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

(This article was originally posted on October 31, 2016, but because our recent budget changes I felt it was a good time for a re-post. A few minor updates have been made to the original.)

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.

However, saving money is only the start. Along with putting away funds 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 in 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 sometimes places we wanted to visit in the past can seem less important as time passes, and other places become more interesting. Some of our destinations, like Japan, are determined by family circumstance 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 will cost, 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 realistically 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 more tours through India, and Brett and I would like to visit one of the national parks in Botswana, but know now that these days 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.
  • 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 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.
  • While we’re on the road, we track our spending every day. Brett maintains a daily spending log/diary so that we can see if we’re staying within our budget. If we’re over, we have a way to know why that’s happening and we can rein things in, but it also gives us a way to know if we can afford to possibly add something extra to our visit.

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. Careful planning and saving along with close tracking of our spending provides us with a solid foundation to see and do what we want during our travels as well as the ability to dream about future journeys and make them a reality.

Budget Adjustments Coming Up

Brett and I had no idea when we started out last year how we would feel about traveling after a year, or whether we’d want to keep going, but it’s turned out that we enjoy our nomadic life and want to keep going. There’s still a lot of this world we want to experience. However, beginning next month there are two upcoming financial matters that are going to cause changes to our monthly budget and that will impact not only how we travel but potentially how much of it we can do for a while.

  • The out-of-pocket costs for all of my dental work this summer (three fillings, a new bridge, a tooth extraction, and teeth whitening) and Brett’s work (deep scalings) came to a whopping $3,590 – OUCH! We had both insurance and the means to pay the balance, but beginning next month we want to start replenishing our savings account by a few $100 per month.
  • The cost of attending Bryn Mawr this year will exceed the financial aid YaYu receives, and next month we will begin helping her meet her out-of-pocket costs for the spring term and on into her senior year (she is in her second year now). YaYu works very hard and is extremely frugal and has so far been able to meet her expenses, but what’s left in her savings after this fall’s payment won’t be enough to cover all of the spring term’s bill, so we will step in and make up the difference. Meiling graduated without debt, and WenYu will next year as well, but they both received much larger scholarships than YaYu and were also attending at the same time with siblings, which increased the amount of aid all three girls received. Beginning in the fall of 2020, YaYu will be our only student, and we expect the amount of aid she receives to drop (it already dropped some because Meiling is no longer attending college). So, we will begin setting aside an additional several hundreds of dollars a month for the next two years for her so that she will also be able to graduate without any debt, or at least with as little as possible. Our other children have let us know that although we didn’t provide them with similar financial support, this is the right thing for us to do now for YaYu.

These two items are going to most directly impact our on-the-road expenses, most especially the amount of money we have available for day-to-day spending. Currently, we budget for an average of $50/day, with funds covering not only food but all our local transportation costs and incidentals such as admission fees or other necessary items. Beginning in September, we will be reducing our daily spending average to $35/day. Our summer in Portland has been good training for this lower amount as we’ve tried to keep our average about there (not all that successfully, but we’re getting there – it’s currently under $25/day for August). Thankfully housing during our stay in England is already paid for as are the overnight stay at Heathrow, our lodgings in Edinburg, our train fare out to the Cotswolds from London, two tours we are taking in London, and lodging for an overnight stay in Oxford during YaYu’s visit in October. We know though we are going to have to be very, very careful with and mindful of every penny we spend in England.

Our belt will also have to be tightened a bit more when we arrive in Japan in January of next year because the cost for our housing there will be more expensive than it was before thanks to the current exchange rate, and we will be paying rent month by month rather than ahead of time. If Brett gets the cultural activities visa I can work part-time which will help our bottom line, but if our stay is only for three months finances will be quite tight. We’re not sure yet what we’ll have available for our daily spending because we don’t know what the exchange rate will be, but we know it will be less than $35. We’ve already decided that we won’t make as many outings as we did during our stay earlier this year, and we’ll focus more on spending time with our son and family and helping care for our grandchildren. Our up-front transportation costs have already been covered, but we still don’t know at this time when we will need to purchase fares to leave Japan or to where. If the lower daily amount is unsustainable we will have to lessen the amounts we’re reimbursing our savings and setting aside for YaYu, but we’re hopeful we’ll be able to manage on less.

