Origami Letters: Why We Started this Blog

Origami letters is a weekly series Jennie and I are experimenting with, where we share moments from our relationship through a selection of letters we’ve sent each other over our four year marriage (and nine year relationship). These letters have been lightly edited for grammar and brevity. Pseudonyms are used to protect people’s privacy.

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I had a funny feeling as I saw the house disappear, as though I had written a poem and it was very good and I had lost it and would never remember it again.
— Raymond Chandler

Ivan here.

Back in 2016, I sent the following email to Jennie with the subject line “Looking out over the hump.” It’d only been a few months since we moved to Los Angeles, and we were both starting to establish our routines. This letter was also written exactly one week before we decided to start this blog. Our first post was published on August 12th titled, “A 20-Something’s Guide to Starting Over.” It’s funny looking back on it now.

I think this letter provides readers with a glimpse into why we started The Origami Life and our hopes for it going forward.

Note: If you're interested in our story so far, check out The Origami Life: The Story So Far.


An Origami Letter:
Looking Out Over the Hump


Dear Jennie,
Got both your voice messages this morning. The first when I woke up and the second after I came back from my run. You sounded very cute in a flustered, occupied sort of way.
On my run this morning along the neighborhood circuit, I was startled by a grey tabby cat lying on its side on a corner patch of grass near a busy intersection. This was by the tennis courts of the Mar Vista rec centre. It was a strange place to find a cat, and I had to leap out of the way to avoid stepping on her. She was wearing a red collar with a silver bell on it. Her eyes followed me as I went by.
As I continued on my run, I realized that something was...off about her. It's not every day that you see a cat outside just lying there, all alone at the edge of the sidewalk. She was barely moving. She must be sick. Heat exhaustion? I decided that on my second lap around, I would stop and check to see if she was all right.
When I passed the tennis courts the second time, there were two women standing where the cat had been. They looked like mother and daughter. The daughter was in her thirties and her mother, who looked to be in her late fifties. She was cradling the cat in her arms and sobbing. The daughter stood off to the side, looking helpless.
They must be the owners, I thought. I slowed down to catch a glimpse of the cat. Sure enough, she was dead.
I didn't know what to say. A lot of questions were running through my mind. What happened? Why was she all alone on the edge of the sidewalk? Was it already sick when they brought her out or did it get hit by a passing car or a bicycle?
Was I the last person she saw before she died?
I really hope not. Startled, I had jumped out of the way and kept right on going. Never stopping for a second. It was too late before I realized that something might be wrong. Even after her death, I wanted to know the story of how she ended up there. I wanted to ask the two women what happened. But instead, I ran past them again without so much as a word.
I guess you could say that it's a fundamental character flaw of mine. Growing up as an intensely shy child, who didn't speak a word all through kindergarten and cried when my mom dropped me off, into a cold and self-absorbed adult. What business was it of mine to ask questions or express concern? What difference would it make? And so I thought and reasoned to myself, and in the end, none of the things that I thought or felt ever translated into action.
I think that's the truth of where we stand right now. Always on the cusp of something but lacking the resolve and drive to constantly move forward, to focus on the present moment and not on the past or dreams of a future where I’m free from all obligations and impositions. Me. Always me.
Is there no one else I can think about besides myself?
Running helps, I think. So does writing when I can sit down and concentrate and not worry about anything else. I arrive at some sort of understanding about who I am and can reflect on moments that would otherwise pass me by. But knowing this isn’t enough. I have to remember that actions are the only thing that matters. The only thing that counts. Putting one word after the next, one foot after another, and with hope in my heart that eventually, one of those footsteps will take me home.
Love,
Ivan

The Challenge: Looking at the World Through New Eyes



The real discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
— Marcel Proust

One of the reasons Jennie and I were willing to wait two whole years before heading off on our RTW trip is because around the time this letter was written, we both realized that the “where” isn’t nearly as important as the “how.”

We carry the way we look at the world and our own lives wherever we go.

And we've realized that the only way to add meaning and value to something is to create it for ourselves.



January 2018 Money Diary: Made Some Money, Had Some Fun

Jennie here!

Ivan is away for two months in Taiwan to embark on his life-long goal of writing his first novel (more on this in the coming weeks). I’m filling in for this month’s Money Diary because he still recovering from jet lag.

January felt like it went by excruciatingly slow for us and it turns out it was because we did so much! If the January 2018 Money Diary is an indication of what’s to come...I’m pretty excited about what’s going to happen the rest of the year.

In January 2018, we had $5,611 in monthly savings and
are now at $34,258 in our total round the world trip savings.

 
 

Here are the five highlights for our latest January 2018 Money Diary…


 
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1. We’ve adjusted our monthly expense goal: we’ve budgeted $2,800 a month for 2018.

We missed the goal by $23 this month but we’re still feeling good about this goal going forward. I think that we’ve been working really hard towards this eventual transition (AKA massive cuts to our spending) over the last two years and we’re finally getting the hang of it. I don’t even feel the squeeze anymore. When we first started, it was really difficult for me to adhere to a budget but now, it’s like drinking water or breathing air. It’s much more natural for me to think more logically about where, why, and how much money I spend.

2. We started our own business!

Insane, right? The upfront costs were charged to our December 2017 expenses but January 2018 was the first month we billed our clients under our new business: Origami Partners LLC. We now have several clients that we’re working with and we’re both excited to begin this strange, new - unknown chapter of our life. More posts to come on this in second half of 2018.

3. We went to San Diego for a 3-Day weekend and spent ~$155 between the two of us.

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Ivan’s old high school friends from Taiwan were having a mini reunion and I didn’t want him to miss out. One of Ivan’s high school friends from East L.A. drove us to San Diego (we covered gas) AND we stayed at another friend’s apartment for free! So the total trip expenses was primarily food and entertainment.

My general thoughts on San Diego:

  • Food is SO CHEAP in San Diego compared to L.A. Our most expensive meal was $28; we had lots of grilled meats, tacos, and burritos...And Carne Asada fries are legit.
  • San Diego is worth a weekend visit. The weather is generally warmer, the beaches are beautiful, and they’ve got gorgeous natural tide pools. San Diego was the break that I needed after a shitty work week in L.A.

4. We had a “fancy” wedding anniversary Korean BBQ lunch together for $73 (tip included).

At the beginning of the month we saved some of our eating out budget for an anniversary dinner or lunch. I dragged Ivan down to Koreatown to have an insanely decadent Korean BBQ lunch and it was perfect. The service, the amount of food...all worth it. This is as fancy as our restaurant outings get now because it’s all we really need. After lunch, we grabbed some groceries from the nearby Korean store and spent an additional $31. That’s romance, too, right? We’re living our lives together like a normal married couple. Mundane things should be celebrated too!

5. In January 2018, we started to slowly purchase our Round The World (RTW) Trip essentials.

Ivan finally gave in and bought a new $100 Kindle (e-book reader) to replace the old one he broke last year. If you know Ivan then you also know he’s the angel of death to all things technology.We also spent $210 on Uniqlo essentials for our adventures beginning in September 2018. Some of our essential purchases included an ultra light down vest and quick-drying activewear tops and bottoms. As we’re beginning to accumulate the essentials, our goal of traveling the world is beginning to feel very real and it makes me excited but also anxious to leave sooner...


