Have Wife, Will Travel

Hi, I’m Rob.  I play the role of husband and dad in the saga upon which you are about to embark.  I’m joined by Shani, my wife and mother to our mischievous, imp of a daughter, “S”.  Together, we are the Bell family.  This is a portal, if you will, into the story of our travel adventures.  Part journal, part travel review and all Bell peculiarities, we hope the offerings here will inspire some of you to embrace our world through the medium of travel.

We are by no means globetrotters.  We are a middle class family that resides in Phoenix, Arizona.  What we are though, is a family who has come together to prioritize the tiny sliver of time we will have together on this earth, with shared experiences.  Shortly after becoming parents, Shani and I decided to put an emphasis on the intangible moments we share together.  Yes, we live a comfortable life with all of the material trappings that middle class Americans have come to enjoy, but all of the extra…well, all of the extra goes to the things that no human can ever take away from us…memories.  Whether it’s a membership to our local science center, attending concerts, or as evidenced by this blog…traveling, these shared experiences would be the focus of how we invested our time and money.

Travel is by far, the most enticing of the shared experiences we have found so far.  It also is the hardest of those shared experiences to decide upon, plan, finance and execute.  This would probably be a good time to explain the meaning behind the title Have Wife, Will Travel. While Shani and I agree on all of the important things that couples should agree on, we are still very different individuals.  My wife is a planner.  The unexpected and unplanned can often throw her for a loop.  I am convinced that most aspects of planning a trip bring Shani immense joy and excitement.  Why on earth would I want to rob her of those experiences?

I am, by contrast, not a planner.  While Shani is creating color coded spreadsheets, detailing all of the particulars of any particular journey, my head is busy imagining and mentally visualizing the enjoyment and adventure we will be sharing together.  The spreadsheet is real folks.  For those that regularly peek into our lives here, the trip isn’t officially real until the spreadsheet has been started.  While I respect and show deference to the all powerful spreadsheet, my first reaction to looking at one causes my blood pressure to spike as if I was walking into a Walmart, Chuck E Cheese or other similar highly chaotic environment.  In the end, we balance each other out.  She’ll plan, I’ll imagine and later, write as a cathartic exercise which helps maintain my sanity.  Hence the title, Have Wife, Will Travel.

We genuinely hope you enjoy what is to follow.  We hope what we share resonates and encourages you to live the best lives for yourselves.  While there will be plenty of opinion and subjective offerings, I have tasked myself with providing plenty of perspective and objectivity where I can.  No matter what value you may take away from these words, our sincere desire is that this can somehow contribute to your happiness. So, buckle up and open your mind.  Let’s go some places together and see what we learn!

Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world. — Gustave Flaubert



Travel Planning: Art or Obsession?

Hi everyone!  I’m Shani and I am the “wife” of Have Wife Will Travel.  Rob is the writer but I am the planner.  For me, planning is a necessity but it also serves a purpose beyond ensuring that all of our varied must-sees are seen and a must do’s are done.

Most of our trips start with me saying “I have a crazy idea” to which my family responds  “where are we going now?”  Some of our trips have been complicated multi-day, multi-location excursions while others have been simple weekend getaways.  As a family, we have cruised to Alaska and toured the East Coast by train.  We have traveled to the Land of the Mouse multiple times on both coasts.  Rob and I have cruised the Hawaiian Islands and Mexico sans the “wee” one.  Our trip to the UK next month will be our first major trip outside of the US.

Once we have identified our next destination the next step, at least for me, is the “infamous” spreadsheet.  As soon as there is a spreadsheet everyone knows the $h!t is real.  Most people are completely taken aback by my sometimes complicated spreadsheets, others laugh at me and others yet are oddly impressed by the complexity and obvious amount of time and dedication that goes into the creation of “the spreadsheet”.  My spreadsheets are famous in our circles.  They are expansive, they are color coded and for me, they serve a purpose other than organization.

Confession time, I am mildly OCD and also suffer from an anxiety disorder.  The process of planning, spreadsheeting (yes, it’s a verb) and color coding our trips helps me to control the unknown things that can send my anxiety spiraling.  Traveling is exciting and I love it but traveling, for someone with anxiety can be terrifying.  By controlling the process of planning I am able to control some of the anxiety that I often feel when faced with things outside of my immediate control.

In my defense, the spreadsheet is more of a structure and my Plan A for the days to come.  Without a Plan A, there is no Plan B when things inevitably go sideways.  I’ve gotten miserably sick on trips.  Rob has injured himself.  S has been a toddler (enough said)  Suffice it to say, plans inevitably change.  My spreadsheets allow me to control some of the chaos.