So, we’re going to have less room to maneuver, budget-wise, for a while but we are up for the challenge. I think we’ll be fine but we’re going to have to be far more careful and creative, say “no” to ourselves quite a bit more, and most likely change up how and where we travel for the next couple of years.

The Luxury of Slow Travel

A side street in Lisbon, Portugal

What do you think of when you think of luxury travel?

Is it flying first class and having a big, comfortable seat with a footrest, one that reclines into a bed? Dining on real china with real silverware instead of having to use plastic everything? Receiving special treatment the airport, like being seated early and greeted with fresh coffee or a cocktail?

Is it being pampered in five-star lodgings with high thread-count linens, every amenity you could imagine, or a staff that knows your name and takes care of every whim?

Or is it taking the time at your destination to truly unwind and experience your location in more depth versus skimming the surface and racing from sight to sight or activity to activity?

While I have greatly enjoyed the first two aspects of luxury travel, over the past year I have come to realize that embracing slow travel was the most luxurious thing I had ever experienced. While we enjoyed our structured tour of India, and our train ride across Australia, embracing the ethos of slow travel and the opportunities to connect with a place and its rhythms, culture, food, and sights has made for our most memorable travel experiences, with the added benefits of costing us far less than it would otherwise and being easier on the environment.

A magical shot of St. Peter’s at dusk, captured as we walked back to our apartment one evening in Rome.

Our slow travel experiences didn’t mean we had to make or find the time to be in a place for a month or longer, although we were able to do that in a couple of places. But it did mean what the name says, that we slowed down, and didn’t feel like we had to try to do and see everything (especially on a rigid schedule) or eat everything, or try to fit every experience into our visit. Slow travel meant interacting with the local culture up close whenever possible, trying to overcome some of the language barriers that we encountered, and taking the time to notice and observe local customs. Slow travel for us was about making connections. All of this took place sometimes within the space of a few days all while visiting and experiencing some amazing sights along the way.

Street art can be found down alleys or off the main thoroughfares, but sometimes you have to look up to find it, like with this work in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Some of the ways we did this were:

  • Staying in homes and apartments through Airbnb versus staying in hotels.
  • Shopping for most of our food in local markets versus eating out all the time.
  • Using public transportation most of the time.
  • Not having a set schedule every day, or a list of things we had to see or do. For the most part we got up and got going when we were ready to start our day. And some days we did nothing but explore the neighborhood we were staying in, or stay home and read.
  • Adapting ourselves to local customs whenever possible, such as removing our shoes when entering a home in Japan (and then turning them to face out), or greeting shopkeepers and other workers in France with Bonjour! before any beginning business operation.
  • Not expecting people to speak English with us. If they could or wanted to that was great, but we never made it the expectation. We tried to learn how to at least say hello and thank you in the local language of every place we visited (and excuse me or pardon me if possible).
A fruit market in Italy

Time, whether long or short, can either be one’s nemesis or one’s ally when traveling, something that there’s never enough of or a luxury to be savored even if all one has is a few days. When the emphasis is on experience over sights, and quality over quantity, the time one has can become the ultimate luxury of travel. 

Our Plans Have Changed (again)

Brett’s calligraphy: the orange characters on the left are his sensei’s example and the orange circle on his work means he got it right. Brett is left-handed, but Japanese calligraphy must be done with the right hand, so it’s very much an effort for him.

Brett and I thought we had all our future plans nailed down before we left Japan, but events have conspired to once again have us change those plans. It turns out we won’t be going to California in January after all, but back over to Japan instead, with a stop on Kaua’i along the way!

The big unknown for us now though is how long we’ll be staying in Japan this time.

This is the quality of work he hopes to eventually produce. (Photo courtesy of Wanto Shodo Kai-Easy Bay Japanese Calligraphy Association)

Brett has decided to apply for a long-term visa to continue studying calligraphy. He loves the art and the discipline and is improving with each lesson. He has been sending work from his classes here in Portland to his sensei in Japan who told him he is indeed a serious student and suggested he apply for a cultural activities visa to continue studying in Japan. So, paperwork for the visa will be submitted in early October, while we’re in England, and Brett should find out if the visa has been approved sometime in early December. The visa is good for one year but can be extended for another year or two if studies continue and he is making progress. I would travel over to Japan with Brett and enter on a tourist visa, but immediately apply for a dependent visa once we’re in-country. Approval for that typically happens within a couple of weeks. The chance to live in Japan full-time for a year or more would be a dream come true for us, something we have long wanted to do but never thought possible. Best of all, in my opinion, because of our three-month stay this past spring we have a much better sense of what a long-term stay would entail, both the positive and the negative.

