2017 Shoehorned Sandwich

February 12, 2017

My trip folder names are boring. 2014 Fall – Japan, for example. I broke the pattern with 2015 Fall – Slovenian Splurge because it just fit. The trip formerly known as 2017 Spring – Portugal has become 2017 Shoehorned Sandwich.

May looked good for Portugal because it warms up and dries out as Spring progresses (duh, just like most places). My stopover city on the way home, Paris, is less desirable in late May because the French Open adds demand for accommodations. Who knew Springtime in Paris was a thing?

Google Images of Paris parks in Spring http://bit.ly/2kWhnSw

So I shoehorned the trip between the start of the Open, and a date reached by subtracting the number of nights I wanted in Portugal and Paris. I can’t remember doing such precise travel date setting since retiring, except when traveling with a friend from the US of A.

What about the Sandwich?  I’ve kept trying and failing to add more unplanned days to my trips. Actually, more nights without booked places to sleep. I started planning this trip with the best of intentions: book 1 night before and after flights. Immediately remembered budget places near metro stations in Paris sell out early. Booked all nights in Paris when I bought the airline tickets in early Dec.

OK, so first night Lisbon will be easy – but – the next day is a public holiday, so first 2 nights. The more I read about Lisbon, the less it seemed like a relaxing place in which to recover from let jag, uh, jet lag. Lisbon has an extensive light rail system. One line ends at Cascais, a former fishing town that became a weekend and day-trip destination from Lisbon. It shouldn’t be warm enough for beach goers in April, so I’m in.

Google Images of Cascais  http://bit.ly/2lEIzoD

The last night is in Porto. Easy. Done. Except the oldest part of the city, the one of most interest to tourists, is on steep hills.

Google Images of Porto http://bit.ly/2lEv2xE

Damn, my knees are older than the rest of my body. The best value budget sleeps nearest metro and bus stations were down to their last few rooms. I added 2 more nights. My knees thanked me.

Good, that left many unbooked nights – but – while putting the bookings on a calendar I saw I’d noted May Day when deciding on flight dates. Not just a big public holiday, a 3 day weekend. Plan was on the 3rd day to head south to the Algarve region on the Southern coast. It’s the warmest and driest part of the country. Plan was to stay 3-5 nights, but that meant moving on during a 3 day weekend. No thanks. I needed a Plan B.

OMG. Sintra is a 30 minute bus ride from Cascais and it’s on a rail line to the Algarve via Lisbon.

Google Images of Sintra http://bit.ly/2lEqO8T

I had figured to hit it in mid trip as I meandered north to Porto. It works better making it the second stop then doing a base camp over the long weekend in Faro as the third stop. Faro is a good transport hub for day trips in the Algarve and interesting in itself.

Sintra is on steep hills, budget sleeps in or near the flat area by the train station… you know the rest. Booked 2 nights in Sintra, 4 in Faro. Aargh.

Adding Faro and Sintra to my calendar removed the aargh because then I saw the filling of the sandwich: Ten unbooked nights in a row in a relatively small country. Woo hoo.


My Cost of Living in Thailand – 2016

January 11, 2017

I’m sorry Ladies and Gentlemen, there’s no reason to do this post here(1). Past cost of living posts were intended to be informative. Also, as I stated in the first post 8 years, 5 months and 15 days ago, all posts are for my use too. In 2016 my spending changed significantly and atypically, so it doesn’t seem like others would find it useful. Besides, most categories stayed the same.

Medical expenses increased, to be expected following a heart attack. The most expensive drug prevents the immune system from treating my stents as foreign objects. Yeah, that’s worth it and will be for the next 2 and a half years I’ll be on it.

Food costs jumped because ingredient labels in Thailand are mostly fiction. Replacing palm oil with heart healthy oils required shopping at the supermarket with imported goods, priced for those who just can’t face life without their favorite foods from home.

Camera spending increased because I picked up 2 more camera lenses. They’re faster and sharper ones which duplicated focal lengths of lenses I already had. Did I need them? Nope. Did I want them? Yep. Will my photos improve? Nope, though I will be able to shoot in lower light than without them. Now, because this blog has too many posts without images, the 2 newbies:

em5-w-lenses

When I saw the average spent per month on travel I thought it couldn’t possibly be correct. It was, because I’d forgotten buying tickets in December for 2 trips this year. I hadn’t forgotten they weren’t Economy class tickets. I’ve always had trouble sleeping on flights. With age, that’s had greater impact on travel fatigue. As I suspected, upgrading has made sleep easier with less jet lag. Also, seems priority boarding and disembarking will be useful on one of these:

a380

(1) Paraphrasing one of the best improvised actions by a guest on SNL disrupting a live show that had been timed to the second He wasn’t invited back for almost 12 years.


2016: What a Wonderful Year

January 2, 2017

When deciding when to begin early retirement, a major concern was not running out of money before taking the long dirt nap. The flip side was running out of time, physical or mental capabilities with enough bank left to have done or bought things earlier if I hadn’t been concerned about running out of money before taking the long dirt nap. That’s circular. No worries. It motivates me to just get on with things.

The best part of last year was my heart attack wasn’t fatal. The adventure started at 2:30 one morning in June with the cliche of waking up with my chest in a vice. Banged on a neighbors door for a ride to the ER where they stabilized me before a 135 mile lights and siren ambulance ride to Bangkok. Ever been wheeled straight from an ambulance into a surgery where a squad started working the moment the gurney came to a stop? It was both a major relief and, upon later reflection, concern why they needed so many people. Five subsequent nights in the Cardiac ICU gave me a clue.

s4-20160617_200002

They discharged me on the 11th day with instructions that included exercise. I obeyed.

