The No Good, Very Bad Travel Day

I’ll start with the good first: All of our checked bags made it from Kaua’i to Baltimore. Our rental car was upgraded at no cost from an intermediate car to a small SUV. Our hotel in Pennsylvania (once we found it) has a very comfortable bed.

Taking off from Lihue – Aloha Oe, Kaua’i!

Almost everything else about our journey from Lihue to Philadelphia was not so good. We knew it was going to be long, but it was also one of those trips where I wondered why I ever considered traveling to be a good thing.

As we neared Lihue on Monday morning, Brett noticed the parking tag for the condo complex was still hanging from the rearview mirror. It was required to be in the car when parked at the complex ($150 if not there), but returned to the room when we departed. Since there wasn’t time to turn around and take it back, a $50 charge will be assessed to us. Not a great way to start the day.

We were very grateful though when we got to the airport that we had gotten such an early start. We were astonished by the number of people there – the security lines snaked out and down the sidewalks! The only other times we’d seen similar lines were at the end of the winter holiday season, but this was a Monday morning in May! Brett dropped me off at the terminal with the suitcases before returning our rental car while I got our bags checked in and then got into the security line, where I learned these crowds were now an everyday occurrence. Let me also just say that I will never travel with that many bags again! Hawaiian Airlines staff were very helpful but it was still overwhelming wrangling four BIG bags to where they needed to be. I had initially attempted to check the bags when I checked in online for our flights but the program kept assessing a fee of $670 for the extra bags which I knew wasn’t correct, so I was glad I waited and paid just $140 at airport, the correct amount. I got a knot in my stomach though when our bags were placed w-a-y off to side for the TSA check, but we were leaving on a later flight and I was told they would get to them as our departure time approached. Then, halfway through our wait in the security line Brett suddenly realized he still had the key fob for our rental car in his pocket (push button start), but he was able to run over and give it to the Budget shuttle driver for return – apparently he was not the first person this has happened to! I hate to think what that would have cost us if he’d discovered that thing any later than he did.

It took us an hour to go through the security line at Lihue. Both of our carry-on bags were pulled for an extra check and the woman pawed through everything in my bag and pulled things out looking for who knows what – it took me quite a while to get everything repacked after she was done (and didn’t find anything). We had a less than an hour at that point until our flight, and $19.64 later we had a bottle of water and a dry turkey and cheese sandwich for lunch, the least expensive food we could find (and after standing in another long line). The flight over to Honolulu was as quick as usual, we were at the gate for our Delta flight in no time, and left Honolulu for Atlanta on time.

The extra comfort seats on our Delta flight were well worth the expense as we had room for everything and room to cross our legs. We were in the middle of the row though so had to climb out over people on the aisle whenever we needed to use the bathroom. Thankfully the people on either side of us stayed masked as we did throughout the flight. The plane was COLD though – both of us wore our jackets the entire time, stayed covered with a blanket, and we still shivered. We each got about 1 1/2 hours of sleep – the woman behind me kicked the entire time; Brett said it was the same for him.

We arrived on time in Atlanta, a little after 6:00 in the morning, for a three hour layover. Delta had fed us right before landing (a surprisingly delicious egg muffin sandwich) so we got some coffee and waited. Our flights always, always seem to be at gates the furthest away from each other, and Atlanta was no exception – getting from our arrival gate to our departure gate we walked nearly a mile! The flight up to Baltimore was easy, just an hour and a half and we slept through most of it. We were thrilled to find all our bags when we got there, but had to pay a ridiculous $6 to rent a cart to carry them out the door to catch the shuttle over to the rental car pick up. After our experience getting a rental car in Lihue we weren’t sure what to expect, but there was no line and the rental agent upgraded us to a Honda CRV at no charge. Getting all of our bags to the car was another adventure but we eventually got them loaded and were on our way.

And then everything fell apart.

Brett, unknown to me, had put together a very convoluted route to Philadelphia in order to avoid the tolls . . . and then he got lost. I had fallen half asleep on the way, and woke up when he started grumbling that he didn’t know where we were. I fired up Google Maps on my phone and discovered we had somehow ended up 65 miles east of Philadelphia, near Lancaster! I got us going the right direction, but our car trip from Baltimore to our hotel ended up taking us over six hours! Our hotel turned out to be in a business park and very difficult to find, which also didn’t help. We were beyond exhausted when we arrived, both somewhat angry with each other but knew that was from being so tired. We eventually got our bags up to our room and fell asleep for 14 hours.

