So many people talk about how awesome nomad life is, but we rarely see the real moments. We have promised ourselves and our friends that we will be completely open about this journey. Please take a look at our embarrassing monthly spending report, see how we struggled to tell our families, and how we plan to make this lifestyle work for us.
Planning a holiday (I say “holiday” because I’m apparently British now) this summer?! Check out some of these items that we simply can’t live without. Each of these have been Josh tested and Jen approved!
Hey, did you know that Amazon Prime Days are just around the corner? Maybe you should buy something for yourself, or for a friend, or for me! Whoever you’re buying for (because you definitely should get something), allow my somewhat shameless advertising of must-have travel products to help you decide. Not everything on this list will be discounted for Prime Day, but that doesn’t mean we can’t indulge, right?! And since it is peak vacation season, you can use the “holiday” as an excuse to buy everything your traveling heart desires. Behold, advertisements that look like news!
[In case I didn’t make it obvious enough. This post includes affiliate links and marketing. I am only writing about things I like and personally own or want (wink wink), but it’s still, technically, advertising. By clicking on any of the links below, you’ll be transported to amazing products and services without any service fees or any shady email collections. It is just like clicking on a Google search link, but the difference is that I will get the commission instead of Google. So even if you aren’t buying something for me, you’ll still be saying “Jen, you’re awesome and I love you!” every time you buy something. Don’t you want to say that?! I thought so!]
Must Have Travel Products: Accessories
Planning a holiday (apparently I’m British now) this summer?! Check out these must-have travel products that we simply can’t live without. Each of these have been Josh tested and Jen approved!
We purchased three different bags to take with us on this journey. We needed something that was durable, cheap, and large enough for two weeks worth of clothes, but also small enough to fit RyanAir’s carry-on luggage policy. Out of the three, this bag was our favorite and is now the one Josh takes with him everywhere we go (I got stuck with the less than desirable bag).
Packing cubes are another of our must-have travel products. I had never used them before, but now I am 100% sold! These make life so much easier! Josh sorts his by outfit and I sort mine by style. I have one for socks and undies, one for bottoms, and another for tops. Now, everywhere I go, I simply put the entire cube in the drawer and I am immediately unpacked and organized. I also suggest folding the clothing per the KonMari Method. It has brought me joy and a lot more space.
With limited space to carry all of my belongings, I need to be choosy. One thing we both choose to lug around the world is a Kindle. I know there are other reading devices out there, but the Kindle is the only one I have personally tried. When we are constantly in-and-out of WIFI, there is nothing like knowing that all of our books are safe and sound, ready to be read whenever we want.
I also carry a few other bits and bobs. One surprisingly useful item is my key chain bottle opener. It is crazy how much I actually use that thing! We also each have a microfiber towel. They’re lightweight, easy to pack, dry fast, and are super absorbent. Finally, we can’t leave our accommodations without double checking that we have our European adapter with USB outlets.
Must Have Travel Products: Subscriptions
We can keep our travels cheap because we have very few bills. We don’t have a mortgage, phone plans, or car insurance. Josh and I carefully considered each subscription we had and narrowed them down to only a few essentials. Over time, we have added and subtracted, but I feel like we now have the perfect collection of travel subscriptions.
I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but Trusted House Sitters has been a game changer for us. We stay at people’s homes around the world for free in exchange for watching their home and pet. Our hosts get to go on vacation with the peace of mind that their pets are loved and their home is being watched for free. It is a win, win! Please use my link to sign up AND use my promo code to get an extra discount (RAF156424)!
We have been using DuoLingo for years and absolutely love it! We’ve studied Chinese, Spanish, Italian, and a little taster of each of the other languages we’ve needed along the way. The free version is absolutely amazing, but that only pushes me more toward the Plus! version. These creators 100% deserve to get paid for their work. It is an excellent app that has truly benefited our lives.
Amazon is nearly everywhere. Unfortunately, having an American Amazon Prime membership is not the same as having an Italian Prime Membership. However, if your holidays keeps you in the USA, make sure you have Prime to get all of your must-have travel products. The Amazon Lockers located throughout the country are amazing! We have used them numerous times and loved the convenience.
Buy All of the Things
Thank you for making it to the bottom of the page. You are awesome! You are so awesome that I think you deserve a little something for yourself. That’s right, you awesome person you. Treat yo’ self and get something nice. You deserve it!
Anyone who has spoken with us knows that house sitting in Andalusia was the adventure we were most looking forward to. It was our immediate connection with Barcelona that really spurred this whole adventure. So, I was pretty sure that Andalusia would make us fall head over heels all over again. Not to spoil the upcoming posts, but I was totally right. Don’t be surprised if we are living in Andalusia once this crazy adventure is all over!
Freila, Andalusia, Spain
This was our third trip to Spain after a life-changing 10 days in Barcelona and two quick shore excursions to Alicante and Valencia. This time around we were in a southern region of Spain called Andalusia. My bestie, Rick Steves, has said that the area is one of his favorite places in all of Europe. I would have to agree. With its hot weather, spellbinding flamenco music, and tradition of free tapas, what’s not to love?!
