Lessons Learned

Travel days are always exhausting, and occasionally things don’t always go as planned, but Brett still makes sure everything gets packed and we’re where we need to be on time.

During all our travels we’ve never lost a suitcase, or left one of our phones in a taxi, or made another major goof. Looking back, I’m not entirely sure how we kept those things from happening other than we had a good system for tracking things, and Brett proved to be a superb logistics manager, making sure everything was in place and keeping us moving.

Things still went wrong though. Often the problems we encountered were things outside of our control, and the biggest and best lessons learned throughout our travels were that no matter how well we planned or how well we tracked our stuff, things could and did go wrong, and an ability to pick our battles, adapt quickly, and stay calm determined whether there would be a successful outcome or not.

We counted late departures part of doing business when we traveled and something that was entirely out of our control, no matter how frustrating the situation. We knew the best way to deal with a late flight was go with the flow and hope for the best. A six-hour delay departing Philadelphia when we began our travels almost caused us to miss our flight to Buenos Aires, but we stayed calm as possible and eventually got to our flight on time (on only an hour’s sleep). All’s well that ends well – we ended up in the only row in the aircraft with empty seats which allowed us to stretch out and sleep! Our flight from Montevideo to Madrid was delayed by over an hour, which meant we would miss our connection to Paris – nothing we could do about that – but somehow we turned out to be “special passengers” and an Air France representative personally met us upon arrival with new boarding passes for our connecting flight to Paris and we arrived on time. Not all situations ended happily though – when we departed India, the airline determined our luggage was overweight (it wasn’t) and no amount of arguing would get them to budge. We finally paid the overage to get on our way. To add to our misery, we had to empty our carry-ons for security and then repack, and our departure. gate was the furthest one away – we thought we’d never get there.

The view from our balcony in Montevideo.

We also learned along the way not to judge a book, or rather an Airbnb, by its cover. Our apartment in Montevideo appeared to be in a rather seedy-looking neighborhood, and we were hesitant about it, but the interior was lovely and comfortable, and we had a balcony view into the city. The location turned out to be perfect for touring the city. Our Strasbourg apartment was tiny, less than 300 square feet, yet was also in a great location for exploring the city. The sofa bed we slept on there we count as one of our most comfortable beds and the apartment as one of our favorites. However, the apartment we rented in Bath looked great in the pictures, but turned out to be rather shabby with an uncomfortable bed. We won most of the time, but occasionally lost.

At the last minute we scored first class seats on our flight from London to San Francisco, and made it home on time.

Departing the UK in 2019 was our most trying experience, with just about everything that could go wrong going wrong, starting with our first train of the day being cancelled and the next one arriving nearly 45 minutes late. Rather than staying calm, we allowed ourselves to get flustered and ended up taking the wrong train into Reading Station from Oxford, arriving on the furthest track from the one we needed. We literally ran through Reading Station, up and down escalators and elevators, with Brett hauling our two big suitcases behind him, and we climbed onto the last car of the train to Gatwick airport with less than 30 seconds to spare. That train was still a long shot, our last chance to possibly catch our flight, but when we arrived at the airport the check-in lines were so long that we knew we’d never make it and resigned ourselves to rebooking for the next day. Lady Luck was apparently looking down on us though because there was suddenly an announcement that four remaining first class seats were available on our flight. Unusual for us, we made a quick decision and snapped up two seats, getting to the gate just as first class was boarding! Those first class seats ended up saving us hundreds of dollars over what it would have cost us to check our bags, pay for a hotel room for the night, and rebook our tickets. Lessons learned? Stay calm no matter what, be flexible, and recognize there are times to let go when it comes to your budget.

While we enjoy free walking tours, the paid tours we took allowed us to experience and learn things we wouldn’t have otherwise.

Other lessons we learned along the way? While we’re big fans of free walking tours offered in most cities, we learned that paying for a speciality tour now and again can give you a big bang for your bucks. We took an amazing small-group tour of the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Forum in Rome that got us into places the free tours didn’t go. We took two different wine tours in Bordeaux offered through the city, and learned more than we ever could have on our own as well as got to taste come fabulous wines. We took three Airbnb Experience tours in Edinburgh and a tour of a local gin distillery, and again, went places and learned things we never would have otherwise.

Our farmhouse stay in Switzerland provided experiences we wouldn’t have had staying in our own Airbnb or in a hotel.

