Yes You Can!


Image of Vernazza, Cinque Terre via Erin Johnson/Flickr

Who wants to travel?

Who thinks they can’t afford the trips they deserve?

I’m here to tell you – yes, you can! I will show you how.

I have traveled to many places over many years. Yes, I made my share of mistakes, but I learned from them. From travel in America, the Caribbean, to Europe. Today with and Airbnb and similar sites, it makes things easy. Do your homework! I use for my airfare as well as going directly to the airline sites. Kayak will search all sites and bring these prices to you. You can also set up price alerts to receive emails of price changes. Sometimes I have waited quite close to my travel dates to book air and got lucky with better fares.

Let’s start with travel in America. Decide where you want to go. If you are flying and can be a little flexible with your dates, sometimes a day here or there can change flight cost by a lot. If traveling to a certain city – for example. New Orleans – do a search on what you want to see. Check sites like TripAdvisor to get tips from other travelers.

I like staying at a hotel for some of the amenities. I never stay at hotels rated less than 4 stars – this almost always guarantees a nice, clean stay. If I can’t find a nice hotel in the right area for the right price, I will go to Airbnb. This site is trustworthy, as you can see many reviews not only about the home, but also the host. I have stayed at many great homes for a price better than any hotel. Sometimes going a little off season can be quite nice, with fewer crowds and lower prices.

If you need to rent a car, check multiple agencies and ask if they give discounts to AARP or AAA members, seniors, or students. My son paid half once because he was a med student. If driving to your destination, stop at a AAA office and have them give you a TripTik travel planner. They’ll help you plan your routes, including any stops for sights along the way. They can also book your hotels, too!

Now on to the Caribbean! The only advice I have for you is don’t go during hurricane season. I personally don’t care what island I go to, as long as they have great resorts with nice beaches. So I go on Cheap Caribbean and search the best package deals for the best prices and best resorts, on any island.

If you want tropics with a lot of thing to do and see, I suggest Costa Rica. Costa Rica has amazing beaches, small hotels, resorts, and Airnbnbs. It has volcanoes, mountains, rainforests, and wildlife mixed with adventure. Again, doing itinerary research online is best.

Also look at paid, organized tours and follow their itinerary but plan and book yourself to save money!

Now on to travel abroad! Which is my favorite, by the way.

I start by picking a time of year and destination. I have been mostly to Italy, but also to London, Paris, and Greece. I research flights on Kayak with flexible dates. Then I start checking Airbnb and Kayak for hotels and rooms in the various towns of interest. I usually know what I want to see, so that eliminates part of the planning process.

I have the perfect example for you. A girl that works for me and her spouse wanted to go to Italy and Greece this summer. Thinking they couldn’t afford it, thinking it would cost $15,000 for the two of them, a week in Italy and a week in Greece.

Well, I grabbed on to that and told them I will make it happen for much less.

So using Kayak for flights, two places I have stayed at, and Airbnb, this is what I found them. Are you ready??

Newark to Rome, Pisa to Santorini, and then Athens back to Newark. Three nights at Hotel Diana in Rome, three nights at an amazing Airbnb in Florence, and two nights at Camere Giuliano Basso in Vernazza (Cinque Terre). Then fly to Santorini from Pisa for a two-night stay on the beautiful island of Santorini, Greece, at a beautiful Airbnb. Then off to the Greek island of Crete to stay four nights at another Airbnb. All the Airbnbs are rated 5 stars with great reviews. Then a flight home from Athens.

The price? All for $5,000 for two people for two weeks! Now this does not include food, spending money, or transfers between cities/islands, but in both Italy and Greece the transfers are easy and affordable by either train, boat, or plane.

While in Roma if they take the hop on/hop off bus (which they have in all major cities), they can spend one or two days seeing whatever sights they want to see, then getting back on the bus for the next sight. If you buy your tickets for the sights from the hop on/hop off driver, you can go to the head of the lines. This is the most efficient way to see a city.

Once in Florence, there are small, not-too-pricey local tours into the Tuscan countryside to choose from. As for the city of Florence itself, you don’t need a tour, just do your homework! Same applies to Vernazza, Santorini, and Crete.

So we booked the whole trip and they couldn’t be happier!

Now there were times I flew to Roma with my first two nights’ hotel booked at Hotel Diana, where I walk the city since I have seen all the sights. Then I rent a car and off I go. No reservations! I find the driving pretty easy once out of the city. I drive through Tuscany and wherever I land by 3pm, I find the local information center where for free or a slight fee, they find me a room to my liking. I stop in little towns and wineries for tastings. Just enjoying the countryside and local charms is the most memorable thing to me. This kind of travel can be done on almost any budget, anywhere you want to go. It just takes the right kind of research and planning.


