Roaming About

A Life Less Ordinary

Category: Travel (page 1 of 2)

The Act of Swapping Coasts (in the US)

I wake with a start. Natural light enters the bedroom. Something is terribly wrong. I fumble to look for the time. “Oh no, it’s 7:45. My plane leaves in 30 minutes. There is no way I can make it!” This is my worst nightmare.

I wake with a start. It is pitch black in the room. We never close the shades. I relax the smallest bit. It is supposed to still be dark when I need to get up, but also when I need to leave. I fumble, grab my glasses and flip the lid of my iPad. It is 4am. I sigh. Plenty of time. The dogs stir against my body. I double-check the alarm setting: 5:30am. I double-check the volume: all the way up. I only have one alarm without Mark by my side. I asked him to call me on Skype at 9am EST (6am my time), in case I overslept. Of course, my iPad is on “sleep mode” whenever I am, so someone trying to reach me will be useless.

There is no way I can fall asleep again after that dream. Around 5am, I do doze off. Wait, was that a plane flying over the house? They usually don’t start until 6:30! Oh no. Maybe it was one landing? Or, a delayed departure from last night? I am wide awake now. 5:20am. I might as well get up. I send a quick email to Mark – I’m up! Don’t worry about calling me. – and to the home owner’s mother. She requested the contact info of the helpful guy – a friend of the owner – who will take over our house sitting duties for two weeks. Time to get ready! I have 45 minutes, so don’t have to rush. Sandwiches were made and put in the fridge last night; plenty of snacks are packed. After the “blizzard of the century” in New England yesterday, I am prepared for the worst. With record low temperatures, massive snowfall, and heavy wind gusts in Boston, I expect delays getting there.

My last shower without the heat on. I eat breakfast, do the dishes and call Elvis and Frida. They are not used to getting up this early and lay together, huddled under the bed covers. They have moved from their previous spot to where I slept. Warm and cozy. I wake them and feed them. “Come on, buddy.” I try not to lose my patience. Usually, Elvis gobbles his medicines up without any issues. The pill is covered with fresh, organic peanut butter.  He manages to spit it out. I smear more peanut butter on it. Nope! I’m running out of time. The third attempt is the charm. Down goes the pill, with more peanut butter. Three servings of peanut butter. He gets away with it!

I brush my teeth, remove our toiletries from the bathroom, wipe everything down, and give the whole house a glance over. All our belongings are contained in the guest room, our bedroom. I drag the dog bed in the kitchen, so Elvis and Frida have access to the doggy door and the yard, and close the doors to the living room and hallway. Dog-proof furniture. “Bye, sweethearts. I’ll miss you, but I will be back.” I hug the two Italian Greyhounds, give them a kiss on their fragile heads, grab my daypack and leave my temporary residence of the last two months. Dawn is breaking as I briskly walk towards Liberty Station. I decided to get to the airport on foot and am loving it. No stress about my ride showing up late. Or never.

Mark and I were scheduled to fly out on the same day, but because his mother was doing worse than expected after her stroke and subsequent surgeries, and because “watching” all the hospital antics, extra procedures, complications and decision-making from afar was terribly frustrating, he changed his plane ticket and left a few days earlier. He took a backpack full of work stuff and our only carry-on bag. I managed to stuff most of my clothes in there with his. Today, I am reaping the benefits of my packing talent. My backpack has a few undies and toiletries, and the rest is filled with food and electronics. Traveling light. I love it!

Like clockwork, one plane after the other catapults into the sky. I hear them before I see them. 6:30am. Every minute, another one departs. Usually, we are still in bed, woken up by the noise and disturbed by the continuous mayhem, right above the roof or the yard. Certain half hours are worse than others. It is part of life in this area of San Diego. Hundreds of iron birds, taking off until 11pm. Every day. They amuse me today, as I make my way to the international airport. Each time a plane lifts off, I am one minute closer to my destination. I feel free. I feel self-reliant. I don’t need much. But, I should have brought my ergonomic pillow. I will miss that. And the dogs. And the pleasant climate. And our lifestyle all together.

