Reisefieber – Travel Fever

It’s about sixty hours till departure. The house still isn’t rented, but it is almost empty now. Thanks to Eric and his pick-up truck, all heavy items are gone. It took three trips to get rid of the trampoline, the treadmill, freezer, couch and a buffet. I’ve spent most of the day re-arranging boxes in the storage unit, but now we have enough space to comfortably walk in and out without having to jump over stuff. Now it’s time to relax, but our bedroom TV is gone too. Looks like I have no option, but to finish up yesterdays bottle of wine and call it a day. I could use some good night sleep. Tomorrow I hope to have the rest of our junk moved into storage and finish packing for Poland. On Monday we’ll have to clean up the house, mow the lawn and clean-up the shed. All utilities are cancelled, just need to drop-off the cable modem at Time Warner and call the water and sewer authority to figure out how to cancel that.

Slowly, we start to shift our focus from the current chaos and think about what we are going to do in Poland. I can’t imagine spending all seven weeks only with our Parents, so chances are we’re going to make a little trip around Europe. We’ll need to borrow a vehicle suitable for our crew and we may end up visiting the Czech Republic to see the villages of my ancestors, going to Austria and Germany to meet up with my Family, maybe even taking a brisk tour of France. As an alternative, if we can find some inexpensive tickets, we may end up flying to Bergen in Norway to see my wife’s cousin. We will see in just few days. The first trip will be for sure with my Father to the German Consulate in Wroclaw to file a passport application. Hopefully it will be processed quickly enough for me to get it before our departure. We’ll also file appropriate papers for our kids to obtain Polish passports. My personal objective is to… sleep a lot. Shouldn’t be too difficult as this is one of those things, I’m really very good at! I’ll also take the time to start drafting the route for the road trip. After talking to many friends, I’m starting to consider the western option. Apparently if we get to Yosemite before mid October, we’ll be fine. OK, at times it may get chilli, but at least it should be almost completely tourists free. And from there we’ll be moving south, so the weather should be fine. It’s supposedly also advisable to get to Grand Canyon between November and April if we want to get down to the canyon. The temperatures there should be very comfortable that time of year (as opposite to over 100 degree Farenheit in the summer). I’ll do some proper research in few weeks. I’ll post the route one we decide on it.

I just remembered that we need to find someone to drive us to the airport on Tuesday morning. Coming back from Poland will be even more complicated, as we’ll arrive in Toronto rather then in Rochester. Such a pitty the ferry went bancrupt few years ago. Now it would be so convinient to just cross the lake. Oh well, we’ll figure it out somehow. After all we still have seven weeks until we face that problem. For now, lets fix the ones we have at hand.

I think the best method will be to get some rest. I’m off to my tent upstairs. Since there is no TV, maybe I’ll just read a few pages of my Mexico guide. Good night!

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…

Sabbatical Fund

Following on the post couple of days ago, I started the countdown. Sitting at my desk in my luxurious cubicle, I can’t concentrate on anything else. Today is Thursday and there will be only 14 more Thursday’s, 12 more Friday meetings (April 22nd and July 1st are holidays), 4 more monthly KPI’s, only three more Operations Reviews, one objectives setting and no more performance reviews! I just had my last one yesterday. During a phone conversation with my boss, who’s based in Spain, I was asked about my short and long term plans. Obviously I wasn’t ready to disclose all of them just yet. I’m afraid that an honest answer, at this stage could negatively impact my annual bonus payout calculation, or as I refer to it, the „Sabbatical fund”.

People often wonder, how is it possible to travel the World for extender periods of time. Most assume that it has to cost a lot of money and that you have to be born rich or acquire wealth before you can set of on an adventure like that. In fact, none of it is true. If you apply the right strategy, living on the road can be much cheaper then living in your own house. This however is a subject for a whole different post. Today, I’d like to discuss the savings we will accumulate to finance this trip.

My annual bonus is the single, most significant funding source for our big trip. Instead of putting it into savings or buying a new motorcycle, it will finance about six months on the road. Assuming we embrace the frugal way of living.

The second largest, or about four more months on the road will come from Uncle Sam. No, the government has not agreed to sponsor this extravaganza. The IRS is expected to return some of the monies, my Company has handed over on my behalf as income taxes. By the way, it’s a weird concept, isn’t it? You’re being taxed or penalized for working and earning a living. If you don’t, you don’t work and don’t earn anything, you don’t have to pay! I’ll join the ranks of non-paying citizens in about 14 weeks.

