Top Baby Boomer Travel Blog 2015 Awards

And the winners are… pause for breath-holding… pause for envelope opening …

Well, actually there are 20 winners.  But I am beyond excited to be named one of FlipKey’s Top Baby Boomer Travel Blogs to follow in 2015.  There are some well-seasoned travelers and heavy-hitter bloggers in the mix.  And now me and Just a Backpack and a Rollie.

I’ll take it!

And hubs and I will keep on dragging our backpacks and rollies and sharing our adventures with you throughout 2015.  I’ve been busy applying for house sitting gigs all along the west coast from Canada to Mexico.  And we have some very interesting gigs in the works.

So please click on through to the wonderful post on the FlipKey blog and check out our fellow boomer travel bloggers.  They are all truly an inspiration to me.

And here is our little Award.  She’s not a gold statue, but I think she’s pretty cute.

Les & Nancy Global House Sit Pros ~ check out our new profile!

Hello, Hola, Bonjour, Ciao and Hej!

We are Les and Nancy aka the kitty whisperer (Les) and the chicken wrangler (Nancy).

Les & Nancy on the camino de santiago

Walking the Camino de Santiago

Les&Nancy2

We clean up pretty well too.

 

For the past 30+ years we have enjoyed rewarding and successful corporate careers, Les as an electrical engineer turned sales ninja and Nancy as an award-winning corporate meeting, event and travel manager. We’re retiring from the corporate life to focus on our new career as full time global house sitters.

Why House Sitting?

As long time homeowners with beloved pets of our own, we were delighted to find trusted house and pet sitters who cared for our furry family members, our house and our plants with such enthusiasm, respect and considerate care that we (finally!) felt free to go off on a vacation without worrying if a pipe might break or the plants turned brown. On top of that, our kitty (currently Mr. Ricky) could enjoy the comfort of his own home and a friendly snuggle or two.

Win. Win. Win.

It’s not always easy allowing strangers into your home, we know that. But, we also know from experience that once you make that right connection, communicate expectations clearly and develop a level of trust – house sitting will change your life. Whether you are the home owner or the house sitter.

We want to pay it forward and that’s why we started house sitting earlier this year.

Why Choose Us?

~ We are committed to being the absolute best house and pet sitters you will ever have.

~ We have an abundance of life, professional and travel experience and we’re very comfortable and adaptable in new surroundings and cultures.

~ We will confidently handle most emergencies with calm, quick-thinking action. If we can’t handle it ourselves, we’ll know who to call. That’s where our management and leadership experiences come in handy!

~ We will be respectful of your home, your possessions and your privacy. We’re homeowners ourselves and will treat yours as if it were our own.

~ We are excellent communicators. We will keep you updated as often as you like so you know everything is in good hands. We love to send photo updates!

~ We love animals of all kinds (sorry not snakes) and have shared our home with dogs, cats, hamsters, white mice, tropical fish. We’ve also learned the fine (and very fun!) art of chicken keeping through several house sits and home exchanges.

~ We’re fun, friendly, detailed oriented retirees with a zest for life, curious minds and and energetic healthy bodies. We welcome the opportunity to get our hands dirty in your garden, take long walks with your pups and keep your house in tip-top condition.

Our Skills and Experience – here’s why we are such a great team ~

Les was Director of New Business Development for a large exposition and trade show company for many years. He worked with clients from around the world to understand their specific needs and deliver their expectations on time, on budget and make it look easy. This required outstanding listening skills, the ability to communicate ideas and manage large, complicated projects. He has also been the president of our home owners association for the past five years leading our town home community through a major construction project. His vision and ability to lead both the board and the multiple contractors was key to the success of this project.

