Q3 Update — Geoarbitrage 2019

First – A Little Back Story

Many years ago after my dad retired and had health issues, my parents used to drive up from Arizona to spend the summers in Seattle and British Columbia. They started spending a couple weeks with us around 2006 because we had a house with a guest room, and they also spent several weeks with my mom’s sister in the Canadian Gulf Islands. Their goal was to see family and also escape the Arizona summer heat. 

Ali and I inherited my aunt’s house after she passed away in 2007. With the house mostly being empty my parents started spending a month on the island every summer. We drove up for long weekends as often as we could and we all got along swimmingly.

In 2012 my dad passed away, and with that big change in our lives we decided the house in Canada needed a full-time renter and we needed a new plan to get mom out of Arizona for the summers. We floated two ideas with the first being that we could move from our one bedroom condo in Seattle into a two bedroom place so we would have a bedroom for mom, and the second option being that we could help mom find her own one bedroom condo near us. As luck would have it, that same weekend we discovered our neighbor two doors down on our floor was getting ready to sell her little 660 sqft condo. Within a few days we made an offer that was accepted and Mom had her own Seattle summer getaway.

We had a fabulous time with mom in Seattle over the next 5 summers. Mom also loaned or rented her place out to friends and family for 6 months at a time, and offered it as a getaway for our family and friends. One of the best uses we found for it was when our friends needed a respite away from the hospital when their daughter was undergoing longterm cancer treatment at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Mom’s little snowbird condo was filled with her art and personality. Everyone who stayed there was very comfortable and very appreciative of her generosity and hospitality.

That’s mom back in her Seattle condo, talking about the dragon she created using sharpie pens on brown paper. I built that metallic wall for her so she could cover it with her artwork and change things easily whenever she wanted.

Building the New Summer Plan with Mom

So you can imagine how hard it was in the summer of 2018, when we confessed to mom that we were retiring at ages 44 and 54 and leaving Seattle. We only gave her 2 months notice that she was having her last summer in Seattle with us! But mom was great, she didn’t skip a beat and got right into making plans with us so we could all leave Seattle at the end of summer in a well orchestrated manner. We needed to sell 2 condos on the same floor of the same building with similar views and amenities that would compete with each other.

Mom’s unit was listed first in September and even though the market was softening a bit, the right buyer appeared and mom cleared out and left for Arizona at the end of the month. Then we listed our condo in November and had a signed offer right away. Boom! We drove away from Seattle on December 4 with a bunch of ideas for how we could continue to spend summers with mom away from Arizona.

One of the things to keep in mind when planning our summer together in 2019 was that mom turned 80 this year. She is very healthy, has all her marbles and a great attitude and loving heart. We need to be cautious about keeping her in great shape and not wearing her out during summer adventures. The idea that sounded the most fun was making up for the trip we were supposed to take with mom and Ali’s aunt back in 2014, which mom missed because she broke her hip at the last minute and Ali’s aunt missed due to a cancer diagnosis.

A New Way to Spend Summers with Mom

Ali built an amazing 88 day itinerary through France and Scotland for the three of us. We weaved our way from Paris south to Beaune, then west to Amboise in the Loire Valley where my older sister joined us for a few days. Then off to Quimper and Dinan in Brittany. Then we overnighted on Mont Saint-Michel and finally hunkered down in Rouen. From there we flew to Glasgow in Scotland and took 4 days to make our way to the Isle of Skye where we enjoyed a week of spectacular extremes of weather and landscapes. Followed by the tranquility of the Beauly Firth and the Black Isle near Inverness. We then had 10 days in Edinburgh where my nephew took his first trip abroad and joined us for a few days.

Last but not least, we spent a few nights in London and visited with two sisters of a dear friend of mom’s, Aster. Aster is from Eritrea and has been held without trial by the Eritrean dictator for over 16 years now. Aster’s story is very sad but mom has benefited from working with Aster’s family and many other Eritrean refugees since meeting Aster. We also fit in a visit with one of our dear friends from Seattle who now lives in London. I love getting Tall Hugs from this guy!

The point is, our 3rd quarter was pretty much ALL about my mom! It was not a duplicate of our first two quarters in 2019 with our new standard of geoarbitrage travel on super tight budgets. It was about new memories and experiences for us with my mom enjoying family, culture, and adventures together in places that would be inspiring and comfortable for mom.

