Packing (Extra) Light

As our faithful readers know (thank you, Judie), we are heading out on a grand adventure. So many details to consider and what feels like so little time. I let Steven do most of the thought-spinning since he is so good at it, especially in the middle of the night (I practice two hours a night every night, whether I need it or not). But I am not completely immune. Mostly I am really excited and am trying not to look past the summer, which is going to be a lot of fun amid the packing the house up again.

And speaking of packing (like that segue? Smooth, huh? My wife has the smoothest of moves!), I have been puzzling over what to pack. The weather will be what I consider warmish fall (high 50s to maybe 70), so no winter coat. BUT, then we fly directly back to Chicago in November, so winter coat for me for sure. Hey Chicago friends, want to lend me a winter coat (and a hat, gloves, mittens, long underwear and hand and foot warmers)?

The chart below shows what we’re trying to avoid. We will probably end up paying $100 for a third bag between the two of us … but maybe not. Look at all the money the corporate jackals are making off your inability to wear the same shoes two days in a row!

Infographic: The U.S. Airlines Cashing In The Most On Baggage Fees | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

I have read many travel blogs and websites on tips for packing light. They pretty much all come down to this: Wear the same clothes over and over, wear your hiking boots instead of packing them (and its corollary: No more than three pairs of shoes) and hope your hotel/AirBnB/host has toiletries. If you must bring cold weather gear, buy backpacking-friendly, lightweight clothes. Remember the limit is, 22 kilos, which is less than 50 pounds. Jeans are heavy, sweaters are bulky, packing cubes give you space to pack more weight, so they’re not good.

Luckily, I’m not a fashion snob, so I’m OK with a few pairs of hiking pants, one pair of jeans and a semi-decent dress (I prefer her indecent dresses) just in case. Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself. We will be putting the clothes in the front of the storage unit so we can refresh before heading to Morocco after our Thanksgiving in the States. That gives us a bit of wiggle room if we find we have packed all wrong (or because I will be bored with my five shirts).

My current clothing packing list looks like this:

  • 5 pairs of underwear
  • 5 bras (including jog bra)
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • 1 pair of running shoes that doubles as an everyday shoe
  • 1 decent pair of shoes just in case
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 3 pairs of convertible hiking pants
  • 1 pair of Under Armour in case the hiking pants are too light and to double as pjs if it’s chilly
  • 5 cotton, long sleeve shirts
  • 1 sweater
  • 1 sweatshirt
  • 1 sleep shirt

I will need some contact lenses and a few other toiletry items, but they have pharmacies in France.

So, that’s kind of what I’m telling Steven but … I really have a secret plan. (I guess the concept of a secret from Steven eludes her since she is writing it in the blog.) I know he will read this blog, but I am counting on his failing memory. I am going to bring an empty suitcase and buy everything I need in France and Morocco. Let’s face it, it’s not the best to stand out as an American. It’s going to be tough enough with my two months of Duolingo French (Je habite à Clamecy; Je parle français un peu), I don’t need my wardrobe to make it worse. Besides, I plan on working maybe 20 hours a week, unless I get ambitious, so I have to find something to fill my time. Vintage shopping sounds like a great way to kill some time and practice my French.

Any suggestions? All are welcome.

Just some updates

We are continuing to make plans and knock items off the to do list. This week has been, for lack of a better term, workmanlike….oh god…sorry Sue…workPERSONlike. 😉 (Finally, my positive influence sinks in.)

We are grappling with a list of necessary, but fairly uninteresting, things we will need to arrange while we are away. We need a place for our mail to be sent and a place for our cars and stuff to be stored; we need to order power converters, find movers and research local phone plans. All of which are to a greater or lesser degree being moved forward.

