Before you plan an extended stay in Europe, be sure you know the visa restrictions. “Can I stay in Europe for a year (or more)?”, “Do I need a Schengen visa from the USA?”, “What IS a Schengen visa, anyway???” are all questions a US citizen should ask.  Not knowing the answers could create problems during your trip.

One of the most common questions we’re asked is, “how do you pick destinations?” Certainly a large part of that decision involves places we want to visit. But it also involves visa considerations, how easy they are to obtain, and how long you can stay in each country. Europe has some rules that can be pretty confusing. After over 8 years of full-time travel (which includes a lot of bouncing in and out of Europe), we share what we’ve learned.

Visa requirements for US Citizens: can I stay in Europe for a year or more?

The short answer is “Yes.” The longer answer is, “Yes . . . but.” But . . . what, exactly?

All countries (including the US) offer short-term visas for travelers. This is essentially the passport stamp you receive when you arrive in a new country. That country is allowing you to visit for a specific period of time. Typically the term limit of these so-called “tourist visas” in Europe is 90 days. For most people taking a vacation, this is more than sufficient to cover their trip. But if you’re long-term traveler, these visa time limitations will impact how long you can stay in any given country.

And just to make things interesting, this 90-day tourist visa applies to staying within a 180-day period. (Spoiler alert: These are the sort of rules that make your head want to explode!) What this means is that the “clock” starts ticking when you enter, and it doesn’t reset until 181 days later. So you can’t enter Ireland (for example), stay for 90 days, leave on day 91, then return on day 92 and get a fresh new tourist visa. You would actually have to leave Ireland for the next 90 days, until day 180. Then you could return on day 181 and the clock would start all over again.

Iceland is part of the EU's Schengen ZoneIceland is part of the EU, and certain European visa restrictions apply when visiting

The next logical question would be, “what if I stay in Ireland for 10 days, leave for two weeks, come back and stay for 30 more days, etc?” Yes, that’s OK; the visa is valid for the TOTAL number of days you spend in the country within that 180-day period, not a consecutive 90 days. You can use up your 90 days all at once, or you can go in and out as often as you like in the next 180 days.

HOWEVER, after you’ve spent an aggregate of 90 days in the country (whether it took you 90, 138 or 164 days, whatever to get there), you must then leave the country. Failure to do so could result in deportation and a hefty fine. (You do NOT want to mess with Border Control in ANY country.)

You cannot return until 181 days after you received your initial visa (i.e passport stamp). So if you enter on January 1, for example, you can stay for any combination of 90 days until June 29, which would be day 180. June 30 would be day 181, when you then could re-enter the country and start the process all over again.

You may be thinking, “OK, I’ve got 90 days in each country, I’ll go to Ireland for 90 days, then head to France for 90 days, then on to Germany, etc. . .” Not so fast. We’re about to enter . . . The Schengen Zone. ( Yes, you can cue “The Twilight Zone” music here if you’d like.)

Western Europe and the Schengen Zone

Schengen Zone countries have open bordersThe Schengen Agreement allows for border-free travel between member countries in Europe

Okay, more head-exploding visa fun. Virtually all of western Europe (26 countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, etc.) is part of something called the “Schengen Zone.” It represents a collection of European countries that formed an agreement in 2005 to create a sort of joint international border. (The agreement was signed in the town of Schengen, Luxembourg, hence the name.)

This was a giant step in making intra-European travel easy and smooth. What this means for citizens of those countries is they can travel between the “Schengen” countries without needing a passport. No more border crossings when driving between France and Belgian, for example. Forget about customs and immigration on a flight from Greece to Spain. No railway checkpoints along the way between Germany and Italy. Yay!

Schengen visa from the USA

As an American citizen, your US passport is sufficient to enter the Schengen Zone. You do NOT need a special Schengen visa from the USA to enter the countries that are part of this agreement. Nor do you need something special for each country, such as a Schengen visa France. Your passport is enough. The stamp you get upon entering a Schengen Zone country will be your “tourist visa” for the entire region.

You can now travel between these countries without border controls, just like the local citizens-YAY again! This is terrific when planning a vacation that involves multiple European countries. It really does make intra-European travel simpler and less time-consuming.

HOWEVER, long-term travelers must take heed. What this Schengen Agreement DOES mean, is that entering the Schengen Zone is like entering a single country. As an American citizen, you only get a 90-day visa for THE WHOLE SCHENGEN REGION. Yep, if you enter France, your 90-day tourist visa clock starts ticking for Germany, Norway, Italy, etc. as well. You can enter and leave the Schengen Zone as often as you like, but you’ve only got 90 days within a 180-day window.

