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February 24, 2009

Mas Madrid...

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This is the line to get into the Prado. Muy largo!

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The Prado Museum is amazing. They have a fantastic collection. But no museums let you take photos inside anymore, even with flash off. Bummer.

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On the street, I noticed this sex shop featuring American movies, and in the green lettering just above the word "American" in says "Californosa!" Nice. Our major export... porn.

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Heh. The antique gay pharmacy! Yes, I am five.

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I love to grocery shop in other countries.

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Bimbo bread!

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The best kind of museum: The Museum of HAM!

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I spent several afternoons in the Plaza Santa Ana, it was sunny and lovely and one day this band showed up and started playing Zydeco music. Seriously.

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I spent a day at the Reina Sofia, they have an amazing collection but the layout is a little like viewing art in Alcatraz. The coffee shop was lovely, though. A cafe con leche for one euro twenty.

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I saw one of these in London, too, but the Madrid Church of Scientology was HUGE. I thought that was just an L.A. thing?

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The Puerta Del Sol in the daytime.

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Cute window display with a knitted cactus and a knitted cake. Actually, it might be crochet. Anyway, it was cute.

- - -


One of my coworkers stopped me in the hallway the day before I left for vacation.

"Where are you off to this time?" she asked.

"Madrid," I said.

"How in the world do you afford all this?" she asked, in a voice that implied I was about to embark on a three-month voyage to the moon.

"Well," I said, "I don't buy stuff. I don't buy anything really unless I need it, and so now I spend money I used to spend buying junk on traveling. I don't buy magazines or DVDs or placemats or trinkets or earrings. I drive a fourteen year old car. So my priorities are just different, I guess."

"Oh," she said. "That makes sense!"

This month I noticed more than a few raised eyebrows from people who had thoughts of their own about my travel plans, especially in light of the doom and gloom news we hear every day about the world spiraling into a dire dust bowl of despair. The news has affected me, too, even though I try not to let it leak in... more than once I reconsidered taking this little vacation. Was it wise? How much would it cost me to cancel the flight? Should I be spending anything at all? But I had budgeted for it, and it seemed silly not to go on a few days of vacation because of free-floating anxiety.

I guess I got used to living well within (and below) my means way before the economy tanked and I do realize I am very fortunate -- fortunate to have learned how to budget, fortunate be employed and fortunate to have the choice of saving or spending the way I best see fit. And I'm grateful for all of that.

But mostly I am grateful I finally learned how to make good financial decisions. I chose not to buy a house I could ill-afford even when everyone I knew was telling me I was a fool for renting and that I could qualify for a zero-down loan. (By the way, no one gives me that piece of unsolicited advice anymore.) I chose to drive the same old car instead of buying something new and locking myself into monthly payments. I chose to stop spending money on superfluous stuff a year ago so I could focus on experiences, not decorations.

However, I have to admit that the constant dour news about the economy makes me feel a little guilty, guilty for living my life when I know so many people are struggling to make ends meet. It's weird, feeling guilty for something that's not yours to control. I wonder where that comes from? Is there such a thing as economic survivor's guilt?

I didn't mind answering my coworker's question. A few years ago I would have been sensitive about it, or felt bad for what someone else saw as extravagance. But it's not like I'm having octuplets on welfare checks or giving my cats million-dollar bonuses on the taxpayer dime. I work hard and manage my money very, very carefully. And I believe that finding the money to do anything -- including travel -- is sometimes just a shift of perception and priorities. For example, the average American car payment ranges between $380 and $460 per month. I drive a car that is paid-off (read: practically antique) and I take care of it and use mass transit whenever possible to help my Jeep live as long as it can. Now, assuming I would have a car payment of $400 if I bought a new car, each vacation I take is roughly the equivalent of three months of car payments. (Hawaii in December was the exception, it was probably 4.5 car payments.) It's just math, you see, not voodoo. Money isn't magic and it's not even that complicated -- managing money is about discipline and paying attention. It doesn't matter if you've allotted the numbers in your budget to a car, to a house or to a plane ticket ... the key is to actually use a budget.

Perception is endlessly fascinating. For me, the very idea of buying a new car is terrifying. You have to make a huge decision on which car to buy and you want to make the right decision because you're committed to that car for years of your life. That's overwhelming to me. And you might have to haggle, which feels like Dante's seventh circle of consumer hell. And then you have this new expensive thing that you worry about, and you get paranoid about dings and spills and scrapes and all of it sounds awful to me. It sounds like something that will require research and commitment and cash and it makes me wonder if I can get another good five years out of Big Red.

To some people buying a car is no big deal at all. To them it's much easier than randomly snapping up a cheap airfare to some distant city, getting on a plane and walking around a bunch of strangers. To me, traveling is relaxing and I don't worry about the hotel because there are always other hotels, and I don't worry about where to go or what to see because there's always something to see. I put less research into my vacations than I do into my haircuts. It's just a few days out of your life when you take pictures and order wine in a new language and deconstruct airline food. But to other folks this idea makes them break out in hives of anxiety. So I guess, like everything, it's all in the way you look at it.

I'm not sure if I'll be traveling again for a while, the pervasive economic doom makes me feel like I should be squirreling away every dime. But it was a fun trip, a nice few days away.

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Last night in Madrid. Adios!

Posted by laurie at February 24, 2009 7:33 AM