67 Weeks

(photo credit: Estee Janssens/Unsplash)

Sixty-seven weeks from this Friday, on December 23, 2022, we plan to board a plane and be on our way to Tokyo. By leaving on the 23rd, we will arrive in Tokyo on December 24, and will be up the following day to spend Christmas with our son and his family. One week later, we’ll celebrate the New Year with them, the biggest holiday of the year in Japan.

Sixty seven weeks might seem like a very long time to some, but I feel like the time is going to move along fairly quickly. Using my own accounting, that’s just two and a half sets of activity cards until the end of this year, eleven sets until we depart. For some reason those activity cards seem to make time fly.

We have just 67 weeks to save as much as we possibly can. Our goal is $30,000.

We have 67 weeks to sell or get rid of all our stuff, get a bag and boxes packed and shipped to Massachusetts with the very few things we plan to keep (and around 65 weeks to decide what we want to keep – the list keeps getting smaller every week). We have less than 67 weeks to make lists and purchase the things we need/want to take along this time.

We have only 28 weeks until it’s time to decide on and reserve an Airbnb rental in Japan, 41 weeks until it’s time to reserve a place in England, and 65 weeks until it’s France’s turn. We’ve already decided that we want to spend a bit more on lodging this time as we’ll be spending less on transportation because we won’t be moving around so frequently).

We have 67 weeks to figure out what clothes and technology we want to take with us this time and provision ourselves as necessary. Much of what we carried last time will go along this time as well, but there are other things we need, and things we lugged around before that can be jettisoned. As for technology, Brett needs a new tablet before we depart, and I need a new phone.

We have only 67 weeks left to get ourselves into the best shape possible, and enjoy our island life on Kaua’i.

Sixty-seven weeks might seem like an eternity to some, but we know that December 23, 2022 is going to be upon us faster than we can imagine.

Without Complaint

My grandfather’s USC yearbook picture in 1909.

Do I get ever get bored these days? YES. Do I ever get frustrated and angry that we haven’t been anywhere off of Kaua’i in nearly 18 months? YES, YES, YES! Do I feel at times like I’m in a rut, doing the same tasks over and over and over with no end in sight? YES! Do I wish that things would happen faster than they are? YES (for some but no for others).

Lately I’ve been thinking about my grandfather, who walked on crutches almost his entire life. He was born in a sod house on the prairie in Nebraska in 1887, the middle of three boys, but moved with his family to California after a bout with polio in 1898 left his legs twisted and useless. Instead of becoming a lifelong invalid and hiding himself away he instead decided to challenge the status quo head-on and live the best life he possibly could. He worked as a teenager at the Green Hotel in Pasadena pulling apart wooden crates that the restaurant produce came in. He saved enough to put himself through USC and earned a degree in 1909, when the disabled were expected to stay at home and not be seen. He bought and taught himself to drive a conventional car, and then drove and camped across the whole country and back before the Roaring 20s arrived, repairing the car himself when needed. He married, created his own successful insurance business which supported his extended family during the Depression, and raised three children and put them through college. Although he couldn’t enlist during the two world wars, he served as his neighborhood’s blackout warden during WWII and fulfilled other necessary tasks as he could. He was an active and respected member of and leader in his church and several civic organizations right up until his death in 1959.

My grandfather didn’t ask for help and he didn’t complain – he just got up every day and did what needed to get done. He died when I was seven years old, and for the longest time I just missed the man who read to me, and gave me 3 Musketeer Bars and Black Jack gum (he loved them). As I grew older and learned more about him, I came to see and appreciate what an accomplishment his whole life had been, and he is now one of my strongest role models. Accept what you are given, do what needs to be done, and face what needs to be faced . . . without complaint.

So, I think I can manage to get through another 16 months of living comfortably in Hawaii without complaining. I’ve decided to make the effort to appreciate everything we have here, and how blessed we have been for being able to live on Kaua’i. I will practice patience as time continues to move on, and I know we will eventually reach our goal. Everything doesn’t need to be sold, the bank accounts don’t need to be full, and reservations don’t need to be made right now. I’m looking forward to the future, but want to go forward feeling more grateful and positive about having the time to get to that goal in the best possible shape. And, I want to appreciate where we are now as well as all that we have, which is everything we need.

Full-Time Saving

(photo credit: Mathieu Turle/Unsplash)

Yes, yet another savings post, but this is where we’re at right now.

Although travel remains out of picture for the rest of this year, Brett and I have big plans for the future, and our Number One priority now is to save, save, save. We want to sock away as much as possible to not only cover setting off on our next big adventure but to have enough to get ourselves to YaYu’s graduation in the spring of next year and to Japan in the fall.

Back in 2017 and last year I posted the list below of ways to save for travel. Since Brett and I are once again back into savings mode big time we are following our own saving advice and it’s making a big difference. Besides getting YaYu through school, future travel is our priority now, and in spite of rising inflation we’ve made a game of seeing how much we can put away each month.

