Wednesday, July 31, 2019

One week to go

While we are still very much enjoying our time at the cottage, today marks one week until we head off on our next adventure. In one week we will be boarding a plane in order to begin the second part of my sabbatical travel trilogy. In one week we will be arriving in Central America in order to explore the mountains, volcanos, rainforest, waterfalls and beaches. In one week we will be meeting Ticos and experiencing the Pura Vida lifestyle.

Have you guessed where our next destination is yet? I'm sure you have. We're off to Costa Rica for 14 amazing days!!

We've taken our kids on many trips before but never for a full two weeks and never have we've asked them to participate in quite so many adventures. I know they can handle it and I know we are all up for exploring the beauty Costa Rica has to offer.

We are arriving and departing from the capital of San Jose and I have planned a loop over the 14 days that will take us to Bajos del Toro, La Fortuna, Bijagua, Samara and Monteverde.

We are renting a car to get us around and will be spending a few nights in each location in order to explore the area and not feel like we're always in a car driving. The maximum driving time for any one leg will be a maximum of 3 hours, except for the Samara - Monteverde leg which will be slightly longer. We are also spending extra time in Samara in order to fully explore the area at a more relaxed pace and to maximize our beach time.  Our accommodations will be a mix of hotels and AirBnb. I'll go into more details on our accommodations as the trip progresses.

All we really need to do now do a bunch of laundry after the cottage and then re-pack for our trip to Costa Rica!                                                                                                                                                                 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Life at the cottage

We’ve now been at our cottage rental for four days and are having a blast relaxing, enjoying the outdoors and spending time with family. It’s hard to believe we only have a couple days left. The cottage we are staying at is on Upper Rideau Lake in between Newboro and Westport. Unfortunately, the water is a little weedy so we haven’t been doing as much swimming as we’d like but are still managing some water activities. We have a giant inflatable raft to play on as well as a paddle board and kayaks. Other than that we’ve also been chilling in the hot tub, making s’mores on the campfire and playing games.

Today it is raining a little bit so we’re off to Westport to check out the local brewery, have some lunch and pick up a few groceries. Westport also has a beach we would like to check out but will postpone that until the sun comes back out again.

It’s hard to believe our week at the cottage is almost coming to a close but that means our next adventure is also just around the corner. We’ll be back home for a few days which will be just enough time to do some laundry and re-pack before our early morning flight next Wednesday. I’ll reveal where the destination will be in my next post. For now I will just let you know that the trip will be for two weeks and includes mountains, rainforests and beaches.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

My 2019 Sabbatical

It's official! I am now off work for the next seven weeks. Yes, you read that weeks! Why? As I mentioned previously my employer, Adobe, offers every employee a sabbatical after every five years of service. These sabbaticals start at four weeks and go up to six weeks. Since I celebrated my 20 year anniversary last year with Adobe meant that I was eligible for a 6 week sabbatical which I then extended to 7 weeks with a few extra vacation days.

As the term suggests a sabbatical is meant to be an opportunity to disconnect from work and enjoy activities you may not normally have time for due to the pressures of work. It doesn't matter how you spend your vacation but hopefully it is something you enjoy. It could involve getting a project done at home, spending time with your family, travelling or learning a new skill. I have used my sabbaticals in the past to accomplish all these options.

For the sabbatical I am currently starting the overall theme for the next 7 weeks will be travel and family.

Once I decided when I would be taking my sabbatical six months ago I made a conscience effort to focus on opportunities to travel while also being able to spend time with my family. What I came up with was a combination of relaxing, adventure and visiting. I am currently relaxing at a cottage for the week with my family, parents and sister. Then myself, my wife and kids are off to Costa Rica for two weeks of adventure! This vacation will undoubtedly be the highlight of my sabbatical and after months of planning I am really excited to embark on this adventure with my family. Finally, I will also be heading off to the England and Wales with my parents in order to visit with all my aunts, uncles and cousins who live there.

Follow along with me for the seven weeks and watch how this crazy adventure will unfold.

First up...the cottage!

After loading the car all up yesterday for the 1.5 hour drive we are now pretty much settled in. The weather is really hot so we've already been swimming in the water and playing on the inflatable party raft which took most of the morning to inflate. The plan for the rest of the week is plenty of relaxing and hanging out with the family. We'll probably head in to Westport a few times and maybe check out Newboro as well to see the locks and have ice cream. All I'm hoping to get done today is to head off in search of wood so we can have a few campfires and more importantly, make s'mores. I'm also planning to pull out the drone in order to capture some footage of the surrounding area.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Vacation Planning 101

How do you plan your vacations? Do you obsess over every last detail? Do you plan down to the minute? Or do you prefer to simply book a flight and wing the rest of your time?