The region of Andalusia is divided into eight provinces. Our tiny village of Freila was located in the Province of Granada. It is about an hour’s drive from the capital city, which is called (you guessed it!) Granada. In addition to the cultural pleasures of the region, it is also home to the Sierra Nevada mountain range and the amazing ancient fortress-city known as the Alhambra.
Freila is a hill village located in the northern part of the province. It is home to three restaurants/bars, a grocery store, and less than 1,500 residents. Like other villages in the area, many of the homes are built into the side of the mountain, and either have or simply are caves. There’s a reservoir nearby for keeping cool in the hot weather, and plenty of little hiking trails through the nearby arroyos.
House Sitting in Andalusia
Our home was located on the edge of the village, overlooking the reservoir and nearby mountain ranges. There were three living areas on the property: the main house, a downstairs apartment, and a livable cave. The house itself has three bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms, a large kitchen with dining nook, two living areas, a laundry room, and a multi-level terrace.
While house sitting in Andalusia, we stayed in the downstairs apartment. We had our own terrace along with one bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and living area. It was beautifully appointed and was incredibly quiet and peaceful. As it was below the main house and tucked into the hillside, it always stayed cool. We didn’t need to turn on the AC at all, and instead enjoyed a light breeze through the windows.
Below us was another huge terrace, along with the traditional white cave house. The cave had a bedroom, living area, and a built-in bar. We didn’t spend much time in the cave, but I could definitely see the appeal with the fun architecture and cool temperatures.
Unlike most other house sits, we were actually living with our host and her nephew, along with her seven cats: Smarty, Charlie, Pepper, Benjamin, Bently, Raya, and Maximus. Our host is a retired English woman who moved to Spain over 10 years ago. Since then, she’s seen it all. She even blogs about her experience and provides helpful advice as an expat in rural Spain. We enjoyed spending each morning chatting with our host and her nephew over coffee before all heading our separate ways.
Smarty the Cat
The cats spent most of their days outside, but otherwise lived in the main house. Smarty was the queen of the house and also one of the main reasons for our visit. She is diabetic and needs twice daily injections at specific times. Since our host was commuting back and forth to Granada, we were there to help take care of Smarty and the others to free up her time.
All of the Cats
The remaining cats were all special in their own way, as cats generally are. They each had a personality that could put the whole village to shame. Charlie is a lovely Siamese cat who regularly reverts back to being feral. He is a bit scruffy and easily spooked, but enjoys the occasional pet, as long as it lasts no more than 13 seconds. I honestly didn’t see Pepper very often, and when I did, it was only long enough for her to leer at me. Benjamin acted much the same. Although, they did look alike, so I don’t actually know for sure if only one of them hated me or they both did. [Editor’s note: I got to pet Pepper, and she’s sweet :p]
We arrived at the house while our host was out, so we sat on the terrace and got to know three of the more curious cats. To pass the time, we gave them each a name. The smallest of the bunch (Raya) was very pretty, sweet, but also a little saucy. We named her Sansa. Bentley, who we later found out was a proper little gentleman, was temporarily named Princess Fluff. He is adorably fluffy and could easily pass for a pretty little lady. Finally, there is Maximus, whom we had named Tank. We weren’t too far off. He is a big boy who loves pets, but also enjoys being in charge.
Our Lives House Sitting in Andalusia
Again, this sit was a little different than most due to the hosts being on-site. But we were able to maintain our regular routines of work and adventure without any problems. We were up early each morning to feed the cats and administer Smarty’s medication. Then it was time for a little bit of chat time with our host over tea or coffee. From there, the afternoon was pretty much ours. I would water the plants and do one major chore each day, but otherwise spent most of my time either working, reading (Infinity Born by Douglas E. Richards), or meditating.
In the evenings we ate out for dinner, rotating among the three restaurants in the village (when they were open, which wasn’t often). There was another evening shift of feeding and medicating the cats, but overall the evenings were incredibly peaceful and cool. It was my favorite time of the day. I often found myself just sitting on the terrace and watching the sunset. Again, don’t be surprised when I announce that we’re moving permanently.
Get excited for nearly a month’s worth of Andalusia adventures coming up! The region is famous for their food, so we obviously ate everything we could get our hands on. We took our usual daily walks through the village, but also explored a little farther afoot. Our adventures while house sitting in Andalusia took us to neighboring villages as well as an unforgettable trip to Granada. We love Spain and I can’t wait to tell everyone why. Stay tuned!
While house sitting on Lake Zurich, we had the pleasure of staying in a stunning, hill side home with two adorable dogs.
After an amazing house sit in Germany, it was time to move south to Switzerland. For our next European adventure, we spent a little over a week house sitting on Lake Zurich. We traveled 200 miles in a little less than four hours by bus to get from Karlsruhe to Zurich. Then another 20 minutes on a train (that cost about the same amount as our four hour bus ride!) to get to the lovely Swiss town of Männedorf.
