Monday, March 20, 2017

A Week in NOLA for Mardi Gras

In January I saw a post on my Facebook feed about cheap flights to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. My friend Alicia from college now lived in Cleveland and was looking for travel buddies. I reached out, we reconnected quickly via a quick phone call, and had a whole trip booked within a week. We ended up staying in two different AirBNBs and a hotel over four nights because it was most economical, but staying in multiple places in one trip is my new favorite way to travel.

Monday, February 27th, 2017

Monday night before Fat Tuesday was definitely my favorite night of Mardi Gras. We arrived around 3 pm, found our first AirBNB in Treme, got dressed in our costumes, and ventured out to Bourbon for a party and a Po Boy. We stayed out all night. The streets were packed, but not too packed. We saw lots of activities happening in public that you would otherwise get arrested for. We put money in G-strings, took shots in the street, collected our beads, instigated the protesters, etc. All in all, it was exactly what I had hoped for.

I don't have a ton of pictures from Monday night that I want to put on the internet, but here's one of me and my new friend. Super sweet guy.

FAT TUESDAY, February 28th, 2017

Tuesday we woke up in Treme, got ready, and walked to our new AirBNB in Faubourg Marigny. Surprisingly, most businesses were closed for Fat Tuesday. We were tired and hung over and just needed to eat. Thankfully The Spotted Cat was open and had a bunch of great brunch specials. We stayed in a boarding house above a karaoke bar called Kajun's Pub, and were warned by the Robin, the owner, that we probably shouldn't plan to sleep that night.

After resting up during the day, Alicia and I went out on the town for the big Fat Tuesday party on Bourbon. It was a lot like Monday night, but more of everything. We had a great time, and I'm pretty sure we had a drink in every single bar on Bourbon St. Robin was right about not sleeping. I forgot bars don't close at 2 pm everywhere.

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

I think Wednesday was a slow, chill day for everyone in New Orleans. By the time we rolled out of bed and ventured to our next location, the beads and trash from Fat Tuesday were mostly cleaned up. We saw lots of clearly-hung-over people and their luggage getting into taxis and Ubers as we walked down Bourbon St. Everyone seemed to be moving in slow motion. We were very pleasantly surprised by our hotel we got from an online booking site, where you blindly book a hotel in a vague area of a city. It was a relief to find out we were staying at the historic Prince Conti Hotel in the French Quarter.

Wednesday evening we went on a riverboat dinner cruise and were able to finally sit down to a full dinner service with some live jazz. It was a great, low maintenance way to spend the evening, as Alicia and I were both pretty worn out from two nights of Mardi Gras. Call us old... whatever.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Thursday was another full day. We woke up early to get on a shuttle to the Bayou, saw some alligators, pet some alligators, etc. The alligator we are holding is a rescue alligator named T-Boy. He fell asleep in my hands like a little puppy. So sweet.

I was so into the Spanish moss all over the trees in the swamp.

For the rest of Thursday we walked around getting pleasantly day-drunk on some boozy slushies. At this point, I no longer felt weird about walking out of a bar with a drink. We watched live bands on the sidewalk, and then went to ACME for oysters and craw fish in the afternoon. I bought a CD wrapped in a paper bag from a band on Royal St.

Friday morning we flew back to Cleveland. From there I drove home to Pittsburgh listening to my paper bag CD, eating a grilled cheese from Melt, and planning the next big trip.

Monday, January 2, 2017

2016 Travel Goals

Last year around this time I decided to travel to a new place every month for the whole year. I wanted to write about it LAST January, when I first stole this brilliant plan from a guy I went on 1.5 dates with, but I didn't; because 2016 was not the year of motivation for this princess.

Lucky for you, 2017 is.

As 2015 was rolling to a close and I was stumbling around in the dark of winter with a certain pathetic desperation to find something to do with myself, I moved out of my parents house. This was my first attempt to shake things up a bit. Turns out, moving out wasn't so much of an adventure as it was a necessity. Anywho, I'm glad I was locked into a lease, because Plan B was to quit my job and move to a different state.... I chose to travel instead.

Did I complete my goal of travelling to a new place every month? Not really. Some of the places I went were not new to me. Some of them were not that far from home. Some months I skipped travel altogether, BUT I still feel like I had an amazing year of exploration; and as a bonus, I actually fulfilled a lot of old "I'll visit you" promises.

So here is 2016's travel lineup:

January - Philadelphia, PA and Washington, DC
February - Buffalo, NY and Niagara Falls, Ontario
March - Dallas, TX
June - Miami and Key West, FL
July - No travel, too many pool parties
August - No travel, no excuse
September - Denver, Carbondale, Aspen, Breckenridge, CO and New York City, NY
October - Nashville, TN
November - No travel, needa down payment
December - No travel, BOUGHT A HOUSE

And here is 2016's road trip playlist:

Monday, May 16, 2016

West Coast Road Trip

This spring I flew to Las Vegas with my friends. We drove to LA, and then a few days later we drove down the coast to San Diego.

Sometimes the view from the air is my favorite part!

Chicken and Waffles for breakfast under the Eiffel Tower.

Kira and I decided to pass on the Beatles "LOVE" Show, so we walked around the strip. Our Starbucks names are Tara and Kari.

Me in front of the Bellagio.

Kira in Paris, and the ONE slots game we played. I put in $10 and walked away with $11. We spent the rest of the day saying "you'll shootcher eye out!"

The drive from Vegas to LA was gorgeous.

