Home again, Home again.
Apparently I can travel faster than I can write. I made it home Tuesday in the small hours of the morning, but I still have several articles I want to share with you including about my time in Italy and Germany as well as my reflections on and lessons from the trip. I’ll send those your way over the next week or so. Thanks so much for following along and keeping me company over 18 days and 25,000 plus miles. It was a fun experience!
After wrapping up my time in France, I took an early morning flight to Naples, Italy where I had a car service waiting to drive me about an hour and a half to a little seaside town on the Amalfi Coast called Positano. During the planning stages of the trip I read that parking a car in Positano is a difficulty on par with splitting the atom, so I decided to save myself the frustration and just use the aforementioned car service. The cost was surprisingly reasonable and talking to the different drivers (I used it for several trips) about the economy, politics, their families, the culture and more was a kick. Plus, the guy who picked me up from the airport was named Fredo so I instantly felt like I had been dropped onto the set of The Godfather (best movie ever).
When we arrived in Positano, I was reminded of a line from Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London where he described the houses on the narrow street where he lived as “lurching towards one another in queer attitudes, as though they had all been frozen in the act of collapse.” Imagine pushing an entire town over a steep cliff and then somehow freezing the picture as the houses, buildings and roads spilled toward the sea. That is Positano. It’s beautiful, but it seems to defy the laws of physics.
Fredo dropped me off at the Hotel Marincanto where I checked in with the usual questions (Just you? Is that backpack your only luggage?) and then found my way to the hotel restaurant for lunch. It’s hard to imagine a meal with a better view. My table was outside on a veranda that was covered with flowers and lemon trees (Limoncello originated on the Amalfi Coast) and looked down the hillside at the crashing waves below. My waitress was a friendly Italian woman who age-wise could have been my mother and who, like my mom, took joy in providing a good meal. I ordered the ravioli and a beer. She asked me what kind of beer and I told her to surprise me. “Ah, Peroni for you,” she said. When I later complimented her on her choice of beers, she brought me another, gratis. Smiling, she said: “Is good, no?”
Stomach full, I decided to do a little exploring. As you might imagine from my earlier description, walking the streets of Positano is like doing a Stairmaster workout with the machine on “Everest” mode, but the shops and scenery reward you for the effort.
The itinerary for Italy was designed to give me a little downtime after the breakneck pace of Hong Kong and France. I had four days instead of three and the only scheduled activity I had was a tour of Pompei and Mount Vesuvius. The rest of the time was earmarked with exploring Positano, hiking the paths above the town and working. A typical workday started with breakfast and cappuccinos in the hotel restaurant and then writing, answering emails, calling clients and running trades in my makeshift office on the balcony outside my room.
Makeshift office on the balcony outside my room.
Pompeii and Vesuvius
Visiting the ancient Roman city of Pompeii and the volcano that buried it meant taking a day trip back into Naples. After the solitude of Positano, Naples felt raw and frenetic. I met the tour group near the train station and we took a small bus to Pompeii. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, burying the town in 20 feet of volcanic ash. Heat was the main cause of death, however, with temps reaching nearly 500 degrees Fahrenheit as far as 6 miles away from the crater.
The ash preserved the town, leaving people and animals frozen in time. The bodies eventually decomposed and left voids in the ash that excavators—hundreds of years later—filled with plaster. The result were eerie 3D casts that tell the story of those panicked final moments. After the tour we walked to a local restaurant for pizza (which originated in Naples) and then took the bus to Vesuvius. From the parking lot it was about a mile hike/climb to the top where steam vents remind you that the volcano is still active (it last erupted during WWII) and where you can see Pompeii off in the distance.
Path of the Gods
I got up early the morning after Naples and worked until about 3 pm. With a few hours of daylight remaining, I hopped the local bus and road it to the final stop in the Nocelle neighborhood at the very top of Positano. There is a trail there called the Path of the Gods (Il Sentiero degli Dei) that links Positano with the tiny hilltop town of Agerola. With my limited daylight, I couldn’t hike the entire thing, but I did enough to recognize that the path came by its name honestly. The views were really breathtaking. After returning to Nocelle, I thought about taking the stairs—about 1,500 of them—back to my hotel, but descending the dark, uneven stairs without a headlamp seemed like a surefire way to test out my health insurance, so I walked to the bus stop instead and caught the last bus of the evening.
