Tears, missed connections and other travel stories from the road of life
We live on a budget. A small budget.
We travel on even a smaller budget. Our lives have changed drastically over the last 4 years, but that’s a choice we’ve made. Together, we’ve become comfortable with living with less, living frugal and the best part, working less. Our quality of life has gone up drastically, but our bank balance has gone down. Drastically.
So, when Miro and I were asked to present our story about life-learning, world-schooling and travel at the Life Rocks Conference in New Hampshire, we were so excited and honored! Finally we’d have the opportunity to meet a community of unschoolers in person, share stories and truly connect with other like minded folks. Needless to say, both Miro and I were so excited about the prospect of attending the conference, let alone share our story with hundreds of other unschoolers, in the hopes we can provide some inspiration.
We agreed to participate and even though we don’t have a lot of extra money, we thought we were blessed to be asked early enough that we could have time to save, plan, put aside some extra money and purchase our travels bit by bit…..
And that’s what we did.
Miro and I are not ashamed to share that we can live happily off a modest $750 – 1000 income per month, in Central and South America. What I used to earn in the United States in one month, is the same amount Miro and I now live off of in one year. Think about that. That’s two people living on what equates to way below the poverty line, in the United States. But that’s what we earn so that’s what we spend.
And we have never been happier.
We are often asked, how we earn money? We earn a little money from our blog(s) and sometimes I do a little freelance consulting or design work. And, every now and then, I’ll be asked to contribute to a magazine article and receive payment for that. And we receive a little support in sponsorships as well.
On the flip side, it’s unfortunate we don’t receive help from Miro’s dad. He’s unable to provide any consistent support, and we accept that. But what I do get from him, is permission to continue our travels indefinitely and that is more valuable than any dollar amount, in my book. So for that, I’m grateful.
The life we have chosen is a trade off.
We choose to live frugally and actually have time together traveling, and experiencing cultures that inspire us. Unlike those who are from impoverished communities we’ve travel to, live in and volunteer at, we know we have the opportunity to return to the US and pursue the American dream, if that’s what we want.
But still it’s our choice.
And we are vulnerable at times because we don’t have a lot of money and that’s just how the world functions.
So, when we were asked to speak at the conference in the United States, we had to start saving and cutting back a little from our already frugal lifestyle to be able to afford this trip. We are going to be in the States for 3 weeks, visiting Boston, New Hampshire, New York and California. Then we’ll rest for a week in Panama before returning to Peru, where we’ll prepare for the unschooling retreat we’re hosting in June.
For us, family travel is our life. It was easier to purchase our trip in legs, versus spending $2000+ in one shot, since we didn’t have extra money laying around. Here’s how we did it:
In October, I found a flight to Boston from Panama for $425 per person, which I thought was a good deal. We saved, and purchased the first leg of our journey then for $850.
Next, we bought our Lima to Panama ticket, for $350 each, which cost us $700.
Next we bought our bus ticket from Cusco to Lima, which was $60 per person, costing us $120
Then, of course we couldn’t travel to the States without seeing our family. First, Miro’s dad purchased a roundtrip ticket for Miro to fly from Boston to Ohio so he could spend time with his dad for 5 days. And then my parents wanted to take advantage of our time in the States as well, so they purchased a one-way ticket for us to fly from Boston to California, where we’ll spend a week visiting our family.
Then Miro and I bought our return to Panama which cost us $145 each totaling $290
Then we will take the bus from Boston to New Hampshire for $40 per person, likely each way each equalling $160. We will also travel by bus or train to New York then back to Boston, which we estimate maybe another $100.
Excluding taxis, metros, commuter trains and busses, we estimate our total cost for transportation alone for this trip is somewhere in the range of $2,200.
In the days of earning $10,000 a month, that would have been no problem at all. But in the days of earning roughly $10,000 a year, that’s roughly 15-20% of our income.
But it’s a trade off and we’ve been able to save and pay for a trip little by little. But we really wanted to make this happen and I remember every day, we’ve made the choice to live this lifestyle, so it’s not a complaint.
We’ve been able to keep our costs down through staying with family, friends and couchsurfing. And it’s all part of the adventure. Sounds good, right?
Well, we left Cusco just over a week ago. Here’s how the adventure has gone so far:
We left Cusco, took an overnight bus ride cutting through the Andes mountains en route to Peru’s capital city, Lima. A little scary to say the least. Traveling through windy mountain roads in the pitch black darkness created less than ideal surroundings for sound sleeping. Still, we were able to rest a bit and arrived in Lima almost 24 hours later.
There we were greeted by an amazing couchsurfing host Ivan, a professional surf photographer. We stayed with Ivan and his 80+ year old father who insisted we call him “Tio”. We were immediately made to feel at home and loved learning about their lives. Miro and I settled into a comfortable soft mattress, likely older than Miro’s age and mine and I put together. The room was decorated with memorabilia from Ivan’s parents long life together, honoring his mother who had passed on a few years before. As I floated off to sleep, I thought this is such an honor to be welcomed into this loving family, even just for a night.
