Missing…

Last Saturday as I was getting ready to head out the door to a family member’s baby shower, Tom said, “Move slowly and look out the window to your right.”
As usual and to our delight, there was one of Mother Nature’s delectable morsels in our yard. I moved gingerly toward the window to my right. 

A wild turkey lumbered around the stone patio with eyes darting fervently for a possible intruder.  As I moved to grab my phone’s camera, which proved to be too quickly, he spotted me and scurried away.  A wave of sadness came over me, not over missing the shot, but after missing the frequent sightings of God’s precious creatures, abundant here in Minnesota, abundant here on the lake.
I will miss the coyotes, their grace, their piercing eyes, their hunger for the little dogs here at the point, along with the caution we’ve exercised all these years to avert their consumption of own little wonders. I will miss the eagle that swooped into our yard to settle high up on a favorite tree, the glaring stance, the perfectly poised talons, easily able to grab a fifteen-pound unsuspecting furry pet in seconds.
Early spring this year, the loons appeared.  With their pointy beaks, banded throats, and musical calls they flirt with one another primping for the prospect of little chicks yet to come, who will somehow know that shyness is quite appropriate in this land of predators and humans.  I will miss that sound.

We will miss the adventure of the one-day event of baby wood ducks being mercilessly tossed from the wood duck house by their parents, hoping they’ll survive the long fluttery jump to the ground, the short trek to the water.
They scurry about the yard frantically, unsure of which way to go, a few wanderers ending near the house, only to be coached along with us humans, careful not to touch and leave our scent.  The cheep, cheep, cheep of the fluffy little puff balls will be hard to forget in the days to come.  

The heron, so playfully referred to as “Big Bird” by my husband, to our long lost WorldWideWillie who enthusiastically ran to the end of the dock to chase this leggy character, unfazed by its disgruntled roar as it flew away. With the utmost curiosity, he’d sniff its remains.  I will miss “Big Bird.”  

Of course, I will continue to miss Willie. No longer will we be able to stand by his little grave marker in the yard. Willie inspired me to write my first blog, a blog that will end on April 9, 2012, the one year anniversary of the day he died Each night after writing that blog, I’d read aloud the day’s writings to Tom holding back the tears. 

It’s sad and ironic that when losing a beloved pet, we not only cry for the loss of their companionship, we cry for the loss of their peculiar habits, their tricks, their ticks, their characteristics, and their rituals all of which bring us humor, familiarity, and comfort.  

And sometimes, when we cry for the loss of our pet, we cry for all the losses of our lives at the same time; the loss of people, the loss of relationships, the loss of meaningful work, the loss of success, the loss of hope, the loss of health and the loss of a dream, whatever that dream may be.

Yes, we will miss Mother Nature’s gifts here in Minnesota, but the nice thing about her…she goes wherever we go, even if we only stop for only a moment to we breathe in the fresh air, to look and to listen.  She will be there. 

Finally, the itinerary…

Admittedly,  I have procrastinated about posting the itinerary.  Procrastination is not my style.  I am a “get-it-done” kind of person who contemplates a task in advance, sorts out the details and then fires away.  Why, the procrastination?

There are a few reasons.  One, as indicated in today’s earlier post, I was definitely preoccupied with the pending immunization appointment and two, I’ve been wrapped up the details of the rental house in France, which is now complete.  

We have yet to book a portion of the time in Europe and in Hawaii (primarily due to hesitancy of property owners committing so far out).  In addition, the last three cruises, although upcoming and available, have not yet posted for bookings.

Will we continue traveling after experiencing this itinerary?  

Yes, we will if the following prevail: Are we healthy? Did we follow the budget? And of course, do we want to?

Location Days  
11/2/2012-11/4/2014
Minnesota drive to
Scottsdale AZ
3
11/4/2012-1/2/2013
Scottsdale
Condo Rental 
61  
(included in above)
Scottsdale
to Las Vegas-hotel
5  

12/30/2012-1/3/2013
Scottsdale
to San Diego – stay with family

4
 

1/3/2013-1/18/2013
San
Diego to Fort Lauderdale – Panama Canal Cruise
15  

1/18/2013-1/20/2013
Fort
Lauderdale to
Boca Raton- stay with a friend
2  

1/21/2013-1/29/2013
Fort
Lauderdale to Belize – Cruise
8  

1/29/2013-4/8/2013
Belize
Rental-House on beach
70  

4/9/2013-4/13/2013
Belize
to Miami Cruise
3  

4/13/2013-4/20/2013Miami
Visit Friends in Boca,
Bonita Springs
7  

4/20/2013-5/1/2013
Miami
to Barcelona – Cruise
11  

5/1/2013
Barcelona
to Majorca (RT) – ferry
0  
5/1/2013-6/3/2013
Majorca Oceanview
Condo Rental 
33  

