How Did We Get Here?

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The Breakfast dishes sit near the kitchen sink and the second round of coffee is on. I am writing this blog and Michael is happily updating the Senior Nomad budget (he has his own idea of fun). It is a normal Saturday morning that started with a leisurely read of the New York Times online and then planning our day. The only difference from a typical morning in Seattle is the windows are flung open to the lush greenery in our backyard to catch a breeze and allow us to hear the parakeets chattering in the trees. We are in Auckland, New Zealand, 21 hours ahead of Seattle and it’s the middle of summer.

How did we get here? There are two answers to that question. The first being how we made the decision to keep traveling, and the second, how we fared during the 36 hours it took to get here via Paris.

To answer the first question I have to go back to the hypothesis Michael put forward almost five years ago. “If we sold almost everything we owned, could we travel the world living in other peoples homes for the same amount of money we’d spend if we retired in Seattle?” Well, here we are, sitting at the kitchen table in our Airbnb in Auckland So it must be working!

The financial side is holding thanks to the current state of the stock market, careful budgeting, and our continued good health. The expenses are different of course - now we spend money on airfare, Airbnbs, and travel insurance instead of cable bills, car payments and a mortgage!

And we are actually staying close to our budget. In fact, I am continually surprised that our average stay per night is almost exactly $90 - the number we hit with a dart when we created our first budget in 2013. Of course, that number is spread over 163 Airbnbs, and there have been many free nights with friends and family or house-sitting that helps the bottom line.

 All 14 of our daily journals were together for the first time in December. Keeping track of our daily spending (including taping receipts on each page) along with our activities has turned out to be enjoyable - and the key to staying on budget. I am sure we could do it online, but these physical journals, bought all around the world have become part of the journey.

All 14 of our daily journals were together for the first time in December. Keeping track of our daily spending (including taping receipts on each page) along with our activities has turned out to be enjoyable - and the key to staying on budget. I am sure we could do it online, but these physical journals, bought all around the world have become part of the journey.

So the remaining factors around whether to head out on Round VI of our Senior Nomad travels came down to personal choices including “did we really want to live out of our suitcases for another year?” And if so, where would we like to go?

We are very fortunate to have few restrictions that hold us in one place including aging parents, (ours passed away years ago) or illness in the family. We don’t have pets, I kill most plants, and we actually don’t have our own home anymore. 

Of course we have our kids and their kids, but with four very busy grown-ups spread across two states and a foreign country, it’s hard to get on their calendars regardless of where we live. So we see them in big doses when we are in Seattle or L.A. or Paris. Everyone gets their fill of each other - and then off we go.

 Packing up (again) after a visit in Hermosa Beach. Lucy is kind enough to loan us her bedroom!

Packing up (again) after a visit in Hermosa Beach. Lucy is kind enough to loan us her bedroom!

The next question we have to ask each other (and we ask it often along the way) “Do you want to keep going?” Is traveling full-time wearing out our bodies or straining our marriage? Yes to the first one, no to the second.

Michael turned 72 last Summer and I will be 62 in a few weeks. So of course, we have our share of aches and pains, and we move a little slower than when we started. Michael’s had two replacements in his right hip and it can get pretty stiff, and he has a shoulder that is protesting against hauling our luggage (he had a second cortisone shot before we left), and the neuropathy in my feet cause me to grumble on occasion. But we haven’t suffered any serious injury or illness during our travels. We still don’t know if the overseas health insurance we purchase every year really works, and we hope to never find out! So we are healthy enough to carry on until our bodies tell us we can’t.

As for the marriage, all I can say is it has never been stronger in almost 40 years - even with the added strain of spending 24 hours together day-in and day-out! We both wondered how that would be after so many years of independence. The simple answer is “we are both rowing the Senior Nomad boat in the same direction” so we glide along as a team. We have come to appreciate each other's strengths and tolerate the weaknesses. We also know this is a “one day at a time” operation, and if we have a day that isn’t going smoothly, no doubt the next one will be better.  

