Language Learning for Adults

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, especially since I’ve been studying (and struggling to learn) French now for many months in preparation for our travels there later this year. I also spent a considerable amount of time (like years) trying to learn Japanese, only to find myself with an ability less than a two year-old. Because my professional  background is in adult language learning and acquisition you would think I’d have this all figured out by now and would know all sorts of tricks to make learning faster and easier, but sadly, no.

Children pick up new languages very easily, at least the spoken part, typically because they are usually far more immersed in a new language than most adults (i.e. in school all day with other native speakers). If children learn a second language before the age of twelve they usually become fluent speakers with no accent. Although adults learn a language in the same steps as children, how adults process what they are learning is different based on cognitive differences and other previous learning experiences. The reality is it just takes adults longer to acquire a second language. The good news is it’s not impossible.

When adults are learning a second or foreign language, there are three main aspects that come into play: 1) motivation, or the reasons for learning another language; 2) how an adult views themselves as a learner; 3) who an adult sees themselves to be when they speak another language. All three of these are important, but any one of them on their own can have a profound effect on the learning experience. Being aware of these forces and the roles they play can help adults through the process.

Motivation falls into two classes, intrinsic or extrinsic. That is, motivation to learn another language either comes from within or from without. Are you learning a new language because you want to or because you have to or need to? How strong is the desire or need? A combination of both intrinsic and extrinsic reasons for learning is best, and together can provide powerful motivation to push through difficult stretches and improve.

Language learning has often proven to be a sticky problem for adults who have always seen themselves as successful learners or talented in other respects. Recognizing that language learning calls on a whole different set of skills than learning math or history, or participating in a sport or hobby, and that it might not be as easy for you as you thought (or as fun) is an important step in staying motivated and continuing to learn.

Finally, how do you see yourself when you imagine yourself speaking another language? As a native speaker of English, I view myself as a confident, skilled adult when I speak, read, write or listen to English, able to know what to say in almost any situation or figure out what someone else is saying or inferring. With a new language I often find myself with less ability than a small child, making lots of (sometimes embarrassing) mistakes, sometimes unable to order in a restaurant or ask directions, let alone manage any other social or professional situations. It’s very humbling, and can also be humiliating at times. One’s self-image when learning a new language can sometimes take some serious blows. Also, there’s the aspect to self of fitting in socially and culturally where the new language is spoken. Knowing that these feelings are perfectly normal can help you stick with language learning.

Based on my many years of teaching English to adults learners, here are some tips for making language learning more productive and less painful:

  • Communication should be the goal. Not fluency, not perfection, although you can strive for those. Can another person understand what you’re trying to say or write and communicate back to you? That’s what really matters.
  • Know how difficult a language is to learn. Russian or Chinese or Finnish are going to be w-a-y more difficult for an English speaker to learn than Spanish or French. All language learning takes time and effort, but if you want to learn one of the more difficult languages, give yourself even more time. Although the goal may be much less than professional proficiency, here is the Foreign Language Institute difficulty ranking for English speakers, and the time it takes to reach Speaking 3: General Professional Proficiency in Speaking (S3) and Reading 3: General Professional Proficiency in Reading (R3) in different languages.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Seriously, mistakes are how we learn, especially in language learning! Think of all the mistakes children make when they’re learning to speak. Adults go through the same steps, and mistakes will happen. The important thing is to keep trying to produce the language in some form rather than shut down. An ideal instructor (or online program) will always model the language correctly for you when you make a mistake and give chances to try again. It’s also important to find a classroom and instructor where you feel safe to make mistakes. My Japanese instructors in college didn’t go for safety and it was an incredibly stressful and miserable experience. I remember nothing from those classes other than wanting them to end (although I was able to get a Master’s thesis out of the experience!).
  • Be prepared to memorize. Memory is a very big part of language learning. We memorize constantly when we learn our own language (I took weekly spelling tests through the eighth grade because much of English spelling and pronunciation is based on memorization, even for native speakers), and it will be true for any other language. It’s more difficult to remember things when we’re older because we’re carrying around and having to deal with so much more information in our brains than we did when we were younger. The best way to remember what you’re learning is to practice. Every day.
  • Don’t sweat pronunciation. The ability to speak another language without an accent ends at about age 12. That’s when our mouths and oral muscles “solidify” around our native language. Not worrying about pronunciation doesn’t mean not trying to pronunciate a new language correctly in order to be understood, but sounding like a native speaker doesn’t need to be the goal.
  • Find ways to expose yourself to the language. Learning French in France is going to be a whole lot easier than trying to learn it in the U.S. Why? Because learners are immersed in the language there – it can’t be escaped and has to be dealt with. In your own country, once you’re out of the classroom it’s difficult to find opportunities to practice and use the language you’re learning. Immersion experiences here in the U.S. do exist though. Shop in international markets and read the labels or ask questions in the language you’re learning. Pick up a newspaper or magazine in the new language, go through it and see what can be figured out. Watch foreign films or TV shows in the new language without subtitles. For example, when our girls were learning Chinese, they found that all their favorite Disney Channel shows could be watched online in Mandarin, so they got lots of extra listening comprehension practice from those. Go to a church service where the language you’re learning is spoken (they exist). See if you can set up conversation experiences through local colleges, or hire a tutor and have them provide a weekly immersion session. I was sometimes able to match up my students, if they had time, with an English speaker who was trying to learn their language. They’d spend one hour together in one language, the second hour in the other language.