The next morning Ivan took us to his family friend’s beach house, just south of Lima. Ivan’s childhood friend accompanied us, who happens to be an archeologist at one of Lima’s universities. Needless to say, our conversations surrounded some of my favorite things, big rocks, ancient cultures and the people of Peru.
The beach house was beyond lovely. For two days and one night, we enjoyed the beautiful surf, sunsets, waves and sand. Ivan and friends surfed and Miro tried to boogie board. I enjoyed the warmth of the sand, and fell asleep being bathed by the sun. Later, Miro tried his hand at skateboarding, but unfortunately fell off the board and bruised his shoulder.
We returned to Lima and packed up for our impending 50+ hours of air travel and subsequent airport visits. We repacked and waited for our taxi, which picked us up at 2:30 am. Miro and I decided not to sleep for fear we’d miss our first flight and figured we’d have plenty of time to sleep on the plane and in the airports.
Our flight out of Lima departed at 5:00 am. We landed in Colombia just two hours later, to wait out our seven hours layover until we boarded our flight to Panama. After an overly expensive hamburger and salad, we napped for a bit, then we were off again.
Miro and I landed in Panama City, collected our luggage, cleared customs and went through immigration. Then we headed to the check in desk to drop off our luggage for our next morning’s flight to the States. Our thought was, we’d proceed to the gate, sleep a bit there, as we had our sleeping bags and pillow then get continue with our journey. Only it didn’t exactly happen like that.
You see, I didn’t know you can’t check into a flight one calendar day before the flight itself. At least that’s was the policy of Copa Airlines. So, without a boarding pass, Miro and I were forced to spend the night outside of gates. Less secure and certainly less comfortable. But we managed to find a set of benches that Miro could spread out on, while I sat up, watched our bags, and made sure he was safe. That’s just what a mother does and I thought, “one more night, ok..I can do this….”
With no sleep the night before, and no sleep for me the second night in Panama, I kept saying to myself, “I’ll sleep on the plane to the States, and I’ll sleep when we get to Boston.”
The next morning, we boarded our flight to the States and I did get some sleep on the plane. But clearly not enough sleep. We arrived in Washington DC, exhausted. Time to collect our bags, clear customs, go through immigration. We did just that in under two hours. Unfortunately, we were only allotted an hour and a half to catch our flight from DC to Boston.
When Miro and I approached United’s the check in desk to recheck our bags, we were told we missed our flight. What??? How could that be? We moved through the line as quickly as humanly possible. There were also hundreds of other people attempting to move through the same lines as well.
We asked when the next flight was and if they could just put us on that flight.
The next flight was in two days.
In 2 days????
It was the beginning of Spring break and all flights were booked. Then United told us we were actually the responsibility of Copa Airlines that we needed to deal with them, perhaps they could get us on a flight sooner.
I just wanted to sleep.
The representative at United was nice enough, was willing to accommodate us with their next available flight, but that was in two days.
Two more days with no sleep????
I heard the sounds of uncontrollable sobs release from my body. I lost it. I started to shake from exhaustion, tears springing from my eyes, words were simply not audible from my mouth. The United representative looked at me with horror and I’m certain with a sense of pity. I was not lashing out at her, but I did appear to be somewhat pathetic. I could not think. I could not formulate a plan. I was exhausted and my bones ached. I just wanted to sleep. Miro handed me a tissue and told me to get ahold of myself.
I asked if United could put us into a hotel room to wait for the next flight.
She said with as much compassion as she could muster, “United Airlines was not responsible for us.” She advised us to check with Copa, they should take care of us. She also said we needed to deal with Copa Airlines within the next few hours that if we didn’t, Copa would would not be liable. She also suggested we contact Expedia, whom we booked our tickets through. They might be able to help.
Ok…a plan. First Copa, let’s see what they say first..
Miro guided me to the Copa Airlines counter as I tried to dry my eyes.
We arrived at the Copa Airlines counter, only it wasn’t the Copa Airlines counter in that moment. The glowing sign above said Copa, but the handsome Virgin Air counter crew populated it’s desks. I thought I was in a David Lynch movie as everything felt so surreal. As I approached the counter, a handsome black man wearing the royal blue and red jacket smiled at me, asked me how he could help.
Sleep, I kept thinking, sleep….
Instead, I asked him where Copa Airlines was, and he said with a charming British accent, “you are in the right place, but they won’t be here until the morning. Check back then.”
The tears started to flow again.
The concerned Virgin Airlines rep advised me I should call Copa’s toll free number to connect with their office directly. “Good idea,” Miro said.
Luggage in tow, we pushed our bags along downstairs to the payphones. “Copa Airlines, how can I help you?” the voice on the other end of the line said. I started to tell the woman with the thick Panamanian accent on the other end of the phone what happened.
My voice strained as I swallowed back the tears. “We are in Washington DC. We missed our connection. We moved as quickly as humanly possible through customs and immigration but we didn’t have enough time to catch our connection to Boston. We are now stranded. The soonest connection won’t leave for two days. We were tired. We need sleep. I am traveling with my son. Could you please help us?” I asked.
