Next week we will be under 400 days to go. Even though we are still planning and dreaming, we have not done a good job writing about it. The good news is that we have checked off a couple more boxes.
This year we bought a bike with training wheels for Julie. She loves it. Isabella also jumps on her bike any chance she gets. Paige fondly remembers the days she used to bike to work. We decided the trip might be more fun for the kids if we brought our bikes on the trip. Bicycles at campsites just seem to go together. So have been on the lookout for a bike rack to mount on the car for the cross Canada segment of our Journey. Finding bike-related gear in Toronto in the current environment is not that simple. Fortunately, we had been scouring online ads for people looking to sell their used ones. A couple of weeks ago we scored a Thule hitch mounted-rack that can accommodate four bicycles. It was practically new and we had it delivered to the house by the seller. It was not cheap but got it for about 10% less than retail with no tax. That price worked for me. Plus we actually got it since buying things in stores in Toronto right now is not seamless. As a final bonus, we get to use it throughout this year and plan to try it out this weekend.
I like to hedge my bets. I hope for the best but plan for the worst. I imagine on our trip we will bring a camera, a phone, an iPad and a small laptop. I do not doubt for a second that we are going to lose one of these things. It will happen. Losing the device itself will be an inconvenience but it will not be that big of a problem. The files and photos on a lost device would probably be more regrettable. For that reason, I cracked and got myself some cloud storage this year.
When we started planning, we had a lot of time to get things done. One thing that benefits from a large time horizon is selling “stuff”. It is far easier to maximize your return on any business transaction when you are not at the mercy of an aggressive deadline. Before we take off on our around-the-world journey, we plan to sell some of our possessions. We hope to use the proceeds to fund a portion of the trip but we know it will not be the main contributor. Still, any extra dollar we can squirrel away now is one less dollar we have to worry about when we are on the road. And since we won’t be working, the less stress on that front the better. I wanted to share a quick update on what I have been tackling and some new considerations I have taken into account.
It is time for an update on our trip planning journey. It has been about 300 days since I started this blog and it is time to see how much progress we have or have not made.
Deciding the Route – This continues to evolve but we have definitely moved the needle on this one. The last 6 months of the trip are still relatively wide open as we really only know that Southeast Asia will constitute part of this leg. I believe that Isabella is going to vote Australia into the trip so that she can see a koala bear. Despite the uncertainty with the second half of the trip, we have pretty much aligned on the first six months. The family is looking forward to Canadian Camping and a Mediterranean Europe Fall. PROGRESS = B+
Establish a Budget – This has been a somewhat contentious topic but we have both made compromises. Increasing the original budget by 25% has made things more reasonable on paper. The spending buckets are more realistic now and we have been able to keep that ice cream allocation intact. The budget is for planning purposes and establishing some loose guardrails. We have hedged at the high end so as costs come in cheaper, we’ll have more discretionary spend available. PROGRESS = B
Determine the Transportation – We have decided not to buy “Around the World” plane tickets but instead purchase individual flights as we go. The costs were just too high for the four of us based on our rough itinerary. We are still deciding the vehicle for cross-country camping. The electric car is still in contention but it is looking more and more like a stretch. We have not really looked into any of the other segments of the trip yet. I believe my railroad ambitions in Europe will be replaced with the far more budget-friendly long haul bus. PROGRESS = C-
Align on Accommodation and Style – My wife and I are on the same page here most of the time. Accommodation in Canada will consist of predominantly campsites and roadside motels with the occasional Air BnB. One “rule” has been added to camping. If grizzly bears are in play, then the accommodation needs to have walls! Outside of North America, we will lean heavily on month-long Air BnB rentals. Where it makes sense, the cost savings on a four week plus rental through that platform are significant. We appreciate the kitchen, washing machines and other amenities that you can get through that booking engine. PROGRESS = B
Figure out Home-schooling – Understanding what is required from our school board was pretty straight forward. We will know where to look in a year and a half as we move things along. The last few months have made us aware of what teaching the kids at home or on the road will look like. We think we are up for the challenge. PROGRESS = B-
Save the Money – We have been very fortunate on this front. I got lucky and went back to work and Paige was able to hold onto her employment during the pandemics. We were able to funnel all the daycare savings directly to the trip fund. Currently we have 35% of our expected budget saved. PROGRESS = B+
Manage our Transition out of the Workforce – I think it is too early to start this in earnest. PROGRESS = N/A
Assemble the Gear – We just wrapped up a family camping trip with half the gear we normally bring and it went off well. We used our first new piece of gear bought specifically for our round the world trip. It is a fantastic little kettle for boiling water. It saved us some needed space. PROGRESS = C
Leverage Loyalty Programs – We started signing up for a bunch of travel loyalty programs. One unexpected outcome is we got notified of a flash sale on hotel gift cards. We took advantage and bought a bunch at a discount. PROGRESS = B+
Required Documentation – Isabella got an updated passport so that’s one less thing that has to be done. A lot of the other stuff needs to wait until later. PROGRESS = C+
Determine Medical Requirements – We have not made much progress here other than trying to pull together our individual vaccination histories. Why did I not keep a clear record anywhere! PROGRESS = D
Learn How to Blog – I create infrequent posts but at least I know how to do it. PROGRESS = C-
Get in Better Physical Shape – This has been an unfortunate disaster. The family was making good progress until the pandemic which wiped out six months worth of progress. PROGRESS = D
Improve Photography Capabilities – I knew nothing about my camera before. I thought I was getting better but it turned out to be a false start as last weekend, I could not even remember how to activate the timer. The GoPro has not emerged from its case this year. PROGRESS = D-
Improve Language Skills – I had been focusing on learning Italian through DuoLingo. I also took out some beginner books from the library. Paige and I are going to test out mandarin classes with the kids this winter. PROGRESS = C-
Engage our Network of Friends – We now mention our trip in conversations. Some people are skeptical. Some have started following this blog. Family on the other hand….. PROGRESS = C-
Overall Progress Rating – C+ Some of the fun was always supposed to be the planning. I think that has definitely been the case as the family dreams up destinations and pretends to fret about problems that are months away. The kids have started asking questions about countries to visit and overall we are beginning to get things on track.