Thoughts On January 2018 Spending: Treat Yourself Today


 
 

Sometimes, you just have to treat yourself.

Between launching our business and extensive preparations for our RTW trip, we sometimes forget to step back and give ourselves the chance to just enjoy our lives. Afew things got us through this long, slow month - and I wanted to share them with you:

  • We didn’t spend much money during the holidays so we jumped right into our goals in the new year. During the month of December, we didn’t spend a lot of money because we don’t really celebrate (Western) holidays. That put us in a really fortunate position to start off the year on a positive note.

  • Holiday gift cards helped us save a little money too. I got two gift cards worth a total of $50 from work in December (yay for White Elephant parties). So, I used up about $35 worth of credit on coffees and lunches from the designated cafes. It was just nice to treat myself to the occasional lunch or coffee without worrying about going over budget.

  • Ivan’s best purchase for January 2018 was his Kindle. He broke my old Kindle last year before our big train trip and has been holding off on buying a new one because he’s cheap. But he’s a writer and he needs to read; he’s already gone through most of our books in the apartment - and not reading makes him grouchy. So I’ve been encouraging him (for months) to get a new replacement because it’s vital to his work. When he finally bought it, I was relieved because he seemed little more relaxed with a fully stocked e-reader in his hands.

  • My best purchase for this month was a cheap jump rope from Daiso. Against Ivan’s wishes, I purchased a jump rope at Daiso for $1.70. It wasn’t about the money. He didn’t see the point in accumulating more “stuff”  that we’d eventually have to throw away in 6 months - but I think it was a fantastic purchase. The weekend after I bought it, we ended up competing against each other to see who could reach jump the most times. I lost. Goddamnit. However, it was really refreshing that something so small could change up our workout routine and pull us out of what could’ve been a mundane Saturday. Sometimes, you just need something minor to jolt your life in a good way.

That’s it for now folks. Happy savings in February!


How was your January? DId it go by quickly?

Did you have to re-adjust your budget after the holiday spending?

Did you have any major highlights or wins in January that you want to share?



Update Post: Rethinking this Blog, Starting a Business, Planning our Exit

Starting from today, readers of The Origami Life can count on a new post
every Tuesday - with the occasional experimental post on Fridays.


Ivan here.

Despite running a blog, Jennie and I like to keep our cards close. The risk of oversharing online is real - go too far in one direction and our life becomes performance art. We want to be thoughtful about what we put out there, and at least try to add value to a reader's life.  

What we’ve learned over the past year is this:

Not every success is worthy of celebration. Not every failure is worthy of analysis.

Life is spontaneous. It doesn’t always fit neatly inside a listicle.


The Origami Life Update:

Rethinking the Blog, Starting a Business,

Planning our Exit


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January has been a busy month for the Origami couple:
 

1. We created a content plan for The Origami Life.

This year, due to an increasing workload in other areas, we want to be less carefree and more intentional with this blog. Last year, we published whenever we felt like it. In 2018, we’re setting minimum expectations so that people know exactly what they’re getting from us - and when they’re getting it.

To that end, we spent the first week of 2018 at our favorite donut shop doing a MEGA brainstorming session. We broke out the Excel (the E), jotted down themes we would focus on each month, plus a list of potential ideas for each week. We’re also establishing a regular publishing cadence moving forward.

TL;DR: New post every Tuesday for the rest of the year.
 

2. We took a long weekend trip to San Diego.

San Diego is like the boutique version of Los Angeles. Here are some recommendations from our three day trip:

Source: Yelp; Sunset Cliffs, San Diego

Source: Yelp; Sunset Cliffs, San Diego

Hiking and Sightseeing in San Diego:

Cheap Eats and Beverages in San Diego:

Source: Yelp; Phil's BBQ, San Diego

Source: Yelp; Phil's BBQ, San Diego

3. We celebrated 4 years of marriage with another fight...this time over gingerbread cookies.

It’s that time again. Jennie and I fight every single year on both of our anniversaries (marriage and relationship). This year’s argument was as stupid as it sounds. It was a fight over whether one of us (me) needed permission to eat the other’s (Jennie’s) gingerbread cookies.

Jennie’s note: He ate my goddamn cookies because I said he couldn’t. He doesn’t even like cookies. (Ivan: two cookies. I ate two) AND for good measure, he broke my cookies into 100+ pieces in a blind rage. My poor cookies...
 

4. We set up an LLC and officially launched our business.

Origami Partners LLC. That’s the name of our client services company. Over the past 8-10 months, we’ve made steady progress on our goal of earning $2,500 in freelance income a month. About six months ago, we made a breakthrough, but we didn’t want to jinx ourselves by writing about it. Look for more future posts on how we’re turning a side hustle into replacement income - and breaking free from the 9-to-5 lifestyle.
 

5. We took advantage of the Chase Banking bonuses and collected $700 in January.

Chase and other banking institutions offer new account sign-up bonuses all the time. Armed with our fuck-off fund, we took advantage of these offers in January. We opened a business checking account and got $200 from Chase with a $1,000 deposit. Then I opened a personal checking and savings account and was paid another $500 - just by moving my direct deposit and our fuck off fund from one bank to another. Having a fuck-off fund: it really is the gift that keeps on giving.
 

6. We billed our first clients for the year as a business.

Over the past 6 to 8 months, we’ve been slowly building up a roster of clients that we hope to take with us on our round the world trip. January 2018 was the first month we billed them as Origami Partners LLC. It felt surreal and amazing. We’re both excited to begin this strange, new chapter of our life.
 

7. We booked two months apart from each other in February and March

Late last year, we both looked at each other and realized we had a ton of stuff to do before we leave in September 2018. So at the beginning of the year, we broke down what each of us would need to get things done. It turned out that after nearly 9 years together, both of us needed some time apart. So I booked a $400 roundtrip ticket to Taiwan (and rented a cottage out in the countryside) so that we could both get some “me” time.
 

8. Ivan’s setting aside 30 days in a cabin to finish his novel.

I know a cabin in the countryside is an indulgence, but I’m justifying this as an early 30th birthday present to myself. Toward the end of last year, I realized that I couldn’t live with myself if I went off on our RTW trip without finishing my novel. I’m 45,000 words in, and the longer this thing festers inside me, the harder I’m going to be to travel with. So when I saw a $400 flight deal to Taipei and a $235 a month cabin out in the remote countryside, I felt like I had to do it. I feel pretty grateful to be married to a partner who understands.
 

9. Jennie’s asking for another raise (because she’s worth more).

There are two ways of thinking about this: the normal person’s way and the sociopath’s way.

  1. A normal human being might say: “I’ve got 7 months left before I leave, plus the freelance income is picking up - why go through the hassle?”

  2. A sociopath would say: “When I don’t need something - is literally the best time to ask for it. Plus, what are they gonna do? Fire me so I can leave for my RTW trip sooner? Oh no. What will I do.”

Editor's note: To be clear, this was Ivan's take on my raise. 