I’ve always boasted that my home town in Idaho is the most beautiful place on earth. Upon arrival in Switzerland, I was forced to rethink my stance on the subject. Switzerland is hands-down the most stunningly beautiful place I have ever been. It is a country packed with tall mountains, lush hills, and crystal clear lakes. The streets are clean, the food is delicious, and the people are model-level beautiful.
Switzerland is located in central Europe and bordered by Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, France, and Italy. Because of this, the country actually has four national languages including German, Italian, French, and Romansh. While in Zurich, we mostly heard German, but even then there was a local dialect that is spoken among more than half of the population called Swiss German.
Männedorf is the most adorable little village, nestled on the shores of Lake Zurich about 13 miles south of the city. Scientists suggest that the area has been populated since the stone age. However, the first official settlement was established in the 700s! Now, the small village of around 12,000 people is one of the many agglomerations of the grand city of Zurich.
While house sitting on Lake Zurich, we had the pleasure of staying in a stunning hillside home. The main house (there was also an on-site office and a cottage apartment) had three bedrooms and two bathrooms, kitchen, large dining room, living room, gym, and an office. My favorite part of the home, however, was the deck and infinity pool overlooking Lake Zurich.
Our hosts were a married couple, a doctor and a photographer, and both of their personalities came through in the house. It was beautifully decorated with an artist’s eye for colors and negative space. Much of the space was dedicated to physical and mental health, including a meditation room, sauna, and an organic vegetable garden.
We had the privilege of meeting the hosts both before and after the sit. They were a remarkable couple that really inspired us to live healthier lives and use our strengths to do some good in the world. We were served a delicious local meal upon our arrival and shared some great conversation over drinks.
Charlie was a doll who became instantly attached to Josh. I once tried to take him on a walk without Josh but Charlie just refused to go. He was loyal and loving. His favorite things were sleeping near the windows and following Josh. Charlie slept under Josh’s feet while he worked, next to him on the floor when we watched tv (specifically, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo), and even snuck upstairs to sleep on the floor near the bed. Those two were inseparable.
If Charlie was “Josh’s dog” then Tiffy was definitely “my dog”. She was the cutest thing and would tip tap behind me everywhere I went. I’d like to think it is because she liked me as much a Charlie liked Josh, but I think it was more because she knew I was the one who served dinner. She enjoyed snoozing on her bed and treats. Tiffy didn’t beg for pets very often, but when she did, I loved the way she would squirm and wiggle to get every little bit of attention.
Like most of the places we visit, we made some adjustments to our usual schedules to better fit our new home. For this house sit, we added a lot more health-focused activities to our daily routine. We did meditation daily and found it to really improve our productivity and happiness. Josh used the gym regularly and I could often be found relaxing in the garden.
Although the weather was a bit off and on, we walked and explored each day. We loved the area and the kindness of the neighbors. Our favorite bakery was only a few blocks away and it didn’t take long for the cashiers to begin to recognize us. We toured just about all of the area and even made a couple of trips up to Zurich and south to the old town of Rappersville. There was so much to see and we made every effort to see it all. We didn’t, of course, but we still had an amazing time.
Here is my surprisingly long list of free things to do in Karlsruhe, Germany.
Because Karlsruhe was our first stop in Europe we ended up being a little tighter with our money than usual. Mostly, we were nervous about all of the upcoming unknowns, like travel costs, booking more house sits, that sort of thing. Thankfully, we found a ton to do in Karlsruhe and all of it was FREE!!! Here is my surprisingly long list of free things to do in Karlsruhe, Germany.
Bicycling is very popular in Karlsruhe, so bike lanes are prevalent and well-maintained. Even better, the entire city is quite flat, making it easy to go for a nice, relaxing ride. We were lucky enough to have bikes provided for us at our house sit in Karlsruhe and at our AirBnB on the other side of town. If free access isn’t an option, bikes are available to rent throughout the city for around €15 per day. There are miles and miles of paths outside of the city, winding through beautiful farmland, villages, and forested reserves. For more info, check out the suggested Karlsruhe Cycling Routes on MapMyRide.
Biking was one of our favorite free things to do in Karlsruhe. One particularly good ride was along the Rhine River, ending at the border with France. Starting at the Maxau Train Station and turning around at Rheinkiosk Seyfert beer garden, we rode for 14 miles (23km) round-trip. The ride included views of the Rhine River, one of the most efficient steam power plants in the world, an outdoor swimming area, and wooded reserves packed with singing birds.
The area near the palace also held a bunch of free things to do in Karlsruhe. When looking at a map of of the city, there is an obvious ring road called Adenauaerring. Within that there is a smaller, less obvious ring, that encircles Karlsruhe Palace. It was inside this smaller loop that we found enough free things to see and do to keep us busy for an entire sunny afternoon.
