I Can Barely Think About Travel

(photo credit: Outside Magazine)

I’m sure glad we like where we are right now because I currently can’t even imagine getting on a plane and going anywhere. I don’t even know if it’s safe or healthy these days to even think about going anywhere.

When we first arrived back in Hawaii, all I could think about was getting back on the road again even though I knew it might be a while. But these days I wonder how long that while might be, and wonder if travel will ever be truly safe again. Because of our country’s initial and continuing mismanagement of the disease from the top on down, Americans are now persona non grata all over the world, including Japan, where our family lives. How long? I wonder now, will it be until we can see our grandchildren again?

For a while after we got here I had fun planning “big” trips, things like long driving trips through New Zealand and Ireland, but the fun wore off of that pretty quickly. They were just too far out there, almost beyond reality. I also began to realize that I didn’t want to be away from home for so long. I’m enjoying being settled again, and so is Brett. We loved our two years on the road and weren’t ready for it to end how and when it did, but we love being back on Kaua’i, with our suitcases fully unpacked and living with our own stuff again. We’re not as eager to hit the road again as we initially thought we would be. For now our primary goal is to stay safe and healthy, and Kaua’i is a great place to accomplish those things. When we left the island in 2018, we weren’t sure if Kaua’i was our forever home, but now we know it is.

We have our sights set on 2022 for our first venture off the island, to YaYu’s graduation in Pennsylvania in the spring. We also hope to do a six-week visit to Japan in the fall, and then go back again in the spring of 2023, with a short visit to one of the other islands in-between.

That’s as much as I can dream about now. Two trips to Japan each year, beginning two years from now, is enough for me to mentally and emotionally handle. Even those seem like a huge reach at present, but they give me something to work toward, financially and health-wise. We want to see our grandchildren.

In the meantime we will work at staying safe, and hope and pray our country can get it together to overcome this scourge.

Baker’s Dozen: My Personal Favorite Photos from the Big Adventure

I took a lot of photos during our travels. A lot. I go through them fairly frequently these days, to look up something or just to remember and reminisce. The other day I gave myself the task of picking my top ten favorites – impossible! I started with a total 42, then got it down to 25, and eventually, with a great deal of thought and effort, was able to winnow it down to the 13 photos below. That was it though – I couldn’t remove any more off my list of absolute favorite.

These photos all carry a flood of memories with them, beyond the time and day the picture was taken. For some of them, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Other times I got a little help and was able to catch a special shot. Two of them are even from the same location!

I do have a favorite – it’s mentioned below – but otherwise I didn’t rank these photos; they’re in chronological sequence of the places we visited. 

Brett and I both sought out and discovered street art in every place we visited, and never failed to be amazed and awed by the talent and beauty we were privileged to see, created by both the famous (Banksy) and the unknown. The works appeared all over too, and in unusual places – we never knew where and when we could be surprised by a piece of art. The picture above, from Montevideo, Uruguay, was one of those surprises (always look up!) and remains my favorite. 

The Eiffel Tower was our last stop on a busy, hot day in Paris. We had started with the Arc de Triomphe, followed by a walk down the Champs Elysées, a picnic lunch in Jardins de Champs-Elysées, and a visit to the Louvre to see the pyramids in the courtyard before finishing with the Eiffel Tower in the late afternoon. It had been a particularly hot day, with temperatures in the 90s, and so we sat in the park in front of the tower with a couple of cold drinks to wait until it cooled off a bit before we headed back to our apartment and to watch the lights on the Tower come on. The sunset behind the Eiffel Tower was a special reward, an unexpected piece of magic at the end of a wonderful day.

Strasbourg remains our favorite of all the cities we visited on our travels. We spent three weeks there, living in a tiny studio apartment (less than 300 square feet) and sleeping on a sofa bed (which had the most comfortable mattress of the entire trip!). We walked all over or used public transportation to explore all the city had to offer, from the historic Petite France neighborhood to the European Union Parliament buildings. On one of our last days in Strasbourg, we finally got around to visiting the Musée de l’Œuvre-Notre-Dame, located across from the Strasbourg Cathedral. Housed in a building from the 14th century, the photo was taken from the top of its spiral staircase, still used to get to the exit.

The view from our kitchen in Florence reminded us every day of our month there that we were in Italy, in Tuscany. A look out the window was better than a painting, both timeless and yet never static.

We had a crazy time getting up to the Cinque Terre for a quick getaway. Bad weather initially delayed the trip, and when we could finally go we kept getting things wrong, including getting on the wrong train after lunch in Monterosso and ending up all the way down in Spezia before we could get off and make our way back. We finally arrived in Vernazza in the late afternoon where we strolled through the village down to the waterfront, just in time to catch the sunset over the Mediterranean.