The walk takes about 45 minutes, and printing my boarding passes at a United kiosk is a breeze. I even manage to change my seats to emergency exit row ones to have a bit more leg room. Normally, you pay for that, but within a couple of hours of departure, this appears to be free. As I arrive at my gate, a voice sounds over the intercom. “350 dollars. We are up to 350 dollars for anyone who is willing to give up their seat on this flight. We will get you to your destination as soon as possible and you receive a $350 travel voucher.” I am all ears, standing in line for boarding. No takers. “OK, folks. 450 dollars. What a nice Christmas gift, right? 450 dollars if you volunteer your seat to someone else.” I consider it. This would be the perfect time to take the risk and obtain a free return flight to the east coast. We could certainly use it! I only have carry-on luggage. I can tell Mark I’ll arrive later. Nobody is inconvenienced. But, what if all those other flights are delayed and I’m stuck at an airport for the night? Before I can make up my mind, someone else steps up. I guess I’m meant to get on this flight from San Diego to Washington DC. We leave on time.

Never has a plane trip gone this smoothly! I must be extremely lucky. I wander from one gate to the next, glancing at the departure screens. Many flights are delayed or canceled. The boarding process starts soon after I arrive at my gate. I devour one of my sandwiches and pick at a Ziploc bag of peanuts. My leftover pizza slices will have to wait until later. Once again, no delays, and we are scheduled to arrive in Boston ten minutes early. This can’t be true, I think, as I continue reading my book. I hoped to catch up on blog reading and commenting, but there is no internet time to be had. I better enjoy my “down time”, because soon, there will be none of that anymore.

I hold my breath and grab the arm rests of my seat tightly, when the pilot attempts to land in gusty, icy conditions. Lots of turbulence. The plane shakes violently, seconds before hitting the tarmac. The brakes whine, while airborne ice chips and white flurry obstruct my view through the window. The pilot slams on the brakes a bit harder. Passengers simultaneously jerk forward. It is dead quiet in the cabin. When we come to a stop, I swear I can hear a communal sigh of relief. The world outside is white and inhospitable. One stress is immediately replaced by another. Will I be able to make the next shuttle bus, or will I have to wait an extra hour? Mark suggested to pick me up at Boston Airport, but I opted to take the hour-long bus ride. He drives into the city every day to visit his mom at the hospital, so I figured three hours of car time is enough for him. We don’t need to add another two today.

I shouldn’t have worried. Ten minutes after the plane lands, I am standing at what I think is the right door for my scheduled bus. Usually, we wait at the bus stop outside. This appears to be impossible now, based on the mass of passengers gathered inside. I know it is cold out. I checked the forecast. There is nobody to be seen in the icy surroundings, resembling the sidewalk and streets. I give it a try. I last three seconds. A cold blast hits my unprotected face. Tears run down my cheeks and I lose the ability to breath. I’m happy for my dawn coat and fleece hat, but it is my hiking shoes that swiftly guide me back inside.

Big shock! Unfortunately, this is -10 degrees Fahrenheit and not Celsius

I went from 73°F (23°C) to -10°F (-23°C) in one day. I can’t say I like it. But, I don’t trust this is the right place to wait for my bus, so every now and then, I sprint back outside and as quickly back inside. Sorry, people. I’m a weird one! And, I’m not from around here. It is during one of these random checks, that I notice a big bus, its sides all frosty white. What does it say? As I approach the vehicle, I decipher the decals: it is the one bringing passengers to Newburyport, my destination! Soon, I’m back at my New England base, the “room above the garage”. I reunite with my husband and, after a quiet, plane-free night, am ready to shift my focus to full-time care of my parents-in-law.

Have you ever had to drop everything to take care of someone? How did it go?

Expense Report 2017

Expenses - image

Every month, I post a report of our expenses to show that it is possible to live a comfortable, exciting and relatively adventurous life without breaking the bank. "The less money you spend, the less you need to make" is my motto. 🙂 2016 was the first full year that Mark and I lived on land as house and pet sitters, which means there is no rent to pay, wherever we end up. You can find my yearly expense overview of 2016 here. What follows is the break-down of how we spent our money in 2017.

This report includes ALL of our expenses, in US$, for the two of us. Under groceries we incorporate all the food, produce and non-alcoholic drinks predominantly bought in supermarkets. Toiletries belong in that category as well. Dining out means eating at a restaurant/event or purchasing take-out food. The health category covers non-prescription medicines and Mark's vitamins and supplements; medical contains prescription drugs and doctor's visits.

Health insurance and costs are related to my health care as a permanent resident in the US. Mark is still eligible for free health care in the state of Massachusetts as of today. If a non-emergency were to happen outside of that state, it will be expensive! For check-ups, we both return to the East Coast. I still pay a small quarterly fee in Belgium for health care (required to retain citizenship), which I mention in my year report. The utility cost refers to fees we paid for Skype, until we changed over to Google voice as our main phone service.