Watching the sun set from the Path of the Gods.
On to Munich
The next morning I packed, had a few final cappuccinos, said goodbye to the staff and then walked up to the rooftop of the hotel (street level) to wait for my ride. Stepping out the door, I heard a hearty “Bonjourno Joe!” and looked up to see Fredo. About halfway through the ride to the airport he asked me if I had time to stop for an espresso. He took me to his local coffee shop and ordered two espressos made with Kimbo, the local brew. We stood at the bar (there were no seats in the small café) and were each handed a small cup of orange flavored sparkling water to cleanse our palates. The perfectly pulled espresso shots came 30 seconds later. We clinked glasses, downed the contents in one shot and it was on to Munich.
France is a few days in my rear-view mirror, but I still wanted to share a few quick stories about my time there. I flew from Hong Kong to London to Paris (HKG to LHR to CDG in airport parlance), picked up a rental car and drove a few hours to the charming town of Bayeux in the Normandy region of France. I rented a little flat on a quiet back street and used that as a jumping off point for several days of adventure.
Just walking around the town was an experience. I’m always awed by how old everything is in Europe. The origins of the town of Bayeux can be traced back to a Gallo-Roman settlement in the first century BC. It has survived a number of invaders over the years, from the Viking raids in the 9th century to Hitler in the 20th. I was fascinated by the cathedral, which is 1,000 years old, and the central role it played in William the Conqueror’s invasion of England (Visit our Facebook page for a bit more on that story and to see a short video I took of the bells ringing one night as I walked back to my flat).
I chose Bayeux, because I wanted to tour the World War II sites around Normandy. My wife and I were in Paris several years ago and my one regret from that trip was that we didn’t have time for a Normandy day trip, so I wanted to right that wrong.
To make the most of my time, I hired an experienced guide named Colin McGarry. He’s originally from England, but met and married a French girl years ago and has been guiding around Normandy since the 1980’s. He met me at me flat the morning after my arrival and we drove first to Omaha Beach. He spent time talking about the big themes of the invasion (e.g. strategy, logistics, etc.), but also took a deep dive into many personal stories and recollections of both Americans and their German counterparts on that day of days. I’ve read several books on World War II and watched a number of films like Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan, but nothing can quite bring that history alive like walking the beach where so many struggled ashore or running your hand over the broken concrete and twisted rebar of a German machine gun nest.
From the beach, we took the short drive up to the American Cemetery and spent time discussing how it came to be, the soldiers that are still missing and the upcoming 75th anniversary next year. We also walked to dozens of specific graves where Colin told me stories of heroism and heartbreak from D-Day as seen through that particular soldier’s eyes. Throughout the rest of the day, we visited a number of other sites around the area including Utah Beach, Pointe du Hoc, St. Mere Eglise, Brecourt Manor, St. Mere du Mont and Carentan. The entire day was both fascinating and, as you might imagine, very moving. If you enjoy history, I’d encourage you to add Normandy to your to-do list and if you want to do it with a guide, hire Colin. He was wonderful. Touch base with me and I’ll send you his contact info or you can Google his name and track him down on the internet.
The next day I drove a few hours south and west of Bayeux to Mont Saint-Michel. It is a small island, a few hundred meters off shore, that has a population of about 50 and is home to a famous monastery built in the 8th century. Because it is relatively close to shore, the island is completely surrounded by water during high tide, but is accessible to visitors when the tide is out. I paid a few Euro for an audio guide and spent time walking from building to building and room to room around the 17-acre site, learning about the hundreds of years of history that preceded my visit. I finished around noon and was starting to get hungry, so I stopped into a small restaurant for lunch and ordered a meal that the island has become famous for: a very fluffy omelet. When it first arrives, you think you will have a hard time eating it all, but when your fork slices through it, you realize it has an omelet texture on the outside and an airy fluff of egg bubbles on the inside. The best way I can describe it is to imagine the head of foam on a beer. That is the texture of the inside of the omelet.