Both Brett and I came down with bad colds when we were in Rome. Other than a longish (but fantastic) small-group walking tour of the Colosseum, Palantine Hill, and the Roman Forum, we limited ourselves to exploring places we could walk to from our apartment, located just five minutes away from the Vatican. Coming back from a visit to Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, we walked along the Tiber River up to Vatican City. It had been a wet day but the rain had stopped and the clouds were breaking up. I snapped this picture of St. Peter’s right as the lights at the Vatican were turned on for the evening. Of all the photos I took during our travels, this one is my favorite.

I was walking back to the exit at the end of our visit to the Taj Majal and kept turning around to take pictures, trying to get that last perfect shot. An older man grabbed my elbow and said, “come.” He took my arm and started walking away with me, which frightened both Brett and me, but he brought me to this point at the end of one of the pools, where he turned me around and said “here.” It was exactly the picture I had been hoping for, catching the reflection of the monument in the fountain pool. I said thank you, he raised his hands and bowed his head, and then blended back into the crowd. 

I spotted this group of women in their colorful saris just before we passed through the exit at the Taj Mahal, waiting for family members to come back from their sightseeing. I asked if I could take their picture, our guide translated, and the question from all was “why?” I told them they were so beautiful – when that was translated they laughed at me, but then except for one who was still laughing, they all put on a serious face and let me take my picture. They’re still beautiful to me.

Hong Kong is a very modern city, but one with deep traditional roots. We passed this poster advertising Chinese opera every day on our way through the subway tunnel back to our hotel, and on our last night in the city, I quickly snapped this picture as we walked by, not only as a reminder of our time there but also of the deep traditions and roots that form the foundation of the city and its people.

I think we saw the Opera House from every angle possible when we were in Sydney – from the water, from the Harbor Bridge, and inside and out close up during a tour we took with my brother while he was there. We had a great guide on that tour, someone who knew his subject well and how to present what could have been merely dry facts in an interesting and entertaining manner. At one point he asked us to look up, and there was the Sydney Harbor bridge mirrored in the windows of one of the theaters. A little bit later and it would have been rendered invisible by the angle of the sun.

One of the outings we took with our family in Japan in 2019 was a trip to the Mt. Fuji Five Lakes area. We lucked out and had beautiful weather on our second day there, with Mt. Fuji visible the entire day. One of the last places we visited was Sato Nemba, rebuilt in 2006 on the site of the original village that had been washed away in a landslide in 1966. These days the traditional thatched buildings contain various shops and workshops, including spaces for the public to interact and practice traditional crafts. At one point, as I stopped to admire the view of the mountain, I noticed the last visitor in front of me had walked around the corner, giving me a scene that could have existed a hundred years earlier.

Our summer in Portland last year turned into a great stop during our travels. We had a wonderful apartment, attended Meiling’s graduation, took some lovely side trips, got together with friends, got in shape, and explored the city as tourists all summer, seeing and doing a few things we hadn’t done when we lived there. One of the things we enjoyed the most was hiking through the forest in the Marquam Nature Park, located a very short distance from our apartment. Always beautiful, we usually had the trails to ourselves, and the forest always offered a cool, quiet respite from the hot summer weather and the bustle of the city.

A visit to the village of Broad Campden was on our bucket list of places to visit during our stay in the Cotswolds. Located halfway between our village of Blockley and the market town of Chipping Campden, Broad Campden had a lovely collection of thatched-roof cottages as well as a well-regarded pub where we enjoyed lunch before walking over to Chipping Campden. As we left the village, this group of freshly shorn sheep, with their identical cutting patterns, stopped and posed for this perfect Cotswolds scene. 

Which one of these is your favorite? I’d love to know!

Saving for Travel: It’s Not Just About the Money

(The following post was originally published on October 31, 2016.)

I only wish Brett and I had the kind of income where we could whip out our checkbook or charge card whenever we wanted to take a trip and pay for it all, just like that. For us though, travel takes planning, time, and saving, saving, saving. All of our journeys are fully funded before we leave home.

Saving money though is only the start. Along with putting away money we talk about: Where do we want to go and how much is it going to cost? Do we need to save $500? $1000? $5000? More? Is it doable? Realistic? Can we do it for less? When’s the best time to go? Where would we stay? How long can we afford to go away? What do we want to see or do when we’re there? And so forth . . .

That’s the thing about travel: Each trip is different and requires different things and costs a different amount. There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to traveling – we bring our own desires and expectations when we hit the road, even within the family, and the total cost of any trip is affected by those desires and expectations. Because we don’t have that bottomless checking account, Brett and I not only put money aside but take some extra steps in order to make the most of what we have and where we’re going.

