Pastry Chef Xavier’s VIP service…

Pastry Chef Xavier and Jess. We shared “foodie” tidbits! He’s determined to make me a special dessert. 

We aren’t the type of passengers or customers to complain. If our steak is too well done, we may politely ask for a new one if the restaurant is not too busy. But more often than not, we eat it anyway, content to be together having a meal, even if it isn’t perfect.

Since beginning this strict way of eating 18 months ago, I have been sensitive to avoiding making a spectacle when ordering food, seeking out appropriate options by carefully perusing the menu, and asking the waiters to question the chef if necessary.

Aboard ship for almost 18 nights with approximately 36 meals eaten thus far (we only eat two times a day). We’ve had plenty of opportunities to discover which foods fit the guidelines of my strict diet (Tom’s less strict than I, especially on these cruises). 

For me, it’s a matter of feeling well or feeling sick. No willpower is needed for that! For Tom, lately, he feels well no matter what he eats, and although he’s gained back a few pounds, once we get to Belize with our home cooking, he’ll return to my way of eating, losing the extra poundage in a few weeks. 

The only part of the meals aboard the ship that has been a little hard to resist has been watching the fabulous desserts come out to our shared table each night, taste-tempting plates of elegant fruit or chocolate sauces, drizzled or slathered over varying types of cheesecakes, mousses, cakes, and pies, all of which, in my old life, I would have enjoyed immensely.

Each night, the thoughtful waiters have attempted to lure me into ordering “gluten-free” desserts, of which there are two options. Trying to explain the restrictions of my low carb, sugar-free, grain-free, starch-free, no processed food diet to a broken English-speaking overworked waiter is impossible.

As a result, when they’ve graciously tried to accommodate me, I’ve gently refused instead asking for the imported cheese plate (minus crackers and fruit) even if I had nary a bit of room in my stuffed belly after an otherwise fine meal of a protein, salad, and steamed vegetables. Doing so seems to appease the waiter that he’s done his job, leaving me content with the offering.

Invariably, the cheese plate arrives with a smattering of dried and fresh fruits, which I discretely put aside without comment, consuming the tidbits of cheese in a mere minute, thoroughly enjoying the tangy flavors.

When booking all of our cruises, we’ve chosen “Select Dining,” an option whereby we can eat at any time from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm in the main dining room Celebrity Equinox’s Silhouette dining room is an elegant massive two level white linen dining room with waiters scurrying about in tuxedoes and a white towel neatly draped across their arm.

With this choice, we can eat alone at a table for two or eat at varying configurations, round for six or eight, or rectangle for up to 10, sitting across from one another. This shared dining has been delightful, each night meeting new tablemates when lively conversation ensues in most cases.

Most often, passengers choose to sit with others to enjoy meeting new people. Instead of talking and enjoying the time among ourselves or with people on our other side, we respect. We observed our newly found dining companions prefer to remain quietly to themselves on a few occasions.

The other dining option is a fixed dining time of either 6:00 pm or 8:30 pm at the same table each night of the cruise, sitting next to the same people, night after night. Risky. Plus, we’re attempting to live a life of doing exactly what we want to do when we want to do it. Selfish? Perhaps.

Nonetheless, immensely fun. If we miss out, so be it. We’ll figure out an alternate plan. 

Anyway, back to last night. We were seated in the elegant lower level of the dining room instead of the main level when we didn’t have a reservation. The maître’d had taken a liking to us. As a result, we’ve only had to wait on one occasion for more than a few minutes for a table. 

If there was a long waiting line, we waited in the “ice bar”  enjoying a beverage until the maître’d informed us that our table was ready. 

Upon being seated at a rectangle table for eight, closest to the wall (not ideal), our penguin-dressed waiter rushed up to me and, for some unknown reason,  was aware of my dietary restrictions. Had the word spread that the tall, dark-haired, older woman with the adorable grey-haired guy was gluten-free along with other goofy restrictions? 

He ran circles around me. Tom, preferring not to draw attention to himself, more than what he accrues being endlessly chatty and humorous, slithered down a little in his chair. I chuckled. 

This was proving to be VIP service, none of which we requested or expected.

Ordering a Caesar salad minus croutons, a giant rare rib steak, buttered al dente asparagus, and a platter of steamed non-starchy vegetables, I was content. Oh, no. I wasn’t getting away that easy!

When I refused dessert, shocking our attentive waiter and not wanting to “hurt his feelings,” I explained that I was on a strict diet for health reasons. I gently explained that there was nothing I
could eat other than the ol’ standby cheese plate and that I was quite content (although I was actually tired of it already). The waiter dashed off before I could say another word.

