How We Did It

(This is an updated version of a previous post.) 

Some friends once asked us for a blueprint of how we set up our nomadic life, and how we sustained it. The first point we made was that we weren’t the first to do this nor would we be the last, and how we did it was definitely not the only way. We met other nomadic couples during our travels, and every one of them was doing long-term travel differently from us and funding it differently as well. Our inspiration came from Michael and Debbie Campbell, the original Senior Nomads, but everyone who has committed to a big travel adventure is doing what works for their energy level, bucket list, and budget.

Our full-time travel lifestyle started from a casual comment Brett made one day when we were trying to prioritize a list of travel destinations. We were still living on Kaua’i at the time, enjoying our life there (well, except for the humidity), but YaYu, our youngest, would heading off to college in a few months and Brett and I were eager to hit the road on our own and go somewhere we hadn’t been before. As we were discussing different locations, Brett said, “I wish we could see them all.” We both stopped immediately, looked at each other, and at the same time asked, “Could we do that?” We spent the next few weeks talking about the possibility of traveling full time and crunching numbers, and eventually figured out that by saving every extra penny we could, getting rid of almost everything we owned, and giving up our life in Hawai’i we could make a big travel dream happen.

Many people have assumed that because we traveled full time we must have a large retirement income but that wasn’t and isn’t true. We’re definitely not made of money (our income would probably surprise most people), but we’ve found it was possible to travel full time on our income as well as cover our expenses with careful planning, no debt other than my student loan, and an ability to stick to a budget. Our situation was somewhat unique in that we didn’t own a home when we began traveling and our daughters earned enough from work to supplement the scholarships and financial aid they were awarded and paid their own college expenses. Although the Senior Nomads were homeowners when they set out, they still initially sold all their stuff and rented their house while they traveled, and we could have done the same if we had still been homeowners. Because our income came/comes primarily from government pensions – Social Security and Brett’s military retirement (and a small pension from Brett’s last employment) – it was/is consistent from month to month which makes budgeting easier. All we had to do was figure out how to live off of that income while we traveled beyond covering travel expenses, a couple of fixed payments, and getting our college-aged children to and from places. We had/have no other extra income, no big investments to manage, no secret slush fund, and we didn’t take money from anything but our travel savings. Instead of paying for rent, utilities, gasoline, insurance, car repairs or home maintenance we used our income to cover airfare, Airbnb rentals and daily living expenses.

Our travel lifestyle worked from two different directions: 1) we carefully planned ahead and 2) we had a budget and stuck to it. For almost a year and a half before we set off on our Big Adventure, we saved as much as we could to cover as many up-front travel expenses as possible, like our train journey across Australia and our tour in India, and as many flights, Airbnb reservations and other expenses as we could. That got us started and we were able to sustain the rest of our lifestyle on what we received each month as we went along.

Planning ahead for where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do gave us plenty of time to find affordable flights and/or other transportation, and affordable Airbnb lodgings as well. Nothing was left to chance and there was very little to no spontaneity involved when it came to those big decisions. Once we committed, we were committed – there was no backing out or changing our minds, mainly because we would have lost quite a bit of money if we had. We also continued to put money away into our travel fund every month to cover transportation and lodging expenses ahead of time.

The only fixed bills we had each month were my student loan payment and our phone plan, deducted from our pay automatically each month. So, the amount we had in disposable income each month didn’t vary. That income covered lodging and long-distance transportation costs, groceries and (very) occasional dining out, local transportation, admissions, souvenirs, etc. Brett maintained a diary of all our spending every day to keep track of how we were doing and to let us know when we might need to cut back or tweak things a bit (he still does this every day). We had to adjust that amount and lower our daily spending average when we started putting money away to help YaYu graduate from college without any debt or at least with as little debt as possible. We were also fortunate that we have military healthcare which covers us worldwide. In fact, we learned that because we have military insurance we didn’t qualify for regular travel insurance! Our credit card benefits covered most of the other travel insurance items, such as canceled flights, lost luggage, etc.

We initially thought a year or so of full-time travel would be enough, and afterwards we’d be ready to settle down somewhere, but we found the longer we traveled, the more we wanted to continue. We had a much better time than we imagined, and learned things along the way to make the experience go more smoothly. For example, we discovered we preferred longer stays of at least a month in a location versus moving every few days or even every couple of weeks – we tried that and it was exhausting – and that longer stays usually provided a sometimes substantial discount for housing. We worked it out where we got together with each of our daughters a couple of times each year as well as spent time in Japan with our son and his family. We made the lifestyle work for us and not the other way around. While we are happy to be back on Kaua’i these days, in hindsight we realize we maybe should have fulfilled our stay in Japan, and then traveled on to Mexico and stayed put there as getting resettled on Kaua’i ended up costing us much more than expected. However, it’s been an extremely safe place to ride out the pandemic; the same probably could not have been said of Mexico.