I FINALLY got to try In-N-Out Burger. A great life accomplishment.

We stayed in an AirBNB in Manhattan Beach. It was a GREAT little beach town.

We spent a lot of the first day in LA sight seeing.

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica from our sweet tour bus.

We had dinner at SUR in Beverly Hills. It's a restaurant owned by one of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. It was average.

Next we drove down the coast and stopped at a bunch of beaches.

We stayed in an AirBNB in La Jolla. Here's our view of Downtown San Diego from there.

View of Downtown San Diego from Coronado

Kira and I have been getting root beer floats on vacation together since High School, so we couldn't pass them up in Old Town.

I definitely want to go back and spend a lot more time on the West Coast. There's something about LA that gives me some serious FOMO!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Why I Spent Everything and Saved Nothing for the Last Three Years

Did I ever tell you I paid off my student loans last year? Well, I did, and it feels amazing.

Before I get into the details I want to take this moment to acknowledge how fortunate I have been in so many ways to achieve this personal milestone. I would not have been able to pay off my loans had I not been employed full-time and had the opportunity to live with my parents. Hands down, these were two of the largest contributing factors to achieving this goal. That, and the privileges afforded to me because I am white. I am also fortunate that my parent's house is within driving distance of plenty of job opportunities, to get along with my parents as well as I do, and to be free of physical impairments and health issues that would otherwise prevent me from having "extra" income after bills.

Here Are The Numbers:

$36,198.21 - What I owed the day I started to pay. Aka, the total of my student loans after 5 years of college + 6 months of interest accrued after graduation. This is tuition only, and does not include living expenses, which my parents covered because they are very, very generous people. Shout out to Ed and Lori.

30 - the number of months it took me to pay off my student loans (2 years, 6 months)

$39,387.74 - total amount I paid on my loans (principal + interest)

$48,443.27* - the amount I would have paid on my loans had I paid the minimum for 10 years

$9,055.53 - the amount I saved, in interest, by paying ahead on my loans

*my projected interest rate was a number I calculated using a student loan amortization spreadsheet that I downloaded in 2012. At that time I plugged in my total debt and the terms of my loan to find out how much interest my loans would accrue over the 10 year payback period.

Why I Chose to Spend Everything:

In 2012 I made some financial decisions based entirely on the fear of my debt. I had just graduated, and for the 6 months prior, I had spent every paycheck like Richie Rich at FAO Schwarz. Then I got a letter in the mail saying I owed almost 4 times what I paid for my car. First I panicked. Then when that didn't help the situation, I made a spreadsheet. The decision I made at the time was to start throwing everything I had directly into my loans.

For the next few months I paid as much, and as often as I could. Eventually I set up a bi-monthly auto-pay of over half of each paycheck. I was reading tons of shit (good and bad) online about paying down debt, and investing. I was giving out a lot of unsolicited advice to my friends. I was all kinds of savings-crazy.

In 2013 I had mostly evened-out on the student loan hysteria, but I was still feeling the weight of the debt. I thought a lot about where my money should be going. Do I really need to keep paying this aggressively on my loans? Maybe? Is it stupid not to be saving up an emergency fund? Probably. Don't I "deserve" to spend my tax return on something awesome? No. So I kept on paying, and paying, and reading articles, and questioning my choices, and paying.

Why I Chose to Save Nothing:

By 2014 I was still fretting over my lack of savings, but I rationalized that I was taking a calculated risk. I knew that if anything unexpected happened to me, my job, or my car, I would have no money saved up for substantial medical bills, car repairs, or any time unemployed. I knew this, but I still chose to save nothing, and kept paying. Full disclosure, the entire reason I was able to be so "reckless" was because I was banking on being able to lean on my parents in case of an emergency. I would have intended to pay them back of course, but the fear of being on the street or having nobody to turn to was not a reality for me. Not everyone is so fortunate.

The good news is I had no emergencies. So of course, I feel the risk was worth it. I know that in an alternate universe I could have really f*cked myself here, financially speaking.

Things I Did Right:

1) I cashed out an under performing small cap growth fund (whatever that is) and used it to make a payment. Thanks Grandma Delphine, your money went to a good cause.

2) I funneled every penny from my tax returns straight back into my loans.

3) I did a lot of extra things to make money during this time. One of the most fruitful strategies was opening an Etsy store, and selling the shit out of laser cut wood items and screen printed burlap sacks. No kidding. Here are some custom ornaments I made for my friend Kira:

Things I Did Wrong:

1) I opened a Nordstrom credit card. Nothing good can come from a Nordstrom credit card.

2) I assumed getting out of debt would make me feel better about money. Yes, I feel better about debt, but now I need to hurry up on that emergency savings before my luck runs out!

3) A few times I caught myself passing judgement on others who did not have the same "ethics" as me. The important thing I learned here is that not everyone has the same goals as me. Not everyone has the same financial setup as I did, and not everyone looks at paying down their debt as more important than enjoying the fruits of their labor.

Bottom Line:

I've never wanted something so badly and worked so hard to get it for so long. I'd like to say that my college degree (ironically, the piece of paper that got us here) was something I wanted very badly, but it wasn't the same as this. I'd also like to say I worked "so hard for so long" to get a degree, but that's not true either. I would say I more worked "pretty hard, intermittently" to get a degree. I am more proud of paying off this mountain of debt than I was the day I graduated from college. That's saying something.

Now that I'm out of debt, I can worry about more important things: like my investment portfolio and baking cakes.