We just remembered we needed to make Christmas travel plans

DH and the kids’ late summer trip made me think we’d already done all our holiday planning, but we actually hadn’t done any at all.

By the time I noticed that we hadn’t made any Christmas plans, the cost of plane tickets to visit DH’s family alone was going to be ~$2K, and there would still be plenty of driving on both ends of the trip and non-ideal travel dates.  So we decided to drive.  My car gets good mileage and it wasn’t so bad last year.  I’m looking forward to the next Dispatcher book.  And the next Andrea Vernon.  I think someone kidnapped the Big Axe at the end of last year’s car trip.

So we contacted DH’s mom and DH and his mom talked with his siblings to figure out what would work best with everyone’s plans and schedules.  They decided to see the cousins near where the cousins live rather than near where DH’s parents live.  So basically we would drive in to DH’s parents, then we would all drive to an AirBNB in his brother’s town.  DH’s sister would come for a day.   Last year DH’s brother hosted, but this year DH’s brother’s wife is getting surgery so we will probably get catering.

Then DH and his mom looked at AirBNB schedules.  They (mostly DH) decided on 2 nights in DH’s brother’s town ending on Christmas Eve (most places were already booked on Christmas, and the place we stayed last year is $500/night with a 3 night minimum now!)  DH’s mom is really worried about crime, so that let out a lot of the downtown Airbnb.  We found a place about a 20 min drive from DH’s brother’s place in a surrounding small town for ~$300/night, so $600 total.

So the plan is, drive to DH’s parents’.  Spend the night.  Drive to DH’s brother’s town, check into an AirBNB.  Spend the night.  Either host Christmas there or spend a day there and go to DH’s brother’s the next day after checking out.  Drive back to DH’s parents’.  Spend the night and either the next day or drive home that day.  But plans may change– the nice thing about driving instead of flying is the flexibility.  (The bad thing is that it takes a full day and then some to drive.  But DC1 needs highway practice!)

Gas was ~$100 round trip last time.  It will probably be a little more this time but not too much more.

I’m a little worried about catsitting– the person we used last year has moved to another state and the person we used last summer wasn’t available last Christmas.  It’s hard finding people around at Christmas, and our cat does not like being away from us for long periods of time (back when we had two cats, she seemed fine, but now she seems a little traumatized even when we do get a cat sitter).

The other expense will be our portion of the catering bill, though I’m not entirely sure what’s going to happen there.  (One of the cousins has peanut allergies so they have to be careful.)  But I feel like my part in planning here is done.

But, all in all, not so bad price-wise.

Have you made winter break travel plans?

Add me to the numbers of people who got covid for the first time this past month

I was supposed to present on the second day of the conference.  The first day of the conference, I had an itch in my throat and a cough, but I’d had a negative covid test and attributed it to all the ambient cigarette smoke (in fact, that may have actually been what the problem was).  The morning of the second day, I woke up with an extremely sore throat and felt a bit like death warmed over.  A covid test came up positive.  I was one of the few masked people at the conference, and definitely not the only person with a raspy cough, but I still feel guilty.

I didn’t go to the rest of the conference.  And everyone at the conference was told to mask up because of me.  I watched and presented from my hotel room bed in between naps.  It didn’t go great and I’m a bit depressed about it all.

Fortunately the kids had a separate hotel room and were extremely mature about it all.  They did a lot of outdoor activities like the zoo and botanical gardens.  They also got a lot of use out of the Switch and Kindle.  DH eventually got a positive covid test but the kids never did.

Then we had to decide whether to go to Paris as planned or to find another hotel room to hole up in.  DH was feeling fine, I wasn’t, but we would have to travel to get to any new hotel room in any case (our then current place was booked).  So we went to Paris and I stayed in the apartment with the windows open while DH and the kids did a boat ride.  At least I did get to try Paris food, which was amazing.

