Our Trip to the Desert: San Pedro de Atacama

Merry Christmas! The ThreeYears are currently in Chile. We just got back from a side trip we took to the San Pedro de Atacama desert, in the northeastern part of the country, close to the Bolivian border. San Pedro de Atacama is the driest desert in the world by amount of rainfall received, but it’s also nestled in the Altiplano of the Andes mountains, so there are mountain-fed rivers and streams and salt lagoons everywhere.

Our Trip to San Pedro de Atacama--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Mr. ThreeYear is from Chile, and his entire family lives here, so we visit as much as we can, usually for about three weeks. We plan a side visit to one or two spots we’ve never visited for each trip, so that we can see somewhere new in South America. This year, we picked the San Pedro de Atacama desert, because Junior ThreeYear wanted to visit a desert and see an observatory.

San Pedro de Atacama Desert is a tourist destination, so it’s quite pricey. Here’s what we did to plan a great trip without breaking the bank.

The Flight

Luckily, in the last few years, a number of discount airlines have sprung up in Chile. We eventually decided on JetSmart, an airline with several flights per day from Santiago to Calama, the airport nearest San Pedro. We did an online search from the US just a week before our trip, so we could have gotten better rates if we’d planned ahead more. We looked at JetSmart and Sky, another discount carrier in Chile, and eventually chose JetSmart for its prices and flight options.  JetSmart is definitely no frills, as we found out. The planes are new and clean, and you have ample space between seats, which was very nice. However, if you took anything bigger than a small carry-on (8 kilos or less), you’d be charged for it–about $16 online per bag, $21 at the ticket counter, or $37 at the gate (the prices increase as you get closer to the plane). Also, you have to print your own boarding passes or download them to your phone, or you’ll be charged $8 per boarding pass at the ticket window. Soft drinks, coffee, and a small selection of snacks and sandwiches are sold on board (a Coke or a small container of Pringles is $2.50).

JetSmart--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Our plan with JetSmart, which we took to Calama.

The four of us carried two backpacks and two carry-ons, one of which was over the size limit, as we found out at the gate (the website where we booked the tickets was not clear about size limits of carry-ons). Luckily, the gate agent took pity on us, and said she wouldn’t charge us since it was close to the right size. We boarded the flight and flew two hours up to Calama, a small mining city in the middle of the desert.

We paid a total of $540.12 for four tickets from Santiago to Calama. We probably could have gotten a better deal if we’d booked earlier, but we thought $135 per person was reasonable.

The Rental Car

By far the best decision we made during our trip was renting a car. We booked the car online via Priceline, and paid $115.49 for four days and three nights. We rented through the local company Econorent and booked a four-door Nissan Sentra.

At the airport, we picked up the car, then drove to San Pedro de Atacama, after getting directions, because Mr. ThreeYear didn’t have cell service in the airport (he has an international plan through work). Driving through the desert was eerie, at first. Everything is so vast, dusty, and rocky. Continue reading “Our Trip to the Desert: San Pedro de Atacama”

How Much Should You Spend on Travel?

Do you love to travel as much as my family does? For some people, travel is icing on the cake. For others, like me, it gives me life blood and makes everything else I do worthwhile. Long week teaching? That’s okay; our trip in a few months will give me time to rest and see new sites. But how much should you spend on travel each year?

How Much Should You Spend on Travel? --www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

There are so many rules of thumb for other expenditures: 10% of your income on food, 20% on savings (ha! laughs the personal finance community–we know that number should really be 50-70%!), 10% to charity. But there are no good rules of thumb for travel budgets.

Like most expenditures, how much you should spend on travel is highly personal. If you’re still paying off debt, should you allow yourself to travel at all? How much debt do you have? Should you travel if you’re working towards early retirement? Let me just say, to get it out there, that I am assuming you’re able to pay for the vacation outright with cash. Putting a vacation on a credit card is probably about the worst idea ever (although Mr. ThreeYear and I did just that on our honeymoon to Greece. Yes we did. We were dumb).