We will see YaYu this afternoon and be more than glad to turn her suitcases over to her. Our first stop today though will be the Whole Foods Market just down the street for some healthy foods we can keep in the room. We’re otherwise going to continue to rest and recover from what turned out to be a ridiculously long (over 36 hours) and difficult travel day. We’re in Pennsylvania, we have our luggage, and the adventure is on!

Traveling Full Time: Financial Matters

(photo credit: Jeremy Dorrough/Unsplash)

This will not be a post about how much money is required to travel full time. People of all different income levels travel full time, and create their own way of doing it that works for them. You definitely don’t have to be rich to become full-time nomads, but there are things you need to account for financially to travel full-time successfully.

The main thing to be figured out before starting is how will you support yourself while you travel. Do you have a steady income? Will you or can you work while you travel? Can you live off of savings, and if so, for how long and how much should you give yourself every month? How big an emergency fund do you need? What expenses will you have? All of these questions require research and deep thought. But, once you know the numbers you can create a travel budget that fits your needs.

Regular recurring expenses (in our case: my student loan payment, our phone plan, and some insurance for automobile non-owners, so we are covered if we rent) are taken care of first, and are automatically withdrawn each month. After those, the big three items that need to be accounted four out of our net income are lodging; transportation (between locations); and an emergency fund. Once those are subtracted, how the rest of your net income is divided is up to you. We came up with a limit for how much we’re willing to spend each month on lodging, future transportation, and for our emergency fund, and then divided the rest of our net income into four sections that work no matter where we are: 1) food (i.e. local grocery shopping); 2) local transportation; 3) dining out; and 4) miscellaneous expenses.

Because everyone’s income sources and amounts, along with their needs and wants, will be different, no two budgets are ever going to look the same. Our budget works for us, but it’s just one way of doing things. In many ways though our travel budget is similar to our non-travel budget, but with some slight differences.

Because we stay in Airbnbs, and will be staying for at least two months in each place we visit, the first thing we have to decide is the maximum amount we are willing to spend each month on lodging. For us, this is 50% of our net income. Do we actually spend that much each month? NO WAY!! We made this amount quite large because the first month’s payment for any Airbnb rental always includes a service fee (which has increased) and a cleaning fee. These two extras can make the initial reservation payment unexpectedly large. Later payments are typically much, much less than the initial payment, but we put the difference between that 50% we’ve budgeted and what we actually pay each month into a separate lodgings savings account. These savings are then available for making future Airbnb reservation payments (if staying more than a month in a rental, Airbnb divides the total amount owed into monthly payments minus the fees). As I’ve noted before, Brett and I try to reserve a rental around six months ahead if possible because there are usually more available rentals in our price range to choose from, but others wait to reserve six week in advance or less. Basically, we are swapping out our current rental payment for lodging during our travels, and by saving and paying upfront for the first month of our first three rentals we have given ourselves some wiggle room to settle into the new payment schedule. By the way, one of the benefits of staying for longer than a month is many Airbnb hosts offer significant discounts for long-term stays, sometimes in the thousands of dollars (weekly discounts are also often given). There are also no utility payments or Internet fees with an Airbnb rental.

The second budget item set up is an amount to go into another separate savings account each month to cover transportation costs from location to location. This money is only used when buying airline or train tickets to a new location – sometimes that’s a lot, other times thankfully not so much. Once again, using some of our pre-departure savings to purchase tickets will allow us to ease into paying for other transportation later.

We also put a set amount into an emergency fund each month. Part of what we have been saving pre-departure has been used to create this fund but we will continue to add to it every month.

The rest of our net monthly income covers the costs of daily living no matter where we are in the world. After some trial and error on our last adventure, we figured out that an envelope system works best for us. That is, at the beginning of each month we withdraw our total monthly allotment in cash, and then divide that into four envelopes: 1) food (local grocery shopping); 2) local transportation; 3) dining out; and 4) miscellaneous (admission tickets, clothing if necessary, souvenirs, and other miscellaneous shopping). If there is money left over in any of the envelopes at the end of each month, we withdraw less the following month to bring things up to the same starting point. We found that the envelope system made a huge difference in our spending versus using debit and credit cards; that is, we spent less. We always had money left over at the end of each month in each envelope versus being over or right at our budget limit.

I cannot stress the importance of tracking every expense every day when you’re traveling. We get a receipt for absolutely everything we purchase, and Brett meticulously tracks our spending in a journal (along with notes about what we did that day, how far we walked, how many steps, etc.). At the beginning of each month he divides our income after lodging and transportation are removed by the number of days in the month to give us a daily spending average to maintain, and then figures out each day whether we’re below or above it (a weekly grocery shop usually puts us over our spending average for a few days, for example, but it drops again in a couple of days). Between what’s in the envelopes and our daily average, we know every day how we’re doing for the month or whether we need to slow down our spending for a while.

