Changed the Location But Not the Goal

The Nakasendo Way in spring (photo credit: Walk Japan)

Just a few short weeks ago (August 3, to be exact) I announced that Brett and I had committed ourselves to walking the entire length of the Cotswold Way in the fall 2022. That goal has been a strong motivator for getting us out every day to walk, and to come up with a plan for gradually increasing our walking endurance to where we could manage the daily distances required of us to finish the walk.

Last week though we came across a company called Walk Japan, which provides “off the beaten track walking tours in Japan.” We began pouring over their website, and this past weekend we decided that while we still intend to do a long-distance walking tour in 2022, we will do it in Japan instead of England. In particular, we want to do Walk Japan’s 10-day Nakasendō Way tour from Kyoto to Tokyo. 

Scenes like this one of persimmons drying will be more common when we walk in the fall.

The history of the Nakasendō (Central Mountain Road) is what drew us to this walking tour. It was one of five main thoroughfares from Kyoto to Tokyo (and back) during the Edo Period of Japan (1603-1868), when the Tokugawa shogun lived and ruled in Tokyo (called Edo then; the Emperor remained in Kyoto and was virtually powerless at this time). In order to maintain the loyalty of those under him, the shogun required the highest lords (daimyos) throughout Japan to travel to and live in Tokyo every other year and their families to remain in Tokyo during their absence, under the “protection” of the shogun. The Nakasendō, along with the Tokaidō, which ran along the coast, was heavily used by the daimyo from the west and their families during these times. The road had 69 post towns along the way where papers and permission to travel were checked, and where travelers stopped to eat, drink, and rest. The road also served as an important route for communication for the shogunate. The Nakasendō was well developed, and was often preferred for travel because no major rivers needed to be forded along the way.

One of the historic post towns along the ancient Nakasendo route connecting Kyoto and Edo (old Tokyo).

Our decision to change the destination for our walk was not a casual one. We spent days carefully weighing and discussing several factors and the pros and cons of using Walk Japan before deciding to change our plans.

These were the two arguments for sticking with the Cotswold Way tour:

  1. The Nakasendō walking tour costs quite a bit more than a Cotswold walking tour. This was probably the biggest factor that we debated. However, the Nakasendo tour comes with a full-time guide, and not only covers each night’s lodging, almost all meals, and all interim transportation necessary to get from Kyoto to the road. We had to think long and hard about whether we were willing to pay more for these amenities but in the end figured out it wouldn’t be that much over what we would have spent going to the Cotswolds again. Walk Japan offers an unguided Nakasendo Way tour which costs less but we both think we’d rather have a guide along because of our ages and because our Japanese is limited.
  2. We would not get to go back to the Cotswolds. This was a major factor for not switching. We loved the Cotswolds and would love to experience more of the area.
The “lobby” of a traditional Japanese inn, complete with irori (sunken hearth).

There were a few more positives however which helped to sway us to a Japan walk:

  1. We would already be in Japan and not have to worry about paying for and taking long flights to England and then back to Tokyo. All we would have to purchase is a one-way ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto on the Shinkansen.
  2. We would get to walk one of the most historic routes in all of Japan along with a knowledgeable guide, learning about the history of the road as well as the villages and old post towns we would pass through along the way. The architecture alone is a huge draw.
  3. We would get to stay every night in traditional Japanese inns and hotels, and enjoy fine Japanese cuisine in those places and along the way.
  4. The tour offers transportation alternatives for the three longest walking days. For example, if we didn’t feel up to walking 15 miles on the longest day, we could walk for around 6-7 miles and then take a train or bus to that evening’s destination.
  5. The Nakasendō walk finishes in Tokyo, where we would only need a couple of days’ rest at our son’s before heading back home to Hawaii. If we went to England we would need at least two to three days’ rest at the end of the walk before flying to Tokyo, and then would have to rest up again in Tokyo from that journey before heading back to Hawaii. It was overwhelming just thinking about the jet lag.