Ten weeks later it was no big deal to do 3 miles in an hour without rests. That’s been my personal standard for minimum level of fitness for decades. That got boring, so I shortened the walk and added trips up, across, down and back over a pedestrian bridge. Built up to 20 minutes with 2 up and downs on each end before crossing. Yesterday for the first time since June, I did the hill I’ve always used before travel to get in shape for – wait for it – stairs and hills. My rule of thumb has been I’m ready when 5 laps is an effort but not unpleasant or a problem. Yesterday 3 laps met that standard. Could have done more but was concerned about sore muscles (my glutes hurt today). I’ll be ready for the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb(1) in March.

As for the money end of things, it’s great. The Social Security administration deposited my first benefit payment 3 days ago. IRA balance is 117% higher than retirement at the end of 2008 during the global economic shit storm. The non-IRA account, which had to last until I could access the IRA without penalty in 2014, should last until the end of 2017, despite some spending this year on expensive stuff I didn’t need. Details in the upcoming annual Cost of Living post.

Haven’t looked at my bucket list for years. Now seems like a good time.

(1) Top of the bridge is 440 feet above the water. Said to be a nice view. It would be fun. Then I saw the price. IS THIS SOME KIND OF JOKE?! Well… I could afford it. Then I realized it’s high adventure for some people, and thus worth it. I’ve been to 11,800′ in a hang glider, so the price-to-wow ratio of the bridge climb is unappealing. Even without that experience, I doubt I would have done it because cameras are not allowed.

 


Old Man Squinting

December 14, 2016

I’ve finished what was to be the next post. There aren’t enough photos in this blog, so here is something barely worth posting.

Aging eyes and growing cataracts means to read my phone while wearing single focus lenses, I first slide them down nose, then peer over the top. Bigger fonts on a bigger screen was the answer for when I wasn’t wearing reading glasses.

My 3 smartphones: HTC 2011, S4 2013, J7 2016:

my3phones

Believe it or not, the J7 is my fifth mobile phone in 20 years.


Australia In March

December 13, 2016

About a month ago I had the idea of spending a week relearning how to fly a sailplane. Why? For the fun of one last fling in the air. For travel with a purpose. For something to spend on with my Social Security checks, which start in January.

Australia and it’s impending summer were the obvious choice. Near Melbourne is a gliderport that’s next to a small town serviced by bus and train. However, its weeklong learn to soar programs were booked well into the months that are way too hot for me. Maybe next year.

But I wanted to get outta town, outta Thailand and outta SE Asia for a couple weeks before my TBD spring trip. The answer kept coming up New South Wales and Victoria in March, the beginning of their Autumn. So I now have a round trip ticket to Sydney for 14 nights. No plan yet except Sydney – somethings – Melbourne – somethings – fly from Melbourne to Sydney.

Maybe the weather will cooperate, allowing a day of sailplane lessons.


My Next Country, Round 2

December 8, 2016

I’ve realized I’m giving higher priority to identifying Spanish speaking countries in which to live not just because I know some Spanish, but because of my investment in learning Spanish. The time and effort it took is what economists call a ‘sunk cost’. To now learn a different language or to stick with English only would throw that all away.

We humans aren’t good at taking a loss at something we thought would pay off, hence the idiom ‘to throw good money after bad’. The smart move is knowing when to cut one’s losses. The smart move for me is to identify the countries that appear to meet my criteria the most without giving excess weight to Spanish speaking ones.

If I had to bet, next spring I’ll visit Portugal.


Oops. Spain is Back on the List.

November 27, 2016

Ah, the dubious pleasures of trying to learn something from the Internet. Didn’t help that I had a 2 spreadsheet errors plus a brain fart. <:-|  I’ll try again.

It took a bleep-load of digging to learn enough about Spanish income taxes to post a meaningful meaningless comparison. I dug some more, verifying from disparate sources. Then I plugged some realistic numbers for income (IRA withdrawal), interest, dividends, capital gains and Social Security into a calculator. I’d owe Uncle Sam about $13,000. No state tax because my domicile is in Florida.

Spanish income tax is simple enough to use a spreadsheet, but the first time I screwed it up anyway. I knew the tax was going to be more from the much higher rates and smaller standard deduction. Also knew the double taxation treaty said I’d owe Spain only the difference between Spanish and US tax laws. That’s $10,600 $8,000 more. (Lower this time because I correctly excluded Social Security.)

Spain has a wealth tax on worldwide assets. Uh, some autonomous regions have a wealth tax. Pensions (which includes IRAs) are excluded from assets. No wealth tax for me in any foreseeable future.

Only $8,000 more in taxes means I put Spain back in consideration for my next country.

The rest is for tax nerds only. I owe it all to an expat blogger in Spain who apparently knows more about taxes than most. The IRS gives Foreign Tax Credits to US citizens who pay taxes to foreign countries on income sourced there. That does me no good because all my income is sourced in the US. Spain and the US have a treaty to prevent double taxation. It says Spain may tax foreign pensions, which means both the US and Spain tax US pensions of US citizens living in Spain. How did that slip through the treaty? The US either let it or fixed it, because in the instructions for IRS form 1116 – Foreign Tax Credit is:

re-sourced-irs

That turns a US source of income into foreign source income in the eyes of the IRS, qualifying for the foreign tax credit. Of course, there is another IRS form (8833) where one must justify how the foreign country is violating the tax treaty. Pension violations must be common, as 8833 isn’t required for pension based claims. If all this is true, correct and assuming I got it right this time, then my additional income tax cost from living in Spain would be about $400. Woo hoo!