For the French portion of the trip, we have been looking at all the secondary arrangements such as car rental, place to stay in Paris for our final weekend, transport between Clemacy and Nice and then Nice to Paris. Sue is trawling through a bunch of guidebooks that we borrowed from the library looking for interesting things in Burgundy [apparently we can go wine tasting…who knew ;-)], and on the Côte D’Azur (I would like to digress for a moment to whine about WordPress…They introduced new editing software which has removed non-English letters such as ô from our version. So when I want to use characters with an accent, I have to go Word, insert the character and then copy it into WordPress. I hate when software upgrades remove useful features – especially when the feature is then re-released as a paid for upgrade – sorry about that digression. (No, I am really disliking the latest WordPress version. Try someone else, if you ask me. It seems less intuitive and less user-friendly.) Somewhat surprisingly, wine tasting is also available near Nice!

We decided to rent a car for the month we are in Clamecy, as we will be pretty isolated and we want to be able to take day/weekend trips (remember – wine tasting is available). I checked all the normal sites and found reasonable pricing, but, as always with rental cars, insurance and additional drivers are extra. Those two requirements nearly doubled the price of the car. The French government has a program that allows auto manufacturers to provide new cars on rental periods of 21 days or more, tax free to non-EU residents. This is the link to the Renault information on the program which is called Temporary Transit. The program provides brand new cars, includes all insurance, allows multiple drivers and does not charge to drop the car off in a different location from where it was rented.

Our original plan for traveling from Clamecy to Nice was to drive back to Paris, drop off the car and then fly to Nice. However, the flights to Nice (including our expected luggage) and the car pricing have us thinking we will drive. It looks to be an 8-hour drive, which is significantly longer than the 1-hour flight, but once you add in traveling back to DeGaulle, getting to the airport early, and my time insanity, it seems like it will be a couple of hours longer to drive, but not as big of a difference as one would expect. We are considering stopping for one night somewhere along the way just to get in a bit of touring.

We are planning on taking the train from Nice back to Paris on Nov. 12. We think it might be good fun to watch the countryside roll by from the south of France. I think it is about a 6-hour journey, but the train schedule and tickets are not yet available. Sue found a nice AirBnb in Paris for our last weekend (Nov. 12-16). It is in the 10th arrondissement on Faubourg Fishmonger street (I think Sue is sending me a message. I won’t add the message here; it’s subliminal). It is a ground-floor studio which means we won’t have to haul our luggage up any stairs, and that makes me very happy.

We also decided that on our way to Fez in December, we would stop for a few days in Barcelona. One of the challenges of going to Fez is that the flights only run on certain days of the week. Tuesday and Thursday gave us the most flights. We found that the cheapest nonstop route from the U.S. that would connect to Fez is through Barcelona. Once we knew that, we figured we might as well stay there for a few days and see the city. (It is high on my really-want-to-visit list.) We found a nice AirBnB near to Las Ramblas and booked it.

The extended trip now looks like:

Aug. 30: Fly to Paris

Aug.31: Arrive in Paris, rent car and drive to Clemacy

Oct. 1: Drive to Nice

Nov. 12: Train to Paris

Nov. 16: Fly to Chicago

Nov. 22: Fly to Baltimore

Nov. 30: Fly to Barcelona

Dec. 6: Fly to Fez

Mar. 6 (ish): Go to somewhere else (Roma, Barcelona, Greece, Amsterdam…who knows?) (All ideas welcome!)

May 10 (ish): Fly to Baltimore

That is all for now.

Nice is Nice

We have made our first significant change to our plan (remember when I said our plans were firmly set in Jello?). We, like the French in World War 2 have abandoned Paris. We were persuaded by two factors: First, the weather will be pretty nasty in October and November — cold, damp, wet. If we wanted that, we would go to London, where you can get it all year round. Second, we could not find an AirBnB or other short term rental that really seemed to fit us. Everything had drawbacks, and we seemed to constantly be compromising to fit ourselves into expensive places, none of which really fit.

Our solution? Let’s go to the Côte D’Azur! We looked first at some places in Provence, but in the end, the draw of reasonably warm weather, a beach and an interesting city has drawn us to Nice. We spent a couple of days looking at tour books and making an outline of what we would like to be near. Then onto the short-term rental sites for places to live. We found a very nice two bedroom just outside the old part of the city and after a bit of back and forth about the price and whether it was suitable, we booked it. Boom! Done.

