It Was A Very Good Year

2018 was a wonderful year for us. We are well, our family is well and working toward their goals, and everything that we wanted and needed to happen, happened. After several rejections or places on a waitlist, YaYu was accepted at one of her top college choices and she’s now working hard and having a grand time. Although it meant saying goodbye to Kaua’i, we met our saving goals for the Big Adventure and finally put our plan in motion and set out on our travels at the end of August.  Brett and I saw and experienced places and things last fall that we never thought we would in our lifetimes, and we are ready to continue with Part II. We even got our deposit back from our awful landlord, something we did not think was going to happen unless we took him to court this year.

We have 11 more months of travel to look forward to this year, although some of that will be three-month stays in Japan, Portland and England. We’ll be in Portland again next summer, staying on the west side of the Willamette River for a change and living without a car, new experiences for us, so it will still be something of an adventure. Wrapping around our Portland stay will be visits to India, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and England – we can’t wait!

If this year is anything at all like the past year, time is going to slip by very quickly. Somewhere in all our gallivanting around we’re going to have to make a decision about where to land once our travels are over. Even if we decide we want to keep going in some fashion, we need some sort of a solid home base once again. Where that will be is still unknown, with our ideas currently like a bowl of jello, setting along the outside rim but with the center still quite liquid and jiggly. Eventually though everything will firm up and we’ll know where we’re heading.

Do Brett and I have any goals for this year? Of course – we always have goals! Most are fairly general and the same as last year, but we have added one new one at the end:

  • Get where we need to be on time.
  • Enjoy ourselves and each other’s company wherever we are.
  • See and do as much as we can in each place we visit without overdoing it or feeling guilty if we miss something.
  • Stick with our budget, live small, and don’t buy anything unless necessary or planned.
  • Make a firm decision on where to settle when we’re done and then work toward getting ourselves ready to be there at the beginning of December.

Everything else is fluid, with several unknowns right now. They can be planned for later.

I’m not sure we can top last year, but we’re going to try very hard. 2018 was a very, very good year!

Closing Out the Books On December

Our new “skinny” travel journal, ready to be made fat with travel tales and spending receipts.

We had to purchase a new daily journal/spending diary this month – the last one ran out of room at the end of November. It was just one of several extra expenses in December, and we went through a long stretch during the first half of the month where we were not sure we would or could come in either at or under our budget. However, at the end of the month we came in just under – huzzah!

Because of the girls joining us for much of the month, and because we had to re-provision several items before we hit the road again, we upped our daily limit in December from $50 to $60 per day. Our food spending and travel re-provisioning however, especially the initial amounts, took us w-a-y over and out of our budget not long after we arrived in Portland, and it took a few weeks of low- to no-spending to chip away at that rather appalling large daily average (over $200) and get it back to where we needed it to be. Our daily average at the end of the month is $55.96, so we’re very happy about that!

January is thankfully going to be a much less expensive month (we think). All of our expenses in India, including all meals, admissions and transportation, are covered – the only spending there will be tips for our drivers/guides and souvenirs (I want to buy a couple of pieces of silver jewelry in the Chandri Chowk bazaar in Delhi). Our time in Hong Kong will be all about eating, but we plan to mix restaurant meals with inexpensive street food and don’t think we’ll have a problem staying at or under our daily budget. We’ve got six days in Perth after that though where we’ll have food and transportation costs, but when we get on the train on the 27th once again everything will be paid for in full (meals, drinks and tours) until the end of the month. Our goal is to hopefully end January with a surplus, a good thing because in February costs will be going up again, especially since we will be eating and sightseeing in Sydney, have to pay for (expensive) gasoline in New Zealand, and Japan can always be counted on to be expensive. The cost-of-living raises in our Social Security and Brett’s navy retirement have come at a good time and will help our bottom line in the coming months.

We feel like we did very well with our finances in 2018, so here’s hoping we do as well or better in 2019!

Sunday Morning 12/30/2018 Last Sunday in Portland

One of our most important tasks here in Portland was getting the “travel bible” updated, with new or changed reservations printed out and put in order – mission accomplished!

This time next week Brett and I will be getting ready to check out of our Portland Airbnb to begin our journey to India for a seven-day tour of the Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra and Jaipur). In the late morning we’ll move YaYu over to one of her friend’s home for a week’s stay (followed by a stay with a second friend for a few days before heading back to Pennsylvania), and then WenYu, Brett and I will go to the airport to turn in our car and get ready for our flights out of Portland: to Boston for WenYu, and Vancouver, B.C. for Brett and me. Meiling will head back to Eugene next Saturday, to get ready to start her final term of college on Monday morning.

