November 2017 Money Diary: A Very Joshua Tree Thanksgiving

Jennie here.

Hi everyone! Ivan normally does our Money Diaries but because he’s been caught up in so many end-of-year projects, I am stepping in to help load balance a little this month.

Note: Ivan also paid me to write this post with a bag of Chester’s Flamin’ Hot Fries. So, everyone wins!

Can you believe we’re in the month of December? Where did the year go? We’ve been wondering the same thing too! There’s still about three weeks left in the year to go so let’s end it strong!


November 2017 Money Diary Highlights:

Charity Donations & Traveling

The Origami Life - November 2017 Money Diary - Good Budget.png

Here are some highlights for our latest November 2017 Money Diary

  • In November 2017, we donated our last $250 quarterly sum to charity one month early to take advantage of UNICEF USA’s Giving Tuesday campaign, one that tripled our donation through matching grants.
  • Most of our “Travel” budget (~$220) went towards a long weekend at Joshua Tree National Park. More on this later…


Although I feel like we’re on track this year, Ivan laments the fact that we “overspent” on our budget this past month. But what he really wants is to see improvement over time in the choices we make. We usually aim to spend only $3,000 every single month and this month we’re slightly over because we decided to take advantage of a donation opportunity.

Although we always aim for perfection every time - sometimes we miss the mark and need to re-adjust.

A Very Joshua Tree Thanksgiving:

No Turkeys, No Shopping - Just Camping

Tranquility is nothing else than the good ordering of the mind.
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Sunset at Joshua Tree National Park. Keep an eye out for our upcoming guide and camping experience!


As mentioned in a previous post, Ivan and I don’t celebrate big holidays because it’s stressful, so we try to use the holidays to get away from it all; it gives us a chance to technologically detox and have an opportunity to reflect on what matters the most. Last year, it was Death Valley for Christmas. This year, we went camping at Joshua Tree with a few friends for three days.

By day, we hiked and scrambled over jumbo rocks. By night, we drank beer and ate hotpot in the lamplight and roasted marshmallows under the stars.

And without the noise of our phones (because Joshua Tree has 0% cell service) and the shopping notifications of Black Friday, we actually had an opportunity to sit back and reflect on the major changes and challenges that came our way this year.

We realized that we have so much to be grateful for.

* * *

I felt fantastic and grateful for how we chose to spend Thanksgiving this year. We were especially relaxed because we didn’t need to worry about making any unnecessary purchases at the end of the year.


Because we already knew what we need and when we needed it.

For the past two years, we’ve been focused on long-term planning to leave on our round the world trip. A year ago, we pulled together a list of all the things we would need on our travels. We began setting up automated price alerts (e.g. Honey) and slowly purchasing the must-have items on our list. And we did all of this long before Black Friday; in fact, we saw lower prices than what Black Friday “deals” actually offered us.

Here are example of deals I took advantage of before Black Friday AND they were at the price point I wanted:


This experience over the last year actually taught us a fairly valuable lesson: when you think and plan long-term, you significantly minimize the risk of overspending because you know what you want and at what price point it’ll take to get the deal done.

This idea around long-term thinking and planning is how we approach everything in our lives:

  1. Have a long term view. The longer your planning horizon, the less rushed and stressed out you’ll feel. Over time, this means more conscious choices and less impulsive decision-making.

  2. Have more patience. Everyone deserves to get what they want but you’ll only get it on your terms if you can be a little more patient.

  3. Make a choice to only focus / get / have things you truly need. Don’t buy into the hype and let external circumstances influence what you truly need or want.

5 Tips For Women Feeling Stuck in Their Careers

Jennie here.

* * *

We missed the Thanksgiving publishing window to go camping in Joshua Tree, but we wanted to say thank you to all of our readers. We’re grateful you take the time out of your day to visit our humble blog.

Now back to regular programming.

* * *

We've all got goals - whether it's personal or work-related, but the simple act of setting a goal doesn't equal success. Goals take action and commitment. You also have to have the perseverance to stick through the toughest days, even when it feels like nothing you do matters.

Challenges: Working In Tech As A Female Millennial

Even though I’ve done the right things (e.g. made myself valuable, delivered quality work, pitched ideas, took risks, spoke up at meetings, etc.), I felt like I’d trapped myself in “career limbo” for the past year.

