Neither Brett nor I are into spending right now. We prefer saving.
However, there are things we need to buy before we set out on our next adventure, and we’ve been dreading having to face some of the big expenses we experienced before our last adventure.
However, because we currently have time on our side, we came up with a plan to keeps purchases to what can fit into our monthly budget, but that will still allow us to have everything we need before we leave next year.
Our plan? I get to buy something I need or want in the odd months; Brett gets the even months. We should try to keep purchases to one thing or type of thing each month, but if a special sale or discount occurs more can be purchased.
This month I bought four pairs of cotton leggings from H&M. I bought a pair in December of 2019 to take along to Japan and absolutely loved them, and when I checked last week they were still available at the price I paid in 2019. I bought two pairs of black, two of dark gray, and a package of ankle socks for YaYu to qualify for free shipping (the socks cost less than what shipping would have). I now have four comfy pairs of leggings to see me through for a while (plus, leggings also take up less room in my suitcase).
The leggings were going to be only purchase this month but my preferred brand of bras (online) were on sale this month, and on top of the sale price there was an additional discount for every two purchased, and another 20% off everything if I supplied my email address (fine by me because it goes directly to my spam folder). Shipping was also free. My favorite underwear brand was also on sale at Costco, and two packs of those were also ordered. The new stuff will be put away until it’s time to pack; what I’m wearing now is in good enough condition to get me through next year. This month’s provisioning for me is over though.
Next month Brett plans to purchase either some new jeans or a pair of boots, and in November I’m going to replace my phone. That’ll be a big expense, but my old phone will be traded in, and we’ll use the interest-free monthly payment plan for a while from our carrier, and pay off the balance before we depart. I want to have the phone before the girls arrive in December as they can (and will) teach and help me with all sorts of things so I can use the phone more optimally. Brett says he’s going to wait and see what he gets for Christmas before deciding on a (late) December purchase. On both our lists for next year are boots, and Brett needs a cold-weather coat and new iPad. I want one pair of Perfect Fit pants from L.L. Bean since the ones I had were too big. Other items will fall into place as we figure them out.
While some items can be easily fit into our regular shopping here, our monthly plan is designed to not only to keep us motivated, but keep us on track budget-wise for the things we’ll need on the road. The schedule gives each something to look forward to each month, and by the time we depart we’ll have everything we need.
Sixty-seven weeks from this Friday, on December 23, 2022, we plan to board a plane and be on our way to Tokyo. By leaving on the 23rd, we will arrive in Tokyo on December 24, and will be up the following day to spend Christmas with our son and his family. One week later, we’ll celebrate the New Year with them, the biggest holiday of the year in Japan.
Sixty seven weeks might seem like a very long time to some, but I feel like the time is going to move along fairly quickly. Using my own accounting, that’s just two and a half sets of activity cards until the end of this year, eleven sets until we depart. For some reason those activity cards seem to make time fly.
We have just 67 weeks to save as much as we possibly can. Our goal is $30,000.
We have 67 weeks to sell or get rid of all our stuff, get a bag and boxes packed and shipped to Massachusetts with the very few things we plan to keep (and around 65 weeks to decide what we want to keep – the list keeps getting smaller every week). We have less than 67 weeks to make lists and purchase the things we need/want to take along this time.
We have only 28 weeks until it’s time to decide on and reserve an Airbnb rental in Japan, 41 weeks until it’s time to reserve a place in England, and 65 weeks until it’s France’s turn. We’ve already decided that we want to spend a bit more on lodging this time as we’ll be spending less on transportation because we won’t be moving around so frequently).
We have 67 weeks to figure out what clothes and technology we want to take with us this time and provision ourselves as necessary. Much of what we carried last time will go along this time as well, but there are other things we need, and things we lugged around before that can be jettisoned. As for technology, Brett needs a new tablet before we depart, and I need a new phone.
We have only 67 weeks left to get ourselves into the best shape possible, and enjoy our island life on Kaua’i.
Sixty-seven weeks might seem like an eternity to some, but we know that December 23, 2022 is going to be upon us faster than we can imagine.
Here’s the thing about not being able to go much of anywhere and having lots of time on your hands: you can really think things through. Not just what you’re going to do that day, or that month, or that year, but way into the future. You have time to run all the scenarios, do the research, and think deeply about what you really want to do going forward.
More than knowing what we want to do with our future, Brett and I have been clear and united about what we don’t want to do. We do not want to own a home again. We do not want to own a car again. We do not want to own a lot of things any more.
It took us a while, but we eventually realized that rather than settling down someplace and feeling restless, we’d rather travel full-time again for as long as we can. Several months ago we came up with plan that put us on the road again in 2023. We created an itinerary and figured out how much we would need to save to make those plans a reality. We jumped right into savings mode and have been going strong ever since.