Skills Les brings ~
• handy/Mr. Fix-it
•enjoys puttering in the garden
•chief trash carrier and mail retriever
•good with a vacuum and a mop
•manager of home security
•family chef
•pooper scooper
•kitty cuddler
•extremely organized

Nancy is currently the Manager of Corporate Travel for a multi-national corporation. She leads a team that supports over 1500 corporate travelers, developing travel policy, negotiating hotel and airline agreements while ensuring the security and safety of every employee while on the road. Prior to becoming travel manager, Nancy managed corporate meetings and events. Her creative vision, team building and leadership skills combined with a focused attention to detail were crucial to her award-winning success in this arena. Nancy is also a published author with essays in two books on retirement. She blogs about retirement, travel and living the good life at www.justabackpackandarollie.com

Skills Nancy brings ~
•communication expert
•loves to garden and has a green thumb
•lead dog walker (Les always seems to tag along) and ball tosser
•keeper of schedules, lists and all other very important details
•chief bottle washer and laundry detail
•chicken wrangler, egg gather and coop scooper
•experienced with giving pet meds and care of aging pets

As a Team we ~

•believe that taking good care of your home is our most important responsibility
•are honest and reliable with local and state background checks
•work well together and with others
•appreciate the importance of maintaining a clean, well-maintained home and garden
•share house sitting responsibilities based on our individual skills and interests
•are grateful for the opportunity to travel and the wonderful new experiences that house sitting around the globe provides.

We are non-smokers who enjoy a great glass of wine and all kinds of food, we have excellent references, a strong sense of adventure and a can-do attitude.  We’re working hard to become the house sitters we’d want to hire!

If you are looking for a fantastic house sitting duo to care for your home and furry family members so you can relax and focus on your time away, please contact us.

A few of our furry and feathered friends stopped by to say Hi! and give us their stamp of approval. Pups on parade

This is the beginning of our new profile which will soon appear on our Global House Sit Pros website (in the works), and several house sitting referral sites including Trusted House Sitters. Housesit Match and Nomador.

I’d love your feedback on our “resume” and if you know anyone on the west coast (U.S. or Canada) who is looking for good house sitters, please let them know about us.  We’d love to connect with them.

This is getting really exciting!

Cheers,

Nancy

Create Your Roving Retirement – Part 2: Cheap Sleeps

Retirement travel doesn’t have to mean package tours, luxury cruises or high dollar hotels.  In fact, it’s my experience that if you live more like a local and less like a tourist, you can save a lot of money and have a much richer experience.  Here are a few great ways to stretch your travel dollar that I’ve mentioned before and are worth exploring.

Live Like a Local – Sleep Here

Somewhere in Spain...Nancy Slept Here

Somewhere in Spain…Nancy Slept Here

Housing will probably be your biggest travel expense.  These unique options will not only save a lot of money, but allow you to really connect with a location:

WWOOFING –   World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.  Volunteers trade farm duties for room and board. Accommodations are simple and the work can be hard at times, but if the chance to harvest grapes in Italy, learn how to make goat cheese in France, or get your hands dirty on an organic herb garden in New Zealand appeals to you, then WWOOFING is the way to go.   A surprising number of people in their 50’s, 60‘s, and beyond are signing up.  www.wwoofusa.org

Chicken wrangling...how hard can it be?

Chicken wrangling…how hard can it be?

 

Hosteling –  If you were that backpacking twenty-something, you probably remember hostels as cheap, dorm-style rooms with bunk beds and rented sheets, a bath down the hall and a party-hardy crowd.  Not a gray hair in sight.  They weren’t called youth hostels for nothing.   Much has changed.  Today more than 15% of hostelers are over 50 and the number is growing.  Now offering private rooms with baths, online booking, fresh and free linens and more, today’s hostels are catering to the mature traveler on a budget. Two things about hosteling have not changed – they are still inexpensive and a wonderful way to meet other travelers.   www.hihostels.com

Workamping –  For some folks, hitting the road in a motorhome is at the top of their retirement wish list.  But, it’s not as cheap as you might think.  When you budget for gas and campground fees, you could pay more to park you RV than you would for a moderately priced hotel room.   One unique and fun way to make your RV travel more affordable is by becoming a workamper.  Through online sites like Workamper (www.workamper.com) and Camp Host (www.camphost.org), travelers can find and apply for thousands of seasonal and year round jobs.  Many RVers work during the summer season as camp hosts, collecting  fees from campers, directing them to available sites, answering questions and watching for problems.  In return they receive a free campsite and often a small stipend.

