Amanda Dorough | The Beautiful Journey


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Spending Fast 2020: What, Why, and my Ground Rules

Three years ago, while I was living in Alaska I was browsing through Pinterest one day looking at budget and money management inspiration when I stumbled upon a little blog called AndThenWeSaved.  Honestly, it was the kick @ss graphics that drew me in but I quickly found a source of inspiration that would (or should I say will) become life changing for me.  The blog’s author, Anna, had experienced a sick and tired moment when it came to her debt.  She then devised a plan to complete a year long no spend challenge, aka a Spending Fast, to get rid of her burden of debt once and for all, and she did it you guys!  She paid off over $20,000 of debt that year and chronicled it all in her blog.  Even more, just before I discovered her she published a book where she further outlined how she got out of debt and gave tips, tricks, and advice to inspire others to be successful at paying off their debts too.  So, of course, I immediately went onto Amazon and bought it (you can find it here), and I tell you what, I was on fire and ready to slay my debts…for about 3 weeks and then the reality of being a broke Paramedic student with barely any income sank in.  Yes, I could follow some of the tips and live frugally so that I hopefully didn’t incur any more debt, but the real attack was going to have to wait until after graduation.

Well, as you can imagine graduation came and my first paramedic job came around 5 months later.  It was amazing, after making only $12,000 in taxible dollars the previous year as a student I was finally bringing in a sizeable income.  Suddenly I wanted all the shiny, pretty things I had been depriving myself of.  To be fair I didn’t go out and buy an expensive car or a fancy laptop, but I could finally get all those fun little things on my list that were going to make me the coolest girl in town right?  Pricey brand name makeup from Ulta, a pair of Rifle Paper Co. designed Keds, a Clairsonic Mia.  Suddenly all of my WANTS were more important than the mountains of money I owed.

And it stayed that way for a while.

Every now and again I would get a wild amount of inspiration to start paying off my debt.  I’d even go back and read through Anna’s book again, but the motivation would quickly go away and I was right back where I started.

Then this last January something changed.  I can’t say that I had a specific moment where it clicked for me, but I was just really tired of being scared of my bank account.  I hated logging into the app for my credit union because I knew I was going to have a scary low amount of money in there.  Y’all that’s NO WAY TO LIVE!  Jeez.  So I committed to getting rid of my debt once in for all.  It was slow going at first but over time I’ve gained more and more momentum.  I’ve cash flowed car repairs, dental procedures, and medical bills.  Oh ya, and I also paid off my car and my line of credit!

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Now, why a spending fast?

So in general I follow the Dave Ramsey baby steps and use the debt snowball method.  Step number 2 is to pay off all your debts but the house (which I don’t have) smallest to largest.  That’s it.  There’s no how to’s or inspiration laying in that step.  Just pay off your debt however you can.

And that’s where the spending fast comes in for me.  Over the last year I’ve done a pretty good job at budgeting and cutting expenses but honestly, I could do better.  I don’t need a  new shirt from Walmart just because it’s cute.  I don’t need to eat dinner with the firefighters every day I’m on shift.  Instead, that money, one dollar at a time, could easily go to pay off my debt just a little faster.

I’m kind of looking at this as a cool challenge.  I’m a fairly competitive person so this is pretty much a competition for myself.  How long can I really go without spending money on my NEEDS (more on wants vs needs later)?

To sum it up I still have a lot of debt.  Close to $80,000 and if I don’t do something radical, at the rate I’m going it’s going to take me years to pay it all off.  If I can really commit to this fast I predict that I can pay off at least $30,000 next year, but possibly more.  It really depends on the amount of overtime and the number of shifts at my part-time job I can get.  We’ll see!

So what are my ground rules/general guidelines I’m setting for the fast?

First of all, the time frame.

I thought a long time about how much I wanted to commit and 6 months just feels right.  So as of now I’m committing to a Spending Fast from January to June.  Then once June comes around I’m going to reevaluate.  I’m keeping the possibility of doing a fast for an entire year high on my list, I’m just not ready to commit quite yet.  By June though, if not before, I should have a good idea if the tactic is working for me.

Now what else?  Let’s see….

  1.  Only buy needs.  To some of you that concept may seem super vague.  Others of you may think it sounds super strict.  I promise it will become clearer soon.  My plan is to make a general wants vs needs list, as well as a more detailed list, within the next week or two and share it here for accountability.  This is to keep me on track and remind me what my needs really are compared to simple wants.
  2. Have grace when it comes to unexpected needs.  I recognize that I could plan everything down to the detail and surprises will still arise.  My plan is to weigh each situation as it comes up and determine how significant of a need each item or experience truly is.
  3. Sinking Funds/Envelopes:  Once the new year starts I will stop contributing to a majority of my sinking funds and envelopes.  Sinking funds for health expenses, Toiletries (because hair dye is a need for me, but only the cheap stuff), social, and Misc. will continue to receive contributions.  All others will stop.
  4. Paying for needs.  Some needs such as rent, electricity, gas etc. are going to remain line items in my budget.  Other needs such as toilet paper or socks, should all of mine suddenly disappear (an extreme example but we all know that sock goblins love stealing socks), I’m going to use my current sinking funds to pay for.  For example, the cost of toilet paper would come out of my cleaning and organizing fund.  Because I will no longer be contributing to these funds, once the money is depleted the needs will be paid for using my Misc. envelope.  If that were to run out at some point I will have to go without or use another fund, such as groceries, to cover the need.
  5. Follow through on current plans.  I have a trip scheduled at the end of January/Early February to go to Seattle to spend time with my family and go skiing with my dad.  Two other tentative trips for the first half of the year are a short trip to Alaska to visit friends (using Airmiles) and a possible weekend trip to Dallas to visit my cousin.  I have decided to not cancel any of these trips but instead approach them very frugally.  Each will/would have their own set of rules that I will establish as they get closer.
  6. Make do and mend.  Try to fix it first, buy used if I can and new if absolutely necessary.
  7.   It’s OK to say no.  No to hanging out.  No to spending money.  No to OT shifts.  I’m doing this to tackle as much debt as I possibly can.

And there you have it!  My last paycheck for 2019 is December 26 which means things are going to start getting tight after that!  And the funny thing is, I can’t wait!


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London on a Budget : What to see and do

Hello all!  Pardon my slight absence but I had a bit of an issue with my laptop.  We’ll just say it took a swim in the bathtub…. but now I’m back and ready to give you all the down-low on the fantastic free and cheap things I discovered to do while I was in London.

Now, let me start off by saying I am by no means a London expert, I’m just a super budget conscious girl who found some awesome budget-friendly activities and wanted to pass on this knowledge in case I can help any of you other budget conscious travelers out there.

Now let’s get on with it.  First up…

MUSEUMS

London has so many incredible museums and with the exception of a few small museums, they’re FREE.  Probably one of my favorite words. I by no means visited every museum in London, but here are the ones I did in order from my favorite to least.

