¨How did you afford to take time for a career break? By far, that is the number one question I get asked by family, friends and fellow travelers when they hear about my career break. Everyone wants to know where the money comes from. The simple answer is that you have to save, save, save. The real answer is much more complex and fundamentally comes down to your priorities.
Is it more important for you to take that trip of a lifetime, have a real travel experience or to have some knick-knack that you buy on an impulse? Is the money you spend on travel and entertainment optimized? Or, do you tend to buy a lot of cutsie stuff that distract your wallet? And, more importantly, did any of that stuff provide you with any lasting, cherished travel memories?
I suppose one positive repercussion from the economic crisis is that it has forced us all to re-examine our spending habits. Yet, as I found out on a recent flight to the US, the temptations are still there.
In-flight shopping is a little bit like late-night infomercial shopping: occasionally you find a real gem you can be proud of, but mostly you are sorting through a bunch of gimmicky products whose value is realized by your credit card company. But, let me be clear about one point: My name is Jeff and I am a former Skymall shopper. I will admit that I quite enjoyed the shower gel dispenser I once bought. It sold with the house before my career break although I’m sure it did not add to the value of the house.
On almost every plane in the US, you can find a Skymall catalog tempting you to spend your hard-earned money now, now, now. Honestly, how many times have you looked through the magazine and wondered, “Who buys this stuff?” And then the next catalog comes out and it’s still there. In fact, 3 out of the 5 products I list below are back in the ¨Late Spring 2010¨ catalog. So, someone must be buying it, right? Skymall is a guilty pleasure that hits you when you are most vulnerable and alone: tired from your day’s travel with no one around to stop you from yourself.
On my recent trip back to the US, I paged through the Skymall catalog and saw several items that made me shake my head. So, for fun, I asked a few other bloggers to give me some recommendations on how you could take the money you would have spent on these dreadful products and, instead, spend it on something to give you a great travel experience or enhance your travel experience. For the record, all of these products come out of the ¨Early Spring 2010.¨ Skymall catalog. The prices listed below include the shipping and handling charges, which can be significant. All the product photos are the property and copyright of Skymall. They are not from my personal collection, just so you know.
After you read through the list, let us know what you think.
5 Things You Can Buy From Skymall Today But Won´t Be Able to Sell At Your Garage Sale Tomorrow When You Take Your Career Break
What They Say: “…life-size, gray-toned zombie will claw his way out of your garden plot, office, or family room corner, pleading for assistance with the eeriest eyes you’ve ever seen.”
What I Say: If this item suits you, you need a career break to reestablish basic social interaction with your fellow human beings. If monsters are your thing, why not go to Brasov, Romania to visit the Bran Castle Museum, former home of Vlad the Impaler, and the inspiration for our modern concept of Dracula?
What Leif Pettersen of RomaniaandMoldova.com Recommends:
EU membership inflation notwithstanding, $105.20 still goes a long way in Romania, even in its tourism-heavy, top destination, Brasov. Tourism in Brasov is as organized as it gets in Romania, with many businesses offering several, complimenting services. Brasov’s hostels do this best, offering comprehensive city information, tours of the “Big Three” castles, by far, Brasov’s most popular day-trip, and, of course, bargain-priced accommodation. The Big Three castle tour (about $25, including transport and guide, but not including entry fees) is a bit whirlwind, but ideal if you’re short on time and don’t want to submit to the inter-city buses. The tour stops at the Dracula-worthy 14th-century Bran Castle, the intriguing, fortified 13th-century ruins of Rasnov Fortress and the 19th-century, German Renaissance style Peles Castle, which served as the opulent home to Romania’s new monarchy. If you’re looking for real-life Vlad ‘Tepes’ Dracula sites, head north to Sighisoara (his birthplace) or take the epic Transfagarasan Road over the Carpathian Mountains, to his true home: Poenari Citadel. After the tour, before retiring to your hostel bed, you’ll have plenty of cash left over to splurge for a dinner at one of Brasov’s excellent Romanian restaurants.
What They Say: “The tray is easy to empty and can hold up to two gallons of liquid.”
