Never Travel to Mexico

If you feel the craving for an adventure, please do me and yourself a favor – do not go to Mexico! Seriously, please forget about that crazy idea. Find a more civilized place to spend your hard earned money. You wonder why I say so? Well, an old friend of mine recently helped me understand all the mistakes we’ve been committing along the way. Lessons learned, here’s a little roundup of reasons, not to travel to Mexico (in no particular order):

  • Mexico doesn’t have a decent culture, it’s just folklore

    The guides might try to sell you on the greatness of the ruins of some several thousands years old Indian civilizations, but in fact those are  just big piles of rock. Just like the supposedly old (500 years whoop-ti-do!) colonial towns with their narrow, cobblestone streets spotted with churches and other architectural “marvels”. The museums are full of shiny items stolen by rich guys from the poor ones, some of the most “famous” paintings look like comic book murals. The colonial towns resemble Disneyland for retirees, except they’re open 24/7, the staff doesn’t leave the set after dark and they speak with that funny accent.

  • Fast food is hard to find

    I know you’ll find it hard to believe, but it is rather difficult to get a decent burger or a slice of pizza in this country.  Burger Kings, Subways, Pizza Huts and McDee’s are only in bigger cities or tourist areas, everywhere else is only this damn spicy, healthy, made from scratch Mexican food – guacamole, tacos, gordittas, tamales and other nutritious nonsense. Not much fat, nothing’s pre-processed and everything’s fresh. And you have to watch the people preparing your food right in front of you. Instead of being miserable working for a minimum wage and dragging their feet, they rush around smiling all the time! Obviously, they’re on drugs or are otherwise retarded…

  • You might get accidentally killed

    With the ongoing wars between the drug cartels, police, army, American IRS and God knows who else, you might end up being in the wrong time in the wrong place.  If you “accidentally” enter a crystal meth lab, or get possession of illegal substances, chances are you’ll “accidentally” get killed.

  • You might get accidentally inspired

    Unsupervised wandering in places of unspoiled natural beauty, coastal paradises or colonial marvels in small, sleepy towns of  central Mexico, may cause sudden desire to uncover ones artistic nature. We all know, without appropriate dose of alcohol, the effects can be dangerous.

  • Mexico is boring

    Not much going on here – festivals, concerts, parades only once a week or so. If you have enough kahunas to drive around Mexico, your only adventures will be on the roads, trying to navigate around potholes and avoiding closer encounters with the topes. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, you’ll definitely find a lot of it in any watering hole or strip club within 100 miles south of the US border. Or north, when I think about it! But then again, you may get killed, accidentally…

  • Beware, Mexico is full of Mexicans!

    Not only will they tidy up your room, up-keep your garden and clean the pool, they will also drive you around in a bus or a taxi, they’ll sell you stuff at the store, wait your table and prepare your food at the restaurant, even treat you at the hospital, should anything happen to you! Like in the US, they are everywhere, except…

  • They don’t speak any English in Mexico

    Even if you somehow get to grips with the idea of being surrounded by Mexicans all the time, you need to know that a great majority of them, doesn’t have the decency to speak any English! They expect you to learn Spanish! Can you believe that? They want you to speak foreign language when you’re abroad!?! As if travelling wasn’t frustrating enough!

  • Mexico is expensive

    The hype is that Mexico is so much cheaper than the civilized World. Well, it’s not. Unless, you’re looking for substandard products and services. You know, like hand made pottery, which is almost as expensive as the cheap junk from China, you buy at Walmart. Or a fine hotel room in one of Mexican vacation spots, which will cost you almost as much as a cheap motel room in a shady part of Chicago.

  • Mexico is smelly and dirty

    Oh yes, it is… Trash is flying high on the highways, those cobblestone streets are densely spotted with dog poo, sewage flows in the open, the street kitchen smells mix with the odors, giving it an unforgettably… Pittsburgh’ish experience.

  • Friends and Family will consider you nuts

    Since impression is reality, you’ll be obliged to get yourself a nutcracker. Or a saddle, if they consider you a mule… Those who love you most, won’t disguise their real worries and speak out loud calling you names and laughing in your face to discourage you from making the biggest mistake of your life. Be grateful!

I’m sure the list could be longer. For now, that’s how much we’ve established. If you know of any other reasons we should not travel to those “uncivilized” countries in general, and to Mexico in particular, please share. Just make sure it’s not experience based – those are heavily subjective, and therefore biased. Make sure the advice is based on popular opinions, urban legends or at the very least, superstitions. Popular media and social networking sites provide plenty of material!

How to spend a year out travelling with kids

Since the very beginning of this Sabbatical, people reading our blog have been having questions. They wanted to know what was it exactly that we’re embarking upon. They were curious why we decided to do it. What was our approach and how were we planning to fund it. Among others, those were the most frequently asked questions. At the beginning of our trip, I promised to answer them all. Now, the time has finally arrived to keep the promise.

