We survived it all..December 21 and MIFI rental for world travel…

As Tom’s three sisters and two brothers-in-law walked out the door yesterday, the day after Christmas, they asked us of we were getting excited. 

Tom, not giving me a chance to answer, chimed in, “You know what?  Jess planned all of our world travels.  And I just went along with it, figuring that the world was gonna’ end on December 21st and it wouldn’t matter.  So now, it does matter, and it’s time to start getting excited.”

We all roared with loud bursts of laughter. I had nothing more to say after that.  They were all headed back to their winter homes in Apache Junction, Arizona, and us, today back to our awaiting vacation home in Scottsdale to hook up with them again on December 30th for final goodbyes and sister Colleen’s birthday party.

Yesterday morning, we met up with my dear sister Julie and her significant other at son Richard‘s office in Henderson to have our wills and health care directives witnessed and notarized which will be secured in the family member’s hands while we travel. Yes, it was morbid doing this, but a necessary element of our travels and life itself.

Handing Julie our complete medical files put our minds at ease that should we ever need anything she’ll have it readily available. Julie like me, embroils herself in the details, making her a logical choice.  Of course, she would immediately notify all of our children if anything happened to us.

In addition, we have designated Julie as our contact person.  We will report to her with the contact information, phone numbers, and email for property owners prior to departure and arrival at each location. For instance, if we are due to arrive in France on a certain date and Julie doesn’t hear from us within 24 hours, she will immediately notify our adult children and begin the process of finding out what has transpired.  This is important.

We’ve all heard stories of travelers being kidnapped, lost in a jungle, or any other possible scenarios. It’s unlikely any of this will occur to us. In the event, an unforeseen situation does occur Julie will be highly diligent in tracking us down.

This provides all of our families with a sense of security. Although a little time consuming, it’s also a comfort to Tom and me to know that a nearly immediate effort would be instituted to “find us” if we’re missing. Julie, a TV producer, is an experienced world traveler with many worldwide contacts.  It’s logical for her to be assigned this task.  Thanks, sis!

Yesterday, we ordered our MIFI from XCOM GLOBAL that provides us with global wireless Internet access for up to five devices from a small wallet-sized device.  I’ve mentioned this many times on this blog finally placing our first order.  Pricier than we anticipated at $538 for the first month, we bit the bullet. 

The usual cost for using the device in one country is $399 a month plus shipping which may be as much as $100 each time it is shipped to us, with the high cost of international shipping.  We refused the $3.95 a month insurance for the device, at another $120 a month. 

The reason this particular first month’s rental was so high is due to the fact that we chose to try the device while cruising through the Panama Canal, which including it being set to work not only in Panama but also Mexico, Columbia, and the US while we’re in ports of call.  While at sea, it won’t work being too far from a cell tower. 

During those periods of time, we’ll use the ship’s Internet access at $395 which provides us each with one hour online per day for each of the 15 days for this first cruise.  This is expensive at $26.33 at roughly $13.17 apiece per day. 

MIFI from XCOM GLOBALalthough represented on their website that they offer unlimited access, will not allow more than 750 megabytes in any three day period.  If we do, they will turn off the system.  This allows us each 100’s of email messages per day, many more than either of us currently receive. 

We had decided that this would not be sufficient online usage for us.  We have personal business to conduct, ongoing travel research and arrangements, and of course, email messages from family and friends.  Thus, when Internet access if of poor quality or unavailable, we will order the device to be sent to us.  At this point, we anticipate using the MIFI approximately six months of the year since many vacation homes will have high-speed Internet access.

We are asking everyone to please continue to send us an email with text only beginning January 1, 2013, while we’re using the MIFI.  Receiving text-only email messages will mean “the world” to us being so far removed from everyone we know and love. Please keep the communication coming minus the videos and multiple photos.  Posting those videos and photos on Facebook will enable us to see them when we aren’t monitoring our usage.  We love hearing from you.

Today we’re heading back to Scottsdale, after more sorrowful goodbyes, for our final four days before our trip to San Diego for two more days before boarding our cruise to the Panama Canal, taking us away at long last. It’s hard to believe it’s finally only one week away. 

We have to repack all of our bags, clean our condo, finish our insurance planning, go to a birthday party, and brace ourselves for what is yet to come.                                                                                                                     

Living in Scottsdale, budgeting for this life..

Our Scottsdale dining table set for tonight’s dinner guests. Much to my amazement, there were linen napkins and placemats in the condo.  Five for dinner tonight.