I have had worse colds, but Covid was definitely not pleasant.  Not a fan.  And it came at a bad time.  I feel like I should never get excited about things because that makes the disappointment so much more acute.  Also, the last time we decided to do a vacation, the pandemic stopped it from happening.  Apparently even combining a little vacation with a conference wasn’t enough to allow me to enjoy a vacation this time.  The universe wants me to stay home.

So, I’m covid negative now, but still feeling sorry for myself.

Ask the grumpies: cool travel experiences

CG asks:

Cool travel experiences (not just destinations, but specific memorable experiences) for when we can all do that again.

Hopefully #2 is having some right now.

We invite others to share their cool travel experiences and to check out all the yummy food #1 ate in Italy.

More travel stuff

  • I’d forgotten quite how much planning has to go into a non-conference trip.  DH has been handling most of it, which I appreciate.  (Oddly, I like planning things for DH and family when I’m not going, but it loses all its luster when I’m going too… so I have done a lot of planning for DH’s extended family vacations even when I’m not there too, but DH does the planning for joint trips.)
  • All told, train tickets are coming to just over $1K for the four of us for all of our city-to-city trips.  Planning these and buying them was surprisingly easy using Rail Europe (I wish the US had this!).  We looked into getting a pass thing which basically means you get discounted reservations for trips, but the money didn’t work out, so we stuck with buying them individually.
  • We will still need to get within-city transportation, but it looks like most of our needs can be met with light rail + walking and we can avoid buses, taxis, rental cars, ubers, etc., which is good because it sounds like traffic is horrific in a couple of places we’ll be needing to travel, at least according to Reddit.
  • We decided to keep our regular cell-phone plan with Ting.  People recommend Google FI or getting European sim cards or a number of other complicated things.  After running the numbers, if we’re not careful and keep our usage to what it normally is, the most we’ll cost is still well under $500, whereas the other options all have upfront costs and huge potential hassle costs.  If we are careful, by which I mean, we download maps while still in the US, we turn off cell for the most part while traveling (except when apart or for emergencies), we keep DC1’s cellphone at home, we turn off the ability to receive pictures etc. it should be much less than the other options, but we still have the ability to spend money if we’re separated or somehow get lost somewhere we don’t have maps for etc.  (The reported wifi at our various hotels varies according to Trip Advisor, with some places being great and some places not so much.)
  • We don’t have an atm card for our local credit union.  It looks like our Wells Fargo account charges $5/use plus whatever foreign ATM fees charge (we don’t have premier checking and would need to add another 8K to the account to get it).  I don’t even have an ATM card, so I opened up a Capital One checking account which has no fees other than what the ATM itself charges.  I already have a credit card and savings with Capital One, so I just shifted some savings over. Hopefully the card will get here before we leave.  Even if we end up going with Wells Fargo it would be nice to have a back-up ATM card just in case.  As an added bonus, it looks like if I transfer $250 over twice from our etrade accounts in the next some amount of time that we’ll get a $250 bonus for opening the account.  We’ll see though.  (It wants direct deposit, but what counts as a direct deposit varies.)
  • The only day we can go to the Museo D’Orsey is a free day.  I hope we can get in and I hope we don’t get Covid!  We plan to go super early.
  • We got our tickets to the Louvre!  We’re not actually that excited about it (compared to everything else we’re doing) except we feel like we should get a glance at the Mona Lisa because that’s what one does on one’s first visit to Paris.
  • We haven’t gotten tickets to places in the other cities.  I’m thinking we’ll just play it by ear.  I am really excited about a museum where one of my favorite painters used to live.
  • We’re bringing candied pecans as hostess gifts for my second cousins.  I hope that’s not ridiculous, bringing candied nuts to Europe, but pecans seem like a Southern US thing.  (Though DH initially bought some overpriced not as good candied pecans imported from Spain when I didn’t specify on the grocery list that I wanted the local variety.  So it’s not like Europe doesn’t have them.  But we will not be bringing those as hostess gifts.)
  • DH and the kids will be visiting his parents in the rural midwest while I’m at one of my conferences.  They’ve decided to fly.  We were able to get 3 round-trip tickets for ~$500 by flying out of a city that’s somewhat farther away than our normal city.  This is less than half of what our normal city would cost AND has better times (DH’s parents don’t have to pick them up at the airport at 11pm!)
  • Sadly, the flight days to get those tickets mean that I’ll be home alone on DC1’s birthday while zie is at the grandparents.  Zie doesn’t seem broken up about it and we talked about maybe giving hir our presents before I leave for the conference.
  • After three years of nothing, it feels like an insane amount of travel, but really, it’s just one more trip than usual for the family in the summer since I usually have conference travel and DH and the kids usually (in pre-pandemic times) visit his family while I’m at one of the conferences.  We used to do more kids tagging along to conferences with me back when it was easier to take them out of preschool or private school (public school really doesn’t want them missing days).