House Sitting – Short and long time house sitting opportunities are available worldwide through online sites like House Carers (www.housecarers.com) and Trusted House Sitters (www.trustedhousesitters.com).  Most house sitting jobs involve some form of pet care and modest home maintenance like watering the plants and bringing in the mail.  Homeowners feel secure that their home is occupied and taken care of in their absence.  You get a great place to stay for free and the chance to live like a local.  Win-Win.

Remember, your first gig doesn’t have to be half way around the world.  Dip your toes into the shallow water before you make the plunge by starting closer to home.   If “Green Acres is the place for you”, why not spend a weekend getting dirt under your fingernails and sore muscles on a local farm?  If you think professional house sitting might be the way to travel, then offer your services to friends and family in the U.S.   You’ll gain valuable references and get a chance to see how comfortable you really are sleeping in a strange bed and picking up Fido’s poop.

What’s your favorite way to travel on the cheap?  We’d love to share your ideas and experiences right here on the blog. Leave us a comment.

See you on the road!

Nancy

 

Create Your Roving Retirement … Five Fun Ways to Kickstart Your Dream

“Listen to the Musn’t’s child, Listen to the Don’t’s. Listen to the Shouldn’t’s, the Impossibles, the Won’t’s. Listen to the Never Haves, then Listen close to me. ANYthing can happen, child, ANYthing can Be.”
Shel Silverstein (1930-1999);Poet, Songwriter, Musician

Maybe you were one of those 20 year old free spirits who stuffed everything they could into an over-sized backpack and set out to see the world before you settled down.  Or maybe, like most of us, you only dreamed about that kind of travel and then stepped straight onto the well-worn path already laid out for you – work, marriage, kids.   Your travel dream was put on the shelf and after a few years, the backpack went to the Goodwill.  A big trip became a week at Disney World.   It’s funny how that happens.

But those dreams never fully go away do they?  Like long lost friends, they lurk quietly in the back of our minds only to pop up as fanciful daydreams while we’re slogging through a mind-numbing day in the office or waiting in the carpool line.

What I know for sure is that for many of us, somewhere around 50 is when those old dreams start to re-surface in earnest.  Gone for a while, but not forgotten.  That travel gypsy is still alive and well.  A little older, a lot wiser, and eager to explore the world.

Don’t worry, there’s still time.

A growing number of people are becoming vagabond retirees.  People in their 50’s, 60’s, 70’s are packing up their new, high-tech backpacks and heading out to become citizens of the world.

Want to join them?  It’s easy.  And it doesn’t have to blow your hard-earned retirement nest egg either.

Traveling on a retiree budget does require thinking outside the box, lots of research, some advance planning, a sense of adventure and a willingness to be flexible.

Don’t wait until you are officially retired to set your travel dreams in motion.  Include them in your planning now.  Here are a few simple ideas to get you started:

1.  Create a Travel Dream Board.  It might sound hokey, but it’s fun, it’s easy and it works!  Buy a large piece of posterboard, gather up lots of magazines, travel brochures, old photos, scissors and a glue stick.  It’s as simple as cutting out pictures and pasting them onto the board.  Don’t over-think this.  Cut out everything that catches your eye – beach sunsets, different cultures, village life, bustling cities, historical settings or mountain views.  Can you see yourself in the picture?  Then it belongs on your board.  I call this visual goal setting.

2.  Make a Wish List.   Use the images on your Dream Board to create a Wish List.  Here’s where you get more specific.  What are your must haves for a travel or retirement living destination?  Sleepy village or bustling city?  Beach or mountains?  Easy access or remote?  The options are endless, but honing this list to your top 5 or 6 must haves will give you a great jumping off point for your initial research.

3.  Do Your Research.  Whether you need resources for small hotels or hostels while backpacking through Central America, house swaps in France, or which visas are required for a trek across Tibet, it’s all available on the internet.  Find out where the best airports are, what ground transportation is cheap and easy, who speaks English, what the local currency is.