Here are a few photos of our place:

We have also started to deal with some of the more mundane issues. At least we are making a list of them so that we can remember all of them. We arranged for trip insurance so that we are covered for any medical issues that arise (Yes, I do remember Costa Rica!) and trip cancellation. Next week, I want to organize our Global Entry applications and we have started to look for storage places for our stuff and cars.

Our trip to France has been cancelled

My wonderful wife was a journalist in a previous life, and I am pretty sure she will accuse me of burying the lead (I would spell it lede) on this one. Yes, we are cancelling our France trip in July. However, the real lead is that we have decided to spend nine (and maybe more?) months abroad.

The whole insanity started when Sue’s friend, who lives in Burgundy said that we could rent a place in her village really cheaply. Sue looked at me and said: “Want to live in France?” I looked up from the Yankees game (pretty sure they were losing – it has been that kind of season so far) and said: “Sure, how do we make that work?” The answer, believe it or not, was pretty straightforward. All we really need to do is:

  1. Decide when we want to leave, where we want to go and for how long
  2. Ensure that we have enough income to cover the costs
  3. Find a place to live
  4. Go.

Ok, so maybe not so straightforward, but as someone once told me. Solve the first problem first, then move to the next one…

Step one.

Figure out when, where and how long we would want to live abroad.

The when was pretty easy. Our lease is up on Aug. 31, so after that day we have nothing tying us down. September 1st seems like a good day to get started.

On to where: Our starting thought was that it had to be somewhere our cost of living was not higher than our current spend. In reality that isn’t very hard. We pay nearly $3k per month for rent, utilities etc. We hopped onto AirBnB and started listing the places we wanted to live…Fez, Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Almalfi Coast, Istanbul, Israel, Amsterdam, Copenhagen….and that is just Western Europe (and Morocco and the Middle East). We found reasonable places in our price range wherever we looked, so we put price aside as a limiting factor.

How long was next on the list. We decided pretty early on that we didn’t want to be away for longer than three months – at least for the first tranche. In part because we want to be home for Thanksgiving, in part because that seems like a nice amount of time to spend in a place. That means tranche one will be 10 weeks long (Sept. 1-mid-Nov.). Our initial thought was to go to Fez to start. Sue is very keen to live there and it seemed like a great place to kick off the adventure. Our second choice was to go to Paris and Burgundy. Might be nice to be near someone who knows our name and speaks our language (neither Sue nor I speak French yet, we are Duolingoing: Je m’appelle Susan). After a bit of negotiation, review of weather and letting it marinade in our minds, we decided to start in France, come home for Thanksgiving then go to Morocco for Dec.-Feb. This decision is firmly embedded in Jello – so who knows if we will change our minds.

Decision one made….now move to can we afford this foolishness

My consulting work is doing reasonably well. I have a few clients and with the amount of projects they have asked me to do, I should be reasonably (25-30 hours per week) busy for the foreseeable future (is foreseeable redundant in this context? yes, I don’t believe in foreseeable except that I have picked up the matriarchal saying, “Mark my words”). In addition to teaching, Sue has been doing some freelance writing, 10-15 hours per week right now. (If you or anyone you know is in the market for a writer, I am available!) All in we are pretty comfortable that we have more than enough income to keep the circus on the road.

Step two down…Time to find a place to live

Sue’s friend in Burgundy has been helping us with areas in France. Once again, after much discussion, we decided to split the 10 weeks into 4 weeks in Burgundy and 6 weeks in Paris. AirBnB or VRBO seem like the best choices as houses/apartments come fully furnished including kitchen utensils and linens. We have both been trawling through the sites looking for appropriate places (interestingly, while we both put in the same filters we do not always see the same places – especially in Paris as the how close in/far out the zoom on the map is seems to effect the listings shown). Our first stop is a town called Clamecy (shown on the map with the big red(ish) balloon. It is about two hours by train from Paris and in the heart of Burgundy.

Here is an aerial photo of the town; it is at the confluence of the Yonne and Beuvron rivers. Read more about it on the Wikipedia page. Please remember that Wikipedia will tell you that it is not a reliable source, so do not use it as a reference for any scholarly materials. (This blog falls well short of scholarly…I personally am hoping for nearly cogent).