  1.  The British Museum:  Where do I even start. This is probably the top museum in London and it’s massive with the crowds to match.  I didn’t even come close to seeing everything.  It serves as home to some pretty incredible artifacts from all over the world and throughout history such as the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian relics, and even pieces of the Parthenon from Athens.  Displays in the museum literally span history from Ancient Mesopotamia to Alaskan Native culture and beyond.  I was in constant awe of the artifacts I was witnessing.
  2. The Victoria and Albert Museum:  This museum was a complete surprise to me.  I honestly just ducked in to use their wifi (all the museums had free wifi) and ended up loving it.  Similar to the British Museum it houses a lot of historical artifacts but it focuses more on the humanities, art, and design.  My favorite spaces were the Cast Courts which houses copies (or casts) of dozens of historical monuments and sculptures (like Michelangelo’s David).  The most impressive to me was a casting of Trajan’s Column from Rome which is actually displayed in two pieces because it’s to tall to fit in the building.  Impressive.
  3. The National Gallery:  This massive art museum houses many iconic works from famous artists throughout history.  If you want to get up close and personal with works by Van Gough, Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Rembrandt, Di Vinci… This is where you need to go.  Paintings are sorted by historical period and or country so it can be quite difficult to find the specific paintings you want to see unless you know what you’re looking for, however on the museum’s web page they list their most famous paintings and exactly which rooms you can find them in which is helpful.  Also again, the museum has free wifi so accessing the website shouldn’t be an issue even if you don’t have data.
  4.   The National History Museum:  Honestly it’s very similar to every other natural history museum I’ve been to, that’s the only reason it doesn’t rank higher on the list.  The museum is home to a pretty impressive collection of rocks and gems as well as taxidermy animals.  The centerpiece though is probably the museums Hintze Hall which has a massive blue whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling.  The room itself also has some pretty cool architectural details built into the columns and staircases.
  5. The Tate Modern:  In general I like modern art, I mean arguably the art I create would be classified as modern art.  I did not, however, like about 90% of the Tate Modern.  I just didn’t get it.  The meanings of the strange installations were over my head.  The one redeeming quality of the museum for me was its location.  It sits on the south bank of the Thames in an old Power Station.  On the top floor of the building is actually a viewing deck where you get some pretty awesome views of the river, the Millennium Bridge, St. Pauls Cathedral, and the rest of London.  I highly recommend a visit for that alone

*Also, pro tip.  There are public bathrooms all over London that you have to pay to use (and rightfully so), but all the museums have fantastic bathrooms that you can use for free.  So, if you ever find yourself needing a “Lu” and you’re close to a museum just duck in and save some pence.

West End Shows

Ok, I’ll start this off by saying the obvious, this isn’t a free activity BUT, if you’re a musical lover like me there are some tips to help you save big!  While I was in London I decided to go see the musical “Waitress.” Having done a bit of research beforehand I learned that Waitress is among a handful of West End shows that offer “Day Of Tickets.” Theaters obviously want to sell as many tickets to a show as possible since an empty seat equals no profit. This essentially means that if you have the energy to wait in line for the theater to open on the day of the show you have the possibility to score an awesome seat for cheap.  Now not every show does this and times, lines lengths, and rules vary depending on the show as well (I suggest doing some research online before you head out), but here was my experience with Waitress…

After researching I learned that the ticket office at the Adelphi Theater (where Waitress is preformed) opens at 10:00 in the morning so I aimed to get there by 8:30 to make sure I got a good spot in line.  Well, I got there at 8:30 and no one was there!  I was a little confused and wondered if I got my info wrong, so I wandered down the street to get some free wifi and double-check (everything checked out, just no one else was waiting yet).  So, since I had an hour and a half to kill I wandered around and stumbled upon the que for The Lion King (musical) and the line was INSANE (I also heard the line for Wicked can get that way).  I was pretty happy with my choice of musical at this point and decided to wander back to the theater.  By the time I got back, there was a couple standing in front of the theater (in line) so now I didn’t feel so awkward and decided to join them.  By the time the theater opened there were 8 of us total, not so bad.  I ended up scoring a 5th row center ticket for $30 USD, which is a little bit pricier than day-of tickets in NYC but still a fantastic deal considering the people next to me spent close to $100!

Other tips:  Both “Hamilton” and “Harry Potter” and the Cursed Child” sell their leftover (discount) tickets using an online Lottery.  I entered for both but was unlucky on all counts.  Maybe you’ll have better luck than I did 😉

Explore Parks

London is home to several incredible parks which offer a great way to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city (even though you’re still technically in the middle of it all).  You can stroll among the many paths or rent a Satander Bike for a couple pounds.  Overall parks are just a great place to people watch and see some iconic monuments, like the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens.  It took me awhile to find it but it was totally worth it!

  • Note:  I also highly recommend St. Dunsten of the East church ruins.  While it’s not technically a park the foliage covered ruins are an incredible sight to behold.

Affordable Alternatives

Southwark Cathedral:  Westminster Abbey and St. Pauls Cathedral are both incredible sites to behold but expensive to get into.  If you want to get your cathedral fix but don’t want to spend an arm and a leg consider Southwark Cathedral.  It’s free to get into and £2 for a photo pass

The Sky Garden:  Skip the Shard and it’s high price tag and take in the view from the Sky Garden instead.  Located at the top of the “Walkie Talkie” building the Sky Garden offers panoramic views of London as well as a cafe and lush indoor gardens all for FREE.  That’s right, FREE.  Note:  You do need a ticket to be allowed on the elevator but these can be booked on the Sky Garden Website ahead of time.  Apparently, some time slots do “sell” out during busy tourist months, but in October when I visited I didn’t feel like it was overly crowded.

So there you have it.  A very brief outlined version of some awesome free/cheap things to do in London.  Of course there are some honorable mentions that totally belong on this list but it would go on forever if I included them.  So I’ll just quickly mention… 1. Camden market is quirky and fantastic, a wonderful place to hang out and probably my favorite spot in London; 2. Notting Hill is full of charm, adorable pastel colored houses and Portobello Rd. Market; 3. The canals of Little Venice are fun to explore; 4.  Covent Garden and the neighborhoods of Soho are fun to explore and full of cool little quirks like Neals Yard; 5.  You can still learn a lot about the Tower of London without going inside.  There are tons of plaques around the outer wall giving you a glimpse of its history; 6.  Shoreditch has amazing street art including a couple Bansky’s; and finally 7.  Borough Market has a lot of fantastic food for good prices!


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London on a Budget: 8 days, $1063, How I did it aka my Budget Breakdown

Hello Everyone! So happy to be back!

As you may have seen in early October I took a trip to London and it was absolutely fabulous!  My goal from the beginning was to be as frugal as possible while still maximizing the fun and adventure I experienced and honestly, I think I did a pretty awesome job.  England is notoriously expensive.  Prices are very similar to the US in many regards but the British Pound is stronger than the US dollar (even though the rate was at a significant low while I was there, 1.22 USD to 1 BP) so when all is said and done goods in general are slightly more expensive for Americans.

I saw this as a challenge I was more than ready to accept.

From the moment I stepped on the plane in Austin until I walked back into my apartment door 8 days later I had my little Moleskine notebook out taking notes on things I saw, did, and the money that I spent.

So when all was said and done how much did this 8 day London adventure cost me?  Exactly $1062.58 (give or take for fluctuations in the exchange rate).  That’s everything.  Flight, lodging, food, etc., everything.  I knew my low number was pretty impressive, but it wasn’t until I returned home and spoke to a friend who had been to London a couple months earlier that I felt how truly impressive it was.  He had spent more on a London hotel for a week than I did on my entire trip.  Holy Smokes!  I told you England is expensive!

So I thought I’d give you all a little breakdown of how much I spent on each category and how I accomplished it so that maybe I could inspire some more of you amazing budget savvy travelers out there.

I’ll start with the subject that started it all….