However, somewhere along the way, while thinking about travel and the pandemic, the idea of settling permanently in another country came up for consideration. Portugal has been at the top of our list for an overseas location, and so we spent well over a month learning everything we could about the process of obtaining a long-term visa, thinking about where to live so we wouldn’t need a car, and trying to decide what we would bring along with us and how to accomplish that. It turned out to be very doable, and Portugal beckoned with good weather, great public transportation, a low cost of living, good elder care, and access to the rest of Europe and other destinations to scratch our travel itches. The language would be a major issue but we knew we could start learning Portuguese online now and then take formal classes once we arrived.
We got very serious about moving to Portugal and swore each other to secrecy. We weren’t going to tell anyone until we were locked in.
Then a few weeks ago we got to talking about Strasbourg and realized if we were going to live overseas we would rather live in our favorite European city even if the weather wasn’t as nice as it is in Portugal. So, again we started looking into getting a long-term visa (a bit easier in France than Portugal, it seemed), talked again about what to bring, how we would learn the language, figured out a budget, etc. This became even more exciting to us than moving to Portugal! We were especially happy about this decision because learning French would be easier than Portuguese (maybe).
We got ourselves into a serious-about-moving-to-Strasbourg mode and swore each other to secrecy again.
Then last week, as we started watching old Father Brown episodes, we discovered ourselves becoming a bit emotional when scenes around Blockley appeared, especially when the little cottage we had stayed in occasionally flashed into view. We had absolutely loved every moment of our time in the UK and in Blockley, and have continually talked about going back again someday. We had already researched the possibility of settling in England, even with its crummy winter weather, but like Japan there’s no long-term visa we qualify for.
Oh yeah, Japan. In our excitement over Portugal and France we had pushed our absolute favorite country to visit to the back of the pack. When and how were we ever going to be able to do any sort of long stay there while paying rent in France? Or Portugal? What were we thinking?
Something had to change.
And here’s the thing: something did change. None of our previous plans, we realized, were exactly what we really wanted to do right now, just parts of what we thought we wanted. We don’t really want to take up our previous busy travel style again. We’re not ready or wanting to settle down anywhere or own things again. What we needed to do was put together pieces from all our previous ideas and create a lifestyle that would fit us perfectly.
We’re going to be traveling again, but at a very slow pace. We looked at visa rules, got out a calendar, and figured out we could stay 90 days in Blockley, then move to Strasbourg for 90 days, and then head over to Japan for 90 days, with a visit to the U.S. squeezed in as well to see the girls, all without violating any country’s rules for long stays. We can rinse and repeat this schedule as long as we feel up to it, living for long stretches in our favorite places and experiencing them in every season, and fitting in short getaways to other places we want to visit while we’re there. We’ll be nomads again, living with what fits into one large suitcase and a carry-on bag, a lifestyle we loved. We’ll get to see our son and his family once a year, and the girls once a year as well. We won’t have to figure out how to obtain special visas or take expensive language classes, and we’ll be flying less too. We’ll be in places long enough to quarantine, if necessary.
There are 19 months to get through before liftoff, and lots of work to do before our plans can happen. As we well know, much can change (quickly at times) and probably will more than once before our scheduled departure. In the meantime we will do what we can, and continue to save as much as possible, continue to get ourselves in shape and stay healthy, and continue to downsize, downsize, downsize. We’ll also continue to enjoy and appreciate every moment of our time left on Kaua’i. We’re lucky to be here, but looking forward to the future.
In October 2018, Brett and I had our first chance to try a short getaway, to Switzerland during our stay in Strasbourg. Located close to the German border (you can actually take the local tram across the border into Germany), Strasbourg is also only a short distance from western Switzerland, so we made arrangements to rent a car and visit Lucerne for two days.
The car rental was easy and affordable, but for something different we decided that instead of renting our own Airbnb apartment we would instead rent a room in someone’s home. After some research we picked a farmhouse located just outside of Lucerne with a short train ride to downtown. In retrospect, it was one of the best decisions we made, and we enjoyed one of the best stays of our entire travels.
The drive down to Switzerland, through Basel, took about an hour and a half from Strasbourg, through French farmland and then into the green rolling hills of Switzerland. When we arrived at the farmhouse where we’d be staying we couldn’t believe it – it practically screamed “you’re in Switzerland now!” Three stories high, it boasted traditional carvings, was bedecked with flower boxes filled with geraniums, and surrounded by gardens, orchards and fields. Our host, Madlen, came out to greet us, and before taking us to our room served us coffee and homemade apple cake. Madlen (and her husband Anton) did not speak English, but their two children still at home did, and we learned from them the farmhouse was over 350 years old, and had been in their family for more than 100 years. It contained many of its original elements, such as a tiled warming bench in the living room, and a wood-fired range in the kitchen that Madlen still used daily to prepare meals. Madlen and Anton had raised nine children there (with the youngest two still at home while attending university). Our comfortable room and full bath were located in what had once been the attic, and offered beautiful views out onto green fields, some of them full of fat cows. We learned Anton didn’t farm but instead drove a truck delivering feed and other materials and goods to farmers in the area (and rented out their fields). They owned two draft horses that were rented out for wagon rides and farm chores but while we were there the horses were out on a job, and they apologized that we were unable to enjoy a wagon ride through the area. Our first evening Brett and I ate a light dinner in our room of some things we had brought with us.