  • I got invited to give two talks this summer in Europe within a week and in nearby cities.  They’re both doing the “you pay your way, we pay your stay” thing and my bursary will cover my flight.  One of the cities is also near a lot of second cousins I’ve never met, but my sister has met.
  • After a lot of thinking and concern about covid etc. we decided that the whole family should go.  I don’t know if this is the right decision or not (the state department doesn’t think so), but who knows what European rates are going to be like compared to US rates in the summer.
  • While we were booking our flights, United brought to our attention that we still had $1900 of travel credits left(!) from our anniversary trip and DH’s family trip getting cancelled by Covid.  I totally thought they had expired.  Thank you for bringing that to our attention, United.
  • Total flight cost after credits and minus my flight:  $1600.
  • It’s kind of weird realizing that in a year and some change, DC1 will be off to college and may not always be included in family trips anymore depending on what zie is up to.  This is kind of our last chance to give hir these travel opportunities I never had as a kid.  Maybe zie will study abroad a semester, but that’s not the same as experiencing things as a family.
  • I also have two flights for giving talks scheduled for May.  I’ll also be going to an in-person conference in July.
  • Turns out DC2’s passport expires just before our summer trip.  We renewed DC1’s over break because it was going to expire earlier, but we figured we weren’t going to be going anywhere and could renew DC2’s at our leisure sometime after the school year.  Unfortunately even with expedited we need to renew hirs right away, and we can’t do it locally because there aren’t any appointments available.  We’re going to have to drive an hour and a half to a post office in a small town we’ve never heard of.  (We could do an emergency renewal but we’d have to put off renewing until right before and do it in the city, and we’d rather have that be a last resort option if it truly is an emergency.)
  • There was a last minute cancellation in the town next to ours, so we were able to only drive 30 min instead of 70.  It took half an hour (not including the travel time) and over $200 with all the expediting to get it to arrive in 5-7 weeks.  But it will be worth the peace of mind so long as it actually comes in 5-7 weeks.
  • After we bought our flights, the mask mandate thing was cancelled.  Though it would have expired in early May anyway.  I wonder what international flights will do.
  • I bought some more large masks of various types so DH will have things to choose from.  I also got more POSH masks for the rest of us because the BOTN masks are getting complaints about the nose piece being worse than it used to be and if that happens with POSH I want to have backups.

Ask the Grumpies: Flying into the department 2-3 days/week and family time

traveling parent query asks:

I have a preschooler, my husband has a stable government job he loves, and we just bought a house in our current city. I have a potential (who knows…academia is a dumpster fire) opportunity which is a short plane ride away. It’s an amazing post in my niche but not a city I’d want to uproot my family to given the lack of comparable job opps for my husband + our love of our current city. It is a very exciting job and might allow me to make a lateral move back eventually. I think given the changes in remote work, I’d need to be in 3 days a week during the semester, and maybe 1 week a month during the summer. Am I bananas for thinking this is totally doable given our financial situation, my husband’s overall competence, etc? I mentioned it on a mom site I read and people thought it would destroy my family, but like, my husband is an equally involved and competent parent, his job is very normal hours, my kid is easy going? Management consultants have kids and I could make up for term time travel with flexibility during the long (not in the US, shorter semesters) summers?

I thought in your careers, you might have met someone who has done something similar? Did they end up miserable?