Flight
Cost: $470.01

I’m definitely one of those weirdos that likes to search for cheap flights and dream of travel in my spare time.  Usually these searches don’t come to fruition but this time I decided to go for it.  One day I was perusing Kayak.com (one of my favorite travel search engines) and came across a non-stop flight from Austin to London for <$500.  I immediately started picturing London in the fall and ooo it seemed dreamy.  Every part of me wanted to go, but I’m on a debt free journey and travel is frowned upon.  So I sat on the idea for a few days but couldn’t get it out of my head.  Finally I decided that if I could make the rest of the trip as cheap as possible I would take the plunge, be spontaneous, and go for it!  So I headed back to Kayak and found the same flight on British Airways for the same price.  Score! I then clicked over to the British Airways site, because personally I prefer booking through an actual airline vs. a third party vendor when I can, and found the flight there for even a little bit cheaper!

In todays air travel society airlines are splitting up classes more and more.  Domestic airlines started using a class called “basic economy” a few years ago and slowly international airlines have started to catch on.  In general these are no frills fares where you give up a lot of “perks” in exchange for paying less money.  I’m proud to say that I flew to London in British Airways Basic Economy and my frugal self didn’t give in to one single upgrade.  Quite a feat considering during the booking process they try really hard to make you give in.

So what did Basic Economy on British Airways look like?

  •  Carry On luggage only… For more expensive fares you get a free checked bag but for basic economy you have to pay if you want to check a bag.
  • No pre-selecting your seat…  If you’re allergic to middle seats on airplanes this probably isn’t the best fare for you because with a Basic Economy fare you’re nearly guaranteeing yourself a middle seat.  The first chance you get to pick a seat is at online check in 24 hours before your flight.  That is what I did and I still got a middle seat.  Luckily the other middle seat next to me (I was in the middle section of a 747) was empty on the way to London so really it meant more space!
  • Boarding the plane last…  Really this just means you’ll have to fight a little harder for space in the overhead bins.
  • Food, entertainment, blankets on seats etc. are all the same as the other economy members of the flight.  No sacrifices there.

If I had chosen to upgrade to choose my seat I would have spent an extra $70 each way (at least), and by sticking to a carry on bag only I had less to carry around with me in London and less space to buy junk I didn’t need while I was there.  Even being in the middle seat wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  If you’re a budget traveler I definitely recommend Basic Economy.

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Transportation
Cost: $138.18

I’ll add into this that London is a really big walking city. Everyone walks here so invest in comfortable shoes that aren’t going to kill your feet. Even women walking down the street in a business suit wear tennis shoes because they know footwear matters. I really screwed up in this matter. I thought I had good shoes but didn’t and I paid for it physically (Blisters, shin splints, etc.) and literally because I ended up taking public transport a little more often than I’d planned due to the pain.

Here are some other tips I have…

  • Getting to the city from Heathrow Airport:  The “Heathrow Express” train is highly advertised but also super expensive.  We’re talking about $42 (£37) round trip for the 30 minute ride to Paddington Station.  I instead elected to take the Tube aka London Underground to the city.  It takes a little bit more time but it is soooo much cheaper.  I spent £3.10 to get to Kings Cross Station (off peak hours) and £5.10 to get back to the airport (peak hours) which if you’re keeping track is about 1/4 of the cost of the Heathrow Express.  The tube station is also right in the terminal at the airport and there are tons of signs to help you find it.
  • If you’re going to use the Tube (and you should) then invest in an “Oyster card.”  The Oyster card is a multi use card that you can preload money to so each time you go to use the tube you just tap the card on the entrance gate instead of paying for single tickets each time.  Fares using the Oyster card are also discounted from single ticket costs so even more worth it.  You can easily get your Oyster card from a tube ticket machine (I got mine at the airport).  You do put down a £5 deposit when you get the card but this, along with any other money you still have on the card, is refundable when you leave.  The only exception is with the “Visitor Oyster card” that they market to tourists and you can order before you arrive in country.  The deposit on that is not refundable (so what I’m saying is you should probably just get the regular Oyster card).
  • London is split into different zones and tube fares are different depending on what zones you travel between.  Most places I went to were within Zone 1 aka central London so it was just a flat fee (£2.40 per ride I believe) but there is a full breakdown of costs available online.
  • This area also includes the train I took to Watford Junction (£18.10) where I caught a shuttle bus (£3) for the Harry Potter Studio Tour as well as the train I took out to Oxford (£27.40) for a day trip.
  • Finally this area also includes the Lyft ride I took from the airport to my apartment when I got back to Austin ($34 after coupon and including tip).  Luckily I got a ride to the airport from a friend when I left, but they were in class when I got back so I had to find alternative options.

Lodging
Cost: $116.00

You read that right, $116.  Pretty stinking cheap right?  Well it’s because I stayed in a hostel.  I know that the concept of hostels is pretty scary and foreign to a lot of people but I don’t mind them, especially if it lets me travel for cheap.  Thankfully London is very rich with a lot of amazing hostel options.  Really there is something for everyone.  You can get anything from a private room for £60/night in a hostel to a 20 bed dorm room for £13.  I researched for a good week before I finally made my decision which I made based on 4 factors: price, location, reputation, and communal kitchen.  The place I really wanted to stay was about £30/night for a bed in a 6 bed female dorm.  Man it looked nice but it was so much more than I wanted to pay.  After all was said and done I finally chose to stay at a hostel called Clink 78.  Set in an old court house it really is a super cool building.  I’m going to be posting a video review of my time there soon but here are some  of the specific reasons I picked it…

  • Location:  The hostel is about a 10 minute walk from Kings Cross station.  It’s not right in the middle of all the tourist activities but Kings Cross is a good launching point for almost anything London has to offer.
  • Communal Kitchen:  I wanted the option to be able to cook my own food to save money.  Not all hostels have kitchen so this was huge to me.
  • All female housing:  I’ll share a dorm with guys if I have to, but I really do feel more comfortable when I can be in a room with only women.  This hostel not only had girls only dorms, but it had a girls only wing which I really liked.
  • The price was right:  They had a promotional sale going on which brought the room down to about £14/night.  For 6 nights it was about £85 (or $105 according to my bank). That’s cheaper than one night in most hotels!  I also decided to spend $11 extra to guarantee myself a bottom bunk.  When I was 10 I loved top bunks, now I don’t.  Money well spent.

Overall my experience in the dorm this time was pretty good.  The bunk beds all had privacy walls between them which was nice.  There was some snoring but it was bearable.  It was a bit cluttered with suitcases but passable.  There was a lock box for me to put my important/expensive items into so I didn’t have to worry about them.  Best of all though I made friends.  When you’re traveling alone and spend all day in your own head sometimes it’s nice to have people to talk to.  We were all from such different walks of life (not to mention different countries) but we had some awesome conversations.

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Food
Cost: $136.01

Eating can definitely get expensive if you’re not careful.  There were some staple British dishes I wanted to try like fish and chips and meat pie and mash that I let myself splurge on but other than that I was very careful.  Restaurants can get real expensive real fast.  I would estimate that prices for similar dishes in most establishments are 20%-30% more than what you would pay for a similar dish in the US.  Thats just how it is.  Some dishes are worth it, some aren’t.  Just make good choices.

Here are some other things I did do save on food:

  • I brought some food with me from the US.  I had a gallon ziplock that I filled with items I had at home.  Oatmeal packets, easy mac, peanut butter packets, little restaurant condiment style honey packets, granola bars, hot chocolate…  Usually most mornings I would throw a granola bar in my purse and eat that for breakfast as I walked about.  I also bought some bread from the grocery story and used the PB and honey to make sandwiches to take with me.
  • Convenience stores are everywhere.  They sell cheap premade sandwiches and easy microwavable meals for a few pounds.  Most nights I would stop by one of these stores in Kings Cross on my way back to the hostel and would pick up a drink, snack, and some sort of microwave meal like Shepherds pie then take it back to the hostel and cook it in the kitchen.  I saved a ton of money this way.
  • I found street markets have pretty cheap food.  My first day I got some stir fry and fresh juice at Borough Market and later in the week I got an awesome almond tarte at Portobello Rd.

