Travelling or a holiday?

Possibly because I have so many breaks as a teacher – every ten weeks, I have at least two weeks off – or possibly because of the effort needed for a long haul flight; either way I don't see our trip to France as a "holiday".

For me holidays are slow and relaxed, even if we do plenty of active things, whether going away or staying at home. OK, in France we won't have to get up every morning by 6 to be at work by 7.40. But we won't be lazing the days away with a book or five, on the beach. We won't be hanging by our own pool with cocktails and music. Not that we don't do active things on our holidays. Mr S can't sit still for long, hence the annual ski trip, and I have to go for walks. Our ski trip and our road trips are holidays. In the past my favourite holidays were camping by the beach in national parks. Still, while we might be on the move, we have a slow relaxed feel.

Like our trip to London two years ago, in France we will be on the go. This time it will be slightly more challenging given the language and driving challenges. We will be busy.

I want to see everything, eat everything, sit and absorb the local atmosphere. Of different places.

For we may never take this path again!

No matter how beautiful, how beguiling, we may never pass this way again.

No, my trip to France is "a trip", not a holiday. I'm like a woman on a mission.

Travelling in Australia, I'm a little more relaxed, as I know it is more likely that I can pass this way again. I didn't get to do something I wanted to last January at Lake Crackenback (in the photo above) but no worries. I think I will be back next summer.

Actually for most of my breaks, my holidays are about going on trips to somewhere new or seeing a new bit of something I missed (like my Kelly expeditions or stopping off at different places on our road trips north and south) or simply relaxing at home. I never understood the attraction of a holiday home. Why would I want to go to the same place every holiday? Why would I want another home to be responsible for? Mr S likes routine and going to the same place, like the same ski field, and having the same pub counter lunch.

What's your approach when travelling somewhere new? What's your approach to holidays – is it the new or the known that attracts you?

How should we get around in France?

Mr S doesn't want to drive on the wrong side of the road. The right side being the left side and the wrong side being the right side. So he says he doesn't want to drive.

Because I want to go to little backroad places, I don't want to be struggling with trains and buses and luggage. I want the freedom and independence that a car gives you.

I figure as I'm left handed and left/right confused (which I wrote about here), it won't make much of a difference to me. I just have to chant, "Mr S in the gutter."

My downfall is I can only drive an automatic. Seems most cars in France are manual. Automatics are not as common or cheap. So I got in early and booked a car. There are some horror stories of automatic-needing customers booking automatics and the car hire company taking their bookings but not supplying an automatic car or making them wait for hours while one is sourced. I hope my luck will hold.

I did investigate leasing but we are not driving for long enough. Also there are not as many pick up places for leased cars as there are for hire cars.

I'm not going to be mad enough to drive in Paris. We will drop our car in Tours and catch the TGV.

My fear is driving into the towns and trying to find parking. We are staying in some old centres that have no, or very limited, parking.

How do you prefer to get around when travelling in a different country? Have you coped driving on the different side of the road from your normal side? Or was it horrendous?

Where should we sleep?

After roughly blocking out our itinerary, the actual dates at each place is really dependent on getting the accommodation I want.

I don't really enjoy hotels. Actually I hate being stuck in them. The one room. Dank corridors. No kitchen. Crappy tea bags and tiny tea cups. Minuscule fridges crammed full of overpriced drinks, leaving no room for your own drinks. Having to go out for breakfast. I don't mind hotels when I'm on my own for work but staying in the one hotel room with more than one person is the pits.

Mr S and I like to have a kitchen Even if we plan to eat out most days, we like to be able to make our own breakfast. We like having a lounge room, separate from the bedroom so we don't disturb one another with our different sleep patterns. And we like a lounge room so we can hang out and relax – read, watch tele, doze, have a drink, surf the 'net. We like having a washing machine so we don't have to pack so many clothes and we don't have to search for a laundromat.

We don't just see accommodation as a place to sleep. Our aim isn't to get the cheapest place. We want nice surroundings. We want different types of places. But we also like staying out for a bit, not having to rush and pack and move on every day. And while it's nice having someone make the bed, it's a task I'd trade in for privacy and space of a self-contained accommodation.

That's why AirBnB works really well for us. We get a whole house – and we get to see what it looks like – for pretty good prices.

That said, we have booked some BnBs and hotels. Mix it up, I say.

Our first night will be in a BnB opposite Monet's gardens. Our second night is in Honfleur. Look at this place:

After one night in two different places, it's time for us to settle down. We'll spend six nights at the next town, St Malo. I can imagine myself sitting here and not wanting to move!

Here's a few more of the AirBnB places we've booked.

Sarlat-la-Canéda. I don't think three nights will be enough here.

Tours. We'll be here for two nights.

And our last five nights will be spent in this apartment in Paris.

What do you think? Gorgeous, aren't they?

So what's your preferred accommodation choices when travelling? Do you go for lux or savings?

Where should we go?

Planning for our upcoming overseas trip started last year.

Mr S has always had an interest in the western front of WWI. So I wanted to plan a trip where we could participate in a 100th anniversary memorial ceremony.