What is a Sabbatical?

Lets’s start with the basics. The term Sabbatical, might not be familiar to everyone. The word derives from Greek (sabbatikos) and Latin (sabbaticus) and means a break from work, a hiatus lasting between a few months to roughly a year. In the Bible, a sabbatical year, in Hebrew called the Shmita is the last of the seven year agricultural cycle mandated by Torah. That year, the fields are left alone to recuperate. Without going any further into religious or agricultural interpretations, let’s just say that recently a Sabbatical, also known as a Gap Year is most commonly considered to be an extended break in professional career. Unlike extended vacations or holidays, a Sabbatical is usually undertaken with a specific goal in mind.

The goal of Sabbatical

In the ministerial or academic field, people often take Sabbaticals to pursue personal projects – travel, research, write a book. It’s no different in the corporate world. Sabbatical gives an opportunity to focus on personal development – gaining new skills, obtaining knowledge or simply following interests.

In our case, the goal has not been clearly defined. At least not at the beginning. All we knew, was that our life was missing something and that we needed time to evaluate what it was.

As millions of other people, we were living our happy and peaceful life following guidelines prescribed by society – a house in the suburbs, couple of kids, successful careers and retirement accounts. So far, everything has been going as planned, everything on target. And yet, the American Dream wasn’t complete.

For the longest time we couldn’t figure it out. Actually, we were doing everything possible not to admit that there was a problem. We were clearly in denial. In the perfect picture of our life, we weren’t able to admit, that something was missing…

Since we couldn’t quite name it, we kept getting more and more stuff. We’ve worked hard to earn enough money to built a house. Then we worked to stuff  it with lots of items – some of them essential, most useful, some nice, others simply worthless junk. We kept bringing more and more into our life, and yet… Something was still missing.

So we worked harder to earn more money and brought more stuff, over and over again. In this pursuit, we kept rewarding ourselves for our hard work with various tokens – big toys and small gadgets, home improvement projects, vacations, entertainment, etc… And the more we rewarded ourselves, the more it was apparent that something was missing…

Finally, we decided that we needed to change our approach completely. Instead of bringing more clutter into our life, we decided to adapt the minimalist approach and concentrate on pursuing our passions.

The goal of our Sabbatical is to discover or develop them.

The Minimalist Approach

While the pursuit of passion is the goal to this Sabbatical, the minimalist approach is it’s enabler. It also happens to be a way of life, which reflects our core values. In a nutshell, rather then fulfilling desires, we decided to re-evaluate our needs.

We started with the low hanging fruits…

  • Between the two of us, do we really need 3 cell phones?
  • Do we need a land line on top of it?
  • Do we need several TV sets and 100 channels when we have no time to watch them?
  • Do we need to stuff ourselves with nutrition-less, genetically modified and poisonous food…?
  • Do we need or want to spend time and money on video games, brainless movies, junk food, mediocre entertainment, junk toys…?
  • Do we want to produce tons of garbage and use countless resources to ruin our kids future…?
  • Do we want other people to raise our kids, to decide about their education, to brain wash them…?

…and we ended up asking ourselves some pretty difficult questions. What started as an analysis of our monthly house budget utilization, ended up shaping our world view manifesto. This is obviously a much broader subject. For this article, suffice it to say that re-evaluation of our expenses resulted over time in significant savings, which became the corner stone of the Sabbatical Travel Fund.

Family Travel

We have quickly realized that our little “pursuit of happiness”, the search for life’s passion will have very little chances of success if we don’t change the environment we live in. Not to mention that if we were to quit our jobs, living in upstate New York would be way too expensive. At that point, the idea of  an extended travel career break was born…

In the past, before we had children, we have been travelling a bit around Europe and North America. Despite popular belief, we found  travel to be fairly inexpensive and always inexhaustible source of inspiration. Therefore we were both immediately sold to the idea of a long journey. The only questions were: where are we going to go and how are we going to finance it?

We decided to look at our finances first, as we knew those will determine our options. Since we didn’t plan to generate income (read:  work) on the road, the financing had to come from our savings. Even though we have been fairly considerate about our spending in the past, we haven’t put aside as much as we figured would be necessary to support ourselves during a Round the World trip. On top of it, we weren’t necessarily interested in visiting great number of tourist attractions, while schlepping our kids through countless airports and sharing cheap hostels rooms in shady parts of big cities. Therefore we’ve scratched that idea off the list very early.