Schlossplatz square hosts an amazing frontal view of Karlsruhe Palace, an 18th century beauty that sits in the center of downtown. In front of the palace is a grassy area decorated with running water features and lined with white Grecian statues. The grassy was so beautifully designed and maintained, and was packed with people picnicking, lounging, and children playing the running water. I wish we’d had the foresight to come with a bit of cheese and bread for a picnic of our own!
Tickets for the palace tour cost €12. Or, you could tour Karlsruhe Palace for FREE on Fridays between 2PM and 6PM. However, we opted to wander the square and look at the statues, admire the palace, and do a bit of discreet people-watching. Simply walking around the palace made for an enjoyable afternoon.
Karlsruhe Botanical Garden
Located in the Southwest quadrant of the circle, Karlsruhe Botanical Gardens in one of the gems of the city. It costs €3 to enter the glass houses, but the outdoor area is free. The outdoor garden isn’t as impressive, but definitely worth a visit. We were lucky enough to come in the spring when everything was in bloom. Like the grassy area in the square, the outdoor garden seemed to be a popular place for locals to hang out and relax.
The majority of the remaining area within the inner loop is the downtown park. There are expansive lawns, a pond, tree lined walkways, and hidden sculpture gardens. We walked nearly all of the paths and watched the birds that hung out near the pond. I even spotted my first Mandarin Duck!
ZKM – Center for Art and Media
Started in 1989 and housed inside of a retired arms and ammunition factory, the ZKM is a modern art museum dedicated to bringing classical art into the digital age. I would have never expected this amazing museum to be on the list of free things to do in Karlsruhe, but here it is! On most days, the adult admission to the ZKM is €7. However, the ZKM exhibitions are free every Friday after 2:00PM. We visited during one such Friday afternoon and could have easily spent the entire day exploring the unique museum.
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays
Open Wednesday through Friday from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM
The exhibitions change regularly, but I wanted to share the ones we were lucky enough to see. My favorite was Negative Space, a sculpture exhibition that will be running until November 2019. “The aim of the exhibition is to rethink the relationship between sculpture and space in a decidedly spatial way,” says the ZKM website.
zkm_gamplay. the next level
As fans of video games, this was another highlight of the museum. Running until December 2021, zkm_gameplay. the next level is a multi level exhibition focusing on a few themes. The first level encompassed retro games and gaming culture. There were retro arcade games available to play and oldmemorable consoles on display. Second was all about the possibilities of modern narratives in gaming. Third were aesthetic and creative games. These were all lovely works of art in their own right.
The fourth level was our particular favorite. This section included political games. One such game was The Democracy Machine that pit two players against each other and asked them to vote on a “yes” or “no” topic. If the two people disagreed, the goal of the game was then to debate until the players came to an agreement.
I know I’ve already listed two favorites, but would be OK if I listed this one too? We found this exhibition particularly moving due less to the art on display and more because of the message: “We live in a world created, controlled[sic] and controlled by data. Digital codes shape our present and have a profound impact on all areas of our lives, economy and society, politics and justice.” – ZKM Open Codes. Each display was fairly high tech and demonstrated the power of data. Upon entry, for example, we walked past several monitors that reflected us in different ways. One of the spookiest was the screen that estimated information about us simply by capturing us on video.
With only a short time in this amazing city, we only scratched the surface of all the free things to do in Karlsruhe. Still, we had an great time, and can’t wait to come back and explore even more.
After an amazing journey across the Atlantic Ocean, we arrived in Europe to begin the next leg of our world travels. We started it all off with a house sit in Karlsruhe, Germany. Truth be told, I’m not sure we would have ever gone to Karlsruhe if not for this sit, but I’m so glad we did. It was a city unlike any we’ve been to before, with natural beauty, a great art scene, delicious food, and the most down-to-earth people. We loved Karlsruhe and are already looking for an opportunity to go back.
Karlsruhe is in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, located in the southwest corner of Germany. The city’s western border sits on the Rhine River, which separates Germany and France. As the city lies exactly on the 49th parallel (same as the border of Canada and USA), the climate is consistently a little bit chilly but can rarely be called hot or cold. However, it is said to be one of the sunniest cities in Germany.
Our Karlsruhe home was located in the far northwest corner of the city, literally on the edge of town. However, everything we needed was within walking distance: grocery store, bakery, park, and several restaurants and pubs. Our hosts were gracious enough to let us use their bikes, which extended our range quite a bit, and there was a train station right nearby, so we had full access to the city anytime we wanted.
Exploring the area was a challenge at first, in part because it seemed like no one wanted to talk to us. We would smile and nod at each person we passed on the bikes or at the markets and received nothing in return, sometimes not even eye contact. A little digging around on the internet revealed this to be a quirk of the local culture. It turns out our attempts to be polite were viewed as attempts to start a conversation, hard to do when one party is riding past on a bicycle. Once we got the kinks ironed out, we found the local people to be incredibly welcoming, kind, and truly hilarious. Scattered among the homes were tiny pubs, each one only large enough to seat a dozen people. We popped into one on Easter simply out of boredom and ended up having an amazing day chatting with some locals. The quote of the day was “Do all Americans really smile this much?” On another occasion, I nearly plowed into a small child on my bike. I stopped just in time, but in a horribly embarrassing fashion. The parent didn’t start yelling at me or threaten me. Instead, he began laughing and offered a hand to help me back up and going. We found the people of Karlsruhe to be the true highlight of the trip with so much kindness and a penchant for fun and laughter.