Here are some ways we successfully save for our travels and make sure we get to go where we want, have the best time possible, and don’t bust our budget:

  • Our travel plans always start with us talking about places we’d like to visit and then making a mental list of places we’d like to go, whether we’ve been there before or they’ve been on our “someday” list. We’re not the most spontaneous people when it comes to travel, so we prioritize our list by starting with places and people we’d regret never getting to see down to locations we’ve always been curious about or that make sense to visit since we’ll already be in the area. We allow our list to change whenever new information comes up so that some places we wanted to visit two years ago don’t seem so important anymore, and other places have become more interesting. Some of our destinations, like Japan, are determined by family circumstances and always go to the top of the list. I love this part of travel planning though – dreams are always free!
  • I thoroughly research what it would cost to travel to places. Brett usually leaves this step to me. It takes a while, but I find doing research for travel a LOT of fun, and I always learn lots of new information and pick up tips, even if we don’t end up going to someplace I’ve looked into. I try to figure out how much transportation would cost us, as well as lodging, dining, and other expenses. Would it make more sense for us to stay in a hotel or use Airbnb if we go somewhere? Is there a peak season (and how can we avoid it if possible)? I love reading articles and stories about how to dine on a budget at our destination, or about a place where we may need to increase our budget because the food and experience are not to be missed. I love learning about all sorts of interesting places we might want to visit, from must-sees to maybes. I know that there are many people way more spontaneous than we are, and when they see a cheap airfare to somewhere they snap it up and go, or think nothing of hopping in their car and taking off. I’m enough of a nerd though that I’d rather do the research about spending our money on a trip, and figure out how to get the most bang for our bucks. Our income and budget sort of demand it as well.
  • After the research is done, we decide if we can actually save enough to afford the trip. We make the final decision to go somewhere only if we can afford it. We’re not willing to break the bank and go into debt just to fulfill some fantasy or check off something on a bucket list. I would greatly love to take an extended trip through India, and Brett and I would like to visit one of the national parks in Botswana, but know now that both are way out of our price range (Botswana is way, way, way out) unless we saved for years and did nothing else. We focus on what’s realistic and doable. Update: We did make it to India, but only by choosing to do a week’s tour versus extended travel, and saving like mad for it.
  • We set a goal for saving. We like to use the SMART criteria whenever we make a goal, financial or otherwise: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Rather than saying “Let’s save so we can go to Japan,” we tell ourselves that we need to save enough before [proposed travel date] to cover airfare and lodging for three of us as well as have enough for meals and other expenses. Can we have approximately half of that amount saved by [a certain date] to cover airfare if a good deal shows up? This is how we can place what we need and when in relation to other upcoming expenses, such as the girls’ college expenses, Christmas, etc. Once everything gets mapped out, and we decide it’s achievable, we go forward. If it’s not, we either adjust our goal or drop it. We typically set our goals and start planning more than a year in advance of any major travel though, giving ourselves plenty of time to tweak things as we go along.
  • We have a dedicated savings account for travel, whether we’re actively planning any travel or not. I believe it’s important to make dedicated travel savings a priority rather than a ‘leftover’ when it comes to budgeting. We “pay ourselves” first and put away a predesignated amount each month for travel. We add to our savings in other ways like adding what we save in our change/$1 bills jar (which adds around $800 per year to the account). If we can spend under our budget in any other area, like groceries or gasoline, for example, the difference goes into our travel savings – it’s an incentive to look for the best deals and be more conscious about saving. Rebates, refunds, rewards, and gifts also go into travel savings. It adds up more quickly than you might think, and I never feel guilty or worried when we take any money out to cover travel expenses because that’s what it’s for. One more thing: with a dedicated travel savings fund we’re already miles ahead whenever we start thinking about going somewhere.
  • We stay motivated to save by giving ourselves reminders of our destination. Once we know when and where we’re going, we post pictures on the fridge, share books or articles about where we’re going, start Pinterest boards, and so forth. These ‘motivators’ can help keep our savings goals on track. They often help us decide between doing or buying something now versus putting away more for travel later. Even when our trip to the Grand Canyon earlier this year was a mystery to everyone else, I still put up reminders about our trip in places that I saw frequently but that were hidden from Brett and the girls in order to stay motivated.

For us, successfully saving for travel involves more than just setting money aside. The extra steps we take help us not only be realistic about what we can afford but help keep us motivated to reach our goals and fulfill our travel dreams. Through a combination of planning and saving, we give ourselves a solid foundation to do and see what we want, as well as an ability to dream about future journeys.

Travel on Our Minds

It’s going to be a while before Brett and I travel again, at least another two years. We love being back on Kaua’i but our time on the road was magical and meaningful, truly a dream come true, and we weren’t ready for it to be over, especially not in such an abrupt way.

We can and will travel again, but we know it will be different in the future. Although we enjoyed being on the road full-time, we have decided that going forward we’d rather have a home base and then focus on making an annual trip to Japan (Tokyo) to spend time with our family there, probably for around a month; taking another longer six-week to two-month journey each year, either overseas or back on the mainland; and making a shorter visit every year to one of the other islands here.

