Take It To the Limit

We all have our limits. While several things we’ve run across on our adventure have been annoying at times there are other things that have passed beyond merely annoying to outright frustrating or “avoid if at all possible.”

While this path may look somewhat smooth I can assure you it’s not. I have to be careful with every step I take so I don’t fall, creating extra work and strain on my muscles and joints. Smaller cobblestones are even worse.

For example, I have reached my limit with walking on stones or cobblestones, or at least my right hip has. Our wonderful Thanksgiving Day tour of the Colosseum, Palantine Hill, and the Roman Forum had us walking on ancient stone roads for nearly five hours, and the bursitis in my right hip has finally screamed “enough!”

Stones or smaller cobblestones have become the one thing I have come to dread. Because of a past left knee fracture I have to be especially careful about falling again, and in being careful on stone streets I’ve ended up putting lots of extra strain on my right hip. I did fall while I was in Florence because of a cobblestone (thankfully without injury), and while stone streets couldn’t be avoided there I learned which streets or sidewalks were the smoothest, and had the time to rest between outings so as not to aggravate my hip. I left Florence in good shape. All that went out the window on our Colosseum tour, and the bursitis is now at a near-crippling level. We have another two weeks to go in Europe too, so I see a big, fat cortisone shot in my future upon our return to the U.S., but in the meantime it is affecting how much and how long I can walk and what we can see and do in Rome. If I can be grateful for anything it’s that I am not suffering from arthritis, and won’t need a hip replacement. Bursitis is pretty awful though.

A huge tour group of more than 50 in Strasbourg (from a Viking cruise).

Both Brett and I have reached our limit with large tour groups. We have met many wonderful travelers from all over on our adventure and had some great conversations as well as picked up some good tips, and for the most part people from all over are considerate and accommodating, but tour groups have been something else to behold at times no matter their nationality. We’ve run into some with up to 50 people who can fill a square or take over a prime viewing spot in a matter of moments. Since a tour group’s time in any one location is usually quite limited, some members feel no compunction about pushing others out of their way or going in front of even though other visitors have been patiently waiting their turn to view a painting or take in a view. Brett has had his fill with some of the leaders of these large groups too, who are usually polite but then make sure to position their group right where he’s been waiting to take a photo or view something up close. According to him, it’s happened one too many times, most recently yesterday in St. Peter’s Basilica. Mostly though our experience with other tourists and visitors has been very positive, but these big groups have been another thing entirely. (Full disclosure: we were in one big group ourselves, on the wine tour to St. Emilion in France. There were around 40 in our group and while the guide was delightful we were miserable being part of a crowd, and were happiest when the guide let us wander off on our own and gave us a time to meet back at the bus.)

We entered the “time for a haircut” stage soon after we left Switzerland.

Finally, both Brett and I are in desperate need of a haircut, and are way past our limit of where we like to be with this. Brett’s hair is downright shaggy now, and I once again am sporting what I call my “old lady pouf” and want to scream every time I look in the mirror or try to do something with it especially since I am also down to my last drops of styling cream. We both regret not getting our hair cut when we were in Florence, but neither of us could pull the trigger – there was something a bit frightening about not being able to communicate with a barber or stylist in English.

All in all though everything is continuing to go well and we are having a good time, hip pain, head colds and all. But we do have our limits and in a few cases we have reached them. It feels like it’s time to go “home” for a while and we will be doing just that in another two weeks.

Cinque Terre Getaway: A Dream Come True

Manarola behind us – the hotel we stayed in is to the left, in the very topmost row of buildings! I almost can’t believe we hiked all the way up there!

A visit to the Cinque Terre had been on my bucket list for years. I’m not entirely sure when I first learned about these five small villages on the Ligurian coast of Italy – maybe a Rick Steves show? – but from that first moment I wanted to go.

These past two days my dream came true.