Included in our stay was an amazing farm breakfast every morning. We figured we might get some eggs, bread and jam, and such, but instead came downstairs to a table loaded with locally made sausages, cheeses, yogurt, fruits from our hosts’ garden and orchard, jams and fresh bread made by Madlen, as well as eggs and fried potatoes . . . all for us. It was incredible!
We had made plans to visit the old town and nearby sights on our first full day in Lucerne. Madlen drove us to the station after breakfast and we arranged a time with her to be back in the afternoon. The ride from Sempach Station to Lucerne Station was around 20 or so minutes, and the old town was only a short walk across a bridge crossing Lake Lucerne from the station. We started out with a walk across the wooden Chapel Bridge. Originally built in 1333, the bridge crosses over the lake and offers views of the city, the Alps, and of the Wassertum water tower, which used to function as a prison, dungeon, and torture chamber (almost hard to imagine in peaceful Switzerland). The bridge caught fire and was destroyed in August, 1993, but was rebuilt in less than a year, complete with all the colorful triangular paintings that adorned the interior. The bridge exit dropped us off in a location that allowed us to wander through the streets of the old town, where we searched for buildings covered with murals and paintings, and checked out old churches and other architectural features. We stopped at the famous Fritschi restaurant for a simple cheese fondue accompanied by a glass of wine before setting out to visit other parts of the city.
The wonderfully painted Restaurant Fritschi, traditional fondue for lunch, and the Wounded Lion Memorial.
Our next stop was the Wounded Lion Monument, created in 1820 to memorialize the massacre of Swiss guards during the French Revolution. Carved into a rock wall, Mark Twain called it “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.” It was an extremely somber and moving work of art and we stayed there for quite a while to take it in. From the park where the sculpture is located, we then walked over to climb the old medieval city walls, built in the 13th century, with a stop to check out the Victorinox shop, home of the Swiss Army knife, along the way (we purchased a $5 julienne peeler, one of my all-time favorite souvenirs).
The hike along the walls took us up and down and provided spectacular views of Lake Lucerne and the Alps in the distance. We were able to climb up inside three of the towers, but we mostly stuck to the top of the wall, enjoying the city landscape on one side, and more rural views on the other. Leaving the wall we walked through the countryside for a bit before returning to the city and stopping for a cup of coffee at a lakeside cafe. We walked back to cross the Chapel Bridge one more time, then stopped to share a bag of roasted chestnuts (one of Brett’s favorite treats) from a little stand near the lake before heading back to the station for our return to the farmhouse.
Madlen met us at the station but instead of returning immediately to the farmhouse she drove us up into the hills surrounding the village to visit a church that has been in continual operation since the 13th century. It was a lovely place to visit that we would have otherwise not known about, and we were entranced with the beauty of the simple stone church, the surrounding grounds, and the views out to the Alps from the location. Upon returning to the farmhouse, we were again served coffee and some freshly baked cake. Madlen gave us a note that had been written by one of her children asking us to come down to the kitchen at 5:00, to make bread with her for next morning’s breakfast! There was a lot of laughter as we worked (especially when Brett attempted braiding) even though we were unable to otherwise communicate with each other. We again ate a light dinner in our room with supplies we had picked up in Lucerne.
The next morning, after enjoying yet another huge breakfast, we were invited to eat dinner with our host family that evening and enjoy a traditional Swiss meal! We again set out again for Lucerne, this time to visit the Swiss Transportation Museum and the Lindt “World of Chocolate” attraction. We enjoyed a calm, beautiful ferry ride across the lake to the museum and spent several hours there – the museum covered every aspect of Swiss transportation from trains to cars to planes to bicycles and even baby carriages! We ate a light lunch at the museum cafe, then headed over to World of Chocolate. The main attraction was a very informative and fun Disney-like ride through an exhibit on how chocolate is made from start to finish. At one point we were asked to put out our hands to receive a truffle, but instead of getting one or two of them, about 15 truffles poured out of the spout! It took both of our hands to catch them all – they just kept coming! Just like Disney, the ride ended at a gift shop where we were given samples of some new chocolate flavors Lindt was developing. The gift shop contained an array of truffle flavors we had never seen before (like champagne or mango) and we filled a bag before departing.
On our ride back to the farmhouse that day Madlen drove us through the village of Sempach, and we also stopped at two locations offering even more spectacular views of the Alps. More cake and coffee waiting for us when we returned to the house, and that evening we enjoyed a traditional Swiss raclette dinner of cheese and potatoes with the entire family, including some who were no longer living at home. Everyone stayed after dinner for conversation, with the kids translating. They all had lots of questions about America (especially guns :-() and answered our many questions about life in Switzerland (the most expensive country in Europe). The big surprise of the evening was learning Anton was a top-notch yodeler and performed all over the area.
After one last giant breakfast the next morning we loaded up the car and then were given a tour of the garden and orchard, and also got to see the huge (and scary) rabbits Madlen raised – they live under the house and, according to her kids, are spoiled rotten. We would have loved to have been able to stay for a couple more days, and were very sad to leave. Our short stay in Lucerne had been so much more than we expected, and turned out to be one of the most meaningful experience of our travels, far beyond anything we had hoped for.