Two years ago, I was the first marketing hire for a tech start-up. It was challenging but I was excited by the opportunity to build an entire marketing program from scratch. As we hired more people, however, and I had to “let go of my legos (responsibilities)”, I’ve found it difficult to pivot from a generalist (someone who has a hand in every project) to a more specialized leadership role (AKA “an expert”).

Even though I’ve done the right things (e.g. made myself valuable, delivered quality work, pitched ideas, took risks, spoke up at meetings, etc.), for the past year, I felt like I’d trapped myself in some sort of “career limbo.”

Here are the challenges I faced moving up in my company:

  • My company’s culture is heavily (alpha) male-centric. Currently, women only account for 17% of my organization. Frankly, I’ve found it difficult to overcome this “cultural fit” simply because I couldn’t relate to the casual conversations going on around me (i.e. sports or the latest fantasy football rankings). By contrast, a more recently hired male colleague on my team (perfectly nice guy, btw) quickly gained favor with the group that I’d been desperately trying to connect with - simply because they could relate to each other better.

  • People weren’t taking me seriously due to early perceptions. I came on as the catch-all person for marketing; I learned everything from scratch from lead generation to social campaigns to SEO and messaging. But I quickly realized (and confirmed) that in the eyes of my colleagues, I was seen as some glorified admin. I was always the go-to for logistical or tactical problems. The perception was that there was no way I could "handle" a leadership role.

Over the past month, I’ve been thinking through and processing how to push through these barriers. Maybe it’s just stubbornness on my part, but no matter how “unfair” a situation seems, or how heavily the odds seem stacked against me, I refuse to think of myself as a victim.

5 Ways To Get Back On Track

With Your Career & Goals


For anyone else feeling like they’re stuck in “career limbo”, here are the steps that got me out of my slump:

  1. First, take a step back and breath. The world isn't going to end. Truthfully, reality just hasn't caught up to your expectations yet. In most cases, moving up within an organization takes time because you can’t just expect that you’ll gain immediate respect or forge new relationships overnight. It takes time.

  2. Make a list of all the things you've accomplished (that you're proud of) so far - this calendar year. The reason why is because we don't cut ourselves enough slack. When you map out everything you've achieved, you'll start to see that you've been making incremental progress all along.

  3. When you're feeling discouraged, do something to get you re-engaged and excited. I was losing confidence in my work and in myself because I felt stagnant. And what got me back on track was working on projects (e.g. freelancing) outside of my workplace. It helped bring a lot of perspective and confidence back into my life because I knew that I had a lot of skills to offer. The engagement also got me excited about other ideas for how I could improve at work. What gets you excited about your work and life?

  4. When it feels tough, let your emotions out. I'm not sure about anyone else, but sometimes I like to “cry it out” because it feels cathartic. I'm not saying you should do this in front of anyone - only someone you trust. When I'm at my lowest points (e.g. late nights after a long work day), I always have Ivan. He listens and offers rational (read: cold-blooded) advice because he’s not as emotionally invested in the situation. Those moments helped me stay sane and allow me to vent - without burning bridges at work.

  5. Get back on track by mapping out every single step. This is a little tedious but when you get frustrated, you should take a step back and write out every single step to get to your desired goal. Get into the nitty gritty and map out every minute detail. In my case, I had to think about all the ways I could re-engage with my co-workers and make a list of who to take out for coffee. I made a plan for how to present myself in meetings and drafted potential projects I wanted to pitch to my boss. I even thought about my next steps for a promotion and ways I could justify it.

I haven’t achieved my goals yet, but at least now I know what things are in my control. All of these steps help to bring some perspective back into my life. At the end of the day, I know I’m not saving the world. I’m just developing a different way of looking at personal obstacles that felt insurmountable yesterday.

This makes me feel grateful for today, while looking forward to tomorrow.

Why Should We Care What People Think?

“But how will this look?”

Ivan here.

Thanksgiving is coming up, bringing families together to celebrate the anniversary of when a boatload of immigrants crossed the Atlantic to settle in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where they proceeded to take jobs and land away from ordinary, working class Americans.

But I’m being petty - which is the opposite of what this holiday is supposed to be about.

The Least Productive Question In the World

For obvious reasons, my family doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. The closest Taiwanese equivalent is the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is held in August or the eighth month of the lunar calendar. On this holiday, we Taiwanese like to take our flip flops and plastic footstools to the river to stake out spots for an impromptu, hobo-style barbecue.

