Paradise Found, On the Cheap

I woke up this morning to the sound of tropical birds singing from the bright green tangle of tropical trees outside my window at the Marriot Phuket Beach Resort. It’s paradise here, the trees verdant and lush, paths turning among the twisted trunks of trees and manicured grasses. Even the air feels alive here, thick and moving. Mai Khao Beach is a sliver of cerulean blue visible from the pools and open air of the hotel lobby, and when one walks to its shore, the power of the waves is enchanting. We’re not allowed to swim due to huge waves and a mean undertow, so I dipped my toes in, and the water is as warm as a bath.

This is the most beautiful place I have ever stayed in my life. Our apartment is two bedrooms, two bathrooms, with a living room, dining room and kitchen. There are three pools, one infinity, and plenty of lounge chairs where men wait nearby with towels and ice water. It feels like pure luxury here, and I am so happy and thankful to call this place home for three whole days.

And yes, I am staying at this luxury hotel ON THE CHEAP. It may seem surprising or even impossible, but I’m doing it! My travel companions, Neera and Amit Melwani, scored this place through a family connection. And we are staying here FOR FREE. To offset costs, we shopped at a cheap grocery store near the Phuket Airport, and bought a total of about $40 worth of groceries to last us for three days. Fresh fruit, bread, coffee, lunch meat, tuna, and the best Thai “ramen”  have ever had, which was thick and spicy just like a soup you’d get at a Thai restaurant. There are 11 restaurants here, but all we’ve eaten so far are sandwiches in our room, some chicken satay from a nearby vendor for $12 split three ways, and then tuna and ramen for dinner. We drank one big beer that we bought for $1. So, we’re in in the lap of luxury, being frugal, and it’s awesome.

Yesterday we explored the grounds, swam in two pools, and read while the day cooled down a few degrees and the breeze picked up to soothe us from the heat. Highs here are are around 93, but with humidity it feels more like over 100. But its cooler by the ocean, and staying by and in the water is a must.

The people here are beautiful and kind, graciously showing us around and accepting us into their country. I know I am in a cocoon here, that much of this country is poor and undeveloped. I saw some of this when I first arrived and stayed in a hotel by the airport. Many homes were in disrepair. Garbage lined the cracked streets, some which were paved, some just dirt and rocks. People stood around looking hungry. I hope to see more of this part of Thailand, which isn’t beautiful and perfect, but is reality. I feel very blessed and thankful to live the way I do.

My budget while visiting this country is $20 per day, and so far, I’ve stuck to it. After the Marriott Beach Club, we’ll hop a bus and then a ferry over to the Lower Gulf, and visit Koh Tao, Ko Pha Ngan, and possibly Ko Samui. If anyone has been there, I appreciate any tips!

When I travel, I feel such pure bliss. To experience another place, another culture, such beauty on this planet we call home, is something I will never take for granted. I think travel changes us, opens our eyes, shows us the world is so much bigger than the small space we orbit in. I hope all of us work to protect and treasure this magnificent blue marble we live on.…

Intentionally Houseless

The response to my article about living in a car and a tent to pay off debt in the crazy expensive San Francisco has been huge, and I want to thank everyone for reading and offering kind advice and reflections. The article was since picked up by the Huffington Post and Business Insider, which has led to all sorts of comments, some ruthlessly negative, others delightfully positive.

The decision to publish an article about this lifestyle choice was very difficult for me, which is why I waited a over a year to do so. I was afraid of opening myself up to the masses, for ridicule, commentary and judgement. Living in a car and a tent isn’t exactly something many people like to admit they are doing, for in many cities it’s illegal, and in many social circles, looked down upon. I didn’t do it for publicity or to further my career, as some have insinuated, I did it to simply pay off debt and become financially ahead. Most people at my day job had no idea I had given up my home. It was a deeply personal choice, and wasn’t the easiest choice, but I have absolutely no regrets and would do it again.

