Thoughts on San Miguel de Allende

More than anything, I have loved the colors and flowers of San Miguel de Allende. It’s a feast for the eyes and senses every time we go out.

San Miguel de Allende was a shock to our systems after Hawaii. The heat, the altitude, and the dryness initially knocked the winds out of our sails and it took a few weeks to start feeling like ourselves and appreciating where we were. There have been plusses and minuses throughout our stay, but overall it’s been a positive one. Below are some of my thoughts on our time here:

  • Our apartment has been a nice place to stay, with our friendly neighbors an added bonus, but we eventually realized this was not how or where we would want to live if we were to move here. The hill we have to walk up to get to our apartment is a killer. Having a car here would expand the areas in the city we could live and we also figured out we’d prefer a house to an apartment, and we could afford that here.

Two big entrees and two drinks for $20 has been the norm here, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less. The quality of the food has always been outstanding.

  • The restaurant scene in San Miguel de Allende has been the highlight of our stay, and being able to eat out twice a week without breaking our budget has been a lot of fun and a big positive. There’s an amazing variety of restaurants in the city, all of them extremely affordable for what you get, and we have yet to not enjoy a delicious meal and great service at any one of them.
  • The number of expats we’ve encountered in the city has taken some getting used to. We’ve gone to restaurants where the entire clientele is expat, or walked down streets in Centro and seen and heard nothing but English. We pretty much hear nothing but English in the condo complex where we’re staying as well. After living and traveling overseas, the number of non-locals in the area has frankly been a bit hard to take at times and disconcerting as well, but full-time expats have offered lots of good advice and information, so there has been that side of it as well.
This is the road down from our apartment complex down to the main road. Walking on these has been such a discouraging way to begin any outing, or end one as well.
  • The cobblestones have driven me nuts and have kept both of us from walking as much as we had hoped. The stone roads can be beautiful and charming to look at, but an absolute terror to walk on or across and very uncomfortable. The cobblestones are in many places just rounded stones set into the roadbed with space between them – often it’s like walking on small rocks to cross a river bed. Some streets are worse than others but all have been difficult for me as I’m constantly afraid the next step I take is the one that’s going to send me tumbling. Thankfully there are sidewalks to use much of the time, but there’s no escaping the stones.
  • The cost of living has been the biggest draw for us and what would bring us back to live here. We knew things would cost less, but after living with Hawaii’s high prices for a few years the prices in San Miguel de Allende (one of the more expensive places in Mexico!) have been nothing less than a dream. The availability of goods, both food and otherwise, has also been a wonderful surprise. Anything we need or want can be found here and at low prices. Shops filled with affordable handmade Mexican goods have also been a delight and it’s been hard not to buy everything.
  • We never really gave SMA’s cultural offerings or expat activities a chance. We knew there were many things we could have attended or gotten involved with, but we just were not motivated to mingle with other expats, at least not on this visit.

All in all, we’ve enjoyed our time in San Miguel de Allende, and are glad we came. We were able to save quite a bit of money during our stay which will make a difference going forward and we’ve enjoyed the apartment we rented except for its lack of water pressure – taking a shower or washing dishes has been difficult and time consuming at times. The Mexican people we have interacted with have all been friendly, helpful, and kind, and I’m thankful for their efforts to understand my horrible Spanish and correct me when necessary. Our takeaway is that while we haven’t fallen in love with San Miguel de Allende we have fallen in love with Mexico and could see ourselves potentially living somewhere else here. Life in Mexico might require a bit more effort, whether that’s walking over cobblestones or up hills, remembering to wash and disinfect fruits and vegetables before eating, making sure there’s bottled water available for drinking and teeth brushing, etc. but overall the quality of life is very good. I’m pretty sure we’ll be back, even if just to visit again.

San Miguel de Allende: City of Fountains (Part 2)

Here are five more fountains that were discovered on our walks (one in the process of being cleaned and maintained). Although most were surprise discoveries, I had fun looking for them throughout the city whenever we went out, and leave knowing there are far more to still be discovered.

I’m particularly fond of the one in this batch with the water pouring from the jug into the waiting hand.

Could We Live Here?

Brett’s and my frame of mind right now.

“Could we live here?” is a game Brett and I have played in every place we’ve visited. Only twice has the answer has been in a heartbeat (most of the UK and Japan), but usually we give a location a lot more thought no matter how much we like it (places like Strasbourg or Bordeaux in France as well as Florence, Lisbon, and Buenos Aires), weighing the obvious negatives along with the positives (the negatives have so far always won). There have also been a few places we’ve known right away that we either couldn’t or didn’t want to live (India, Rome, London, and Sydney, although all were fun to visit).

We’ve been playing the game again during our stay in San Miguel de Allende, and now over halfway through our time here we’ve started debating whether this might be a place we could eventually settle down. The strongest reason for moving here is the low cost of living. We could, as I told Brett the other day, “live in the style we’ve always dreamed of being accustomed to” including having a beautifully furnished home with multiple bedrooms, a gourmet kitchen, a housekeeper (and gardener), and so forth all at a price that would be unaffordable in the U.S. This would also be a place I could continue to live well if Brett predeceases me, and his navy pension disappears.

There are negatives of course: the dry climate and heat, the language, and the distance from our kids being the primary ones. A couple of weeks ago you couldn’t have paid me to move here because of the hot, dry, dusty weather, but my feelings have been changing as things have cooled off. Just after we arrived I would have loved to live in the complex where we are now, but after seeing more of the city this place has moved down the list a bit. We love our apartment and the neighbors but know we could have much more, in a better location.

We could live in a purple house in SMA!