Knowing another language opens doors for understanding a new and/or different culture, but language learning is a process that takes time, in some cases LOTS of time. It’s important to remind yourself, especially if you’re struggling or on the fence about sticking with it, that you didn’t learn English (or any other native language) quickly as a child either. Unless necessary for professional reasons, fluency doesn’t need to be the goal of language learning; rather, you should strive to learn enough of a new language to communicate effectively, and as a means to better understand and enhance  experiences in a different culture.

Finally, one other interesting side effect of language learning is that you will probably learn more about English as well, and what a crazy, difficult, and sometimes impossible language it is. I thank my stars every day that English is my native language, and that I didn’t have to learn it as a second or foreign language. My years of teaching gave me an immense amount of respect for anyone trying to learn English, a daunting task if there ever was one.

Less Than Six Months To Go!

Other than continuing to save we haven’t been doing all that much directly related the Big Adventure lately both because there’s been lots of other stuff going on and mainly because we can’t. It dawned on me last week though that we have less than six months to go before we depart! While we’ve accomplished what we can so far, planning and scheduling is going to accelerate quickly beginning next month.

For now, we’re scheduled to leave the island on August 20. We still don’t know though where we’ll be heading, whether that will be over to Honolulu first to take YaYu to college there, or on to somewhere on the mainland. Once we have the college information we’ll be able to pull out the big calendar to figure out locations, dates and deadlines.

Anyway, here’s what we’ve already done to get ready:

  • Purchased our luggage and backpacks. We still need to get locks though.
  • Purchased all our clothes and shoes, and put together our travel wardrobes (minus one pair of leather shoes for Brett). Both of us are under the weight limits that we set for ourselves for our big suitcases (44 pounds).
  • Assembled all our electronics. We’re taking my MacBook Air, an iPad, our iPhones, Brett’s iPod, two Kindles, my digital camera, all the chargers, and a couple of converters. We’re also going to take Brett’s old Samsung phone to use for local calls (will buy a SIM card at each location). Otherwise our phone plan gives us data and texting for no extra charge.
  • Made reservations for Kaua’i condo (7/27 – 8/20), the India Tour, the Australian rail journey, and our Tokyo Airbnb.

There’s still more than plenty left to do though:

  • Make travel arrangements to the mainland. Our current plan is to fly into Seattle from here using our Hawaiian air miles, and go from there. Whether there will be three of us going, or just two, is the big unknown right now. If YaYu is with us (i.e. attending college on the mainland), we will spend a couple of days in Seattle to take care of cold(er)-weather clothes shopping for her before heading on to her college.
  • Reserve Airbnb lodgings (and Hong Kong hotel). This can be done once we can set dates for the rest of the trip. We are working this month on narrowing our list of possible rentals, and ranking them. The Salisbury in Hong Kong hasn’t released their 2019 prices yet – not sure when that will happen, but once they do we’ll make our reservations there.
  • Make flight reservations. Besides getting ourselves to Dallas we also will make reservations from Dallas to Miami, Miami to Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires to Paris, and Lisbon to mainland and on to Portland for Christmas. Early next month will be a great time (five to six months out or so) to find good prices for international flights. Other flight reservations will be made while we’re on the road
  • Set up mail forwarding service. We will have mail collected here and forwarded on once a month to Brett’s sister and brother-in-law in Dallas. They will also be keeping all of our important and official papers while we travel. We plan to spend a couple of days visiting with them before we take off for Buenos Aires.
  • Purchase pillows. We are still going back on forth on these. We’ve settled on some a couple of times, but then discover they’re too heavy, or too big, too soft, or too something else. I know we’ll find the right ones eventually, but so far this has been frustrating.
  • Assemble toiletry and medication supplies, and purchase gifts for Airbnb hosts. This will be done closer to departure, but we especially need to make sure we will have enough of our medications for at least the first three months of travel. We also plan to leave a small gift of some Kaua’i-made items for our hosts as a thank-you.
  • Arrange for cleaners to assist with move-out cleaning of the house (floors and windows). This house has to be cleaned to perfection in order to get any of our deposit back (it was perfection when we moved in). We can do most of it on our own, but the floors and windows will require some extra assistance, especially the floors. They are etched and stained concrete, beautiful but a real pain to maintain. We have to strip and replace the seven (!!) coats of wax the landlord put down before we moved in.
  • Arrange storage for household goods we are keeping. We plan to meet with Royal Hawaiian, the company that moved us over here, in early May to set that up.
  • Advertise, set up and hold moving sale. For now we have been separating things out that will go to the sale, and we plan to hold the sale in early July. We also need to arrange to sell our washer and dryer, but closer to the end of July. Our landlord is thinking about purchasing the pair for the house though – fingers crossed as that would be ideal for us.  Whatever is left over from our moving sale, or that doesn’t go into storage will go to a local thrift store when we leave the house at the end of July.
  • Sell our car and reserve a rental for our last month or so on the island. We plan to have the car detailed and listed in early- to mid-July.