IMG_8383So one day four years ago my brother and I started noticing mom’s memory not being so sharp. At that time she was 77 and working full-time as head of affordable housing and public advocate for her town. We chalked it up to normal old-age memory loss.

A year later, her boss called my brother in for a meeting, as he also worked for the town, and they knew each other. He proceeded to tell my brother that mom couldn’t perform the functions of her job anymore. They had noticed for a while and loved her so much they carried her as long as they could. This was the beginning of watching our mother decline, as well as suffer, for she knew what was happening to her and hated it.

At this point we took her to see a neurologist, who diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s. We watched her go through the standard test, getting so upset because she couldn’t remember things.

IMG_8382Let me state that my mom was an intelligent, vibrant, and beautiful woman, loved and respected by everyone who knew her. She was still functioning at home on her own, and still driving. Then soon we realized she was driving without her (much needed) glasses. She would be gone for periods of time but always landed back home.

When she was younger, mom liked her beer and cocktails, but she had not had a drink in a few years. All of a sudden we started to find cases of Heineken hidden all over the house, empty bottles hidden in food cabinets, even the freezer.

At this point my brother and I met and decided to see the neurologist again. I’m lucky because my brother and I work as a team on these things, as we did when my father was sick. For many families, this is not the case. The neurologist told us she couldn’t live alone anymore and could no longer drive. Well, OH BOY, you try telling mom no more driving! So the doctor took the hit on that one to spare us. It was still a hard transition.

Now to find a live-in aide, which was not easy. We went through a couple of women. Mom was not going to like anyone coming in and taking over her house, as she still had a lot of her faculties. Eventually we found the right woman. She was sent from heaven: patient, loving, and understanding. She was a 45-year-old woman from the Republic of Georgia where in her country she was a police detective. They had a civil war and the government changed and she was no longer getting paid correctly Her cousin was an attorney with the same issues. They are both now in the United States caring for old people 24/7.

She and mom slowly because household partners, and eventually mom came to love her and depend on her. Their bond became incredible! But as the year went on, mom got worse. She didn’t know who me or my brother were, but she knew she loved us, always hugging and kissing us.

From the spring of 2017 through that August, my mom was obsessed with being  at my house and with me. Sometimes she would ask her aide to bring her over twice a day, as I live and work only 10 minutes from her house. If I tell you she came every day, I am not kidding! We hung out at my hair salon, on my deck, and in the pool, barbecuing all the time – and mom always hated pools! Going to dinner on the waterfront in Keyport all the time. Mom was so happy, as was I.

I asked her one day, “Where is Tracy?” She said, “I don’t know.” I asked if she knew who I was. She said, “You are my friend.” I said, “And you are my best friend.” We just enjoyed our time together every day. Some days I was tired, but I never said she couldn’t come over. Boy am I glad for that.

Eventually mom got worse, so we started filling her Heineken bottles with Crystal Light raspberry lemonade, lol. I would even bring them into restaurants and explain to the staff!

img_8384.jpgSometime in August of 2017 things changed again. Mom took a turn for the worse. She became afraid to walk on her own, she stopped speaking English, and reverted back to her native language, German (which none of us understood). She stopped feeding herself. Her aide fed her and dressed her. Soon she became incontinent and had to be spoon fed pureed food.

No matter what, she was still happy to see me and my brother. But she came to love and want her aide, Shorana, more and more every day. This was the way mom was until the last weekend in April of 2018. It was a Saturday and I was working when Shorana called: “Something is wrong with mom!” My brother ran over and soon called me to come.

I canceled my day and went over. Mom was in bed, unresponsive and weak. She has a living will and a DNR so no going to the hospital. My brother and I sat by her bed in fear, and confused. What was happening? We figured this was the next turn and she was dying. I said let’s call hospice, maybe they can send someone to see her.

Well, they sent a nurse that Saturday night. By then I had inclined the hospital bed to a sitting position, and for three hours got mom to drink some Ensure and electrolyte waters. Shorana put an ice pack on her face to try to wake her, and me holding her nose after every sip to prompt her to swallow.

This continued into Sunday as well. We were devastated and started preparing for the end. Monday morning a text from Shorana saying “Mom is back!”

I am not a religious person but THANK GOD! Mom was back to the way she was three days prior. We have no idea what happened but we are all so thankful to have her back.

IMG_8385My point in telling my story is to remind people to cherish every day you have with people that matter to you – family as well as friends. Realize what is important in this life. Family needs to pull together in times like these.

I will always be grateful for that spring and summer of 2017. I’m thankful that my friends always wanted to be around mom. But most thankful to the man I was dating at the time, who also came to love my mother. He never minded mom being over when he was there, too. He never minded that we had limited time to ourselves that spring and summer. He was rewarded by mom asking every time she was over, “Is that nice man coming over?” and her being so happy when he did come. Thank you, Duane.