I love to plan. I’m pretty sure part of the reason I love to travel is so I get to plan something. There is something quite satisfying about taking a broad question, “Where should we go on our next vacation?”, and turning that into a detailed itinerary. Can you see my OCD tendencies coming through yet?

This post is about the process I take when planning any type of travel. As a software developer, I essentially use the same process for solving any large and complex problem. I take my initial big question, “Where should we go on our next vacation?”, and break it down into smaller manageable tasks. Once one task is completed I can then iterate of the process by breaking down the remaining work into smaller tasks until they all get completed.

Naturally, the first step in answering the big question is deciding where you want to go. No other tasks can be completed until this gets done. To determine an appropriate destination you must ask yourself what the goal of the desired vacation is. 

Are you visiting family? 
Do you want to escape the cold? 
Are you looking for adventure or relaxing? 
Who will you be travelling with?
What is my budget?

I think you get the picture. Once these questions are answered you can start narrowing down the types of places you could possibly visit. I started planning my next vacation about 10 months in advance. I knew I would be travelling in August, with my wife and two kids and was looking for adventure. Early on I thought about going on a three week road trip looking for some adventure. This started out with an elaborate plan to drive to Canada’s east coast all the way to Newfoundland. While this certainly would have been an epic adventure after some initial research and reading related travel blogs I decided such a trip would involve too much driving and not enough adventure.

I restarted the process again with a revised set of goals. 

The next destination I set my sights on was a road trip to West Virginia. This is another location that has plenty of adventure but required less driving. This time around I got much further in my planning. Using a combination of Google Maps, travel blogs and tourism websites I was able to come up with a three week loop with stops in key areas along the way.

This brings me to my next point. Areas or zones. Once I’ve answered the big question and have a destination in mind I break the work down further by coming up with a list of broad areas or zones that look like they would be worth visiting. A zone could be a city or a geographic area that I am interested in exploring. I find having these areas defined makes it much easier to plan a route as well as understanding how many areas can feasibly be visited. Depending on the location it may make more sense to find a home base to make day trips to each area instead of packing up and traveling to each area.

Determining the areas to visit goes back to the original questions on why a specific location was chosen. With the broad location already known it becomes a lot easier to discover the areas that will provide the desired activities and exploration. For this process I rely heavily on existing travel blogs from past travellers as well as Tripadvisor reviews and forums.

Now we are getting to the fun part. It is time to start booking. This usually happens 4-6 months out. For accommodations I generally book a combination of mid-range hotels and AirBnb's. On longer trips AirBnb is great since it provides an opportunity to do some laundry and make our own meals. Hotels are also great for the additional services they provide like on on site bar/restaurant and pools (important with kids!). 

There is still plenty of work to be done such as planning driving routes, renting a car and booking activities but those will be saved for a future post.

Also, stay tuned to see my planning steps in action as I embark on an epic six-week adventure with my family in August.  We will be visiting three very different locations in three very different countries.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Land Down Under

The furthest destination, by far,  I have travelled to is Sydney, Australia. I was in Australia for two and a half weeks in July 2015 for a business trip.

Since I was traveling to Sydney on business I had plenty of opportunity to explore the city of Sydney but I did manage to explore a few locations outside of the city as well on the weekend.

The two locations I managed to get to were Katoomba in order to explore the Blue Mountains National Park and Cairns in order to fulfill a lifelong dream of SCUBA diving at the Great Barrier Reef.

Getting to Katoomba was an easy day trip by train from Sydney. Katoomba is where most people kick off a day exploring the nearby Blue Mountains National Park. I planned a route that included viewing waterfalls, going on bushwalks in the rainforest, travelling on the world's steepest railway and visiting the famous "three sisters" landmark. I used the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus which was a super easy way to get around all the major attractions in one loop.

The following weekend I ventured out to Cairns in Queensland which was a mere 3 hour flight to the north.

The reason for this trip could be summed up in three words: Great Barrier Reef. As a certified PADI diver, being able to explore the Great Barrier Reef was on my bucket list so there was no way I wasn't going to miss out on the opportunity due to a three hour flight. Luckily domestic flights in Australia were pretty reasonable. Cairns itself is a small seaside town that pretty much only caters to the crowds wishing to explore the Great Barrier Reef. I researched the countless tour operators in Cairns and eventually decided on Tusa Dive. Based on my research I felt that Tusa Dive provided the best facilities and support for experienced divers over some of the the operators that were more focused on the snorkelling traveller only. The entire experience was truly amazing. The Great Barrier Reef was an absolute joy to explore as a diver and the Tusa Dive staff were second to none.

I also managed to explore the local Sydney sights as well. Notable activities I enjoyed were the Bondi to Bronte Coastal walk, jogging through the Royal Botanical Gardens, taking the ferry to Manly Beach, and the Sydney Zoo.