I've always wanted to visit Brittany. There is something romantic, "other" and remote about it for me. OK, I get that it might seem strange to someone from the UK who can catch a ferry over to think of Brittany as remote but there you have it.

So the first thing I did in planning for our trip was to look for a battlefields tour that would take us to a memorial ceremony and to other western front sites. I found an Australian company that would do the Paschendalle memorial service in October. Perfect. Mr S knows a lot about that battle and it fits in with a time we can both take LSL.

We've never been on an organised bus trip and I don't know how we'll go – with the morning bustle, stuck with other people, having to listen to tour guides. Mr S likes to argue about interpretations of history and he has an immense capacity for remember facts, and will no doubt find some errors by the tour guide's errors.

Anyway, with that locked in, I proceeded to plan the rest of the trip around the bus trip. I wanted to incorporate the end of term break with Long Service Leave, so we didn't have to use too much LSL.

I roughly planned how long we should be on the road before the bus trip, which leaves from and returns to Paris, and decided that we should stay in Paris for a few days after the trip.

With a rough guide I looked for flights. Mr S won't travel on budget airlines. We wanted to go with Qantas and get the extra leg room seats in the small economy section Qantas has on the upper deck. We got those two years ago when we travelled to London. More leg room than premium economy and such a small section of economy so no noisy crowds and close to premium economy that they don't place babies there.

I booked the flights. But bugger!

Qantas code shares with Emirates to Paris and Emirates doesn't put economy upstairs. Nor do they allow pre-purchase of extra leg room seats. Luckily we are on Qantas from Sydney to Dubai and got our seats.

With that done, I did no actual planning for months.

I borrowed books from the library: travel guides for France, coffee table books on the most beautiful villages in France, travel guides on Brittany. I read travel brochures. I asked friends who had recently been to France questions.

I daydreamed and thought and made rough notes.

And then I was ready to plot out my trip!

Paying for things overseas

Twenty-five years ago, when I first travelled overseas, there were really only two ways to take money overseas: traveller cheques and cash. 

Travellers cheques were a pain in the arse. You had to get them. Keep them safe. Find a place to exchange them. All the time checking the exchange rate and commission or fees. 

Cash was worse. If you're travelling for a length of time, and I initially went for 8 months, you need a lot of money. But it's just not safe to hold onto that amount of cash. When I travelled to Europe all those years ago, every country had different currencies. So you were always looking for places to exchange cash and travellers cheques and comparing rates. 

So now in the era of credit cards and electronic purchases, how am I paying for things? There's actually two parts – paying for things from Australia and paying for things actually in the country. 

I use AirBnB, like millions of others. What I love about AirBnB is you are given the price in your currency and the funds are taken out of your designated CC account at the time of booking. So no worries about fluctuating rates. No hidden bank fees. And all is paid before you travel. 

But what about those things I have to pay for in Europe? I am a CC Queen and use them for most purchases but nearly always pay them off in full each month before they accrue any interest.

I have two cards. One is really a debit card. It works as a Visa card but I have to have money in my savings account from where the card draws. The other is an American Express card. I use them both for ease and the Amex for rewards. I use payWave and eftpos, rarely carrying cash. 

Now I don't think that is going to be the way to go. Firstly AmEx charges heaps of steep fees for use overseas – at ATMs and point of sale. I know because I was hit in London, New Zealand and Japan. 

Our Visa cards (Mr S has the same card with the same mutual bank) were not as bad but at shops only worked on credit, not eftpos which caught us out a couple of times. There's that moment at the register when your card is declined that you worry. Then you remember you can only use one way. Which way is it? You fluster and get more uncertain. As fees go, the Visa wasn't too bad at vendors but we were slugged at ATMs. Of course you need to get access to cash too. 

So what's the best approach?

I like to have foreign cash before I leave Australia. Means I don't have to worry about it on arrival. I get some from Travelex before I leave. The exchange has always been good. And I pay by direct deposit so pay fewer fees. 

For getting cash while in the country, I usually just use ATMs. I'm not sure if they (the insitutition that operates the cards) give the best exchange rate. You are definitely charged fees by the ATM operator and often your own bank too. But I like the convenience of ATMs. 

I have been told, and limited research suggests, that the Citibank card is great for travelling. It has no or limited charges. And quite good exchange rates, making it good for paying directly to vendors, either in person or before we travel. 

So I have applied for one of these accounts and cards. 

It will be the main card that I will use to get cash from ATMs and pay vendors. 

I will let you know after the trip what the fees are. 

I'm not very good with exchange rates. I don't stress about them and I can't be bothered doing exact calculations. You really get little choice or variations anyway and you need to buy things. But as we will also use the Visa and AmEx, I will be able to let you know the difference exchange rates applied after our trip. 

What do you use when travelling overseas? What have you found works best?

Once a bustling, noisy place

Mr S loves going to the same place for holidays. I don’t. So three years ago I agreed to go to the same ski resort only if we spent a couple of days exploring Kelly Country. That’s Ned Kelly. 