This Schengen Zone bit can really throw a monkey wrench into your plans if you’re looking to do extensive travel in Europe. Most Americans are unaware of the regulation because it does not impact them. The typical vacation to Europe is about 2 weeks. If you return to Europe the following year, the “visa clock” will have started all over again, and most American visitors are none the wiser.

That’s the bad news. The GOOD news is you still have 90 days within a 180-day period, and if you’re planning to travel for a year, you’d have two “visa clock” cycles.  That means you can spend 180 days per year in the Schengen Zone . . . which is pretty good!

Check this page on the US State Dept website for more information about visa requirements for US citizens.

Schengen and non Schengen countries

The following map, from the European Commission, shows countries in the Schengen Zone, along with non Schengen countries in Europe:

Map from the European Commission website, click for more info about the Schengen Zone

All the countries in green are part of the Schengen Zone. Those in brown are non Schengen. [The gray area represents countries that are not in the E.C. (European Commission) at all.] As you can see, the majority of Europe falls into this Schengen Zone. It’s also limportant to note that Iceland, the Azores, and the Canary Islands are included as well. Check the European Commission’s website for more information about the Schengen Zone.

GOOD NEWS: Each of the non Schengen countries [Ireland, the UK, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Cyprus] have their own visa requirements an allowances. This is good news for the long-term traveler. You can spend time in each one of these countries for up to 90 days after you’ve used up your time in the Schengen Zone.

Romania and Croatia are a particularly good value, have lots to see, English is widely spoken, and they are friendly to Americans. We’ve spent a LOT of time in Bucharest, Romania over the past few years, which is home of the world’s heaviest building (no kidding!) Read about the time we got excellent, affordable dental work, because it was easy to find comfortable, well-priced apartments to stay on a monthly basis.

The UK is a non Schengen countryAmerican citizens can stay in the UK for up to 6 months

BETTER NEWS: Our good friends in the United Kingdom are the exception to this 90-day rule. American citizens in good standing can stay in the UK for up to 6 months (!). It’s easy to spend 6 months there: explore free sights in London or check out spooky, foggy Dartmoor, which has a unique American history connection. With an extended amount of time to visit, you can learn to drive on the left, then take a Scotland road trip to see some stunning scenery. Rule Brittania! 🇬🇧

Planning a Europe itinerary for long-term travel

What all of this Schengen Zone and 90-day tourist visa stuff means is that you can’t simply pick a European destination and stay there for a year. You have to more or less play “visa hop-scotch” in Europe. This is what Michael and I do. We pick a place that is interesting to us, get an apartment for 1-2 months, then move on to somewhere else. In between “monthly stay A” and “monthly stay B” we might transit through another city and visit for a few days. Or we might rent a car and explore the countryside before moving on to a new destination.

With a potential 180 days/year in the Schengen Zone, 6 months in the UK, and up to 90 days in the 5 remaining non Schengen countries, you should have plenty of time to explore. The key is not to overstay your welcome in any one country or region.

Following is a summary of the various countries/regions in Europe and how long you can stay:

  • Schengen Zone (see map above for countries): 90 days per 180 days
  • United Kingdom: 180 days per year
  • Ireland: 90 days per 180 days
  • Croatia: 90 days per 180 days
  • Romania: 90 days per 180 days
  • Bulgaria: 90 days per 180 days
  • Cyprus: 90 days per 180 days

So if you literally went from one region/country to the next on the final day of your visa, and you added up the time, you could spend 2 years in Europe before repeating destinations! The reality is that would be a logistical nightmare, but what you can see is that with a little bit of planning, you really can stay in Europe indefinitely if you so choose.

When Michael and I travel in Europe we keep an eye on the visa limits in given countries/regions to be sure we’re not running afoul of our time limits. For example, we don’t rent an apartment for 3 months when we know we have a 90-day visit limit. That’s cutting it too close. We always give ourselves a week or so of “wiggle room” for unforeseen issues. For example, what if you’re planning to fly back to the US from Paris or Frankfurt on day 90 of your Schengen visa? And then the flight gets cancelled . . . uh oh! you find yourself in airport purgatory.

Planning long-term travel in Europe can be a little daunting at first, especially if you don’t know the visa limitations. But once you know the rules, you can plan accordingly. And even see some countries you might not have otherwise considered visiting.

Changes in Longitude Larissa & Michael Milne at Arctic CircleWe’re Larissa and Michael, 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 updates and valuable travel tips subscribe to our travel newsletter here.