Fun
Cost: $113.02

This is one of those areas where I have so much to tell you that I’m definitely going to have to do another post on it.  Keeping with the theme of London being expensive this area is no exception but if you’re smart about it you can having an amazing time without spending a lot.  Before I left Austin I heavily researched everything I could see and do, priced them and prioritized them.  I may have only spent just over $100 on fun but I was throughly entertained the entire time, I assure you.

Here’s a bit of a breakdown (without going into to much detail) on where I spent my money and what I saved on:

  • The biggest chunk of this was the Harry Potter Studio Tour which was £45 ($55 according to my bank).  This was the number one thing I wanted to and I booked my ticket basically the day after I got my flight.  I decided it was going to be my one big splurge and it was soooo worth it.
  • Going to see a West End Show…  I absolutely love musicals and knew I had to try to see one if the price was right.  I tried really hard to win the £10 ticket lottery to Hamilton but no such luck, so instead I got up early and waited in line for a “day of” ticket for “Waitress.”  I got a 5th row center ticket for £25 ($30 according to my bank) and it was so worth it.
  • Admission to various colleges in Oxford…  On my second to last day it was a bit rainy in London so I decided to get out of town and Oxford was a pretty affordable day trip by train.  I absolutely love historical architecture so I picked a few different colleges in Oxford that I wanted to go into and check out what they had to offer (like the Cloisters at New College and the Divinity School at the Bodleian Libraries).  Tickets to get in varied between £3 and £8.50, so not really breaking the bank but not free either.
  • In London I elected to not go into any of the big monuments like Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London because the entrance fees were so steep.  Maybe one day, when I’m debt free, I’ll go back and check them out, but for now I was pretty content looking at these sites from the outside.  Instead I took advantage of the dozens of free activities London offers like the changing of the guards at Buckingham palace or the museums.  Dang they were cool.

And finally…

Miscellaneous
Cost: $89.36

Because sometimes little things that don’t fit in any other category come up. In this category I included the bandaids I had to buy after my shoes gave me horrible blisters and the slippers I bought because of the same foot issues. I also included any other clothing items I bought for myself (like socks because it was cold) as well as some small souvenirs I got for my family.

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So there you have it. My breakdown of how I spent a week in London for just over $1000. I know that my way of travel isn’t for everyone but man, seeing how affordable I could make it while still experiencing maximum enjoyment was a lot of fun.

Stay tuned in the next week or two for more on free/cheap activities I recommend in London and Oxford as well as a full review of my hostel!

*** Disclaimer:  I am on a debt free journey and paying of debt is my #1 priority right now.  I work a lot (between 56 and 115 hours a week on average) in a career that can be both physically and mentally taxing.  I hadn’t taken a real “break” since I moved to Texas almost two years ago.  I was totally worn, physically and mentally.  While I’m not an advocate for big extravagant vacations while paying down debt I do advocate doing what you need to do to make sure you’re healthy mentally and physically.  In my case I needed to get away, rest, recharge, and reset so that I could start tackling my next chunk of debt and not shrivel into a depressed, anxious, prune. So just in case anyone out there feels like commenting on the fact that I shouldn’t be traveling right now I just wanted to get it out there that this is my why, it’s something I needed to do for me and as should be obvious I did it all while spending as little as I possibly could so not to get me completely off track. Thanks!


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Budget Travel: What I’m packing for 8 days in London *updated*

*Now that I”m back from my trip scroll to the bottom to see the things I’m really glad I brought and what I wish I would have done differently

You guys, excited doesn’t even begin to cover how I feel right now.  I haven’t traveled, like really traveled since I got home from Bolivia in 2012.  Now for any of you that follow me in Instagram you know that this whole trip to London came to be because I found a hard to resist deal on a flight.

Austin to London Heathrow direct on British Airways for $474.01?  Ya that’s hard to pass up.

What I haven’t mentioned though is the awesome cheap fare I got is what’s known as “Basic Economy.”  The means I don’t get to the advantage of typical perks you get on international flights like picking or seat or checking a bag without paying an extra fee, and what kind of budget trip would this be if I went round paying all the fee’s?(Food however, is still included.  Hooray!).

So I’m going to be doing this whole adventure with only a carry-on and personal item.  Is it ideal?  No.  Trying to stuff cold weather clothes for 8 days into a carry on bag isn’t ideal but my friends I have done it!

So why bags am I taking?  Behold! IMG_0037

Personal item= Black cross body bag by Baggallini that I got on clearance at TJ Maxx. This is a new bag I got for the trip but I plan on using it for any travel I have to come so I’m looking at it as an investment. My criteria was that the bag be big enough to fit my iPad in through the opening, be in a neutral color, and be suitable to use as an everyday purse while traveling.  A suprisingly difficult combo to find but I did it!

Carry On= Allpa 35 Travel Pack by Cotopaxi.  I bought this pack when it was first released through Kickstarter two years ago. Since then the brand has grown and the price increased.  I honestly don’t know if I could afford the pack for what it costs now ($200) but I bought it in my pre- debt free journey days and I’m so happy I did!  I’ve only used is for one weekend trip so far so this will be the longest (and farthest) trip I’ve used it on, but it’s exactly the kind of trip I bought it for so I’m pretty excited!  It has a lot of room inside and several compartments to keep things organized.  *side note: I know there are several brands out there like eBags and Eagle Creek that have similar travel packs for cheaper prices so if you’re in the market for a new pack but can’t shell out $200 I recommend you do a search!)

So now that I’ve covered the bags I’m taking how about I show you what I’m packing in them?  Let’s start with my personal item…

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Semi Clockwise from L-R:

Compression Socks:  Last time I spent all day on a plane I ended up having painful, swollen feet for a week.  No thank you. I have to much to see and do in London and to many places to walk, so I bought some compression socks to hopefully keep my circulation going!
Ipad
Wallet:  I’m going to be leaving my trusty Bella Taylor cash system wallet at home in favor of this more streamlined wallet.
Small Notebook:  My plan is to take notes of the places I go, cool things I see, as well as money I spend everyday so I have an accurate tally when I get home.
Kleenex
Travel Pillow:  I love a good memory foam travel pillow as much as the next person but mine was just to big to take on this trip so I picked up this inflatable neck pillow from TJ Maxx.  It’s got a fuzzy sleeve on it it so I’m hoping it makes it a little more comfortable…
Plane Snacks:  Like I said they feed us on the flight but I get hungry when I’m fly so might as well have some emergency snacks lol
Everything Bag:  This has all the little things that can get lost in a purse in it.  I’ll give you. closer peek at what’s inside in a minute.
Electronics Bag
Passport Case: This is actually a pencil case by Yoobie that I got on back to school clearance and Walmart but it’s awesome!  It holds everything I need.
Collapsable Water Bottle

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Passport Case:
Passport
Pens, Pencil, Dual tipped highlighter
Custom Envelope for Reciepts
Notecards with directions to hostel and other important information I thought it wold be good to have.  And yes, they’re laminated, you know just in case they get wet lol.

