Hello from Barcelona!
I turn 50 this week. I remember being in my 30's thinking, wow, my 40's are going to be amazing. I find myself saying the exact same thing but with a different number just up ahead of me. There was talk of a party. Yes, I will admit there was even a thought of crawling under a rock and dwelling on the idea of being "middle aged" a few months back. Thank God that thought came and left in about 60 seconds flat. The only thing that seemed to make sense for me was an adventure.
Since my daughter's diagnosis and severe onset of Multiple Sclerosis nearly four years ago my life has been all about being her caregiver. My usual adventurous self gladly took a back seat to be totally and utterly present for who I needed to be for her, her recovery, and really overwhelming life transition. I became a caregiver for others organically from my experience helping to rehabilitate her and referrals from her neurologist started pouring in. But my career before all of this is still my passion so I decided it was time to go back to school to complete degree courses that I started years ago. With work, school, and helping my daughter, life became "nose to the grindstone" day in and day out.
As she began to walk again I felt the heaviness of the intense responsibility my life had become. My gypsy spirit was craving an adventure and when my tax return was received in late March of this year I made a decision. For my 50th birthday I was going to travel abroad. But how? Since my daughters MS and having to walk away from my old life to care for her and begin anew, finances were lean to put it mildly. But I knew there was a way if I was smart, planned way ahead, and stayed open to new ways of traveling.
First, I started looking for airfare months in advance. Everyday I would get alerts to different places I wanted to go and would hop on Google Flights for unbeatable rates. I landed round trip tickets from LAX to Barcelona for $575 and that was with all taxes included. I knew I wanted to travel from place to place in Europe and began the next phase of my 50th birthday adventure: quick and cheap flights around Europe. I found plenty from city to city one way for under $50 each and booked them far in advance as well. Next was the sleeping arrangements.
Hotels can be crazy on the wallet. There was no way we could afford it. I began to seek an alternative and found VRBO and AirBNB. Comparing the two I discovered that we could stay in AirBNB locations with locals in each city, in their homes with them and sometimes even an entire apartment by ourselves, for under $60 a night. Most of the time it was less than $50 and their identification is verified, plus you can read all of the reviews from others who have stayed with them. I found AirBNB much less expensive than VRBO and staying with someone from the part of the world we were strangers in was so appealing to me. I woke up this morning to the most lovely note from our AirBNB host here in Barcelona with a map of the city and suggested activities. Her mom also greeted us and is the sweetest lady making sure our every need is met.
I booked nearly everything way in advance and mapped out our trip from Spain to France; France to Ireland; Ireland to Poland; Poland to Prague; Prague to London where our flight back to the US is direct to LAX. Add in the cost of food ($10 or less per meal which is totally doable with my daughter and I sharing all meals), drinks, cab fares and transfers, tolls and absolutely no shopping (who wants to shop on an adventure anyway). Our trip total for two people, 15 days, 5 countries...wait for it... $2500 (give or take a cocktail or two).
My brothers girlfriend told me tonight over Facetime that I should definitely write a blog to show others just how easy it really is to travel the way I truly love to travel. We did this exact same thing for my daughters 16th birthday and headed to Australia. We packed up a backpack and went down under for an adventure we will never forget. Her MS has kept us from traveling abroad since her onset at 18. She is now 22, walking again with a leg/ankle brace and we know exactly how to manage MS symptoms and fatigue on the go. Frequent breaks, staying hydrated, less walking and more cabs or renting cars, and a good nights sleep are staples of this trip. The other is traveling light.
Packing only what you really need is essential. You can find blow up neck pillows for the flight that deflate and take up far less room in your luggage. Choose outfits that you can mix and match. Roll them instead of folding them and remember, with AirBNB locations you have access to a washer and dryer most of the time. Europe is full of challenging cobblestone streets and stairs to climb. Sure a rolling suitcase is great fro airports but once you land rolling that thing around is a hassle. I learned this the hard way traveling to Italy several years back before I discovered a much better way and much less expensive way to travel through Europe. Strapping a backpack on to get from gate to gate, place to place, in and out of cabs and cars is incredibly easy, fast and efficient, not to mention no extra fees for checked bags for international travel. Another great tip is to convert dollars to Euro anywhere but the airport. We managed to save $80 by going to an exchange in town instead of at the airport, but I did discover that it is better to order foreign money from my bank before I left. This is a "next time" item for sure!
We leave tomorrow to drive up the coast from Barcelona to Monaco. It's a manual shift car so the comedy and tears from laughter are sure to be many, but the price for a manual car is far less than an automatic and I learned to drive when stick shifts were everywhere. You know...like 35 years ago!
Turning 50 is an adventure in more ways than one. Actually, I feel that way about life in general. If you are about to hit any milestone, do yourself a favor and make it one you will never forget. Plan ahead. Don't spend a fortune when you don't have to and get ready to laugh and smile so much you just might get one more wrinkle that is totally worth it. If you really want something enough don't sit back and simply dream about it. Dreams only come true if you take action to make it happen. So do it. Make it happen.
Cheers to 50. Cheers adventure and curiosity no matter what your budget is, or your age. Cheers to making it happen!