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A month ago, my readers might remember, I mentioned an earthquake I survived. Alright, apparently, a 4.8 earthquake is inconsequential to the experienced. I am not experienced.

So, needless to say I was more surprised than most of the Japanese students around me when I heard ceiling tiles and lights rattle for a few seconds. There was a moment of laughter and then someone switched back on the fast-paced Tokyo walk that surrounded me.

Not knowing what else to do, I followed. This I have mentioned. It wasn’t until later, when another student from Philadelphia who is also here in Tokyo mentioned the brief stir that I got to announce that that was my first earthquake survival story.

Alright, so it wasn’t anything to focus my autobiography on, but it was an accomplishment for me nonetheless.

And, while the overall experience of any travel, international or otherwise, is your grandest of stories, there are the countless smaller moments that you can’t let yourself forget. I stayed in a Trappist monastery for a brief while a year or so ago, and I can still remember the smaller moments just as well as the entire trip’s unique storyline.

I didn’t have much money so I worked for my room and board. I can see myself, shovel in hand, as I watched an 85-year-old bicycle towards me. He was late and it occurred to me only then that there I was, bagging compost on an organic farm run by monks. I smiled uncontrollably. I still do.

Travel can do that, and studying abroad can be a remarkably economical way for students to travel. If you do it right.

For me for now, studying at a satellite campus of my home university allows for the same tuition costs and the very same financial aid package. What studying abroad allows for is the opportunity for new scholarship opportunities, too. There are limitless lists of donors and organizations and programs searching for young, excited world travelers whom they can fund.

An essay and an interview got me $500. Some extra community service work got me over $1,000. I mailed an audition tape and after a few interviews, NBC has helped me record my time in Tokyo and share it with you. Special things can happen when you travel to study. People want to help you do it.

With the right motivation and interest, studying abroad can become very little more expensive, if more expensive at all, than your home school. Moreover, any travel, if done right, can be reasonable (reasonable being a relative term).

With international exchange rates, travel – including study abroad – can come close to money-saving. Tokyo hardly presents friendly costs (note its long run as one of the world’s most expensive cities), though I try to make it work with smart grocery shopping, but because of inflation in Ghana, when I studied abroad in West Africa I could easily eat very well on $2 or $3 U.S. a day.

Frugality aside, a semester or even just a week abroad is powerful and, for most of us, a one-time only thing. Spending should reflect that.

For me, I am trying to travel and explore as much as I can now because I have no idea what the future holds. In my everyday life I skimp and penny-pinch on everything, but I wait for those moments when I’ll splurge (if even just a little bit).

I went backcountry camping with two friends through the Smokies this past summer. A tent and some peanut butter held us for most of the week, but I didn’t hesitate to drop an extra $50 on an advanced caving tour through the Mammoth Cave National Park (the world’s largest recorded cave system in the world).

Here in Tokyo, my money-saving rises and falls on two categories: transportation and food. I am, I can admit, obsessed over my answer to the former; I can look out my apartment window here and see that two-wheeled solution.

Opposingly, food has presented some questions and constantly forces me to toe the line between simple and that of meager. I think in the past week or more, I have etched out a diet that satisfies my tastes, health and budget, and even allows me to ride a wave or two of some segments of Japanese society.

The rice cooker is my personal Buddhist shrine. I bought a 5kg (more than 11 lbs.) sack of rice for 19,000 yen ($16 U.S.). I splurge and buy a liter of soy sauce every few weeks, eggs and vegetables weekly, and I even treat myself to some meat every few weeks.

Rice is the staple: three meals a day. Rice and egg for breakfast, rice and vegetables for lunch, rice and a little meat with vegetables for dinner. I chug water mostly and add a cup of fruit juice (100 percent fruit juice for health’s sake) for breakfast and dinner. I assure you that I quite enjoy it. You disagree. The obscene of the ascetic, I’m sure.

So I steam and cook, and simmer and mince, spice and spread and manage to spend less than $25 on food weekly. Hold on, I can see the comments posted already. I do, naturally, treat myself on occasion. Eating out here, some ice cream there; don’t you worry. If you read regularly you will know that I spent nearly $40 U.S. on sushi a day or so ago. What more do you want?

I do it for the memories, ladies and gentlemen. If I will remember that restaurant dinner five years from now, I’m in. But, I know I will remember the fun of shopping and cooking on my own, and I will better remember the added travel I can encounter because of the money I saved. The triage of the ascetic, I’m sure.

Small moves.

Maybe I’m crazy. The small stuff counts. But there are plenty of small things to be found in the very pursuit of saving some bank which can then help you to do the big stuff. I’ll let you know in November when I am working on four months of thrice-daily rice-based meals. Until then, I’m not crazy at all.


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