In moments, Chef Xavier, pastry chef extraordinaire, white tower hat atop his head of curly brown and grey hair, crisp white uniform spotless and neatly pressed appeared at our table, insistent in a delightful accent I couldn’t quite decipher, that I give him a list of every item I couldn’t eat. 

Paper and pen in hand, he was determined to prepare a special dessert for me to enjoy each of our five remaining nights aboard the Celebrity Equinox until we disembark early for our extended stay in Belize. He asked many questions about the things I could have. A little embarrassed by all the attention, I quietly spewed the list of items I must avoid commonly used in baking.

When I tried to refuse his generous offer, I realized that he loved the challenge when his typical days and nights consisted of creating the same “cookie-cutter” desserts for the 11,000 meals served each day. 

Tom took the above photo of Chef Xavier and me, tableside. The favorite maître’d, observing this scenario, insisted that he’d find us tonight and each upcoming night taking down our names and cabin number.
I suspected that their sophisticated computer system could easily locate us after we check-in for dining.

So, I look forward to a new dessert concoction tonight and nights to come. I told Tom that even if it doesn’t taste fabulous, I’ll eat it anyway and enjoy it, knowing that the thoughtful consideration in itself whet my appetite. 

Thanks, Chef Xavier. Your kindness adds yet another memorable event to our year’s long
journey, so rich in its content and already becoming so rich in the experience of meeting new and exciting people along the way.

Cruising to Cabos San Lucas…Be there tomorrow…

To our readers:  We will be adding photos here as soon as we are near land and able to use XCOM Global Mifi device which doesn’t work away from land.  We are at sea all day today arriving in Cabo San Lucas at which time we’ll upload photos.  The cruise ship’s wireless connection is too slow at this time to upload any photos.

The Celebrity Century which we boarded yesterday in San Diego, California.
It felt as if someone had pulled the plug and I’d slithered down the drain. To say I was exhausted was an understatement. Tom was his usual perky self, ready to dance the night away.

Dining in the Grand Dining Room last night, a table for two by the window, ensconced in the gentle rolling of the ship, we found ourselves relaxed and at ease for the first time in the many months of planning our year’s long journey to see the world.

Our dietary restrictions were generously accommodated with gluten-free references to the well-appointed menu, offering a wide array of what one might consider being upscale dining. Surprised that we weren’t herded about as cattle at a buffet line, we chatted with nearby guests and teased our articulate Croatian waiter. We couldn’t wipe the smile off of our faces. 

All the while the exhaustion was creeping up on me and after our four-course dinner, capped off with a scoop of rich sugar-free vanilla ice cream, I was ready to go back to our cabin.

We’ve yet to unpack other than the items we had had in a duffle bag in San Diego, a few pairs of jeans, underwear, a small bag of toiletries, and my workout clothes. Soon, we’ll leave our “comfy chairs” in this casual dining area after a hearty breakfast and head back to our cabin to see if the overflowing toilet is repaired. Ah, so it begins? No big deal, we laughed. The toiled overflowed in Scottsdale too.

Leaving San Diego was a combination of a test of our organizational skills and our resilience to stay calm when our soon to be turned over vehicle (to son Richard who generously took it off of our hands) was so loaded with “stuff” that we had no choice but to pile luggage on my lap
on the drive to the pier. 

Some items were to be left for Richard who flew in from Las Vegas to pick up the car and my sister and her partner who drove from LA,  all of whom came to see us off at the pier. The remainder was our orange Antler luggage, two computer bags, two duffle bags, and my bulky overloaded handbag. (We “converted” Tom’s”murse” into a computer bag. Now he likes it).

Arriving at the pier to unload our bags at noon proved to be another pleasant surprise. We drove into the baggage drop off area next to the ship and in less than five minutes our bags were tagged
and hauled out the SUV by a burly porter (to whom we gave a generous tip).

In moments, we were on our way to the Fish House Restaurant less than 1/4 of a mile away to meet up with Julie, Maureen, and Richard for our final goodbyes. (We drove past the USS Midway, wishing we had time to explore. We’ll save that for another time).

Having said our goodbyes to our other three adult children, their significant others, and the six grandchildren (who Tom lovingly refers to as the “pallbearers!”) in Minnesota only two months ago and again over the phone in the past few days, we now were faced with more goodbyes. 

At 2:30 PM after entering through two relatively painless checkpoints and security, hundreds of passengers before us, we found ourselves aboard the ship.  Our luggage would be outside our door within a few hours while we were free to roam the ship after a mandatory 3:30 lifeboat training session in our designated muster station. 