There is no one-size-fits-all way to do long-term travel. How one accomplishes it or adapts to it is completely customizable according to one’s own circumstances, financial and otherwise. We flew from place to place, but have met others that were doing long-term road trips around the U.S. and Canada, staying in Airbnb rentals in the locations they visit. Some were pulling a trailer or driving an RV and camping. Other people we met were housesitting and others had kept their homes but did house swaps. The one thing everyone seemed to have in common was living within their means and living with minimal possessions, and prioritizing experiences rather than having things to show.

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. 

Although the lifestyle is not for everybody, if you’ve ever dreamt of trying out the nomadic life for a while, I firmly believe a way can be found to make it happen in a way that works for each person or couple or even family. All that’s needed is imagination and the courage to take the first step. Oh . . . and, no pandemics.

What I Did On My Winter Vacation

Travel planning has begun . . .

I had a very good time during my break doing some travel planning . . . for fun. I focused on a return to England, to the Cotswolds again, and sort of put together an itinerary, then looked for lodging, tours, and other things Brett and I would like to include on our next visit. I absolutely love travel planning, so this was a very enjoyable and relaxing way to spend (waste?) my time for several days.

We hope to do another three month stay in 2023, this time from August through October. Our last visit was September through November, and while September was lovely, by November we were pretty much confined to our cottage and unable to get out much for walks and such because of the weather. We think moving things forward by a month we’ll be able to enjoy better weather while still getting to enjoy the best of summer and fall.

YaYu and I spent an enjoyable amount of time last week pouring over the Character Cottages website, looking for an ideal cottage for our stay. Character Cottages is a booking agent for a large group of cottages in the Cotswolds (not property managers though); even if you find a cottage on another site, its rental is often still handled through Character Cottages. They have properties in many villages, and rentals in all sizes and price ranges. The cottages each have at least one of what the firm calls a “character feature,” which could be anything from the architecture to a stone fireplace or inglenook in the living room. 

Choosing a location took some time, but after some discussion Brett and I decided we’d like to return to Blockley or very nearby, for a variety of reasons, most especially location and familiarity. YaYu and I did most of our searching among those properties. Must-haves included two bedrooms (all three of the girls have said if we go back to England they are coming to visit); a full kitchen with a dishwasher; a washer/dryer; and convenient parking as we plan to rent a car on our next visit. I also wanted a gas fireplace (easy to turn on and off, and they do a better job of warming a room). In the end we came up with three potential cottages that had everything we wanted this time, at prices we felt we could afford. I’m not going to order them, because we like all three, but one is our top choice. I would love to know how you would rank these (you can click on the link under the picture for more information)!

 

Primrose Cottage

Brook Cottage

Green Cottage

Although we did used public transportation during our last visit and managed well with that, we decided we’d rather have a car this next time, so I also investigated long-term car rentals. At first we thought we’d get ourselves to Oxford from either Heathrow or Gatwick (preferred) to save some money, but eventually figured out that logistically and cost-wise, it made more sense to pick up a car at either one of those airports and drive the little over two and a half hours to our destination. This is what we did in New Zealand, and it worked out well. We can reserve a rental through Costco at either airport.

Bourton-on-the-Water is one of the stops on the tours. We missed getting to visit here back in 2019.

Finally, Brett and I still want to do a long hike while we are there, and initially thought we would fit in a Cotswold Way walking tour into our stay. One evening when I was canoodling around though, I discovered this Cotswold Cooking & Culinary tour, and after doing a bit more investigation and sharing with Brett, we decided we’d rather do this! So, somewhere in the middle of our stay, we want to hit the trail (footpath) and eat our way through the region for eight days (hopefully walking off the calories).

Since this trip is currently over two and half years away, all I did this time was take notes, and get a general idea of how much we’ll have to save (including airfare) to make this dream a reality. None of it may come to fruition in the end (cottages not available, hosts might not want to do a long-term rental, etc.) But, the planning was a whole lot of fun, I learned a lot, and we more definite than ever about returning to England in 2023!

A Year Without Travel

We have no plans to go anywhere in 2021. Nothing, nada, zip. It will be our first year without travel since I don’t when. 

