The House

The house…it’s been alluded to on here numerous times.  If you know us, you’ve likely at least heard about it.  If you us well, you’ve likely been several times during/after the project. 

From March 2017 when we started looking into the possibility of buying the house to March 2019 when we moved in, it consumed most of our free time.  I had to organize the financing, plans, permits, acted as contractor, and physically did a ton of the work too.  Alyce had to double up on everything at home since I was always busy; she also helped do some work too when available.

In this post, I’ll try to go over purchasing the house and making plans, the things we did, before/after, and thoughts after living in it for nearly two years.

Buying the house

We liked our old house, but we knew we would prefer a little more space.  I also had always wanted to design and build a house.  Additionally, we did not want to leave our neighborhood.  The last two items did not line up with each other as lot prices (really tear-downs) were high and going higher.

With that in mind, we started to expand our search to houses that would need renovation.  I don’t know we had in mind the full scope of renovations we’d eventually do, but we were looking for potential.

There was a house or two we looked at, but saw people working on the house at the end of the block for the first time in a while as I was walking James.  This was notable for several reasons…

This particular house was vacant since Katrina (12 years).  This was very odd, as the lot alone was worth a whole lot as it was an oversized corner lot and faced the lakefront and the Canal boulevard neutral ground.  The house had the potential for good curb appeal.  And while not a major factor, it did have some history to it in that New Orleans musician Al Hirt lived in it for a long time.

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2021 Planned Travel

I write this half-way through January with high hopes for the year.  But I also know that things could be all over the place.

Alyce has already been vaccinated.  I’d expect that makes it easier for her to travel as things open back up.  I have not, and I’m likely several months out (at a minimum) from being eligible.

We had to cancel Japan and Napa in 2020.  I’m looking to load up 2021 to make up for the lack of 2020 travel, combined with the fact that we were already behind on travel for the last several years with all the house related stuff.

Roatan (March) – This is a family trip with my parents and brother/his fiancé.  It will be the first trip we’ve taken like this in a long time (2005 was our last family trip – to Grand Cayman and without significant others).  I feel confident this one will happen.  Roatan has remained open since the fall and will likely do what they can to accept tourist.  We are currently experiencing a post-holiday uptick in Covid, but I’m hopeful that will settle down as we move away from the holidays and more people are vaccinated.

Hawaii (May) – We plan on spending 10 days in Hawaii with James: 5 in Maui and 5 in Kauai.  I looked into Hawaii a good bit for our fall 2020 trip, but it didn’t work out.  I wanted to get it in this year.  We will stay at a couple Hyatts, taking advantage of my status.  James should enjoy himself.  It’s technically a domestic trip, so I think it is more likely to happen.  It also fits in well with our longer term travel plans, which will have us more likely focusing on one longer trip a year.

Fort Morgan, AL (June) – This is an extended family beach trip.  We drive and were able to do it in 2020.  I’d rate it at likely to happen.

Japan (September/October) – Got this one scheduled for two weeks.  We currently have business class booked in both directions.  I may upgrade to First class if it becomes available on Japan Airlines.  We have stays booked on points at a number of nice Hyatts.  I’ll likely start working on restaurant reservations in a couple months. 

I’m also not that confident this one will happen.  With the vaccine, I give it a much better shot than I did a couple months back, but I’d think it’s still 50/50.  Good news is we’ve got 9+ months to go and things could be very different by then.  Bad news is Japan has been very restrictive on international travel with no plans to relax the restrictions.  We’ll see, as we really would like to go to Japan.

If not, the next place I’d look would be Europe (likely France) if open for international travel.  Should that fail, we’d look back at the national parks in the US.

Other – We have paid for a good portion of a Napa VRBO for the wedding we were supposed to attend in 2020.  I know our group would like to try to make that work at some point.

I currently have a promotional Southwest Companion Pass – not sure why.  It seems like it would be a waste to not use that.

That’s the plan.  As is the case with everything these days, it’s all up in the air as to what actually happens.

