We recently marked the one-year anniversary of taking off to travel the world. The date had almost passed unnoticed. Dates take on a different perspective when traveling. Anyone who has ever been on vacation and remarked, “I don’t even know what day of the week it is” can understand what we mean. The calendar is just a means to schedule our travel; we are more focused on looking forward, rather than looking back.

Despite the occasional curve ball that’s been thrown at us, it’s been smooth sailing so far. We’ve had a few lodging snafus, but we’ve learned to either grin and bear it for a night, or retrench quickly. Only one flight has been cancelled and we haven’t had to visit the lost luggage counter. We’ve had no health issues—even our emergency roll of toilet paper remains unfurled. (Nothing like saying that to jinx it!)

Travel the world Michael South Australia

Quite frankly we thought that a life constantly on the move would have burned us out by the fifth or sixth month.  We often don’t know where we’ll be going until a few days ahead. But instead of being nerve-wracking it’s been invigorating.  Maybe that was one of the goals for this trip.

One of the questions we often get is “What’s it like to be with the same person for a year? Day in and day out, hour by hour, minute by. . .” well, you get the idea. That part has been surprisingly easy. After 25 years together we are attuned to each other’s rhythms and make it work. While we do spend most of our time together, we’ve learned to branch out separately from time to time. This lets us pursue our own interests which are then fun to share later, (kind of a nomad’s version of “how was your day, Dear?”)

Tropic of Capricorn sign

We did not undertake this journey lightly. We had endured a family situation that was no longer tolerable. A life of stasis was not an option. It was time to look forward and break away from an enabling situation that we could not change, or allow it to keep dragging us under. We chose to keep going. We needed to.

We took this trip to shake up our lives a bit and have they been shaken. It’s been refreshing, a little intimidating, enlightening, but never boring. We highly recommend it to others. You don’t even need to have a strong yearning for adventure. Perhaps you just want to break out of a rut, to realize that you don’t have to follow the same path for the next 20, 30 or 40 years.

Larissa and woman on boat Hoi An

After a year on the road we still have a plenty of the world we want to see, and we can definitely say that we would do it all over again. Well, maybe not right away, we do have to stop at some point to earn a living. But we doubt we will follow the traditional route with our lives that we had been on before.

Some humans nest while others are nomadic. Over the past year we’ve met many who fit into the latter group. Like them we now find the world a delightful place to roam. If that’s something you’re interested in, we encourage you to forge your own path.

Travel the world Rocky Dunnet Head Scotland

Little Rocky dons the kilt in Scotland.

Do you love perusing maps? Can an atlas keep you occupied for hours? Do you pull the airline magazine out of the seat pocket so you can scan the route map and plan future trips? If so, then you may be a maphead. Ken Jennings, the record-setting Jeopardy champion, has written a book just for you. It’s called Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks and is an engaging book that will interest anyone who answered “yes” to the above questions.

Fortunately, mapheads are easy to spot. We met one in Bali. Theresa, husband Thomas and six-year-old daughter Alexandra have lived all over the world including stops in Dubai, Romania, Africa and Kuala Lumpur . Theresa hails from a small town in Louisiana where she had six siblings, but she is the only wanderer in the family. I asked if she was different growing up. “Oh, yes,” she replied. “I used to love reading the encyclopedia and learning about other places.” Theresa is a typical maphead.  As, we confess, are we.

Ken Jennings as a child

Ken Jennings as a child with a map coloring book.

Jennings reveals much about his childhood in South Korea, where studying atlases helped him cope with being away from America and developed his love for geography. Along the way he gets hooked on geocaching, a sort of GPS based treasure hunt. In between, he takes what could be a dry subject and makes it fun. He also reveals a much bawdier sense of humor than he displayed on Jeopardy.

He guides readers on a journey from the early history of maps right up the present day with GPS technology and Google maps. Which brings up an interesting point, with the advent of those technologies do crinkly, paper maps that are difficult to refold even have a future? Read Maphead and find out.

Purchase Maphead

 

Pre-trip medical planning

Consult a travel doctor

Anyone considering how to travel for a year or long-term should address any medical issues before leaving. Before departure meet with a medical professional who also has training in travel medicine. Larissa’s doctor also specialized in travel medicine so we met with her. Prepare your expected itinerary for the doctor to review. Their recommendations will depend on where you are going and the possible health risks of each country. Basic issues to discuss will be recommended vaccinations, medications and general health. Along with your regular meds the doctor may prescribe others based on where you’re going.

Also get a dental checkup. You may be traveling to countries without Novocaine so it’s better to take care of any work now. At the last minute we found out at that we each needed costly dental work. We were glad we prevented the problems from cropping up while were at some remote location.

Get a year’s worth of your routine medications before you go

The few regular medications that we take are generics that major pharmacy chains offer at discounted prices. We asked our doctor to write a prescription for a year’s worth of each, and were able to have them filled for about $40 for each 1-year script.

Long term travel health issues

Anticipate needs for specialty medications

Our doctor determined that two specialty medications we should bring were ones to treat stomach bugs and malaria. She recommended the antibiotic ciprofloxacin for potential tummy trouble and prescribed enough for 21 days. This was also generic and not expensive.

Guarding against malaria proved more costly. Medication must be taken before, during and after potential exposure to the malaria parasite, so it is important to know how long you’ll be in a malaria region. There are a few options for malaria prophylaxis: some older, quinine-based drugs are generic (i.e. cheap) and effective, however there are some nasty side effects associated with them. In addition, two distinct malaria strains exist in different parts of the world, and these older drugs may work against one strain and not the other.

Malarone, a newer drug, is indicated to work on both strains and does not have the same side effects, but is non-generic and very expensive, about $8 per day per dose. For a one-week trip this would not be a major expense, however our tentative itinerary had us traveling to malaria-prone countries for three months. We were concerned about the side effects of quinine, but we didn’t want to spend over $1,500 for Malarone. We adjusted our itinerary to be in areas with malaria risk for less time.

Get the necessary vaccinations

A travel medicine specialist will recommend certain vaccinations based on your journey. In addition to boosters on some of the more standard vaccines such as DTaP and flu, we got shots for polio and yellow fever. Our doctor also provided us with an International Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate, which is required in some countries before you can enter. NOTE: It is important to schedule an appointment a few months before your departure date to allow enough time for the vaccines to take effect.

Plan ahead. . .Stay healthy. . . Have fun!

All this medical planning makes an around-the-world journey seem more hazardous than it is.  When we were planning our trip we were a bit overwhelmed by all this information, and a little surprised that we had to get shots for yellow fever and polio. But this is one area where an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure, you can go forth and enjoy your travels with a healthy dose of peace of mind.

We’ve been on the road for ten months now and, knock on wood, haven’t been sick. Heck, we haven’t even had to use our emergency roll of toilet paper. It’s important to be aware of these issues and plan accordingly, but don’t let them keep you from traveling.

Travelers’ health links

Check the Centers for Disease Control for comprehensive travelers’ health tips.

Is the country safe? The US State Department’s updated safety and security report for travel to every country.

Is the country safe? The United Kingdom’s Foreign Office travel advice by country.

Do I need a shot? The CDC’s vaccinations advice for travelers.

Solo female travel advice – A woman’s safe-travel guide from the Canada Foreign Affairs Department. (Available in PDF)

We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

How To Travel For A Year: What does it cost?