His gums duly numbed with painkiller, Michael reclined in the cushioned chair as the dentist loomed overhead with a whirring drill in her hand. Michael was about to start dental implant surgery to replace a broken tooth, a fairly standard procedure, except he was in a dental clinic in Bucharest, Romania. How did we end up there?

The short answer: affordable dental implants.

Dental implant cost: A mystery in the U.S.

Two years ago, we practically had to scrape Michael off the floor when he learned he needed a dental implant that would cost approximately $6,000. We’d gotten crowns and had root canals in the past, but never anything that rivaled the price of a decent used car. The high cost prompted us to explore less-expensive options. This endeavor proved to be more difficult than we expected.

It’s not easy to find published prices from most U.S. dentists. The U.S. practices we found advertising “discount” implants priced only the implant itself; they didn’t include the extensive prep work, including removal of the broken tooth and often the need for a bone graft, in the total cost.

 

Dental tourism Bucharest Romania intelident, affordable dental implants

We recalled that during a visit to Bucharest a few months earlier, we had noticed many billboards — in English — advertising dental services. Upon further investigation, we learned that Romania is a popular destination for European dental patients; the quality is top-notch, and  the prices are very low. Would we actually consider dental work outside the U.S.?

According to Patients Beyond Borders, a guide and website for medical tourists,  more than 150 million Americans lack dental insurance and are increasingly seeking dental work abroad. Currently, the majority of Americans traveling outside the country to see  dentists venture to Mexico from the border states of Texas, Arizona, and California.

“Dental tourism has been going on for more than two decades,” said Amid Ismail, dean of Temple University’s Kornberg School of Dentistry.

Ismail had no statistical data — good or bad — regarding U.S. patients who had work done overseas. From our research, we learned it’s important to perform your own due diligence on any overseas provider.

“There is quality dental care everywhere, but the range is wider overseas, so you must be careful who you choose,” Ismail said. “Cheap care is most often not equivalent to good care.”

Affordable dental implants in Romania

Which left us still pondering the value — and risks — of using a dental clinic in Bucharest, Romania. We knew from our previous visit that English is commonly spoken in the capital city, so communication wouldn’t be an issue.

As part of our research, we contacted the U.S. office of Romania Tourism. The website addressed dental tourism and provided links to several dentists. Romanian law requires dental clinics to post their prices prominently — something we wish American practices would do.

We homed in on one dental clinic in Bucharest, Intelident, for several reasons. Its website was in English and provided detailed information about the education and work experience of the dentists. The clinic also posts prices online, which made our research easier. In addition, it is part of a network that provides dental services to U.S. employees of American companies (such as Citi and Oracle) that maintain offices in Bucharest.

affordable dental implants romaniaMost importantly, we liked that Intelident used top-notch materials. We were determined to get a standard of care similar to that of the U.S. or Western Europe; there was no reason to consider dental tourism otherwise. We had heard anecdotes of people getting “cheap dental implants” in Eastern Europe, but details about the materials (and potentially the dental clinics) were sketchy. We wouldn’t seek out some back-alley practice back home; we sure as heck weren’t going to go that route in Romania.

We communicated extensively with the manager of the practice by email and clarified prices and approximate timelines. Unlike the U.S., where many dentists price the procedure in total, pricing in Romania is more of an a la carte model. Therefore, it’s important to understand exactly what is required for your complete procedure; a front implant cost may be different than a back tooth, for example, or you might need to factor in tooth extraction. (All cost comparisons here are as “apples to apples” as possible.)

The total cost to install Intelident’s most expensive titanium implant, made by highly regarded Swiss manufacturer Straumann, was approximately $1,500, including a replacement crown;  1/4 the cost of the same procedure in the U.S.

Now that we knew we could obtain affordable dental implants in Bucharest, was a saving of $4,500 enough for us to fly to Romania? Perhaps not. But what if we considered additional work?

We both had several metal-based crowns that were nearing the end of their useful lives; the replacement cost of a nonmetal zirconium crown in the U.S. was estimated at $1,400. The cost in Romania for a similiar crown would be only $350; root canals were similarly priced. If we got a significant amount of preventive work done, the trip would be worth it.

The Procedure

Our first appointments entailed a general examination, including a review of new X-rays. The dentists then prepared a complete treatment plan for each of us. Michael focused on getting his new implant, and  Larissa addressed replacing her old crowns, some of which required root canals. We were given specific pricing upfront. They even said we should defer some work they didn’t feel was necessary, so we never felt “up-sold.”

Dental tourism romania bucharest intelidentX-rays are taken in another office, about a mile away, saving the dentist the investment in equipment that is not often used. The excellent prices ($18 for a full set of digital X-ray bite wings, $6 for a single tooth) at the state-of-the-art imaging facility offset the slight inconvenience of an extra errand for the patient.