Looking over this list, I feel both excited and stressed! There’s a lot still to do. Hopefully being proactive now about saving, downsizing and getting organized is going to make the process easier and less stressful, and I’m excited about booking our lodgings and getting our flights, but I imagine things are going to pile up at bit as we get nearer our departure time. I know it’s all going to come together though and then we’ll be off!


Thinking Ahead

As mentioned a short while ago, Brett and I have started discussing where (and even if) we want to settle when the Big Adventure ends in May 2019. There’s much to consider, and still lots of unknowns right now, the biggest being where YaYu will attend college. That information alone, once we have it, will have a profound affect on our decision, but in the meantime there are things we can begin to talk about. Brett and I have gone back to our tried and true method of developing lists and spreadsheets, and looking at the pros and cons of different options. Once again, we’re taking our time to come to the best decision for the direction we’ll take once the Big Adventure is over in May 2019.

For the time being we’ve been putting together a list of the things that are important to us, or that we believe will be in the future. We haven’t particularly ranked anything yet, and none of the points listed below is yet a deal-killer. Some of the things we are considering so far are:

  • Do we want to settle somewhere or keep traveling? Everything will revolve around our answer to this question.
  • Cost of living: We’re pretty sure we’re going to want to continue traveling in some form, and the lower the cost of living if we decide to settle somewhere, the more we will have for travel.
  • Taxes: We will want a location with a good tax environment for retirees that doesn’t tax Social Security, has a lower or no tax on military retirement, low sales tax, etc. (We’re allowed to dream, aren’t we?).
  • Walkability: We do not want to own a car again, if possible. We would prefer to live somewhere where we can walk or use public transportation for the majority of tasks, and use ride or car share for those times when we absolutely have to have a car.
  • Culture: We’re mainly thinking about having access to classes for enrichment, but would also like a variety of other other cultural offerings nearby if possible, like art museums, theaters, etc.
  • Health care: The availability of good medical care, specialists, etc. will become even more important as we age.
  • Travel & transportation: If we settle, the ease of our getting to other places and for our children to come see us will be important.
  • Weather: While we would prefer sunny, warm weather, we (me especially) also would prefer someplace with less humidity if possible. We’re also not crazy about living somewhere that gets a lot of snow, especially since we’d like to walk a lot for as much of the year as possible.

So far, we have come up with four general location options with pros and cons to each one:

  • Return to Kaua’i: The thought of leaving here permanently is difficult to think about, but we’re not sure it will make sense to return if all of the girls are attending college, or living, on the mainland. Especially since neither we nor they can afford the cost of them (and eventually their families) traveling here every year, or us to the mainland to see them in all in the various places they live or will live. However, if YaYu ends up attending the University of Hawai’i, it will make sense for us to continue to live here, for a few more years at least. We would move to a smaller, more affordable space on the island, and perhaps even buy a condo here (although local HOA fees have pretty much priced us out of the market).
  • Settle somewhere on the mainland: If YaYu ends up attending college on the mainland, it will make much more sense for us to resettle back there somewhere, as it will be easier to see the girls and for the girls to come and see us. It’s also easier, believe it or not, for our son and family to travel to the mainland than to come to Kaua’i from Japan. Where that somewhere might be though is the big unknown. Living on the mainland would be more affordable overall, and we would probably buy something small, a true pied à terre so to speak. Brett and I dream of being car free and able to get to places by walking, using public transportation or using a ride-share or car-share service when necessary, and there are locations on the mainland where we could make that dream a reality.
  • Relocate overseas: The opportunity to live in a different country and experience a different culture still greatly appeals to us. Having lived overseas twice (in Japan) we know many of the ins and outs, pros and cons, and pitfalls of overseas living. It would mean a major, major lifestyle change and affect the whole family so it’s currently not as viable as the two options above. Still, it’s not out of the running. We both agree that if Japan ever offers a visa for retirees (highly unlikely) we would move there in a heartbeat.
  • Continue traveling: The Senior Nomads, who have been traveling non-stop for the past four years, were the inspiration for our own upcoming Big Adventure, and we are not ready yet to write off the possibility that we will enjoy our experience enough to want to keep going for another year or longer. There are so many places we want to see and that we won’t be visiting on our upcoming Adventure, and we may decide we just want to keep traveling for a while longer.

I am grateful we have so many choices, but there is a great deal to consider before making a decision. Thankfully nothing has to be decided in a hurry. Both Brett and I are physically, mentally and in good (enough) shape financially to take on any of these options, and all of them appeal to us in one way or another. We’re currently leaning toward one of the first two options, but will reevaluate our position as the year progresses and eventually come up with a firm decision about our future direction.

Some Special Things Along the Way

Itsukushima Shrine is located just outside of Hiroshima

Brett and I play to travel frugally during the Big Adventure. We plan to take free walking tours in the cities we visit, take advantage of free concerts, eat many of our meals in our Airbnb lodgings, and refrain from buying souvenirs (mainly due to luggage weight limits). We’re looking forward to shopping in local markets and checking out what the neighborhoods we’re staying in have to offer.