6/3/2013
Majorca to Barcelona-Ferry 
0  

6/4/2013-6/16/2013
Barcelona
to Venice-
Mediterranean Cruise
12  

6/16/2013
Venice
to Tuscany-Train
0  

6/16/2013-8/31/2013
Tuscany
Rental-17th
century villa
76  

8/31/2013
Tuscany
to Rome-Train
0  

9/1/2013
Rome to
Kenya-Flight
2  

9/1/2013-11/30/2013
Kenya
Rental-
Diani Beach house
90  

11/30/2013
Kenya
to South Africa-Flight
1  

12/1/2013-3/26/2014
South
Africa Rental-Kruger National Park – House
115  

3/26/2014
Kruger
National Park to Durban, South Africa-driver
0  

3/26/2014-3/30/2014
Durban
to Cape Town-Cruise
4  

3/30/2014-4/17/2014
Cape
Town to
Genoa- Cruise                                           
18  

4/17/2014-4/18/2014
Drive to Genoa, Italy along
French Riveria to Hotel in Cannes
1  

4/18/2014-5/17/2014
Cannes
to 16th Century
Stone House, Cajarc, France
30  

5/17/2014-9/17/2014
Spain,
Portugal,
London (take Chunnel
under ocean) rentals
123  
9/17/2014-10/1/2014
London
to Fort Lauderdale-Cruise
14  

10/1/2014-10/5/2014
Fort
Lauderdale to Boca-
stay with friend
5  
 

10/5/2014-10/19/2014
Fort
Lauderdale to
San Diego Cruise

14  
 

10/19/2014-10/22/2014
San
Diego to Baja CA
-Hotel

3  
10/22/2014
Baja CA
to Ensenada,
Mexico
0  
 

10/22/2014-11/2/2014
Ensenada Mexico to
Honolulu Cruise

11  
11/2/2014-3/31/2015
Hawaii
Home Rentals-Island Hopping (Christmas booked with family on Big Island during this period)
150  
Total
Days Booked to Date (more will follow)
880

Photos of rental properties will be coming soon. Thanks for stopping by!

Ouch! Plunge, twist and release…

After two hours of being terrified at the prospect of contracting one of many horrifying diseases throughout the world, I left the Park Nicollet Travel Immunization Clinic with my head swimming.  WHAT ARE WE DOING????

If we don’t die from the side effects of the Yellow Fever or Typhoid shots, we might die from one of the many diseases for which there is no immunization or treatment!  Why tell me, overly efficient, profoundly knowledgeable, delightfully warm Travel Nurse Marcia, who hugged me when I left, that we could die?  

On information overload and losing my competency to make reasonable decisions, I agreed to our taking $10 a day malaria pills (fewer side effects) that we’ll need to take for eight-plus months, $700 rabies shots, $80 for tuberculosis tests and also, an array of 10 or more other vaccines that will total in the $1000’s.  We sure hope the insurance company will pay for these.  I hadn’t budgeted $300 a month for malaria pills!

I felt as if I were buying a car from a persuasive, albeit highly competent “salesperson” who was trying to sell me safety features that invoked so much guilt that I couldn’t resist buying.  I signed up for everything.  Oh, I did hesitate on one thing, flu shots. Why would we need flu shots that are derived from viruses only prevalent in the US? Go figure! What if we went out to dinner with an American couple we meet on a cruise ship who currently has the flu? We signed up for that too!  

The dreaded Yellow Fever shot will be on May 1.  I am terrified.  Four people died from the vaccine alone (OK, four deaths of out one million, not quite a high risk).  I said to Travel Nurse Marcia, trying to reassure myself, “Those four people could have died that day anyway, right?”  She reassuringly nodded her head.  On May 1, please pray for me.  Later, for Tom.

Tom has yet to go to his two-hour appointment. I suggested that Travel Nurse Marcia not tell Tom everything she told me for three reasons:  1. He gets bored listening to medical stuff. 2. He’ll pretend to be listening when he isn’t. 3. He’ll refuse the shots and tell her to take a hike.   

Oh good grief, I can picture my dear husband, sick with some dreadful disease, ensconced inside a mosquito net, with me at his side, frantically trying to nurse him back to health.  Sounds like a scene in a movie!  No, thank you.  PLEASE my dear handsome, charming, funny, adorable, “best husband in-the-world,” agree to get your shots, take your $5 pills with food and SHUT UP about it!

So, lovely Travel Nurse Marcia left the room after handing me my stack of 100 CDC documents to read, moments later returning with a tray loaded up with four, that’s right four, giant syringes on a sterilized stainless steel tray. She gently set the tray down on the counter, leaving the room again.  I stared at the tray, my heart pounding so hard, I could hear it in my head.  Minutes later, she returned instructing me to get up on the exam table.  

The rest is a blur, rolling up my sleeves, taking a deep breath, feeling the brutal violation of my pale winter skin while each of four syringes plunges deep into the tender flesh of my upper arms. OUCH!!! It felt as if she “plunged, twisted, and released” those horse-sized syringes. Then,  it was over, for now at least. I waited for something to happen. Nothing happened.

After sleeping fitfully all night, unable to lay on either side.  My arms hurt as anticipated from the warning by Travel Nurse Marcia. After two huge cups of coffee this morning I’m back to my “old” self, dressed in workout clothes, off to the gym and then to the bank to transfer the 25% deposit in 1481 francs (today’s going rate, which is about $300 US dollars) to the owner of the charming “Stone House” in Cajarc, France for one month beginning April 18, 2014 (yes, 2 years from now).  Nothing like planning ahead!

BTW, the itinerary will follow later today. 

