We just returned from the most complicated vacation we’ve taken — a month across Scandinavia and on into Russia. Six countries, seven major cities, apartments, hotels, boats, trains, cars, planes, even a guide (in Russia, a new experience for us). I researched, planned, and booked this all myself.
Talk about something I NEVER would’ve contemplated during my long career!!!
With time available here and there, however, I gradually assembled this trip over a period of about four months.
First, the timing. We usually enjoy a summer vacation in July, but this year events were such that August would be the month. This left out more southern locations as they’d simply be too hot. And the possibility therefore appeared that perhaps the more northern countries, where it’s really only warmish two months out of the year (July and August) might make sense.
But this would entail several countries, lots of unpacking/repacking, and contrast with our usual plan of going someplace, renting an apartment and exploring from there for several weeks or a month. This required some discussion and eventually led to an agreement. And a stake: everything we did would have to be easy. If something felt like it would be difficult, it was scratched from the list.
From the top, I mocked up an itinerary on Excel. This was very high level: where would we be on what day, when would we travel from place to place. After a couple of rounds of edits, the skeleton of the trip was in place.
Then I booked the flights (overseas leg on freebie miles) and an overnight ferry boat, wanting to ensure space availability. And put on the calendar the dates at which to buy tickets for bullet trains that didn’t allow purchasing too far in advance.
Lastly came apartment rentals, for which I used (and highly recommend) AirBnB.com (as in air bed and breakfast), a very easy-to-use and information-rich site for renting directly from owners. Another which folks often use is VRBO.com (vacation rental by owner), which I last used many years ago and found didn’t have enough capability in terms of filtering for only the attributes I wanted (perhaps they’ve improved now — haven’t tried it recently). And then hotels. And rental cars.
The nastiest part of the prep was the Russian visa. The amount of info they want is prodigious, and to comply I laboriously compiled 10 years worth of travel dates/countries from old and current passports for my wife and myself. But it yielded to brute force and a healthy dose of application fees, as well as a consulate visit in San Francisco. I guess they require this of us because we require this of them — that seems to be the game…
And then a very fun part of the prep — buying the Dorling-Kindersley books for each of our stops (except Helsinki, for which they don’t have one for some reason) and leafing through to pick out places/activities of interest. I love these books as they are very detailed with lots of photos; and they dedicate almost none of the book to lodging and shopping, which isn’t what I am seeking anyway.
In the event, everything went without a hitch. The trip was beautiful, fun, interesting, replenishing, and eye-opening — in short, the wonderfulness that travel has to offer. Copenhagen, Norwegian fjords, Stockholm, Tallinn, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, and Moscow all welcomed us and showed us a fine time. In order for Russia to fit the metric of easy, we hired a guide to walk around (and hydrofoil) with us and I learned the Cyrillic alphabet so to not be clueless about what signs said (a lot of words are recognizable once one can decode the letters). And it was easy.
OK, now let’s contrast this to vacations during my long career! We’d pick a week (very occasionally two weeks), book a hotel room someplace warm by the water, book flights, go, sit at water’s edge, and decompress. Period. I’d bring books and magazines along and never open them, instead just staring at the water while my brain recuperated from the exigencies of my job. My wife relaxed and read without the ongoing load of her family and household duties of that era. And the kids romped in the delight of childhood at the water, large breakfasts, late nights, and sleeping in.
Well, these are pretty different animals. Opportunities can really open up in the time after your long career. And they’re there for the taking. Partake!