If we were to search for our life’s passions, we wanted to have the flexibility of choosing places we wanted to visit, being able to extend (or shorten) our stays in various places, or change direction of travel on a dime if we needed to. We didn’t want to stay in cities, preferring natural attractions over man-made marvels. Not to mention, that staying at campgrounds, is not only more romantic, but also less expensive and more adventures (especially in less developed countries) than hotels. Weather permitting, of course…

Having said all that and with the ever rising prices of gas, we decided this might be the last opportunity for a real road trip.

The Sabbatical Travel Fund

Once we decided we will travel using our minivan, and as much as possible stay at campgrounds we needed to assess how much would it cost us. We figured that on average it will be USD $20 per night to setup a tent in a State Park. That’s $600 a month – in Mexico and Central America, we hoped that would be enough to rent nice apartments. Considering that we wanted to cover about 30,000 miles during that trip and factoring in our van’s fuel consumption and estimated gas prices along the way, we figured that USD $500 a month would be sufficient amount for gas money. We realized that availability and prices of quality (mostly organic, local, unprocessed) foods  in different places will vary, but we’ve estimated it will cost us between USD $1,000 and USD $1,500 per month. On top of that between USD $400 and $900 for incidentals, tourist attractions, etc… Bottom line, we’ve estimated it will cost us in average about USD $3,000 per month to support ourselves on the road. Adding car and travel insurance, reserve for unexpected repairs and other surprises, we’ve figured we needed about USD $40,000 for a year long Sabbatical.

As a result of the Minimalist Approach, we have adapted a rather frugal lifestyle already sometime before we decided to set off on this Sabbatical road trip. Thanks to that, over the last few years, we were able to set aside almost half of the required amount. The rest came from the annual tax return, but also from the sale of our vehicles, furniture and other household items.

I’d like to add at this point that with the exception of mortgage, we have always been debt free, which – in times of recent economical turmoil – is especially important, and was a significant variable in weighing our options. Also, with a favorable rate and high equity to debt ratio (and with a bit of luck), we were able to rent our house out at a rate that just covers the mortgage, taxes and property management fees. Barely, but it does…

Mental Liberation

In last weeks before hitting the road, we went through countless garage sales and trips to Goodwill, but were able to empty the house to almost bare walls. I have to admit, that getting rid of all our possessions was almost a spiritual experience –  at times difficult, but mostly very invigorating. Removing the clutter, the material anchors, allowed us to detach our life from the limitations imposed by objects we possessed. While giving the stuff away, we realized that the items we accumulated over years not only didn’t make us happier, but actually skew the way we viewed our life choices. Because of all this junk, we understood our life options as only being limited to a given geographical area. Suddenly, after being freed up from all this worthless luggage, the World stood wide open in front of us.

Terminating Employment

At times I wish I was able to continue working for Alstom during our travels. It’s not unheard of and quite often even expected by the Company, that their employees work from remote locations. I’m sure I could find few hours everyday to support the firm, in exchange of a steady paycheck and benefits, which would allow to extend the Sabbatical trip beyond it’s planned duration.

On the other hand though I always knew that an arrangement like that would not work in a long term.

With today’s technology, telecommuting from even the most remote places in the World is no longer an issue. And yet only a few organizations are mature enough to allow their employees to travel and pursue their passions while working for the Company. For such an arrangement to work, the organization has not only to implement trustful and truly results oriented work ethics in their work environment, but also have a very strong and mature management in place.

Unfortunately Alstom is no different than most traditional companies. I would even risk a statement, that driven probably by the dated (compared to other industries) technology at the core of it’s business, the Company is even more stiff then other businesses in the Industry. There is no shortage of talented people within the organization and yet work ethics and management are heavily impaired. Finally, for our journey to be truly considered as Sabbatical, I don’t think I was ready to even investigate possibilities of such work arrangement. Instead, I requested an unpaid leave of absence, which in fact is no different from flat out quitting. What I got in exchange though, is an offer letter from the Company, stating that upon my return, Alstom will make all efforts to make employment options available to me. I truly think this is the best possible arrangement.

Conclusions

Obviously it’s a long process and only slowly we’re getting used to this thought. Finally, we start to consciously shape our life. No longer enslaved by the material world, we start to notice our inner drive. The lyrics of Jannis Joplin’s old song start to finally make more sense:  Freedom’s just another word for nothing else to lose…

I’m sure I didn’t cover everything I wanted to share, most probably I didn’t even answer some of the questions. If you’d like to know more feel free to comment under this post. At times I’m having difficulties with prompt, individual responses, but as you can see here, I’m very transparent and I’ll make all efforts to respond quickly. If you’re interested in the minimalist approach or mental liberation I mentioned in this post, I’ll try to develop those terms into more detailed articles in the near future.

San Miguel de Allende

Even the most elaborate plans change in an instant, when new variables come into play. Our big plan was to reach Panama during this Sabbatical trip. We’ve only made it to Central Mexico and felt in love with a small town called San Miguel de Allende in the Guanajuato district. We didn’t plan for it to happen, but decided that we will stay here until April.