Our home in Karlsruhe ended up being quite a bit larger than we were originally expecting. It was a three-bedroom home with three partial bathrooms (two rooms with toilets and one room with a tub). There was a large kitchen and dining room combo along with two large living areas. The best part of the home, however was the beautiful outdoor area with the large back deck and garden that looked onto a pond. Neighboring properties in the area are on sale for around $650,000.
We slept in the master bedroom on the main floor. The whole house was very comfortable and functional, but had some fun and interesting quirks. For one thing, all of the light switches were pull-strings. It was very curious at first, but we eventually found it to pretty common place throughout Europe. Another was the mysterious yellow wedge in the bathroom. Next to each of the bathroom sinks was a small football shaped block attached to the wall. We had no idea what it was at first, wondering if maybe it was some sort of strange wall art. Eventually, my complaints about the lack of soap in the bathrooms tipped me off to the realization that the “art” was actually bar soap. Once I figured it out, I really liked the idea of having soap that wasn’t constantly sticking into the counter.
Due to the timing of our arrival, we were unable to meet our hosts at the beginning of our sit in Karlsruhe. Instead we met their father, who put our German language skills to shame with his beautiful English and even better Spanish. We were lucky enough to meet the whole family for a dinner party upon their return. Some of their friends showed up as well and we talked and laughed well into the wee hours of the night. We left feeling delightfully full, and our faces hurt from all of the smiling and laughter.
Our fur-babies for the house sit in Karlsruhe were two independent cats named Ruhchen and Suri. They didn’t speak English and even if they did, I am sure they would have ignored us. But we enjoyed their company and they seemed to tolerate us well enough. We even got a number of “presents” in the mornings, so we must have done something right. Haha!
Ruhchen seemed constantly disappointed in us. We apparently didn’t open the door the right way, sit on the couch in the right formation, or walk down the stairs in the correct cadence. He tried each day to train us, but seemed constantly befuddled by our lack of understanding. When he wasn’t judging us, he was either playing in the tall grass, snoozing on the couch, or eating.
Suri, on the other hand, was very easy going. If I didn’t open the door the way she liked, she walked the extra couple of feet to let herself in through the cat door. She enjoyed regular tickles, sleeping in the top bunk of the kids’ bunk beds, and napping at Josh’s feet while he worked… I think she just really enjoyed napping.
Life house sitting in Karlsruhe was pretty great. Ruhchen and Suri were easy going and the house was very little trouble. This left us with plenty of time to really see the area. The weather was all over the place with several chilly and rainy days, but also several warm and sunny days. We took advantage of each, using the sunny days to ride our bikes and the rainy to try new foods. Karlsruhe had so much to offer and left us wishing we had more time to see it all. It was a great way to start off our European adventure, and we can’t wait to get back and see more of Germany.
This is a long post outlining our lives during the NINE sea days during our Royal Caribbean Atlantic Ocean crossing.
At the end of March, we set sail from Florida to Italy on an Atlantic Ocean crossing onboard Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas. It was a 14 day journey that included nine days at sea, as well as stops at the Azores, Gibraltar, Alicante, and Valencia. When I told people we were doing this, the first question was almost always about the large number of “Sea Days”. These are days that are spent entirely at sea. What does one do at sea? Did we get sick? Did we feel scared? All of this and more coming up after this message from my affiliate link. *Cue the theme music!
What’s Included In the Ocean Crossing?
The standard cruise ticket is nearly all-inclusive. It included our room, transportation, entertainment, and food. Our ocean crossing room was as advertised and included a twice-daily cleaning by our floor steward. Transportation from Florida to Rome was complementary, but port transportation is our responsibility. Entertainment was included except for a long list of specialty events that require a small fee. The free activities are pretty much anything one might do at a summer camp or a retirement facility. Everything else, like Sushi Making Class, Spin Class, Wine Tasting, and Mystery Dinner Theater, all come at an extra cost. The final category is food, which is pretty straightforward. The complementary food does not include alcohol, soda, or premium coffee (though black coffee is plentiful). It also excludes “Specialty Dining”, which on our boat included Chops Grill (steak house), Giovanni’s Table (Italian), Izumi (sushi), and Chef’s Table (I didn’t even look at the menu after seeing the prices).
Each evening, our steward left a schedule of events for the following day. It also included some information about our location, the weather forecast, opening times of the various venues, and daily health and safety updates. For travelers of the Organized persuasion, I suggest packing a highlighter to more easily navigate the sea days. Just be sure to schedule in some nap time. There is nothing like getting rocked to sleep by the waves.