We were originally scheduled to go to the Cinque Terre last week, but after some bad storms and flooding we were warned to wait and go a bit later. After looking at the weather forecast we picked November 9 & 10 as the two days with the best weather we could hope for, and were thankfully allowed to change our train tickets for free to the new date. There was still a possibility of rain showers on the new dates, but nothing we felt we couldn’t deal with.

The train ride from Florence yesterday morning took around three hours because it turned out the train stopped at literally every station on the way to the Cinque Terre. One of the stops though was Carrara, where the fine, pure white marble that Michelangelo used came from, and is still being quarried today. We at first thought the white on the side of the mountains was snow until we realized that what we were seeing was marble.

Our first view of the Mediterranean Sea, from the Riomaggiore Station.

Both Brett and I gasped like children when we finally stopped in Riomaggiore and got our first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea. We hadn’t realized until then how much we had missed seeing the ocean. Even with cloudy skies the water was a beautiful shade of blue that reminded us of Hawai’i.

The dangerous condition of the trail between Manarola and Corniglia is visible; a short way along to the north the entire trail was missing. We were happy to use the trains on our visit.

We purchased our Cinque Terre park passes in Riomaggiore, the southernmost of the five villages, and then hopped on the next train for Monterosso, the most northern village of the five. The passes allowed us to get off and on the trains at our own pace, a good thing as all the hiking trails through the Cinque Terre were closed due to storm damage. Our plan was to grab some lunch in Monterosso and then walk around for a bit, then go to the next village, Vernazza, and finally head to Manarola, where we we had a hotel reservation for the night.

The beach at Monterosso, like everything else, was deserted. In spite of the clouds, the sea was still a beautiful shade of turquoise.

Entering Monterosso was like entering a ghost town. It’s a true beach town, and the season had officially ended on November 1, so houses and stores were shuttered, restaurants were closed, and there were almost no people anywhere. We were hungry and eventually found one open restaurant and had a pretty nice lunch – fish-stuffed squid ink ravioli with shrimp for Brett, and a grilled vegetable pizza for me. It was also kind of sad though because we were the only diners in the restaurant.

Vernazza’s main street

Vernazza

Fishing boats were pulled up onto the streets

After lunch we walked back along the beach to the train station to go to Vernazza. The train arrived and we climbed on and took our seats but then noticed that almost no one else had gotten on. Hmmm. As the train picked up speed we discovered that we had accidentally gotten on an express train which had been delayed by storm damage further north, and had ended up arriving at the Monterosso station at the same time as the scheduled local down to Vernazza. There had been an announcement, but as it was all in Italian we had no idea about the change in the train schedule. We watched forlornly out the window as we sped through the Cinque Terre and finally stopped at La Spezia, where after a short wait we caught the train back and eventually got off at Vernazza.

It was getting close to sunset when we arrived in Vernazza.

The beautiful sunset made up for the mix-up with the trains.

The little village of Vernazza was lovely and picturesque. We wandered around for a while, had some gelato, walked to the harbor to watch the sun set, and then hiked back up the hill to the station and headed for Manarola, where we had a hotel reservation for the night.

Dark was coming on fast when we arrived in Manarola.

It was nearly dark when we got off the train in Manarola, and we were a little frightened when we realized we had absolutely no idea where the hotel was. We punched it in on our GPS, and headed off in what we thought was the right direction, but after walking down a street for a while and climbing several flights of stairs up the side of the hill we looked again at the GPS and discovered we were nowhere near the hotel! We climbed back down into town and asked at one of the restaurants for directions and got ourselves headed in the right way. We eventually found the hotel – the owner was looking for us out the window! We were the only guests that night, and were given an absolutely lovely room with a private terrace. To say we were exhausted at that point from all the train rides, hiking and climbing we had done that day would have been an understatement. We both quickly changed and climbed into bed and were asleep in moments!

One of the morning views from our hotel terrace. The hotel’s owner also owns and works daily in the terraces across the way.

The winding street to our hotel that we had to maneuver in the dark – I was using the flashlight feature on my phone to help us find our way! The stairway in back goes up to the hotel.

