As many of you know, I took a bit of a risk recently and committed to taking a mini-retirement sometime before the end of next year. I say “risk” because I hadn’t talked to either my wife or my boss before I wrote this post, but sometimes ready, fire, aim is the best approach.
Since then, we’ve spent many nights at the dinner table discussing the how, where and when (and if!) of mini-retirement numero uno. Early on, those discussions revolved around convincing my wife why a month in a foreign land was a higher priority than that kitchen remodel that she’s been wanting. She loves to travel as much as I do, however, so the discussion quickly shifted to “where are we going?”
For this first adventure, she thought it would be a good idea to go somewhere English speaking. Language hasn’t been a huge barrier on previous trips (although China was a bit of a challenge), but since we’re going for a month and we’re taking our daughter with us, minimizing potential stressors seemed like a good idea.
After throwing out a variety of options, we quickly settled on Ireland and England. I’ve always wanted to visit the land of Guinness and my wife has always wanted to visit an area of England called the Cotswolds.
The Planning Process
Step 1 was doing some research. We stopped by the bookstore and picked up travel guides for both countries as well as Lonely Planet City Guides for Dublin and London. We started going through the guides and listing out things we wanted to see and do in each place. That gave us a good idea of what our trip itinerary would look like, so we started looking for places to stay in each destination.
I’m not a huge fan of staying in hotels on longer trips. Not only are they expensive, but they don’t give you much of a local flavor for where you’re visiting. If we’re staying for more than a few days, I prefer to rent a small house or apartment. There are only three of us in my family, so it doesn’t need to be anything large or extravagant.
I typically use a site called Vacation Rental by Owner, but for this trip I also used a site called Airbnb as well as a company that specializes in renting cottages in the Cotswolds. So far we’ve booked a small cottage in the Cotswolds for two weeks, a cool old barn that’s been converted into a house in Ireland, and a hotel in Western Ireland because we’ll only be there a few days. No turning back now! We still need to get places in London and Dublin, but because those are large cities, there are plenty of options.
I haven’t booked the airfare yet, but I’ve been using the Kayak App to track two different options. Option 1 is buying an open-jaw ticket that goes from Omaha, to Dublin, to London, to Omaha. An open-jaw ticket is where you leave from a different city than you originally arrived. Option 2 is to just buy a round trip ticket to Ireland and then either use our British Airways points or low cost carrier Ryanair to book a round trip between Dublin and London. I’m leaning toward Option 2 because it’s about $500 cheaper per ticket, which translates to $1,500 for the three of us. I’ll probably pull the trigger on that soon.
We’ll need a car for part of the time in each country, so I reserved (and prepaid because it’s cheaper) for those as well. I typically use Avis. They have a program called Avis Preferred that costs nothing, but saves a huge amount of time and hassle. If you sign up, it allows you to bypass the rental counter (i.e. Dante’s 5th circle of hell) and go directly to your car.
What I’ve Learned
So that’s where we’re at so far. Here are a few takeaways from the process:
1) I was reminded again about the importance of deciding. Big goals can be challenging, scary, complicated and overwhelming. Because of that, it’s often tough to get started. Once you commit to do something however, the tough part is over. The rest is just logistics.
2) Planning early has allowed us to digest the expenses over time. I’ve mentioned before that we are by no means a wealthy family. We live on a single income and have what I have referred to before as an extravagantly modest lifestyle. We spend on key things that are important to us (e.g. travel), but keep a tight rein on the rest of the budget. Starting this process early has allowed us to pay for things like housing, transportation and plane tickets as we go rather than buying all those things at once and then facing a huge credit card bill.
3) There are some amazing tools available to travelers. I mentioned some of the sites I use for booking as well as travel apps that I’m fond of, but that’s just scratching the surface. Researching and planning a trip has never been easier.
4) I have some great readers! I’ve heard from quite a few of you who are putting the mini-retirement concept into practice in your own lives. Keep at it and let me know if there’s ever anything I can do to help.
How about you? Is there something you’ve always wanted to do? Don’t save the best for last. Get started now. Feel free to share your plans in the comments section and we can be cheering you on.
I hope you’re warm wherever you are. It’s a beautiful negative 3 degrees in Omaha this morning. If I hadn’t already committed all of my vacation time in 2014 to this other trip, I’d be researching an island getaway right now. Have a great weekend!