An unexpected surprise
Hunger satisfied, I returned to my car and punched in the coordinates for a little town called Villedieu-les Poêlles. Before leaving home, I read an article about a famous cookware company in the town called Mauviel 1830. My wife loves to cook, so I thought I’d swing by the town, tour the copper workshops and see if I could find her a gift that she would enjoy and, perhaps more importantly, would fit in my backpack. When I got to the town, I stopped by the tourism office for directions and learned that Mauviel was not the only artisan factory in the town. In fact, the town was loaded with craftsmen (and women) who, along with their predecessors, had been practicing their trades there since the middle ages.
One in particular that sounded fascinating to me was a bell foundry that is the source of the bells for many of the famous cathedrals in France and around the world. A tour was 8 euros, which ended up being the bargain of the trip. Touring the foundry and learning about the process (little changed for hundreds of years) that goes into making a bell was fascinating. When hired to produce a bell, the craftsman chalks the weight of the bell and the name of the church onto the wooden beam above his station. Then, using a mixture of clay, horse manure and goat hair, he crafts an interior and exterior mold for the bell that, when fitted together, leave a cavity inside where the molten brass is poured. That all sounds difficult enough, until you learn of the complex math involved in calculating the appropriate shape and thickness of the bell so that it will ring the desired note (requested by the church) in perfect pitch over its 250-year life. Today, the calculations are performed by computer. For the hundreds of years prior, the craftsmen had only their brain power, pencil and paper to do the math. Again, it was all really fascinating. Visit our Facebook page for pictures.
After the tour, the day was growing short and I still had a 4-hour drive back to Paris, so I hit the road. I made it to the airport around 10 pm, dropped off the rental car and took a taxi to my hotel. After a few hours sleep, it was back to the airport for an early morning flight to Italy and the next leg of the trip. More on that soon. Thanks for following along.
Greetings from Hong Kong! The trip has been great so far. The flight from LA was a bit of a marathon (I slept for eight hours and still had time to watch four movies), but the payoff has been worth it. The city is a super interesting mix of people, cultures and activities. In many ways it is one of the most developed cities in the world. The public transportation system is the best I’ve ever used, the cityscape is jaw dropping and the restaurants and shopping are top notch. In other ways it feels a bit exotic. You can haggle for goods at local street markets, buy unusual food at street stalls or spend hours just exploring the endless streets and back lanes.
There is so much to do, that three months wouldn’t be enough to do it justice. That’s good news though, because no matter how long your itinerary, you’ll have plenty to fill your days with enough left over to warrant a return trip. I only had three days, so I hit the ground running. I landed about 8 in the morning, went through immigration, picked up my pre-purchased train pass from the MTR counter and headed into town. The airport is on an island outside the city, but the train whisks you from that island to Kowloon and then to Hong Kong.
I found my hotel with no trouble, but it was too early to check in, so I just dropped my bag (“Excuse me sir. Is this your only bag?”) and went out to grab some food. My brother-in-law is a pilot and told me about a local chain called Tim Ho Wan that has good food at a reasonable price. As luck would have it, there was one nearby, so I walked there and managed to order a tasty lunch by pointing at things on the menu and hoping for the best. The food was good, but I also ended up having company. The restaurant was crowded and I was sitting by myself at a small table when a woman and her daughter walked up and asked if they could sit with me because there were no other seats. That’s not something you’d expect in the US, but it was great. The woman was originally from Hong Kong, but they now lived in London and were just back visiting her mother. They were kind enough to help me plan out my day and gave me some recommendations for things to see and do.
I eventually got checked into the hotel and spent some time in the upstairs lounge catching up on work and communicating with clients, friends and family back home. That done, I went out for more exploring, the highlight of which was probably the Temple Street night market which is block after block of stalls selling everything from electronics and paintings to souvenirs and street food. I’m traveling light, so I didn’t buy any souvenirs, but the atmosphere was great.