But no matter what the holiday season, it’s always stressful when extended families come together. We’ve all got our own ways of dealing with this. I can’t speak for Jennie’s side of the family, but there’s one thing my family does that I have no patience for, and it starts with a single question:

“But how will this look?”

This is the question that sets most people off on a path to making one bad decision after another.

Here are some examples taken from our life:

1. What Will People Think

When They See My Wallet?

Here’s a picture of my wallet.


I’ve had it for almost ten years. It looks like it was chewed on by a dog for at least that long. It’s too bulky for most of my pockets and I can’t keep coins smaller than quarters or they’ll fall out of the ever-expanding hole.


But it’s my wallet, and I like it.

While I’m self-aware enough to know that I’m both stubborn and a cheapskate, those aren’t the reasons why I still have this wallet. I have this wallet because Jennie bought it for me in Kyoto nearly ten years ago for 1,000 yen ($10). I like the yellow-checkered pattern (or what’s left of it). I like that when I showed it to an old friend from our Kyoto days in Chicago last month, he laughed and remembered the exact store I got it from.

Why should I apologize for the things I like?

A few years ago, I was in the Toronto financial district, about to pay for lunch with a few co-workers. I whipped out my wallet from the inner pocket of my Brooks Brothers jacket.

“That’s your wallet!?” said the sales guy in the Hugo Boss suit.
“Yep,” I said.
“No offense buddy,” he said. “But that’s disgusting. You should invest in a Louis Vuitton.”
“I don’t know,” I said as I paid the tab. “I like it.”

There was no point in arguing, but if I had to explain it in sports terms so that he might've understood - here’s Odell Beckham Jr on Twitter:

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2. What Will People Think

Seeing Us At a Bus Stop?


Jennie got rid of her car recently, which means we’re back to using public transit and ride-sharing. This is strange for Los Angeles. Very few people here ride public transit unless it’s the only thing they can afford.

But the neighborhood we live in is actually perfectly situated for public transit. There’s an express line running right past our apartment that takes us to Venice Beach in 20 minutes, Jennie’s office in 30 and downtown L.A. within the hour. There are also four grocery stores and a farmer’s market within a five mile radius - more than accessible by a $5 Lyft ride. We are very “lucky” because early on, we made conscious decisions about where to live and how much space we actually needed.

It was early afternoon on Friday. Jennie and I were waiting at a bus stop in front of a run-down Carl’s Jrs. We were planning to run some errands and get some camping gear for our upcoming trip to Joshua Tree.

Weekend traffic had already picked up. An obnoxiously loud sports car inched by. All that horsepower, no room to run. I watched the middle-aged man in the driver’s seat, and fantasized about sitting across from him at a poker table. His psychological profile must be practically childlike. It’d be like taking candy from a baby.

“I wonder what people think driving past us,” said Jennie, interrupting the royal flush I was on the verge of making.

Here, I saw my opening to quote my favorite character from Game of Thrones:

“A lion, Jennie, doesn’t concern herself with the opinions of the sheep.”

Editor’s note: I rolled my eyes.

3. What Will People Think When

We Turn in Empty Bottles at CVS?


Tap water is completely safe to drink in Los Angeles, but has a strange aftertaste that lies somewhere between chlorine and rust. Our apartment is also a pre-1970s structure and has lead pipes. For those reasons, Jennie and I started buying bottled water from Costco since moving from Boston.

This leaves us with the problem of getting our $0.05 deposits back for our bottles. We drink a LOT of water, so that’s about $10 a month worth of deposits.

Luckily for us, there’s a CVS right next to the Japanese grocery store we shop at that takes bottles. Perfect, I thought. We can get our deposit back without going out of our way.

Jennie was more hesitant. The thought of standing in line at CVS just to get $10 triggered some flashbacks of growing up in poverty.

“I’d do it myself,” I said. “But the limit is 100 bottles a person and they only take bottles on Sunday.”
“It just brings back bad memories.”
“Okay, so what do you want to do? Just throw away $10? Not a great message to send to all the poor kids out there: Ten dollars? No thanks. Too embarrassed.”
“Why aren’t you embarrassed?”
“Because I’m going to do what I want, when I want. What everyone else thinks is irrelevant.”
“Besides,” I added. “Most people are just like you and me - they’re too busy thinking about themselves to worry about anyone else.”

