The Best Trip I Ever Took

One of the Bright Angel Lodge rim cabins at the Grand Canyon

Of all the trips I’ve taken in my life, one journey still stands out as the best ever: a family vacation to the Grand Canyon in the summer of 1964, when I was 12 years old.

The Super Chief

Instead of one of our family’s typical road trips, we instead took the Santa Fe Super Chief from Pasadena to Williams, Arizona and then changed to a local train to ride to Grand Canyon Village. We stayed at the park for five full days, in a cabin at the Bright Angel Lodge (The cabins are still there! It brought a rush of memories when I saw them last year). We hiked all over the park, together or in small groups, and went to all the ranger talks and other presentations. I saw my first elk and my first skunk, which crossed right in front of me one night as we walked back to our cabin (and scared the living daylights out of me). The highlight of the trip was the one-day ride to the bottom of the canyon and back along with my mom and older brother – an awe-inspiring and amazing (painful too – can you say saddle sore?) experience. We ate all our meals at the Bright Angel Lodge coffee shop or at another cafeteria in the park, which was heaven for me and my siblings.

Mules head down the Bright Angel trail into the canyon (mule rides no longer use this trail)

Whenever I think about that vacation, these are the things that make it stand out, and why it continues to be the most memorable and my favorite:

  • The destination was a surprise – we knew we were going on a vacation, but my Mom and Dad kept the location to themselves.
  • The train ride to the canyon and back was another surprise, and a very special treat for four kids who were used to (and sort of tired of) long road trips.
  • While our vacation was not what anyone would call “upscale,” it was very comfortable, and my parents made sure we never had to hear about meals, experiences, and even souvenirs being too expensive (which we often heard on other trips).

    The Bright Angel Lodge coffee shop in the 1960s.

  • My parents made sure we had unique experiences intrinsic to the Grand Canyon (such as the mule ride for me and my brother, and horseback riding for my younger sister and brother).
  • Unburdened from the constant need to organize us all, get us into the car and get from here to there, etc. both my mom and dad were more relaxed than on other trips. One of my favorite memories is my mom, who had studied under an expert in Southwest Indian jewelry while she was in graduate school, spending one-on-one time with me, showing me how to identify techniques and styles used by different tribes in their jewelry.

That vacation to the Grand Canyon, a place we had visited before and were to visit again, continues to influence how I plan our family’s travels now. Besides making sure the funds are in place so we can have the experiences we want (like staying at the El Tovar on our trip to the Grand Canyon last year, or taking the mule ride), I love to plan surprises and/or something unexpected during each trip, find interesting and memorable activities, and make sure Brett and I have as little “administrative duties” to do as possible so we can concentrate on family and the place we’re visiting. It’s those things that help make a trip great versus just good.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for that wonderful vacation – it’s still the best trip I’ve ever taken.

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Book Review: Your Keys Our Home: The Senior Nomads’ Incredible Airbnb Journey

Back in 2013, Seattle residents Debbie and Michael Campbell were ready to retire, but Debbie felt they had one more ‘big adventure’ left in them before they settled down. After hearing about Airbnb from their daughter they decided they could travel around Europe while staying in Airbnb rentals to keep it affordable. They sold almost all of their possessions (including their cars and beloved sailboat), rented their house, packed their bags and in July 2013 they hit the road.

Four years later, the Campbells, AKA the Senior Nomads, are still traveling. In the past four years they’ve visited more than 60 different countries, over 200 cities, and stayed in over 130 Airbnb rentals. They’ve been featured in the New York Times, the Huffington Post and other publications and interviewed on Rick Steves’ radio program. Most importantly, they’ve made friends all over the world.

Somewhere along the way they connected with the staff at Airbnb, shared their experiences, and were eventually invited to speak at the Airbnb Open in Paris in December 2015. Following that they were encouraged to write a book about their experiences, primarily for Airbnb hosts all over the world, but for others interested in a different way of traveling as well, and Your Keys Our Home: The Senior Nomads’ Incredible Airbnb Journey was the result.

