Graduated Learning: Life after College

I got my degree, I got a job…now what?

Our Honeymoon to Ireland: Intro September 13, 2014

Filed under: Travel — Stephanie @ 10:00 am
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Ireland Double Rainbow

Well, after our awesome wedding, we had to follow it up with an awesome honeymoon, right?

My (now) husband and I haven’t really been on many vacations in awhile.  We’ll take long weekend trips to visit family or up to Vermont or other nearby places.  But we tend not to jet off for a week on vacation.  We’ve gone on plenty of mini-vacations in the forms of traveling to friends’ weddings.  In fact, the last wedding we went to was in Florida, so we added a few days on to the end of the trip and went to Disney World (his first time!).  It was actually going to be cheaper to get a Disney hotel room and park tickets than trying to fly home the Sunday after the wedding, so I combined the “we’re going to be in Florida anyway” idea with the “I swear it’s cheaper just to go to Disney World instead of flying straight home” idea.  I think it worked out 🙂

Anyway, as I was saying, we haven’t gone on any really long vacations in years.  In fact, our last international trip was to Nicaragua, back in 2007!  Most flying we’ve done was for friends weddings or for work.

Here was one problem we had.  Neither of us had ever been to Ireland.  I’d never actually been to Europe!  So, we were a bit lost as to how exactly to plan a trip to a completely new place.  The honeymoon planning ended up being an additional stressor for me on top of the wedding, since even though I knew what country we were going to, I didn’t know how to pick where to go or what to do.

Here’s the two things that worked for us.

-We bought a vacation package.  There’s tons of them out there, and sometimes you can find really amazing deals.  I saw a few posted on Groupon, and I started getting mailers from lots of different companies with their different travel packages.  Granted, trying to decide on these was again a bit confusing.  We finally settled on going with an Aer Lingus vacation package after hearing good things about Aer Lingus from a friend’s sister living in Ireland. (Two notes:  I don’t know if they’re actually really great, we only had this one experience with them, but it was pretty good.  Another note, as usual, I would tell you if I’m promoting a product or brand on behalf of that product or brand.  Don’t worry, I’m not promoting Aer Lingus.  I just wanted to let you know what we did!)  Anyway, we ended up going with the Emerald B&B Package (Dublin).  This included airfare, a car rental (which we upgraded to automatic, neither of us drive manual and weren’t planning on learning AND driving on the left side of the road!), a hotel room for the first night, and vouchers for B&Bs for the rest of the nights.  We picked this package for a few reasons:  1.  It was still available for the time we were planning on traveling (we procrastinated on booking our vacation by a bit) 2. We liked the idea of being on our own schedule (driving ourselves) rather than on being on a tour group’s schedule 3.  We liked the idea of staying at B&Bs rather than at hotels.  It seemed like we’d get a more authentic experience (which maybe sounds corny or naive or ignorant, but hey, that was our thought process).

-We checked out some guide books.  Having been dreaming of going to Ireland for at least a decade, I’ve gotten a few guide books over the years.  But some of those were a bit outdated.  So, I asked friends for newer book recommendations.  The one we liked using on our trip was Frommer’s EasyGuide to Ireland 2014.  For the purpose of planning our trip, we liked “The Best of Ireland in 1 Week” section that we found in Frommer’s Ireland 2011 (starting on page 92).  It gave a nice layout of what to try to hit while you’re in Ireland so you can see the main things and still make it to what you want.

Besides going on what the guidebooks said, we asked friends who a had been to Ireland for advice and suggestions.  We also considered the fact that we’d like to get a mix of historical things (castles/museums/cathedrals) and nature (natural parks and hikes).  We booked our B&Bs based on where we approximately thought we wanted to go.

I plan on blogging about each day of our trip in more detail.  Stay tuned, but check out our schedule below:

Day 1:  Dublin
Day 2:  Dublin to Kilkenny
Day 3:  Kilkenny to Kinsale
Day 4:  Kinsale to Killarney
Day 5: Kilarney with a brief trip to Kenmare
Day 6:  Kilarney to Doolin
Day 7:  Doolin to Galway by way of The Burren
Day 8:  Galway to Dublin to Boston

Check back soon!

 

A weekend trip to Knight Island July 22, 2012

Filed under: Travel — Stephanie @ 8:32 pm
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Sometimes it’s good to get away.  Last weekend, my boyfriend and I took a weekend trip away from home to relax.