I live in a location where it is difficult to solve the two body problem so I know a lot of people who spend 2-3 days/week on campus and the rest working from home (or from coffee shops in their home cities). As far as I know their family lives are fine, even those with children. Even those racking up frequent flyer miles. I am unaware of any divorces or delinquent children.

Interestingly, the person I know who did this with a preschooler is a woman (she was the next pregnant lady in our building after I had DC2, so she gets DC2’s outgrown clothes… I think we’re at the friendship level where I’d hear about problems, and if not, I’m really close friends with her mentor who knows everything in their department). The men generally have older kids or no kids.

The two in my building that rack up frequent flyer miles say that it is a good idea to get into the habit of using the airport and plane time to get work done.  It’s actually easier for them to focus because there’s no interruptions.  (This is not my experience with flights, but I guess if you’re taking the same flight over and over it becomes more automatic.)  My external friends who do long daily train commutes (think San Diego to LA or SF to Palo Alto) say the same thing– commuting when you’re not the person driving allows you to do focused work (their advice is to leave on an early enough train that you can snag a seat).

Alice offers this advice:

I’m not an academic, but can speak to the travel for work side of things a bit. Early in my career, I worked for a company whose business model involved heavy travel, and when I was pregnant/when our child was younger, my husband’s job required a lot of travel.

When I was the one traveling, I didn’t have a relationship or a child. Most of the people at the company were single or in relationships but only a scant handful had younger children. The travel was fly onsite early Monday/fly home on Friday afternoon, and videochat wasn’t the thing that it is now. I know one man whose wife and daughter moved to the onsite city with him even though it was a 1-year job because his toddler would forget him while he was away. She’d be shy and hesitant at first on Saturdays and then engaged and joyful on Sundays… and then he’d fly out on Monday morning and it would start all over again. He said the pattern was too heartbreaking for him to continue it. So that’s a negative potential with a very little kid.

However. When I was pregnant and until my daughter was about 3.5, my husband’s job had him away every other week or every third week, depending on what was going on with his work situation. His travel was usually Sunday-Thursday. We didn’t have the problem of our daughter forgetting him. We did do some videochatting, but not much. I made it a priority to make sure that he and I were communicating, generally via text, every day. And I made sure to send him a lot of photos, particularly while I was home on maternity leave. The travel was hard for him emotionally– he got tired of it and felt like he was missing R&R time that he would’ve had if he was home. But it didn’t wreck our marriage or our family.

From a family relationships and kid emotional development standpoint, what you’re outlining could be fine for all of you. In my opinion, it could even be good from a gender roles standpoint. For us, my husband’s travel really cemented the Mom Does Everything pattern. With you being the traveler, it might do the opposite. To me, that seems like a good thing. If your husband is already responsible for family logistics or if he’s willing to take them on, this could give your family a level of balance that mine doesn’t have.

I can’t speak to the financial side of things, but would advise being really thoughtful about your flight timings and keeping a sharp eye on weather forecasts if you get the job. Never book the last possible flight you’d need to catch in order to make it to your first commitment, and if the weather is predicting something big in your home city (blizzard, hurricane, etc.), consider getting to or staying in your work city before it hits. For my husband and myself, the companies had planned and paid for the travel, so if flights were cancelled or if there was a delay, missed time at work was accepted, even if something important was missed. If you’re doing a more DIY traveling for work setup, travel-related flight/weather complications may not be okay in the same way.

Grumpy Nation– have you seen families where one person travels a few days a week work?  What advice do you have for someone about to embark on weekly journeys?


Ask the grumpies: What is your favorite travel destination?

Leah asks:

What is your favorite travel destination?

#1:  This may seem kind of weak, but if I’m being completely honest, I think my current favorite travel destination is West LA.  I love the weather.  I love the hotels I stay in.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE the food.  I wish I had more West coast conferences and fewer East coast ones (though thankfully the food has gotten better in the main place I go on the East Coast).  LA just makes me happy.  And West LA is surprisingly walkable.  I’m sure there are places in Europe that are lovely, but I have not presented at several overseas conferences because I just don’t want to spend all that time on the plane.  Flights to LA are much more reasonable.  Plus my favorite bakery in the part of Northern California where I conference the most went out of business.  :(

#2:  Italy

Grumpy nation, where you do like to travel best?

