Lessons learned on the road #2:  planning, planning, and more planning

For many years travel planning consumed our lives.

It was exhilarating to research places we had only dreamed of visiting: Cusco, Melbourne, Marrakesh (photo taken at the Museum of Marrakesh)…

Our planning took us beyond the obvious: where to stay and what to do.  We delved into the perfect time of year to visit and would there be enough to do to keep two daily walkers satisfied for many weeks or months?

We never settled on a destination without doing the research, and we scheduled everything well in advance.  That kept us happy.   With this level of detail, we always had a good idea what costs would be, so we could stay within our budget.  For years and years of travel we honed those planning skills.  Who knew how helpful that would be when our non-stop days of travel would come to an end?

How naturally we turned from destination travel planning to designing our little cottage at Kendal. at Longwood.  We turned our conversations to what we wanted: comfortable areas for curling up to read, a worktable, a well-designed closet, comfortable seating, an abode that would remain uncluttered, etc.  We made a list and referred back to it to be sure we fit in everything we wanted.

What did we already have to furnish our new cottage?  We had 2 pieces of furniture: a lamp and a small cherry wood side table built by our daughter.  Our family had stored for 6+ years some artwork, photo albums, a few books, and some boxes of kitchen necessities.  That was the sum total of our possessions.

A lucky break for us: Kendal had a floorplan of the one-bedroom unit we planned to move into.  Even while we were on the road, we could start to think about how to design possibilities.  A modest budget was set.  A furniture layout was created, and a master list of furniture and household items was prepared.

Even with minimally furnishing a small apartment, we had about 100 purchases to make, ranging from a living room rug down to a broom.  With our carefully prepared list of items to find, we started at the top and did online research for the best buy in each category.  We used a wide variety of sources including Consumer Reports and “The New York Times” Wirecutter. After we compared prices and features, a decision was made on an item, and then we moved to research the next.

We started popping into furniture stores as we travelled, but, more often, we researched furniture on the web.  The two big purchases – a bed and a sofa – required more knowledge, consideration, and shopping than we anticipated.  We spent the time and then took a leap of faith and ordered both online many weeks before we moved in.

On the last day of our drive from Florida to our new cottage in Pennsylvania, we stopped and bought some bed pillows.  Arriving at Kendal, we furled out our mats and sleeping bags for our first night in our “vintage cottage.”  Home!

A few days later our order from IKEA was delivered with many boxes of furniture requiring assembly.

We planned to keep as much space free and clear to assemble the IKEA furniture, which turned out to be very helpful.

A day later the bed frame (Floyds) and the mattress (Tuft & Needle) were delivered.  We couldn’t believe the assembly was so easy, and we slept in our new bed that night.

We snapped the photo a few weeks later, once we had assembled the IKEA nightstands, purchased 3-way bulb lamps, and hung our blown-up photo on the wall (ordered from Canvas Champ), which was snapped in Spain’s Picos de Europa National Park.

Soon after, our sofa and ottoman were delivered (from Joybird).  After the deliverymen attached the legs and placed it just where we wanted, we held our breaths as we sat down.  It was just what we wanted!  What a relief.

We assembled the IKEA glass-door cabinet before the sofa arrived so the delivery people could position the sofa right next to it.  (In the photo, note the borrowed folding chair from Kendal – which had been our only seat until the sofa arrived.)

We couldn’t possibly deal with all of our purchases arriving all at once like a giant tsunami, so we ranked our list by most needed, and only purchased a small number of items from the top of the list to arrive at our cottage first.  As the items were unpacked and set up, the next wave of purchases would appear, and so the waves would continue.   We were never overwhelmed.

We furnished our screened room mostly with pieces found at local shops. The chair was found at Kendal’s used furniture shop, and the Chinese planter was from a little antique shop down the road.

For years, our travel planning had stopped when we had just enough information about our destination.  Why not leave enough “unknowns” so we would have fun discoveries when we arrived?  Carrying that planning style to our new cottage, we stopped short of planning all the details.  When the living room was half-completed, we had a better sense what specific pieces would look just right in the available space.

All the experience learned from travel planning for years paved the way when it was time to start our life off-the-road.


October 2019

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Lessons learned on the road #1: simplifying life

How could we take what we had learned from our years of travel and use that to shape and plan our new life?