Coming back to our big trip funding, as I explained in some posts before, we’ll sell most of our possessions, and hope this will generate enough dough to stay on the road for another four of five months. First to go will be my motorcycle, followed closely by my car, then the big screen HDTV in our basement, lawn mower, snow blower (yippee!), all electronics, kitchen tools, furniture, etc. We’ll keep appliances and rent out them with the house.

I’m saving vacation days, so that I’m paid off for them, when we part our ways with the Company. Five weeks of pay can finance another three or four months on the go.

Finally, I have a little stocks portfolio, which is not doing so good right now, but it didn’t loose much value in the past year either. I’m hoping my fortune will turn while we’re on the road, so I treat that as an emergency fund or a home warming gift after we return.

All in all, we don’t have much, so being frugal on the road will be a must. At the same time however staying on the same continent, rather than circumnavigating the Globe will definitely help us keep our sanity in case anything bad (knock, knock) happens. Visiting places that are considerably cheaper then the USA is also going to help achieve that goal. The bottom line is, assuming our house stays rented thorough out the entire trip, we’ll be able to travel for about 18 months without having to work on the road. However, if we can find a supplementary source of funding, who knows where it will take us…? And I’m sure going to try to figure it out.

Trip Preparations

 

Now, that our grand tour is semi official, we need to kick our preparations into high gear. The “D” day is July 12 th 2011, which means we only have 105 days left until departure. To put it in perspective, it’s about how much time passed since last Christmas and I still have a bottle of unfinished holiday’s eggnog.

To get things started, Nadia helped me compile a list of CDs, DVDs, VCDs and other media with tons of music no one listens to and movies we don’t have the time to see. Actually, I was making the list, while she was learning how to use the camera. We ended up with a bunch of pictures and a list of almost 300 items that we need to get rid of. Granted, most of them are used and especially the cartoons are fairly beaten-up, but even if I was to sell it for a buck per CD and VCD and couple or three bucks per DVD, that’s still several hundred dollars which just may extend our trip by a few weeks. Without further delay, we’ve cleaned them all, matched with their sleeves and packed into 11 boxes. Instead of selling them one by one, which would take forever, I will put them up for sale on eBay in packages. I started with a collection of classic Polish cartoons on 21 VCDs. I put it up for auction with no reserve, starting at $0.99. Let’s see if there is any demand for Polish cartoons and how much are they really worth. Once that’s sold, I’ll list the other 10 boxes. In the meantime, we need to prepare all our books.

I hope to read a lot during the trip, but taking a lot of books is just not an option. The van is only so big anyway. We’ll take a Kindle and load it with electronic books. Apparently it holds up to 3,500 books which is much more then I’m capable of reading and definitely more then our entire collection gathered in the last nine years. If the experiment described above is successful, I’ll take similar approach with the reading materials and sell them in batches packaged thematically.

Some of our household items have found their new owners already at the party last Saturday. Apparently, our junk yard restored furniture has many fans and won’t go back to the dumpster. We’ll keep some things in storage, so that we don’t have to buy everything new upon return, others we’ll give to our friends for them to enjoy in our absence. I’m still freaking out though passing through our garage as I realize how many things we still need to get rid of, but Agnieszka keeps saying that a house Sale or two will do the trick. I certainly hope so, but I’m still skeptical.

In the same time, as we’re getting rid of stuff, we’re also acquiring new items. I mentioned the Kindle, but I’m also looking at headset monitors for the van, portable TV (well, maybe), car chargers, camping canopy, and many, many more. Which triggers another problem: how are we going to fit into our small van…? And how to organize all the smaller items to unloading and loading the car every time you need to find a clean towel or a new shirt…? I was thinking of plastic, transparent or clearly market containers stacked on top of each other, but that seems like a terrible waste of space. I’ll have to research that subject once we get closer to July.

On a related note, we plan to take Nadia’s keyboard and let her practice piano, as she really seems to enjoy it. I hope in larger cities we’ll be able to find inexpensive tutors, and who knows… maybe even pick up some Spanish in the process. As far as math, English, Polish and other second grade subjects, we’ll take the teaching responsibility upon ourselves. We have yet to talk to Nadia’s school principal and pick-up some materials. We plan to spend few hours everyday going through the material and maybe even adjust it to the places we’re about to visit. I hope we’ll be able to make it interesting for both our kids and no doubt learn something ourselves. Quite frankly, I’m already excited about the prospect!

Finally, we need to research insurance and immunization options. Actually, I think Agnieszka has it already well under control. She’s been contacting local health providers and institutions in Poland to figure out where would it be cheaper to get the shots and insurance.