To be quite honest, I am disappointed and somewhat surprised at how much Mark and I spent in 2017. It is similar to our years aboard our sailboat Irie (2007-2015), and we don't even have those expensive boat repairs anymore. But, we bought a camper van this year (its purchase price is the only cost NOT included in this post), and fixing-up, equipping and "feeding" Zesty is not cheap. The car category covers money used for our Prius, which we sold in July, and our camper.

Swapping our Prius for an Airstream Westfalia camper van

All our plane rides from the West Coast to the East Coast and from Massachusetts to Belgium belong in the travel category.

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Roaming About in 2017 – Our Year in Review

The end of the year is a good time for reflection. In the past, Mark and I would do so by recalling the islands visited, the people met, or the countries explored. The last two years, we look back at the house sits we fulfilled; new places we discovered in the US and animals we took care of. To give this review of 2017 a bit more depth, I am combining Donna’s and Peta’s idea of breaking the post down in months and Janis’ end-of-the-year focus by incorporating what I am grateful for.

January 2017 – Hospitality of others

In the beginning of the year, Mark and I finished a three-month dog sit with Herk in the Sacramento area, California. After that, we faced a short gap between house sits. Thanks to the home owner, who let us stay a few extra days, and a blogging friend offering up her guest room, we did not become homeless. Friends happily hosted us at other times during the month as well, keeping our accommodation free. During our 2+ years of house and pet sitting, Mark and I never paid for a hotel room.

February 2017 – The warmth of Southern California Continue reading

From Maupiti to San Diego and Other Reunions

It was November 2014. Mark and I were anchored in the remote, but beautiful atoll Maupiti in the South Pacific. Bora Bora’s sister island stole our heart and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there aboard Irie, in the lagoon waters, and on shore.

Mark and Liesbet on top of Maupiti

One day, a booming voice startled us.

“Hello! Are you American?” A man on a panga had seen our American flag and investigated. Continue reading

Southern Utah’s National Parks – 12-Day Adventure between House Sits

Between our month-long house sit in Rollinsville, Colorado and the next, three-month one in San Diego, California, Mark and I faced a gap of two weeks. Initially, we were on the look-out for a short pet sit, but pretty soon, we realized this would be the perfect opportunity to really test the van life. Longer than one weekend, and for fun, instead of as a means of transportation to get from point A to B. It was an attractive plan for many reasons, including these four: we have always wanted to visit some of Utah’s incredible National Parks, they happened to be en route, we could use a break from our computers (when not?), and, coincidentally, our business partner appeared to have a scheduled vacation within the exact dates we’d be on the road. Now, if that wasn’t the ideal time to relax The Wirie work a bit ourselves!

A window to Delicate Arch

Arches National Park

Not much planning and anticipation went into this camping trip. I checked the map, saw Canyonlands, thought “I guess we stop there,” then noticed a green spot called “Arches” along the way and yelled: “Oh yeah, that’s the famous one in Utah, not Canyonlands. We have to go there!” Now, I don’t know whether you have ever looked at Southern Utah on a map… it is one national park after the next! How exciting! All we had to do was pick and choose, be happy about not doing it all, and not feel rushed! Oh, did I mention that the two biggies, Bryce Canyon and Zion are here as well?

Our selection of Utah National Parks

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Day Trips around Santa Fe, NM – Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque

So little time and so many excursions to blog about! Since Mark and I were only in Santa Fe, New Mexico for one month, we had to fully utilize our weekends to explore the area. We did this by leaving the house mid-morning on Saturday and returning late afternoon on Sunday. All the sites we visited can be done as day trips from Santa Fe, since our driving time was usually between one and one and a half hours each way. Going for the whole weekend allowed us to relax some, do less driving and spend the nights in nature – quiet and peaceful. We always find free camping spots to sleep in Zesty, our Westfalia (Westy) camper van.

Albuquerque is located at a lower elevation than Santa Fe. This means that it is usually quite a bit warmer, something we did not account for. My plan, before setting out, was to visit all four areas of Petroglyph National Monument and do most of the hikes, about 7 miles in total. It seemed feasible. We had all day. There are over 24,000 images pecked in stone. We would not have to search hard to see some.

Too many carvings to count!

