Tuesday, October 02, 2007

I Thought I Couldn't...

I had a frustrating experience recently. My friend Mara is doing a 2-week tour of India, which sounded amazing. A few days after she'd been telling me about her plans, she called me and said that her roommate for the trip had suddenly had to back out. She needed to find someone to take her spot on the trip or else she'd have to pay extra. Since I'd been oohing and aahing over the itinerary, she asked if I wanted to go.
Of course part of me was thinking, "hell yes I want to go!" But my knee-jerk reaction was to say "I'd love to but I can't." Part of the reason was that I didn't think I could come up with enough vacation days, and I also thought it might be at a time of year when work would prevent me from taking that long an absence. The other reason, of course, was money.
Mara is one of my college friends who is now a lawyer. She doesn't work at a big firm any more but I know she must still make a lot more money than I do. She goes on some very exotic trips and she said something about this being one of the more expensive ones. We never actually got as far as discussing the numbers: I just assumed the trip would cost more than I wanted to spend, especially this year, given all the higher than usual expenses I've incurred because of my new home.
Mara said she was sorry I couldn't go, and ended up finding another friend who was able to fill in. This all happened a couple of months ago, and though I'd thought about it occasionally in the interim, we hadn't discussed it further in any detail. But I recently realized I had more remaining vacation time than I'd thought, and also that the time when Mara would be gone actually coincided with kind of a down-time in the office. So that bothered me a little, but I still thought it was just as well I hadn't been tempted to say yes, since I was sure I couldn't afford it.
But then I was talking to Mara again and the subject of the trip came up again. She was talking about other places she'd like to go and suggested that I accompany her on one of those trips instead. She mentioned going to Eastern Europe, saying it wouldn't require as long a stay, and that it wouldn't be as painful in terms of "sticker shock." So I asked her, just out of curiosity, how much the India trip would have been.
When she told me, I was appalled. Not because it was too expensive, but because it seemed sort of cheap! The trip would have been about $4,000. Now it's not as though $4,000 is an amount of money I'd just sneeze at. It's a lot of money. But travel is an area I've always tried to prioritize in my budget. I don't put it ahead of saving for retirement, and in recent years, I've tried to focus more on buying a home. But I've tended to budget about $4,000 a year for travel. Not all of that goes towards vacations: that includes my monthly subway pass and a few trips to visit family. But I'll probably finish the year about $800-1,000 under budget, and I could have borrowed from next year's travel budget for this trip. I have enough cash to cover the $4,000 and still have plenty left for emergencies. Basically, I CAN afford a $4,000 trip, especially if we're talking about a once-in-a-lifetime thing like going to India!
I felt like an idiot. I guess I had assumed it was a huge trip that would be more like $10,000. I assumed Mara would have much higher standards for travel than I do. I assumed that something was out of my reach, when it really wasn't. This is the downside of trying to be financially responsible, and also just one of my own personality flaws. Sometimes I'm too negative-- I don't believe that things are possible, and I underestimate what I can achieve or experience in life. Sometimes this caution can work to my advantage, and it's probably better than going to the other extreme, of just assuming I can do anything I want without worrying about the consequences. But sometimes I just blow it.
Anyway, not all is lost. I'm sure I can still go to India someday-- it was never at the top of my wish list of destinations anyway, so I'll probably go other places first. But if that kind of opportunity ever arises again, I will think a lot harder about it before I say "I can't."

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

India is extremely affordable, once you get there. I spent two weeks there, including hotels, for under $300 (which is how much in rupees I withdrew from the airport ATM).

That wasn't fun. I would recommend spending more. But speaking from experience, $4K including airfare will be a very nice trip!

Girl from Nepal said...

India would hve been much much cheaper than eastern europe. Next time before you say no to a country because of the $$, find out the exchange rate first. I am not sure of the exact conversion value but $1 is about Rs. 65 over there. Maybe you can go to Nepal, instead someday. :)
It's even more great than India, and I am not saying it because I am from there. LOL I love your blog by the way. I only found it last week. I also live in nyc.

Anonymous said...

With the declining dollar, US $1 = 40 rupees, which is still a pretty good exchange rate. Love your blog and best of luck with everything.
p

Escape Brooklyn said...

It's just too bad people aren't more comfortable talking openly about money. Just by being able to say, "I'm not sure I can afford it; how much will it cost?" would have given you the information you needed to make an informed choice.

But you were right to assume it could cost a lot more. My boss travels through National Geographic Expeditions and she paid more than $8,000 to go to India, plus $1,000+ airfare out of Newark!

On the other hand, I have a friend who travels all over the world on the cheap, but she's willing to pick her destination based on airfare sales and make all her own travel arrangements. My boss would *never* be comfortable doing that.

Chitown said...

I agree with Escape Brooklyn. Too bad we don't feel open enough to ask the pertinent questions about money. I wish that you could have gone on the trip. It sounds like you would have been in good company and it was affordable.

In the end, you learned a valuable lesson but you are still $800-$1000 under budget. Try to focus only on the bright side of things. You have come so far and are in an excellent place. =)

3bean said...

Unless Mara is a careful accountant, people typically understimate what their true costs are. So, in all likelihood, the trip wasn't 4K (but it probably wasn't 10K, either).

I really enjoy your blog. Thanks for writing.

Thrifty Penny said...

Airfare is usually the most expensive part of vacationing in the Indian subcontinent. Fortunately, the American dollar is stronger than the currency so the trip would have been affordable. You'd probably spend less than $4k on the trip.

Nah, you're okay. You'll just remember to ask questions for next time. That's the best thing about mistakes...you can learn from them and experience something even bigger and better!

Anonymous said...