Here’s how things we’re doing currently are going (using our own savings tips). Even on a fixed income there are still ways to save if travel or something else is a priority:

  1. Set up a dedicated travel savings account, and start a monthly allotment to that account. We have gone over our budget with a fine-toothed comb and found ways we could cut back so we’ve been able to increase the amount that goes into this account. The current amount will increase again once we get YaYu’s final bill paid in December – just a few more months to go!
  2. Save on regular budget categories, and then put the difference into travel savings. We do this every month, although it’s not easy lately with prices creeping up everywhere. One way we’re saving this way is rather than filling the tank when he goes for gasoline, Brett stops at a present amount about $7 under what a full tank would cost. The amount nearly fills the tank and seems to be enough for now to cover our driving. The extra $7 goes into our savings.
  3. Do a “no-spend” week, or month, and deposit all usual discretionary spending amounts into your savings. We have a full-time needs over wants mindset and do very little spending outside of fulfilling our needs. We have almost no discretionary spending, and what we do have is planned. Every week is pretty much a no-spend week, and almost all spending we do is planned in advance.
  4. Save change and $1 bills. Saving $1 bills and change is a habit for us now, but we are not shopping much these days and are putting away less than we used to. Only one store, Safeway, now lets us round up to the nearest $5, and we rarely shop there. The goal these days is to put away at least $300 per year. It’s not much, but like everything else, it helps. We have compared this to using a cash back credit card, and this method provides more savings.
  5. Recognize needs versus wants. We’ve got this down.
  6. Dedicate all refunds, rebates and gifts to travel savings. We don’t get many rebates/refunds now, but they still all go into the travel savings account when they do show up, like our Costco rebate last February. Once a year two of our three daughters refund us the cost of keeping them on our phone plan; next year all three will be sending us an annual payment.
  7. Get a travel rewards credit card. We use our rewards card to buy groceries and then pay the card balance immediately. It’s not a lot, but again, it adds up.
  8. Sell unused or unnecessary things. We have started going through our apartment and are already selling items we don’t use and know we will not be keeping. This includes items we have been storing for the girls and they have said they no longer want. I created my Etsy shop to sell our Japanese things, including my hashioki collection. We are putting nothing into storage when we leave this time, another big savings. We also try to sell one item a month through our local Buy & Sell group.
  9. Get a part-time job. We still have absolutely no interest in taking on jobs, even part-time, but I am now earning a small income from the blog, my Etsy shop is bringing in some income, we sell something on Buy & Sell, and we get a monthly payment from our neighbor for sharing our Internet. None of it is going to make us rich, but it does add up to a few hundred dollars a month.
  10. Be creative. I have earned three $500 Delta Airlines gift cards through Swagbucks for future travel and want to earn two more before we leave Hawaii. Swagbucks can drive me mad at times, but those gift cards will make a real difference. We still pick up change when we find it, and recycle bottles and cans as well. There are loads of other ways to earn extra money as well; these are the ones that work for us.

These ways to save got us over to Hawai’i in 2014, and helped us set out on our Big Adventure in 2018, and we’re confident will get us on the road again in style in 2023! Game on!

Urgency, Importance, & Value: Setting Priorities

Prioritizing means making choices that will most effectively get you to your destination with less effort and less stress. (Photo credit: Kristin Snippe/Unsplash)

I used to have no skills whatsoever setting priorities for big tasks. While I had no problems making our daily life flow smoothly, with big undertakings I would get caught up in small things and allow myself to almost completely lose sight of what I was trying to or needed to achieve. I obsessed about everything and was often a complete wreck, asking myself why I ever thought I could accomplish anything.

The adoption process for each of our girls, paying off our debt, moving to Hawaii, and setting up our first big travel adventure were all master classes in how to prioritize when taking on a big task or having a big goal. I got lessons over and over again on the necessity of establishing priorities in order to keep each process moving smoothly and complete everything that needed to be done. I figured out it wasn’t that everything needed to happen in a precise order, but that the most urgent, important, and valuable tasks got taken care of or set up in a logical order while lower priority tasks got taken care of without getting in the way of the bigger stuff.

I have always been goal focused, and the SMART method of goal setting helped me sharpen that process. Having a solid, specific goal is just the start though. It gives a big picture overview but the next step is focusing on what needs to be done in what order to get the job accomplished. At over 18 months out from leaving on our next big travel adventure, I’ve been able to recognize that certain things I would like to be doing are currently not the most important to be looking at or focusing on. For now, our highest priority task is building our travel savings and figuring out different ways to do that. Beginning the process of downsizing is the other top priority now. Deciding on lodging, transportation, and other aspects of our plan will come later as we get closer to our departure date.