Obviously, this sounds like a very emotional decision, but let me try to reason it.

With only small breaks, we have been on the road for the past four months. During the summer in northern hemisphere, we’ve been traveling throughout Europe. After returning to North America, we’ve been through the US East Coast and around the Gulf of Mexico. As much as we love to see new places and meet new people, I think we started to miss some of civilization’s basic comforts. Camping is fun, but setting up and folding your tent every few days, after a while starts to get a little annoying. Supposedly, your creativity in the kitchen is only limited by your imagination, but even for a great cook as Agnieszka, a propane burner has some substantial snags. Meeting new people every day is great, but it doesn’t translate into building lasting relationships. Finally, and despite what most people think – traveling is a full time job!

Before we entered Mexico, we were a bit uneasy. Courtesy of the US government issued warnings, we were worried about our safety and during the first few hours were on a constant lookout for armed robbers, bandits and road blocks. The fact that we haven’t met any, obviously doesn’t mean there aren’t some, maybe even frequent. I have to admit though, that travel warnings like the ones issued by the US, UK and Canadian governments do great injustice to the actual situation in Mexico. Obviously there are places in Mexico one should avoid, but in all fairness there are more dangerous neighborhoods in Rochester, or even in my native Chorzów than here in San Miguel de Allende. One can argue, that I should compare Rochester to larger cities like Monterrey, Nuevo Laredo or Ciudad Juarez. Obviously in that comparison all those cities will end up equally not appealing. But the fact that there are some troubled areas does not mean that the whole country must be avoided! Especially such a wonderful and magical one like Mexico.

We don’t pretend to know Mexico. We haven’t been here even two weeks yet. And we’ve only been to a very few places so far. Maybe San Miguel de Allende is a typical town, like many one will find in Mexico. But I seriously doubt it. With all the festivals, rich culture, history, architecture and picturesque setting, I think San Miguel de Allende is one of a very few exceptions and that Mexico isn’t so great after all. Because if the entire country was as magical as this old colonial town, Mexico would have been the number one tourist destination in the World… and it would be a rich country.

San Miguel de Allende isn’t rich. It’s a town of great contrasts. There are many terrific, multi-million dollar properties here, especially in the historic downtown, but also in the suburbs, spotted with gated, US style subdivisions, guarded by armed security officers. But the vast majority of full time residents live just outside the Centro, in adjacent neighborhoods in small, rather uninspiring and mostly unfinished dwellings, build over long periods of time, using any available materials. While the appeal of the expensive residences is universal, the more authentic, dirty favelas appeal only to the more spirited visitors.

I have to admit, that the first impression wasn’t good. Looking for the right address, we realized that our home for this month will not be in the fabulous downtown, but rather in a poor, Mexican neighborhood. Our house – large, recently remodeled condo, with it’s beautiful red painted facade covered with hanging flowers distinctly stands out from adjacent dwellings: bare brick, unpainted, with re-bars sticking from the roof-tops. I’m sure architects didn’t make much money in this neighborhood. In fact, I’m not even sure that any were consulted at all. However, what on the surface looked rather uninviting, turned out to be a very safe neighborhood of warm, helpful and very patient people.

Before we set off on this Sabbatical, we agreed that we are looking  not just for a road trip and tourist attractions. We wanted to experience something authentic, live life differently and try to discover our passions. The next morning after arriving in San Miguel de Allende, we concluded in unison that there isn’t a better place for that. Not only beautiful on the surface, but vibrant and offering many cultural and intellectual stimulus, this town is the perfect place to reinvent oneself. We will have five months to meditate and discover our talents. I’ll keep you posted if we stumble upon any…

European Man Bag

My wife, the Captain is a great driver. She’s been driving a car for many years without an accident. Well, I don’t count busted mirrors, fender benders or door scratches. Those are quite common and happen to both of us… sometimes. Anyway, she’s an experienced, confident and very safe driver. However, keeping things organized in the car is definitely not her forte. There are always thousands of items laying on the floor, on the seats, anywhere and everywhere. Obviously she knows exactly where to find stuff, and yet to a by-standing observer the inside of her (now our) car appears as chaos. Even incidents like one that happened to her girlfriend last winter can’t seem to influence her at all. In January, we went sledding together with our close friends and their kids. While we were enjoying the fast melting snow some thugs used a curbstone to get to our friends car and steal a handbag that was left on the passenger seat. I believe there was also one other car that got robbed that day, for some reason ours was left untouched. Good fortune, I guess – even though the passenger seat happens to be also my wife’s favorite place for her usually large, bright colors, very feminine and visible bags.  She was very moved by such invasion on her fiends privacy and promised to be much more organized and careful about leaving stuff on display in the car. And she was. For about a week…

