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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Travel expectations

We like to think we keep our travel expectations moderately realistic.  We fall somewhere between those who hope for nothing more than a relaxing get away and those leaving nothing to chance with a too-long checklist of sites and restaurants to visit.

Generally, we’d define our expectations while traveling to be based on experiences that spark our curiosity to learn about new things.  We always trust this to happen.  It’s not something that can be planned ahead of time.

If you’re curious how this works, a wonderful example came about in Ravenna, Italy.   We kept seeing references to the Goths (Visigoths and Ostrogoths) at many of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites we visited.  That started us off on a path of learning more about the “barbarians” that fascinated us and added memorably to our visit.

Fifty-four years after Rome fell to the Goths, the Mausoleum of Galla Placida was erected.  The arts and religious structures appeared to continue to flourish in the reign of the Goths.

On another trip we planned a few stops at ancient ruins in Turkey and we became hooked.  How could we see more?

We arranged a special visit to the memorable ruin, Aphrodisias, on that trip.

Soon after, we made plans to go back to visit more ruins not so well known and off-the-beaten-track.

Miletus was one of the greatest Greek cities until the Persian invasion in the 6thcentury B.C.E. A few hundred years later a theatre was built, with seating capacity of almost 15,000 people.

We never would have expected that our trips to Turkey would result in visits to over a dozen archaeological sites.

After 6+ years of travel to places far and wide – where we were rewarded with great and wonderful new sights – we found ourselves on a road trip to Ohio.  This trip would not be at all like our previous travel.  First, Ohio is oh-too-familiar as that is where we were both born and raised.

The familiarity started when we drove through rural Pennsylvania and into Ohio.

We hadn’t been back to Akron, Beth’s hometown, in over 30 years.   What a surprise that most everything looked better than we remembered.

The high point of that stop was a lovely luncheon with classmates not seen in many years.

We ricocheted through Ohio with stays in Oxford, Yellow Springs and Columbus.

A quick stop at Miamisburg Mound was sparked by a recent news article about new information coming to light about the people who built the ancient mounds.  We were very excited to see the mound but, alas, the displays were old and not so up-to-date.

We discovered that the trip to Ohio was a different trip entirely.  We had to drastically adjust our travel expectations.  This wasn’t a trip where our curiosity sparked new interests. Instead, this was a trip of total and pure nostalgia… visiting family and friends…remembering the long ago times…and catching up on what’s happening now.

After so many years thrilling to such places as the ancient ruins in Turkey and learning about the Visigoths in Ravenna, maybe it was time for a nostalgic trip back home.

 

May 2019

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How two eager, but weak, birdwatchers fared at “The Biggest Week in American Birding”

We admit it: we love to watch birds.  We also admit that we are not good at the whole thing. For us, the hardest birds to identify have always been warblers. So, what better challenge than to head for the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, the “Warbler Capital of the World”?  We had high expectations that this might be a turning point in our birding skills.

Many birds (including warblers) migrate north in the spring from as far away as South America.  One of the flight pathways they follow takes them through this marshy area on the shore of western Lake Erie in Ohio.

We, too, landed at the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area’s boardwalk, surrounded by an unimaginable number of birds calling around us and everywhere we looked.  There were also more birdwatchers than we’d ever seen in one place before.

What could be an easier way to find a rare bird? Just watch where the photographers aimed their cameras.

Everyone seemed incredibly helpful in pointing out where to look for interesting birds and identifying them for us.  Even with coaching from other birdwatchers, it took us about 10 minutes of searching with binoculars to finally see a perfectly camouflaghed whip-poor-will sleeping on a fallen log in the brush.

The Virginia rail is an elusive bird, and we have heard its call but not seen it in many years of looking.  Photographers lined up when a Virginia rail was spotted. This was our opportunity!

We crouched down on the boardwalk and snapped a few photos with our small cameras underneath the photographers’ long telephoto lenses.  Not a great photo but such a memorable sighting!

This was another first: a white-throated sparrow.

We looked for more birds while on a guided walk at nearby Maumee Bay State Park.  That boardwalk took us over the swamp waters, an interesting bird habitat.

One wet day we walked in outlying areas and saw two new birds for us – the eastern towhee and rose-breasted grosbeak

What a surprise to stroll down a path and come upon a totem with an eagle at the top.  Of the many eagles we saw that week, this was the only carved one.

We had signed up for field trips, workshops, and special events over our five-day stay at “The Biggest Week in American Birding Festival.”  By the end of our stay, we had seen well over 100 species of birds and of those, 17 were warbler species.

The black-throated blue warbler was a new bird for us and straddled a tree trunk just a few feet away giving us ample time to take this photo.

After bird watching for well over 40 years, we learned some new ways to look at birds that should greatly improve our identification skills.  Of course, if identifying warblers still turns out to be difficult, we can always head back to the annual “Biggest Week in American Birding” festival and get those experienced, helpful birdwatchers to tell us what we’re looking at.

 

May 2019

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April is a great month to travel

Years ago, a small group of our friends gathered and planned international trips with a particular goal in mind: spending the days hiking and eating well every evening.   When it came time to determine when to travel, we decided to take our trips when the daytime temperatures were ideal for walking, which we determined to be between 62-70 degrees F (17-21 degrees C).   It turned out to be a good idea.

When we planned our many years of constant travel – we continued with the notion of traveling in a comfortable temperature range as much as possible.  Every potential destination was charted for annual averages for high and low temperatures each month as well as how many days and how much rainfall were average each month.  We circled the top three months that were ideal times to visit each destination.

You might wonder where we chose for our travel in April these past years…

The pleasantest of Aprils was spent on our month-long stay in Florence, Italy in 2018.

One day we went up to Fiesole for lunch and this was the view back to Florence.  What a lovely sight!

In April 2017, we visited Arizona to watch birds.  We heard there had been a recent rare sighting of the tufted flycatcher, a bird whose range is Mexico down through northwestern South America.  We took off in search of the bird on a mountain where it had been last seen.

After reaching the spot we searched for a half hour and there, on a nearby branch, was the very bird!

We’ll never forget the earthquake in coastal Ecuador in April 2016.  The town where we were headed had just been destroyed.

After quick research, we booked a month-long stay in Cuenca, Ecuador – a fabulous place to visit and where we learned all about Panama hats.

We spent most of April 2015 visiting our grandchildren and their parents in California.

We went to school performances, sewed a pioneer outfit, painted furniture, and visited a little nature center with and for our grandchildren.

We made it almost halfway around the world in April 2014 to Tasmania.   (Where is it?  Tasmania is an island off the southeast coast of Australia.)

Friends, Gretchen and Phil, drove us up to Freycinet National Park, and we all hiked to Hazzards Bay.

The American southwest desert is one of the nicest places to be in April – so in 2013 we again traveled to Arizona – this time to Tucson.

We love both cactus and rocks.

We wanted to go to Cappadocia and finally made it there in April 2012.

The fairy chimneys, rock houses and formations were spectacular.  We even took a hot air balloon ride.

Consider traveling to places you want to go when the temperature is just right and the rainfall is manageable. If you’re planning a trip, we can tell you from experience that Italy, Arizona, Ecuador, California, Tasmania, and Cappadocia are all wonderful and worthwhile destinations in April.

 

April 2019

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