I’ve learned along the way there are steps for setting priorities when working on a big task. They can be moved around a bit as needed, but these generally have proven to make the job go more easily:

  • Set a specific goal (using the SMART method). This is the most critical part of setting priorities. Without a specific goal I have no real idea of what I’m working toward and I can’t realistically decide what needs to be taken care of and in what order.
  • Assess urgency, importance, and value of the tasks that need to be done. The first thing I do for any big goal is make a timeline. Sometimes this is easy, but other times it’s not as many aspects remain unknown. However, without a timeline there’s no way of seeing the big picture, what can and needs to be done first, and what can wait. A timeline also helps me evaluate what aspects of planning are more critical or important than others. Finally, a timeline can tell me the value of making one task a priority over another. Taking care of one or some tasks before taking on another can provide the information to help make informed decisions, and make the next task or several other tasks easier. For example, looking at Airbnb listings 18 months ahead of time might seem frivolous since I’m not going to be booking anything, but it gives me an idea of what we can set as an upper limit, and how much we will need to save for those expenses, so there is value to doing that task earlier than might be expected.
  • Do something every day. While the big things are easy to figure out because they’re usually the most urgent or have the biggest impact, even the smallest effort on something on days when nothing seems to be happening will get you closer to achieving your goal.
  • Know what and when to let go. My advisor once said to me when I was struggling to finish my thesis, “Laura, finished is better than perfect.” Struggling to make every detail tied down and perfect can and will drive you crazy. The same applies when prioritizing and working toward a goal. Do your best but don’t expect perfection all the time.
  • Measure progress. Keeping lists, charts, etc. are a great way to reinforce that you’ve got your priorities in the right order, and that you are on track with getting necessary tasks completed. Keeping track of progress is also extremely motivating and can let you know when you might need to make changes, or whether it’s time to start on another task. Setting smaller monthly and weekly goals as you get closer to achieving your goal helps make sure everything gets done.
  • Expect things to change. Change is always going to happen, probably more than expected. Refusing to make or accept changes can and will bog everything down faster than expected as well.

Setting a goal is just the first step in making sure it gets accomplished. Prioritizing what needs to be done is an equally important part of the equation. Learning to set priorities is a learned skill, one that can take time but that will provide value later, and help minimize the work that needs be done. Learning to address and recognize the urgency, importance, and value of necessary tasks has helped make the process of accomplishing our goals easier, has helped make time move along more quickly as well, and greatly reduced anxiety. There is something that can be done each day, even if it doesn’t seem like much, and before you know it, you’re at the finish line.

2020 Goals: How Are We Doing?

We’re halfway through 2020, and time for me to check on how we’re doing with our goals for the year, both joint and personal.

Joint goals for Brett and me:

  1. Continue to stay healthy! Besides avoiding COVID-19, Brett and I both want to lose an additional 10 pounds. We will continue with our current eating plan and exercise for the year and see where that takes us. We plan to segue to cross-training before the middle of the year, and will be purchasing a recumbent exercise bicycle to add to our walking. Our end-of-the-year goal is to be able to walk two to four hours at a time at least four days per week. Because we are no longer planning to do a walking tour, we now walk purely for personal exercise and getting in a distance between 3.5 to 4 miles most days of the week. We take Sundays off, but unless it’s raining we walk the other six days of the week, mostly up at Kukuiolono Park. We have both lost weight, are almost done with eating meat, and while I haven’t lost any further weight I also have not gained any weight so I’m calling it a win.
  2. Save enough to cover YaYu’s 2021-2022 college expenses. Thankfully we have 12 months to accomplish this, but her final year has the potential to be an expensive surprise, even with financial aid, as the college knows they have a “captive audience” and may lower previous levels of aid (this happened to us with our son). We are on track with what we wanted to save for this, but YaYu should be able to contribute more of her own earnings as well this fall. Fingers crossed! Once we are done with this expense at the end of December the money we put away for YaYu will instead go into our travel savings.
  3. Save $8000 for future travels, including an additional $1000 in Delta gift cards from Swagbucks. This is a big goal, but we think it’s one we can accomplish. Savings throughout the year will come from the $1 bill/change jar; WenYu’s and Meiling’s reimbursements for their phone plan; a monthly saving allotment (which has been increased for 2021); all refunds, reimbursements, and rewards; and every other bit of odds and ends we can throw into the account. We’re on track to save over $10,000 this year, and I’m now working on earning another $500 Delta gift card before the end of they year.
  4. Save $600 for Christmas 2021. We plan to keep it simple again next year, even if we’re all together again. Brett and I have already decided that any gifts we give each other will be to support our 2022 walking tour in Japan. Well, we’re no longer doing a walking tour in Japan, and any gifts Brett and I exchange will be things we need for Big Adventure II. We’re on track to reach this goal as well. Starting next month we will be adding in one or two items into our shopping (stocking stuffer items for the girls) and have that done by December with hopefully very little disturbance to our budget. We already have yen set aside to send to the grands for them to spend at Christmas.
  5. Send at least one stored item to each of the girls. We plan to send WenYu a lamp we’ve been storing for her, and also her light box (for drawing), but have no idea yet what to send to Meiling (she wants my KitchenAid mixer, but for what it would cost to send from her we could buy her a new one). Postage is going to be expensive no matter what we choose to send, but we are determined to start whittling down the stuff we are keeping for them. YaYu’s things will stay here for the time being, until she finishes school. We’re going to let the girls go through their things when they’re here and carry items back with them. We’ve already asked them what to do about some items, and have sold the KitchenAid mixer, the light box, and a couple of other items we were storing for the girls that they have said they no longer want. The lamp went up on our local Buy & Sell, got lots of view, but no takers so it will be saved for a garage sale later.
  6. Go to the beach at least 26 times. That’s an average of every other week but we think it’s a goal we can accomplish. We’ve been to the beach ten times this year so far and with summer just getting started we think we’ll be able to reach our goal by the end of the year.