Budgeting for full time travel is about figuring out how to get the biggest bang for your bucks. You may choose to spend your income on better lodging or great experiences or first class transportation, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In the end though it’s about living well, albeit carefully and realistically, on what you earn, with what you have, and in a way that suits you and allows you to make the most of what you have wherever you go.

So Many Things To Do Before We Go

Time seems to be ticking by more quickly these days, although it still seems like there will be enough time to get everything done without getting ourselves overwhelmed. To make sure we don’t forget anything we came up with a (first) list of tasks to complete and when to complete them so we hopefully won’t become overwhelmed toward the end of our time here.

Here’s the month-by-month schedule we’ve come up with. Items are not necessarily in the order they will be or need to be done:

January:

  • Continue packing items for storage
  • Finish assembling all necessary toiletries, health supplies, and OTC medications
  • Begin airing out suitcases & Brett’s sport coat

February:

  • Send birthday gift to WenYu
  • Finish packing all items for storage; address all the boxes
  • Make a final evaluation of wardrobe items (what’s going with us, what’s not)

March:

  • Order additional (“emergency”) supplies of prescription medications
  • Mail all items for storage
  • Begin washing all stored clothing
  • Sell remaining furniture; move patio furniture into house and begin using inflatable mattress
  • Begin deep clean of apartment for move-out
  • Celebrate 43rd anniversary with a Day of No Cooking at three favorite restaurants
  • Open mainland mail service account; close local post office box

April:

  • Sell car
  • Hold yard sale; take all leftover items to thrift store
  • Purchase additional carry-on bag at thrift store for YaYu’s items; finish packing her things
  • Celebrate Brett’s 72nd birthday
  • Take all remaining unopened food items to local food bank
  • Close Costco account
  • Finish cleaning apartment; turn over keys and get back deposit
  • Pack suitcases and carry-ons for travel

May:

  • Purchase gifts for Airbnb hosts (local rum miniatures; Kaua’i Kookies; small passionfruit jams; macadamia nut chocolates; Anahola granola)
  • Pick up rental car
  • Pick up hard copies of medical and vision prescriptions from doctors
  • Move to condo in Princeville
  • Close local bank account
  • Mail inflatable mattress for storage
  • Depart for Philadelphia (we’re actually flying into the Baltimore-Washington airport and driving up to Philly)

Laura’s Rule of Lists posits that as things get done, more things will come up, items we haven’t thought of yet or remembered. There will also be a few surprises thrown in for good measure. However, if we can get all the above done on time, we’ll leave Kaua’i in good very shape!

Traveling Frugally: Travel Hacking

The best definition I’ve found of travel hacking comes from a post I found on Mom and Dad Money:

Travel hacking is essentially the process of signing up for a new credit card, spending enough to earn the sign-up bonus, using the points you earn to book free travel, and basically repeating that process over and over again.

Using credit cards benefits to earn free flights, free hotel stays, and other travel benefits is a popular way to save big on travel expenses. Travel hacking has been around for a while, but these days it typically involves using multiple cards at the same time to reap the most benefits. Most major airlines offer big rewards when you sign up for one of their credit cards and reach a certain spending goal during a specific period (usually within three months of signing up). Bank cards also offer similar big travel rewards: every iteration of the Chase Sapphire card, Capital One’s Venture, and American Express Gold Card, among others, all offer substantial travel rewards after signing up and charging a certain amount within a set period of time. Hotel chain credit cards rewards include free stays, discounts, and other perks for signing up and charging a pre-set amount within time limits.

These deals are especially easy to acquire when signing up for the first time. We know of people who set out on their travels with over 500,000 airline miles banked, all acquired from sign-up bonuses they received. Of course, they had to spend quite a bit to get those bonuses, and they also risked damaging their credit score because of all the new card sign-ups (multiple hard credit inquiries in a short period of time, and greater credit risk because of multiple credit lines). If they use the cards responsibly though, neither of those should be a problem. Experienced travel hackers however recommend signing up for different cards over a long period of time versus all at once or within a few months.

There is no “perfect” travel card – each one offers something different and the goal in getting started should be to find ones that work best to achieve whatever travel goals have been set. There are some important things to look for though when applying for a travel card:

  • No fee or low annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • A large (i.e. huge) initial bonus
  • Low required spending minimum
  • Special perks for travel-related items
  • Added points for special spending categories (i.e. groceries, gas, restaurants)
  • The bonus is something that can actually be attained.