4.  Become an Arm Chair Traveler.  Read and use the country and city travel guides from Rick Steves and Lonely Planet.  Check out books from your local library.  Reading about the adventures of buying and fixing up a run down farm in Portugal, living the gypsy life on a boat in the Caribbean, or women walking all 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago, is very inspiring and educational.

5.  Get Connected.   Find and connect with the folks who are blazing the trail ahead of you.  Ask questions and get the scoop from people who have been there, done that.  It’s helpful to know the good, the bad, and the “never again” about a place before you go.  Start reading travel blogs.  Many are filled with first hand information, great personal stories and links to more resources.

I hope these ideas give you a good starting point.  I have LOTS more information and some great ideas and resources that I’ve learned from all my research that I’ll be sharing in future posts so stay tuned.  There is so much inspiration and adventure to be found in the planning process.  Let’s get going! bridge

See you on the road,

Nancy

Two For the Road ~ 5 traits that make a great travel partner

I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you ~

I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you ~

 Let the Adventure Begin.

The photo above accompanied by the caption “Let the Adventure Begin” was how hubs and I chose to announce our marriage in 2003.  I thought the couple in this photo looked like a perfect team – happy partners in crime and in life.

Whether you are a duo on the Road to Zanzibar or the Road of Life, traveling with a partner can be tricky business.  One of the things I love about my hubby is that we travel well together.  As we get closer to heading out on our own Two For the Road adventures I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what makes a really good team.  For me it comes down to a few very important traits.

Here are the top five on my list ~

Every great team needs…

1.  A Yes Man, a partner who says Hell Yes or Why Not to whatever crazy idea you come up with.  Someone who is all in for a good time or an adventure and doesn’t sweat the details.  When you say “Just shut up and get in the car.”  That’s exactly what they do.  They might even roll down the window and hang their head out to feel the breeze.  Oh, wait.  That’s the dog.

2.  A partner who is calm during your storm.  Like the time a few years ago when Amtrak cancelled our train with no warning – just taped up a hand printed paper sign “No Train Today”.  No train?  Really?  I’m on a five day vacation!  I need the train TODAY!   That’s when you need a partner who stands back calmly while you throw an earth-shattering-all out-but-still-lady-like-bitch fit after the Amtrak service person says, “Ok. So, do you want to cancel now or do you want to come back tomorrow?”  and, then said partner calmly steps up, takes your arm, and says “Let’s go find a Happy Hour and come back in the morning”.  Happy Hour?  Ok.  I love Happy Hour.

3.  The guy in the rose colored glasses.  On those days when one of you is less than your shining best – let’s just call it major-ass cranky-pants and your partner looks over and says  “Have I told you today how crazy I am about you?”  Whoa!  Hello Dolly! Just the right words at the right time.  Well, rightbackattcha Big Boy.

4.  A comedian and a straight man.  You know, like George and Gracie, Lucy and Ricky, Will and Grace.  Every great comedy duo has an instigator, the comedian with the cockeyed point of view and the straight man who makes it all seem funny.  They are a finely oiled machine.  They play off each other.  They give as good as they get.  They make each other laugh.

5.  And, finally, you’ve each gotta be a switch hitter.  A great partnership works when you can switch roles easily and as often as required.  When you’re at the end of your rope – he’s just getting his strength.  When he’s too pooped to participate, you slow your frantic pace and stop to smell the roses.  It’s a balancing act and it works best when each person is tuned in to the other, to the moment, to the goal at hand, and to the bigger picture.

And so, ten years later, I say – Let The Adventure Continue.  We’re two for the road and I cannot wait to see where the road will lead us.

“If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something we must always remember.  We are braver than we believe, stronger than we seem and smarter than we think.  But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… we’ll always be together.”  Christopher Robin

I originally published a version of this post back in 2012.  It seemed like a perfect post for Valentine’s Day so I dusted it off, prettied it up a bit and thought I’d share it again.

Cheers!

Nancy

Go Go Gadget ~ Great gifts for your favorite traveler

It’s hard to think about buying anything when you are in the midst of paring down all of your worldly possessions.  I’ll tell you, downsizing takes the shine off shopping in a big way.

