Itinerary Changes (or Adventures With Airbnb)

A future view

Brett and I had created what we thought was a perfect itinerary for most of the first year of our upcoming travels: three months in Strasbourg, eight weeks in Oxford followed by eight weeks in Bath. From there we’d head back to London to fly to Tokyo for a 90-day stay.

We found a wonderful, affordable apartment in Strasbourg, submitted our request and were quickly approved. We found another great, affordable flat in Oxford, submitted our request and were quickly approved.

And then we started looking in Bath and things didn’t go so well.

First, rentals in Bath are expensive. Very expensive. Most of what we found for our dates was over our monthly lodging budget, but we eventually found a lovely apartment that we could afford and that had the amenities we were looking for. The reviews for the place were amazing, and the dates we wanted for next year were available, so we submitted our request. Airbnb hosts are required to respond within 24 hours, and the next day we received a denial with a short note saying they would have to check with the owners to see whether they would agree to a long-term stay (even though it clearly stated in the amenities that long-term stays of over 28 days are allowed). Hmmm. That was a week ago and we have heard nothing back from the owners or otherwise.

Two days after the denial, we submitted a second request for another place. It was the same price, the dates were available, etc. but we were quickly denied with a somewhat curt note from the owner saying she “really doesn’t like to do long-term stays” even though in amenities it had once again stated that the lodging was suitable for stays of over 28 days. Although the calendar was open for our dates, she wrote “I have no idea what I want to do next year.”

We were confused. Were we applying too early? Was it something we said? Both of our hosts in Strasbourg and Oxford said they had enjoyed our introduction and were looking forward to meeting us. We’ve never been rejected before and these two shook us.

Brett and I decided that while we may have wanted to go to Bath, maybe Bath didn’t want us. So, we talked some more and eventually decided to look for a place in Derbyshire. We could save enough staying there that we could afford a car rental for a month and be able to see more of northern England. Some of my ancestors come from Derbyshire, but others come from near the Lake District (Barrow-in-Furness), and I have wanted to visit those places.

The cottage outside of Stoke-on-Trent

We found a delightful, affordable cottage to rent outside of Stoke-on-Trent, wrote to the owner, and received a lovely note, but also another denial! This time however it wasn’t us – she was in the process of selling the cottage! The owner/host assured us that the new owners intended to keep it as an Airbnb, but from past experience we’ve learned that there’s a more than better chance that any new owner will be raising the rates. So, we started over again and looked at other rentals in the area, but didn’t see anything that either interested us or fit our needs or budget.

Feeling very discouraged, we had a long discussion about where else we might go after Oxford. We looked over a map of England, checked out a few places, but either couldn’t imagine an eight-week stay in some or couldn’t find lodging that fit our budget or had the amenities we wanted (or we honestly didn’t like the location or the look of some of the rentals).

And then Edinburgh surprisingly came up. We had loved our short visit there in 2019, and only scratched the surface of all there was to see and do, but we had pushed a return visit down the list to “later.” We started looking at Airbnb rentals in the city and were surprised to find several in Old Town that not only had everything we were looking for but at prices that easily fit our budget. Pictures were poured over, reviews were read, prices and locations were compared, and last night we crossed our fingers and sent off another request.

We heard back in less than 10 minutes that we had been accepted! We’re going back to Edinburgh!

We have reserved a beautiful two-bedroom apartment just off the Royal Mile, about halfway between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Castle. We’re close to the train station, and know from our earlier visit how easy it is to get around the city from where we’ll be – it’s a superb location. The apartment has every amenity we require and then some (it even has a window seat overlooking the cobbled street below), and both the apartment and the host received five-star reviews. Maybe best of all is that we’ll be paying nearly $1500 -$1800 less than what a rental would have cost in Bath.

Edinburgh may not have been the destination we had originally planned, but we are surprised to be feeling even more excited about a return to Scotland than we were about Bath or Derbyshire. Our plans have changed, but somehow things turned out better than we expected.