We also learned that staying as a guest in someone’s home offered cultural experiences and learning as part of the package. At the beginning of our travels we had been determined to always stay in our own place, but after spending two nights with a family in their 300+ year-old Swiss farmhouse, we changed our minds. We were treated to a traditional dinner (raclette) with the family on our second evening, enjoyed a massive farm breakfast in the mornings, baked bread with the host, and left with a big bag of apples picked from their trees. We departed New Zealand with a deeper understanding of that country because of the hospitality and knowledge offered by our hosts along the way.

The biggest lesson we learned? We discovered strengths and skills we didn’t know we had. We played to the strengths we did know, but adapted as new ones revealed themselves and evolved. My forte was and is planning, and Brett let(s) me handle almost all of that as well as entertainment, meals, and a daily or weekly schedule. Brett’s strength is logistics – he makes sure we get to where we need to be on time (well, except when trains get cancelled), makes sure everything gets packed, and is able to orient himself very quickly in a new location. Brett also keeps track of our finances – he tracked our spending every day so we knew whether we need to slow down or whether there was enough in the budget for something special.

Solid research and planning before departure made a world of difference in whether a change or problem felt doable or like the end of the world, and our knowledge worked for us almost all of the time. As we went along though we learned to open ourselves up a bit more and manage our reactions to what could potentially become a negative experience. We came very close to paying the penalties that come along from not staying calm and not being flexible with our budget when the time called for it. All these things have affected how we travel now – how we plan. how we spend, and how we react to and handle what gets thrown in our path.

That Didn’t Take Long

Brett told me the other day that he never wants to move again. It’s not that he’s fallen in love with Tennessee, but he said he’s tired of all the packing, unpacking, setting up, etc. that goes with moving. Our last few travel experiences didn’t help his mood: the long plane flights and schedules that were changed without notice, lugging the big suitcases around, driving a big van through all sorts of crazy weather and having to unload it every evening and load it again in the morning, and on and on. At age 72 he said he’s had enough.

While I still enjoy and look forward to traveling, our experiences since we left Hawaii have left their mark on me as well, and I admit to being somewhat relieved to be settled again with our own things, even if many of those things are actually new to us. I honestly did not enjoy the whole moving part of the past few months, but also know that I don’t want to stay in Tennessee for more than two years. I know that means we’re going to have to pack up and move once again.

I’ve promised Brett though that next move will be our last, and that someone else will move us and do all the work. One of the reasons I’m so fierce about saving once again is that if we are not going to do it ourselves, we are going to have to pay someone else to pack our things, load a truck, move our stuff, and unpack at our destination. I’m all done with that part of moving.

We are 100% decided at this point that when we leave Tennessee we will head to Mexico, to the city of Mazatlán on the Pacific coast. We enjoyed our time in San Miguel de Allende, but knew that while we could happily live in Mexico, SMA was not the right place for us for a variety of reasons.

Why did we choose Mazatlán?

  • It’s beach town on the same latitude as Hawaii but with a much, much, much lower cost of living. We can easily afford an oceanside modern condo or apartment, or a house with an ocean view and Pacific breezes as well as a housekeeper (and gardener if needed).
  • We thought the cost of living in San Miguel de Allende was fantastic, but Mazatlán’s COL is even lower. We can live very well there on half of our income. The other half can be used for travel, investment, and saving. And, I can continue to afford to live there if Brett predeceases me.
  • The city has an international airport with direct flights to several American cities (two hours from Phoenix, for example) as well as Mexico City. We can fly from Mazatlán to the U.S. and either up to the northeast to see the girls, or over to Japan. We could afford to visit Japan and the girls every year as well as travel to another destination in the world.
  • Although our health and dental insurance cover us worldwide, good health and dental care are available and extremely affordable in Mazatlán. As we age, we can also afford to hire home health assistance if needed.
  • There is a large expat community in Mazatlán, but not an overwhelmingly large one like there was in San Miguel de Allende. There is a tourist season, with an influx of snowbirds and visitors, but nothing approaching the numbers of SMA or cities further down the coast such as Puerto Vallarta or Acapulco.
  • The city has well-run public transportation, and we would not need a car there (two of our daughters are already interested in purchasing our car from us).
  • Mazatlán’s weather is hot and dry. It can be quite hot during the summer and into the early fall, but the rest of the year is pleasant and warm. There are numerous walking venues, and a long, accessible beach. The city is known for it seafood, shrimp especially.

Will we move all of our stuff to Mazatlán? Yes – it would be an affordable move. We like the stuff we’ve purchased here and if it holds up we plan to keep it.

Mazatlán has everything we want, from an oceanside location to a low cost of living that will allow us to continue to travel while still being settled somewhere. We will get everything we want at a cost we can afford. We’ve got two years to go here in Nashville, but we’re back in savings mode once again so that when the time comes we’ll be ready to make our move!