10. We booked our Round The World (RTW) first stop on September 1st, 2018

We’ve decided to head west from Los Angeles on our RTW trip. First stop: a rustic cottage in Kauai, Hawaii for 15 days.


What We’d Like to Do Differently Around Here


We think we understand the rules when we become adults, but what we really experience is a narrowing of the imagination.
— David Lynch

Confession time: on some days, I catch myself acting like a 80 year old man.

“Look at me! Look how clever and wise I am. Kids these days, they just don’t understand how the world works.”

This is the downside of having plans and routines. After a while, you start to become rigid. Too sure of yourself. Less open to new ideas. Maybe that's why I've been feeling dissatisfied with my more recent posts. I think this “rigidity” is holding me back from becoming a better writer and storyteller. Or as Jennie likes to put it: “What if you didn’t have a stick up your butt?”  

I think there’s value in creating a world and inviting readers to live in it, rather than telling them what the rules are and to not touch anything. There’s value in telling stories that make people feel something deeper than a logical transfer of ideas or that first knee-jerk response.

So that’s what we’re aiming for this year: more personal stories and more experiments on what this blog can be.

Why Side Hustles Are Made For Modern Millennials
 

You can only connect the dots looking backwards.
— Steve Jobs

 
 
Note: I was at the “basic needs” portion of this pyramid for most of my young adult life.

Note: I was at the “basic needs” portion of this pyramid for most of my young adult life.

 

Jennie here.

Up until five years ago, I was stuck at the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. After college I moved across the country to Boston, a city where I had no family, few friends, and no professional network. I even had to get a $2,500 loan from Ivan just to stay afloat, while I worked several part-time jobs for temp agencies and Club Monaco.

I was constantly hustling, going on failed interviews, and living paycheck to paycheck before I got my first job. At the time, taking side jobs was a necessity, not an option because I had real bills to pay. Rent, utilities, public transportation, food - it all added up to so much.

When I finally had a full-time salaried position - I thought I had made it. I thought there was nothing else I would need in this life except a stable job/income.

We've all been there, right? Frustrated and in some sort of millennial, quarter life crisis?

We've all been there, right? Frustrated and in some sort of millennial, quarter life crisis?

But, five years into my career - I became stagnant. Things felt too cushy and easy. Slowly, I forgot what it was like to struggle.

That’s when I realized something:

  • I’m not even doing what I love.
  • I’m 100% replaceable at my job.

  • Is the rest of my life going to look like this?

At any point, my job could be replaced by more senior or junior roles, consultants, contractors, freelancers, or realistically - it could be moved offshore to cheaper labor or eventually automated. I realized that I was just a small cog in the machine and I had no real power. I felt powerless and frankly - it threw me into an existential crisis.

What was I going to do with my life?

What did I want to come out of it?

Am I really going to tie my self-worth to a job?

This is when I started reevaluating my entire professional career. And that evaluation led me back to the side hustle.  


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Side Hustles


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What is a side hustle?

According to research conducted by GoDaddy, 1 in 2 millennials have a side hustle. There are three consistent components across all side hustles:

  1. Side hustles are typically not your primary income.

  2. Side hustles should add, not subtract from your financial stability.

  3. Side hustles empowers you with the freedom/choice to decide when, where and how you want to work.

There are two primary reasons why people pursue side hustles:

  1. Some people pursue a side hustle as a means to make some extra cash - to add to their overall net worth. More money allows you the flexibility to buy / consume what you want. For example, you need more money to take that vacation to Hawaii or you want to buy that new laptop, or you simply want to save money for a downpayment on a house. I’ve met Uber drivers who are parents that work full-time and do Uber part-time just to help pay the bills or to cover private school expenses for their children. And that’s great! More power to you if you can make that conscious choice.

  2. Others pursue a side hustle with the intention of creating financial independence and/or pursuit of a longer term passion or dream. In this instance, a side hustle is an asset that works for you; you don’t work for it. A side hustle is not a part-time job, nor is it part of the gig economy. If the intention of a side hustle is to create financial independence, then working within the gig economy accomplishes the exact opposite. In a world where technology automates and streamlines everything, most businesses that participate in the gig economy are in a constant race to the bottom. Think about how freelancers compete against each other on Fiverr (Ivan hates Fiverr and this commercial)- then imagine a version of this happening (eventually) to every industry.

Editor’s note: I’d rather clean toilets for free than let Fiverr earn a cent of commission off my back. There’s more dignity in it.


Why should millennials have a side hustle?

  • It increases your earning power and in turn - increasing your choices. It’s crucial to diversify your income/revenue streams because it ultimately means more choices. We can choose to diversify our revenue through investing in our 401Ks / retirement funds; another way to have more income is to re-invest your incoming revenue/income to fuel a side hustle or passion project.
     

  • Side hustles hedge against becoming stagnant and feeling cheated in your life. There are higher stakes when money is involved. Think of it as an incentive against continuing a mundane life where you dream about having “something more”. Think about it: are you really doing what you want to do right now? If you are, then great...but for the rest of us - a job is often just a job.
     

  • You can build something that’s just yours. Startups are cropping up all over the place to fill industry gaps and solve inefficiencies in our daily lives. However, the people who add lasting value are the ones who can find creative solutions to reimagine the norm - and doing it with their own unique twist. What you can contribute to society? Do you have a special talent or ridiculous knowledge about one subject matter? I’ve always wanted to do well at my job (and still do), but I’ve found that tying my self worth with my job just isn’t making me any happier. I want to create something that no one else can take credit for.


Four Things That I Did That Worked For My Side Hustle


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My own experience with side hustles:

  • How it began. It started when I realized that my job would always be tied to someone else’s business and someone else’s dreams. That’s when I ended up taking a real hard look at my life and what I wanted out of it. Think about it: what are you missing in your life? Do you want to travel more? Make more money? Pursue another career path?

    What do you want?

    For me, I wanted autonomy and more choice. I wanted autonomy and trust in my professional work. And I also wanted to travel and be location-independent. What’s more, I wanted the two choices to co-exist on the same platform.
     

  • How to begin. About six months ago, I started to look around in search of ‘gaps’ in the system. What could I do that was worthwhile to others, while also being fulfilling to me on a personal level? I realized that I had connections (or acquaintances) to startups that might need help with content generation. And how did I begin? I just started reaching out to several people that I knew to see if anyone would be interested in working with me. It took awhile but I started to get a few contracts. The money really wasn’t as important as proving to myself that I could start adding value anywhere.
     

  • Defining your side hustle goal. What is it that you want out of this experience? At first, Ivan and I had one simple goal: make enough cash (from our side hustles) to cover our monthly expenses (~$2,500). Once we had a number, we worked backward on how many projects and hours we would need to achieve that goal.
     

  • Being realistic about your side hustle. Let’s be real. Side hustles aren’t for everyone. And sometimes, it’s easier to just join the gig economy. But, if you don’t try...then how will you know?


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To our wonderful readers, I’d love to hear about more of your thoughts and experiences on this topic!

  • Do you have a side hustle? Or are you considering one?
  • What does that do for you right now? And where do you want to take it?