The Senior Nomads in the kitchen of their Paris Airbnb rental (photo credit: The New York Times)

The book is an easy and very enjoyable read – I couldn’t put it down, and ended up reading it all in one sitting. Debbie and Michael tell about how their adventure got started; their evolution as Airbnb guests, including how they choose their Airbnb rentals and get themselves to each destination. They include lots of good advice on how to search for and nail down an Airbnb rental that will be a great fit for one’s budget and with the desired amenities, as well as tips on how to be a great host and a great guest. They describe how much they pack (not a lot – they each carry one large rolling duffel and a backpack), their rules for staying within weight regulations, and who handles what as they travel. Woven through the book are fun and interesting stories from their travels.

Debbie and Michael get ready to hit the road again (photo credit: The Huffington Post)

After four years of traveling together, the Campbell’s are still in love and still enjoying each other’s company. For now, they have no idea when they’ll stop – in 2016 they sold their house in Seattle and became true nomads.

On one level, Debbie and Michael’s wonderful little book shows how it’s possible to affordably travel the world by staying in other people’s homes as if they were your own. But, the book is also an inspiring guide for re-imagining retirement. Whether you have dreamed of paring down possessions to the essentials and getting out to see more of the world, or just finding a more affordable and interesting way to travel, Your Keys Our Home is a terrific starting point for creating your own “big adventure.”

(Debbie and Michael have been blogging about their travels from the beginning of their adventure. You can follow along and learn more at their blog, The Senior Nomads. As of this writing they are in Amman, Jordan, following visits to Beirut, and before that, several locations in Africa.)

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A Dozen Inspirational Travel Quotes

Why do we travel? Writers and thinkers, from Mark Twain to the Dalai Lama to Proust to the anonymous, have passed along some very good advice, inspiration and food for thought over the years:

Some are born to head out to the open sea and sail for distant ports, while others are content to stay and work the harbor – both are equally important. Just don’t stay tied to the dock.

Letting go of prejudices and rigid points of view and accepting that others can have equally plausible and valid ways of believing and doing things is not a burden nor a chore, but freedom.

Our own backgrounds and experiences are only a very small piece of the story.

There are memories to be made, even if you don’t need a passport to make them. Travel is the chance to try something new, to experience a different way of doing things.

A great truth for everything in life.

And, the journey to where you’re going is just as important as the destination.

There’s no such thing as minimalism when it comes to memories.

Travel without regrets. Allow yourself to experience the unexpected, to do something different, to step out of your comfort zone.

There’s no finish line for having new experiences or making memories.

Even if you go back to the same place you went the year before, you can always find something new to discover and explore.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from traveling is that my way isn’t the only valid way.

Me too.

An open mind and heart are the best things you can take along on your journey.

Which of these is your favorite? Do you have another favorite travel quote?

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My (Sort Of) Travel Bucket List

Reader Nancy asked in the comments the other day where I had published my travel bucket list because she couldn’t find it, and I answered that I had never actually published one in the blog. Why? Because it’s always changing! There are a few places and trips that have remained constant, but places that I was eager to see two or three years ago have been bumped by other spots, or just don’t seem quite as interesting any more as other places.

But, Nancy’s comment has inspired me to try and come up with a list. I ended up dividing it into three sections: Dream Trips, Places I Very Much Want To See, and Places I’d Like To Visit But Won’t Feel Badly If I Don’t Get To. I guess I could also add a section on places I don’t want to go, but if it’s not on any of the other lists you can pretty much figure it’s not someplace I’m as eager to visit (but of course would go if I won a free trip or something).

Japan, of course, is in a category all its own and doesn’t need to be on any list.

So here goes:

#1 – Dream Trips:

  • India
  • Botswana (one of the national parks)
  • The Western U.S. National Park Loop

    The Blue City of Chefchaouen, Morocco.