It depends on what type of travel you’re planning. Young, single backpackers can travel around the world for $15,000 while older couples may do it for $115,000. We’re not backpackers so we wouldn’t meet the low-end of the range but we’re not luxury travelers either.

Budgeting for around-the-world travel depends very much on what countries you plan to visit. For example, Europe is one of our more expensive destinations. But we also spent a lot of time in Asia, which is extremely cheap for westerners. In Vietnam we stayed at hotels, nice ones, for $22/night.  Normally we rent short-stay apartments which are cheaper than hotels, and even less expensive than hostels in some major cities.  Whatever your budget, it’s important to tailor your trip so you can maintain your own personal comfort level. For example, we like places with our own bathroom so a hostel with a shared bathroom down the hall is out.

You don’t have to be rich to travel for a year.

We’re certainly not. When this trip is over we definitely need to figure out a way to bring in a sustainable income. At present we’re doing some freelance writing, but not enough to cover our costs. During the five years before our journey we had significant uninsured medical costs that depleted a good chunk of our savings. Fortunately we had lived in our home for 20 years and built up equity.  We sold it and used some of those proceeds for travel. (Update 2019: Since we started this journey both of us have become active freelance writers. Writers don’t get paid much so it still doesn’t cover all our expenses, but it helps to defray what we pull out of savings each year. Every little bit helps to prolong the journey.)

What does your trip cost?

We calculated our day-to-day budget based on our prior level of spending, plus obvious extras like airfare.  Our budget for the year is $75,000. The single biggest expense is housing, which we estimate at $2,250 per month ($75/day). (Update August, 2019: See below for our new housing budget.) This is about what we spent when we were homeowners, taking into account mortgage, real estate taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance and repairs. That leaves about $1,950 per month ($65/day) for all our other expenses: food, entertainment, cooking classes, local trains/buses, toiletries, film cards, maps, museums and other miscellaneous stuff. If you’re a single traveler this number may be lower.

Update: After our initial year abroad we are still global nomads and had to bring the cost down. We now budget $1,400/month for housing. We mostly find monthly furnished lodging on sites like Airbnb. Staying for a month at a time makes it much cheaper.

Our second biggest expense is transportation. We’re budgeting $12,000 each for plane and long-distance train tickets. The plane tickets bring the trip above what we spent at home but is a necessary cost for this type of venture. Choosing fewer destinations could decrease that amount for your journey.

We still have to eat but staying in places with kitchens keeps that cost down. We don’t load up on souvenirs, where would we put them? Our wardrobes are limited by what we can fit into our suitcases so buying clothing is not an issue. When we need different clothes for different climates we often buy them at thrift shops so we don’t feel bad leaving a $2 short behind.

While it costs money to travel, most of the expenses replace ones that are no longer incurred at home. It’s important to set up a budget and stick to it; just like we’d do at home. If we’re running a little high on housing one month, for example, we scale back on little luxuries, like a concert or a dinner out. In Vietnam where the lodging was so cheap, we ate out more.

Money house

How can you afford to travel long-term?

The major difference between a vacation and long-term travel from a cost perspective is that a vacation is an additional expense. You still have to pay your rent/mortgage, electric bill, etc. while you’re away. With long-term travel this is impractical and expensive.  The first step in thinking about affording a long-term trip is to start viewing the cost of your travel as your only living expense. Get rid of costs that you have at home, often starting with your house.

Figure out how much you spend now. Then imagine what type of travel you could experience with that money if you didn’t have to pay your routine monthly bills. We no longer own a house and cars so we don’t have all the expenses that go along with them. By minimizing our presence “back home” we gave up the following expenses:

  • Mortgage
  • Real estate taxes
  • Homeowner’s insurance
  • Home repairs (These always seemed to pile up, right when we least expected it.)
  • Routine home maintenance (Cleaning supplies, garden stuff, etc.)
  • Car insurance
  • Car payment/repairs (Our cars were 7 and 11 years old so they were paid for, but they were well out of warranty and didn’t fix themselves.)
  • Gas (What’s that costing a month these days?)
  • Cable, Internet, Telephone (Okay, we’ve never had cable, but we get that most people do.)
  • Utilities (Electricity, water, gas, sewer)
  • Cell Phones (Michael no longer has a cell phones and is loving it.)

Figure out what you spend on the above items, remembering to add in any other recurring expenses you’ll no longer have. And this doesn’t even cover what you may spend on miscellaneous items like entertainment, clothing, dining out, sporting events, vacation, etc.

What are the financial sacrifices when traveling long-term?

The biggest financial sacrifice is giving up income. But if the majority of your income simply goes to paying taxes and living expenses, you might realize you’re not giving up as much as you think. The key to making the jump is it has to be something you truly want to do. Otherwise, it’s always easy to find another excuse to put it off.

For those of you who are still interested in pursuing your dream let us know. (Click “Contact” at the top of this page to reach us.) If you want some advice with your situation we’d be happy to give it. If you want a little nudge to overcome barriers you’ve placed to taking the leap, even better. We’d love to encourage you to do what it says in the banner at the top of this page: Just Go Already!

What other travel questions do you have?

Click here for advice on what to pack for a year of travel.

Click here to see if you would save money by buying a round-the-world plane ticket.

The Afghan Girl cover on National Geographic

The most iconic National Geographic cover displays an image of a teenage Afghan girl with luminescent green eyes peering out at the reader. We recently attended a travel bloggers conference in Umbria , Italy where we had the opportunity to meet the man behind the cover, photographer Steve McCurry. He was in Umbria taking photos of the beautiful region for a special project. We joined our fellow writers in asking Steve a few questions about his career. Here are a few tips on how to take better travel photos:

Photography tips from Steve McCurry

1) How did you find the subject for the “Afghan Girl” photo shoot? I was taking photos at a school when I noticed her off to the side with some friends. She was shy so I couldn’t just approach her directly. I spent some time taking photos of a few of her classmates. Eventually she became intrigued and agreed to pose. Once we started I knew I only had about ten minutes before she would lose interest and wander off.

2) Did you know right away the photo was a winner? Back then you had to send your film back to be developed before you knew how the pictures came out. My editor contacted me and told me we had something special.

3) How do you compare digital and film photography? Digital photography is superior to film. Although I’m glad I waited to get into it now that it’s much improved.

4) What are you looking for when you take pictures? I try to get beyond the postcard view to capture the flavor of a place. It’s about the people so I look at that more than landscapes.

5) How do you develop a rapport with your subjects so they let you photograph them? When taking intimate photos of people don’t be shy, be confident. Establish a friendly smile and treat them with respect. Most people are thrilled to be photographed. Make sure you are treating them as a real person, not an object. They’ll also reflect your personality, if you’re nervous then they’ll be nervous.

6) How do you overcome language barriers? I usually have a translator or a guide. But I also use sign language or a joke. You can’t overestimate humor to make someone comfortable.

7) Have you ever had “the photo that got away” that you weren’t ready for? I don’t dwell on negativity or missed opportunities.

8) Who inspired you when you were starting out? Henri-Cartier Bresson developed such a sense of timing, light and composition. I wanted to take what he did and take it to the next level with travel photography.

9) How would you like to be remembered? For seeing the great places of the world: Umbria, where I’m working now, the Grand Canyon, the Great Wall of China.

Steve McCurry Afghan girl photographer

Naturally Philly native and Penn State grad Steve McCurry would pose with our trip mascot, Little Rocky.