The Covid-19 pandemic and YaYu’s upcoming college expenses are the big factors keeping us from traveling right now. However, rather than sitting around and feeling sorry for ourselves about not being able to go anywhere for a while, we’ve figured out there are lots of things we can do during this “downtime” to keep us focused on the future, motivated, and well-prepared once we’re ready to hit the road again.

Here are the things we’ve either already started or will be incorporating in the future:

  • Save for travel: One of the best things we did before we set off on our Big Adventure in 2018 was to have at least six months’ worth of travel paid for in advance. Things are different now in that we won’t be giving up our home and car in order to travel full time nor will we be selling our stuff, but as we did in the past, all extra income will be dedicated to travel savings so that our travel expenses can be met without racking up debt.
  • Set budgets: We want to take our first major trip in the fall of 2022, around six months after YaYu’s graduation. We want to make our first visit back to Japan in the spring of 2023. About a year out from those dates we will begin setting up the budgets for those trips based on our research of what we expect it will cost.
  • Create itineraries: We have already picked four places we’d like to go to once we can travel again: Ireland, New Zealand (north and south islands this time), Southwestern U.S. national parks, and West Coast national parks. All four would be driving trips. We haven’t prioritized any of them yet, but both Brett and I are currently getting started on what we’d like to see and do in each place, how long we want to stay, and so forth. He is looking into Ireland now; I am focusing on New Zealand, and after a while, we will swap and then combine our information and ideas and go from there. This part is going to take a while but it’s a lot of fun and we’re learning a lot.
  • Setting a foundation: This is the fun part for me, but we’re a ways off from this right now. This is where once an actual itinerary is set, I get to find lodging, compare rental car prices, search for airfares, and so forth so that everything fits within our budget. Airfares are going to be tricky this time around – they’re all over the place right now (if there are even flights available), and there’s no way to estimate where they’ll be when we’re ready to travel again. Frankly, I can’t even imagine getting on an airplane but it’s something we’re going to have to deal with eventually.
  • Edit our travel wardrobes: We are fortunate to have a dedicated and dehumidified closet in our apartment to store our travel clothes (cold-weather items we don’t need here). Both of us felt after getting everything hung up and put away that maybe we have too many things (me in particular), so that will be a task for us in the future, to go through what we have and downsize if necessary.
  • Edit our travel supplies: We took along so many things (for health care and otherwise) on our Big Adventure that we ended up not ever using, and we both said several times, “there has to be a better way to do this” while at the same time feeling afraid to get rid of anything in case we did need it. During the next two years, we’re going to work on making a list of what was important, what wasn’t, what we didn’t have that we could have used, what things we could have picked up along the way if necessary, and then come up with a better system for carrying that stuff along with us.
  • Make reservations: This will happen as we get closer to actually traveling, and will be coordinated with setting the foundation, but making reservations is always something to look forward to – it means we’re really going! Some reservations, like at the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo, need to be made a year in advance as rooms sell out quickly (we’ve already decided to stay there again versus renting our own apartment).
  • Stay in shape: It’s a constant effort but we’re determined to be in as good a shape in two years as we were when we set out in 2018.

There will be other things we can do along the way, but for now, our goal is to create a path to not only keep future travel on our minds but keep us moving toward them. Two years seems like a long time away but we know from experience it will pass more quickly than we imagine. In the meantime, we want and need to stay motivated so when the time arrives we’ll be truly ready to hit the road again.

My Kind of Fun

With at least another month to go of sheltering at home, we here at Casa Aloha are having to come up with new ways to pass the time. We’re not big TV watchers, but we’re all reading a lot (I’ve got two books going at once), and we try and get out as much as possible for a walk or run. Otherwise, there just isn’t a whole lot for us to do while we’re stuck in our small apartment. Brett got a sketchbook and pencils and is brushing up on his drawing skills. YaYu spends a lot of time talking online with her friends, boyfriend, and sisters and otherwise has her nose buried in a book. 

I know how to knit but have no desire or need to do that here. I also know how to embroider but am not particularly interested in taking that up again; the same is true for hand-quilting, although I’ve been thinking I may give it a go again in the future and learn Hawaiian-style applique quilting. So, what’s a girl with a lot of time on her hands to do?

I can make travel plans. That’s my kind of fun.

Seriously, even though the absolute earliest we may be able to travel again would be in 2022 (and that’s being optimistic) there’s nothing stopping me from putting together some trips, planning itineraries, and finding out how much such a trip might potentially cost . . . even if we never end up going. I love doing the research and estimating what airfare might be, what hotels or Airbnbs might cost, as well as rental cars, admissions, and other things we might need or want to do. It’s fun for me to discover whether a travel idea is doable, or whether I need to go back to the drawing board and rethink the whole thing. It’s also nice to have plans that can be tweaked or adjusted as needed if and when new information becomes available.