Moving Into the Fast Lane

Packing again is going to happen sooner than originally planned!

BIG changes have been made and things are happening! We now have only 31 weeks and four days until we depart Kaua’i!

We had planned to leave in December of next year and fly to Japan, but will now leave our island home in early May when we fly to YaYu’s graduation. We’ll be in Pennsylvania for six days helping YaYu move and watching her graduate, but instead of returning to Kaua’i at the end of our visit we’ll instead be departing for a nearly three month stay in Strasbourg, France. After that we’ll head to the UK, staying eight weeks in Oxford followed by another eight weeks in Bath before flying to Tokyo for a 90-day stay and spending Christmas with family there.

Almost two weeks ago Brett and I sat down and crunched the numbers and realized it made little sense for us to return to Kaua’i, financially and otherwise, and that our savings at that point would be more than adequate for us to begin traveling again in May. By departing for Europe from the east coast we will save the cost of returning to Kaua’i and be able to put those savings toward our flight to France. And, instead of paying rent here as we watched our possessions continue to slowly dwindle we could instead be living in France and England. We spent some more time working up a budget and then pulled the trigger.

We have reserved and paid for a charming Airbnb rental in the Petit France neighborhood of Strasbourg. Careful thought was given to whether we should rent again from our former host, but we decided for the length of time there we wanted something a bit larger this visit. The apartment is in a wonderful location, perfect for walking the city and catching the tram, and has everything we look for in a rental except a washing machine. However, we used a laundromat when we were in Strasbourg before without a problem, and know we can do it again. The host gave a nearly 50% discount because of the length of our stay making the rental very affordable.

We are still working out our departure timeline, but for now plans are to move out of our apartment at the end of April, and stay at one of the beach cottages at Barking Sands for our final week on Kaua’i. We’ll hold a garage sale mid-April, and list the furniture and car then as well (we’ll rent a car as soon as it sells). A couple of boxes will be mailed to WenYu for storage but hopefully everything else will be gone before we depart.

Our downsizing efforts will speed up again after the first of the year, but for now we’re focusing on the girls’ visit at Christmas and pulling things together for that. We feel a real sense of excitement though that plans have been speeded up and that we’ve made our first commitment. We have dreamed of returning to Strasbourg ever since we left in 2018, and nearly three and a half years later that dream is finally going to come true, and sooner than we imagined.

The Provisioning Plan

(photo credit: Lucrezia Carnelos/unsplash)

Neither Brett nor I are into spending right now. We prefer saving.

However, there are things we need to buy before we set out on our next adventure, and we’ve been dreading having to face some of the big expenses we experienced before our last adventure.

However, because we currently have time on our side, we came up with a plan to keeps purchases to what can fit into our monthly budget, but that will still allow us to have everything we need before we leave next year.

Our plan? I get to buy something I need or want in the odd months; Brett gets the even months. We should try to keep purchases to one thing or type of thing each month, but if a special sale or discount occurs more can be purchased.

This month I bought four pairs of cotton leggings from H&M. I bought a pair in December of 2019 to take along to Japan and absolutely loved them, and when I checked last week they were still available at the price I paid in 2019. I bought two pairs of black, two of dark gray, and a package of ankle socks for YaYu to qualify for free shipping (the socks cost less than what shipping would have). I now have four comfy pairs of leggings to see me through for a while (plus, leggings also take up less room in my suitcase).

The leggings were going to be only purchase this month but my preferred brand of bras (online) were on sale this month, and on top of the sale price there was an additional discount for every two purchased, and another 20% off everything if I supplied my email address (fine by me because it goes directly to my spam folder). Shipping was also free. My favorite underwear brand was also on sale at Costco, and two packs of those were also ordered. The new stuff will be put away until it’s time to pack; what I’m wearing now is in good enough condition to get me through next year. This month’s provisioning for me is over though.