Six and half years ago, we had taken a giant leap by giving away almost all of our possessions in anticipation of years of travel.  Our reasoning was mostly economic:  a storage unit would most certainly cost more than all of our stuff was worth.  Who knew the profound effect reducing our possessions would have on us?

We had begun our travel with an epic 9-month road trip in the U.S.  It didn’t take long before we realized we were hauling around way too much “stuff”.

We pulled off a road in Texas to take in the scenery.  One overpacking mistake:  carrying Joe’s bike along with us.

We took time to pare down and simplify even more.  The next phase of our travel was our first around the world trip which would last 14 months.  That length of time – living from one carryon suitcase and one small computer shoulder bag each – required serious thought to pack exactly the right things without overpacking.  About a week before the trip, panic and insecurity set in.  A few things were added, then a few more.  The night before our flight, we could barely zip closed our suitcases.  Clearly, we were taking too much.

All of our travel bags on a train platform in Japan.  (Can you tell we’re heading for China?)

A few months later we pulled out everything not deemed essential, boxed it, and sent it back to the US.   Our load and spirits lightened.

Imagine yourself preparing for a traveling life, paring your possessions down to what easily fits in a carryon suitcase and a computer shoulder bag.  What would you take?  We learned that every piece of clothing and possession we took with us needed to be a “workhorse” – the more hard working and flexible, the better.

One of the clothes most worn by Beth was her black cardigan sweater, pictured here on our visit to the Blue Mountains National Park, Australia.

Joe wore travel vests most days to carry all the little things he needed, pictured here with our guide, Chagamba, in Tanzania.

We both wore Keen Sandals for all 6+ years of our travels.  The little Stewart Island robin spent some time perched on Joe’s sandal on Ulva Island, New Zealand.

The larger the item, the more it had to justify the space it took up.  We continued through our travel years to evaluate each item, and we were paring back constantly.  By the time we packed for our 2nd around the world trip, our suitcases had extra room and the zippers easily slid closed.

Looking back, we were surprised that from the very beginning of our long trip, we took to a life of nonstop travel like ducks take to water.  It was a joy to take our everyday life in new directions.  One thing was clear:  life on the road had changed what we now viewed as essential.

Before we started our travels six years ago, we had a study with a desk for each of us.  When we traveled, we propped our laptops on our laps or a dining table.  It worked well. Now after years of travel, we each decided against having a desk – and a study – in our new home.  Before traveling, we had a well-stocked kitchen, filled with a pantry, accessories, and machines.   We agreed to simplify the kitchen this time around.  Did we need a blender AND a food processor?  No.  One might be nice.  Two weren’t necessary.  Travel taught us how to dress with fewer, well-chosen clothes.   We planned to continue that practice.

It had seemed almost effortless to simplify our lives as we traveled over the years.   As we settled down, we resolved: keep it that way.

A kitchen nook, with a view, in our new cottage at Kendal at Longwood, Pennsylvania.


October 2019

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A trip in free fall 

We thought of ourselves as serious travelers.  So what could be simpler than a 3-night, late summer get-away on the Delaware shore?

We reserved a walk-in camping site at Cape Henlopen State Park months earlier but were so busy in the weeks leading up to the trip that we didn’t give our imminent departure much thought.

A few days before the trip, we mentioned in passing that we needed to begin packing. Nothing happened. It wasn’t until the day before that Beth took the tent and shade canopy out of the storage unit.  Joe remembered the mallet.  We threw a few clothes in small bags.

The morning of departure we overslept. We raced to get the last few things packed, threw a few snacks in a bag, and triumphantly added our bed pillows which had never come with us on a camping trip before, but this time there seemed to be plenty of room in the car.  Off we went.

The first stop was Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge.  We looked for birds with our binoculars. Hundreds of American avocets wading in a pond some distance away.  They seemed to be the only birds of any number we spotted that afternoon. Maybe this wasn’t our lucky day?

We tried to shake off that thought as we headed off for lunch.  The highly rated restaurant in Dover did not look promising from the outside.  Maybe our luck was turning – as the service was good and the seafood was delicious.  Our good cheer vanished when, in the middle of our lunch conversation, Beth realized she’d forgotten to pack the sleeping mats.  Could we get along without them?  Then, Joe remembered, not only had we forgotten the sleeping mats, we’d forgotten the sleeping bags as well!  Who takes a camping trip without sleeping bags and mats?  We’d driven too far to go back and retrieve them, and it was a late Sunday afternoon in a not highly populated area – so now what could we do?