So, What’s the Right Question?

I used examples from our life to illustrate something that we all struggle with. That is, understanding the fine, virtually indistinguishable line between:

  1. What we want

  2. What we think we should want

Do I want an expensive sports car because I enjoy driving and appreciate fine automotive engineering? Or because I think chicks will dig me in this car and that an outward symbol of my success will compensate for my inner feeling of inadequacy?

Do I want a big house because I plan on raising a large family and the price tag is well within my means? Or because I always imagined myself as an owner of a big house that’s the envy of my family, friends and neighbors?

And on and on it goes. For everything.

This is just my personal opinion, but I think the more we think about “how something looks,” the less likely we are to end up making the optimal decision.

Because the right question should always be:

Does this add value to my life
and the lives of those I care about?

What It's Like To Live In Los Angeles Without A Car & What I've Learned

Reverting back to a life in Los Angeles where I use public transportation every day.  

Jennie here.

As you know, Ivan and I spent most of last month traveling across America by train. At the tail end of our trip, we stayed in Boston for a week. And you know what I realized? In just seven measly days, I saw more interesting people and things riding public transit in Boston, than I ever did in a year and a half of driving in Los Angeles.

So I did the logical thing: I called my older brother in Denver from Boston Logan Airport, and told him that if he booked a ticket out to LA, my 1995 red Toyota Corolla, the car my grandfather gave me before he died, the car with only 45,000 miles on it because he only drove it to and from church, could be his - for the price of free.

You sure you don’t want money for it?” he asked.
Nope. Just promise me to take care of it and keep it in the family,” I said.

A week later, I found myself standing in the driveway, waving as I watched its tail-lights disappear around the corner. It was a long drive back to Denver.

Bye car,” I said.

Hello public transit.


One of the first people I met on the bus was a chubby kid. He looked about 15 and spoke with a lisp that got noticeably worse whenever he got excited.

This was what I had been missing. I could learn more about this city and what it values by riding public transit than I could ever could getting stuck in traffic.

The moment the chubby kid got on the bus, he saw his friend, ran up to him, and started chatting enthusiastically. He was wearing a beat-up Trader Joe’s canvas bag for a backpack and a pair of Under Armour sneakers that was so old and worn out you could hardly tell what the original color was. His clothing was frayed and a little too short for his arms.

He looked so happy.

I recognized this kid instantly. That kid was me back in the day. I was that chubby kid who in spite of all obstacles was excited and positive about life. And even as my heart went out to him, I realized something:

This was what I had been missing. I could learn more about this city and what it values by riding public transit than I ever could getting stuck in traffic.

Here’s what I saw and learned through

four separate encounters on Los Angeles public transit:

These gorgeous photos belong to Gilles Mignasson. And I think he did a fantastic job at capturing the essence of the Los Angeles cultural fabric and people. 

1.     Most Angelenos who rely on public transportation come from low-income households and are predominantly people of color.

I’d see nannies going into the westside to take care of children from wealthy families, restaurant line cooks headed into Santa Monica’s tourist district, and other laborers at the end of their two or three hour work commute.

My key takeaway: All it takes is a conscious effort to look up and around at your surroundings. In my case, I saw buses full of people that I could have been or could still become. It really puts “shitty” weather in LA and the traffic and all the little things that we like to complain about into perspective. You realize most of these things aren’t problems at all - they’re weaknesses. Things we’ve allowed ourselves to grow accustomed to.

2.    People with disabilities (either mental or physical) and seniors often use public transit and you don’t always know what you’ll encounter.

During my first month in Los Angeles, I didn’t have my car yet and used the bus everyday to commute to and from work. One afternoon, I somehow found myself pushed over to an inside seat by a tall and extremely obese African American woman. She began heckling a teenager sitting across from us, throwing handfuls of granola at him. When it came time for me to get off the bus, I politely asked her to let me out and she replied with, “If you want to get off this bus, you have to climb over my dead fucking body”. I had no idea what to do and there was a bus full of people. So, what did I do? I climbed over her body; the entire back of the bus watched in disbelief as she heckled me, called me a racist, and threw fistfuls of granola at me until I got off the bus.

My key takeaway: It was one of my first experiences on the LA Metro system and I was scared shitless. I was uncomfortable and unsure of how to deescalate the situation with this woman who seemed mentally unstable. But at the same time, I understood that these people were on the bus for a reason: they had nowhere else to go.