Anyone who has ever roomed with me knows that I am a prompt eater. I am hungry from the second I wake up in the morning and it is best for all of those around me that I eat immediately. This is why I almost always opt for on-board room service in the morning. Although room service is always an option, it is only free at breakfast. I order us a pot of coffee, orange juice, and pastries. We often ate breakfast in bed while watching the pre-recorded British game shows. Our favorite shows were The Chase and The Tipping Point. They are both dumb, but in all of the right ways.
There were a couple of times during our ocean crossing that Josh was willing to risk his life to put off breakfast long enough for us to walk up to a different breakfast option. One option is in the formal dining room. We had the option of sitting with other people or by ourselves. Due to my “condition” we usually found it best to eat alone. In addition to the buffet tables, the formal dining room also had a new made-to-order menu each day. The other option is the Windjammer Cafe. It is the informal buffet on the pool deck that offers a lot of great options. In addition to the obligatory coffee and juice, I often made myself a yogurt parfait paired with some sliced meat and cheeses. Josh preferred the heavier options like pancakes, eggs to order, and hash browns.
After breakfast, Josh and I would part ways for our separate fitness routines. For sea days, I enjoyed taking a few laps around the track on the 12th deck. As the second highest deck, the 12th deck running track offers amazing views and high winds. I enjoyed the nice breeze and direct sunlight for my morning walk. At 9:30AM, I joined a few other passengers for Morning Stretch, Poolside. By 10:00AM, I was grabbing one more cup of coffee and heading down to the 6th deck for Progressive Trivia.
Josh was a little more dedicated than I was. During his morning workout, he would hit the complimentary gym. The gym is also on the 12th deck, but located inside at the front of the ship, with a big glass wall that provides an awesome view of the ocean. Once he finished his workout session, he would climb the stairs back to the room on the 2nd deck, shower, then climb back up to the 6th deck to meet me for Progressive Trivia. Although climbing stairs was not a scheduled part of our workout, it was a daily… no, hourly part of the routine during our ocean crossing.
I’ve found that a large percentage of the people who cruise enjoy trivia. The ship’s entertainment staff has taken notice over the years and has packed the schedule with opportunities for us to show off our sick skillz… and by “our”, I of course mean “Josh’s”. First of the day was the 10:15AM Progressive Trivia. This was THE trivia event of the ocean crossing cruise. The sessions were daily (sea days only) and the scores were cumulative over the length of the ocean crossing. We had a team of six called The Imperfect Strangers. We lost pretty miserably, but overall had a lot of fun and enjoyed each other’s company.
While Progressive Trivia was general trivia questions, there were other themed trivia quizzes throughout the day. We often enjoyed the 1:30PM Visual Trivia after lunch. As the score wasn’t cumulative, we regularly switched up our teams among whichever of our new friends was closest when the questions started. There was also 4:30PM Afternoon Trivia, which I usually slept through (nap time), and finally, 7:00PM Music Trivia. We were picky about the Music Trivia and only attended on the days where we liked the theme. My two favorites were 80’s Music Trivia and Color Music Trivia. In both of those, we placed second.
Lectures and Learning
One of my favorite onboard activities during the sea days are the dance lessons. They are rarely traditional lessons about the counts and steps, but instead a choreographed dance. Josh and I enjoyed new dances in tango, merengue, and line dancing. The tango was our favorite, as it was taught by the stage dancers from the night before. They were amazing performers and we loved the seriousness of their faces and movements.
Royal Caribbean has done a great job over the last year in adding more learning activities to their entertainment lineup during sea days. From their Lecture Series, I enjoyed water color lessons from a professional artist, the history and culture of Alicante by a professor of history, and a lecture and demonstration of classical music by an amazing pianist. Even our entertainment director provided some great lectures with one of the best star gazing experiences I’ve ever had and two rounds of Italian lessons (he was a native Italian). Throughout the cruise my belly was full and my brain enriched.
Although we tested out the formal dining room for lunch a couple of times, I definitely preferred the flexibility of the Windjammer Cafe. I usually had either iced tea or lemonade to drink then eyeballed my way through the buffet counters, which included sections for sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, breads, soups, carved meats, fruits, and vegetables. My favorite was the international option, which rotated daily. Throughout the ocean crossing, I had paella, curry, tacos, and sausages. They were all delightful and a nice way to mix up our usual lunch routine.
The other special bit about lunch was that I decided it would be our indulgence meal (as if they all weren’t). Each day after lunch, I would visit the dessert buffet and collect the top three best looking dishes. We would move into our faux French, food judge voice and rank the desserts from top to bottom. I would by lying if I didn’t say it was the highlight of my day.
I was rarely impressed with the afternoon entertainment offerings on the sea days. Instead, Josh and I would often enjoy a post-lunch round of “I’m Better Than You”, where we rotated from activity to activity competing for pre-nap-time dominance. First up was a round or seven of ping pong. Next, a game of mini-golf. And finally, a verbal round of “I think today is the day you should climb the rock wall”. I lost nearly all of the games every day: hence the verbal round of rock climbing. If I had won the verbal match, it would have fully made its way into the rotation.