Next month Brett plans to purchase either some new jeans or a pair of boots, and in November I’m going to replace my phone. That’ll be a big expense, but my old phone will be traded in, and we’ll use the interest-free monthly payment plan for a while from our carrier, and pay off the balance before we depart. I want to have the phone before the girls arrive in December as they can (and will) teach and help me with all sorts of things so I can use the phone more optimally. Brett says he’s going to wait and see what he gets for Christmas before deciding on a (late) December purchase. On both our lists for next year are boots, and Brett needs a cold-weather coat and new iPad. I want one pair of Perfect Fit pants from L.L. Bean since the ones I had were too big. Other items will fall into place as we figure them out.

While some items can be easily fit into our regular shopping here, our monthly plan is designed to not only to keep us motivated, but keep us on track budget-wise for the things we’ll need on the road. The schedule gives each something to look forward to each month, and by the time we depart we’ll have everything we need.

Works for us!

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.

Here’s the Thing . . .

Here’s the thing about not being able to go much of anywhere and having lots of time on your hands: you can really think things through. Not just what you’re going to do that day, or that month, or that year, but way into the future. You have time to run all the scenarios, do the research, and think deeply about what you really want to do going forward.

More than knowing what we want to do with our future, Brett and I have been clear and united about what we don’t want to do. We do not want to own a home again. We do not want to own a car again. We do not want to own a lot of things any more.

It took us a while, but we eventually realized that rather than settling down someplace and feeling restless, we’d rather travel full-time again for as long as we can. Several months ago we came up with plan that put us on the road again in 2023. We created an itinerary and figured out how much we would need to save to make those plans a reality. We jumped right into savings mode and have been going strong ever since.

However, somewhere along the way, while thinking about travel and the pandemic, the idea of settling permanently in another country came up for consideration. Portugal has been at the top of our list for an overseas location, and so we spent well over a month learning everything we could about the process of obtaining a long-term visa, thinking about where to live so we wouldn’t need a car, and trying to decide what we would bring along with us and how to accomplish that. It turned out to be very doable, and Portugal beckoned with good weather, great public transportation, a low cost of living, good elder care, and access to the rest of Europe and other destinations to scratch our travel itches. The language would be a major issue but we knew we could start learning Portuguese online now and then take formal classes once we arrived.

We got very serious about moving to Portugal and swore each other to secrecy. We weren’t going to tell anyone until we were locked in.

Then a few weeks ago we got to talking about Strasbourg and realized if we were going to live overseas we would rather live in our favorite European city even if the weather wasn’t as nice as it is in Portugal. So, again we started looking into getting a long-term visa (a bit easier in France than Portugal, it seemed), talked again about what to bring, how we would learn the language, figured out a budget, etc. This became even more exciting to us than moving to Portugal! We were especially happy about this decision because learning French would be easier than Portuguese (maybe).

We got ourselves into a serious-about-moving-to-Strasbourg mode and swore each other to secrecy again.

Then last week, as we started watching old Father Brown episodes, we discovered ourselves becoming a bit emotional when scenes around Blockley appeared, especially when the little cottage we had stayed in occasionally flashed into view. We had absolutely loved every moment of our time in the UK and in Blockley, and have continually talked about going back again someday. We had already researched the possibility of settling in England, even with its crummy winter weather, but like Japan there’s no long-term visa we qualify for.

Oh yeah, Japan. In our excitement over Portugal and France we had pushed our absolute favorite country to visit to the back of the pack. When and how were we ever going to be able to do any sort of long stay there while paying rent in France? Or Portugal? What were we thinking?

Something had to change.

And here’s the thing: something did change. None of our previous plans, we realized, were exactly what we really wanted to do right now, just parts of what we thought we wanted. We don’t really want to take up our previous busy travel style again. We’re not ready or wanting to settle down anywhere or own things again. What we needed to do was put together pieces from all our previous ideas and create a lifestyle that would fit us perfectly.