I spend a lot of time at my kitchen table streaming music on youtube while working. Occasionally I come upon some gems that remind me of good times from travel long ago. Hearing the first couple of chords make me long for a travel adventure. Whenever I come across these songs, I begin to jot them down in my notebook. I hope when we finally take off we’ll have a great youtube playlist assembled that will keep us motivated. Our children generally drive our youtube viewing, and as a result, an inordinate amount of Disney soundtracks that pop up throughout the day.
Things are gradually reopening where we live. Over the last couple of weeks, we have had the opportunity to meet up with friends and family. Like our children, we have missed our friends and relatives. It got me thinking that we are going to miss a bunch of people when we take off on our trip. But why do we need to miss them? Perhaps some will decide to join us at random points around the world. Wouldn’t that be neat?
Last year we managed to convince my extended family to go on a trip to Iceland with us. Being transparent, we had some concerns that it might be difficult for everyone to “get along”. Over the years Paige and I have adjusted our style to not need everyone to do the same thing and have the same experiences. On the Iceland trip, I think we did our best to give everyone lots of room and let each sub-unit sort of go at their own pace.
The good news is that travelling with that extended family had lots of “halo” benefits. On that trip, family members’ input made us participate in experiences that my wife and I would not have considered on our own. On the financial side, our money went a little bit further as we could share accommodation and some transport costs. On the sanity side, “babysitting” by family members allowed me and my wife some free time that we put to good use. Snorkelling in Iceland would not have been possible if my brother’s family were not watching my kids at the time. On the appreciation side, family members remembered unique aspects of the trip so that when we reminisce we seem to get a more complete recounting of the adventure.
I understand the complexities around co-ordinating things and that sometimes things fall through. Not too long ago, my family went to Jamaica for a winter holiday. Just before arrival, we found out one of my good friends was staying at a resort just a couple kilometres up the beach. For some reason, we just did not end up crossing paths.
In a previous post, I made a tongue in cheek comment about my grandmother coming to visit us for Christmas in Italy. I am not sure she has been on a plane and not having a passport might prove problematic for her. I am not writing it off but I am going to give that one a 10% chance of coming to fruition. For the rest of you, do not hesitate to tell us when and where! We could use a bunch of babysitters.
I have to come clean. I love finance and budgeting. I “waste” hours a week on personal finance. I thought this part of the trip planning would be easy. It is in my wheelhouse. I have failed. Even with preliminary placeholders I just can’t get the left side to equal the right side.
When I started on this process, I threw out a nice round number that I “budgeted” for the trip. What I was really doing was putting down a number that I would be “comfortable” spending on the trip. Unfortunately, it seems like each week of research unlocks a new expense I had not considered.
Last year we became a ONE car family. The reasons were threefold. First, I was not working. Second, we moved to a house that was within shouting distance of the subway. Finally, our second car had a major malfunction that we decided not to get fixed. Giving up that second car was a blessing in disguise.
We had always thought we would end up getting a new car when I went back to work. It would be that new car that we would drive across Canada in two years time. Now we do not see that happening. The question now is if our current car can handle the task.
While working at Walmart I adopted the practice of committing to only three things at any time. I found that spreading myself across many initiatives resulted in little progress against any of them. That practice from my work life has transferred well to our family vacations. For the most part, we try to keep our vacations focused on a couple key objectives. Our recent trips have been centred around escaping the grind, spending time with the kids and reliving our youth.
This brings me to an important part of goal setting for a family trip. It is important to establish the goals of your trip before you depart. It is equally important to share them with your family members AHEAD of time.
Let me call a spade a spade. I have not made any progress on the other elements of the trip planning in the last month. Even my attempts at a blog posts did not make it to fruition. However on the finance side things we have moved things along nicely. We are now about 1/3 of the way towards our goal and we did it just by changing our priorities a little bit. Essentially we decided on another way to allocate money towards the trip.