Today was the last day before departure. Our flight leaves Rochester tomorrow afternoon. Most of the day we were both frantically packing the remainder of our belongings. The house is empty now. Our four bedrooms worth of junk is squeezed in a 8′ by 11′ storage unit. How’s that possible? It wasn’t easy – the trick was to use as many as possible boxes of the same or at least similar shape. Put those larger and heavier ones on bottom and make you way to the ceiling using ever smaller and lighter boxes. At last stuck individual items in any visible holes that threaten the structure stability and you’ll conserve a lot of space! It took me several trips back and forth to transfer all our stuff. Those extra empty water bottles, coffee mugs,  lipsticks, mascara and other non-identified cosmetics items on the floor weren’t exactly helpful, but they didn’t disturb me either. What got my attention was the fact that one of the tires showed less then half of the required air pressure. It only had 15 PSI, which forced me to make an emergency stop at local gas station. When I watched closer, I found a piece of glass pressed into the tread and heard a quiet whistle of escaping air. I watched the pressure reading on the on-board computer display. In couple of hours I lost 5 PSI. There was still stuff at the house that needed to be moved to the storage in the morning. Since I don’t have a compressor, I decided it will be safer to transport whatever can be transported tonight and then leave the car at the local service garage. They can fix it first thing in the morning and we will be back in business before breakfast.

I parked the car at the service garage, wrote a two post-it’s long letter to the owner and was ready to drop the keys into the drop-off box, when I looked at the passenger seat. There it was… To my horror this one was large, bright yellow with a huge embroidered flower. It’s a very safe town, but I didn’t think that leaving my wife’s purse with all her credit cards and ID in the car overnight would be a smart idea. I had no choice, but to take it back home.

During a brisk, 15 minutes walk with a fashionable “European man bag” on my shoulder, I got couple of “Hello’s” from stranger men. The Sheriff also slowed down, but decided to let me have my evening stroll undisturbed. I guess, he wasn’t in mood to learn if I like men in uniform…

Farewell to Alstom

Today was my last day at work. I have to admit it was somehow less emotional moment than I thought it would be. After all, it’s been almost fourteen years! In such time everyone grows accustomed and attached to things – the cubicle, the old desk phone or if nothing else, at least to that beaten up and broken chair. But there are also people. Your friends and foes, the funny and the grumpy characters, your office neighbors… Those, that were your family away from home, your colleagues. They were the people I’ve been spending more time with, then with my wife and kids. And for some reason,  the farewell didn’t seem hard at all. Just like going away for an extended weekend and saying bye to the team…

Did I become a soulless cynical bastard…? Some of those people were friends, some close as family. And yet I left them with a  handshake and a simple “keep in touch” at the door. My excitement and the promise of upcoming adventures overshadowed the sadness of leaving some good friends behind. On the flip side, it also looked like inmates waving their fellow convict goodbye, while watching  him leave the prison cell. Watching him with envy and jealousy, at heart wishing it was them. It felt a little awkward…

I’d like to blame my somehow emotionless attitude on high level of activity and enormous stress, we’ve been coping with in the last few weeks. Frankly, if I knew the price we had to pay to set sails for our journey, I’m not sure we would have taken this decision. But we did. And there is nothing stopping us now! We will get the house rented and we will hit the road soon! We might be suffering from a mild case of a reisefieber, which would explain my rigidity earlier today. I may need a week or two to get back to normal. But hey, what’s “normal” in my case, anyway?

I’d like to thank everyone for the good luck wishes. I received tons of them – in print, in email, through the blog and directly while doing my farewell round around the office. I received a lot of wishes from friends, colleagues and people I personally never met – I guess that has something to do with the fact of semi-accidentally sending a mass e-mail to everyone at Alstom (sorry folks, I hope you’ll forgive me!). All your feedback was very positive, supportive and encouraging. Through that e-mail I’ve gained a few new Facebook friends and probably also a few readers for this blog. As promised, I will update it as often as possible. In the near future, I’ll create a FAQ page to respond to all the e-mails I’ve received, but I’ll also try to respond to each of the emails individually. Just please, be patient it may take a few days.

In the meantime, here’s a toast to all the inmates I’m leaving behind! I’m raising a wine glass this evening to celebrate the moment of becoming officially unemployed, underfunded and soon to become homeless. But what the heck, lets have a drink to celebrate “just another word for nothing else to loose”…

OK, I might have one too many tonight, but it’s not that often that I quit my job. This was actually my very first time…

Road Trip Packing Strategies Revealed

This morning, I woke up on the floor. Fortunately the fall wasn’t painful, as I only dropped a few inches. Actually not even dropped, but rolled. I slept on an air mattress. No, not to practice before the trip. This has been a bare necessity, as my wife sold our bed the day before.

