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.

The World Turned Upside Down

We’re going home.

The U.S. State Department announced today that all overseas travelers should arrange for an immediate return to the United States unless they are prepared for an indefinite stay overseas. Since we cannot extend our visa, we are cutting our stay in Japan short and will return to Hawai’i on Monday. 

We have been scrambling all day to get our flight changed (Delta reps have been amazing), start packing, and put together the things we will be taking over to our son’s. Our rent here was due today, but our landlord appears to be out of town, so we will be exchanging the yen back to dollars; our DIL will work with the landlord if there will be anything still owed.

We are returning to Kaua’i, and after a two-week self-quarantine at a condo we rented through Airbnb we will hopefully be able to begin to look for a place to live and get started on getting ourselves resettled there. YaYu will be staying in her dorm for now, but we are prepared to fly her to Kaua’i immediately if and when the dorms close.

I have been crying ever since we got the news. The grandkids have not been informed yet that we are leaving, but we’re going to take them to a toy store tomorrow and let them both pick out their birthday presents for the year (our grandson’s 9th birthday is a week from tomorrow). We’ll have dinner with them before coming home and continuing to pack, and then spend the day with them again on Sunday. They have promised to come to Hawai’i as soon as international travel is feasible again.

What a crazy time this is. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve made plans and then had to change or cancel them in the last couple of days. Every time we have tried to get out in front of this pandemic, things have changed before we even have time to catch our breath it seems. At least we are well, and our family is well, but we want to do what’s best for everyone else in the U.S. and ultimately for our family. We will be OK. We have enough in savings to get ourselves set up again on Kaua’i, including getting our stuff that’s been in storage shipped back over. There have been 26 reported cases of COVID-19 in Hawaii (two on Kaua’i), and the island is on a partial curfew as I write. They are moving to a full shutdown though, so we want to get in and get settled as soon as possible.

What a time we’ve had though! Our traveling days are not done, but we’re going to take a break, get through this pandemic, get YaYu through college, and then hopefully hit the road again although not full time. Thanks to all of my wonderful readers for sticking with us all these years.

I’ll post again after we get resettled on Kaua’i.

P.S. Our mystery destination was San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.

 

Everything Is Fine . . . For Now

Like it or not, we are now in a time of unknowns and uncertainty.

As the number of cases of COVID-19 continues to climb in the U.S., earlier this week the CDC put out even more stringent recommendations, especially for those over age 60 and/or those with health issues. Don’t travel. Stock up on food and medicine. Prepare yourself to stay in your home for several weeks. The notice was nothing if not sobering even though Brett and I are healthy and have no underlying health issues that would increase our risk of death if we caught the virus. But we’ve chosen a different lifestyle that doesn’t fit so easily into normal parameters and we have to add that into the mix.

We have to travel next month as our 90-day visa for Japan will expire. We will have two long days of travel when we leave here, including an overnight hotel stay, before we reach our next destination. Although long flights are not recommended, we don’t have a choice in the matter – most flights from Japan are long by definition. However, flying is currently one of the lowest-risk means of travel thanks to the efficient air filters in planes, and as long as high-touch surfaces are wiped down and frequent handwashing or sanitizers are practiced (although we still can’t find any hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes here). We have already heard directly from the airline to reassure us about the steps they are taking to make sure the plane will be as clean as possible, and our risk as low as possible. Actually, the highest risk we face will be in airports, and we’ve been reading about steps to take to make ourselves safer as we transit through them. We are finally in possession of some masks and will use those in airports as we travel, and our son and daughter-in-law are in the hunt for hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes for us. We’re very thankful we have no long layovers this time, and we will probably be dealing with fewer fellow travelers than usual. Does all this mean we’re not worried? No, but we are getting ourselves informed and taking every step we can to stay healthy.

