The Nine Sea Days of Our Ocean Crossing

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).

Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas. Saturday, March 30, 2019. At Sea. Day Two. List of activities and events happening on board during the sea day.

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.

Breakfast

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.

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Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

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.

Onboard Fitness

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.

Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas Stairs

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.

Trivia

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.

Jen and Josh holding their Imperfect Strangers team trivia certificate. Progressive Trivia held over the nine sea days.

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.

Sea Days Boat Competition - The Places We Live

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.

Try my favorite language learning app, Duolingo!

Lunch

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.

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Photo by Kaitlin Dowis on Unsplash

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.

Leisure Time

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.

Royal Caribbean Ocean Crossing Leisure - The Places We Live

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.

Booking a cruise? We booked through LEG Travel.

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.

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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.

Stage Shows

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.

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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.

Late Night

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.

Alicante Spain - The Places We Live

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!




Come Sail Away

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:

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  • 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.

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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.

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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.

Our Room.jpg

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Working on a Vineyard in Iowa

In our last two posts, we talked about our HipCamp stay at 99 Bottles Winery and Vineyard in Hayfield, Iowa. In the description, the host offered campers an opportunity to work in exchange for a free night. We’ve visited plenty of wineries, but never worked on one before. It seemed like a great way to save a little cash and try something new, so I paid for one night and requested to work in exchange for an additional night. Our hosts seemed happy to have a couple extra hands around and asked us to swing by the house some time after 9AM to get started on our first task.

♦ Save $20 on your first HipCamp stay. Click HERE! ♦

Picking Grapes

The first item of business was to collect our supplies. We would be needing scissors (I found the kid size gave me more maneuverability, while Josh liked the cutting power of the adult scissors) and a bucket. Next, we needed grapes. Due to a picking party that was hosted at the vineyard the weekend before, there weren’t many grapes left, but there were a few patches of unpicked areas among the various grape varieties.

Jen from The Places We Live is working on a vineyard. She clips purple grapes off a vine

The aim of the game was to collect as many grapes as possible. The hard part was the sorting. We had to check each cluster before throwing them in our buckets, checking for ripeness and bugs. Grapes that are too young are sour and will throw off the flavor of the final product, so we needed only the plumpest, juiciest grapes. The bugs (mostly ladybugs, but some ants and larger beetles too) loved those juicy grapes, and apparently burrow inside to lay their eggs, which are obviously not what you want in a delicious glass of wine. So we did our best to get rid of as many as possible, checking the grapes to make sure they hadn’t been nibbled on or infested. It was challenging at first, but I started to get the hang of it and ended up really enjoying the challenge of collecting the perfect cluster of grapes.

Sorting

After about an hour, we had collected several buckets of grapes, and our host announced the official end of that year’s grape harvest, prompting an audible sigh of relief. Next up was the sorting. This was a fairly easy process thanks to a nifty sorting machine and the small collection that we had collected. There were several different types of grapes, but if it was to produce any wine, they had to be put together as a single batch.

Josh from The Places We Live is working on a vineyard. He is dumping buckets of grapes into a machine that separates the grapes from the stems.

Josh helped the host hoist the buckets of grape clusters into the sorting machine. The small and simple looking machine separated the grapes from the vines. One side of the machine spit out leaves and twigs while the other side neatly collected individual grapes.

Our host said he liked to feed the leftover leaves and bits to the steers, who seemed to really enjoy the flavor, being covered in tasty grape juice. In addition, their behavior after eating the fermented snack gave our hosts and their neighbors a good laugh.

The Squish

I assisted in the squishing process (technically called “pressing”, but squishing sounds more fun). During the picking parties that the vineyard hosts each fall, the guests are invited to stomp the grapes with their feet. This year, there was even a contest that apparently got very competitive. We, however, squished the grapes in a more modern fashion.

A mesh cylinder sits on top of a red basin. Inside there is a black bladder and clumps of grapes. At the bottom of the basin, there is a lip that is pouring out green liquid.

