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Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Cost of Living

I've been thinking a lot about money lately.

No surprise really; with my last paycheck (for a while) in the bank and our Tanzania trip coming up I'm taking a detailed look at our expenses. It seems as if even the smallest requirement for overseas travel costs something. Here's a quick list of the things we've done in the last few weeks to prepare:
  • Passport Renewal: $110/each
  • Passport Photos: $15/each
  • International Driver's Permit (required to rent a car in Africa): $15/each
  • Photos for International Driver's Permit: $15/each
  • Photos for Tanzania Visa application: $15/each
This is only the beginning; we still need to get our vaccinations up to date (hepatitis, yellow fever, meningitis and rabies to name a few), actually obtain the Visas ($100/each) and make sure we've got the right clothing and gear for the trip. Once we get there we'll have lodging, meals, car rental, park entrance and permit fees, and tips to deal with. But somehow that seems like the fun part. At least we'll be on our adventure at the point (unless you count getting stuck by multiple syringes as adventurous.)

Then there are the unexpected expenses: we have our camera equipment already laid out and ready to go, but we had planned on bringing our little point and shoot camera for in-town excursions (less conspicuous.) Of course, as happens before big trips, our little Canon decided to quit working last month. After googling repair tricks and trying everything under the sun to get it working again, we had to admit it was dead and shell out the dough for a new one. I suppose it could have been worse: it could have died while we were there, perhaps without knowing it was dead until we got home.

I'm not complaining. Really. It's just a fact that traveling out of the country is not cheap. Traveling within the US is not always cheap either but relatively speaking, it's a bargain. Check this out: the distance from our hometown to Portland, Maine is 3200 road miles. That's a lot of exploring packed in between here and there. The United States is 3.18 million square miles (counting Hawaii and Alaska). Only two countries in the world are bigger--Russia and Canada--and large parts of those are inaccessible by car. How lucky are we to be able to roam freely in such a large space without the need for passports and visas? 

3200 miles to Maine (with no side trips)
Mark and I have not, by any means, seen everything there is to see in the United States; we could probably get in the truck and drive the rest of our lives and not exhaust all the possibilities. So why are we spending all this money on a trip to the other side of the globe? There's something about throwing yourself into a completely different cultural experience that's too exciting to pass up. I also think it will show us not only how lucky we are to be "privileged Americans" but how much we're missing by being surrounded by so much "stuff." If that means cutting back on the "stuff" to afford the trip, so be it.

I'm a little nervous about it. We're a bit poorer for it. But I'm even more thrilled by the prospect.

618 miles from the southern-most point to northern-most point we'll be traveling between in Tanzania.
(This of course does not count the multiple side trips we are planning)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Throwing Myself to the Lions

I've been pretty distracted lately and haven't been able to focus on what's really important; namely, our upcoming adventure to Tanzania.

We bit the bullet and booked our flights a few weeks ago. The plane tickets alone are taking up half our budget, and that's flying coach. Such a privilege to pay an arm and a leg to sit with our knees up our noses for 10 hours to Amsterdam, then 8 more hours to Kilimanjaro. But hey, it's part of the adventure, right? Once we get there we'll have one night in a lodge to clean up and rest a bit, then we pick up our Land Rover equipped with a roof top tent and drive off for two weeks of camping and exploring.

(Photo credit: National Geographic)
I can't tell you how many times I've been told I'll be eaten by lions. In my present state of mind, I'm kind of counting on it, to tell you the truth. Then I wouldn't have to look for a job when I get home.

I work for a small printing and mailing business. Most of you know where, but to those who don't, it doesn't really matter. It could be in any town, anywhere in the U.S., or for that matter any place in the northern hemisphere. Over the last several years business has gotten slower due to many factors: 9/11 threw many of our non-profit clients for a loop leading many to close, fear causing donors to hold on to what money they had in case the economy collapsed (which it promptly did); the internet has taken the place of a lot of bulk mail as a cheaper and more 'green' way to advertise. Over the years the post office has been raising the rates and at the same time making it more difficult and expensive to process bulk mail. In response to the downturn in business, my company got smaller and we made do with less employees right up until the last year when it came down to just two of us. We took whatever came our way, working crazy hours for weeks at a time just to have our machines sit idle the following weeks--machines that had lease payments due each month whether they were in use or not. It was like having a very stubborn flu for a year; raging temperatures followed by deep chills. After surviving months of this it finally became apparent that it was time to wrap it up; the fever took it's toll and destroyed our will to survive. The last two months were more pride and loyalty to our remaining customers than anything else.

It's hard to admit defeat. Hell, it's hard just to write about defeat.

So as sad and awful as all this has been, I am keeping in mind just how lucky I am. Mark is employed and we have always been savers, so we are not going to experience the financial hardships a lot of people in our shoes might have. (There are advantages to being a couple of pessimists--being so sure something will happen, we save for the very worst possible outcome while hoping for the best.)  In fact, I am lucky enough not to have to look for a job until after our Africa trip, which isn't until summer. I'm going to use the time between to brush up on my graphic design and database skills, do a little volunteer work, plant and maintain the garden I've always wanted (although my grand plans for that have to be reduced due to the drought) and do some of the hikes in my area that have been on my list for years. All this while not gloating about it to Mark when he gets home from work. That wouldn't be in good taste.

So I'm left with all those awful quotes that are constantly showing up on Facebook: "Things happen for a reason"; "Change is always for the best"; "Good things fall apart so better things can fall together." Sounds great when you're saying it to someone else, really sucks when people are saying it to you. I have no idea how long it will take for things to "fall together," but until then I am determined to have a good time. Why waste precious hours worrying about it when I could be outside enjoying the fact that I'm still alive, not starving, with a roof over my head and a couple of knuckle-headed dogs to talk to?

Those dogs are going to be so ready for me to go back to work.

Maybe I'll create memes for a living. That ought to pay really well.