The expat dilemma: saving for or spending on travel

January 22, 2013 in Career,Life,Philosophy,Travel

As soon as I move somewhere, I start wrestling with the inevitable financial balancing act. A step beyond the work to live or live to work dilemma, it’s the struggle of living like a traveler or saving to travel.

Should I be spending my weekends exploring the city, wandering the streets and watching the sunsets and going to galleries and trying out new restaurants? Should I be doing nothing other than sunning myself on park benches and thumbing old pages in used bookstores, or keeping busy on the endless tourist attractions New York City has to offer? Should I spend my evenings testing out new cocktails with old friends?

Or should I be counting my dimes, eating homemade sandwiches and going for runs across the bridge instead of paying exorbitant fees for yoga classes? Should I pick up a second job as a barista or waitress so that I can squirrel away some money for the inevitable next trip, forsaking my evenings and weekends while looking forward to a true vacation?

It should come as no surprise that I’m of two minds in all this, the dual forces of my Gemini personality coming forth once more. On one hand, I  have a penchant for saving my money, paying my credit cards off each month, picking up pennies on the ground. I have an aversion to wasting money, a frugality that spurs my parents to sigh and ask what’s the point of having the savings if I never spend it. On the other hand, I have no qualms about booking a beach escape on a whim or splurging on a fancy dinner with friends. In short, when it comes to money, I’m a tight-ass who goes to pains to avoid looking like one.

I’m honestly not sure what the answer is. So many travel bloggers detail the way that they save incredible sums of money in a short time, picking up second jobs and moving home and curtailing all social activity. Despite watching my savings account dwindle, I’ve never been able to adapt that all-or-nothing mentality, that ability to shut off living in order to follow a life dream. Instead of moving in with my parents, I’ve moved to a new city. Instead of picking up a second job, I’ve picked up a weekly volunteer shift and near-daily yoga habit. Instead of curtailing all drinks dates, I’ve merely cut out the alcohol in the drinks.

To be clear: I am not making incredible sums of money in New York City, nor am I working my way into a pile of debt. I’m breaking even. It’s enough to pay my rent, cover my bills and still have enough left over to splurge on an afternoon in a cafe, a day in a museum, the occasional night at a show.

I’ve been debating looking for a part-time gig in hospitality, to balance out my long days at a computer and to fatten my bank account. But I stop short when I think of what I’d be giving up: those evening yoga classes, the prospect of weekends exploring New York City, the thrill of booking a last-minute flight away for the weekend. Did I move to the New York City to experience the greatest city in the world, or am I simply treating it as a stopover for my next destination?

Namely: am I living here, completely in the now, or am I forsaking the thrills of today for an unpromised tomorrow?

Note: no matter what my money situation is like, I make sure to spend on quality travel insurance when I head overseas. Check out Beyond Cover Travel Insurance the next time to book a flight.  

  • Caitlin

    I say explore the city you’re in, soak it up, or what is the point of living there? You’ve moved to many places around the world and took the time to immerse yourself in the place you were – why should New York be any different? I would take a few months to enjoy where you’re at, and then maybe look into saving up for the next adventure. Have fun and good luck! 😉

  • Laetitia Brock

    My expat travel dilemma is always whether to use my vacation (and in the US, that’s a limited resource) time to go back home… or whether I should use my days to discover new places… so far the compromise has been 2 weeks in Paris with a 3-day excursion to another European capitol in the middle… but I’m thinking I might blow off Paris one year and just go somewhere completly new for 2 weeks… tough decision 😉

  • lindsaypunk

    oh girrrrrrl, i’ve been living the same dilemma for the past 5 years! i basically maintained my savings (i.e. didn’t take away from or add to it at all) and broke even on income/expenditure while living in NYC. i’m about to tap into that savings when i head to asia, but once i return i am considering living somewhere with a much lower cost of living so that i can start saving more for future travels.

    but you know what? i think it was worth it. i may not leave NYC with much to show, but the experience i had living here made me happier than i’ve ever been. i say take advantage of your time in new york – who knows how long you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy it. you’ve got the rest of your life to save up! 😛

  • That is a tough dilemma! Maybe find a 2nd job so that you can have two bank accounts: 1 for travel and 1 for NYC fun?