Sticker Shock?

This past week we ran into one of our SMA neighbors at City Market, and shared a taxi with her to come home. She had just gotten back from a trip to Texas and told us to be prepared for some real sticker shock when we returned to the U.S. A Clif Bar, she said, was $3.00!

I guess in comparison to what things cost here in Mexico prices in Texas probably did seem quite high to our neighbor. However, after our years in Hawaii we’ve been suffering from reverse sticker shock as prices here have seemed almost artificially low. We have no idea what things are going to cost in Nashville in comparison but we feel confident they’ll still be less than they were on Kaua’i.

We’ve been working on our monthly budget for Tennessee, but currently there are still too many unknowns to nail things down. For example, we know how much rent we’ll be paying, but have no idea what utilities will cost, and we haven’t paid a utility bill for nearly four years (and Kaua’i utility costs were high). We don’t know how much Internet service will be but we’re guessing it will be close to what it was on Kaua’i, maybe a little less if we’re lucky. We were paying over $5 per gallon for gas when we left Kaua’i in May, but prices in the area we’ll be living in Tennessee are currently under $4 per gallon so I think we may initially feel some slight reverse sticker shock there. Car insurance for our new car will most likely be more than what we were paying for our older Honda Civic.

We’ll have an abundance of food shopping options near to us in Tennessee including Trader Joe’s, Costco, Aldi, and many other stores, and I know we’re going to find prices to be lower than what we were paying on Kaua’i along with an increased selection of things available. However, at the same time those prices will most likely seem high after Mexico, so I’m guessing we’ll fall somewhere into the neutral zone with sticker shock, but we’ll again be bringing all our frugal shopping skills to bear to get the most for our money. We’ve determined an initial budget amount for food each month, but as always the goal will be to spend less, if possible, and put the difference into savings. Dining out will once again become the rare exception it was in the past rather than the norm it’s become here in San Miguel de Allende.

It’s been a few years since I purchased a Clif Bar, but I wanted to tell our neighbor that $3 would have seemed like bargain after Kaua’i, where it would have probably cost somewhere between $4-$5. We’ve prepared ourselves for higher prices than we’ve been paying in Mexico, but hopefully we’ll get to enjoy some of the benefits of reverse sticker shock as we compare Tennessee prices to those we were paying in Hawaii. We’ll just have to see how it goes.

Three Choices (for now)

A couple of months ago Brett and I had convinced ourselves that following our time in Nashville we could move up to Maine, buy a house, and settle down. Or, we could ditch our car, store our furniture and travel the world with our dog. We had it all figured out.

But deep down a move to Maine never quite felt right to either of us. Neither did flying around the world with a dog. It turned out we were both caught up in the idea of living in Maine or traveling the world with our dog versus the reality of either of those options. Deep down we were uncomfortable with the idea of purchasing a house again and all the work and maintenance that would entail, especially in Maine. We also honestly didn’t want to keep track of all the paperwork necessary to take our little dog into different countries. We were more uncomfortable than either of us wanted to initially admit with facing winter in Maine at our ages (72 and 74 when we would arrive), and what that might cost us (either buying loads of equipment or paying someone to dig us out). As much as we loved the idea of living in Maine, we knew it would in reality be a lot more work that we wanted to take on. Same for traveling with a dog.

So, we scratched everything and went back to the drawing board. We made a list of the things that make us happy and that would be important this next time around. We came up with seven items that are important to us at this stage in our lives – proximity to family, cost of living, taxes, good weather, financial security, quality healthcare, and travel – and using those came up with a list of three possible options for a post-Nashville life. We listed the positives and negatives for each, but didn’t rank anything for now.

Below are the three options we’ve come up with so far:

1) Honolulu Condo

POSITIVES:

  • Life in Hawaii fits us like a glove. Granted, busy Honolulu would be very different than slow-tempo Kaua’i, but the underlying basics that we love about Hawaii would still be there.
  • Owning a condo appeals more to us than owning a single family home: it has all the benefits of apartment living but we can alter the interior if and as we please. There’s no yard work, external maintenance, and insurance costs are less. Many HOA fees in Honolulu are lower than they are on Kaua’i, with greater benefits.
  • Honolulu has all the amenities we would need as we age: good healthcare services (including Trippler Army Hospital), good public transit, military services (commissary and exchange), walkability, and an increased availability of goods and other options compared to other locations in Hawaii. Plus, there’s still that great Hawaii weather that we love.