We’ve been living in Old Town Scottsdale for almost a month, an ideal area for travelers.  Within a mile to the upscale shopping mall in downtown Scottsdale, walking distance to the Arts Walk District in Old Town, a mere 10-minute walk from our condo, we are literally within range of hundreds of eateries, shopping, and entertainment.

Fine dining is abundant as well as casual theme orientated bistros, cafes, and local versions of fast food, this area is limited in the usual sprinkling of chain restaurants, a delight to see.

While living in Minnesota, far from everything, we seldom dined out.  Tom drove almost an hour each way to work and back and the thought of a long drive to dining out was never appealing to us on the weekends.  We always blamed it on the fact that I enjoyed cooking and we loved lounging at home.

Now, we’ve confirmed that it was the drive more than anything that kept us away.  Living close to everything prompts us to look at one another each day asking, “Shall we go out to breakfast?” or “Want to go out to dinner tonight?”

Fast and furiously my fingers are flying across the keyboard reading the multitude of online reviews for the local restaurants.  We have yet to venture out to the half-hour drive to the McCormick Ranch area, where I had tried to find us a vacation home to rent for the two months, finding nothing under $4000 a month.  

Living in our well equipped and well kept 1100 square foot one-bedroom, poolside condo, we’ve been content.  The high-speed Internet works, although problematic when we first arrived, fixed immediately by the management company, allowing us to continue to work on our technology and research. 

View from our dining/living room in Scottsdale condo.

The kitchen has every gadget known to man/woman, except a rolling pin (I thought of making low carb tortillas, scrounging around looking for one).  There’s linen placemats and napkins (yeah!) and reasonably nice dishes.  The frying pan situation is lacking with one difficult to clean stainless steel pan and another old flaky Teflon pan I refuse to use. 

I’ve made breakfast using Reynold’s No Stick foil (on the dull side) on a glass 13 x 9″ pan, placing the sausages and bacon in the oven at 375 degrees to bake for 20 minutes while the huge low carb, gluten-free pancake bakes in the same time frame in a pie plate, again covered with the foil.  In the last four minutes I drop the eggs into the pan I used for the bacon and sausages.  Voila! We have a delicious baked breakfast and I must admit perfect jumbo pancake and eggs.

One might think it would make sense to buy a $10 pan while here for two months, but I decided long ago… improvise.  There will be vacation homes around the world severely lacking in many of the amenities we’ve enjoyed in the past.  Change and flexibility are in order going forward.

Last night we went out to dinner at a local diner in Old Town, David’s Hamburgers for one of the best bun-less burgers on the planet.  We’d gone there for a great breakfast on Thursday morning. 

Upon ordering the lettuce wrapped avocado adorned, stringy cheese, crisp onion, and fresh tomato covered burger for breakfast, I told Tom we must come back here for him to enjoy the same for dinner after he had eaten eggs, bacon, and sausage for breakfast. 

Drooling over the prospect of another of those burgers for two days, we went back last night enjoying a great reasonably priced meal in the cozy diner before attending another hilarious night at The Comedy Spot also in Old Town. 

We’re already “regulars” in Old Town as many of the seniors moseying around the area have become. Perhaps, the comfort of the familiar goes hand-in-hand with being a senior citizen.  In simple terms, “love the one you’re with.”

Living on a strict budget, documenting every expenditure makes us conscious of how we spend our money.  Now on a more fixed income, committed to all of our future travel plans, its imperative to continue to refer to our pre-planned budget so meticulously outlined on our Excel workbook with multiple spreadsheets. 

We have local copies of our budget saved to both of our laptops, to DropBox and also to SkyDrive, the cloud that came with Windows 8 and, of course on our new My Passport 2 terabyte external hard drive.  It’s safe.  

With that budget in mind, we’ve only dined in more upscale ($$$) restaurants three times since we’ve arrived in Scottsdale, each time spending $100-$120 with tips. Having budgeted for a few of these such occasions each month, we were comfortable spending the money. 

Our budget allows for $800 a month in groceries and approximately $300 a month for entertainment.  If we spend less on groceries, we have more for entertainment or we can roll it over to extras we may purchase on our upcoming eight cruises. 

Some may cringe at the thought of two people spending $800 a month on groceries.  Based on our diet of mostly organic vegetables and grass-fed meat, occasionally entertaining others, beverages, purified water, paper products, and cleaning supplies, we have found it nearly impossible to trim this number. 

