Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Mexico to the Letter

We had a rough take-off from Seattle on our journey to Mexico. I know we've all had airline fiascoes, but to be honest, in over two and a half years we've rarely had a problem with an airline or an airport. But this incident could have been a game changer. Luckily, there was a happy landing.

Early in December Michael booked our flight to Mexico and we found three perfect Airbnbs for our destinations there. We were all set, so we turned our attention to enjoying the holidays in the Pacific Northwest.

We enjoyed time in Seattle, Portland and Sun Valley while we were home in December.
We didn't think much further about our upcoming trip until Michael logged on to confirm our flights. He noticed that he had left the letter "p" out of my last name when he made the reservations, so he reached out to Expedia, where he had purchased the tickets, to make the correction. Here is their response "certainly, we can help you with that, however there is a change fee of $192." For a keystroke? It wasn't like we were changing our itinerary! They took a firm position that it was the airline that was charging the fee, and they were merely passing it on.

Possibly the representative from Expedia.
We decided if that was the case, we'd be our most charming selves when we got to the airport and see if Alaska Airlines would make this simple change on the spot. And at that point, we weren't even sure it was a problem - it was just a "p". At the airport we found out it was more than a problem - it was a "you can't fly internationally if the name on the reservation doesn't match your passport" sort of problem. A start-over situation looked imminent.
It's never fun to be behind the passengers with a problem!
We were a two hours early so we were confident it would all work out.  Fate delivered us to the check-in counter served by Kristi, whom we now call "Kristi the Super Agent". At first, she thought she would able to make the change, but her system would not allow it. Then whatever supervisor she was on hold with for ten minutes said absolutely not - Expedia issued the tickets and they would have to take care of it. By now, Kristi had heard the Senior Nomad story and she was not going to let the side down. She called Expedia herself. As many of us know, trying to speak to a human being at Expedia or Amazon, or any other online merchant is like trying to find a distant galaxy without a telescope. But she persevered. The warm body she finally found needed to speak to her own supervisor and that took another hour on hold, only to find out since we'd already technically checked in they could no longer help. Kristi continued to furiously tap away at her computer looking for solutions. She was still getting stonewalled from her side and Delta - our carrier from LAX to Mexico city wouldn't help either. I was standing to one side like excess baggage, but one thing being a Nomad has taught us is patience. Patience and flexibility. 

This isn't Kristi, but a good stand-in.
Kristi spend over two hours with us, and in the end, for miraculous reasons only God can explain she was finally given the go ahead to make the change. A keystroke or two later all was right with the world. Meanwhile we had missed our first flight to Los Angeles so she booked us on the next flight that would still allow us a short window to make our Delta connection at LAX. At security my boarding pass wouldn't scan. So we had to run back to Kristi and get a new one - she gave me TSA pre-check status on that one! You can be sure we sent a glowing recommendation to her boss.

At least Sea-Tac is a nice place to spend time.
Onward Senior Nomads! Until we got to the gate and found our flight was delayed for two hours because our pilots were flying into Seattle on another delayed flight. Meanwhile our bags were potentially on their merry way to Mexico - lucky bags.

In the end we took the delayed flight, spend a very short night at a hotel near the LAX airport (courtesy of Alaska because the delay was their fault) and then flew on to Mexico City the next morning. By a second miracle, our bags tagged along on the same flight.

Checking in at the Sheraton LAX at 1:00 am with our carry-on bags the clothes on our backs.
The irony of this story is that the only real travel challenges we've had in two and half years have been in customs in Seattle. Coming home I've been stopped three times - once going through immigration. And twice in the customs hall. The challenge in immigration was, according to a dour-faced agent, that I no longer looked like my 8 year old passport photo. True - my hair is longer and a foxy silver blond, and I have lost 25 pounds by walking at least 10,000 steps a day along with clean living, but that had never happened in the other 45 other countries we visited. That added almost an hour spent in a small room waiting for additional dour-faced officials to decide that yes, I was Debbie Campbell with a "p" in the right place. The second time I forgot I had oranges in my carry-on. My mistake, but it sidelined us to the agriculture line for people-who-should-know-better. Another lost hour. And this last time, we were automatically sent to that same line, because maybe I hadn't learned my lesson. I had no oranges, meat, cheese or tropical birds in my bags so we were set free in our own city! Welcome home.

This is my new passport photo.
We arrived in Mexico City a little on the frazzled side - but that was a perfect match to the city itself. As our taxi from the airport crawled along in freeway traffic and then onto tight, crowded streets filled with ramshackle food stands, double parked cars, and swarming pedestrians, we were growing nervous about our first Airbnb choice. Our good fortune returned however, and after a few more turns we were in the clear. Our new home for that first week was in the trendy Roma/Condesa neighborhood. Here's the link: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/5955186. It was a quiet, comfortable oasis from the busy streets outside our door, and our hosts were a delightful young couple (and baby Bruno) who gave us great tips and helped us many times as we found our feet.