So far so good then on the joint goals. There are mixed reviews however with my personal goals:

My Personal Goals:

  1. Read 52 books. Last year was a bust as I didn’t read for nearly three months after we came back to Kaua’i – my mind just couldn’t focus. I have decided that 2021 will be a “year of mystery” with my reading focusing on mysteries, thrillers (which will include the John LeCarré books – will get as many read/reread as possible), and police procedurals from around the world. I already have over ten books on hold at the library! I have already finished 40 mystery/thriller/procedural books, and should end up going well over 52 books by the end of the year!
  2. Add 20 minutes of upper body strength training with weights to my daily exercise. I need to improve my upper body strength for our 2022 tour. YaYu has agreed to help me find a program I can follow online. I am continuing with 10 minutes of upper body strength exercise three times a week. With 2-pound weights it’s still a workout.
  3. Continue to study Japanese, and add French as well. I’m going to finish up the Memrise Japanese offerings at the beginning of the year, then plan to move on to working with the Japanese for Busy People text to get a firmer grip on the grammar. I’m not sure how much I can improve, but the point for me now is to keep going with it. I found a free beginning online French course offered through MIT, and want to start that. It will be challenging, especially since I will have to submit lessons and will actually be awarded a grade for the course once I sign up, so once I start I will be committed. I thoroughly enjoyed learning French before we left on our Big Adventure and have been wanting to learn more. I kept up with this for a while, but was honestly not enjoying it and gave it up a few months ago. Japanese is a lost cause for me at the this point, and I’ve decided to study either Italian or German beginning next year in preparation for future travels.
  4. Start writing a book. I have an idea of where I want to go with this, so will begin next month with an outline, and also start researching publishers. I plan to set aside an one hour each day for book writing. I figured out very early on that I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in writing a book and stopped trying.

Overall, I would say we’re making great progress this year toward accomplishing our goals. There are just two things that aren’t going to happen, but otherwise we’re on track to getting everything accomplished and that makes me happy. Yeah us!

Creating SMART Travel Goals

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared on July 24, 2017)

Both Brett and I have always been big fans of setting goals and then working to achieve them, whether that’s downsizing or moving to Hawai’i or saving for travel.

We create our travel goals using the SMART criteria, and it’s worked especially well for travel planning. The SMART acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. Long before we ever travel, Brett and I sit down, talk about what we want to do, what we can afford, and then make our travel goal the SMART way. We’ve been using this method for many years, and it’s led us to success over and over again, no matter what we want to achieve.

Here’s how we use the SMART criteria when creating a travel goal:

  • Specific: Being specific means knowing exactly what we want to do. Instead of saying We want to travel or We’d like to visit xxx, both of which are vague, we spell out exactly where we want to go, when we want to go, and who will be going. We want to visit Japan with our daughter for a week in March during her spring break is very specific while We’d like to go to Japan is not. The first example has a where, when and who will be traveling, while the second example is just an idea.
  • Measurable: This means creating a precise way to quantify our goal. A travel goal contains both time- and money-related aspects, and both require some research. Instead of We want to stay 10 days and spend less than $10,000, a measurable goal is We want to spend 10 days and nine nights. We want to pay less than $700 each for airline tickets, no more than $1500 for lodging and our total budget can be no more than $8,000 (or whatever we decide our top limit is). The top limit of our budget is the number we will be working toward, and the time aspect is making sure we can take vacation at that time or that there’s nothing else that might make it difficult to travel.
  • Achievable: The travel goal needs to be what we know we can attain and complete in a specific amount of time. Giving ourselves a goal of saving $8,000 in a year for our trip is not achievable if we know that will be impossible, or that we’ll need to raid our savings or use credit cards or borrow money (and we don’t want to do those things). A specific SMART goal would be: We need to save $8,000 in the next 12 months (~$670/month) in order to make this trip during spring break. We’ll set up a monthly savings allotment, save all our refunds and gifts, save all change and $1 bills, and find other ways to save as much as possible. If we are sure we can achieve our goal, then we go for it; otherwise, we start over or reset our parameters with what we know we can achieve.
  • Realistic: This part of the goal is tied very closely to achievable, and allows us to visualize the results of our efforts. Besides just getting to our destination and knowing where we’ll stay, we also need to think about what we can afford or will have time to do when we’re at our destination. Realistic means that while we may dream of flying first class or staying at the Four Seasons, there’s no point in doing so if it will consume all or most of our budget, and not allow us to do anything else at our destination. However, if flying first class and staying at the Four Seasons is our dream, then we’ll have to reset our original time parameters or figure out a way to earn or save more within our original time constraints.
  • Time-bound: We make sure we have a timeline for achievement. Setting a SMART goal for travel not only requires that we set the actual date for travel that we work toward, but that we also research and set specific time-goals along the way. So, while we’ve figured out that we can save $8000 in a year to cover all our expenses, we also need to know time-sensitive issues that will arise while we’re saving. For example, We will need to have $2500 of our $8000 by such-and-such date to purchase airfare and reserve our lodging (because we don’t want to leave these until the last minute). Besides air fare and lodging, our trip may also involve several other time-related issues that arise before actually traveling, things like booking tours, or getting restaurant reservations, so those may need specific time deadlines as well. Once again, research is our friend.

Because Brett and I can’t just whip our checkbook and cover any trip whenever we feel like it, using the SMART criteria has meant we’ve been able to make most of our travel dreams a reality without using credit cards or dipping into our regular savings, or putting ourselves into debt. Setting up a SMART goal can take a little more time, but almost always ups the chances for success.

Learning Another Language As an Adult

(photo credit: Leonardo Toshiro Okubo/Unsplash)

(This is an updated version of a post I wrote in May of 2018)

Brett and I have once again been thinking a lot about taking up another foreign language in preparation for our future travels. It makes sense for us to have some basics in another language if we’re going to travel and stay in another country for long period of time. I know enough Japanese to not get lost, buy things, and so forth, and found the basic French I learned last time helped us to get around in that country as well if for nothing more than reading signs and simple directions. Current plans are that Brett will go with Greek as he studied it for a while back in his navy days, but I’m torn between German and Italian, both of which I’ve studied before. I have spent a considerable amount of time (like years) trying to learn Japanese, only to still find myself with an ability less than a two year-old. Because my professional  background is in adult language learning and acquisition you would think I’d have this all figured out by now and would know all sorts of tricks to make learning faster and easier, but sadly, no. That’s not how language learning works.

Children pick up new languages very easily, at least the spoken part, typically because they are usually far more immersed in a new language than most adults (i.e. in school all day with other native speakers). If children learn a second language before the age of twelve they usually become fluent speakers with no accent. Although adults learn a language in the same steps as children, how adults process what they are learning is different based on cognitive differences and other previous learning experiences, and the reality is it takes adults longer to acquire a second language. The good news is it’s not impossible.

When adults are learning a second or foreign language, there are three main aspects that come into play: 1) motivation, or the reasons for learning another language; 2) how an adult views themself as a learner; and 3) who an adult sees themselves to be when they speak another language. All three of these are important, but any one of them on their own can have a profound effect on the learning experience. Being aware of these forces and the roles they play can help adults through the process.

Motivation falls into two classes, intrinsic or extrinsic. That is, motivation to learn another language either comes from within or from without. Are you learning a new language because you want to or because you have to or need to? How strong is the desire or need? A combination of both intrinsic and extrinsic reasons for learning is best, and together can provide powerful motivation to push through difficult stretches and improve.

Language learning has often proven to be a sticky problem for adults who have always seen themselves as successful learners or talented in other respects. Recognizing that language learning calls on a whole different set of skills than learning math or history, or participating in a sport or hobby, and that it might not be as easy for you as you thought (or as fun) is an important step in staying motivated and continuing to learn.

One’s self-image when learning a new language can sometimes take some serious blows. As a native speaker of English, I view myself as a confident, skilled adult when I speak, read, write or listen to English, able to know what to say in almost any situation or figure out what someone else is saying or inferring. With a new language I often find myself with less ability than a small child, making lots of (sometimes embarrassing) mistakes, sometimes unable to order in a restaurant or ask directions, let alone manage any other social or professional situations. It’s very humbling, and can also be humiliating at times. Also, there’s the aspect to self of fitting in socially and culturally where the new language is spoken. Knowing that these feelings are perfectly normal can help you stick with language learning.