The UK trip we have on the horizon is causing me some concern because the entirety of the planning process has been turned over to a tour company.  I used a travel agent to plan a Disney trip several years past and hated it so much I never did it again.  The loss of control over the trip made me crazy.  This trip is one month away and until just a few days ago, I didn’t even know what hotels we were staying in!  I feel oddly disconnected from this trip and I suspect it has to do with my lack of direct involvement in the planning process.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t made some of our plans. We are taking a side tour to the Scottish Highlands on our free day in Edinburgh.  I’ve booked a proper English Tea during our free afternoon in Bath.  We have tickets to see The Cursed Child in London’s West End on Father’s day and we are trekking to the outskirts of London one morning to see the Harry Potter sets at the Warner Brothers Studio.  All of these items required extensive research on my part and are represented in a spreadsheet.

But I am still feeling disconnected and stressed about the entire trip.  For those of you that plan your vacations, what purpose does the planning process serve for you if anything at all?  For those of you that suffer from fear and anxiety issues like I do, how do you manage those symptoms while traveling?

Scotland and England, June 2019 – Bath, England

After our visit to York, our tour of Great Britain will continue on through the Cotswolds, until we reach the ancient Roman city of Bath.  Bath is, by all means, a modern British city, but I like referring to it as the ancient Roman city.  The hot springs that lend Bath its current name, of course, pre-date even the Romans.  But it was the Roman building of a temple and bath complex around the hot springs circa 60 BCE, that warranted the entire city to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We will be staying two nights in Bath, giving us a little more time to experience the culture the city has to offer.  We’ll arrive after the aforementioned drive through the Cotswolds and a stop in Stratford-upon-Avon.  I’m not sure what time we’ll arrive in Bath, but hopefully, it’s early enough to see a little bit of the city prior to retiring for the night.

The next day, we’ll spend the morning with our EF Go Ahead tour group.  We’ll visit the Bath complex itself, along with Bath Abbey and the city’s world-renowned Georgian townhome architecture.  That afternoon, we are free to enjoy the city as we please, before departing for London the next morning.

One thing Shani has been set upon for this trip has been to experience an authentic English tea.  As Shani had been playing with our itinerary, it seemed like Bath might be the best opportunity to make this a reality.  We pondered a possible half day trip back into the southern portion of the Cotswolds, but in the end, that seemed like it could be a bit rushed to fit in such an adventure.  Experiencing tea in Bath would keep us in the city and close enough to explore the city center a bit on our own.  Tea it would be!

Shani worked her magic and began to narrow down the possibilities.  As it turns out, tea in England is a pretty big deal.  Endless options were available.  In the end, several main Bath locations had afternoon teas associated with their attractions, including the Royal Crescent Museum and the Jane Austen Museum.  Ultimately, we didn’t have to look any further than the Roman baths themselves.  The Pump Room is onsite at the park facilities and the reviews were very favorable.  Done!  Tea was booked for our free afternoon in Bath!

The next day, we’ll start our trek towards London.  Along the way, we’ll visit the beautifully preserved medieval Lacock Villiage.  And of course, no trip to England would be complete without a viewing of the ancient Stonehenge.  That evening, we’ll settle in for 3 wonderful days in London!

A genuine English tea was a must do for Shani while visiting the UK.  What would be your must-dos on a British holiday?  Share your ideas below by leaving a comment!


Scotland and England, June 2019 – Fenway With Friends

The Summer is quickly approaching here in the Sonoran Desert.  While this is generally a sobering realization, with triple-digit temperatures on the horizon, this year it signals that we are in the home stretch for our adventure to Great Britain.  Yesterday, our flight arrangements were made, ratcheting up the excitement in the Bell home!  We’ll leave from Boston, which may not make a whole lot of sense for a family from Phoenix, Arizona.

Shani’s mother, Paula, will be traveling with us on the adventure.  She lives on Cape Cod.  Our daughter, “S”, will be traveling there to spend some one on one time with her on Memorial Day weekend.  Shani and I will then meet them in Boston to catch our flight to Edinburgh.  This has been the plan for a while.  Now the only question left to determine was whether Shani and I will travel to Boston on the day of our flight to Edinburgh, or come into Boston a day early.

We love Boston.  Shani grew up there and I quickly adopted it as my favorite city to visit in the U.S. That, along with me having absolutely no desire to spend 12 hours during a 24 hour period couped up on a plane, the prospect of spending a day in Boston in between long flights sounded great.  So, fly in a day early it is!