We’re all waiting to hear about what’s happening at WenYu’s and YaYu’s colleges. Both of them are on spring break this week or getting ready for their break next week, and both have already had to cancel and change plans. Neither of them knows yet whether their colleges will close or not. YaYu doesn’t know whether her roommate will be able to come back or not – she flew home to Seattle for the break. WenYu canceled a trip to New York to see Meiling – students have been encouraged to stay on campus during the break – and Wellesley looks to be moving to close the campus and dorms in the next few days (nearby MIT and Harvard have already closed). If their schools do close, WenYu has a place to go in Massachusetts, but if Bryn Mawr closes we will have to get YaYu to family in another state until the end of the term. So far there has been no word about whether this year’s graduation ceremony will be happening at Wellesley, but most likely if the school closes it will be canceled. Meiling and her boyfriend have so far not canceled travel plans (Paris) for later this month, but are watching daily and will make a decision in a few days. Both are currently working remotely from home. It’s looking more and more like we will be canceling our May and June travel, and will probably lose a good piece of money as the airline tickets were purchased outside of the current free cancellation window (in my opinion, those are the tickets that should get free cancellation and refund, not the ones that were purchased when the threat of the virus was more imminent). We are waiting to hear whether NYC theaters will be closing or not, but at this point, Brett and I don’t think it’s going to be such a great idea for us to be in a theater with lots of other people, even if it is to see Hamilton. (Update: We woke up to a message from YaYu that Bryn Mawr had gone to remote classes. She can stay in the dorm for now, but we will get her out and to a family member as soon as possible. No word yet from WenYu.)

We are grateful not to have been affected by the stock market crash, at least so far. The majority of our income comes from Brett’s military retirement and our Social Security benefits, but Brett also receives a pension from his former employer that may eventually be affected – time will tell. It’s only a small portion of our total income, but its loss would be felt.

For the time being, we are fine. We are cautious, paying attention, and learning as much as we can about the things that will affect us going forward. We’re certainly not afraid, or even close to panic, but know that the potential for things to get very bad in the U.S. exists and is growing every day. We also recognize that things could go south in our upcoming destination very quickly as well. Only time will tell. Everything is fine for now and will continue to be . . . until it isn’t anymore.

Planning for the Future

Without revealing too much, for now, Brett and I finally have put together a solid, sensible, and workable plan for what we’re doing following our short visit to Portland in June when Brett meets with the surgeon and sets a date for his parathyroid surgery (it’s non-urgent and he’s hoping to get it done in December).

The amount we currently contribute toward YaYu’s college expenses each month has had a deep impact on how much we can put away each month for travel expenses. We’re not able to save as much for our transportation expenses (airfare, train fares, etc.), and our travel savings account is now, for all purposes, close to empty. Thankfully all major transportation has been covered through our trip to New England in June, but we still need to purchase airfare from Boston to Portland in June, and then transportation when we depart Portland. We should be able to fit both of those into our monthly budget between now and June if we’re careful, but it’s no longer as easy to do as it once was.

Also, we want to come to a decision about whether to continue traveling or slowing and settling down. There are strong plusses and minuses to each side, with the biggest and most difficult question until recently being where to settle. We’ve pretty much decided at this point that we want to return to Kaua’i, but we also know we’re not ready to do that yet for a variety of reasons.

The plan we’ve come up with tackles these two big issues: 1) whether we’re ready to settle down or want to keep traveling and 2) continue to help YaYu pay for college while rebuilding our travel account.

We will arrive at our upcoming mystery destination on April 20, and after a couple of weeks of settling in we will start looking for a long-term furnished rental there. We will finish our initial stay in the mystery location toward the end of May and afterward will visit New York, attend WenYu’s graduation, spend some time in Maine, and finally head to Portland in June so Brett can meet with the surgeon. Following that, we will return to the mystery destination for a 12-18 month stay (we will fly back to Portland in December for Brett’s surgery and possibly for our annual holiday reunion with the girls). During our long-term stay, we’ll have the opportunity to further explore a fascinating area that’s new to us as well as get a sense of what settling down long term again feels like without having to make any big or permanent investments. We’ll be able to see whether or not we really are ready to finally stay in one place or whether we’re still too restless. 

Our current idea though is that following at least a year-long stay, we’ll do one more big round of travel and visit a few more places on our list. That, of course, will depend on how much we can save and what our health is like. The idea though is to seriously think about ending our full-time travels after YaYu’s graduation in 2022 and head over to Kaua’i afterward. We still plan to travel, but with a more permanent base underneath us.

Of course, as the saying goes, “Man makes plans and God laughs.” But, we’ve done our research, and the plan is workable, affordable, and a good compromise between continuing or ending our nomadic lifestyle. Unlike other plans we’ve come up with, the entire family is on board with this one, and think it’s a great choice for us going forward.

We’ll reveal more once we arrive at the mystery location. In the meantime, we plan to continue to enjoy our time with family in one of our favorite locations, Tokyo! 

