What’s your lodestar?


The convergence of a theme emerged last week in ways too coincidental to ignore.  Alternatively, it’s completely possible that once a seed is planted, you begin to see it grow in many aspects of your life and is less coincidence than thematic, if only for a short time. Regardless, at dinner with close friends, the upcoming road trip was discussed when one friend offered that she was envious of our plans to drive to Alaska and then to Panama, reflecting that she was happy to envision more time with grandchildren and lead the relatively quiet life she leads but believing that she “should” want more travel and exploration as part of her future.

Justice, Equity and Dignity

Later in the week, due to circumstances too tangential to this blog to mention here, Roque shared with me that he has led his life according to three principals: justice, equity and dignity.  With all of the time that we have spent together, and with the myriad conversations and topics we have discussed, it seemed somewhat remarkable that Roque never shared this before with me – at least, in this particular way.  If you knew Roque, it would be no surprise to  hear him articulate these specific principals since he walks the talk in every fiber of his being.  What was most intriguing to me about his articulation was how much this resonated with me in connection with the earlier “should” conversation when my friend mentioned her envy about the trip that Roque and I are planning.

Discarding the “Shoulds”

To me, among the most important aspects of our impending retirement and road trip, including the plan to expatriate to Panama, is that we have largely discarded the “should” from our thinking and focused on our lodestars.  And while Roque’s principals of justice, equity and dignity may seem somewhat disconnected from the concept of “should” or, frankly, expatriating to Panama via an overland adventure, they struck a chord with me by how important it is to be guided by an internal compass and how retirement, if not before, is a perfect time to discard the “shoulds.”

Roque’s guiding principals suggest an outward approach to those who he has sought to serve but they can and, of course, are, his internal guideposts as well.  I might choose different words or, even, different principals.  But whatever they are, they have guided me in all that I do and all that I am, much as they do for everyone else.  My connection with Roque, his with me, and with the people who are dear and important to us, are cemented by our lodestars and the power of those connections are, I believe, stronger or weaker depending upon how closely our lodestars match with others in our lives.  I see this in nearly every interaction I have and it helps me to understand why I feel the powerful connections to near-strangers and, sometimes, the distance I have with close relatives and co-workers with whom I spent enormous periods of time.

Alongside these principals, however, at least for me, has always been the “should.” The “should” has often competed with my internal lodestars and, perhaps embarrassingly, has sometimes taken over – not to the compromise of any of those principals I hold dear – but certainly when it comes to being true to myself.

With my friends who have apologized for how long it’s been since we saw each other, I have always said that no apology is necessary, further noting that the way that we spend our lives is often the best snapshot on what we truly value the most. Whether it is family, career, leisure activities or nothing at all, I think that we might benefit by paying more attention to the things that actually drive us rather than some sense of “should” coming from external sources.

Whether the “shoulds” come to us because of our birth order, or because we are products of our generation, or due to our gender, it is worth reminding ourselves that whatever leads us internally requires no apologies.  I say this, in part, with the hope that if I repeat this mantra often enough, I will believe it more fervently with every reciting.  If Roque and I followed our “shoulds,” it likely would not have resulted in a decision to expatriate or to overland to Alaska and Panama. Roque has admonished me from time to time that what I characterize as “selfishness” is more self-focus.  That resonates for me, even if I am still trying it on for size, since self-focus requires serious inward attention to those things that drive me and fulfill my soul.

Whether one prefers the company of grandchildren, or the excitement of the unseen road, or the peace of time at home with family and friends, we should listen carefully to our inner voices and substitute the compelling driving forces within for those things that we allow to influence our considered and careful pursuits.

Roque and I are unsure how it will feel to be on the road, away from familiar things and the people who are the cornerstones of our footing. But for us, this feels like the right thing to do. If it does not evolve into what we are hoping for, we can always turn back.  For those who are not so impelled, I offer this blog to travel virtually with us.


Sometimes, being sidetracked is still forward motion

Visiting and Visits

I figured that after 24+ days since the last post, as I sit here by myself, listening to tunes from my youth (Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken” album) at a volume not conducive to conversation, it feels like a good time to reflect on those 24 days and share thoughts about them.