Based on my many years of teaching English to adults learners, here are some tips for making language learning more productive and less painful:

  • Communication should be the goal. Not fluency, not perfection, although you can strive for those. Can another person understand what you’re trying to say or write and communicate back to you? That’s what really matters.
  • Know how difficult a language is to learn. Russian or Chinese or Finnish are going to be w-a-y more difficult for an English speaker to learn than Spanish or French. All language learning takes time and effort, but if you want to learn one of the more difficult languages, give yourself even more time. Although the goal may be much less than professional proficiency, here is the Foreign Language Institute difficulty ranking for English speakers, and how many hours of study it takes to reach General Professional Proficiency in Speaking (Level S3) and Reading (Level R3) in different languages. Notice that for a Class 1 language it takes less than six months to reach this level; to reach the same level with a Class 5 languages it takes closer to two years! This is honestly not meant to be discouraging, but provide a realistic look at what you’re taking on.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Seriously, mistakes are how we learn, especially in language learning! Think of all the mistakes children make when they’re learning to speak. Adults go through the same steps, and mistakes will happen. The important thing is to keep trying to produce the language in some form rather than shut down. An ideal instructor (or online program) will always model the language correctly for you when you make a mistake and give chances to try again. It’s also important to find a classroom and instructor where you feel safe to make mistakes. My Japanese instructors in college didn’t go for safety and it was an incredibly stressful and miserable experience. I remember nothing from those classes other than wanting them to end (although I did get my thesis topic out of the experience!).
  • Be prepared to memorize. Memory is a very big part of language learning. We memorize constantly when we learn our own language (as an example, I took weekly spelling tests from first through the eighth grade because much of English spelling and pronunciation is based on memorization, even for native speakers), and the same will be true for any other language. It’s more difficult to remember things when we’re older because we’re carrying around and having to deal with so much more information in our brains than we did when we were younger. The best way to remember what you’re learning is to practice every day.
  • Don’t sweat pronunciation. The ability to speak another language without an accent ends at about age 12. That’s when our mouths and oral muscles “solidify” around our native language. Not worrying about pronunciation doesn’t mean not trying to pronunciate a new language correctly in order to be understood, but sounding like a native speaker doesn’t need to be the goal.
  • Find ways to expose yourself to the language. Learning French in France is going to be a whole lot easier than trying to learn it in the U.S. Why? Because learners are immersed in the language there – it can’t be escaped and has to be dealt with. In your own country, once you’re out of the classroom it’s difficult to find opportunities to practice and use the language you’re learning. Immersion experiences do exist though. Shop in international markets and read the labels or ask questions in the language you’re learning. Pick up a newspaper or magazine in the new language, go through it and see what can be figured out. Watch foreign films or TV shows in the new language without subtitles. For example, when our girls were learning Chinese, they found that all their favorite Disney Channel shows could be watched online in Mandarin, so they got lots of extra listening comprehension practice from those. Go to a church service where the language you’re learning is spoken (they exist). See if you can set up conversation experiences through local colleges, or hire a tutor and have them provide a weekly immersion session. I was sometimes able to match up my students, if they had time, with an English speaker who was trying to learn their language. They’d spend one hour together in one language, the second hour in the other language.

Knowing another language opens doors for understanding a new and/or different culture, but language learning is a process that takes time, in some cases LOTS of time. It’s important to remind yourself, especially if you’re struggling or on the fence about sticking with it, that you didn’t learn English (or any other native language) quickly as a child either. Unless necessary for professional reasons, fluency doesn’t need to be the goal of language learning; rather, you should strive to learn enough of a new language to communicate effectively, and as a means to better understand and enhance experiences in a different culture.

Finally, If you’re a native speaker of English, one other interesting side effect of learning another language is that you will probably learn more about English as well, and what a crazy, difficult, and sometimes impossible language it is. I thank my stars every day that English is my native language, and that I didn’t have to learn it as a second or foreign language. My years of teaching gave me an immense amount of respect for anyone trying to learn English, a daunting task if there ever was one.

A Fun Distraction

Road trip! (photo credit: Katie Moum/Unsplash)

A couple of weeks ago, with all the bad news about the COVID pandemic around the world, Brett and I took a deeper look at our Plan B, an extended road trip around the continental U.S. We wanted to see if it was indeed possible and what it might cost compared to our original Big Adventure II plan.

The Ultimate National Park road trip

The exercise really got going when I came across a map for the Ultimate National Park Road Trip. Brett and I have often dreamed of doing a western National Park loop trip, but here was one that stopped at all the parks in the U.S.! For a few days he and I poured over the map trying to decide which direction we’d go and where we’d stay. I investigated Airbnb rentals in the areas we chose, we figured out the best state to set up residency before we set off (Washington), and we evaluated whether to buy an RV or a car (new or used), and with a car should it be hybrid or not, sedan or SUV, and so forth.