The final criteria, lots more to follow…

Here we go!  We’re wrapping up the all-important criteria today allowing us to proceed to the equally important itinerary in the next post.  As I mentioned earlier, listing these vital “rules” again and again is certainly tedious. 

Seeing them over and over, reading them aloud to Tom each time I write, is exactly what we’ve needed to be reminded of the importance of following these guidelines. Without them, the temptation to book expensive vacation rentals, overpriced cruises, and the occasional exorbitant hotel rooms would throw our financial plan out of whack.  

The goal of avoiding the necessity of tapping into our savings or investments is a huge motivator. Fear…the infinite motivator.  Fear…being forced to stop this adventure due to financial constraints. Fear…canceling future travel due to health issues.  Fear…the caves with the bats, the guano.  Fear…the zip line.

Friends and family have asked, “What happens if you get bored?”  We didn’t get bored living in our home together for the past 21 years, in the comfy chairs, enjoying lounging in a lawn chair in the summer, eating homemade meals, watching episodes of our favorite TV shows, chatting, laughing and socializing.  

They also ask, “What if you get tired of traveling?”  We’ll stop.  We’ll cancel future plans, maybe lose a deposit or two but we’ll stop.  We’ve agreed that if one of us wants to stop, the other will agree.  Knowing this comforts us. Knowing this removes the fear. 

So, the remaining criteria:

Criteria #7:  Never stay in a vacation rental for less than one month. The rationale behind this rule is simple.  Staying in one location not only reduces transportation expenses but provides us with the opportunity to negotiate better rates when staying a month or more.  

Many of the property owners allow a stay of as little as three or four days requiring added paperwork, liability, and cleaning.  Their piece of mind is a substantial motivator for them to accept a lower rent for their property.  As each month’s stay is extended in the negotiations, the price goes down proportionately.  This will be illustrated by the rental amounts we will post with the itinerary.

Criteria #8:  No trinkets!  As tempting as “bargains,” “souvenirs” and local “handicrafts” appeal to us during our travels, we will resist the temptation.  The cost of excess baggage along with the horror of hauling some heavy wooden objects all over the world is preposterous!

We will make a list of the items we encounter that tempt us.  Once we settle someday, we will easily be able to find similar items online or in some cases, purchase them from the actual vendor’s website.  Often these tempting artifacts can be found for half the price on eBay, from sellers who found themselves were tempted during their travels.  Most often, when we look back at such a wish list at a later date, we’ll find that we have lost interest anyway.

Criteria #9:  The availability of Internet/cell phone access with us at all times. This was a tough one.  I spent no less than an entire week researching various options. We now have discovered solutions (of course, subject to technology changes over the next several months). For Internet access, 24/7, in our rental, on the road, and part-time on cruises, we’ll use MiFi Rental with XCom Global. In a future post, I will write about the cost and how this works.  

As for cell phone service, we will be buying an Unlocked International cell phone into which we can purchase and install a local SIM card using the available local network (which is what most cell phone users in many countries use for service). SIM cards result in considerably lower rates, all without the use of a contract.  Here again, I will write an entire post on this subject.

Criteria #10:  Cook and eat in!  Due to health concerns we live a low carb, wheat-free, starch-free, grain-free, sugar-free, and gluten-free lifestyle. Occasionally Tom will indulge along the way!  He won’t be able to resist pasta in Italy or a baguette in France.  But, for me, my ongoing health from this way of eating it a huge motivator. Cooking and eating in the kitchen of our vacation rental will save us $1000’s along the way.  

We currently spend about $800 a month on food (all organic produce with grass-fed meat, free-range poultry, and eggs, organic dairy).  This may sound like a huge sum for two people but that totals only $26.67 a day. After considerable research, we feel confident that we’ll be able to maintain this budget and our food requirements.  I currently pack 3 meals a day for Tom’s long 12 hour workdays.

We could never eat two to three meals a day in a restaurant in any of the countries we are visiting for a mere $26.67 for both of us! We have budgeted the cost of enjoying a dinner out in a nice restaurant, once or twice a week depending upon local prices.  

That one dinner a week may cost $25 in Belize including tax and tip but could be $125 in Tuscany, resulting in an expenditure of $6500 a year, enough to pay for a vacation rental for 4.3 months or 8.6 months, if eating out twice a week. Its a matter of trade-offs.  

I don’t think we’ll mind grilling a steak on the veranda in Majorca, Spain while overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

In review, here is a complete list of all the criteria:

Criteria #1: Do not have a permanent home!
Criteria #2: Do not own cars!
Criteria #3: Do not stay in hotels unless absolutely necessary!
Criteria #4: Do not pay more than that which we were willing to pay for rent in our chosen retirement community!
Criteria #5: Use the cruise!
Criteria #6: Bag the excess baggage!
Criteria #7: Never stay in a vacation rental for less than one month!
Criteria #8: No trinkets!
Criteria #9: The availability of Internet/cell phone access with us at all times!
Criteria#10: Cook and eat in!

Sure, all of the above is subject to change.  We don’t know what we don’t know. It’s a work in progress.  By the time we are ready to leave in seven months and ten days, we may laugh or even cringe at what we “thought” we knew and posted here, this early in the process.  In any case, we learn as we go, on a perpetual mission of gaining knowledge, reducing fear, and ultimately…having the time of our lives.  