We took Josh’s sorted buckets of grapes and dumped them into the open top of a mesh cylinder. At the center of the cylinder was a large bladder attached to a hose. The bottom was balanced on a grooved, round dish. Once the grapes were all in the cylinder, we gently pumped up the bladder. As the bladder got larger, it squished the grapes up against the sides of the mesh wall. The fresh and fragrant juice escaped out the holes in the mesh, where it was collected in the grooved dish and funneled into a new bucket. By the end of the squish, we had several gallons of grape juice.

From Juice to Almost Wine

Our barrel of grape juice was moved into the wine making room with the others. Our host had yet to decide what he was going to do with it, so it was covered and set aside for a while. However, we then got to help out with some of the other wines in progress. We checked a few of the fermenting barrels, and Josh helped add a little extra yeast to a few that needed a little extra encouragement. We also checked the settling tanks (the big steel ones in the picture), which are used for removing sediments from the wine once the fermentation is complete. The wine in these tanks undergoes several rounds of removing particulate matter and sterilization before bottling, which is one thing we didn’t get to do.

A room full of large white trash cans sit in the middle of a floor. The walls of the room are lined with plastic tubs and large steel tubs. Each trash can is covered with a white cloth. Inside one of the trash cans smashed, purple grapes are visible

Wine in Our Bellies

Once the wine was ready to rest, it was time for some tasting. 99 Bottles Winery and Vineyard has an adorable tasting room complete with a bar, both an indoor and outdoor seating area, and bathrooms. Each wine is made in small batches and is sold locally, either at the winery or at some of the nearby markets.

A flight of wine from 99 Bottles Winery and Vineyard. The Youngest Child is a white, The Middle Child is a red, and The Oldest Child is a white. The Oldest Child also shows the label: Semi-sweet white table wine. It's delicious! Get the keys from your little sister. Somebody has to be the responsible one.

The various flavors of wine are family-themed, with names like The Black Sheep, The Only Child, and Bird Dog Red, which was named after one of their retired family pets. One of the owner’s children designs all of the labeling and does an excellent job at it. Each description not only accurately describes the wine, but the member of the family it represents. A silver medal winner at the Iowa State Fair, The Youngest Child is a semi-sweet wine. With a  description like “adorable and sweet, and maybe a little whiny”, the wine is aptly named.

We had such a great time working on a vineyard! Picking grapes was the perfect way to spend a sunny morning, and what’s more, drinking the literal fruits of our labor was the perfect way to spend a quiet afternoon. I could not have asked for more from this excellent example of experience-based travel.


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The Places We Live – Sherwood, Tennessee, USA

While most of these posts have been about the house sits we’ve done, The Places We Live now includes a farm in Sherwood, Tennessee. Over the years, the farm has been transformed to include a horse camp and campground called The Bolo Club, which hosts RVs and tent campers alike. We booked our stay on HipCamp for $20/night and spent five days enjoying a quiet spot overlooking a field, stream, and wooded hills. We also took some time to explore the nearby towns and the University of the South, a small, private university about twenty minutes away. Hold onto your hats as we take you on our adventure through the rural South!

Sherwood, Tennesee

Map of the USA with Tennessee highlighted, also featuring New York, California, and Idaho. Collage includes University of the South, a green field, and the Nashville skyline. Tennesse, USA. ThePlacesWe.Live

The state of Tennessee is bordered by eight(!) different states: Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas. It was the 16th state to join the union and fought on the side of the Confederacy in the Civil War. Tennessee is called “The Volunteer State” due to its regular recruitment of soldiers in America’s early history. The state is now home to 6 million people and growing, quickly, thanks to an influx of industry and the relatively low cost of living.

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Sherwood is located just North of the Alabama border; as a matter of fact, I could’ve easily walked to Alabama from our parking spot behind the barn. At one time, Sherwood lay at the intersection of several local Native American trails and hosted a stagecoach stop. Later in its history, a mining company moved in and dug out a lime quarry, boosting the population to just over two thousand people. Since then, the quarry has closed down and the town has shrunk to a permanent population of just five-hundred and fifty. It was quite a transition from the cramped and busy streets we had become used to, but a welcome one, as it reminded us a lot of home.