The view of Mexico City from the roof deck of our building.
Since then we've been to the captivating city of San Miguel de Allende for a ten day stay and have just arrived back in Mexico City for a week. I will catch you up on all our Mexican adventures next time. Adios!

Thanks for following along. You can find us on facebook at Senior Nomads and follow us on instagram @seniornomads.

Debbie and Michael
The Senior Nomads

Friday, January 15, 2016

Senior Nomads 2016

Happy to be home in Seattle for the holidays before starting Senior Nomads 2016
The Senior Nomads are on the road! After spending Thanksgiving with our French family in Paris and six weeks at home in Seattle for the Christmas holidays, we charted a course for another round of our adventures. Well, a partial course. We started in Mexico City on January 5th where we worshiped the Sun God and did some fabulous food grazing. Our young hosts, Alberto and Daphne (and one year old son Bruno) welcomed us to their city. Here's a link to that airbnb: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/5955186 Currently we are four hours north in San Miguel de Allende for the next ten days: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/6569224 Then we head back to Mexico City for a week before a much anticipated visit to Cuba for three weeks! That gets us through February.

After that we are not sure where the March winds will blow us, but we are excited about the possibility of connecting with the Junior Nomads - that would be our son Alistair and his family, somewhere in South America as they continue their world tour.

The  Junior Nomads in Cambodia. They are currently in Thailand as they continue the #campbellamble.
Last summer we took the last step to becoming true Nomads and sold our home. It was odd to be in Seattle knowing that we could no longer open our own front door - but it also gave us even more freedom to continue our travels. During our stay our generous friends the Robinsons took us in, so we were well looked after and enjoyed a festive few weeks at home.

A perfect winter's day walking around Seattle's beloved Greenlake.
One of the reasons we embarked on this journey 2 1/2 years ago was some uncertainty around what our retirement would look like. We have a nest egg - not ostrich egg size, but not sparrow sized either. So the questions that we, like so many of our friends were facing, centered when to retire, and when we did so, how to make that nest egg last. And of course there were so many scenarios to consider. Did we want to continue living in Seattle? Or should we move to Portland or Paris to be closer to grandchildren? We both love to work, and thought we might be able to find a way to add to the retirement funds - we just weren't sure how to combine that with the freedom that retirement supposedly brings. One thing was certain - we had least one more adventure is us, and we weren't ready for rocking chairs.
Many of our followers know our story, but for those that don't, three years ago when we were contemplating our options, our daughter Mary, who lives in France with her French husband and three young children suggested we travel full time - especially in Europe. I am certain there was an ulterior motive there - but it got us thinking! She also asked if we had heard of Airbnb. We had not. Once we started to explore the possibilities of full-time travel staying in Airbnbs we discovered we could actually afford to give it a try! Four months later we booked tickets to Paris in left Seattle in July with a goal of traveling for six months.

We rented our house and filled a small storage unit with whatever we didn't sell or give-away. We sold our sailboat and we keep one car at my brother's house. The rest of our worldly goods fit inside two large suitcases, two day-packs and a generous purse. So wherever we end up after our travels, there won't be much to move!
Our storage unit. You never know when you might need a metal horse and your Pantone color guides!
We keep a daily journal and today is day #917 since we left Seattle. I guess we took Mary's suggestion to the extreme. Since we booked those first tickets in 2013 we've visited 46 countries, 129 cities and are currently in our 87th Airbnb home - and we are staying fairly close to what our budget would have been had we retired somewhere in the Northwest. Close enough to keep going.

We have filled 10 journals with our daily activities and spending since we left.
Now, instead of opening just one front door, we've opened 87. Instead of retiring in our own home, we live our daily lives in other peoples homes around the world. It's been the most gratifying experience you could ever imagine. Each new home we temporarily call our own home gives us first hand experiences of living like locals. We shop, we cook, we sleep-in, we do chores, we work and we learn everyday.

A recent front door in San Francisco opened one of our favorite Airbnbs.
At this point, we envision continuing our nomadic lifestyle until we run out of money, stop having fun, stop learning, have serious health issues or fall out of love.  Here is a story that ran last spring in The Seattle Times about the Senior Nomads: http://www.seattletimes.com/life/travel/seattle-couples-retirement-29-countries-46-airbnb-apartments/ 

 Mexico has been a great start to a new season of travel. Part of what makes this work for us is to stretch ourselves to embrace the local culture. We are not on vacation, we are just living our lives in other peoples homes in other neighborhoods.  I know we were seeing things that most tourists would miss. I will tell you more about our Mexican experiences in my next post.

Still in love, but not this thin in Mexico City!
Thank you for following along. For more frequent updates follow us on Facebook at Senior Nomads. Happy New Year!

Debbie and Michael Campbell
The Senior Nomads