One of the spectacular views on our way back down into the village.

Cafe latte for me, an Americano for Brett! Coffee in Italy is beyond delicious.

We woke up this morning to sunshine and stunning views from our terrace, which made all that climbing in the dark the night before worthwhile. The hotel provided coffee and some biscotti in our room for breakfast, so we had those, then got dressed and headed back down the hill for some more coffee. The walk down was much nicer in the light and provided some stunning views. After our coffee we wandered through the village for awhile and walked along a path around one of the cliffs. We were able to see from the path how thoroughly damaged and in what dangerous condition the trail was in and why it had been closed.

The north side of Riomaggiore.

We would have completely missed this view of Riomaggiore if we had turned right instead of left to head up the hill into the village.

Brett and I had originally planned to first visit the village of Corniglia, which sits between Vernazza and Manarola and then go to Riomaggiore. However, we realized neither of us wanted to do the 30-minute Stairmaster climb from the station up to Corniglia, nor did we want to wait anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half for a bus to take us up (and then wait as long for the bus to take us back down). So, it was straight on to Riomaggiore from Manarola. Since we never seem to do things the easy way, instead of turning to the right  from the Riomaggiore station and walking through the tunnel over to the harbor and village center, we instead turned to the left and headed up a steep hill that wove through the village but eventually brought us down to the village center. We rewarded ourselves with a wonderful lunch of traditional Ligurian pasta (Brett’s with mixed seafood, mine with fresh pesto) and then wisely took the tunnel back to the Riomaggiore station where we caught the train back to Florence.

I did not want to leave Liguria without eating pesto. This traditional dish of linguine with fresh pesto, potatoes and green beans was perfect; Brett had traditional spaghetti with assorted seafood.

Although our first day turned out to be kind of crazy (and exhausting), the morning walks/hikes through Manarola and Riomaggiore were wonderful and both of us left Liguria feeling like our visit had been a success. It didn’t rain, we saw all the villages (if only from afar in the case of Corniglia), and we got to eat traditional Ligurian cuisine. Dreams really can come true!

Our French Adventure

It’s almost a little bit hard to believe, but this time next week we’ll be in Italy, and will have finished up a 37-day journey through France, visiting four major areas of the country.

Hopefully we’ll leave France on a high note, but for now I am still struggling with the head cold I brought along from Strasbourg, and trying to get my energy back. We’ve optimistically booked a Friday afternoon wine tour to the area south of Bordeaux, and plan to spend Saturday afternoon in Saint-Emilion, but otherwise are just taking it easy and hanging out close to our apartment. We were going to go to Saint-Emilion today, and even got as far as getting to the station and on the train, but I must have looked and sounded awful because Brett strongly suggested we get off the train and go back to the apartment and try again another day (thankfully we hadn’t bought our tickets; we were going to buy them on board from the conductor). I have no idea why I thought it might be a good idea to undertake that major of an outing today, but I was glad I took Brett’s suggestion.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about all of our time in France, the things we’ve seen and experienced, and with Brett’s help I’ve ranked the four very different areas of the country we’ve visited:

Strasbourg

  1. Strasbourg: We felt comfortable in Strasbourg from the moment we got off the train, and loved every minute of our stay, including our tiny, efficient apartment. The city was warm and welcoming, and filled with friendly, helpful people. We thoroughly enjoyed the local cuisine with its German influences, from bretzels (giant pretzels) to kugelhopf, from tarte flambeé to choucroute with its delicious sauerkraut and sausages. The entire city and public transportation system was easy to figure out and find our way around, and the central area compact enough to walk from place to place (as long as we looked out for bicycles!) without becoming disoriented or lost. The city held loads of both the old and the new to explore and appreciate. Also, everything, from food to transportation, was very affordable. Strasbourg’s location also made it easy for us to make a short getaway visit to Lucerne, Switzerland. If things ever get to the point where we feel like we need to bug out from the U.S., Strasbourg is probably where we would go.