However, we are planning to splurge once in a while and take part in several special activities along the way. Some of these have been planned for a while, but recently we’ve found some others we’ve added to our itinerary:

A Buenos Aires culinary tour!

  • Culinary tour in Buenos Aires:This tour includes a visit to an outdoor market, empanada demonstration and tasting, and a four-course lunch with Argentinian wine pairings.
  • Cheese tasting in Paris: I am mad about cheese, and Airbnb has several tours available that we can book when we make our rental reservation – we just need to choose one!

    Bordeaux wine tasting

  • Wine tour (or two) in Bordeaux: We’ve seen two we like. One is a visit to wine shops in the city of Bordeaux, another takes us out to some chateaus in the region (there’s also one that’s done on electric bikes through the vineyards, which is also intriguing).
  • Wine tour in the Alsace region: We’re still researching this. Apparently it’s easy to rent a car for the day and do your own wine tour through the area, so that’s one option.
  • Overnight visit to Baden-Baden and the Black Forest: Located just a short distance from Strasbourg, this will allow us a quick glimpse of Germany.


  • Two day visit to Gimmelwald, Switzerland: Interlaken, Switzerland is a short train ride away from Strasbourg, and from there we can easily get up into the Alps for a couple of days.
  • Make-your-own pizza class in Florence: This is another affordable, fun Airbnb offering. We’ll each make an individual pizza and enjoy it with a glass of wine.


  • Personal guided tour in Siena: This is one place where we want some “depth” and feel that a personal guided tour will be the way to get it. There’s just too much to see and appreciate in Siena to do in a group in one day.
  • A Tuscany wine tour or two: We’re still researching this. Whether we do one or two will depend on the cost.
  • Three day, two-night visit to the Cinque Terre: Visiting the Cinque Terre has been on my bucket list for like, forever. We’re planning to take the train up to the furthest of the five villages, Monterosso, and then hike down to Vernazza for the first night’s stay in a B&B. From there we’ll hike to Manarola for our second night’s stay, with a stop along the way in Corniglia. On the third morning we’ll hike down to Riomaggiore and catch the train back to Florence.

    High tea in the Peninsula Hotel lobby

  • High tea at the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong: Previous trips to Hong Kong have always been about shopping, but our visit this time is all about the food. Our hotel is located right next door to the Peninsula, and their fabulous high tea is on our bucket list. We’re also hoping to go to the Peninsula for their equally fabulous brunch one morning.
  • Visit Hong Kong Disneyland: Because we’re seniors, the cost for us to visit the park for a day is just $13 each. We figured at that price we have to go check it out.
  • Sydney seafood market tour and barbecue: Another fun activity from Airbnb, this outing includes a tour of Sydney’s giant seafood market where we’ll choose our own seafood, then walk it over to a nearby park where our guide will barbecue it for us, and serve with sides and Australian wine.

    Sydney Harbor from the water

  • Take a boat tour of Sydney Harbor: We’re still researching this, but it’s something we’d like to do.
  • Eight-day visit to Hiroshima and Kyoto: Brett has never been to Hiroshima, so we’ll head down there first for three days, and then ride the shinkansen (bullet train) back up to Kyoto for another five days before returning to Tokyo. We’re planning to buy two-week Japan Rail passes before we go – the cost for the pass is a considerable savings over a regular round-trip ticket on the shinkansen, plus we can use them around Tokyo until they expire.

    Excited to go here with the grandkids!

  • Two days at Tokyo Disneyland: We were planning to take our grandson here for his birthday, but our son suggested we do an overnight stay so we can visit both parks (Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea). We’re going to do this when Meiling is visiting – she loves Disney!

We may or may not add some more activities, depending on time and cost, but the ones above give us lots to look forward to, and we’ve been having fun researching them as well as other things that might be interesting to do.

Here’s where my readers come in though – any other suggestions of things we should do outside of regular sightseeing? We’re open to just about any experience, short of extreme sports or skydiving. We don’t mind walking (although I have trouble walking down hills or down lots of stairs, which is going to make our Cinque Terre visit interesting).

The Games We’ll Play

Because we know that not every minute of the Big Adventure will be spent sightseeing or traveling from place to place, Brett and I are taking along three of our favorite diversions, Scrabble, Yahtzee and cards, for when we have some “down time. They’ve all made countless moves with us over the years, and we thought they deserved to be part of this journey as well.

We’ve had our Scrabble set since before we were married, but have ditched the box for this trip. Brett is a skilled player and I rarely can beat him, but am always willing to embarrass myself yet again and try. We’ve had our Yahtzee cup since our son was in elementary school, and repeated coverings of duct tape have kept it functional. Our family came up with our own version of Yahtzee a long time ago, playing across the scorecard versus down each row. The game moves a little faster this way, and requires a bit more strategy, but we can’t imagine playing any other way now.

Our favorite card game is a simple one: eleven card gin. We keep score, and first person to get to 500 loses. We were going to buy a couple of new decks of Bicycle playing cards to take along (versus YaYu’s deck of Studio Ghibli cards pictured above), but after I took the picture she presented us the lovely boxed set from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, something her aunt gave her years ago and that have never been used.

