Back in November, when I went to France, I wanted to make sure I packed a good carry on for the long flight. I wouldn’t say I brought an excessive amount of stuff, but I wanted to bring enough items to keep me happy for about ten hours of plane travel, as well as a few necessities in case my luggage got lost. For me, that meant packing the following:
- Phone & charger
- Laptop & cords
- Books (2)
- Small makeup bag w/basic makeup items
- Scarf (in case the plane ride got chilly)
- Extra pair of jeans/underwear/t-shirt in case my luggage was lost
- Small jewelry pouch
- Reading glasses
(I also ended up cramming an extra pair of shoes in my carry-on that wouldn’t fit in my checked bag – don’t judge.)
The night before I left, however, I found myself in a quandary about which bag to pack it all in. I own several bags that work as a carry-on, but unfortunately, I’ve always felt they were all slightly lacking in one way or another. For instance, I have this gym/overnight bag: It’s comfortable to carry, and even has a great waterproof pocket for a wet towel or swimsuit. But the compartments are kind of long and narrow, and won’t accommodate a laptop. It also doesn’t fit well under an airplane seat, which means either unpacking a bunch of stuff before you sit down and then repacking it when you land, or making sure you sit on the aisle so you can keep getting in and out of it. Blech.
I also have this computer bag that I bought in Barcelona a few years back: It’s made out of those vinyl banners that you see on lampposts to advertise special events. I love the company, Vaho Trashion, that makes the bags, and appreciate that they use reclaimed materials. However, the bag isn’t padded, so it requires me to also use a protective case on my laptop, and while it’s fine when using it around town, I did worry about it getting knocked around too much during extensive overseas travel. It also doesn’t hold much more than a computer and a few files, so there was no way I was going to get all my other crap in there.
I own this small carry-on bag from an old set of luggage I bought at Costco a million years ago:
It’s easy to carry, and fits well under an airplane seat, but after multiple attempts to pack all my stuff in it, I had to admit it was just too small (especially with that extra pair of shoes).
I finally settled on this bag:
In the end, it won because it was easy to carry, and big enough to hold all my stuff. I also figured because it was so unstructured, I’d be able to cram it under the seat in front of me. It had a little extra room in case I were to buy anything on my trip – but not enough that I’d be tempted to splurge.
Carrying this bag made me miserable. Because it has absolutely no padding or structure of any kind, I was super neurotic about my laptop getting damaged. The lack of structure also meant that all my stuff clumped up into a pile inside, so finding anything in it was really difficult, and then trying to shove it back under the seat in front of me was almost impossible. The structure issue also meant that the weight inside the bag was frequently unbalanced, so it felt like I was schlepping around a large bag of rocks, and my items would shift into odd angles and poke out the sides, so at one point I found myself running through the Amsterdam airport to make a connecting flight while being repeatedly stabbed in the ribs by the sharp corner of a book. I tried balancing it on the handle of my roller bag while walking along the cobblestoned streets in France, and within seconds it would slide off with a thunk and topple my bag over. In short, it sucked.
When I got home, I decided to casually start perusing options for a good replacement carry-on. I didn’t have another trip planned, so I wasn’t in a hurry, but to my surprise and delight, I almost immediately stumbled across this incredibly great company called Lo & Sons.
What makes Lo & Sons so wonderful? Their bags are smart, sleek, lightweight, and beautifully designed. They hold a TON of stuff. They look classy and stylish. They are designed to conveniently, and firmly, attach to your roller bag. Most of them are made to fit under an airplane seat. They come in a lot of different designs and color options, and all of them are lovely. I could go on and on. (And no, Lo & Sons did not sponsor this post, I am just truly a huge fan now). They also did one of the smartest things on their website that I’ve ever seen a bag manufacturer do: They made a video for each bag, showing someone packing it, and exactly what they were able to fit into it. So even though I was purchasing the bag online, I was confident it would work for me – without the video, I’m not sure I would have ventured to try it.