 Since the beginning, our answer to the question of how long we will travel has been “As long as we are learning every day, having fun, staying close to budget, and still in love.” Happily, we can still tick all those boxes, so off we go!

Since the beginning, our answer to the question of how long we will travel has been “As long as we are learning every day, having fun, staying close to budget, and still in love.” Happily, we can still tick all those boxes, so off we go!

Once we decided that yes, we do want to pack our trusty REI bags one more time, we moved on to the delightful task of deciding where to go next. In our hearts, we could happily continue exploring Europe for the rest of our days, but it’s a great big world out there and we’ve only seen a third of it!

Last year's trek through Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia was so eye-opening and inspiring it was worth every challenge. And again, since we are in good health, we thought we should tackle another distant corner of the globe. I’ve always wanted to visit Australia and New Zealand. Michael has been here before, but under different circumstances and was keen to return, so that’s how we chose our first destination.

 Packed and ready to go at Sea-Tac airport in Seattle! The big blue suitcase in front was filled to the brim with Christmas presents for family in L.A. and France. It was left behind in Paris - so are back to living out of two suitcases and two day packs!

Packed and ready to go at Sea-Tac airport in Seattle! The big blue suitcase in front was filled to the brim with Christmas presents for family in L.A. and France. It was left behind in Paris - so are back to living out of two suitcases and two day packs!

Mr. Campbell has an interesting history and someday it should all be written down, but just one chapter in the life of Michael Campbell or “Mike” as he was known at the time, was his career as a successful Formula C driver in late 60’s. In fact, he was the 1968 US National Champion.  He was a professional Formula 3 driver in Europe when I was adjusting to life in Junior High School, so I didn’t get to share that era with him. By the time I met him he was Michael and was on to other risky endeavors as an events promoter. This all ties back to our destination because “Mike” raced in both New Zealand and Australia and he is intrigued with visiting a few of the racetracks from his past.

 Pictured here, the 3rd car in this pack with the wing, he was racing in the 1970 Tasman Series in his Formula 500 car in New Zealand.

Pictured here, the 3rd car in this pack with the wing, he was racing in the 1970 Tasman Series in his Formula 500 car in New Zealand.

Now for the journey to Auckland. We left Seattle on January 4th and flew to Los Angeles to see Alistair and Jenny and our grandkids, Lucy and Spencer who are 10 and 12. It was a  quick visit.  We brought the rain with us, but we had a great day out at the Getty Museum and all the seafood we could eat at the pier in Redondo Beach.

 Lucy and I taking on a few fresh crabs. We'd already plowed through shrimp, clams, fried fish and fries.

Lucy and I taking on a few fresh crabs. We'd already plowed through shrimp, clams, fried fish and fries.

Sensible travelers would head southwest from there and arrive in New Zealand in "just" 14 hours. However, it was important to us that we see all of our grandchildren before heading out for several months of travel so we detoured to Paris. We spent almost two weeks in the village of Samois-sur-Seine where Mary and her family live. We had fun with the kids who are now 3, 5, and 7. But it was time to move on to summer weather in the southern hemisphere.

 Grandpa Bean Bag! Michael showing the French kids his favorite episodes of Sesame Street.

Grandpa Bean Bag! Michael showing the French kids his favorite episodes of Sesame Street.

When we (mostly me) decided we’d go to New Zealand via France it didn’t seem that daunting on paper. But in reality, it took a very, very long time before we landed dazed and bleary-eyed almost 19,000 miles from where we started. So long in fact, we lost a day somewhere (will I ever get that Tuesday back?) Door-to-door took 36 hours, 24 of which were spent in three different airplanes.

 Route A -  from Los Angeles to Auckland is 6,500 miles. Route B from Paris to Auckland is almost twice as far. A chance to see the grandkids won in the end so we took the long way.

Route A -  from Los Angeles to Auckland is 6,500 miles. Route B from Paris to Auckland is almost twice as far. A chance to see the grandkids won in the end so we took the long way.