All this downsizing creates a challenge for those wonderful folks in your life who want to shower you with lovely gifties at Christmas or on your birthday, too.  Suddenly, they’re unsure.  To buy or not to buy?  That is the new question.

So, Little Miss Helpful (that’s me) has started a list of travel must-haves that would make brilliant gifts for any traveler or retirement gypsy.

Here are my current favs:

1.  Travel Clothesline.   Don’t think you need one?  Either did I, until I washed a pair of my expensive moisture-wicking socks in the sink of our hotel room in Santiago and having no place to dry said socks, I ever so carefully laid them out on the sill of the open window in our room.  Hubs and I went out to lunch and upon our return, one lonely sock was there to greet me.  The other had apparently flown away.  I scanned the rooftops and ledges of nearby buildings.  No sock.  So I dashed down the stairs and along the cobblestone streets to the alleyway below our window.  Two trips up and down the alley (chased by a crazy old woman who thought she knew me) and still no sock. Never found it.  Maybe a bird took it to puff up its nest.   A travel clothesline will be in my pack on the next trip.

2.  Kindle Paperwhite – It’s small, lightweight, holds a charge for a long time (unlike your iphone or ipad), it’s easy on the eyes and works well in low/no light or with bright sun streaming through your window.  Add an Amazon gift card and life is good.

3.  Noise Cancelling Headphones –  Crying babies, loud talkers, the annoying squawk of Angry Birds all fade away when you put on a really good set of headphones.  Bliss on an overnight flight.

4.  External Battery Pack –  This can be a life saver if you can’t find a place to plug in.  It can also be used as a flashlight.  How cool is that?

5.  Cocoon – I spend way too much time digging through my purse or may bag looking for something I had only minutes earlier and now has suddenly disappeared into the cosmic vortex.  Organization like this could save my sanity.  Or my marriage, because hubs always has a helpful comment or two. 215_xlarge

6.  Nap Anywhere –  Hubs can nap anywhere and in any situation.  I’ve tried the blow up pillows, the tiny silica ball pillows, rolled up blanket pillows.  Nothing holds my head in anything remotely resembling a natural position.   This handy-dandy device might be worth a try.  It was launched through a Kickstarter campaign and who doesn’t want to support start-up innovators.

7.  SCOTTEVEST –  With a variety of styles including shirts, vest and jackets there’s a pocket for every device, your money, your passport – you name it – there’s a pocket for it.  And, although it’s not much in the fashionista department, the Scottevest does not make you look like the Michellin Man (or woman).  Trust me, nobody’s going to pick your pocket. category_tile_chloe_hoodie_normal category_tile_tvm_normal

Travelers, what’s on your must have list?  Let us know in the comments.

See you on the road.  I’ll be plugged in wearing my stylin’ Scottevest fleece hoodie.

Nancy

House Sitting ~ 5 reasons why it might just be the perfect retirement option

I know.  Technically speaking, house sitting is a job.  And if you are anything at all like my  husband – JOB is a four letter word.  He’s retired and he’s loving every minute of it.  Thank you very much.

No job.  No money.  No problem.

Yep, that’s his current philosophy.  And it’s been working out for him so far.  Of course, his other half is still bringing home the bacon, as they say.  And right now, his bacon is organic, peppered, and fresh from the farmers market.  But someday very soon all of that is going to change because this old girl is going to retire too, and then the cash flow is going to become a cash trickle.

And that’s why I see some kind of work in my retirement future.  And, truth be told, I’m really okay with that.  I’m not sure what I’d become if I didn’t have something going on to keep me busy most of the time.  Something that challenges both brain and body.  If I can get paid (in cash or in kind) for said work and if it’s interesting and on my terms.  Well, count me in.

That’s why house sitting makes perfect sense as a retirement option for traveling gypsy wannabe’s like hubs and I.

It would give us the ability to pack up our backpacks, grab our rollies, and travel the world – one house sitting job at a time.   And do it on a limited retirement budget.  And maybe we’d have enough money left over for some really good bacon every now and then.