I really have no idea what the photo to the left is, but I found it when I was searching for photos of Clamecy, and it was too weird/cool not to include in my ramblings. Anyway, back to the story…

We found a nice little apartment in the center of town and Sue took care of booking it. One place to live organized.

We have looked at a bunch of places in Paris, but not booked anything yet. You, dear readers, will have to login in next time for updates on Paris. Following our six weeks of Parisian indulgence, we are going to return to the States to celebrate Thanksgiving. We are flying home mid-November, stopping first in Chicago to visit with friends, then back to Baltimore for a few days of overeating and watching football – American football that is.

Next stop: Fez! Before we started this blog we did a three-week tour of Morocco. It was fabulous and I would highly recommend a visit there to anyone who has even a little bit of an adventurous spirit (although spirits themselves are hard to find there as it is a predominantly Muslim country). We stayed in Marrakesh, Fez, Tangier, climbed the 13,671 foot Mt. Toubkal (well more accurately Sue climbed it, I tapped out at 11,000 feet), visited Ouarzazate (one of the worlds largest movie studios (Lawrence of Arabia, Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator, Game of Thrones (Season 3) were filmed there) and glamped in the desert (our tent had running water). As with Paris, you will have to tune in next time to see where we will be living. Our goal is to live in the Medina (the old walled part of the city) at at the moment, we think we have found a place, but until we book it, it isn’t firmly set.

Everything after Fez is up in the air, other than we have from end of February until the middle of May (we have a hard stop in Mid May as it is our granddaughter’s birthday and we will not miss that!) to wander, we may come back to the states for a week, or maybe not. Currently high on our hit parade is Istanbul, but for no reason other than it seems interesting. Suggestions are always welcome.

Have spreadsheet, will travel

Ah…the joy of Excel

In the world before the pandemic, Sue had booked a trip to Italy with her niece as a high school graduation gift. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 virus caused her to cancel the trip and her niece is not available for a trip this summer. We have about $3,000 of flight credits that we need to use up this year, so we decided to go out on a limb and book a trip for the summer. As you all remember, before we go anywhere, I start a spreadsheet and while I am a little out of practice, here is my first stab at a preliminary itinerary for our trip to France.

On an accounting geek side note: Since we are using flight credits to pay for the tickets, I am currently meditating on how to list the price for the flights. One one hand, if we are looking at this sheet as a measure of the cost of the trip, then I should include the price of the flights. On the other hand, if we are looking at this as a list of the amount of cash we will be spending for the trip and since the flight credits are use it or lose it, then perhaps I should exclude the cost of the flights. Just a quick meditation on the accounting for the trip. Feel free to weigh in if you choose.

Preliminary trip plan

I think we previously mentioned that Sue has a friend who lives in Paris. Last year she and her wife moved out of the city to Burgundy. We decided (somewhat uninvited?) to go and visit them. In outline, we plan to fly into Geneva, visit Burgundy, drive down through Provence, along the Cote d’Azur and up into the French national parks to do some hiking in the Alps and then back to Geneva. Our thought is that if we are both vaccinated we can safely travel, but perhaps this isn’t the time to go romping around the cities and visiting crowded museums and windy little streets. So instead, we will plan to spend much of our time seeing Sue’s friend, driving around the countryside (perhaps visiting a winery or ten?), and hiking in the Alps.

Right now we are doing our usual planning process which consists of us reading anything we can about places that may look interesting and writing notes down (usually on little slips of paper or Post-It notes). At some point we will collate them and figure out which ones make the cut. We usually end up with about three times the number of things that we can possibly manage in the time that we have, so hand-to-hand combat between Sue and myself ends up being the deciding factor. Yes, Sue always wins, but that is because she fights like she is from Queens and I fight like a gentleman. I created a very preliminary list of National Parks that look interesting and a few other places I have heard about/see somewhere etc. Sue has begun to read about places and we will, at some point soon start to make a plan. If anyone has suggestions, please feel free to let us know.

Who knows, by the time we finish the plan, for all we know we will spend three weeks in Italy instead. 😉