To GO or Not TO GO, THAT is the Question

In September of 2018, we signed up with Overseas Adventure Travel for a March 2020 trip to Morocco. Why plan so far in advance? We wanted to travel with friends, OAT limits their groups to 16, and popular trips sell out quickly. We had no difficulty recruiting 11 friends to go on the tour with us. So far so good. Fast forward to today, with departure date rapidly approaching. As my favorite philosopher, John Lennon, once said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

Well ol’ John was right. “Life” has certainly jumped up and slapped us in the face. Within the last two months three travel buddies had to drop out. One member of a couple was diagnosed with a serious medical issue, then another fell and fractured her knee. Their future absence made us realize how much we were looking forward to spending time with them.

Because the trip is so popular, their spots were quickly taken by other OAT travelers –also known as friends we haven’t met yet. So, there will still be 16 of us on the trip. But wait, we aren’t finished. Unless you are in a coma, you have probably heard about the coronavirus. So far, none of us has allowed it to disrupt our plans.

Fortunately, according to our State Department, Morocco is looking safe. Still, we have to fly to get there and back, and our plans include a three day stopover in Paris before we enter Morocco. Although the State Department hasn’t identified France as a “do not travel” country, another source indicated that several cases have popped up in France.

What to do? Sadly, we have to acknowledge that being over 65, we have aged into the “at risk” group. Fortunately, we are relatively healthy, and are up to date on all of our shots. Still, we recently experienced another country’s health care system, and although the outcome was positive, visiting my spouse in the Alice Springs Hospital was not a high point of our trip to Australia. (Clearly, it wasn’t my spouse’s either.) On a positive note, although we learned just how wonderful our medicare supplement coverage is when we are outside of the USA, we hope to never have to use it again!

As of today, according to the US State Department, Morocco and Paris have only the usual warnings about terrorist activities, but that is the world we live in. Given our record of gun violence in schools, churches, shopping malls, movie theaters, we could just as easily be mowed down by a home grown terrorist shooting his assault weapon. I refuse to let terrorists, either here or elsewhere, win. A virus, however, is another matter.

As of today, Morocco has reported its first case of the coronavirus; its victim, a man who returned from a visit to Italy, is being treated in a Casablanca hospital.

In Paris, a protest by workers closed the Louvre for two days, until the Museum staff assured the workers that “proper measures” to ensure their safety were being taken.

What happens if we get to Paris, and Morocco decides not to let anyone into the country from France –or from the USA? Let’s face it, several states have reported outbreaks, with many of the victims having no known source of contact. Our response is being managed by Mike Pence, who is not noted for his expertise in the medical and scientific arena. Maybe other countries will view US as being problematic? What if we make it to Morocco, an outbreak occurs and we can’t fly home? What if we catch a cold or some other nasty thing on the flights, either to or from our destination and we have to be quarantined until we are tested and certified as okay? So many “what ifs”. One thing that’s certain, if we go, my plan to travel with “carry on only” has been abandoned. I want to be sure we have enough clean clothes to get us through any “what ifs” that come our way.

In addition to cancelling all trips to China, South Korea and Mongolia, OAT has allowed travelers that signed up for their Italy trips the option to cancel right up to the date of departure, choosing either to apply their payment to a future OAT trip or to get a refund, minus a small processing fee. That gives us peace of mind.

What will we do? We will prepare as if we are going to take the trip, watch the news, check the internet and wait to see how it all unfolds.

Car Buyer or Cult Member?

Am I having a midlife crisis? Or did I just join a cult? I’m way too old for either, but here we are.

I feel like I have done the car buying equivalent of bungee jumping, except I haven’t jumped YET. I’ve been strapped in, led to the edge, and am waiting to either jump or be pushed. My emotions keep swinging from exhilaration to terror. What have I done? The bigger question: Does every future Tesla owner go through this while awaiting delivery?

First, let me say that although I am still in shock that a car can cost almost as much as our first house, I didn’t buy one of the super expensive Teslas. And our little first house, bought decades ago, was in Ohio, a much cheaper area of the country. Still, for someone who views a car solely as a means of transportation, it’s a LOT of money, even for the Tesla 3, which is the least expensive model. (I DID spring for the mid priced 3–the one with the battery that lets you go a longer distance. The top of the line, the Performance 3 is DEFINITELY for those with a need for speed.)

