Friday, September 13, 2013

My Trip Across the Pond

So after four years of living on Dave Ramsey’s plan we are at the point where we are completely debt free, retirement savings is in cruise control, we are saving steadily for our future house, we make giving a regular part of our monthly budgets and we have all of the right kinds of insurances in place. So what comes next?

For us the answer to that question was to take our feet off the gazelle intensity pedal and start using our money as a tool to have fun. As Dave says, there are three things to do with money: save, give and spend. And we were plenty overdue spending on a large scale vacation. While working our first three baby steps we gave ourselves small pats on the backs along the way with smaller scaled trips to Michigan, Wisconsin, Charlotte, Nashville and Charleston. That may be a mouthful within a single sentence, but believe me, over a period of 4 years they were plenty spaced out :) We did splurge towards the end of 2012 with a vacation to Hawaii, but this time we were thinking a little bit bigger.

My wife and I both love to travel. And getting our financial acts together over the last 4 years was done so that we could say yes to opportunities like this trip we just took to Europe. Freeing up our monthly income, becoming debt free and living on a monthly budget made it easy for us to pay for flights, accommodations, train fares, car rentals and have spending money on hand to eat and sight-see. Needless to say our 4 years of living “Ramsey” prepped us pretty darn well for putting this trip together. And as usual our frugal ways definitely stayed with us as flew across the Atlantic Ocean and changed time zones as well as currencies.

To help prep for the trip we held a loose itinerary, stayed with friends when we could and had our spending budget saved for well ahead of time. We also gave notice to our banks the dates and cities we would be visiting so that our debit cards (and my wife’s credit card) would not be shut down as we traveled. Just in case one of our cards did get shut down, we allocated our spending money between 2 debit card accounts, cash withdrawals made along the way with one debit card and my wife utilized her credit card. To spare you the drama yes we came under budget on this trip. And we maximized avoiding baggage fees by packing our clothes into 2 carry on bags and 1 small checked suitcase. Now, onto the fun stuff!

The first stop in our adventure was London. Now London has a reputation for being a very expensive city. To help offset this I was able to reach out and contact my old college roommate whom lives in Stratford, 8 miles away from London’s center, and couch surf with him. Here’s a picture of us standing merrily in the rain with probably my favorite umbrella of all time.

 And I have to be honest that I was extremely happy with the arrangement, and this had nothing to do with saving money on a hotel. I had not seen the old chap in the 7 years since I had graduated from college. So having the time to catch up in each other’s lives and get to know each other all over again, well words can’t describe how incredible that feeling was.

In addition my wife was able to meet up and introduce me to a college friend of hers as well. During her time in college my wife spent a semester studying abroad in Scandinavia and I had heard tons of great stories about this friend in particular who also was living in London and whom had been such a great friend to my wife before I even met her.

So with two friends on the ground in London as locals we got a true 5 star treatment seeing all of the best London has to offer. It was great to catch up with an old friend, meet a new one and in retrospect have it flow so well that it felt like we were all childhood friends whom picked up right where we had left off. As proof, here we are happily crammed into a phone booth for a photo-op.

One of my favorite things about visiting Europe is the rich history and seeing/touching buildings that are older than my country. And this trip in particular struck me in a different way than I have been in previous trips. Typically I lose myself in admiration of my surroundings. Like being in front of Buckingham Palace or walking the streets near Piccadilly Circus, and like a typical tourist I walk slowly with my head towards the sky in awe of the historic majesty that is iconic architecture. But instead I was lost in several moments of conversation and being present. Whether walking hand in hand with my wife and catching up on life, or talking with my old roommate and sharing about how the last 7 years have treated us, or having the privilege to meet my wife’s friend who shares her strength, courage and savvy business mind, in all of these scenarios I was aware that I was in the midst of brilliant historical monuments and settings, and I found myself getting lost in moments of conversations with great friends talking about life and everything in between.

Needless to say the start of our vacation went off without a hitch. So here’s just a few more pictures to hold you over until I post about Germany!

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