We also have a Plan B because approval of the cultural activities visa is not a given. If Brett’s application is rejected we will instead do another three-month stay like we did earlier this year, from mid-January through mid-April. Japan has changed its rules for the tourist visa and visitors can now stay 180 days total (maximum 90 days at a time) during a 365-day period versus just 90 days as it was before. This means we can potentially do long stays in Japan twice a year. We have some pretty firm ideas for what we’ll do after that which include a stay in Massachusetts at the end of May for WenYu’s graduation from Wellesley.

We have negotiated housing with the same landlord we used earlier this year. Even though the monthly cost of renting from her again would be higher than renting our own apartment for a year, by doing so we would not have to deal with setting up and paying utilities, buying furniture or household goods, nor incurring the very high upfront rental fees that are required in Japan (anywhere from three to five months rent, some of it non-refundable). All of those, if averaged out, would increase the monthly cost of living there to the same if not more than the cost of renting a furnished place with the utilities and Internet provided. We loved the location where we stayed before as well as its proximity to our son’s home. O-san said she would love to have us back again, and for now we know we have a place if we go for just three months, but she has asked us to inform her the minute we know whether Brett’s visa has been approved or not and she will extend the rental for us. We asked for a different apartment this time rather than the one we had before as we could not imagine staying in that one for a year – it was just too big and uncomfortable.

A few weeks ago I looked to see what it might cost us to go to Japan in January and was surprised by how low the fares were. Brett and I had also been talking about wanting to visit Kaua’i again to see friends and prices for flights from Portland to Honolulu in January also turned out to be very low. So, after some discussion with Brett and with our friends, and deciding on dates that worked for everyone, we went ahead and purchased tickets to both Japan and Hawai’i. We’ll be staying at our friends’ home in Kapaa for nine days (and they have a car for us to use so no rental car!!), and then we’ll be flying on to Tokyo from Kaua’i. We are greatly looking forward to being on the island once again and seeing what’s changed in the time we’ve been gone as well as catching up with friends there. I’ve already got my fingers crossed for good weather (January can be iffy), but even if it rains every day we know we’ll still have a good time and enjoy every moment.

By purchasing our tickets early we were able to afford to fly first class to Honolulu and economy plus for the long flight to Tokyo all while still staying well below our budget! I had enough Hawaiian miles to cover the flight for both of us over to Lihue from Honolulu, and the fare from Kaua’i to Tokyo included the trip back over to Honolulu from Lihue, which saved an additional $40 over what we would have had to pay if we booked those flights separately on Hawaiian. The total price per person for the both long flights was less than a typical one-way first class fare from Portland to Honolulu, and less than we used to pay for roundtrip fares in economy for the girls to come home to Kaua’i at Christmas. Plus, the two long flights also include two free checked bags for each of us, a nice option especially if we end up going to Japan for a year’s stay (however, we unfortunately will have to pay to get our bags from Honolulu to Lihue on the Hawaiian flight). The upgraded seats are worth every penny to us because after our very uncomfortable 11-hour flight from Tokyo to Portland in economy where we couldn’t cross our legs, let alone move, we vowed that if all possible we would do no more long-distance flights unless we could afford to purchase more comfortable seating.

来年日本に帰国します Rainen nihon ni kikoku shimasu – we are returning to Japan next year! We are so excited – not only will we get to be in Japan, and see our son, daughter-in-law, and grandkids again, but we get to return to beautiful Kaua’i as well!

Picture Perfect: Our Getaway to the Oregon Coast

We had a wonderful time out at the Oregon Coast last week, and enjoyed beautiful weather, beautiful sights, good food, and great experiences:

Our first stop was the little town of Yachats, one of our favorite places on the coast. We had hoped to eat lunch in town, but everything was very crowded and parking was non-existent, so we ended up at the Adobe Inn on the north side of town and enjoyed some beautiful views while we ate.
This sign in Newport says it all – Oregon is salmon country!
The Coast Guard has been in Newport since 1887, and it is one of 26 designated Coast Guard cities in the U.S. The Yaquina Bay headquarters building dates from 1944.
The beautiful Yaquina Bay Bridge crosses the bay just south of Newport. The bridge was designed by Conde McCullough, who also designed many of the other iconic bridges in Oregon on Highway 101. This art deco-inspired bridge was opened in 1936 and is now listed on the National Historic Register.
The pretty Yaquina Bay Lighthouse only operated for three years (1871-1874) before being replaced by the larger Yaquina Head lighthouse in 1875. The keeper’s house has two stories with a living room, dining room, kitchen and oil room on the first floor, and four bedrooms on the second – it was a family position.
The living room in the keeper’s house. All the rooms in the lighthouse were decorated with authentic period furnishings.
The Devil’s Punchbowl is located in a state park just north of Newport. The water inside is usually low in the summer (and the tide was out when we stopped there), but in winter and during storms the water rises almost to the top.
The Depoe Bay bridge crosses over the very narrow entrance into the harbor. It was also designed Conde McCullough.
Depoe Bay has the world’s smallest navigable harbor, just six acres in size. The town is also the “whale watching capital of the Oregon coast” and hosts the Oregon Parks Whale Watching Center.
When we’re out at the coast we eat seafood: Brett enjoyed Dungeness crab cakes for dinner; I had scallops sauteed in garlic butter.
The highlight of our first day was watching the sun set while sipping wine and soaking in the jacuzzi on our deck at the Channel House B&B.
The breakfast buffet at the Channel House had plenty of low-carb choices and lots of fresh fruit as well as lots of wonderful freshly-baked pastries and coffee cake. We had a beautiful view while we enjoyed our meal.
Our first stop in Tillamook is always the Blue Heron French Cheese Company for some of their brie. The store offers lots of other gourmet treats (and samples!), most of which are produced in Oregon.
We were surprised by the Tillamook Creamery’s new look – this is the third iteration since we arrived in Oregon back in 1992. Visitors can still self-tour the factory and see how the famous cheese is made, but the building now holds an open-plan dining hall where ice cream, espresso, or even meals can be purchased at the snack bar as well as a large gift shop where special varieties of Tillamook cheese and ice cream can be purchased. It was incredibly crowded on the day we visited, with long lines everywhere.
The Creamery still serves huge scoops of their ice cream, and someone was very, very happy about that!
We left Tillamook with an assortment of smoked goodies: beef summer sausage, smoked salmon for Brett’s bagels, smoked black pepper Tillamook cheddar, and smoked brie from Blue Heron.
A little store in Manzanita called Salt & Paper carries what we think is the BEST salt water taffy on the Oregon coast. We bought 24 different flavors for the girls, from pomegranate to espresso creme, and there were at least another dozen or more additional flavors beyond those!
Our last outing before leaving the coast was a walk on the long, beautiful Manzanita beach. We couldn’t get over how fine the sand was compared to the sand on Kaua’i. This view is looking north at Neahkanie Mountain. The view of Manzanita Beach and the coast from its summit is one of the most beautiful in Oregon.

We had planned to end our trip with a stop in Cannon Beach, but time was not on our side. We knew that it would be extremely crowded there as well, so we decided to head for Portland after leaving Manzanita and enjoyed a lovely (and nostalgic) drive through the mountains on Highway 26. We hit heavy traffic coming into Portland, but nothing that could take away from our wonderful two day geataway.

#Portland: Go By (Aerial) Tram!

For many Portland residents, the aerial tram, which opened for service in December 2006, is a great big meh. For others, especially those that live below the tram route it is a nuisance and an unwelcome presence over their homes and neighborhood. For employees and patients at OHSU the service saves nearly two miles of driving up or down Terwilliger Boulevard, which winds up the front of the West Hills. For the rest of us though the tram can be a wonderful way to take in some spectacular views of the city and the Cascade Mountains.

The two tram cars are sleek, silvery, futuristic pods. The maximum load per car is 78 passengers and one operator but I’ve never been in one with it full.

We took a ride on the tram the other day because it offered a quick way down to the waterfront to catch a bus over to a nearby supermarket. The spectacular views during the four-minute ride were an added bonus. Clouds unfortunately obscured views of Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens, but otherwise we could see far into the distance.