Looking Ahead: Living On Less in Tokyo

Tokyo is not an inexpensive city to visit or reside in but over the years we’ve discovered that there are ways to keep costs down. Brett and I are going to be on a very tight budget during our three-month visit early next year because of the cost of our lodging, and also because of what we’re putting away each month for YaYu’s college expenses and the small amount that’s going into savings each month. By the time those three things are accounted for out of our net income, we will only have around $800/month left to cover our daily living expenses. We’ll be bringing all our frugal skills to bear in order to not overspend during the time we’re there, and I have to admit upfront it’s going to be a challenge.

Currently, there is a good exchange rate between the dollar and yen, and if it holds we should be OK. If the dollar starts dropping though we may run into trouble, or have to reduce expenses and what we put away into savings and for YaYu in order for us to make it in Japan.

Our housing costs in Japan are nearly a third again more per month than what we typically pay for lodging, but much, much less than what we’d pay through Airbnb in Tokyo. It’s shocking to see what teeny, tiny studios in the city are going for on Airbnb these days, so we feel very fortunate to be able to rent again from last year’s host. The monthly amount isn’t cheap but it covers not only rent but all utilities as well, and gives us the luxury of a nicely furnished one-bedroom apartment with a well-equipped kitchen, a nice bathroom, and a washing machine. The apartment’s location is fantastic too – it’s in a great neighborhood just one subway stop from our son’s place and three stops away from Shibuya, a major Tokyo transportation and shopping hub.

Here’s the spending plan we’ve come up with for each month in order to stay within our $800/month budget:

  • Convert dollars to ¥80,000 each month (at the current rate, that’s less than $800, more around $750, but that could change). This will be divided and placed in envelopes that we’ll draw from as funds are needed.
  • ¥40,000 per month will be set aside for groceries. Besides rent, food will be our biggest expense in Japan. We aim to keep our food expenditures at or under ¥10,000 per week We spent around that much per week on our last visit, but that often included bakery visits and such which we plan to curtail this time. Before we left Japan last year we discovered a second supermarket (Seiyu) located near to us that has the same products but lower prices than the other market we had been using (Tokyu), and we’ve also learned of another discount store in Shibuya (Don Quixote’s) that we’re going to check out. We will be bringing along $400 in cash with us to use for commissary and exchange shopping trips as we’ll most likely do two of these during our three-month stay (our son loves his Diet Coke). We will get things like certain cuts of meat, coffee, dairy products, cereals, and American-style bread, items that are expensive and/or difficult to find in Japanese stores at the commissary. We also plan to buy a slow cooker not long after we arrive to increase our cooking options and will leave it with our DIL when we depart.
  • ¥12,000 per month will go toward transportation costs. We are going to load each of our PASMO cards (which are not only convenient but provide a small discount each time the card is used) with ¥6000 at the beginning of each month and hopefully, that will be enough to get us through 30 days. However, if we learned anything last year it’s that the balance on the card can drop surprisingly quickly so this amount may need to be adjusted. Our son will cover our transportation costs for picking up the grandkids from their schools which will help, and I will be starting out with nearly ¥1000 on my card leftover from earlier this year. 
  • ¥12,000 yen per month will be set aside for dining out every Friday evening. Eating out in Japan is something we have always enjoyed, and there are some things we like to eat that we just can’t make at home (like takoyaki (octopus dumplings), sushi, or handmade udon like we can get at the noodle restaurant down the street), and when our grandson comes for sleepovers we sometimes like to take him out for McDonald’s or KFC. Dining out for the two of us typically won’t be anywhere near ¥3000/meal, but a few places could be so ¥12,000 should be enough to cover these expenses each month. This budget should also work as an incentive to find sources for good food at low prices (and they are abundant in Japan).
  • ¥16000 yen each month will be for all other expenses, including occasional admission fees, occasional snacks, occasional trips to the local laundromat, and for emergency expenses. We plan to use Secret Tokyo extensively because every place listed in it is free, but of course, there will be transportation costs in getting to and from those places. One big expense we’re already planning is a day trip to Kamakura. We will take one of the free private walking tours but will have to pay for our guide’s lunch and our total round-trip transportation will be about ¥2600 – we are going to use the ¥4000 we received from YaYu to help cover these expenses and will set aside some of our extra each month for the rest. We’d also like to take a trip up to Nikko but are not sure if we can fit that into our slim budget.
“Don’t say kekko (fine) until you’ve seen Nikko.” We would love to visit this amazing World Heritage site again if we can afford it.

