Pinch Your Pennies

I am a cheapskate.

Everyone knows it.

In Spanish, someone who is notoriously stingy with their money is often called a codo.

Codo also happens to be the Spanish word for elbow.

Every time my grandfather sees me the jerk points at his elbow and laughs.

I'm going to send my grandpa a post card when I get to Greece. The back will read:
I’m going to send my grandpa a postcard when I get to Greece, the back will read: “Who’s laughing now old man?”

But hey, I’ll take some good-natured ribbing from my abuelito if it means I get to stay abroad for an extra month or two.

Once I committed to my trip, in an effort to save as much money possible, I took my thriftiness to new heights, or lows, by utilizing three steps outlined in Rolf Potts’ book, Vagabonding.

Step One: Stop Expansion

There’s nothing like a new pair of shoes. Put some new Oxfords on my feet and I’ll be whistling all day, feeling like the Mexican Don Draper. But dress shoes aren’t cheap my friends, and I already have four pair under my bed. Insert step one. I had to stop adding to the collection of things I already owned, and in most cases, neglected. I had a closet full of clothes and shoes I never wore. According to my last count, I own 37 hats. THIRTY SEVEN. Once I had that embarrassing number in my head, it was slightly easier to tell myself, “No, Aaron. You do not need that new snapback.”

I think I need a new surf board. Nope.

Those jeans are nice, you don’t have that shade of denim. Forget about it.

I was amazed at how much extra money I was able to put into my savings account when I stopped making unnecessary purchases. The next step on Mr. Potts’  list escalates the intensity of frugality, and has proven the most difficult initiative for me to stick by…

Step Two: Rein in Your Routine

A tightwad by nature, refraining from spending hundreds of dollars on new stuff was relatively easy. I’ve always been one who preferred to use my dollars on experiences rather than physical objects. Consequently, the pain of the rein became noticeable when I was forced to make sacrifices in my routines and social life. I gave myself a daily food allowance and tried to stick to it, by any means necessary. Suddenly, I was declining dinner invitations from friends.  If I did go, I’d make sure to eat at home first and stick to the appetizer menu. I even brought a Subway sandwich to a restaurant after convincing myself that if I did this every week I’d save hundreds of dollars before leaving to Europe. I don’t think I’ll ever live that one down.

Bi-weekly haircuts became monthly cuts. Movies? If it wasn’t on NetFlix, I wasn’t seeing it. When the music festival season came around, it seemed like all of my favorite bands were playing every weekend and all of my friends had tickets.

Florence and the Machine, Chet Faker AND the Black Keys? I get it… they rocked last night. Yes, I watched your 260 second SnapChat story… dick.

But before I became a total Scrooge and got a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past, I reminded myself of the end goal. Traveling takes money, and saving money takes sacrifice. Altering your lifestyle is not an easy endeavor, but small adjustments can pay large dividends.

Step Three: Reduce Clutter

When I pulled into the parking lot of the police station my heart was racing. I was almost certain that no one had followed me, but I scanned the area for suspicious vehicles just in case. This is the last time I sell anything on Craigslist, I thought.

“Robert” seemed normal enough during our first phone conversation. We scheduled a time and location for him to come and see the first item of clutter I had elected to sell… my 100th Anniversary Harley Davidson. When Robert called me the next day to confirm the meeting, it was from a different number. Red flag.

Robert pulled up to the restaurant parking lot thirty minutes late in a black Chevy Tahoe that had no license plates. He seemed nervous and his knowledge about motorcycles was almost non-existent. He circled the bike, took a blurry picture of the fuel tank and never even asked to hear the engine. The red flags were flying like a Mexico vs. USA World Cup match.

“I love the bike bro, I want it. Can I give you a deposit now and bring the rest of the cash tomorrow when I pick it up?”

“Sure man, sounds good.” As soon as I heard the words leave my mouth I regretted them, but I’ve always been a sucker for crisp, hundred dollar bills.

Damn-it. 

I couldn’t figure out the hustle, but I knew this dude was going to try and make my bike his for the seven hundred dollar deposit. I called my Dad the next morning and told him the story.

“Why would you take that deposit?” He prodded.