    Omaha Beach, Normandy

  2. Normandy: We spent four wonderful days here, even if it was cold and windy for most of that time. Brett got to eat a huge bowl of moulin-frites (steamed mussels with french fries) at Mont Saint-Michel, we ate locally produced camembert, fresh-baked apple tarts, and drank homemade Normandy apple cider. We lucked out with our cozy, comfortable little apartment in Balleroy, well-placed to easily visit the landing beaches and American cemetery, Bayeaux, and get out to Mont Saint-Michel. We loved driving through the beautiful Normandy countryside and old villages, and what at times seemed like the crazy routes our GPS provided from place to place. And the history, both old and more recent! Everywhere we went was a reminder of the past. There was far too much we didn’t get to see in four days and we’d love to go back if we can some day.

    Notre-Dame de Paris

  3. Paris: I think if we had not arrived so exhausted, and had more than four days to spend in the city, we might have liked Paris more than we did. I love city life, but Paris was almost too much for me. Still, we had a wonderful time and it was thrilling to visit so many places we had only seen in pictures before – the Arc de Triomphe (my favorite), Notre-Dame, and the Louvre Grand Pyramid – and to sit in the park and relax in front of the Eiffel Tower and watch the sun set and the lights come on. Montmartre was the perfect neighborhood for us to stay in as well – we could have happily spent several more days exploring the area surrounding our apartment, including its boulangeries, patisseries and markets.

    One of two spectacular fountains at the Monument aux Girondins, Bordeaux

  4. Bordeaux: Poor Bordeaux. It’s not its fault that I’m still sick and we’re so far not able to enjoy our time here as much as we could. It’s also been a bit gloomy, weather-wise, but we hope it will improve. Besides our weird introduction to the city courtesy of our taxi driver, we’re finding it a bit grittier than Strasbourg, with lots of renovation and building going on, and streets torn up (a new leg of the tram system is being installed), and it feels a bit more stand-offish and less warm and inviting. I’m hoping by the end of the week that I’ll be feeling better enough to appreciate the city, the wine tour and the countryside, and able to actually taste the wines on our tour! I’m also looking forward to walking through Saint-Emilion without fear of collapsing.

Porcus charcuterie and upstairs restaurant, Strasbourg

What will we miss when we leave France? Cheese, so many different kinds of delicious, stinky cheese. Wine – even an inexpensive bottle of wine here is wonderful. Boulangeries, and fresh, warm baguettes. Patisseries. Charcuteries and paté. Mirabelle plums. Café au lait. French cookies from the supermarket. Receiving a cheery “Bonjour!” and giving one in return before starting any encounter. So many people putting up with my horrid French. Most of all, being encouraged to take our time and relax, and appreciate the joie de vivre of daily life in France.

Next Monday though our suitcases will be packed once again and weighed and re-weighed – we are flying RyanAir for the first time and know they are super-strict about weight limits. When we land though we will be in Italy!

 

Taxi Madness

Gare de l’Est, Paris – we arrived here from Strasbourg but had to go to Gare Montparnasse for the second part of our journey.

It was bittersweet leaving Strasbourg yesterday morning, and our little apartment there – we had had a wonderful stay and loved every minute of our time there. But, our bags were packed, we were up early for coffee and one last kugelhopf for breakfast, and were out the door by 8:00 in time to catch our train to Paris. I was very nervous about having to change stations in Paris as I figured if anything could go wrong it would be during this portion of the trip. It also didn’t help that my head cold was, if anything, worse than it had been the day before, and I also slipped on the last step leaving the apartment building and pulled a muscle in the back of my right leg.

We were booked first class for the entire trip, and the seats on our first train were oh-so-comfortable except for one little thing: They faced backwards, and I cannot ride backwards on anything (something to do with my middle ear and balance). I lasted all of five minutes in my seat before heading to the dining car next door, where I found a seat facing forward at a small table and nursed two cafe au lait all the way through the one and a half hour journey to Paris. The train had originally come from Frankfurt, so while I ordered my drinks in French (or at least tried to), the waiter spoke nothing but German to me!

