Embrace your inner adventurer: every day

I am a person who loves to travel. I love to travel for work. I love to travel for pleasure. I love the journey. I love the hardships. I love the experience. I love the adventure. There is no part of traveling that I don’t love. No length of trip is too short or too long. I value all of the micro-elements of it. The food, the languages, the architecture, the culture, the flight, the train ride. So, it is always funny to me when people literally gasp and say things like, “I could never go to Europe for a long weekend. If I am going to fly that far, I would need to stay much longer” or “aren’t you afraid?” or “you are so crazy to go to a place like Cambodia”

check this site out So, in thinking about it, I realized that most people look at travel as something that must be broken down, as uncomfortably as possible, into it’s parts; piling up it’s challenges into an Everest of challenges. Imagine the 14 hour flight, piled on top of a currency that cannot be recognized, on top of an language that can’t be understood, the time change, people who don’t look familiar, the fear of not figuring out how to get to the hotel, the potential cash machine fraud, the pressure to make sure you go to the right places and do the right things: ALL THE THINGS. That’s a pretty big pile of things to contemplate. In simpler terms, it reminds me of how people say to me how they can’t believe that I can place ice hockey and ice skate at the same time! It’s all one thing. The fantastic sum of its incomparably wonderful parts.

http://ppgsonoma.com/portfolio-2/gallery/three-columns-space/ I can’t begin to hope I will change everyone’s approach to how they travel, but at the very least I would love to help a few people enjoy a greater percent of the travel they have to do. Or maybe I can help remove some of the layers of intimidation that many people are encumbered by when they contemplate adventuring somewhere far away. Here are a couple of my personal guidelines for making travel less burdensome; for turning travel into free-education. Get a little bit of adventure out of every trip you take!

My first rule of travel is: Make a point of looking out the window every where you go. Not only are you less likely to get car sick, but you are also more likely to notice something that you have never seen before. Something you can ask about. When you notice things and ask questions about them of your hosts or foreign colleagues, you are showing a level of interest and respect for the place and people you are visiting. In return, people are more likely to be more personable and more welcoming to you. Plus, it gives you something interesting to talk about when you get home. Do you want to be the guy that says “Oh, it was terrible. I had to sit in the car for 4 hours in the middle of China.” Or do you want to the happy guy who “marveled at the tomb-sweeping festival which was evident across the hillsides outside of Ningbo.” Most people enjoy others who demonstrate appreciation for what they have had the good fortune to see or experience.

My second rule of travel: Plan your sleep and take advantage of the wonderful opportunity to relax and catch up on a couple of movies. Let’s take, for example, the fourteen hour flight from LAX to Hong Kong. If you are landing at 8:00 in the morning, here is how I would think about it. First, I back into the appropriate time for sleeping. If you land at 8, they will start the landing prep at 7:00. So, if you want to have 8 hours of sleep, you should plan to start sleeping 5 hours into the flight. That means you can have a cocktail, maybe a light meal and watch 2 movies. Then you sleep. It won’t be easy. I usually make a point of drinking tons of water, doing some lunges and squats and stretches between the 2 movies. And then, after the second movie, I take a prescription sleeping pill, go to the ladies room and then sleep like a king until 7:00. Kicking off a week of work far away is much easier if you entertain yourself strategically on the flight.

My third rule of travel should probably be called my first rule of travel. Awareness Development. Some would say planning, but if it’s a business trip, you may not have any time to set aside for “planned adventure.” The key is to have a clue about what is there. What might be interesting to you at your destination? What are the languages most commonly spoken? What is the exchange rate? How do you say thank you? Is there a World Heritage Site nearby? Spend a couple of hours a few weeks before you travel on TripAdvisor or reading the New York Times travel section’s “3 Days” article about your destination. From my own experience, I can tell you I have regretted my own failures in awareness development. My most egregious fail happened in central China. We took several flights and a very long car ride to arrive in Xi An, China. We were there to visit a factory specializing in small stainless steel and powder coated office supplies. We had an afternoon there with no commitments and we all decided to go to the hotel spa. Had I engaged in awareness development before this work journey to remote China, I might have known that the archeological sites containing the awe-inspiring thousands of life-sized terra-cotta soldiers were a short thirty minute taxi ride from the hotel.

Since that experience, without going out of my way, paying for any tours or suffering the overwhelming exhaustion of a targeted destination flight for tourism purposes, I have visited Iguaçu Falls in Brazil, Borobudur Temple in central Java Island in Indonesia, Golden Buddhas in Thailand, Khajuraho Temple Complex in India, the Tower of Bologna, Jeff Latham’s floral arrangements at George V in Paris, Tian Tan Big Buddha on the mountain near Hong Kong airport, the Jewish Cemetery in Prague and so on and so forth. Each of these sights are wondrous. Their histories intriguing. Their beauty immense. These little nuggets transform what would otherwise be exhaustive business twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Without these epiphanous mini-side trips, my travel could indeed be that which so many dread.