NEGATIVES:

  • The cost of living in Honolulu would still be very high. We know how to deal with Hawaii’s high cost of living, but we’re not sure how much we want to continue to have to do that as we age.
  • It would be very difficult for me to afford to continue living in Hawaii if Brett predeceases me.
  • We’re still not convinced we want to or even if it’s a good idea to purchase a home (condo or otherwise) at this stage in our lives.
  • It would be expensive for our children to visit us, and for us to visit our children, meaning we wouldn’t see each other as often as we like even though travel to Honolulu versus Kaua’i would be easier and less costly.
  • The move back to Hawaii would be something of a hassle and expensive.

2) Road Trip: Canada, Western National Parks, and Baja California

POSITIVES:

  • We really do enjoy being nomads, we’d have a car, and our little dog along for company too, with lots to see and do along the way. Our schedule would be of our own making.
  • There would be no expenses associated with settling down, i.e. buying furniture, setting up utilities, and so forth.
  • Driving through the west and visiting all the national parks has always been a dream of ours. Plus, we could pick where we want to be when – maybe Canada during the summer, Baja in the winter, and the west coast in between, for example.

NEGATIVES:

  • A road trip at this time of our lives would be doable but tiring, more than we’re maybe able to admit to ourselves right now.
  • We’d put lots of wear and tear on our car and who knows what the cost of gasoline will be, or lodging. Both are difficult to predict right now, and would tie up much if not most of our monthly income.
  • It would difficult to form friendships while we’re on the road, and we would still have to eventually find some place to settle.

3) Mexico:

POSITIVES:

  • Even if the cost of living in Mexico increases in the next two years, we could still live a very comfortable life with many amenities, including beautiful, furnished housing and almost everything we use regularly (foods and other items and products we like). We would have enough disposable income to continue to travel throughout the year (to escape the weather we don’t like).
  • Everything we would need as we age is available here, from healthcare to home care. And, it’s affordable.
  • The visa would be easy to obtain, and the move down fairly easy as well.
  • We could afford and enjoy dining out regularly.
  • We could have a car if we wanted, but could also manage without one if we choose.
  • We could fly for a reasonable cost to the U.S. and then on up to see the girls in the northeast, over to Japan to see our son and family, or on to other international destinations. Likewise, it wouldn’t be difficult or prohibitive for our family to visit us here occasionally. The cost of living in Mexico would allow us to travel fairly frequently.
  • We could afford to live near the ocean again. There are many wonderful locations to consider in Mexico.
  • I could continue to enjoy a comfortable life in Mexico on a reduced income if Brett predeceases me.
  • There would be loads of opportunities to connect and form friendships within the expat and local community if we choose, no matter where, as well as get involved (if we want) in activities that interest us. We could have as much or as little of a social life as we desire.
  • Learning Spanish neither scares us nor seems as impossible as other languages have.

NEGATIVES:

  • The dry and at times hot weather in places, or the hot and humid weather in other areas could be miserable.
  • A big unknown is how a potential expat community and their influence in any location might affect us. We like having other expats around in some ways, in others, not so much.
  • Although we’re not afraid of learning Spanish, it’s still something we would need to commit to and then work at, both before arrival and while we live here.
  • There are places in Mexico where it’s neither safe to live or travel.

Two of the above choices, the condo in Honolulu and the road trip, are more emotional choices, with Mexico on the sensible side. I would have thought recognizing that might help make a decision easier, but it really doesn’t. In the past Brett and I have always let our hearts rule us – which has thankfully always worked out – but we’ve previously had time to fix errors or make changes, something we don’t feel we have as much of any more if at all.

So, after more discussion and research than you can possibly imagine, and a LOT of back and forth, we still don’t have any idea what we want to do or where we want to go! Mexico looks like the obvious winner but it’s just not that easy. Trying to come up with a decision is sort of making us crazy as well and we think we may need to give ourselves at least another year to weigh our options, talk with our family, and maybe come up with some other ideas. There’s a good chance we’ll stick with one of the three options above, or maybe we’ll come up with something else. No place is going to be perfect and have everything we want, but we know we need to get it as right as possible this time.

So, as I like to say, stay tuned! We plan to enjoy our time in Nashville while we’re there but we’ll be working on making a final, firm decision and getting ourselves ready to make a move in 2024. Where that will be will continue to remain an unknown for the time being.

Game Changer

Brett and I are still coming to terms with how much of a game changer our move to Nashville is going to be for us going forward.

We have absolutely NO REGRETS about accepting our son and daughter-in-law’s request to move to Nashville for the next two years. The request was unexpected, but there was never any doubt about accepting. Brett and I have loads of experience making changes on the fly, can quickly adapt and adjust, and we always make the best of any situation.