After getting killed over and over again in our games of skill, it was time for a nap. We don’t usually take naps, but there is something about being on a cruise boat that makes even non-nappers want an afternoon snooze. To top it off, we traveled through several time zones throughout the ocean crossing, requiring the loss of one hour almost every sea day. That sort of daily time shift can really mess with a person’s sleep patterns.
Post Nap Cocktails
We were a bit groggy when we woke up around 4:30PM. This was when we buy our single, pre-budgeted drink. The price for beers start at $7.25. The cheapest cocktail is the Drink of the Day, which runs for $8. Both are way out of our price range, so we agreed to limit ourselves to one or less per day. I liked to grab the Drink of the Day after my nap and sit in the central bar to listen to my favorite on-board band, Rosario Strings, two guys playing guitar and violin. They played a little bit of everything, from classical music to current pop. It was an excellent way to wake back up before dinner.
Although the Windjammer and other restaurants are open for dinner, I prefer to spend my dinners in the formal dining room. It is a great opportunity to enjoy quality food and company. We were booked to enjoy dinner at 5:30PM each day at table 38. We met our seven other table mates, head waitress, and secondary waitress on the first day and continued to eat with them each day throughout the ocean crossing.
Our head waitress Olena was from Ukraine and our other waitress Ju’an was from China. They were wonderful and attentive. I enjoy having the same wait staff each day, if for no other reason than to have one friend on staff. I know if something went wrong or if I needed anything, there were at least those two women that I felt comfortable enough to go to.
Dining Table Mates
Our table mates made for more great connections. There is nothing quite like walking through a new “town” and already knowing a few people. We stopped and asked about their scores each morning at trivia and asked about their thoughts on the show each evening before bed. It was like having friends included with our trip!
I could go on and on about our table mates, but I’ll keep it short. We sat with a couple from the USA who had interesting stories about living abroad for work. Another couple was from New Zealand and traveling full-time through their retirement. We enjoyed talking to them about their travels as well as their travel book, Off Our Rockers. The table also had two teachers from Canada, one of which killed us in trivia on a regular basis. Finally, a woman from the USA who was traveling solo and had all of the inside information. She was a book of useful knowledge (did you know Royal Caribbean has shareholder discounts?!). We could not have asked for a better group of people to enjoy our socializing time with.
After dinner, it was time for the show. Each evening, a stage show was hosted by the Entertainment Director. Most of the time, these shows are really hit and miss. However, I was very impressed with (nearly) all of the stage shows on this ocean crossing. There were a few of the usual Broadway-esque performances done by the onboard performers. Otherwise, the majority of the performances were unique and reached for outside talent.
I was particularly fond of these outside performers. They included a couple of comedians, tango dancers, singers, a pianist, violinist, magician, and juggler. Josh and I were big fans of the pianist, who was not only an excellent musician but a great showman as well. We also really enjoyed the juggler. His jokes weren’t to our taste, but his juggling abilities were beyond anything I had ever seen before.
Because of the near-daily time change, we often went to bed shortly after the show. But the rest of the boat partied on into the wee hours of the night. One of the evenings, I watched Bohemian Rhapsody by the pool. Not only is it an excellent movie, but I was given a blanket and pillow for my viewing pleasure, which made the movie under the stars a little extra special. Another night, we participated in The Quest Adult Game Show. It is a new specialty of Royal Caribbean that mixes scavenger hunts and In the Bag. We were more than a little embarrassed by the end, but had a great time. Here is a video I found on YouTube. Although it was not the same one we went to, it was very similar:
Ports of Call
When were weren’t enjoying the sea days surrounded by the ocean, we were parked at a port of call. Most of the time, the boats park in the late morning and stay until the early evening. This doesn’t leave a ton of time to explore, but it does create an opportunity for us to feel the land under our feet. For this crossing, we sailed from Miami to Ponta Delgada in the Azores, Gibraltar, two ports in Spain (Alicante and Valencia), and finally to the nearest port to Rome, Civitavecchia.
Royal Caribbean is there to help with anyone needing travel arrangements. There are plenty of shore excursions to keep passengers busy while in port. We did not take any of the excursions and instead opted to just walk around. I like to leave after breakfast, come back to the boat for a free lunch, then head back out for a little bit longer before coming back for dinner. I’ve already paid a lot of money to eat onboard, I’m going to take full advantage of it! Thankfully, entering and exiting is very easy. We were able to come and go at our leisure… and didn’t even go through customs (more on this later).
I hope I have painted a good picture of our life onboard. Next up, our first steps into Europe during the first port of call: Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal!
After six months exploring the Eastern Hemisphere, six months and 10,000 miles in the USA, we are now on our way to our next big adventure: Europe!! But why live the life of an every day European traveler when there is a chance for me to make things more complicated? Rather than fly to Europe, we opted for a 14 day, trans-Atlantic cruise. That’s right, we’re on a “mother f*cking boat!” sailing from Miami, Florida to Civitavecchia, Italy.
