As of 15 August 2015, it has been one year since we set off on this adventure to travel and live abroad. There are so very many aspects of this new life, and this post is an attempt to provide a very brief summary and some reflection of our experiences of the past year.
Where have we been for the past 365 days?
• We spent 257 days (71%) in France. This was only possible because we muddled through the administrative process to get our one-year French Visa which allowed us to extend our travels beyond the Schengen Borders Agreement. We lived in Rennes, Montpellier, Lyon and Strasbourg, and visited many different cities and towns near those areas.
• We returned to Florida to see family and friends for a short visit of 40 days (11%).
• What isn’t counted here are a few day-trips visiting Germany (Kaiserstuhl) and Switzerland (Basel and Lucerne). With many countries just a short distance from France, we wanted to experience some of the different flavors of Europe.
• Even though we’re at the one year mark, we are still traveling. Next will be Spain – Madrid and Barcelona – for September and October before we return to Florida via a 13-day transatlantic cruise (Celebrity).
How did we travel?
• Our travels into and out of the US were via airline (Delta and Norwegian Air), as were the shifts to Italy and from Scandinavia to France (Easy Jet and SAS). Most of our other travel was by train, such an easy and inexpensive way to make short and longer transitions between cities. We purchased the French rail line “Carte Senior+” pass (a benefit to achieving 60 years of age) which gave us really good discounts on our train travel.
• Our return to Florida in November will be via transatlantic cruise. We are looking forward to experiencing the full distance traveled and arriving without jet lag!
How have we made it work, financially?
• In our initial planning we set a budget based on our former, normal living expenses (including vacations) prior to 2014 (thank goodness for Quicken reports). So far for the year, we’ve averaged about 10% over budget (not too bad, according to the project manager of this venture). One reason is because we eat out a bit more frequently, but dining is an important part of this experience. Also, we don’t buy in bulk so we don’t get “Costco-sized” bargains. Our transportation costs have been more than normal vacations (airfare, cruise); and while we haven’t rented cars very often, this does cost more, especially insurance.
• Finding comfortable living space is important. We want to be able to spend time relaxing and not be in tourist mode every day. Our set of housing requirements has been fine-tuned over time, and we have been able to find housing that mostly meets our needs. The best savings on an apartment is to book for at least one month. This can drop the daily rate by up to 40-50%.
• Being flexible is essential. When we started last August we only had about three months planned. We have always planned a couple of steps ahead so we don’t pay last-minute fares for housing and transportation. But we haven’t had all pieces planned from start to finish. It’s good to decide based on accumulative experience.
Who does what to make this work?
• Jeannie handles planning and numbers: budget, lodging selection, activities director, food & beverage coordinator. She is also the blog reviewer, and an occasional contributor to the blog.
• Chris is tech support, security, journalist, photographer, marketing, navigator, “McGyver” whenever things don’t work, and Sherpa.
• Most other tasks are shared, with one of us taking lead as needed, like laundry, house cleaning, cooking … fortunately no yard work is required, though we did plant a few herbs at our last apartment in Lyon.
What we love the most:
• Seeing new places and living in places where we formerly would not have chosen to live. City life never previously appealed to us, but for this phase, we have thoroughly enjoyed the bustle, availability of markets, shops, restaurants and events, and adopting this wonderfully different pace of life.
• Experiencing a more dramatic change of seasons.
• Meeting new people. Every connection with others can be an energizing boost to our day, no matter how brief.
• Fresh food and wine. The French take their food very seriously. Meals are much more than eating, they are for socializing, reflecting, being with family and friends, being alone, enjoying life, AND enjoying really good, fresh food, properly prepared and serve with pride and ownership.
• The sounds. The pealing of church bells – everywhere, children laughing, the French language – it is a song, the bees humming in the lavender and other spring flowers, and the four-note SNCF tune heard in every gare.
• Public transportation. We don’t need or even want a car here (tiny one-way streets and parking are a nightmare). Trains and buses are efficient, easy, reasonable, and go to many if not most of the places we want to go. Walking in the cities is easy, and it’s good exercise.
• Wine and food (did I already say that?).
• We’ve had a number of visits from friends. It was great to share our life abroad, the beauty of the city, and the fantastic food and wine. And being able to speak English for hours and days was a real treat.
What we miss:
• Friends and family. Although Facebook, e-mail, the blog and free Wi-Fi-calling do help us to stay connected.
• Chatting. Although very many people do understand or speak some English, most don’t, and our ability to speak their language is, at best, poor. However, when the opportunity presents itself to have conversations, the French are always fun and accommodating.
• Stores being open on Sundays and evenings, but we do find the quiet pace a nice change from the 24/7 bustle of shopping. We just have to plan our shopping and dining out in advance as many shops and restaurants are closed both on Sunday and/or Monday.
What we want to change in the next phase (to begin Feb 1, 2016):
• Better access to green space. We want to be able to walk a short distance and be in the woods, or on a trail across a meadow. Living in a city has been experienced, so we are looking for a change.
• Avoiding temperature extremes in the seasons. We’ve had freezing temperatures and snow during winter and +100° F degree temperatures in the summer (without air conditioning).
• We are currently looking to New Zealand for winter and early spring, and the UK in the summer. It is interesting how things sometimes bring connections later on – when we stayed in Montpellier Feb 2014, our trial trip to see if we could live there for a period of time, we stayed at an apartment owned by Barbara Drake. She is living in New Zealand and we have now reconnected with her for input regarding staying in Auckland next February. It is important to keep track of connections that we have made along the way, as one never knows when there may be another opportunity to meet.
• Learning to pack lighter. We still carry too much. And Jeannie needs to allow some empty space because “not shopping” along the way isn’t an option.
The Blog and Photographs
It’s been said before, but this blog is first and foremost for us. It is sort of a diary of this trip that we are sharing with whomever wants to read. It is a labor of love that we will be able to look back and remember, in words and pictures, what a wonderful opportunity we had. We are very fortunate, we know that, and this is one way we will remember that.
• Chris has made 27,520 photographs, and almost 5000 images have been posted in the blog or on FaceBook.
• 142 Posts and pages have been published on the blog, mostly written by Chris.
• 754 Comments have been made by those reading the blog. Your comments are an inspiration to keeping the blog going, they are appreciated more than you know.
• The Slow Nomads blog has been viewed 21,154, and the largest number of views in one day was 302 on Thursday, March 19, 2015.
• The blog has been viewed in more than 38+ countries. The top five (with number of views) are:
1. United States (17,294), 2. France (2,374), 3. Denmark (561), 4. Italy (221), 5. United Kingdom (137)
How much longer?
We have always said that there are three primary components to this adventure – Health, Budget, and Desire. As long as we have all three things we will continue, and as of this post, we are going to continue.
The single most important thing that has made this entire endeavor work is that we love each other, still. Yes there have been some rough places and some disagreements, but after all we are together pretty much 24/7, all the time, every day. Some friction is bound to occur. But, love … and adventure … conquers all.
Besides we’re still having fun, why stop now.
Thanks for joining us!
Chris and Jeannie