My big activity on Day 2 was a hike called the Dragon’s Back that I booked on Airbnb. I met my guide (an ex-pat from Australia named Alex) and fellow hikers at the Shau Kei Wan MTR station and we took a bus outside the city. The hike follows a jagged ridge line that looks like a dragon’s back for about 5 miles and it ends at a little beach town called Tai Long Wan (Big Wave Bay) where we had a cold beer and a swim in the South China Sea to cool off. It was a fantastic experience. Thanks to Rory, the founder of Wild Hong Kong and our guide Alex for offering such a unique adventure.
Today I’ve got some work I need to do in the morning and then this afternoon, I plan on visiting Victoria Peak (great views of the city). Tonight I’m going to the horse races at Happy Valley where races have been held since 1846. I’m told that it’s THE place to be on Wednesday night. From there, I’ll hop the train to the airport where I’ll catch a midnight flight to London and then another flight to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. I’ll pick up a car there and head west to Normandy (I saw Paris on a previous trip) where I’ll be staying in the town of Bayeux. I hired a guide to take me on a tour around the beaches, cemeteries and other sites related to D-Day and World War II. It should be fun. Thanks for following along.
Tomorrow I get on plane and start a 25,000-mile journey around the world (I’ll share my first stop at the end of this article). The purpose of the trip is to have a little fun and to hopefully inspire and encourage each of you to be intentional and proactive with your own plans and dreams. With that in mind, I thought it would be good to start with something practical. What’s the process I use for trip planning? How can you use it to plan exciting trips before and during retirement? Here’s the process I use:
Each year, around this time, I sit down to plan our travel for the coming year. Starting early is often a must if you want to make reservations at popular places. It also gives you time to digest trip expenses and coordinate logistics (e.g. time off work, childcare, dog sitter). And don’t underestimate the benefits of anticipation. Booking early also means months of excitement and anticipation for you and your travel companions. Can you book a trip last minute? Absolutely (see also Travel Roulette). But booking early often means more availability, more time to pay, less stress and more anticipation.
Repeat after me: “Planning a trip takes effort and it will cost me some money.” Taking a trip is awesome, but planning a trip takes effort and a willingness to spend money, make decisions and even take a few risks. Those things introduce friction into the process that cause many people to quit. Push through this resistance by acknowledging ahead of time that the planning will have its challenges, but it will be worth it.
Throughout the year I jot down ideas and save articles related to places that look fun or interesting. When I sit down to plan, I whiteboard a bunch of potential ideas and then we talk about them as a family. We highlight several ideas depending on what we’re in the mood for, our budget, time frame and type of trip (e.g. outdoor, city, learning, relaxing, strenuous, group trip, etc.).
Once we have a list of places, we start doing some basic research. What is the best time of year to visit? What are the main things to see and do there? How many days do you need to do what you want to? What do available flights look like? What lodging options are available?
Once I’ve done the basic research and have the broad outlines of a trip, I try to get the big things settled. For me, that usually means airfare and lodging. Once those are booked, the trip is real (woohoo!). And by getting them done early, you can take advantage of more availability (especially if you’re booking tickets with frequent flyer miles) and lower prices. As I mentioned earlier, it also gives you time to digest expenses.
Once you start booking things, it’s important to get everything organized and outlined into a day-by-day itinerary. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is by using the TripIt app. When you get confirmation emails from airlines, Airbnb, rental car companies, and the like, just forward them to TripIt and it instantly creates a new trip for you and organizes all the details into an easy to read itinerary. I can’t say enough great things about this app. There’s a free version, but the paid version is totally worth it if you travel often.