Sadly, for now, Brett has decided to forego calligraphy lessons during this stay. The tuition for weekly lessons plus the transportation costs for getting there and back (around ¥10,000 per month) are a luxury he feels we cannot afford this time. However, yen that is remaining at the end of the month will be rolled over until the next, which will mean a lower amount we have to convert for that month. If there’s enough left over out of our $800/budget I think the extra should go toward these lessons. We’ll see.

Our time Japan next year will be all about living a good, but frugal, life in an expensive place. Our goal is to find a path for getting more for less and discovering ideas and solutions that can be applied when visiting other expensive locations.

30 Terrific Travel Tips

(picture credit: blog.ted.com)

Often it’s the small things that can turn a good journey into a great one. During the last giveaway, I asked those who entered to post their favorite travel tips and they generously shared ones covering topics from health to packing to souvenirs.

Below are 30 great ways to make your next travel adventure even better. I’ve added a few of my own as well: 

Planning:

  • If you love travel planning, great, but if not, travel with someone who does and then say “thank you.”

Staying Healthy:

  • Stay hydrated on long flights or train journeys by drinking lots of water and/or juice (tomato juice is a refreshing choice) and skipping caffeinated and alcoholic beverages (which can be dehydrating).
  • Swab Vaseline inside of your nose during a flight to avoid catching a cold from others
  • Wipe down everything around your seat you may touch with antibacterial wipes, and carry antibacterial gel for your hands after using the bathroom.
  • Don’t use the airplane-provided blanket or pillow; bring your own shawl for a coverup, and your own neck pillow. The airplane blanket or pillow can be placed in your seat for additional lumbar support.

Packing:

  • Pack as lightly as you can, and travel with as little luggage as possible. Once you’ve put in everything you want to take, try to remove at least a third or more of it because that’s probably what isn’t needed and won’t get used.
  • Choose lightweight clothes that can be layered easily.
  • Choose quick-drying clothes if you won’t be staying where there are a washer and dryer.
  • Only pack a few small-size toiletries. Once at your destination assess what’s on hand and purchase more there if necessary.
  • Pack a clean, damp, inexpensive washcloth in a plastic bag into your purse or personal carry-on item. Upon arrival wash your face, hands, and neck – very soothing after a long flight!
  • The most important clothing item you take along is a comfortable pair of shoes.
  • Sturdy canvas shopping totes make great, lightweight personal carry-on bags. They’re easy to carry, fit under the seat in front during a flight, and can hold lots of items along with a purse. Plus, you have a reusable shopping bag when you arrive.

Souvenirs:

  • Your own photos make the best souvenirs. Take lots of pictures!
  • Purchase interesting postcards at your destination, then back home display in a basket where you can easily pull them out and remember your trip.
  • Purchase small but useful gifts and souvenirs: tea towels, earrings, kitchen utensils, coffee mugs, t-shirts, holiday ornaments, linens, scarves, lipsticks or other small cosmetics are lightweight and pack easily.
  • Small, packaged food items make great souvenirs and help you recreate the tastes of where you’ve been. Avoid larger jars or cans as they have to go inside checked luggage and can boost the weight.
  • Give children a set amount of spending money upfront to buy their own souvenirs or snacks with the understanding that a) they can’t ask you to buy them something, and b) when the money is gone, it’s gone. Children learn very quickly to think carefully about spending when they control their own money.

Eating:

  • Carry along a cooler when you travel in a car or by train (from small to full-size, depending on the space available), or a small one with you on a plane to keep snacks, meals, or drinks cool and fresh.
  • Choose low-cost portable food (i.e. sandwiches or wraps) and add fruit or fresh vegetable for light, healthy meals – the variety is endless.
  • Save your loyalty program points to use at airport food purveyors for free or discounted meals so you don’t have to pay airport prices. 
  • Always try the chocolate wherever you go!

On the Road:

  • Pay careful attention to arrival times and make lodging arrangements accordingly. If your arrival time is early in the morning, you might not be able to check into your hotel until later in the afternoon and have to wander around with your luggage for several hours (not good if you’re exhausted). If you can’t book an afternoon arrival time, you can reserve lodging beginning the night before, and ask that your roomor  be held for you.
  • During your travel day, count your baggage and “toteables” after every stop or activity (i.e. stopping for coffee, using the restroom) to make sure nothing has been left behind.
  • Always bring along something to do in downtime, whether that’s reading, a game, knitting or crocheting. If you have to wait or have a long layover, it will make the time pass more quickly.
  • Have a plan, but be flexible. Stay calm, work with the unexpected if you have to, and accept you can’t control everything.
  • However, always have a Travel Plan B in case of an emergency, and an emergency fund to cover the unexpected.

