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Keeping it

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You enjoying that coffee? Do you know what that $2 you used to buy it means?

To me, at least?

Probably not.

Well, let me explain. That $2 coffee means a night in Thailand! Yes, Thailand and I did not mistype.

Am I crazy? Maybe, actually. But that’s not the point of this column and I’m not crazy for thinking a cup of coffee equals a stay in Thailand.

That cup of coffee I gave up before my 2009 trip around the world bought me a view of the River Kwai ( you know, the one with the famous bridge over it?) while sitting in a hammock and trapped in a green garden. Yep, all of that and my own room for just $2!

Now calculate your coffees for a week and that’s about $10, or a night in Santiago, Chile (or five in Thailand) and the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in.

But this column is more than comparing expenditure on coffee and the equivalent bedding you could find in a foreign country.

And in this column, I am not going to argue I am some kind of personal finance guru. I can’t tell you about stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other boring financial instruments.

What I do know is we are in an economic crisis and people are struggling to stay afloat. I always hear:

“How do you have any money left?”

“Ummm...uhh...”

I hate money questions, especially when they are about mine, but I can understand where this question comes from.

Why? Well, I had just spent one year travelling around the world where the only income I had was from my somewhat weekly column to this paper.

Even with the year of travel expenditure, however, I returned home with money in the bank.

Actually enough money to try my hand at my own business and even go out for dinner, which is where I sustained this very question. Why am I writing about this now? Almost two years since I have returned from that mammoth trip?

Well it has everything to do with what travel can teach you about your economy and I don’t mean the mess of Bermuda’s (though maybe there could be a few lessons in here too!) And the real lesson I have to teach you is most succinctly phrased by the author of this week’s quote, Rolf Potts. His tip: Keep it Simple.

Before I travelled the world for a year, I kept it simple.

New clothes? Nope (or rarely). These were only bought for weddings or if the jeans were finally wearing out.

A house? No, there too. I shared an apartment with three girls and then rented an apartment on my own (which was a splurge, but I didn’t have a choice!) I still do not have a house, but that will be the next reason I keep it simple.

I brought lunch to work, gave up purchasing coffee and rarely went out for dinner.

My biggest splurge was sunglasses if I live on an Island then I need to protect my eyes!

These economic woes that the US felt first and now Bermuda is experiencing are down to one thing: excess. For some reason there is constantly an urge to have more than you need in material things and compete with those around you. My attitude: who cares?! Why compete for the large mansion? Why not live within your means or invest in personal growth such as schooling? Why invest in a big car rather than your own personal improvement?

And travel (ie not immersing yourself in a resort in any country, but actually visiting different countries) is all about personal investment. Want a story for the next dinner party that does not hinder around purchasing shoes or a new car? Take that shoe money and run to South America!

Which brings me to the second lesson I learned about keeping it simple: do it for travel too. I never understand tourists who fly around the world to host themselves in a Hilton, Marriott or some other chain hotel.

Why? Because that is exactly what they are: chain, no identity hotels. They are not owned by the people who actually live in the country and they will never possess the ability to immerse you in the culture of Thailand, Chile or Mexico.

Me? I prefer to stay in local joints. In Laos I stayed in a family-run affair and in Niagara-on-the-Lake I stayed in a bed and breakfast run by a local. At the B&B, the local, Joe, not only gave me tips on how to visit the area, but was also able to offer us local (not concierge) tips on where to eat.

I have never spent more than $200 on a hotel room and I can’t imagine why I ever would. The point of travel is personal growth. How will a resort that mimics your home country do that?

So....to wrap this up, perhaps we all need to take a tip from travel and learn to keep it simple and focus on personal investment, not superficial material investment.

Until next week....I hope you start to focus on improving you (and stop buying the $2 coffee for crying out loud, if you need to save money!!!)

Enjoying the green garden in Kanchanaburi...the town with the Bridge over the river Kwai.
My Favourite B&B in Niagara-on-the-Lake, photo by Robyn Skinner
Overlooking Santiago, Chile with the Andes in the background
Visiting the bridge over the river Kwai! Photo by Robyn Skinner

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Published November 16, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated November 16, 2011 at 7:58 am)

Keeping it

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