We came up with an idea.  Joe did an internet search, and we headed for the nearest option just a few miles down the road:  Walmart.  Some minutes later we came out with 2 warm weather sleeping bags @ $9.97/each and a heavy blanket to act as a sleeping pad @ $14.93.  A disaster averted!

We had a lovely time exploring old, historic Lewes, Delaware.

Fisherman’s Cottage (circa 1720)

Chinese chestnut tree

No one could mistake the Dutch influence on the early settlement of the area.

We spent hours walking on the beaches of both Lewes and Rehoboth Beach.

Rehoboth Beach had few people, no shells, but a lovely sand beach.

When we left the beach in the late afternoon, the sun threw shadows from the fence across the sand.

The food was delicious, and we enjoyed browsing in our new environment.  The downsides of camping became apparent that first night: camping on one side of us was a family with a baby who cried us to sleep and awoke Joe at regular intervals through the night.  On the other side of us was a travel group of 15 or 16 – mostly high school boys – who were loud, boisterous, and oblivious to all other campers.  They, at least, quieted down at 10pm and slept through the night.

The last night, we awoke after 2AM to several young women carrying on a loud conversation in their nearby, well-lit tent.  After a very long time, we had to get up, remind them that this was QUIET TIME in the campground, and, within minutes, the lights were extinguished, and the campground was truly dark and silent for the first time in many nights.

We kept discovering over the 3-day trip many more items we’d neglected to pack – like bug-spray. We asked ourselves, “How did we leave so much behind?”  And the answer is not hard to understand.  We both wanted to take a trip, but neither wanted to do anything to get ready for it.  We must have hoped the other would cover all the packing that we ourselves had put off doing.

Right after the new blanket and sleeping bags were set up in the tent, Beth sat down at the picnic table that first day to create a spreadsheet to itemize “things to pack for future camping trips.”

We realized that in all past travels we’ve relied on lists, and they’d always worked before.  We’d never tested, until now, what happens when we don’t create and use a list.  We can say definitely that we have now proven that everything falls apart without a well-thought out, itemized record of what-to-take with us.

Maybe that has meaning well beyond a camping trip.

Home sweet home at Cape Henlopen State Park



September 2019

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The (almost) last destination

How do we top 6.5 years of travel in the U.S. and around the world (twice!)?  We probably can’t.

Joe watching the sun set on the Mekong River in Laos.

Our years of travel will always be one of the best periods in our life, but we always like to look forward and not back. How could we ever follow those exhilarating years of travel?

Before our very long non-stop trip even began, we spent many happy years planning the details.

Those details made a huge difference in the quality and cost of our adventure.  (Photo: Marrakech, Morocco)

So, why put a stop to a good thing?  In the midst of our non-stop trip, we knew the day would come when the travel would end so we started planning all the details of our life-after-travel.

Many decades ago, we discovered the place where we wanted to go when we had aged well and good.  It seemed to us that, as we could see the day coming when our travels would end, we should shape our plans to move into a small cottage of our own. The cottage would be nestled in a community of remarkable people and a wide array of activities that would keep us interested. When and if we needed it, there would be assistance provided as we aged and even fulltime care if either of us required it.

For us, we couldn’t imagine a better way to live as we aged.  It was our ideal final destination.

We knew where we wanted to go, but we didn’t know “when”.  We sought the advice of friends.  The consensus was to move in “early” enough to enjoy the many benefits, make friends, and to be accepted (which required that we each were able to live independently when we moved in).  We decided that time for us would be our mid-70’s.

A year ago we started a well-planned 9-month long road trip from Oregon through the Rockies (with a memorable stop in Centennial, WY for some hiking in the Snowy Peaks).

The road trip continued across the Great Plains, up over the Great Lakes in Canada and driving east into Maine, then we turned south.

We slotted in a stopover in Pennsylvania along the way at Kendal at Longwood, a beautiful community (a certified arboretum!) very close to Longwood Gardens, one of the best horticultural display gardens in the U.S. Kendal is the community where we wanted to live.  We’d already visited many times before, but on this visit, we hoped to find the perfect cottage to call our new home.

Sometimes everything falls together just right, and this was it.  We were shown a one-bedroom unit with porch and a garden.  The ideal place for us!