While it makes me sad to think about that, I’m someone who likes to make lemonade from lemons, so while it may be a year without travel, it will be a year for saving, making plans for the future, and getting ourselves in the best shape possible for traveling in 2022 and beyond.

Here’s how we’re going to spend the coming year:

#1: A Year for Saving

  • Next year will be our year of pretty much buying nothing, and saving as much as we possibly can. We’ve set a big goal for ourselves in this regard: adding an additional $8,000 to our 2020 travel savings total by the end of the year. We are going to increase our monthly automatic allotment to the travel account beginning January 1, and then throw everything else we can into the account whenever possible. We spent this last year getting ourselves resettled on Kaua’i, but that’s been accomplished and we now can turn our focus to future travels. We have only two purchases planned for next year: a good recumbent bicycle for cross training, and a new pair of walking shoes for me. I think I can get to the middle of the year before needing the shoes, and they will be a transitional pair until I get trail shoes in 2022 to wear on our big walk in Japan. We’re also planning to do something special for YaYu’s 21st birthday since she’ll be here with us, but have not made any plans for that yet. Not sure exactly when we’ll be getting the bike, but we have one picked out and when we’re ready to segue into training mode we’ll order it. Otherwise, we plan to buy nothing new next year except for food, toiletries, and household supplies, and renewing our passports.

#2: A Year for Planning

  • Although our travel plans for 2022 are pretty well set at this point (YaYu’s graduation in May, then Japan in September & October, ending with an 11-day walk on the Nakasendō from Kyoto to Tokyo), we are beginning to flesh out travel plans for 2023 through 2025. In 2023, besides a one-month visit to Japan in the spring, we’d like to return to England for three months, stay in the Cotswolds again, and concentrate on walks in the area including a full-length Cotswolds Way walking tour. Ideas for the two years after that (2024 and 2025): a spring visit to Japan, and then one year we’d either like to take a three-month late-summer, early fall trip again to Europe, with one-month stays in Denmark, the Netherlands, and London (which we didn’t get to see much of last time), or go back to Strasbourg for two months, but for the purpose of studying French, and then follow up that stay with a one-month visit to another city in France where we can use what we’ve learned. We fell in love with France during our 40 days there in 2018, particularly with Strasbourg, and thought this would be an interesting way to not only go back but engage more with the country and people there. We’d also like to do another rail journey in Australia, but that’s way out there for now. These BIG plans for the next few years are just ideas at this point, but we already know it will take lots of planning and saving to make any and all of them happen, and we will definitely have the time this year to start putting things into place to turn dreams into goals and then make them happen. In 2025 Brett will be 75, I will be 73, and at that point we’ll reassess how much and what kind of traveling we want to continue to do at that point.

#3: A Year for Training & Staying Healthy

  • It goes without saying that good health is our primary goal in 2021, but beyond that Brett and I will continue to get in shape to successfully complete the long walking tour in Japan we’ve planned for the fall of 2022. We’re off to a good start, but still have a ways to go. This past year we’ve been walking for exercise; that is, we’ve been walking at a fast clip with a primary goal of losing weight. Next year the goal will change over to walking for endurance. Walking tours move at a slower pace than we walk now, but the length of walking time is much greater so we’ll be focusing on walking for longer times, and to that end we will put ourselves on a training schedule to get into top shape. I’ll have more up about that later, but it will involve cross training and strength training as walking. We will continue with our annual doctor’s visits and testing, maintain our current way of eating, and practice other healthy behaviors to ensure we finish 2021 where we want to be.

So, although we won’t be traveling next year, we will have plenty on our plates, and much to do to get ourselves ready for the future. We’re very motivated to make 2021 a great year for both us, all while continuing to enjoy our laid-back life on Kaua’i. We have much to be grateful for, but there’s nothing like a few goals to keep us motivated and looking forward, and we’re ready to get going!

The Idea (Wo)man

This past week I told Brett I had come up with yet another travel idea, possibly for 2023. His initial reaction when I asked him if he was interested was, “I don’t think I want to hear about this.” I told him it was just an idea, but that it was right up our alley, and scratched a lot of itches for both of us. I got no comment back so did a couple more days of research, and then asked again if he wanted to hear the idea, and the second time he agreed. Surprise, surprise, he loved it, is completely on board, and has even sat with me since then to look at a few things online. We now have another bit of travel simmering on the back burner! I know three years is out there, but I see it as a positive, with lots of time to save and firm things up and see if we can make it happen.

I wrote the post below in June of 2015, right after Brett and I had started talking about future travel ideas once YaYu headed off to college. It’s all still the same.

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I’m to blame. I am the one who comes up with all these ideas for travel.