So, how did this happen? How did a non-car aficionado end up ordering a cool set of wheels? Simple. My son guilted me. He took the number of miles that I drove last year plus the amount that I spent on gasoline, and converted it into how much carbon I released into the atmosphere. Not as much as most, because for the last 11 years, I’ve driven a Prius. Even so, he calculated that in 2019, I was responsible for one TON of emissions. He’s an electrical engineer, so the odds are good that his calculation was accurate. But then again, he knows I don’t have the skills needed to check his math.

He knows my vulnerabilities. I am passionate about protecting the environment. For years, I’ve carried a reusable water bottle, reusable grocery bags (including reusable produce bags). I recycle, reuse and refrain whenever I can to minimize my carbon footprint. Because I love to travel, I figure I need to do whatever I can to offset my the carbon from the flights I take.

I also really liked the Tesla’s safety features, such as blind spot monitoring, and assisted cruise control. For an additional $7,000, I could have had the self driving feature. I didn’t get it, and not just because of the cost. Quite honestly, when I tried it out, I was terrified. What is REALLY cool, however, is that all of Tesla’s model 3’s (built after 10/2016) have all of the sensors, cameras and radar needed for self driving already built in. Should I become comfortable enough to add that feature in the future, all I have to do is pay for it, then download the software via wifi. And that’s another cool thing: Tesla updates the software regularly, so once you own a Tesla, you benefit from the updates that flow over your wifi network. Sometimes a blessing, sometimes a curse. Only time will tell.

But back to those safety features. Even if you don’t spring for the super duper self driving feature, you still get “auto pilot”. If you are like me, and get into your zen mode while listening to the radio, you know that sometimes your foot gets heavy and you lose track of space and time – or maybe just the speed at which you are traveling. Am I right? Auto Pilot KNOWS the speed limits of the road you are zipping along, and will limit you to a number that you choose ( like +5 MPH over the limit). You can override the limit, but usually my problem comes from going too fast, not too slow.

Anyway, I am 4 days away from picking up the car that I ordered 5 weeks ago. What have I done while waiting? I’ve been reading the manual. Mike has been busy too. He oversaw turning our garage into a charging station. His mission was accomplished today.

Meanwhile, I’ve been hanging out on the Tesla Message Boards. I wanted to find out things like, does it get hot in the car because of the glass roof? Approximately how far can you go on 1 Kilowatt of electricity? (And is it a Kilowatt or a Kilowatt hour? ) How much does it cost to use a Tesla Supercharger? Stuff like that. Instead I found posts like this one, chosen at random and cut and pasted:

I have a pair of Model S non-P caliper in my garage just for that purpose. However, I’m on the fence about it once I did more research. The big gain for the RB S caliper option is the increase thermal capacity of the larger and thicker rotor. On the other hand, the P3D pad is slightly larger than S pad. And there are already a number of track oriented pad on the market for P3D. Whereas the S pad is available in street pad only, the only other car that uses the same pad shape is Chevy Cruise econobox.

Did it scare me. You bet. Even though I am generally fluent in English, I had no bloody idea what that post was about! But then I realized that many of the Tesla buyers are engineers or car enthusiasts — most likely both. I am neither. I’ll stick to reading the manual. And keep my fingers crossed. Four more days, but who’s counting.

The Land of Oz

As a kid, I was always fascinated by the Wizard of Oz. In addition to watching the movie multiple times, I read every single Oz book our library carried. So, I was quite excited when I stumbled upon the PBS series entitled The Magical Land of Oz . To my surprise, it wasn’t about Dorothy or the wizard at all, but was instead three wonderful shows about Australia, where we will be heading shortly. (No tornado required, and, I hope, none expected).

Why is Australia called the Land of Oz? I didn’t know, so I asked Mr. Google, the source of much of my wisdom. Turns out, it has to do with the way it sounds when you say the first three letters of the continent’s name. Give it a try. Anyway, the shows are visually spectacular, much better than anything I can hope to capture with my photos.

Speaking of photos, this is the first trip I will make without bringing a camera. Yes, I will still take photos, but I will be using my new iPhone 11 pro. After our son sent us photos he had taken with the wide angle, telephoto and regular lenses, and showed us what the camera can do with night shots, I was intrigued. It was definitely worth a trip to the nearby Apple store to just take a look. Silly me. I really thought I would be able to leave the store without making a purchase!