Salt in the wound. As my old man was making me feel like a ten year old, a text came through from Robert the Scammer, “Hey Aaron. I have to work late tonight, so I was thinking you could drop the bike off here and I’ll get you a ride home. Don’t worry, I have the money all ready for you.” Shit. So his scam is murder. Awesome.

But I didn’t want to die and I sure as hell wasn’t going to let some cholo run off with my travel money, so my pops and I devised a plan and I text Robert a response, “Hey Robert, I won’t be able to drop the bike off to you. I have to meet my Dad to grab the title. He works in Huntington Beach as a police officer (lie). I was planning to have you meet me at the station after his shift and he can give me a lift home.” Boom.

Six hours went by without a response. Maybe he’ll cut his losses and reward me the seven hundred for outsmarting him. A hustler’s tip of the cap, I thought. Just as I was basking in the glory of my newly found street knowledge, good ol’ Bobby threw me a curve ball and replied, “Okay sounds good, just send me the address.”

When Robert showed up to the police station with a backpack full of small bills, I was ready for anything. As I counted the money, my eyes scanned the bushes nearby, ready for an ambush. “You’re fine,” whispered my dad, “just make sure it’s all there.” It was. I handed over the keys and watched Robert’s friend ride away on my beloved Harley. Much ado about nothing.

In hindsight, I’ve realized that selling an expensive vehicle in a parking lot to a guy from the internet was not the best idea, but I certainly let my paranoia run wild. Perhaps the paranoia was a manifestation of my reluctance to part with the material things in my life. The last charge of consumerism that courses through my American veins.

I loved that bike, but not as much as I think I did.

In his writings about Minimalism, Mark Manson describes the psychological phenomenon known as loss aversion, wherein, “humans feel the pain of losing something to be much greater than the pleasure of having it.”

Over a span of three years, I rode my Harley a grand total of two thousand miles. Translation: a few rides a month down Pacific Coast Highway. I had to pull the bike out once a month just to clean the dust off. But when I took my bike out for one last spin down the coast, I was suddenly Jax Teller from Sons of Anarchy. The chrome pipes glistened in the California sun and the engine sounded better than it ever had. What was I thinking? I needed this Harley, it was part of who I was.

Identities are quickly formed around the things we own. Naturally, reducing the things I own has caused some discomfort… even pain. But the feeling is also freeing. In two months time I’ll be boarding a plane with everything I need strapped to my back. No anchors, no clutter.

I’m off to see what I can do about those thirty seven hats.

This is an actual picture of me riding my bike for the last time
This is an actual picture of me riding my bike for the last time

The Power of the F-Bomb

Ralphie

My brother says I shouldn’t curse in my writing.

I told the little bro I’d do my best, but this one requires an F-bomb or two.

The first question people ask when I tell them about my plans to quit my job and travel abroad is usually something like:

What inspired you to do this?  

or

Whaaaaat? Why?

or

You’re an idiot.

Thanks Dad.

The truth is, there is no simple answer. There wasn’t one book read or conversation had that I can point to as the defining moment. The death of my mother certainly shifted my perspective. My recent trip to Europe opened my eyes to a sea of possibilities and alternate lifestyles. Reading books like this or blogs like that provided motivation and information.

But mostly, it was a lack of inspiration that forced me into action. 

Over the last couple of years, complacency slowly crept its way into my life and before I knew it, I was fully immersed. I had a good job and money in the bank. My apartment had an ocean view and cool sh… stuff was starting to accumulate in my garage. I had full benefits and a full refrigerator. Please don’t misinterpret me, I am grateful for my blessings. But was I happy? Not really. Was I growing as a man and challenging myself by taking risks and trying new things? No way Jose. As an educator, I believe in the importance of continual education and a devotion to lifelong learning. I can recall times in my life when my brain was like a sponge. I would stay up at night with stacks of history books piled around me, trying to satisfy my unquenchable curiosity about the world and the people that inhabit it, past and present.

Now, I just liked to Netflix and Chill.

Mark Manson, a former dating guru turned Entrepreneur/ Writer/Psychologist/All Around Bad Ass has a principle that I started applying to my life when I began feeling the effects of complacency. To the chagrin of my little brother, he calls it:

The Law of Fuck Yes or No 

Originally served as dating advice, “The Law of “Fuck Yes or No” states that when you want to get involved with someone new, in whatever capacity, they must inspire you to say “Fuck Yes” in order for you to proceed with them.”