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2017 End of Year Money Diary: Cost of Living in Los Angeles

The Origami Life couple made some progress in December 2017. We were able to save $5,172 in December 2017 and now officially have $32,228 (out of $40,000 goal) saved for our round the world trip savings. With less than eight months left until our big trip...we're getting really excited about our next chapter!


December 2017 Money Diary

 
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The Origami Household:

2017 Financial Year in Review


Ivan here.

Total household spending last year was $37,675, or roughly $3,140 per month. If you take out the $1,000 in charitable donations, the average drops to $3,056 per month.

$3,056 per month is the cost for a married couple in their late 20s to live exactly the way they want in one of the costliest cities in the world. At this budget, we never deny ourselves anything.

This is privilege and wealth above and beyond our contribution to society.  Our financial goal for this past year was to save over 50% of our income and spend $37,000 for the entirety of 2017. We succeeded in the first (57%), but overshot the second by $675. We’re not going to beat ourselves up over this. Life happens. Nobody’s perfect.

This year, we’ll do better.


A Closer Look at Our 2017 Expenses: 

Things We Prioritized and Things We Gave Up


 
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Jennie and I believe an effective budget includes priorities AND sacrifices.  If time and money are finite resources, prioritizing certain things means giving other things up.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of what we prioritized and what we gave up over the past year in each of our expense categories:
 

What We Spent On Rent and Bills:

$19,904 a year, $1,658 per month

 
 

We Prioritized Month-to-Month Flexibility

One of our goals at the beginning of the year was to move to a different neighborhood in Los Angeles that was: (a) more aligned with our way of life and (b) cheaper to rent.

At the beginning of 2017, we went to several showings of apartments in different neighborhoods. Then we ran the numbers, and concluded that the cost savings wasn’t worth the effort. In April, our current lease on our studio expired and moved to month-to-month. By some miracle, our landlord didn’t raise our rent this past year! With only 8 months left now before we leave LA to go on our round the world trip, we decided to prioritize flexibility over signing another one year lease.

We Gave Up (Most) Subscriptions

Outside of essentials like internet ($65 per month) and phone ($60 per month), we stay away from paid subscriptions of any kind. Ok, one exception was Costco ($55/year), but since Jennie got rid of her car, the savings on gas becomes irrelevant to us in 2018. Therefore, Costco is getting cancelled. 

The reason businesses love the subscription model is the reason we hate it. Paying someone for the privilege to consume (in time or money), with fees that are renewed automatically whether we’re using it or not? I’ve got a better idea: why don’t you pay me? Because unless your business offers something I couldn’t live without, you need me more than I need you.
 

What We Spent On Groceries:

$3,683 a year, $306 per month

 
 

We Prioritized Cheap, Fresh Produce

In Southern California, we have an embarrassment of riches in terms of cheap, fresh produce available at farmer’s markets year round: black kale by the bunch, every variant of orange and stone fruit (e.g. nectarines, plums, and pluots) in the summer, and avocados the size of softballs.

We Gave Up Meat & Poultry

If I were to give a rough estimate, I’d say we consumed 50% less meat in 2017 than we did in 2016. While I’d like to say this was for ethical or health reasons, the truth is far less mature and admirable: we just don’t like handling raw meat when we cook. It wastes time and makes us lose our appetites. We’ll still order meat when we eat out though.
 

What We Spent On Education & Investments:

$3,527 a year, $294 per month

 
 

We Prioritized Functional Investments and Passion Projects

Expenses in this category include the following:

  • Educational fees (eg. Ivan’s final CFA exam fee and immigration processing fees)

  • Jennie’s art supplies

  • Ivan’s books

  • Round the world trip gear that we’re steadily accumulating in preparation for September 2018

At the beginning of 2017, Jennie created a list of ALL the items we’ll need for our round the world trip (Jennie’s note: Because I’ve got foresight and I’m awesome). Then it was just a matter of setting up automatic price alerts (we recommend Honey) and waiting patiently for the right deal to be delivered to our inbox. Because we planned in advance, we were able to take advantage of retail pricing strategies, instead of letting retail take advantage of us. I follow a very similar approach for travel hacking and airline points. Our tip? Have a plan and work backwards. The longer you can wait on things, the cheaper you can get them for.

We Gave Up on Style and Fashion

Any sort of investment in style and appearances took a backseat in 2017. We spent less than $500 between the two of us on clothing this past year. As it turned out, nobody noticed - the staple items in our wardrobe worked just fine.
 

What We Spent On Eating Out & Entertainment:

$3,215 a year, $268 per month

 
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We Prioritized Mom and Pop Restaurants

Jennie and I define “fine dining” as any meal over $40 per person including tax and tip. As the Koreans in K-town have figured out, one way to increase the razor thin margins in the restaurant business and lower your overhead is to set up shop with your family.

We Gave Up Fine Dining and Social Drinking

Both of us feel uncomfortable being waited on for different reasons: Jennie because of her experience waiting tables when she was a teenager, and me because I like being left alone.

We’ve also stopped spending money on social drinking. Outside of a glass of wine, beer, or Soju to make food taste better (eg. spicy food, barbecue, seafood), social drinking is an oxymoron for me, since I grow quieter and less sociable the more alcohol I consume. Then I fall asleep. In Jennie’s case, her tolerance just isn’t what it used to be.  
 

What We Spent On Travel:

$3,106 a year, $259 per month

 
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We Prioritized Family and Domestic Travel

We went on 7 trips this past year:

  1. San Francisco (twice)

  2. Denver for family (twice)

  3. Taipei for family (Ivan only)

  4. Albuquerque for family (Jennie only)

  5. Camping in Yosemite National Park w/ friends

  6. Camping in Joshua Tree National Park w/ friends

  7. Cross country train trip across the USA (8 cities in 15 days)

Seeing as how both of us might be gone for a very long time starting September 2018, we prioritized family and North American friends this year. This had the unintentional benefit of saving us a lot of dough on accommodations.

We Gave Up International Travel

 
 

For now. We’re giving up international travel for now.
 

What We Spent On Other Miscellaneous Items:

$2,052 a year, $171 per month


We Prioritized Breakfast Together

On average, we spend $7 per day, five mornings a week, for breakfast and coffee together. Jennie and I have grown quite attached to the Cambodian husband and wife team that’s running our favorite donut shop, and we’ve made it our personal mission to transfer all of our miscellaneous budget to them.

It’s nice to walk into a place and be treated like regulars. The donut shop in the morning is also where we come up with most of our ideas for this blog.

We Gave Up Processed Junk Food

 
haribo.jpg
 

Sort of. Jennie has a Shin Ramyun and Hot Fries addiction so she’ll buy a bag every now and then. For me, it’s all about gummies. Not for the taste or sugar - I just like to chew on stuff. My favorite is the Haribo Egg (Oeufs au Plat) Gummies I discovered on a trip to Paris in 2016. They’re tough and have the consistency of rubber (which is good because they last longer).

And that’s our financial year in a nutshell!

* * *

What are some things that you’ve prioritized in 2018? 

What are the things you’re willing to give up for it?

* * *



 

 

The Origami Life: 2017 Year In Review & 2018 Priorities

The Origami Life: 2017 Year In Review


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Jennie here. Happy New Year!