Their bags are not dirt cheap, but after owning one, I can tell you I have absolutely no regrets (I also got mine on sale, and I had Christmas gift money to spend, so no debt was incurred). This bag is PERFECT for me. I took it with me on my recent trip to Hawaii, and I carried all of the same things I took to France (including an extra bikini and some fashion mags for poolside reading), and it worked like a dream. I especially appreciated how thoughtfully designed it was in terms of the interior and exterior pockets, and how easy it was to access my stuff during the flight. I got the OMG in navy, and I couldn’t be happier.
Click on over to their site and watch the videos for each bag – they do not misrepresent. I got rid of three of the other not-so-great carry-on in my collection (believe it or not, I kept the bag I took to France, because it’s a good around-town tote. But I won’t be taking it on any more flights, ever). I have a feeling I won’t miss any of them a bit.
I cannot tell you how excited I am to share this story from my friend Danielle Fournier. I got a message from Danielle one day after she read one of my posts, sharing some details of her own story and I begged her to write a guest post for me. I’ll go ahead and let you discover it for yourself, but I have to say, I am so inspired and humbled by Danielle’s journey and her honesty about the details of how she got herself into debt and then found her way out of it. All I can say to Danielle is, “Bravo!”, and to my readers, “Enjoy!”:
Confessions Of A Former Shopaholic
I was once a shopaholic.
When I turned 18, I received a $3,000 credit card from my bank. I hit the ground running and didn’t look back.
My first purchase was indicative of a pattern that would lead to near financial ruin fifteen years later. At the time, I lived just up the hill from Frederick & Nelson’s in Seattle. I used my shiny new credit card to purchase the most useful of items- a full length silver fox fur coat. I celebrated that purchase with perfume from another department, then dinner, then a trip to the cd store. All of it was bought with money I didn’t have.
Credit was cheap in the 90’s. My minimum payments, which was all I ever made, were $35-$75 a month. Easily affordable for a young woman with a roommate, a decent income and no responsibilities or financial planning aspirations.
My credit was so good, I bought a house at 25. By the time I was 30, I had 12 credit cards totaling nearly $80,000 in available credit, two cars on payment, a mortgage and second mortgage. I was a model of credit worthiness, all payments made on time, month after month. My house was lovely, the rooms filled with designer sheets, seasonal decor, and collectibles. I had three sets of dishes, including a service of fine china, and closets full of fashionable clothes, most with the tags still intact. Life was good.
However, it wasn’t really. I lived on credit. I had gas cards, department store cards, regular Visas and Mastercards, plus an American Express. Debit cards weren’t in high use yet, but I had an active check book and ATM card. I spent money as fast as I could make it. I never, ever had more than $40 on me, because I was breaking $100s the minute I got them. But hey, the money kept coming in every month, so who cared?
Two events happened a year apart that would bring me to my financial knees and change my life forever.
On May 27, 2007, my younger brother was involved in a diving accident that would devastate our family in ways both financial and emotional. Spinal cord injuries require vast amounts of care involving medications, caregivers, and surgeries. My parents saw their retirements wiped away in a matter of months caring for their son when the insurance wouldn’t cover expenses.
I found myself leaving a three generation family business to go into sales in my brother’s business while we figured out what his prognosis was. Three months turned into six, then a year. I spent six days a week traveling. My bills started falling behind.
I sold my car. I used the money for something other than my bills. I stopped buying a new wardrobe every season. I kept working, but the bills kept stacking up in my new position with lower pay. As a family, we all pitched in and just made it work that first year. We all lived in a haze of sadness over the injury, but remained hopeful for both physical and financial recovery.
I received a phone call from my father in October of 2008. I had turned over my finances to him during the past year when I was working out of town. The truth is, I knew I was in trouble and I couldn’t face the facts, so I just let him handle it. I completely stuck my head in the sand.