I have come up with four different itineraries, all road trips, and all journeys Brett and I have talked in the past about doing. Two are domestic, and two are international. Because we hope to eventually be able to take two longer trips each year, including a visit to Japan, I’m allowing for up to 40 days for each of the adventures below:

  • A west coast national parks trip through California, Oregon, Washington, and Western Canada
  • A southwest and mountain states national parks trip through Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah
  • A trip around the southern island of New Zealand
  • A trip around Ireland, including Northern Ireland

Planning for these will keep me busy for the next several weeks. Whether they ever come about, I know I am going to have a good time now learning new things, choosing a driving route and deciding on stops, and comparing lodging and other costs. Brett will be asked along the way for his advice and his preferences and will be included in the virtual planning as much as he wants.

Until One Is Committed

“UNTIL ONE IS COMMITTED, THERE IS HESITANCY, THE CHANCE TO DRAW BACK, ALWAYS INEFFECTIVENESS. CONCERNING ALL ACTS OF INITIATIVE (AND CREATION), THERE IS ONE ELEMENTARY TRUTH, THE IGNORANCE OF WHICH KILLS COUNTLESS IDEAS AND SPLENDID PLANS: THAT THE MOMENT ONE DEFINITELY COMMITS ONESELF, THEN PROVIDENCE MOVES TOO. ALL SORTS OF THINGS OCCUR TO HELP ONE THAT WOULD NEVER OTHERWISE HAVE OCCURRED. A WHOLE STREAM OF EVENTS ISSUES FROM THE DECISION, RAISING IN ONE’S FAVOUR ALL MANNER OF UNFORESEEN INCIDENTS AND MEETINGS AND MATERIAL ASSISTANCE, WHICH NO MAN COULD HAVE DREAMT WOULD HAVE COME HIS WAY. I HAVE LEARNED A DEEP RESPECT FOR ONE OF GOETHE’S COUPLETS:
WHATEVER YOU CAN DO, OR DREAM YOU CAN, BEGIN IT.
BOLDNESS HAS GENIUS, POWER, AND MAGIC IN IT!”

William Hutchinson Murray

(This was first posted on January 16, 2018, but it seems timely once again, even in this time of unknowns.)

The best description I ever heard of the China adoption process was that putting the dossier together was like doing your taxes over and over and over and over and over and over . . . again and again and again and again . . . .  A slew of documents needed to be assembled upfront: a home study, birth certificates, marriage certificate, medical reports, police reports, financial statement, adoption statements, immigration forms, etc. – there were nearly 20 documents required in all. Each one of them had to be notarized in the state where they originated, then each notarized document went to the Secretary of State of that state for the notary to be certified. After that, the entire stack, by now nearly three inches high, was sent by courier to the U.S. State Department for certification, and then to the Chinese Embassy for each document’s final certification and approval. Four copies had to be made of every page of the entire dossier and only then could it finally be sent to China and put in line for us to be matched with a child.

The process took several months to complete, and along the way, there was always the possibility for China to tweak or change their requirements. For example, we were almost done with the dossier for Meiling’s adoption when China suddenly announced that physicals could no longer be more than six months old, and ours were seven months old at that point. Panic! But, our doctor squeezed us in, and every other part of the certification process worked flawlessly (for a change) and in just a few short weeks the dossier was finally complete and off to China in late May of 1996. Matches and referrals were taking only three or so months back then, so our hopes were high that by the time we returned home in August from taking our son to college we would have news of a new daughter.

However, when we returned home and called our agency the news was not good; in fact, it was very bad. China had shut down adoptions for families that already had children, which of course included us. Our agency was moving families into other adoption programs, but China had been the only program that worked for us because of our ages (we were each over 40 years old). What had happened, we later learned, was a power struggle over the international adoption program had broken out between two different political bureaus in China, and adoptions had ground to a halt while they fought it out and reorganized. (We also learned our agency was convinced at the time that the entire program was going to collapse.)

All of our hopes and love, and quite a bit of money, had gone into the adoption process for more than a year, including all of Brett’s and my work assembling our dossier. I was in graduate school at the time, and my work began to suffer because I could barely concentrate. Brett unhappily slogged off to work each day as well. Our son was at college in another state, so it was just the two of us at home each evening, and we were glum, depressed, and unsure of what to do or how to proceed.

On one particularly bad day, one of my professors emailed me the quote above, and told me to “hang in there.” I shared it with Brett that evening, and we talked about how deeply committed we still were to adopting from China and had been from the start. All sorts of unexpected and serendipitous events had happened and helped us along the way to make our adoption dream so far a reality, and we decided that rather than pull out we would stay with it to the end and see what happened, no matter the outcome. We both felt in our hearts that our daughter was waiting for us there.