#2 – Places I Very Much Want To Visit:

  • Lisbon, Portugal
  • Florence, Sienna, the Amalfi Coast and the Cinque Terre, Italy
  • Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  • Paris and Normandy, France
  • Toledo and Barcelona, Spain
  • Athens, Greece
  • Switzerland (pretty much all of it)
  • Vienna and Salzburg, Austria
  • Prague, The Czech Republic
  • Scandanavia (pretty much all of it)
  • England (pretty much all of it)
  • Edinburgh and the Highlands, Scotland
  • Ireland (all of it)
  • Marrakesh and Chefchaouen (the blue city), Morocco
  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • New Zealand
  • Sydney, Australia
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Mexico City and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
  • Alaska, up to Anchorage by ferry via the Inland Passage

#3 –  Places I’d Like To Visit But Won’t Feel Badly If I Don’t:

  • Germany
  • Iceland (I’m probably the only person in the world who isn’t itching to go here)
  • Rome and Venice, Italy
  • Croatia
  • Vietnam

As you can see, the middle list is pretty long – there’s lots I want to see! There’s nothing really out of the way or exotic about any of these places on my lists, but I love visiting cities and museums and such so that’s what fills the lists. Some places, like Hong Kong or Beijing, are not on the list because we’ve been before, and some places Brett isn’t very much interested in (although he has his own list) but we pretty much agree on most places we’d like to visit some day. And, I’m sure there are some places I’ve just forgotten to put on the list.

I’m fairly sure there’s no way we’re going to get to see all of these places, but once we get our last little bird launched out of the nest Brett and I are going to try and see as much as we can for as long as we can, as well as trying to get over to Japan every year for a few months to spend time with our grandchildren.

And yes, our BIG Mystery Adventure™ can be found tucked in among all these places!

A Few More Clues

Here’s a picture of somewhere we’re not going!

A friend asked me the other day if I could give her even some small clues about where Brett and I will be going on our BIG Mystery Adventure™ next year and what we’ll be doing. After some thought, and talking with Brett, here are the clues I gave her:

  • We will be leaving right after we take YaYu to college in 2018. Depending on what school she ends up attending, that could be in either August or September.
  • We will be taking at least four plane flights after we leave YaYu.
  • The trip will cost a bit more than $7000, which is our savings goal for this year. We haven’t set a firm goal for next year but will again be saving all we can before departing. We have also set one other savings-oriented goal, but it’s a secret for now.

And, here are three clues that I’ve already dropped in the blog:

  • We will be needing large suitcases versus traveling with carry-on only.
  • We will be transitioning seasons.
  • The word BIG is in the name.

I actually can’t wait to share the details, but won’t until spring of next year, which is when we plan to start making the actual reservations for our journey. Still, we’re only looking at around 15 months out until we’ll be on our way, and if the past is predictive that will be on us faster than we can imagine.

Any guesses?

Postcard From: Senso-ji

The entrance to Senso-ji temple is the Kaminarimon, or ‘Thunder Gate,’ with the first of three giant paper lanterns, famous throughout Japan. On either side of the gate are large wooden statues of fierce Buddhist gods, who protect the temple. On the right is the god of wind, and on the left the god of thunder. (Photo is from matcha.jp.com – it was too crowded the day we passed through to take a picture)

On our trip to Japan in March, on our list of places not to miss was Sensō-ji temple. WenYu, YaYu and I had been unable to see it when we visited Japan in 2015, so this time we were determined to go. Not only is the shrine itself a fascinating and imposing site, and the surrounding neighborhood interesting as well, but we also knew we would be sure to find ramen shops there, and YaYu was determined to have a bowl of authentic Japanese ramen before we headed for home.

Located in the Asakusa district of Tokyo, Sensō-ji is the oldest temple in Tokyo. The temple is dedicated to Kannon (Guanyin), the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, and is the most visited religious site in the world, with over 30 million visitors annually. The original temple was constructed in 645 C.E., but was bombed and destroyed during World War II. It was rebuilt following the war and is a popular destination for both Japanese and foreign visitors. Entrance to the temple grounds is free.

The temple area was extremely crowded the day we visited, although we never found out why other than it was a nice spring day. It was difficult to take pictures as well as get through the crowd, and we missed getting to see the temple’s impressive five-story pagoda. Still, everyone visiting was polite and at times it seemed more like we were participating in a festival than visiting a religious shrine.

After passing through the Kaminarimon, we headed down Nakamise, “Center Street.” It’s a long, straight road lined with souvenir shops on either side. There are lots of fun things to look at, but we didn’t buy anything (mainly because it’s mostly geared to tourists and overpriced).