Our task now is to figure out how to save a few thousand more dollars than we had initially planned, but we’re sure it can be done. We remain as motivated than ever to find ways to save as travel always comes out of our discretionary funds, which aren’t much right now with YaYu’s college expenses. Time is on our side though as we have two years to make this goal a reality.

Besides saving enough, we also are more motivated than ever to stay healthy and get ourselves in the best possible physical shape. I will also continue to study Japanese, not because I expect to be able to speak it, but so I can understand more during our stays in Japan and while we travel there. The big unknown at this point though is whether Japan will be reopened for American visitors by Fall 2022, and whether the virus will be under control by then as well. We certainly hope so, and not just because we want to go to Japan.

Game on!

Following My Own Advice

Looks like someone else has a change/$1 bill jar to help save for travel!

Although both domestic and international travel is currently out of picture, this down time is the perfect time to save for future travel. Although we have come up with a travel plan for 2022, we have no way of knowing how much the total cost for that might be, with air fares the wild card. So, we are on a mission to save as much as we can between now and then, and have set some annual goals for saving.

Back in 2017 I posted this list of ways to save for travel. They’re all still good advice, and a reminder that if you want to travel, make saving for travel a priority. Here’s how we’re doing now (in blue):

  1. Set up a dedicated travel savings account, and start a monthly allotment to that account. How much you can deposit into your travel account each month will depend on your regular operating budget, but even a small monthly amount can add up quickly. Currently the amount we add to the account every month is very small, but we still automatically put away a set amount every month for future travel. The amount we can add to the account will be adjusted as income that is currently going for other things (for example, YaYu’s tuition) is freed up.
  2. See if you can save on regular budget categories, and then put the difference into your travel savings. For example, if your monthly food budget is $700, see if you can find ways to save and get it down to $650, or $600. At the end of the month, put the difference into  your savings. This has been difficult to do so far because of YaYu being with us, and because of increases in the cost of food. Our food budget should drop off though at the end of this month, and although we’re keeping the amount the same, we should have some extra every month to go into savings.
  3. Do a “no-spend” week, or month, and deposit all usual discretionary spending amounts into your savings. If you stop and pick up a coffee every morning, don’t for one week. Same for going out for lunch while you’re at work, or eating out or picking up dinner. Plan ahead, keep track of what you would have spent on those things, and then at the end of the week, or month, deposit that amount into your savings. This isn’t to make yourself miserable while you save, but rather to see how much you can add to your savings. Good advice, but we have next to no discretionary spending right now.
  4. Save your change and $1 bills. Brett and I put away around $700 – $800 per year doing this, although one year we saved over $1000. We try to use cash as much as possible, and when we get coins back we immediately put them aside. Same for $1 bills. When we use our debit card, we always round up to the nearest $5 if possible (i.e. if the amount owed is $11.17, we round up to $15, and $3.83 goes into savings). This might require some effort at first to remember to do it, but after a while it becomes a habit. Once we have $25 in $1 bills, or are able to roll our change, off it goes to the travel savings account. We also used to occasionally set aside $5 bills – it’s not as easy to do as with $1 bills, but once in a while we feel we can. Twenty of those though and we’ve got another $100 saved. We are currently only saving $1 bills and change right now, but we are not shopping much these days so are putting away less than we used to. We have been using our debit card when we food shop versus cash, but starting this month we’ll go back to cash as that is where the dollar bills and change come from. We take it for deposit when we have at least $50 saved. I also just read an idea of once a month or so, tuck away $10 or $20 right when you get your cash, and pretend as if you never had it. We might give that try.
  5. Recognize needs versus wants. This also takes some training and effort, but start asking yourself if you really need that new t-shirt, or burrito from Chipotle, or whatever from IKEA, or whether you’d rather enjoy coffee and a croissant in Paris or a week on the beach in Hawai’i. Same for your food shopping – go with a list and stick to it. There’s nothing wrong with looking, but visualizing your saving goals while you look can help keep you more focused on what you need versus what you merely want. This practice might not immediately put money into your savings account, except that you’ll probably have more money left at the end of the month that can be saved for travel. We’ve got this down.