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Day Trips around Santa Fe, NM – Bandelier National Monument

New Mexico state has so many natural and cultural treasures, that when the weekend approaches, Mark and I are filled with excitement and the promise of wonderful excursions. We pack our camper van up and only have to drive an hour or two to reach enough sites to fill days. Of course, we only have two of those a week, and, after a tiring work week, immediately getting on the road Friday night is not the way we like to approach our time off. Instead, we have a glass of wine and a snack, make an ever-pleasing vegetarian pizza, and put a few things in the camper before picking up the mail or in between watering the plants.

On Saturday, we have a not-to-early start and depart to our destination, in this case, Bandelier National Monument, NW of Santa Fe. Continue reading

Welcome, Westy! – The New Development

The past weeks I have been insinuating a new development in our lives. It is time to reveal what we have been up to! Let me introduce our newest “family member”, Zesty. He is a 2005 Sprinter Airstream Westfalia camper, endearingly called a Westy. Ingeniously built in Germany and known as a Westfalia James Cook in Europe, only 250 of these campers were imported into the US. Airstream did those honors and “Americanized” them by adding an air conditioner and a generator, and swapping the cassette toilet for one with a holding tank. The Mercedes engine was re-branded as a Dodge for the American market. Confusing? The main thing is that Mark and I now own one of these unique, compact and decked-out camper vans! Indirectly, this plan has been brewing for a couple of years.

Second night, in Oklahoma

“I think our next adventure should be in a camper again.” I share with Mark something that has been on my mind for a while. It is March 2015 and we are anchored in beautiful Huahine, French Polynesia. Continue reading

Amtrak Antics – From Appealing Idea to Ridiculous Reality

About two months ago, something in Arkansas required our attention, in the form of a visit. We were in Massachusetts at the time sticking to an extremely busy schedule with a month-long stay in Belgium and a three-week house sit in Oakland after that. The trip to Harrison, AR would have to wait until our house sit was finished, but the planning occurred right then and there.

The distance from Oakland to Harrison is 2000 miles (3000 km), not something we wanted to drive twice with limited time, despite the good fuel economy of our Prius. Flights to the middle of Arkansas were expensive and still required other transportation to get to the airport and to Harrison. A one-way rental was also quite pricey and meant extra costs for fuel and accommodation. And, unsurprisingly, nobody needed an RV relocation to Arkansas.

“Why don’t we take the train?” Mark suggested and a plan was born. We booked two legs on Amtrak, leaving from Jack London Square in Oakland at 9am on Friday, July 14th and arriving in Little Rock, Arkansas, at 11:30pm on Sunday, July 16th. The first leg – on the Coast Starlight – would bring us to Los Angeles in 12 hours, where we had a one-hour layover. The second leg – on the Texas Eagle – would take us the rest of the way in about 50 hours. We reserved coach seats for $350 in total. We would not have a shower, a bed and a warm meal for three days. Mark and I love train rides, so we faced an exciting adventure; an epic train journey.

Our train for 50 hours – well, part of it

Day 1:

“We have a problem!” Mark utters, as he barges into the bathroom, where I’m just pulling up my pants. Our friend Eric would give us a ride to the metro in a few minutes. From there, we would continue to the train station, well in time for our 9am departure.

“What do you mean?” I ask. Continue reading

Three Day Vacation in Budapest, Hungary

Every couple of years, our business partner for The Wirie goes on a vacation with his family. Since he is responsible for the assembly and distribution of our product, we usually put a notice on the website that new orders will not get shipped until a certain date, when he is back a week or two later. Mark, who is responsible (among many other things) for customer support, continues work, wherever we are. That’s what happens when the product is your “baby”, you are extremely responsible, you want customers to be happy and you hate catching up on all the piled-up emails and phone calls afterwards. That’s why Mark and I never go on a holiday. Luckily, our lifestyle as house and pet sitters is diverse and exciting enough as we move locations a lot and enjoy the weekends as mini-vacations.

My favorite view of the new-to-us city

This spring, however, we had the greatest of ideas! We did not take a full vacation as Tim set out with his family to Italy, but we added a few lines to the notice on the website, the automatic email response and our Wirie answering machine. It said: “The Wirie crew is on vacation from May 18th through June 4th, 2017. No orders will be shipped during this period and customer support might be delayed. Requests by email have a quicker response rate than by phone. Back orders will start to go out on June 5th and customer support returns to normal then as well. Thank you for your patience and understanding.”

Chain Bridge seen from above

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