Bag the bags!…

Writing a blog about upcoming travel is very different than writing after traveling has occurred.  Although we both have traveled extensively in the past, long before we met and little after we met, we know full well that predicting the outcome of future travel, its level of enjoyment and personal enrichment is highly speculative.

There is no doubt that later on, as we roll out each leg of our endless itinerary, that we may change our minds and subsequently change or add to these criteria that we have determined as important for financial success (staying in the budget) and security (of traveling exclusively utilizing our monthly income as opposed to using investments/saved funds).

The process of explaining this is a bit tedious for a writer such as me, preferring a more “flowery” and “expressive” type of writing, as opposed to the more “clinical” aspect of describing this process. 

Undoubtedly, as we move along, traveling and writing, there will be a 50/50 ratio between technical details and the emotionally enlightening experiences such as cruising through the Panama Canal during its extensive renovation, catching our first king salmon in Alaska and feeding a giraffe through the window of our temporary home in South Africa.  The first 571 days of the itinerary will follow soon.

Here are our “rules” so far…

Criteria #1: Do not have a permanent home!
Criteria #2: Do not own cars! 
Criteria #3: Do not stay in hotels unless absolutely necessary!
Criteria #4: Do not pay more than that which we were willing to pay for rent in our chosen retirement community!
Criteria #5: Use the cruise!
Criteria #6: Bag the excess baggage! Cruise lines are more liberal on the number and weight of bags than airlines.  In the first 10 months of our itinerary, we won’t step foot on an airplane.  The temptation is to load up our two suitcases each and our carry on bags.  Not so!  

Upon investigating baggage fees, for example, for the possible airlines that can fly us to Africa, the fees are astounding.  Some only allow 44 pounds in checked baggage per person!  When we flew to Florida for 7 days last fall, we each had two bags totaling 100 pounds!  I calculated that we would have had to pay an additional $800 each for overweight baggage, more than the cost of the flight per person from Rome to Kenya!

How will we pack lightly?  Can’t imagine! Even Tom has a penchant for packing everything he owns when we’ve traveled in the past.  Later on, we will write about how this preposterous scenario will unfold.  

How will a woman, such as myself, pack lightly, one who insists upon using a wide array of cosmetics, having a fresh change of clothes daily, likes a certain tea, a certain coffee bean, a certain low carb sweetener, a certain baking pan and an endless array of gadgets? 

What about workout clothes and the requisite rotating tennis shoes?  What about the 20 different bottles of vitamins and supplements we each take in what may prove to be a futile effort to stave off “old man time?”  What about heavy jeans, jackets, rainwear, hiking boots, Tom’s suit and my evening dress (dresses) for “dress up” dinners aboard the cruise?  I’ve spent hours reading about how to pack for travels; two pairs casual pants, four tee shirts, one dress shirt, one pair dressy shoes, one pair walking shoes, a raincoat, an umbrella and la la la.  

Last week I bought a travel scale.  I weighed it on the kitchen scale.  It was advertised at 1.5 pounds, but in fact, weighed 2.3 pounds. I am already using 0.052% of my allotment (44 pounds) on the scale itself!  Oh, dear, packing is almost as frightening as the zip line in Belize!

Criteria #7 to follow next time. Please come back!

 

Continuation of the strict criteria…

Yesterday, I wrote about the first four criteria that we have discovered making long term world travel affordable for us as a retired couple (Tom retires on Halloween), on a fixed monthly income.  Let’s review those points before I continue with the others:

Criteria #1:   Do not have a permanent home! 
Criteria #2:   Do not own cars! 
Criteria #3:   Do not stay in hotels unless absolutely necessary!
Criteria #4:   Do not pay more than what we were willing to pay for rent in our chosen retirement community!

Criteria #5:   Use the cruise!  As described earlier, we have booked five cruises so far with two more in the works.  Of the 571 days, we have booked thus far, beginning October 31, 2012, 71 days will be spent living aboard a cruise ship, rated a score of 4 or more (out of a possible 6).  

A vital factor in maintaining the integrity of our budgeting is that cruising results in a maximum average cost per day, not to exceed a combined $350 including fees, taxes, and tips. This amount far exceeds our average daily rental of $50. However, we are booking cruises to be a mode of transportation to and from countries where we’ll have booked a vacation rental. 

Cruising replaces the following usual travel expenses:
1.  Cost of Rental
2.  Three (or more, if preferred) meals per day
3.  Transportation to and from the rental location
4.  Taxis, car rental, trains, buses and other local modes of transportation while getting around the area

Some cruise pricing includes tips, others do not. Keep in mind that tipping may be as much as $25 per day, per person.  We have included them above in our daily total.  Also, every cruise has an ongoing credit account for the charges, WiFi, non-included tips, drinks, meals in specialty restaurants, spa services, certain activities, and of course, the casino and shopping in the “tourist trap” shops.  

Internet access to your digital equipment is very expensive. Turning off data and roaming features will avoid the shock of one’s life when seeing the bill at for the onboard WiFi fees.

It’s imperative to check in advance with the cruise line as to WiFi policies and charges.  Future posts will explain cell phone usage and Internet access while traveling abroad, a challenge for long term travelers like ourselves visiting 25 countries in less than 2 years (Yes, the itinerary will be posted soon)!