Travel hacking is a great way to acquire some significant travel benefits but only if you already use credit cards responsibly and pay off your balances every month. If you don’t, they’re an easy way to quickly descend deeply into debt. Tracking all open cards and their accompanying expiration dates and spending limits also requires real effort, although a newer app, Award Wallet, helps track all awards in one place, including deadlines, and notifies the user when deadlines are approaching.

Besides free travel benefits, the big pro of travel hacking is that it’s easy to get started and find good deals; lots of points to cover flights and other travel costs can be acquired quickly.

A big reason against travel hacking however is that after acquiring the good upfront deals, finding new ones gets harder and harder. Points earned can become more difficult to use and the money spent to acquire all the upfront points may be more than expected or afforded. If too many sign-ups are done too quickly, one’s credit rating can be damaged, and credit card companies have been known to cancel accounts for those using too many cards of the same brand.

Our primary credit card when we travel is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. We took advantage of its sign-up bonus years ago, but we still use it to rack up generous reward points (which we usually redeem for a cash deposit to our bank account). It also provides some serious benefits that match those that come with travel insurance (car rental insurance, missed or cancelled flights, lost luggage, and a few others). Every month since we’ve been back on Kaua’i we’ve received a sign up offer for the Delta American Express card, with a bonus of 75,000 miles if we spend $2000 within three months after receiving the card. Delta is our preferred airline but we haven’t bitten. All Delta flights only go to and from the U.S.; we can’t use them to fly between international destinations. Also, we’ve had American Express cards in the past, but rarely used them, and honestly don’t think we need another card to track while we travel. Still, we think from time to time that it would be nice to have those miles banked if we need them.

It’s Complicated

Gone are the days of buying a ticket, getting to your flight on time, and then setting out to see the sights on a trip to Europe. While I’m grateful we are able to travel to France once again (as there are still many countries we cannot enter), these days a visit to a European country requires several more steps and hoops to jump through than it did in the past, and things will be different once we’re there.

France has sorted countries using a traffic light color scheme based on the how well COVID is being handled in each country. Although the United States is currently a “red” country, Brett and I are still welcome to come to France for tourism or any other purpose because we are fully vaccinated and have received our boosters (and may hopefully get another before departing), and are willing to be tested in the 48 hours preceding our flight’s departure. If a traveler is unvaccinated, even if they have had COVID and might have immunity, they have to show a compelling reason why they need to come to France from the U.S. Those reasons are extremely limited. A traveler must be a French national or 1) previously enrolled in a French program in France; 2) already have a long-stay visa; 3) work in a necessary job in the transportation sector; 4) transiting through France for less than 24 hours; or 5) work in a diplomatic or consular position. Without one of those reasons, if you’re not vaccinated you cannot enter France.

One of our very first tasks up arrival in Strasbourg will be to take our vaccination cards and test results to a pharmacy that will provide us with the Pass Sanitaire, a QR code that proves our vaccination status (not every pharmacy does this either). The code is loaded our phones and will allow us to enter markets, museums, restaurants, trams, trains, and so forth. The cost for the Pass is 36 Euros each (approximately US$41). I’m hoping the most difficult part of this will be finding the closest approved pharmacy to where we’ll be staying in Strasbourg.

Another possible hurdle for us after arriving in Paris will be making our connecting flight to Strasbourg without the Pass Sanitaire. From what we can find now, it appears we can get on the next plane with our passports, negative test results, and vaccination cards, but we haven’t found a definitive answer to this, especially since the connecting flight will be a different airline which might require the Pass Sanitaire. There are three pharmacies in DeGaulle airport, and we may be able to the passes done there if necessary. Otherwise we’re going to have to spend a day or two in Paris taking care of this before heading to Strasbourg.

Mask wearing is de rigueur and enforced in France, and only surgical quality masks are considered adequate; cloth masks are not (we have a stockpile of KN95 masks that will be going with us). If you’re not masked and don’t have a Pass Sanitaire with you, getting into in pretty much anywhere is not going to happen.

We will follow the lead of the French government as to what’s required as things still continue to change. It all seems so very complicated, but we know we can and will manage. We’ll be out and about more there than we’ve been here – there is much to see and do and we don’t plan on stayed holed up in our apartment. We’ll figure it all out.

Could You Travel Full-Time?

Brett came to embracing the idea of full-time travel a bit later than I did, but living on the road and seeing the world was a long-time dream for me. We sort of stumbled into our decision to travel full time back in 2017 after we’d come up with a list of places we wanted to visit and were trying to prioritize them. At one point Brett mused aloud, “I wish we could see them all.” We looked at each other and I asked, “Could we possibly do that?” From there we started investigation, crunched numbers for a couple of weeks, figured out what we would have to do to make traveling full time a reality, came up with an initial itinerary, and the first Big Adventure was born.