3.    People who don’t choose to use public transit...are well, choosing to ignore what’s right in front of them.

The great thing about mass public transit in large cities like San Francisco, New York, or Philadelphia is that you can to see a good cross-section of the city, of people from different social classes mingling. And that means that whether you like it or not, you’re exposing yourself to different walks of life. This is a huge reason why I don’t think a lot of middle class Angelenos understand that they’re part of the problem in America, one that ignores a lot of harsh realities the average Americans faces, simply because they don’t have to (or don’t want to) think about it. These same people then turn around and wonder what happened to our country.

My key takeaway: Even though public transit is ultimately safer, more environmentally friendly, and better for the community - most people in LA still choose their cars because there’s “no alternative” or because “it’s unsafe” (which is statistically untrue). The real reason is because being confronted by reality and hardship is something that makes people uncomfortable.

4.    I can be a judgemental asshole.

If I’m being honest, I’ve written Los Angeles off long ago as a shallow, false-genuine city that's borderline illiterate. One morning, I was headed into the office and as I got on the bus I noticed a guy in his mid-twenties reading (what seemed like) an interesting book. And in that moment, I realized that I was an asshole for writing off people that I barely had any exposure to.

My key takeaway: Most of the people I know at work live on the westside of Los Angeles, which happens to be the more prosperous area of town. I mean, only out-of-touch, over privileged millennials could call a rent-controlled $2,000 a month one bedroom in Palms a “steal”, right? Because of my exposure to such people at work, I had a certain notion about Angelenos - and that kind of makes me part of the problem too.


Riding a city's public transportation tells you a lot about its people, cultural fabric, and overall values. What does yours look like?

October 2017 Money Diary: Everything We Spent on Our Train Trip Across America
The Origami Life October 2017 - Money Diary Savings-2.png
The Origami Life - October 2017 Money Diary-2.png

In October,  Jennie and I took 15 days off and traveled from Los Angeles, California to Boston, Massachusetts - by Amtrak rail.

Here’s what we spent on this long train journey:

Everything We Spent on Our 15 Day U.S. Train Journey with Amtrak

Our Travel Spend Priorities

Before I lay out the expenses for the trip, I should provide some context on what Jennie and I value when we travel. The following are not hard and fast rules, but I think it paints a pretty accurate picture of what our spending priorities are

  1. We dine out for breakfast to go over our plans for the day.

  2. We dine out for one of lunch or dinner (and buy groceries for the other meal).

  3. We choose one paid “attraction” per day and plan several free ones around it.

  4. We plan our meals around relationships we value. If we’re staying with friends, we will always pay.

  5. How a restaurant looks, ‘its vibe’ and the attentiveness of its waitstaff are of minimal importance to us.

  6. Whenever possible, we will ride public transit at least once. It’s not just cheaper, but you get to see a cross-section of society interacting (or not interacting).

  7. We don’t believe in souvenirs or other knick knacks that can’t be immediately consumed.

  8. We don’t do ‘fine dining’ (our definition is any meal over $35 per person incl. tax and tip), fusion cuisine, or places that advertise farm-to-table ingredients. These are just personal preferences.

  9. We don’t (really) drink and avoid bars, breweries and nightclubs designed specifically for that purpose. The only exception are jazz clubs (i.e. the drinking should be the secondary objective to whatever the main point is).

  10. We will pay a (significant) premium for a quiet coffee shop or bookstore with fast wifi, strong coffee, and a clear view of the passing scenery (hence, 100 hours over 15 days on trains).

With that out of the way, here’s what we spent:  

Before the Trip

Amtrak USA Rail Passes (x2): $918 ($459 each)

28L Patagonia Refugio Backpacks (x2): $0 (swag from Jennie’s company #privilege)

20L Packable Eddie Bauer Daypack: $25 (Bought on sale from Amazon. Waterproof and super useful to stow our valuables! We’re bringing this on our RTW trip)

Day 0 Total: $943

For the USA Rail Pass, a 15 day trip works out to around $30 a day per person, with stopovers in up to eight cities. Keep in mind some segments are overnight so you can actually save on accommodation. 

The Amtrak USA Rail Pass guarantees you a coach seat (roomettes are extra), but you’ll still have to call or show up at your nearest station prior to your trip to pick up your pass and reserve tickets for the individual segments. 

