When returning is just another stop on the trip

When we cruised back to the US after our almost 2-year trip, we headed straight for a little red row house, a mile from the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. We no longer have a place of our own, so we consider Tom and Barbara’s our home base.

Tom is Beth’s (generous and funny) brother, and Barbara is his (smart and talented) wife. We’ve spent many Thanksgiving holidays at their home so it felt just right to be there yet again.

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Barbara garlanded the 4-H award Joe won for his prize “Best Breeding Heifer in Show” many years ago – now the centerpiece for the Thanksgiving dinner table.

We loved our years in Washington and don’t tire of visiting our favorite places.

The best and quickest way to get to the museums is to drop down the long escalators…

The best and quickest way to get to the museums is to drop down the long escalators…

…and hop on the metro.

…and hop on the Metro.

Our stop was Dupont Circle.

Our stop was Dupont Circle.

We headed for The Philips Collection, a private art museum with a very good collection of Impressionist art.

We headed for The Philips Collection, a private art museum with a very good collection of Impressionist art.

High Noon, Max Weber, oil on canvas 1925

High Noon, Max Weber, oil on canvas 1925

When we planned our visit to Washington, DC, three weeks sounded like just the right amount of time for our first stop back in the US. Instead, we made the mistake that we had avoided those two years on our around-the-world trip: we over-scheduled ourselves and didn’t allow enough time to see old friends and simply enjoy the wonderful place we were in.

 

December 2014

 

 

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Mistakes we made (so you could learn from us and not make them too)

In the craziness of getting ready for the international portion of our around-the-world  trip of 14 months, our concern was to not make really BIG mistakes – the kind of mistakes that cost a lot of money, time, or threatened our being able to go on. Now that we’re back, we can take a deep breath in relief and admit that, while we made mistakes along the way, none were disastrous.

All of our mistakes could have been avoided, and maybe you can learn from us how not to make the same mistakes yourself:

Lesson 1: IF FRIENDS OR FAMILY VISIT – INCREASE YOUR BUDGET.   When friends or family join us, we paid more admission fees, and we ate at better restaurants. We loved their visits, but, with those visits, we’ll know next time to add in a little extra to our daily budget.

Day's tour with family in Cambodia

Day’s tour with family in Cambodia

Lesson 2: CHECK INTO WHETHER YOUR MEDICAL INSURANCE COVERS YOU ON THE TRIP. We had a policy that said in large print that it covered travel abroad. Somewhere in the long document – in very small print – it said it covered us, but only for a 2-month trip.   We had to scramble in the last months before our departure to find coverage for the additional year. The cost? Several thousand dollars over our budget.

Lesson 3: GET IMMUNIZATION INFORMATION EARLY. We thought we started in plenty of time to get our immunizations. We needed the Japanese encephalitis immunizations: 2 shots each, spaced 1-month apart. We forgot to count on the travel clinic being closed on weekends and holidays. In the end – we’d run out of time. No immunization for Japanese encephalitis for us. We took other precautions while walking through the rice paddies in China and were lucky not to contract the dread disease.

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We hiked in the rice paddies in Ping’an, China after we took precautions so we wouldn’t get Japanese encephalitis. Immunizations would have been safer.

Lesson 4: BE PREPARED FOR A PROBLEM TAKING A TAXI IN SHANGHAI. We took 2 taxis in Shanghai and had 2 problems. After that experience we checked to see how reputable taxis were in other cities along the way and, when in doubt about taxi service, we spent a little more to have a pre-arranged driver pick us up at the airport and take us to where we were staying. That was a big stress-reducer.

Lesson 4: PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME FOR MULTIPLE PAYMENTS IN (POSSIBLY MULTIPLE) FOREIGN CURRENCIES. Our last day in China, we had just the right amount of money left for several tips, guide fees, and a snack in the airport. The morning was rushed, we were both coming down with colds, and it wasn’t surprising that we made a mistake. At the airport we discovered our money was gone. We had accidentally double-paid our driver! Lesson learned. In Africa, some payments were in dollars or euros and others in the local currency. Thanks to our earlier mistake we were prepared for that.

Lesson 5: IF SUITCASES ARE TOO FULL, IT PUTS A DAMPER ON SHOPPING. We travel light: one roll-on and one shoulder bag each. That’s not a mistake. However, those bags carry all we need for the two-year trip, and we can’t squeeze anything more into them. Every time we see something in shops that we love (and there’s been a lot to love along the way), we start the mental calculation of costs to ship it home. That often puts an end to making a purchase. Now, this could be a mistake or a good thing. You decide.

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We each use an Eagle Creek roll-on suitcase. Joe carries on a black REI bag for mostly computer equipment. Beth carries on a Baggalini tote, perfect since it slides over the suitcase handle, making wheeling through airports and streets a breeze.