For us, it was an ideal time in our lives to travel full time. We had already sold our home before coming to Hawaii and were renting. Our children were grown and independent for the most part: our son and family lived permanently in Japan, and our three daughters were in college and getting ready to start their careers. Other full-time travelers we met along the way were in similar circumstances; that is, not tied down with family obligations (either had no children or their children were grown and independent) or in a couple of cases, we met whole families that were traveling full time.

We initially decided to give the experience around a year and see if and how we liked it. We sharpened our itinerary, created a budget, put some of our things into storage and sold everything else, and set out in August of 2018 after getting YaYu settled at college. We began our journey in South America (Buenos Aires and Montevideo, Uruguay) then headed to Europe (Paris, Normandy, Strasbourg, Lucerne, Bordeaux, Florence, Rome, and Lisbon) before returning to the U.S. for Christmas with our daughters. Then it was off to India, Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand followed by a three-month stay in Tokyo. We came back to the U.S. for the summer to provide YaYu with a location so she could work during her break, but she ended up going to Japan for the summer and we ended up playing tourist in our old home town of Portland. In late August of 2019 we flew to England and spent three wonderful months in the Cotswold village of Blockley, visiting the area as well as London and Edinburgh, then returned to Portland one last time for another Christmas with our daughters. We followed that stay with a short visit to Kaua’i and then headed on to Japan for what we thought was another long stay. COVID had other ideas though and in late March 2020 we returned to Kaua’i to wait things out and stay safe. After working through lots of other ideas the past two years we finally realized we wanted to return to full time travel, but a bit more slowly than before, and we will set out again in around four months on another Big Adventure, fully vaccinated and boosted, and armed with additional tools and knowledge that we hope will keep up safe.

Brett and I fell in love with full-time travel because we enjoyed not only the experience and adventure of it, but also the minimalism required, and after 40 years of raising children we loved having the time and freedom to explore and see places we had only previously been able to dream about. Many travelers we met, like us, didn’t start with an idea of indefinite full-time travel, but also grew to love it, especially the ability to travel at a pace that worked for them. COVID certainly turned things upside down, limited the places an American can go, and changed travel forever. However, we’ve found it’s still possible to create a travel itinerary, domestic or international, and make it happen. Many “travel bugs” are already back on the road once again.

There are as many ways to travel full time as there are people, and no way is the best. Some people (like us) stay in Airbnb rentals, but other housesit, house swap, or travel in an RV. Some take advantage of couch surfing or staying with friends, while others stay in hotels full time or even live on a cruise ship! We’re going to be traveling slow(er) this go around, staying in Airbnbs again for at least two months in each place to give us more time to get to know an area. Our goal is not to see everything and every place in the world, but to have a deeper experience and greater knowledge of the places we do visit.

If you’ve ever dreamed of or just thought about traveling full time, Brett and I came up with a few things to consider:

  • Can you give up having a permanent home? This is where most stop when it comes to traveling full time. It’s definitely a major step to consider, let alone take. However, living on the road does not mean having to sell or permanently give up your home. Many travelers rent their homes while they travel, or return home for short stays in between longer jaunts. Some full-time travelers do house swaps. Some find after a while that they want to relocate overseas, and some discover that they no longer need or want to keep their home at all, and plan for a later, smaller purchase when the travel stops. Lodging choices around the world run the gamut from sleeping on someone’s sofas all the way to luxury apartments and homes, with everything in between, and how you choose to live on the road is completely up to you and your budget. We’ve stayed in some pretty wonderful places for not a lot of money.
  • Do you have a way to support yourself when you travel? Food, lodging, transportation, as well as possible sightseeing and so forth all still need to be covered during travel. Some have to be paid in advance, like deposits for lodgings or airline tickets. Some full-time travelers save as much as possible ahead of starting out and then stop and work for a while as needed or stop traveling when the funds run out. Some take advantage of travel hacking to save on travel expenses. Others, like us, have a reliable, steady income that we supplement with savings, and some full time travelers work remotely as they travel.
  • Are you in good health? No one needs to be in perfect health to travel full time, but you should be able to do things like move a (potentially heavy) suitcase around, climb stairs now and then, walk a bit, and so forth. If you take medication you need to plan for how to keep prescriptions refilled, and be willing to visit a doctor or dentist, if necessary, in another country. Health insurance for travel is a non-negotiable necessity and should always be included in any planning or budget creation.
  • Are you able to stick to a budget? This is absolutely critical. Living full time on the road means figuring out ahead of time how much you can afford to spend for things like lodging, food, transportation, miscellaneous costs, etc. and then sticking to that budget just as you would if you were not traveling. Some things – mortgage payments, utilities, car insurance, and such – may go away, but others, like getting from one place to another, pop up. It’s important to know your daily spending limits, set up a spreadsheet or maintain a daily journal, and be willing to track expenses for everything, every day. We eventually figured out that an envelope method worked well for us at each destination, but there are loads of ways to make sure you’re not overspending.
  • Can you save, save, save ahead of time? Unless you have unlimited funds, it helps to figure out ways to boost your savings before setting out and then possibly use those funds to help the adjustment into a full-time travel budget. Savings can come from many directions, including selling your things, even possibly your home. We learned that having savings we could rely on ahead of time went a long way when it came to getting our footing as we began our travels.
  • Are you flexible? While some planning for travel is necessary, are you able to change quickly if necessary? Travel planning means putting a foundation in place, creating an itinerary, and setting goals but it doesn’t mean scheduling every moment you’re on the road or knowing everything you’re going to do ahead of time. Things do and can change, go wrong, or not go as expected from time to time. I know of some full-time travelers who plan things out about six weeks ahead, others just a week or so. Brett and I are more the six months ahead types but we have an emergency fund, always have a Plan B and Plan C, and we can change on a dime when it’s called for without falling apart.
  • Are you willing to embrace minimalism? Full-time travel requires learning to live with what can be carried in a suitcase or even just a backpack. Minimalism does not mean having to get rid of everything, including your home, but it does mean letting go of your stuff at least for a while.
  • Can you and your travel partner’s relationship withstand the give and take of living on the road (if you’re not traveling alone)? Full time travel allows you to play to skills you already have as well as discover talents and strengths you didn’t know existed. Brett turned out to be a superb logistician – he has an uncanny sense of direction, and always got us where we needed to be when we needed to be there. He also loved tracking the daily minutia of travel including our spending each day, how far we walked, etc. On the other hand, I’m good at and enjoy planning, discovering bargains, keeping us fed, and finding entertainment, so those tasks typically fell to me. We made a great travel team! It was also important that we have a solid, loving relationship and enjoy spending time with each other. That being said, our marriage is better and stronger because of our travels.

After we first asked ourselves that fateful question, “could we do that?”, the above were the things we asked ourselves and investigated before we committed to traveling full time. A few were unknowns that we discovered as we traveled, but most of the above were examined carefully before we finally decided we could manage living on the road. The one thing missing from above though? Finances – but that’s a subject for another post.

Let’s Travel Frugally

There’s something for everyone when it comes to traveling. There’s luxury travel, cheap travel, nomadic travel, cruises, travel tours, RV travel, family travel and on and on. Almost everyone can find something to fit their needs and budget when it comes to traveling, and it’s not difficult to find ways to save both before and during one’s journey.

Brett and I consider ourselves to be experienced frugal travelers; that is, we are out to get the biggest bang for our bucks all while staying within a budget that works for us and doesn’t send us spiraling into debt. Being frugal while on the road not only means being thrifty, but avoiding waste and managing our funds with care. Being thrifty while we travel is not always about finding the lowest price but searching out the best value and getting the most for our money. For example, when we were in Rome in 2018 we signed up for a small group tour and visited the Colosseum, Palantine Hill, and the Roman Forum. The cost per person was above our usual price point, but after reading through what the tour offered compared to other lower-priced tours we decided the one we selected would give us a lot more for our money, or in other words, a better value. We ended up with a more in-depth look at these historic places (the tour guide was a local historian) and a group limited to 12 people, small enough that everyone could hear the guide and ask questions easily – no one was left “standing at the back” of a crowd . What we saw, learned, and discovered about the places we visited on the tour provided far more value than what we would have saved by booking a cheaper tour or trying to do it on our own.

To keep our travels affordable, we stayed in Airbnb rentals, shopped locally for food and cooked our own meals almost every day. We rode trains, buses, and took cheap flights, and we walked or used public transportation to get around in each location. Brett faithfully recorded our spending every day so we knew whether we over, under, or right on budget. We balanced stays in more expensive lodgings with less expensive ones in other places, and ended up just $38 over budget overall for our lodging.

In the next few months I want to explore what we’ve learned about traveling frugally, about different ways to save before and during travel, and how to get more for less while you’re on the road or visiting any location. I’ve already posted a bit about saving ahead of time for travel (located in the Saving category), but I want to learn more and better ways to travel while spending less and getting more, and I hope you’ll follow along.

