Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

I Think It's Funny

Last night I took a couple of things outside to the recycle bin and while getting back in the house it hit me: "We have to do it. It is our duty!" Such a strange feeling, I almost felt it physically as a hit on the top of my head. What sort of parents would we be if we let the kids grow up and leave our house without taking them around the world? I hope you see a funny side to this, Ileana did, it is definitely the opposite of what most parents might say. We didn't talk with people yet, and this is still more than a year away, but I would expect some comments concerning the safety of the kids and how such a trip could put some risk on their future. So, let me say it again, now that we actually thought of this, how could it be possible not to do it? We owe it to them and to ourselves!
As this blog is recording the evolution of our thoughts and the whole decision process, we continue to talk almost nightly about it. We both feel much more comfortable with the idea of a full year of travel compared to the initial thought of a six month vacation. As we learn more, we also feel much more comfortable with the idea of independence and open ended plans, where we would have much less of a set schedule and the freedom to stay more in places that we like. Comments about having a round the world trip come up much more often in casual conversations at dinner. I cannot possibly recall all the comments, for example last night somebody said something about Indonesia, I asked, "Do we want to go to Indonesia?", Ileana replied immediately, "No, I want to go to Tibet!" Her younger brother agreed with her saying something about Himalaya. A couple of days ago I was looking with Maria at the map and showed her the TransSiberian route and how we could end up in Europe from China.
As far as places to go, we leave this open as we continue to collect information, but now definitely in are New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, China, India, Cambodia, Romania. On the questionable list are Japan, Russia, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Iceland, Finland, Mongolia. Probably not includes South America, Easter Island, Africa. Europe is a big open hole, were we could do everything for 3-4 month or it could be just a short stop somewhere. We might leave open any plan after Beijing, getting to Europe by train through Russia, and we could leave open any return from Europe to US and decide on the spot if we want to take a cruise or a flight. I need to remember the part about a cruise, I might forget that.

On a more practical side, I continue to make adjustments to our budget and finances, it is time to start saving some money. We have more than $130,000 in debt and maybe some $5,000 in savings so something needs to be done. We cancelled our DirecTV and changed to lifeline cable. From $95 to $10 it will be a saving of $2000 over 2 years. Similarly choosing a Tracfone over the Apple iPhone is another $2300 saving. We changed the Internet provider and that should be another $550 saving. But more importantly getting comfortable with the idea of loosing the income for a full year, that is not easy. The good news is that there is money to be made in low taxes on a year with no income. Transferring money from regular IRA to Roth IRA, potentially transferring the 401k, potentially cashing the retirement savings... The plan remains to work in 2 years for 3 and we should be OK...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

Four months later we are in Oana's house in Cambridge. Luci went to work and the kids are not around. Ileana and Oana went to the gym. I was driving yesterday to Boston and we were talking about different scenarios for our trip and I got an idea. Maybe we can cross the Atlantic using a cruise ship. How much would it cost? To my surprise and pleasure last night I received an email from VacationsToGo recommending this website TransAtlantic Cruises . Did they send the email because of the Thanksgiving holiday and remembering the Mayflower transatlantic cruise of 1620, as they say, or did they read my mind and monitor my thoughts? They did this before a couple of months ago when I was thinking about the cruise on Yangtze.

Mont St Michel in a team of nine
It's been more than four months since my last update. We had a wonderful Europe vacation with time spent in Romania, France and a couple of days in London. We had the first 11 days together. Leaving Watkins Glen we arrived in Paris next morning and rented a car to Versailles. We spent the first night there, splitting the palace visit in the evening and next morning. We left at noon, stopped in Chartres for the cathedral visit and then arrived in Rennes in the evening. We were happy to see Ioana and her family. They suggested a trip to Mont Saint Michel for the next day.

