Just about right after we returned from our Spain and France 2016 trip, I was right back into vacation planning mode. Alyce submits her vacation requests for the year in October, so we had to think quickly.
We knew (or at least were pretty sure….) that James would be starting at St. Pius for pre-K3 in the fall of 2017. Pulling him out of school for a 2-3 week vacation just as he was getting settled in a new school would not be a good idea. I knew we would have to shift our Fall vacation timeline to late Spring/early Summer at some point, and it turned out that 2017 would be the year to do it.
I only seriously considered European destinations. Southern hemisphere destinations were in the winter season and/or were too far away. Asia was too far away as well.
Portugal has been on my radar for a while, and we had really enjoyed the parts of Spain we just visited. It didn’t take too much research to narrow it down to those areas, but the actual itinerary involved a lot more planning.
But first, we had to settle on the length. Initially, we were looking at two weeks. Alyce was able to get 3 weeks off in a row again, but she was not yet convinced. Fortunately, Samantha – who was very helpful on our last trip and James loves – was again available to join us. That (plus the proposed itinerary) helped get Alyce on board with 3 weeks.
On what was to be our third international trip with James, I think I was finally getting pretty good at planning things that would keep everyone happy. James loves parks and is turning into quite the beach bum. As a result, Alyce likes places that are close to beaches/parks and that she feels comfortable walking too by just herself and James.
Of course we still love to eat out, walk around, try new wines, etc. I think that I had found places that combined all the options we were looking for.
One complication remained: booking business class (preferably) award flights for 4 people 6 months from departure – aka not so early that you get the first award seats released, but generally too far out for closer to departure award seat releases.
I looked at a couple airlines, but ended up back with Iberia for the flight over. Iberia uses married award segments, and flying to obscure airports like Santiago de Compostela (SCQ) actually helps your cause. Iberia award availability can also vary day to day, so checking a time or two each day can increase your odds of finding space. Eventually I did.
For the flight back, we just needed 3 seats because Sam would be meeting another of our cousins doing a law school summer semester abroad in Europe. The brand new LHR-MSY route had 3 business class seats and we could get to London easily from Madrid. Our first and last stops were set, now I just had to allocate days and pick the remaining stops. My thought process and the itinerary ended up like this:
A’ Coruna – 4 Nights
I found A’ Coruna by just browsing the Northwestern coast of Spain on google maps. Further research compared it to a lesser known San Sebastian, which we loved. There was easy beach access, and plenty of Tapas bars and restaurants to try out. I found a great vacation rental that overlooked one of the beaches for a very reasonable price.
Douro Valley – 3 Nights
At first, I wasn’t going to do any wine areas on this trip. But I had read so many good things about the Douro valley that I couldn’t pass it up while we were in the area. Also, I had found an awesome villa with a pool that everyone would like be happy just hanging out at.
Porto (Matosinhos) – 4 Nights
A quick drive for the Douro Valley was Porto. We would actually stay out of the center of Porto and instead on the coast for a more casual feel and easy beach access. I had again found a great AirBNB spot that overlooked the beach. We’d be able to relax in Matosinhos or catch the tram into town.
Lisbon (Estoril) – 3 Nights
The plan here was to stay outside of downtown Lisbon – again for the more relaxed atmosphere and easy coastal access. I was also able to use free credit card nights/points to book us two rooms at the Intercontinental Estoril. We love the space and flexibility that comes with vacation rentals, but I was actually pretty excited to have worked a hotel in this trip for the convenience and ease it provided.
Seville – 4 Nights
We’d leave the coast and head back into Spain. I had heard great things about Seville from our cousins that traveled there and in researching it. Seville seemed like a laid back, old Spanish city with plenty of casual dining options and parks. A lot of the apartments have terraces, and I found an apartment with a pretty large one. There were also several park options a short walk away.
Madrid – 2 Nights
We’d catch the train to Madrid and spend 2 nights at the Hotel Wellington to wrap things up. We loved Madrid and were happy to return. The hotel was right across the street from Retiro Park. This also had us positioned to get back home.
I had booked all our accommodations, made restaurant reservations, set winery visits, etc. by early March. A couple weeks after that, an opportunity presented itself that we could not pass up.
We love the neighborhood we live in and have no desire to leave. But our current house is a little small for our long term plans – especially considering that I mostly work from home and have to have a dedicated office. We always keep our eyes open for available houses in the neighborhood that would fit us indefinitely.
I saw some workers at a house in one of the best spots in the area. This was noteworthy because the house had bizarrely remained abandoned since Katrina. After some internet stalking, I located the owners, and – long story short – we worked out a deal.
We were set to close just after we’d get back from the trip. This house was also a complete renovation project. I’m talking taking it down to the studs and going back from there. As a result, we’d have to keep our current house for the estimated year it would take.
As one could imagine, having to come up with the funds to close on a second house and then pay two mortgages for a year would make things pretty tight in the old finance department. Not to mention the massive amount of planning required for the renovations and all the headaches that come with closing on a house didn’t necessarily coordinate well with being out of the country for 3 weeks.
I still had hope we could pull it off, but once all the inspection periods had passed and we were truly committed I made the call I so did not want to make.
We cancelled the trip.
Writing the above still makes me sad. I really think this would have been a fabulous trip that we all would have enjoyed. I also don’t know if we’ll be able to continue pulling off these three week international trips nearly as frequently in the future depending on how work life, family life, etc. changes.
So it killed me to pull the plug on this one. I’m sure it will haunt me like the time I had to cancel our South Africa and South America trip when Alyce was about halfway through her pregnancy (we were flying Emirates A380 first class LAX-DXB-JNB, then South African business from JNB to Buenos Aires with almost a week in Capetown).
But…It was the right decision. I likely would have been stressed on the trip with trying to keep things on pace to close/start renovations. Also, while I plan these trips for much less than you’d expect, they still cost money. We needed to be saving, not spending.
The house was one that we’d be very happy with. I won’t say “forever house” because who knows what will happen, but I don’t see us moving for several decades barring something completely unexpected. Being a complete renovation, we could do it the way we wanted and will probably build some decent sweat equity in it.
It is now October that I write this. We need to submit Alyce’s vacation for 2018 (mine is much more flexible as long as I plan ahead). I don’t know what to do or if we’d be able to do this trip again. The project may still very well be going on in May of 2018. Even if it is not, I’d be working on selling our current house. I’m hesitant to get all worked up and plan a trip only to have to cancel it – again.
We’ll see what (if anything) big we end up doing in 2018 and what else could potentially impact our vacation plans….