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The tram is one of only two commuter trams operating in the U.S. (the other is in New York City). It was built by the city of Portland along with OHSU, and today is part of Portland’s wonderful public transportation system although it is operated by OHSU. A round-trip ride is free for OHSU employees and students, some patients, and active duty and retired military but otherwise a round-trip ticket must be purchased ($4.70) unless a passenger has a monthly TriMet passes to ride (HOP cards don’t work though). Going from OHSU to the waterfront the ride is free.

I’m not sure I’d enjoy riding the tram on a windy or stormy day, but who knows? It might be fun! On a clear, sunny day however the gorgeous views of Portland as you ride down from the top can’t be topped.

Closing Out the Books For June

After the spending madness of May, we had a MUCH better month in June, and took our daily spending average down by little over 50% from $74.46 to just $35.77!

The main reason for this huge drop in the daily average was that we had lots and lots and lots of no-spend days in June. With our pantry, fridge and freezer filled to overflowing at the end of last month we didn’t spend as much on groceries, and we kept our other discretionary spending low as well.

Our June spending (or lack of it) has helped to give us an idea of what things might look like once (if) we eventually settle down. We’re doing fine without owning a car, and our few car-sharing or rental costs have been quite low when averaged out over the month. Housing expenses are not included in our daily spending average, but they’re a little lower than average right now as well. All we currently pay is monthly “rent” for a great apartment in a great location, but without the additional expenses of taxes, utilities, WiFi, cable, etc. There are also no maintenance costs.

We will have the expense of our getaway out to the coast coming up in July, although our Zipcar (along with gasoline) and our lodging were paid for in June. We have some other activities for the month on our list as well that will require admission fees and such, and we will be making another trip to Costco in a couple of weeks which always brings up the monthly average for a while. However, we’re mainly going to keep doing what we have been which should still keep things below our self-imposed spending ceiling for another month.

Revamping My Travel Wardrobe – Part II

Part I of updating my travel wardrobe involved going through everything and sorting out what worked and what didn’t and removing or getting rid of items that I didn’t wear or want to wear, ones that didn’t fit any more, and things that gave out (like shoes).

Part II has been all about finding or replacing items with pieces that are more practical, fit better and are a bit more stylish.

Below are 15 new items being added to my wardrobe:

This wool-blend turtleneck poncho looks somewhat heavy in the picture but it’s actually fairly lightweight while being very comfortable and warm when it’s on. It will pop over a variety of tops that I already have. Before it arrived Brett was skeptical about me wearing a poncho, but he likes how I look in this one (so do I).

When we were in India, the other woman in our travel group had a couple of shawls (ruana) that she carried along – they were easy to pop on when she needed a little warmth. This lightweight one is the same idea, and is so comfortable and flattering that I bought a second one in a dark moss green.

This kimono-sleeved sweatshirt tunic is actually a dark indigo blue and white although it looks black in the picture. The big pocket in front is an added plus.

I love the length and pattern of this indigo swing-style sweater. It’s a fairly lightweight piece though, fine on its own for fall, but I’ll probably need a camisole underneath for a bit more warmth during the winter.

I found this sweatshirt cardigan on the sale rack at Muji in Sangenjaya while I was waiting for a dressing room. It’s very soft, and a great length.

I can never find jeans that fit comfortably these days (small waist, big hips), and don’t care for the feel of them anyway so when I found indigo leggings J.Jill I decided to go with them instead (I bought two pair). I love the weight of the fabric – they will be warm in winter without being overly heavy.  I was a bit nervous about wearing leggings as I have heavy legs, but a friend posted this on Facebook one day: Want a bikini body? Put on a bikini! and I decided I needed to wear what I was comfortable in and get over being disappointed in not having some sort of “perfect” figure. The dark olive Perfect Fit pants are also a nice neutral and a color I like much better than the gray or navy pairs that I previously had packed. New summer pants include a pair of white capri leggings and a pair of knit denim capris.

 This lightweight raincoat will be a bit more practical than the three other non-waterproof jackets I had been carrying along. Not only is it waterproof, but it’s roomy enough to go over sweaters and other layers. It doesn’t show in the picture, but the waist can be cinched for more of a trench coat look, and I love, love, love the big pockets in front.

The two pair of Skechers slip-ons I started out with last year were very comfortable at first, but ended up with the memory foam soles compressed to flat (I joked that I could step on a dime with them on and tell whether it was heads or tails) and they also started falling apart. The red slip-ons above are a much better quality walking shoe, and I wanted a pop of color this time around. Red is a great neutral that actually goes with almost everything. Because I will be wearing leggings, I thought the blue ankle boots would also be a fun choice. The boots have a thick sole so are great for walking. Both pair are lightweight, both are very comfortable and fit perfectly, but both pairs will have to be waterproofed before we go (the blue boots are suede and the red pair are nubuck leather).