Many thanks to Steve McCurry for taking the time.

Interested in photography? Here’s a link to our photos of North Korea.

If you’d like to receive updates about our journey, along with free travel tips, click one of the colorful buttons on the upper right of this page to subscribe to our blog or to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

I had one concern about what to pack for a trip that would be a year long, (no, not getting along with Michael), I was worried about having enough stuff.  I wasn’t too concerned about clothing—that could be washed and used again.  But what about make-up?  And hair goop?  I couldn’t pack a year’s worth of moisturizer and mascara, etc.  All those little bottles add up.  And what was I going to do somewhere in the middle of nowhere when I needed more deodorant?

During our trip planning I read lots of information about restricting what toiletries you take along.  Most of them were tips any traveler has already figured out, like pack little bottles of shampoo. Or better yet, pack none and count on the hotel to provide them.  This is fine for a week or two, but what about a year?

The rest of the tips I found focused on travel that involved mostly camping, trekking, and general wilderness-type experiences.  This didn’t really apply to our journey, which meant the book I read that stated “you won’t need makeup” definitely did not apply.  (This tip was written by a guy, by the way—no doubt one who does not wear makeup.)

It turns out I needn’t have worried.  I’ve managed quite well, and even picked up a few tips along the way. . .

1. You can buy almost anything, anywhere.  It’s a global world we live in, folks.  I’ve found consumer goods I’m familiar with everywhere.  Companies like Johnson & Johnson and Procter and Gamble sell their products worldwide.  I even found Secret Solid Antiperspirant (Powder Fresh fragrance, my favorite) in a little street kiosk in a tiny village in rural Vietnam.  Dental floss?  No problem at a Cambodian supermarket.   From time to time I’ve made small compromises on brands or varieties, but it’s been pretty easy to get what I need.

2. Airport Duty Free shops are a great source.  Virtually every major world airport provides plenty of opportunities to spend a little more money before leaving their country.  In addition to the usual vices—liquor, cigarettes and chocolate—duty-free shops boast cosmetics counters that rival most department stores.  The prices are reasonable and all the major brands are available.  Particularly fun, and practical, are the “travel kit” versions of many well-known products that can only be found at these airport locations.

38407111_m

3. Buy local.  Some countries, such as Australia, have heavy import taxes on offshore products.  The Earth Therapeutics moisturizer I use at home cost three times as much there.  Scanning the shelves I found products by Sukin, an Aussie company that had a similar philosophy of using organic, plant-based ingredients.  Their prices were more in line with what I expected to pay, and I found that I was very happy with their moisturizer.  In Israel, where Ahava is based,  a much more complete array of their products is available than anywhere else.  Their creams that feature Dead Sea mud are really kind to your skin.  (As a corollary to this I have discovered that largely Muslim countries do not have a large choice of hair care products, since most women wear veils.  They do, however, have a great makeup selection.)

4. Find products that multi-task.   I’ll admit it:  I’m of a certain age and I like my variety of moisturizers: daytime, nighttime, eye cream, body lotion for the shower.  It turns out they are mostly the same, and vary only in concentration.  Now I only have one that I use for everything and dilute or apply more as necessary.  It makes packing much easier.  The trick is to find something you like for your face (no mineral oil or paraffin products), and you can use it everywhere else.

5. Sometimes less really IS more.  I discovered in the heat and humidity of Southeast Asia that makeup just melts off your face.  (And that is not attractive at all.)  I found a good light moisturizer with sunscreen and wore a little waterproof mascara and dusting of face powder.  I still felt human, but after a day traipsing around temples I didn’t look like a day-old ice cream sundae.  In the desert in the Middle East, the dry climate had my skin clamoring for moisture.  Beef up the face cream, forget the powder and drink lots of water.

What other tips have you discovered in your travels?

Click the link on tips for what to pack for a trip

We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Who is this guy?

Most people don’t like their passport photo but mine is worse than yours, I guarantee it. It was taken a few years back when I weighed 30 pounds more than I do now, no doubt a result of my ongoing donut fetish. I had more hair but apparently it was combed with a garden rake. I displayed an odd, gleeful smile, like I was sitting on a massage chair that was set to full vibrate. It was also taken pre-facial hair and many chins ago. All in all, not a pretty picture: literally.

The good news is that I no longer look like this photo. This has become evident as I keep getting pulled out of immigration lines by suspicious customs officers. As we were trying to leave China I was sent to a separate area that I assume is normally reserved for suspected drug mules and arms smugglers.

A higher-ranking official was called over to make some sense out of the apparent disconnect between my passport picture and my actual face. Much discussion took place between the two officers as they focused on my eyebrows, the one feature that was apparently unchanged. I tried to replicate the weird grin in the photo but that only made me look demonic and heightened their sense of suspicion.

A phone call was made with many guttural comments back-and-forth. A third officer came over. All three started rapidly glancing from my passport to my face like spectators at a ping-pong match. The senior officer pantomimed to me to arch my eyebrows, at least that’s what I thought he meant, so I arched away. He took out a pencil and held it up to my eyebrows in an odd attempt to figure out if they were still crooked. (They are.) Trying to clarify the situation I pulled out my driver’s license but unfortunately that looks like a third person altogether.

Current visa photo, maybe not much of an improvement but at least it looks like me.

By now Larissa had gotten used to my immigration shenanigans and moved on to the boarding area, apparently “for better or for sticky customs situations” was not part of our marriage vows. She figured no use both of us spending time in a Chinese prison. The officials finally tired of the situation and let me go, satisfied that I wasn’t a Chinese national trying to leave the country illegally.

This problem has continued throughout the journey. When we enter a country Larissa goes ahead to get the luggage while I lag behind to deal with wary customs officials. Ironically, the only place we didn’t have any problem was in North Korea. They searched every bit of luggage to make sure we didn’t have banned items such as cell phones or newspapers. However, the official seemed satisfied as he carefully scrutinized me and gestured to move on.

My advice is if you don’t look like your passport anymore, get a new one. It will save you headaches down the road. By the way, Larissa has nothing to add to this discussion since she looks cute in her passport picture.

What are some of the worst pictures you’ve ever taken?
 

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Cheap travel is often a challenge, but how would you like to live in a land of 35 cent hoagies, $25 gourmet meals for two and beers for a buck? A place where the dollar stretches so far it could cover the entire country. That’s daily life for visitors to Southeast Asia. In expensive places like Europe it’s difficult to budget a vacation at a reasonable cost. In Southeast Asia it’s difficult not to.

We’ve learned that to travel cheaply, go where it’s cheap. That advice seems obvious but is often ignored. We picked it up from Tim Leffel in The World’s Cheapest Destinations. We read the book before embarking on our journey and were a bit skeptical about his stories of $25 hotel rooms and $5 restaurant meals. But we’ve been in this part of the world for three months now and have become true believers.

The picture below is of our $22 hotel room in Hue, Vietnam. The price included a buffet breakfast, Wifi and taxes. It also had a large flat-screen TV, comfortable bed and great shower. It was as nice as any Marriott Courtyard we’ve stayed. We were not giving up anything in the way of amenities that we would have at a Western hotel.

Vietnam hotel room

All yours for $22 per night, including breakfast and WiFi.