But that’s pretty much all I do on my own . . . come up with an idea. Then it’s tossed over to Brett to see what he thinks. And, if he likes the idea, from there on we work as a team.

Brett has only actually said “no” to me once in our marriage. He knows I’m just stubborn enough that if he said “no” to one of my ideas I would probably go ahead and figure out a way to do it anyway. Usually his answer to an idea that he’s not crazy about is something along the lines of “let’s think about it.” I know when I hear this that he doesn’t particularly care for the idea, and that he wants me to think about it some more on my own and see if I’m actually serious or willing to commit myself. He knows that when I do think it through a bit more thoroughly I’ll often see that it’s really not such a good idea nor feasible. The idea gets dropped without any further discussion, argument or bad feelings.

If he does like an idea of mine or think it’s worth pursuing, he’ll throw back some question, or even start talking about it like it’s already been decided. I’ll never forget when I first brought up the idea of adoption. I heard about China adoptions one day from one of my college professors, but told her that while I could adopt without a second thought there was absolutely no way my husband would ever agree. Our son was 16, and both Brett and I were students at the time and barely scraping by. That evening though I mentioned to Brett what I had heard about adopting from China, expecting to hear the familiar “let’s think about it.” Instead, he got a gleam in his eye and soon we were talking about what it would be like to add a child to our family. We started setting goals that evening, and a little over two years later, Brett had a good job, we had bought a house, and we had brought our first daughter home from China!

We were both intrigued by the story of the Senior Nomads, who have been traveling around Europe for the past two years, staying in Airbnb rentals. I read about them first, which got me dreaming, and then I got Brett to read the article about them in the New York Times and then some of their blog. When he finished I said I thought we could do something like that once our girls had all left the nest.

I was honestly surprised that his response wasn’t an immediate “no” or even “let’s think about it.” Brett started out by saying he didn’t want to leave Kaua’i, and I agreed. We love it here. We then started talking about how much we wanted to go to Japan and spend time with our son and his family. But we kept talking about traveling, places we wanted to see, what we could afford, and gradually we came up with our goal of spending three months in Japan and two months in Europe or elsewhere each year, with the rest of our time on Kaua’i.

Besides being the idea woman, I’m also the planner. Although we work together to firm up our goals, all the nuts and bolts (finances, lodging, airfare, etc.) of actually making things happen are up to me, which is fine because I thoroughly enjoy doing it and Brett doesn’t. I love doing all the research that comes ahead of traveling, of setting down that solid foundation that our travel experiences will be based on. As ideas pop up along the way I’ll throw them out to Brett though. I know one way or the other we’ll either start talking about the idea or I’ll hear, “let’s think about that.”

26 Travel Questions: The Home Edition

I first wrote out these questions/answers in 2017, before we began our Big Adventure. When I came across them again last week I was surprised both by what had changed and what had remained constant after two years of traveling. I did update – those things are in italic.

Here we go!