A light snow fell as we snapped a photo of what would be our new home (the end unit, with the door on the right).

While the cottage was readied for our move-in, we resumed our road trip, heading south.

While camping at Florida’s Fort DeSoto State Park, we planned the move into our Kendal cottage.

A few months later with Spring approaching, we finally arrived at Kendal  – our (almost) last destination.  When we opened our suitcases to unpack, there was a hesitation.  Our suitcases have been packed for six years, and we literally lived out of them all that time.  The reality of ending our life on the road was before us.  We had loved every single minute of travel, but now it was time to change our direction.  This truly was leaving one wonderful life for another very satisfying one.  How lucky are we, we thought, as we unpacked our suitcases?


August 2019

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The ultimate destination

Who doesn’t love to talk about future travel destinations?  In the early days, we would throw out names of places we hadn’t yet traveled.   New Zealand, Iceland, Bhutan, Peru…. And if we decided to visit, we fantasized about long stops at nearby destinations (as long as we were in that area!).   If we traveled to Portugal, shall we continue on to Spain?  How about adding Australia to our itinerary when we fly to New Zealand?

We took a long walk in our fifth year of non-stop travel and picked up the discussion right where we’d last left off about the travel plans for the next year. For the first time ever, no new places came forth.  Many places we wanted to go had already been eliminated from our discussion as not affordable, too dangerous, or too difficult for a longer stay.  We started to talk halfheartedly about revisiting places we’d already been.

It’s then that we knew the time had come for us to travel to our ultimate destination, and we began to make the plans.

When we refer to a destination as “ultimate” we mean “best” and “last”.  To be the best destination for an extended stay, we agreed on our list of criteria, that included:

An interesting environment filled with trees and flowers….

Birds and butterflies (like the common buckeye)…

…and all sorts of little creatures like this toad (an eastern American toad?)

We yearned to get back to some of our favorite activities.

For Joe, an avid cyclist, that meant riding a bike gifted to him by his friend, David.

Beth wanted to pursue arts and crafts – like sewing 12 little songbirds.

We hoped for a place where we could pursue our interest in photography, especially in all the natural elements around us.  A friend identified this as a black + blue widow skimmer dragonfly, snapped late one afternoon in the meadow.

The criteria for the ultimate destination was extensive and thoroughly discussed.  We agreed on every point.  Of course, the ultimate destination also means the last destination.

….to be continued….


August 2019

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Travel advice: temperatures and showers

Once people learn we traveled on a nonstop 6 year trip to destinations around the world – the first question they always ask is, “Where was the best place.?”  The question is always “WHERE?”  Where, where, where….  But how about “when?”

How crucial is “when” if you want to hike in Wyoming’s Snowy Range and see the glorious wildflowers?  Going anytime won’t do.  Try 4-6 weeks starting July 4th.  With a season this short – planning ahead is critical.

The wildflowers were plentiful and beautiful – and made for a memorable visit.

Twice this month well-travelled friends have emailed us with questions about destinations they plan to visit next year.  We sent back all the information they requested and in addition – gave them information they hadn’t requested: average weather reports for the months they plan to visit.  Does that make a difference?  Absolutely!

Had one friend chosen to travel for a bird-watching trip on his planned timetable, the chance of heavy rain most days would be high.   He still plans to go – but sometime in the future during a month with less rain. That’s a wise decision for someone planning to spend time outdoors every day.

Virtually all destinations omit alerts for their bad weather season or extreme temperatures. It’s hardly in their interest to write about pouring rain and steamy heat.  We’d never thought about this until we checked out of a little inn in Siena, Italy.  Rain had been threatening, and we were in a hurry to have the hotel owner snap a photo of our small group in front of the inn.  A few seconds before the photo was to be taken, we felt the first light drops coming down.  The owner stopped, told us sharply to remove our umbrellas so they would not appear in the photo.  Afterwards, in what had become a steady drizzle, Joe asked why we had to cast aside our umbrellas.  The hotel owner patiently explained what was obvious to her: we would most certainly share the photo with friends when we returned home, and she didn’t want anyone to think it rained in Siena.  Who would want to book a holiday in a rainy place?

We thought a lot about our “best” travel temperatures and how much rainfall was acceptable to be active and outdoors a great deal.    A good example is Cairns, Australia.

We planned to spend time by the water and in the forests to see as many birds as we could.  Almost all the birds were new to us, such as this figeater.

