Tag Archives: travel

Gap Year Planning

“(L)et them take risks, for Godsake, let them get lost, sunburnt, stranded, drowned, eaten by bears, buried alive under avalanches — that is the right and privilege of any free American.” Edward Abby 1968.
Ok, maybe not eaten by bears and buried by avalanches but certainly, let them get tried and tested. Gap year here we come!

It was Vivian’s idea. She didn’t have a strong direction for college after COVID high school these past 2 years. When asked what she wanted to do after graduation she had a look of waking from a dream not knowing the day. Oh boy, we aren’t ready to launch.

After thinking a bunch, she proposed a gap year. A gap year of travel. A gap year traveling with us. Oh! Well, I accept this challenge.

Mike retired 12/31/21 after a very involved career as a Groundwater Engineer at Pioneer Technical Services (love). I have a fantastic nursing job at SWMTCHC (great place to work) and have been told it’s probable I can return after the gap year. He and I had geared our investments for this kind of opportunity. We had planned for the ability to be adaptable.

Honest, it’s very surprising how the seeds planted a decade ago have come to fruition. We spent many nights together going over excel spreadsheets to determine how and when to invest. We used a “pay yourself first” budget which takes your planned savings out before your bills and well before your fun spending.

The money I never saw wasn’t missed unless my mind was pulled into the violence of comparison. You know the kind that makes you jealous of someone’s new kitchen or wonder if you shouldn’t just buy a new car. Middle class is full of financial pitfalls that are completely self-induced.

Luckily, Butte, Montana is a very casual town. Our kids didn’t mind Goodwill treasures. We may have felt that saving and investing aggressively was too much suffering in another town. Plus, we have great friends who tend not to judge. The best kind.

So, we will launch soon by driving/camping from Butte, Montana to Houston, Texas. We will put the truck campers into a 40 foot shipping container. After they are loaded, we fly to Buenos Aires, Argentina via Bogota, Columbia. The stop in Columbia will allow us to break the flight up for the dog and do a Spanish intensive before the truck campers arrive by shipping container in Argentina.

Here is a fun book to read if you just had the impulse to say “Don’t go there, you will die, it’s not safe”


I’ve been listening to this book while getting ready for this trip. Fantastic information and inspiration.

Once we are done in Columbia, we go to Argentina to find our vehicles and start the journey North. El Norte! We have been asked if we will drive all the way back.

It’s possible to travel by land all the way back to Butte, except for that pesky Darien Gap which requires shipping the trucks from Columbia to Panama. The gap is not a gap in land but rather a gap in passable road. The land connecting Panama and Columbia is watershed jungle that has been deemed to environmentally fragile to allow roads.

Also, it’s really the place people are told not to go because it’s not safe and you will die. They are told this by the people who live on either side,so sounds legit. So, we would ship around that gap.

Preparing Our House for Our Gap Year

A large part of our make ready for our gap year is getting our house ready to rent in Butte, Montana. We have lived in our house for 5 years with now three teenagers so, we just have a lot of stuff. There is also deferred maintenance that wouldn’t be tolerated by a renter. Like a glitchy light switch, a slow a drain, a lock that needs a battery, peeling trim paint and the dirt… the dirt.

6 months prior to our leave date I started a “get house ready” list. We use Trello for these kind of lists and a white board in the kitchen for daily goals to keep it in our face.

All of the small repairs, cleaning and decluttering got put on a list. I was a little panicked about how the list grew as we moved forward. That darn list did not start to shrink until recently, one month before our departure. And it wasn’t for lack of doing.

Most of the first work was purging. We made a goal of taking a truck of stuff away from the house weekly. In reality, we average about two truckloads a month. We held items and tried to imagine who actually needed them. We gave away bikes, clothes, furniture, art, and gear. I had fleeting ideas of getting organized enough to photograph and market items but found that “it did not give me joy”. Giving away stuff definitely did.

Decluttered Circle Bedroom

Luckily, one of our daughters needed to set up her first apartment and it felt great to get her established with the extra kitchen gear and furniture we had. How did we live with so much stuff?

And there is still more. I looked into heated storage in town and got an estimate for a 10×17 unit, $187/mo. Whoa, no. Plus my husband recently had hernia surgery. We would move all the stuff in a truck we don’t have only to repeat when we returned.