Full disclosure: Mr. ThreeYear and I have always traveled, even when paying off our $38,000 of credit card and car debt. Continue reading “How Much Should You Spend on Travel?”

Location Independent, International Jobs: Andrew

Hello! Welcome to “Location Independent, International Jobs,” the Wednesday series where I showcase stories from people who have become location independent, work internationally, and/or continuously travel.

In today’s interview, you’ll hear the story of Andrew, who lives in Dubai with his wife, Jamie, and their two young sons. 
This interview will cover:
  • how to get an international job (hint: your network is important!)
  • the benefits of an MBA
  • how to become an international entrepreneur
  • some cultural shocks from Dubai
  • the financial benefits of fasting
For the complete story of how Andrew made a life in Dubai from Atlanta, Georgia, keep reading! 
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I am an American from a small town in north Georgia.  My wife and I have been living in Dubai since 2008.  We have two boys named Jack (who’s six) and Zain (who’s three), or as we call them, Thing One and Thing Two.  They were born in The Emirates.

Location Independent, International Jobs: Andrew--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
The Waskey family all dressed up for Halloween, Dubai-style.

I graduated from Furman University with a degree in Spanish.  I earned an MBA at Georgia State University in Atlanta.  I attended part time for a few years while working for DHL (the delivery company).

How did you make the decision to move internationally?

My wife and met while in graduate school for international business. Both of us wanted to live overseas – mostly for the adventure [Laurie: Andrew has traveled to over 80 countries!] . As a part of our graduate school program we had to intern overseas. I worked in China and she worked in Argentina. After we graduated we got jobs in Atlanta and then when an opportunity to work overseas just before the Great Recession. We never planned on living in the Middle East and we thought we would just stay for a year.

Continue reading “Location Independent, International Jobs: Andrew”

End of the Year Goals Update

Happy December 11th! We still have twenty more days of 2017 left, which will fly by for our family, as we’re preparing to spend most of those days in South America, ringing in Christmas and the New Year with our Chilean family.

I thought it appropriate to go ahead and write an end-of-the-year goals post, though, because we have pretty much completed or are in the process of completing our 2017 goals.

End of the Year Goals Update--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

 

Earlier this year, I shared our 2017 goals for this year, and in July, I shared a mid-year update. This blog documents our three year journey to double our net worth (see our latest update here) and become location independent, so we had some pretty specific goals for this year to make that happen.

At the beginning of 2017, I sat down with a piece of plain white printer paper and divided our goals up into a couple of sections. I organized our goals from least specific and time-sensitive to most specific and time-sensitive. It may seem like I repeated myself a bit, but this system works for us. Continue reading “End of the Year Goals Update”

A Year of Good Habits: Laugh

After getting up today, for the second day in a row, at 5am (okay, it was 5:09; I pushed the Snooze button once), I’m reminded of why habits are so important in my life. When life gets busy, I can fall back on my habits to help me cope. And life has gotten really busy. We are racing toward the finish line with our to-do list to get ready for our trip to Chile. It feels like every second of my day is booked with something to do.

A Year of Good Habits: Laugh--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

So getting up at 5am, which I’ve been moderately successful at over the last month, has given me time and space that is unscheduled. I can write, think, make goals for next year, and all that nerdy financial stuff my family rolls their eyes at.

It’s amazing that this is the last month of my A Year of Good Habits year-long experiment within our larger three-year experiment. Focusing on a different habit each month has brought me awareness of how important these rituals are to my short- and long-term happiness. I’ve undertaken eleven habits so far, some for the whole year and some for just a time, but they have all helped me realize how my life has improved by changing my behavior.

I’ve also undertaken a few habits I haven’t written about in my Year of Good Habits, for one reason or another, mainly because I thought they wouldn’t apply to a wider population of readers. I stopped drinking alcohol at the end of June and started intermittent fasting at the beginning of August. I had been having some health problems, and changing what (and how much) I eat and drink has radically changed my health for the better–plus I’ve lost fourteen pounds! The health problems, including my stomach and lower back pain, have virtually disappeared. I’ll write about both topics in future posts, because they’ve contributed to our Three Year Experiment in major ways.