Brett and I also enjoy putting together jigsaw puzzles, the more complicated the better, but for obvious reasons will not be putting one of those into our suitcases. We hope to buy one now and again though when we’re settled in someplace for a while, and will leave it behind for the next guests when we move on.

An Invitation . . .

The inner courtyard of the Meiji Shrine

Just around a year from now Brett and I will be beginning our three-month stay in Tokyo (mid-February to mid-May 2019). We’ll be spending lots of time with family and learning about a new part of Tokyo as well as visiting familiar sights. We’re also going to be in Japan for cherry blossom season, which we’ve just missed by a few days on our last two spring trips.

Brett and I have had an idea for a while now that if any of our readers has ever thought about visiting Japan, we would enjoy helping you arrange some of your trip and also showing you around Tokyo while you’re there!

We would be willing to:

  • Make suggestions for lodging options
  • Suggest transportation options from either Narita or Haneda Airports into Tokyo
  • Serve as tour guides around Tokyo, including showing how to shop and eat for less.
  • Assist with planning transportation around Tokyo (trains or taxis)
  • Set up day trips in the greater Tokyo area. For example, we could arrange or even go along on a walking tour of Kamakura or up to Nikko for the day.
  • Make suggestions for transportation to and lodging, etc. in other areas of Japan, such as Kyoto or up to Hokkaido, for example.

    The Kamakura Diabutsu

This is a very soft outline, and of course can be adjusted and/or adapted as needed. We’ve had the great pleasure of meeting and getting to know several readers while we’ve been here on Kaua’i, and would love to continue that tradition and share our love of Japan with others.

Shibuya’s famous zebra crossing

We know a trip to Japan is a big undertaking so we don’t need to hear anything now, but wanted to get this out as food for thought. If now or in the coming months you think you might want to come to Japan while we’re there,and connect with us, just drop a note in the comments and I’ll email you back and we can go from there. We won’t be available the entire three months we’re in Tokyo, but we are willing to set aside some time, and would be happy to arrange a meet up or more.

The Toshogu Shrine in Nikko

Travel Clothing Part 2: Brett

I’ll just say this: Brett is taking a LOT fewer pieces of clothing than I am.

He’s bringing six cotton shirts – three aloha shirts for warmer weather, and three long-sleeve buttondowns for when it’s cooler, or to go under a sweater. Two of the three aloha shirts are Reyn Spooner – we bought them at Goodwill back in Portland, with tags still attached, for $6.95 each (similar Reyn Spooner shirts retail for $98). The oxford-cloth shirts are all from L.L. Bean – they are easy care, don’t need ironing, and wear like iron.

Knit shirts include the four short-sleeve t-shirts in the top row (dark gray, black, white and navy), two long-sleeved polo shirts (navy and light gray), and two long-sleeved souvenir t-shirts (navy Crater Lake and light gray Kilauea lighthouse).

He’s bringing along seven pairs of pants: three pairs of jeans (two blue, one gray – he was wearing one pair when I took the picture), a pair of khaki chinos, one pair of lightweight travel pants (lower legs can be zipped off), and two pairs of cargo shorts.

For staying warm, he’s packing two cotton-cashmere v-neck sweaters and his orange all-weather jacket that we found a couple of years ago at Costco. He also will be bringing along his trusty navy watch cap that he’s had since boot camp back in 1970.

For now he’s got two pair of shoes: canvas Skechers slip-ons which are great for strolling around, and his navy sneakers for more strenuous walking. He’s planning to get a pair of leather shoes, but hasn’t decided yet what he wants, and he’s also going to get a pair of Keen sandals.

As with my stuff, pretty much all of his clothes were bought on sale, or using gift cards or coupons.

Besides his socks, underwear, and sleepwear, that’s it. What can I say, the man likes to live lean.

I will probably be tired of his clothes before he is.

Travel Clothing Part 1: Laura

Both Brett and I are pretty much done putting our travel wardrobes together. Other than a couple of pair of shoes for Brett we’re done thinking about, looking at, and buying clothes and shoes to take on the Big Adventure.

During our travels we will be experiencing every season, from transitional winter-to-spring weather in both South America and Japan, to fall and winter temperatures in Europe, India, Japan, and the mainland, and hot, hot summer weather in Australia and probably New Zealand, with everything in between. In my case, while I have tried to stay within certain color palettes, I also have tried to keep some variety so that I don’t get bored with everything half-way through the journey, and want to go and spend more on something new. I’m proud that with the exception of two pairs of Skechers, every item of clothing I’m taking will either be things I already own, or were bought on deep discount/sale or with a coupon.

The week before last I rounded everything up and put it all into my suitcase to be weighed using the handy-dandy hanging scale Brett received for Christmas. It all surprisingly didn’t fill the suitcase, and the total weight for all my clothes was an even more surprising 35 pounds, nine pounds (give or take a few ounces) less than the 44-pound limit we’ve given ourselves. I was sure my suitcase was going to be massively overweight, so the weight was happy news. There’s still room for a pillow, and maybe a few toiletries and/or gifts (although those will most likely go into my backpack).