The question became “Do we really have to move all of our furniture?” Why not offer our place furnished to save on:

  1. moving our stuff,

2. wear and tear of renters moving their stuff into and out of our place

3. save close to $200/month on storage and

4. lock a couple of rooms up and the garage as off limits to store personal belongings.

We spoke with a property management company which manages our apartments in town. They didn’t think furnished would be a good fit for their market. The estimate for our place unfinished per month was $2000, with renters covering utilities. The income through AirBnb makes sense even with us paying utilities and offering long stays of greater than a month.

We have experience with month or longer rents through AirBnb with our bungalow in the back. So, we decided to do month or longer stays listed on that sight. Shorter stays would not be compliant with the city/county laws without a permit for short term. Plus, coordinating the clean out flips and maintenance of short stays sounds intimidating from afar.

Leaving our furniture in place doesn’t come without work. I mean, take a photo of your living room without decluttering, would you post it in an Airbnb listing and expect people to reserve? There is a lot of decorating and planning spaces for guests that goes into changing your living space to be a functional furnished rental.

For us, this has meant painting, touching up furniture, cleaning and cleaning and cleaning. We’ve changed out family photos for some art that sat in closets for years waiting for a place on the wall.

We love that by not offering the whole house empty, we can lock two rooms downstairs with our personal stuff and not effect the value of the home as a rental. 5 bedroom homes on Airbnb do not rent higher than 3-4 bedrooms in our area.

Plus, we do not plan to empty the garage as we would have needed to do if offering the place for the year through a traditional property management company. We will ask our renters to park in front of the garage doors.

Creating the listing was easy because I had done it before for the bungalow. Marketing on short-term rental platforms is all about the photos. Because we are living in the space there was a lot of shuffling of boxes from one room to another as each room became ready for photos.

As of writing this article, I only have two of the bedrooms photographed and uploaded. This does not seem to have affected reservations as the house is already reserved for 2 months. Renters like that we are “superhosts” on Airbnb and trust that the rest of the house will be as nice as the photos of just a few of the rooms.

Want to see the 2 listings?

Warm and Cheerful 4 Bedroom Home


and Cozy Garden Bungalow:


Graduation and COVID

Why write this: This is written to briefly document our family’s experience with getting COVID June 2022. As I’m writing, I’m well aware that our experience is not unique as this virus has visited so many millions of people by now. I just wanted to write because this is an opportunity to document a snapshot of a family’s experience regarding our attitudes towards this virus two years into the pandemic.

Our family experience comes at a time when all precautions have been lifted. Our extended family went 2 years without turning up positive for COVID-19. 3 teens, 2 parents and 4 grandparents, we all avoided it. As a family, we joked that it was our introverted nature. We live in different states to one another which has meant we have not seen each other all at once.

We did continue taking precautions longer than was socially comfortable. Precautions were lifted at schools and airports. Eventually our kids got colds at school that didn’t test positive for COVID-19. We started thinking that colds were just colds again and then we stopped testing when someone had a sniffle. Omicron is in the news but less prominently than shootings and wars. And then we all got together for 2 graduations for the first time in 2 years.

Both sets of grandparents flew to Butte, Montana wearing their N95s and upon arrival we had big dinners all together without masks. We hadn’t been all together for 2 years. It was wonderful. It was cathartic.

Two days into her trip, one grandmother felt a sore throat and withdrew. She started wearing her N95 after a rest day thinking even though “it’s just a cold”, it would not be nice if we all got it. We didn’t think about testing because we were in denial.

All of the grandparents wore N95s to the graduations and nearly no one else in the crowd did, including our kids and us. I now wonder if the only people wearing masks are those who are sick with “something that might be a cold” or are over 80 like our grandparents. I wish in hindsight that we had, sorry everyone.

We tested grandma 6/3 Friday evening, 5 days after her symptoms started because she started having chest tightness. She was positive for COVID-19 within the first minute of the instant test. We were stunned. Our family had tested often over the last years for work and for symptoms always negative. Luckily, all of us are vaccinated fully.

Then my son who had been achy since his graduation party 6/1, positive on 6/3. The rest of us tested negative and were feeling fine. We made plans to cancel plans.