On our return trip to Florence from the Cinque Terre, an incident occurred on the train that shook Brett and I to our core, and still haunts us to this day.
We were assigned seats at the back of a car on the train. There was another couple sitting up toward the front, but otherwise the car was empty. Right before departure two young men entered the car. They spoke to each other briefly, in a language other than Italian, and one sat at the window in the row directly in front of us; the other chose a seat across the aisle and one row forward and they ceased communication. Both had small bags with them, and after sitting down produced laptops and stayed busy with them.
After a short distance, the conductor entered the car from the rear, to check on tickets. We showed him ours, then he asked the young man in front of us who showed his ticket. Then he approached the second young man across the aisle. He did not have a ticket.
The young man started out playing dumb, like he didn’t know what the conductor wanted and couldn’t understand what he was saying. The conductor was persistent, in both Italian and English, and offered to sell him a ticket if he didn’t have one. The young man continued to shrug his shoulders, try to look helpless, and so forth. The man in front of us watched carefully, but made no move to help his friend.
The standoff escalated, and eventually both the young man across the aisle and the conductor were shouting at each other. The tension grew thick enough you could have cut it with a knife. Brett and I sat in our seats, feeling more and more terrified as we began to feel there was a good chance of a gun being produced, with the conductor being shot. We calculated where we were sitting, and that we would be in the line of fire with no place for us to go or hide if shots were fired. We were too afraid to speak to each other, but held each others’ hand tightly and hoped things did not get any worse than they already were.
And then we remembered we were in Italy. The conductor was not armed, and although he got in the young man’s face he did not physically touch him or threaten him in any way. The chance of a gun being produced was not impossible, but about as close to zero as it could get. This was not America, where the young man could easily have been carrying a gun in his bag and less hesitancy to use it. Our joint relief at this realization was almost palpable and our grip on each others’ hand eased.
At the next stop the conductor escorted the young man out of the car; police were waiting on platform. The young man in front of us left as well, staying a short distance behind the conductor and his friend. We wondered if he had been the “handler” for the other.
Men, women, and children have been shot in U.S. while shopping at the supermarket or at the mall, while watching a movie in a theater, or attending a ball game, sitting in their classroom, or while in church. There is no place anyone is truly safe from being shot in our country any more, and I think we all carry that fear inside of us, whether we’re willing to acknowledge it or not. We know a shooting can happen anywhere, at any occasion, and affect anyone. The small incident we encountered on a train in Italy brought that fear home for us, and we remember and feel it again every time we read about another shooting in our country.
I have no problems with gun ownership whatsoever, but there is something much deeper going on in our country than any arguments over “freedom” or the ownership of guns, and a sickness that has taken hold. And we seem to have made a choice to live with that sickness day in and day out.
We continue to dream and plan for travel in spite of not knowing what the future holds. While our first post-pandemic trip won’t be until spring of next year, doing what we can to be ready remains our primary focus. Since we are not those people who can take out their checkbook or credit card and pay for everything without a thought, we save, save, save and have already started work on setting up a budget for next year’s travels. There are many pieces of a travel budget: lodging, transportation (getting there and back, on the ground, car rentals, etc.), dining, activities, tours, and other things as well, and it takes time and thought to get it right
The first thing we do whenever we create a travel budget is to think very carefully about the maximum we know we can save and have on hand before traveling along with the maximum we want to spend. Both numbers help us set our goals and budget parameters. Once we’ve figured them out we figure out the purpose of the trip and what we’d like to do. Are there things we’ve always dreamed of doing and this is our chance? Or, are we just looking forward to spending time with family members. Are we willing to try something new and/or different? What are things we won’t budge on? Where we stay, how we travel, and so forth are things that will strongly affect our planning and the budget for each trip. The overall goal is to make sure what we want to do matches what we can save, and that Brett and I are on the same page for what’s achievable.
The most important thing we keep in mind as we go along is: be realistic. While we’d love to fly first class or stay in 5-star hotels, we know that’s not usually possible, and we go with what we know we can afford and what pieces of the budget cost rather than what we’d like to do. We always strive to come in under the maximum amount we’ve allowed for a trip while getting the biggest bang for our dollars, but that’s only possible if we have figured costs accurately, and are honest with ourselves about costs. We know it’s possible to upgrade in one area if we can save in another.
Then it’s time to research, research, research. I look at a variety of flight schedules, airlines, and costs balancing upgrades with perks (i.e. saving on checked luggage costs and comfort for long flights versus lower cost for main cabin) to get an upper limit of what our flight will cost. If we’re driving I research mileage and cost of gasoline. I search for what lodging will cost at different levels of service, check Airbnb, VRBO, hotel sites (Hotels.com, Trivago, etc.) and other travel sites to see what’s possible and where things are located. For dining costs I generally use TripAdvisor recommendations and restaurant reviews; we’ve always found great, low-cost places to eat through their site. Cooking for ourselves always saves money, but we always enjoy eating out now and again. If we’re staying in a hotel we try to find ones that offer a free breakfast if possible (although some of those are pretty pathetic) and allow us to have some (simple) meals in our room. We also check how easy it is to get around – is there good public transportation available and what does that cost? Can we do more if we rent a car? How walkable is the area?