At the end of Nakamise is the Hōzōmon, or “Treasure House Gate.” It contains the second huge, distinctive paper lantern in the center, flanked on either side by two large black and gold lanterns. One the sides of the gate are two more of the large statues of gods -these two are Nio, the guardian deities of Buddha.

Hondō, the main temple hall, is straight ahead and across a paved courtyard after passing through the Hōzōmon.

We passed under a third giant lantern as we made our way into the main hall to view the altar. The lanterns at the temple are replaced around every 10 years.

The interior of the main hall is protected from visitors, but you can still view the main altar. There was a ceremony being performed while we were there, but we could only watch for a few moments as there were long lines waiting behind us for their turn to view the altar.

In the courtyard in front of the main hall is a giant brass urn where worshipers burn incense. The smoke from the incense is wafted over parts of the body that are ailing, while prayers are said.

Because of the crowds, we weren’t able to make it over to the pagoda, which is to the left of the main hall (photo courtesy of Wikipedia).

On the right side of the main hall courtyard visitors can catch a view of the Tokyo Skytree, the second tallest structure in the world. Completed in 2011, the tower is used primarily for broadcasting, but contains a restaurant and observation platform and is a very popular attraction in Tokyo.

Cherry blossoms at the temple were just getting ready to open.

The Asakusa neighborhood is ‘old Tokyo’ and there are many restaurants and shops in the area serving or selling traditional foods and folk crafts. At one ramen restaurant, in an old-style building, a statue of a peasant from the past can be seen perched on the roof with his umbrella.

We saw several people carrying ‘melonpan,’ or melon bread, so called because its shape is reminiscent of a cantaloupe. These large loaves of sweet bread could be enjoyed plain, or split and filled with whipped cream.

The little Inu Hariko figure I bought, my favorite Japanese folk character. He looks like a cat, but is actually a dog.

We walked back to the main road, to get back to the station, down a side road that had the backs of the Nakamise souvenir shops on one side. One of the things I remembered from past visits to Sensō-ji was a wonderful gelato shop at the end of this road, but when we got to the end we discovered the gelato place was no more. The small shop selling folk toys and paper that I remembered was still there though, and I bought myself a small Inu Hariko made of papier-mâché. Back on the main street we found a ramen restaurant, and after standing in line for a while were finally seated. YaYu and Brett both got ramen, and I ordered stir-fried pork and cabbage – delicious!

Our outing was an adventure, a very Japanese one with the crowds of people present, but well worth the effort. We were all glad we had gone, and hope to go back again next time we visit Japan so we can see the pagoda.

Travelin’ Pants and Other Wearables (Women’s Edition)

Thank goodness women no longer have to wear a dress, hat AND corsage when we travel (I bet the poor women are all wearing girdles too!).

Clothing is a highly personal area, even when it comes to travel. We all have our own taste, style and set of likes and dislikes when it comes to what we like to wear.

I have four criteria for the clothes I wear for traveling:

  1. They must be comfortable (for me).
  2. They must be easy to pack and maintain.
  3. They must be (somewhat) stylish, and adaptable to any situation.
  4. They must be made from natural fibers (other than outerwear)

I hate tight clothes. I tortured myself with tight clothing when I was younger, but now I want things loose, or clothes that move with me. The thought of wearing a pair of jeans these days just about does me in, not because I don’t like them or the way they look, but because they are invariably going to be tight somewhere on me. Same for tight t-shirts, dresses and other pieces of clothing. I also greatly dislike polyester, nylon or any other non-natural material except for maybe a small amount of Lycra for stretch, or a nylon outer coat or jacket). I like my clothes to breathe.

My favorite traveling pants for warmer weather these days are J. Jill’s Easy Linen Cropped Pants (I wear them every day here in Hawai’i). For cool weather travels I love L.L. Bean’s Perfect Fit Pants (90% cotton – 10% Lycra) – they’re comfortable like yoga pants, but look a bit more upscale. Both of these pants can be worn casually, but add a nice sweater and scarf to the Perfect Fit Pants or a tunic and shawl to the linen cropped pants and I’m ready for dinner at a nice restaurant or some other dressier occasion. Neither type of pants, when rolled, takes up much room in a suitcase.