On the ground:

  • For long-term travel, think about carrying small utensils and other practical items you can’t do without, things like a vegetable peeler or washcloths. A wireless charger is a good addition as well.
  • Don’t schedule every moment – give yourself room to be spontaneous.
  • It’s OK to have a bucket list of things to see and do on your journey but give yourself time to wander down a sidestreet or turn down an alleyway you keep passing or go into a shop that looks interesting. Try that unknown dish or food. Your curiosity will thank you.
  • Travel with a sense of wonder.

Any travel experience will be as good as you make it, and adding a few new tricks along with having a positive attitude can and will improve any journey.

Goodbye to Blockley

When Brett and I leave England tomorrow, a piece of each of our hearts will be left back in the Cotswolds, especially in our home for the past three months, the village of Blockley. 

I don’t think we could have picked a lovelier place to stay. Our cottage, located in the center of the village, has been cozy, quiet, and very comfortable, with a view of the Blockley Church each time we’ve stepped out our door. Although Blockley has been in existence since the 10th century and is currently the exterior location for the Father Brown series, it’s not a “destination spot” and hasn’t been overrun with tourists as other nearby locations have been at times. Set among pastures and farmland and with beautiful views on every side, two major footpaths, The Monarch’s Way and The Heart of England Way, pass through Blockley and gave us opportunities for short walks and longer hikes filled with breathtaking scenery. The local bus service stops a few times every day which has made it easy for us to get to other destinations in the area for shopping and sightseeing, but the village store offered just about everything we could need at reasonable prices when we didn’t feel like leaving town. We’ve been able to enjoy coffee, tea & scones, lunches and even a three-course gourmet dinner at the village cafe, and a couple of great meals at one of the village pubs. Blockley has a rich history and is full of wonderful old homes and buildings yet has never felt “quaint” – it’s a vibrant, living community with old buildings being remodeled and renovated, new construction continuing, and families moving in. Residents have been welcoming and friendly, often stopping for long chats, and several who were born and raised here have helped us understand the village’s past as well as its present. Blockley also has the most amazing selection of dogs we’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting!

The photos below are ones I’ve posted while we’ve been here, but they’re my favorites, and each one is full of memories.

Goodbye Blockley . . . for now. We’ll be back!

What To Do, What To Do

Should we keep traveling or should we settle down? That’s the BIG question for the Occasional Nomads that we have been and are STILL discussing.

Both options have their advantages and disadvantages, which is why it’s become a neverending topic of conversation for Brett and me. How do we see our future unfolding? That changes frequently, sometimes from day to day. Have we had enough of all this moving around? Some days yes, some days no. Should we settle down? It sounds good for a while, then it doesn’t, then it does again, and so forth. Won’t we get restless if we stop?

It’s wonderful to have options and talk about them but at the same time, it’s beginning to get a bit confusing and even boring at times too. Thankfully it’s not something we ever argue about – we share similar concerns. However, we’ve been going back and forth about this for months now and have reached a point where we need to decide the direction this journey is going to take going forward and then get on with it.

The primary benefit of continuing our nomadic lifestyle is that our income can be devoted almost entirely to doing something we love: travel. We’re not paying for utilities, insurance, and home maintenance, and so forth – we pay for an Airbnb rental and all those other things are included. We also don’t have the expense of owning a car and all that goes along with that, or other expenses that come with staying in one place. We’re blessed with excellent medical insurance that covers us worldwide at no cost. By carefully selecting our rentals we’ve been able to enjoy a quality lifestyle and experience locations and life around the world that would have been difficult to impossible for us to do otherwise.

At the same time, our fund for transportation expenses is diminishing and we’re not able to replenish it now that we’re committed to contributing a not-insignificant amount each month to help YaYu with her college costs. Since we’ve also decided to upgrade our seats for longer flights, we’re eventually going to have to dip into other savings if we want to continue traveling before we’re able to start building it up again.