Summer/Quarter 3 Expenses

For our first two quarters in 2019 we set some new standards for ourselves in terms of housing budgets and lots of other things. When it’s just Ali and I traveling, we tend to stay in lower budget Airbnbs and housesit whenever we can and we tend to walk instead of paying for cars when we can as well. When we decided to travel through Europe with mom this summer we knew there were a lot of things that would have to change in our budget with the biggest ones being housing costs going up and paying for Ubers and renting cars instead of walking.

Housing Costs

The main requirement for the three of us traveling together and living together for 3 months was having a little more elbow room in our homes. Ali and I needed to have some personal space and so did mom. So our Airbnb’s had to have 2 bedrooms and 2 full bathrooms whenever possible. We also needed a full kitchen so we could cook at home, and enough room for all three of us of us to work on our projects without getting in each others’ way. Ali is a whiz at finding great accommodations and she found us some really incredible places to stay, mostly in the heart of every city we visited to make things easy and so mom would have interesting things to see nearby. There were a few places where we shared small apartments with only one bathroom for a few days, but there were plenty of other apartments that were quite roomy were we could all stretch out. And we always had free parking for our rental car. Since there were three of us in each Airbnb, we split the housing costs three ways, with us paying 2/3 of the cost of our accommodations. Since we were looking for bigger places with 2 full bathrooms the average prices were much higher than we are used to when we are on our own. This meant our share of nightly housing costs during our summer with mom averaged out to double what we are used to on our own and went from $50 per night for the two of us to $100 per night for the two of us.

The best part of our housing selections was making sure mom had room and inspiration to do her artwork. We know mom is really happy and inspired when she spends all of her free time cranking out drawings and needlework. Which is exactly what she did during our time in France and Scotland this summer.

This summer mom did some new and fun stuff with her drawings. Our kitchens always had an assortment of AeroPress coffee filters and tea bags drying before being reused or composted. Early on in our trip mom started taking our used filters and tea bags to her workspace and using them in her drawings!
This is a sampling of the cards mom was making while we traveled. Some are views out our windows and other are abstracts started by gluing a dried used tea bag or coffee filter to paper and then drawing on top of it or around it to see where it went.

Travel Costs 

Flights: Ali and I wanted to fly economy all the way since that’s what fits in our budget. We get a big kick out of traveling cheaply. But now that we’ve finished the trip we kind of wish we had flown business class or economy plus to make it a little more comfortable for mom. Next year I think we will really consider paying for business class or economy plus flights since mom and I are both too tall and too creaky to be wedged into economy seats for 7 or 12 hour flights. For our other flights this year Ali and I used points and since we paid cash for our flights with this summer the impact on our budget was more noticeable and the costs really bumped up our accrual expenses.

Car rideshare: Since the goal is to get away from the heat in AZ, we really need to be traveling to locations that are not hot during summer. We started the trip in Paris and learned that most of France was way too hot for us this year. Even if it wasn’t so hot, taking long walks with mom was completely out of the question. At 80 years old if it’s hot outside, or if the sidewalks are crowded with people bumping into us, or if the streets are cobbled or otherwise uneven, mom is just too wobbly to be safe when she walks. And she gets tired pretty quickly. So we took Ubers almost everywhere in Paris and Edinburgh which were the two locations where we didn’t have a rental car. That caused our spending to go up, but that also kept our stamina and attitudes up as well. I never felt guilty about taking Ubers everywhere everyday and would not have changed a thing no matter what that cost.

Car rentals: Our travel plans in both France and Scotland were all about being able to get out and see the country as much as possible. We rented an economy sized car in France and another one in Scotland, and they barely had enough room for the three of us with our three roller bags and three backpacks. The rental cars allowed us to drive amazing loops through those spectacular countrysides and also take day trips that would have been impossible without a car that I could drive us around in on our schedule. I feel really good about the cost for both rental cars given the flexibly it facilitated. I would gladly duplicate the rental car decision on our next trip. I might actually want to upgrade our car to be a bit bigger so we don’t have to be so cramped with our bags next time. Also, I might have to chill out a bit more when driving a stick on the left side of the road in torrential rain though the busy streets of Scotland. Honestly it’s just not fair that we kept pulling over in Scotland for pitstops at distilleries where Ali could drink Scotch whisky but I couldn’t since I was driving. Hey, where’s my whisky?!

Other Changes in Our numbers

Q3 also had an unexpected tax bill in the form of an unavoidably late K-1 which rolled into an amended return and an $1,100 check written to the IRS. That’s a relatively small ouch for us, and since we got a refund last year we had those funds earmarked for taxes next year anyway.