It’s that time again - another new year to look forward to. So, how did we stack up to our 2017 goals that we committed to in January 2017?

We graded ourselves against our goals with the following table:


The Origami Life 2017 Goals 2017 Assessment Reasoning / Explanation
Personal Finance 1. Save at least 50% of our salary.
2. Move into a cheaper apartment.
3. Donate 1-2% of our (post-tax) earnings.
A+ Boom. A+ because we did everything...except move into a cheaper apartment. In the end, we realized that we’ve got less than a year left so the costs of moving outweighed the savings and convenience. Alas, the ever shifting priorities of our lives...
Travels
1. Travel across the country by rail. A+ This was meant to be our “goodbye America” tour so it felt great to achieve this goal last year.
Relationship 1. Power down all electronics by 9pm every day.
2. Volunteer together in 2017.
3. Be kinder to each other.
A- We totally failed the powering down of electronics by 9pm. Korean dramas are an unhealthy addiction.

However, we did make another change in our relationship - we went running together every week and also had coffee/breakfast together every morning without electronics. We decided to get healthier together and we also chat a lot more about our day ahead and what’s on our minds. This has fundamentally improved our relationship.

On the volunteer front, we’ve put in at least 5-10 hours a month in volunteering between the two of us since April 2017 (mostly Ivan) - with the exception of October when we went on our three week train trip.
Individual Goals / Personal Goals Jennie:
1. Practice drawing for 30+ minutes a day.
2. Read (a book) for 30+ minutes a day.
3. Exercise two to three times a week.
4. Send more emails/correspondences to my loved ones and friends.

Ivan:
1. Write and submit one new article for publication every week.
2. Complete the first draft of my novel by June 1, 2017.
3. Study for the final CFA exam for at least 30 minutes per day.
4. Run two to three times a week.
5. Read 52 long novels by the end of this year.
D










C
Jennie:
So I’ll give myself like a ~3 out of 4 on this one. I achieved the exercise and reaching out to friends more in 2017, but dropped the ball on my creative ambitions (drawing and reading). Now that exercising has become a healthy part of my weekly routine, I want to use 2018 to re-focus my efforts on creative endeavors. There was a concerted effort here and I actually learned a lot about my shifting priorities.



Ivan:
I managed to complete 60% of each goal. For example, I wanted to write 80,000 words for my novel, but only managed 45k. I ran 1-2 times a week instead of 2-3. I read 32 novels this year instead of 52. My freelance goal changed partway through the year when I picked up some large clients and projects - so my publication goal went out the window. I studied for and passed my final CFA exam.
All in all, to say I’m not happy would be an understatement. Obviously, I didn’t follow my own advice about priorities and spread myself too thin (again). I’ve taken steps to fix this and to tie up loose ends in 2018. More on this in a later post.

At the beginning of last year, we were feeling pretty gung ho about our ambitions and our potential to achieve EVERYTHING. And well, it didn’t go perfectly as planned but we managed to achieve most of the important priorities we had together. If I’m being kind, I would give us an overall ‘B’ or ‘B-’ for the year but there’s definitely some room for improvement in 2018.
 


The Origami Life’s Big 2017 Revelation:


If you have more than three priorities, you have no priorities at all.
— Ivan (guy who didn’t listen to himself)

We had two major realizations this past year as we were working through our goals and priorities:

  1. We realized something towards the end of 2017 - we can’t do it all. And, if we’re being honest, some priorities changed and new goals emerged throughout the year. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, we need to pare down our goals.
     

  2. New year, new me’ isn’t a real thing. Instead of being different people, we need to be ourselves more completely in 2018, and boil things down to the essentials of what we truly value. You can read Ivan’s introspective end of year post here - he covers a different kind of annual review.
     

What were our highlights from 2017?

  • Personal finance: We saved 57% of our income in 2017. It was difficult but we did it. We’ve set ourselves up for an easier transition this coming September as we plan to leave for our round the world trip.
     

  • Travel: Our biggest highlight was traveling across the country by Amtrak train. It was probably one of the most inspiring and productive trips I’ve ever had. I got to meet strangers on a train and we reconnected with a few friends along our pit stops.
     

  • Relationship: We started running together in the mornings. I still hate this but it’s actually helped improve our overall productivity, health, and relationship. We’re choosing to be more intentional with our time together.
     

What were our lowest points from 2017?

  • Slumps happen. Ivan and I both experienced slumps at different parts of the year - for me, it came during the summer and for him, it was the start of winter. There were several tough weeks that we had to work through on our own. All you can do is acknowledge that you’re in a slump and work yourself out of it. And remember, it’s okay to fall into slumps because it’s a natural part of life. Do you know anyone who is 100% on their game all the time? If not, then be kind and give yourself a break.
     

The Origami Life: Our Priorities For 2018


What areas will We focus on in 2018?

This year is about leveling up on the foundation we’ve built over the last year.

We’ve found that keeping to a handful of specific and high level goals/priorities gave us a lot of focus and room to grow this past year. And we will continue with the following categories in our annual goals/resolutions post:

  1. Personal Finance

  2. Travel

  3. Relationship
     

Personal Finance Priorities in 2018

  1. Decrease our annual expenses from $37,000 down to $36,000. Last year, we managed to save more than 50% of our annual income and it felt amazing. This year, we’re challenging ourselves to scrimp a little more and bring our total annual expenses down to $36,000 for the entire year - that’ll be about $3,000 a month - including charitable donations.
     

  2. Continue to donate 1-2% of our (post-tax) earnings to charitable causes. After the 2016 election year, we thought a lot about how we want to show our support for the causes we care about. And we’ve been fortunate enough to actually donate and be more intentional about giving to causes we care about.

    You can read more about our 2017 donations (and Money Diaries) here:

Travel Priorities in 2018

We have had one major travel goal for the past two years, and 2018 is the year when we finally set off!

  1. Before we both turn 30 this year, we plan on leaving for our Round The World (RTW) travels by September 1, 2018. We’ll travel for 15 months or until we get tired of living abroad.

It’s almost unreal to think that the past two years of saving, getting healthier, and living more intentionally and minimalist/simple lives has been leading up to this one goal. We haven't purchased our one way tickets yet but we've planned out all the steps leading up to this big life change.

Some of the scarier steps here include quitting / giving notice at a well paying job, saying goodbye to loved ones, and preparing for a life abroad and living out of a 40L travel backpack.
 

Relationship Priorities in 2018

us.

We’ve had a tough year because we’re both overachievers and control freaks who want things done a certain way. This led to a lot of arguments between us over who was “right”. It was hard. We had a lot of good days but when some days got tough - they got really tough. For example, when I was going through a slump and had a challenging or when Ivan had an unproductive writing day - we argued a lot on those days.

This year we’re trying to work on our individual priorities to help improve our overall relationship together.

Here’s Ivan’s relationship priority in 2018 for my sake:

  1. Be nicer and don’t take my personal frustrations out on my wife: I have a problem with my temper and I’ll be the first to admit it. Apologizing immediately afterwards doesn’t make things better either. Most of the time, it’s not even Jennie’s fault. I’m just a control freak with dictator tendencies who gets extremely irritated with interruptions - especially if the work isn’t going well.  