However, this move not only changes our plans for the next couple of years, but, as we’ve been figuring out the last few weeks, also for years ahead.

There will be loads of things happening in the next few months we were not expecting to have to do again for a few more years, including purchasing a car and once again buying furniture and other things we’ll need, from a coffee maker to mixing bowls to bed linens and towels. We thankfully didn’t get rid of everything, but most of what we owned here in Hawaii is now gone.

With international travel off the agenda for the next couple of years, Brett and I knew the odds of returning to full-time travel once our DIL and granddaughter returned to Japan were greatly diminished. We talked about whether it made more sense to rent furniture for the next couple of years and buy a used car, but decided we would be happier in the long run if we purchased furniture pieces we could live with for the rest of our lives, and a car that would last the rest of our lives as well.

Once we accepted the above, we realized we wanted own a dog again as well and would adjust future travel plans around that reality. We’ve come up with two paths once our time in Nashville is over: putting our furniture and other possessions into storage and setting off on an extended road trip around Canada and the U.S. along with our puppy for a couple of years, or buying a house and settling down somewhere in the northeast, most likely Maine, and traveling during the winter months (our middle daughter, WenYu, has already offered to store our car and all of the girls have volunteered to watch Kaipo). Both plans have lots of positives and potential for us.

Brett and I were very excited about our upcoming full time travels once again, and have honestly felt sad at times about abandoning those plans. But we are both forward thinkers and optimists, and we also like the options and opportunities we’ve been given. We plan to make the most of our future, and will remain nomads, even if that only turns out to be occasionally.

Brett & Laura Have Left the Building

Saturday evening’s final sunset view

We met our landlord yesterday morning at 8:15, turned over our keys, and were out of our apartment before 9:00 and on our way to breakfast at the Kalaheo Cafe. After breakfast we headed up to Princeville for a very enjoyable (and long overdue) visit with our friends Joy and Les, then headed over to our condo at 3:00 and promptly collapsed. The condo is small, but it’s nice to be sleeping on a real mattress again. We also have enough space and appliances to make our own meals for the rest of our time on Kaua’i.

Last Thursday the apartment’s new tenant asked us if we would move out on Saturday so she could move in a day early, but we told her via the landlord we had paid rent until May 1, and would be staying the night unless she was willing to pay for a hotel room for us (she wasn’t). The apartment was clean as a whistle when we left on Sunday and our entire deposit was returned. Such a difference from our last move-out experience!

The yard was in full bloom this past week. We’re going to miss the yard most of all, I think.

Besides cleaning the apartment all last week, we took care of some other business:

  • I consolidated my student loans to a Direct Federal Loan. I sort of wish I had done this earlier, but I had been afraid I would have to take on a much higher interest rate. However, it turned out my new interest rate will be just .375% higher than my old rate. Because I will again have a direct loan from the government versus a private lender I will be eligible for maybe some of my loan to be forgiven if rumors of that turn out to be true. President Biden is not going to forgive every student loan out there, or even forgive $50K from everyone’s balance, but an amount may be forgiven based on a sliding scale and/or have the interest reduced, maybe to 0%. We’ll see. Whatever happens, having a direct federal loan is all-around better for me for a variety of reasons than what I was previously locked into, and we have committed ourselves to paying off the balance in less than five years, forgiveness or not.
Our little guy is going to stay little. He’ll maybe only weigh 9-10 pounds when fully grown.
  • We got a puppy! Brett and I have missed owning a dog and decided we were ready for another. Our previous dogs were all rescues, but after much thought and a LOT of research we decided we wanted a puppy this time. We found a reputable breeder located near Nashville that had the breed that we were looking for and we made a deposit on a male Shih-poo (Shih Tzu and toy poodle mix). Shih-poos are smart, affectionate, hypoallergenic (they don’t shed), and are devoted to their owners. They require regular grooming, but only every 2 to 3 months. We’ve named our little guy Kaipo, Hawaiian for beloved boy or sweetest boy. He’s currently eight weeks old, but the breeder is going to continue to provide care until we can pick him up in August as well as make sure he is up to date on vaccinations. Our granddaughter is over the moon as she will be away from their family’s beloved Boston terrier for the next two years, but now will have our little guy for her to play with and help train.

We’re expecting a quiet week coming up; the only big tasks we have left are turning in the modem to our Internet provider, getting our wills witnessed, notarized, and mailed off to our son in Japan, and mailing the inflatable mattress to YaYu. We hope we’ll be able to sit out by the pool this coming, or maybe even go to the beach up here (the condo comes with beach chairs & umbrella) but the weather is expected to be less than ideal all week so that probably won’t happen.