Anyway, here’s a look my travel wardrobe:

I started with 13 fall-winter-spring tops, but after I took this picture I removed two (the gray shirt at the top of the left column, and the blue shirt second from the top in the middle row) and set them aside – I’ve had them for a while and realized I’m just not very fond of them, and they probably wouldn’t get worn much, if at all. As you might guess, my color themes are blue and black. The denim shirt in the upper right is actually a tunic, to be worn with leggings. Because of their weight, I’m only taking along two sweaters – a light blue kimono-style cotton sweater, and the chunky cotton navy blue & cream striped rollneck. 

These are all my lightweight spring and summer tops. The two pieces on the left (white cotton shirt and black linen top) are both tunics – and are a little dressier than the rest. All the other tops are cotton or linen, and are lightweight and easy to care for. The blue flowered shirt at the bottom of the middle row is the one I just bought on sale at Blue Ginger. I also have the two tops below coming from J. Jill – a white linen shirt, and a cream sleeveless knit tunic with a black vine print. I’m also taking a black sleeveless t-shirt, but I was wearing it when I took the picture.

My favorite travel pants are L.L. Bean’s Perfect Fit Pants (on the left) – I’m taking three pairs of black, one pair of charcoal gray, and one pair of navy blue. They are super comfortable and can be worn both casually or dressed up. For warm weather I’m taking four pairs of J. Jill’s easy linen cropped pants, in black, blue, natural and white (I wear them everyday here) and a pair of Gap light sage green cotton pants that I bought at a thrift store and can finally fit into again. The legs can be worn down or rolled up to make capris. I’m also taking a three-season knit maxi skirt and two pairs of black leggings.

Four pieces of cold-weather outerwear are going along on the Adventure:  a plum quilted car coat; a lightweight (but very warm) black jacket; a denim jacket; and a lightweight (but very warm) spring green vest. Spring green is one of my favorite colors, and I always try to take along at least one thing in that color when I travel. The vest and black jacket weigh next to nothing, a good thing because the other two pieces are a bit heavier.

Brett has started calling me Imelda because I’m taking along five pairs of shoes (although I’ll always be wearing one pair): Two pairs of Skechers for walking (navy blue and black), a pair of comfy gray suede Skecher loafers, super comfortable Scandinavian black clogs, and a pair of sparkly silver Mephisto Helen sandals. All the shoes are lightweight – each pair of the Skechers weighs only 10 ounces.

I’m taking just a few accessories: three scarves, five pairs of earrings and four necklaces, including my 22″ string of pearls for when I feel like dressing up. I’ll also be wearing my Chinese jade bangle and my silver bracelet from Arizona – both were gifts from Brett and I never take them off. The light gray-blue scarf in back is made from bamboo, and is quite warm; the indigo and black checked ones are only for a little flair.

It all seems like so much, maybe too much, but then again we will be traveling for nearly a year and through many different types of weather and a variety of venues and experiences, from hikes to high tea. Forty years ago, when I was pregnant with our son, I had around seven or eight maternity outfits, and by the time our son arrived I was so completely sick of them all that all I wanted to do was set them on fire and roast marshmallows over their flames – and I only wore those clothes for around five months! I took that memory into consideration when deciding how much to pack for this trip.

All total though there are less than 40 pieces of clothing, and including the shoes it doesn’t weigh anywhere near what I thought it would. I rationalize that we will be staying in most places long enough to be able unpack and will appreciate having the variety. In my wildest dreams though I cannot imagine living out of a backpack for a year with somewhere between 15-20 pieces of clothing like I’ve read about online.

Brett and I will be dividing our clothes between our two suitcases, so if one gets lost or damaged someone won’t lose all their clothes. Plus, we will both be carrying at least one outfit in our backpacks in case our luggage is lost or delayed, and wearing one, so that will help keep the weight down as well.

In a couple of weeks I’ll post what Brett’s taking. I can guarantee it’s going to be a lot less than what you see here.

#Kaua’i: Visiting the Island for Less

Spectacular Waimea Canyon is a must-see on Kaua’i . . . and it’s free

A visit to the Garden Island of Kaua’i can turn expensive very quickly. Put together a stay at one of the many resorts, a car rental, lots of restaurant meals, $10 gallons of milk, and an expensive activity or a luau, and suddenly you’re talking real money, and that’s on top of what you spent on airfare to get over here.

However, a wonderful time on Kaua’i with a week full of wonderful memories can be had for a lot less than you might expect. Here are some of our family’s tips for taking an affordable trip to the island:

Beautiful views can be found at Spouting Horn geyser in Poipu, on the south shore, as well as glorious sunrises and sunsets

  1. A visit to Kaua’i should not be a last minute decision if you want to save. I cannot stress this enough! You’ll pay more for everything at the last minute. Schedule your trip several months in advance to look for the best bargains and save the most.
  2. Avoid the peak tourist seasons: These are winter break (this starts around the second week of December until just after New Year’s Day); summer (mid-May through Labor Day); and mid-March to mid-April (spring break time). Unless lodging is booked early, it can be difficult to find affordable choices, especially in your preferred location. Prices are usually higher during the peak season anyway.
  3. Start looking for airfares early. Airfare to Lihue will be your biggest expense, but if you don’t have miles to redeem, there are some terrific deals to be found if you start looking early enough. I checked prices on Kayak last weekend and found roundtrip economy airfares for the week of April 19 – 26 (nonstop to Lihue from Seattle) starting at just $374 (just after spring break). Come during the heavier tourist seasons, or wait to book until the last minute and the price of that same flight would more likely be $750-$850 (at a minimum).