Disney – December 2020

Before I start, let me pat myself on the back and say how nice it is to write a trip report only a month removed from the trip.  Hooray for remembering details!

Disney….

Let’s start with a refresher.  We’ve done some extravagant travel.  Look no farther than my previous report where our 8 nights in hotels would have cost nearly $25,000.  And that’s cheap compared to some of the first class flights we’ve taken.

The key missing detail is we paid $0 for that.  Nothing.  Additionally, I think we are extremely efficient with our day to day travel expenses.  They matter, and I track them excessively – I’m sure I can find the cost of a cab ride from Thailand nearly a decade ago in my master travel excel book.  That’s how we pull it off.

Disney on the other hand is legit expensive.  And there are really no workarounds to it. 

Point being, I can go to Europe for 3 weeks for what it costs to spend a week at Disney on a monorail resort with the mealplan.  That’s always been a holdup for me.  Still, I said I had one trip in me.  The question was when to take it.

Decemberish 2019, our good friends informed us of their plans to do Disney the week after Thanksgiving 2020.  That week is supposed to be one of the best to go.  It would also be great to have friends (both ours and James) there as well.  James would be at a good age – old enough to ride the rides, but young enough to still experience some of the Disney magic.  We didn’t make any firm plans, but Alyce blocked the week for vacation.

Meanwhile…Covid and all that.  First thought: no way we’re going to Disney World in a pandemic.  However, reports seemed to be nothing but positive from Disney – manageable crowds, shorter than usual lines, and no widespread reports of Covid spreading.  As the time got closer, we made the decision to go for it.

To be clear, we ended up staying off site (a Hyatt on points that included breakfast), skipped lunch everyday, ate nice (but not obscene) dinners, and generally did Disney about as frugally as you could.  It still was one of the more expensive trips on a per day basis we have done.  A major, unescapable cost is park tickets.

Still, I’m glad we did the one trip.  This was a good time for James.

Day 1

We hit the road early from home but not absurdly so.  The flight there was Southwest non-stop.  We left December 1, which was the day they started filling planes again.  Still, we had no trouble getting a good boarding group and seats next to each other.

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California and Texas – September 2020

And now we’re getting into Covid times…

This trip was supposed to be to Japan.  I had held out hope we would be able to make the trip, but it was pretty clear that wasn’t happening not too long after the pandemic started.  We also had to cancel a trip to Napa in March with friends for a wedding.  That was a big bummer on many accounts.

Mid to late summer, things were looking up on the Covid front.  Some travel had started back up.  Our vacation time is use it or lose it, so we’d be taking time off either way.  I was interested in finding something for Alyce and I to do that was more outdoor focused and preferably not in a big city.  We had about two weeks to work with.  Just the two of us had not gone on a vacation since our 2017 South America trip, so we were due.

My first plan was Hawaii.  They were set to reopen to American tourism on September 1, and it seemed like a good Covid option.  Not to mention, they have some nice Hyatts at which I’d be able to put my globalist status and points stash to use.

But mid-August, it became apparent that they were unlikely to re-open for September.  [They did not.]

Back to the drawing board.  I looked at Alaska, but it would be late in the year for that trip.  I considered some combination of Yellowstone, Jackson Hole, and Glacier National Park.  Those too were later than ideal in the year (though less so than Alaska) and had some Covid closures.  Plus they were an easier trip that we may want to bring James to one day.

California seemed like the answer.  We could do Big Sur, Yosemite, and Lake Tahoe.  They were good options in consideration of Covid, and again we could stay in nice Hyatt resorts.

Next…bring on the wildfires!  Let me clarify, rescheduling a vacation is nothing compared to the devastation caused to Californians by the fires.  I absolutely do not intend to give even the slightest indication otherwise.  Still, rescheduling the vacation yet again was getting old by this point.  We weren’t sure which – if any – of the destinations would be available or worthwhile to go to.  Additionally, it could vary greatly week to week.  So all we could do was monitor closely.

A week or so out, it became obvious that Yosemite was not happening – and Lake Tahoe too.  We were holding out hope to still do Big Sur with something else but had back up plans as well.