Having this settled, Shani was able to get to work planning what to do with our 24 hours in Boston.  With only a day, a kid-free day at that, the first thing Shani checked was whether the Red Sox were in town.  They were! We also have friends who live in New Hampshire that we haven’t seen in quite a while.  She has been battling cancer and I know Shani would love to give her a huge hug and spend some time with her.  He happens to be a big Red Sox fan as well.  Things just have a way of falling in place.  Shani made the initial plans and all that is left to do is buy the tickets and a beautiful afternoon of day baseball at Fenway Park with good friends is now on the itinerary!

After the game, we’ll head to the airport, meet up with Paula and “S” and head out on our red-eye flight to Edinburgh!

The Curated Man – Follow Along With Rob’s Other Blogging Adventure!

Ever wonder what I write about when I’m not writing about our family’s travels?  Yeah, neither did anyone else.  None the less, I have another blog that follows along with my exploits as a husband, father and modern man at odds with the masks of toxic masculinity.  You should check it out and follow along at http://www.thecuratedman.home.blog and on Facebook at The Curated Man!

Scotland and England, June 2019 – York, England

I live in Phoenix, Arizona.  It was founded in 1881.  In contrast, York, England was established by the Romans in the year 71.  Of course, the area’s history shows evidence of human inhabitation dating back to about 8000 BCE.  That puts a few things into perspective!  Living in what can be equated to the newborn infant of the world’s large cities, to say this history buff is a bit excited about our upcoming trip to Great Britain is an understatement.

After our time in Edinburgh, York will be our next destination.  The tour company will ferry us four hours by bus to this charming city with rich and varied stories of Roman Emporers, gothic cathedrals, and Viking and Norman conquest.  The drive from Edinburgh to York will also bring us as close to my Scottish Clan’s home in the borderlands of Scotland as we’ll get on this trip.  The Bell Clan (along with the Douglas Clan from my maternal side) was one of the most infamous of the notorious Border Reivers.  This earned my direct ancestors a one-way ticket to the Ulster region of Ireland before emigrating to America.  One day I want to return and spend some time in this region of Scotland.  One day.

York will be our shortest visit on this journey.  Once we arrive, we will visit York Minster.  A monument to Gothic architecture, the cathedral is home of the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the world.  Home to the Archbishop of York (the third highest-ranking member of the Church of England behind the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury), it took over 250 years to complete construction in its current incarnation.

We’ll then have the opportunity to visit the Roman wall, the oldest remaining section of the city and part of the fortifications constructed in the city’s earliest days.  As mentioned earlier, York was established by the Romans in 71 CE.  The city even witnessed the proclamation of the Roman Emporer Constantine the Great after his father, Constantius I, died while visiting York in the 4th century.

Our official day will conclude in the Shambles, a historic street straight out of medieval times, lined with timber-framed houses.  Picture a real-life Diagon Alley straight from the Harry Potter movies.  While I’m excited to see such a sight preserved as it pretty much would have appeared centuries ago, I’ve read that it can be a bit touristy.  I hope that there will be an opportunity to do a bit of our own exploring of the city itself before our tour arranged dinner that evening with our travel group.  It may be a game-time decision (I love sports metaphors) as to whether we join that group dinner or if we use that extra time to do more exploring on our own.

The next day will see us off to Bath, via a trip through the Cotswolds and a visit to Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare.  We’ll have a little more time in Bath to explore on our own, and we’ll discuss that in our next installment.

Have you visited York?  We want to hear from you about your experience and how you spent your time while there.  Leave a comment below and let’s talk about it!

Scotland and England, June 2019 – Planning for Edinburgh, Scotland

Friday marked the day when our June 2019 trip was officially paid for in whole! We’re 83 days out from leaving on our adventure. In my previous post, I detailed why we decided to travel through EF Go Ahead Tours. They are taking care of the big details for the trip including airfare, transportation, hotels and some meals. But they’ve also built in free time to explore Great Britain on our own! Today, we’ll go through the planning of our first stop on our great tour: Edinburgh, Scotland.

Shani, “S”, my mother-in-law Paula and I will depart from Boston on a red eye flight the night of June 8, arriving in Edinburgh the next morning. We’ll have time to settle in to our hotel after EF Go Ahead Tours picks us up at the airport. That evening, we’ll be having an arranged dinner with the other members of our travel group (18-35 total people). The next morning, Go Ahead will take us on a general tour of Edinburgh, including a visit to Edinburgh Castle. That afternoon, we’ll have free time in Edinburgh to explore on our own. We’ll also have a full day to explore the following morning. Unfortunately, these will be our only days in Scotland before departing for our other stops in England.

This leaves us with a day and a half to explore Edinburgh and any other location in Scotland we would like to experience. This is a tall order for a country so rich in culture and history. Sacrifices will need to be made. Enter, Shani the Master of Planning!