Brett and I had originally planned to drive up to Vancouver from Portland and be there in time to catch our late-night flight, but ended up deciding to fly because 1) we really didn’t want to drive that distance (5+ hours); 2) we were worried about possible delays at the border when driving (sometimes they happen which could throw off everything); and 3) the paperwork for taking a rental car across the border was more detailed than we imagined – one wrong thing and we wouldn’t cross the border. The flight from Portland will put us in Vancouver a little less than six hours before the flight to Delhi (through Taiwan), but we are pros these days at managing long airport layovers. The layover will give us plenty of time to pick up our bags from the first flight, exit customs in Vancouver and then re-enter the airport to check the bags with the airline that will be carrying us to India. We’ll have dinner in the airport as well during our wait. One good thing this time too is that our suitcases should be a little lighter.

We had a good time meeting Meiling’s boyfriend this past week and give him two thumbs up. We all got together for Chinese food on Thursday evening and let Meiling and K order. Everything they chose was delicious, especially since they had the good sense not to order the duck’s tongue entrée (they are more adventurous eaters than the rest of us). We feel K is a very good fit for her. He currently lives and works in New York City (as a software engineer at a very well-known tech company) so for now they only see each other every couple of months, but she is planning on moving to NYC to work after she graduates next June. They will be spending a week with us in Japan at the end of March.

Our suitcases may be lighter leaving Portland, but I’m not sure that Brett or I are leaving lighter than when we arrived. Unlike other locations during our travels we have had a car here, and combined with the rain and the gloom, and the distances between our Airbnb and places we’ve needed to be, we have made good use of it and done little to no walking. We have been eating more than we usually do because of the family being together and the holiday, and that combined with a lack of exercise has meant we’ve both gained weight, even with Brett being sick for a few days. So, we are looking forward to eating less and doing more walking again in the next several months. I’m more than a little bit worried though that I might be too big for my warm weather clothes that I’ll need in Australia and New Zealand.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I still haven’t been reading anything, or at least not any books. There’s too much activity in the house during the day, and at night I fall asleep quickly. Although I’ve found it hard to read when I’m traveling because my mind is so full of all that I’m seeing and doing, I’m still giving myself a goal to read 30 books next year. First book of the year will be the new Ian Ranking thriller!
  • Listening to: The girls are still asleep and Brett is reading something so it’s very, very quiet here this morning. And I mean quiet. There are no chickens or roosters, no lawn equipment, no birds singing and no dogs barking – all the things we used to live with as constant background noise on Kaua’i, where we lived with the windows open 7/24/365 (I still miss Kaua’i though).
  • Watching: We haven’t been watching a whole lot of TV here, but we watched a wonderful film, Lion, last night. It’s the true story of an Indian boy who became accidentally lost and separated from his family at age five and was eventually adopted by a family in Australia. With the little he remembered he searched for years and eventually found his home village in India and was reunited with his birth mother and sister 25 years later. It was an amazing story and film – I can’t recommend it enough. YaYu also loves to watch cooking shows so I joined her to watch a few of those, but mostly I’ve stayed busy with things around the house and/or running errands.
  • Cooking/baking: We are working diligently now to eat up everything we bought before we depart at the end of the week. Our Christmas ham is almost finished, and tonight we’re finishing up the big chicken pot pie we bought at Costco. I sent some things back to Eugene with Meiling the other day but we’ve still got several things to finish up and then whatever’s left over after that will go to Eugene with her when she goes back on 1/5 (she’s coming back to Portland tomorrow).

    To say I needed a pedicure would have been an understatement – after four months of travel my feet were a mess!
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: We had a lovely Christmas and everything came together perfectly. Brett and I had sort of forgotten how much more work we used to do when the girls were around, but we’ve managed to keep up with all of the cleaning, laundry, cooking, recycling and composting. I got a much-needed pedicure and can once again stand to look at my feet. We have a busy week coming up with lots of small tasks that need to be taken care of, but we’ve made a list of everything so hopefully nothing gets forgotten before we set off again.
  • Looking forward to next week: I am getting together with two more friends for coffee next week and can’t wait to see them and set the world straight again. I’m also excited about the release of the new Ian Rankin book tomorrow and looking forward to diving into it, no matter how tired I am! We are going out for pizza on the 4th to celebrate the girls’ birthdays since we’ll be on the road when those happen, and then will come home to have cake and open presents. I have to admit I am also somewhat looking forward to getting packed up again (well, not the actual packing part) and getting back on the road, although I feel sad when I think about saying goodbye to the girls, especially since it will be a while since we see them all again.