We’ve discovered along the way though that we don’t like staying in a place too long and begin feeling restless after a couple of months. This is the biggest concern and fear we have about settling down somewhere. One – to two-month stays seem to be the ideal for us, with three months in one place too long (except for Japan because of family there). On the other hand, we dislike short stays because of having to pack and move everything after a few days, and the go-go-go of it wears us out. Being Occasional Nomads versus Short-Term or Long-Term has turned out to be a very good fit for us.

Brett is more enthusiastic about settling down than I am, but we both like the idea of getting our mail sent directly to us, having a regular family doctor and dentist, getting our prescriptions renewed easily, and having a place with our own things where the family can gather. We like the idea of learning to live frugally in one place, from getting haircuts to buying groceries. However, when we think about possibly owning a car again or paying utilities or having a mortgage or keeping up with home maintenance, those sort of things immediately take the shine off of the idea. Having to acquire furniture and other household items once again leaves us cold. Weather, particularly cold weather, has become an issue for both of us as well and limits where we could or would want to settle. We’re not even sure at this point if we want to live in the U.S. anymore.

I’ve always been someone who likes to know what’s happening and see the path going forward. I like to have a plan. When Brett was in the navy and it was getting close to the time for a transfer, I would become an absolute nervous wreck as he waited for orders, wondering where the navy was going to send us next. The not knowing was hard for me because until we had those orders there was no way to plan anything or get ready to move again – we were in limbo. We have plans now for the next seven months, but if we’ve learned nothing else it’s that the time goes by very quickly these days and before we know it that those seven months are going to be over. It’s starting to feel now like it did when we were waiting for orders.

We still have a bit of time on our side, but by early next year a decision is going to have to be made, one we can commit to and make plans for. Our hope is that a compromise solution can be found, one that satisfies our love of travel but also gives us a chance to settle for a while. That, however, may be an impossible dream. We will be talking with our children in the next couple of months to get their feedback, ideas, and concerns, and will work toward figuring out the “big picture” of what our future could, would and maybe should be.

What to do, what to do?

A (Very) Short Visit to Bath

The Roman Baths and Pump Room

Our quick dash down to the city of Bath this week was over in less than 48 hours. We saw as much as we could during our stay, and Brett had a wonderful reunion with his former classmate. 

The city of Bath absolutely charmed us, and we left wishing we could have given ourselves a few more days there. We arrived on Tuesday afternoon, and walked up to our Airbnb from the station, about 15 minutes away on foot. We checked in, dropped off our stuff and then headed right back out to visit the Circus and the Royal Crescent as both were only a short distance away. The sky was overcast and loaded with heavy clouds, but the rain was holding off and we wanted to see these places before it arrived. We crossed our fingers, took our umbrellas, and off we went.

One of the three curving terraces of The Circus. While the homes are identical in the front, from the back each is unique. I couldn’t even recognize the back as the same building!
The Royal Crescent was breathtaking! Like the Circus, the fronts of the terrace houses are identical and the backs of each are different.

Neither the Circus nor the Royal Crescent failed to impress – both were magnificent and thrilling to see. We walked along in front of two of the three terraces at The Circus and then turned for the Crescent. As it was growing darker we chose not to walk the full length in front of the Crescent but instead went down to the park to take in the full sweep of the building’s curve. I was thrilled to discover there was a ha-ha in the park! I have read about them for years and when I saw it I knew immediately what it was and why it was there.

The Royal Crescent ha-ha.

Just before it turned fully dark the clouds opened up so we turned back into the city to find a grocery store to pick up things for breakfast (orange juice and French pastries as it turned out) and maybe something for dinner. We didn’t see anything that appealed to us though so instead stopped at a little restaurant just down the street from our apartment that served all-day breakfast, and Brett enjoyed a plate of banana french toast and I ordered eggs benedict. The rain was really coming down by the time we finished so we dashed back to our apartment to get ready for a busy Wednesday.