We keep crossing stuff off of the tasks list. The vehicles are sold, the utilities cancelled, most of our rubbish is either at Goodwill, at the Salvation Army or in our storage. The furniture keeps disappearing. People come and take it away. It’s no longer months and weeks, we’re down to a few days and it’s time to start counting hours. So far we’ve been unsuccessful in securing tenants for our house. It’s been on the market for almost a month now and even though the rent was calculated to barely cover the costs, we were forced to lower it. It means that we’ll actually pay for some people to live in our house! Other than that, I think we’re ready. There is still some junk in the garage and in our shed, but I’m sure we’ll be able to clean it out before departure. I think, we can start packing.

Car Packing
Car Packing

Disclaimer: The car pictured on the left is not ours, however we are seriously considering adopting similar packing strategy for our Sabbatical road trip.

We’ve been thinking about the most efficient way to pack the car. We’ll have a roof rack, in which we’ll carry all the camping gear and kitchen stuff. It’s fairly easily accessible and in the first part of our road trip, through the United States, we will use it the most. All four bikes will dangle on a hitch mounted carrier behind the car. That way, we’ll have the entire 57.5 ft3 (yes, I’m a geek) for our disposal. I’m not sure how exactly we’re going to arrange it. Leaving it to the Captain, it would be filled with three thousands pairs of shoes (each in their individual shoe box) and the rest of stuff packed in Wegmans shopping bags. Leaving it to our Explorers and it would be full of toys and garbage they can’t part with. Looks like yet another item on my to-do list… To keep things organized, I thought about stuffing everything into large, transparent, plastic containers. You can put them on top of each other, forming two layers inside the cargo area. Things used more often (like towels, bathing suits and sandals) will be sitting on top of stuff that we’ll only need sporadically (rain jackets or sweatshirts). Assuming all containers will be the same size and shape, packing will be no problem. Not even for the Captain… In case of emergency car sleepovers, we’ll be able to put an air mattress on the boxes and spend the night reasonably comfy (even though it might be terribly close to the ceiling). Accidental leakages will be contained to one box at a time. Same with unpleasant smells. Their waterproof quality will be helpful for packing and unpacking on those rainy days. Finally, once we settle for few weeks in a small apartment, we can stack the containers into each other and conserve living space as well. Obviously there will be some unused space in between boxes and the car, which I’m sure can be stuffed with smaller, soft items like  sleeping bags and pillows. I need to take exact measurements, but I believe we’ll be able to take 8 or 10 such boxes with us.

What are we going to pack? I mentioned the camping gear already. That includes a large tent, two large air mattresses, four sleeping bags, one large and one small tarp (to put under the tent), gas stove, lantern, flashlights and tons of other, smaller equipment. The kitchen will be reduced to a frying pan and a cooking pot, cutting board and a few sharp knifes, ceramic plates, bowls and silverware, first aid and roadside emergency kit, small toolbox, essential spares for the car and bicycles, ropes, bungees and a cooler. Those are all very typical road trip accessories, but we plan on taking also other items like laptops, wireless router, maybe a slow cooker or a juicer (or both?). And obviously hundreds of chargers and cables, because all of those devices use a different one. We will have a separate box for our Explorers books, toys and learning materials. Our reading and e-mail communication needs on the road will be satisfied by a Kindle (what a wonderful little gizmo!). Now we just need to think about a way to safely carry our passports and cash, especially once we cross the first border. Somewhere I also read that it’s a good idea to stop at a sign shop and make a copy of license plates, as they tend to be a hot commodity among some Latin American collectors. I’ll think about it in few months, once we get to Texas.

Those are our big travel plans. I’m sure there are plenty of people reading this post, who have their own experiences with road trip travels. We are always eager to learn from others, so please feel free to leave your comments below. In the meantime, we are going back to packing our suitcases for a flight to Poland next Tuesday. Or should we use plastic boxes…?

Road Trip Planning

Couple of weeks to departure. The stress level is high. Extremely high. The nights are short and sleepless, the days are tiring. The offload, you can either start drinking or… planning your Sabbatical trip. I’ve done the former, and it doesn’t seem to work long term. The side effects are interesting, but nights are even shorter and days more stressful. Vicious cycle.

Today is Monday. For me the last Monday at work. No, it’s not the last week just yet, but next Monday happens to be July 4th the Independence – or beer and BBQ – Day. In fifteen days, the trip begins. Part One will be easy, hopefully relaxing. We need to recharge batteries, before we start recharging batteries for real. There are no real plans for Europe at this point. There are a few to-do’s in Poland. Our kids need to get their Polish birth certificates and passports. I need to pick-up my state ID. There will be lots of catching up with friends and Family, but most importantly there will be time to properly plan the trip out.