The William Murray quote was a turning point for us. And, it has proven prescient ever since. When we have committed to something, whether it was adding an additional child to our family again through adoption, or getting ourselves out of debt, or moving to Hawai’i, or planning a trip – when we have committed ourselves, as the quote says, Providence has always moved too. Things we couldn’t have imagined happened to help make our plans a reality, and we were given the drive, vision, and persistence to see our dreams come true and our goals reached.

Commitment has been the step where we’ve gone from “do you think?” or “should we?” to “let’s do this” and then started figuring out how to accomplish it. The path to success has not always been straight or smooth or easy, but time and experience have shown that the unexpected does and will occur along the way to help, especially when we need it most. As each journey continues we begin to see things in different ways and act on them accordingly, with our commitment to finishing growing stronger the further along we get.

As the new year began in 1997 we were still waiting, but Brett and I had reached the depths of despair. There had been no positive word from our agency for weeks, and we felt like we were hanging on to hope by our fingernails. We had enjoyed having our son home for Christmas, but he returned to school on January 9. So, when the phone rang on the morning of January 10 I assumed it was him asking about something he had forgotten and wanted us to send. I had been lying on our sofa, crying and asking God for some kind of a sign, that if there was to be no adoption to let us know somehow and we would let it go, but if we were to continue to hope then we would continue to hang on. When I answered the phone though it was not our son but our social worker: “Laura, there’s a baby girl waiting for you in China.” On March 12, 1997, in the hallway of a hotel in China, we met our little Meiling for the first time and she was ours.

This was the only picture we received of Meiling before we met her.

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!

Restocking the Travel Savings

Our travel savings account currently registers at $0.00. Every last penny is gone, although all of it was used just as intended: for travel. If we are ever going to travel again though we need to build it back up again and there’s no reason not to start now.

Before we began our Big Adventure in 2018, we were able to automatically save a nice amount in the travel account every month, with some transferred automatically right into savings and the rest from other sources. However, we are currently committed to helping YaYu graduate from college without debt, and we are putting away over a quarter of our income into savings each month toward that expense. If we’re lucky, the amount we save will cover the difference between her financial aid and what she owes. YaYu has always paid a big piece of that difference with scholarships and summer work, but there will be no job for her this summer, and the external scholarships have run out. Also, she was previously one of three, then two, in our family attending college, but for the next two years, she will be the only one and her aid will be less because of that. She has saved every refund she has received so far this year and received a notice that she will receive a couple of thousand dollars in additional grant aid next year, but what she will owe next year is a big unknown. The first bill will come due in July (along with news about whether the college plans to reopen in the fall, another big unknown), and once she gets that we will either be able to relax a bit or have to figure out how to tighten our belts a little more. She may have to borrow, but we hope to keep that amount, if it happens, as low as possible. 

As we have no idea what travel costs may look like in the future, we have no idea of what sort of savings goal to set for ourselves other than it will have to be very modest for the time being. Our goal is simply to try to save as much as we can. We want to have enough to get us to YaYu’s graduation in 2022, which will be a good start at seeing what we can accomplish.

Here’s what will be going into the account:

  • We will initially be transferring $25/month into our travel savings each month. It’s very little, but if we find we can afford a little more later we will increase the allotment.
  • We will again be saving all our change and $1 bills. We’re not using cash as much these days as we did in the past, so this won’t build up as fast as it used to.
  • All refunds from recycling will go toward travel.
  • All other refunds and rebates, like the annual rebate from our insurance, will also go for travel. We’re not expecting many of these though.
  • We receive a lump-sum payment each year from Meiling (and this year will from WenYu as well) for the cost of keeping them on our phone plan. It’s not a huge amount as our phone plan is very low cost but we will put these payments into our travel account.
  • If we can somehow ever come under our monthly budget for food, the difference will go into travel savings. Likewise for gasoline. Under current conditions, this is something else that’s unlikely to happen, but we’re going to try.
  • Any other miscellaneous money that comes our way will go straight into travel savings.

If we’ve learned anything from the past it’s that slowly but surely, even small amounts put away eventually add up to something bigger, and more quickly than one might imagine. And, YaYu will eventually graduate and what we currently put away for her can go toward travel once again.

We’ve done this before and we know we can do this again. We don’t know what the new rules for travel will be yet, but we do know it’s the right time for us to get started saving for it.

The Resting Nomads

Our travel clothes and suitcases have their own closet, complete with a dehumidifier so they’ll be ready to go on the road again someday.

Brett is in a happy place right now. He is happy to have a permanent residence once again, to have an address where we can collect our own mail. He is glad not to be living out of a suitcase or lugging those suitcases around. He is especially thrilled to be back on Kaua’i. 

I’m happy to be here too and know that coming back and resettling was the right thing for us to do at this time. But, in my heart, I still am missing our life on the road. I liked not owning things, and of going someplace new and experiencing new things and new cultures every few weeks or months. Our travels were a dream come for me.