Electronics Bag:
Dual Port Fast Charger (USB & USB C)
Portable Battery Pack -I’ve tested it and can get at least 3 full charges on my phone before I have to charge the pack which should be more than enough for a day walking around London and taking pictures.
Phone & iPad cords
Headphones with USB C adapter
Fitbit Charger

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Everything Bag:
Wet Ones– I definitely don’t want to get sick this trip so I’m going to pull a germaphobe move and wipe down my tray table etc on the plane.
Ear Plugs 
Tums
Emergency Tampon
Chapstick
Hand Santitizer
Hair Clip
Glass cleaning cloth
Medicines
USB Thumb drive
Floss
*I’m probably also going to throw an extra hair tie or two in there because a girl can always use more hair ties.

And then in my carry on…

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Semi Clockwise from L-R:

Packing cube with my clothes inside (scroll down to see what’s inside)
Travel Towel– The Hostel I’m staying in rents towels for £3.  I still have my travel towel from the World Race 8 years ago.  One less fee to pay!
Makeup removing wipes
Hair brush
Hat
Gloves
Toiletry Case (scroll down to see what’s inside)
Travel Umbrella
Packable Backpack
Camera–  I debated whether I wanted to bring this or not.  My go to awesome camera is a DSLR but it’s huge.  Then if I brought it I’d want to bring lenses too and it would all get out of hand.  My phone takes awesome pictures so it’s going to be my go-to, but this little guy will be taken out of retirement to be my backup.
Food–  So I purposefully chose a hostel with a common kitchen area.  Food could easily be my biggest expense (next to the flight) on this trip so I decided I would attempt to do at least one meal a day at the hostel.  I plan to hit up a store once I get to London but these I can all bring from home without spending extra.  It includes Easy Mac, Oatmeal, Hot Chocolate, granola bars, Honey packets, Emergen-C, & PB packets I got at ALDI.
Toms–  I waterproofed both pairs of shoes I’m taking otherwise these would be terrible and wet in the rain.  They’re comfy and light to pack so I hope these do me well!
Light Jacket
Rain Coat
Flip Flops for the hostel shower
Hair Straightener (it’s dual voltage)
Plug adapter
Socks/underwear

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Inside my packing cube and Toiletry Bag:
2 T-shirts
1 Nice Shirt
5 long sleeve shirts/sweaters
Black Jeggings
Black Cotton leggings
Athletic Shorts – For sleeping in because I hear the hostel can get hot.  If it’s cold I’ll wear the leggings instead.
Q-tips
Contacts– Enough for every day I’m gone.  I’m so paranoid something will happen to my glasses but I don’t want to take two pairs with me so this is my answer.
Dry Shampoo
Body Wash
Hair Claw
Deoderant– I got this tiny Native sample from PinchMe and it’s awesome!
Hair Ties
Tiger Balm– For my neck in case my headaches start acting up
Toothbrush/Toothpaste/Floss
Shampoo and Conditioner (I’m taking the sample pack too because the two containers aren’t full)
*I may switch a couple items of clothes out still.  I’m keeping an eye on the weather then I’ll make my final choice.

And finally, what I’ll be wearing on the plane.  It’s supposed to be 95 degrees in Austin when I leave so I’ll be pretty miserable with all this stuff, but’s its going to be in the 50’s in London so it will be OK.  They’re all my bulkiest things so I’m doing what I’ve gotta do…

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I’m wearing:
Jeans (with belt)
T-shirt
Scarf
Coat– I’m debating between taking my Northface Denali ( was a gift from a friend years ago) or my REI down Jacket (got on clearance when I lived in AK).  It’s another thing where I’ll probably make the final decision before I leave.
Shoes–  I got these Blowish shoes at Ross for $14.99.  I’d been on the hunt for a pair of stylish water proof shoes for a couple months.  I found several I liked but all where way out of my price range.  That’s when it dawned on me that I could waterproof basically any shoe on it’s own.  Most of the shoes I own are either so breathable they’re not good to waterproof OR not comfortable enough to spend all day walking it, hence the new pair.  I’ve been wearing these around to break them in for the last couple weeks and so far they’re awesome.

Not pictured that I’m bringing with me:  cell phone, small credit card size phone tripod, Fitbit, eye mask (for sleeping on the plane…and maybe the hostel), lock for my hostel locker, copy of important documents (ie. passport), copies of all my confirmation letters (for flight, hostel, etc.)

So there you have it.  Everything I’m bringing with my on my super budget adventure to London next week!  Stay tuned to hear more about my frugal adventures and for tips from across the pond!

 

***POST TRIP UPDATE***

Ok everyone so now that I”m back from London I have a few updates to the list.  Some things thatI brought were very very right and others, well, I regret terribly, so I thought I would share it all with you.

(And note, if I don’t mention something from above just assume I’m glad I brought it but it wasn’t especially exceptions)

Ok we’ll start with the good

Passport “Pencil Case” by Yoobie: Oh my gosh this thing was amazing.  It kept me super organized.  I always knew where to go for a pen, kept my receipts here, my passport, and any paperwork or brochures I got during my days exploring.
Black Waterproof Jacket:  It wasn’t pictured above because I ended up picking it up at Marshall’s just a few days before I left but it was fantastic.  It had a light faux fur lining and a waterproof shell and I ended up wearing it every day.  It also allowed me to leave my specific rain jacket at home (and it replaced my black fleece) so that I had one jacket in place of two.
Hat, gloves, and scarf:  I didn’t wear them all the time but there were some points where it was really chilly and I was happy to have them all.
Portable battery pack:  This was so great to have.  This kept me mobile without having to look for a place to charge my phone.  I’d typical have to recharge my phone at least once mid day since I was using it so much for pictures so it was definitely a life saver.

Now The Bad

Footwear. Oh my gosh I have so many regrets.  Before leaving everything I read said that people in London were fashionable and you’d stick out like a sore thumb if you were to colorful etc. and if you were unstylish footwear.  The truth is Londoners walk a lot and everyone is wearing good shoes.  Even women in dresses wear tennis shoes as they go from points A to B because they recognize the value of their feet.  Now to be honest I thought my shoes were good.  I broke them in before I left and they gave me no problems but to be fair I wasn’t walking 30,000 steps a day in them either.  After 1 day of walking around in my Blowfish shoes I had shin splints and a massive blister on the ball of of the left foot.  I then spent the rest of the week in misery with every step and a profound limp.   Now when it comes to the Toms my feet had gotten so swollen from the trauma inflicted that I couldn’t fit the toms on while wearing socks and it was to cold to go without socks.  If I could do it again I would bring the two most comfortable pairs of shoes I own regardless of how stylish.
Second coat:  This wasn’t specifically bad, I just didn’t need it.  I ended up bringing my lightweight REI down jacket which was easy to pack but I was always to fearful of rain to wear it.  If I did it again I might bring a lightweight fleece instead.
T-shirts:  Also not specifically bad, I just didn’t need them.  It was to cool outside to wear short sleeves, even under my jacket, and I rarely took off my jacket when I was out and about to.
Packable backpack:  Not bad just didn’t need it.  My Baggelini crossbody was more than good enough to use everyday.  I did wear the backpack the one day I planned to ride a bike and it actually hurt my back/shoulders more than the crossbody.
Packable water bottle:  Ugh, the thing leaked horribly. I ended up throwing it out day two and just reusing a water bottle I got from the store instead and it was sooooo much better.


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New Look and the “She’s Paying It Off” Story

Well hello all.  If you’re reading this right now it means you found your way to my little corner of the internet, my blog.  Maybe you’ve been subscribed to me for awhile, maybe you founds me through social media… however you made it here, welcome.   Over the last 6 years this blog has covered everything from my time volunteering in Bolivia to my life going to Paramedic School in Alaska.  If you’ve been around here for awhile you may notice a bit of a different look and purpose currently.  Just as seasons change so is my blogging season, and out of this new season has grown “She’s Paying it Off.”  A place where I can share about my current journey to become debt free.  A place for victories and struggles, ideas and advice.