I knew what was coming. I had to sell my house.
I cried and cried and cried. I had turned a humble chalet with yellow Formica and glued down carpeting on five acres into a charming abode with high ceilings and custom wood floors. I was so proud I had done this in my twenties. I had all these things that signaled me as a success. And now I was going to part with each and every one of them.
I felt like a horrible failure. But it was the beginning of the happiest time of my life.
My beautiful little house sold in less than three weeks. I had no time to sort or even clean. Box after box went into the moving van. I had rented a tiny apartment next to my parents in Seattle that had room for a bed, a love seat, a desk and a bookcase. The kitchen was three burners, a small sink and a mini fridge. Everything else went into three 10×20 storage units.
Since the house had doubled in value, I paid all my debts off. I then closed each card, dying as I cut each one to bits over a trash can. They weren’t any good anyway. I had stopped paying them three months before when I could no longer afford the payments. My cheap and easy credit had ballooned to a whopping $7,000 a month, the mortgage being the smallest of the bills. I decided wrecking my credit was favorable over not paying off the cards. With my income cut in half, my only choice was to sell everything I owned to pay the debts.
There was one beautiful, beautiful blessing in my house sale. I got to see Paris.
With all my debts paid, I had some left over. I was heartbroken over the past two years and I decided I would let my money serve me for once. I was going to make a dream come true. Stuff, no matter how fine or beautiful, has never filled me up. It has never loved me, never held me or wiped a tear, or left me in wonder after a conversation.
Thanks to a travel agent with a a huge heart and lots of experience, I was able to travel for nine weeks on a budget I had previously reserved for a weeklong soiree at a hotel. Armed with three sets of clothes and a pencil, I roved over 16 countries by myself. I came home a changed person.
It turns out, the worst thing that ever happened to me was really the best thing to ever happen. Strangely enough, letting go gave me so much more than I ever dreamed of. I only pay cash now for anything, preferably with real paper money. Now, when I want to buy a pair of shoes, I do so without remorse or guilt. But I have a rule, for each one that comes in, one item must leave my closet. I have learned to create and respect boundaries with my stuff, which has poured over into all areas of my life.
Cutting the ties with things has opened me up to experience. My identity no longer revolves around labels, and I have found peace in simplicity. From the joy of making my own dinners to being able to afford four weeks of travel a year on a very average income (because I no longer shop frivolously), I live a life no longer tied to my financial security dictating every move I make.
And that is the greatest luxury.
D.E. Fournier’s stories explore the places where the mundane and the mystical coincide in everyday life. A third generation newspaper publisher, ink is in her blood. She studied Ethnic Studies at Oregon State, before earning an MFA in Creative Writing from Full Sail University. She lives in Seattle. Read her travel blog at http://farandawaytravelblog.blogspot.com/
In the effort to pay down our debt in as short of a time as possible, we have had to make some lifestyle changes to the way we spend our money. Along with being on a grocery budget and obvious restrictions around things such as shopping, we’ve cut spending on things like going out to dinner, going to the movies, throwing parties at our house (unless it’s a potluck sort of situation where everyone is bringing something), manicure/pedicures, regular hair salon visits, buying fancy/expensive food items, buying takeaway coffee, buying anything decorative for the house, doing any kind of non-urgent repair work on the house or yard, limited spending on gifts for each other, using up everything we currently have before buying more and not taking vacations. When I reread this list, I have to admit, all the things we cut truly fall under the category of “luxuries.” Nowhere on our list are things like “heat for the house” or “food.” So yes, we are blessed.
And for the most part, I’m not feeling a ton of yearning around most of those cuts. Yes, it’s nice to be able to buy a coffee whenever I feel like it, but it doesn’t ruin my day to not be able to do that. I was talking to my friend Rose a few weeks ago about our budget restrictions and she wryly commented, “Yeah, you and your first world problems. It’s not like you couldn’t afford groceries or had to go out and get a new job during any of this – it just means you can’t always do the stuff you WANT to do.” She’s totally right. I may not be able to afford luxuries, but I still get to do my erratically-paying dream career and I’m not homeless or food insecure as a result. It’s good to be reminded of that.