She was talking to us from Panama City and although the sympathized with our our ordeal, there was nothing she could, she politely informed us. She couldn’t arrange a hotel for us, only the Copa representative at the airport could do that.
But she did have an idea.
A Copa flight was scheduled to arrive at midnight and there should be Copa rep there at around 11:00 pm. We should find them, wait and talk to them.
We had a glimmer of hope.
11:00 pm came and went and we waited patiently in front of the now closed Copa Airlines / Virgin Air counter. The check in desks were desolate and with the exception of the cleaning crew, it started to feel like a grave yard in there.
My eyes were very very heavy, but we waited patiently. Then we saw a lanky airport security guard who had the bad luck of being scheduled to the night shift, patrolling a vacant area, no action to keep him entertained. He approached Miro and I and asked us what we were waiting for. We told him we were trying to connect with the Copa representative who should be here to greet an incoming flight. He told us that we were in the wrong place, that we should go down to customs where the rep would be stationed.
Ok, back downstairs we went, with bags in tow.
The rep was there, behind the door, the door that had the words “No Entry” with big red letters. People were coming out, but we weren’t go in… We waited and checked the uniform of every person and asked, “are you Copa Airlines?”
The response was always the same, “No, sorry.”.
No Copa Airlines rep. No hotel.
It was 1:20 am and the tears started to flow again.
“What are we going to do, Mom?” Miro asked.
“I don’t know, baby,” I said as tears stained my already red face. I couldn’t think, I was so tired I didn’t feel like I could make a decision and we didn’t have any extra money to spare on an expensive airport hotel.
I had been updating our status on facebook and twitter, sporadically, and my latest update simply said “Looks like it’s our second night forced to sleep in an airport. Only Expedia travel, Copa Airlines and United are all blaming each other for the missed connection. Regardless, we wait in Washington DC trying to get to Boston, sitting on the cold uncomfortable seats, exhausted.”
Then we received a private message from one of our blog’s followers. The message said, “I just booked you a room near the airport at the Sheraton. Go, get some sleep and deal with it in the morning.”
I started to sob into my hands when I read that. Miro asked me what was wrong, and I said “ Nothing, but look what this person just did for us….”
I was so grateful. I am still grateful beyond words.
By 3:00 am Miro and I were sleeping in the most comfortable bed. Ever.
Sleep. Beautiful sleep.
We slept until 11:00am and returned to the airport by noon. The Copa Airlines counter was now populated by Copa Airlines representatives and suddenly the world seemed to have some order. The young man in the blue uniform smiled and spoke to us with the warmth of the Spanish – English we are accustomed to hearing. We explained the situation, and he told us to sit and wait, while he checked it out. Two hours later, he sent us back to United to print our tickets for the next day. Then he told us to return and he’d send us off to a hotel to sleep. Every interaction, every step of the way, Miro and I encountered his warm smile.
In the meantime, I finally received a response to my tweets from Expedia.com where we booked our tickets. Our response took place after Copa Airlines and United Airlines resolved our issue. Expedia.com sold us the tickets originally and their system allowed one and a half hours to make the connection from an international flight, my thinking was that they would be accountable. Not either of the airlines. I would have thought they sold us a ticket that did not allow enough time for our connection. I would have thought Expedia.com should have responded with an immediate response to accommodate two stranded sleepless travelers with a hotel room.
Instead, this was their response:
I contacted Copa Airlines on your behalf to see what was going on with your flights. They have advised that you were re-accommodated on the next available flight with United Airlines to Boston which I set to take place on March 23. The agent did note that they have previously explained that you can go to a Copa Airlines ticket counter at the airport to see if anything else has opened up for travel before that day and time.
We have reviewed our system and confirmed that the flight times provided to you and confirmed were approved by the airline involved as valid for all connection flights. We regret the inconvenience you are experiencing and hope that the airline is able to provide you with additional options as they will have access to flight Expedia is unable to provide.
I really wanted to respond to Expedia.com with a hearty “fuck you”, but frankly, I don’t talk like that. Often.
Buyer beware is all I can say. I will NEVER use Expedia.com again. NEVER.
Miro said to me, “Mom, this is one of those times I wish we had more money. It would have saved you a lot of tears…”
And others have stepped up to help us too. We received support from other friends and family who were concerned about us. Again, the tears started. But this time tears of gratitude. I have always had a difficult time accepting help. I always believed, I had to “do it on my own”. For me, the ability to be able to accept the help from others has been one of my greatest lessons. We are so grateful for the support we’ve received. So incredibly grateful.
I am not a supermom, nor a super human. I am just doing the best I can with the choices I’ve made.
Our lifestyle is a choice. And there’s trade offs. I am comfortable with the choices I’ve made and I’m glad I have a partnership with my son who wants to take this journey too. I would not trade our life at the expense of my son’s childhood again. I know we’ll get through these challenges, and these adventures will shape the rest of his life.
Collect memories and experiences instead of things.
Boy, do we have a collection of memories we’ve gathered so far, on the road of life.