We’re going to be traveling again, but at a very slow pace. We looked at visa rules, got out a calendar, and figured out we could stay 90 days in Blockley, then move to Strasbourg for 90 days, and then head over to Japan for 90 days, with a visit to the U.S. squeezed in as well to see the girls, all without violating any country’s rules for long stays. We can rinse and repeat this schedule as long as we feel up to it, living for long stretches in our favorite places and experiencing them in every season, and fitting in short getaways to other places we want to visit while we’re there. We’ll be nomads again, living with what fits into one large suitcase and a carry-on bag, a lifestyle we loved. We’ll get to see our son and his family once a year, and the girls once a year as well. We won’t have to figure out how to obtain special visas or take expensive language classes, and we’ll be flying less too. We’ll be in places long enough to quarantine, if necessary.

There are 19 months to get through before liftoff, and lots of work to do before our plans can happen. As we well know, much can change (quickly at times) and probably will more than once before our scheduled departure. In the meantime we will do what we can, and continue to save as much as possible, continue to get ourselves in shape and stay healthy, and continue to downsize, downsize, downsize. We’ll also continue to enjoy and appreciate every moment of our time left on Kaua’i. We’re lucky to be here, but looking forward to the future.

Let the Downsizing Begin!

Brett and I made a command decision a couple of weeks ago that we will not be putting anything into storage again when we set off on Big Adventure II. Just about everything will be sold, including most of our Japanese antiques. Anything we keep will need to be small enough to be packed in a box and affordably mailed to one of our daughters on the mainland, including art work.

The decision was made after lots of discussion about what we should keep along with the cost of shipping those items back to mainland once again. Besides the expense of shipping our goods back to the mainland, the movers losing a large box of our stuff and our shipment not being packed very well when we left Kaua’i last time played a major part in our decision. The main thing though is that we want less to own and be responsible for while we travel.

We’ve been storing several things for the girls but have let them know they will need to go through their things while they’re here in December and decide what they want to keep and what they can let go of. For example, we’ve been storing WenYu’s first guitar, a Fender Mini-Strat and its amplifier, and she’s already let us know she intends to take that back with her when she visits this December. But the cute “hat lamp” she’s had since she was a baby and was so insistent on keeping before she now no longer wants. It will most likely be the same with many other items they couldn’t bear to part with before.

Because the girls are adults, we will also be giving them all their official paperwork (birth certificates, adoption paperwork, diplomas, etc.). They will also get the packet of clothing they were wearing when we received them in China and that we’ve kept for them all these years. They will each be carrying back a piece of art work (or two) of their choosing when they depart as well – they’ve already agreed to that. We will be taking some things to Japan next year when we visit, things that our son should have to either keep or dispose of.

We’ve already started selling a few things as we’d rather have the money in our bank account now than those things sitting around unused, or in a closet collecting dust. Our goal is to sell at least two things each month. At the end of last month we sold my apple green KitchenAid stand mixer because I had not used even once in the last year; my hand mixer is more convenient these days and gets the job done. I listed the KA on our local Buy & Sell group and it sold in less than half an hour for the full asking price. The next day we sold a Noguchi pendant lamp that we can’t use. Last week we listed an ultra-thin light box that WenYu no longer needs and a small TV that YaYu didn’t want to keep. Those sold in a couple of days so we’ll probably list something else this month to keep the ball rolling. After the girls are here for Christmas we’ll reassess what else we can let go, and we’ll have a garage sale right before we depart in 2023 with anything that’s remaining.

We’ve learned during the last few years that downsizing and getting rid of stuff isn’t the worse thing in the world, and there’s nothing we’ve previously sold or given away that we miss. Our kids don’t want our stuff, and we’d plan to live very minimally when we eventually settle, so this is the right thing for us to do, and there’s no reason like the present to get started.

Is There a Plan B?

(photo credit: Egor Myznik/Unsplash)

I will begin by saying Brett and I always have a Plan B. Always. Until the pandemic hit we’ve never had to activate one though because of all the research and planning that has gone into our original plans.