Brett had arranged to meet his classmate, Chris, for coffee at 11:00 on Wednesday morning at a cafe/shop up near our apartment, so we got up early and headed down to the Roman Baths to be there when they opened at 9:30. The temperature was quite cold, but we could see a few patches of blue sky above, a good sign, we hoped. I had purchased our tickets online the night before in order to save a few pounds and speed things up, and we were first in line when the Baths opened. There were only a few other visitors there with us, so we practically had the place to ourselves and were able to take our time to see it all. I am fascinated with Roman ruins and these did not disappoint – it was thrilling to walk on the same pavement stones that Romans had used nearly 2000 years earlier. At the end of the tour we were able to taste the famous water, said to have healing powers. Considering all the sulfur, iron and other minerals in the water I was expecting it to taste fairly foul, but it wasn’t that bad and I enjoyed two cups of it before leaving (Brett passed though).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Following our visit to the Roman Baths we walked around the Bath Abbey (construction is being done inside so we didn’t go in) and then headed over to find Sally Lunn’s, home of the eponymous Sally Lunn Bath Bun, a brioche-type bread brought to Bath from France by Ms. Lunn in the late 17th century. Sally Lunn’s is now a restaurant, but it is located in the oldest house in Bath and there is a small museum in the basement. We skipped the restaurant but checked out the museum and purchased a Sally Lunn Bun to eat later in the day.

Bath Abbey sits adjacent to the Roman Baths.
Side view of the Abbey.
The Cotswolds Way, a 100-mile path from Chipping Campden, ends (or begins) in front of the Abbey.
Sally Lunn’s sits on top of Roman, Saxon and Norman ruins. The layers of these ruins can be viewed in the museum in the basement.

The reunion with Chris couldn’t have been nicer, and we also had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know his wife, Jane. We started out over cappuccinos, then took a bit of a walk, stopping into a lovely little bookstore along the way where I bought a travel book called Secret Tokyo, filled with quirky and unusual places to visit for free in that city. From the bookshop, we walked to the Holburne Museum to have lunch in their cafe. I don’t think the four of us ever stopped talking – Chris and Jane felt like old friends we hadn’t seen for a long time. After lunch we headed back down to the Roman Baths where we said our goodbyes so that Brett and I could start a free walking tour of the city.

Chris and Jane – it was grand getting to spend time with them!

The walking tours given by the Mayor’s Guides are free and absolutely no tipping is allowed. Our group had only seven members, and we had a great guide who covered the history of the city from the Baths to the Abbey to the distinctive Georgian architecture. We stayed with the tour until we got to the Circus, but since we had already visited there and the Royal Crescent the day before we said thank you and goodbye then and walked back to visit the Assembly Rooms before they closed (groups had not been allowed in that day). When we came back out it was raining again, and as we had walked over four miles and nearly 12,000 steps at that point we decided to call it a day.

We crossed Pulteney Bridge (completed in 1774) on our way back from lunch and had no idea we were on a bridge – there’s no arch in the center and the sides of the bridge are lined with shops like a regular street. The lovely three-tiered oval weir in the river was designed to keep water flow to the center to reduce bank erosion.

The Assembly Rooms opened in 1771 and were a hub for high Georgian society in Bath – Jane Austen and Charles Dickens were among those who attended balls and other functions at the Assembly Rooms when they visited the city. The chandeliers were made by Whitefriars of London and are original to the Rooms, installed for the 18th-century opening. Their insurance value today ranges from £150 million to £300 million each although they are of course irreplaceable.

We still felt full from lunch in the evening and decided to just have our Sally Lunn Bun(s) for dinner. We thought the box would contain four small buns, so were quite surprised to find just one HUGE one inside. It was about the size of a personal watermelon but light as a feather. Our guide at the museum had told us the buns are traditionally sliced in half, toasted and served with butter so that’s how we ate ours. Brett and I each had half of the bun and it was plenty for the both of us (and plenty tasty too).

We were shocked by the size of our Sally Lunn bun – it was massive but very, very light.
Toasted and buttered and ready to eat. For size reference, the halves are sitting on salad plates.

Sadly, our Airbnb in Bath was a disappointment. All of the Airbnbs we have stayed in have been lovely, well-kept places but this apartment was shabby, complete with worn, stained carpet, dirty windows, and mismatched, damaged, thrift store furniture. The host met us at the apartment when we arrived, gave us the keys and two rolls of toilet paper and then quickly departed telling us nothing about how things operated. We about froze the first evening until Brett eventually figured out how to turn on the heat. The apartment also wasn’t what we would call spotlessly clean – clean-ish was more like it. Thankfully the bed had crisp, clean sheets but it was the most uncomfortable bed we’ve experienced on our travels. We both slept poorly and I woke up each morning with a sore back. It did have one redeeming feature though, a superb location in the city near to shopping, dining, and sightseeing. Still, if we had been there longer than two nights we might have found somewhere else to stay.