    A friend said it looked like road kill, but we almost had a fight over who got the last spicy, savory PokPok chicken wing – they were that good!
  • Thinking of good things that happened: I somehow never caught the stomach bug that took everyone else down last week (or should I say it never caught me). Usually I am the first to get sick, so I feel very lucky to have been spared this time, and it was a good thing to have one healthy person operating in the house. Everyone is well again though. One of the Portland restaurants on my bucket list before we left in 2014 was Andy Ricker’s PokPok (Thai food), but time got away from us and I never ended up getting to eat there. However, just up the street from our Airbnb here is the PokPok wing shop which sells the most popular item from the PokPok menu, and this past week I got my first taste when WenYu brought home a box. They were hands down the most delicious chicken wings I have ever had – we are going back again before we leave!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We had several no-spend days this past week other than going out to eat, and otherwise spent very little money. Both of our meals out cost less than we budgeted too so we were able to bring our daily spending average down.

    Nothing better on a cold, rainy Portland afternoon but coffee and conversation with a good friend at Papachino’s!
  • Grateful for: YaYu has a long winter break from Bryn Mawr and doesn’t go back for nearly two weeks after we depart, but her two best Portland friends also have long breaks from their schools, and their families stepped up to host her and will get her on the plane back to Philadelphia later in the month. We’re so thankful because we know they will take good care of her, and she and her friends will have a great time catching up and being together. I am also very thankful for the time to get together with friends while we’re here – I have missed them so much! Finally, I have been thinking lately about our four years on Kaua’i, and how lucky we were to live there, and grateful we had that opportunity.
  • Bonus question: Do you have plans for New Year’s Eve? We are probably the dullest couple/family when it comes to New Years, and as always, we don’t have anything special planned for this year. The girls will all be here with us, but I’m still not sure if any of them have plans to get together with friends and do something (probably not as they would have said something by now). So, I have no idea what we’ll do other than we’ll all stay up and welcome in the new year together. Brett and I have never gone out on New Year’s Eve – we’ve always preferred having a quiet celebration at home. Anyway, I’m thinking of cooking a nice dinner, we’ll watch a movie together and play games together, greet the new year and then head for bed. It’s not very exciting, but it works for us!

From the bottom of my heart, a big THANK YOU to all my readers for coming along for the ride in 2018. Wishing all good things for all of you in 2019. I’ll see you next year!

Wrapping Up Christmas

Presents waiting to be opened!

Our family had an absolutely lovely Christmas day. Everyone was feeling better and felt ready to celebrate (I thankfully never got sick). The only thing that could have made it any better was if our son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren could have been here as well, but pictures were sent from Japan and they had quite the celebration there. Plus, we will be seeing them in less than a month and a half and getting to spend three full months living nearby in Japan, and I’m already excited about that.

All of our gifts for the girls were purchased during our travels. Weight was always an issue, but we managed to stuff their stockings with candy from various countries, socks from Switzerland, “purse supplies” (tissue, lip gloss, China balm and hand creme from our favorite store in Europe, Flying Tiger), and also gave them some much-appreciated cash. They each received a wool beret from Paris, and WenYu and YaYu got a scarf/shawl from France as well (Meiling got a shirt as she doesn’t wear scarves). Meiling and WenYu each got cashmere lined leather gloves from Florence and YaYu got a small gold pendant of a plumeria blossom because she doesn’t wear leather. And, we gave each a hand-painted tile and a big ceramic mug from Portugal. Both Brett and I got lovely, useful and lightweight (!) gifts from the girls included some new (and needed) clothing items.

WenYu’s hand-painted ceramic mug and tile from Portugal. We put felt tabs on the bottom of the tiles so they can function as a trivets.

This year no one woke up before 9:30 a.m., and we didn’t get started on our celebration until after 10:00. I don’t think we’ve ever slept in so late, but it made for a long, relaxing Christmas morning and afternoon. We watched Harry Potter films together in the afternoon, relaxed some more and then enjoyed a yummy ham dinner in the evening followed by more Harry Potter movies. Yesterday morning we went out for dim sum before each girl headed out to spend time with friends, and Brett and I stopped at Trader Joe’s to pick up some milk, eggs and bread.

First round of dim sum: pork belly, chicken & vegetable dumplings, fried shrimp balls on bamboo sticks, and wonton purses. None of this lasted very long and then it was on to Round 2.
Our family’s favorite dim sum is sticky rice steamed in lotus leaves, filled with sausage and ground pork. We each had our own bundle – so good!