We went to a place without internet, without TV…

And without indoor plumbing

IMG_1929 No one said anything about outhouses…

We drove up to Vermont, about halfway up Lake Champlain to stay at Knight Island.  My boyfriend’s brother is the Ranger for the island this summer, and we were invited to stay with him on his island.

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Welcome to a relaxing weekend on Knight Island!

Knight Island is small.  I mean, REALLY small.  Check out the map!  So we were able to hike all around the island fairly easily, visit all the campgrounds, and see some pretty great views!

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I also met my new best friend:

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Mica, the best dog EVER

Mica is the awesomest dog I’ve ever met.  Wes (the Ranger) has been a foster parent to dogs at the local humane society, taking care of dogs for a few weeks until someone adopts them.  Mica had just arrived earlier on the day we came up.  She was so friendly and loving!  It made me wish we had our own house with a big yard so that we could adopt her.

We actually went canoeing with Mica in the boat.  It was a little tricky, since she liked being in laps, and she first tried to be in my boyfriend, Aaron’s lap, which meant that my end of the boat was out of the water!  To balance it out better, we had her sitting near me.  It only made the paddling a little trickier, trying to row without elbowing her!

For more pictures from our trip, you can check them out here.

We had a great time.  It really was nice just to get away and not think about anything.  We caught up on some reading, some sleeping, and just enjoying nature.

I really like weekend trips like this.  They don’t require a lot of planning or money, which seem to be the two things that have been stopping me from going on a big trip:  I don’t like planning/making decisions, and you know I’m not a big fan of spending money!  I also like these trips because they’re so low key and relaxing.

When’s the last time you took a quick weekend trip away?  Where did you go?

 

Weddings are expensive for everyone March 20, 2011

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 11:30 pm
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First:  No, I am not engaged.  Just wanted to calm everyone down.

Whenever I read a personal finance book/blog/website, I am warned that I better save up for my wedding.  I’m quoted figures like $20k, or more, for even a small wedding.  I’ve thought, “Well, I love my friends and family and everything, but $20k for one day?  Are you serious?”  Even though I’m not planning a wedding or anything, I’ve already made a few ( financial) decisions about if/when I get married.

My dress will NOT cost thousands of dollars. I’ve seen episodes of Say Yes to the Dress (I admit, I watch it from time to time!) where the girls have a price goal of $5k, or more, or sometimes the father announces “Price is no object, I just want my little girl to be happy”.  At which point I yell at the TV.  I want to look good, but I’m pretty sure I can look pretty good without spending a fortune.  Plus, I’d only wear the dress one day.  And knowing my luck, I’d probably spill something down the front of it.

My cake will be amazing. I don’t need it super fancy.  I need it super tasty.  I also don’t need it in the shape of something ridiculous and difficult to make.  I might even go with cupcakes.  Haven’t really thought farther than “delicious cake”.

Other than that, haven’t really given much thought to what I’d want for my wedding.  So, we’ll just cross that bridge when we get to it.

But my other realization about weddings?  They’re not just expensive for the Bride and Groom (or their parents, depending on the situation).  They’re also pretty expensive for the guests.

I’m planning on attending two weddings this year.  I’m glad to be going, because I love the couples that are getting married, and it will be great to be there on their big day, and share it with them and a lot of other friends.  But these are the first weddings I’ve been invited to that require travel.  All other weddings that I’ve been to (with the exception of my older sister’s) have been local.  A GPS-guided drive to a town outside of Boston.  No flights.  No hotel stays.  Just a drive to a beautiful wedding.

So, I’m realizing that, besides saving up for my wedding, I need to save up money for my friends’ weddings.  Airfare isn’t cheap.  Round trips tickets could be upwards of $500.  And even with a group rate, the hotels are still $100 or more per night.  Plus, there’s the wedding gift, and I’m probably going to need a new dress.  Yes, I want to buy some new dresses.  And so maybe I’m using my friends’ weddings as an excuse for new dresses.

So, I am going to have to start two different wedding funds:  the one for my own wedding, and the one for my friends’ weddings.  They’re going to keep getting married, I can’t stop them!  And I want to go.  I don’t want anyone to think I’m not willing to go to a friend’s wedding.  Now I just need to figure out which flights to get.  I’m really bad at shopping for flights, through all those online sites.  Where do you go to find cheap flights?  I’ve tried a lot of the aggregated sites like Kayak, Expedia, and Travelocity, but I also know that not all airlines are searched by those sites.  So, suggestions would be greatly appreciated on that front!