We had an hour between the arrival of our first train at Gare de l’Est to get to the second at Gare Montparnasse. We had intended to ride the Paris Metro between the two stations, but the night before we left Strasbourg Brett discovered that there was work being done on the Metro line that ran between the two stations and decided we should instead take a taxi from one to the other. That was fine with me as I was not relishing moving our bags up and down stairs and off and on the Metro. We headed to the taxi stand when we arrived in Paris, but immediately a man came rushing up to us and said in English, “There’s a big taxi strike today, and most of Paris is closed for a 20 km race! Come with me, I will get you a car” We thought this was strange as we had already seen a few taxis arriving and departing but he insisted that those taxis were only taking people to the airport. We started to walk with him over to an area where a few private cars with drivers were parked, but when he said the ride would take 40 minutes and would cost 85€ we said “nope” and headed back to the taxi stand feeling a bit foolish and angry at ourselves for listening to him.

In the meantime a bit of drama had erupted at the taxi stand. A well-dressed elderly man and an equally well-dressed older woman were about to come to blows over who was going to get the next taxi. They were yelling at each other, calling each other names and the woman had her purse raised and was about to strike the man. He had actually been in line ahead of her, but for some reason she had felt entitled to the cab and was not going to let it go. However, before things really got out of hand two more taxis appeared, so the man got into the first one, the woman the one behind (both of them still steaming), and we climbed in the third, a VW mini van with loads of room for our suitcases. Our driver was a lovely woman who spoke English and who drove us past the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Pantheon and other sites on our way to Gare Montparnasse. We were at our destination in less than 20 minutes (not 40!) even though estimates had said it would take at least 30) for just 20€! She apologized for the ride taking longer than usual because the 20km race had made a shorter route impossible.

Thankfully the comfy seats on the train to Bordeaux faced forward! My cold was getting the better of me at this point though and I fell asleep for much of the ride. The TGV trains in France are pretty amazing, and travel at rates of up to 195 mph. The speed can make it hard to watch things out the window, but the ride is smooth and you’re at your destination before you know it.

It was warm enough in Bordeaux to eat outside yesterday afternoon, before the rain started.

We were very hungry when we arrived at Bordeaux at 2:00 in the afternoon, so Brett and I walked across the street for lunch at an outdoor cafe before heading to our apartment. We shared a delicious but inexpensive Margherita pizza and each had a glass of wine, and then walked back over to the taxi stand at the station to grab a ride to our lodgings. There was another American couple ahead of us in line, but when a little blue taxi pulled up they looked at it and said we could have it; they would take the bigger car behind it (they were large people and had four big suitcases). Our taxi driver, an elderly man, helped Brett load our suitcases into the trunk, we hopped in and were off.

Or so we thought. I had shown the driver our address and he had nodded that he understood, but it became apparent in a matter of minutes that he had absolutely no idea where he was or where he was going. Every time the taxi would stop he would pull out some old maps and try to find the address. I showed him the GPS map on my phone and he acted like he understood, but still kept pulling out the maps and we could see he was looking at parts of town nowhere near our destination, and he was sometimes looking at the map sideways or upside down. We became a bit scared, a) because we could not communicate with the driver; b) because we had no idea where we would end up; and c) because we thought the guy would run the meter up to 40 or 50€ or even more and then demand payment. We could have asked him to stop and let us off, but he had our luggage in the trunk and we had absolutely no idea where we were in the city or how we would find another taxi – we were trapped.

The front of our apartment building – our unit isn’t available because . . .

. . . it’s in the attic of a building around the corner (those two teeny tiny windows are ours).