I usually prefer to wear solid colors, but I fell in love with this traditional Maori-patterned tunic I found at a shop in downtown Rotorua. The shop was Maori owned and operated, and all items inside, from art to household goods to clothing, were designed and made by Maori artisans.This long-ish black linen swing dress is also from Muji. It’s loose and comfortable and I can’t wait to wear it this summer!

Finally, I found this beautiful leather tote at Goodwill and snapped it up. It’s a great color, it hangs comfortably on my shoulder, and it will easily hold all my travel stuff (and then some). It’s in like-new condition too, so should last a long time.

Except for the Maori tunic and black linen dress, every item I purchased was on sale or from a thrift store, with several of the new pieces at more than 70% off the original price. The raincoat came from REI; the shoes from Zappos; the dark olive pants from L.L. Bean; and the gray sweatshirt cardigan and the black linen dress were purchased at Muji while we were in Japan. Along with the tote, I bought the summer dress I wore to Meiling’s graduation and a black velvet tunic at Goodwill. Everything else was purchased from J. Jill, my very favorite clothing store.

Outside of my pajamas, underwear, and socks, I now will be packing 35 pieces of clothing ranging from summer tops to a winter coat, as well as with three pairs of shoes, and two pairs of sandals. None of the new items are very bulky or heavy, including the shoes, and they should all fit into my big suitcase (especially since I’m no longer carrying 30 packages of CookDo and a bulk package of mugi-cha in the bottom of it).

Revamping My Travel Wardrobe – Part I

After nine months of travel, and living out of a suitcase at times, I developed a very solid idea of what worked and what didn’t with the clothes I had packed, along with a better idea what I liked and what I didn’t like.

I still like mostly everything I started out with but a pair of shoes wore out, some pieces were awkward to wear and pack, or turned out to be unnecessary, some were difficult to maintain, and other pieces of clothing made me feel frumpy and uncomfortable. It didn’t help either that I gained some weight over the nine months we were on the road (I blame the gelato). Except for one pair of pants everything I took still fits but some items became a little tighter and less comfortable than they were when we started out.

I thought carefully the past couple of months about what I didn’t want to carry along any more, and about replacing those items with ones that I think (hope) will be more practical, fashionable, comfortable and easier to maintain when we’re on the road and afterwards.

These are all the tops and sweaters that will be remaining behind. The denim tunic, the white cotton tunic and the black & white print shirt were difficult to maintain and required ironing after coming out of the suitcase or being washed, so ended up getting worn very little or not at all. The navy & cream striped sweater was just too bulky and heavy and took up too much room in the suitcase for something I didn’t wear very often. The black v-neck printed t-shirt is cute but a bit too low-cut – the first time I wore it in Japan my grandson asked me about my cleavage! I like the idea of the navy & cream striped shirt, but found too often that I had to make myself wear it. The black item in front is a long lightweight cardigan. It looks nice and fits well but was impractical for travel (and another item that took too much maintenance).

The navy blue and gray pairs of the L.L. Bean Perfect Fit pants are going into storage, not because they don’t fit but primarily because I always felt so frumpy whenever I wore them. I think I must have something against traditional navy blue, although I love indigo and denim blues, and I have an unhappy history with gray pants or skirts (high school uniform) and always found myself feeling uncomfortable every time I had them on, which was usually with a black top, a combination Brett was not fond of and found depressing.

I love the denim knit jacket but probably wore it less than five times, and it’s another item that just takes up too much room in the suitcase. The vest and black jacket pack down to nothing, but I rarely wore them; in fact, I don’t think I wore the black jacket even once.

I never wore the skirt or the black t-shirt; the cotton pants are way too tight now; I love the lightweight gray shirt but it’s another high-maintenance item; and I have no idea why I took along my pareo as I didn’t even pack a bathing suit.