One last look back as we headed out the door.

One week from today we’ll board a plane and leave Kaua’i once again. We didn’t think we’d be coming back when we left in 2018, and yet when the call came for Americans overseas to go home in 2020, Kaua’i was where we headed because it was home. Setting up again was a crazy ride, but with help from some very kind people on the island we found a great apartment and were able to get it furnished. Kaua’i has been a wonderful, safe place to ride out the pandemic, and we’ll always be grateful that for almost a year we were able to experience the island without any tourists to contend with (they are currently visiting in record numbers, even more than pre-pandemic). We plan to come back to Kaua’i once more though, for our 50th anniversary, but for now, it’s time to move on to new adventures!

Beyond Plan Z

We did not see this coming. At all. It was not anywhere on our list of future or possible plans. But . . . life happens. And, family comes first.

As planned, we will be heading to Mexico after YaYu’s graduation, but in early July we will depart San Miguel de Allende for:

Our daughter-in-law works for the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and toward the end of last month was offered a two-year posting at the consulate in Nashville. It’s a major promotion for her and, as she says, her “dream job.” However, our son cannot relocate because of his position and the nature of his work in Japan, so they asked if Brett and I would be willing to put our plans on hold and move to Nashville for the next two years as support for M and our granddaughter, K, who will accompany her.

We didn’t hesitate to say yes.

Our grandson, who is now in middle school, will stay in Japan with his dad. They plan to travel to Nashville 2-3 times a year, during our grandson’s school breaks, and our DIL and granddaughter will travel back to Japan at least once a year.

Everything is changing rapidly and plans are being drawn up, reworked, etc. We are being reimbursed by our son for our UK Airbnb deposits and our plane tickets to England. We’re starting the process of choosing and buying a car online to pick up once we arrive in Tennessee, and we’ll again be buying some basic pieces of furniture once we get there as well as other necessities. Instead of London, we’ll be flying from Mexico City to Boston to rent a minivan and pick up our stored things from WenYu to take along to Nashville. We don’t know yet whether we’ll be sharing housing with M and K or getting our own place. M will receive a housing stipend but it’s unknown at this time if she’ll be allowed to use that for shared housing with us or not. There are of course lots and lots of other unknowns as well but details are getting filled in as they come up.

Full-time travel for the Occasional Nomads is off the table for the time being. Following our time in Tennessee, we think we’ll either move to a permanent location in New England or do one last long road trip around the U.S. interspersed with shorter international visits. In the meantime, our priority for the next two years will be to help and support our daughter-in law and granddaughter – travel can wait.

Could You Travel Full-Time?

Brett came to embracing the idea of full-time travel a bit later than I did, but living on the road and seeing the world was a long-time dream for me. We sort of stumbled into our decision to travel full time back in 2017 after we’d come up with a list of places we wanted to visit and were trying to prioritize them. At one point Brett mused aloud, “I wish we could see them all.” We looked at each other and I asked, “Could we possibly do that?” From there we started investigation, crunched numbers for a couple of weeks, figured out what we would have to do to make traveling full time a reality, came up with an initial itinerary, and the first Big Adventure was born.

For us, it was an ideal time in our lives to travel full time. We had already sold our home before coming to Hawaii and were renting. Our children were grown and independent for the most part: our son and family lived permanently in Japan, and our three daughters were in college and getting ready to start their careers. Other full-time travelers we met along the way were in similar circumstances; that is, not tied down with family obligations (either had no children or their children were grown and independent) or in a couple of cases, we met whole families that were traveling full time.

We initially decided to give the experience around a year and see if and how we liked it. We sharpened our itinerary, created a budget, put some of our things into storage and sold everything else, and set out in August of 2018 after getting YaYu settled at college. We began our journey in South America (Buenos Aires and Montevideo, Uruguay) then headed to Europe (Paris, Normandy, Strasbourg, Lucerne, Bordeaux, Florence, Rome, and Lisbon) before returning to the U.S. for Christmas with our daughters. Then it was off to India, Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand followed by a three-month stay in Tokyo. We came back to the U.S. for the summer to provide YaYu with a location so she could work during her break, but she ended up going to Japan for the summer and we ended up playing tourist in our old home town of Portland. In late August of 2019 we flew to England and spent three wonderful months in the Cotswold village of Blockley, visiting the area as well as London and Edinburgh, then returned to Portland one last time for another Christmas with our daughters. We followed that stay with a short visit to Kaua’i and then headed on to Japan for what we thought was another long stay. COVID had other ideas though and in late March 2020 we returned to Kaua’i to wait things out and stay safe. After working through lots of other ideas the past two years we finally realized we wanted to return to full time travel, but a bit more slowly than before, and we will set out again in around four months on another Big Adventure, fully vaccinated and boosted, and armed with additional tools and knowledge that we hope will keep up safe.