Here’s my relationship priority in 2018 for Ivan’s sake:

  1. I will give Ivan more space to himself. We live in a studio apartment together and it’s hard to have space, but what I realized (real late) was that Ivan needed complete and total privacy to write his fiction. He’s an extreme introvert and is just the type of person who needs time alone in a room to be productive. This year, I will be more considerate by way of giving him more space to just be.


Looking Forward To Another Exciting Year in 2018
...While Also Being More Realistic


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So, that brings us to the end of our post. I’ve aired some dirty laundry and have shared our faults with all of our Origami Life readers because I think that being honest with you, helps us be honest with ourselves too.

So thank you for an amazing 2017, for reading our posts, and for sharing this experience with us.

  • How was your 2017? 
  • Are you superhuman and achieved everything you set out to do? 
  • And what’s on your priority/goals list for 2018? 
  • Do you have any tips or tricks on how we can achieve our priorities this year?

And this leads us to one final priority we want to share with you:

  1. We want to engage with our readers more.

As we move forward with this blog, we’d love to understand what you take away from our blog posts. We want to learn more about you and figure out ways to improve our content so that it positively benefits your lives as well. Feel free to email us - we read and respond to all of your emails and comments! Let us know what you think or questions you might have.

Good luck and we can’t wait to share our 2018 experience with all of you.  
 



How to Be Yourself in 2018
Say what you are. Not what you would like to be. Not what you have to be. Just say what you are. And what you are is good enough.
— John Cassavetes

Year in Review: Our Playlist for 2017


Ivan here. 

Good music is like a shortcut to the subconscious. A decent musician can walk to places that a writer has to sprint to.

So before I give you all my paragraphs about how I felt about 2017, here’s a playlist Jennie and I compiled for the year -  one song for every month. Most of these songs are from albums we loved that came out this year - mixed with some 80s synth pop to drown out the internal screaming.

How did 2017 go for me personally? Jennie and I will have another post to go into the specifics, but to sum it up, I’d say it probably went better than I feel about it at the moment. As usual, I found myself making the same mistakes, disregarding the same advice that I'd easily hand out to others. Again, I bit off more than I could chew and had to scramble during the second half of the year to snatch partial victories from the jaws of overwhelming defeat.

But this post isn’t about me - it’s about all of us.


A Different Kind of Annual Review:

Why We Need To Be Ourselves in 2018


If I could summarize 2017 with one statement, I’d say that this was the year when two worlds collided: the world of our beliefs (i.e. how we’d like to see things) and the world of consequences (i.e. what we actually did about it)

When optimism (or delusion) meets reality, the effects can feel quite disorienting.

In 2017, we saw case after case of people who spent their careers signaling truth and decency, but in the post-Weinstein world, we’ve discovered that when the chips were down, a lot of people failed to be neither true nor decent.  

More specifically, I’d divide these cases into two camps:

  1. People who believed the right things but did the exact opposite

  2. People who believed the right things but did nothing

In a way, it’s healthy that we’re starting to see things the way they truly are. It’s brought us closer to a shared version of reality. To quote Annie Dillard, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

It’s a shame so many people had to get hurt before we’re finally coming to our senses.


Forget New Year’s Resolutions:

Let’s Talk Values and Priorities


Appearances and signals of virtue/prestige/credibility/success is the exact opposite of how Jennie and I would like to conduct our lives.

Neither of us want to wake up one day and realize that we weren’t the people we claimed we were, that our values and priorities never translated into anything that we ended up doing. Or worse, that everything had been an act - a play we put on for other people because it looked good - that there were no real principles or values underneath.

Yeah, a wasted life scares us.


An Origami Worldview: Fix Yourself Before You Fix The World


Our lives are composed of a finite series of choices: of how we spend our time and how we spend our money.

We believe that every incremental hour or dollar spent:

  1. stands for something beyond that hour or dollar
  2. has consequences on the wider world around us.

Enough people spending their time a certain way adds up to a certain type of culture. Enough people spending money adds up to a market with certain types of incentives. And when you add everything up, we’re all invested (or complicit) in the system we’ve created and the future we’re creating.

It’s easy to point to the monsters around us and use them as scapegoats. Our elected officials are owned by corporate interests. Wall Street is greedy. The President is narcissistic and ignorant with a limited attention span. Congrats, we’ve now established that monsters will be monsters. What do you want - a Pulitzer Prize?  

The more interesting questions to ask are:

  • Who's funding corporate power over our influencers?

  • Whose greed allowed Wall Street to earn their commissions?

  • And are we really in a position to criticize narcissism and snap judgments on Twitter?

At the end of the day, the best way to fix the system is to fix ourselves.


A Practical Guide:

How To Be True to Yourself in 2018


Within ten days you will seem a god to those to whom you are now a beast and an ape, if you will return to your principles and the worship of reason.
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


At the Origami Life, Jennie and I try to take observations (or criticisms) and transform them into something constructive and practical.

" New year, new me."

From reading the most common resolutions of 2018, we get the impression that people are hoping to become totally new versions of themselves, as if a switch will flip, and the world will suddenly change on January 1st.

But none of these things will happen if we continue to live with the results of other people’s thinking, with the narratives of ideology and battlelines, of performing our lives in front of an audience - instead of thinking and feeling as individuals.

If anything, instead of being different people, we need to be ourselves more completely in 2018, and boil things down to the essentials of what we truly value.
 

1. Make a statement about who you are

Before you figure out what you should do, first you have to decide what you stand for. What do you value? It’s rare that I meet a person who deep down, doesn’t want to do the “right” thing. But how can we know what the “right” thing is with all the noise around us?

One exercise I like to do is to summarize what I value in a single sentence, then I’ll ask myself ‘Why?’ three times in a row.

 

 
 

Ivan's Value Statement:

The thing I value most is independence - the ability to make choices, to add value to the lives of the people I care about.

  1. Why? Because I have a problem with authority and groupthink.

  2. Why? Because I value individuals and their freedom to say or do whatever they like - even if it’s misguided - as long as their wrongness comes from an honest place.

  3. Why? Because life is absurd and meaningless, and since everyone must be going through the same thing, it’s important to be true to ourselves and to empathize with others.

 
 

 

2. List all the things that are stopping you from being that person

List out all the instances in the past year where you fell short of who you imagine yourself to be. This could be anything from purchases you made, time wasted on something, things you wish you could’ve said, relationships you wish you could’ve started/ended.
 

3. Prioritize no more than three things on that list

One of the least appreciated things about personal growth is that you can’t have priorities without sacrifice. It’s literally in the definition: if certain things are more important to you than others, then it’s equally important to STOP DOING the least important things.

In 2018, people around the world want to eat better, exercise more, spend less money, pay down their debt, get more sleep, read more books, learn a new skill, get a new job, make new friends, and find a new hobby. Well, which is it? Some of these goals are clearly contradictory.

If you have more than three priorities, you have no priorities at all.
 

4. Do the hardest part first

The hardest part is starting something. Not tomorrow, not next week, not when you’re sufficiently prepared or running out of excuses. Today. No matter how small the step.
 