It’s not unusual to discover that what we’d like to do and the maximum we want to spend are not a good fit. That means we either have to adjust our wants or increase our maximum. We’ve done both, either giving up some things or downsizing our wants, or deciding we weren’t going to budge on some items and increasing the upper limit of our budget and finding ways to save more.
The very first budget item we focus on is our upper limit for lodging. That amount is determined by how long are we are staying somewhere, what sort of accommodation we want or need (hotel or our own apartment). We also think about any certain location we want to be near and then how far away from that location we are willing to stay. That is, do we want to stay in the center of things or are we willing to stay a little further out to possibly save? In Japan, for example, we always try to find lodging near our son’s home that has room for the grandkids to sleep over, something that affects the cost of our lodging there.
Are we driving, taking a bus or train, or flying? For now, from Hawaii, it’s always flying, so we look at things like the length of the flight, the schedule, layovers, and do we think we need or want more legroom? Are we willing to pay more for a shorter and/or more convenient travel time? What are the charges for luggage? Weight limits for luggage? Will we need to rent a car at our destination or can we use public transportation? Once we’ve researched all the options, figured out costs and times, we set a realistic upper limit for what we are willing to spend for transportation costs and then keep our fingers crossed we find a great fare sale.
Food is one of the easiest parts of the budget to figure out. We generally start with a dollar amount based on what we spend on food at home each month and then add anywhere from half again to double the amount depending on whether we’ll be cooking our own meals or mostly eating out. This always seems like so much at first, but having an adequate amount for eating is crucial, especially if we know we will be eating in restaurants, even only occasionally, or don’t know what food shopping opportunities await us. Food costs also require that we think carefully in advance about what part of the travel experience we want dining out to be and if there are special places or dishes we want to try in the location(s) we are going to.
When setting up the activities we many want to do we consider whether we’re going to want to do a lot of sightseeing, explore on our own or possibly take a tour, maybe go to a concert or visit a museum, or whether we’d like to take a class. Or, do we just want to relax. We enjoy taking walking tours, free if possible, and the classes we’ve tried have been great experiences and worth the cost.
Once we have done our research, set the upper limits of different sections of the budget as well as what we’re willing to pay, we work with the information we have gathered and start filling in the blanks. We start looking for deals and where trade-offs can be made. These need to be carefully considered (for example, we almost always go for a more comfortable flight as we’ve found it makes a difference in the whole experience for us). The further out we can book or make reservations, the better the deals or price we usually can find. I used to book air travel early, but these days with airlines making so many changes and so many unknowns booking closer to travel seems to be the better and safer choice even though it may cost more.
We always build in a cushion for emergencies. Always. Besides buying travel insurance, we add an additional 10% – 15% of our total budget as a cushion for emergencies or other contingencies. If it turns out we don’t use our emergency cushion then it goes right back into travel savings. Same for any money we save and don’t spend on a trip.
The most important part of our travel budget? Keeping track of what we spend as we go along, even before we set out on your travels. We tracked every single penny when we were on our Big Adventure because it was critical we stayed at or under our budget. Brett kept a daily log of what we did and what we spent, we saved receipts for everything, and tracked our spending every day. The biggest benefit of doing this was that we could see when we needed to cut back or when we could splurge a bit and where.
Other than people’s love of traveling, the pandemic changed everything when it comes to heading out on the road. At least it seems that way at times. Not only did COVID stop travel altogether last year, but from what I’m learning it appears to caused some deep, and in my opinion, much needed changes, not just about where people will travel going forward but in how they will travel.
We’re already seeing close-to-home escapism becoming more popular, with road trips and RVing at the top of the list for many who are eager to hit the road again. People in the U.S. are already visiting state and natural parks in huge numbers, and taking more wilderness trips as well. Travel to Hawaii and Alaska are booming as many overseas destinations still remain closed to visitors, or require long periods of quarantine (like Japan or Singapore).
One of the biggest changes that seems to be coming to the travel industry can be summed up in one word: sustainability. According to experts, big resort vacations at exotic locations or trips visiting multiple locations in a short period of time are going to be less popular than longer stays in one location, where the focus will be more on “human tourism” and the people and culture of a place versus a short vacation or trip trying to fit in as many destinations as possible. The trend in future travel will be tailored, conscious, and more discerning, with health and safety not just of travelers but of those at the destination of primary importance. In a race between quality versus quantity of travel, quality is expected to win. According to travel experts, future travel will be defined more by purpose versus checking off boxes on a list. I certainly hope this is true, and that places like Venice or Santorini that were being “over visited” are able to return to a more natural and relaxed pace of life that can support, sustain, and give back to the local population.