The cruise guy (and company we are using) Joaquin, at Vacations To Go has an appealing pre-booking incentive: book cruises in advance and as prices drop, the customer receives the benefit of the reduced pricing, up to 90 days prior to sailing date, being unaffected by potential price increases. 

Pre-booking secures a decent cabin that we choose at the time of booking by paying the deposit, usually around 25% of the cost of the cruise.  We refuse to stay in an inside cabin many of which have little space, if any, to even walk around the bed.  All of the cabins we are choosing are either a “Balcony” or “Mini-Suite.”  

In summary, cruising costs about $200 more per day than staying in a rental. Building a budget that allows for this expense, adds much to our enjoyment while freeing us on transportation costs, preparing meals, and handling baggage. The opportunity to see a little piece of many locations in a short time span is appealing.  Adding to the experience is choosing a cabin on the correct side of the ship, allowing the best viewing advantage of land throughout the cruise.

Most cruise fares include port charges but getting off the ship at various ports will undoubtedly result in often hundreds of dollars in additional charges for excursions, meals, shopping, and the usual hawkers selling their wares. We will stay on the ship as much as possible to avoid these tourist traps. 

Soon, Criteria #6 will be posted.  Thanks for stopping by!

Our strict critera…

At the end of my last entry, I promised to explain the strict criteria we have established to ensure the financial goal of our world travel:  our total travel expenses would not exceed the expenses we would have incurred to live in a $1500 a month condo in Arizona or any tax-free state such as Florida or Nevada.  Using an Excel spreadsheet we listed the normal expenses we would experience in our new retirement lifestyle, entitled “Basic Living Expenses”  

  1. Rent or mortgage payment:  include association dues, if applicable
  2. Taxes: federal, state and property, if applicable
  3. Groceries: to include specialty items for our restrictive organic, gluten-free, low carbohydrate, sugar-free, wheat, and grain-free way of eating.  All meals are homemade (no processed foods) utilizing grass-fed meat with organic produce, dairy, and eggs.
  4. Auto expenses:  payment for a newer vehicle still under warranty, gas, maintenance, insurance
  5. Health: insurance premiums, co-pays, prescriptions, dental, vision, health club dues, alternative therapies, and supplements
  6. Other insurance
  7. Cable and Internet:  including a few premium channels (we love Dexter, Homeland, Boardwalk Empire and Shameless)
  8. Cell phones: a smartphone with unlimited data
  9. Utilities: gas, electric, water, trash 
  10. Entertainment and dining out (carefully limited)
  11. Clothing, personal effects, toiletries, and grooming (all items discounted and purchased at the best possible price)
  12. Gifts:  for family members/friends for birthdays/holidays, greeting cards, postage
  13. Publications: magazines, newspapers, online subscriptions
  14. Miscellaneous:  occasional purchase or replacement of household goods, donations, cash for incidentals
  15. Pet care:  food, treats, toys, groomer and vet (no pet now since we lost our WorldWideWillie last April) but we would have a new dog if we settled into a retirement lifestyle
  16. Banking fees;  interest on credit cards, if applicable; 
  17. Savings
Upon keeping our costs as low as possible, in an effort to live a relatively conservative retirement lifestyle we had a total.  Thus…

Criteria #1:  Do not have a permanent home!
With these numbers in mind, we created the next worksheet in our Excel workbook, entitled “Fixed Living Expenses” which were those we’d incur if we traveled but didn’t have a permanent home. Although we are not accountants nor possess a degree as such, we labeled the tabs that we felt best represented the analysis we chose to perform. These were expenses we’d have whether we were on a cruise, temporarily living in Spain, or on a safari in Africa that didn’t include travel expenses.
  1. Taxes: federal, state and property, if applicable
  2. Groceries: to include specialty items for our restrictive organic, gluten-free, low carbohydrate, sugar-free, wheat, and grain-free way of eating. All meals are homemade (no processed foods) utilizing grass-fed meat and poultry with organic produce, dairy, and eggs.
  3. Health:  insurance premiums, co-pays, prescriptions, dental, vision, supplements 
  4. Other insurance 
  5. Cell phone (one between us):
  6. Clothing, personal effects, toiletries, and grooming (all items discounted and purchased at the best possible price)
  7. Gifts:  for family members/friends for birthdays/holidays, postage
  8. Banking fees;  interest on credit cards, if applicable
  9. Savings
Criteria #2:   Do not own cars!  (And resulting payments, depreciation, storage, insurance, gas and maintenance)

We will sell both of our cars before we step foot out of this country, instead of renting a car if necessary. While calculating our auto expense, considering the two payments, insurance, gas and maintenance, the total was $1523 per month, which more than covers all of our upcoming flights, trains, ferries, taxis and rental cars (three of our credit cards provide free rental car insurance when the card is used for the rental car charges)!
Then we took the “Fixed Living Expenses” and created an “Average Daily Expense” which, no matter our travel expenses or living arrangements, would always be relevant numbers in our financial planning.