  6. Dedicate all refunds, rebates and gifts to your travel savings. We get a nice rebate every year from Costco and from our insurance company – both of those go right into our travel savings. Same for our annual tax refund. Unfortunately, no one sends us money for our birthdays any more :-(. We don’t get many of these rebates now, but they still all go into the travel savings account. We had reverted to regular membership at Costco before we started traveling in 2018, but went back to the Executive level a couple of months ago for the rebate as we buy all our gas at Costco and shop there at least three times a month.
  7. Get a travel rewards credit card. If you’re good about paying off your credit card every month, this is a great way to earn either miles that will help reduce the cost of air travel, or cash back that can go into your travel account. Brett and I use our credit card to pay recurring monthly expenses like our cable bill and phone bill, and then pay it off every month. Our card rewards can be used to either book travel or receive a check – we always take the check. We don’t use the card to pay for groceries because we’ve found that using cash and setting aside the change and $1 bills we get back is more than would be generated in rewards from the card. Warning: use reward cards carefully. Be sure pay off your credit card balance every month. You don’t want to end up with a huge credit card bill that you have to pay versus putting away money for your travel dreams. No changes here. 
  8. Sell things you don’t need or use any more. Take an inventory of your stuff every once in and while, and use Craigslist, eBay, Facebook or other sites to sell unused and unneeded items around your home, with the money you earn going straight to your travel savings. You can also become a savvy shopper at thrift stores or yard sales and find items that can be refurbished and resold online. Someone I know carefully bought high-end clothing brands at thrift and consignment stores and resold them for a profit on eBay, earning enough in a year to finance a trip to Europe. Someone else I know resold books that she picked up for a song at yard sales. Katy over at The Non-Consumer Advocate is in a master class when it comes to the resale game. We have nothing left to sell right now except for a rug that was in our shipment that doesn’t really fit anywhere in the apartment.
  9. Get a part-time job. I’m retired now, and have absolutely no interest in doing any part-time work, nor does Brett, but we’ve done this in the past. For example, the extra I made working as a substitute went into our savings that got us here to Hawai’i. Depending on how much time you have, or how motivated you are, a second gig can be anything from a couple of hours a week to a regular part-time position. Dedicate those earnings to your travel savings. There are no jobs on Kauai right now even if we did want to work.
  10. Be creative. Pick up change off the ground. Return bottles and cans for the deposit, if you can in your state. Clip coupons and put the money saved into your travel account. Use Swagbucks and earn $$ through PayPal. There are all sorts of small ways out there to add to your travel savings. It might not seem like a lot, but it all adds up. I am earning Swagbucks again to earn airlines gift cards for future travel, although I’m no where near as fanatic about it now as I was in the past. Otherwise, we still pick up change, and recycle bottles and cans (no more Diet Coke cans to go back though; these days it’s sparkling water cans).

Just as small amounts here and there can quickly drain your checking account, small amounts can also beef up your savings in a hurry. Our goal is to reach at least $13,000 in travel savings by September 2022, but as always, we aim to do better than that if we can. We have mapped out where the savings will be be coming from and when, but hopefully this will be enough, along with the airline gift cards I’m earning, to get us to and from YaYu’s graduation in the spring, and to Japan and on to England and back in the fall. Game on!

We Have A Goal

Ever since we arrived back on Kaua’i, Brett and I have been tossing travel ideas back and forth, for a future when we’re able to travel again. We have come up with a list of places we want to visit but with twice-yearly trips to Japan at the top of that list, as well as a yearly visit to one of the other islands, it’s been hard to prioritize those places.

The other day when I was noodling around online I came across something that stopped me. I did a little more investigation and then showed it to Brett. His eyes lit up, we looked at each other, and both knew right then this is what we want to do first.

Brett and I absolutely loved our time in England last fall, even the soggy final month that forced us to stay indoors most of the time. We especially enjoyed the walks we took through the Cotswolds countryside, so last week when I came across walking tours in England, I did did some more investigation, as I was curious about ones that walk the entire 102 miles of the Cotswold Way, from Chipping Campden to Bath.