Also, I’m curious…those of you out there that have gotten married, or are getting married soon:  how much did your wedding cost?  Is that $20k figure books keep throwing around accurate?  Did you spend a lot less or a lot more than that amount?  And how did you keep your costs low?

How much will you spend?  And do you have any definites like my dress and cake plans?  Is cost no object?  Or will you be trying to get by spending as little as possible?

 

June Wrap-up: I spent a lot edition July 3, 2009

Filed under: Personal Finance,Travel — Stephanie @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , ,

June really was a busy month for me.  Work was pretty hectic, and I managed to spend quite a bit of money!

One big ticket item (or collection of items) was reserving flights and hotel rooms for Pi Reunion.  For you non-MIT people, it’s yet another example of our true geekiness:  we’re getting together ~3.14 years after graduation.  Yep, we’re nerds.  And as with years past, it’ll be held in Las Vegas (which my coworkers find funny, that the casinos are going to let a bunch of MIT people in…haven’t they seen “21“?)

Well, so there was a registration fee, which covered getting a group rate on the hotel room, and a few other events, including a show.  Then there was the hotel room itself.  And lastly, the flights…oh the flights.  My boyfriend and I were both hoping the other would take care of finding flights…which meant that I only got our tickets a week or so ago.  So, there were fewer options, and the flights were pricier.  Lesson learned.  I also discovered that, even if those travel websites are useful, it’s still quite the headache searching the different sites (like Travelocity, Expedia, Kayak, and Priceline), as well as the airline sites themselves to look for the best deal.  Finally found something I could live with through Priceline (thanks William Shatner!), and bought tickets.  Bought both our tickets at the same time to make things easier.  And already got Aaron to pay me his half of the flight costs!

Hopefully I wont spend too much more money gambling!

I also hit 10k miles on my odometer.  Last time I went for the recommended tuneup (5k miles), I was able to convince the salesman that it was worth it to give me that for free, after all the trouble I had getting my car to begin with.  No luck this time around.  So that was ~$100 gone.  Going to try to look for deals/coupons in the future to see if I can get the tuneups cheaper in the future.  The salesman did try to sell me a Prius.  Apparently 10k miles is just too much to put on one car!  I laughed at him…I’m assuming he was joking?

I got quite a few emails from Mint alerting me to the fact that I went over my spending limit in my budget for 4 different categories.  And my credit card sent me email alerts for expenses over $100 (I had set up this alert a while back).  So I knew I was getting pretty spendy.

I do know that there were really only a few big purchases, and I’m not planning on continuing to spend like this in the future.  The good news is that, somehow, I managed to squeak by this month and actually get into positive net worth territory.  Next month it will be even better, I’m sure.  I also realized that I’ve actually been tracking my networth (at NetworthIQ) for two whole years already!  And in that time, my networth has gone up ~$48k.  I’m pretty proud of that.  I’m not going to stop now.  It’s actually made me even more excited to eliminate my student loans and car loan.

Next goal:  eliminate a loan from my list (car, or one of the many student loans).  Thinking I should get rid of the car loan first, since it’s at a higher interest rate (if I can figure out how to do prepayment with the credit union my car loan is with).  In the meantime, also paying extra on those student loans!

How are you doing at staying within your budget, and meeting your goals?

 

My Trip to Nicaragua: Final Thoughts February 24, 2008

Overall, I would have to say that my trip to Nicaragua was pretty darn amazing. I met cool people, looked into volcanoes, ate tasty meals, and spent time with my really good friends.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you ever go to Nicaragua (or go on any other trip, for that matter!):

You might find yourself spending lots of money because it’s so little money by comparison. I know that was a bit of a problem for me. The exchange rate was so much in our favor that we definitely splurged a bit. Besides, we figured we might as well spend a lot, since we don’t know if/when we might go back. Also the country is rather poor, so I think we looked at spending as something beneficial to the society. Maybe that’s a little pompous sounding, or something, but I don’t mean it to sound that way at all!

Get a guidebook. My friends and I had two books. One from Lonely Planet and one from Moon. I think it worked out pretty well to have multiple guidebooks so we could find out more information (some information was only in one of the books, and we could get multiple angles about a certain place). I recommend reading through your guidebook to some extent, just to know what you’re in for. I especially recommend reading the intro to the country section (in the Moon book, it’s called “Know Nicaragua”). That way you know details like exchange rates, entry fees, medicines/shots you’ll need (and should plan on getting a certain amount of time ahead of time), customs, languages, safety, etc.