We polished off a delicious gourmet meal at Confetti, a high-end restaurant in Hue. Larissa had the full five-course spread, which included barbecued duck, while Michael settled on a mere three courses. Add in two glasses of wine and a bottle of water and we were stunned that the tab, including tax and tip, came to only $26. We were actually embarrassed.

But not as much as we were at lunchtime when we bought two Banh Mi, the Vietnamese equivalent of a hoagie, and paid 35 cents each. (As a point of comparison, in pricey Australia a packet of ketchup at a sandwich shop costs 50 cents.) A few weeks later Michael got a $1.50 haircut in Bangkok. He hasn’t paid so little since he was in short pants.

Vietnamese Banh Mi

Banh Mi, a Vietnamese hoagie on a French baguette, were only 35 cents each.

The biggest challenge  is finding out that others got a better deal. We were pretty smug about scoring a $35 room at a resort in Siem Reap, Cambodia; that is until our friends Doz and Amanda told us they were staying up the street for $16.

For cash-strapped Americans whose currency is weak, locales that value the dollar are great tourist destinations. There is one glitch though: getting there. But we looked up round-trip flights from New York to Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur (cheap hubs for travel throughout Asia) for April and found some for about $1,100; only a few hundred dollars more than flying to Paris. You’ll more than make up the difference once you get to Asia.

However a location shouldn’t be judged only on price. The old adage that you get what you pay for is always ringing in the back of our heads. But that just hasn’t been the case here. Paying 1960s prices for 2012 amenities, beautiful countryside, dynamic cities and meeting gracious people seems like a winning combination. We highly recommend placing Southeast Asia on your “To Go” list.

We’ve generally rented apartments with some hotels thrown in. A few of them have had incredible views of either city scenes or country landscapes. The picture above is the view from our flat of the Sky Tower in Auckland. This being New Zealand, naturally they allow people to bungee jump off it. Throughout the day we’d hear the screams of people taking the plunge.

Ryugyong Hotel Pyongyang North Korea

Pyongyang, North Korea: View from our room of the unfinished Ryugyong Hotel. The world’s tallest hotel, construction stopped 20 years ago when benefactors the Soviet Union collapsed.

Shanghai skyline Rocky

Little Rocky admiring the view from the balcony of our flat in Shanghai.

Singapore skyline

The Singapore skyline from our room. The low building with the orange roof is the British colonial-era post office.

Hong Kong skyline at night

The Hong Kong skyline at night. Discerning readers will notice that this is the skyline in the banner for our web site.

New Zealand Twizel view

It’s not all buildings and skylines though, this is the stunning scenery from the back of our cottage in Twizel, New Zealand.

Bali neighborhood near Kuta Beach

We’ve also stayed in local neighborhoods. These kids were our friendly neighbors for two weeks in Bali.

Munduk Moding Plantation Bali

Sometimes it’s a jungle out there, like at this coffee plantation on the north coast of Bali.

Click on the link for advice and resources on a vacation rental for your next holiday.

One of the questions we often get is: how do you pack for a year? Packing for long-term travel is actually not as daunting as it sounds. We basically packed for a week-long vacation that will happen to be repeated many times. After our first four months of travel we’ve learned a few things, so some items have been tossed (Michael’s sport coat), and a few have been picked up (lightweight hoodie).

Based on our experience so far here’s a current inventory of what we have with us:

Note: This list has been updated to represent what we travel with after 8 (!) years on the road as full-time global nomads.

Larissa

Clothing

  • 2 Pairs of Pants
  • 1 Pair of yoga/warm-up pants
  • 1 Pair of Shorts
  • 2 Mid/Long-sleeve woven shirts (no-iron cotton)
  • 2 Short-sleeve woven shirts
  • 3 Tank top/camis
  • 2 T-shirts
  • 1 Lightweight cotton hoodie
  • 1 Merino wool long-sleeve t-shirt
  • 1 Knit Sundress
  • 1 Knit Cardigan
  • Week’s worth of undergarments
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • 2 nightgowns/sleep shirts
  • 1 Bathing suit
  • 1 Lightweight raincoat
  • 1 Straw hat (the squashable/packable kind)
  • 5 pair of shoes— (I know, I know: Michael only has 2 pair—but my feet are smaller so I can pack more):  1 pr. Keen hiking sandals, 1 pr. flip flops, 1 pr ballet slipper/flats, 1 pr. city walking shoes, 1 pr. mid-heel sandals

Accessories

  • 1 Belt
  • 1 Watch
  • Costume jewelry:  2-3 ea. Bracelets, necklaces, pairs of earrings
  • 1 Sarong
  • Toiletry kit
  • Makeup kit
  • Hairbrush (but NO hairdryer)

Electronics

  • Notebook computer
  • Canon EOS Rebel SL1 digital camera. It offers the same features as the larger Rebel T5 in a smaller, lighter body.
  • iPhone, unlocked with global T-Mobile plan to work in any country
  • Earbuds with microphone

Michael

Clothing

  • 2 pairs of pants
  • 1 pair of  shorts
  • 2 long sleeve shirts
  • 2 short sleeve shirts
  • 2 pairs of Ecco & Keen shoes (one walking, one hiking sandal)
  • 1 belt
  • 7 t-shirts
  • 7 pairs of underwear
  • 7 pairs of socks
  • 1 bathing suit If I need one I buy one along the way.
  • 1 lightweight hoodie One lightweight zipper sweater.
  • 1 hat (these vary along the way depending on the country and use)

Electronics

  • 1 notebook computer
  • 1 iPod Touch/ear buds
  • 1 portable JBL speaker
  • 1 Kindle   (Replaced by iPod Touch)
  • 1 Sony DSC-WX350 point-and-shoot digital camera (Replaced by iPod Touch)
  • NO cell phone
  • 1 cheap Timex Expedition watch

Other Stuff

  • Writing tablet and pens
  • Pocket calendar
  • Toiletry kit with the usual items

Shared Items

  • Fold-up world map
  • Inflatable globe for trip planning
  • Fold-up umbrella
  • Travel alarm clock (Use phone or iPod Touch)
  • International electrical adaptor
  • Fold-up cotton shopping bag, nylon made from recycled plastic bottles that has lasted years
  • Collapsible daypack
  • 1 Phillies rally towel (just in case)
  • Rocky statue (serves dual purpose as backscratcher) We no longer travel with a Rocky statue, but we still have the memories.

Luggage

Delsey quitled bag

Looking at the list on paper it sure seems like a lot but we fit it all into the following luggage:

We’ll probably make further adjustments along the way but after four months on the road what we have now seems to be working.

Christmas 2011 ~ We’re halfway around the world for Christmas this year, the first time we’ve ever spent the holidays away from home and family. On the surface, it appears that our year-long around-the-world journey is a grand lark taken by a couple seeking adventure, and perhaps going through a bit of a midlife crisis. It actually masks a sad reality that drove us to take this trip.

We’ve mentioned before that one of the driving forces for our journey has been that family life did not work out as we had hoped. After we were unable to have children we adopted a nine-year old girl from Russia. Life with her started out full of hope but eventually became mired down in a tragic and violent situation beyond our control. Despite all our efforts, by the time our daughter became an adult our relationship with her was broken, as were we. It is the great sadness of our lives that we were not able to remain as a family with her. We still hope that we will someday be together again.

