Monday, February 3, 2014

Budget Travel

     As an accountant, I am aware that there are three things that are impossible for our middle income family to save enough for: our children's college educations, my retirement, and long-term health care insurance. But we try to do our best with the former two. As for the latter, in my opinion, only the extremely wealthy can afford it. (The only “affordable” long-term health care insurance plans cover approximately five years of nursing care—hardly long-term—which would only delay the inevitable spend-down of personal assets before Medicare kicks in.)
     And because we've lived for years with a five percent salary reduction due to The Great Recession (full pay recently got restored) our family has limited our travels to occasional outer-island trips of two or three nights each. The last time we traveled out-of-state as a family was to Seattle over five years ago. (Deanne did recently fly back twice to East Asia—once to visit her ill dad, the other for his funeral.)
     So to get the most out of our short stays, we packed frozen veggies and precooked rice; Cheerios; powder milk; empty water bottles; home-made scones; and preheated lunch boxes (sans meat) in our carry-ons, plus breakfast to eat before boarding the plane (we caught the low-fare first flights out at 5:30 a.m., which were still expensive compared to a few short years ago.) Each family member self-packed his or her own carry-on with clothes, toiletries, swim gear, a few plastic grocery bags (for wet clothes, dirty laundry, or footwear), and other necessities, all stuffed in a large plastic bag to keep things clean, dry, and organized. Upon arrival at our destination, we filled our water bottles, picked up our rental car, dropped off our luggage at the hotel front desk for safekeeping until check-in, then headed straight to a supermarket for fresh fruits for succeeding days' breakfasts, and luncheon meat and poke (seasoned raw fish) as supplemental proteins for our lunches and dinners. Sight-seeing followed with planned stops before noon to pick up a hearty protein (gourmet pizza, local beef burgers, or lunch counter entree) for takeout and to eat along with our pre-packed lunch boxes at a relaxing scenic spot. More sight-seeing and activities followed until late afternoon when we again picked up a protein (whole roasted chicken, ethnic or local food, or ribs) from somewhere affordable and tasty.
     Checked into the hotel room, we heated our rice and veggies in the microwave, ate dinner, cleaned up, bathed, and prepared for the following day, in which we basically followed the previous day's pattern.
     Another thing that helped our family to stay on budget were comprehensive daily itineraries, detailed to quarter hour increments including travel times, destinations, directions, restaurants, bathroom breaks, down-times, meals, relaxation, and play, which we followed and revised as necessary as the vacation progressed. Such scheduling avoided wasted time and frustration looking for fun, suitable, and inexpensive take-out food; play and rest areas; sight-seeing stops; and driving directions.
     We sought free activities and destinations that included something for everyone, seeing and doing things unique to the locale and with perhaps special historical, personal, or cultural significance. Thus, we avoided generic eateries, shopping malls, and activities such as bounce houses, movies, or water parks.
     Internet sites such as Yelp and Tripadvisor (among the internet's finest) generated excellent suggestions. The first-hand accounts of visitors and their photos can get overwhelming to review, however, due to dozens of conflicting opinions written in anywhere from wonderful to awful English, and hundreds of photos burdensome to click through to find just the one with the information you're looking for (menu, shoreline access, parking area, scenery, safety, navigability). But discovering hidden gems that even I, a lifetime Hawaii resident, had never seen or heard of before, got me excited well before the trip.
     On Kauai, there were the swinging bridge, Lindsgate Park, Kokee, Taro Ko Factory, Kalalau Trail, Poipu Beach, Ke'e Beach, and Hanalei Pier.
     On Molokai there were the farmer's market, Halawa, Murphy Beach, The Kite Factory, Three Mile Beach overlook, Dixie Maru beach, and One Alii Fishpond.
     On Maui there were Kanaio, Makawao, Kepaniwai Park, Kapalua Labyrinth and Village and Beach trails, and Spreklesville Beach.
     On Hawaii there were Laupahoehoe park, Kalopa, Kapoho, Honokaa, Kamuela, Keaukaha, and Panaewa.
     All of the above—free of charge—provided among the best these islands had to offer. Of course we also visited the more famous low-cost destinations too, such as superlative Waimea Canyon, Haleakala, and Volcanoes National Park.
     But the best part was seeing the kids excited doing something new—exploring Dry Cave; hiking summit and coastal trails; fishing off the state's longest pier; walking a swaying bridge in high gusting winds; eating live opihi (limpets); catching misty sprays in their mouths at overlooks; chasing kite shadows in the sand; knocking low hanging coconuts off trees with pebbles; drinking the sweet, acrid water from these coconuts; petting wild horses that approached on their own; running through huge wooden playgrounds; lying in ocean-side hammocks; leading us through ancient ohia forest trails; climbing high up ironwood trees; and sleeping overnight in a backyard tent hitched at Grandma and Grandpa's house.
     Notwithstanding their inconvenience and expense, these trips were well worth it. We learned a lot, bonded, made lasting memories, worked as a team, and enjoyed every last minute of them. All islands were beautiful and special, but being averse to crowds and traffic, I probably enjoyed them in reverse order of their population densities: Molokai first, then Hawaii, Kauai, and Maui in that order.
     Thumb nail sketches: Molokai—deserted paradise; friendly, generous people who love to talk. Melt into the surrounding lassitude. Hawaii—pockets of interest among vast, unchanging landscapes. Fun to drive. Laid-back. Primitive feel encourages introspection. Kauai—fun with lots to see and do outdoors. Best beaches. Great, unfolding vistas. Maui—beautiful horses on Haleakala, wild nene geese, and awesome views of neighbor islands Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, and Molokini. Best air for workouts.
     FYI: all inclusive, each trip totaled less than one thousand two hundred dollars, the vast majority of which went to airfares, accommodations, rental car, gas, and airport parking.

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