I felt my heart racing for a moment when instructed as to how to wear the life vest. While
drawing a deep breath, I looked over at Tom, suddenly feeling at ease. Many years ago, he’d been a volunteer fireman having proven to be highly competent in emergencies. No doubt, he’d take good care of us.  My pulse settled down and a calm washed over me.  Everything would be OK.

Our luggage had arrived in part when we returned to our compact cabin. We were missing a bag
with all of our power cords and another with my space foam neck pillow and Tom’s unfinished bottle of Courvoisier which we had anticipated would be confiscated. 

Passengers are not allowed to bring alcohol aboard the ship which they tag to be returned upon the day of departure.  We were aware of this but it was a shame to toss a bottle of VSOP which no one we knew wanted.  Finding our way to security we discovered our two bags.  Not only was alcohol not allowed but no power strips, extension cords, and multiple adapters were allowed onboard due to a potential fire hazard. With only two electric outlets in our cabin, we knew we’d have to

Now, we’ll return to our cabin, hopefully finding the toilet repaired. We’ll unpack our bags,
hang our fancy clothes in the shower to un-wrinkle for tonight’s formal night and find our way to begin the much-anticipated process of having fun.
Of late, many have asked us, “Are you excited yet?”
We’ll respond in unison, “This is our life now.  One doesn’t wake up every day and say they’re
excited. Some days, we’ll be excited. Some days we won’t think about it. But, most days, we’ll be happy simply being together, wherever that may be.

Why 2nd passports?…Visit to Nevada…

Over the past many months of writing this blog, I have mentioned the need for 2nd passports.  One may ask, “Why isn’t one passport sufficient?”

Usually, one passport is sufficient for most travelers.  If visas are needed for travel, one must send in their passport to the appropriate embassy along with other pertinent documents as required by the country into which one is seeking access.  Doing so, would leave us in a foreign country without a passport in our possession for a week, a dangerous situation.

Visas are not required by all countries, many are only required for stays of 30 days or more, many for as much as 90 days. It is imperative that we check the requirements at the embassy of the countries we’ll be visiting, found easily online at a number of sites.

Rather than take the time and effort to apply for all the visas we will need as we need them and, based on our long stays in many countries, we have decided to use the services of VisaHQ, a company located on Embassy Row in Washington, DC.  They have the ability to quickly and easily process the paperwork, not only for our 2nd passports but also for our many upcoming visas.

Unfortunately, it is necessary to wait about 30 days before traveling to a specific country, since they usually are only good for a specific period.

Of course, there are additional fees for processing each visa, usually under $79 each.  Early on in our budgeting discussions we decided to include this expenses rather than taking the time and the effort at each of our locations to do the paperwork ourselves. Doing so would create stress, distracting us from the enjoyment of the experience at the time.

VisaHQ, along with other such websites, has the traveler complete a master form kept secure on their site.  When a visa is needed a single page is all that is required to complete online along with sending in the 2nd passport and any necessary documents which are quickly returned. 

Second passports are only good for two years.  We’ll note the renewal date on our calendar upon receipt.  For this reason, we are waiting until we are down to the wire to ensure we have full use of the two years.

Once we apply and have experienced the process of our first application online with VisaHQ we will report back here with the details.  Of course, we already have our “first” passports, good for another nine years in our case. (US passports are valid for a of a total of 10 years).

This past Friday while here in Nevada, we had additional passport photos taken at a Walgreens pharmacy, who along with CVS are certified to take passport photos, making this process easier than in years past.  The cost for each pair of photos is $10.99. 

We each ordered two sets leaving us with a total of four passport photos plus a fifth we already had of an older photo. Generally, passport photos are valid for six months. (Yes, us old timers do change in appearance in six months, I suppose). 

The time here in Henderson, Nevada has been low key as we continue to prepare to leave the US, visiting family, playing with family kids and dogs, Monty and Owen. 

We dined in the past two nights.  On Saturday while at Whole Foods we purchased a huge chunk of bison sirloin steak, gluten free of course, that I cut into two nice sized pieces to marinate.  After all, we are trying “new things.”

Nah, Tom took one bite and gagged.  It didn’t help that we were watching a show on TV, Extreme Cheapskates, whereby the “star” of the episodes would go “dumpster diving” at restaurant dumpsters for dinner. 

That didn’t bother me!  I busily chomped away on my big steak, noticing a “gamey” flavor but hungry enough to eat the entire thing.  I eyeballed Tom’s plate considering attacking his steak also deciding not to “pig out.”  Bison in the future?  Not so much.