Ask the grumpies: If you could travel anywhere without any hassle, where would you go and why?

Solitary Diner asks:

If you could travel anywhere and not have to deal with practical considerations (cost, vacation time, hassle of actually getting there), where would you choose to go and why? You can choose to do an adults-only vacation or a kids involved vacation (or one of each if you’re feeling really inspired to write).


  • Back to Italy! Alllll the Italy. I haven’t finished eating every foodstuff they make there yet. There are more things to see. It’s beautiful!
  • Wales. Lovely countryside, history, Hay-on-Wye.
  • Probably some other places. There are other places I would like to visit or re-visit, both abroad and closer to home. Being able to teleport there would be a plus.  [Ed:  except for that whole teleportation as murder thing]

#2:  I still have not been to Italy and I would very much like to go on an eating tour there.  Just not enough to deal with the practical considerations of doing so yet.  Watching Solitary Diner’s recent travelogues, I’m also considering the benefits of just popping over to France to eat.  Really I just like to eat amazing food.  DH is considering a trip to Seattle/Portland for our 20th anniversary because we’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest.

We finally got TSA-Pre

We’d been wanting TSA Pre for a while.  Where $85 once seemed like too much to pay for the privilege of keeping our shoes on and slightly shorter lines at security, with both of us traveling more and our incomes being higher, it now seems worth it.  What wasn’t worth it was trying to get an appointment.  When we were in paradise, there was an office close to us, but appointments were booked 3 months in advance, so we didn’t do it.  Where we live now, we’d have to drive into the city (1h 45 min) to get an appointment which seemed pretty ridiculous.

It turns out that most big airports have TSA-Pre walk-in sign-ups.  Last year we didn’t have our passports when we had some time to kill at a large midwestern airport.  This year, we brought our passports just in case.  As predicted, FIL got us to the airport a few hours early.  There was no line at the TSA-Pre sign-up place.  DH and I each signed up and got our fingerprints taken (now using scanning technology– no ink!).  It literally took 10 min each.  A week later we each got a letter telling us we’d been approved and giving us our confirmation numbers.  Now we just need to enter them into our existing travel plans and put them in for any new travel plans and we’re set for the next 5 years.

Children under 13 (maybe 12?) don’t need their own TSA-Pre because they’re included with the parents.  So we didn’t get them their own.  (We will probably get it for DC2 in a couple years.  Probably at the same airport.)

Do you have TSA-Pre?  Was it a hassle or super easy?

Conferences for the unemployed academic

Now that I’m no longer a professor, I have to pay for my own conference travel out of pocket.  Of course, before they didn’t really pay for enough to cover even one conference, so this isn’t much different from when I was an employed academic.

In fact, dealing with conferences on my own is expensive and it sucks but it’s easier than dealing with our less-than-competent secretary!  (Insert rant here on:  it was enough for them to say they supported professional development and research, but not enough that they actually did. End Rant.)

Why am I conferencing, even though I’m not employed and I am not bringing in money? I thought it might help get a job, to network, because conferences are cool and fun, to learn about research, to see old friends.  Why does anyone ever go?

But I’m not paying 100% out of pocket.  I’m doing some things to save money on the trip.

To pay for the conference I’m using a mishmash of frequent flier miles, savings, and aggravation.  I’m also sharing hotel rooms with colleagues/friends (SCORE!)

Now, I think the trips themselves are tax deductible since I’m using them for job seeking/networking purposes, but according to my partner’s accountant given that we’re renting etc. we won’t be over the standard deduction this year even with my travel and stuff.  I’m saving the receipts anyway, just in case.

So that’s my story.

Do you pay for work-related conferences out of pocket?  How do you save on travel?  Is a conference your idea of a vacation?