Another purchase for the trip was a “lipstick” charger from Amazon. My friend Sally had been using one on our recent bike trip and I was quite taken with the little gadget. Even though the iPhone 11 is supposed to have a robust battery, I didn’t want to take a chance of running out of juice should I encounter a once in a lifetime photo op.

Of course, that wasn’t the only gadget that captured my attention. I also HAD to have the Lencent adaptor I stumbled upon when purchasing the lipstick charger. They both come with cute little storage sacks and don’t take up much room in my gadget bag.

Because my replaced iPhone is few generations old, I decided not to turn it in, but instead plan to purchase a prepaid sim card for use in Australia. (Yes, my buying frenzy continues). After learning that, like New Zealand, free, unlimited WiFi isn’t widely available in Australia, I figured it was worthwhile to give a foreign sim card a try, using THAT older phone for accessing the internet. (An idea I picked up from one of the travel forums I follow).

Here’s what my research uncovered: you need to pay attention to “credit validity”, which was a new term for me. I have since learned that it refers to the number of days the prepayment option has purchased, starting from the day you first use it. So, if you purchase a card with a credit validity of 7 days, and you use it on the 1st of the month, regardless of the gigabytes purchased, you are done on the 8th, and need to “recharge” (pay more).

Why not go with Verizon’s travel pass? Well, if you use the internet ONCE during a 24 hour period, you get charged $10 for that day. It seemed like a better deal to get a prepaid sim card for 28 days for $30 Australian dollars (about $20 US, or two days worth of Verizon Travel Pass.

Why wouldn’t I just use the Australian sim card, in my new iPhone, you ask? Good question. Here’s why: I know myself well enough to recognize that it is entirely possible for me to lose my original sim card, a significant concern.

There are three mobile phone networks in Australia. Telestra, Optus and Vodaphone all offer coverage in the most traveled parts of Australia. Of the three, Optus is the only network that has a store in Melbourne Airport. So, given that this is a new experience for me, I decided that I wanted to interact with a human rather than purchase a card in advance from the internet (Amazon)and hope for the best. That way, I can have someone exchange the cards for me, and make sure that the phone is functioning correctly before we leave the airport.

Thanks to the internet, I was able to check the coverage map for Optus, where I learned that coverage varies by type of device, something I never would have considered. It appears that the iPhone 7 may not have great coverage throughout Tasmania and parts of the interior where we will be visiting. Big decision: will I decide to be without WiFi when in those uncovered areas? Or will I trust myself not to lose my original sim card and just use my new iPhone? Bet you can’t wait for this cliff hanger to be resolved in a future post.

Another cliff hanger: Will we get off the wait list for an upgrade to United’s business class? Here’s the deal. A free round trip ticket would have cost 240,000 miles each, whereas an upgrade is only 60,000 miles each, plus the price of an economy ticket and an additional cash payment. Given that we had nowhere near the miles needed for a free ticket, we opted for the upgrade, resulting in our waiting to see whether United can sell those seats for more than what we paid in cash and miles. It’s a gamble–one that does not make me a happy, loyal United customer. BUT, the other option would have been paying almost $8,000 each for business class. Of course, we could always stuff ourselves into economy for 6 hours to LA and 16 more hours to Melbourne. Yeah, we sure HOPE that’s not happening.

Finally, we learned from our trip leader that during our tour, we can expect temperatures to vary from a potential low of 30 F to highs in the 90’s, with varying degrees of humidity. Hey, its a big continent, and we are covering a lot of ground. That makes packing even more of a challenge. This time, I’m using different packing cubes for cold, temperate and hot areas.

Theoretically, the blue cubes can be compressed. Realistically, the plastic compression bags do a much better job so that’s what I used for my jacket. It is great for travel because the lining zips out, transforming the shell into a light weight rain jacket. Plus, the lining can be worn alone for cool days and shell plus lining will keep me toasty during those 30 F days and nights. Yes, it all fit into my duffel, was under 50 pounds, PLUS my backpack (carry on) had plenty of room to spare.

Here’s the route we, and 10 other travelers, will be taking on our Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) tour. Six of us have opted for the pre trip to Tasmania.

See you in Oz!