I’ve been pondering this idea for a while now.  I  signed up on the Trusted Housesitter site as both “looking for a house sitter” and “looking for house sitting opportunities” back in August.  We were down to the wire on finding a sitter for our cat, Mr. Ricky.  I received several interesting offers, but found a wonderful sitter close to home.   Now, each morning I get the most enticing email from Andy Peck of Trusted HouseSitters with a list of the latest house sitting opportunities.  And yes, every morning I open this email and thoroughly read each house sitting offer – and I dream…

Here are a couple from this morning’s post ~

smoodle Pet sitter needed for my Schmoodle for three and a half weeks in Underwood, Australia

I am looking for a dog lover to mind Kobe my beautiful boy Schmoodle. I would prefer someone who loves dogs as he is my baby and someone that doesn’t have a problem with him sleeping on the end of the bed. He is a non-shedding dog.

All I ask is that you leave my house as you found it. Must love animals. My main priorty is for you to look after Kobe and throw his ball for him when he wants to play. Would prefer someone that does housesitting as their way of living.  I have a three bedroom house at Underwood close to shops and transport.

HouseSitFrance Pet sitter needed for lovely springer spaniel, fluffy cat and chickens in Fontaine-Chalendray, France

We are a family looking for someone to feed and walk Rollo once a day, and feed minky the cat. Both are really easy going. Rollo cannot be tired out and the walks are lovely here! He is patient though and will wait for his walk if you need a lie in or its raining! The chickens will also need feeding and watering, and of course you can collect and eat their lovely eggs.  wifi. lovely walks and bike rides direct from house, local swimming lake 10 mins. 1 hour to the sea. 40 minutes cognac.1 hr 20 La Rochelle. bikes and kayaks an be borrowed. huge woodland garden.

Sounds lovely doesn’t it?

So, if you are like us, and have been looking for ways to travel more in your retirement, and not break the bank to do it, you might want to look into house sitting.

I found this list on the Trusted HouseSitters website and I couldn’t agree more.

5 Reasons House Sitting Makes the Perfect Retirement

1.  You save money on accommodations.  The most obvious benefit of house sitting is the money you will same on hotel stays or holiday rentals.  For those on a fixed retirement income this can be a huge advantage.  

2.  Travel for longer –  As you no longer have to pay for somewhere to stay, you can spend more time exploring a new location and really get a feel for an area that you might have had to rush through otherwise.

3.  Discover new areas –  By being flexible with where you house sit, you can discover fantastic locations that you wouldn’t have though about visiting otherwise.

4.  Meet new people – Many house sitters say that they have made lifelong friends on their assignments as friends.  Walking the dog in a local park is a great way to meet people and make new friends.

5.  Live like a local –  House sitting allows you to really experience an area in a way that you might not when staying in a hotel.   Shopping in the corner market or the weekly farmer’s markets, using local transportation, meeting your neighbors at local gatherings.  All enrich your live like a local experience.

And, just in case you were wondering – I have chicken sitting experience from a home exchange we did last year.  Dog, cat, chickens, French countryside – I think I can handle that.

Let the house sitting adventures begin!

Nancy

Virgin Atlantic ~ Fly Away With Me

Did you miss me?

No, I haven’t been traveling or partying like it’s 1999 (where did that come from?),  I’ve been busy writing another essay on retirement travel for a new book that will be published in 2014.  It’s almost complete and I’ll have more Backpack and Rollie adventures coming soon.

In the meantime, here’s a fun video from those crazy folks at Virgin Atlantic that’s guaranteed to make you sit up and pay attention.  And smile.

Brilliant!

Take that Southwest…

Cheers!

Nancy

Going with the Group ~ Yes, it’s still adventure travel!

I never tired of views like this.

I never tired of views like this.

First things first.  I am not now, and probably never will be, a tour bus kind of traveler.  I’m way too independent and not really a very good group participant. I am not one of those lucky people who meets up with a bunch of strangers and leaves a few hours later with five new BFF’s.  I’m more of a go-it-aloner.  And I’m really good with that.

