor to make me happy. I would much rather have a backpack full of essentials, support from my friends and family, and enough money in the bank to go out into the world and live free.

What I am doing isn’t temporary either. I don’t plan to come back a year from now and re-buy everything I’ve sold and have another 600 sq. foot apartment full of stuff. I might come back in a year, I might not; that is yet to be seen. But regardless of when I return, I plan to live more of a minimalist lifestyle.

Like I said before, this has been an eye-opening experience. I am learning that I can live with less; I don’t need 7 pairs of heels, 3 wine racks, 5 whisks, 3 cupcake racks, 10 bottles of lotion, and who knows how many pieces of clothing to be fulfilled. 

Update 8/18/16: I moved out of my apartment at the end of July and was able to sell almost everything, totaling about $2,600. I can now fit everything I own into my car – which I will be selling soon as well. Not being tied down by an apartment full of material things is very freeing!

Travel Prep: The Beginning Stages

Originally written 1/22/16

Yesterday I drafted my letter of resignation for work, six months in advance. I realize it may seem like I’m getting ahead of myself, but I like to stay on top of things. The end date listed, which is subject to change of course, is September 9th (update: my last day will be September 7th). By doing this I feel like I’ve given myself even more of a “real” deadline to save money, sell my belongings, make arrangements, etc. Speaking of which, let me explain some of what I’ve been doing so far to prepare.

Savings

The first week of December 2015 I opened a separate savings account for this endeavor and named it “Adventure Fund.” Within one month I had a little over $2,000 saved up, and today I have exactly $2,500. Keep in mind, I opened the account with about $500 I had already saved up from a house sitting gig (thanks Jannah!), starting to sell miscellaneous items, and rolling coins I got from my mom for helping her with stuff around my parents’ house (thanks, mom!). But still, that’s approximately $2,000 saved in just over one month. So how have I done it?

Cutting Costs

My biggest money sucker was food & alcohol (but mostly food). I don’t even want to begin to think about how much money I was wasting before on eating out, convenient pre-packaged food, going out to bars, buying craft beer and bottles of wine just because I liked the label (and I would find some crafty thing to do with that wine bottle later!…newsflash, I never did).

I have DRASTICALLY cut down on these expenditures. Yes of course I still grab lunch to go and go out every once in awhile, but I am much more conscientious of these decisions now. When I’m thinking about spending money on these things, instead of just focusing on the convenience, I try to think about how I could put that money to use while traveling. I remind myself: that $10 could buy me a night in a hotel in Southeast Asia, tapas in Barcelona, or a visit to the Parthenon in Athens. Those “little” expenses add up  to more days that I could spend exploring the world.

Selling STUFF

Yes, I am selling ALL of my stuff, except what I’m bringing with me and a few sentimental items and family heirlooms. Yes, that includes all of the truly wonderful gifts some of you have given me throughout the years. Please don’t feel bad about this – it’s going to help me achieve my goal of traveling all over the world and having some truly awesome experiences.

As much as I love all the baking books & supplies, jewelry, knick knacks, etc .that I’ve been gifted over the years, when it comes down to true enrichment most of that stuff isn’t doing it for me. Most of it won’t be any good to me while traveling, and it definitely won’t be any good sitting in storage. I have some great stuff, all of which is replaceable (and mostly unnecessary, really), that should be used and enjoyed, not collecting dust while I’m off gallivanting around the world. More on selling off (almost) all of my worldly possessions later.

Research

Travel blogs, travel books, and Pinterest, oh my! There is a TON of information out there about backpacking & long-term travel. It’s amazing how many people there are who have done exactly what I’m trying to do. I’ve learned a lot and have been inspired from reading several travel blogs. It’s a daily reminder that people just like me have sold all their belongings and quit their jobs to travel the world, and that I can do it too. These are my favorites so far:

I have also taken advantage of the travel book section at my local library. The best book for budget travel is How To Travel The World on $50 A Day by Matthew Kepnes of Nomadic Matt.

And of course there’s Pinterest. I found all of the blogs I read on Pinterest, except Thrifty Nomads. I found that one when I did a Google search for “sell all possessions & travel.”  I like using Pinterest to organize resources; lots of things on Pinterest have a picture and a description of what’s on the site, which is helpful to look back and re-read stuff.

I often find myself going down a rabbit hole; I see a few things that look interesting so I open those, then each of those sites usually have a few more interesting things, and so on. But I’m perfectly content deep in my Pinterest rabbit hole reading about wonderful adventures travelers before me have had, and that I hopefully will have someday too.

My travel preparations are just beginning. Stay tuned for more on this subject later!