What I Say: If you are really not home enough that you need a 2 gallon indoor repository, you should probably find your dog a new home. If your dog suffers from polyuria, this does not apply to you. Use that money to go travel and spend quality time with your best furry friend.
What Amy Burkert of GoPetFriendly.com Recommends:
Traveling with dogs doesn’t require a lot of fancy “stuff” – your dog doesn’t care if you throw his things in a reusable grocery sack, so focus on the experience! For $232.15 you can spend a weekend with your best pal and have a great time. Here’s the plan using St. Louis as an example:
- Book a room for a Saturday night at the Drury Plaza Hotel at the Arch in St. Louis, MO (about $140/night) – a bargain for a great hotel that was included in TripAdvisor.com’s Travelers’ Choice Top 25 Hotels in the US for 2010.
- On Saturday morning, park the car at the hotel (Cost: $15) and stretch your legs in the quiet park next to the hotel. Then cross Memorial Drive to the Jefferson National Expansion Park and check out the Arch, which is equally as impressive from the ground as it is from the observation deck. Take your time exploring the park – there are a lot of great things to see – and then make your way east on the path along the river.
- Head up the hill and choose from one of the eateries in this area of town know as Laclede’s Landing. Restaurants with outdoor seating areas are abundant here, so peruse the menus and I’m sure you’ll find something to enjoy (Cost for 2 for lunch: $25).
- Dinner will be served on The Hill – a neighborhood a bit southwest of downtown known for it’s Italian food. Find a restaurant with outdoor seating and enjoy one of the best pizza’s you’ll ever eat with a fishbowl of beer! (Cost: $35)
- On Sunday morning pack up the car and head out to Forest Park. This is one of the largest urban parks in the US, and at 1,371 acres, it is almost 500 acres larger than NYC’s Central Park. The park and trails are pet friendly, though dogs must be leashed. Pets are not allowed in the buildings, but that doesn’t matter because you’re headed to the Boathouse Restaurant. Located on Post-Dispatch Lake, this is where you’re going to rent a pet friendly paddle boat! (Cost: $15)
After your paddle excursion, you’ll have spent a total of $230. I suggest treating yourself to lunch for managing to stay on your budget. The outdoor patio at the Boathouse Restaurant is pet friendly, so go ahead and get yourself (and Fido) a treat!
What They Say: “Our unique solution to the misplaced cell phone! And it can also make a fashion statement!”
What I Say: And that statement is, “Please rob me now. And go ahead and take this nice camera I have around my neck while you’re at it.” It’s exactly these kinds of purchases that keep you from having the money to do what you really want to do. Travel gadgets should always, always, always have a valuable functional purpose that enhances your travel experience to justify taking it with you.
What Stephanie Yoder of Twenty Something Travel Recommends:
For the price of this silly piece of junk, you could get a piece of strap on equipment that is actually useful: a Petzl Tikka Plus 2 LED Headlamp from REI. This handy tool will make your life easier in countless situations. Whether you are trying to rummage through your pack early in the morning, read on a dark bus or trying to locate your hostel late at night, every backpacker could use this clever light source. And really, it’s only slightly less stylish than a ridiculous cell phone strap.
What They Say: “Mixing just the right amount of air with your wine.”
What I Say: Mix my what? First of all, most of the wine sold these days needs very little time to breath. Second, if you are buying the kind of wine that needs to breath, you likely already know your wine, probably have a decanter and would enjoy waiting out the breathing time. The only target market for this money waster are those that know very little about wine but want to appear as if they do.
What Ryan Opaz of Catavino.net Recommends:
One option would be the Wine Travel Guides. If you are going to a wine region that they cover, it allows you to find the best way to experience the region. It´s full of maps, tips and tricks!! It really is a great deal.
What They Say: “Chase away stress with soothing sounds and enriched oxygen.”
What I Say: Well, I guess it’s better than smoking a cigarette. The health benefits of breathing pure oxygen appear to be fleeting and not long lasting. And, I don´t even know what enriched O2 is. So, rather than buy this device, put on the soft music and meditate. If it´s daily relaxation you need to wind down, that I would recommend a yoga class or DVD. At a minimum, you can put on some classical music and do some deep breathing exercises. If you need something a little more intense, I would recommend that you visit Spa Finder to locate a spa near you.