Know some Spanish. While you do run into a few English speakers, you’re going to want to know enough to know at least some middle school/high school Spanish that will help you find what you need (food, lodging, restrooms, etc.) and you’ll want to know numbers so you know what prices you’re agreeing to! Or if you don’t know Spanish, at least travel with someone who does.

Don’t be afraid to haggle. At markets, in cabs, etc. you can haggle for a price that seems more reasonable to you.

Taxis are different from what you experience in the states…you agree on a price before you head out. The good part is that you know they wont drive your around randomly just to run up a tab. I can’t think of what’s bad about it, except if you are unable to haggle for a good price.

Just as a recap, here are the links to each day of my trip:

Day 1: Fort Lauderdale (to Managua)

Day 2: Masaya (from Managua)

Day 3: Ometepe (From Masaya to San Juan Del Sur)

Day 4: San Juan Del Sur (to Managua)

I’d love to hear of your travels, as well!

[Edit:  If you’re wondering what shots, immunization, or medicine you’ll need on your trip, check out the CDC’s Traveler’s Health site.]

 

My Trip to Nicaragua: Day 4: San Juan Del Sur February 20, 2008

We woke up the next morning, to see the aftermath of the storm: everyone was sweeping up, cleaning up, washing the mud off of their steps.

We headed downstairs for breakfast…got the “traditional Nicaraguan breakfast” (again! I just love it!)

It kept raining on and off, shifting into downpours every once in a while. I guess you could say the weather was pretty bad. L and M stopped at an internet cafe to check some email and a few other things (L even sent me an email, telling me to remember how awesome Nicaragua was!)

Then we went to El Gato Negro. It’s an awesome, English-speaking cafe and bookstore. We figured with all the rain, we wouldn’t be able to go to the cloud forests or the volcanoes, so we decided to take our last day in Nicaragua as a day for relaxation. We spent a good part of our day there, reading the magazines, ordering tasty drinks (smoothies, fancy coffees, teas) and food (hummus plate, fruit plate, sandwiches, brownies). We met and chatted with the owner and some of the other visitors there. There was a black cat that roamed around the bookstore (the shop’s namesake) that we played with. The funny part (maybe only to me) was that I kept wanting to call the cat, and the cafe, “Le Chat Noir”, since I learned French in high school I suppose that confusion happened a lot to me…I would want to say “Merci” instead of “Gracias”.

I think because it’s an English-speaking cafe, locals know they can find tourists, and tourists tend to buy souvenirs! I have to admit, they were right! Two guys came to us (twice, I think!) and tried to sell us pottery they had made. I decided that this was going to be a good a time as any to buy something. They were all very beautiful pieces, mostly vases, jewelry boxes, and candle hurricanes. I went ahead and spent a good chunk of the cordoba I had left ( I didn’t have that much left at that point, anyway!) on a vase with turtles etched into it. It had the blues, greens, and browns that are found in my bed linens, so I figured it would be a good match. My friends bought a few things as well.

We stayed pretty much until closing (3pm) and headed out to find a cab that would take us back to Managua, to the airport. Before we got the cab, I stopped in to a shop to see if I could buy one more thing: an ornament (or something I could convert into an ornament). I had decided that I wasn’t going to spend a lot on souvenirs, but I also decided that my new souvenir policy would be to get an ornament from every place I visited. That way, every Christmas, I could recall all the great places I’d been! I bought a small magnet that I knew I could attach a hook to. Perfect!

On our journey back, we drove through Masaya, past volcanoes, and along long winding streets. Halfway through the journey, our cab driver actually switched out with another cab driver. I think it was because he usually doesn’t go that far north, so the two men set a deal so that they’d split the money from our fare and drive half way.

It was sad to go back up to Managua: We knew our journey was coming to a close. It was also upsetting to see just how much devastation the storm had caused. We drove by many people who were trying to fix things after their homes were flooded. We saw pools of water most likely 2 feet deep in places!

We finally made it to Managua, and stopped at a restaurant for dinner…our last meal in Nicaragua! I don’t remember the name of the place we at at (sorry!) but it was pretty good. Towards the end of our meal, a musician began to set up and play. It was very nice guitar music.

