Our European Grand Tour… Maybe

I’ve been planning a grand adventure trip for two years, one that is supposed to start in March of this year. Right now, I have no idea if any of it will happen. I know in the big picture of what the world is going through, my concerns are inconsequential, but to my wife and me, they are a big deal. 

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I recently left my job, and we moved; my wife has also ended her previous career. This was all part of a plan we sketched out several years ago. We didn’t know exactly how or when certain elements would happen, but we knew the result. My wife and I would leave our careers, move to a city we chose that was fun, exciting, and close to family, and start new careers being our own bosses. 

Before we started those careers or went back to school, we would travel. I don’t mean a nice two-week vacation; I mean real travel, three to four months of travel. Our plan would work in large part to family generosity in providing us a temporary place to live. We sold our house, and with no mortgage or rent, this trip wasn’t actually going to be that much of a financial burden. So, where did we plan to go?

We’ve been to Europe a few times, but always in a hurried fashion to see the big sights (Rome, Venice, Paris, London, etc.). I wanted to go on a modernized version of the historic European Grand Tour. To get in a car and drive wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted. That is our plan; a road trip through Europe. 

You would think renting a car for that long is preposterously expensive, but a unique program makes it cheaper than renting one for a few weeks in the states. French auto manufacturers Renault, Citroen, and Peugeot, have programs called “short-term lease.” Essentially, if you are going to be in Europe for more than 21 days, you can “lease” a brand new car from one of these car companies. The lease includes all required insurance and roadside assistance, and you can pick up and drop off in different countries, something that is very expensive with traditional rental companies. 

Armed with that knowledge, I knew we could explore Europe in a brand new hatchback with a manual transmission for three to four months for roughly $2500. That’s about twice what I paid for a one week rental with insurance in Orlando for work last year. 

Now that I had the transportation figured out, I needed to decide where we would go. Starting in March would put us in the off-season to shoulder-season for European tourism, which is nice. But we also needed to choose places that would give us decent weather. That led me to begin the Grand Tour in Portugal. I’ve been there before, the “winter” climate is very comfortable, and the country is spectacular. 

Now that I knew where we would begin, Lisbon, and that we could take delivery of our car there, I started to build a rough timeline and destination outline. This trip needs to be different than our others; there will be no “how much can we see in two days” kind of stops. We intend to play things very loose, making reservations as we go, with a few exceptions for trendy places. That way if we like a place, we can stay longer. If we are disappointed somewhere, we can leave. With the advent and popularity of Airbnb, this kind of travel is quite easy to arrange, and your chances of being stuck in a truly terrible room are pretty slim. 

A rough outline of the start of our journey

I used the weather to our advantage and built a route that took us along the Mediterranean through Spain, France, and Italy. Italy, particularly the Tuscan region, has been one of our favorite places to visit, so we plan to stay there for a while, like a month. As the summer begins, and temperatures and tourism rates start to rise, we will trek north into Switzerland, Austria, and make our way toward Scandinavia. This should keep our daily temperature ranges very similar for the entire trip, making packing much easier.  

Of course, then COVID-19 hit, and everything has changed. Even while the pandemic rages and overseas travel is mostly denied to anyone with a US passport, I continue to plan this trip. We are unique in that our timeline is extensive, so if we can travel to a country but are then forced to quarantine for 10 or 14 days, we can. That timeline would destroy most people’s entire vacation, but for us, it works. 

The problem right now is, there aren’t many countries we can go to and quarantine. I booked our flights long ago, but I used points specifically to make changes very easily with little penalty. We have a reservation for our first stay in Lisbon, which I can cancel without penalty until a week before we are scheduled to arrive. And I am waiting until the last minute to book our car.

We are holding out hope that our flexibility, willingness to get tested as much as required and the eventual rollout of vaccines enables us to make this trip a reality. Unfortunately, the news over the past few weeks has dimmed my hopes for the first time since this began. It seems everyone is moving in the wrong direction right now, and I’m beginning to have doubts. 

If delayed, we’ll probably start in Barcelona

The good news is that we are flexible, and if we have to wait until April to begin the journey, we can. It will mean that we modify the itinerary, and we will lose some of the trip (Portugal will, unfortunately, have to be visited another day). But we will still embark on a journey that I hope will enrich our lives forever. 

As I said in the beginning, our concerns mean little in the landscape of death and loss of livelihoods, homes, and families caused by the pandemic. This post is not an effort to drum up sympathy or anything of that nature. It is simply an update to what I am doing, what I am thinking about, and hopefully, something to give you hopes for your own future travels. I know very few people who were aware of the short-term-lease program before I explained it. Hopefully, knowing that such an opportunity exists will spark a new plan for travel in your life. 

Having traveled to all 50 states, lived in several different U.S. areas, and traveled to a handful of foreign countries. I believe the more you see and experience that is different from what you are accustomed to, the better person you will become, and the better world you will make. Seeing different cultures and perspectives break down walls and barriers we make for ourselves when it comes to our perception of others, especially when we don’t realize we’ve made those walls. A sentiment much more eloquently expressed here by Maya Angelou.

At some point, we will all be free to move around the world again. We hope that we can safely do so in two months. Regardless of when that happens, I urge you never to be satisfied with what you know and always explore new things and places.