My favorite everyday and travel pants for warm weather: J. Jill’s Easy Linen Cropped Pants. They come in a variety of different colors.

Linen is a perfect travel fabric. It’s  expected to wrinkle. I never have to worry about anything linen being ironed, or how it looks coming out of a suitcase because after only a few minutes of wear it softens up and gets wrinkled anyway. Wash it, dry it, even line dry it, and it’s ready to go. And, linen breathes – it stays comfortable no matter how hot it gets.

L.L. Bean’s Perfect Fit pants come in an assortment of colors, but I stick to black, navy blue and dark gray.

Same for most cotton knits – they don’t wrinkle, almost always come out of a suitcase looking great, and require minimal care when I’m on the road. I could wash most linen and knit items out by hand if I had to, but thankfully I’ve always been able to locate a washing machine, or reasonably-priced laundry service.

I do have other cotton pants, but they’re not as easy to maintain and wrinkle easily, so I don’t often wear them when I travel.

This is my favorite travel sweater (I have it in a medium blue). It is lightweight, but warm and comfortable, and can be dressed up or down.

For cooler weather or winter travel I typically pack a couple of sweaters (pullover and cardigan), maybe a nice sweatshirt (no logos), some long-sleeve knit tops, and a couple of jackets. In the summer my tops are a few cotton t-shirts, a dressy linen tunic or two, a couple of casual linen tops and a lightweight jacket. I don’t have one now, but would also pack a longer dress or skirt if I found one I liked. I have a black quilted parka that I’m technically supposed to be able to repack into one of its pockets, but I’ve never been able to accomplish that task. Still, it squeezes down pretty small, and comes out unwrinkled and ready to wear, and is quite warm (I also have a sleeveless vest in the same material). With my cool-weather clothes I try to keep to a somewhat unified color scheme, which is black, white/cream, and shades of blue, including denim. It makes it easy to pull things together and accessorize with a scarf or such. My warm weather clothing tends to be more colorful, but it takes up less space and most pieces can do double duty (i.e go together with more than one other thing). I’m not much of a jewelry person but I do accessorize with scarves when I need to kick things up a bit.

My favorite summer t-shirt, from J. Jill. It comes in a variety of colors, and is extremely easy to maintain. The longer length is flattering as well.

I’ve really dropped the ball lately though when it comes to finding comfortable shoes. The shoes I took to Japan in March were cute and fit well, but were extremely uncomfortable for walking more than a short distance (Brett had the same complaint about his shoes). So, before undertaking any future travels I am going to have to do some research and find something different. The criteria for shoes will be the same as for clothing: they must be comfortable, especially for walking long distances; they must be easy to care for; they must be somewhat stylish and adaptable to different situations; and other than sneakers they must be leather (because it breathes). It’s going to be a challenge though because I have “difficult” feet. Even after foot surgery to remove my bunions, my feet are still wide, I have high arches, and little to no padding on the balls of my feet. I also like shoes I can kick off easily, as we don’t wear shoes inside our home, even if that’s just a hotel room.

Mephisto’s Helen sandals are expensive, but they are very comfortable for walking, and last a long time (a previous pair lasted me over five years), so I’m pretty sure I’m going to invest in a pair. They come in a huge array of colors.

One thing I try to avoid are items of clothing that are for travel only, or primarily marketed for travel. First, those items tend to cost more, but I want to own clothes that I would be happy to wear any where even when I’m not traveling. My current cool weather travel clothing doesn’t get worn here on Kaua’i (for obvious reasons), but every piece I have is something that I would be more than happy to wear every day.

Next year’s BIG Mystery Adventure™ is going to require us to carry more clothes than usual, mainly because we will be transitioning seasons. Much of my current Hawai’i wardrobe is nearing the end of its lifespan (almost everything is more than four years old, and has been worn constantly), so next year I’ll be working on replacing things with items that I can take along on our journey. I’m in good shape with cool/cold weather items though, so hopefully in the end my clothing expenses won’t add up too much.

That’s pretty much what goes in my suitcase other than my underwear, socks and sleepwear, which I won’t detail here ☺️. I’d love to hear from you what you like to wear whenever you travel!