Brett and I fell in love with full-time travel because we enjoyed not only the experience and adventure of it, but also the minimalism required, and after 40 years of raising children we loved having the time and freedom to explore and see places we had only previously been able to dream about. Many travelers we met, like us, didn’t start with an idea of indefinite full-time travel, but also grew to love it, especially the ability to travel at a pace that worked for them. COVID certainly turned things upside down, limited the places an American can go, and changed travel forever. However, we’ve found it’s still possible to create a travel itinerary, domestic or international, and make it happen. Many “travel bugs” are already back on the road once again.

There are as many ways to travel full time as there are people, and no way is the best. Some people (like us) stay in Airbnb rentals, but other housesit, house swap, or travel in an RV. Some take advantage of couch surfing or staying with friends, while others stay in hotels full time or even live on a cruise ship! We’re going to be traveling slow(er) this go around, staying in Airbnbs again for at least two months in each place to give us more time to get to know an area. Our goal is not to see everything and every place in the world, but to have a deeper experience and greater knowledge of the places we do visit.

If you’ve ever dreamed of or just thought about traveling full time, Brett and I came up with a few things to consider:

  • Can you give up having a permanent home? This is where most stop when it comes to traveling full time. It’s definitely a major step to consider, let alone take. However, living on the road does not mean having to sell or permanently give up your home. Many travelers rent their homes while they travel, or return home for short stays in between longer jaunts. Some full-time travelers do house swaps. Some find after a while that they want to relocate overseas, and some discover that they no longer need or want to keep their home at all, and plan for a later, smaller purchase when the travel stops. Lodging choices around the world run the gamut from sleeping on someone’s sofas all the way to luxury apartments and homes, with everything in between, and how you choose to live on the road is completely up to you and your budget. We’ve stayed in some pretty wonderful places for not a lot of money.
  • Do you have a way to support yourself when you travel? Food, lodging, transportation, as well as possible sightseeing and so forth all still need to be covered during travel. Some have to be paid in advance, like deposits for lodgings or airline tickets. Some full-time travelers save as much as possible ahead of starting out and then stop and work for a while as needed or stop traveling when the funds run out. Some take advantage of travel hacking to save on travel expenses. Others, like us, have a reliable, steady income that we supplement with savings, and some full time travelers work remotely as they travel.
  • Are you in good health? No one needs to be in perfect health to travel full time, but you should be able to do things like move a (potentially heavy) suitcase around, climb stairs now and then, walk a bit, and so forth. If you take medication you need to plan for how to keep prescriptions refilled, and be willing to visit a doctor or dentist, if necessary, in another country. Health insurance for travel is a non-negotiable necessity and should always be included in any planning or budget creation.
  • Are you able to stick to a budget? This is absolutely critical. Living full time on the road means figuring out ahead of time how much you can afford to spend for things like lodging, food, transportation, miscellaneous costs, etc. and then sticking to that budget just as you would if you were not traveling. Some things – mortgage payments, utilities, car insurance, and such – may go away, but others, like getting from one place to another, pop up. It’s important to know your daily spending limits, set up a spreadsheet or maintain a daily journal, and be willing to track expenses for everything, every day. We eventually figured out that an envelope method worked well for us at each destination, but there are loads of ways to make sure you’re not overspending.
  • Can you save, save, save ahead of time? Unless you have unlimited funds, it helps to figure out ways to boost your savings before setting out and then possibly use those funds to help the adjustment into a full-time travel budget. Savings can come from many directions, including selling your things, even possibly your home. We learned that having savings we could rely on ahead of time went a long way when it came to getting our footing as we began our travels.
  • Are you flexible? While some planning for travel is necessary, are you able to change quickly if necessary? Travel planning means putting a foundation in place, creating an itinerary, and setting goals but it doesn’t mean scheduling every moment you’re on the road or knowing everything you’re going to do ahead of time. Things do and can change, go wrong, or not go as expected from time to time. I know of some full-time travelers who plan things out about six weeks ahead, others just a week or so. Brett and I are more the six months ahead types but we have an emergency fund, always have a Plan B and Plan C, and we can change on a dime when it’s called for without falling apart.
  • Are you willing to embrace minimalism? Full-time travel requires learning to live with what can be carried in a suitcase or even just a backpack. Minimalism does not mean having to get rid of everything, including your home, but it does mean letting go of your stuff at least for a while.
  • Can you and your travel partner’s relationship withstand the give and take of living on the road (if you’re not traveling alone)? Full time travel allows you to play to skills you already have as well as discover talents and strengths you didn’t know existed. Brett turned out to be a superb logistician – he has an uncanny sense of direction, and always got us where we needed to be when we needed to be there. He also loved tracking the daily minutia of travel including our spending each day, how far we walked, etc. On the other hand, I’m good at and enjoy planning, discovering bargains, keeping us fed, and finding entertainment, so those tasks typically fell to me. We made a great travel team! It was also important that we have a solid, loving relationship and enjoy spending time with each other. That being said, our marriage is better and stronger because of our travels.

