Laptop at the beachEvery time someone hears what I do for a living, you can just watch the mental gymnastics:

[Trying to be subtle, looking me up and down.]  Thinking:  “Wow, she doesn’t look like a rich girl.”

[If there are windows nearby, glancing out the window to see what cars are out front.]  Thinking:  “Crap. I didn’t see which car is hers.  I bet she drives a Beemer.”

[Then the questions start.]  “That’s really cool.  What does your husband do?”  Thinking:  “I bet he’s a doctor.”

“How many kids do you have? How old are they?”  Thinking:  “Yeah, your kids are grown — you have the freedom to live like that.”

I’m not just guessing about what people are thinking — I know.  Because when they find out that I’m a normal person with a normal house and a somewhat unconventional lifestyle, I always hear the same two things:

“Whoa!  I have to say that when I heard what you do, I thought you were going to be a rich snob.”

and…

“How do  you do that?”

So here are my big secrets.  Don’t tell anybody.

1.  Boxes are for new shoes – not for people.

No matter how hard others try to fit you into a box — any kind of box — break it down and throw it away.

2.  Choices aren’t just for ice cream.

There is ALWAYS more than one way to do something.  If travel seems expensive because of airfare and hotels, start collecting frequent flyer miles.  You have to eat, don’t you?  So get a debit or credit card that lets you get airlines miles, pay for your daily expenses with that, but keep very close track of what you’re spending and pay it all at the end of the month.  I’m not advocating going into debt.  Hotels?  What about inexpensive hostals?  Or house / apartment swaps?  Or staying with friends?  Just don’t overstay your welcome.  And food?  Learn to cook like a local.  You’re going to eat at home — so why not go to the grocery store in another city or another country, and cook there?  Lots cheaper than eating out all the time.

3.  Vacation — or Life?

Do you want to live your life waiting for the two weeks a year that you can run, screaming, with your hair on fire, out of your cubicle and onto the beach?  How about incorporating vacation into your life?  A Brit who lives on a small, idyllic island off the coast of Thailand once told me “Ya gotta love a place where the word for work is exactly the same as the word for play.”

So maybe you don’t love your work (you can fix that), but you can still create a vacation lifestyle.  Have impromptu get-togethers with friends.  Go for a walk in a beautiful place — after work — in the middle of the week.  Learn to cook the food of a place you haven’t yet visited — whether it’s New Orleans or Kuala Lumpur. Learn about wine. Eat more chocolate.  (that last one was just for me)

That’s it.  Those are the secrets.  Until I think of some more to add.