But the holiday is over and it’s time to get ready for the new year. The paper and wrappings have been recycled or thrown away. The poinsettia and pine swag limped through the day but have now been composted.

We had a perfect Christmas though, most of all because we were together. Our current dwelling is small and not very fancy, but with all of us here we’ve made it a home, and were able to maintain many of our family’s Christmas traditions. We couldn’t have asked for more than that.

Merry Christmas!

May this Christmas season bring you and your families boundless joy, peace, grace, and comfort. The happiest of holiday wishes to all our friends, near and far!

Merry Christmas from the Occasional Nomads family!

Sunday Morning 12/23/2018 The Band Is Back Together

Settled in to watch “Mulan,” although two out of the three don’t feel very well. “Mulan” was a favorite childhood movie (along with the “High School Musical” series), and they know the words to every song and sing along.

We picked up our last little bird at the airport on Thursday afternoon, so the house is full and we are ready for Christmas! Or at least I hope we will be ready for Christmas – four of the five of us have been struggling with a stomach bug. WenYu suddenly became very sick on Thursday when we were at the airport to pick up Meiling. By Friday night Brett and YaYu had caught it, and Meiling finally succumbed last night. As of this morning I am still OK, WenYu is feeling well and eating again, and Brett and YaYu say they feel better although neither has an appetite. We are all hoping we’ll be OK by Christmas morning.

In spite of all this sickness, Brett and I are loving the sounds of the girls chattering with each other, and enjoying the chances we’ve had to talk with them, sit down to meals together and watch TV together. Mostly though we’re just happy being together again, even if it’s only going to be for a short while. Poor Brett – he had to adjust pretty quickly to being the lone man in a house of women once again (and there’s only one bathroom). Both of us also had to adjust quickly to a lot more dishes and laundry.

Otherwise, all seems to be going well. Our spending had been a little on the high end, but that’s from all the food shopping we did right after we arrived. Our daily average has been dropping every day though now that the shopping is over so hopefully we’ll end the month right where we need to be. I am just hoping now that we’ll be able to eat all of the food we bought before we have to leave!

This morning I am:

  • Reading: Still nothing. However, the new Ian Rankin book, In a House of Lies, arrives on December 31, and I am looking forward to digging into that.
  • Listening to: It’s a very quiet morning here again. WenYu, Brett and I are up, and eating (just crackers for Brett) but Meiling and YaYu are still sleeping. Immense amounts of sleep have been one of the curious side-effects of this bug.
  • Watching: I watched my two must-see Christmas films last week: White Christmas and Love, Actually, which WenYu and I always watch together. It was especially fun this year to see the final scene with Colin Firth in Lisbon – I recognized those hills and steps! I am probably the only person in the U.S. though who has not seen Elf, so I’m trying to see it this year but so far it’s not available on one of our streaming sites. WenYu and I are also binge watching the new Twin Peaks series – it’s very weird, and not as cohesive as the original series.

    Well, at least most of us got to enjoy sitting down together for our turkey dinner (WenYu missed it) on Thursday.
  • Cooking/baking: I’m not doing a whole lot of cooking right now. We were supposed to go to our friend Joan’s house yesterday morning for brunch but with three out of five of us sick that sadly didn’t happen. Tonight I’m going to make a pot of turkey noodle soup to use up the turkey, and will make some biscuits to go with that. We’ll see who makes it to the table.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Brett and I finished all of our travel re-provisioning this past week, and the only thing we have left to get now are some small gifts for the next round of Airbnb hosts. We’ll do that a couple of days before we leave – we’re planning on taking small boxes of smoked salmon and some Portland tea towels as both will be lightweight and easy to pack. I researched airfares and schedules and helped WenYu book her flight to Cyprus in January – she will be doing her spring term at the University of Nicosia, attending film school and studying animation. Brett drove Meiling down to Eugene and back on Saturday to bring her things back up to Portland for Christmas.
  • Looking forward to next week: Hopefully all of us will be feeling better again, and of course we are all looking forward to Christmas! Everyone’s gifts are wrapped and ready, we have everything for our meals on hand, so I am just looking forward to us being together, feeling better, and enjoying the holiday. We are planning to go out for dim sum on Wednesday morning, and then on Thursday we will meet and go out to dinner with Meiling’s boyfriend. She and I are talking about maybe doing a re-design of the blog this week, so we’ll see if that happens. It’s just the sort of thing she loves to do and is very, very good at, but both of us always seem to get wrapped up in other stuff.