Now, without further ado, story time, or moreover the story of how I got to this place financially and why I decided to so something about it. I promise to make it concise *wink*.

Just after I turned 18 my mother took me down to the bank and helped me open my first credit card.  I needed to build good credit she said and this was an important first step. A couple weeks later I left for my freshman year of college.  I hadn’t worked that summer and didn’t have much disposable income at the time.  I still remember my first purchase on that card, Finding Nemo on DVD.  The thrill of the purchase, the idea that I could spend money even though I didn’t technically have it.  Still though I was very careful with the card, typically only using it for needs.  I was lucky I went to college before social media became very big (everyone was still using myspace at this time, and it was new, just to date myself) so the temptation of comparison and the luxury of online shopping wasn’t commonplace.

Fast forward 4 years to graduation.  By the time I was granted my diploma for my Bachelors of Science in History I was well aware of what debt was.  I had maxed that same credit card just a couple months earlier to pay for a spring break trip to Disney World and had approx $35,000 in student debt under my belt from my silly degree as well as a semester spent studying abroad.  Some of you may be confused as to why I refer to my degree as silly but it really was.  I had no plans to do anything with History, I just enjoyed the subject.  Everyone had said I needed to go to college after high school, so I did.  No one told me I should probably have some idea about what I wanted to do with my life first (trust me, I’ll elaborate on this much more later).

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Studying abroad with Semester At Sea, Fall 2006

I assumed after I graduated college just the fact I had a degree would land me a good job and I could pay off my debt and live the life of my dreams.  Spoiler alert, it didn’t.  I moved back in with my parents and after putzing around for a year was hired as a second grade teacher at a school in Bangkok, Thailand.  The job definitely wasn’t lucrative but it gave me adventure, something I craved more than anything.  My student loans were deferred, and I had a blast for 2 years.

I won’t go into all details of my life between Thailand ( I moved back to the US in spring 2010) and when I first discovered the way, er, *cough,* I mean Financial Peace University.  We’ll just say I traveled the world and made very little money.  I don’t regret a minute of it but in hindsight it probably wasn’t that smart.

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My second year teaching in Thailand, 2009

So on to FPU… my church always offered the class a couple times a year, but it was finally in late 2013 that I decided to take the plunge and invest $100 into the kit, and I flourished.  I did so freaking well.  I budgeted my little heart out and because I had few expenses (lived with my parents at the time and my car was paid off) I was able to save a lot of what I made even though my hourly wage was piss poor.  I knew a life change was coming so instead of applying everything to debt I put it in savings…

Then a lot of change came.  I made the decision to go back to school to get my dream job. I moved to Alaska to do that and bought a new to me car that could survive Alaskan winters.  I hadn’t forgotten everything I learned in FPU, but my debt started to increase and I kept telling myself that was OK…

Now here I sit.  5 years later.  I”m approx $80,000 in debt give or take, but I”m making headway.  I did finish that second degree and got my dream job.  I now make double what I did before which is fantastic, but I still have a long road ahead of me.

If you’ve made it all the way through my story I must say I’m impressed.  I know it’s not that exciting, but it’s also so necessary on this journey.  I need accountability and I’m hoping you can help me with that.  I don’t know how long this journey will take, but I know I’ll get there eventually.  I believe it.

Thanks again,

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Life Right Now: Bristol Bay

Well y’all it’s been a year since I last posted here.  When it comes down to it there wasn’t a lot to report on honestly.  I spent last fall in TX completing my final internship so that I could finish paramedic school.  By early December I had finished all the tests and details I needed to take me national exam, and I passed!  Oh it felt so good, because, I can’t lie the NREMT Paramedic exam is dang hard.

After that I worked most of the spring at a clinic in Soldotna before being offered (and accepting) a seasonal paramedic position with the Bristol Bay Borough Fire Department, which is where I’ve now been since late May.

Today I thought I’d go ahead and give you guys a little snapshot of my surroundings out here.

Bristol Bay…Bristol Bay… how do I describe Bristol Bay?  Picture Alaska in your head.  Whatever you think Alaska should looks like.  Got it?  Ya Naknek (the town I live in) looks  nothing like that.  If I squint real hard on a clear day with no haze I can see the mountains in Katmai about 50 miles away.  Naknek itself is tundra as far as you can see. Tundra meaning flat boggy low bush plant life with little to no trees.

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Tundra leading up to the bay.  You can see the Peterson Point Cannery in the distance to the right.

But people don’t come to Naknek to play tourist, they come here to fish.  With about a dozen canneries in town the population swells from less than 1,000 to over 10,000 for the Salmon fishing season, hence why they hire people like me to help out in the summer.

The Bristol Bay Borough Fire Department (henceforth referred to as BBBFD) actually only has one full-time year-round paid employee, my supervisor Deb, whose official title is EMS Coordinator, but she really does everything.  Everyone else with the department is a volunteer.

There are three fire stations.  One in Naknek, another in King Salmon, and another in South Naknek (which is only accessible by boat or plane), but almost everything is run out of the Naknek station.

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The Naknek Fire Station.  It isn’t big, but don’t be fooled, there can be 5 different apparatus squished in there.

The town doesn’t have a hospital but it does have a decent clinic, so if you’ve got a cold or cut your finger they can handle it, but anything worse and there’s a good chance you’ll get medevac’ed to Anchorage from the airport in King Salmon, and expensive event ($30,000+) if you don’t have medieval insurance.

While we actually have 4 ambulances in the area, our primary rig, Rescue 1 is kept in a “barn” next to the clinic and our bunkhouse, which is about a mile from the fire station.  This way we can have access when we’re on call (during the work day we just drive it to the station).  Currently we also have our Reserve Ambulance, and the oldest in our fleet, parked out front as well.  We typically only use it if we have two calls/patients come at the same time, which has happened twice since I got here.  I personally had to run one call in it just last week, and well, it was interesting.  A blast from the past.

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The ambulance barn with Rescue 1 inside.

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Our reserve ambulance parked outside.  That thing is at least as old as me.

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Our clinic, the Camai (pronounced Chuh-my) Medical Center, which is about the size of your average doctors office.

Behind the clinic is the Fire Departments bunkhouse, which me and my two coworkers stay at,  although right now we also have a seasonal police officer, a parks dept. intern, and the engineer working on the towns sewer project living with us as well.  All in all the bunkhouse is a pretty nice building.  There’s a guys wing and girls wing with 4 bedrooms each and a bathroom. Then in the middle there’s a living room, kitchen and laundry area.  There’s not a whole lot to do in our down time, especially since we’re on call 5 nights a week, so we’ve been watching a lot of movies and playing a lot of board games lately.

 

There’s also a lake right next to the bunkhouse which has some pretty killer sunsets over it.  I’d actually have a pretty awesome view of it too if I didn’t have that garish yellow  connex right out my window.  You win some you lose some.

Ill go ahead and leave you today by introducing you to my team this summer…

 

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L-R: John, a paramedic from Texas, Nate an EMT 2 that actually volunteers with me at the fire dept back in Soldotna, and then of course me!  I should also mention that this picture was taken by the Heart ‘o The Shire, a coffee shop/cafe (I guess you would call it that) here in town that has THE BEST cinnamon rolls.  Just sayin 😉

 

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Ways I Saved In July

This type of  post is new for me and a bit of a departure from my usual life recap posts.  See, July posed a bit of a challenge for me.  Because it was the end of the fiscal year I found out I would have to wait 6 weeks for my next pay check instead of the usual 4.  On top of that I also had to pay my tuition for summer semester, so when all was said and done I was left with a pretty empty bank account to get me to the next paycheck and I had to get a bit creative.