 

Traveling Slow

Although it never occurred to me at the time, all of the different places we lived in during Brett’s time in the navy were in a sense a form of slow travel. We knew we weren’t going to live in any of these places permanently, but for a couple of years we had the time to make deeper connections to our location, staying long enough to engage with the community, eat and learn to prepare local foods, support local businesses, and learn about the local culture and history of a place, whether that was in in the U.S. or overseas.

Instead of having to rush to see all the famous sites in a short period of time, we were able to use our time to engage in neighborhood and community activities, attend and/or volunteer at festivals, learn to cook regional dishes, and find out what local residents liked to do. All the time spent at our different duty stations were intense cultural experiences, and even if we didn’t know it then, changed the way we viewed the world.

Slow travel is not about money or privilege, other than the privilege of time, but of making a temporary home in another place, even if that’s only for a week or so. It’s not about checking off a list of sites to see or activities to try, or seeing how much can be done, but about allowing oneself to do a slow exploration of what exists wherever one is.

Almost everyone, I believe, can agree on what “fast travel” is: a limited amount of time to get from Point A to Point B, squeezing in as much as possible along the way, whether that’s hitting the famous sites and then moving on, or squeezing in as many vacation activities as possible. That’s the only kind of travel many of us know or can do because our vacation and travel time has been or is limited by school or work schedules, or a lack of funds to do otherwise. I think we’ve all gone on vacation at one time or another and tried to “do it all,” and instead of returning home feeling relaxed,, and with experiences to ponder, we’ve instead felt exhausted and ready to go back to our regular routine to recover from the vacation.

Traveling slowly means changing beliefts of what travel means. Rather than focusing on the destination, with slow travel it’s the journey, from planning to saving to the actual trip and being there, that  becomes the central point of travel. The anticipation of visiting a new place and what you’ll see doesn’t get in the way – it’s just one piece of the whole. Slow travel is about taking the time to stop and soak in the environment versus trying to see and do everything, or check things off a list. It’s about being open up to learning and experiencing new things as well as different ways of looking at the world. It’s about giving back to your location rather than only taking from it.

Slow travel means being there. It’s about deceleration, making conscious choices and realizing that even if you are only going to be in a place for a week, you in fact have an abundance of time versus a scarcity of it.

My mother was an energetic traveler, but she always went somewhere with a list of famous places she wanted to visit, or ‘must-do’ activities, and checked them off as she saw or did them. That style of travel worked for her, and made her happy, but she also for the most part kept herself detached from her surroundings, and instead only felt secure in tour groups or with family, which was probably pretty normal for someone from her generation. I acquired my love of traveling from my mom, but I couldn’t be more different in how I like to travel. For some reason I am by nature a slow traveler, and prefer to stay away from tours and groups if at all possible. I still enjoy seeing famous sites, but I’m happiest staying in one place, living like a local as much as possible, and discovering new ways of seeing the world or approaching problems.

There is no right way to take a journey. Everyone should travel the way they feel is best for them based on their time, budget and what they want to see and experience. But once in a while, even if all you have is a week, maybe think about giving yourself the time to contemplate something different, something slower, and change your expectations of what travel has to be. What’s the rush?

Let’s Go Somewhere

Brett and I are in the beginning stages of planning for next year’s BIG Mystery Adventure,™ even though our departure date is months away, more than a year really. Right now we’re primarily in saving mode, as well as losing-weight-and-getting-in-shape mode, but we’ve got a basic itinerary in place, and I’ve begun the research process, which of course has me in my happy place. As always, my ultimate goal will be to put a solid foundation in place for our trip without choreographing every minute we’re on the road, all while staying within our budget.