  • I’m with you. Part of me tracks my monthly budget and doesn’t waste money on yet another skirt or pair of shoes… I don’t dine out that often either. However, I do pay for a beautiful apartment in a good area and buy my food in organic shops. I order a glass of my favorite wine instead of a bottle of the cheapest one. After all, I’m not in London to sit inside and watch people living – my time is precious and I’d rather enjoy it! I believe in having trade offs and still being able to stock up some savings. Maybe not as much as those that give up almost everything… But still enough to have some fun and look forward to a little trip from time to time :)

  • budgetjan

    I think you should keep enjoying NYC in your spare time and spending whatever feels right to you. When you have had your fill of that, you will know it is time to start saving like crazy and you will enjoy it because you will have a goal in mind. Until then join in the party.

  • breaking even isn’t bad when you are living an amazing life. That’s what I’ve done for the past 3 years…and I’m totally okay with it. Now, I’m on the other extreme of spending way more than I’m bringing in starting my own company…but I’m okay with that, too.

  • I hear you on this! I’m constantly debating whether or not to stay home/in town on the weekend or just go anywhere and everywhere while I can…like everything else, it all comes down to balance in the end. (But sometimes that’s hard to find!)

  • Now I know why I relate to SO many of your blog posts. I too, am a Gemini, and as I said on my blog as well, I get restless very easily. It’s strange because in one way, I constantly need something new to do or see and get bored very easily, but at the same time my personality also craves for stability, harmony, a nice home and environment etc. I fully agree with you. I don’t want to waste my savings on expensive trips, I plan for my long-term goals (although on a daily basis I am unhappy if my short-term needs aren’t satisfied), but at the same time I want to enjoy a night out once in a while, a nice dress, a museum, etc. Eating home cooked sandwiches is not my cup of tea (and I do cook). While it does have its advantages, sometimes I really wish I wasn’t a Gemini. I wouldn’t also desire to travel and do something adventurous.

  • I think, right now, you need to just focus on living in NYC and having an amazing time there. You’re still young and you still have tons of traveling to do. But it sounds like it wouldn’t be fair to you OR your new city to already start worrying about re-padding your savings account!

  • Word, sister. Word. I’m going through the same dilemma here in Paris.

  • It’s all a compromise. Just be glad you get to do it in New York. We’ve been funding (actually not spending) to finance our travel lately by housesitting. We get to live in Spain, but we are tied down while we’re here. We try to squeeze in weekend trips.

  • I’ve been dealing with this the same issue. Finding a balance has been hard. About 10 months ago, I moved to Cleveland. Granted it’s not New York, there are still restaurants to try, plays to see and events to attend. But there are also trips and retirement to save for.

  • camorose

    So true! I think it would be tough to pass on weekends here–there is ALWAYS something to do!

  • camorose

    Totally feel you on that one. My family is in California and I went home for the holidays this year, but I think I’m going to be using my vacation for actual vacation in the future. Luckily my parents are super understanding–I think they’re just happy I’m (almost) in the same time zone!

  • camorose

    That’s definitely how I’m leaning right now–no point being here without fully experiencing everything the city has to offer!

  • camorose

    Yeah, that’s what it would be. It’s just finding a second job that doesn’t eat up ALL of my time/energy/zest for life in NYC!

  • camorose

    That’s a really good way of putting–I feel exactly the same way! I’m much happier living in Manhattan and being close to everything instead of paying cheaper rent out in Bushwick–but I suppose that’s always the tradeoff!

  • camorose

    Not a bad idea! Might as well enjoy it while I’m here :)

  • camorose

    I don’t mind breaking even for now–but I’d like to be able to put a little bit more in the bank than I am right now! We’ll see what I can swing!

  • camorose

    So true! Not drinking has really been helping me figure out what exactly I want in a social scene–I can still go out and have a great time with friends without spending any money (or significantly less) on drinks. Have to maintain that balance in the coming months.

  • camorose

    I guess it’s all about finding a balance–easier said than done! :)

  • camorose

    That’s a great point–I can get a little overanxious about being financially secure. There’s just so much to do here–I could be here for years and still not do it all! Sometimes seems like an impossible goal to accomplish :)

  • camorose

    Ahhhhh, Paris! That’s a tough city not to be out and about in :)

  • camorose

    It’s true–NYC is not a bad city to figure it all out in :)

  • camorose

    Exactly! It’s all about living like a traveler wherever you are.

  • Lindsay

    Great post… I can totally relate. I’m constantly dealing with this dilemma as an expat! Save all of my extra money for my next trip or enjoy my weekends in the city I live in? I’ve started cooking more, packing lunches for work, and running outside/doing workout dvds in my living room in place of a gym membership, but I’ve learned that I’m just not as happy if I deprive myself from drinks with friends and trying new restaurants on the weekends.