We then caught a cab to the airport. While we were waiting, M and L napped, and A and I got involved talking to a business man from NYC. He told us how he does business both in the US and Nicaragua, as well as many other places in Central America. He gave us his business card, and told us if we were ever back in Nicaragua, that we should let him know, and he’d have us over for dinner (the best Indian food in Nicaragua!)

Boarded our plane, and headed home!

 

My Trip to Nicaragua: Day 3: Ometepe February 12, 2008

Filed under: Travel — Stephanie @ 6:42 pm
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We left our hotel and headed over to the nearest supermarket in Masaya. We each picked up some breakfast and snacks. I got some yogurt and cookies (the cookies were a recommendation from L, who had tried that brand before on a trip to Costa Rica). We then headed to the bus stop to catch a bus down through Rivas to San Jorge to catch a ferry to Las Isla de Ometepe.

We had a beautiful view on a nice ferry. There were nice balconies to stand out on to look at the bright blue skies and the volcanoes in the distance as we floated across Lago Cocibolca. Apparently, some people were on the boat filming a tourism video for Nicaragua. They asked us if it would be all right if we were in it (they could tell that we were tourists!) There were people from all over the world on the ferry that day. Some people were from Nicaragua, others were from the United States (like us) and there were even people from as far away as Israel!

As is the case at many transportation terminals, there were many taxi drivers awaiting the ferry passengers. Some were offering complicated tourism packages. We were just looking to do something in the time we were there. We had read on the schedule that a ferry would be leaving the island at 2:00pm, so we didn’t have too much time to explore. We wanted to see the petroglyphs, but we wouldn’t have enough time. The taxi driver we hired luckily spoke English, so we were able to chat with him more. He drove us to Charco Verde (Green Lagoon) Nature Preserve. The lake there is said to be enchanted. They say if you swim in the lake, you will never want to leave. The interesting part about the lake was that it was very silty, most likely from the volcanic rock.

We ate a hearty lunch, and then got back on our way to the Ferry. Unfortunately, the departure time for the ferry was an hour later than what we and the taxi driver thought it was. So we waited on the island for another hour. We interacted somewhat with the local people there, including a little boy that liked to throw leaves at us, but we were all pretty warm and tired, so we mostly sat in the shade drinking copious amounts of water.

The ferry back was not nearly as nice as the one we took to get to the island, but it ran, and that’s all that mattered to us. We got a cab right off the boat (there were plenty of cabbies there waiting for us), and headed off to San Juan Del Sur. We stayed at hotel Estrella (i believe), which according to a guidebook had a bunch of bats. This hotel made me the least happy of the hotels we stayed at. I think there actually were bats…and the beds maybe had some guano on them from them. Also, the cost of the place seemed to change from one statement to the other. And they said that they would hold on to our key while we went out to the beach. They warned us that if you left stuff out, it would get stolen (at the beach). Leaving our key with them, combined with one other thing, is where I think there was a big problem…I announced to my friends that I would pay for dinner that night because I had 500 cordoba on me that I needed to spend. I’m almost certain I had that money….and when I went to pay for dinner that night, it and perhaps a US $20 was missing from my wallet. So, note to everyone…don’t talk about how much money you have on you. It’s a dumb thing, I know, and I guess I really wasn’t thinking. You live and you learn!

I think in total I perhaps lost$50US from that theft. In the long run, that’s not too much, but it would have been nicer to not have lost it, and deal with the upsetting idea of someone stealing things from me.

At any rate, we did go out to the pacific ocean, and played in the big waves. The coast there is known for its beautiful sunsets; we managed to show up during a cloudy sunset, but it was still beautiful!

We had dinner at a nearby restaurant, again taking advantage of the relatively cheap cost of everything. One of the fun facts (for my friends and me, at least) was that the guys working at the restaurant were watching a Boston Red Sox vs New York Yankees game!  We were disappointed to find out that they were most likely Yankees fans!

Towards the end of our dinner, a huge lightning storm moved in. We saw amazing lightning over the waves, which seemed to light up the entire sky! Along with the lightning, of course, was a bit of a downpour! The roof of the restaurant started to leak, so we paid our bill and got ready to leave. Our hotel was literally right across the street. We booked it across the street, and managed to get completely soaked running through the already flooding 10 feet of street!

We all changed into dry clothes and just headed to bed. We went to bed a little bit sad…it was our last night in Nicaragua!