Life and luxury

One thing that annoys me: when people see my digital camera, or laptop, or (this is where it especially happens) hear about my planned 2-month trip to Bahia, and say, “Oooo, how chic! Oh, what a hard life you have,” while smiling wryly as if to say, “Of COURSE you can afford those luxuries; you’re a rich American.”

However, it’s really not about money… it’s about priorities. My wages here in the Brazilian economy are decent, but not extravagant. And the reason I can afford such “luxuries” like a two-month vacation to Bahia is because…

  • I do not own (and have never owned) either a cell phone or a car
  • I shopped around in São Carlos until I found the cheapest living arrangement possible
  • In my house, we only have basic TV (about seven channels), no internet, and we try to conserve water and electricity
  • I don’t make phone calls long-distance or out of the country
  • I buy my clothes at discount/bargain prices
  • I keep my food costs down by grocery shopping rather than eating out all the time
  • I rarely spend money on alcohol, parties, and “going out”
  • I did not travel or party at all for Carnaval
  • As for the digital camera and laptop, both of them are simple, inexpensive models, not top-of-the-line releases with a hundred gadgets and accessories.
  • I have no credit card debt, because I don’t buy stuff I don’t need and can’t afford.

The savings from these things add up… but no one notices the “sacrifices,” all they notice is that I’m going on vacation for two months, and conclude that therefore I must be rich. I really feel that it’s not how much you make, but how you spend it. It’s a question of trade-offs; it’s a conscious choice.

Also, let’s do a rough comparison of the major costs in two possible travel scenarios for my planned vacation:

The Smart and Frugal Traveler

  • Round-trip flight to Bahia, purchased well in advance, at a promotional fare: $150
  • Two months’ housing in a youth hostel or simple apartment: $600
  • Two months’ food by grocery shopping: $300
  • Local transportation by bus and walking: $150
  • Training capoeira at local prices: $50

Total: $1250 (2-3 months of savings. Not so bad)

The Careless and Wealthy Traveler

  • Any old flight to Bahia, purchased at the last minute: $350
  • Two months’ housing in a hotel or fancy apartment: $3000 (apt) – $6000 (hotel at $100/night)
  • Two months’ food eating out all the time: $700
  • Local transportation by taxi: $400
  • Training capoeira at tourist prices: $200

Total: $4650 – $7650 (insane! Of course I don’t have that kind of money to burn!)

Of course, I do realize that for about a third of the Brazilian population, even the $1250 that I call “not so bad” would be an impossible amount of money to save. I am blessed to have all my basic needs met, to have food on the table, a roof over my head, and good health, and on top of that have the opportunity and resources to travel – in that sense, it is a luxury. I am indeed grateful to God.

But I just wish that traveling didn’t have that connotation of “only the filthy rich foreigners can afford it,” because that’s simply not true. A friend of mine who is a jobless masters’ student pinching pennies over the next couple months while she finishes her degree, budgeted enough to take a six-week vacation to Recife and Salvador earlier this year, so these types of things are not out of the league for Brazilians…