Things worked in our favor, and it looked like Big Sur would be ok to travel to.  It was, and smoke was a complete non issue.  

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Cancun – November 2019

This trip came about because I had expiring frequent flyer miles (Singapore Airlines if I remember correctly) that I just noticed the night they were set to expire – I get an email notice…when it’s working.  Not wanting to let that happen, I searched for something in North America to book with the miles that was appropriate for November.  Mexico was one of the few options with availability for 3.  Also, there is a really nice all-inclusive Hyatt there.  Mexican all-inclusives are not usually our style, but this one sounded good.   Worst case, it is way better than nothing.

For this wrap up, I’m going to give a general overview.  Not much use in doing the day to day.  If interested, I can sum it up in a sentence: get up, eat, James goes to the kids club, we hang out and drink margaritas by the beach, get James for a little bit, snorkel, maybe pool, sometimes James went to dinner at the kids club, sometimes he’d eat with us….and if he was at the club, we’d make our way to the tequila bar.  Mix in some evening shows and multiple stops at the café, and you have it.  We did not leave the property, and that was fine.

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Charleston – May 2019

With the house wrapped up, we were anxious to plan something.  Charleston was a relatively inexpensive and easy stop.  James would like it, and we really enjoyed ourselves the last time we visited.  And May had to be more pleasant than August.

We booked award flights on American Airlines.  Not the most extravagant use of miles, but it made sense because the flights were expensive with cash.

For the hotel, we were again staying at the Hyatt House.  The location is pretty central, though not in the middle of any particular tourist area/attraction.  It included a decent breakfast and all rooms are suites.

We Ubered around the first couple days, but rented a car our last day to head out to the beach.  If you stay in the actual city of Charleston, there is no real need for a car.

Day 1

The flight, car to the hotel, and checking in were uneventful.  Despite having to connect to get to Charleston, it is still not a difficult trip.

 

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Boston 2018

This trip was dead center of the house project, but it was a good thing in that it forced us to get out.  Alyce’s first cousin was getting married, and his future wife was from the Boston area (outside the city).  So, this was a great reason to get to the area for the first time.

I can’t find any notes for the trip, so I’ll be going entirely by memory and pictures.  I booked everything with Citi thank you points.  Our flight was on Jet Blue non-stop to Boston.  The group was staying at the Hilton Doubletree Northshore.  I don’t think we got any pictures of the room, but it was pretty standard.

 

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South America 2017

Well…I write this 3+ years after we took the trip.  The memories are not as fresh as they once were.  But, I have notes and pictures.  That should be enough to give a general idea of the trip.

As you may (or may not) recall, our 2017 trips were supposed to be Portugal/Spain in the spring, Charleston in the summer, and TBD for the remainder.  Buying our house changed that.  Portugal/Spain became a long weekend in New York.  Charleston stayed the same.  Nothing else was planned, but I wanted to fit something in.  In the fall, we found award availability in early December and made the call to spend a week between Chile and Argentina.

Why these destinations?  I had been wanting to make it to South America for quite some time.  Also, it is a relatively easy trip compared to Asia, Australia, etc.  And our last 3 international trips had been Euro-focused, so changing it up was not a bad idea.

We found business flights in both directions for the two of us (James would be staying home with his grandparents for this one).  There were a couple hotel options in Santiago, Chile – but we ended up in the Crowne Plaza. Points redemption was reasonable there, and the location was good as well. 

In Buenos Aires, the options began and end at the Park Hyatt.  We booked it with points through a friend who is a Globalist (formerly Diamond) member and received guest of honor benefits. 

For some customary intro stuff before I get into the day-to-day…Argentina and Chile are long countries (top to bottom) separated by the Andes mountains.  They are both Spanish speaking countries, and each had a more European feel than you might expect where we were – especially Buenos Aires.  Size wise, the United States has about 3.5 times the area of Argentina and 13 times the are of Chile.  Population – The US is about 7.5 times the size of Argentina and 13 times the size of Chile.

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