Monday morning we returned to Paris, by way of Fontainebleau and Vaux le Vicomte. We returned the car and we spent 4 days in the middle of Paris with the kids visiting museums and parks and places where we haven't been before.
On September 12th we were in Bucharest and we celebrated my grandmother's 95th birthday a couple of days early. Next day we went to Campina, and we spend the next 3 days with Cristina and Tic in their beautiful new house. The house is 3 years old by now, but it was the first time I saw it. I was very impressed with all of it. I love it! On September 15th, Ileana and I went back to Paris for our vacation together. We had a delayed honeymoon in Paris in 1991 and in anticipation of our 20th anniversary we thought it would be the best place to spend some time alone. The kids had one week with their aunt and a couple of weeks with their grandparents. We had 18 days alone in Paris. We visited museums, churches, parks and other great places, we bought food at the market and ate baguettes on the street. Probably the best was with Sandra on the corner of some boulevard, a spiky baguette with fresh figs and goat cheese.
In the middle of our Paris vacation we took an overnight side-trip to London. We had a fantastic time, a little disappointed because they closed St. Paul just before we were to get in, but we saw Buckingham Palace and everything else we needed to see. We had a Rick Steve's 75 minutes tour of the National Gallery and a couple of nights at pubs. We saw Neville of Harry Potter on the Millennium Bridge and tested our limits in the Tate Modern. We had a great time at the British Museum, but even better we had the Crown Jewels to ourselves for a few minutes in the Tower of London. Returning to Paris we had a six day museum pass that we took advantage of, visiting everything. Everything! We have that kind of fun... We went to the Louvre another 4 times, spend many hours visiting every room and in the end we finished it. There were a couple rooms under renovation, we saw them in 2006, we really saw everything. We don't know anybody else who did this, but we also don't know anybody who would care about it. I learned a lot about modern art following some artists from place to place all over Paris. The highlight of out trip was the last day when we participated in the veneration of the Crown of Thorns. Just go and visit, I won't even try to describe the feeling.
We returned to Bucharest on the 3rd of October and had another trip to the country to visit Ileana's relatives before we returned home. We were back in our home shortly after midnight on October 13th. It was a great vacation, the longest so far, and we used it many times to imagine how it would be during our RTW trip. Renting a car and driving stick, going by train and plane and bus, even a boat on the Seine. Renting places on the Internet. We did this before, but this was more and it all worked out well. The kids had fun, despite their reluctance to admit it. My daughter Ileana was shocked to realize one day that we skipped lunch! When we skipped lunch the next day it wasn't a big deal anymore.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Two Weeks Later

The other day Ileana asked: "Why can't we go round the world in the year when we go to China and meet with the grandparents there?". I praised her for a "very good idea". Maria was screaming "Why can't we just stay home?!" Ioan, Ileana and Maria were arguing about going round the world, making categorical statements like "We go!" or "We don't go anywhere!". We didn't tell the children yet. We talk about a trip around the world in a casual manner, like something that any normal family with three children does. Maybe they will come up with the idea themselves and believe for the rest of their lives that they started it. Like Ileana with China.

Privately we, the parents, are making progress in consolidating our decision. At this time, again, all we can do is save money and learn and dream. Ileana is cooking special fancy meals, better than a restaurant, and we are not eating out anymore. She charges me a lot, but she saves the money. I also save money anywhere I can, but most of this is on paper. It is time to start preparing for the opening of my private practice. It is a time to make investments, but with the prospect of a trip that will get us broke, I am thinking twice about these expenses. Do we need to pay the internet and the phone twice? Do I need a new computer or can I just use the one I have?

Also we are talking a lot trying to clarify what we want and what we would like. Ileana was the first one to say that six months is too short and she wants more. Now we are thinking more on the line of six to nine months with the summer spent in Europe, maybe Czech Republic, Germany, Scandinavia. Could we travel in an RV and sleep all in it? How long could we do that? This might be the only way we could afford Sweden and Norway. It might cost us nothing to stop in Iceland, and should be a must see. I would like to go to Ushuaia and Iguazu Falls but this would add a lot to the cost of plane tickets and we have to mind the weather. We learned that "There is no bad weather just inappropriate clothing" (Arthur Frommer?), but we are not going to find this out on ourselves if we can avoid it.