I am pretty sure, however, that if I had not stumbled on the website for Marly Tours last year, there’s a 99% chance that my boots would not have gathered all that dust walking the Camino de Santiago.

So, why the change of heart?   In my opinion, Marly provided just the level of support to give us the confidence we needed to step a tiny bit beyond our comfort zone.   And, for the most part, we weren’t part of the “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium” mentality of a larger tour.  We had a lot of freedom and a little more piece of mind.  We were able to dip our toes into the water of adventure travel without fear of falling off the bank.

If you are newly-minted adventurers like hubs and I, a first-time-single traveler, or even well-seasoned world travelers who are ready to take it a little easier, the Marly approach might be just what you are looking for.  As the designated family travel agent and tour guide, I can honestly say that once I had the basics in place – air reservations, hotels in Madrid, post-Camino itinerary, I didn’t have to worry about anything.  I actually got to relax and enjoy the entire trip.  Since this was the first two week vacation I have taken in 20 years, it was a gift to sit back, settle in, and enjoy the journey.  Marly had my back.

There are a variety of ways people choose to experience the Camino. caminomarlywalkers Some load up their backpacks and head out from St. Jean Pied de Port in France, hike over the Pyrenees and walk across Spain stopping at a variety of albergues that are set up just for Pilgrims to eat, sleep, shower and sometimes do laundry.  Albergues come in all sizes and with varying levels of comfort.  All require the ability to exist in close quarters with strangers and most require the ability to sleep nose to nose with people you’ve never met, many of whom snore.  Not my cup of tea!  So, while I had the Camino on my bucket list, if that was the only way to walk The Way, it probably wasn’t going to happen.   A lot of folks go the Albergue route and love it.  I am in awe of those folks and still believe that they get a much richer experience and the true understanding of the spirit of the Camino.

Typical albergue on the camino

Typical albergue on the camino

Some people do the Camino as vacation allows.  Walking a few weeks each year.  A few  even choose to do the Camino on horseback.  This can make for very interesting walking along some of the narrow dirt paths.  Between the cows and the horses, we called it poop camino on more than one occasion.  Some people bike the Camino.  This is becoming more popular and almost dangerous at times as flocks of bright yellow spandex sneek up from behind and whizz by on narrow roads and paths causing walkers to jump back into the unknown of the tall grass and bushes.   Some walkers choose to make their own route, stay in either small B&B’s or Albergues and have their backpacks/bags transported from place to place.

By deciding to go with Marly Tours for our first long walking experience, here’s what we chose:

1.  A small group of no more than fourteen.  Usually with a mix of ages and nationalities, Ours was all over 45 and from North America.  Side note:  There was a lovely Canadian couple, Ange and Laura, in our group.  When we introduced ourselves, Laura and I found out that we had gone to the same elementary school (Ionview) and high school (Winston Churchill) at the same time.  It is a very small world.

2.  A small but comfortable support van with a driver and a tour guide/spiritual guide/cheerleader/medic who were there when we needed them but gave us plenty of space if we didn’t.

A friendly smile, a high five, a hug and a bottle of cold water.  Support just when we needed it.  Perfecto!

A friendly smile, a high five, a hug and a bottle of cold water. Support just when we needed it. Perfecto!

3.  Lots of first hand and interesting information about the Camino, the history of the churches and buildings we passed each day and points of interest along the route.  Much of this information we would probably not have learned if we were on our own, weighed down by packs, worrying about where we were going to sleep that night.

4.  The knowledge that if we needed them, Victor and Jose Luis were only a phone call away and it was OK to ride in the bus if you had to.  We didn’t.  But it was good to know that if one of us fell or fell ill, we didn’t have to limp for miles and miles to get to civilization.

Calling Dr. Jose Luis!

Calling Dr. Jose Luis!