Thankfully our host called me to let me know he was waiting for us at the apartment (we were a half hour late at that point). I gave the phone to the driver, who had a long conversation with our host, and he finally got the car turned around and apparently headed in the right direction. We seemed to go in circles for a while, but eventually our host, who had been standing out on the street near the apartment, somehow recognized the taxi and stopped it! We got our bags, paid the driver (after our host argued down the price) and went to the apartment. Our host was shaking his head the whole way, telling us how bizarre the driver was, how strange he was – both old and not quite right in the head. We told him we had never felt physically threatened, but we knew something wasn’t right, and felt lucky to finally be where we were supposed to be. Our host agreed we were lucky, and urged us to use Uber next time, that it has a very good reputation in the city.

I love the kitchen area in the apartment with the old stone wall left visible. It’s extremely well-equipped, and cabinets hide a spacious refrigerator and freezer as well as a washer/dryer.

The open-plan living-dining-kitchen area is very spacious. In fact, the entire apartment is bigger than our house was on Kaua’i!

All’s well that ends well though. Our Bordeaux apartment is spacious and lovely, with absolutely every amenity. It almost feels like we’re living in a mansion compared to our Strasbourg home (which we had grown to love even though it was tiny). It was raining earlier today and as I still don’t feel very well all we did is go to the supermarket and to a boulangerie. We had a simple lunch after we got back, and will have cheese and wine for dinner tonight. Tomorrow, rain or shine, we’ll head out and begin discovering Bordeaux.

A simple first-day lunch from the supermarket and boulangerie: beet, cucumber, and tabouli salads, baguette slices and smoked salmon, and red fruit tarts for dessert.

Garage Sale Kaua’i Style

Happy sellers, happy customers – every piece of Japanese tableware we had for sell was purchased

Having a garage sale in Kaua’i is not the same as having one back on the mainland.

Having held too many sales back on the mainland to count, the basic steps for holding a successful garage/yard sale there are:

  1. Assemble the items you want to sell
  2. Price the items
  3. Advertise the sale on Craigslist, etc.
  4. Set out your items the morning of the sale
  5. Sell your items – be prepared to haggle with some customers
  6. Take what’s left over to the thrift store

We found out this past week though that it’s done a bit differently over here on Kaua’i:

  1. Assemble the items you’re selling, preferably in your garage or on the lanai. There’s no need to organize everything.
  2. Post larger or higher-priced items on the Kaua’i Buy & Sell Facebook page a week or so ahead of when you plan to hold your sale. People will message you about items they want to buy and arrange to pick them up the same or next day.
  3. When people come by, let them look around at the other stuff you’re selling. It doesn’t need to be priced. They will probably buy some more stuff.
  4. Talk story for at least 20-30 minutes with everyone that comes. You’ll make new friends, get hugs, and they’re thrilled to pick up stuff ahead of time
  5. In fact, these early customers may buy so much of your stuff ahead of time that you don’t need to bother holding an actual sale.
  6. Take anything that’s left over to the thrift store.

Our Kaua’i garage sale was the easiest and most fun I’ve ever had selling our stuff. Everyone who contacted us through the Buy & Sell page showed up when they said they would. One woman came to pick up the item she reserved and left with an additional $100 worth of items. She messaged me a couple of days later to ask if a couple of other items were still available. Another woman came back twice! Not one person quibbled about the prices, or tried to haggle – hopefully that’s because we asked right amount the first time. A few times we just gave people things because they bought so much from us. The best part of all was getting to talk with everyone while they “shopped” and have a real conversation with them. It was win-win for everyone.

We had planned to hold a three-day sale beginning tomorrow, but by the end of yesterday we had sold just about everything to customers stopping by to pick up their pre-arranged items. I have one more round of things to go up on Buy & Sell later today, but whatever doesn’t get sold will go to the thrift store. We also made half again what we thought we might make from the sale, so besides the whole experience being easy and fun, our Kaua’i garage sale was a big success!

Kung Hei Fat Choi! Welcome the Year of the Dog!

恭喜发财! Kung Hei Fat Choi! Wishing all my readers a belated Happy New Year (because the Lunar New Year actually began last Friday).

