I like to announce to my local bank’s tellers when I cash a royalty check for the figure is so absurd…$7, $10, $12 is very high. Out of six published books, only one is left in print, “A Woman’s Journey,” and although it has been in consecutive print for over thirty years, I might be able to buy a skimpy lunch with that royalty check.
So many people falsely think that writers or authors are rich, when in reality, only a tiny handful are. The rest of us have to live off our husbands or get supplemental income from jobs like modeling nude for life drawing class.
People may also get the idea that we are loaded by the way we jet around the world and stay for a good month. This sounds crazy wealthy but nothing could be farther from the truth.
How do we do it? First off, we have no credit card debt, but use the credit card on nearly every purchase, paying it off every month using our savings which we accumulate throughout the month . As a result, we rake up tons of airline miles. Our entire family of four flew to Alaska and Hawaii for free. Any extra income we save up, goes towards travel. It’s just what we choose to do with our excess money, besides saving some for retirement and college. We never remodel or modernize or change any furnishings in our home simply because we are bored with it. We run our vehicles into the ground before replacing. We acquire experiences, not things. It is just our personal choice. So the traveling lifestyle we have adopted could be adopted by many more people if they too made it their priority. We don’t have any magical formula and the days of the tourism departments lending a hand to our family are pretty much history. We pay our own way.
One thing that is unusual is the style in which we travel. It is not for most. We camp whenever possible. (We even found a campground within Rome’s city limits!) Or, we stay at international youth hostels, where we can often get our own room- bunk beds albeit, or very inexpensive hotels.
We eat street food (rarely get sick), shop at grocery stores, have picnics, eat where the locals eat if we eat “out,” which is always excellent food and tremendous value. We eat a lot of cheese sandwiches, for good homemade bread seems to be universal all over the world.
We try to get around the country independently, like cycling or walking. In Ireland, we rode our bikes right out of the Shannon airport, circumnavigated the country and then rode them back on. In Spain, we rode our bikes across the 450 mile ancient pilgrim path, the Camino de Santiago. We take public transportation if it is less money than renting a car. We plan our own itineraries, never go with an organized tour and do everything independently. We buy guidebooks months out and meticulously plan our trip. We do not learn the language (too many different countries) but always manage to either find someone who can speak English (more often, the young people) or manage to communicate through charades or a vocabulary guide. We always manage to get by and have a few adventures along the way.
Our children have no problem whatsoever traveling liked this, even though the comfort level is way down. We all had our initial traveling experiences on the trail, in the wilderness, so our bar is much lower than the average traveler. In fact, one of their most memorable nights out of all their traveling lifestyle occurred one night when we were “homeless.”
It happened in Sicily. Our bus dropped us off in the town which was adjacent to the gorgeous national park, Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro. No other buses were leaving town for the remainder of the day. We were stuck in town for the night. Camping was not allowed in the park, so as we cruised the streets, we stopped at every hostel, hotel and sign advertising a room for rent. No room in the inns. So we announced that everyone should keep their eyes open for an appropriate alternative sleeping spot. We spied an abandoned pizzeria on the hillside that fit the bill and filed it away in our minds.
After a delightful day hiking, we retrieve our packs and make our way up the hill towards the abandoned pizzeria. Dusk was falling. A gravel lane led to the shabby establishment, encircled it, rejoined it and came back down to the hard top road. Scattered around the hillside were private homes but none were very close. The pizzeria’s patio was a mess with weeds busting through the cement, discarded fridges and freezers with their lids off, and dirty plastic, stack-able lawn chairs tossed on their sides. We cleared an area for our tents because the mosquitoes were descending in droves. After setting up camp, we walked down the lane to a very nice restaurant whose tables held starched linen napkins and crystal stemware. We were nervous about firing up our camp stoves to cook dinner as they roared and would alert neighbors of our presence.
We told the waiter to take the wine glasses away and sipped from our Nalgene bottles of water hidden under the table. We ordered the least expensive item from the menu- pizza- and the kids giggled, “Eating like the rich and sleeping like the homeless!”
We walked back to our “camp” by the light of the stars, headlamps out, so we didn’t attract attention and turned in. Every time our tent conversation grew a few decimals higher, the neighborhood dogs would begin to bark. “BE QUIET!” someone would hiss, “We’re going to get caught!”
Todd was uncomfortable. He hated to break the law and always feared he would be thrown into foreign jail for his family’s deviant ways. He slept little, keeping one ear open. And then when the earth was just beginning to absorb light, the morning was still grey and flat, he hears a vehicle’s wheels crunching on the gravel. Someone was coming up the drive and this lane only leads to the pizzeria!
He sprang from the tent and in the patio’s shadows is horrified to see a man’s body protruding out of the car’s open back window, with a rifle in his hand, and he’s firing from his waist! Cracks rang out through the grey morning.
Todd was terrified. What could they be shooting? Rats? Coyotes? Stray dogs? Trespassers? His fear was fed by the fact that this small town of Scopello had more male citizens in prison for murder than any other Mafia-riddled town in Sicily- of all towns to be breaking the law as vagrants.
The shooter and driver ripped around the pizzeria, spraying gravel under their spinning tires, firing at the hip but never saw us or our tents. They would have had to turn backwards in order to see us, and the marksman was too intent looking forward, whatever his target was. They were completely unaware of our presence as they completely encircled us and headed back to the main road.
With a pounding heart, Todd roused us and we packed in silent speed, slunk down the gravel road on light tip-toe, and once we joined the main road, laughed with nervous delight and slapped high fives to one another. The kids decided, “That was the best night we ever spent out in our entire lives! ” They asked if we thought “The Lonely Planet Guide” would rate our accommodation with a 2 or a 3 star?
The best night? Not staying in a 5 star hotel which they have experienced more than once (comped by the tourism board). To them, this was high adventure.
The kids liked to quote two of their favorites, one by Helen Keller:
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” And another by mountaineer, Jim Whittaker,
“If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”
This high adventure night certainly wasn’t planned. We were just making the best of a less than ideal situation. The fact remains that children are both immensely adaptable when necessary, are tremendous good sports when conditions are less than ideal, and are bright enough to see it all as good fun.