One end of the Cotswold Way in Chipping Campden . . .
. . . and the other end in Bath. Engraved on the stones are the names of all the villages the footpath passes though.

I was quite surprised by how reasonably priced the tours were, considering they include lodging each night, breakfast every morning, luggage transport from village to village each day, as well as support and other amenities. Mostly walkers are on their own though, and walk their own pace each day. After checking out a few companies, I found one that offered an 13-night/12-day itinerary that I thought would work for us, with daily distances around 10 miles or less per day. When I shared the information with Brett for his opinion, it was one of those let’s do this moments for us, when an idea goes from a possibility to a goal. The 13-night Cotswold walking tour had everything we wanted, from being affordable to allowing us to return to a place we loved, and it was also a different sort of experience from anything we’ve done before.

The only question we had was, “can we do this?” Besides currently being in the middle of a raging pandemic, in two years Brett will be 72, and I will be 70 – definitely not spring chickens. However, I found several reviews and articles from successful walkers in their 70s and even 80s, and Brett and I spent some time and came up with a list of what we need and want to accomplish in the next two years to complete this goal:

  • Continue to stay healthy, continue to lose weight, and remain mobile. Avoiding Covid-19 is at the top of our list. If that means our only outings here for the next two years are walks in the park or hikes elsewhere, and weekly trips for food, so be it.
  • Gradually increase our walking distances to where we can easily include one or more 10-mile hikes per week. We’re walking 2+ miles per day now and getting ready to start pushing that distance up this week, but we have some work to do in the next two years to get ourselves in tip-top shape. I am going to have to practice walking up and down steeper hills, difficult for me now because of my knee injury.
  • Save, save, save. We want to tack on this trip to the end of our Fall 2022 Tokyo stay as flying to London from Tokyo is far, far less than the cost of flying there from Honolulu (and takes less time as well). Once I can figure out some costs we’ll set a savings goal and start working toward that.
  • Resist the temptation to add on additional travel while in England. This is currently the most difficult thing for me, but Brett has already put his foot down: a few days back in Blockley before we set off, the walking tour, and a few days in Bath at the end – that’s all!

Two years is a long time away, but with the current pandemic we think that’s a reasonable amount of time to wait, plus it allows us to get YaYu through school and attend her graduation. It feels so good though to finally have a solid travel goal to work toward, and time to hone the edges and make it happen.

Future Travel: Thinking Outside the Box

A question that pops up in my head over and over whenever I think about future travel has been, “What can we do differently this time?” We had a great travel routine before, but now that we’ve pretty much decided we won’t be traveling full time again, we’ve been trying to think of new (to us) ways to travel that would shake things up a bit.

There are still loads of places in the world we’d like to see, but most of all we want to go back to Japan, to spend time with our family. We’ve pretty much settled on two trips to Japan per year, one in the spring and one in the fall, so that we can be there for each of the grandkids’ birthdays (and our son’s). We also want to travel to one of the other islands here every year, for around 10 days each time. But otherwise, we’d like to do things a bit differently and try some new things.

We come up with a few ideas for future travel:

  • Try a tour versus doing it on our own. We enjoyed our short tour experience in India last year and have been thinking maybe it’s time to try another, and adding on a tour at the end of a one of our Tokyo stays each year. For example, it’s less expensive to fly to Europe from Tokyo than it is from Honolulu (for some obvious reasons), and we could add on Rick Steves tour. Or, we could stay in Asia and take a tour in SE Asia or Korea, flying back through Tokyo to pick up any luggage we might store there before coming home to Hawaii (a tour requires less luggage). We’ve never really been tour people, but think this might be a way to explore a bit more of the world without giving up one of our Japan stays and without overdoing it.
  • Up our lodging or dining budget. That is, we could save a bit more and stay in fancier accommodations than we typically do. Since we won’t be traveling full time, maybe bumping up our daily lodging budget in order to stay in nicer places, whether that’s in Japan or elsewhere, might be something we could do to spice things up a bit. Or, we could budget more for dining out and try some new things and new places.
  • Travel more inside of Japan. Both Brett and I have seen a lot of Japan, and want to visit Kyoto again, but there are loads of other places either one or both of us hasn’t seen, from Kyushu to Hiroshima to Hokkaido. Rather than spend the entire time we’re in Japan only in Tokyo, we could reserve Japan Rail passes before we go and get out of the city for a few days during each visit to explore more of the country.
  • Rent a car and take a driving trip on the mainland. We’ve been lucky to have been able to travel all over the U.S. thanks to Brett’s time in the navy and our many transfers, but it might be fun to see some of it again as a couple, traveling just a couple of weeks at a time and making the trip more focused. New England beckons, as do most of the western National Parks.
  • Take a freighter cruise. We’ve just started investigating this, so don’t know if it’s doable or desirable, but it would definitely be different. There’d be lots of social distancing, for sure.

None of these ideas, on their own, is anything new and/or unique in the world of travel, but they would be something different for us. We’re also sure we can come up with some other ideas during the next couple of years for switching things up, but for now the four items above give us plenty to think about. And, we’ve got lots of time to think about them as well as sadly there’ll be no future travel for us until 2022.

Enough Already: A Minimalist Wardrobe

Pretty much the extent of my island wardrobe, minus t-shirts and pants.

If nothing else, traveling for the past couple of years taught me I do not need a lot of things to be happy and comfortable. That includes clothes.

Before we left, I worried that I would become bored rather quickly with the clothes I was taking along. That didn’t happen, but what I discovered instead was that some pieces I had packed didn’t work well for life on the road. They either took up too much room in my suitcase or weren’t comfortable for getting around or I just didn’t like the way they looked on me. Last summer, while we were in Portland, I redid things, adding a few new pieces and subtracting a few others. Some things went into storage, others got packed up and taken to Goodwill. I enjoyed the second wardrobe iteration much more and everything was happily worn again and again.

My cold weather items in waiting include seven tops again, three sweaters, four t-shirts, two coats, and five pairs of pants as well as three pairs of shoes, several scarves, and two pairs of winter pajamas.

All of our cold weather travel clothes are now in storage in their own closet, where we keep a shop light burning around the clock in order to keep any mildew and/or mold from growing. Tea bags are scattered throughout the closet and placed in our shoes in order to keep things smelling fresh, an trick we learned back in our navy days during our many moves. These clothing items probably won’t get used again until the spring of 2023, when we plan to return to Japan for a few weeks and know the weather will still be cold. Hopefully I will discover by then that a few things are too big to take along!

I packed less warm weather clothes than those for cold weather because we spent less time in warm weather locations, but the few pieces I do own have turned out to be more than enough for our return to island life. My wardrobe these days consists of seven tops, one lightweight sweater, two sleeveless dresses, two t-shirts, and five pairs of capris and cropped pants. Besides underwear and socks, I also have one bathing suit, a pareo, two pairs of lightweight pajamas, one pair of sandals, two pairs of flip flops (one a cheap pair to wear down to the beach), and one pair of the Sketchers walking shoes I started out with back in 2018. Other than a breezy blue linen dress I spotted in a catalog, I haven’t been even tempted to purchase anything new (and haven’t bought the dress either). I also know there are a couple more summer tops that will arrive this week in our stored items, and maybe a pair of linen pants. With the addition of those I will be more than set for the next couple of years at the least.

This linen dress has been the only new thing I’ve considered buying. It has pockets and would be perfect for Kauai’s sunny/humid weather. (Sadly, since I wrote this post the blue dress has sold out. Oh well.)

I am more than satisfied with the few things I have now as they’re lightweight, comfortable, and easy to care for. I have also honestly been surprised about my lack of interest in adding to my wardrobe. However, as life on Kaua’i has shown over and over, less here really is more, and I have enough.

I Can Barely Think About Travel

(photo credit: Outside Magazine)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel on Our Minds

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Kind of Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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