2018 is the Year of the Dog, the 11th of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals. Dogs are loyal, friendly, and kind, and people born in dog years are said to share those traits as well as being honest, easygoing, and helpful to others. Rather than seeking money and power they are more likely to try to make the world a better place. However, people born in a dog year can also be critical, stubborn, and cold at times. They can have trouble communicating and possibly become pessimistic. The strength or absence of these personality traits will depend on the lunar month of the year in which someone is born.

Lucky numbers for those born in a dog year are 3, 4, and 9, and unlucky numbers are 1, 6, and 7. Lucky colors are red, green, and purple, while blue, white, and gold are considered unlucky. Dogs are traditionally compatible with people born in a rabbit year, but not with those born in dragon, goat, or rooster years.

Unfortunately, this year is predicted to be an unlucky one for people born in a dog year because contrary to what you might think, the years that share your birth sign are thought to bring bad luck! If you were born in a dog year it’s recommended that you do everything you can to try to stay calm as well as relaxed as possible throughout the year. One superstition says you can hold off bad luck by wearing red underpants every day!

Industrial projects and developments in energy are predicted to be successful in 2018, while projects or undertakings based on greed will be rejected or fail. Family relationships will be especially important during the year. It’s also a good year to make lifestyle changes but you may also experience short periods of loneliness or sadness. This year has the potential to be one of hope, with differing cultures working to achieve solidarity and rejecting indifference.

Some famous people born during a dog year include Madonna, Steven Spielberg, Bill Clinton, Mother Teresa, Michael Jackson, and Donald Trump.

Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations go on for over two weeks. I was in China for the end of the Lunar New Year in 1999, in Changsha, Hunan Province. I was staying in a big, fancy high-rise hotel with a friend, and had just met and adopted WenYu the day before (Brett had stayed home with Meiling). When the fireworks started, to signal the end of the New Year’s celebrations, we thought war had been declared and the hotel was being shelled. The noise was deafening, literally earth-shaking, and one of the most frightening experiences of my life!

Where Do You Want To Go?

It’s always been me, me, me around here, but today I’d like to turn things over to you, my wonderful readers, and ask: “What’s on your travel bucket list? Where do you want to go?”

I’d love to hear from you about three to five places you’d like to visit, domestic or international, and a couple of sentences of why you’d like to travel there. If you like, instead of a place you could list an experience that you’d travel for, versus just a place (for example: dinner on a rooftop in Paris with a sunset view of the Eiffel Tower). You can of course list somewhere you’ve been before if you want to go back, but again, I’d love to hear why – what was so wonderful or memorable about it that you want to go back? What did you miss the first time?

I’m looking forward to hearing from you, and being inspired!

SaveSave

SaveSave

10 Easy Ways To Save More for Travel

shutterstock_248845498

The following is a reprint of a previously published post.

There are those people who, when they decide they want to travel, can whip out their checkbooks and cover any trip they want.

Brett and I are not those people. We have big travel dreams, but a small income, so any trips we want to take have to be planned and then saved for. Over the years we’ve come up with a variety of ways to add to our travel savings so that when we do go off somewhere, everything we need and want to do is covered and we don’t end up with a balance on our credit card.

Here are our favorite tips for how to save for travel:

  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.
  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 is one of our favorite ways to add to our travel account – it’s almost like a game, and keeps us on our toes when it comes to saving in all areas of our budget.
  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.
  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. This year we are also occasionally setting aside $5 bills – it’s not as easy to do as with $1 bills, but once in a while we feel we can set one aside. Twenty of those though and we’ve got another $100 saved.
  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.
  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 :-(.
  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.
  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.
  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.
  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.

Just like nickel-and-dime items can drain your bank account in a hurry, what might seem like nickel-and-dime savings can also pump up your account in a hurry as well! It’s surprising how much you can save in a year toward your travel dreams once you set your mind to it!