Without a doubt, it will be near this number in other locales, although the grass-fed meat may be more economic in some parts of the world where it is more prevalent than the grain-fed meat supply here in the US.  We shall see and report back later.

Tomorrow, Monday, we’ll purchase two cashier’s checks made out to the US Department of State for $170 each to send to VisaHQ along with all the necessary completed forms, after paying their $154 in processing fees, to apply for our 2nd passports with extra pages.  They’ll be awaiting us at our mailing service in Las Vegas when we’ll head to Henderson to spend Tom’s 60th birthday on the 23rd and Christmas with family in yet another vacation home.

Lots of details, aren’t there?  When speaking with my wonderful friend Chere on Friday, a loyal reader of this blog, we both marveled at how travelers managed to explore the world before technology, before credit cards, before cell phones, before the Internet, before cameras, and before the myriad gadgets we use today. 

This left me asking, “what benefits do we derive having the availability of all of these resources?”  Convenience, simplicity, preparedness, and awareness, all of which could fly out the window in a single moment if something goes wrong. 


New unlocked phone ready to go…

The Motorola Razer Maxx that arrived on Wednesday is now activated, loaded with my contacts, my email, all my apps, and of course, has a slot ready to receive the first SIM card, we will soon install, along with adding a SIM card to Tom’s unlocked SIM card-ready Motorola Razer.

As I had mentioned in the last post about our phones, the newer smartphones come with a slot only suitable for a micro SIM card as opposed to a standard SIM card which is much larger.  Many countries only offer standard-size cards.  This was a concern until I found that a nifty device exists, the SIM card adapter.

Needing a case/protector to fit the new phone, that was priced at $25 each at the Verizon store, I researched my favorite cell phone supply site:  www.cellphoneshop.net.  There, I purchased the appropriate case for the phone and the SIM card adapter for a grand total of $9.97 including shipping.

If you shop there, use the coupon code: “freeship2 ” (minus the quotes) for free shipping on orders over $20.  I only spent $6 for the two items happily paying the $3.97 shipping fee.  It would have been over $38 for the two items purchased elsewhere.  I’ve been shopping at that site for years, extremely pleased with their products, pricing, return policy (only returned an item once), and customer service.

Much to my delight, the 368 photos I had on my phone automatically loaded to my Dropbox cloud on both my new phone and now to my Windows 8 laptop.  On numerous occasions, I’ve tried to move the photos on my old DroidX phone to my computer.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t move them over. 

Somewhat adept at this technology stuff, the frustration factor was intense.  At times, I literally spent an hour or more trying to find a solution, utilizing software, apps, cables, Bluetooth, and sheer determination to no avail.

Yesterday, while setting up the new phone with most of my apps rolling over, Dropbox “suggested” we move over the smartphone photos.  “YES!”  I hollered at Dropbox. “YES!  Do it!!”

An hour later all the photos of those precious grandkids, Mother Nature’s whimsical morsels, those adorable dogs we’ve so much treasured, and the special foods lovingly prepared, finally in the Dropbox folder on my computer and my new phone. 

As much as I love learning technology, at times I am totally oblivious of how things work.  It was a total surprise to me that my old Droid X phone, now de-activated actually still picks up a WiFi signal and can be used to go online.  Had I taken the time to think about this, it makes all the sense in the world.  Live and learn.

Now, I am challenged by how we can use this 3rd WiFi receiving device (my old phone) when we already have two unlocked smartphones ready to install SIM cards in any country in which we’ll travel.  Once we leave the US, five weeks from now, we’ll surely figure it out.  In any case, this 3rd device is coming with us.

I’ll go back to shopping online (to be received at our mail service in Nevada, where we’ll be over the holidays) to find the perfect SIM cards that will not only work with our specific smartphones in any foreign country but also here in the US for the few occasions that we are in Florida between cruise ship sailings. 

Keep in mind, our two contracts with Verizon have expired.  We are under no obligation to continue to be connected with any carrier.  Thus, beginning January 3, 2013, we will request to be disconnected from Verizon and begin utilizing SIM cards for both phone service and data.  Yes, we’ll pay for the data we use via the cards and the calls we make.  Mainly, we’ll be making calls using SKYPE, most often at no charge. 

The data, although expensive using a SIM card will be as much as 90% less than the cost of using data offered by a cell phone provider. Thus, no need for cell service.  When we are using the previously mentioned XCOM Global MiFi device, as needed, in a few of the vacation home where wireless broadband is not available or working, the data on our phones will work from that connection.