I wasn’t ready to be done with full-time traveling. Brett was, or at least was closer to being done than I was. I still dream about traveling and the places I want to see and I still want to talk about traveling. Brett doesn’t, at least not for the immediate future. He wants to burrow back into Kaua’i and island life. We have agreed though that we do want to travel again when the world rights itself and this horrible virus is under control.

We know though that travel for us will never be the same as it was, and that a full-time life on the road won’t be happening again. Instead, we want to aim for two big trips a year, one to Japan and one to another place on our bucket list. We imagine that international travel, once it opens up again, is likely to be far more expensive than in the past, with fewer options and more restrictions, and we believe there will be uncertainties that were not there before, and experiences that may not be available again.

For the time being we are going to be resting nomads. Our primary focus for the next two years will be on getting YaYu through her last two years at school. This is currently looking like it it may be more of a financial challenge than we initially imagined, but we won’t know exactly how much we will need to help until mid-summer. We will continue to save for future travel, but it will be minimal compared to what we were able to do in the past. Dreaming costs us nothing though, and in the next couple of years we will come up with a list of places we want to go, along with plans for how to make our dreams a reality.

We’ve accomplished goals and made our dreams come true before and we know we can do it again. The Occasional Nomads will be back, more occasional than before, but for now, we rest.

Mono No Aware

Probably the most exquisite expression of mono no aware in Japan is the cherry blossoms that arrive each spring, their beauty enhanced by an accompanying sadness that they will only last for a short while.

Mono no aware (物の哀れ), literally “the pathos of things”, is a Japanese term for the awareness of impermanence (無常, mujō), or transience of things, and both a transient gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing as well as a longer, deeper gentle sadness about this state being the reality of life. Mono no aware is the ephemeral nature of beauty – the quietly elated, bittersweet feeling of having been witness to the dazzling circus of life – knowing that none of it can last. It’s basically about being both saddened and appreciative of transience (from Wikipedia).

Brett and I never imagined our great adventure would end so abruptly. We had planned to travel into the year 2022 and had a list of places we wanted to visit. We were going to spend at least a year in Mexico, and travel from there back to Argentina and other places in South American, and also visit Panama to see the canal before heading back over to Europe.

But life has handed us, and the world really, a reminder of the impermanence of things, and of the transience that occurs in life, sometimes suddenly. This is not to show the foolishness of making plans, as some would say, but that all things in life, both good and bad, eventually change or come to an end, as does life itself.

While Brett and I are both happy and grateful to be back on Kaua’i, we’re also sad that our nomadic life has ended. We know we will travel again someday, but not in the same way or with the same feelings of adventure we carried with us these past months. We miss our life on the road, of being in a different place, doing new things, meeting new people, and learning new ways.

We grew very close as we traveled as we depended on each other for both companionship and sustenance. Our relationship flourished on the road and we found new strengths and a deeper connection to each other. Many of the adaptations we made along the way will stay with us, but we are now having to pick up and remember old patterns and habits once again. Whether these old ways will last or be needed remains to be seen, but after such a sudden change to our lives, they are comforting and are helping us make sense of where we are and what we need to do.

What a good time we had though! We were blessed to be able to travel as we did, and we had a truly wonderful time doing it. We constantly felt as if we had won the golden ticket. Neither of us can remember a bad experience, although we remember becoming frustrated at times. We took more pictures than we can count and these past few days we’ve been amazed by how clear our memories that go with the pictures are, that we can remember what we ate that day or people we met, or what was going on around us when we took the picture.

We knew our nomadic life wasn’t going to last forever, but we thought we’d get to end our full-time travels on our own terms and on our own schedule. Change, however, writes its own rules from time to time. The changes we’re facing now have happened quickly, too quickly actually, and adjustment to this new normal of isolation and sadness is not easy. What is easy now is to be scared. We know though that this too will eventually pass and life will change yet again. Our task now is to appreciate the transience and impermanence we face for what it is – an integral part of life. Mono no aware. We are not the same people we were before. For now, we can and will take joy that we, our family, and friends are well, that we have good friends nearby, that our youngest daughter is with us and safe, and that we have returned to a place we love.

Back On Kaua’i

Our view for the next two weeks.

Our last few days in Japan were a whirlwind, and it’s almost hard to remember now all that was going on because everything seemed to be happening so fast. We spent our last weekend packing, cleaning up our apartment, and then moving over to our son’s to spend our last night in Japan. We left on time on Monday and had an easy if a bit surreal trip back to Kaua’i. But, we’re here now, dancing with the jetlag, and getting ourselves settled in under very different circumstances than those when we left. if we couldn’t stay in Japan, this is where we wanted to be.