The actual travel experience is going to feel very different as well in the future. Face masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes are going to be with us for a long time. Quarantines will be too, depending on where you plan to visit. Going through immigration in another country may mean longer waits in line, proof of a negative COVID test and/or proof of vaccine (and only certain vaccines may be accepted). Travel seasons may change as well, and may be switched off and on depending on outbreaks of the virus or the rise of variants. And, although airline change and cancellation fees seem to be gone for good, travel insurance will be a must have as trips could potentially have to be cancelled or rearranged depending on what’s happening at a destination. For this reason, booking directly with airlines, hotels, and car rentals versus using an online agency like Expedia, Travelocity, and such can help make sure getting flights and other reservations changed or refunded if necessary.
The cruise industry has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, and will probably face major changes in the future. Restrictions like health screenings, proof of vaccination, and other terms will most likely be put in place for the indefinite future, and things like self-serve buffets and other group offerings will go the way of the dinosaurs. Many countries will not allow ships other than from the country of origin to dock. For example, Taiwain is currently offering short cruises, but only to citizens of Taiwan, and stops are only in Taiwanese ports. It may be a great while before long cruises reappear – current trends point to short cruises of less than a week, many on smaller ships, and only to destinations close to the home port.
Overall, hygiene and sanitation no matter where you go is going to be the top priority. Air quality, cleaning standards, and personal sanitation are all going to be featured by airlines, hotels, and other travel vendors. Some airlines already plan to keep the middle row of seats empty going forward, especially on longer flight. Smaller group numbers for tours and other activities will be highlighted and other safety precautions put in place. Train and bus travel versus flying is already being encouraged, not only for sanitary reasons but because it’s more environmentally friendly overall.
All of the above points to a very different travel experience going forward. Planning will still be fun, but it’s going to require more thought and a greater degree of flexibility. Change is to be expected. Still, there’s no reason not to start thinking about future travel. We’re still ready to go – it may not be exactly what we hoped for, but it will still be wonderful.
I still go through our travel photos at least once a week, sometimes two or three times. I’ll think of something we saw or did or ate, and I immediately want to go back and look, and think about it some more. I think about the pictures I took and why, and they usually jolt my memory some more. Anyway, I would like to occasionally write about these memories as they arise. It won’t happen weekly, maybe only once a month or so, I don’t want to write a travelogue either, but just general memories of a place we were fortunate to visit, and show that even the shortest bit of travel can be an adventure.
Cinque Terre National Park in northwest Italy had been on my bucket list of places I wanted to visit for as long as I can remember. One year I even planned for our family to rent a house there for the summer, but the cutback in Brett’s hours that year and our increasing debt put an end to that plan. So, when we scheduled a month’s stay in Florence I knew this was our chance to visit, and we scheduled an overnight getaway. Because of heavy rains in the area we had to postpone our trip by a couple of weeks, but were easily able to change both our train tickets and our hotel reservation.
We started our visit by taking the train all the way up to the northernmost village, Monterosso al Mare. The ride from Florence took around three hours, and we had beautiful views along the way, including the Carrerra quarries (where Michelangelo got his marble) and Pisa, where we got a clear view of the Leaning Tower from the train. There were few people on the train though, and when we stepped off in Monterosso it was like entering a ghost town. What we didn’t know was that “the season” had ended a week earlier and few visitors were heading to the area. Shops and restaurants around the village were closed, the beach was deserted, and there were really no people around. We wandered around for a few minutes, found one open restaurant and had delicious seafood lunch, but then headed back to the train station and hopped on the next train to the next village, Vernazza.
We did not realize at first that we had boarded an express train, with the next stop Spezia! We forlornly watched the other four Cinque Terre stations speed by our window as the train rushed through each station. At Spezia we licked our wounds, figured out the schedule for the next train that was stopping at Vernazza, and were eventually back on our way.
Late afternoon and sunset in Vernazza
Vernazza in late afternoon was lovely, with people out and about. It was full of colorful buildings and streets, and had a picturesque harbor. Shops and restaurants were open, and we stopped at a gelateria to get our daily fix. Fishing boats were done for the day and had been pulled up out of the water, but we sat on some rocks by the harbor and watched the sun go down over the Mediterranean. Afterwards we climbed back up the hill to the station, and caught the train to Manarola. We had decided to skip the village of Corniglia because of the time, and because it also required a steep climb from the station to reach it, something we definitely didn’t want to do in the dark.
The sun was almost completely down when we reached Manarola, so we set our hotel’s location in Google Maps and started out. What we didn’t realize was that Google Maps gave us directions that looked good on paper but that would not actually get us to our hotel! We went around in circles for a while, but eventually stopped back at a restaurant in the main square and the owner sent us off in the right direction (the opposite of where Google Maps had sent us). It was now pitch dark, there were no street lights or street signs, and we wound our way up to the hotel using the flashlights on our phone, still having no idea if we were going the right direction or not. We eventually reached our hotel, with the owner leaning out the window waiting for us, worried that we were never going to show up (we were his only booking that night). He recommended a restaurant down the hill for dinner, but at that point we were so exhausted and grateful to have found our hotel that we instead went straight to bed and were asleep in moments.