The decision we made to take off for a year was not taken lightly. We sought advice from family, friends and professionals, both secular and religious. Traveling the world will not solve any of these problems but it was hoped that by being on the move we would no longer sit and dwell on how bad things had turned out. In our travels people often tell us that we are “living the dream.” But the reality is there is a continuing nightmare in the background that is never far from our thoughts.

Last week we visited Christchurch, New Zealand which earlier in the year suffered devastating loss of life and damage from a major earthquake. The picture above is of an angel, representing hope, that hovers from a construction crane over the city. We left Christchurch inspired by the spirit of the people to overcome adversity in their lives.

We wish everyone out there a Merry Christmas and a happy, and hopeful, New Year.

Peace,

Larissa and Michael

Around the world plane tickets, also know as RTW tickets, are tickets you purchase through one of the airline alliances that are just what it sounds, a ticket to travel around the world. The rules for each alliance are different, but generally you go in one direction around the world, can make a certain amount of stops, and have to finish within a certain time period, usually a year.

When we took off to travel around the world for a year we looked closely at purchasing RTW tickets as opposed to buying tickets as we traveled. We concluded that while the RTW websites are fun to plan travel, for our purposes we liked the flexibility of being able to go wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted, and did not buy an RTW ticket.

However, if you have a set itinerary over a finite period of time, the RTW ticket may be the way for you to go.

There are several approaches you can take when buying an around the world ticket:

1)      Buy an around the world tickets through a consolidator who buys in bulk and passes the savings on to you.

2)      Purchase an RTW ticket through one of the three major airline alliances that offer it.

3)      Buy tickets on your own as you go.

4)      Create your own RTW ticket

Naturally there are pluses and minuses to each of these choices.

1) Ticket consolidators – Companies such as Airtreks are quite popular. Their web site is also great fun for the budding RTW traveler. Use the handy world map to input the cities you want to visit and the site spits out a price range. If you give them your contact information they will work up a more detailed quote. Depending on your itinerary the prices can be comparable to an alliance round the world ticket.

With ticket consolidators you have to be careful with whom you are dealing. Do some research before selecting one. I clicked on a banner ad for a group out of New York that had a 2 for 1 promotion for tickets to Asia. They quoted me a price for Philadelphia to Beijing. I pointed out that the fare on the airline’s own web site was much cheaper for the same flight. After much clicking and clacking of the keyboard the operator came back on and, lo and behold, they could beat the airline’s price.

I asked if that was a 2 for 1 ticket like they advertised. Unfortunately, no. In order to get the 2 for 1 promotion I had to buy an unrestricted ticket that cost, you guessed it, twice the price of the regular ticket, thereby eliminating the supposed 2 for 1 savings.

2) RTW ticket – There are three airline alliances that offer Round-the-World (RTW) plane tickets. When you buy one of these tickets you are locked into the member airlines and their destinations. The last one isn’t usually as important since each airline group can pretty much get you most places that you want to go. These RTW tickets are limited by either flight segments or miles. The three groups are oneworld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam. (Three different alliances, three different approaches to punctuation.)

While RTWs theoretically offer a better deal compared to purchasing individual tickets on your own, you are giving up a certain amount of freedom by doing so. For example, you must consistently travel either east or west around the globe with minimal backtracking and use the tickets within 12 months of the first flight.

The Star Alliance bases their RTW promotion on mileage levels. Unfortunately every trip we planned easily went over their mileage limit so we eliminated them early on. We also eliminated SkyTeam because they include some of the dodgier airlines like Aeroflot and Alitalia. In another development, SkyTeam lost one of their major partners when Continental Airlines left due to its merger with United.

If we were to buy an RTW we would have gone with oneworld. This group includes some of the biggies: American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and Qantas along with ten others. If there’s someplace you want to go, oneworld will get you there. They allow up to 16 segments, priced at about $8,000 for Economy and $12,500 for Business Class. Considering the number of 10+ hour and overnight flights it takes to get around the world, the $4,500 upgrade for Business Class may be worth it for those who can swing it.

As is typical with these fares, the traveler flies in one direction but on oneworld this is not a rigid rule. For example, we planned on traveling from east to west starting in North America then proceeding to Asia, Australia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, South America and back to North America. Those geography buffs out there (let’s face it, if you’re looking into buying one of these tickets you are one) will notice that the flight from Asia to Australia backtracks us back east a bit. Even though the overall trip was generally east to west that backtrack was allowed since we were going to a new continent.

After reviewing all the alternatives we were just about to buy two RTWs at oneworld, and not just because they have a really nifty trip planning screensaver that you can download. But we wanted to see China first, then go to Australia and return to the parts of Asia that we missed on the first go round.

We called the helpful people at the oneworld planning desk to see if this was permitted. It was not. At that point, since we had already touched Asia we couldn’t go back; unless it was for a 24 hour layover. Confused yet? While I had the ticket agent on the phone I wondered if they could also explain to me some more of life’s imponderables including the infield fly rule in baseball and the Electoral College.

The oneworld RTW allows up to 16 segments but due to technicalities in the rules you can usually get only about 14. They consider a move you make forward on the ground as one of your segments and count it against your ticket.  For example, say you fly to Beijing and then take a train to Shanghai and fly on to Bangkok. The train ride that you paid for and took on your own counts as one of your legs because it moved you along around the world. That seems a bit cheesy.

Also, you have to map out your entire itinerary when you purchase the ticket. I don’t even know what socks I’m wearing tomorrow, I doubt I know what city I want to be in next April. You can change the destinations but naturally there is a cost for doing so, thereby diminishing the value of the ticket.

3) Pay as you go – While we liked the idea of a potentially cheaper ticket on one of the RTW packages, we eventually decided that the lack of freedom was not compelling enough to buy into it. Let’s face it, for most people an RTW trip is a once (or never) in a lifetime event. Why place restrictions on your travel? What if you meet some people along the way that suggest a place to try that you hadn’t considered or invite you to visit where they live?

We wanted to maintain maximum flexibility by deciding to travel where and when and on what airline we wanted to. It may cost us more along the way, or it may not. We now have the flexibility to take advantage of last-minute fare bargains or to travel on airlines that may be cheaper but are not part of the preselected group in whatever RTW alliance we would have selected.

We also don’t have to pay for the entire price of the ticket upfront. This is a huge consideration since this trip already has plenty of upfront costs. (Did I mention all the shots we had to get?) For all the seeming benefits of the RTW we may end up traveling even cheaper by buying tickets individually, we’ll see. We will provide updates here as the trip moves forward.

After all the angst of whether or not to buy a round-the-world plane ticket we are definitely glad we didn’t. The flexibility we enjoy by buying tickets as we go outweighs any advantage of the RTW ticket. When we traveled around Southeast Asia we found $80 plane tickets. This makes more destinations available to us than if we had gone with the RTW and locked in an itinerary.

In addition, our itinerary where we went to China first, then Australia/New Zealand, and returned back to Asia would not have been permitted by the rules of an RTW ticket. They wouldn’t allow backtracking to a continent. So for us flexibility rules.

4) DIY RTW ticket – If you’re the type who really needs to have all your plane reservations made ahead of time, you can just go to a booking site like Kayak.com and select “Multi-City” itinerary and create your own RTW ticket. Besides being a lot of fun for travel geeks, you have the utmost flexibility with destinations, dates, and airlines. I spend way too much time playing around with this tool planning imagined journeys.