Right now, the plan is to arrive in Toronto on August 29th and after a day or two at our neighbors head down to Allegheny State Park for the Labor Day weekend. This will be the official inauguration of our road trip and a also a farewell party. From there, our friends will go back home, and we’ll go south. Or west… I haven’t decided yet.
At first we wanted to head straight west to Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Zion, Bryce, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, etc… However, since we’re going to hit the road only at the end of summer, I’m afraid that the weather may be too cold for camping in the west. I’ve read somewhere that Yellowstone is great in early October. – no more vacation crowds, peace and quietness. At the same time it might be too cold for camping. I’m not even sure if the campgrounds are still open past Labor Day weekend. I need to investigate. If it wasn’t too cold, we would head down the parks on the west coast and back east to Grand Canyon, where it’s supposedly better to visit between November and April. The temperatures in the inner gorge are down to pleasant sixties or seventies (that’s fifteen to twenty Celsius). Might be a good idea.
The alternative is to directly head down south and spend time on the East Coast, before entering Mexico early November. There are parks we’ve never been to before. We’d like to see the Blue Ridge Mountains and take a few hikes on the Appalachian Trail.

After crossing the border, we plan to move quickly to leave the danger zone as soon as possible. In fact, we need to educate ourselves a bit and define the path a little better. I know stopping at Morelia is a must because of the Monarch butterfly monastery, but other then that we haven’t decided what else will be on our agenda. Yucatan is on the list on special request from my ladies. This is where the boys will be seriously outnumbered. My wife’s sister and her friend plan to join us for some fun time at the beach.

Next few stops will be in Belize and Guatemala. My wife plans on staying in Honduras a little longer to attend a month long yoga class. Then Nicaragua and a longer stop at some jungle location in Costa Rica. Once we get to Panama Canal, we’ll decide what to do next.

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Right now, the plan is to head back north, following a slightly different path. After entering USA in late spring or early summer, we plan to hang out in the west for a while before returning to Rochester when the school year begins.
That’s a very rough version of a preliminary draft of a road trip plan. It’s going to change as we do our homework and investigate the destinations we want to visit, adapt our budget, get bored or just get a sunburn.
Our house attracts a lot of attention. People complement it, but we haven’t found the right tenants yet. Some were asking about buying it from us. I don’t know about that. The market is still down, so it will be very difficult to get our money back, and after all, we don’t know what’s going to happen during our Sabbatical trip. Are we going to get back to Livonia…? Are we going to get back to New York state…? Or to the USA at all…

The voyage is supposed to be as much a road trip as it’s going to be a self discovery journey. For all of us. We may end up in the same place we started, or some place different entirely.

Damn, the stress level is high…

Risky business

The weather in the last few days has been hot and moist. We had several fast moving storms – mostly at nights – with an amazing display of lights and loud roars of thunders. The days are calm, but grey, damp and muggy. An occasional ray of sunshine is cherished, but usually doesn’t last long. The sky is almost constantly covered with dark, pregnant looking clouds, ready to spill out their guts any moment. Riding a motorcycle is now risky business.

Couple of days ago, I checked the weather forecast in the morning. The sky was overcast, but it wasn’t supposed to rain for at least another hour. It only takes thirty minutes for me to get to work, so I decided I’ll take the chance. There was a thunderstorm the night before, so the roads were wet. The vehicle in front of me was picking up all that moist, throwing it high in the air behind him. My face and goggles covered in no time with a thin mist. It wasn’t too bad though.

On the way out of East Avon, I started feeling pins and needles of raindrops in my face. When you’re in a car, it’s the kind of light rain that makes you use the windshield wipers only occassionaly. More of an annoyance than a distraction. That’s what wiper timers were invented for. On a motorcycle, you know that if it doesn’t stop soon, your clothes will be damp when you get to your destination. And usually such light rain doesn’t last very long. It stops quickly, or… turns into a heavy downpour.

I decided to work on my attitude and try to attract some positive energy, hoping the light rain will be over quickly. In physics, and as it seems in real life too, positives only attract negatives. The rain didn’t stop, instead it started to come down faster and in such volume, that in about fifteen seconds I was soaking wet. I pulled over to reconsider my situation. I was half way to work, all my clothes were wet, and my backpack was supposedly only “semi-waterproof”. What does it mean anyway?

I turned around and headed back home. Fortunately, there’s been no emergencies at work that day, only a friend commented that this must be one of the most original excuses to ditch work. Hey, if it’s so good, it’s worth buying a bike, isn’t it?!? I’ve got one Suzuki Intruder available…

Forecast for the next day was similar – undecided. Better safe then wet, I thought and called a friend of mine to arrange a car pool next morning. It didn’t rain that day… Did I learn my lesson? Well, today I rode my motorcycle to work again. It didn’t rain all the way, so only my socks were wet from all the moist on the roads. At lunch time I rode to a barber shop to get a last haircut before the trip. I got there dry, but while on the barber chair, I’ve noticed that it’s raining outside. I think I’ll be wet again…

I’m so glad it’s Friday!

