I posted our tentative itinerary on the Map page.
Initially, we planned on staying in French countryside for a year, drink fabulous wine, sleep in, read books, and do side-trips to all European countries. We chose Marseilles because it is diverse, culturally rich, relatively inexpensive, has great food, and is well-located: close to Provence, Barcelona, Italy, and Africa.
When we started looking into visas, we discovered that US citizens can enter the Shengen zone without any visa, but cannot stay for more than three months within a six-month period. Alternatively, they can apply for a permanent residency and obtain it. So we decided to apply for French residency and even bought the tickets to San Francisco to apply in person and wait for one month. To get approved, one must subject himself to a famous French bureaucracy and come up with all kinds of paperwork (primarily showing financial means), which we were prepared to do. We also had to show proof of health insurance. No problem, right?
We are paying for insurance at home and it’s pretty expensive for all of us but it’s a pain we’ve learned to live with as our employers/ businesses cover the premiums. When we researched the insurance further, we realized that:
- There is a catastrophic injury insurance which has astronomic deductible and is basically like throwing money away. On the other hand, when one needs emergency medical evacuation, he or she REALLY needs it.
- There are a few major providers of international health insurance and a number of small players. The big boys deliver the goods but at a hefty price which would come out to about $1,500-$2,000/ month or more for us. The little fish is essentially covering nothing but at a much more reasonable price.
- The out-of-pocket costs for medical care in most places we’re going are pretty reasonable and we can easily afford them.
- Except for some dental issues which are nearly all resolved, our family is fairly healthy.
It came down to paying nearly $2,000 a month for something non-essential to obtain the residency. Considering that airfare within Europe and other expenses are fairly minimal, that sum could’ve been spent on traveling around and enjoying ourselves. So, we decided to not get the residency after all and instead leave the Shengen zone after three months, visiting non-Shengen countries/ places and then returning to the zone for three month intervals:
The countries were selected based upon the relatively low cost of living, interesting culture, and good food. We also plan on mini-side trips to more pricey places like Belgium, Italy, and Austria. We once found a three-bedroom house on Air BnB overlooking the sea in Marseilles, for only $700/ month. For that price you can barely get a studio in Honolulu!
The one thing we didn’t realize but were delighted to discover is that Europe is teaming with the small budget airlines which compete with each other fiercely making the prices ridiculously low. Ryan Air or EasyJet tickets are unbelievably low, cheaper than the train or bus fares for the same locations. It costs twice as much to fly between the Hawaiian islands (for 30 minutes) than between two major European capitals (for several hours). For example, to fly ALL six of us from Reykjavik to London in April would cost $355.55. Or from Paris to Rome in May $494.44.
Thus, it makes better economic sense to fly all of us around Europe instead of park in France and pay exorbitant fees for insurance. We will buy the travel insurance for serious injuries. And pay out-of-pocket for routine care.
The one catch is that the discount carriers ding you in fees for literally everything, especially bags. So, being a cheap bastard as I am, I thought if we travel to warm places in the winter, we can avoid carrying around coats and save a lot in luggage fees. Hurray, Istanbul, here we come! Upon closer inspection, we discovered that Istanbul in January is not exactly sun-lit and more or less covered in snow. Who knew?! I spent one night feverishly calculating how much it would cost to fly our gang to: Buenos Aires, Syndey, or Bangkok but finally gave up and decided that Istanbul in the winter will surely still be lovely and fascinating and we can definitely afford both the sneaky luggage fees and cute matching coats.