You can learn more about how to plan your trip using Amtrak USA Rail Passes here:

Leg 1:
The Coast Starlight
(~12 hours from Los Angeles to Emeryville)

The Coast Starlight goes from Los Angeles to Seattle. Our favorite segment of the trip takes you along the coast of California. 

The Coast Startlight follows along the Pacific Crest Highway (PCH); it's gorgeous.

The Coast Startlight follows along the Pacific Crest Highway (PCH); it's gorgeous.

Day 1: Los Angeles Union Station to Emeryville

  • Groceries: $40 (Two bento boxes and snacks for the 12 hour journey)
  • Dining Out: $0 (There is a dining car onboard that we tried on another leg of our journey. The food was...edible)
  • Sightseeing: Free (We sat in the observation car working, reading and chatting until it was dark and the stars came out and the ocean was illuminated by moonlight) 

Day 1 Total: $40

Watching the sunset from the train.

Watching the sunset from the train.

Day 2: Emeryville, California (NorCal)

  • Accommodation: $0 (Arrived in Emeryville at 10 PM. Stayed with a friend for the night)
  • Dining Out: $36 (Treated friend to early morning breakfast before leaving for Salt Lake City)
  • Groceries: $30 (Hummus, pita chips, and fruit from Safeway for the next leg)
  • Transportation: $10 (Two Lyft rides to and from Emeryville Station)

Day 2 Total: $76

Leg 2:
The California Zephyr
(~50 hours from Emeryville to Chicago) 

Checking out the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at 8am.

Checking out the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at 8am.

Day 3: Salt Lake City, UT

  • Accommodation: $0 (We got off train at 3 AM and we boarded the next one 24 hours later. We were tired. Would not recommend).     
  • Groceries: $15 (Clif Bars, crackers and cheese from Trader Joe’s)
  • Dining Out: $65 (Ruth’s Diner in the mountains for dinner and Village Inn because it was either that or Denny’s at 4 AM on Sunday)
  • Transportation: $30 (A lot of Lyft rides)
  • Sightseeing: $24 (Ensign Peak and Mormon stuff were free. Paid for Red Butte Garden)
  • Other: $15 to leave our packs at the station and $10 worth of coffee to keep us awake

Day 3 Total: $159

Someplace between Utah and Colorado...

Someplace between Utah and Colorado...

Day 4 - 6: Denver, CO

  • Accommodation: $0 (We stayed with family for two nights)
  • Groceries: $20
  • Dining Out: $80 (Paid for as many meals as we were allowed to by family)
  • Other: $30 (Edible gummies from marijuana dispensary and Popeye’s Chicken)

Day 4-6 Total: $140

Wandering around Downtown Omaha, Nebraska

Wandering around Downtown Omaha, Nebraska

Day 7: Omaha, NB

  • Accommodation: $0 (Hyatt Place Old Market for 8,000 points, transferable 1:1 from Chase)
  • Groceries: $15
  • Dining Out: $50 (Two meals worth of BBQ at Smoking Jay’s)
  • Transportation: $10
  • Sightseeing: $46 (Henry Doorly Zoo and a special exhibit at the Joslyn Art Museum)

Day 7 Total: $121

Having a classic Chicago deep dish pizza at a local shop before we left.

Having a classic Chicago deep dish pizza at a local shop before we left.

Day 8 - 10: Chicago, IL

  • Accommodation: $210 (Airbnb for two nights)
  • Groceries: $15
  • Dining Out: $170 (Because Chicago)
  • Transportation: $10
  • Sightseeing: Mainly free stuff and hanging out with friends

Day 8-10 Total: $405

Leg 3:

Lake Shore Limited & the Northeast Corridor
(~21 hours from Chicago to New York to Philly to Boston)

Nom Wah Tea Parlor, Chinatown, New York City

Nom Wah Tea Parlor, Chinatown, New York City

Day 11: New York City, NY

  • Accommodation: $0 (Stayed at friend’s $300 a month apartment in Chinatown)
  • Groceries: $15
  • Dining Out: $65 (we were only in New York for 16 hours) 
  • Transportation: $5

Day 11 Total: $85

Looking out into downtown Philadelphia from the famous "Rocky" steps.

Looking out into downtown Philadelphia from the famous "Rocky" steps.