At this point, I usually buy a few books to start doing deeper research about the place we’re visiting. If we’re going to a city, I like the City Guides from Lonely Planet. If we’re casting a wider net, I’ll get the country book by Lonely Planet or Rick Steves and I’ll also usually get something from Eyewitness Travel because the pictures help to give me a sense of the place. I’ll also use the internet to visit tourist bureau websites, blogs, and travel sites like Trip Advisor where thousands of other travelers have written reviews and talked about their favorite things to do at the place I’ll be visiting. As I find things that look fun or interesting, I’ll book them or make reservations and forward the details to TripIt. This includes things like walking tours, restaurants, sites we want to see, activities we want to do, etc. I leave room for flexibility and serendipity, but I try to give the trip enough structure so that we’re making efficient use of our days. Once everything is planned and the departure date nears, I figure out what to pack
“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” – Susan Heller
What type of trip? The first step to packing is to think about what type of trip you’re taking. What’s the weather like? What types of things will you be doing? Packing for a ski trip is different than packing for the beach. Packing for a destination wedding is different than packing for a camping trip. Think about what you’ll be doing, what the weather will be like, what kinds of clothes and gear you’ll need and plan accordingly.
Pick a good bag. Your luggage should match your trip. If you’re hiking the Grand Canyon, invest in a quality backpack. If you’re taking a quick weekend trip to celebrate your anniversary, a simple weekender duffel will do. If you’re planning a three-week cruise, get yourself some sturdy luggage with a bit of capacity.
Lay it all out. Lay everything out that you plan on taking and look through it with an eye on paring it down to the essentials. Do your outfits mix and match? Can you pare back bulky items, like shoes? Are you taking things that you can just as easily buy at your destination? If you take too much stuff, it’s stressful. If you don’t take enough, it’s stressful. Really think through what you’ll need and what you’re likely to use and try to strike the appropriate balance between not enough and too much
Pack it efficiently. Once you have everything finalized, pack it up. The goal is to get the maximum amount of stuff in the minimum amount of luggage, without exceeding the 50-pound weight limit that most airlines impose. That means use packing cubes, compress, roll instead of fold, etc. In other words, pack that bag like it’s a clown car.
What I’m taking
One of my inspirations for this trip is the pioneering female journalist Nellie Bly. She approached her editor in 1888 with the idea of turning the fictional account of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days into reality and writing dispatches along the way. All she took with her was the dress she had on, an overcoat, a few changes of underwear, some toiletry items and 200 British pounds. Everything she packed fit into a small handbag. Here’s what I’m taking:
- The clothes on my back (shirt, jeans, belt, shoes, watch)
- A 25-Liter Patagonia Black Hole Backpack
- Two shirts, two pairs of lightweight pants, socks and underwear
- A few toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, floss)
- A lightweight vest and a hat for cooler weather
- My MacBook and phone so I can connect into my office and communicate with clients and people back home.
- An Anker charging block
- A Field Notes journal and pen
- One paperback book (Meditations by Marcus Aurelius)
- My passport, credit card and some cash
I’ll buy anything else I need as the trip progresses. That includes clothes, which I will buy as needed (probably just a shirt here and there) and then donate when it’s time to change. That might sound expensive at first, but it will almost certainly be cheaper than the baggage fees I’d pay if I were checking luggage on ten different flights. It should be a fun and interesting experience and I’m looking forward to talking with you along the way.
The first stop is…drumroll…Hong Kong via Los Angeles. I’ve got some fun things planned, including a visit to a famous street market, a hike called the Dragon’s Back, and plenty of food sampling. I’ll talk to when I get there. Until then…
A few years ago, my family and I took a one month mini-retirement to Ireland and England. Before that trip, we applied for two British Airways Visa cards (one for my wife, one for me). Each card gave 100,000 frequent flier miles for signing up and meeting a minimum spend. We used some of the miles on that trip, but most of them have been sitting unused (dumb!). I recently got an email that said the miles were about to expire, so I did what most people would do. I booked an 18-day, 25,000-mile trip around the world. I’m leaving soon and I’d love to have you follow along.