Shortly after writing about the “Spot,” and putting pen to paper about how much we still don’t know about gear and readiness for the long road trip ahead, Roque and I headed off for a trip to Guadeloupe for a little birthday-celebrating R&R. The island was perfect – beautiful, warm and friendly, with food that tasted like we were dining in Paris. With this vacation, we returned to our early days of traveling, where our trips were mostly to beach locations where we did little other than read, swim, soak in the sun, eat and relax. It was nice to return to that kind of vacationing. It was also a great reminder of how much we enjoy being on the road, seeing and doing stuff and not just sitting on our duffs. It was also a reminder of how we will need to build down time into our road trip traveling.

We returned on a Tuesday about 12:50 and used our Global Entry cards for the first time and oh boy, you just gotta get one of these cards!  We had our bags on board with us which made the exit from our row 2 seats and into the Terminal much easier.  Still, we were literally out of the airport and in our truck on the way home by 1:05 – I kid you not.  Slide the passport into the kiosk, answer a couple of questions, scan fingerprints and VOILA! Out popped our receipts and out the door through Customs we went.  So cool that I just had to mention this again.

Arriving later that day were daughter, Renee, son-in-law , Fard, and newest grandson, Jacob Victorious, from California for a couple week trip east.  The day was spent getting ready for their arrival and the welcome party for the baby the following Saturday, returning to work, making meals and later-than-our-usual evenings in conversation with the West Coast family.  Whatever residual repose remained from Guadeloupe faded quickly nto the whirlwind of the visiting family and return to work-a-day life.

Along the way, though, lessons were learned that further the trip planning and upcoming change in lifestyle.  We reflected upon the fact that the beach was lovely but wasn’t it odd how odd it felt just to do nothing when the past several years of travel have been on the road, with sights, smells and sounds changing nearly every day.  We reflected on the fact that our road trips have been at a fairly feverish pitch, never alighting in one place for very long and how it felt good to stay in one place for a bit.  We reflected on how easy it was to do without TV, since we were lucky to find a radio station we loved, had our iPads, books and wifi and cell signals strong enough to support email, online Scrabble, text messaging, Waze, and some internet browsing but nothing robust enough to allow for video streaming of any kind. (In full disclosure, I have to admit that when, on our last night, we stayed in a room with strong enough Wifi to support YouTube, we did enjoy catching up on some Daily Show and related clips. . . ). We reflected on how essential having navigation capability is, how language challenges can be overcome, how nice it will be to have a 4-wheel drive vehicle while on our Pan American road trip, and how much we love exploring grocery stores, local specialities, and off the beaten track locations.

With the arrival of our family and the ensuing 2 weeks of sharing our house with 3 additional people, we’ve had additional reflections: we’ve loved our time with the baby and, more than ever, look forward to the time when he and his cousins will come visit with us when we relocate to Panama, a dream that we have had since we first conceived of moving there. We’ve loved the time with family, which reminds us how important it will be for us to make those twice yearly trips back to the States once we relocate outside the country. Watching the baby and new parents, it’s impossible not to reflect on the level of energy that is required to take care of a baby and to be thankful for the handing off the baton to our kids for them to start the process of creating the next generation of movers and shakers. It feels more and more comfortable making the decision to take our energy in a different direction and devoting the next chapter of our lives, of whatever duration, to exploring and to focusing on selves.

Being sidetracked these last 24+ days hasn’t meant moving sideways or standing still. With our eyes open, we see through these times, how every day adds to our learning about the days ahead.  Or, maybe we are just paying more attention.  Whatever the reason, we are grateful for the diversion and, as always, for what we learn along every path.



What the heck is a SPOT?

The Power of Asking Questions When You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

As I contemplate our next Boots and Coffee post about gear, I have stalled because I am not sure how to describe the unbelievable amount of research that seems necessary to decide on the proper gear for our journey. Choice of gear involves many decisions and a lot of exhausting thinking:  it’s not just what gear do I need because decision-making involves consideration of how MUCH gear can be taken and how costly will that gear be if we opt for it.  So, what to do first?  Make a “wish list’ of desirable gear and then research the best choices within these items, followed by an accounting of the cost?  Or do we decide on “essential” gear, figure what that will cost (if we need to add purchases to our supply), and then figure out if we have the space?  It often feels like it is a sort of a chicken-and-egg thing – and I’m sometimes immobilized by how to approach these questions.