Our landlord in Japan was very understanding about the circumstances of our abrupt departure even though she would be losing a month’s rent. We met with her for the last time on Saturday morning, and paid for the four days we stayed there (she didn’t want to take it but we insisted). She assured us we were welcome back any time, and we know her apartments will always be our first choice for lodging in Tokyo as it’s in a great location at an affordable price (for Tokyo). We enjoyed this year’s apartment, with its big kitchen window and an oven.

We spent most of Saturday morning packing, and then went with the family out to nearby shop to get the grandkids their birthday presents. Both of them wanted Legos and we were happy to oblige. Afterward, we all walked over to a small restaurant and had shabu shabu, a Japanese-style hot pot, for an early anniversary dinner (the dish is named for the sound the beef makes when it’s swirled through the hot broth). The food was delicious, and we received a lovely gift from our son and daughter-in-law: a check to help cover the cost of our first-class upgrade on our flight back to the U.S.

On Sunday afternoon we moved over to our son’s for our last night in Tokyo. We had to be up early on Monday to help one last time with the grandkids and this made it easier than having to lug our heavy suitcases over on the subway. Besides, along with our big suitcases, carry-on bags, and a whole lot of KitKats, we also had all our leftover groceries and other supplies to give to them. We were frankly surprised by the amount of food we had on hand – all that peanut butter! – I think the only thing we would have needed to pick up at the store that week was a tomato and some more Yakult. We went once more to Hardy Barracks to stock up our son’s supply of American foods and then took everything over to their house. That evening we all went out for a short hanami (cherry blossom viewing) and walked the Nomikawa Nature Path, the former site of a cherry tree-lined canal that had passed through the area. About half of the canal was paved over, with sections of it named for the bridges that crossed the canal, but the old cherry trees remain. It was a lovely, warm evening, and the trees were almost in full bloom (peak bloom arrived about two days after we left). Back home, we enjoyed a sushi feast that our DIL had ordered for home delivery while we were out walking!

Monday turned out to be cold, wet, and dreary so there was no last outing in the park with K for me (especially since my coat had been packed). Brett helped C with school one last time and then at around five p.m. we said our (tearful) goodbyes, packed up the car, and headed out to Narita airport with our son (M & M did not want us riding the train). It was a surprisingly easy drive with no rush hour traffic jams, thank goodness, and we got there about two hours before our departure. Narita airport was positively deserted and felt almost like a ghost town. It seemed at times that we were the only people there outside of employees, but some shops were open and we found five more flavors of KitKats (peach, melon, red bean sandwich, plum sake, and a regional sake, so we left Japan with 31 different flavors!). We also were able to buy a bottle of hand sanitizer! It wasn’t cheap, but at least we now have some. Because we would be served dinner on the plane all we had to eat at the airport were some appetizers and a gin and tonic at Delta’s First Class lounge. We were the only people in the vast lounge, maybe for the whole evening. Actually, we were practically the only people anywhere, which made getting through security, etc. a breeze, but it was also sort of eerie and sad. We were treated like royalty though everywhere we went – the employees seemed genuinely thrilled to have something to do and someone to help.

Our flight back to Honolulu was lovely. First class was extremely comfortable (as expected), the food and service impeccable. There were only two other passengers in first (only 30 total on the whole plane), so it was like we had the place and the attendants to ourselves. We watched movies, relaxed, and got a little bit of sleep. The Honolulu airport was also practically deserted, and our flight over to Lihue had only 14 people total on the plane, including the pilots and flight attendants. We picked up our rental car in Lihue and first headed to Costco to stock up for the next two weeks as the state will be going into lockdown on Thursday. Today we picked up our old car from our friends, returned the rental car, and did one more food stop so we have everything we need when YaYu arrives on Thursday. She will be in full quarantine – no going out of the apartment – for two weeks while Brett and I will be able to go out for food, and to use the pool and take walks in the area, but not much more. I’m not sure how finding a new place to live is going to go, but there are still ads going up so we hope to find something soon and be able to move in.

Our flight over to Kaua’i was surreal, as we were used to inter-island flights packed to the max.

We have one more step to go – getting YaYu here on Thursday. Her flight schedule has already been changed, but Delta still assures her she will be in Lihue on Thursday evening. We have backup plans just in case things go bad, but so far so good, and she is almost ready to go. She originally had a direct flight that day from Seattle to Lihue but that has now been changed to a direct flight from Los Angeles, a good thing as Hawaiian Airlines is stopping almost all flights beginning on Thursday. Brett and I are somewhat concerned about the possibility of her facing a racist attack of some kind as they seem to be on the increase against Asians, and as a young, single woman she could be a target. It’s going to be a long, long day for all of us.  

Anyway, although things didn’t turn out the way we wanted, we’re home again on Kaua’i and we’re settling in and getting our body clocks adjusted to island time. We miss our son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren terribly, but our girl will be here soon, we’ve got enough on hand to get us through the next two weeks, and all is well.