I’ve since realized that using the word “homeless” wasn’t the right call. While technically I was homeless, I wasn’t socially homeless, or homeless in a dire and desperate sense. I thought calling it “intentional” would differentiate my situation, but I’ve realized the word is too riddled with pain and anguish. It’s not a word to toy with or use to describe a situation like my own. This is a point many people have sent my way, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot. The term “intentionally homeless” has distracted many from the true point of my story, which is that sometimes it takes living uncomfortably to become financially ahead. So from now on, maybe we should call it “intentionally houseless”, as one reader suggested, or “living without a home.”

I was by no means comparing myself to people living on the streets. There are so many people who are evicted in San Francisco and have nowhere to turn. Many lose their jobs as well, and when hit with this doubly whammy, end up on the streets. To walk through San Francisco is heart-breaking, as more and more tents gather beneath freeways. The true homeless situation is growing and needs to be resolved. I am lucky that I had a choice. My situation is and was worlds different.

But now, honestly, I don’t have a choice. I don’t live on a sailboat to pay off debt and become financially ahead. I live on a sailboat without a kitchen or a bathroom because it’s my only option now that I don’t have a well-paying full-time job. It doesn’t make financial sense for me to rent in the Bay area even with regular voiceover work hours, not even a room in the East Bay. I can’t justify spending over half my income on rent.

As a result, I am expanding my job search to other cities, somewhere I can work full-time and rent a room without breaking the bank. Shelter is one of the top needs on Maslow’s hierarchy, and each and every city should have options for all income levels. This is San Francisco’s biggest issue.

Even though I’ve received my fair share of vitriol and anger for using the word “homeless”, I am hoping my story casts even more light on the dire housing situation in the Bay area. Luckily, not every comment has been angry. It’s amazing how many people are coming out of the woodwork, sharing their stories, saying they lived the same way I did. Some people lived in their office, others in a van, all to save money and pay off debt.

Living “houseless” the way I have hasn’t been easy, especially these last few months living on the boat. As my Mom said recently, “Many people aren’t willing to be uncomfortable even for a short amount of time to save money.” I guess I am willing to be uncomfortable, because I know at some point, things will change, and I’ll have money in the back to pay a deposit somewhere that’s probably not in San Francisco.

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String Theory: What’s Next After the Layoff

When I got laid off from my job as a news reporter at KGO Radio over two weeks ago, I started immediately thinking about my expenses. There was no way I could afford a room on a houseboat and membership at a fancy gym on my unemployment wages, which would equal a meager $1800 per month. I’d only have $200 to spare without dipping into my savings.

So, I did what any budget-minded person would do, who’s flexible and willing to get rid of everything and live out of suitcases, without a kitchen, laundry room, shower, internet, you know, all those creature comforts of 21st century life. I put in my  30-days notice on the houseboat with plans to move onto a sailboat, and cancelled my membership at the San Francisco Bay Club.

While this might seem traumatic and dramatic and crazy to some, to me, I felt only freedom. I thanked my lucky stars that I don’t have a mortgage or a car payment or children or debt. I can use my unemployment to sustain me without breaking the bank. I can travel while looking for job opportunities without paying for rent. I can work on my own blog and brand and travel writing, with the dream of one day being a travel writer, an essayist, something that involves creativity and writing and exploration.

I used budget string theory to become free.

Then, I started thinking of ways to make my life interesting and diverse and adventurous. Often, I think people can start to lose themselves, their identity, their drive when they become unemployed, especially from a profession they’ve thrown their entire heart and soul into. I am determined to not let that happen to me.

So, I booked a trip to Southern California (using credit card points), to see my Mom and Grandma for Mother’s Day. This trip will be mostly free.

I booked a three week trip to Southern Thailand for only $740 roundrip, with plans to travel there on $20 per day. This entire trip will equal the same amount or less than my houseboat rent.

I plan to look up gym specials on Groupon or Living Social, so I can try out a variety of gyms and yoga studios and workout classes for far less than the $210 per month Bay Club.

And I plan to look for work, pitch my writing, practice my craft.

Some people think being unemployed is devastating. I think its just the start of an adventure. Because hey, “I’ve got the world on a string.” The next chapter has begun.

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