Serge, our rental agent will take care of the house while we’re gone. He’s already seen it and is quite optimistic as far as our options. I hope he’s right, as being able to rent the house is the single biggest obstacle in our otherwise “perfect” plan. When we find renters for our house I’ll be able to share the news at work. I’m sure they’ll understand…

Announcing Sabbatical

Up until recently our trip didn’t have an official start date. Yes, we knew it will start probably some time in July or August, but we didn’t have a fix date. That has changed yesterday, when Agnieszka committed my hard earned 200,000 frequent traveler miles and USD $2,400.- (taxes and other fees) in exchange for a round trip to Katowice. Well, not exactly a round trip. We will departure from Rochester on Tuesday, July 12 th 2011 and return to Toronto on August 29 th 2011.

It means that our North American sabbatical year will start in Europe. We’ll spend that time with our friends and Family, show our kids where we grew up, travel around Europe. We’ll probably visit the Czech Republic, Germany and Norway, but those will be rather short trips. I’d like to use the time in Chorzów to better plan the details of our trip, get necessary insurance, immunization shots, etc.

We’d like to rent the house out mid July, right after our departure. Therefore we need to sell all the junk we’ve accumulated over the past nine years, put our valuables in storage, sell one car and motorcycle, pack our van and park it on our neighbors driveway for the summer.

Last Saturday at Alex’s third birthday party, we announced our plans to our friends. Most of them were surprised, some seemed shocked, but all congratulated our decision. I think we all agree that life’s too short to waste it in a cubicle cell, working long hours and weekends for a paycheck, with no satisfaction. Anyway, that’s not what this post is about…

Once back to upstate New York, we plan to pick up our car and drive down to Allegany State Park for the Labor Day weekend and a farewell party for our Rochester friends. Where will we go next? Well, that’s still to be decided. We know that the ultimate goal is Mexico and Central America, all the way down to Darien’s Gap. Rough budget shows that we might be able to support ourselves for 15 to 18 months on the road, maybe a little longer.

On that trip there will be a few points that we “must see” and a few things that we “ must do”, but overall it will be about going slow and enjoying the surroundings. Among the places that we absolutely have to visit is the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Parks in the US, Morelia and Yukatan in Mexico, the Panama Canal and a few other places. We all want to learn Spanish, Agnieszka wants to complete Yoga instructor course in Guatemala, I want to learn the ropes of DSLR photography and write, write, write. I hope Agnieszka and Nadia will help me with that task and that we’ll be posting here often.

The Sabbatical

I’d like to begin saying, that it all started one Valentine’s Day evening, when me and my wife were laying on the carpet, next to a gas fireplace, with lights off watching the imaginary stars on our living room ceiling. However plain and unromantic it sounds, it was the day when we decided we want to change something about our life. Not that we didn’t like the warmth of the fire safely enclosed in a metal box, not that we didn’t enjoy the comfy pillows supporting our heads or the quietness of our large house, with our kids sleeping soundly upstairs. We did appreciate all that a lot, and yet we decided to throw it all out…

We could afford our suburban house in safe neighborhood, good school, two IRA’s, two 529′s,  and occasional Caribbean vacations. All that  from just one paycheck. A really good paycheck, considering we lived in an inexpensive  part of country. My job, that provided this income wasn’t bad at all. Actually, at times, I think I even enjoyed what I was doing.

So, what exactly happened that Valentine’s Day night, under the living room stardom…? I’ll never know that for sure. Maybe it was the wine, or the “magic of the moment”, who knows…? Bottom line, we decided to trade all that safety and security of our Family for an open road and the thrill and danger of an unknown adventure. Nuts, obviously…

We couldn’t sleep that night, we couldn’t sleep for many more nights thereafter. It started with an idea of a short sabbatical trip to South America. By next morning, it evolved into a full fledged, multi-year trip around the World. Details, like trip funding yet to be defined.

Obviously, the economic aspect of that idea soon rose to be it’s greatest obstacle and it wasn’t until I’ve laid out a solid plan that convinced my wife to give it her blessing. The plan involved selling all our means of transportation, most household items, putting our retirement and kids education savings on hold, renting the house, anticipating tax returns and researching travel and accommodation options in various parts of the World. Turned out, living on the road was going to be much less expensive than staying in our own house. Or to be exact, staying in the house owned by our bank.

What happened next is an uncommon story of a very common Family, starring  Mommy and Daddy (a.k.a. The Nuts), a six years old girl and an almost three year old boy. The story is shared here with the rest of the World as we discover it.