  1. Which do you prefer: tours or independent travel? I have nothing against tours, or organized travel, but I still prefer doing it on my own. There are travels/places though where I would definitely book a tour (like a photo safari in Africa). We had a wonderful time on our tour in India, and saw and did things we would have never been able to otherwise, and enjoyed our train journey across Australia. I would consider taking a tour again, depending on the location, services provided, and the cost.
  2. What’s the first thing you check out when you reach your destination? I scout out where I can get a good cup of coffee, hopefully without having to go to Starbucks.
  3. What’s something sort of ordinary you like to do at your destination? I love to check out local supermarkets, mini marts, etc. It’s interesting to see what food costs, what stores carry, how they’re the same or different from our local stores or American stores in general if we’re overseas. It’s also an interesting way to get a glimpse of the local culture. I also love to visit bakeries.
  4. Street food: Yea or nay? I mostly say yes to street food, although I check it out pretty carefully before eating. I’ve eaten some amazing things from food stands and carts (and had a few losers too).
  5. What’s your ideal travel breakfast? Ideally it would be yogurt, fresh fruit and a little granola, but I’ll eat anything as long as it’s not too heavy. However, if I see Eggs Benedict on the menu I’m going to order it.
  6. What’s your favorite road food? I prefer to eat at local restaurants versus chains if at all possible. Thankfully there are lots of different ways to find those local places these days. Favorite food? It used to be a good hamburger or sandwich for lunch, or something like chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy for dinner. These days I eat lighter, or share with Brett, and we like to try local specialties. I prefer to fix my own meals most of the time as well. It doesn’t help that I can’t eat salad.
  7. What’s the most important thing you pack in your suitcase? Along with a desire for adventure and a sense of wonder, it’s a comfortable pair of walking shoes.
  8. Do you roll or fold your clothes when you pack? I do a little of both. I prefer rolling, but have a couple of items that just don’t want to roll.
  9. What do you pack in your carry-on? I used to only travel with a carry-on, so everything I needed for the trip went in. When we were checking our bags during the Big Adventure my carry-on had a change of clothes (and a couple of changes of underwear), basic toiletries, electronics, important paperwork and snacks.
  10. Which do you prefer: tote bag or backpack? I definitely prefer carrying a tote bag if at all possible when we travel. Brett prefers a back pack though, so we’re able to switch things around between us so that we can carry everything where it makes sense. I tried carrying a backpack on our Big Adventure, but eventually went back to a tote bag as it was more comfortable.
  11. What’s most important when you’re planning travel, transportation, lodging, food, or sightseeing? They all play such different roles, but lodging is probably the most important in my opinion. Even if we don’t spend a lot of time there, without a clean, safe place to sleep and bathe the rest of the trip can fall flat.
  12. In your opinion, what are the three most important phrases to know in a foreign language? 1) Thank you; 2) Excuse meI’m sorry; 3) please. After that you can add I don’t understandwhere’s the bathroom?how much? and so forth. The “magic words” in English are just as important elsewhere else as they are here.
  13. What have you noticed most about Americans when you travel overseas? We can be very loud, we’re sadly often overweight (me included), and we can be annoyingly condescending at times. We can also be very friendly and helpful. I found all of these to still be true during the Big Adventure.
  14. What are your least favorite ways to travel? Neither Brett nor I have ever had any desire to pull a trailer or drive an RV – it’s just not our thing. I have nothing against cruises either, but there are other things I’d rather do than float around on a ship (and for the record, I have been on a cruise – once was enough for me). Brett once said he’d like to see what it’s like to take a cruise and not have to work 20 hours a day, but these days a cruise is not appealing in the least.
  15. If you have a choice, which would you prefer, a road trip or a flight? It really depends on how much time we have. We’ve taken some great road trips, and enjoyed them, but if time is limited, or I want more time at my destination, I’m going to book a flight.
  16. Which do you prefer: aisle, middle or window seat? If it’s a long flight, I prefer a window seat – it’s easier to find a good sleeping position. Depending on who else is in my row, I’m also OK with a middle seat. With an aisle seat I find I get bumped by people walking down the aisle, and someone has to step over me to get to the bathroom.
  17. What are your favorite in-flight activities? I like watching movies, doing sudoku puzzles, and sleeping (which I’m getting better at). I’ve tried to read, but have always ended up feeling sick.
  18. Which is your favorite airport? I love our little airport here in Lihue. When I go through it  I’m either going on a trip, or I’m home. My least favorite airports are now Madrid and Bordeaux.
  19. Do you ever purchase travel insurance? We have purchased insurance a couple of times, on trips where we’ve spent a lot of money, but we’ve thankfully never really needed it. These days our main travel credit card covers many travel-related items like delayed flights, lost luggage, etc. Our health insurance covers us anywhere in the world, so we only need to get insurance to cover the things we’ve paid for, like flights and lodging.
  20. What’s your favorite travel-day outfit? It depends on which time of year I’m traveling, or where we’re going, but usually a pair of L.L. Bean’s Perfect Fit Pants, a light sweatshirt-type of top (to keep me warm on the plane), and shoes I can easily slip off for security and during the flight. If I’m going somewhere hot I’ll wear linen pants and a light shirt, flip-flops, and carry a light sweater for the plane. Wrinkled linen is OK.
  21. What are your favorite travel day snacks? They used to be granola bars, Chex Mix, good chocolate, and water. These days I take along nuts, beef jerky, good chocolate, and water. I usually don’t drink alcohol when I fly, and besides water I like Diet Coke or Bloody Mary mixer.
  22. How many states have your visited in the U.S.? I have visited 48 states – I haven’t been to Montana or Alaska.
  23. How many national parks have you visited? I’ve visited twenty, from Acadia to Zion, and I’ve stayed at both rims of the Grand Canyon. There are still a lot more parks I want to see though.
  24. What are your favorite national parks? Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and Zion are my top three. Bryce Canyon and Crater Lake are right up there as well.
  25. How many foreign countries have you visited? Before our Big Adventure, just six: Canada, Mexico, China, Hong Kong (when it was a British colony), Taiwan and of course, Japan. We visited or stayed in 12 additional countries on our travels: Argentina, Uruguay, France, Italy, the Vatican, Portugal, Spain, England, Scotland, India, Australia, and New Zealand (we counted any country where we left the airport, stayed overnight, and had to exchange money).
  26. Who is your favorite travel companion? All of our children have always been fun travel companions, and I’ve taken some great trips with friends, but of course Brett is my favorite. He’s my best friend, we always have lots to talk about and almost always want to do and see the same things when we go somewhere. We did a good job on the Big Adventure of dividing travel responsibilities – Brett was the logistics and budget manager, and served as Head Sherpa, while I was in charge of planning, lodging, and anything food-related.