My point in sharing a few of my self-imposed travel rules is to help those who imagine travel to be incredibly burdensome. A little bit of optimism goes a long way to make even the shortest trip worthwhile. Every airport I have ever visited has an art or historical artifacts exhibit. CHOOSE to visit that exhibit! You can learn allot in 10 minutes! Learn something about the history of typewriters at SFO! Check out the skills and products of local craftsmen at ITH. Learn about the lauded traditions of the Philadelphia Eagles in the A terminal at PHL. Enjoy the inlayed bronze crustaceans on the floor at MIA. There is always something to gain on the road. So, rather than looking at what it takes from you, try to celebrate what you can take from travel.


The most reliable get-rich-quick scheme

A few years ago, I went to dinner with an old friend. Actually, an old boyfriend from 30 years ago. Since the time we had last seen one another, he had married his previous sweetheart, raised 4 wonderful children and had been incredibly successful in venture capital, riding the wave up, crashing back down, yet still earning millions per year in the aftermath. That night, we were joined by one of his junior colleagues who marveled at the fact that I was a women in her young 50’s and already retired. How could that be? he asked himself.

Perception is an amazing constituent in the evaluation of the successful and the unsuccessful; the rich and the poor; the winners and the losers. From this 40 something’s perspective, I was the winner and he was the loser. Why? Because the image in his mind of what life today and life in retirement should look like and what it would take to accomplish both of those images had created for him a Mount Everest that he must climb. So, as far as he could tell, I had already climbed that mountain. And clearly, because I run in the elite circles of his boss, and I have already seemingly ascended to his vision of epic success in advance of his boss…I am clearly one to envy. My existence was both a curiosity and somewhat demoralizing to him.

Truly, I felt a bit sad for him. This is a young man with a wife and two young children, living in a mega-millionaire’s mansion in the finest zip code of Connecticut, envying what is essentially a suburban housewife with an executive resume. What was wrong with him? His awe led me to think more about the gap between trying-to-achieve and achieving.

How do you ascend the Everest of your dreams and ensure security in your retirement years? What’s your “get-rich-quick” scheme? It’s really not that hard. But the first step is always to set an achievable definition for your success. What would retirement look life in your imagination? Do you want to be able to drive a golf cart to the course and around the course in the sunshine each day? Do you want to live on many many acres? Do you want to live aboard a boat and sail on a whim? Maybe tend a nice flower and vegetable garden in the summer and cross country ski every day in winter? Trust me when I say that there is a wide range of price points for each of these lifestyles. So take a look at what your options might be 30 years from now and place an image in your mind of the not-so-expensive version of this dream lifestyle. No one is saying you can’t overachieve your goals, but it is wisest to set up goals for yourself that you know can be achieved.

What does your dream every-day-life look like? Marriage? Family? House? Remember the advice that Warren Buffett so famously shared. Buy your first house and keep it. Stay in it. Don’t sell it. Don’t waste money on closing on a bigger house, just because you can. True, if you buy a 3 bedroom house and proceed to have 3 sets of twins, maybe you will need a bigger house. But when you buy that first house, be practical. Think about how the house will transition through your life plans. We all see publications full of huge dream homes. But do you know what happens when you buys a giant house with lots of space? Two things: First, you fill the stuff with things you buy; things you would not have needed to buy if you were in a smaller house. Second, you spend 3 or 4 more times on energy to heat, to illuminate, to cool, to circulate and to clean. Bigger really is not better. Not for the environment and not for your pocketbook.

If you are just starting out in your career, and your grandparents did not happen to leave you with a trust fund, you might be thinking to yourself…how on earth can I even think about any of these goals? I am about 5 million miles from base camp when it comes to saving for this said first and forever home! I feel your pain. Or rather, I felt your pain as a young executive in New York City. I would run out of money every two weeks and have to walk 3 miles to work instead of taking the subway. And when I worked my way up the ladder in my career, what happened? I then multiplied my work hours and used my extra income to eat conveniently. Suddenly, I was getting carry-out sushi or steak au poivre on a Tuesday night. With a couple of glasses of wine. Hmmm. $100/week after tax? This $7K waste of money (at pre-tax value) per year leads me to the quick solution in attaining your lifestyle and retirement goals: Don’t waste your money! Save your money!