We woke up Thursday morning to sunshine and cloud-free blue skies, feeling ready to get out of the apartment but sad to leave because there was still so much of Bath we wanted to explore. We had a quick cup of coffee with our pastries and were out the door a little after 9:00, even though our train didn’t leave until nearly 10:43. That was another thing that had gone a bit wrong for us – I had booked the 9:43 train to get us back to Moreton-in-Marsh in time to catch the bus back to the Blockley, but when I downloaded our tickets they were for the 10:43 train (along with a different itinerary). The new schedule got us into Moreton 30 minutes after the bus to Blockley had departed and with another two hours to go before the next one so we ended up having to pay for a taxi to get back to the cottage. And, to add a bit more insult to injury, I had also reserved forward-facing seats both coming and going, but our assigned seats were all rear-facing.

We are glad to be back “home” and looking forward to resting up this weekend and then enjoying our last two full weeks in Blockley. Our recent trips to Edinburgh, London, Oxford and now Bath have made us realize that while we were happy to have been able to visit these places, we really don’t care for the frenzy of short visits anymore and prefer to stay somewhere long enough to discover and enjoy a place at our leisure. While we’ve loved seeing what we could in these cities, the short, hurried trips left us feeling exhausted and unsatisfied because of all that we missed. But, you go with the schedule you have, not the one you wished you had.

Closing Out the Books for October 2019

Our souvenirs from Oxford: Brett got a Cheshire Cat mug (one of his all-time favorite literary characters) and I got a plastic-free reusable/sustainable travel cup in the Japanese “octopus” pattern at the Ashmolean Museum (the silicone top and sleeve and can be used on other cups). Both were purchased using a coupon, and cost less than £10 ($13).

We tried.

We tried very hard to stay at or under our Daily Spending Average this month, but between our visit to Edinburgh and our time in London and Oxford with YaYu, October ended up being an expensive month for us and we are ending October with our DSA at $45.08. That’s $10/day over budget or $310 this month. Ouch.

We did a bit of traveling this past month, and we did buy a few things. Brett and I each got a cashmere scarf in Edinburgh (discounted because we bought two), and we also bought some shortbread and a bottle of gin when we toured the Edinburgh distillery. We ate out only once a day, nothing fancy, but otherwise, all meals were eaten at our apartment. We bought nothing in London other than three Oyster cards for transportation (£40/$52 each) and ate just one meal out a day while we were there as well. Even though we chose affordable places to eat (for London, that is), it was still expensive, usually in the $75+ range for the three of us. In Oxford, we walked everywhere, ate one meal out (full tea at the Randolph Hotel) and Brett and I stopped for coffee and cake at a cafe after YaYu departed. Brett and I also bought ourselves a coffee mug while we were there, our preferred souvenir these days. Along with the small rabbit pillow we got for YaYu (less than $25) before she arrived, it didn’t seem like much but it all added up and here we are.

We spent £43.50 ($55) on this week’s groceries, enough to get us through until we return from our trip to Bath next week. That amount also included a few more items not shown because they will be used later for gifts.

We are finding food costs, if bought in a store like Aldi or Tesco, to be very affordable, much less than we paid in Portland last summer. We average around $50/week on food, with our monthly grocery store expenses less than $300 (our food budget is $450/month). However, everything else seems to cost much more here. Our round-trip bus ride over to Moreton-in-Marsh every week is £9 ($11.50), nearly triple the cost of a similar ride in Portland, and that’s after getting a discount because we buy a round trip ticket. A cup of tea and scones costs approximately $10 per person but we’ve learned to get a plate of two scones and share a pot of tea to save on that expense. We don’t do that very often though, maybe twice a month, and consider it a British experience we couldn’t do elsewhere. The different gins we are enjoying are also something unique to being in Britain. We’ve bought four bottles here of specialty gins, costing us about $180 total, but those have and will last through our entire three-month stay. They’ve been an absolutely delicious treat and we have no regrets (and we’ll go back to drinking cheap wine after we leave).

Anyway, we’ll keep trying and hope for a better result next month. We’re not quite sure where to make changes or cut back at this point. Brett tracks everything we spend, every day, and we think carefully about each purchase we make. We had several no-spend days in October and we’ll try to increase the number of those. Maybe $35/day is unrealistic, especially in an expensive country like England (and Japan) and perhaps we need to adjust the amount we’re putting away for YaYu’s college costs. We’ll see how November goes because December is also going to be an expensive month when we have all the girls with us for nearly a month.