5. Grind your way to better habits

I have this theory that we’re defined by what we do when we have little incentive to do anything. Doing something when everyone else is equally motivated is called “breaking even.” We don’t go anywhere when we break even - we’re just catching up to the average.

Everyone is filled with hope and optimism on January 1st. Everyone is signing up for that gym membership, cranking up that Mint app, or waking up at the crack of dawn. But when reality sets in sometime in February or March, we find ourselves staring into the abyss. This is the abyss created by January’s expectations and the reality that change is almost universally slow and painful.

And what we choose to do when faced with that abyss will mean everything.

* * * 

On that happy note, what are some things that went well in your life over the past year?
What were the things you struggled with?
What’s your perspective moving into 2018?  

Jennie and I would love to hear from you in the new year!

* * * 



30 Things We Believe That People Might Disagree With Us On

Ivan here. 

I don't know if it's the sun setting by four in the afternoon, but for the past few weeks I've been suffering from my annual, end-of-the-year case of writer's block. Whenever this happens, I try to get myself out of the rut by substituting quality for quantity. For example, here's a not-very-good poem I wrote titled "I'm Not Myself Today":

I'm Not Myself Today

These hands are some guy's hands
These thoughts are some guy's thoughts
My days are shown on rerun
In a land that time forgot

I'll keep these fingers moving
Through the silence in the air
Past the age of politeness
Beyond the point to care.

Another thing I like to do is make lists - tons of lists - about anything that crosses my mind. Taking a page from Silicon Valley, I've compiled a list of 30 things Jennie and I believe that people might disagree with us on - categorized by the three subjects we cover here at The Origami Life: money, travel and love. 

Keep in mind that while Jennie and I really do believe these things, the truth is probably a bit less black-and-white. 


Money:

10 Things We Believe About Money


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  1. Most people don’t make choices, but are forced to accept their circumstances.

  2. Every household should operate like a lean, bootstrapped business.

  3. Maintaining a fuck-off fund is more valuable than anything money can buy

  4. Beyond the basics (food, shelter, physical/mental health), most financial problems we experience in the developed world are just weaknesses.

  5. Investing isn’t about maximizing your return, but about minimizing your mistakes.

  6. Buying a home early in your career may be the right purchase, but is rarely a good investment.

  7. The financial success of others wouldn't hurt if you were secure in yourself - and shouldn’t influence you to make stupid and unnecessary gambles (*cough* bitcoin).

  8. Following the herd and consuming for appearances is a long term recipe for pain and unhappiness.

  9. Frugality and long term thinking could solve most of the world’s problems (eg. some of the US's money problems are actually consumption problems). 

  10. Money is not that important or interesting. People also need less of it than they think to lead fulfilling lives.


Travel:

10 Things We Believe About Travel


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  1. You are a consumer and tourist no matter how you travel. 
  2. Authenticity in travel is probably overrated. 
  3. Finding your authentic self is definitely overrated (‘you’ is not a static concept and ergo, impossible to find).
  4. If you’re from the developed world, traveling abroad is objectively cheaper than your normal life.
  5. Never setting foot outside your country/state/town is almost the definition of ignorance (while being able to is the definition of privilege). 
  6. Staying connected to your phone is the best way to disconnect from the moment.
  7. At some point, the number of places you’ve visited is inversely proportional to the depth of each experience. 
  8. Just because something is local or “part of the culture” doesn’t mean it’s good.
  9. Places, people and things are as meaningful as our mindset and degree of openness. 
  10. Take your time. Nothing good gets away.

Love & Relationships:

10 Things We Believe About Love


  1. There’s no such thing as ‘the one’ - only opportunity meeting circumstance.
  2. Arguments are the healthiest thing for a relationship.
  3. You can only compromise on details but not direction (if you want to go east and she wants to go west, compromise means you never go anywhere).
  4. There should be no restrictions on what can or can’t be brought up in a marriage.
  5. Feelings matter - but only after everything has been laid out on the table. In marriage, personal truths that aren’t expressed have no merit.
  6. A good relationship means two people being themselves completely for long periods of time and not hating each other for it.
  7. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your partner is nothing.
  8. Time apart from each other is both healthy and necessary.
  9. The secret to marital bliss is to consistently outperform low expectations.
  10. Most relationships don’t last forever; forcing it or pretending will only make things worse. 

So what do you think about these statements? Feel free to disagree! Also, what are some of things you believe that most people would disagree with you on? 



Origami Guides: Camping in Joshua Tree National Park

Jennie here!

It’s becoming a little tradition of ours to go camping during major fall and winter holidays. Last year, we went to Death Valley National Park and this year, we decided to get away from the city life and go camping in Joshua Tree National Park for Thanksgiving 2017. We got a bit of a reprieve from the frustrations of our daily life...while others spent time at large family dinners or shopping on Black Friday. Ignorance is bliss.


Who Should Use This

Joshua Tree National Park Guide?


This could be you at Joshua Tree National Park. AKA - BAMF..

This could be you at Joshua Tree National Park. AKA - BAMF..

This guide is meant for solo travelers and couples who are looking to do some digital detox from our crazy world.
Oh, and travelers who are really into scrambling, hiking, or star gazing.


WHAT ARE THE BEST TIMES IN THE YEAR

TO VISIT JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK?


It depends on what you want to do.

Spring is best for checking out the blooming desert wildflowers and the Fall and Winter are best for cooler weather and stargazing. Scrambling and hiking is available year round.

Avoid summer at all cost. It’s the desert so daytime temperatures from June through August hover around 100˚F (38˚C). If you plan on going during the summer, just plan your activities early in the morning or late afternoons; drink lots of water.

Note: Thanksgiving weekend was crowded. Since most campsites inside the park are first-come, first serve, we lucked into a spot as a family was leaving. Keep that in mind if you’re planning on come out during the holidays.


HOW DO I GET TO JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK?

Do I need a car for Joshua Tree?


Yes. Unfortunately, your only option is to drive. We came out from Los Angeles but the closest airports include the following:

  • Palm Springs International - 45 minutes from park headquarters

  • Ontario International - an hour and a half from the park

  • Los Angeles International, Burbank, and Long Beach Airports are all about two to three hours away depending on traffic

Regardless of where you come in from, you eventually have to hop in a car to get around.

Since we got rid our our car last month, we opted to rent a car from Sixt car rentals and only paid $178 for five days for unlimited mileage on a full-sized car. So, we spent about $35.60 per day on a car (split between four people).


WHERE SHOULD I STAY IN JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK?


Going to a place like Joshua Tree means that you’re looking to reconnect with nature a bit. And there’s no better way to do that than straight up camping. Choose any available campsite in the park. Most of the campsites are either $15 or $20 a night and operate on a first-come, first serve basis.

Here are a few campsites to consider:

  • Campsites at the edge of the park can be reserved in advance: Black Rock, Indian Cove
  • Campsites inside the park are all first-come, first-serve: Hidden Valley, Ryan, Jumbo Rocks, Belle, Sheep Pass, White Tank, and Cottonwood. 