    This cute studio rental in Princeville is just $99 a night, much, much less than you’d pay for a room at a hotel or resort.

  4. Once you have your flights nailed down, then look for lodging. If you don’t have hotel points to use, and you want to save on lodging, do not even think of booking at a hotel or resort! I strongly suggest checking what’s available on VRBO – I found this rental in pricy Princeville on the north shore for $98/night (it sleeps four and has a washing machine), or this one for $85/night, or this one for $99/night, and there are others similarly priced in other areas of the island for much less than the room rate at any hotel or resort (and, these are summer prices!). The only thing that might cost less per night is a bunk in one of the hostels. Even a VRBO studio rental will have a microwave and other cooking options to boost savings. There are several local vacation rental agencies, but I’ve found their prices to be higher than what you can find on VRBO. Craigslist also advertises vacation rentals, but buyer beware – not all are legit.

    Costco is the place to save on the island (and get all your Hawaiian treats)

  5. If you don’t have a Costco membership, get one. You’ll save more than the $55 membership fee on your car rental as well as on food and gas by shopping at Costco. I searched Costco’s travel site for that same week in April that I was checking airfares, and found an intermediate size car (think Camry or Accord) for seven days from Budget for just $276 on Costco’s travel site – and that’s the full price, including tax. Gasoline out in town right now is around $3.55 per gallon but at Costco it’s $3.09. Costco here is also located near the airport so it’s easy to fill your tank right before you return your car at the airport. Food prices at Costco are pretty much the same as they are on the mainland (a roast chicken is still $4.99 here too). Costco is also the place to find inexpensive Hawaiian snacks and local favorites like poke. Their hot dog meal is $1.50 here as well.
  6. Try to eat at least two meals each day at your rental. Stop and get some supplies and fix breakfast in your room, and enjoy a light dinner there too and you’ll save a bundle. Lots of the condos where the inexpensive rentals are located have outdoor grills that guests can use, and you can heat other things in your microwave or on a hotplate, if provided. It’s fun to go out on the town, but you’ll pay much, much more out there for beer, wine or a cocktail. You can save by enjoying drinks on your lanai while watching the sun set.
  7. Buy your food where locals do. That means staying out of the Whaler’s Markets or the ABC stores – that’s where you’ll find those $10 gallons of milk – and shop at Costco, or at Big Save for the biggest savings. Foodland will cost you a little more and Safeway is the most expensive supermarket on the island. If you want milk, look for the “expires soon” sticker on the carton – the milk will be half price, and will be OK for a few more days. Also, make a point of going to one of the many farmers’ markets on the island – you can find days and times online – and buy your produce there. Skip the $7 or $8 pineapples though and pick one up at Costco – they’re Hawaiian grown and just $3.99.

    Burgers at Duane’s Ono Charburger are affordable and DELICIOUS

  8. There are lots of inexpensive places around the island to buy filling, healthy, and delicious lunches (or dinners) for less without having to resort to McDonalds or Taco Bell. For example, there’s Hamura’s saimin (noodles) or the Tip Top Cafe in Lihue for lunch; or Duane’s Ono Charburgers in Anahola (a must stop in my opinion). No.1 in Kapaa might not look like much but they serve decent Chinese food and great hamburgers at good prices. Pono Market in Kapaa Old Town is another local favorite – they sell a variety of take-out items including poke bowls and great plate lunches. Da Crack (killer chicken burritos) or Puka Dog in Poipu (Anthony Bourdain showcased Puka Dog on No Reservations) are both worth checking out on the south shore as is the Sueoka Market snack stand in old Koloa Town for ono, local-style plate lunches. You can get BIG and tasty  Hawaiian-style spicy ahi tacos on freshly made tortillas at Island Taco in Waimea, and Shrimp Station (located in both Kapaa and Waimea) serves affordable, out-of-this-world coconut shrimp. Bring along your own bottled water to drink wherever you go.
  9. Take advantage of coupons. There are several different free publications you can pick up all over the island that have coupons for local restaurants and activities that can help you save.
  10. Snacks don’t have to be expensive either. Locally made products can be found for less at Costco, but a shave ice once in a while is always good. I recommend Wailua Shave Ice in Kapaa, the original JoJo’s in Waimea, or Rainbow Shave Ice in Hanalei. If you can find TegeTege’s trailer – they move around the island – their shave ice is a little more, but is outstanding. A banana frosty (or pineapple frosty, if they’re out of bananas) from Banana Joe’s in Kilauea is a must-try. Also in Kilauea is the Kilauea Bakery & Pau Hana Pizza – their macaroons are to die for, and they also make good sandwiches and soups.