  • It’s so difficult to find a balance that works. You want to live your life but at the same time, plan for other things and not be reckless when it comes to spending, but in NYC especially, temptation is everywhere! I used to make deals with myself and say, OK if you save this much or cut coupons for the grocery store or eat in x # of times instead of going out, you can splurge on that trip. It was silly, but I felt like I had to allow myself that treat if I prioritized savings. Like you, I too am a tight ass who doesn’t want to look like one. Cool post!

  • JulikaSarah

    I can absolutely relate to this! Although I’m living nowhere as exciting as New York City right now, I’m still struggling with saving up for one huge adventure toward the end of the year, or going on several little but pricy weekend vacations instead. I’m always planning the next trip and I’m not sure if I can make it till October or November without splurging on a few getaways before. It truly is a constant dilemma!
    And regarding your dilemma – I love how you depict your life in New York! It’s exciting, adventurous, and you can discover something new every day! This sounds like the essence of traveling to me :) I think you deserve living a fabulous life in the world’s most thrilling cities – you’re 24 and living in New York! How much better can it get? :)

  • Anne the Adventurer

    I completely understand this dilemma – it’s what I’m always experiencing and struggling with!

    One one hand, I’m in college and I want to have a college experience. On the other hand, I am desperately trying to be as frugal as possible and as much as I can to possibly be able to study abroad this summer. I think the best way to go is striking up a balance between them both – finding a way to successfully save enough while still finding inexpensive ways to have fun and experience where you are now!

  • camorose

    Thank you! I’m terrible with the deals–it’s always, like, well, I didn’t spend any money (or calories!) on drinks, so I can treat myself to a coffee or ice cream. Completely defeats the purpose. Just trying to work out a bit of balance and moderation!

  • camorose

    First off, thank you for all the sweet comment and RTs! I’m trying to figure out a way to balance the “big trips” with smaller, equally exciting and relaxing getaways. Living in NYC is definitely an incredible opportunity and I’m certainly trying to make the most of it–thanks for the support :)

  • camorose

    That’s true! There are always so many fun, FREE things to do–need to focus more on doing things but not necessarily spending money. I’m looking forward to Central Park this weekend :)

  • lindsey

    how did you afford to travel all over the world? did you graduate without debt? other than your blog did you have another source or income while abroad? do you just have really rich and generous parents lol, please share!! <3

  • camorose

    I was lucky enough to graduate without any debt–I went to a state school, earned merit scholarships, and my parents generously paid for the rest. I also worked in both France and Australia, so I was able to cover my living expenses abroad and save a bit for travel. As generous and loving as my parents are, they’re not funding my travels!

  • raquel

    what kind of work did you do in france and australia? any tips on finding such work?

  • camorose

    I waitressed and worked in a cooking school in France, and worked in marketing in Australia. Found both jobs when I arrived through friends of friends. My only advice is to smile and be open to the possibilities and utilize every contact you have!

  • Oh I can relate to this. Its why we chose to be nomadic expats for 15 years. You can live in a new city/country, experience the newness and excitement of travel without having to save a lot, and earning the local currency to spend.

    This meant I could really live and enjoy myself. I didn’t save much at all when I moved to London, but earning the pound meant I didn’t need to as the money went so much further than the Aussie dollar did. You gotta enjoy each day as much as you can.

  • camorose

    My working holiday in Australia was one of my favorite experiences for that reason! Already itching for the next adventure, although New York City is a pretty wonderful place to live for now :)

  • Nicola

    “…I’m a tight-ass who goes to pains to avoid looking like one.”

    I too am a travel-addicted Gemini and this so thoroughly sums up my conflicting thoughts on this dilemma. I have made the strategic financial retreat to Mum and Dad’s house in a city I’m not too fussed about and will be employing the “head down, bum up” approach to working and saving.

    Have just found your blog, via a comment on Camels&Chocolate, and have bookmarked you for daily stalking!

  • camorose

    Oh wonderful! So glad you found me and that you can relate :)

  • @sincerelyKateB

    ….ahhh dilemmas…. Here’s my thoughts:you’re the best host NYC has ever seen, so keep doing that, hosting me and picking-up pennies and we’ll live happily ever after! :)

  • camorose

    Haha you get the expert host behavior because you bring cookies :) Can’t wait to see you again soon!

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