 

Lesson 6: BE READY WITH VISA AND CURRENCY INFORMATION BEFORE YOU LAND. When you’re prepared, it’s a lot easier to get the visa first and then stand in the 45-minute customs line than to do the reverse. Also, check the exchange rate before you get to the new country and know how much you want to withdraw upon arrival. Someone asked us the rate after he’d paid fees to withdraw the equivalent of $20 US from the airport ATM. He didn’t know the exchange rate and had guessed. He paid a full fee to exchange a trifling amount of money. By the way, we almost never use a money exchange. Rather, we find a real bank ATM and use our no-fee bankcard that gives a good exchange rate.

Mistakes will be made, but mistakes don’t just happen; we make them. With each new country, we learned a little more what mistakes we had made and how to not make them again. How many countries will we have to visit to really get it down to a mistake-free trip?

 

November 2014

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Pause…take a break…and start up again

Who wants a vacation to end? We never felt our one-week vacations from years past were long enough. We tried two weeks, then moved to three.

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1 week in Bermuda in 2004

2 weeks in Costa Rica in 2006

2 weeks in Costa Rica in 2006

2+ weeks in Italy in 2008

2+ weeks in Italy in 2008

2+ weeks in Iceland in 2011

2+ weeks in Iceland in 2011

3 weeks in Turkey in 2012

3 weeks in Turkey in 2012

When three weeks was not enough, we planned our just-finished (wildly extravagant in time) 22-month trip that seemed just the right length of time—almost two years. Certainly that would be enough. At the end of the trip, we discovered that 22 months was still not long enough.

36 weeks traveling across the US in 2013

36 weeks traveling across the US in 2013

61 weeks traveling around the world in 2013-2014

61 weeks traveling around the world in 2013-2014

We just returned to Washington, DC, the place where our trip started almost two years ago. “Now that you’ve been around the world for two years, are you ready to pick a place and settle down?” our daughters asked us on our return. No. We learned we have no desire to separate our vacations from everyday living.

Some day our traveling life will end, and we’ll be ready to unpack our suitcases…but not yet.  We decided to start planning an 8-month trip in South America for 2016.  Meanwhile we’ll keep our suitcases packed, visit friends in our first month back here and then head out to the West Coast to visit family and continue to travel slowly and simply to some appealing destinations.

 

November 2014

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Would we do it again?

We spent the last 14 days of our around-the-world trip on a cruise ship. Would we do it again? We’re divided on this one.

We chose the repositioning cruise from Barcelona, Spain to Fort Lauderdale, Florida on the Celebrity Equinox to save money and eliminate jet lag. That worked. The service, food, room, and amenities were all quite good. So, what’s not to love?

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Saving money by taking a cruise ship rather than flying looked great!

This fellow passenger, a Eurasian blackcap, flew on the ship in Malaga, Spain and left the ship on arrival in the Canary Islands.

This fellow passenger, a Eurasian blackcap, flew on to the ship in Malaga, Spain, passed time on the grassy upper deck, and left the ship on arrival in the Canary Islands. Would this be a signal to get off the ship while you still can?

We compared our many sea days on the cruise ship to being at a nice spa: imagine a remote location where you check in and don’t leave the property; where you are taken care of by a great staff; and the schedule offers you ample opportunities to both relax and exercise. If that sounds like your idea of a blissful way to pass the time, then a transatlantic cruise is for you.

We monitored our location on the in-room TV.

We monitored our mid-Atlantic location on the in-room TV.

In the spirit of trying a new way to travel on our around-the-world trip, we quickly signed up for the cruise. Joe caught a cold early on and had one bout of seasickness so his enthusiasm for doing a cruise again is zero. Beth loved the economy of “saving money” and the ease of a relaxing way to end the 22-month trip.

We do agree that the best way for us to travel is to spend many days (or months) in a place that is, to us, foreign. What were our favorite places on the long trip? All our favorites were places where we spent considerable time.

We spent almost a month in Porto, Portugual – one of our favorite places.

We spent almost a month in Porto, Portugual – one of our favorite places.

While long cruises are no longer in the picture for us, ships aren’t totally ruled out. We both loved our 3-day Ha Long Bay cruise in Vietnam, and we plan to spend time on a ship next year to see the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.

We took a memorable cruise on Ha Long Bay.

We took a memorable cruise on Ha Long Bay

 

November 2014

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Sailing into the sunset

How’s this for a bit of sentimental symbolism? We saw two of the best sunsets ever on the last nights of our 22-month trip. How’s that for a fitting end to our trip? Despite the cliché, the spectacle of cloud formations and sunsets over the open ocean, far from land, turned our attention skyward throughout the day on our transatlantic cruise from Europe to the US.

When we saw color changes in the sky, we headed for an upper deck to view the sunset.

When we saw color changes in the sky, we headed for an upper deck to view the sunset.

Every minute the color changed, the clouds shifted.

Every minute the color changed, the clouds shifted.