    Anini Beach on the north shore is just one of Kaua’is many beautiful beaches

  11. The best of Kaua’i is free. There is so much to see and do on Kaua’i that it might actually feel overwhelming at first. Kauai’s beaches are known for their powdery sand and they’re usually not crowded; in fact, at some you might be the only visitor at a particular beach on the day you visit. You could go to a different beach here every day, each with a different view and experience (remembering to always, always respect the power of the ocean here). It’s the same for the numerous hiking opportunities all over the island, with their spectacular scenery and vistas. No visit to Kaua’i is complete without visiting the splendor of Waimea Canyon (the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”) and Kokee State Park. A stop at Spouting Horn in Poipu costs nothing, as will a stroll through Hanalei on the north shore, Old Koloa town on the south shore or Hanapepe on the west side of the island, where you can get a closer look at historic buildings from plantation days and do some window shopping (be sure to take a walk across the swinging bridge if you’re in Hanapepe). History buffs can check out the historic churches and temples located all over the island, or visit and learn the history of the heiau (sacred Hawaiian structures). A beach cruiser can be rented in Kapaa for as little as $10 – $12.50 for three hours for rides along the seven-mile beach path with its glorious views. There’s a small fee (adults 16 and older are $5; under 16 is free; seniors free with National Park pass) to visit the historic Kilauea Lighthouse and Bird Sanctuary but it’s well worth it. And, don’t forget the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets – they’re always free too.

With a little research and careful planning, it’s possible have a wonderful, fun-filled time on the island of Kaua’i for a lot less than you might imagine, and create memories to last a lifetime. There are enough ways to save here that you could include a special meal at one of the fabulous restaurants located around the island, or indulge in a special activity like zip-lining, ATV  tour, or even a boat ride without blowing your budget or going into debt. E komo mai!

Lists, Lists and More Lists

2018, at least until August, will be known around here as Our Year of Lists. At least that’s what it feels like now. We are in the throes of list-making in order to make sure that when we take off on the Big Adventure everything, or at least as much as possible, has been taken care.

List making can be fun (especially for someone like me who loves organization), but as we’ve learned about lists from past experience, when one thing gets done or is taken care of, two or more things seem to pop up and go back on the list

Here are nine lists we are currently juggling:

  1. Reservations/tickets: This list is pretty straight forward, and includes all travel-related reservations (lodging and transportation) we need to take care of, but will also include reservations for things like museums in Florence, for example. There will also be some fill-ins as we get closer to departing, like an overnight stays here or there between plane connections. We’ve already been able to get some reservations made (India, Australian train journey, Kaua’i rental), but it’s still too early for much else of it. The 2018 part of our journey can’t get started until we know when and where YaYu will be going to college, and that won’t be known until around the end of March. Brett and I work together on this list – I’m the researcher, but he keeps the spreadsheets and marks things off as they get done (and tracks the money).
  2. Paperwork: This list has two parts: 1) Official things like visas and 2) personal paperwork, and what we need to keep and where it will get stored while we travel. We are currently working on winnowing down our personal paperwork, and Brett is keeping a spreadsheet of where and when we need to worry about visas and other documents.
  3. Clothing/shoes: While this list has been fun to think about and compile, it has not been as easy as we thought. We will literally be living out of our suitcases for a year, and need to have both cold and hot weather clothing, as well as be prepared for everything in-between. We’re both almost done with acquiring what we need, and then will do a practice pack and weigh and see where we stand and what we (may) need to take out. I have searched for lists of what to pack for a year, but everything I’ve found is for travelers who intend to live out of a backpack for the year, and we’re not those people. We’re trying to keep things to a minimum, but want to have some variety for the year.
  4. Toiletries/medications; This is another seemingly easy list that’s turning out to be not as easy as initially thought. We’ll need to make sure we’re taking enough medication (both prescription and over-the-counter) to carry us through until we’re back on the mainland over Christmas, but we’ve decided that we can pick up most toiletries as we travel so we want to keep this as minimal as we can, and take just enough to get us started. Excusez-moi, où est la crème à raser? But what should those items be?
  5. Electronics: Both Brett and I are sure we have all the electronics we will need and want as we travel (laptop, iPad, iPhones, iPod, Kindles), but also want to make sure we take along all the accoutrement as well, things like chargers, cords, adapters, ear buds, etc. as well as back-ups.
  6. Miscellaneous: This list is really just the odds and ends of stuff that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else, like books we want to load on our Kindles before we set off, or small financial matters (local and otherwise) that we don’t want to forget to take care of. Following the Senior Nomads example, we want to carry along our own pillows, so they’re on this list so we don’t forget them. Also included on this list are games we want to take along to play during down times.
  7. Downsizing/storage: We have divided our household items, including our car, into three areas: Sell, donate (or throw away), and store. We’ve already sold some things, and will be working for the next several months on the donate/throw away aspect. We have a pretty solid idea now of what we’re going to put into storage, but we go back and forth on some items (with Brett usually insisting we let it go).
  8. Kaua’i bucket list: This (bittersweet) list was posted last week.
  9. YaYu’s college stuff: All the admission paperwork has been submitted (or almost all), but once we know where she will be going we will continuing the list of what she will need in the way of clothing and dorm essentials, most of which will be purchased at her college location.

I’m sure there is probably one or two other areas I’ve forgotten about, but when I remember, they’ll get lists as well. We’ll be able to finish checking off some of these lists sooner than others, but most we’ll be working on right up until we go. The key is going to be staying focused, and relying on the lists to make sure it all gets done and that hopefully nothing gets forgotten.