There are many bloggers on the road who have considered these questions and I would be remiss if I didn’t, once again, acknowledge the hefty assistance of resources such as Life Remotely, which blog contains a gear section with 3 subsections: choosing gear, packing advice and packing lists.  Similar lists exist on many other blogs and Overland websites.  They are wonderful starting points but one soon realizes, as one reads through these sites, that there is clearly no “one size fits all.”  First, space is a real limitation for us since we are not traveling in a RV with oodles of storage.  Obviously, finances are another real limitation.  And you can fill in the blanks about the other criteria that you might consider if you were in our boots.

One of the more formidable tasks for us is in knowing the right questions to ask about gear.  Here’s an example:  Roque and I have traveled outside the country on a number of occasions and struggled with the issue of cell phone and data connectivity.  There are scores of words written on this subject and, sadly, every country seems to present it’s own challenges.  When in Canada this summer, having done a hefty amount of research before we crossed the border, we spent a couple of hours on our first full day in Nova Scotia, hunting down prepaid sim cards to insert in our (then) unlocked iPhones.  (I won’t bore you with the details of why this took hours rather than minutes).  Sim card in hand and iPhones with data in our lap, we navigated beautifully to the spots where we wanted to go. It all worked swimmingly until 2 days later when we found ourselves in the middle of Prince Edward Island with no data connection and no cell service to help us navigate through the problem solving.  We sought out a place with WiFi and made a series of calls only to find out that 1) we had already blown through $100 worth of data and 2) we could have added a Canadian plan to our Sprint plan at a very inexpensive rate that would have been tons easier than our sim card purchase and time spent in cell phone stores and in trouble shooting through the data dilemma.

Clearly, my research was not thorough enough. Continue reading “What the heck is a SPOT?”

Global Entry Program

A short shout-out to the Global Entry Program of the US Customs and Border Control, which offers an applicant who is considered a “trusted traveler” a 5 year pass that allows expedited entry into the US through Customs without waiting in the traditional lines at airports or, I’m told, through border control entry points by motor vehicle.  The Global Entry pass includes TSA Precheck Logoas well, which allows expedited screening at airports without having to take off shoes and remove computers from bags.  If you fly often enough, no doubt you have drooled with envy at the TSA Pre lines which are shorter, faster and less cumbersome than traditional TSA screening points at airports.

Domestic travelers may find it more convenient to apply for just TSA Precheck Logo since it is less expensive than Global Entry but at $100 for 5 years, anyone entering the US from out of the country a couple of times over the duration of the GOES pass, especially if you fly domestically from time to time, may find that applying for Global Entry has its benefits.

The online application is easy and painless and in our case, our conditional acceptance into the program was communicated to us within 2 weeks of application and our interviews with US Customs and Border Control were scheduled shortly after.

Passes in hand, we hope that our travel to the US for semi-annual visits when we expatriate to Panama will be as easy and painless as obtaining the pass.


Getting to Panama -The Road Trip

The Road to Panama

While visiting with expats in Panama, one frequently-asked question focused on whether to move with all, part or none of our belongings.  The temptation was strong, at least initially, for us to sell or give away everything we owned, pack a couple of suitcases of essentials, and start anew.  New life, new things.  No baggage with no baggage.

We learned that expats take all approaches. Our friends Holly and Scott packed and shipped a HUGE shipping container of items, including loads of tools and equipment that Scott knew he would need and want for the construction of their casita, home and to use daily in his workshop in Boquete. Others started virtually from scratch.  Still others suggested a middle ground approach of leaving much and taking some things, particularly those of sentimental value. The things that would make us feel at home in our new home.

The middle ground approach appealed to us as we thought about our new start.  We knew that some things are inexpensive in Panama and worth replacing; other things were going to be harder or more expensive to replace. So we met with an international mover (recommended by others in Panama), got estimates and proceeded with the plan to pack much of our house for shipping to Panama once we settled. Continue reading “Getting to Panama -The Road Trip”