Thursday, August 23, 2012

Merde!

We were hoping to have a blissful, guest-free week to ourselves starting on Sunday. But, unfortunately, that's not going to happen. We've just received a last-minute booking from an American family who'll be flying to Provence on their private jet this weekend. Merde!



Even less joyful is the fact that these final guests will be leaving on the same day that the family returns home. Double merde!

What does this mean for us? There ain't no rest for the wicked. No peace and quiet will be had until we leave France on September 7th. *Sigh*

Please send us any patience that you can spare. We're going to need it for these last two weeks!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Expense of Travel: Our First 3 Months

Hello, Jim here (so please read in a deep masculine voice). 

When we tell people that we're traveling around the world as house sitters, the first question is usually, "Where are you going?," but a very close second is, "How can you afford that?" Honestly, we didn't know how much it was going to cost, but based on other travelers' accounts, we estimated a monthly budget of $2,000 for the both of us. 

Now, there were a few major expenses we had to cough up before we even left the couch. The first was our international health insurance coverage, which, by American standards, was actually quite cheap. For me, it was a mere $500 for the entire year! Natalie, being a woman of child-bearing age, was considerably more expensive at $3,000 for the year. The next big expense was airfare. The sum total to get ourselves from the U.S. to Croatia, Croatia to France, France to England, and England to Cape Town was $2,500 for both of us. We used a lot of frequent flyer miles to keep that total down. We also spent over $1,200 on clothing, bags, laptops, and other things to take on the road. So all told, we were already $7,200 in the hole before we finished our final Circle K Thirstbusters!

Since we started traveling, I've been doing my best to meticulously track every expense in a spreadsheet, and my intention was to post a monthly expense report. However, I've had a couple of setbacks. The first was that my computer suffered an early demise back in June when it drank a full cup of coffee and, as a result, I was without my spreadsheet for several weeks. The second setback, and undeniably the greatest contributing factor, was that I'm easily distracted and somewhat lazy. Alas, I have recently found the motivation to get back at it and deliver the information that everyone really wants to know, so here are our expenses for the first 3 months of our adventure! 
Scroll down to see the pretty graph if looking at numbers gives you a headache!
Here's a little explanation of the categories:
  • Dining - Grabbing a bite to eat on-the-go and dining at a restaurant, cafe, or fast food joint.
  • Transportation - All the money that we've spent on moving around. This includes rental cars, bus fare, tolls, parking, gas, and anything else associated with motorized locomotion (except flights).
  • Lodging - Hotels, hostels, apartments, or anywhere else that we lay our heads at night.
  • Groceries - Food that we buy at the grocery store or market to prepare at home.
  • Entertainment - Going on tours, admission to parks, monuments, or museums, and anything else that we do to keep ourselves from chase-the-tail boredom.
  • Misc - This is a catch-all category for everything that doesn't fit somewhere else. This might include clothing, electronics, toiletries, internet services, etc.
  • Medical - Going to the doctor or buying something at the pharmacy to cure an ill.
  • Gift - Money spent on gifts, postcards, and things we give to other people.
I don't know about you, but I prefer a chart over a table:


Yikes! What's with those spikes? I'll explain that along with everything else:
  • Dining - While eating out is more expensive here in France, we go out less since we're living in the countryside. Occasionally we have a meal in Aix, but most of our eating-out money is spent at the local pizza drive-thru (it's the best pizza I've ever had!)
  • Transportation - The spike in June was from renting a car in Croatia and driving all about for two days. Also, in France we have use of a car (free!), but we're buying the fuel. I thought we were going to break the bank in fuel costs once we got here, but so far it hasn't happened. (Thank you, Renault Clio, for your pathetic excuse for a power plant that gets amazing gas mileage!)
  • Lodging - Don't worry, July is missing for a reason. In May, we spent a couple of nights in a hostel and then rented an apartment until the middle of June. Since that time, we've been living rent-free as housesitters in France, hence, no lodging expenses for July.
  • Groceries - Groceries are generally more expensive in France than in Croatia, and that shows in our initial grocery shopping trip when we arrived in France in June.
  • Entertainment - This one has been decreasing steadily. In May, we treated our time in Croatia like a vacation, so took several tours and visited many tourists sites. Here in France, we go out less and the places we have visited were either free or inexpensive.
  • Misc - The spike in June was due to the aforementioned computer debacle, and did I mention that I managed to break our GPS around the same time by leaving it in the sun? (Apparently you're not supposed to use the GPS outside. Who knew?) In July, we spent a bit more on clothing since some of our things are already starting to wear out. Please pretend you don't notice us wearing the same clothes in all of our pictures.
  • Medical - Luckily no doctor bills, just some trips to the pharmacy for snake oil.
  • Gifts - Mainly postcards and postage so far.
Quite unintentionally, July ended up being a very frugal month. We weren't paying for housing and, most importantly, I didn't break anything! So far, the $2,000/month guesstimate has been conservative since we've averaged less than $1,200/month over the past 3 months. That's not bad when you consider that we were spending more than that on housing alone when we were living the "conventional" life.   

