Here we go…the Panama Adventure

Tomorrow we fly out to check out Panama as a possible place to invest in a vacation property with the thought in the back of our minds that this might be a good place to retire. Ok, the ‘back of our minds’ is a bit understated. We’re thinking about it.

Warning, the next several posts will be a bit of a departure from my regular writing. If you’re not interested in travel, how to do it effectively and economically you won’t be interested in this piece. Over the next few weeks I’m going to be writing about our trek to Panama, our search for a rental property for vacationers (maybe you!) and our thoughts about possibly retiring there. If you’re not interested that’s fine…you’re dismissed for summer. We’ll reconvene later. If you are…here we go!

Primarily at this moment in time, we need an investment. Let’s just say, it’s not good for people to be without a mortgage. People like us. Our money needs to be going somewhere. We need to be committed to something.

So as many of you know, we’ve been researching the daylights out of the best places to invest/retire. Our research is taking us to Panama.

I’ll answer the question “why Panama?” tomorrow.

Today, I’m going to give you an inside look at how we arrange our travels. There are a ton of ways to do these things. Many different websites and apps to work with. We’ve learned a few things along the way that might be of interest to you.

Flight Booking

This year, we booked our flights from 1) Qatar to Toronto, 2) Toronto to San Jose, Costa Rica, 3) Costa Rica to Winnipeg 4) Winnipeg to Toronto and finally 5) Toronto back to Qatar, for a total of $2003/person. We also booked a flight for Honour to go from Qatar to Australia for $477. How?

For the last 6 years we have booked our flights through cheapoair.com. Why are they so reasonable? I don’t know but I know they are not always the most convenient flights. They are seldom direct. We don’t mind. We would rather fly inexpensively than luxuriously. Besides…who can’t benefit from getting up and taking a walk now and then? Having said that, I don’t think our flight paths look a lot different than other people’s. They’re not crazy inconvenient. Most people coming home from Qatar have 2 transfers. You can fly with just one and you can fly direct (I think). We’d prefer not to fly through the U.S., as it’s become a bit more of a hassle, but truthfully, we’ve gotten used to the routine.

Although it says “this booking is final, no refunds” at the end of the booking process, we have (on no less than 4 occasions) found them to be very accommodating.

Accommodations

Want to find less expensive accommodations than hotel rooms? Try airbnb.ca or vrbo.com. There are a wide variety of homes available in so many locations. You often get less expensive, more spacious accommodations, and the personal touch of an owner to boot. We’ve had great luck with these sites, from a flat in London, England to a cottage in the hills of the Finger Lakes (New York State); they’ve all been great. This summer almost all of our rooms were booked through one of these. Stay tuned…I’m taking you with me (virtually, put your suitcase away) and will show pictures and give descriptions.

Need a hotel room? I’m writing right now from the International Plaza Hotel near Pearson International Airport. We needed a room because of our ridiculously early flight (you’re welcome friends and family, we didn’t even ask you to take us to the airport at 3 a.m.). If you’re willing to take a little risk you could save lots of money. We booked this through Hotwire. Because hotels don’t really want you to know that they’re giving away rooms at reduced prices, the name of the hotel is hidden until you book. This is not a tried and true thing for us. I took the chance this time and it worked great. I was looking for a room near the airport, free shuttle to the airport, free wifi…and that’s it really. I found those things and hit the button…and got a suite for $81 (regularly $130…I checked. I needed to know if it was really a deal). I’ll definitely be trying that again.

Cool Apps

It looks like there are so many great apps out there to make travelling easier. Maybe. How do you know unless you try?

I’m really excited about the one I decided to try. It’s called Tripit.

This summer it was not easy to keep track of flights, layovers, various accommodations, car rentals etc. Even when it’s a one-destination trip, it can be overwhelming.

Tripit is fabulous. It’s connected to my email address. So when a confirmation for a flight, or rental or anything comes into my email box I just forward it to ‘plans@tripit.com’ and it automatically populates, into the calendar on Tripit. It has everything on it, the confirmation numbers, flight numbers and transfers. It has a map with our flights on it. Each accommodation entry has directions and a map and there’s a place to put personal notes (the owner will meet us with the key at the coffee shop – those kinds of notes). Apparently if you get TripitPro ($49/year) it will alert you to flight delays, track your air miles and a number of other things. I’m sticking with the free version. It’s already impressive enough.

An added feature is that you can share your Tripit calendar with friends. You can see ours if you request it from me. Warning, upon viewing exhaustion may ensue. As my friend (who will meet us in Panama later) said after she read it “BTW your travel schedule is crazy busy. I don’t know how you are doing it.” I’m pleading temporary insanity.

 

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