Planning a trip of a lifetime

In 22 months, we’ll (god willing) be in the enviable financial position of having our house paid off. We both hate debt, and though neither of us is exactly making tons of money, with careful financial planning (and the move to Maine, mostly), and living within our means, we’ll have the house paid off 15 years from when we had it built.

So, exciting. What we will do when we our free of the burden of a mortgage is yet to be determined. Jon thinks he will reduce his work hours. I may do the same. We both love to just do what we want to do, so I don’t think we are the type of people who will be bored in “semi-retirement.” But one thing we really want to do is go on a really nice trip.

We’ve traveled a fair amount and have been to a lot of the places on our “bucket lists.” I still want to go to Africa, and Spain, and South America, and a dozen other places, but we’ve decided to do a tour of the “celtic world” for this trip. Why? I love England and the British Isles, and so does Jon, and I’m interested in so many things about celtic europe, including the language, art, history, King Arthur and other literary traditions, and just the natural beauty of Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.

So, we are thinking two weeks. What I really want to do is to create a story. And follow that story from place to place. I don’t want to go somewhere and just tick things off of someone else’s list. I want to be educated, and interested, and follow that thread the whole way through the vacation. What I’ve determined is that a package tour is not going to work. I’m going to have to plan this myself. Then Jon wants a pre-trip learning plan, with movies and documentaries and short readings (he doesn’t want to go too in-depth) so he has context for what he sees. Yes, he’s quite demanding. But for me, it’s kind of a dream come true, because I do love to plan! Studies actually show that you get the most enjoyment out of a trip while you’re planning it. So there.

My early thinking is this:

Cornwall (definitely) – My mother has talked about the beauty of Cornwall and the West Country my whole life, and this is one (of many) parts of England I have yet to go to. The natural beauty, the Cornish culture, the King Arthur myth… so much to look forward to.

Wales… – another place my mother has talked up (though I’m not sure she’s actually been there!). Again, so much culture and natural beauty, and more King Arthur!

Scotland. We saw some of Scotland on our honeymoon – Ayr and Edinborough. But we’d love to go to the Highlands and even some of the more remote islands like the Shetlands or Orkney. Though it’s not of the celtic theme, I’d love to see some neolithic sites in Scotland, Ireland, and England. I love the mystery of it all.. we have no idea what any of it meant, but it persists.

Ireland. I’ve always sort of wanted to go to Ireland but wasn’t convinced it was really a bucket list place… until I learned more! Man, there’s so much history there, and they still speak a celtic language! I would love to experience the arts, language, music and culture of Ireland. Plus I have relatives from County Mayo, so I would like to check that out as well.

Possibilities… Brittany, Galicia, other parts of western and central Europe that have a part in the long and varied history of the celts/gauls. I actually didn’t know until recently that Spain was part of the Celtic world. I’ve always wanted to go to Spain, so this might be a good opportunity to squeeze it in!

More to come… Of course I have big plans for creating itineraries, and learning plans – I just think we are not the only ones craving a “story” when we travel. I look forward to planning this… in fact, there is nothing I love more than planning a trip!

 

Victoria sponge and authentic travel experiences, London-style

I love to travel, and like most people, I spend a fair amount of time racing from one “must-see” sightseeing destination to another – trying to cram as much into my trip as possible. Looking back on some of my recent trips, though, I realize that some of my best travel memories are not the “cross-off-your-list” for (insert city here) type.

As examples: Several years ago my sister and I went to Paris for a week. Of course, we saw the Eiffel Tower. We even went up in it. What do I remember, hardly anything. We “did” the Louvre, with out feet already tired and in pain from a day of walking. I was impressed with the Mona Lisa, but overall it was a somewhat anti-climatic experience. What I DO remember, though, is our food tour with Paris by Mouth. The tour was led by an American transplant in Paris and she led the way through various cheese shops and wine shops and all the places I would either not stop in to or be too intimidated to do so! It was great, and I still remember things she taught me about french food (such as Rochefort cheese is cured in caves in Rochefort, france, and can’t be called Rochefort unless it is!). I felt I really learned something about Paris and the people who lived there.

A more recent example. My husband and I went to London for a week last fall with one of our favorite couples to travel with – Jill and Kevin. Jill loves to bake and she had found a workshop on British baking by Caroline Hope. Our husbands were off doing activities related to NFL football in London (watching, not playing! ha ha) so we were up for some girl time. I thought it was a great idea and a good way to explore the life of a real Londoner!

Well, it was everything we hoped and was actually a high point of a really great trip. Like the Paris food tour, Caroline taught us about the culinary heritage of her country as well as customs and … I don’t know what to call it… societal norms? It was really fascinating. She taught us how to bake traditional British baked good like Victoria sponge, shortbread, and scones – not things we typically eat in America (not counting the dry, crumbly scones you get at Starbucks and similar places).

 

Shortbread
This is the shortbread made by our group. So good! I’ve since learned that the butter in Europe is so much richer and creamier than that which you can get in the US. But I’ve had a decent time recreating this using Kerry butter from Ireland, which I can get at my local grocery store

She taught us about baking, gave us great recipes, and we got to eat our delicious creations and meet our fellow workshop participants (in this case a Canadian by way of Argentina and a Japanese exchange student). But most of all, we just enjoyed her company, her humor, her flat in Notting Hill, and her authenticity. And while we could have spent that half a day rushing around the London eye or going up to the top of the Shard (two things that got nixed because we ran out of time), it wouldn’t have been the same. We got to connect with a real person who was passionate about her culture and wanted to share it with others.

My conclusion: Always, always, try to incorporate an experience like this into travel. NOT through a travel company, not as an excursion, but somehow finding these special experiences from individuals who are great at teaching others about their culture and have an interesting perspective on their country.

What do you think? Have you ever had a travel experience like this? Living in tourist-heavy Maine, I wonder if there’s a market for providing experiences like this here. I’ve guess I have enough side gigs already, and I’m an introvert, so it probably wouldn’t work out for me anyway!

xoxo LL