Undoubtedly, we’ll have plenty of opportunities to try new foods along the way as we travel the world.  Later.

Last Easter with the family for awhile…

Family life is often filled with traditions, the traditions we created for our children when they were young, that we adapted as they matured and those that we’ve rekindled for their children, our six grandchildren, years later. 

The comfort and familiarity of reenacting holiday traditions, each year filled Tom and me with guarded anticipation. Over these past years, we have come to accept, although at times painfully so, that our adult children have the right to build their own traditions that may at times, not include us.  

We recall the struggle and oftentimes, the guilt we felt when the first Christmas morning came when we chose to stay home as opposed to going to our parents’ homes. We wanted to savor Santa’s bounty with our own children, their eyes wide with delight as they anxiously ripped open package after package, them in their cartoon character pajamas, us with big coffee mugs warming our hands, all with the ease and comfort of spending this special time cozy at home.

And now, as their families have grown, their own traditions firmly rooted in their lives, in their own homes, we especially find ourselves reeling with the anticipation of all of them breaking away to spend special time with us once again, this Easter Sunday.

Practically dancing on my tiptoes, around our ten-foot-long dining room table, my arms were laden with gifts of every variety, candies carefully selected for special diets and preferences, I gleefully fill the 17 Easter baskets (including four pet baskets). I swap out one Thomas toy train for a Transformer truck from one basket to another, stepping back, visualizing the correctness of my decision, and smile. Each year, we always say, “this is the best year yet.” And it is.

Oh, good grief! I’d better improve my photo taking skills before we leave!

The meaning of Easter is not lost on our abundance of baskets, the colored eggs, the homemade bunny rabbit cake, the carefully planned and executed brunch, and of course, the painstakingly thought out game and Easter egg hunt. No, it’s not lost. It’s for forgiveness. It’s for thankfulness and, most of all, it’s for love.

This year is no different, the traditions are all here, the pile of fuzzy bunny rabbit ears everyone will place on their heads when they enter the door, the laughter over the rambunctious silly games, the glee in the voices of the little ones when they discover yet another plastic egg filled with candy, a small toy or a dollar bill.  It’s all the same. It’s all predictable. Laughter fills the air. It’s all heartwarming.

Tom and I will look at each other from across the room, our faces hurting from too much smiling, our eyes glistening with too many tears, as we enjoyed this last Easter tradition, knowing full well that we and they, will be building new traditions in the time to come.

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 in 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 the 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 as planned: Are we healthy? Did we follow the budget? And of course, do we want to?

Location Days  
Minnesota drive to Scottsdale AZ
Scottsdale Condo Rental 
(included in the above)
Scottsdale to Las Vegas-hotel
Scottsdale to San Diego – stay with family

San Diego to Fort Lauderdale – Panama Canal Cruise
Lauderdale to Boca Raton- stay with a friend
Fort Lauderdale to Belize – Cruise
Belize Rental-House on beach
Belize to Miami Cruise
Visit friends in Boca, Bonita Springs
Miami to Barcelona – Cruise
Barcelona to Majorca (RT) – ferry
Majorca Oceanview
Condo Rental 
Majorca to Barcelona-Ferry 
Barcelona to Venice- Mediterranean Cruise
Venice to Tuscany-Train
Tuscany Rental-17th century villa
Tuscany to Rome-Train
Rome to Kenya-Flight
Kenya Rental- Diani Beach house
Kenya to South Africa-Flight
South Africa Rental-Kruger National Park – House
Kruger National Park to Durban, South Africa-driver
Durban to Cape Town-Cruise
Cape Town to Genoa- Cruise                             
Drive to Genoa, Italy along
French Riveria, to Hotel in Cannes
Cannes to 16th Century
Stone House, Cajarc, France
Spain, Portugal, London (take the Chunnel under the ocean) rentals
London to Fort Lauderdale-Cruise
Fort Lauderdale to Boca-stay with friend
Lauderdale to
San Diego Cruise
San Diego to Baja CA
Baja CA
to Ensenada,
Ensenada Mexico to
Honolulu Cruise
Hawaii – Home Rentals-Island Hopping (Christmas booked with family on Big Island during this period)
Days Booked to Date (more will follow)

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

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 web site. Often these tempting artifacts can be found for half the price on eBay, from sellers who found they 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/cellphone access with us at all times. This was a tough one. I’ve 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 cellphone 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. It’s 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/cellphone 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.  