Focus is key!

It’s easy to maintain focus. Especially on a motorcycle, going sixty miles an hour on an empty country road. June is seasonably hot in upstate New York this year. However, at eight o’clock in the morning, it’s still a bit chilly. The traffic is scarce and it’s easy to switch off. There are parts of brain trained to monitor situation on the road and operate the vehicle unconciously. The only sound is the engine roar and the wind twirling in your ears. Easy to disconnect, and yet still be in the present. Unlike in the car, you’re not only watching the scenery passing by your window. You are a part of it, you feel it with all your senses. The chill of the morning, the vibrations of the frame, the road inches below your feet, the blow (and bugs) in your face. And the smells – asphalt, spilled oils, fresh spread manure in the fields. You feel and register the world around you. You’re present and with no coffee mug, no radio or other distractions, your mind is also so much clearer. If you haven’t noticed already, I like riding my motorcycle. It’s almost a zen like experience. Most of the time…

The truth is, I have no choice. Over the weekend we’ve managed to sell quite a few of our possessions. My car, Ford Focus (no pun intended!) being one of them. I don’t care for the weather this summer, but in the next three weeks… Rain, rain, go away! Come again… after July 8th…!

Riding a motorcycle is easy. It doesn’t require skills or knowledge. It doesn’t require university degree or years of experience. That’s why riding motorcycle is fun. Real life is more complicated. The decisions you make are more complex, their consequences less immediate, but could be just as horrible. If you lose control of your bike at sixy miles an hour, the consequences will be immediate and painful. When you lose control of your life, you may not even realize it. You will probably enjoy the free fall for a while. But the end will eventually be just as bad.

Switching jobs, relocating, starting anew is all part of life. It may feel overwhelming at first, but in the end is like switching lanes on the road. A Sabbatical is a bit different. We take a turn on this country road and hope that we don’t lose control. I don’t know where the new road is going to take us to. And quite frankly, we don’t care. We want to enjoy new smells and be part of a different scenery.

Right now it feels like entering the curve still going sixty miles an hour. We hope as hell, we don’t hit the pavement…

As some of my French friends would say: “Focus is key”.

Exit Interview

I don’t have much time to update this blog. We have less then 4 weeks left to departure and the house isn’t rented, we have all our vehicles, two TVs, some electronics, some furniture and tons of smaller stuff filling our garage. The minivan isn’t ready for the trip yet, we have no insurance, the utilities haven’t been cancelled, mail hasn’t been redirected.   The Sabbatical fund is growing slower than planned, mainly due to lower then expected annual bonus and some previously unaccounted for expenses. To make things worse, last night Agnieszka scratched our stainless steel appliances while trying to make them look stunning, which adds one more item to our already miles long to-do list. I’m starting to freak out…

During the exit interview this morning, the reality starts to sink in for good. In few weeks there will be no safe harbor anymore. The paychecks will be no more, no medical insurance, no health benefits. The HR manager starts to ask about things that are wrong with the business, with the organization, and all I can think of is how crazy we are to pull this stunt off! Of course there’s nothing wrong with the business, granted it’s has it’s problems, but they all fade away in comparison to our current headaches. It’s an emotional roller-coaster, and I’m looking forward for this last four weeks to be over. How much time did I spent preparing this exit strategy…? What exit strategy…? We’ve decided to throw everything we’ve been working for out the window and watch it crash on the pavement.

When we get to my Parents house, I’ll sleep for a week and blame it on jet lag. For now, we can’t get good night sleep at all. What is it she’s asking…? Can’t concentrate, it’s quite boring. What do I think needs to be changed…? Hmm, well… Let me think… Oh, who am I trying to fool, I don’t really care what’s going to change after I’m gone. I’ve seen an announcement this morning. There’s going to be new organization and new management team… And I’m leaving? Am I not going to witness the new and improved Alstom…? Nope, I’ve seen it already countless times. There will be new, more efficient ways-of-working (wow!)… I’m more interested in ways of removing scratches from stainless steel appliances. The momentum is gone. I think it wasn’t there in the first place. Do I have any questions? Yes, do you want to buy a couch…?

The interview is over, and if it was on my to-do list I would scratch it off. Yesterday, it was the dentists checkup, today it’s the interview. Hope that tomorrow, we’ll find renters for our house. That would be a truly good day!

By the way, anyone interested in any of our possessions? Maybe you know people who are looking for a four bedroom house in good neighborhood, a car, a motorcycle, beds, a couch, blu-ray player, video camera, speakers, amplifier, game console, large TV and stand, office desk, kitchen stuff, or any other items…? I’m sure we still have it…