I can’t lie, having a severely restricted budget for the month was super difficult.  For example, there was one Saturday when the weather was gorgeous and I had nothing to do so I thought I’d take a road trip down to Homer.  Unfortunately road trips require gas and gas costs money, so it didn’t happen.  However, despite the frustrations that came along the way, I actually enjoyed coming up with ideas and figuring out how to make my few dollars stretch further.  In the end I compiled a list of things I did, ideas that worked, and blessings I got, and I thought I’d share it here .

So without further ado, here’s how I saved in July 2016:

  •  Cooking with what I already had:  My cupboards have never been bare.  I always have a few packages of pasta, pancake mix, ramen, etc., I just usually skim by these items until I crave them, instead favoring what I want right now (pizza anyone?).  So, in July I made the decision to only cook with what I already had with the exception of buying milk and eggs since most recipes call for one or the other. In the end I never went hungry, I found new recipes, and I appreciated what I had that much more.
  • Planning a Potluck:  Speaking of food, as an RA (Resident Assistant) I’m expected to plan and execute one event in the Residence Hall every month.  Since fireworks are difficult in Alaska (thank you 22 hrs of daylight), one of my fellow RA’s and I planned a Fourth of July Potluck and Movie night for our event.  I brought cupcakes (which I already had the mix for on hand, see #1 above) but got to enjoy other dishes like beer battered halibut and home made mac n’ cheese.  Not a bad dinner at all.  Then on top of the food we also had free entertainment by watching Independence Day on our big screen.
  • Went on ResHall Grocery Runs instead of driving myself:  In the Residence Hall I live in (picture college dorms but better), since we have kitchens but don’t have a dining hall we offer grocery runs every week to the local store.  Anyone can go on them so long as there’s space left in our Sprinter van.  More often than not we go to Fred Meyers, which is my store of choice, so instead of hopping in my car and driving myself (therefore using gas), I joined in on the grocery run.  I was able to pick up the few items I actually needed and the transportation cost me nothing.
  • Biked into town–  I needed something from the grocery store and it was a non grocery run day so I borrowed a bike and rode to town instead.  It wasn’t easy considering it’s been years since I’ve been on a bike, but it was free!13880374_10102722653168578_8337803630607402409_n
  • Cancelled my CBS All Access subscription–  A few months back I subscribed to CBS All Access so I could watch Survivor and The Amazing Race.  Both shows are currently out of season and I found I wasn’t using the app at all, so I cancelled it therefore saving me money.  I’ll pick it up again sometime in the future, but there’s no need to pay for something you don’t use.
  • Earned Amazon giftcards for things I needed:  I’ve been a product tester for awhile and one of the sites I go through, Crowdtap, also gives you the ability to earn Amazon.com giftcards for answering various questions or surveys on the site.  Another site, Swagbucks, is similar in that you can earn giftcards for doing various different activities.  When I watch TV etc. I usually like to multitask so I decided to put my multitasking to good use and try to earn some giftcards through these sites for a couple things I needed.  In the end I had $20 to work with, and while I won’t do this consistently it’s a good option, especially for those who like to shop on Amazon a lot.
  • Went on vacation for free:  Ok, this one is a little more of a blessing than something I did for myself.  Back in May my Dad called me and asked if I would like to come down to Washington to visit this summer and offered to use their air miles to get me a ticket.  Of course I said yes!  My parents ended up renting a house on a Lake in Eastern Washington for a week and it was absolutely perfect. See my post here to read more about it. My parents also covered everything which helped me out a lot in the end.   Some other ways I was able to save on this trip were:

-Used my Club 49 membership to get free checked luggage on my flight

-Brought my own snacks for the flight and an empty water-bottle to fill up in the terminal to save money.  I did end up buying a soda from McDonalds, but the McDonalds in the Anchorage airport is on of the few that still honors $1 drinks instead of jacking up the price like other airports.  They also don’t have tax so I was able to pull a dollar bill out of my wallet and be done.

13901328_10102734786158968_7224316368299274631_nSo there you have it, some of the ways I was able to save money during July.  This is most definitely not an exhaustive list, but I thought I’d throw a few things out there.  Right now I’ve continued the challenge into August.  While I’m not quite as strict as I was in July I’m really doing my best to save more, especially with my internship coming up next month!

 


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Sweet, Sweet, Vacation

You guys, it had been years since I had a real honest to goodness vacation.  You know the type of week where you can just sit, relax, swim, basically do whatever you want to do without obligations.
And guys, boy was this vacation so sweet.
Honestly it couldn’t have come at a better time.  This past year has arguably been one of the most difficult of my life.  With Paramedic school and everything that comes along with it and then working 60+ hours a week on top of that.  Man I was tired.  So when my Dad called me in May asking if I’d want to come down to Washington for a week this summer and my parents would use their airmiles to get me there I was all about it.
I really lucked out too.  My parents rented a house on Long Lake, just outside of Spokane, and everything about it was perfect.  The house was adorable, the yard was huge (with fluffy grass!) and the water was the perfect temperature.
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I spent the week doing what I’ve been dreaming of doing for a year, reading and swimming.  I polished of 3 books and started 2 more.  There’s just nothing like getting into a good book.  The location also had the added benefit of limited/no cell service (forget about data), so it was a completely unintentional social media fast.
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The second night we were there we had a family bocce ball tournament.  Red team vs. Green team.  The stakes?  $50 and the ability to use it to choose whatever type of desert you want for the family.  Unfortunately my team didn’t win, but fortunately for me the team that did had good taste in desert.  Root beer floats the first night, then ice cream sundaes later in the week.  So good!
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On our second to last day my cousin Andrea and her family who live in Coeur de Alene came over to visit and brought their families boat.  We had been watching the boats out on the lake and practically drooling all week so it was exciting to finally get out on the water!  Tubing is one of my favorite water activities.  The more extreme maneuvers the better!
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I could have stayed there forever, sitting by the lake shore and reading my day, and roasting marshmallows and stargazing at night.  While my time at home was super sweet it was also way to short.  We literally drove back to Seattle and I was at the airport to fly back to Alaska just a couple hours later.
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I have no idea when my next vacation will be, but if it’s half as good as this one was then I’ll definitely be blessed.


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Wrapping Up P-School

P-School aka Paramedic School aka the hardest year of my life thusfar, is officially over, well the school part at least.  I still have my internship to do, and my exit exam, and my national exam…. but that’s neither here no there.  The sense of freedom I feel now that class is over and there’s no more homework or clinicals is absolutely incredible. Incredible I tell you!

For those of you that are blissfully unaware of what this journey was like, well let me try to sum it up for you…

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Ok, maybe that’s being a little dramatic, but it was really, really hard.

I will also take this moment for a public education moment.  See ladies and gentlemen, there is a difference between an EMT and a Paramedic (I know, most of you are probably thinking mind blown right now).  I’ll forgive you for not knowing this fact considering most of the population as NO CLUE and I myself didn’t know there was a difference 5 years ago.  Yes they both work in an ambulance but the real difference comes in skill-level and training.  It took me exactly 1 semester (approx 150 hrs) to become an EMT (in Alaska EMT 1 in the entire country they’re called EMT-Basic).  As an EMT you can do basic life saving stuff and it’s all fine and dandy in many cases.  Paramedic’s on the other hand possess a scary amount of medical knowledge, can do some pretty insane procedures (surgical cricothyroidotomy anyone?), and deal with a ton of medications.  Also, when all is said and done a Paramedic degree is like 2000 hrs or something, and that’s on top of the EMT- Basic hours since you have to have that cert before even thinking of applying to Paramedic School.  So ya, there you have it in a nutshell, EMTs and Paramedics are different.