Are you interested in going on another date with Ruth? Do you want to pursue a relationship with Sally Mae? Would you like to sleep with Virgil? I’m not sure why all of my examples sound like senior citizens, but if the answer isn’t a resounding Fuck Yes, then you’re wasting your time, and theirs. Like Mark says, “the best sex is “Fuck Yes” sex — i.e., both people are shouting “Fuck Yes” as they hop between the sheets together.” Life is too short to settle, it should be too sweet for maybes and grey areas. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like anything lukewarm.

The principle is rather straight forward and can be applied to anything. When I began asking myself Fuck Yes or No about certain areas in my life, it was clear that I needed to make some changes.

Since the Dodgers weren’t calling me to be their new shortstop any time soon, I began seriously considering my options. I knew that I wanted to get back in the classroom… eventually. There might be no higher calling or privilege than molding young minds. Perhaps I had taken the responsibility for granted during my student teaching, I will not repeat that mistake. I applied for my California teaching credential and should be receiving it any day now. Fuck yes.

But I also had another dream, I wanted to travel. I wanted to see the world, immerse myself in new cultures and customs and meet smiling faces along the way. I want to be able to teach the groms sitting in my history class from first hand experience. To tell them, “Yes, I’ve been there and it is a beautiful culture” or “yup, I went last summer and the place smells like shit. Seriously, don’t go there.” So I asked myself, do you want to quit your job and travel the world before you start teaching again?

You know the answer to that one.

Next I’ll show you how I’m making it happen, stay tuned!

Euronly Live Twice

I kind of feel like a cheater posting old material but I wanted to provide some semblance of a background for my upcoming trip. The following post comes from my old blog, Mytransistorsister, and was written after my first visit to Europe back in April. Although the trip lasted only a fortnight, I knew then, as I know now, that I returned to the States a different man. It served as a great impetus of change in my life, propelling me towards roads less traveled. The post has some tips for first time travelers(apparently two weeks in Europe made me an expert ha!) and even cooler pictures. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for some new stuff coming your way-  Aaron

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As I sit in my living room back in the States, I am surrounded by crumbled up piles of Kleenex, jet-lagged and sick as a dog. But the cold I caught overseas and 36 hours of grueling traveling back home could only distract me from my post-vacation blues for so long. The trip of a lifetime is over and it’s finally sinking in. My insides ache to be back in Barcelona eating paella and lisping my c’s. I close my eyes and think of the people I met, the food I tasted, the languages I butchered and I can’t help but smile.

In January, I went on a rant about New Year’s Resolutions but ended up making one anyway. My 2015 resolution was to travel and as I wipe the snot from my leaky nose and stare at this luggage that I don’t want to unpack, I can smile and say ‘mission accomplished.’

As I reflect on my travels, there are a few things I would have done differently and other preparations I am thankful I made.

1. First things first: Just go man. Travel. Save your pennies and do it.

I shouldn’t have to sell you on this but it took this guy 28 years to leave North America so… ya never know. Something special happens to you as soon as you’re on that plane. As I looked out of my window and gazed upon the Atlantic beneath me, anything seemed possible. Exposure to new people and their rich cultures throughout my trip cemented this new perspective. Back at home, it’s so easy to fall into the rut of monotonous routine. Creativity is hampered and options seem limited. Sometimes you just need to rise above it all and look at life from a new angle, and 30,000 feet seems to be the perfect height.

2. Do your research.

After flooding social media with posts about my upcoming trip (sorry guys), I got a message from an old friend who had recently returned from a European adventure of his own. My pal recommended that I go and buy Rick Steves travel books and I’m glad I heeded his advice. Well, I kind of listened. I hit my local library and rented a Rick Steves book from every country I would be visiting. What can I say? I’m cheap. Apparently you can rent up to fifty books at a time from the library, who knew?

Not only did the books offer great general information regarding the cities I would be visiting, Mr. Steves books guided me through popular and lesser known sites with ease. The books even offered advice regarding special deals and discounts, saving me both time and money.

Yup. That's a Rick Steves book in big Fraz's hand. It was our bible in Rome.
Yup. That’s a Rick Steves book in big Fraz’s hand. It was our bible in Rome.

