Our First Extended Trip


Will we still be smiling after 11 months of planning?

For years Lydia and I have been dreaming out loud about going abroad for several months at a time. When we visit a place we want to return to, it immediately gains a spot on our 3-month list. Southern Italy was our first such designated destination. Then we visited French Polynesia and promptly added it to our “the list.” Though we were serious about our future plans, there was always a dreamlike quality to them. “Maybe when we really retire.”

Well, dream met reality a few weeks ago when Lydia suggested, kind of out of the blue, that we plan our first 3-month getaway to Mexico for January, February and March of 2019. My initial reaction, which I think I kept to myself, was “Mexico? Haven’t we already been there dozens of times?” Then moments later the genius of it hit me. “Of course, we know it well, we have many friends there, but 3 months away would still be something totally different.” Other salient points were that we’ve never driven to Mexico, which would be an adventure in itself, and give us the opportunity to see places we haven’t  been. The exchange rate is very favorable, and we know how to budget for Mexico. And, it’s close. We can always get home in a hurry if we have to. Most important of all, our dog Maya is an aging cancer survivor who can’t be farmed out for months at a time, so she has to go with us. The fact that she was born in Mexico adds a “complete the circle” feeling for us, though I’m sure she would be more than content never to visit the rock pile she grew up on again.

Spending a few weeks driving to and from Mexico and spending 2 months in two different places in the Yucatan is the perfect “training wheels” experience for our first time actually living in a foreign country.

The planning begins, and the only thing Lydia likes to do more than research and make travel plans, is to travel. My job is to focus on income and expenses. We’ve always talked about doing a home exchange, and given that we live across the harbor from Charleston, one the world’s most in-demand tourist destinations, I’m sure there would be no shortage of exchange opportunities. But we can live in Mexico for 3 months for significantly less than we can live here, so I think renting our home for 2 or 3 months makes more sense. In fact, I think a 3 month rental not only covers our fixed expenses here, but also pretty much pays for the 3 months in Mexico. Also, we don’t want to spend all 3 months in the same place, so that makes the home exchange a little less ideal, though not impossible.

So right now we’re putting our home up on AirBnb. Since we’re not going to be here to handle turnovers, we’ll have to set a 2 or 3 month minimum stay. I figure we can make the plan work if we can get a least 2 months rented. Our income is seasonal, meaning that we make about 75% of our annual income in the period April-September. This makes the winter a good time to leave. We’ll have enough coming in from our usual sources to cover our basic bills (lights, water, car, etc.), while the rental income will help defray lodging, food and entertainment expenses on the road. Once I figured out that, assuming we can rent the house for a period of time, the financials were doable, I really started to look forward to the adventure.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t obstacles to overcome. We have to get the place rented. I’ll have to arrange for someone to look after the yard, which I do now. I’m hoping I can enlist the guy who takes care of our pool to be our “on call” person if the renters have a problem. Time zones will help in this regard because Lydia and I are only a phone call away, and only one time zone behind. I have to figure out how to handle our propane account. The issue is the pool heater. If someone were to try to heat the pool in January or February, they’d burn through more in propane than what they’re paying in rent. They’ll need the propane for cooking, grilling and fires, but I guess I’ll have to have the pool heater disconnected.

Probably the two most vexing issues are car and dog. As I said, Maya is a cancer survivor, but in reality she still has cancer, but it’s managed with medication and she is no worse for wear. BUT, because she’s kind of in uncharted territory, her oncologist doesn’t want her to be vaccinated. This will not help with her paperwork for Mexico, so we have to figure that out. The other issue is the car. We have only one and it’s a late model Mini Cooper Clubman. It’s perfect for our needs. It’s good on gas and it’s comfortable, even for my 6’4” frame. It does, however, lack carrying capacity. So packing for 3 months away and 2 solid weeks on the road will have to be creative.

We’ve started making “to do lists,” and I’m sure there will be new lists generated on a relatively constant basis, but so far we’re in “go” mode. It’s all very exciting and we’ll keep posting updates for those who are interested in our adventure or who might find this process helpful. Wish us luck!

Mike PontiusComment