I am not going to throw away anything, and the above items will go into storage for the time being. I did get rid of the black pair of Skechers I started out with – the memory foam soles had no more memory, the inside fabric was ripped and worn out, and the shoes had stretched out to the point my feet were sliding around in them making them extremely uncomfortable to wear. They went into the trash before we left Japan, but the blue pair is hanging in there, although they’re not very comfortable anymore for any kind of distance walking. The two pairs of sandals I pack got/get lots of wear, but I think I wore the pair of clogs I took along all of three times, so they will be staying behind as well.

I did a bit of online shopping in Japan and after we got to Portland, and bought some new items (all on sale, some with deep discounts) that I like and am excited about wearing. I am very pleased with everything I purchased, and as hoped for they are more practical, fashionable, comfortable and easy to maintain. I’ll post about those items next week.

A Visit to Portland’s Chinese Garden

The entrance to the Lan Su Chinese Garden in NW Portland. The garden is like an oasis in the middle of several large office buildings and busy streets, but views of the buildings were considered and incorporated into garden views.

It was a walk down memory lane for Brett and I when we entered Portland’s Lan Su Chinese Garden this past Thursday. We made frequent trips to the garden when we lived here, both to visit and attend special events with the girls, to the point we purchased annual memberships for a couple of years. The classical Suzhou-style walled garden, which takes up a full city block, was designed by Kuang Zeng and constructed by 65 artisans from China, with completion and the garden opening in the fall of 2000. Over 500 tons of rock were brought over from China, including large scholar stones from Lake Tai, where the acid water of the lake carves stones into fantastical shapes. Located in NW Portland near the former Old Town Portland’s Chinatown, the Lan Su Chinese garden blends in among the modern buildings in the neighborhood. Suzhou is a sister city of Portland, and the name Lan Su means “Portland-Suzhou” as well as “Garden of the Awakening Orchids.”

A scholar stone from Lake Tai in China sit at the entrance to the garden.

Paths and courtyards through the garden are paved in designs created by Chinese pebbles inlaid on their sides.

The garden was carefully designed to express the elements and harmony of yin and yang, and can be enjoyed in any season or any weather. Spade-shaped drip tiles were installed so the sound of dripping water could be enjoyed while viewing the garden in the rain. The pointed tiles seen throughout the garden are decorated with five bats representing the “five blessings:” long life, good fortune, good health, a love of virtue and a painless death.

The spade-shaped tiles on the roof are drip tiles decorated with a design of five bats. The water running off them when it rains creates a pleasant sound.

Openings in the garden walls served as frames for the setting behind the wall, like viewing a painting. This view highlights a stone from Lake Tai, set in the back.

Lan Su Garden is made up of twelve vistas, each one expressing a separate element, with views designed to reflect nature’s harmony. Some of the views are from rooms that look out into the garden, such as the Reflections in Clear Ripples, the Scholar’s Study, or Hall of Brocade Clouds. Both interior and exterior doorways and windows throughout the garden frame views so that they appear like paintings that one can stop to admire and contemplate.

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Although it was rather chilly, and rain was imminent, we took our time walking through the garden. Besides the garden experience, Chinese-themed art works and prints were being sold (some from China), and there were also several other activities and displays throughout the garden, including a family altar with ancestor photos in one room and a chance to learn your fortune, Chinese style, in another. Although we didn’t go in, the two-story Tower of Cosmic Reflection contains a traditional Chinese tearoom, where one can sit and linger, enjoying views of the garden while sipping tea and nibbling on dumplings or other treats.

The Lan Su Chinese Garden is the largest Suzhou-style garden in the United States, and contains over 100 different types of plants, with 90% of them indigenous to China (the actual plants didn’t come from China but were found in nurseries and gardens in Oregon, both public and private). Some of the plants in the garden are over 100 years old. The garden experience is truly one for all the senses.

Many of the old restaurant signs remain in the Old Town neighborhood although the restaurants are now all gone, either closed or moved to SE Portland.

Located at NW 4th Avenue and Burnside Street is the Old Town Chinatown Gateway, dedicated in 1986.

After we left the garden, Brett and I walked around Old Town Chinatown, coming upon many of the restaurants where we had dined that are now shuttered and closed, with only their signs remaining. We could remember eating at almost everyone of them, whether it was for dinner out, dim sum on the weekend, a banquet benefiting the Immersion program or some other occasion. Some of the restaurants moved to SE Portland, but most are now only a memory. Although the neighborhood has improved somewhat and new businesses have moved in, we could tell Old Town has we retained its run down feel, but we never felt unsafe and were glad for the chance to visit again.