SaveSave

Be a Better Tourist

worst-touristsI still cringe when I think of some of the faux pas I’ve committed over the years in Japan. I’ve said the wrong thing, sat in the wrong place, worn the wrong clothes, given an inappropriate gift, and so on. Most of the time I had no idea I was doing something wrong, and it was excruciating to later learn about my mistakes. Most of them were things I should have known to do differently, or that only a little bit of research would have prevented. I have learned from them though, and think I have become a better traveler and tourist because of those errors.

Here are some of my tips for how to be a better tourist and get the most from wherever you visit, whether it’s across country, a location half-way around the world, or one of nature’s masterpieces:

  • Learn some of the language: While you don’t need to become fluent to visit where another language is spoken, you can learn and use simple phrases, greetings, and other words rather than expecting everyone to speak English to you. Being able to communicate even a little in the local language can go a long way, and shows a genuine respect for another culture.
  • Shop and eat local: Don’t make your destination come to you. Be adventurous and try some of the local cuisine, and not just in “name” restaurants. Let locals recommend their favorite eating places. Do your research ahead of time and find out what dishes or sweets sound interesting and that you think you’ll enjoy. And if you try them and don’t like them, so what? At least you tried. Take yourself off the beaten path and go shopping where locals do, from markets to department stores to mom & pop shops. Haggling is expected in some countries, and can be fun, but be sure you know the local “rules” before you start.
  • Wear acceptable clothing, and follow dress codes if necessary: I couldn’t understand all the stares I got one autumn day in Japan when I wore a light, summery dress because it was hot. I discovered later that in Japan you dress appropriate to the season, not the temperature! Shorts, sleeveless shirts or other casual dress are often not allowed or inappropriate for both men and women when visiting religious sites or places of worship throughout the world. Be yourself, but find out what’s appropriate before you go.
  • Pay attention to local customs: Another faux pas I once committed in Japan was eating while walking down the street. Nope. If I’d been paying attention I would have noticed that while people eat outside, they’re never walking at the same time. Simple cultural rules about things like forming or not forming lines, taking off your shoes, counting or not counting your change can all be different depending on where you are. Be careful too when using hand gestures or taking selfies – you could be doing something insensitive, insulting or downright rude depending on your location.
  • Be ready to answer questions about yourself: We discovered on our trips to China that locals could be very direct when they wanted to know something. After we got over the initial shock of some of their questions, we answered them as best we could without giving away what was to us private information. As interested as you might be in the place you’re visiting, people in other countries are curious about you as well and it’s up to you how much you want to share. I think there’s going to be a very good chance coming up that Americans abroad will be asked about our incoming president, and what they think of him.
  • Respect Mother Nature and the rules: It was frankly shocking last year how many times we noticed people paying no attention to the signs posted around the Grand Canyon, rules that were there for both safety and to preserve the canyon. The past few years there have been several insensitive and anger-inducing examples of vandals who have irreparably damaged sites in the natural world, from defacing national parks with acrylic paints to damaging fragile natural wonders (i.e. Duck Rock in Oregon) to carving names for selfies and destroying views for others. It’s common sense that whenever you visit natural sites, monuments and national parks ask that you follow posted rules – they exist for very good reasons. Don’t feed the animals, leave trash, go or climb where it’s prohibited. Stay on the path if requested to do so, and recycle and reuse as much as you can. Don’t remove or move plants or rocks. Leave a place better than you found it – if you see trash, pick it up!
  • Don’t compare everything you see or do to how it’s done back home: This is my biggest pet peeve whenever I travel – there is always someone who complains that “this is not how it is back home.” The reason you’re traveling is because you wanted to get away from home and experience something different, so enjoy the difference! Ask questions, try new things, and give yourself a chance to learn something from wherever you go. It’s travel, not a permanent relocation.

Travel is a powerful way to experience different cultures and natural wonders, meet interesting people, explore different customs, and generally expand your mind. Getting the most from your travels, and not being seen as one of “those” tourists is as simple as showing respect for another place and other ways of doing things and using common sense and good manners. In other words, be the best example you can of your own culture!