Can you think of any more questions? And, I’d love to hear your answers to all or just some of the questions!

What Were You Doing a Year Ago?

Sometimes these days, in the last few minutes of the morning before I open my eyes to face the day, I lay in bed and try to remember what we were doing a year ago, in the Before-Covid times.

Although I know we were in England at this time last year, I could only guess what we were doing. We had spoken with YaYu yesterday, and she had mentioned that she should be on her fall break this week, but instead was taking midterms. Last year she came to spend the week with us in England, so that’s what I assumed was happening a year ago. But when I checked it turned out that time was yet to come, and on this day one year ago we had just returned from our three-day getaway to Edinburgh!

October 6, 2019 was a Sunday, so the post below was a Sunday Morning one. What happy memories we made!  It was fun and nostalgic to read through the Sunday post and think about all we experienced back then, from our travel to what we were eating, courtesy of the Aldi store in Moreton-in-Marsh. I’m someone who almost always looks forward, and rarely dwells on the past, but these days I find looking back to be comforting. I am happy and grateful to be where we are now, and know this crazy year will eventually pass, but I also don’t believe things will ever return to what they were, and it’s helpful to remember better times and all that we did and were able to do as we find our new way. We’ve had a blessed life.

My Sunday post from 10/6/2019: Week 5 in the UK

Looking out over the Old Town to Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags (in Holyrood Park) from Edinburgh Castle.

While we had a great time in Edinburgh this past week, we are also glad to be home again in our little village and in our cozy cottage. We stayed busy the entire time we were away, but the rides up and back, while beautiful, were long and tiring. The trip up to Scotland went according to schedule, but although we left Edinburgh on time Friday morning and arrived at our first stop in London on time, after that things fell apart. It turned out our ride from Gatwick out to Moreton was scheduled for 20 minutes before our train even left St. Pancras for Gatwick Station (I blame myself for not checking the timing better)! Then, to add to the turmoil, trains from St. Pancras station to Gatwick were not running on schedule anyway, with five trains already canceled. We were able to get on a train at 3:05 with hopes of getting to Gatwick in time to catch a 4:00 train to Reading (where we transferred to get to Moreton) but the train from St. Pancras quite literally poked along and we got into Gatwick at 4:25. We finally caught the 5:00 which got us into Moreton at 8:00 p.m., where a lovely young couple at the Moreton station offered to share their cab with us as Blockley was on their way. We were back in the cottage by 8:30 although feeling completely wiped out at that point. We spent yesterday doing laundry, reading, and resting and will continue the reading and resting today as we’re both still feeling a little tired.

This was the view from behind our apartment building – Edinburgh Castle was only a 10-minute walk away. All those clouds were almost blown away by the wind by the time we got up to the castle entrance. We were fascinated by all the chimneys everywhere – apparently back in the day every apartment (tenement) had its own fireplace (or two).

We enjoyed absolutely beautiful weather for our first two days in Edinburgh but woke up to a steep drop in the temperature, strong winds and cloudy skies on our third day (but thankfully no rain). Rain arrived on Friday morning but for some reason let up just when it was time for us to walk over to the station to catch our train, thank goodness. It’s colder here in Blockley now as well – we’ve got the heat on and the gas fireplace going in the cottage to keep us warm. Fall has definitely arrived.