For several days we were caught up in the excitement of trip planning, imaging a nomadic life on the road for a few years before settling down. We even figured out how we could still fit in an annual trip to Japan and started heading down the road of convincing ourselves that maybe this was the better way to do the second round of the Big Adventure.

And then we crunched the numbers. Comparing those to our original plans we discovered there was no contest: overseas travel was the easy winner. A road trip would cost us a whole lot more.

The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid was the best choice for size, comfort, MPG, and cost. We were quite surprised to find that buying used made only a slight difference in the price.

The reason? Purchasing and operating a car put a huge dent in the budget. Even with a substantial down payment, even with choosing a economical car (our ultimate choice was the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid), the cost of owning and operating any car would take a big chunk out of our monthly budget. It didn’t matter whether we bought new or used, the total cost each month would be a lot (not just the monthly payment but also the gasoline, insurance, and other operating costs). We told ourselves that at the end of our journey we would at least own a car, but then remembered our ultimate goal is to not own a car. An RV purchase was even more out of the question, but we also found Airbnb rental prices to be higher in the U.S. than many places overseas. It would be something of a struggle to stay within or under our monthly budget for lodging for almost any place in the U.S., even staying in one location for a month.

We also realized we are not crazy about being in the U.S. during another election year.

It was a fun diversion to think about doing a big road trip versus traveling overseas again, but in the end our original plan proved to be the more frugal and exciting choice for us. Our goals for the future are solid and we want to stick to them. We know we can do a road trip if things comes to that, but for now it will continue to retain its Plan B status.

Simple Living or Frugal Living?

(photo credit: Annie Spratt/Unsplash)

A couple of days ago I was remembering an old friend in Portland, someone I considered to be quite frugal. One of her many skills was finding and buying bulk food deals for her family (four children) and I recalled her telling someone that she kept three freezers full of all her frugal finds.

Three freezers? I remember thinking at the time that there was no way I would want to manage or keep track of three freezers full of food, which was w-a-y more complication than I needed or wanted to take on in our similarly-sized family’s quest to live more frugally.

That got me thinking again about frugal living versus simple living. What am I trying to accomplish now? Which is more important to me these days?

Although frugality and simplicity make a good match, living frugally does not always equal living simply. For example, even if I only shopped at Goodwill, other thrift stores, or yard sales, if I bought a lot of stuff and brought it home, that wouldn’t be living simply although it saved me some money over buying new. I’d still end up with more stuff that I have to track and maintain. If I drove all over town to get the best deal with coupons, that would use both time and gasoline in the pursuit of saving a few dollars. In my life, maintaining a closet full of clothes, keeping track of a lot of food, or taking the time to drive all over town are complicated undertakings, and there are plenty of other things I’d rather be doing.

My definition of simple living is doing more with less. This does not mean not looking for the best prices, having reserves or buying extra when something is on sale, or enjoying the hunt at a thrift store or yard sale. It means setting limits that work for us. Being frugal for frugality’s sake isn’t an end in itself. Frugality means that Brett and I continue to learn how to do things better with less.

We remain a work in progress. One freezer full of food along with a well-stocked pantry would be more than enough for us, too much actually, these days. I like knowing what we have without having to resort to spreadsheets or calendars in order to use what’s on hand in a timely manner. We have enough clothes. We have much less furniture than we did three years ago, and it’s more than plenty for the two of us. Less means it’s simpler these day to keep our house clean, open, and light.

More than anything else we’ve done, being able to cut back on not just possessions but on the time we spend acquiring possessions (including food) has allowed us to focus more on saving and as well as doing a better job of saving. It’s frankly been liberating, and helped both Brett and I get to the core of what we need to feel secure, content and even happy.

Just becoming more frugal wasn’t the answer for us because frugal living didn’t necessarily equal simple living, and that has turned out to be our ultimate goal: A simple life.

What simple living means to me or our family might either be too complicated or too bare-bones for someone else. Everyone has their own “sweet spot.” For my friend, that meant having three freezers full of food. For me, it has meant not only spending within our means, but having more time to do the things we enjoy, and not feel burdened by the need to always be in search of the best deal or “have it all.”

First Draft: An Itinerary For the Next Big Adventure

It’s taken a few weeks, but we’ve put together what we think is a good plan for two years of travel! We started off thinking we would figure out a year’s worth but somehow we just got going and couldn’t stop at a year.

I’m sort of happy we did this because it gives me lots of think about when it comes to planning and how much we should save in advance. There’s a big splurge in the second year which will require extra advance saving, but now that we know we’re better prepared to work on a monthly budget for that.

Before we started putting together an itinerary, we set three simple ground rules:

  • A minimum of 30 days in each location
  • Include at least one “long weekend” or getaway to a nearby location (around four or five days)
  • Ninety days in Japan each year
  • Special attention given to the weather and time of year; i.e., other than going to New England in December to spend Christmas with our daughters, no northern visits in the winter, no southern visits in the summer, and so forth.