A bit about the trip
I’ll keep the specific destinations under wraps for now, other than to say I’ll be leaving home and flying west. My itinerary has 10 flights and I’ll be spending time in 4 countries (plus two more for connecting flights). That’s waaaaay more stops than I would normally recommend for a trip of this length, but I’m not really looking at the trip as a relaxing vacation. Instead I’m viewing it as a bit of a combo between a work trip and a lifestyle experiment that will give me some interesting things to write about at Intentional Retirement (as well as our Facebook page). I’m able to connect into my work computer remotely and I have a phone plan that works seamlessly in 170 countries, so I’ll be communicating with clients and working a “normal” day most days. I also have some fun activities booked at each destination, so I’ll be writing about those, as well as about things like how I plan trips, how to pack, demystifying travel, spontaneity, being proactive in retirement, designing your ideal lifestyle, taking risks, finding your purpose, location independence, remote work, overcoming excuses and living an intentional life.
The expiring miles were a good excuse, but truth be told, the trip has a bigger purpose. My goal with Intentional Retirement is not just to sell books or write articles, but to help people actually make positive changes in their lives. To nudge them from apathy to action. So I hope the trip is fun and interesting, but mostly I hope it inspires you, in some small way, to get your own dreams off the drawing board.
Next week I’ll post an article or two about how I plan trips and what I’m packing for this trip (hint: almost nothing). Then I’ll hit the road. I’ll be posting articles to the site as I go, but I’ll also be posting some pictures and videos to our Facebook page, so follow along there to see the good, the bad and the ugly of how the trip is going. And if you have any friends who might be interested in following along (or who, like you, want to live an intentional, meaningful life), please email this article to them or share it on social media. Have a great weekend! And as always…
My wife went to visit her sister a few weeks ago in New York. While she was gone, my daughter and I felt like doing something fun, so the two of us went to Washington D.C. to see the cherry trees in bloom. A hundred years ago, either one of those trips would have been costly, dangerous and impractical. Now for a few hundred dollars and a little planning, you can start your day at home and end it a few thousand miles away.
I sometimes take for granted how crazy that is and it illustrates a gradual change that has been happening for decades: The declining cost of distance. Technology has utterly transformed the cost, effort, time and risk involved with getting from A to B. In many cases, you don’t even need to get off your couch. Here are some examples from just the last few decades.
- Email has replaced physical mail.
- Expensive long-distance calls are a thing of the past.
- Video conferencing options like FaceTime and Skype allow us to see and stay connected with those we love.
- The internet has not only put the world at your fingertips, but allows you to have it delivered in 2 days or less.
- Cars have become safer and more fuel efficient.
- Flights have gotten cheaper and more prevalent.
- Services like Airbnb and Uber make travel easier, more enjoyable and less expensive.
This trend will likely continue and the cost of distance will become more and more negligible (think virtual reality, hyperloop, automation, 3D printing and supersonic air travel). How should this affect your retirement planning? Here are a few thoughts:
Live where you want. As the cost of distance continues to decline, location becomes less important. When distance is expensive, deciding where to live often involves some serious tradeoffs. “Should I live by my grandkids in the Midwest or in that laid-back beach town in Southern California?” When distance is cheap, you can afford to choose “both/and” instead of “either/or.” It just takes a bit of money, planning and intentionality.
Don’t get stuck in the past. Take advantage of the new economics of distance to live life and do interesting and fulfilling things both now and in retirement. That’s pretty self-explanatory. Don’t get stuck in the old way of thinking and orient your life around a “distance is expensive” fallacy.
Embrace technology. Look for ways to shrink the cost of distance further. Be the grandparent who is an expert at FaceTime. Be the first of your friends to have a virtual reality headset and use it to “visit” famous museums and faraway cities without leaving home. You might even consider becoming a medical tourist. Need heart surgery or hip replacement? India caters to medical tourists needing those types of procedures. They have some of the best hospitals and physicians in the world and the costs on average are about one-tenth of the cost in the US.
One last thought
Before I sign off for today, I mentioned that my daughter and I saw the cherry blossoms. Part of that decision was inspired by a poem I like by A.E. Housman. His sentiments are similar to our philosophy here at Intentional Retirement, so I thought I’d share it.
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.