 Day 12: Philadelphia, PA

  • Accommodation: $82 (Airbnb for one night)
  • Groceries: $10
  • Dining Out: $64
  • Transportation: $15
  • Sightseeing: $28

Day 12 Total: $199

We went running along the Charles River in Boston and it was perfect.

We went running along the Charles River in Boston and it was perfect.

Day 13 - 15: Boston, MA

  • Accommodation: $0 (Again, we lived in Boston and have several close friends)
  • Groceries: $45
  • Dining Out: $140
  • Transportation: $15

Day 13-15 Total: $200

Flying Home
 (~7 hours Boston to Los Angeles)


$25 for two one way tickets from Boston to Los Angeles: flights were paid for with miles through United (transferable 1:1 from Chase)

The Origami Life Cross Country

Train Trip Summary

Total all-in spend for the 15 day trip
was $2,393, or $1,196 per person

Jennie and I were fortunate enough to have friends and family living across the country, which saved us anywhere between $300-500 on accommodations

However, even if you add those costs back in, you could still travel quite comfortably across the U.S. for well under $1,500 a person, or less than $100 a day. If you traveled in a larger group of say 4 people, and split the cost of accommodation and food, that number would be closer to $1,000, which is about as much as you’d spend for just one week in Europe. 

6 Things We Learned Travelling Across America by Train (10/13 - 10/28)

Ivan here.

It’s been a while.

Over the past two weeks, Jennie and I travelled from Los Angeles to Boston - by Amtrak rail. We spent nearly 100 hours on trains, making 24 to 48 hour stopovers in the following cities:

  • San Francisco
  • Salt Lake City
  • Denver
  • Omaha
  • Chicago
  • New York City
  • Philadelphia
  • Boston

We’re calling this Part 1 of our “Goodbye America” tour, before we leave for our round the world trip in 2018.

Here are just some of the things we learned travelling across America:

1. Life In Prison Reflects Life Outside Prison

April (not her real name), our Uber driver to Los Angeles Union Station, once worked as a mental health practitioner at one of LA’s largest prisons. During her two year internship, there were five suicides in her ward - or “pod” as she called it. Pods look something like this:

Prisoners with mental illnesses wear yellow jumpsuits and live together in one pod. The handicapped wear brown. Child molesters wear red. Celebrities (like Chris Brown) get their own separate pod, away from the ‘general population,’ a term which applies to your garden variety inmate, who wears blue.

Jennie and I learned that life in prison is very similar to life outside.

The politics in prison is the same as the real world: knowing whose hands to grease to use the phones or to buy a bag of Doritos from the vending machine. With prison overcrowding and budget cuts lowering the standard of living for guards and inmates alike, everyone tries to do more with less. Social tensions run high. While the State segregates inmates by crime for easier management and control, the inmates self-segregate by race just to get by.

In other words, America.

I was trapped in a windowless cell, same as everyone else, from 8 AM to 6 PM. The only difference was that I got to go home every night.
— April

 2. Light and Shadow in Salt Lake City


In Salt Lake City, a city which by the way, has the cleanest Taco Bells in America, Jennie and I witnessed an obvious case of unconscious bias. It was Sunday morning. We were leaving Temple Square after a performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Maybe I’m just a bad guy, but I found every Mormon I ever met to be...creepily nice. It’s like the cameras were rolling and I was walking through the set of The Stepford Wives.

Anyway, like most other affluent cities, things got noticeably “less nice” once you stepped onto public transit.

At the light rail station, a young black male was making his way along the platform, asking strangers for a light for his cigarette.

I saw people visibly recoil as he approached them - and it wasn’t my imagination. You could see the frustration on his face. In the end, a student couple lent him a light. As the light rail pulled into the station and we all got on the train, I saw him slip the couple a $5 bill before disappearing into the crowd.

3. How Productive is the Term ‘White Privilege’?

I’m going to tread carefully here.

On our way from Salt Lake City to Denver, we met a woman in her late fifties/early sixties from Austin, Texas. A lovely human being. Jennie and I ended up having a long conversation with her in the cafe car over canned wine, cheese and crackers, talking about her experience volunteering for disaster relief in the States and Central America. We talked about our plans for 2018, and bonded over our shared love of travel.


At times, the conversation turned serious. Without going into detail, she shared with us very real and personal struggles she’s had in her relationships and finances.

I suppose that’s what they call white privilege,” she said.

It was only a passing remark, but it got me thinking.