We woke up to an amazing view from our veranda, of the entire coast and villages all the way back to Monterosso, as well as wonderful views of Manarola below us and of the hillsides covered with grapevines. We got dressed, said our goodbyes to the owner, who was heading out to tend his vineyard, and then headed back down the hill to walk out to a northern viewpoint, followed by a trip back to the square for some more coffee. As we were enjoying our drinks, a group of 60+ Chinese tourists suddenly filled the square. Their numbers blocked everything, and they were very noisy, so we finished our coffees quickly and headed for the train station in hopes of getting to the final village in the Cinque Terre National Park, Riomaggiore, before the big tour group did. Our luck had apparently run out though as the entire group boarded the train just after we did, filling our car to bursting.
Manarola in the morning.
At Riomaggiore, as we climbed off the train we were faced with a dilemma: which way to go? Should be go right and up into the hills, or left, through a long tunnel? The big tour group forming up next to us forced us to make a quick decision and we turned to go left. It turned out to be a wise choice as the road took us up and through the village and offered stunning views along the way. However, the tour group had followed us up the hill and we had to walk quickly to stay ahead of them. We eventually landed in the village square, chose a restaurant, and had one of the best meals of our travels: freshly made pesto with potatoes and pasta for me, and a seafood medley pasta for Brett along with a few glasses of delicious wine. We never saw the Chinese group again – it was like they vaporized somewhere.
After we left the restaurant we spotted a sign at the bottom of the square pointing to the station. We turned right at the sign and discovered ourselves in the long tunnel that we would have come through if we had chosen to go right from the station! We left Riomaggiore feeling very glad we had turned left and headed up the hill, big tourist group or not.
Our one regret was that we were not able to hike any of the cliffside trails between villages – they had been washed out in several places because of the recent heavy rains and were blocked off. Otherwise, we enjoyed a perfect Cinque Terre getaway and satisfied a long-time travel desire of mine.
We learned the hard way on our last travel adventure that shoes were the most important part of our wardrobe, and that cheap shoes, for the amount of walking we did, were just not worth it. My Skecher slip-ons that I started out with gave out (fell apart, actually) in less than a year and not only became extremely uncomfortable but were damaging to my feet as well. Although we’re not going anywhere for a while, and the rest of our wardrobes are fine, we’re now starting to think about acquiring necessary shoes for our next set of travels.
Shoes are, for both of us, the hardest part of our travel wardrobes to find. I have difficult feet to fit: they are wide and I have very high arches. I also have very little padding left on the bottoms of my feet so the soles the any shoes I wear need to be thick and well-cushioned. Both of us prefer shoes for daily wear that slip on and off, if possible, because of the time we spend in Japan, where shoes are removed every time you enter a home. Brett needs ankle support, and also has a big foot. What we need and want is not an easy combination to find, and shoes that do fit the bill are often either very, very expensive or ugly beyond reason.
There are also no shoe stores on Kaua’i other than the small shoe department at Macy’s and they definitely don’t have what we need. We’ve found our best option is to order shoes from Zappos, try them out, and return (free shipping both ways) if the fit is not good. While we’re here we only need sandals and walking shoes, so purchasing other pairs of shoes can feel like a huge, unnecessary luxury at times. For now we’re researching and learning about brands that could work for us, and looking to see if what they offer styles that we like. I recently bought a pair of highly-rated (and expensive) Vionic slip-on sneakers but they were a bust: the right shoe was uncomfortably tight and the left shoe slipped off my heel with every step. My right foot is only slightly bigger than my left, but the fit on these shoes was ridiculous, and I now know it’s a brand I can write off.
My current shoe wardrobe.
I like all the travel shoes I have right now: navy blue suede boots, red slip ons, and gray slip ons. I also have walking sneakers and the silver sandals that I wear all the time here. Five pairs of shoes seems like plenty, but I want to add a pair a black or navy blue slip-on sneakers with arch support and a thick sole, but haven’t had any luck so far finding anything. I think I might also be willing to tote around a pair of black ankle boots, but that is not too likely to happen. Brett needs to replace the Red Wing boots he took along last time. He needs the ankle support boots provide, but the RWs were very heavy, and he had to wear them on every flight because of their weight which meant taking them off and on every time to go through security. He plans to invest in some lighter weight boots for this next round of travel as well as a pair of slip-on sneakers.
Vans are an option: they fit wide feet, have a cushioned sole, and are the style of slip-on I want.They don’t have a lot of arch support though.
Both of us are willing to spend $$$ to get proper fitting, attractive shoes but so far our searches have been coming up empty. We don’t want to be spending hundreds right before we travel though; we’d rather gradually fit an occasional pair of shoes into our budget now and again. We’ve got a year and a half to go, but other than beefing up our savings having the right shoes is probably the number one item on our list of things we need to accomplish.
We had some amazing views from our Airbnb homes during our travels.
We love staying in Airbnb rentals. I enjoy looking at different homes, imagining us living there for a while, and seeing if I can find a place that fits our wants, needs, and budget. It can be a challenge, but a fun one. We did very well with our rentals overall during the Big Adventure, and stay in just one place that was a disappointment (in Bath; thankfully it was a very short stay, only two nights).