Criteria #3:   Do not stay in hotels other than the short term! How is it possible to travel without staying in hotels?  Sleep in a tent?  Hardly!  Rent an RV?  Too expensive! Mooch off people you may know that live in exotic places? Never! Staying in a hotel requires the expense of meals in restaurants, tips, city, county, state and local taxes, outrageously priced cocktails and beverages, and of course, the tempting “tourist trap” shops and services. 

Simple answer:  Only stay in houses, condos, townhouses, villas, apartments, and other such property owned, but not currently occupied, by private parties. Property owners are often anxious to rent their own homes and rental properties at reasonable rates knowing full well that the distraught economy and worldwide strife has tempered world travel.  We have found that we prefer to rent houses and villas as opposed to apartments, which are often noisy and offer fewer amenities.
Criteria #4:   Do not pay more than what we were willing to pay for rent in our chosen retirement community!   The above described $1500 month was the magic number that fit into our predetermined budget.  How is this possible?  Only $1500 a month for a house?  Yes, the gorgeous 17th century, totally renovated villa in Tuscany, Italy is $1400 month!  Yes, the amazing little beach house in Placencia, Belize is $1250 a month!  Yes, the charming house in the Kruger National Park in South Africa, surrounded by the free-roaming Big 5, is $1387 a month!  We will share more about these astounding rentals as we continue here.
There is so much more to share, including the remaining Criteria, how to calculate total expenses, why we have booked five cruises thus far with two more waiting to be posted.  How and why we have booked ahead 571 days from this coming Halloween, Tom’s retirement date.  How we will experience the first 10 months of our adventure without ever stepping foot onto an airplane.  

Certainly, we have a “to-do” list that is daunting. Certainly, there is a degree of risk.  Certainly, there is some blind faith that we are going to enjoy our new lives, free from all the familiar comforts that we have reveled in all these years. And most certainly, our love and devotion to one another will see us through all the challenges we encounter along the way.  

We have mutually agreed that if at any time, one of us is tired, bored, or tired of being on the move, we will stop and find “home’ wherever that we may be.

A dream is born!… Is it affordable?…Are we crazy?

We are everyday people.  We aren’t wealthy.  Tom worked hard for 42 years on the railroad.  My career mostly consisted of owning a small real estate company experiencing varying degrees of success and failure, always subject to the turns of the market and my own life experiences ups and downs.  

We’ve lived in a fabulous lake house with the upkeep that sucked up most of our income, but rationalized it that the joy of living here together was worth the expense and sacrifice.  Our retirement income was growing due to Tom’s contributions and we didn’t really worry much about the future.
Then the economy burst and we, like so many others, lost a chunk of security while at the same time my desire to battle the failing real estate market waned day by day. I threw in the towel and retired eighteen months ago. Good grief, I applied for Social Security, after paying in for 45 years.  It was hard to believe that time flew by so quickly.  It was only yesterday we were chugging Vodka Gimlets and dancing at the disco.

I had often said that I’d never retire having loved the clients, the excitement, and the gratification of helping people make the biggest financial decision of their lives. It was now over.  I felt sad.  What would I do but wrap myself up in the eventuality of Tom’s retirement?

My goal was to come up with some ideas to present to my exhausted husband on the weekends who still working twelve-hour days this late in his career, along with the two hours of driving time. I had felt a little guilty being home, not contributing more than packing his three-meal-lunch each day and the basic, relatively easy everyday running of our two-person household.


The days until Tom’s upcoming retirement had been a daily reminder in an app I had installed on my DroidX phone, Retirement Countdown Free that today says: 7 months, 16 days.  I look at it every day.  It doesn’t seem to move.  But it does. It’s Halloween.  I keep counting on my fingers to ensure it is accurate. It is.

Strangely, during this time, we negotiated a deal, albeit at a loss, to be rid of our house to free us to move on. Not what we had wished.  We knew that living on a retirement pension the upkeep would be prohibitive forcing us to live the last third of our lives in a perpetual state of stress, leaving no room to travel. We hadn’t been on a real vacation together in over fifteen years never wanting to spend the money or to leave, or a beautiful home.
Invariable, Tom and I spent the bulk of our vacation time working on projects around the house, him oblivious to his skills as a hard-working handyman. He can fix just about anything.  I have been “the helper” washing the insides of the windows, cleaning, doing laundry, and happily cooking our favorite meals and desserts (more fun when we weren’t low carb, gluten-free).  

Neither of us ever minded the definition of the stereotypical male/female roles. We grew up in an era when gender roles were more defined than today.  We never fought it. We never fought with one another over it.  We relished in giving each other the very best we had to offer, without complaint, without judgment, without “snipping” (in itself, the secret to our marital success).

So, as we counted down the days, each weekend we began talking about that which most Minnesota “Snow Birds” do; move to a warm climate in an income tax-free state, downsize our “stuff,” sadly say goodbye to our family and friends, sell one of the two cars, and occasionally go on a Viking River Cruise with other “old timers” like ourselves.  

We finally relented buying the proverbial AARP card, good for a full five years. Wow…we can get a discount at Denny’s in Las Vegas, Perkins in Rapid City, or Old Country Buffet in Miami!  Here come the Golden Years!  Ouch, more than those crunchy joints are hurting!