$4,000 a person will get you a lot of places. Remember your own rules about now versus later. Some of these travels are things you either wouldn't or couldn't do later in life when you are older and in less physical shape and potentially with kids. My wife and I are going through the same. We'd really like to go some places including Africa but it gets quite expensive--easily $8K/person including a little side excursion to the Seychelles. We need to just bite the bullet and pony up.

SandyVoice said...

I have been poor enough in the past to have the same automatic reaction -- "thanks, but I can't go." Now I'm a little more financially secure than before, but I still have the mindset of someone with too little money. To make myself feel comfortable, I have developed a coping mechanism for situations like this. I say, "Oh, thank you for asking me! I don't think I can afford it, and I am pretty sure I can't get that much time together, but, just for curiosity's sake, how much would it cost if I could?" Then, if it is affordable, I make a big fuss over how clever my friend is to have found such a good deal, and say, with astonishment, "Wow, it might actually be possible for me! Let me try to make arrangements, and I'll get back to you!" This gives me time to overcome my old poverty mind set. If the situation turns out not to be feasible, the compliment might still get me another invitation next time, plus, I now have more information to help me plan for future fun.

Curtis Miller said...

I understand your quandry. My family and I will be taking our vacation later this month. We use our timeshare in Florida and drive from St. Louis. We save lots of money on plane tickets and food with those two. But still, it'll be a couple thousand dollars out of pocket (not including pre-paid stuff like tickets we bought a few months ago).

The real kicker is being on contract at work and not getting paid while I'm gone. It really forces you to budget ahead of time to save that money not only for vacation, but for bills after you return.

MEG said...

This is a great post, and what a great thing to know/realize about your personality!

Many people automatically think they can't afford things, so they don't even try. But this goes for good things (like investments) too. I think the assumption that they can't afford it keeps people out of home-ownership, for example. All my peers/friends think they can't afford a home, but I'm paying less on total housing than many of them pay on rent (and for a comparable dwelling)!

Single Ma said...

"especially if we're talking about a once-in-a-lifetime thing..."

I think this a cop out many people use as an excuse to spend money on things they can't afford or spend money they know they shouldn't have. I'm sure you have your reasons for not going and it doesn't sound like you regret it too much. Besides, you can go to India (or any other place in the world) whenever you're ready. I'm sure you'll plan for it properly.

No vacation is "once in a lifetime" opportunity unless someone else is paying. Otherwise, it aint nothing to it but to do it.

mapgirl said...

Ok. Weird roundaboutness. You live in NYC. You missed out going to India. The Frugal Traveler just had an article about going to Mumbai. He lives in in NYC too. The irony here is that he couldn't spend all of his money, even though he tried. India is very affordable for an overseas trip.

I think you're thinking the right way. Always look for possibilities and opportunities instead of obstacles and roadblocks. Apparently it's that kind of thinking that separates the most successful salespeople and entrepreneurs from the rest of us office lackeys...

Robins Tomar said...

I like your writing pattern.
Well India is very much diverse in everything, same is true for money expenditure.
You can have trip for anything, literally anything, even for free if you have some friend in India. Some Indians (Your friends) will love you to have stay in their house and dine with them.
They have very much respect for the guest.
Even if this is not the case, India is not expensive. So next time please don't say "I can't" just because of money.

Madame X said...

Lots of great comments, all. Since I hadn't really researched India as a travel destination, I didn't really think about things being cheaper there. And really, the only opportunity I missed was that I wouldn't have had to do much planning and I would have had a travel companion easily lined up-- I might not have somethign so convenient drop into my lap again, and I like the actual travel better than the planning, so it's kind of a bummer! But I'll just do it myself someday anyway!

squire said...

I took a "once-in-a-lifetime" trip to France this year to see my son (meaning dad pays for everything)and was amazed at how little costs. Heck, I spend about that for 2 weeks in the states to do nothing.

Anonymous said...

India is NOT cheap if you want to do things nicely. I'm an American living in Asia for business, I travel to India a lot! Almost monthly. A good hotel in places like Mumbai or Delhi will cost around $400 per night. Yes India is a 3rd world country and tons of things there are very cheap, but as a western traveler you can spend a lot. A lot of people think they will do things on the cheap like a "local" and then get sick of it. Just like the 1st poster indicated he had done. Things like transportation will be cheap but then again you will get ripped off a lot by cab and rickshaw drivers. One thing I would recommend is not to go cheap on your hotels. You will be disappointed if you do. You will spend your days touring around a lot of 3rd world type areas, your hotel is your only oasis. And the luxury hotels there are nice. Nicer than most luxury hotels you'll find elsewhere in the world. There is also a huge and chic club/party scene in Mumbai and Delhi if you're interested. Very nice and high end, similar to the high-end club/lounge scene in NY and London. Remember that India has the fastest growth rate of millionaires in the world right now, and most of them are in Mumbai and Delhi. In both cities you will find things to cater to the dirt poor as well as lots of things that cater to the rich that make Manhattan look cheap. Actually, Manhattan is cheap despite what New Yorkers think, at least compared to other major cities like London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, Paris, etc.

Roo said...

I was just in India with family, and had non-money qualms about going, but the exchange-rate did hit us hard. I think it would be interesting to go with more active people my own age and have hinted to friends that they should let me know if they're interested. In a few years, probably, but: The thing that was interesting to me was the way it stopped feeling like a once-in-a-lifetime event. I doubt I'll go with my parents again, but I think I can get around okay especially with relatives.

Money-wise: Decent hotels $30/night, food: $10/day, driver $100/day, sight-seeing $10/day? Airfare is $1300-ish. Of course there's a range - Mumbai is priced like NYC, honestly, but it was certainly the exception. The $100/driver was based on mileage - we traveled constantly. So $200/day before gifts strikes me as reasonable for 2 people. A packaged tour costs twice that?