    Our granddaughter is getting lots of sparkly fairy princess dress-ups!
  • Thinking of good things that happened: The fact that I am not sick is a very good thing – usually I am the first to come down with something like this and then pass it along to everyone else. It’s also a good thing that whatever this bug is it doesn’t seem to last long. Also, the last pieces of our granddaughter’s gifts arrived this week so that is taken care of. The gift for our grandson also arrived – a custom-made fingerboard (skateboard) – so along with all the different currency we have saved along the way for him we are good to go!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: 1) We stopped spending money on groceries. We have enough now. Anything that’s left over when we move out will go home with Meiling. 2) The grandchildren’s gifts came with free shipping, and there’s no sales tax in Oregon. 4) We got WenYu’s round-trip airfare to Cyprus for less than $750. She is thrilled as she thought she would be paying more than $1200. 5) Sick or not, we have been doing a good job of making sure leftovers get eaten, although at a slower pace than usual. No food has been thrown out.
  • Grateful for: I am so grateful that all the girls arrived safely and we are able to be together for a while. I am always a bundle of nerves when they travel, and have to change flights, etc. but they all managed well. So many of us being sick in this small house has been difficult but everyone is getting better, and I am so glad it did not catch me (knock on wood).
  • Bonus question: Do you prefer receiving or giving gifts? I have always enjoyed giving gifts more than receiving them, even when I was little. I am always thankful for the gifts I receive but I have far more fun thinking about the people I am giving to, and what they would like, appreciate and use. I love hunting for just the right thing. Brett and I had a plan for the girls’ gifts before we begin traveling, and we had a good time not only finding those things but choosing the right ones for each girl’s taste. Everything we’re giving the girls this year, from stocking stuffers to gifts, comes from some place we visited this past fall. We enjoyed choosing gifts for our son and daughter-in-law too and will deliver them when we get to Japan in February.

I’m not sure when I’ll post again this week, but want to wish all who celebrate a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Our Gap Year

Our unofficial gap year motto

Gap year: A constructive time out in between life stages. It can mean traveling, volunteering or working abroad.

A short while ago Bob Lowry, in his blog, Satisfying Retirement, wrote a post: Taking A Gap Year: Not Just For Young Adults Any More. Until I read it I had never for a moment considered that our current travels could be considered a gap year experience instead of just a big trip, but it looks like that’s exactly what Brett and I are in the midst of. We’re taking a year off to travel and figure out what direction we want to take next as we segue between forty years of child-rearing and becoming empty-nesters.

Up to now, I had only thought of the Big Adventure as a wonderful travel adventure. We’ve been having the best time, and are looking forward to further destinations and experiences in the coming year. We’ve learned lots along the way, about ourselves and each other; seen and experienced things we never thought we ever would or could; and our marriage is stronger than ever. It really is the trip of a lifetime.

However, our travels have proven to be more than just going from place. Over and over along the way we’ve found ourselves discussing options for what will come next and where we’d like to end up. Those choices have also turned out to be a bit more fluid than we imagined. The big changes in our lifestyle that have occurred, like living with so much less than we did before, and identifying as a couple once again versus full-time parents, have given us new insight as to where and what we see ourselves doing at the end of next year. Just like how plans for the Big Adventure changed from what we initially had dreamed of, we’ve been surprised by how differently we think about the future now. What’s currently important to us is different from it was just a few short months ago when we set out.

For example, we had been seriously talking about settling in Seattle when we finished, renting an urban apartment and enjoying life in a big city. We love the Pacific Northwest, and we love Seattle, but just a few days of cold, gloom and rain here in Portland quickly reminded us of why we moved to Hawai’i a few years ago, and that a location with more sun than not will be a serious factor in choosing where we want to land when we’re done traveling. Seattle, we’ve realized, is a place we love to visit, but it’s not where we would be happy living any more.

Getting to take this year off was so much more though than just coming up with a plan and an itinerary, or saving money. It was more than the girls getting accepted into the colleges they attend, earning scholarships and receiving adequate financial aid, more than making the difficult decision to leave Kaua’i. Instead, it was several pieces coming together for us at the right time. If even one of these pieces had not happened the way it did or when it did our life most likely would be very different now. We got lucky and we know it. I’m somewhat astonished these days, when I think about it, by all the things that had to come together to make our Big Adventure happen. We sort of stumbled onto the idea, got to planning and saving to make it happen and everything really did just sort of fall into place.