3. Pack light: Less is more

I get it, it’s Europe, you want to look good and to some extent you’re right. Nothing screams American tourist like a baseball cap and shorts. Leave the yoga pants and hoodies at home and bring some collared shirts. But I definitely didn’t need the three pair of shoes I brought in my backpack. The more shit you bring the more stress you’ll have when you’re moving from hostel to hostel or going through airport security. The most important things you need to bring don’t even take up any space in your bag… a smile and an open mind. Plans will get fucked up, you will miss connection flights, and you’ll lose things. We somehow managed to lose our friend for twelve hours in England. Stay loose, it’s all part of the adventure. In the end, I did pretty well in this department. I lost a grand total of one sock, a pair of flip flops, and my six-pack (thanks Italy).

4. Enhance your experience: Stay in hostels

I must admit, I was a bit skeptical when I heard that my friends wanted to stay in hostels throughout our trip. Looking back, it is the best thing we could have done. Sure, sharing a bathroom with strangers is never fun and you get the occasional weirdo in your room. But the juice is definitely worth the squeeze. Not only are they cheap, but hostels offer you the opportunity to meet some really awesome people and have shared experiences that you never could have planned back at home. On a whim, I threw on my finest, caught a night bus to Monaco and gambled in the Casino Monte Carlo with two American girls studying abroad (shout out to my Seminoles)! We lost all of our money, but it is an experience I’ll never forget. In Rome, I danced the night away at a toga party with a bunch of German tourists. My German was limited to ‘hello’ and a couple of swear words so I didn’t bother to tell them that toga parties are actually Greek.

5. Embrace the local culture

Before leaving for my trip, I  heard a lot of chatter about European’s and their disdain for Americans, especially in France. Fortunately, I never experienced anything of the sort. Perhaps it was dumb luck, or maybe it was my willingness to ‘do as the Romans do.’ In Barcelona, I studied up on the history of Catalunya and did my best to lisp my c’s. My thank you’s in Spanish quickly went from “gracias” to “grathias.” You might feel like a total dork, and even though most Europeans speak some English, they seemed to appreciate the effort. If all else fails, just tell them you’re from California. It never failed, whether I was in Italy or Scotland, Monaco or France. Everyone loves the Golden State.

But it’s all over now. Back to reality. It hurts to be back, but that new perspective I alluded to also left with me a sense of gratitude. I am so fortunate to hail from the United States of America. I am lucky to call California home. I will never take my coffee maker for granted again (a dude can only drink so many espressos). God bless Chipotle.

Cheers mates. Here’s to getting those passports stamped.

Safe travels.

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Mind the Gap

Welcome to The Gap.

If you clicked around the web looking for some new khakis and ended up here… you’re in the wrong place. But stay a while, you shouldn’t buy those cargo shorts anyways.

Now that you’ve decided to stay, let me tell you about myself and this little blog I’ve started.

My name is Aaron and if I had to explain what The Gap is about in five words or less I would say:

“Squeezing the juice out of life. Every… last… fucking… drop.”

Okay that’s like ten words, but it’s my blog so I can break the rules.

When I told my family and friends that I was quitting my job, selling most of my belongings and traveling abroad for as long as I can financially manage, I got mixed reviews.

My boss gave me a high-five, my friends laughed, my grandmother prayed and my old man just yelled. Well, he’s still yelling.

Throughout the preparation process I have felt every emotion in the gamut. I have been excited, anxious, motivated, doubtful, elated, horny (I’m a 28 year old Mexican dude, ‘horny’ is a constant state of being), and scared. Really scared.

But above all, I have felt alive.

I wanted to create a space where I could share about the surge of endorphins that overtook my body as I purchased my one-way plane ticket to Europe. A place where I could describe the stupid grin on my face as I signed my letter of resignation. I can’t wait to hit the road and share my experiences with you. If you read for pure entertainment, a quick laugh or just to make sure I’m not dead, sweet. If my words strike a chord and serve as motivation to break the chains of complacency and go for broke…. even better.

But I needed a name for this thing.

“I’m happy for you bro, but how are you gonna explain that gap on your resume?” my uncle asked in between bites of his Mongolian stir-fry.

Bingo.

Thanks for the inspiration Unc.

 

Barca