After the sun set, we took some photos of the colorful pool area at dusk.

After the sun set, we took some photos of the colorful pool area at dusk.

Another night the clouds threatened to block the brilliant colors we’d hoped for. At the last moment the clouds parted just enough for a peak of the yellow orb as it dropped below the horizon.

Another night the clouds threatened to block the brilliant colors we’d hoped for. At the last moment the clouds parted just enough for a peak of the yellow orb as it dropped below the horizon.

When the sun had set, we continued to walk laps around the deck. After a few rounds, we saw that deeply colored clouds appeared in the darkening sky.

When the sun had set, we continued to walk laps around the deck. After a few rounds, we saw that deeply colored clouds appeared in the darkening sky.

The technicolor skies lit up like fireworks those last nights. What a welcoming home!

 

November 2014

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Front row seats

We had front row seats so all details of the heated glass being twisted and turned, blown and snipped were easily viewed. Three glassblowers from the Corning Museum of Glass demonstrated just how they would implement their vision to create a vase, bowl, and martini glass. The three alternated as glassblower, assistant, and narrator for the audience.

Where were we? Not in the New York location of the Corning Museum of Glass, but in their glassblowing studio on the top deck of the Celebrity Equinox cruise ship.

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The hot liquid orange glass was wrapped around the neck of the vase

The glass was bent back to form a handle

The glass was bent back to form a handle

Blowing into the glass

Blowing into the glass

We didn’t expect so many choices for how to spend our time on the 14-day transatlantic cruise. Here were our top ways to spend a day at sea:

We became avid followers of Richard’s iLounge lectures and workshops. Always knowledgeable and funny, Richard taught us new tricks for iPhones, iPad and MacBooks.

We became avid followers of Richard’s iLounge lectures and workshops. Always knowledgeable and funny, Richard taught us new tricks for iPhones, iPad and MacBooks.

Lisa lectured on topics such as the “History of Spain” and “American Madams” and spiced her talks with plenty of great stories.

We still wanted to spend plenty of time reading, writing, and looking out to the sea.

We still wanted to spend plenty of time reading, writing, and looking out to the sea.

We expected to be somewhat entertained on the cruise, but (surprise!) we also learned a bit along the way.

 

November 2014

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Change of strategy

Energy to pull off visits to the ports on our own fizzled right after our first stop, when Joe came down with a nasty cold. We skipped a visit to Malaga, Spain so Joe could recover. We took a short walk in Arrecife, Canary Islands and strolled on the beach, dipping our feet into the cool waters of the Atlantic. That was all he could handle. One last stop remained before our ship headed across the ocean for seven days, and we tried to make the most of it: a day in Tenerife, Canary Islands.

The towering, 12,200’ Mount Teide, dropped to a volcanic landscape. The distance from the ship’s dock to Mount Teide National Park presented a challenge – but finding a few others who wanted to do the same trek and sharing transport seemed do-able – until it wasn’t. Joe was still recovering so we changed our strategy by reserving two seats on a cruise tour bus heading up to the park.

Joe rested and looked out the window. Beth snapped photos of the ever-changing landscape as the bus climbed from sea level to 8,000’. All the photos (below) were taken from the moving bus unless noted otherwise.

Canary pines, a tree endemic to the Islands, grows only up to a 2,000’ elevation.

Canary island pines, a tree endemic to the Islands, grows only up to a 2,000’ elevation.

We waited for Mount Teide to lose its cloud cover, but it never happened (which we understand is rare on the sunny Canaries).

We waited for Mount Teide to lose its cloud cover, but it never happened (which we understand is rare on the sunny Canaries).

At a café stop on the way up the mountain, we photographed a perfectly preserved extinct volcano with greenery growing in the crater.

At a café stop on the way up the mountain, we photographed a perfectly preserved extinct volcano with greenery growing in the crater.

he base of Roque Cinchado is breaking apart faster than the top so, at some point in the future, the formation will collapse. We photographed when the bus stopped briefly for us to walk around the rock formations.

The base of Roque Cinchado is breaking apart faster than the top so, at some point in the future, the formation will collapse. We photographed when the bus stopped briefly for us to walk around the rock formations.

The dried white-green plants contrasted nicely with the black volcanic hills.

The dried white-green plants contrasted nicely with the black volcanic hills.

Is it minerals and oxidation that cause the coloring of the hills?

Is it minerals and oxidation that cause the coloring of the hills?

When we returned to the Celebrity Equinox, we snapped a last look at Tenerife before we settled into deck chairs by the ship’s pool.

When we returned to the Celebrity Equinox, we snapped a last look at Tenerife before we settled into deck chairs by the ship’s pool.

We’re sorry we didn’t get the opportunity to see Tenerife as we’d originally planned, but aren’t we lucky Celebrity offered us a backup tour? Seeing the mountain and volcanoes was definitely worth the tour excursion fee.

 

November 2014

 

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