Our teenage girls calculated that their exposure had been minimal and went to friend’s houses so they could continue with work and their last summer in their home town. I argued against this move because we had been isolated from grandparents for so long and now our girls were missing time with them despite being in the same town. Also, the girls could be exposing their friends. But, teen angst won and their fear of being exposed further at home seemed valid.

The girls have been testing daily, checking in with us and are still negative and asymptomatic. Edit: 6/8 one teen and her friend are now symptomatic but testing negative.

6/6 My mom and her husband flew home after testing negative several times and continue to be asymptomatic. Mom had to cancel a trip she had planned with cousins she hadn’t seen for years.

Both she and her husband thought getting home and being close to their doctors would be best in case they become positive. 6/8 they are still doing well, wearing masks when out, limiting their outings.

So far, all of us who are positive have the range of symptoms all within what is considered mild COVID. We all had been vaccinated to the fullest extent of recommendations although many months have past since the younger generations have been boosted. I’m grateful that we have COVID now rather than before the vaccines. Mild COVID is still very disruptive.

4 of the 5 positive cases in our family have seen a medical provider. (2 in their 80s, 1 in his 50s and one 14 year old). They were being seen primarily to get pavlovid but one needed a letter to provide return to work guidance. The oldest and youngest got the pavlovid. The 50 year did not. Different providers, different days

We all have lost a day or two to deep sleep. We have sent our girls on Walgreens runs and ordered takeout, cooking seems impossible. We all can remember having a really bad cold or flu that felt like this. We are all grateful it’s not worse. The dollar cost to the disruption in change of tickets, medicines, hotel stays runs over a thousand dollars in the family. Plus lost shifts …

In an attempt to register positive home tests, I submitted record of our results to the county public health website. I left a message with our county COVID hotline. We all called the people we had been with days before testing positive. We are hopeful that we are keeping our positive circle small. I don’t know what to do about all of the graduation people we talked with. Sorry.

My personal experience: My personal experience was that I tested negative despite having disruptive symptoms on 6/4, the day after our first positives. My rapid test was negative although I ran fevers, experienced connective tissue pain in my wrists, feet and elbows and felt best when sleeping. I lost my voice to congestion. I’d get up to find juice, tea or water and then quickly be chased by chills and aches back to bed. Despite Theraflu, ibuprofen and lots of fluids, I was uncomfortable unless in bed and asleep. Still, I tested negative.

The next morning, I really did feel a little better. I was able to check on my son, talk with my girls, talk with my mom (who by then was in the Denver airport) and visit my parents in law. They were starting to look better too. Grandmother was now the only one not in quarantine. She was 2 days past her positive test and 6 days past her symptoms start. She ran for juices, take out and cough drops.

Monday late afternoon, I tested positive. It did surprise me to witness the lag of the positive test result compared to onset of symptoms. I wonder how many people test once while sick and then go on with life thinking “it’s just a cold”. Or just not test anymore.

We have read about the higher incidence of false negatives with the antigen rapid tests but I didn’t understand how sick a person could be and still have a false negative.

Lesson learned, you are not COVID negative unless you test at the right time with a PCR test. I’d recommend testing at home several days while sick and isolating because our expectations of the tests are flawed. If I hadn’t had my family’s positive results around me I would have tested once and gone on with this “cold”. I imagine that that’s going on all around us.

How we got our tests: After Grandma tested positive on Friday, we used all of the tests we had in the house to test the family. The next day, my father in law and I went to Walgreens to pick up 8 tests for each of us, free through our insurance. I was also able to grab 8 through my husband’s insurance.

An exposure of 9 people eats a lot of tests. None of us have pursued getting the pcr test. That would be the correct test for our exposed asymptomatic family. There is a sentiment that enough effort has been taken and making an appointment is asking too much. This is pandemic fatigue.

We have had a family conference and will postpone our leave to South America by a couple months. There are just too many details to throw together before July 1st. We need more time in Montana. Besides, it’s just so beautiful.

Best to all of you and word to the wise, we are still in this pandemic. Hoping that as this virus circulates we all get to avoid more severe illness. Be outside in the open air and enjoy. Consider wearing masks when indoors in public places, we are still in this spread. And for sure, we as a community are feeling less willing to sacrifice staying home for “just a cold”.