Conclusion about buying an RTW ticket

We ended up spending $10,000 each for our plane and train tickets for 14 months of travel. While this was more than an $8,000 RTW ticket, we flew on more than 30 flights, vs. 16 for the RTW. We also had maximum flexibility to pick destinations, carriers and dates throughout the trip. Overall, it made MUCH more sense for us to select Option 3 above, the pay as you go plan.

When we were kids and dug around in our backyards our parents would ask if we were digging a hole to China, so we always assumed China was directly opposite our little patch of Earth. As we got older we finally realized that China and the US were both in the Northern Hemisphere, so how could they possibly be opposite each other?

But thanks to the Internet, and people who really have too much time on their hands, it is possible to go online and find what spot on the planet is directly opposite where you are currently sitting. Geographers even have a fancy name for it, the antipodal point or antipode. There is a web site that will calculate this location for you.  If you start digging today you can look on the map to see where you will eventually emerge.

Right now we’re in Perth on the West Coast of Australia. The reason we’re here is because it is often described as the most remote large city on Earth; that seemed as good a reason as any. But it is also the closest land mass to the antipodal point of our home city of Philadelphia. In other words, we’re about as far away from home as we can get and still be on dry land.

It’s a sort of benchmark on our journey. Even though we are not yet halfway through our trip chronologically, we are already halfway around the globe geographically. But it also means there is a lot left to explore. After Perth we will meander around Southeast Asia for a few months. We have a feeling that part of the world will seem farther away from home than English-speaking, easy to navigate Australia.

Perhaps there should be a new kind of antipodal point, defined as the place on Earth that is not necessarily the farthest away geographically, but the farthest away with respect to culture, customs and surroundings. The place that is the most unlike anything you have experienced at home.

 

Toto, we’re not in Philly anymore

Some people are difficult to shop for; you know the type, the proverbial man or woman who already has everything. However, if you are shopping for a traveler the job just got easier. There are many nifty travel gifts and thought-provoking books for travelers, be they the type that likes to board a canoe to journey up the Amazon or just read about it from the comfort of their favorite chair. Here are some items that have come in handy on our year-long around-the-world journey.

Part of the fun of travel is the planning process, deciding where to go in the first place. A detailed map or globe is an essential visual tool for this activity.  From Amsterdam to Zurich, Streetwise Maps (under $10) publishes a series of city maps that are practical for travelers. We favor their Worldwise Map that covers the entire globe. Printed on sturdy tri-fold laminated cardstock, they open out to 19.5” by 8.5” but fit easily into a pocket when folded.  A good old-fashioned globe (cost varies) is a must for the travel buff. There is nothing quite like spinning a globe to plan the next adventure, or even to just fantasize about faraway lands. In this changing world make sure to get one with current country names and borders. A terrific choice for anyone on a budget is a large fold-out World Map (under $10 or FREE for AAA members). Make it more personal by including stickers in multiple colors for your traveler to mark places they’ve been or want to visit. This is a great gift for kids to give; they can help attach the stickers and learn about geography at the same time.

Once en route, there are plenty of gadgets that can enhance the experience and smooth out bumps in the road. The muffin-sized JBL Portable MP3 Speaker ($39.95) packs a roomful of sound for those times when you’d like to share the music with someone else. The Undercover™ Hidden Pocket ($12.00) is a practical money pouch by Eagle Creek worn inside the trousers. It comes with two tabs, one black and the other brown, that slip unobtrusively over belts while valuables are protected inside. When not being worn around town it’s a handy place to store currency and travel documents. Most luggage looks pretty similar when it’s coming off the baggage carousel. Savvy travelers make theirs stand out for quick identification with colorful luggage tags: our motto is “the funkier the better.” We bought our zebra-striped tags for about $2.95 each.

AAA Membership ($65.50 for Keystone AAA) is not a gadget but it still comes in handy. AAA discounts are available for many hotels, attractions and car rental companies; free items include maps and tour guides. They have reciprocal agreements with many countries overseas so these same benefits are available when traveling internationally. For an active traveler, a membership in AAA more than pays for itself.

When they’re not roving about, travelers love to read about it. 100 Countries 5000 Ideas: Where To Go, When To Go, What To See, What To Do by National Geographic ($26.95), we’ve used this book extensively as a guide for planning our around-the-world trip. Each country is laid out in a few pages with pros and cons of visiting and advice about what to see, along with sidebars highlighting the best time to go. Specific information about health issues, language, currency and contacts is a valuable resource. Loaded with pictures and maps, 100 Countries 5000 Ideas, is the single best guide to suggest destinations for a global journey.

Lonely Planet’s 1000 Ultimate Experiences ($22.99), from touring fairy-tale castles in Europe to finding the best steamed dumplings in Shanghai to the best place to witness a winter solstice this book will trigger many ideas for your next journey.  One of Michael’s favorites is the tour of the legendary sewers of Paris. Road Trip USA: Cross Country Adventures on America’s Two-Lane Highways by Jamie Jensen ($29.95), as a fan of road trips we absolutely love this book. It’s perfect for the driver who likes to meander slowly across America while avoiding the monotony of the interstate highways; an adventure where the getting there is more important than the destination. The Moleskine City Guide (about $20) is made by the company whose legendary journals have been used by famous travelers from Hemingway to Chatwin.  This new version is now available for over fifty top worldwide cities, including Philadelphia. Each journal includes maps and a street index along with plenty of blank pages to jot down your own personal memories. Moleskine calls it “the first guidebook you write yourself.”

If you’re still flummoxed and insist on buying a gift card, get one at a specialty luggage store; we bought our travel gear at Robinson Luggage in Philadelphia.  Avid travelers can lose themselves for hours in a shop like this.  They carry well-designed gadgets, wallets, purses and tote bags in addition to suitcases, so any dollar amount will do.  For someone with wanderlust, just an excuse to spend time surrounded by the trappings of travel will be a gift in itself.

Or if you’re really desperate you can wait and see what the guy in the red suit brings.

Maybe Santa will bring you a Little Rocky statue

Travel Tips:

Since we’ll be in the road for a year choosing our travel accessories is important. To make it into our suitcase the top gadgets have to be light, functional and add to the enjoyment of the trip. Here are some tips for our top travel gear:

1) Unlocked smartphone –  Michael no longer has a cell phone and is loving it. No voicemail to check! Larissa ended her contract and unlocked her phone.  She can buy a prepaid SIM card in each country and make local calls cheaply. Plus she can still access all the music stored on it so she didn’t bring an MP3 player.

2) JBL portable speaker – We love listening to music but there are times when ear buds don’t quite cut it, particularly for sharing. About the size of a cupcake, it packs a powerful sound and has an MP3 slot.

3) Amazon Kindle – Michael the Luddite resisted this one mightily but now he’s glad he joined the 21st century. Instead of carrying reams of books he just brings the lightweight Kindle. With 3G access he can download books practically anywhere and even check e-mail.

4) Moleskine Weekly Notebook – Okay, in this area Michael is still a Luddite. He’s never figured out how to keep a calendar on any type of electronic device and places his trust in plain old paper and pen. It’s also fun to put stickers on it from each country. Just like our six-year old niece does.

5) SONY 14.1 megapixel Cyber-shot camera – 99% of the pictures and video on this web site have been taken with this handy pocket cam. It’s small and reliable. We considered getting a separate video camera but opted to carry less. We’re glad we did.