The one area though, where I do feel the sting of our cutbacks is travel. God, I love to travel. I didn’t travel much growing up – we drove from Oregon to Washington every summer to visit relatives, but we didn’t take “We’re going to Disneyland!” style vacations – my family couldn’t afford it. My mom stayed home to raise kids, and we survived financially on my dad’s income. I know we weren’t rich, but I never felt poor or deprived. Because we had never taken vacations as a family, I never really had anything to miss. Summers meant sleeping in, swimming, picnics in the park, popsicles, riding bikes and watching soap operas. All are very happy memories for me.
But as a young adult, I started to travel, both in the U. S. and overseas, as a touring actor. On my first overseas trip I was completely terrified, but once I got the hang of it, I got a serious case of wanderlust that has never been cured. If I had to choose between living in a gorgeous mansion but never being able to leave town, or to live in small apartment and take several trips a year, I would choose the apartment without a blink. I love exploring new cities and countries and seeing what life is like for the people who live there. Travel gave me a totally different perspective on the world and myself, and is a huge contributing factor to who I am today.
As I’ve mentioned before, we didn’t take an annual vacation this year, because we couldn’t justify spending the money when we were trying so hard to get out of debt. The loss of that trip has not gone unnoticed. Ron and I spend a lot of time talking about where we would go if we could, and where we will go as soon as we are able to afford it. The top two contenders at this point are Easter Island in South America, or Santorini in Greece. Easter Island is a bucket list item for both of us – to see those moai in person has to be nothing short of mind blowing. And Santorini, with it’s gorgeous views, food, weather and charm, looks equally sensational. We were discussing the pros and cons of each place, dreaming together, as we often do these days, since we can’t take any action for a while, and part of me started to feel a little depressed as we talked. Even though we’ve made really incredible progress on our debt, we still have a ways to go, and this last dragging part of it feels oddly longer and heavier than when we owed almost eight times as much – probably because after almost a solid year of scrimping and saying no to things, we’re just sick of it. Instead of feeling hopeful, I felt bitter, like the whole thing is a pipe dream because we will NEVER see the end of this debt, so what was the point in even dreaming about going somewhere? So I irritably shut the whole thought of a vacation out of my mind.
The next day however, I opened the mailbox, and was greeted by the sight of this catalogue:
Once again, well played, Universe. Of all the places in the world the catalogue could have been themed around, it was Satnorini? It seemed oddly coincidental. I even wondered if it was a sign of some kind – like that’s the place we should indeed go. Whether it’s a sign or not, I’m choosing to take it as one, to remind me that even when life feels like a grind, it’s important to keep hoping and dreaming.
Ron and I celebrated eight years of marriage on August 7th. I can’t believe it’s been that long – it’s a little shocking. We still haven’t even ordered our wedding album. No, I am not kidding. I think I will make that my goal for August of next year. We’ll get our pictures in just under the ten year mark.
Because we’re working so hard on getting out of debt, we talked about our anniversary a month or so ago and decided to forgo giving each other gifts this year. We thought maybe we’d pick a mid-priced restaurant for dinner or even just get a cake and have some champagne and celebrate very low-key. I actually was not disappointed – the thought of being debt free is so exciting to me, everything else kind of pales in comparison.
But as I might have mentioned, Ron travels a lot for work. A LOT. I think I saw him for maybe 7 whole days in the month of July. Which means he racks up some serious frequent flier miles and hotel points and rental car points and all sorts of other points and upgrade type stuff. We both love to travel, and when we do, we have some pretty great vacations – vacations we could never, in a million years, afford without all his points and perks and free upgrades. We typically take just one nice vacation a year, every year in December, either right before or right after Christmas, depending on my show schedule, and we have a great time planning it and looking forward to it all year.