In our typical fashion of online researching of literally every thought, our brains regurgitate, we investigated best places to retire in the US,  buying an RV, moving to a retirement community, or simply renting a condo in Scottsdale, Arizona while we think it over. Although not an income tax-free state, the climate is good in the winter, the desert appealing for its mysterious beauty and the population not unlike ourselves.  A good temporary solution.
On my laptop, an Excel spreadsheet in front of me, I plugged in formulas and numbers to create a “feasibility study” to determine our future financial life considering the average rental cost of a typical condo, utilities, groceries, health insurance, medical including prescriptions and co-pays, cell phones and Internet, food and entertainment, etc.  We could survive, we determined.  
It was Saturday afternoon, January 7, 2012.  We had just reviewed the numbers in the spreadsheet while sitting in our usual comfy chairs in the family room, the TV on quietly in the background, freshly poured frosty glasses of iced tea on the side table, the smell of pot roast in the oven wafting through the air (love that word!) and we looked at one another, our eyes locked in a gaze as powerful as an embrace.  Tom took a deep breath and quickly blurted out, his words running together awaiting my reaction and said, “Let’s not have a home and travel the world instead.”  
I gasped. I paused.  I said, “Wait, give me a minute.”  I looked at the spreadsheet.  I removed the rent, the utilities, the car and its insurance, the annual vacation, and all the expenses that would go away if one didn’t have a home.  

I added back the following onto the new worksheet: visas, taxes and tips, airfare, ferries, taxis, auto rentals, cruises, food (eating in 6 days a week, eating out once), a monthly (or longer) vacation rental home fully equipped with kitchen and all household goods, entertainment, unexpected expenses and on and on. We talked.  We giggled.  We dreamed aloud.  We accepted that our preliminary numbers were subject to change as we completed more research.


The pot roast was done. The time had flown.  We inhaled our dinner anxious to swallow the next bite in order to say something more, interrupting each other, as we often do. We couldn’t watch the favorite shows we had taped during the week.  We talked all night long. The remainder of the weekend was a blur, fingers flying across the keys in our relentless pursuit of more and more information. 

Tentatively, tempering our enthusiasm, over the next several weeks, we came to this startling realization:  If we didn’t have a home, with its fixed monthly expenses, we could travel the world as long as we wanted to, living off of our monthly income alone, as long as it met strict criteria.

Now, two and a half months later, after hundreds of hours of research, we have booked out and paid deposits for 492 days beginning October 31, 2012, with more plans brewing imminently. Planning is a full-time job in itself.  

The next post will include: the strict criteria to make this possible.  And soon, the set itinerary thus far, the resources we have used to make this possible, the endless list of “to do’s,” the amazing people we have encountered all over the world and most of all the preparation we are making for all the “what if’s” that we will surely encounter along the way.  Then, of course, there are the “unknowns” that we choose to acknowledge exist and pray that our good sense and resources will guide us along the way.

Fearful? A little.  Joyful? A lot.
 

 

Sounds glamorous but quite worrisome…

When we decided to travel the world beginning this upcoming Halloween, Tom’s retirement date, we knew the tasks associated with changing our lives to this degree would be daunting.  We have made a purposeful point of not getting caught up in the excitement by staying task-oriented and preparing for endless “what ifs” by playing our own devil’s advocate.  

Doing so has resulted in some sleep-stealing worrying one does at 3 am.  We are not strangers to this particular effect of worrying.  Last night we both lay awake between 2 am and 4 am, tossing and turning, aware of each other’s state, trying not to talk to further our alertness.  Finally, we drifted off only to have Tom’s alarm clock startle us both at 6:50.  We got some good worrying in!

We ask ourselves so many questions, not so much to put a damper on our adventure but to maintain a sense of reality of what is yet to come.  “They say” that worry is a useless emotion.  If worrying prompts or motivates one to take self-preserving steps, then worry has some unmitigated value.  

Fear in itself is a powerful motivator. Overcoming fear is next in line.  The healthy self-love and appreciation we experience after overcoming fear are the greatest rewards life has to offer us in our continuing search for personal growth and self-discovery.  

Oh, good grief, does this mean we will zip line or bungee jump when we spend three months in Belize, beginning in February 2013?  Or…ride an inner tube through the water caves in the rain forest, the roofs covered with guano (gee, I always wanted to find a use for that word, meaning “bat poop”, if you didn’t already know) while I am terrified of bats?  Or…ride a hot air balloon in Kenya (during our three-month stay) over the Great Migration in the Serengeti National Park?  Or…welcome a 275-pound warthog into the kitchen where we will live for three months beginning December 2013 in the Kruger National Park in South Africa, living among the wildlife with no barriers?

Warthog in the kitchen doing “crumb patrol.”
We won’t have to do any of these but most likely we will do some of these, finding ourselves exhilarated by the life-changing experiences, to finally be “stepping outside the box,” taking the risks and reveling in the process together.

What if we show up at one of our many prepaid vacation homes throughout the world to find out that we were scammed, with all of our due diligence when no such owner or house exists?  We’ll take a deep breath, get online as fast as possible, and find a place to stay for a few days while we figure it out. We’ll have lost up to three months’ rent, the maximum time we will stay in any vacation home. But, we’ll continue on, knowing full well that we chose this risk as part of the adventure.