Our Home

White passenger van with hatch up covered in mosquito netting. The van is parked on a green field with wooded hills in the background. A barn is visible behind the van. The Places We Live

The Bolo Club, our home for this stretch of the journey, is actually several miles outside of town, with the nearest neighbors living out of sight. The farm and its lands have belonged to the Stubblefield family since the late 1920s. The campground (technically an addition to the farm) is now home to several cabins, community areas, horse trails, stabling for sixty horses, and fifty camp sites. We chose to park in the South lot, near the public areas, under the shade of some trees.

Our $20 accommodation included free standard speed wifi, clean showers, flush toilets, and pretty much free run of the property, since we were the only guests at the time of our visit. There was also a community kitchen, lodge, family museum, multiple covered sitting areas, and walking trails. As a result, our stay was incredibly comfortable and quiet; we really enjoyed ourselves here.

Our Family

View from a bed. Just past the covers of the bed, a grey rooster is crowing. Behind the rooster is a farm with three barns. The Places We Live
Pictured: ol’ fashioned alarm clock

Our hosts live on the property in a house about 100 yards away from where we camped. Every day they were hard at work on various projects around the farm, but they made time to stop and ask us about our day. They are very kind, welcoming, and seemed to genuinely care about our visit. There are also three dogs on the property who greeted us each morning, who took time out of their busy chicken chasing schedules to see if we wanted to share our food with them. Seeing as it is a farm, it only made sense that there would be plenty of animals, like chickens, roosters, ducks, guinea hens, and horses. The roosters took a particular liking to us and went out of their way each morning to make sure we woke up on time.

Our Life

Josh sitting on a chair in the river, reading a book and drinking beer. At the Bolo Club in Sherwood, Tennessee. The Places We Live

For the first couple of days, it was a challenge to get into a new routine. However, everything quickly fell into place and we found that we really enjoyed it. The mosquito net worked wonders on the van and we were able to sleep very well. Meals were easy thanks to the fully-stocked kitchen. After a morning of work, we’d head out for a drive, a hike, or just sit and read for a while. It was nice to have the option to relax for a while, an option we definitely took advantage of.

Some recent work successes include:

We really enjoyed our time at The Bolo Club and were surprised at how easy it was to live out of the van for the week. There were a few issues, like needing to take multiple cool showers due to the heat and humidity, or waking up in the middle of the night to take down the net when it started raining, but overall it went pretty great. As far as places to live go, you could do a lot worse.


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The Places We Live – McCrae, Australia

We had a wonderful time in houses sitting in central Melbourne and had far more fun adventures than I had time to write about. But now it’s time to move on. We’re now house sitting in a spacious home about an hour south of Melbourne with a beautiful dog named Bo.


McCrae, Victoria

Mornington Peninsula Shire, Victoria, Australia. The Places We Live. Mornington Peninsula shown on a map of Australia relative to Brisbane, Sydney, and Perth. To the side, a collage of locations around the peninsula including the ocean, beach boxes, and rolling farm land.

McCrae is a suburb of Melbourne, located on the Mornington Peninsula. As the town sits directly along the bay, it is a common tourist destination packed with beaches and bush land. The full-time population is around 3,000 people, but it is obvious the town is prepared to host many more during the summer months.

Read more about what our life is like as an American visiting Australia. ♥

We are fortunate to have our house sit on the Mornington Peninsula perched near the top of a local mountain. In addition to the amazing view of both the bay and the sea, we are only a five minute drive from town and a 15 minute walk from the popular look-out on Arthur’s Seat.

Cup of coffee with a view of a small town, trees, and the

The House

Our house sit in Australia is a 70’s style home, tucked away in a high-end neighborhood. The owners only recently purchased it and are considering a remodel. It looks like this is a common theme in the neighborhood, and that this area will be full of modern mini-mansions by the end of the decade. The current average price for the neighboring homes are between $750k and $1M USD.