After we first asked ourselves that fateful question, “could we do that?”, the above were the things we asked ourselves and investigated before we committed to traveling full time. A few were unknowns that we discovered as we traveled, but most of the above were examined carefully before we finally decided we could manage living on the road. The one thing missing from above though? Finances – but that’s a subject for another post.

Let’s Travel Frugally

There’s something for everyone when it comes to traveling. There’s luxury travel, cheap travel, nomadic travel, cruises, travel tours, RV travel, family travel and on and on. Almost everyone can find something to fit their needs and budget when it comes to traveling, and it’s not difficult to find ways to save both before and during one’s journey.

Brett and I consider ourselves to be experienced frugal travelers; that is, we are out to get the biggest bang for our bucks all while staying within a budget that works for us and doesn’t send us spiraling into debt. Being frugal while on the road not only means being thrifty, but avoiding waste and managing our funds with care. Being thrifty while we travel is not always about finding the lowest price but searching out the best value and getting the most for our money. For example, when we were in Rome in 2018 we signed up for a small group tour and visited the Colosseum, Palantine Hill, and the Roman Forum. The cost per person was above our usual price point, but after reading through what the tour offered compared to other lower-priced tours we decided the one we selected would give us a lot more for our money, or in other words, a better value. We ended up with a more in-depth look at these historic places (the tour guide was a local historian) and a group limited to 12 people, small enough that everyone could hear the guide and ask questions easily – no one was left “standing at the back” of a crowd . What we saw, learned, and discovered about the places we visited on the tour provided far more value than what we would have saved by booking a cheaper tour or trying to do it on our own.

To keep our travels affordable, we stayed in Airbnb rentals, shopped locally for food and cooked our own meals almost every day. We rode trains, buses, and took cheap flights, and we walked or used public transportation to get around in each location. Brett faithfully recorded our spending every day so we knew whether we over, under, or right on budget. We balanced stays in more expensive lodgings with less expensive ones in other places, and ended up just $38 over budget overall for our lodging.

In the next few months I want to explore what we’ve learned about traveling frugally, about different ways to save before and during travel, and how to get more for less while you’re on the road or visiting any location. I’ve already posted a bit about saving ahead of time for travel (located in the Saving category), but I want to learn more and better ways to travel while spending less and getting more, and I hope you’ll follow along.

Crunch Time Has Arrived

This is it! All the “fun” things for this year’s upcoming Big Adventure II have been done: itinerary drawn up, reservations made, deposits paid, flights booked, and clothes bought. We’ve sold all the “easy” stuff and built up our travel savings account.

But . . . we move out of our apartment in less than four months and the hard work of making that transition begins now.

Things have to be shipped for storage and to others:

  • A package to our son containing some of his personal papers that we had along with his baby book and other baby items we had kept.
  • A few Christmas items.
  • The few pieces of art we’re keeping.
  • All of our pottery collection.
  • Dishes Meiling and WenYu decided they wanted to keep.
  • A few Japanese items
  • Kitchen utensils and our stainless cutlery.
  • Two pillow covers, our antique Japanese banner, and our comforter.
  • YaYu’s remaining things.
  • The inflatable mattress.

So many boxes, so little time . . . .

Things have to be sold:

  • My All-Clad cookware
  • The big hibachi table
  • A sake jug lamp
  • Our dining table and chairs
  • The barbecue, market umbrella, fire pit, and patio furniture
  • Our TV/storage cabinet
  • The sofa & coffee table
  • Our mattress & bed frame
  • The car

After all that we have to hold a yard sale for everything else and what’s left after that will go to the thrift store.

We have to pack our suitcases, and make sure we’ve provisioned ourselves well enough for a long-term stay overseas.

We have to get ourselves up to our little rental on the north side for our final week on the island.

And then, on May 9, we’ll depart Kaua’i for Pennsylvania!

Crunch time has arrived and we have less than four months to accomplish everything. Wish us luck!