In any case, the cost of the MiFi device, which may be needed for about four months a year on average, is roughly $400 a month, averaging annually at $100 a month.  In itself, this is less than we paid for our cell phones and Internet access in our home in the past. (When using the device from XCOM Global, which provides data only, we’ll only use the SIM cards for emergency phone calls when we aren’t near our computers to use Skype).

Would the average traveler have to go to this length to figure out how to use their smartphones?  No, a one month vacation or less would not require this much use of technology.  They’d gingerly use international roaming at exorbitant rates, potentially racking up $100’s in data charges if not careful. 

We’ve all heard the stories of youngsters playing games on their phones on cruise ships, resulting in $1000’s in charges that shocked the parents when they later received their final cruise bill payable before disembarking. 

That won’t be us!  We’ve been warned.  We’ll turn off roaming to prevent the cruise ship from charging us any more than we’ll need.  On the cruises, we’ve booked (eight so far) we’ll bite the bullet going online for short periods each day to download our email, upload our photos and of course, post our blog. 

So, enough about phones. On to other matters at hand, such as having guests for dinner this weekend here in Scottsdale, Tom’s two sisters and brother-in-law, and again, the following weekend when friends from Minnesota arrive for the weekend. 

Whew!  It’s about time we begin to relax!  Oh, then there’s Tom’s colonoscopy prep next Wednesday for his two tests next Thursday and taxes to prepare for the year’s end and more technology to learn, and 2nd passports and visa’s to process and the trip to Las Vegas for Christmas and Tom’s 60th birthday party and on and on. 

“Leaving” is bigger than “moving”…

We are now situated at Karen’s home for the next nine days.  Everything for our stay here is unpacked and put away.  We’re welcomed by Karen and her two sons with open arms. We haven’t been overnight guest in a friend’s home in almost 20 years.  Its an odd feeling.  We’d better get used to being in a home “other than our own” based on the upcoming travels.

This move was more work than any move I can ever recall.  Under normal circumstances, when moving, one opens a drawer, examines its contents and in a somewhat systematic manner proceeds to fill a box with the drawer’s desired contents and the rest is thrown away. Simple.

Later, the box is moved to the new location, either near or afar, opened to reveal its contents while finding an appropriate spot in the new home. Simple. That’s called “moving.”

Nope, not us!  We aren’t “moving”. We’re leaving.  Big difference.  Here’s how ‘leaving” goes:

  1. Open a drawer, examine its contents
  2. Remove all the contents from the drawer
  3. Consider the resale value of each item
  4. Remove all items of sentimental value
  5. Place items of sentimental value in one of four separate boxes (one for each of our children’s families)
  6. Determine if anything in the drawer is appropriate to travel the world with consideration for usefulness, weight and least of all, it’s desirability.
  7. With all items out of the drawer, wash the interior of the drawer.
  8. Place the items to be kept in containers for future packing
  9. Return all remaining items to drawer in a neat and concise manner
  10. Close the drawer
  11. Scream!  Go to the next drawer, closet, cabinet, storage bin, plastic bag, refrigerator, freezer, chest, trunk and repeat the same process, over and over again.
That’s leaving!
In the past few months, finalized in the past few days, we have prepared for the following considerations:
  1. Clothes, medications and supplements, special foods, technology, cords and chargers, toiletries, cosmetics and my special pillow to last us for the nine days here.
  2. All of the above plus comfortable clothes, jackets, cooler, beverages and snacks for the four day road trip which begins in nine days plus…the roof top carrier for the car, yet to be installed.
  3. All of the non-perishable food and supplies purchased at Costco on Saturday for Tom’s upcoming party on Saturday for anywhere from 100-200 guests. I’ll be picking up the food and cake for the party mid-day on Saturday.
  4. Documents, tax receipts, medical records and forms, insurance forms and additional paperwork to attend to in Arizona.
  5. For the two month stay in Scottsdale, Arizona and Henderson, Nevada; everything listed here plus food to purchase while there.
  6. For our upcoming world travels; six suitcases, two carry on bags, a duffel bag of med and supplements, two wheeling carts, two laptop bags, and a purse and a over-sized murse (man purse which Tom hates!).
Done?  Yes.  Much to our surprise.  Exhausted? Yes, but will be better in a few days.
So, I sit here writing this blog in a comfy soft leather love seat, my hot tea in my mug, overlooking the calming lake at Karen’s home, her big fluffy dog Wrigley, sitting at my feet, the chill of fall in the air and for now…I am home.