Every late afternoon we spent time at the boardwalk and watched the many birds, like this masked lapwing, gathered in the shallow water.

In anticipation of this trip, we looked up the information online.  The best months are June-September with average temperature of 78 degrees F (25 C) and 1.1” rainfall (3.5 cm).  If we’d not checked and traveled in February or March, the temperature would have been just a few degrees warmer but there would have been considerable rain – averaging 14.2” (36 cm).  What a miserable trip that would have been!

Wanting the best weather outcome on each trip, we made a chart of all the destinations we planned to visit and chose the best few months for each as possible times to visit.  Whenever we planned where to travel next, we matched up the best time to go with a destination’s best months to be visited.   If our chosen destination’s weather didn’t suit the months we had open for travel, we found another destination that did. It’s worth saving the spreadsheet and coming back for future looks in planning future trips.

On a trip a few years ago we wanted to go somewhere in March – but where to go?  We’d be in Cambodia during February and heading to Italy in April.  The average weather in Corfu, Greece for March was quite acceptable.

Know that if your travel keeps you inside all the time, then consider travel in bad weather months when there will no doubt be a nice savings.

For every time of year there are numerous places where the weather is a perfect fit….and for every destination there is a perfect time for you to visit.  It’s one step of preparation that can make an enormous difference in your enjoyment.  Just as the innkeeper in Siena knew, your best vacation was probably not in a cool, pouring rain.


July 2019

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remembrance of travel past

As we prepared for our life of travel, we gave away most everything we owned.  Books, food processor, TV, down comforter, and so much more… It all came down to money. The expense of storing all of those things for the many years we planned to travel would cost quite a bit more than it was all worth.

It took a great deal of time and effort to give it all away, and, as we left on our trip, we were determined not to accumulate a lot of “souvenirs” on the road.

At the start of our travels, we spent 3 months in Japan, China, Vietnam, and Thailand and didn’t buy anything to bring back for ourselves.  That took resolve.  By the time we reached Cambodia, we found a little something that we both wanted and needed.

We’d been carrying a photo of our 4 grandchildren with us.  Putting the photo into very small, silk frame without glass would be perfect for tucking into our suitcase while we traveled – and perfect for displaying on our nightstand in places we stayed.

As we traveled with so few possessions for such a long period of time, we felt a certain “lightness.” We knew that feeling would slowly melt away with each new purchase.

The first 3 or so years of our travel, we found a few treasures worth tucking into our suitcases: a small number of seashells in New Zealand, a porcupine quill and a few flamingo feathers on the ground in Africa.

We also received gifts along the way.  Our hiking guide in Morocco, Rashid, gave each of us a memorable gift.  The hotels where we stayed for some days in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Cambodia gave each of us scarves that we love to wear. Our hosts in Whangaparaoa New Zealand gave us a Maori peace symbol.

And the hotel where we stayed for 10 nights in Cusco, Peru gave us a this charming llama family as a parting gift.

We tucked away napkin rings, a gift from Bahia Bustmante in Argentinian Patagonia.   Those will most definitely be used.

We were thrilled when an opportunity came to replace an item of our clothing.  Joe found a very lightweight blue shirt in Cambodia.  Beth found linen pants on Crete in Greece. After a visit to a soap factory in Corfu, Greece – we became faithful users of their olive oil bar – perfect for dry skin.

Finally, our trip to South America a few years ago forced us to reconsider our strict limitation on “souvenir” purchases.  We visited the studio of Miguel Andrango, one of the best backstrap weavers in Ecuador.

The prices for beautifully woven pieces in his studio shop were quite reasonable, and we knew that we would regret not having a woven piece for a someday-in-the-future home.  We bought one, and that was just the start.

We purchased a little clay hand in Peru to rest on an open book.

More textiles were purchased in Peru (photo) and on a later trip to Laos and Cambodia.

We consoled ourselves, having made more “souvenir” purchases than we initially intended to, but also knowing we made relatively few purchases over our many years of travel.  Many of our purchased items were useful and not merely decorative.  The relatively small amount spent supported craftspeople in lesser economies.

After more than few purchases, we prefer to think that what we have brought back are “remembrances” of these 6 years of traveling.  The gifts, found objects, and purchases made have continued to serve as a reminder of the far-away places and the wonderful, generous people we met.


June 2019

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