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 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 3:00 am. We are not strangers to this particular effect of worrying. Last night we both lay awake between 2:00 am and 4:00 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 the 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 measures, 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, will we 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, will we ride a hot air balloon in Kenya (during our three-month stay) over the Great Migration in the Serengeti National Park? Or, will we 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’ll 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).

Changing clocks…Changing life…

Sunday morning we both jumped out of bed at 6:00 am with a peculiar sense of urgency to begin the painstaking process of changing the myriad clocks in our home. Daylight savings began during the night.  

Over the 21 years that Tom and I have joyfully enjoyed life together, we seem to have assigned ourselves, which clocks we each change, two times each year. We scurried about the house, mumbling to ourselves as we adjusted one clock after another, realizing that this will be the last time we will change clocks in this house, in this state of Minnesota and perhaps in this country.  

In 7 months and 22 days from today, our journey will begin. Tom retires on Halloween after 42 years on the railroad (I retired 16 months ago) and off we go to the adventure of our lives, time being relevant to us in the future only in terms of the time of our next cruise, the time of our next flight, the time of the next ferry, or the time when we move into yet another vacation home.  

As we each finished our last clock, oddly about the same moment, I said to Tom, “We need a domain name for our future website and blog.”  

He chuckled, and said, “Funny, I was just thinking the same thing.” It’s equally odd how couples often have thoughts simultaneously. We never cease to be amazed by this phenomenon.

We had been mulling over some names the past month, as we booked our plans well into the future, knowing the time to document this process was coming near.

Last year, I wrote my first blog, as our beloved Australian Terrier, WorldWideWillie’s precious life came to an end, finding solace in the process. With over 400 followers, we found comfort in their invisible, lurking presence as I wrote almost daily from Willie’s perspective, his final days, days filled with love, humor, and tears.  

When Tom returned home each night, I read him the daily postings, often crying a river through the sobs that welled up in my chest. Tom cried with me, unashamed by his vulnerability, a charming aspect of his manly demeanor that which I have always adored.

We chose to honor Willie by using part of his name, WorldWide, by adding a 3rd word beginning with a “w.” Sitting at our computers we looked up all the “w” words that may be available as a domain. We stumbled across “Waftage,” a word that means “travel gently by water or air.”

How perfect a word when in fact this blog will be about us leaving our well-established lives here in Minnesota to travel the world, leaving our grown children, including our six adorable grandchildren, other family members, our longtime friends, our amazing neighbors and all of our “stuff,” to be sold off at an estate sale… days before we leave on Halloween, 2012. 

This blog will document a journey that at this point knows no end, a journey meticulously planned to be affordable and yet rich in comfort, visually stimulating, surrounded by nature, filled with history, all the while enjoying that which we have enjoyed the most, simply being together.

We’re lousy photographers, but we’ll post photos. We don’t like tourist traps, but we will visit some. We don’t care to buy trinkets, but we’ll surely buy a few.  

Ironically, neither of us has ardently enjoyed “sightseeing” but, we will seek out those that appeal to us. We don’t like crowds, gridlocked traffic, loud noises, or waiting in line, but we will experience all of these.  

We are both gluten-free, wheat, grain-free and sugar-free. We won’t eat bread, croissants, or pasta. I don’t drink alcohol, Tom drinks a little, but doesn’t like wine. Tom doesn’t like to go for walks. I love walks.  Occasionally, we’ll walk.

Then why will we do this? 1. Because we have figured out a way to afford to make this possible with some creative planning, which we’ll share with you along the way. 2. Because we want to!  

More than the concept of world travel in itself, we relish in the concept of stepping outside the box; getting out from behind our computers with fingers flying across the keyboard with our latest preoccupation; getting out of our comfy chairs while watching one of our big flat-screen TVs playing a popular premium hi-def series; playing another rambunctious competitive game of Wii Bowling or looking forward to the next great homemade meal.  

We have loved every minute of our lives, whether hanging out with family or friends or looking out the window for another delightful morsel Mother Nature tosses our way: an eagle swooping into the trees outside our house, a beaver building a den along the shoreline, a pack of coyotes looking for “little dog lunch.” We have loved it all.

So, we registered our domain name early Sunday morning. We poured ourselves a cup of perfectly brewed coffee, topping each cup with a dollop of real whipped cream, and sat down at the bar in the kitchen. We both smiled, eyes locked on each other. The little crinkles around his eyes made a wave of something wonderful wash over me.

We both looked up at the same time to notice we hadn’t changed the time in the big clock in the kitchen. We both jumped up simultaneously, and said, “I’ll get it!” We laughed. We have all the time in the world.