6) Apple MacBook Air – We are a mixed marriage, Larissa is Mac and Michael is PC, but we somehow manage to make it work. Larissa loves this nifty little device and it is incredibly light. She also brings a Cisco USB/Ethernet adaptor since the MacBook Air doesn’t have an Ethernet port.  In some countries where there is no Wi-FI it is handy to be able to plug in.

For those who care about such things, Michael uses a Toshiba Portege which is also sort of light. It’s just not as cool. (But it does have an Ethernet port and DVD player to watch movies.)

7) Klipsch earbuds with microphone attachment – Excellent sound quality for music and the mic enables it for phone use too.  It comes in handy for Skype calls that are in a somewhat public place.

8) International electrical converter/adaptor – The key here is that it is a converter AND an adaptor. Don’t get a device that just does one.  It needs to convert the voltage (the converter part) as well as enable you to plug your home devices into any type of outlet (the adaptor part).  Otherwise you run the risk of frying your equipment.  Ours is compact, lightweight (about 6 oz.) and has a nifty design that switches plug styles for any country in the world.  We purchased it at the local AAA office.

9) Timex Expedition watch – Michael purchased this watch over ten years ago for about $22.  He’s worn it just about every day since then and it’s never failed. There are dual time zones, a chronograph and an alarm. Apparently it’s also water-resistant for 100 meters but he wouldn’t know, he’s never swam that far. But he can keep it on for washing dishes.

10) Theraband exercise straps – Those multi-colored straps that are familiar to anyone who has undergone physical therapy. Incredibly light and functional as a portable gym. They might even get used before the year is out.

11) Charmin To Go – Emergency mini-roll of toilet paper. You know how you carry an umbrella to guarantee it doesn’t rain? Same thing with this item. It’s still unused and we’d like to keep it that way.

Little Rocky with new friends in Sydney

12) Miniature Rocky Statue –  Dual purpose tool that is not only a great icebreaker in crowds it is also a most excellent backscratcher. Don’t leave home without it.

What gadgets do you bring on trips?

You may also want to read Larissa’s perspective on packing for a year.

In Sydney last night we had the opportunity to attend a worldwide movie phenomenon known as the “Happy movie”, directed by American filmmaker Roko Belic. He was previously nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary for the film, Genghis Blues.

Happiness researchers (yes, such a job exists) fanned out throughout the globe to research people in all walks of life to determine their levels of happiness. One of the people featured in the film is a poor rickshaw driver in Kolkata, India. He labors all day in a backbreaking job to return to his family in a home with clear plastic sheeting for walls. Yet despite what appears to be a tough life he says he’s happy. Interestingly, the researchers determined that he has the same level of happiness as the average American. Judging from what we’ve observed, that’s not hard to believe.

To make the Happy movie Belic visited the unhappiest country in the industrialized world, Japan. Japanese “salarymen” are notorious for sacrificing everything in their lives, family, home life, and eventually happiness, for the grind of their daily routine. The film highlights a rising phenomenon in Japan called Karoshi, or “death from overwork.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum is a Brazilian man in his 50’s who lives in a simple beach shack and seems to have an awful lot of time on his hands to go surfing. We’re not sure what he lives on but he sure seems happy.

One of the findings of the film is that increased earnings do not decide happiness. There is a big jump in happiness from those making $5,000 per year to those making $50,000, because at that level their basic needs are covered. But when the jump is made to annual earnings of $500,000 there is no corresponding rise in happiness levels.

The more you make, the more you perceive that you need even more. The pursuit of bigger, better, faster, more becomes what psychologists call a Hedonic Treadmill, a need to always have the latest and greatest homes, cars, gadgets or whatever floats your boat, maybe even a boat.

We can relate very much to this theme as we spent the past year giving up many of the possessions that we had spent a quarter of a century acquiring. As we were going through this process, our wise friend Jan told us that people spend the first half of their lives acquiring things and the second half getting rid of them. We once heard the quote, “By our possessions we are possessed.” How true that is.

Roco Belic happy movie director

Director Roko Belic with Little Rocky

After the film we had the opportunity for a chat with Roko. His film has spawned a whole Happy Movement around the globe as word of it leaks out through screenings and the movie’s web site. Filming about happiness helped Roko realize what makes him happy so he moved closer to his friends and to the beach. It turns out that he is also a huge Rocky fan and the film helped inspire him to get into filmmaking.

Researchers say that happiness is contagious. When you’re happy, you make those around you happy and that will spread to other people. We have experienced this firsthand with a friend named Maureen who works at our favorite sandwich shop, Feast & Fancy, in Spring House, Pennsylvania. She is a happy upbeat person. Whenever we have interacted with her we have walked away happier ourselves. It really is contagious.

If you get the chance, see the movie Happy.

We’re interested to learn about what works for you, what makes you happy?

We’ve been full-time global nomads since 2011 and have made our fair share of mistakes. Here are our favorite international travel tips that we’e learned along the way.

1) Get a day rate at an airport hotel upon arrival — We’re not talking about a hot sheets motel so this isn’t as frisky as it sounds. Overnight travelers usually arrive at their hotel early in the morning, bleary-eyed and exhausted, only to be told that the room won’t be ready for several hours. However, airport hotels usually offer day rates for international travelers to solve this problem. You can go from customs straight to a nearby hotel for a shower and a nap. The room is usually available for four hours. Sometimes you get there early enough to even have breakfast.

This tip is especially helpful if you have to travel some distance after you arrive. We rented a room at the Dublin airport that cost about $60, a small price to pay for starting the trip on a refreshing note, particularly since we had a four-hour drive ahead of us. Our tips for overcoming jet lag may also come in handy.

2) Identify some contacts in the place you are visiting — Check alumni clubs in the area; people you’ve met on social networking sites such as Facebook, Meetup, Twitter and LinkedIn; business contacts, and friends of friends. They are great sources for local insights that travel books won’t have and can be great in a pinch if you need help with something.

3) Check out the local library — If it’s a place where we speak the language, the local library is an invaluable resource. Even though we are just visitors we can usually get a library card to borrow books and DVDs. This helps cut down our entertainment expenses as we travel. We also read the local paper and get more of the flavor of a place that is not usually exposed to tourists. In the best case scenario the library offers free Wi-Fi, another cost saver over Internet cafes.

International travel tip local newspaper

4) Buy a local paper — If you speak the language this is a great way to catch up on local events that won’t be in tour guides. Often we’ll find that a favorite author or music group is in town. Even where you don’t speak the language carrying a copy of the paper around helps. It makes you look more like a local than a tourist so you’ll blend in more easily and won’t be bothered as much by people trying to sell you something. (Obviously this only works if you happen to look like the locals. Here’s Michael, trying to look French.)

5) Learn a few basics of the local language — “Please,”  “Thank you” and “Where’s the bathroom” are good places to start. Larissa is fortunate that she seems to pick up the local language in the short stroll from the plane to the baggage carousel while after fifty years Michael is still working on English. Knowing how to ask for a bathroom is essential although Michael has found that a pained expression accompanied by knees squeezing together and feverish pointing often works just as well. At least it does at home. Usually even a mangled attempt at speaking the language shows you are trying.

6) Buy a cheap contract fee local cell phone or SIM card — Many phones will either not work in other countries or will charge exorbitant fees. Unlock your phone before you go so you can buy a SIM card for it to make local calls, or buy a cheap local phone. If you want to call home use Skype.