If you’re not that big into nature and prefer the comforts of city life, there are a ton of nearby motels, hotels, and Airbnbs that you can seek out on your own.


HOW SHOULD I PACK FOR CAMPING AT JOSHUA TREE?


If you’re camping, these are the things you should be aware of:

  • There are washrooms AND toilet paper. Unless you’re backcountry camping, most J-Tree campsites come with bathrooms with toilet paper. However, these bathrooms are basically glorified porta-potties, meaning there's no running water or sink. Hand sanitizer is an absolute must!

  • Showers are accessible for campers right outside of the park. If you want to camp but also need to shower, there’s a souvenir shop right outside of the west entrance of the National Park and and it offers quick showers for $4.00.

  • There is NO, I repeat NO cellular service once you enter Joshua Tree National Park. Yeah, let that one sink in. Just let the smartphone go.

Most of my items for Joshua Tree camping are fairly similar to my Death Valley camping list

Here are a few items I recommend you pack:

For Your Comfort:

  • Fleece or vest jacket
  • Hand sanitizer (!)
  • Baby wipes (one pack for the face and one for...the nether regions)
  • Climbing gloves (for scrambling) - we bought cheap pairs from Daiso
  • Light blanket/throw for cooler evenings
  • Camping chairs or lightweight folding chairs
  • Wine because you don’t need to keep it cold
  • Ingredients for S’mores

Packing Food:

If you don't feel like cooking - we found the following food items worked:

  • Pita chips
  • Bagels
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Bananas or apples
  • Granola bars

J-Tree Necessities:

  • Lots of water. At least 1 gallon per person per day
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Hats

Note: If you don’t have everything - don’t worry. There’s actually a Walmart Supercenter in the neighboring town. It’s less than 10 minutes away from the western entrance of the national park. And you can easily purchase any camping necessities (e.g. firewood) or modern conveniences (e.g. batteries) you might need.


HOW DO I USE THIS JOSHUA TREE GUIDE?


For simplicity’s sake, this guide assumes that you’ll be based mainly inside Joshua Tree National Park and you’ve got a car to get around.

The map is divided into the following color-coded areas:

  • Outdoor activities are in Green

  • Foods spots are in Blue

  • The Yellow markers are for optional, more obscure sites

  • Camping sites are in Purple


Outdoor Activities in Joshua Tree National Park (in Green)


  • Rock scrambling and climbing. One of the park rangers at Joshua Tree mentioned that Joshua Tree should actually be re-named “Jumbo Rocks” because that’s what is really unique about the area. Many people from all over will come out just to spend the entire weekend scrambling or climbing at this rock “mecca”.

    Here are a few suggested areas to do some light scrambling:

    • Skull Rock: Often crowded but still cool for some beginner’s scrambling (and family friendly).

    • Hall of Horrors: Steeper drops but supposed to be pretty thrilling…

    • Hidden Valley: A ton of scrambling and climbing spots.
       

  • Hiking all over the park. The terrain is significantly flatter than I’ve seen at other places but still a pretty pleasant hiking experience. We saw lots of families hiking together along several paths. For the full list, check out the National Park Service website or ask a park ranger when you get there.

    Here are a few notable hikes you shouldn’t miss:
    • Fortynine Palms Oasis: Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail is 3 miles round trip with 350 feet of elevation change. Once you get into the canyon, you’ll see a cluster of Californian palm trees with boulders and pools of water threaded throughout this strange oasis. It’s a strange sight to see.

Note: We also did the Lost Horse Mine Loop...but the payoff was not worth it. It was a pretty flat and dull trail for the majority of the hike.

Because sunsets in Joshua Tree are that gorgeous. #nofilter

Because sunsets in Joshua Tree are that gorgeous. #nofilter

  • “Garden” viewing at the Cholla Cactus Garden. I actually found this view to be the most breathtaking outside of the sunsets at Joshua Tree. There’s something unexpected about seeing a vast stretch of these prickly cacti at J-Tree. Walk through it and tread lightly. You’ll probably get some needles stuck at the bottom sole of your shoes.
     
  • Sunsets at Joshua Tree National Park. My favorite moments were sitting on some large rock/boulder and just watching the sun slowly set after a long day of hiking and running around. And with no internet or cell service, I felt even more relaxed about the entire experience. It’s the type of beauty that makes you think about the big questions in your life.
     

  • Stargazing in the winter and spring months. If you can plan your trips around meteor shower events, I highly recommend spending it at Joshua Tree. There are also guided stargazing experiences at the Sky’s the Limit Observatory & Nature Center on most Saturdays. Check out the NPS website for their tips and tricks on stargazing at Joshua Tree.


Where To Eat At Joshua Tree (in Red)


We came during Thanksgiving so...unfortunately for us, nothing was open on Thanksgiving day. Our group ended up eating out at IHOP when we arrive and cooking food the rest of the trip.

Here are a few notable spots that came highly recommended:

  • Joshua Tree Coffee Company: Organic coffee roasted in only small batches. From what I’ve read this cafe is the perfect way to kickstart your morning. Sip your cup of joe on the attached patio deck as you get caffeinated and plan for a full day in Joshua Tree.

  • Crossroads Cafe: I got several recommendations for Crossroads Cafe from several trusted Angelenos. This place is right outside the west entrance of the park and offers filling meals, friendly service, and great options for lunch or breakfast.

See the shared map for a few more food suggestions. 


Stranger, More Obscure Activities

Near Joshua Tree National Park (in Yellow)


Everything I’m listing below are just free experiences because...why the hell not?

  • World Famous Crochet Museum: Essentially, a small shrine dedicated to the cozy art of crochet.

  • Noah Purifoy's Outdoor Desert Art Museum: 7.5 acres of "Environmental Sculptures". There’s something extremely sad and strange about the entire experience in the middle of nowhere.

  • Desert Jesus Park: A 3.5 acre sculpture garden park; I only found out after but the statues were moved here in 1951 by the local church. Words I’d use to describe this place: eerie, odd, creepy, strange...

  • Bob’s Crystal Museum: An eclectic “cave” with decorated crystals by Bob Carr in the middle of the Sky Villages Swap Meet. Worth a gander.

  • Cactus Mart: Eclectic and you can create your own mini-cacti garden at $0.59 a piece. A steal if I ever saw one.

* * *

Have you been camping at Joshua Tree National Park before? 

What did you and your group do differently?

Did you come across any unique experiences?



 

 

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.

Why?

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


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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.

the-origami-life-my-wallet-story.gif

I’ve had it for almost ten years. It looks like it'd been 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.

the-origami-life-my-wallet-pt2.JPG

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:

Screen Shot 2017-11-18 at 7.50.57 PM.png

2. What Will People Think

Seeing Us At a Bus Stop?


pexels-photo-136739-2.jpeg

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?


pexels-photo-122803-2.jpeg

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:


SOURCE: http://www.mingasson.com/features/los-angeles-by-bus
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 a light breakfast (usually just coffee + pastry) 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)


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$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, and 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.

 
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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?


 
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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? The state of Illinois being on the verge of bankruptcy 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 practically 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's 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 origamilifeblog@gmail.com.

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

See all the latest Daily Origami here.