The steps the planning is taking are the ones we’ve honed over the years:

  1. Where do we want to go? You might think it’s easy to pick a travel destination, but not always. There are lots of places Brett and I want to visit, in the U.S. and all over the world, and we have our family in Japan that we want to see (fairly) regularly. So, we usually start with a list of places to go, talk about them, both pros and cons, and then whittle down the list until we have a destination. Sometimes we can agree and decide quickly, other times it takes us a while longer. Then, once we know where we want to go, and when, we can start figuring out how much we need to save. We always come up with a Plan B too.
  2. How much will it cost to get there (and back)? The next step is to start figuring out how much it will cost us to get to our destination. Even if a trip is more than a year away, I start checking out airfares to get a general idea of what I can expect in the way of prices. I also spend a bit of time reviewing airlines to make sure they have a good reputation for service and safety. Right now there’s just about no amount of savings that would get me to book with United (which I’ve always tried to avoid anyway). If possible, we always try to add an additional amount to our budget to upgrade seats.
  3. How much will it cost to stay there? At the same time I’m looking at transportation, I start thinking about lodging. Do we want to stay in a hotel? A B&B? An Airbnb or VRBO rental? Where we’ll stay will depend on how long we’ll be at a particular location, or whether we’ll be moving around. It usually costs much less to stay at a vacation rental than paying for a hotel room every night, but sometimes the hotel amenities and location can make it worth it to pay more. The New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo was more affordable, and in a better location for us than a Tokyo Airbnb, and a stay at the El Tovar Hotel at the Grand Canyon had been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember, so that’s where I booked for our trip there last year. The El Tovar cost more than other lodging there, but was worth every penny for the location and the amenities. I love looking through Airbnb though, imagining what it would be like to stay in the different homes.
  4. How much will it cost to eat while we’re there? This is one of the most difficult parts of planning, at least when it comes to figuring out our budget. Will we be able to prepare some meals on our own or will we need to have all of them prepared for us? Are there menus we can check ahead of time? Restaurants and dishes we might want to try while we’re at our destination are included in this part of the planning, and help us eventually come up with a reasonable daily amount for meals.
  5. What do we want to do while we’re there? This is an area of the planning where Brett and I work together. We have different interests, but plan together what to do while we’re someplace. Are there unique or special activities at our destination (like our mule ride at the Grand Canyon)? Are there must-see sights or museums? Are there activities we might want to do on our own or will we do everything together? Are there tours we might want to take? Do we need to make plans for our “down time” or does it look like we will head to our lodging every evening and fall right into bed? We read guidebooks, travelogues and blogs, and eventually come up with a list of things we might want to see and do while we’re at our destination (as well as what they might cost, if anything).
  6. How will we get around at our destination? All things considered, this part of the planning is fairly easy, but still needs to be figured out for the budget. Will we need a rental car? For how long? The Costco Travel site has car rental prices a fairly long way into the future so that I can get an idea of how much we will need to set aside for that expense. For some places, Japan for example, we have to get ourselves from the airport to our lodging by train or bus, but will otherwise be walking or using public transportation, and those expenses need to be considered as well. There are loads of sites now where you can find out exactly how much public transportation will cost, no matter where you’re going (or if there even is any public transportation).

Also, I always try to remember to:

  • Stay flexible, and adjust plans as necessary. Our first choice isn’t always the best choice, and we don’t have to see or try to do everything.
  • Read and find out as much as I can about our destination. Knowledge is power.
  • Keep looking for ways to save while we’re there.
  • Figure out exactly what we will need. This includes luggage, clothing and shoes, camera, and electronics, as well as whether or not we’ll need travel insurance, how we’ll access funds while we’re on the road, and how we’ll communicate with other family members.

Planning travel can be exciting, but also can feel overwhelming at times. I know though that eventually everything falls into place, and a good foundation, along with knowledge about our destination and a sense of adventure, means we’re going to have a terrific trip!

Build a Better Staycation

Staycation (noun, informal): a vacation spent in one’s home country or state rather than abroad, or one spent at home, possibly involving day trips to local attractions.

For many, just the word staycation sounds dull, dull, dull. While I personally wouldn’t put a vacation in your home country in the staycation category, I also believe that staycations can be anything but dull. When a week at a tropical resort or a cross-country road trip or a visit overseas is unaffordable, there are still plenty of ways to make a staying close to home something more than lawn chairs in the backyard.

There are basically three ways to staycation:

  1. Stay at home.
  2. Stay someplace in your community, overnight or even for a couple of days if possible.
  3. Visit/stay somewhere within your state, or within a day’s driving distance of your house.

None of the above is any worse or better than the others, and how you choose to staycation will depend on your budget or what’s available locally.