Crunch Time Has Arrived

This is it! All the “fun” things for this year’s upcoming Big Adventure II have been done: itinerary drawn up, reservations made, deposits paid, flights booked, and clothes bought. We’ve sold all the “easy” stuff and built up our travel savings account.

But . . . we move out of our apartment in less than four months and the hard work of making that transition begins now.

Things have to be shipped for storage and to others:

  • A package to our son containing some of his personal papers that we had along with his baby book and other baby items we had kept.
  • A few Christmas items.
  • The few pieces of art we’re keeping.
  • All of our pottery collection.
  • Dishes Meiling and WenYu decided they wanted to keep.
  • A few Japanese items
  • Kitchen utensils and our stainless cutlery.
  • Two pillow covers, our antique Japanese banner, and our comforter.
  • YaYu’s remaining things.
  • The inflatable mattress.

So many boxes, so little time . . . .

Things have to be sold:

  • My All-Clad cookware
  • The big hibachi table
  • A sake jug lamp
  • Our dining table and chairs
  • The barbecue, market umbrella, fire pit, and patio furniture
  • Our TV/storage cabinet
  • The sofa & coffee table
  • Our mattress & bed frame
  • The car

After all that we have to hold a yard sale for everything else and what’s left after that will go to the thrift store.

We have to pack our suitcases, and make sure we’ve provisioned ourselves well enough for a long-term stay overseas.

We have to get ourselves up to our little rental on the north side for our final week on the island.

And then, on May 9, we’ll depart Kaua’i for Pennsylvania!

Crunch time has arrived and we have less than four months to accomplish everything. Wish us luck!

Taking Another Look At PLan B

With a new Covid variant, named Omicron, making its name known while concurrently remaining mysterious, Brett and I figured this might be a good time to take another look at our Plan B, or at least come up with a couple more Plan Bs, just in case.

Much remains unknown about the Omicron variant, but scientists are working hard at figuring it out, looking for patterns, how infectious it is, and for other factors. The variant’s numerous mutations are the major cause for concern, and it’s unknown whether these make the Omicron variant more transmissible. It’s unknown whether this new variant will be as deadly as previous variants, such as Delta, and resistant to the antibodies produced by previous vaccines and boosters as well. And, because it is spreading around the world, it’s unknown at this time how the variant might affect cross-border travel long term. The current travel bans in place offer only short-term solutions, but may slow things up enough to give scientists and doctors time to get a better handle on what this variant brings to the ongoing COVID pandemic and what needs to be done to fight it.

We’ve always had a Plan B whenever we make travel plans. Plan B for our upcoming travels was to buy a car and drive around the U.S. for a while staying in Airbnbs at each destination. However, this option no longer seems as fun or exciting as it once did, especially as we have been looking forward to being outside of the U.S. for a while. The plan could be adjusted in a myriad of ways; for example, we could rent a car for a few months versus buying, and then travel internationally when it’s viable again, but mostly it just doesn’t interest us much any more and would also require a lot of work to pin down the logistics.

A new Plan B is taking shape though. This one has us moving to our settle-down location, renting an apartment, and changing future travel plans from full-time to occasional. We learned a lot of valuable lessons on relocation during our abrupt move to Kaua’i in 2020, and there were (expensive) mistakes made then that we know how to avoid this time. We’re not particularly crazy about this idea either, but it would be the most practical.

Our feeling right now is that we’re going be able to travel as planned next May. We’ve been vaccinated and boostered, and even if the Omicron variant requires a new vaccine, pharmaceutical companies (Pfizer, Moderna, etc.) have said they can move into rapid development and roll out new ones in a short amount of time as much of the research needed in creating a new vaccine is already done. Most are already working on new vaccines/boosters for this variant. A bigger fear for us is getting started on our travels and then a destination we’re booked into will shut down or the border will be closed (we can deal with quarantines and mask mandates). We’ve always been very flexible and able to roll with the punches, but something like this happening would affect us financially, and not in a good way.

We’ve decided that now is not a time to be fearful, but to think positively, and have faith in science and in our plans for the future. No matter what happens, we will still be leaving Kaua’i in May of next year. There are many unknowns right now, and we’re preparing ourselves for the possibility that changes may be required but keeping positive thoughts for the future.

Finding Your Way On Kaua’i

(Updated from a post originally published in November, 2017.)

That’s the St. Regis Hotel in the upper left of the picture, and Hanalei Beach in front. There’s no way to directly walk from one to the other.