I had read a host of books on Ned – it was my Summer of Ned. I wanted to retrace Ned’s journey. 

Did I tell you an amazing coincidence? It will only make sense if you know the importance of Room 101 in 1984. The cell Ned was placed in Beechworth Prison was number 101!!! And a sign of the penal attitudes, while most people lived in dirt floor shacks, the prison is huge and imposing. I don’t think most visitors to the prison get it. Anyway that was the winter of 2015.

For the last three winters, I have explored different parts of Kelly country for a few days before we head off to Mr S’s favourite holiday.  This year, despite being bedridden with flu (in a lovely BnB) I managed to get out for a morning drive through Woolshed Valley. 

Fireplace in the lounge room of our lovely BnB

I wanted to go to the Woolshed Valley because it used to be a thriving place of gold diggings, Chinese market gardens, schools, pubs, small holdings. And because it was in this valley that Ned’s lieutenant lived and learnt Chinese from the Chinese gold miners, and apparently adopted their love of opium. 

You have gold diggings and deserted roads, you have bushrangers. You have a large rock, you have a place for a bushranger to hide behind, and jump out at passing coaches. “Bail up!!!”

It was also where Joe Byrne and Dan Kelly shot Aaron Sherritt with the police hiding under the bed in the two room shack. This precipitated the siege. 

It is hard to believe that there were two story hotels, restaurants, pubs and a public bath along this road. Now there are saplings, scrub and bush. There are signs along the road which describe was once was; some pointing out features left in the landscape. I couldn’t see them. 

Sebastopol Flat, a thriving town in the late 1850s

The cold, wet day made it all the more possible to imagine the miserable lives they led in Kelly’s time. Wet. Cold. Without an insulated, centrally heated house. With little furniture and limited clothing.  Just hard work all round. 

While we in the comfort of a heated car with heated seats, Ned and his gang traversed the area by foot and on horse back. 

The ford across the creek. It would flood after rains.

Totally unrelated to Ned’s time, the world’s biggest dredge, or some similar claim to fame, anyway it was damn big is in Eldorado, the village at the start of the road to Beechworth through the Woolshed Valley. It was eerie walking in this industrial relic. Again, it harked to an harder era. 

Seats from an old roller coaster? No, scopes from the dredge.

Not a shed. This is a massive floating dredge. Yes, it floats on the creek.

A WHOLE year off

You may remember I mentioned Mr S and I are in the Deferred Salary Scheme. I mentioned it here.

We are being paid 80% of our salary. 20% goes into an account that we cannot touch. Until the fifth year. Then we get a whole year off. On 80% of our salary. 

Some people have asked why we don’t just save our money. We’d earn more interest. Which wouldn’t be hard because the state government (my employer) keeps the money in an interest free account. We have no say in where the money is kept. 

Well, I know we wouldn’t save. We’d put it on the mortgage. We’d fritter it away. We’d never save 20% of our pay for four years. 

And we couldn’t guarantee that our boss at the time would grant us a year off. In five years time I could have a new boss and he/she could deny my request for leave. With the DSS, the right to leave is guaranteed. Mr S will be 60 when we take the year off. It’d be unlikely his boss would have granted the year then. More likely put pressure on him to retire. And DSS doesn’t count as leave without pay. 

Others have asked why we don’t work through and retire a year earlier than we planned. Retirement is a big decision. When we retire, there will be no more big money coming in. We’d be unlikely to find a similar job at the same pay. This way we can return to work and keep receiving the income that gives us the opportunity to travel. 

Mr S was hesitant about being in the DSS. He is always anxious about any change. He was worried we wouldn’t be able to manage in the reduced income. Never mind that we took on our mortgage when we both earned less, having received promotions since. And our offspring no longer need our wallets for all manner of expenses. 

Anyway, the only thing that has suffered is paying off our mortgage. We are still over paying, just at a reduced rate. But half a year in and Mr S has decided he will apply for another round of DSS as soon as this one ends. So he will get another year off when he is 65. But that’s a long way off. 

We’ve taken small steps to reduced waste, especially in groceries, which reduces wasted money. But our lifestyle has been maintained. And we have a WHOLE year off to which we can look forward. 

Yes, a WHOLE year in addition to our LSL and our regular term breaks. I know! Lucky.! Greedy even. Our pay isn’t too bad. I know many people in private industry who have the same level of responsibility earn heaps more. But they don’t have the security of tenure and the hard won conditions. Time is what I’m greedy for now. Not money to buy stuff. Money to buy time and to do things. 

What are we going to do in our year off? Fulfill some dreams. Do lots of travel. 

  • I’ve always wanted to live in England over spring and summer. So we will rent a cottage in a village and travel around England. Visit lots of towns and villages; do lots of walks along the coast and in the countryside. 
  • Massive roads trips! Up the east coast to the Cape; inland around Victoria and NSW; the Great Ocean Road. With a combie-sized van. Not something reall big but with a bed we can sleep on and a small fridge. Yes, we’ll be grey nomads before we’re too grey.

As we get closer to the year, our plans will firm up. And I will share them here.