So……once the idea was born I had to start my research and planning. My first stop was Pinterest so I created a board named “Travel”. I pinned everything from how to travel to Europe for a year, places I was considering for our itinerary, packing for a yearlong trip and how to travel with a dog.
I started with the visa. As I dug deeper I became a little confused and then bummed out. You see the European Union only allows people to travel with in the EU for 3 months, the same is true for tourists entering the US. There is a visa called a Schengen visa. This gives you limited permission for 3 months to travel through all the countries that belong to this agreement, [Not all Schengen countries belong to the EU and not all EU countries are in the Schengen area. Confused yet? I sure was.] but after the 3 months you have to leave for 180 days before they let you back in. Well that wasn't going to work. We wanted to stay for a full year.
Option #2 was applying for a Long Term Stay visa but you have to find someone in the EU to sponsor you. Luckily for us over the years as we were raising our 3 kids, we had taken in 3 foreign exchange students and one of them happened to be French. France has the most generous long term stay visa among the EU countries. So I wrote an email to our French exchange student’s parents telling of our dilemma and desire to travel for the full year. In a few days they had graciously said they would sponsor us. Huge hurdle #1 done!
Once the letter from our friends in France had arrived, we needed to buy travel health insurance, and an airline ticket with a set departure date in order for the French consulate to issue us the Long Term Stay visa. Our regular California health insurance would be null and void in Europe. So I hit Google and searched for travel health insurance. Many companies that we have all heard of sold those policies but either the coverage was lousy, they wouldn’t give us a policy for a whole year or it was too expensive. So we ended up going with World Nomads. They specialize in travel health insurance. To cover the 2 of us cost $2100 for the year. Done.
On to the plane ticket. I searched and searched. The best price was found on Norwegian Air $800 one way for the 2 of us. I called them immediately knowing our dog Rosie was going to complicate matters and I wanted to make sure they accepted dogs in the cabin and not just in the cargo hold. I was told by the friendly Scandinavian voice on the phone that as long as Rosie had all her shots [especially rabies], all the paper work that proved she had had the inoculations and was examined within 10 days of the flight by a USDA certified vet she’d be good to go. Tickets bought.
The 3rd hurdle was leasing out our house for a year to defray the cost of our trip. We are lucky because we live in Sonoma, California, a place that attract people like moths to light. I didn’t want to have to completely empty my house of my possessions so we decided to put all valuables into storage and leave the rest. We found a fantastic Agent named Vicki Ernst who works for W Property Management in Sonoma.
We told her the type of renters we were looking for: A couple, preferably no animals although we’d remain flexible, non smokers, someone who wasn't gong to make it party central or set up an Airbnb in our absence. It took about 4 to 5 weeks to find a match. A couple on the verge of retirement looking to buy a house in Sonoma and need a place till they found what they were looking for. 3rd hurdle complete! Along with changing our homeowner’s insurance to a landlord policy.
Snag #1. Remember I said in order to be issued a Long Term Stay visa by the French consulate, we needed a definite departure airline ticket? Well we had to eat those first tickets because we didn’t find our tenants until after the departure date of said ticket. It was a “Catch 22”. They wouldn’t issue us a visa unless we had a purchased ticket and we didn’t know how long it would take to rent the house. You live and learn.
On to our itinerary the fun part of planning this trip. My criteria was; Sun, sand, ocean and culture. So I got out a map of Europe and looked at what was the furthest most eastern/southern point on the map.That would be Greece. Then I traced with my eyes all the southern most countries that are in the EU from east to west from Greece.
Greece, Sicily which of course is a part of Italy, then there was Sardinia [decided against that when I read about how many Russian oligarchs had mansions there so I chose Corsica instead which is owned by France [also happens to the birthplace of the father of the French friend who sponsored us]. Then I wanted to include Mallorca. It's a Spanish island in the Belaric Sea which I visited one Christmas with my father and younger sister as I was attend school in England in the 70’s. And lastly Portugal. Never been there but I hear the people are nice it’s a good bang for your buck and it has a long coastline.
So there you go plenty of sun, sand, ocean and culture. But as always wanting to be as flexible as possible, because you never know what may happen or come up along the way, I said to my husband, “Let’s start with this itinerary but if we don’t like a place or we don’t want to stay long let’s be willing to change the itinerary on the fly”.
This was a good idea to remain flexible because as I will describe in a future post why this was a key to the success of our trip.
In my next post I will describe how I ended up packing for 2 people for a year long trip and a dog. All I’ll say is I managed to pack pretty light for 2 people and a fur baby for 365 days away from home. And what other things I had to prepare and consider since we were taking Rosie too!
If you had a chance to travel for an extended period of time where would you choose to go? What's on your bucket list?