It’s still a staycation if you and your family or spouse or whoever get in the car and drive over to someplace different in the state or even in the next state over. All those camping trips we took in Oregon for so many years count as staycations. We loaded up our car, headed south for four hours, and for very little money our family was in a new and different environment, with different things to see, do and eat. Every one of those trips was a welcome respite from our usual routine. Same for the Thanksgiving weekends we sometimes spent out on the Oregon coast at family friendly lodges, or at a friend’s beach house. Even Brett and my overnight stays at fancy hotels that we sometimes did for our anniversaries counted as staycations.

One of our favorite staycation memories involved a Portland B&B that Brett and I visited for a quick getaway when our son was in high school. It was affordable, but close enough that we could get home quickly if our son needed anything. The room Brett and I reserved was lovely, and had a working fireplace. The owner brought us a compressed log, and told us it would burn out in a couple of hours or less. So, we lit what we thought would be a short, cozy little fire but the log would not go out. We spent most of the night wide awake, watching shadows from the flames flicker and dance across the ceiling of our room. We got a lovely surprise in the morning though when we went down for breakfast: our favorite antique dealer in Japan just happened to be visiting Portland and just happened to be staying at the same B&B, so along with an amazing breakfast we got to have a lovely catch-up and chat with him. All our bad feelings about the ever-burning log were (almost) erased.

If you can’t get away or travel for a vacation, there are lots of ways to make even a vacation at home special, fun and even memorable. Here are some ideas for building a better staycation, from Real Simple magazine:

  • Tune out the outside world: Stop the paper, the mail, don’t read email, and don’t check the news. In fact, turn off your computer and put it away if you can. Turn off the ringer on your phone, and pick one time each day to check your calls. Don’t return calls from anyone but family. Hide all the alarm clocks. Be on vacation.
  • Have someone else do it: Order out or go out for dinner every evening, even if it’s just for burgers or pizza. If you’re the family cook, tell the family you’re on vacation for the week, and make sure there are easy options for everyone to grab for breakfast and lunch, or have other family members do the cooking and clean-up. Hire someone to come in for a day and clean your house. Set up childcare or overnight swaps with friends or neighbors so that adults get some “alone time” (they watch your kids while you’re on vacation, you watch theirs later).
  • Create a vacation mood: This can be as simple as putting out Dollar Store tea lights in your backyard in the evening during the summer, or playing “vacation” music, maybe from a different country or culture, or a different style of music than you typically listen to (i.e. beach or country music). Throw away your usual schedule – do things when you feel like it, including getting up in the morning.
  • Have fun: Create your own film festival during your time off. Set up a tent in the backyard and camp, or at least let your kids camp for the week. Go on a reading binge. Make one day “Games Day” with your kids, or have a Bathing Suits Only Day in the summer – water balloons or super soakers, anyone? Visit somewhere different in your town every day: amusement or water parks, museums, bakeries, local tours, etc. Try out geocaching.
  • Relax: Give yourself or your spouse a “spa day,” with an aromatherapy soak in your tub, and hydrate yourself all day with cool water flavored with lemon, orange or cucumber. Hire a massage therapist that makes house calls. Create a yoga retreat in your living room one day.
  • Enjoy some luxury hotel amenities: Have someone else deliver you breakfast in bed – you can rotate this service among family members – make sure there’s a flower on the tray. If it’s not too hot, pamper yourself with a plush cotton terry robe. You can buy it new for your staycation, and enjoy it for the rest of year, or even years later. Same for indulging in some high thread-count sheets and pillowcases. Buy some expensive chocolates, and have someone else treat you to “turndown service” (another thing that could be rotated among family members.”

A staycation can be far more than just staying home for a week, even if all you can afford to do is stay home. Just because you can’t hop on a plane, or take a road trip, a vacation at home can be a wonderful, relaxing and memorable experience.

Brett and I will be taking a quick Kaua’i staycation this coming weekend to celebrate our anniversary (which was last month, right after we got home from Japan). We’re looking forward to having some local “down time,” and being able to take advantage of our hotel’s location and amenities, even if it’s just for one night. We’ll also be trying out the restaurant a couple of doors down the highway for the first time, and enjoying its delicious offerings and ocean views.