In hindsight, we could have greatly used a gap year when Brett retired from the navy into civilian life. Also, some time off between sending our son to college and having our girls come home would have let us catch our breath back then. So, I know how blessed we are to have this opportunity now, not only for the experience of travel, but to give ourselves a chance to reset as we segue into yet another different phase of life. What we’re doing is not possible for everyone, nor does everyone want or need a break between different life stages. But we have been given a great gift, a “senior” gap year, and we plan to continue to make the most of it.

Our Airbnb Homes: Part 1

Our first Airbnb was this sweet cottage in Portland. It was very hot in August, but this home was air-conditioned. It’s also in a great eastside Portland location.

Brett and I have enjoyed looking back at all the Airbnb homes we stayed in on the first part of the Big Adventure, and I thought I’d share the actual listings.

I was put in charge of choosing the rentals for each of our destinations before we set off on our adventure. I weighed price, amenities, location and read review after review to get a feel for different rentals and which would be a good fit for us. Some of the places we rented we liked more than others, but all were clean, had a comfortable bed, plenty of hot water and everything we needed to fix our own meals. Every single one of our hosts had at least bottled water stocked in the refrigerator when we arrived, but many had wine and snacks waiting for us, always appreciated after a long travel day.

This studio in the Recoleta neighborhood was our home for ten days in Buenos Aires. There was a jetted tub in the bathroom, wonderful for a relaxing soak after long days of walking. This apartment made our top three (#3).
The living room of our apartment in Montevideo. The apartment was very cute and clean, and in a great location to visit the old city and get down to La Rambla, but we were warned against going out at night in the neighborhood.

I tried to keep our lodging costs under $70 per night. Some places we ended up reserving were over that, but others were (way) under, and it all balanced out. I knew that some places (like Paris or Florence, for example) were going cost more than others, so we saved in other locations in order to balance out those higher costs. However, although the cost per night posted for some listings is much higher than our budget limit, we generally paid less, and we were able to stay within our budget or close to it because staying a week or longer prompted a generous discount. All of our Airbnb rentals were paid for ahead of time from our travel savings.

The kitchen of our apartment in Montmartre, Paris, was small, but the best equipped of any place we stayed. Plus, there was a wonderful view from the kitchen window. The location of this apartment was superb – right in the heart of Montmartre, and at an affordable price.
Our apartment in Balleroy, Normandy was very cozy, and in a great location for driving around the area to visit the Normandy beaches and other sites. The hosts had a bottle of their homemade cider waiting for us in the fridge along with juice and water.

As far as amenities, WiFi, a fully-equipped kitchen, private bath with a shower, and a washing machine were necessities. We also wanted a sofa so we had a place to relax at the end of the day. Many of the places we rented came with a dishwasher, which was nice but not a deal killer. Also, some buildings had elevators, but in several places we had to climb several flights of stairs – it was good exercise! The one place we worried about more than any of the others before arriving was the apartment in Strasbourg. I have no idea why I chose it other than the location in town was great, but it was tiny, had a sofa bed and didn’t have a washing machine  . . . and we were booked for three weeks! It turned out to be one of our favorite places with one of the most comfortable beds of all. We adjusted easily to the small space, and a laundromat was just a couple of blocks away, so taking care of our laundry was never a problem. Best of all, we had a wonderful host and had the great privilege of dining with her family toward the end of our stay.

Our studio in Strasbourg was less than 300 square feet, but was still very comfortable and in a great location for exploring the city. This place also made our top three (#2).
Our bed & breakfast stay in this nearly 300-year old Swiss farmhouse in Sempach Station, outside of Lucerne, was our favorite Airbnb experience. The hosts’ hospitality was warm and generous, and we loved spending time with their family and in the area.

Our favorite stay though was not in our own apartment, but as guests in a Swiss farmhouse B&B outside of Lucerne. Our room was big and clean and we had a large, private bathroom, but it was the family that made our stay so memorable. They spoiled us rotten, taking us and picking us up each day at the train station, showing us around the area, and included us one evening in their family dinner, serving a traditional Swiss raclette. Our farm breakfasts each morning were nothing short of magnificent. The entire three-night stay in the farmhouse from start to finish was remarkable.

This large apartment in Bordeaux featured open beams and stone walls, and included a special refrigerator for wine! After our small apartment in Strasbourg we felt like we were swimming in space, but it was a great place to come home to at the end of the day.

I’ve written that our least favorite stays were in Montevideo and Rome. With Montevideo it was the location – during the day it was fine, but we were warned about going out at night so were always stuck in the apartment. In Rome, the apartment turned out to be much larger than we imagined, and while all the marble looked pretty in the pictures, it actually felt cold and unwelcoming, to us anyway.