7) Skip the hotel and rent an apartment — If you are going somewhere for more than a few days an apartment rental is usually more economical, particularly for families or couples traveling together. The nightly rate is cheaper and you also save money on meals. Click the link for more on the benefits of renting an apartment on vacation.

8) Split up on the airplane — While it’s nice to sit together, one of you, usually the shorter one, gets stuck with the dreaded middle seat while the taller one gets the benefit of the aisle. We each take aisle seats but get them across from each other. We’re still close enough but with a little more space. Related to this, on overnight flights over water don’t bother with the window seat. Hopefully you’ll be sleeping and if you’re not there’s nothing to see at night anyway.

9) Pack as lightly as possible — This one seems obvious, but judging by the Buick-sized suitcases we see on many baggage carousels it’s routinely ignored. Dress in layers with every garment matching so you have multiple outfits with multiple looks. Women can pack a few lightweight silk scarves to change their look and men can…well men don’t really care about such things so they don’t have to pack anything extra. Toiletries such as shampoo, conditioner, etc. can be purchased at your destination. And don’t get us started on travel irons. Here’s more on packing for long-term travel.

10) E-mail copies of important papers to yourself — These include your passport, driver’s license, tickets, etc. Guidebooks usually say to keep a photocopy with someone at home. That advice is out-of-date. Scan these documents and e-mail a copy to an Internet-based mail program such as Google. That way you can access them on-line from anyplace with an Internet connection.

11) Join AAA — Many hotels overseas will give you discounts for being a member of the American Automobile Assocaition, so just like at home, the membership essentially pays for itself. Due to reciprocal agreements we can walk into the auto club offices of other countries and get discounted, or free, maps and guidebooks.

12) Rent a car with an automatic transmission — If you are in a country where you will be driving on the opposite side of the road from what you are used to, this is essential. It’s tough enough to have cars whizzing from another direction, trying to shift with the other hand will make it that much harder. Spend the extra few bucks for this, your safety is worth it.

13) Make sure you can stand each other — Traveling together for months at a time will be different from living at home. Often you will be the only ones speaking your language and will be each other’s only daily companion. This is fine for Michael but tougher for Larissa who is stuck with him for the duration.

Bonus tip

14) Expect the unexpected — Just like life not everything will go as planned, even more so when you are on vacation and perhaps dealing with an unfamiliar language and customs. After all the word travel comes from “travail.”

Hopefully these are of some help. What favorite tips can you share?

Sign up for Airbnb through our referral link and you'll get at $35 on your first stay (& so will we :)

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Part of planning a long trip is considering where to stay. For long-term travel, hotels can be too expensive or impractical while finding a vacation apartment rental by owner is often a better choice. A vacation apartment rental is usually cheaper and provides more private space than a hotel.  This is especially important if you are traveling with your partner for a year—sometimes we just need to get out of each other’s face.

We usually stay at least a week, or sometimes a month, in each location so it helps to have a place with the comforts of home. We like having the extra space, cooking some of our own meals and living on our own schedule. We enjoy the freedom of waking up in the morning and having breakfast in our pajamas without having to get dressed for a hotel dining room; plus we can provide ourselves a week’s worth of breakfasts for what it would cost for only one breakfast in a hotel.

vacation apartment rental venice

Venice vacation apartment rental in an 18th-century palazzo.

One of the major benefits of renting for people who love to cook is having a kitchen. We first thought of renting during a trip to Paris many years ago. We found ourselves meandering through the markets marveling at all the wonderful ingredients. We wished we could buy them and go cook something delicious. Besides being fun for us, cooking many of our own meals is also a cost saver. But that wasn’t possible with a hotel room.

How to find a vacation apartment rental

With the advent of many Internet sources for short-term housing it’s very easy to find lodging to suit your budget and style almost anywhere in the world. We’ve rented houses and apartments on six continents: in cities, resorts and the remote countryside. Admittedly, we’ve liked some better than others, but (so far) we’ve only had one true disaster. (More on the moldy slug-filled “cave” in Provence at another time.)

Creative websites and social networking have made locating, booking, and paying for vacation rentals easier than ever. A simple online search for rentals at your destination will bring many hits. We’ve had the most success using sites that consolidate individual owners’ properties that are available for rent.

Sites like  Airbnb, Homeaway, VRBO, FlipKeyOwners Direct, Only Apartments and Sabbatical Homes have done for the vacation rental market what eBay did for selling virtually everything online. Anyone who has a property can now list it for rent. For a small monthly fee they post photos, information, availability and pricing about their property. The sites offer a variety of search functions for potential renters based on location, price, amenities, etc.

TIP: Of them all, AirBnB has the easiest website to navigate. During our year around the world we started out using mostly Homeaway and VRBO but gradually migrated to AirBnB for the convenience and choice of properties. We also use Craigslist sometimes, with caution.

airbnb-logo-bigger-275x154

During our year on the road, we used all the sites listed above so we can recommend them from experience. One of their benefits is the opportunity to interact directly with the owner. Once you’ve chosen a few properties of interest, it’s a simple matter of sending the owner an inquiry. From this point on you are no longer working with a reservation service or website, but have a direct relationship with the owner.

Shanghai vacation apartment rental vrbo

Shanghai vacation rental.

By dealing with owners directly we have gotten more reasonable prices than had we used a rental agency. Additionally, owners can be more flexible about pricing than an agent. Properties will often be cheaper by the week or month than by the night. Owners are occasionally even willing to negotiate during slow periods. We recently rented a modern apartment on the 28th floor in Shanghai for less than $100 per night through Homeaway.com. It had a great skyline view, one bedroom plus an office, living/dining room and a well-equipped modern kitchen. It was cheaper than a hotel would have been in Shanghai while offering more space.

How to pay for a vacation rental

Payment arrangements are typically convenient as well. Some folks are sophisticated enough to take credit cards directly, and almost everyone else works with PayPal. These sites provide some assurance of the landlord’s validity (check the individual sites for their fine print) along with customer reviews. We’ve never been scammed, for example, renting a place that didn’t exist, or was double-booked, etc.

The pricing structure for vacation rentals can vary by different countries, regions, and owners, so it is important to be sure you understand all the costs that are included. Many owners charge a one-time cleaning fee upon departure, and almost all require some type of security/breakage deposit. Keep these costs in mind so you can make an informed decision when you rent.

Despite the cost and convenience benefits renting may not be the only way to go. Every form of lodging works at one time or another. There are times we want to be pampered and seek the amenities of a hotel. Other times we’ll be in transit and just need an airport hotel. That cute B&B in the country may be perfect for a weekend away. But when you’re spending a week or more in a single spot, it’s really nice to be able to go “home” at the end of a long day of touring around.

vacation Apartment rental Paris vrbo

Paris rental on the Ile Saint-Louis

The house in the picture at the top of this post is one we rented in Ireland. It overlooks the bay in County Kerry and is so private that our only neighbors were a pair of goats. You can find more information about renting it at this link: Ireland vacation rental.

(Note: we finally had the opportunity to rent that “adorable little flat in Paris” recently. Located on the Ile Saint-Louis it was as much fun as we hoped it would be, including having a late breakfast in our pajamas. Here’s a photo of it.)

Please use the “Contact” tab at the top of this page to ask us any questions about vacation apartment rentals.

Sign up for Airbnb through our referral link and you'll get $$$ off on your first stay (& so will we :)
28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.