We also had a last Q3 financial snafu when renting our car to drive from mom’s place in Arizona to Ali’s sister’s place in Northern California. When we went to pick up our rental car we were surprised to realize that our points purchase did not cover the one-way fee the way it had in our previous rental cars when we paid with points. I am chalking that up to using Enterprise this time and Hertz the previous times, and finding out the hard way that their agreements with Chase are not identical. We actually learned we were paying for that one-way fee when we had to swipe our card at the rental counter during the pick up. So that was a tough final addition to our transportation costs in September. 

The good news is that our Q3 travels with mom hit right on budget as predicted. I am very happy with the YTD average.

Spending through the end of Q3 is in actual, while most of the numbers used for Q4 are estimated. The variable costs are estimated and the fixed costs are real. We do anticipate a little movement down in our spending towards which would push our Geoarbitrage Average down to hit our budget line. Fingers crossed we can make that happen!
This graphic shows only our variable expenses for 2019. The biggest changes have been in housing from quarter to quarter. Q3 housing was high due to our summer with mom in bigger accommodations. And Food costs were higher in June and September during the times we stayed with family and friends since we tried to treat for meals whenever possible. Q3 Local Transportation costs were also unusually high because of all the Ubers in Paris and Edinburgh as well as the two rental cars we had when driving in France and Scotland.
This graphic shows our Fixed vs Variable expenses along with the way we are using points and miles to decrease spending. The dollar value for all the points we spend on planes, cars and hotels. As you can see had we had to spend dollars on these items, our total expenses would have been much greater. Love our travel hacking.

Next Steps Q4

Looking into Q4, we are going to Chautauqua in Ecuador so November is significantly over the average budget. See graphs above. But to offset those costs we found a week-long housesit in Ecuador and a month-long housesit in Panama, so our housing costs for Q4 should be way under budget. So I’m feeling great about our 2019 geoarbitrage numbers and predict we will be on budget at the end of the year even with the big summer trip to Europe with mom and the added costs of the Chautauqua next month. I’m very happy with how things are going in 2019 so far! And, we are really looking forward to next summer with mom!

7 comments

  1. I’ve just started following your blog recently, this is all so great and interesting! I’m impressed you can keep your lodging 50/night when it’s the two of you and the bump for the summer was money well spent.

    I’ll be on a bicycle tour around Rouen and Dinan next spring and would love to hear any thoughts you have about what to see in the area! (I still work so it’s part of just a two-week trip, alas.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello! $50/night is our average cost per night, so we keep it below that number when we are in low cost of living areas and then it gets above that number when we are in high cost of living areas. As long as it averages out to $50/night over the year we are on budget. And when we are by ourselves we don’t need much to be happy so some of our places are really tiny.

      A bicycle tour in Rouen and Dinan sounds amazing! Are you going to be in any other cities? There are so many amazing towns in Normandy!

Rouen is a capital city with a lot of history. In Rouen, for sure #1 thing to see is the Notre Dame Cathedral. It’s a stunner. Some of the oldest stained glass is still there, as is the Viking Rollo and Richard the Lionheart. If you’re interested in Joan of Arc then the Église Sainte-Jeanne-d’Arc is worth seeing, and look for the small sign in the garden that marks the spot. The Joan of Arc tower is even more impressive. The Great Clock Tower is also an impressive site. We really enjoyed walking through the old town areas and checking out the historic timbered buildings. The Jardin des Plantes is also a nice place to people watch. There are tons of other things to do in Rouen that we didn’t get to this time.

      We really love Dinan!! The town is very tiny so it feels pretty crowded. The Basilica is worth seeing, as is Saint Malo Church, but the real sites are just the steep and narrow cobbled streets and historic buildings. We walked everywhere and it’s very easy to entertain yourself there by just walking around and looking at the streets and buildings. The historic buildings in the middle of town are all really interesting. Just walking around the streets to see how they curve and wind through town is fun. There are some really tiny “streets” that are more like passageways, such as the Ruelle Saint-Vincent, which look private but you’ll notice the signs naming them since they are extensions of roads and streets that are really just narrow walkways and staircases. It’s fun to get out of the center and walk the remaining ramparts and you might be able to bike those too. It’s also fun to walk down to the Port of Dinan and the Rance River, and the restaurants along the river are all fabulous.

Have fun on your trip we’d love to hear how it goes!! 
~Ali

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