Locations we have not visited yet were the priority, but there are some return visits. We also wanted the order we traveled to make some kind of geographical sense with not too many long flights in between.

After much deliberation and back and forth, here’s the first draft of an itinerary for the next Big Adventure. We’re pretty sure some things will change as we move closer to 2023, both because of costs and because lots can happen during two years that we have no way of knowing now.

photo credit: Danae Dal Bianco/Unsplash

We’ll start with an month-long stay on the island of Crete in Greece, with a long weekend in Athens and possibly a trip to Santorini.

photo credit: Fatih Yurur/Unsplash

From Greece we’ll head to Istanbul, a place both of us have longed to visit.

photo credit: Julia Solonina/Unsplash

Instead of returning to Rome, we’ve decided we would rather go north and spend a month in Verona, with easy access to Venice, Vincenza, Padua, and Milan.

photo credit: ERROR 420/Unsplash

Next is Western Germany. We wanted to stay in Amsterdam for a month, but lodging is very expensive there so instead we’ll make Amsterdam a long weekend visit. We’re thinking of staying in either Cologne or the area around Frankfurt so we can also go back to Strasbourg for a few days.

photo credit: Candy Good/Unsplash

We’re heading back to the UK after Germany, for just 30 days this time. We can’t decide whether to return to the Cotswolds or instead stay in Derbyshire, but it’s looking like the Cotswolds may be too expensive for a month’s stay (last time Airbnb covered the cost). We plan to rent a car this time, so a trip back to Blockley for a long weekend would be doable from Derbyshire and probably more affordable. We also want to add on a week in London at the end of our stay to see the things we missed before. After nearly missing our flight out of London in 2019, we want to make sure as well this next time we’re already in London before our flight!

England will be followed by a 90-day stay in Tokyo. We hope to find lodging this time nearer to our son’s new home but there currently don’t appear to be any affordable rentals in the area. Sangenjaya, the neighborhood where we stayed before and love, would not be as convenient as before but still doable. There are nonstop flights from London to Tokyo, and this will be where our air miles will come in handy, to upgrade to comfortable seats for the long flight(s).

photo credit: Clifford/Unsplash

If all goes as plans we will leave Japan in mid-December, and head back to New England for a month to spend the Christmas and the New Year’s holiday with our daughters, and re-provision before setting out again. Japan to the east coast of the U.S. will be another long journey, but we are already thinking that unless we find a fantastic fare to Boston we will break up the trip with a short stay in Portland so we can get together again with friends.

At the beginning of 2024 we want to return to Buenos Aires, not only because of a strong desire to experience more of the city, but because it will be summer there! We would like to visit Iguazu Falls this time, if possible, so that’s one idea for a long weekend getaway. We missed seeing Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay on our last visit, another great getaway (it’s just across the river, and a World Heritage site), or maybe spending a few days in Tigre, a natural area on the northside of Buenos Aires. Tierra del Fuego would make a wonderful long weekend visit as well.

photo credit: Miranda Garside/Unsplash

Following Argentine our destination will be Mexico for 60 days, spending the first month exploring Mexico City, and the second in San Miguel de Allende, which would have been our destination following Japan in 2020.

photo credit: Scott Walsh/Unsplash

Leaving Mexico, we will head north again, this time to Canada! Our idea is to spend 30 days somewhere in the Maritimes, 30 days in Montreal, and finish with 30 days in Vancouver. We would rent a car during our stay in the Maritimes but otherwise rely on public transportation in the other two cities.

photo credit: Ondrej Machart/Unsplash

Another l-o-n-g journey awaits us when we leave Canada because we want to head back to Australia for 60 days! We will break our 30-day rule here as there’s several things we’d like to do, and this is probably the last time we’ll go to Australia. We’ll start with a week in Sydney, then travel to Adelaide in South Australia for a 30 day stay. The train made a stop in Adelaide on the way to Sydney during our last visit and we were enchanted by what we saw. At the end of our stay we’ll board The Ghan for hopefully 10 days of travel through the center of the country, with stops in Alice Springs and overnight visits to Uluru and other sites in the outback, and finishing the journey with a short stay in Darwin. Afterwards we’d like to visit my brother and other family in Queensland. A train journey tour package would be our only big “splurge” this time around.

Then it’s back to Tokyo for another 90 day fall stay. While we love seeing the cherry blossoms, the changing leaves, autumn foods, and the chance to celebrate our son’s and granddaughter’s birthday make the fall a great time for us to be there.

We’ll end 2024 with another stay in New England for the holidays.

After coming up with that itinerary, we decided it was time to stop although we have some ideas of where to go after that. There are so many places we want to visit but those can wait until later!