Today marks a month since my family and I returned from our month-long trip to Europe, which was how I kicked off my life sabbatical. As I slowly emerged from the jet lag fog and settled into the hazy days of summer, I have often been asked if I have any great travel tips.
After repeating a couple of my favorite finds, I decided to share them more broadly. Travel in itself is an act of universal karma, you receive as much as you give. So here goes:
Recommended by my great pal Kristy (who lives in Europe and travels a lot), Cranky Concierge was a life saver when planning four weeks for four people within Western Europe. Initially, I wanted to redeem the gobs of frequent flier miles I accumulated in eight years at a travel company but that idea was quickly dashed when I was trying to book a mere 4-5 months before our trip. Silly rabbit.
Enter Cranky Concierge. This small group of “real live humans” will research flights (including mileage options) and use their industry knowledge and diligent checking to see what new flights have opened up or lowered prices. If you’re a hyper nerdy planner like me who is inclined to spend 2 hours searching and ends up saving about $7, these folks give the gift of time.
We gave them a general date range and cities and they came back with lots of options. I’ll spare you the minutia but their best idea was to fly out of Vancouver vs. Seattle (about a 2 ½ hour drive north). By doing so, we were able to fly to Europe in business class on British Airways for ~$2,500 a person. The same dates and cities out of Seattle cost a little over $4,000.
In addition to their sleuthing, they also do flight monitoring while you are in transit to help with any issues or delays. I can’t say enough about how great they were, and it was worth the small fee we paid upfront to have fellow travel nerds dig into the details.
My children and husband had never been to Europe before and I knew a little extra leg room would go a long way in preserving family harmony. There’s always a bit of culture shock when Americans step into hotel rooms and see how super-sized we really live in the States. The beds are petite, the rooms are narrow, and the showers are cozy. (Who needs to raise both elbows when taking a shower? And forget about shaving your legs in one unless you’re an Olympic gymnast).
For these reasons, I looked to the room/house-renting site Airbnb. I loved the interface, got really dorky on their maps, and was sold with the member reviews of each place. A person can only give feedback once they’ve completed a stay, so I searched places with high reviews and was able to book 2- and 3-bedroom flats in five cities.
Four of the flats were with private owners and one was with a management company. The locations on each were fantastic – our time digging through the map helped us get prime locations. Each flat was much more roomy than a hotel would have been.
The best tip I learned was to try to negotiate the rates. Since I was booking at the height of the summer travel season, I inquired respectfully and was delighted to get reduced rates at four of our five locations. So in addition to the extra room, full kitchens, and (in a few places) washing machines, we didn’t pay more than $325 a night. By far, that was the biggest boost to our budget and it still allowed us to be in walking distance of the Eiffel Tower, in the heart of Soho, and in walking distance to almost all of our Italian sights.
Finding Fellow Adventurers
When you’re in your 20s, traipsing around Europe and not working is seen as a right of passage. When you do this in your 40s, people either look at you with deep concern (“Okaaaaaay, but then what are you going to do?”) or distant envy (“I wish I could do that but I can’t even take a real vacation.” A source of unexpected support of my unemployed, carefree wandering came from connecting with old pals from corporate life who are also embarking on travel/life sabbaticals.
Thanks to Facebook, I learned that Kimberly and her husband were taking their kids on a 4-month trek across Europe. I asked her lots of questions in advance and when she mentioned she’d be documenting their journey on a blog called Carper Diem, I was inspired to do the same. They did extensive research and are keeping a great sense of humor throughout their adventures.
Thanks to Twitter, I connected with Paul as he and his family were on a 2+ month journey across Southeast Asia. He is also capturing their adventures on their blog called Someday Let’s Visit. We met up recently back in Seattle a few days before they took off for another trip, this time 2½ months in Europe. We both laughed about not worrying (yet) about what’s next in terms of our professional paths. We’re agreed that this window of life – however long it may last – has changed us for the better.
I am now a happy reader of Kimberly and Paul’s ongoing journeys and I already have the itch to plan another trip for us.
Making the decision to leave my job and just live for a while took months to consider and plan but I’ve never felt so sure of being on a right path. I do not know what’s next – and I get asked this a lot. But I know what’s next will find me.
My other pal Lani (who also left her job and started her own business) has a great quote on her web site that says “What’s your next?”
A grand journey doesn’t have to involve a plane ticket. It’s more about being open to something new, being comfortable with being uncomfortable for a while. When you’re ready, a journey will find you.