Our Florence apartment, located in the Oltrarno neighborhood was our favorite apartment. It had been remodeled to show off many of the original architectural features of the space, and had every convenience along with a drop-dead view from the kitchen window.

All the places we stayed received a five-star review and rating from us. The check-in and check-out at every place was easy, all the hosts were very helpful, and the locations were great for getting out to see the area. There was also always a grocery store nearby, important for us since we cooked most of our meals “at home.”

Our apartment in Rome was very large, and the amount of marble left us cold (the actual living room is also a bit more cluttered than it appears in this photo). Still, the apartment’s location and conveniences made it a good choice overall.

We won’t be staying in an Airbnb again until we arrive in Perth, Western Australia, toward the end of January – we’ll be using hotels in both India and Hong Kong. After our train journey across Australia we’ll stay in another Airbnb rental in Sydney. Both the Perth and Sydney rentals are private residences, but when we move on to New Zealand we’re booked into five different private rooms because our stays are so short in each town. Some will include breakfast, some won’t. In Japan we will be renting an apartment directly from the owner, and then will be back in an Airbnb rental for our summer stay in Portland, this time on the west side of town, a new experience for us as we always lived and stayed on the east side of the city. In the fall of next year we’ll do our last Airbnb rental of the Big Adventure during our three-month stay in the Cotswolds District in England.

Our apartment in Lisbon was small but had every convenience. It was quiet, in a great location, and was very, very comfortable – we wished we could have stayed longer.

If you have ever thought about using Airbnb but haven’t, I highly recommend giving it a try. We have had nothing but great experiences. We learned a lot about how to go about having the best experience possible from the Senior Nomads’ wonderful book, Your Keys, Our Home, starting with how to go about selecting an Airbnb rental that will be the perfect fit for you and your budget. It’s full of good information about how to make the most of any Airbnb stay from start to finish.

Our current home in Portland has two bedrooms and enough beds and space for us and our girls to enjoy a comfortable stay. The kitchen is big, and the location has been great for all we’ve been up to since we arrived..

Sunday Morning 12/16/2018: Portland Edition

We checked out the wreaths at Trader Joe’s but they were too heavy to hang in the house so we got a fresh pine swag instead.

I haven’t done one of these posts for a long time, but it’s a good fit for now, for catching up and keeping track of what we’re doing and where we’re going.

Brett and I have settled in nicely here and are almost well – our colds are now hanging on to the ledge by their fingernails.. One thing I had forgotten about living in Portland was how often I used to get sinus headaches when we lived here, and have had to deal with them a few times since we arrived – not fun. The air here seems very dry to us too, but we’ve set bowls of water out on the heat registers around the house and that is helping somewhat. We are feeling well enough though to get together with friends again beginning this week – up until now we still just felt too awful to see anyone.

I love Trader Joe’s, but am staying away now until after Christmas!

Most of our errands have been taken care of, thank goodness because I am sick to death of spending and shopping! We will be going to Fubonn Asian Supermarket on Tuesday to get YaYu all her noodles, and to Safeway on Wednesday or Thursday for a few odds and ends that can’t be found elsewhere, but otherwise we are pretty much done and ready for our girls. We have everything we need for all meals during the rest of our stay here. No matter where we’ve stayed on our adventure, we’ve shopped for a while but then comes the point where we start working on making sure everything we’ve bought gets eaten or used up before we leave. We’ve done a pretty good job so far during our travels, so hoping it goes as well here. My goal is that we have to go out to eat our last night in Portland because the fridge and cupboards are empty.

The dining hall at Bryn Mawr was transformed into the one at Hogwarts, including the floating candles! Love the candelabras on the tables as well!

Bryn Mawr held their annual winter end-of-term dinner this past week, where they dress up their dining hall like Hogwarts, faculty and students come in costume, and students are assigned to different schools (I think YaYu is a Hufflepuff?). I’m so glad she and WenYu have settled in so well at their colleges, and are having such memorable experiences (and doing well in their courses). Meiling is currently in New York City with her boyfriend. He moved there earlier this year to work for a big tech company, and they seem to be doing a good job of managing their long-distance relationship. We’re going to meet him when he’s in Portland later this month, and he’s also going to come along with Meiling when she visits us in Japan next spring!

Our Bryn Mawr wizard!