We passed many people with problems, but one young woman truly touched my heart. Hubs and I were in the last half of a very long, very hot, uphill walk to Monte de Gozo and I spotted her up ahead.  She was shuffling so slowly, using her walking stick, bent over from the weight of her pack, that she was barely moving.  When we came alongside, I could see the pain on her face and in her eyes.  I stopped to ask if I could help her in any way.  She was French but spoke some English.  Tendonitis she said.  She asked how far to the next stop and we talked a bit.  She thanked me for stopping and said she didn’t need help.  I wanted to call Victor to come and give her a short ride on the bus, but it was her Camino, not mine, and she had to walk it – every painful, shuffling step.

5.  We had charming private rooms in absolutely stunning old homes (with lots of history of their own) that have been converted into posadas.  Warm showers, free flowing wine, tasty traditional food, a good night’s sleep and breakfast were waiting for us at every stop.  The evening ritual included getting to know our fellow Pilgrims, swapping tales of the road and Jose Luis tenderly taking care of blisters.  Our bags were waiting for us when we arrived.  A couple of us enjoyed a massage.  Two of our posadas had pools and one even did our laundry.  Washed and line dried. caminomarlytourshotel caminomarlyhotel1 Looking back, I’m glad we went this route.  I know we’ll do it again.

I also know that I’m already looking for our next walking adventure and while we still can do it physically, I think we’ll push ourselves a little bit more next time.   I’m thinking maybe we’ll try the pre-planned but unsupported route.   Where?  Who knows, but the options are endless…

Finesterre - Once considered the end of the world by the Romans.

Finesterre – Once considered the end of the world by the Romans.

It truly is about the journey.  And for us, this one was just about perfect.

See you on the road.

Nancy

Walking in History ~ Camino de Santiago

Pilgrims have been walking the Camino de Santiago for more than 1,000 years.  This year over 250,000 people will arrive in Santiago de Compostela having completed at least 110km of the 800 km journey known as The Way of St. James.  These Pilgrims come from all over the world and for all kinds of reasons, but I’m pretty sure that by the time their tired feet reach the cobblestones outside the cathedral in Santiago, that every one of them (even you, cellphone guy) will have experienced the wonder, the shared connection with fellow pilgrims, and the sense of having accomplished something quite special.  I know I did.  Hubs felt it too.  caminowalk2

Little has changed.  Everything has changed.

We walked on narrow, rocky dirt paths through forests knowing that since the 10th century feet had been tramping this same earth.  Not in high tech hiking boots like ours, but in makeshift shoes fashioned from strips of cloth and hide.  Not with backpacks and camel backs, but with everything they owned on their back or in a cart.  Our journey lasted 8 days.  Theirs might have lasted 8 months… and then there was the return trip.  We flew back to Madrid for a little more museum hopping and tapas tasting.  They walked for penance, a plenary indulgence and sometimes for a healing.  We walked for fun, our health and a sense of accomplishment.  But here’s what I know for sure – the one thing each and every person who’s ever walked this path has in common is that somehow we all find a little magic in the mix.

It’s said that the Camino always provides.  Maybe it’s water when you need it (or a bathroom), the kind word of a stranger as you stand at the bottom of that very long hill.  That moment when you look up from adjusting your shoes and thrill to see a farmer and his herd of cows coming down the cobblestone street – straight at you.  Or maybe, it’s stopping at a tiny church to receive a blessing and have your passport stamped.  These are all gifts from the Camino.  Steeped in history and mystery.  The outside trappings may have changed, but the true magic of the Camino takes place on the inside – if you allow it.

How can it not?

For someone like me who is a take-charge, need to know everything, cross the T’s and dot the I’s type, learning to trust that we could navigate solely by looking for yellow arrows was freeing.  I didn’t have to be in control.  I had no control.  Except to put one foot in front of the other and go for it.  And so I did.  And so did hubs.

Those yellow arrows led us through gorgeous farmlands, up long hills with stunning vistas, down winding paths through 800 year old villages, over stone bridges built by the Romans and finally, at the end of each day to a lovely old manor home where we showered, bandaged our tender feet, drank many copas de vino, ate home cooked local fare, and fell into bed exhausted.

Finding your way on The Way means being in the moment.  It’s the only way you’ll see all those yellow arrows and (sometimes) shells.   And just like magic, one always appears just when you need it…and in the most interesting places.

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Buen Camino!

Nancy