Daniel’s mom bought me a t-shirt.
It was very nice of her to think of me. A shirt is one of the few gifts I can actually use right now, and it’s been a long time since I last went shopping for clothes. It’s the newest thing I own by far.
Can you keep a secret?
Just between you and me: I can’t stand this shirt. When I wear it in public, especially if we’re on a trail or in a National Park, I find myself crossing my arms so that other people can’t read it.
The shirt in question
Cute, right? It’s so relevant to our travels! WOOooo, we’re free spirits! We go wherever, whenever. We’ve thrown caution and risk-aversion to the wind. “There’s no need for a plan,” we tell people. “Just go!”
One peaceful weekday afternoon in late August, we found ourselves lying in the sun on a beach in Borsh, a small maritime village in the so-called Albanian Riviera. It was a perfect 30°C (86°F) with a light breeze. The Adriatic waters were warm and clear. Half a kilometer up the shore, an outdoor bar was serving mixed drinks and snacks.
“Ah, it almost feels like we’re in Maui!” I told Daniel.
Then an old man with one arm walked by selling watermelons from the back of his donkey.
We navigated the Sarajevo city bus system early one morning and rode to the international bus station on the outskirts of town. A minibus pulled up shortly after, with a small sign on the dashboard reading PODGORICA, the name of Montenegro’s capital city.
By this point in our Balkan travels, we had gotten shamelessly aggressive with boarding buses, trains, and other vessels. As soon as the vehicle pulled in, Daniel and I were right outside the door ready to show our tickets. You could see the discomfort in the faces of everyone waiting to board.
“Hmm… there are about eight of us, but only about four empty seats on this bus. How is this going to work?”
We claimed the last two open seats as the irked bus driver checked more tickets and tried to explain that the last passengers on board would need to stand in the aisle. At least on an oversold bus (as opposed to an oversold flight), no one gets bumped.
The road deteriorated quickly once we got out of Sarajevo, eventually turning into a one-and-a-half-lane gravel highway, part of which seemed to have disappeared thousands of meters down the mountainside. Across the aisle from my seat was a friendly deaf Bosnian man, who mimed a few gestures to me that I interpreted as “It looks like this bus is about to slide off this cliff!”
Later in the ride, as I distracted myself with my smartphone, the man grabbed my attention again. He smiled widely, showing a mouth of about three teeth, and jokingly contrasted my effortless screen-swiping with the physical force it took to get his old Nokia phone to even register a button press. It was an amusing reminder that we western travelers must just seem to exude wealth, even when supposedly traveling simply.
Entering Montenegro on a one-lane bridge
Let’s say you’ve worked hard to build your income and spend less than you earn, and you’re growing your savings with each passing month. Maybe you’re experimenting with new, borderline-uncomfortable levels of frugal living. Perhaps you’ve even started building a side hustle or two to boost those savings even more. Nicely done!
With all those dollars left over, you have a choice to make: where do you put them? If you’re still holding high-interest consumer debt, the answer is pretty easy. But once you’ve emerged into net worth-positive territory, the choices get more complicated.
We want our hard-earned money to grow as much as possible, of course, but we’re also concerned about mitigating downside risk. Putting 100% of our earnings into Powerball tickets might turn out to be a lucrative strategy, but we’d probably prefer something a bit safer – something without a significant chance of leaving us broke.
There’s something really uplifting in seeing what a generation can do to a place that looked downright hopeless twenty years ago.
After a few weeks of coastal relaxation in Croatia, we traveled north to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The apparently short journey (131 kilometers, or about 81 miles) ended up taking over six hours by bus. We crossed into Bosnia and Herzegovina, then back into Croatia, then back to our destination country once more – each time enjoying a long queue of vehicles and an apparent joke of a passport inspection. Hey, not all parts of international travel are glamorous!