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Top: My EMT 1 Class, Fall Semester 2014; Bottom: My EMT 2 Class Spring Semester 2015. Alaska has 3 levels of EMTs before you get to Paramedic.

Ok, back to the topic at hand.  I can still remember the first day of Paramedic school last August vividly.  My class of 11 all showed up with our crisp new uniforms and blank notebooks ready to learn.  Fast forward 11 months later and our uniforms are tattered (I seriously have holes in my job skirt aka sweatshirt) and faded, we have dark circles under our eyes, and there are coffee stains on pretty much every piece of paper we deal with.

Paramedic school literally wrecks you.  But at the same time my medical knowledge base now compared to a year ago is insane.  It’s a pretty cool feeling when all of the cogs in your brain click and you suddenly understand why your body does the things it does.

While classroom time was like at least 75% of the program, those hours of lectures were also supplemented with clinicals.  During fall and spring semester we were in class 4 hrs a day M-Th then in the summer semester that changed to 8hr days M-W, leaving weekends, aka what everyone else calls break-time and uses to do fun things, like sleep for example, for us to get a crap-load of clinicals done, and by crapload I mean somewhere around 15 a semester.  I spent countless days riding around with different fire departments, but even more than that I spent what felt like endless hours in places like the Emergency Room, ICU, Cath Lab, OR, Pediatrics and my personal favorite (or not) OB.  Ya that’s right, if I could go through my entire career as a Paramedic and not have to birth any babies I would be OK with it.

Beyond that I think pictures speak the most words for me, so I’ll let some photos from this past year do the talking…

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The UAA Paramedic Program is split onto two campuses, Matsu, which is North of Anchorage, and Kenai, which is where I went. In September we all came together in Anchorage to get clinical orientations at the sites there. This picture was taken outside of a Anchorage Fire Department Station.

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In the fall we spent a lot of time going over airway skills. These pictures are from our “Airway Races” where each of our platoons (our class was broken into 3) completed against eachother.

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In the Fall we got custom shirts made for Breast Cancer Awareness month. I designed the graphic on the back so it was a pretty proud moment.

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In February the Matsu campus came down to work on Cardiac Mega Codes and ACLS with us.

Then summer semester is when things started to get really fun.  We’d been working on medical issues/treatment all year so we finally got to do some Trauma scenarios…

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Working some trauma scenarios in our vehicle simulator outside of the school.

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Learning some high angle rescue skills with the Nikiski Fire Department. This was before we were belayed to 60 ft in the air…

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While we are NOT “Ambulance Drivers” learning to drive the ambulance and get CEVO certified is still a necessary skill.

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Extrication training with Central Emergency Services.  Nothing like using the jaws of life to make you feel like a bada**.  In this pic we’re all sitting in a van we cut the roof off.

So there you have it, like 10 of at least 1000 photos from the year, but I did say summary right?  If not we would be here all night!

Now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, as I mentioned before I still have my internship left to do, so I’ll be spending 2 months this fall just outside of Houston, TX, putting all my paramedic skills to work and probably dying of heatstroke considering Alaska has ruined me forever.  Then afterwards I’ll come back to Soldotna, take all my final tests and hopefully find a job and actually have money again.  Hooray!

So there you have it, P-school in a very small nutshell.  Thanks for coming along for the ride with me everyone!


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That Time I Ran With the Reindeer

I’ve often spoken about how my love for history and all things travel was sparked and fueled by my fathers (and grandfathers) extensive collection of National Geographics.  The sites, the cultures, the experiences, all so different from my little corner of the world.  I was completely captivated.

One of the events that has always captivated me was the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona.  While I never actually had any spark of desire within me to run with the bulls myself, the concept was just so interesting.

Enter Alaska.

Every spring, around the start of the famous Ititarod, Anchorage celebrates Fur Rendezvous aka Fur Rondy.  Being as this is Alaska and we have a lot of great nature things to do but not many non-nature activities, I always keep my eye out for new and exciting opportunities. So, when I took a look at this years Fur Rondy schedule and noticed an event called “The Running of the Reindeer” I was immediately intrigued.  I did a little research and immediately knew I had to do it.  I mean, a three block dash, in the snow, being chased by reindeer, while wearing costumes, what could be better?!

I immediately recruited a couple friends to do it with me and then we officially faced our first challenge.  What would we wear?  We considered many different options.  Mario characters, animals, minions…. Eventually we decided on Where’s Waldo.  A fun, cheap, and easy option.

Now lets fast forward to race day.  It’s no secret that our winter here in Alaska has been less than steller.  It’s been warmer that normal and slightly dry.  They actually had to bring in snow to cover 4th Ave for the race and other events there (Including the most important event of them all, the Ititarod, which had it’s ceremonial start that same morning).

Although our winter had been warmer than usual, the race day was still fairly cold.  I’m actually pretty impressed that I managed to fit three layers of clothes underneath my striped Waldo shirt.  Thank goodness for stretchy fabric!

About 30 minutes before the dash was about to start everyone began congregating in the middle of the street and it became such a fun atmosphere.  People were dressed in all sorts of costumes and it became one big photo-op with all the different groups wanting to get pictures with eachother, whether they were people you knew or not.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many photos we were in that day.

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The dash itself happened in 4 heats: Men, Women, Groups, and Tourists.  We signed up for the group heat because we were originally going to have our guy-friend Skylar join us, but afterwards we were definitely wishing we had done the womens heat. Why? Because the group heat was HUGE.  Definitely the biggest of them all.

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We found more waldos!

When our time finally came to run we were pretty frozen from standing so long so we were ready to go.  Finally the announcer called for us to get ready, Hobo Jim started playing and song, and we were off.

Everything was great at first, but let me tell you, y’all, running in the snow is dang hard!  I probably made it 100 ft before I had to slow to a trot, but that’s ok because the reindeer were still nowhere in site (since our heat was soooooo large).  It actually got to the point where I thought I would finish the track before I even saw a reindeer so I slowed to a walk, and finally, about 2 blocks in the first reindeer came whizzing by, wedging itself quickly between me and my friend Leslie.  Soon there were reindeer all around.

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*I got these pictures off of Instagram.  I was obviously a little preoccupied during the dash

And then there was the last reindeer.  My empathetic side came out and I felt so bad for it.  It seemed scared and confused.  It would stop, turn around, run in circles.  By this point I had started jogging again and before I knew it this little scared reindeer was right in front of me… and then it stopped, and I bet you can guess what happened next.

Yep, I ran into a reindeer.

That’s right, the reindeer didn’t run into me, I ran into it.  Poor little thing.  Fortunately neither of us were knocked over.  Also fortunately it was one of the reindeer without a rack.

By the time we reached the end of the track my lungs were on fire and I was seeing stars.  Of course the paramedic in me started to diagnose myself.  It was like everything I had learned in class about perfusion and ventilation was coming to life, and I didn’t want it to.

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After the dash.  Completely real emotions.  Feeling death.

In the end we all had a lot of fun. Would I do it again?  Possibly.  If I had a good group and good costumes to go along with it.  I will say it’s definitely a must-do at least once in your life.  You just can’t beat the experience!