Our house sits have been amazing! Check out our sit in Hua Hin, Thailand. ♥

The place where we live on the Mornington Peninsula is on a large lot with a long front- and backyard frequented by kookaburras and kangaroos. The inside has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, two living spaces, and large front windows. Although the home still holds a lot of its 70’s charm, the owners have decorated it beautifully and their passion for modern art is obvious throughout.

 

Our Family

Our house sitting hosts are a married couple preparing for retirement. We enjoyed a delicious dinner with them before they left and found them to be incredibly interesting and kind. As they used to host a bed and breakfast, we were treated with all of the pampering of a new guest. For the rest of the month, the two of them are visiting Singapore for a work conference, then have a long, guided tour through Vietnam. It sounds like they are going to have an amazing time.


The star of the show is our new fur baby, Bo. He is less than a year old and already a pretty big puppy. I chose this home specifically so we could meet Bo. My mom adopted a Hungarian Vizsla shortly before I moved out. I remember really appreciating how smart and beautiful she was. Bo is much the same, although his puppy brain gives him a lack of attention that can be a little difficult. It took about two days for us to truly bond, but now we are inseparable.

Bo, a Hungarian Visla dog (red coated sporting dog), sits on top of a colorful bed.

Life in McCrae

We’re living the suburban life here in McCrae with a strict, morning routine:

6:30 AM – Bo starts (and won’t stop) whining to be let out of his kennel. I attempt to make him wait until a decent hour and show him that I am in charge of wake-up time.

6:45 AM – I give up trying to teach Bo any lessons and just wake up. Bo has breakfast, goes pee, then falls immediately asleep again. I make a cup of coffee and enjoy an hour of quiet time while wishing I was still asleep.

8:00 AM – As long as it isn’t raining too hard, it is chore time. I sweep the foot paths in the yard, collect the poo, get the mail, water the outdoor potted plants, fill any holes created by Bo and kangaroos, water and fertilize the garden, tend the compost, and water the indoor plants.

Jen from The Places We Live standing behind a fenced in garden. The garden has three rows of green plants.

8:45 AM – I turn on the hot water for coffee, calm Bo down, and wake up Josh. [Editor’s note: Josh does other chores not listed here. Just to be clear.]

9:15 AM – Josh and I drive Bo to a dog park located about 10 minutes away. It is an excellent park with kind regulars. We walk loops around the park and gossip with the humans while Bo runs his little heart out with his friends.

Three dogs stand together on a lawn.

It makes for a long and exhausting morning, but we are usually back to real life by 10:00 or so. As most of the food isn’t that different from home, and restaurants are very expensive, we tend to eat at home. Around 2:00 PM each day, Josh and I will usually leave the house for some sort of adventure. The peninsula is an excellent place for hiking, so we usually get in 12-15k steps per day.

What’s Next

Our goal for this house sit is to hike as much as possible, see the penguins on Phillip Island, drive the Great Ocean Road, and teach Bo three new tricks. So far, the hiking has been going very well and we are having a ton of fun. Bo is almost lying down on command and is getting much better at sitting patiently while we put our shoes on. The weather should be improving within the next few days, so we’re on call to drive out to Phillip Island as soon as it does.

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We have the pleasure of sitting at this house for three weeks, so we have plenty of time to explore. We’ve already seen some amazing animals, awesome sunsets, and had some… interesting Australian foods. I have no doubt that the rest of this sit will be epic!


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The Places We Live: Melbourne, Australia

Our adventure around the world continues with another edition of The Places We Live: Melbourne, Australia! A seven hour, red-eye flight got us from Kuala Lumpur to Melbourne for about $150 each. We left one growing and bustling city simply to land in a new one. We were immediately struck by the familiar sounds of the English language, as well as the bitter chill that comes with the fall in May (?!)Read on to find out more about our first home sit in the land down under!