December’s Habit

Inspired by Amy at Life Zimplified, I’m going to make it a habit to Continue reading “A Year of Good Habits: Laugh”

November Net Worth Update

If you’re just joining, our family of four is on a three-year journey to double our net worth and become location independent. Each month, I record our progress on our net worth and our spending (gulp!). This year has been a year of fixing our house (the roof) and paying off debt, plus saving as much as possible. As of October, we were roughly 24% of the way to doubling our net worth. 

At the ThreeYear house, we’re in the midst of colder temperatures (it’s currently 21 F/-6 C). Our Christmas decorations are up and we’re enjoying the few weeks of winter until we pack up and head to South America for a few weeks, where we’ll enjoy delicious summer weather.

November Net Worth Update--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

It’s hard to believe that the end of the first year of our experiment is coming to a close. It’s been amazing to document this journey on the blog.

November was a month of higher expenses. We had my family in town, so we did some home improvement projects related to that. And we stocked up on food. My mom very generously donated money to our food costs, which I put into our savings account. Yay for extra savings! We started buying Christmas gifts for our family in Chile. We had a second month of high medical bills. For next year, we’ve switched our insurance from the high deductible to the higher cost, everything-is-covered policy. 2017’s experiment with the high deductible healthcare didn’t work for our family. Between physical therapy, psychologist visits, braces, and managing our sons’ ADHD, we pay a lot in medical costs. It would have been cheaper to pay the higher bi-weekly premiums and have less to pay out-of-pocket. Mr. ThreeYear will also rest easier knowing that whatever medical issues life throws at us, they’ll pretty much be covered by our healthcare plan. When he developed tennis elbow and decided not to pursue any more physical therapy because of the cost, it was a pretty frustrating situation for him to be in.

Thanksgiving turkey--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Our Thanksgiving turkey. My sister and I made a low-key, low fuss meal, and her turkey turned out beee-uu-ti-ful and delicious.

We know that December will also be a very high spending month, because of our Chile trip. We’ll also pay the remainder of our church tithe (which doesn’t show up in our monthly spending report, because we want to keep our giving on the downlow). We’ll pay off the Prius and the apartment in Chile, pay a little extra on our mortgage, and pay our house taxes.

We’re grateful that we only have one more month of monthly payments for our apartment in Chile and our Prius!!

Continue reading “November Net Worth Update”

The Best Christmas Gifts for That Person Who Has it All

I am a person who loves the holidays, and loves to give gifts, as I recently shared in this post.

But when you’re buying Christmas gifts, what do you get for that person who has everything?

The Best Christmas Gifts for That Person Who Has it All

A friend of mine, Liz at Chief Mom Officer, recently wrote a wonderful post called I’m Sick of Christmas Materialism – Instead Let’s Make a Difference #ActsOfKindness. As much as I love gift giving, making a difference and helping others is what Christmas is truly about. Liz challenged bloggers to think of ways to help people in need this holiday season, and several fellow financial bloggers have taken up her call to action. A complete list of bloggers and their articles about ways to impact the lives of others and spread #actsofkindness this Christmas appear at the end of this post.

So if you have that hard-to-shop for person on your list, why not take an opportunity to give to others on his or her behalf? Every time someone gives to a charity on my behalf, I feel a warm glow. The Minimalists list this as their number 1 gift suggestion.

It really is better to give than to receive.

Below I’ve listed several of our favorite options for charitable giving this Christmas season.

Chickens

The first time we received a charitable donation for Christmas, I was a teenager. My uncle gave us a card that said, “A flock of chicks has been given to a family in need in your honor.” I remember giggling over the thought, and then quickly reading more about Heifer International, the organization in question.

The website explains, “Giving an animal is like giving someone a small business, providing wool, milk, eggs and more. Animal donations can provide families a hand up, increasing access to medicine, school, food and a sustainable livelihood.”

The gift of chickens quickly became the most memorable of the year. I can’t tell you the other gifts my uncle gave me over the years, but I remember the chickens vividly. I loved the idea that a family in need would not just have donations to help them once, but a flock of animals from which they could receive eggs, meat, and income for many years.