I Put My Toes in the Water
It has been on my bucket list to do a “crossing” for quite some time. But, given our somewhat precarious financial situation, that in itself might not be a good enough motivation for actually doing it. So, here is my financial break-down of why cruising was actually a super clever idea:
We had obligations scheduled at Mom’s house from March 7 to March 28.
Mom doesn’t have internet at her house, so we can’t make any money.
Our first European house sit was booked in Germany for April 13.
With these facts in mind, it was challenging to work out the perfect financial balance. We needed to move on from Mom’s house ASAP so that we could make money (we work online, after all), but we didn’t want to show up to Europe too soon and have to pay expensive EU prices. What’s a girl to do? Make a spreadsheet, of course!
Beyond the Sea
Let’s say we were to fly to Europe on the 28th. Thankfully, flights from Orlando to Frankfurt are really quite affordable at an average of $400 one-way. That brings us to one full day of travel and a loss of $800, leaving us with 15 days between landing and our first sit. Assuming we stayed in Germany for that time, we would make an average of $20 per day by working online for 14 of the days. However, we would also have to spend an average of $50 per night on a budget hotel and $25 for food. Without any entertainment or inter-city travel, that puts us at +$280 for work and -$1080 for living expenses. Altogether, we’d be looking at paying a minimum of around $1600 to fly and stay in Europe.
Now let’s look at checking off my bucket list idea of cruising. The price for two tickets for an inside room for 14 days was $1,768. That includes room, transportation, food, and entertainment. It does not include internet or the $28 per day gratuity charge. Thankfully, we saved up $200 of on-board credit from our credit card reward points. This brought the final cruise bill to $1,960.
In conclusion, it was definitely more expensive to take the cruise than it was to fly, but not by much. However, by doing the crossing, I was able to tick an item off my bucket list, eat delicious 5-star meals, see nightly shows, visit two new countries, and make a ton of new friends. I’d say it was 100% worth the extra $350.
Just A Dream and the Wind to Carry Me
With my calculations complete, we opted to forgo the usual flight to Europe and instead booked passage on a ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. We sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas for 14 days from Miami to Rome’s nearest port, Civitavecchia. The crossing took us through a total of nine sea days along with stops in the Azores, Gibraltar, Alicante, and Valencia.
Ocean Front Property
There were some early issues with our bookings which led us to getting a different room than the one we’d originally booked. We ended up down on the second floor, directly across from the crew’s quarters. It was so far off the beaten path that there was only one set of stairs that led to it rather than the usual two. On the positive side, we got a lot of exercise from climbing up to the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth floors. We had a port-hole window, which was nice, but when the seas got rough (and they did), our window had to be covered by a steel plate, essentially turning it into an inside-cabin, which often sells for nearly half the price of an outside cabin.
That said, the room itself was actually quite nice and comfortable. After spending several months in the van, it felt really spacious. We had a bed, two night stands, couch and coffee table, TV, desk, closet, and bathroom. The bathroom wasn’t big enough for two people, but had plenty of space for one person to comfortably move around.
Eating Cake By the Ocean (Actual Cake)
It is well known that cruises are all about the food. Though I disagree with the “all about” portion of that statement, I can’t deny that food plays a really big role. We almost always ordered coffee, orange juice, and assorted pastries through the free room service each morning. There were several options for lunch, but we most often visited the buffet. The buffet always included meats and cheeses, salad bar, hamburger and pizza station, a rotating international foods station, and a dessert buffet. For dinner, we opted for the 5:30 meal time in the “formal” dining room. We shared a table with eight other people and were served delicious three-to-five course meals.
Full Time to Floatin’
The ship had a lot to offer as far as entertainment. Each night, I received a schedule of the following day’s events and activities. Every night I went through it with highlighter in hand to plan out the next day for maximum fun-ness. The scheduled daily entertainment included trivia contests, scavenger hunts, and wellness activities. Each evening there was a scheduled stage show. My previous cruises told me that only 50% of the shows are any good; however, this particular ship provided excellent stage entertainment. I was floored with all but two of the 13 shows. For the late evening, there was karaoke, dancing, and adult-themed games.
In addition to the scheduled activities, there were magazines and board games, pool tables, ping pong tables, rock wall, mini-golf course, video-game arcade, movie theater, pool, shuffle board, shops, bars, and more. Needless to say, we did not get bored on this trip! On the contrary, we lost some weight taking yoga and dances classes, and made a name for ourselves as the Sudoku and chopsticks masters (long story).
I’m Sailing Away
I’m so glad we opted to take a ship across to Europe instead of fly. It was an amazing experience I will never forget. We ate delicious foods, met amazingly talented people, and saw new places. I love trying new things, especially when it comes to transportation and travel. Join me as I recall our adventures at sea over the next couple of blog posts. Stay tuned. Europe is coming!