I think one main thing that prevents many Americans from traveling is fear of not being able to speak the language where they are going. I understand being nervous about that, but I’ve never understood why it’s such a huge concern. It can be frustrating when it becomes a challenge just to do mundane tasks, but there’s also a liberating aspect to being able to legitimately claim ignorance when you do something stupid.
In some ways, I think going to a place where you look distinctly foreign is easier than going to a place where you might blend in. There’s a certain freedom that comes with everyone expecting that you won’t be able to speak their language, understand their customs and that you will generally act like an idiot. When someone is screaming angrily at you in a language you don’t speak, it’s so much easier to shrug your shoulders and say in a sing-song voice “I don’t understaaaand yoooooou” than trying to argue back. When people can just look at you and KNOW they won’t be able to communicate with you like a normal person, it eliminates that awkward intermediate interaction where you have to EXPLAIN, by acting like an idiot, that you are, in fact, an idiot. You’d be surprised how much easier life is when everyone expects you to be useless.
I don’t speak French except for a few key phrases — mostly, I know how to say “I don’t speak French.” This is not as helpful a phrase as you might expect. Imagine if you were at a coffeeshop in America and you asked the cashier a question and he replied, in English,”I don’t speak English.” I don’t know about you, but my initial thought would be, “You smartass son of a bitch.” I was in a cafe in Paris a few years back and I pointed to the croque monsieur that I wanted on the menu. The woman behind the counter asked me a question and I replied “Desolee. Je ne parles pas Francais.” She gave me a derisive and disdainful look that only an old French lady can truly give and then yelled out to everyone in the restaurant what I imagine was something to the effect of “This gentleman says he does not speak french but he IS SPEAKING FRENCH RIGHT NOW.” She laughed haughtily as did a few of the old and disheveled-yet-still-elegant Frenchmen at the counter. At that moment, if I could have, I would have drowned myself in my cafe au lait to escape my mortification.
I contrast this experience with traveling in Cambodia a few years ago. Mrs. Banh Mi and I were in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant with some other (non-Cambodian) friends of ours. There was no menu, just an old lady with a cart with a bunch of weird looking ingredients. One of our friends went to the old lady and tried to express what we wanted to eat. He flapped his arms like a chicken, moo-ed like cow, jiggled his fingers and arms like noodles and generally danced around acting a fool. The old lady laughed, we laughed and a few minutes later some steaming hot bowls of soup appeared in front of us. To this day, I don’t have any idea what the hell was actually in that soup, but it was damn tasty and served with a smile.
Yesterday, Mr. Banh Mi shared how we are trying to save money. He’s basically traded going out for coffee in exchange for smug looks at his coworkers who have never seen a french press before.
As a household, we’ve tried to make some adjustments as well. We are trying to keep to a tighter food budget. This means creative menu planning on my part, which I find fun. We bring our lunches just about every day (usually leftovers from the night before which again, cuts down on costs). However, this is killing the romance a little. No date night out in dim lighting. No eating too much sushi and then feeling drunk on the joy that is eating too much sushi. This means lots of time on the couch for us which is fine because we have one more cherished season of Battlestar Galactica to get through but WHAT WILL WE DO AFTER THAT? I’d like for us to get better about doing free or very cheap dates but during the winter who isn’t a hermit and communing with their couch most nights, anyway.
We’ve also discussed cutting other luxuries as we get closer to our departure. Soon cable will go. I go back and forth on quitting the gym, though I think I shouldn’t feel bad about spending money on my health. I go to the gym about five times per week so I make sure I feel like I am getting my money’s worth. I’ve pretty much stopped buying clothes which is extra hard because I didn’t buy many clothes last year because we were saving for a wedding. I now look like a Forever 21 advertisement from 2009. Plus the one pair of red jeans I bought because WHO DOES NOT NEED RED JEANS?
As far as lady luxuries, that is where I’ve really cut back. Expensive waxing appointments are gone. Haircuts are fewer and further between. Manicures are a bi-annual treat. I am rationing my Christmas Sephora gift cards for all makeup needs. I am stretching that bottle of Cetaphil as far as it will go. I am not buying more workout gear. I am cutting down on drinks with lady friends, opting for an occasional happy hour or even better, let’s hang at one of our houses with a bottle of wine and soft pants. Everything is better without a waistband, don’t you agree? It’s a Banhmiandyou family value.
Doing this, I’ve been saving about $1,000 a month exclusively for the trip since August, 2011. Mr. Banh Mi has been saving a blt longer and he can save a bit faster than I can so I think we’ll be on target to save for a slightly-better-than entry level salary for our 3 -6 month trip and then a decent safety net for when we return.
When you tell people you’re quitting your job and going to travel the globe for an extended period of time, you generally get the same reaction: “Oh wow! That’s awesome!” That’s what their mouths say, anyway. I KNOW that what’s going on in their brain is “How can you possibly afford that?!”
I used to think that there’s no WAY that we’d ever be able to afford to take this trip also. We plan on doing a future post with our detailed financial save/spend plans, but for now I just wanted to highlight an article that showed me just how easy it is to save for this kind of trip by making small changes to your lifestyle.
Have you ever thought about how much you spend on items each day that cost under $5? It’s such a small amount that you don’t really think about the aggregate. Apparently, the average American worker spends $1100 per year on coffee. There are people in my office who go to Starbucks at LEAST once a day if not twice. I don’t blame them. I’m addicted to coffee myself. It’s a drug and it got its hooks into me and if it’s wrong then I don’t want to be right. I LOVE coffee — but goddamn $1100 per year is a lot to spend on ANY addiction.
I’m not willing to give up coffee but I’m not going to be one of those suckers pouring $1100 of black liquid down my gullet. I buy ground coffee and keep a french press on my desk at work. I make my own coffee fresh every day. I get ribbed by colleagues for being a coffee snob (which I am), but who will be laughing at who when I spend the hundreds of dollars I’ve saved through coffee-snobbery on holding a baby panda in China?