Sunday, February 22, 2009

How Low Can We Go?

I keep thinking about those budget worksheets in The Grown-Up's Guide to Running Away from Home: Making a New Life Abroad (see my earlier post, Preparing.)

Learning to live with less. Economizing. Simplifying. These are solid, respectable themes, and they show up a lot in the expat vernacular.

But they worry me.

Exactly how much less are we supposed to live on?

In her book No Touch Monkey!: And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late, Ayun Halliday relives her days of traveling on pennies. She wrote the memoir from her home in Brooklyn, whiling away the time waiting for her toddler to get past the diaper stage.

Though my living-on-pennies days have been numerous, my travelling-on-pennies days have not, and I’ve always listened to vagabonding stories with a mixture of regret and awe.

I did have that funny evening in the Fes barbershop with eight Moroccans, my roommate, and a sheep’s head, but I never slept in a train station. I never cadged beers at Oktoberfest in Munich. And I definitely never went to Tanzania on my own. So, as Halliday tells her tales (and I haven’t even gotten to the monkey story yet), I feel myself getting itchy to hit the road, wanting to make up for having missed the college summer backpacking through Europe or hostel-hopping in Brazil.

But I don’t want to sleep in a hostel. Or split a beer with my husband at Oktoberfest. (I'd never get my fair share.) And I'm way past shampooing in a public sink.

So all this talk about economizing has got me a little nervous. When we get there (by now you know that “there” is still a little hazy, yes?), I don’t need a bed at the Ritz. But I do want a bed. With a good pillow that cradles my sun-bleached head. And I want to be able to tip the waiter without feeling like it’s a choice between his livelihood and my latte.

Is that asking too much?


sarah said...

Ah, the dilemma. I empathise, one of my regrets is not taking a gap year. Now I love to travel, and I can sleep in a tent, but after a few days, I miss comfort.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah - Is this the Sarah I think it is, or a Sarah I've yet to meet who stumbled onto my little blog somehow?

As for me, I like to pretend that I like to sleep in a tent, but I live in fear that someone will take me up on it ;-)

Bill said...

Camping is all about context to me. I always kind of laugh at people who camp in their backyard or a mile away from a cheap hotel. I mean, every other morning, you wake up, and make the correct decision to sleep in a bed. What happened on those odd days to make you make the wrong choice?

But, there was one night in Tanzania where I was camping and a herd of zebras wondered through camp a few feet from my tent. It was one of the most amazing things I ever saw. In that context - you can get over not having a bed.

Nancy said...

Bill - You made me think back over my own (limited) camping experiences, and the night Rick and I camped after a day of river rafting somewhere in Maryland. I'd brought our blow-up beds, sheets, blankets, PILLOWS, the whole shabang. In the middle of the night, it poured. The rain didn't come in, but the breeze did, with the smells of pine and wet charred firewood, the sound of heavy drops falling steadily. I was transported. It was one of those nights you keep waking yourself up so you can slowly settle back in to sleep, you are so safe and warm and content.

And then, of course, nature calls...