I read another book 360 Degrees Longitude: One Family's Journey Around the World and this is definitely one of the best. Their web site also has a lot of information and there is a file that can be downloaded to see in Google Earth. On the other hand I started to read WorldTrek: A Family Odyssey and I stopped in the middle because it's a very boring book. These two books are the stories of two American families traveling for a year around the world, with their two children. For me the lecture is not necessarily just entertainment. It is work, but is good.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Starting It All

Twelve days ago I got my annual retirement report. Ever since I started my current job, they took 3% of my salary and put it in a New York State Retirement system. It was not an option, but there were dates to remember and understand, and even to look forward to. For example after 5 years I would be vested, meaning that even if I change my job I would be able to maintain my retirement account and eventually get a pension. Another important time to look forward to was the 10 year anniversary, after that they will not draw the 3% from my salary, but my retirement account will continue to grow. On page 6 there were as usual the nice numbers of the pension I will get after working for them for 25 or 30 years. Numbers keep piling up and this is good but reading the same information again this year, I picked up a different side of it. Up to 10 years of employment I can get all my contributions back with the accumulated interest. After I work for more then 10 years the money will be "lost" forever. I will have to wait to be at least 55 to start getting some of it back. I now have more then $30,000 there and by my tenth anniversary I will have about $45,000. It is a lot of money to "lose". This got us thinking and it turns out that there is some catch to it - if I want to get the money, I would have to pay federal tax on it, they will send 20% of it to the IRS and I only get 80%. After that when I do my taxes that year I might have to pay a 10% penalty on it! Anyhow doing the math, this could be a $33,000 check to get if I leave my job before January 27, 2012!

A couple of months ago I was listening to Rick Steves audio podcast and he was interviewing a couple of parents who took their three children and traveled around the world for 8 months. They survived to write a book about it, A Brilliant Teacher: Lessons Learned from One Family's Journey Around the World. Listeners called in, including a doctor from Arizona who took his 3 children around the world. I wanted to read the book but our local library only had One Year Off: Leaving It All Behind for a Round-the-World Journey with Our Children. I bought the first book from Amazon, but we all read the second book first, even Ioan started to read it. It is a good and funny book, much better than "A Brilliant Teacher." But this got us thinking and we talked on and off about it. For several years we have been considering the possibility of a sabbatical, but mostly the doctor offers for a 6 months or 1 year job in Australia and New Zealand. That would be an interesting experience, but what's the fun if I get to work all the time and Ileana and the kids stay in some rented apartment waiting for me.

Several months ago we were talking-joking at lunch about our future vacations. Ileana wants to go all over the world, but her older sister only wants to have her vacation in Romania with her grandparents. So we talked that maybe grandparents can come to China and we have a vacation together there in 2011. This would be acceptable for Maria, but not for Ileana. She started to cry: "Dad, you don't realize, this means we won't be able to go to Australia until 2012, I will be 15 years old then, I can't wait that long!" She was so serious, so broken hearted and powerful in her cry, I had to hold her tight and assure her that she will be OK. We spent some time on the internet looking at available flights to New Zealand and Australia and her tears dried up. She moved on to a different subject, but I was left with the doubt. What sort of horrible father lets his children wait to see Australia and New Zealand until their 15th birthday ?

And again a couple of weeks ago, I got this statement from the retirement program that I could get $33000 if I just leave my job in 2012. This would be the year when Maria would have to go to college, then she'll be gone for good and all these wonderful places in the world would have to be seen without her...

What if I leave my job in January 2012, say goodbye to everybody and we take off for 6 months? We'll be back in time for college start. Ileana and the children would have to hurry up the homeschool a bit and free up several months of vacation. Maria would apply for colleges before December 2011 anyhow, so we'll know where she'd go in August 2012. The London Olympics would be in August, we won't miss it. And I have to make the jump at some point from public employment to my own private practice, this could be as good a time as any other. Thoughts keep coming. Maybe we can postpone the unplanned undiscussed 2011 China trip and meet with the grandparents in China in March or April 2012. That would be awesome! Easter is on April 15, I don't want to spend Easter in China, what would be a more appropriate place for that? Jerusalem? Sounds good. April 15 in Israel. We'd have Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Cambodia, India and China before Easter. Then Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Italy and Romania and I could be back for the annual picnic at my job before June 25th.

We need a theme. But we have a theme. There are some places in this world that Ileana and I know that would be hard to enjoy without the children. There are other places that we'd be happy to see without them. We can see Japan or London by ourselves, but we want to have the children with us when we get to The Great Wall or Taj Mahal. As simple as that.