I do have to say that when Michael (Chief Travel Planner) told me after careful consideration he chose flights on Air India over Emirates I was visibly disappointed. I try not to get “under the CTP’s tent” if possible. He’s made good decisions all along the way, but the thought that we wouldn’t be flying one of the top airlines in the world for this arduous journey floored me. Air India? I did my best to set preconceptions aside and looked on the bright side - maybe a four-hour layover in the Delhi airport would be interesting. In fact, the eight-hour flight from Paris was easy. We were on a new Boeing Dreamliner, there was plenty of room in our economy seats and the food was delicious. I seriously considered asking for a second lamb curry entree.

 Some of the Bollywood films on Air India caused their own turbulence!

Some of the Bollywood films on Air India caused their own turbulence!

The second flight to Sydney was a 12-hour marathon. But again, the food was excellent and gave the cabin a light scent of cumin and coriander during meal time. The leg room was generous and the large windows dimmed without shades. And for entertainment beyond the usual movie fare, there were dozens of Bollywood blockbusters to catch-up on! The only odd thing was during the final minutes before descending into Sydney we were told to shield our eyes and avoid breathing while they fumigated the plane. Before that even registered in our brains, the cabin crew members were coming quickly up the aisles with aerosol cans in each hand spraying fumigants wildly in the air. Does this happen on every incoming flight to Australia or just Air India?

The last leg of the journey included a couple of hours in the Sydney transit lounge before one last three-hour flight on New Zealand Air to Auckland. Neither Michael nor I sleep well when we fly, so at this point time and space didn’t register anymore - it all just blurred together.

It turned out to be fortunate that we had some time on the ground in Sydney because we had some unexpected travel decisions to make immediately. But first, we needed to get a boarding pass for me for the Air New Zealand flight. For some reason, Air India was not able to print mine in Paris when we first checked in. However, Michael got his so they chalked it up to a computer glitch. They checked our luggage all the way to Auckland and said to check with NZ Air when we arrived in Sydney to get my final boarding pass. However, when we checked-in at the transit desk we were told I was not in the system and therefore not on the flight. What? We had a receipt for the ticket purchase on Michael’s phone, so the agent looked a little harder. It turned out Michael had accidentally booked my ticket using Campbell as my first name and Debra as my last name. Thankfully, problem solved - but then we learned we needed proof we would be leaving New Zealand in the form of tickets on an outbound flight before we would be let into the country.

We hadn’t decided how long we'd stay in New Zealand but that decision needed to be made right then and there at the airline counter or we could not get on the flight! We quickly picked a date in March and bought tickets on Michael's iPad to Melbourne - this time on Air China! I am looking forward to dinner.

Soon it was time to board our last flight, but when we saw our aircraft out the window we stopped in our tracks. It was a suitable plane, an Airbus 340 in fact, but the strange thing was it was completely white. Like a generic beer can from the 80’s. There was not a single dab of paint anywhere - no logo, not even the name of the airline scribbled on the fuselage. There is something forbidding about getting on a plane with no name. If we go down in the ocean who can tell from the tailpiece it was Air New Zealand Flight 102?

 Our plain plane reminded me of the generic brand trend of the 80's

Our plain plane reminded me of the generic brand trend of the 80's

We learned from the crew that we were on board a plane provided by a Portuguese charter company called Hi-Fly. They provide their “plain planes” to commercial airlines when they are short of stock due to unscheduled maintenance or waiting on delivery of a new aircraft. It all turned out fine, although the plane was a little frayed and tired inside. We were just happy to finally touch down in Kiwi country!

 Auckland, New Zealand - our new home for the next two weeks followed by a month exploring the rest of this stunning two-island nation.

Auckland, New Zealand - our new home for the next two weeks followed by a month exploring the rest of this stunning two-island nation.

So that's how we got here. We'll be in New Zealand for six weeks and plan to explore both the North and South Islands. From here we will spend a month in Australia and then wind our way through southeast Asia to Japan.

Thanks for following along,

Debbie and Michael Campbell
The Senior Nomads