The pandemic upended everything. Plan B during our travels was always to return to the U.S. if the flag went up, but we had never thought about returning to Kaua’i until our daughters suggested we eventually move back when we were together for Christmas 2019. After a short visit to the island in January of 2020 before we set off for Japan, when U.S. citizens were told to return we headed for Kaua’i. Our unexpected and early return to the island was expensive, but in hindsight we are very grateful we did come here – it’s been a very safe place to live during the pandemic, and we’ve been very happy here.

The U.S. State Department recently announced that 80% of the world’s countries are currently unsafe to visit, and we know there is a possibility that even by 2023 it may not be safe to travel to some of the locations on our itinerary, although hopefully that possibility will be very small by then. We may have to make changes to the itinerary before we go, but overall we think that waiting longer to start traveling again, staying vaccinated (with boosters if necessary), and being careful overall will mean we’ll be able to become full-time nomads again.

So what’s our Plan B if the Big Adventure Part II isn’t possible? If full-time international travel isn’t possible? We’ve come up with a very simple plan if that’s the case: We’ll still become nomads, but will travel to the west coast on the mainland, buy a car (most likely used), and then travel around the U.S. for a while. We’ll do month-long stays in cities throughout the country with a goal of staying in smaller places versus big metropolitan areas, getting to know both the cities and what’s in the area around them. We’ll make an effort to visit national parks along the way, and other places of interest as well. We would still plan a yearly visit to Japan, storing the car during that time, but then picking up our travels again upon return to the U.S.

We’ve also come up with a Plan C if things get really bad: we’ll settle down somewhere. We’ve made a decision about where we want to park ourselves whenever we decide to stop traveling full time. It’s not perfect (no place is), but the location offers most of what we’re looking for in a permanent location. Hopefully that won’t have to happen though for a few more years.

Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C : we don’t leave home without them!

On the Same Page

When Brett and I talk about things like travel plans or our finances, we approach the task from very different places. Brett has a very right-brain, visual way of seeing things. That is, he learns, understands and/or retains thing when he can see them, and does even better when they’re not just words or numbers on a page but arranged in a meaningful and engaging way. He’s also a vertical thinker, and deals best with one task at a time. These traits were a good match for his professional duties of writer and illustrator, but not so good when we need to talk about financial stuff or we’re planning something.

On the other hand, I am a very left-brain, analytical thinker and do best when I hear things laid out or see items written succinctly on a page. I am also a horizontal thinker, meaning I can be working on and/or juggling many duties at the same time and keep everything up in the air, which is the reason I take care of tasks like budgeting, travel planning, shopping lists and menu planning. Brett says that whenever I try to talk about these things with him I am “talking in spreadsheets,” and that he quickly loses where I’m at or what I’m talking about because he’s not able to visualize it.

One year, when the amount of a bonus he would receive was revealed, and after I realized there would be enough for both Christmas presents, debt repayment, and savings, I sat down and went over our current financial plan and thought about whether there was a better or faster way we could pay down our debt and save for a future vacation. After crunching the numbers for a couple of days I came up with what I thought might be the best way to accomplish both goals. I tried to talk about my idea with Brett but all I got back was “you’re talking in spreadsheets again.”

So, I made a coffee date and put together a sheet for him outlining the debt repayment path we were currently on along with a second way I thought might work better and help us accomplish our financial goals more quickly. I used colors, an interesting font, and different sizes of print to hopefully make the information more interesting for him to look at and easier to remember. I purposely didn’t mention that I was doing this until we were at the coffee shop and had time to sit together and go over everything.

It’s always been a boost for both of us to find out we’re on the same page, whether that’s our finances, our dreams, or things we need to accomplish, even if we do approach those things differently. As we went over the information I had put together on that sheet in more detail Brett took notes and offered ideas or asked for more explanation. As usual, we eventually came together on what we wanted to accomplish even if we approached the process for getting there in different ways.