We’ll be heading back up to London (Heathrow) on Friday afternoon – we’re spending the night there so we can meet YaYu’s plane early Saturday morning (before 7:00 a.m.). We plan to drop off our bags at our Airbnb in the morning and then head into the city for the day, or at least for as long as YaYu can handle being up. We’re doing a walking tour of Notting Hill early Saturday afternoon and a morning tour at Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard on Monday, but otherwise our time will be our own to fill and we’ll go along with what YaYu wants to see and do. On Tuesday we’ll come back to Blockley for a couple of days, and then go back to Oxford on Friday and spend the night there, putting YaYu on the bus to Heathrow for her flight back to the U.S. late Saturday morning. We’re thinking of going down to Bourton-on-the-Water for the day when we’re back here in the Cotswolds, but will have to see how we feel – we may just want to rest again and only do some walks around Blockley. Whatever happens, it’s going to be another busy week.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finally finished Middle England, but after we got back because I was too exhausted to read while we were away. I’ve just started Resurrection Men because I wanted to read something about Edinburgh and nobody does it better than Ian Rankin. He makes the city as much of a character as any of the people in his books.
  • Listening to: It is peacefully quiet here this morning both inside and out. Yesterday morning the church bells rang for over three hours! It was fun listening knowing how it was done and who was doing the ringing. It also rained quite a bit and the washer and dryer ran all day.
  • Watching: We didn’t watch any TV while we were in Edinburgh, but we did watch The Descendents on our last night there (the DVD was available in the apartment). We traditionally watch it on Thanksgiving, but missed it last year and will again this year, so we thought we should catch it while we could. It sure made us homesick for Kaua’i – can’t wait to be there again in January. I watched an episode of Endeavour on TV here last night but that’s it.
  • Cooking: We’ll be having leftover meatloaf tonight along with vegetable soup made from several odds and odds of vegetables that I want to use up before we go shopping tomorrow. This week we’ll be having chicken and vegetable stir-fry; chicken vegetable soup; meatballs with marinara; lamb burgers with roasted vegetables; tuna melts; and breakfast for dinner with eggs, sausages, and sauteed apples. YaYu doesn’t eat meat anymore so we’re also going to look for some vegetarian things to have on hand when she’s here at the cottage.
    After three busy days in Edinburgh, we were already tired when we started the long journey back to Blockley. But we were happy – we’d had a great visit!

     

    The scenery along the way going and coming back was beautiful, but it was especially thrilling to pass along the North Sea as we got close to Edinburgh.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: The train journey to and from Edinburgh was an effort and an accomplishment as each way involved four different train changes and getting through three rather large stations (including crossing the street to get from St. Pancras to King’s Cross). We also got stuck in rush hour traffic in London on our way back on Friday which kept things a bit more challenging. We made it to each of our four Edinburgh tours on time, a feat considering we had to figure out how to maneuver through a city we didn’t know very well at the time. We walked a minimum of three miles each day, and one day walked over six miles. Last Sunday evening, before we left I booked an Airbnb in Massachusetts for our stay for YaYu’s graduation, and another in Maine for a visit there afterward. We’re going to spend one night in Vermont or New Hampshire in between but haven’t chosen where yet. Laundry day yesterday was an accomplishment – it took over 10 hours to get everything done and put away (because the washer is very small and it takes nearly two hours for one load to run).
  • Looking forward to next week: We’re very excited about YaYu’s arrival next weekend and getting to visit London and Oxford with her, as well as showing her around our village. It was exciting seeing things like the Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the London Eye as our trains passed through London, knowing we’d be there soon. If it doesn’t rain this week we’re hoping to ride the bus over to the village of Broad Campden and then walk back to Blockley (around three miles).
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Everything went better than expected on our getaway. We had absolutely gorgeous weather for the first two days we were there as well, and the rain held off our entire visit and our walk over to the train station on Friday morning when we left (it was raining when we arrived on Monday, but we took a cab to our Airbnb). Even though we missed our original train home to Moreton, we were able to use our tickets for a later train at no extra cost.

     

    Chicken and mushroom pie for lunch at the Mitre pub on Edinburgh’s High Street. It came with vegetables, mashed potatoes, and gravy and kept me full the rest of the day . . . all for $14.75.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We took a bag of food up with us up to Edinburgh, and the apartment was stocked with yogurt (for me) and oatmeal (for Brett) which helped us keep our food costs down. We went out to dinner the night we arrived (which provided leftovers for the next day), and then had lunch out each day at a pub, where the meals were large and reasonably priced, and then ate leftovers or the things we brought at night. Other than taking the taxi from the train station when we arrived, we walked everywhere while we were in Edinburgh. We did buy some souvenirs but discussed those ahead of time so we weren’t tempted to make impulse purchases.