Read more about our week in Sepang, Malaysia before flying to Australia. ♥

Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne is the capital city of the state of Victoria, on the southern tip of Australia. With a population hovering around five million “Melbournians”, Melbourne ranks as the second most populous city in Australia, just behind Sydney. Thanks to its highly rated educational, cultural, and economic standing, Melbourne has been ranked as the World’s Most Livable City for the last seven years in a row!

Map of Australia with Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth labeled. There is a teal flag being used to highlight Melbourne

We are in Australia as a short reprieve from the more foreign lands of Asia to celebrate our six month nomad anniversary. I didn’t specifically pick Melbourne for any real reason except that it was the cheapest city to fly to. Once that was decided, we started looking for house sits and found two back-to-back that would last us through the entire month of May. That would leave us with just enough time to fly back to China for our scheduled sit in Chengdu this June.


I use Trusted Housesitters to pair me up with house sitting gigs. I would recommend it to both pet owners and potential house sitters. Please check out this affiliate link. If you join immediately after clicking on THIS link, I will receive a commission, but you will pay nothing extra. Thank you in advance for helping us to keep traveling! And you’re welcome for your awesome new freedoms with Trusted Housesitters.


Our New House

The front of a two story, brick, Victorian home in Melbourne, AusOur first home in Melbourne is only a few miles outside of the CBD (Australian for “downtown”). Using the trolley system (ranked as the largest in the world), we were able to get to and from town in about 20 minutes for $3 USD each. The trollies are very convenient, clean, and easy to navigate.

The house itself is a Victorian row house (look at me pretending to know what I’m talking about!). It is part of a very large duplex with a small front and back garden (Australian for yard). It didn’t look very large from the outside, but it was deep and had two levels, so it was actually quite spacious on the inside. There are three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a den, two living rooms, a dining room, a large kitchen, and a garage. The prices I saw for homes of similar size in the neighborhood were going for about $750k USD.

Our house looks very similar to the other homes in the neighborhood. We get the impression that indoor-outdoor space is important to the Melbournians. Like most of the neighboring homes, the first floor was covered in windows and doors to the outside. Despite the cold of the upcoming winter (that’s right, it is FALL here), our host had the majority of the doors and windows open.

Check out our lovely house sit in Kuala Lumpur. ♥

Our New Family

Our host, Ms. J, only recently moved into the home and works as a Vicar at the neighboring church. She has traveled quite a bit and has a lot of experience hosting house sitters in her home. She was super welcoming and made us feel very comfortable.

We were very excited about this sit because we would get to enjoy the company of two adult cats. They, unfortunately, we far less excited to meet us. We did eventually become friends, but it took a lot of pandering.


A large, brown cat with black striping sits on a bed with a pink blanket. It is labeled Marley The Places We LiveMarley

I know we’re not supposed to pick favorites, but Marley was my favorite. He was the ruler of the house and was not afraid to wave his authority over us. Marley was the first to wake us up each morning for breakfast, yelled at us when we left the wrong doors closed, etc. I wormed my way into Marley’s heart one night with an invitation onto my heated blanket. He slept with me each night after that.

Meet Jack, the cat we watched near the beach in Thailand. ♥


A Black cat with green eyes stands on carpet next to a banister. The image is labeled Betsy The Places We Live.Betsy

Betsy liked Josh right away. Although she would hide from me, I could usually find her cuddled on a chair as close to Josh as possible without actually touching him. She did warm up to me after a little bit and at least stopped hiding from me. She liked that I fed her minced kangaroo meat for dinner (a common pet food in Australia) and I loved her beeping mews.

Meet Lucy, our indifferent dog roommate in Chengdu, China. ♥


Living in Melbourne

As with all of the places we live, our budget in Australia is $200 USD per week. That affords us $38 Australian dollars per day, including housing, food, transportation, entertainment, visas, and tickets back out of the country. That is a pretty tight budget here, so we are very grateful for the free housing our house sits provide.

Shopping for groceries has proven to be fairly inexpensive, and although some of the names are unfamiliar, most of the food is recognizable. We were able to do quite well on our budget with our usual staples, plus some local microbrews and snacks. We have all of the kitchen appliances are we are used to and have been finding it easy to cook at home on a budget.