Creating a visually appealing and easy-to-follow outline still helps me explain my thinking more clearly to Brett, as well as keeps us on the same page with our finances and goals and how we plan to get there. I still tend toward “talking in spreadsheets” when I get excited about an idea, but am better these days about getting things written down for Brett to let him know what I’m thinking about, and to get feedback and input from him.

Once a plan gets put into action though, it’s passed over to Brett. He’s our logistical wizard. He loves keeping daily figures and tracking how we’re doing, something that’s can be excruciatingly boring for me, and he makes sure we meet our deadlines. We make a good team, and we’re glad to have figured out a great way to stay on the same page to reach our goals.

What I Did On My Winter Vacation

Travel planning has begun . . .

I had a very good time during my break doing some travel planning . . . for fun. I focused on a return to England, to the Cotswolds again, and sort of put together an itinerary, then looked for lodging, tours, and other things Brett and I would like to include on our next visit. I absolutely love travel planning, so this was a very enjoyable and relaxing way to spend (waste?) my time for several days.

We hope to do another three month stay in 2023, this time from August through October. Our last visit was September through November, and while September was lovely, by November we were pretty much confined to our cottage and unable to get out much for walks and such because of the weather. We think moving things forward by a month we’ll be able to enjoy better weather while still getting to enjoy the best of summer and fall.

YaYu and I spent an enjoyable amount of time last week pouring over the Character Cottages website, looking for an ideal cottage for our stay. Character Cottages is a booking agent for a large group of cottages in the Cotswolds (not property managers though); even if you find a cottage on another site, its rental is often still handled through Character Cottages. They have properties in many villages, and rentals in all sizes and price ranges. The cottages each have at least one of what the firm calls a “character feature,” which could be anything from the architecture to a stone fireplace or inglenook in the living room. 

Choosing a location took some time, but after some discussion Brett and I decided we’d like to return to Blockley or very nearby, for a variety of reasons, most especially location and familiarity. YaYu and I did most of our searching among those properties. Must-haves included two bedrooms (all three of the girls have said if we go back to England they are coming to visit); a full kitchen with a dishwasher; a washer/dryer; and convenient parking as we plan to rent a car on our next visit. I also wanted a gas fireplace (easy to turn on and off, and they do a better job of warming a room). In the end we came up with three potential cottages that had everything we wanted this time, at prices we felt we could afford. I’m not going to order them, because we like all three, but one is our top choice. I would love to know how you would rank these (you can click on the link under the picture for more information)!

 

Primrose Cottage

Brook Cottage

Green Cottage

Although we did used public transportation during our last visit and managed well with that, we decided we’d rather have a car this next time, so I also investigated long-term car rentals. At first we thought we’d get ourselves to Oxford from either Heathrow or Gatwick (preferred) to save some money, but eventually figured out that logistically and cost-wise, it made more sense to pick up a car at either one of those airports and drive the little over two and a half hours to our destination. This is what we did in New Zealand, and it worked out well. We can reserve a rental through Costco at either airport.

Bourton-on-the-Water is one of the stops on the tours. We missed getting to visit here back in 2019.

Finally, Brett and I still want to do a long hike while we are there, and initially thought we would fit in a Cotswold Way walking tour into our stay. One evening when I was canoodling around though, I discovered this Cotswold Cooking & Culinary tour, and after doing a bit more investigation and sharing with Brett, we decided we’d rather do this! So, somewhere in the middle of our stay, we want to hit the trail (footpath) and eat our way through the region for eight days (hopefully walking off the calories).

Since this trip is currently over two and half years away, all I did this time was take notes, and get a general idea of how much we’ll have to save (including airfare) to make this dream a reality. None of it may come to fruition in the end (cottages not available, hosts might not want to do a long-term rental, etc.) But, the planning was a whole lot of fun, I learned a lot, and we more definite than ever about returning to England in 2023!