A tough challenge any time one plans a family trip is balancing the varied interests of multiple people. My desire to soak up experiences laced with rich history are much different than “S’s” desire to experience things more related to her own interests. At the point of writing, that means a lot of exposure to places and events related the book and movie series surrounding Harry Potter. Fortunately, exploring Edinburgh provides us with plenty of opportunities to please the whole travel party!

Shani and I determined that we will spend our half day of free time exploring Edinburgh. While being a large city, there is a lot of exciting things to experience in a relatively small portion of the central city. Old Town offers a significant historical experience and doubles as being the inspiration for many aspects of the Harry Potter franchise. Win/Win! From adventures exploring under the current streets of Old Town, featuring parts of the town that existed before modern development, to the cafe where Jo Rowling wrote much of the first iterations of the Harry Potter book series, this will do quite nicely. Fortunately for “S”, Shani and I both appreciate the creativity and art involved in crafting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, so we’re bound to be entertained as well.

The next day, our full free day, we decided to tour the beauty of the Highlands of Scotland. Shani began doing research and settled on a day tour company located in Old Town Edinburgh, that offered several Highland itineraries; Rabbie’s Tours (https://www.rabbies.com/en/scotland-tours/from-edinburgh). We quickly narrowed down our options to include two different Highland itineraries, ultimately deciding on their West Highlands, Lochs & Castles tour. It includes a stop at one of the castles used in the filming of Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Sold!

The next day, we’ll begin our journey to England, first visiting the city of York. Stay tuned for the next installment in this series about planning our Great Britain adventure!

Do you have any experiences in visiting Edinburgh and Scotland? We would love to hear about those! Leave a comment and let’s discuss!

Scotland and England, June 2019 – EF Go Ahead Tours

I can see it vividly in my mind.  A scene right out of National Lampoon’s European Vacation.  I play the part of Clark Griswold, excited family by my side.  I foolishly believe that I can safely navigate Great Britain and lead the family in exploring the island, a wonderful holiday indeed.  That is, until I am forced to correct 30 years of driving behavior and not drive into oncoming traffic.  Yes, that would be me running over Michael Palin.  I quickly come to the conclusion that I cannot and will not be responsible for killing a member of Monty Python.  No, this isn’t going to end well if I’m responsible for driving around the country.

If you have not watched European Vacation, you probably should go do that now, so the previous movie reference makes mores sense!  Watch some Monty Python while you’re at it!

I will not jeopardize our vacation by attempting to drive my way around the lovely cities and countryside of Scotland and England.  Of course, this means we need to find someone who can do that for us, and not price the trip out of our reach.  When Shani and I sat down to discuss the trip in the beginning stages, we settled on two possible options for traveling throughout Great Britain.  We could patch together a litany of train trips, cab rides and private tour options ourselves, or we could hire one company to make all of these arrangements in our stead.  One itinerary would be designed specifically for us, by us and one would be at the mercy of some big tour company who had no idea who the Bell family was and what we wanted to experience.

Shani is what I consider to be a thorough and experienced travel planner.  But even for her, the prospect of developing an itinerary with so many different moving parts, in a country that neither of us are familiar with seemed rather daunting.  Even Shani has a threshold that when crossed, turns planning from fun into torture.  Forgoing the planning ourselves, this left one viable option for a hassle free (and SAFE) trip around Great Britain; one tour company to take care of next to everything for us.

I wasn’t necessarily thrilled with this concept.  I immediately had visions of becoming sheep in a large herd of tourists, being carried around in a convoy of large tour buses and missing out on the more authentic British experience that we were craving.  But life is full of decisions involving sacrifice.  Do we give up some of the benefits of a custom designed itinerary in lieu of convenience and security of somebody else developing the itinerary?  Will the trip still be enjoyable and enriching?  We decided to research a few tour companies that offer an experience close to what we were looking for.

Shani soon landed on EF Go Ahead Tours (https://www.goaheadtours.com).  A friend and co-worker ours had used EF last year for a week long trip through Scotland.  She absolutely loved it.  One thing we learned about EF is that their offerings are not what you typically envision when thinking of a tour company.  Yes, there is structure and you are traveling with a group, but they also build in free days and afternoons into their schedules.  In addition, the tour group sizes are limited and offer a more personalized delivery (it’s easier for the tour guide to get to know a group of 20 than it is a group of 200).  For us, EF Go Ahead Tours was the best available compromise to increase the likelihood of an enjoyable holiday for all of us (The Bells plus Shani’s mother, Paula).  Sure, it’s not the most economical tour company offering Great Britain itineraries, but it certainly wasn’t the most expensive and it offers us some customization opportunities to go along with the benefits of having someone else take care of the logistics.

Next up, we’ll talk about the tour itinerary we chose with EF Go Ahead Tours!