Finding accommodations when we travel has always been one of my tasks. Brett is usually in on the final decision, but not always. I have a list of requirements, amenities, and always a budget when it comes to finding a place, with some of these things negotiable and others absolute requirements that we won’t budge on.
The first thing I do is go is narrow my search to Superhosts. We had a couple of bad experiences having our reservation abruptly cancelled, but Superhosts can lose their status if they cancel. They are also experienced hosts and go out of the way to make guests feel welcome.
The next step is to go through the pictures. Does the home look like a comfortable place to stay? Is the kitchen nice? Are there lots of pictures of the tchotkes or pictures around the apartment? Why are there so many pictures of the toilet (this seriously happens)? Is the place filled with stuff or is it minimally furnished, or even too minimally furnished? Does it look clean overall? Does it feel like a good fit? I generally can filter out several places on the pictures alone – some places just don’t feel right.
Next I take a closer look at the price. I adjust the search to look for the maximum we are willing to spend per month on lodging. Having an upper limit is critical because Airbnb always tacks on a service fee, and they almost always add a cleaning fee as well which can drive up what looks like an affordable daily amount. We did allow ourselves to stay in a slightly more expensive place as long as that cost was balanced out with other less expensive rentals. We stayed in some “over budget” rentals during the Big Adventure but when combined with some that were well under our budget we ended up going just $38 over what we had planned for lodging costs.
Although a daily price is given for each Airbnb rental, that price can be adjusted according to the time of year or the length of the stay. I’ve looked at places advertised for say, $56/night, but when our dates are entered the price comes out to more than $100/night. Nope! Many rentals will give a discount for a week’s or month’s stay, but I’ve come across others that either don’t or even increase the price for a month’s stay! Sometimes the increases given are ridiculous or outright funny. When I began searching for place to stay in the Cotswolds back in 2017, I found one lovely home that was exactly what we were looking for, at a price within our range. I saved it to a list, and went to look at a few other properties and locations. When I came back to the first property, the cost for one month had jumped to astronomical proportions, something like $16,000. What? I cleared the cookies on my computer and checked again, but the monthly price had climbed even higher. It became a game to see how high the price would go as it continued to climb every time I checked. I stopped when the price for a month’s rental reached over $300,000 – we didn’t want to buy the house for heaven’s sake! Check out the monthly price for the Tokyo apartment below – crazy! I have know why this happens but it does now and again.
After looking at pictures and prices I typically end up with a list of five or six properties that might work for us, and then dig into the details. Does it have all our must-have amenities? Does the location work for us? And what do the reviews say? Many only say things like “great host” or “great location,” but digging deeper I can usually always find information about the cleanliness, how comfortable the bed is, how nice the kitchen is, and so forth, and one or more locations will eventually rise to the top. If we’re not traveling for a while I save the location to a wish list, but if we’re close enough to book I will go over the top picks (if there’s more than one) with Brett, make a choice, then contact the owner to see if they will accept our booking. We have yet to be turned down for our top pick, but we always make sure we have others that will work as well if that should happen.
Must-haves for us in a rental are WiFi, a table for eating and where Brett can work, a washing machine (and hopefully a dryer, but it’s not absolutely necessary) if we’re staying for a week or more, a separate bedroom with a comfortable bed, a stove with an oven, and good kitchen space with a nice assortment of cooking tools and basic dishes. A nice bathroom with a shower is also a given. The location of the home is a big factor – we want a place where we can walk to various places and/or that’s near a station or other public transportation, and we like to have a grocery store within walking distance.
Do we always get everything we want? No! One of our favorite stays, Strasbourg, had no washing machine in the apartment – we had to take our clothes to a laundromat. There was no table, just a counter with two stools, and no separate bedroom. I didn’t notice until just before our arrival that I had not booked a one-bedroom apartment as thought but a studio with a sofa bed, and we arrived in Strasbourg dreading our three-week stay there. The sofa bed turned out to be the most comfortable bed we slept on during our travels, the counter worked fine for us, the laundromat was only two blocks away and we met and chatted with nice people there, and the apartment’s location was superb for walking throughout the city. The landlord was friendly and generous, and before we left Strasbourg we were invited to her home for dinner with her family. She cooked a beautiful, traditional multi-course French meal for us and stuffed us with treats. We have stayed friends with her and her family, and both of us look forward to meeting up again some day. That apartment also taught Brett and I that we could live comfortably in a very small space and get along just fine.
Almost all of our stays provided everything we wanted and needed and then some. Still, we have assembled a simple set of kitchen tools to carry with us when we next travel (vegetable peeler, paring knives, silicone spatula, simple grater, can opener, and a couple of other pieces) as these are the things we sometimes found lacking in an apartment. For the most part though we adapt easily to what’s available in each home. We always keep our temporary homes clean and fix things if we can but call the owner when we can’t.
The opportunity to “live local” was one of the best things we did during our travels, and we’re looking forward to further Airbnb experiences when we hit the road again.