Anyway, this morning I am:

  • Reading: Nothing! Or at least not a book right now. I have had a terrible time trying to read these past few months – nothing seems to hold my interest for very long, and I’ve also had problems staying awake.
  • Listening to: It’s a typical quiet morning for Brett and I. He’s reading and I’ve been working on this! We’re looking forward though to all the noise and hubbub that will come along with the girls this week.
  • Watching: Brett and I were all set to watch Season 4 of Better Call Saul, but that turned out to be a one-day binge opportunity so we missed out on it. There are things on Netflix and Amazon Prime (Man in the High Castle) we want to see, but those can wait until Meiling arrives with her stick and tech abilities next week. The other day Brett and I clicked through all the many, many cable channels we have here and could not find even one thing that interested us, a pretty good indication we will not be signing up for cable later.
  • Cooking/baking: Tonight we’re having leftover tacos, along with some refried beans. We had them night before last but there was lots left over so we’ll finish that off tonight. We picked up a frozen cherry pie this past week and I’m going to bake that later today – I have been craving pie.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: I am glad we’ve gotten most of our shopping done, but it turned into a chore. We’re just not very enthusiastic spenders these days. Also, we’re so glad we got hair cuts – that was something that definitely needed doing. I ordered some gifts for our granddaughter from Amazon (after looking all over town and not finding what I wanted) that will tuck nicely into my suitcase, and weigh next to nothing. Not my accomplishment, but Brett took care of our visa applications for both India and Australia and we are set to enter those countries. Finally, I got all the Christmas presents wrapped and ready to put out on Christmas morning!
  • Looking forward to next week: Well, besides all the girls arriving in Portland and all of us being together again, I am looking forward to us having brunch at a good friend’s home next Sunday morning and I know that it will be delightful. Our sons were friends in high school, and Joan was a big help to us during Meiling’s and WenYu’s adoptions, and I can’t wait for her to see how beautifully the girls have grown up. I’m also looking forward to getting together with another good friend for coffee later this morning at one of our old haunts.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Being able to get a temporary crown on my broken tooth, and finding out that I won’t need multiple procedures to fix it was the best news this week.

    The pine swag smells wonderful!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: 1) I got a very good deal on a new phone from T-Mobile. The price was lower than I expected and with the trade-in of my old phone I ended up paying several hundreds of dollars less than I thought I would. 2) Although we’ve done a lot of shopping here in Portland we haven’t gone crazy, which is something I worried about before we arrived. We’ve stuck strictly to necessities for the most part or pre-planned purchases, like my phone. 3) We saw a little live tabletop Christmas tree the other day that smelled wonderful and would have been adorable on the coffee table, but it was $25 so we passed. The cheap ornaments we bought at Target along with a string of lights for around the door cost us just $5, the poinsettia was $6, and our pine swag was $8, so we saved $6 over the tree and the house looks (and smells) ready for Christmas! Meiling is going to take the lights and ornaments with her when we move on. 4) Brett and I have done a good job of eating leftovers so that no food has been wasted. 5) He and I also decided not to give each other any gifts this year because neither of us needs or wants anything right now. Instead, we’ll save our money and do something special and spontaneous together later when we’re back on the road again.
  • Grateful for: Both Brett and I are exceedingly thankful that our dentist here was able to fit us in so quickly and repair our broken teeth. We are also very, very thankful for our good dental insurance – we will have a co-pay, but most of the cost will be picked up by our insurance. We are also thankful for the great haircuts we got from the stylist recommended by our friend. Finally, we’re feeling very grateful that we were able to find an affordable and nice Airbnb for our month in Portland. So many of the places in town were way, way over what we could afford.

    Requests from the girls that will be long gone before Christmas!
  • Bonus question: What Christmas traditions are you maintaining this year? On Christmas morning we will enjoy our traditional breakfast of toasted bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon, fresh fruit (berries?), and orange juice. The girls took their Christmas stockings and little sequined boxes with them to college this year and are bringing them along when they come “home.” They will be able to open the gifts in their stockings before breakfast, and we always tuck a little something into the little boxes (that I found for around $1 each, I think, at WinCo one year). After breakfast we’ll open our presents, one at a time from oldest to youngest. We’ll enjoy a relaxing day together, and I’m preparing a favorite meal of ham, macaroni and cheese, broccoli and cornbread, and we’ll have cheesecake for dessert.

That catches us up here at the Nomad’s Portland home for this week.Although we love the holiday season,  I know it’s not always a happy time for everyone, but I hope the days are going well for you nonetheless, and that you’re able to enjoy time with family and friends. Thank you for sticking with us Nomads as we travel around – there’ll be more coming up after the first of next year!