When I was in high school, I went to Honduras as part of a medical mission team. The Hondurans who we helped wanted, more than anything else, Continue reading “The Best Christmas Gifts for That Person Who Has it All”

Don’t Want to Think About Saving for Retirement? Just Do This.

Personal finance can be overwhelming. There are so many steps, dos and don’ts, behaviors to adopt, what have you. Once in a while it would be nice to have a fail-safe, simple solution to follow to make sure you have enough for retirement.

Don't Want to Think About Saving for Retirement? Just Do This--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

 

Maxing out your 401K is the single best way to save for retirement, lower your tax implications, and spend less, all in one fell swoop. Continue reading “Don’t Want to Think About Saving for Retirement? Just Do This.”

Just Do It

Why does my post title sound like a Nike commercial? Just do it. It’s a kick in the pants, is what it is. As I mentioned in a previous post, I tend to go a bit crazy during the holidays. My extended family was here last week and we ate turkey, played laser tag (even Grandpa!), and enjoyed ourselves immensely. The kids tore the house upside down, much coffee was consumed, and we decorated for Christmas. Eventually, my family left, and we were left with cleanup, the extra turkey and dressing, and a huge disinterest in returning to the routine parts of life that we’re somewhat required to engage in to keep the paychecks coming.

Just Do It--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Mr. ThreeYear and I dragged ourselves back to work, got the kids off to school, and made lists of all that needs to get done before we leave for Chile in just a few weeks.

As I drove to work, I listened to Afford Anything’s latest podcast. In this one, she interviewed A.J. Jacobs, who I momentarily confused with J.D. Vance, until I read his bio and remembered he’d written A Year of Living Biblically, which I’d read several years ago. In that book, Jacobs spent a year following the more obscure commandments of the Old Testament, such as “wear no mixed-fiber clothing” and “dress in all white.” He grew out a beard and posted the ten commandments on the doorway of his apartment, in order to see how his life changed for the better (or worse). He’s engaged in such experiments many times, both as exercises for living a better life and journalistic fodder. One of the takeaways from the interview was that if you want (or need) to change something in your life, just start doing it. Motivation follows action, or something like that.  Continue reading “Just Do It”

Entrepreneur of the Week: Susan

Hi readers! Welcome to a new series, where I’ll interview entrepreneurs who’ve created a unique business or stream of income. I’m constantly amazed at the creativity and ingenuity of the businesses people start, very often in industries I didn’t know existed. There are thousands of ways to create streams of income, to help you become financially independent faster and retire earlier. And that’s not to mention the tax breaks and write-off incentives. 

Entrepreneur of the Week: Susan--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Today, we’ll hear from Susan, my mom. She and my dad started a clinical research trials business a few years ago, and she sat down with me over Thanksgiving break to tell me a bit more about their unique industry and business. Susan was in the education field for many years, eventually earning her Ed.D., and only started this business in retirement. Not only has it provided a challenge and purpose for her during retirement, she has an i401K , tax incentives, and other benefits. Read on for more! 

Can you tell us a little about your business? What do you do, what’s the industry like, etc.?

Our business is involved in doing clinical trials. We contract with pharmaceutical companies to do pediatric trials that fit the population of our collaborative pediatric practice.

What does that mean in layman’s terms?

When a pharmaceutical company has a planned trial (when they’re trying out a new medicine or further establishing dosage recommendations) they send out feasibility study questionnaires to see if we’d be a good fit, to see if we’d have a good population of patients that fit their criteria.

If they find we’re a good match, they come to do a visit to see if our setup is appropriate for their trial. For example, if the trial is for a medicine designed for swimmer’s ear, we determine how many cases of swimmer’s ear we typically see in a given month, and whether or not we have a population who’d be willing to participate in a clinical trial. Patients that participate in trials are compensated for their time. We estimate the number of patients who may want to participate, and based on that, the pharmaceutical company develops a contract. Once we sign a contract, we agree to follow exactly the protocol they’ve established with the FDA for the trial. Continue reading “Entrepreneur of the Week: Susan”