I'll provide an update for the month of August in a few weeks...and if I don't, please send us some comments to help me find my motivation again.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Oh No, It's Saturday Again!

Most people look forward to the weekend with gleeful anticipation. But Saturdays are our least favorite day at the maison. It's the changeover day, meaning that we need to gently kick the old guests out, change the linens on 9 beds, clean 6 bathrooms, wash all of the sheets and towels, empty the fridge, and get everything ready to go for the next round of guests at 4 PM. It's too big of a job for one person, so I usually help the housekeeper for 3-4 hours on Saturday, then run some more loads of laundry over the next few days to catch up. Meanwhile, it's Jim's big day to mow all 4 lawns, treat and clean the pool, water all of the landscaping, and drain/refill the fountains. Needless to say, by the time the new guests arrive, we're dead on our feet.

Jim's Quality Landscaping, excellent work at a phenomenal price. Did I mention that he isn't even getting paid for this?!?
Last night, we caught a streak of good fortune... The rental agency informed us that our next round of guests have cancelled their holiday! But, before I got too excited about it, the agency reassured me that they'd be in touch with any last minute bookings. At the very least, we're off the hook for any arrivals this evening. A night off with no guests? It feels like we've died and gone to heaven! Maybe we'll have a BBQ and relax by the pool. And I can't wait to tell Hermes (the dog) that he can run wild and free all day! The poor thing has been cooped up in our cottage for weeks.

TTFN, we're going to enjoy our day off!

The pool is calling us and we must answer!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Getting Sick Abroad

Nothing makes you want your mommy more than being sick. This is especially true in a foreign country, a la France, as the language barrier seems 10 times higher when you're not feeling well. (Did I mention that my wonderful mommy is also fluent in French?)

For the past few weeks, I've been sick. Really sick. I think it was an all-too-common case of traveler's intestinal distress. After several days of misery, it was time to seek out some medical advice.

I called my international insurance company and they didn't have any specialists within 100 miles of Aix-en-Provence. This meant that I was on my own for finding a doctor, but they reassured me that I'd be reimbursed just the same.

We went to the local hospital in Aix, but I couldn't bear waiting for hours in the emergency room to see a doctor. Instead, we got the names of a few private physicians who'd be able to see me on another day.

Avenue Victor Hugo, a.k.a. "doctor's alley" in Aix-en-Provence.
We headed off to the first doctor on the list, as her address was the only street name that we recognized. We stumbled into her office just before closing and I desperately pleaded for a rendezvous (in French, a rendezvous is simply an appointment, nothing scandalous!) The doctor gave me a deer-in-the-headlights look and sighed, "Oh, l'anglais." Despite her unenthusiastic response to my native tongue, she still made me an appointment!

So how the heck do you have a medical consultation when you can't communicate with your doctor? More importantly, how can this doctor not speak English when the gas station attendants and the cashiers at Quick Burger can speak it fluently?

I decided to type up a basic description of my personal information (name, DOB, address) and my symptoms. Perhaps the doc would feel more comfortable reading English than speaking it? Jim also had the brilliant idea of using Google Translate to get a rough French translation. Lastly, if we got really stuck, we had the backup plan of calling my dear mom in the middle of the night to act as a translator!

On the day of the appointment, we somehow managed to communicate through a combination of Franglish, gesturing, and guessing. It's truly amazing how much you can pick up just from the context of a situation. The doctor was very patient and spoke very slowly and simply to us. I had brought along a French-English dictionary, but it was pretty much useless when it came to medical terminology.

We left the office with a sense of relief. Thankfully, communicating with the doctor wasn't nearly as difficult as we had anticipated. Also, the total cost of my visit was only 36 Euros ($45 USD) -- remember, that's the cash price without any insurance!

Now, it's been about a week since my doctor's appointment and I'm happy to say that I'm feeling much better. I have no idea what got me (perhaps I should have properly washed our produce?), but I'm sticking to a plain and simple diet for a few more weeks, just to be safe. We have just under a month to go here in France, and there's still plenty of stories to tell about our lovely house guests...