So here are the simplest steps to accelerating your amassing of wealth:

  1. Immediately make the maximum pre-tax contribution from your paycheck into your 401K
  2. Immediately create a direct deposit into a savings account (of any sort) in the amount equal to or more than what you are paying into your 401K.
  3. Immediately change your view around eating out. Eat out only for social and special occasion purposes and target no more than one or 2 times a week. It is much healthier and much less expensive to “eat-in”
  4. If you are a woman…LADIES NIGHT. I drank free beer and ate free popcorn 3 times a week when I lived in NYC. For dinner. But bring tip money, because the hard working bar-staff can’t really afford for you to not tip.
  5. Review your credit cards quarterly to be sure that you do not have any monthly charges you are not using. (I just did this, and after 2 years had accumulated a monthly tab of about $180 on services monthly, I was not actually using…weight watchers, hulu, ancestry archives..)
  6. Always pay your credit cards on-time and cover the complete balance. There is no reason to pay interest on a credit card. If you need a loan, you can get one for a lesser % interest rate.
  7. Brands versus quality. Quality can be important. Occasionally, a high end brand produces product with a far superior quality than other brands. Do everything in your power to avoid wasting money on the shiny object of the latest hottest brand, unless the quality differentiator will truly make a life changing difference to you. (I wrote more about this in another blog session.)
  8. Find a role model adult who can help you find a smart financial advisor and a shrewd tax person. These people can be the key differentiator in achieving your long term plans. You will see that people who do not have someone doing a good job will not recommend the person they are using. So, wait until you hear some good positive feedback, and then shop around every couple of years.
  9. As you earn more money, increase your pretax and your savings deductions to cover at least half of the increase.
  10. Don’t forget that you could one day be unexpectedly hit by a bus. So, don’t pass up any once in a lifetime experiences because of frugality. Just be sure that when you spend money, it is really making a difference for you.

Following these 9 simple rules are just a start. But if you follow them, you will significantly increase the speed with which you can have some of the young-lifestyle goals that you have set for yourself. And the compounding interest on the early savings you have put in place will enable that vision you have for retirement. Every one of these pieces of advice are a bit cliche. The bottom line is, though, that THEY WORK. And they are all completely under your control. If you can do this for your first 5 or 6 years out of college, you will be able to move on to more complex investment strategies. But when you are starting small, the key is also to start smart. So, start smart and get rich quicker than you would have otherwise.

Preparing to become a Stay-At-Home-Parent

The grass, being always greener on the other side of the fence, led me at many times throughout my career to feeling envious of stay-at-home-moms in my neighborhood. I went back and forth weighing the pros and cons of quitting my executive career and taking on the luxurious role of the suburban stay-at-home-mom. There are many considerations to evaluate to be sure that you are prepared for that leap from employee to stay-at-home-parent. I find it easiest to break down the decision into it’s parts.

First, lets look at it based on an income perspective. For some people, it is a simple decision. For some people, it is not even close to being an option. And for some, there are substantial lifestyle changes to think about. In the case of a couple where there is a sales executive earning $300,000 annually and a spouse who is a office administrator earning $40,000, there is not a significant financial risk for the lesser earning spouse to stay home. In homes with many children and an income that barely affords food, shelter, medical costs and transportation, the decision is easy, because it really is not an option. Where it becomes a more complicated decision is when both parents have made it far enough in their careers so there is a substantial income loss if either person stops earning money. This circumstance forces the parents to look at other considerations to make a sound decision. Two things to think about here: First, from my experience, when the parenting and appointment driving etc becomes less “shared,” the parent continuing to earn income is likely to focus more energy on the job and earn more. Second, there is no way to calculate the value of what you gain in terms of the benefits.

Second, let’s consider the benefits to the family of having a parent at home. There are benefits, to be certain. However, it is important to avoid thinking the average stay at home parent will suddenly send allot more time with the kids. School goes every day until at least 3pm in most parts of the country. And after school, there are often activities. So, maybe there is an extra 1 to 1 1/2 hours of potential additional interaction with the kids per day. Giving up 9 hours per day at the office might only free up 1 1/2 hours with the kids. In our case, we gained no time at home with our daughters, since they were typically not home until around 7 after their various sports practices. So, when thinking about time with the kids, be careful not to over estimate the benefit.

Another thing to evaluate are the benefits of being available all of the time to your family. This is usually a big win for everyone involved. When the kids need to get to the doctor, you can just take them. If groceries are needed, they can be grabbed on the way to pick everyone up from school. Everything is easier if there is someone at home managing the day to day.

And finally, a question that can not be ignored. Are you prepared to not have co-workers every day and not get regular feedback, assuring you that your work makes a difference. This can often be a difficult piece of the transition. As you make your plans to stay at home, it is worth lining up some casual responsibilities outside the house once your new lifestyle begins. Maybe volunteer for a school board role or something like that. I struggled with my transition at first. I was actually frustrated because the only feedback I got every day involved how I make bad grilled cheese sandwiches and buy the wrong kind of milk. Then I signed up for too many things outside the house. It took some time before I got a sense of balance.

It is never easy to make a decision that impacts family income. Will you feel like you aren’t earning your keep? Will you feel like you can’t buy new underwear? Could you really give up that 15 to 20 year investment in career advancement? Will you find friends? Will your kids value your presence? Here is the great thing. You can always go back and work somewhere else. Nothing is forever. And your kids probably won’t be home forever either.