Every year on Thanksgiving Brett and I watch The Descendants, starring George Clooney. It’s a wonderful film, and part of it is set on Kaua’i. Every year though we roll our eyes and sigh when Clooney and his movie family climb into a jeep with a cousin at the airport and head north, and yet somehow end up overlooking the ocean on the south shore at Kipu Kai Ranch, a geographically impossible feat. Or, when he and family walk from Hanalei beach to their hotel in Princeville along Anini Beach, making it look like there’s a seamless beach the entire way. Nope. The hotel sits perched on the top of a bluff to the east of Hanalei, and you’d have to cross a golf course, scramble down a wooded cliff and cross the Hanalei River at the mouth before arriving at Hanalei Beach. And, Anini Beach is to the east of Princeville and the hotel, Hanalei Beach to the west. There are other scenes where locations are out of place, but we chalk it all up to “Hollywood magic.”

George Clooney and family look out over the south shore of Kaua’i, after heading north from Lihue and passing through Kapaa on the east side.

Back in November of 2017 I was alerted to an article in the New York Times: 36 Hours in Kauai, Hawaii (subscription required – sorry). The article listed quite a lot of interesting places to see, shop and/or dine at on the island, but I was completely worn out by the time I finished reading just the first day! The author has visitors starting their 36 hours at the Kaua’i museum in Lihue, on the east side of the island, at 3:00 p.m (right after arriving from a long flight and picking up a car), then driving out to Hanapepe on the south side to order a custom aloha shirt at 4:30. We live between Lawai and Koloa, on the south side of Kaua’i, and the drive from here to Hanapepe with no traffic takes around 15-20 minutes. Add in the time it takes to get from Lihue to Lawai, and that’s another 20 minutes. To get to Hanapepe by 4:30 when there’s no traffic, a visitor is going to have to leave the museum after only 15-20 minutes (after paying admission to the museum at $15 per person). While the distance from Lihue to Hanapepe might not look all that long on a map (18 miles), the reality is any drive at that time of the afternoon will involve mixing with the pau hana (“quitting time”) crowd heading home to the south and west sides, and that seemingly short drive can take up to or over an hour, especially on a Friday.

Anyway, if someone has somehow managed the feat of both visiting the museum and making it out to Hanapepe on time, the suggestion is to then drive all the way back to the Kilohana Plantation in Puhi to participate in a rum tasting at the Koloa Rum Company at 5:30. Oh wait – the last tasting of the day is at 5:00 p.m. However, the next stop on the itinerary is the evening luau next door at Gaylord’s restaurant (reservations required). Following the luau, readers then are directed to drive all the way back past Hanapepe and through Waimea (in complete darkness) to spend the night at the Waimea Beach Cottages.

The proposed schedule for the first day is exhausting and impossible, even more so if one decides to follow a recommendation to take in some of the Friday evening Hanapepe Art Night (which doesn’t start until 5:00 p.m.) before heading back to Puhi. For someone from the mainland the amount of driving might not seem all that excessive, but for those of us who live here it’s positively crazy and makes no sense whatsoever.

The next two days’ schedules are equally frenetic, and involve an insane amount of driving back and forth from one side of the island to another. The lodging recommendations are bizarre considering how long it can take to get around the island (most of the highway is only two lanes). If I remember correctly, one suggestion on the second day is driving from the north shore all the way down to Old Koloa town for dinner and then back up to Princeville to spend the night. Again, insanity! Needless to say, it’s more than extremely likely that any visitor trying to follow even some of this article’s schedule will encounter the reality of Kaua’i traffic fairly quickly along the way causing everything to fall apart in a very short time.

Most of all though, the 36-hour schedule in the Times misses the whole point of visiting Kaua’i. The best reason to come here is not to try to see and do as much as possible and fill every single moment, including negotiating Kauai’s traffic, but to relax, most especially if all someone has is 36 hours to spend with a long flight on either end. Life moves slower on Kaua’i, and the best and most authentic experience of all is to embrace the slower place. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast, sit on the beach for the day or go for a hike, take a nap, maybe pick a place or two to visit, go out for a wonderful dinner or attend a luau, but don’t try to squeeze in everything.

Visitors are always welcome on Kaua’i, and there are lots of things to see and do here. But finding one’s way on Kaua’i requires a change in how one experiences time and place. Geography is more than just places on a map, or distances between towns, or times posted on Google Maps. It’s more than pretty scenes in a film. The geography of a place is about how and where people live, and how they use the mountains, beaches, towns, roads and the surrounding environments. It’s about how local residents spend their time, and what they value about where they live. Even a small amount of knowledge about these things can make a visit to Kaua’i, to anywhere, more enriching.