Some of the groceries we purchased in Melbourne, Australia. Uncle Tobys brand Honey Whole Grain Cherrios, Sunbites brand Grain Waves, SPC brand Aussie Made Baked Beans, Tim Tam, 4 Pines Pale Ale

The weather has been cold and very rainy since we arrived, so most of our days are spent working at the kitchen table. We have gotten in the habit of keeping our eye on the windows, ready to run outside for a walk during every break in the clouds. There are a lot of parks nearby and so many interesting birds and plants to look at.

Overall, we are liking Melbourne a lot. It has a hipster vibe very similar to Portland, Oregon but with the cleanliness and seriousness of Vancouver, Canada. We’re really excited to do more exploring in this amazing city and country!

This is an affiliate link that earns me commission at no extra cost to you. ♥


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Australian flag. Melbourne, Australia House Sitting  Melbourne Australia skyline in black and white with teal frame  The Places We Live - Melbourne Australia

 

 

 

 

House Sitting with Molly in KL

After two weeks in our hotel, we have finally moved on to our house sit in Kuala Lumpur! After such a great sit in Chengdu, I have spent every day working to get us more bookings. So far, I have a good chunk of the year booked up, and more applications still under consideration. As we had hoped, this has been such a fun and convenient way for us to travel.

Our New Friend, Molly

We grabbed an Uber from our hotel on Wednesday and headed off to our house sitting gig just outside of Kuala Lumpur. Our hosts are Australian expats. She is an interior decorator back in Sydney and he works in marketing around the world. We are here looking after their beautiful home and their cheerful dog, Molly.

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Molly and I sitting on the back patio.

Molly has some separation anxiety, so we have been asked to spend the majority of our time at home with her. This has been no problem for us since we have recently seen a big up turn in our workload. Having the time to sit in this lovely home with Molly has really taken some of the pressure off of our “work” lives.



The Home

The house we are sitting is a beautifully designed and skillfully decorated single-family home in an upscale suburb. It is three stories tall with a large living space, private back patio, three bedrooms, and three bathrooms.

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The view from my new “office”.

Our room is wonderful! I nearly died when I first saw it. It is large, beautiful, and oh so very comfortable. We have a private bathroom with an enclosed shower and a balcony with plenty of visiting birds for me to admire.

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Josh is particularly fond of the high-speed internet.

The Neighborhood

Our home is part of Desa Parkcity, a master planned community. Our neighborhood is on a cobblestone street surrounded by a walking trail and dotted with fountains. We have a community gym and infinity pool just a few steps from our front door. We tried out the pool yesterday and enjoyed a moment of absolute bliss.

The planned community has a great collection of shops and restaurants, a large park next to a lake, and a country club that we have access to. Our host even gave us access to her Mercedes Benz(!) to allow us to visit everything Desa Parkcity has to offer. Are we in house sitting heaven or what?!

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The pool at The Club

Our Lives House Sitting in Kuala Lumpur

Despite we have only been here for a couple of days so far, we have already settled pretty well into our routines. First up was our “first day shopping trip”. This is where we pick up any toiletries we are missing, cereal, milk, sandwich stuff, and spaghetti. It is nice to always have at least one breakfast, lunch, and dinner covered at all times.

Mornings include breakfast and coffee, a jog with Molly (she likes to chase squirrels), and some social media time. Midday includes lunch, a short adventure, and then a sprint back home before the 3PM thunderstorm. Afternoon is our designated “do not talk to me” work times. I like to sit by the window while I work and watch the monsoon pass through. It can be quite frightening, but also very beautiful.

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For dinner, we have a home-cooked meal. There is nothing like home-cooking while we are traveling full time. I like to eat out just as much as the next foodie, but there is something so comforting about eating at home. Evenings are Jen and Josh time. We go out, watch tv, or work out together. The routine has been very nice.

We have a little over a week left here, then we are leaving KL for a ANOTHER HOUSE SIT! So far this has been a great way to really get to see the places we live, and to travel without breaking the budget.