Editors note: We asked each of our three finalists to tell us a story about a money-related blunder that they've made.
Once upon a time I was a freshly graduated eighteen-year old, on my way out into the big bad world. I had just left the high school where I spent four years dreaming about this very day. The day I could be done, get out, and start my amazing fabulous life. The first order of business for the new me was to travel to Europe and go on a month-long backpacking trip with my best friend.
Two eighteen-year-old girls with the “let’s just wing it when we get there” mentality. Yeah, I don’t see anything going wrong there. All we knew was the following: We fly into London on July 4th. We fly out of London on August 4th. We were so carefree, so grown up, so alive.
In all actuality, we were just stupid.
We had saved as much money as we could, but of course we had to buy cute clothes for when we got there…new luggage… don’t forget the plane tickets, and our passports. Our bank accounts were definitely not on the heavier side. But it’s okay. We had a plan. We were going to be bohemian, and stay in cheap hotels (because hostels were just too scary) and we’d find those little bodegas and stock up on the lowest costing food. We would walk everywhere; we didn’t need to buy souvenirs because we were living the experience.
Let me tell you, that mentality lasted about 20 minutes after we landed in London, took a cab that cost us the equivalent of 100 American dollars, learned we couldn’t check into our hotel for 5 hours, it was costing us $500 and oh yeah…lets tack on the time change as well. A little research probably should have happened before we even thought about leaving the States. I would have found out that taking the Tube from the Airport would have cost us about $5, and a hostel in the center of the city would have cost us a fraction of that gross hotel with it’s stained carpets and pigeons practically living in the window. If I had thought to book a flight that left a little later in the States, we would have arrived right at check-in time.
Now, thinking back on all of this, I realize every little thing we did wrong. It seems crazy to me that I didn’t even take the time to think about different possibilities. All I knew was that I was getting out and having these grand life experiences that no one else was. I just rushed right into it, without thinking of any consequences. Everything I just listed happened on the first day of a month-long endeavor. I won’t bore you with, or shock you with, the details of the final 29 days. I will tell you that it included:
- Sitting in a train station over night, with military guys carrying machine guns
- Getting conned into giving money to those people who dress up in costumes at landmarks
- Having our hotel reservations lost, and ending up spending double on a creepy place.
- Spending a ridiculous amount of money on souvenirs that I have since lost, broken, or questioned my own sanity for buying
- Having blisters the size of moon craters, because even though we had planned to walk everywhere, the only shoes I brought were flip-flops.
- My parents having to re-purchase a new plane ticket because we ran completely out of money, and got stranded in Rome.
Moral of the story: DO RESEARCH. I drained my account making little mistakes that could have easily been avoided by a simple Google search. I still to this day hear about this blunder at family functions. I thought I was so in control, knew everything that was going on… when all I should have done was ask for help. But, the saying is true, you learn from your mistakes. I gave backpacking a try again four years later, and had such a different experience.
Second moral of the story: just because you fail at it once, doesn’t mean it wasn’t a crucial part of growing up, and you absolutely have to try again.