What if one of the five cruises we have booked thus far encounters a storm and is unable to “drop us off” to our desired location a day or two prior to the end of the cruise and instead goes to a different port some 500 miles away? We will go to the next port, get off and find a flight, a train, a ferry to our planned location.

What if one of us has a gallbladder attack requiring surgery while we are in a remote location?  We are purchasing emergency evacuation insurance that will take us back to the states to our desired location or at least to the nearest big city hospital.  

What if our passports or wallets are stolen?  We are getting second passports to be kept separately from my purse and Tom’s wallet.  We have scanned all of our credit cards with contact information, driver’s licenses debit cards and banking information to a secure cloud.  All we’ll ever need is a WiFi location to immediately contact the necessary parties.

How will we, both gluten-free, not eat the homemade pasta, bread and pastries while spending almost three months in a 17th century stone farmhouse in Tuscany, beginning June 15, 2013?  We will either try it and pay the price or… we will choose not to try it and instead enjoy the local produce and meats.


So, worrying we will do!  And, surely along the way, we’ll be surprised, disappointed, scared, and “ripped off” asking ourselves how we let this happen, how we made this mistake, why we left our family and friends behind to seek out adventure.  

Then again, we’ll be amazed, enthralled, enriched, and enlightened and most of all, grateful.. to be sharing this experience together for as long as we choose and for as long as we can.  So we miss the ferry, the flight gets canceled, the mosquitoes are biting, the heat is overwhelming, we can’t get online and then, the giraffes are hogging the road when we are trying to get to the grocery store!

A herd of Giraffe hogging the road in Marloth Park, South Africa (not our photo).

 

Snail mail solution…Tasks piling up…

I don’t like snail mail. Every day between noon and 3 PM, the white rickety US mail trunk comes bobbing down our bumpy private road, the driver bouncing about, oblivious to the numerous potholes, the narrow road, and the little dogs.  

Living on a private road of six homes, situated on a narrow peninsula, the little dogs can roam freely. Sorrowfully, about 15 years ago, our little five-year-old Aussie, Bart, was run over by the then mailman who later commented, “Yeah, I’d thought I hit something but didn’t think I needed to stop to investigate.”

Had it not been for the second kiss goodbye to Tom that day that inspired me to follow him outside and kiss him through the open car window, I wouldn’t have noticed Bart lying dead behind Tom’s back tire. He would have backed up driving over him, assuming he had killed him.  Thank goodness, Tom was (and still is) deserving the second kiss. 

That’s one reason I don’t like the mailman, the truck or the mail itself, an endless barrage of junk indicating we are on some kind of arbitrary, categorical list that perpetually invades our privacy. 

The second reason I don’t like the mail is simple: about halfway through every vacation, I start thinking about the fact that this glorious experience has to come to an end.  And, what is the first thing you do when you get home from a vacation???  GET THE DARNED MAIL!!! The therapeutic benefit of this much needed time away turns into a dreadful experience of wading through the annoying pile of useless paper.  (We went paperless years ago on all of our monthly/annual/quarterly obligations).

After rifling through this mess, there remains perhaps one item worthy of a toss into the pile on the kitchen counter, which invariably requires some type of task in order to warrant its eventual disposal.  I hate mail.

In my mind, one of the major contributors to my desire to travel the world is this:  We won’t have to come home to the mail!  Ah, but who are we kidding? Do you think it’s easy to get rid of mail?  Mail is relentless! Mail seeks and finds. There is no freedom from the mail!

So, when we started making the daunting “to do” list that will make this many years-long adventure possible, at the very top is “what do we do about the mail?”  

It’s not that simple. One might think we should get a PO box, sending all the mail there. No, this won’t work.  It piles up and then what? Have a family member collect it, go through it, and send it to us?  No, that’s too much to ask with everyone’s busy lives and their own mail to contend with. 

Every dilemma has a solution, right? We’re assigning a mail forwarding company the task of our mail.  They give us an address, receive the mail, toss the junk, scanning, and sending by email anything we may need to review and assess its value.  

If we choose to touch it for some odd reason, they will snail mail it to us anywhere in the world, overnight if need be. It’s not costly and requires little time commitment plus, partial mail freedom.  Full mail freedom only occurs a period of time after one’s demise.  We’ll settle for partial.  Cost: about $10 month plus additional fees for sending us anything oversees.  One task, resolved. 

Now back to the required second passport for obtaining visas; the visas themselves; the scanning every photo we’ve ever taken; the international health insurance issues; the medical evacuation insurance;  the immunizations; the process of renewing prescriptions; the packing of two suitcases each with enough to last us for however long; the disposal of everything we have owned for 26 years; the estate sale at the end; the international cell phones and new computers with an external hard drive loaded with 100’s of movies, TV shows, e-books; the ability to have Internet access worldwide; Tom’s retirement party; the comprehensive spreadsheets of all projected expenditures including fixed expenses, taxes, banking, exchange rates and of course, the itinerary including cruises, ferry rides, air travel, train travel, vacation home rentals, the safari, all of which is already booked out to January 2015.

Oh, oh, I just heard the mail truck bouncing down the bumpy road, the bobble-headed driver behind the wheel.  I’d better go check it out!  Just think, only 7 months and 21 days left to partial mail freedom. Yeah!