     

    Brett and I got ourselves a cashmere scarf, and we also bought a bottle of Edinburgh gin – we got a discount on it at their shop because we took a tour of the distillery (and because it’s delicious), and got a discount on the scarves because we bought two.
  • Grateful for: Once again, some very kind strangers stepped up to help us get back to Blockley when we were otherwise stranded. We were thinking we were going to have to walk into Moreton from the station when we arrived (in the cold and dark) and go to a hotel to call a taxi, but a young couple from London who arrived at the same time offered to share their ride with us as Blockley was on the way to their destination. We were extremely tired at that point and their kindness made a huge difference after a long day.
  • Bonus question: Did you eat haggis in Scotland? NO! I had absolutely no desire to give it a try before we went or while we were there and that still holds. We did get to sample a “wee dram” of whiskey on one of our tours and I was reminded once again of why I don’t drink whiskey and prefer gin instead. We did have some lovely pub meals, including incredible meat pies in one place. I’ve never had such a wonderful, flaky crust in my life and the filling (chicken and mushroom) was divine. We tried a can of IrnBru (Scotland’s soft drink) while we were there – it was tasty – and ate some authentic Scottish shortbread. I thought Walkers shortbread was pretty good until we visited a shop and tasted some that just melted in our mouths and were less sweet too – so delicious! I’ve been spoiled for life.

One thing Brett and I both realized on this trip is that although we are healthy, and in pretty good shape, we do tire more easily these days and couldn’t have sustained the pace we kept for much longer than the three days we were there. Our visit reinforced why we enjoy being able to stay in one place for a while and keep a less hectic schedule. Our time with YaYu will most likely be just as busy, but after that we know we can slow down again and not have to work so hard. We’re wondering now if we really want to do a full week’s driving tour down to Cornwall, and think maybe we might go down by train for a couple of nights instead.

Still Free: Dreaming and Planning

As much as I am enjoying our current life on Kaua’i, I also honestly miss traveling. I miss the rush of being somewhere different, somewhere new, and both exercising the skills we had along with learning new ones as well. While I enjoyed sightseeing, I also loved learning more about the places and locations where we spent time, from shopping at local markets to turning down an alleyway to see where it went to talking to locals whenever possible. Although travels days involved a lot of effort and were always very tiring, it was always exciting to be going someplace different, knowing we were going to spend time in a place we had only dreamed of before.

So, what’s a travelaholic like me supposed to do when going anywhere is out of the question for at least for another 18 or so months?

In my case, it’s time to turn to the research and planning stage of travel which, right up next to actual travel, is one of my most favorite things to do. And, it’s a great time to dream about travel as well.

Brett and I have decided on a destination for our first trip off the island, a visit to Japan to spend a month in Tokyo near our son and family followed by an 11-day, 10-night walking tour of the ancient Nakasendo Way, from Kyoto to Tokyo. Planning and researching the Tokyo part is fairly easy except that this next time we’d like to stay in a different place than we did for our last two visits, and it’s anyone’s guess what airfares to Japan and back will be like at that point as well. We’re also keeping a running list of other dream trips we’d like to do in the future, including touring SE Asia and going back to New Zealand and Australia.

The Nakasendo walking tour has added a whole new level to planning. We already have plenty of travel clothes, but putting together an 11-day walking wardrobe, along with gear and supplies needed, is going to require some advance planning, and Brett and I have already started to work on that. For example, both of us are going to need new trail shoes before we go. I am currently walking in the ones I bought in 2019, when we were in Portland, but they’re going to wear out before we go so I’ve been reading advice about which sort of new ones might be best for long-distance walking and figuring out how much they might cost. Brett’s walking shoes are already on their last leg, so this is something that will be coming up soon for him. Then there are other items we’ll need to get, like clothes for layering, some of which we have, some of which we don’t. We’re going to need rain gear and rain hats, wool socks, comfortable hiking pants, and more. Then there’s the specialized gear we’ll also need, like walking poles, moleskin patches for blisters, water bottles, and so on. Thankfully we already have daypacks.

So, while we can’t go anywhere right now, we’re making up a list of what we already have and we’ll need to acquire before we go and then will move on to figuring out when and where to purchase those items. Several things will make great holiday, birthday, and anniversary gifts between now and when we go, but other things we’ll have to choose on our own (a question now, for me for example, is do I want to wear hiking pants or leggings – both have advantages and disadvantages). This task of figuring out what we’ll need is both fun and motivating, we’re learning a lot, and it gives us yet another goal to work towards. In the meantime, we’re having fun, gathering important information, getting in some good conversations, and working on getting physically ready to go.

Dreaming and planning for travel are free, all the better for spending time instead of money on going somewhere isn’t possible. We’re using this time to focus on our savings, and figure out what and how much we’ll need to take our next journey up a notch, all without spending a fortune and getting only what we need. The planning stage is what makes things come off without a hitch, or at least gives us a better chance of that happening, so we can enjoy our destination more, and without unnecessary worry.

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.