There are loads of positives to living full-time in San Miguel de Allende. Besides the low cost of living, there’s also world class affordable dining as well as good health and dental care. So far there’s nothing we use or want that we can’t find here. There are two international airports each about an hour’s drive away that can get us back to the U.S. and then on to our kids or international destinations. The city is home to a lively expat community and the ability to connect with others who share our interests (to be honest though, the number of expats who descend on the city every winter seems kind of overwhelming). There is art, culture, history, and classes galore from language to cooking.

It sounds like the perfect place for us except we feel absolutely no joy or potential excitement whatsoever about living here full time. None. It’s just not “us” and that’s the sticking point.

Brett and I have been nomads since we met in 1977. During our years when Brett was in the navy we learned how to make any location a home, how to overcome obstacles encountered, and make friends and create a good life. We’re heading to Nashville in just over a month but our time there, as with a military posting, will be temporary, and we’re already beginning to feel some pressure to figure out where we’ll go or what we’ll do after that. Traveling full time is still on the table, but Brett will be in his mid-70s, and I won’t be far behind, and settling down doesn’t sound as bad as it once did. We have much to decide and choices to make, and we want (and need) to get it right . . . stay tuned!

Brunch Every Friday: Rustica

Brett and I went to bed last Thursday night with every intention of having brunch the next morning at Lavanda, a small restaurant in Centro that specializes in coffee drinks but also serves wonderful food. Lavanda is currently rated the #1 place to have brunch in San Miguel de Allende, and I had been hearing and reading about it since we arrived two weeks ago. We were told there was a good chance we might have to stand in line to get a table because it’s become so popular.

We woke up early Friday morning to already warm temperatures, and knew the day was only going to get hotter. I felt beyond exhausted, like my eyelids were made of lead, and asked Brett if we could possibly postpone our trip to Lavanda and eat at a place closer to the apartment because I just couldn’t imagine walking into Centro. We made a quick decision to instead head down the hill and around the corner to dine at Rustica again, the little restaurant we ate at the morning after our arrival in SMA.

Rustica seems to be very well known, and a favorite of expats and visitors. All we have had to say is we live “just up the hill from Rustica” and we’re told we’re in a great location in the city. The restaurant was crowded when we arrived, but we were told there would only be a five to ten minute wait for a table and we were seated in less than three at a cozy, shaded, and cool table in the corner of back courtyard.

Rustica’s back courtyard is cool, shady, and relaxing.

Just like our first time there, the service was impeccable. Out came a big bottle of purified water, a couple of different hot sauces, and the drinks we ordered arrived soon after (iced tea for me, an Americano for Brett).

I dined on a delicious and filling vegan burrito this week, a big, crispy flour tortilla stuffed with tofu, soy chorizo, avocado, and beans and served with a creamy tofu sauce. Brett ordered the breakfast tacos, two fresh corn tortillas each filled with a fried egg, sautéed mushrooms, avocado, and beans. As with our brunch the week before, we left Rustica feeling full and satisfied, and didn’t feel hungry again until the evening. The total for this week’s brunch, including the tip, was $17.64.

We’re going to try for Lavanda this Friday. We stopped at their coffee bar last week for some refreshment, and I’d love to have another one of their lavender lattes and give their eggs Benedict a try. But for two tired diners last week, Rustica was the perfect spot.

RUSTICA is located at Salida a Celaya 34, Allende, 37700 San Miguel de Allende

Our Home In San Miguel de Allende

We somehow ended up with another beautiful view out our front door!

We’ve only been in San Miguel de Allende for a couple of days, but we are already in love with our apartment. Located in the Allende neighborhood, the apartment complex is a little slice of paradise tucked away in the city. We’re located just a short walk away from the center of SMA, and the streets that take us there are filled with everything we could possibly need. The only downside, if there is one, is that the complex is located up a hill. That means the walk down is easy, but a bit more difficult on the return, especially when carrying bags full of groceries or such. Our neighbors have already advised that we should walk into town but take a taxi to come back. We haven’t tried that yet, but it’s good advice.

Our apartment is located on the second level of the three-level complex. We have a open-plan living/dining/kitchen, a bedroom with a king-size bed and a big closet, a small bathroom with a shower, and a large hallway with extra storage. Like our living room on Kaua’i, the front door looks out onto nature, to a gorgeous central courtyard, complete with a fountain. It’s all very peaceful, and a wonderful place to relax and come home to.

The fireplace in the living room works, but is not for use by renters. The floors throughout the apartment are tiled – they help keep the place cool.

Another view of the living room from the dining table, looking back to the hallway and bedroom. The very comfortable sofa can be pulled out to make another king-size bed.

The dining area with the kitchen behind. The cabinet is full of cleaning supplies because once-a-week maid service is included in the rental (a surprise to us).

The well-equipped kitchen with the purified water jug front and center. We will probably use a bottle a week, with it delivered to our door when requested. The only downside here is we are still washing dishes by hand.

The hallway to the bedroom with its lovely built-in storage – Brett is keeping his clothes in three of the drawers. Our small bathroom is to the right.

The bedroom with its very comfortable king-size bed, big closet for our clothes and suitcases, and built-in corner desk which Brett immediately commandeered when we arrived.

I love everything about our apartment, but the courtyard may be the best thing about this place. Cool, colorful, peaceful, and filled with plants of all kinds, it’s a joy to have all of this right outside our door and to awaken each morning to birds singing outside. We also have delightful, friendly neighbors!

The No Good, Very Bad Travel Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then everything fell apart.

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

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

Traveling Full Time: Financial Matters

(photo credit: Jeremy Dorrough/Unsplash)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Many Things To Do Before We Go

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

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

January:

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

February:

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

March:

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

April:

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

May:

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

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

Traveling Frugally: Travel Hacking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Complicated

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

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

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

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

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

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