Does America need to have a serious, prolonged, and uncomfortable conversation about race? Yes. Are there systematic and racial injustices in this country? Absolutely. But as a minority, one who would never want assumptions about my race to define who I am, why wouldn’t I wish the same for all races?

Is it better to feel ‘woke’ educating the West Virginian coal miner about their privilege, or is it better to practice the empathy we wish to see in others?

4. What’s in Omaha?


Not the golden-breasted starling, apparently. Did you know that according to TripAdvisor, Omaha has the best zoo in America? As recently as 2014, it was ranked above the San Diego Zoo for the top spot.

While we have mixed feelings about animals in captivity, the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo seemed well run, spacious, and definitely worth a visit if you somehow find yourself in Nebraska.

5. There Will Be No Napping at the Chicago Public Library

Harold Washington Library, Downtown Chicago

Harold Washington Library, Downtown Chicago

While waiting to board a late night train from Chicago to New York, we decided to get a few hours of work done at the Chicago Public Library. At some point, Jennie dozed off at her table, only to be woken by a security guard making the rounds.

“You gotta wake up,” he said. “No sleeping.”

“Is that library policy?” I asked. “Staying awake is mandatory?”

He shrugged. “I don’t make the rules.”

Fair enough. I know we all like to follow orders around here. So we left the sleep police alone to do his job.

Liability issues aside, how is this not a policy that obviously targets the homeless? But I get it. The library is for readers - all twelve of them. It’s a place for the respectable taxpayer to while away an afternoon with his $1,000 Macbook, leaving the unwashed masses and their stench to freeze out in the Chicago winter.

I mean, aren’t there homeless shelters for that? Them being well funded and all.

6. $300 Rent in New York City

Chinatown, New York City

Chinatown, New York City

A friend of ours lives in a studio above a restaurant in New York City’s Chinatown. Including utilities, he pays $300 a month in rent.

I know what you’re thinking: Fuck that guy, right?

Here’s the thing. Five or six decades ago, when his grandmother signed the hundred year lease on the property, $300 was a lot of money. In fact, it was highway robbery when you considered the gang violence that was happening in Chinatown at the time.

His grandmother passed in 2012, after raising her family (of seven) in that studio. And now, one of her grandsons gets to live the high life in New York City for $300 a month.

I don’t know about you, but I think this woman was a true visionary and long term investor.

She represented everything that was great about America.

The Origami Life: The Story So Far
moon-2041738_1920 (1).jpg

Ivan here. 

That was a cover by the Chromatics of an old song called ‘Blue Moon,’ a song that's been sung by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, and the always wonderful Billie Holiday.

I like the opening notes. Reminds me of the tune that plays over the intercom in department stores before every announcement. 

This is appropriate, as Jennie and I have a couple of announcements to make of our own. 

What is The Origami Life?

It’s been a little over a year since this blog went live, with little to no explanation from Jennie and I on what this is, why we’re here, and what we stand for. 

Part of this is because we’re more into showing than telling, but I think the more honest answer would be that we were still trying to figure it out.

Here what we know so far. The Origami Life is:  

  • A record of Jennie and Ivan’s marriage and life together
  • A way of keeping ourselves accountable to our financial and travel goals
  • A place that celebrates the process over the result, the journey over the destination
  • A place to convey stories and observations in a personal, interesting and useful manner
  • A place to connect with like-minded people

Subscribe To Our Monthly Origami Letter!

Our first letter went out to subscribers on September 16th, you can read it here to see if it’s worth your time and space in your inbox. 

The next letter goes out Sunday (October 8th), where we’ll be giving an update on a trip we’ve been planning for the past five months. 


What Is The Daily Origami?

Daily Origami is a weekly series we publish based on an experimental theme, where we try to strike a balance between the personal, interesting and useful. 

Needless to say, we don’t always succeed. 

But more importantly, it’s a creative exercise that gets Jennie and I used to the cadence of posting five times a week when we’re on our round the world trip. 

I think travel writing is one of the hardest genres to do well. Not because there’s a lack of interesting, exotic destinations to write about, but because it’s hard to make people:

a. Give a shit about you
b. Ground stories in ways that are relatable to a reader's everyday life

We have at least 50 more Daily Origami entries planned after this hiatus, and we'd appreciate any feedback you might have at

In case you missed a few posts, here is everything we’ve written to date: 

See all the latest Daily Origami here.