But again, due to our debt-free plan, we were thinking we would probably not get a vacation this year either. That made us both sad – we look forward to it so much, and it’s the one time in the year I see Ron truly and completely relax. And this year has been a doozy of stress so far, so I know for Ron, the thought of no release from all that was a bummer. But he too agreed that being out of debt was more important, and once we are debt-free, then we can afford to take a nice vacation without feeling guilty.
But as our anniversary drew near, Ron took a look at his points and miles, and realized that while a two week December vacation may not be in the cards, we COULD take a two day trip somewhere close by, for virtually no money at all. We live in Portland, so our nearest “fun city” options are places like Seattle, San Francisco, L. A., or possibly San Diego.
And then of course, there’s Las Vegas.
We had actually gone to Vegas on our third anniversary, and were pretty grossed out by it. We did a lot of typical “Vegas-y” things, like gambling, laying by the pool, drinking those horrible slushy alcoholic drinks out of those massive plastic sippy cups, walking in the throngs of people up and down the strip, going to a Cirque show, visiting all the famous casinos and posh shops, and on a whim around 11pm on our last night, we renewed our vows at the Little White Wedding Chapel, followed by a limo ride back to our hotel with a manically chatty Elvis impersonator.
The day we left, we weren’t scheduled to fly out till around 9pm that night, and I woke up super sick and vomiting (either from the slushy drink, heat exhaustion, or a flu bug, I’m not sure which). We had to check out of the hotel around 1pm, so I spent the 7-8 hours prior to leaving for the airport puking in public bathrooms, searching for a place free of the pinging of slot machines where I could lie down (there wasn’t anywhere), and wandering zombie-like from the intense heat of outdoors into the over-airconditioned indoors, which made me feel even worse.
Needless to say, it made me hesitant to go back. But Ron has been to Vegas multiple times for work in the past five years, and at this point he has a lot more connections and know-how about the city than he did the first time we went. We realized that we could fly there for free, stay there for free, get comps to a couple shows, and essentially only end up having to pay for a rental car, and we even had a coupon for that.
So we decided to go. But this time, we were going to try to do much less. We were going to aim for a more “lagom” trip, if you will. We picked a hotel that had a great pool, since we planned to spend the majority of our time just lounging by it and relaxing, and we didn’t order any overpriced drinks while we were there. We decided to forgo gambling altogether (we did put a total of $4 in slot machines, but I don’t feel bad about that – I frequently spend more than that just to park my car downtown in Portland). As soon as we arrived, we drove to a Food 4 Less and bought items for breakfast, some soda, snacks, and an inexpensive bottle of wine for our room (total spent: about $15). When we went out for lunch, we kept it cheap and good (In-N-Out Burger). I did browse a total of two shops and even tried things on but didn’t buy anything (a FIRST for me on a vacation).
And you know what? We had a really great time. I left feeling a lot friendlier towards Vegas than I did the last time. It probably didn’t hurt that we got upgraded to an INSANELY great suite at The Cosmopolitan:
We actually spent a decent amount of time hanging out in our room and basking in the languid Vegas heat on our balcony, which had this view during the day:
And this view at night:
Vegas is pretty great from that vantage point.
This has been a pretty dreary year for Ron and I so far – financially, personally, and professionally, the blows, disappointments, sadness, and bad luck have just seemed to keep coming. Everything in our lives has been about picking ourselves back up after getting knocked down and then continuing to trudge through. But weirdly, it has made me feel closer to him than ever before. I guess that’s the consummate definition of a true partner – almost anyone does well in the easy, happy times, but it’s particularly special to look over in the crappiest times and see that person holding your hand and weathering it all with you. It’s one one of the few gambles I feel I’ve won this year.
Happy Anniversary Ron – I love you!