Throughout all our work, the Romanian dentists used sterilized equipment and sealed products that they opened in front of us.

For Michael’s implant, his dentist even shared the packaging materials to demonstrate their authenticity. Straumann implants come with a unique serial number, and Michael was able to verify his through the company’s website. Tomas Konrad, a Straumann representative, agreed that best practices include sharing the package with the patient.

A verification document with details about the implant also ensured that Michael could have follow-up work performed by any dentist around the world trained to use Straumann implants — which includes the dental clinic at Temple University.

“That’s a good [standardization] model,” Dr. Ismail said.

The result

To date, there have been no complications with the dental work we had done. Three months later we were back in the US where Michael had the work reviewed by an American dentist, who was impressed with the high quality level.

In the end, we saved more than $18,000 by seeking work outside the U.S. Of course, travel expenses must be deducted from that amount, which is a different variable for everyone.

Visit Romania: Travel considerations

By European and American standards, Bucharest is an inexpensive city. We found a fully furnished apartment in the heart of downtown on Airbnb for $850/month. (For more information on places to stay, please see our detailed guide to lodging in Bucharest.) The dentist’s office was within walking distance, so there was no need for a car. There are no direct flights from the U.S. to Bucharest, but Delta’s SkyTeam alliance offers several connections through European gateways. We flew from New York to Bucharest via Amsterdam.

Dental Tourism considerations: Do Your Research

Dental tourism is not right for everyone, but with the increasing costs of dental procedures in the U.S., it’s an option worth considering if you are facing extensive work. The ideal candidate is someone without comprehensive dental insurance who has an open mind and time to travel abroad.

If you choose to explore this option, it’s essential to do your research. Consider the following:

  • Education: Where did the dentist study? How good is the school? Has he or she done specialty training abroad?
  • Experience: On how many patients has he or she performed this procedure? What’s the success rate? According to the Journal of Dental Research, success rates for most implant procedures are 90 percent to 95 percent; be wary of  dentists who  say they have a 100 percent success rate.
  • References: Ask for names of patients, and contact them  about their experience.
  • Pricing: Be sure to ask for all costs related to the procedure, including X-rays and any prep work.

Even with satisfactory answers to these questions, there are still risks involved. If there is a problem with the work, the burden of extra costs falls to you. We acknowledged that if there were any problems, we’d have to take care of them in the U.S.

“Health tourism in a global economy is a reality of life, but we prefer that patients stay in their home country for continuity and follow up care,” said Ismail.

Prospective patients also need to verify the timing of their procedure to determine how long they will be overseas. One or two weeks are usually needed for a crown; an implant might require two separate short visits. Michael had already had his tooth removed in the U.S., which allowed several months for the bone to grow back before having the implant procedure performed in Romania.

We planned a month for our work in Bucharest, which also gave us plenty of time to explore the city and surrounding area. Overall, our experience as dental tourists was pleasant, and we will consider having work done here again. Plus we miss the Romanian pastries!

If you’ve got further questions about dental tourism, please click the “contact” tab at the top of the page. We’re not dental care experts, but we’re happy to share more about our particular experiences.

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Dental Tourism Romania, Affordable dental implants

 

Larissa 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.

We’ve written before about using Airbnb to book places on vacation, particularly for long-term stays. Then last week we were sitting at our Airbnb rental when there was a knock on the door. Outside was a young man on the porch with several pieces of luggage stating he was ready to move in. Uh oh. Fortunately, since we booked through Airbnb, we were fine; unfortunately for him, he had been scammed.

He had found the cottage on Craigslist at a monthly rate that was half what we were paying. Too good to be true? As it happens, yes. The listing included the same description and photos as those on the (legitimate) Airbnb listing, but the contact information was different. He had signed a lease and mailed the contact a deposit check for $500.

A quick call to our Airbnb host confirmed that this was a scam—her Airbnb listing had been “scraped,” with a fake ad posted on Craigslist, lying in wait for an unsuspecting dupe. Our Airbnb host confirmed that this had happened before; she’s tried hard to stop the scammers, but they remove the fake internet listing before the police can take action.

avpiding

There are several lessons here. Following is our checklist for avoiding vacation rental scams:

1. If a property seems too good to be true, it’s probably not legitimate. Compare the listing to others in the area; anything that looks larger, more luxurious, or cheaper than the going rate should be suspect.

2. Work through legitimate rental companies. Booking sites such as Airbnb, Homeaway, VRBO or local established rental agencies offer a level of protection should there be an issue. They all have business reputations to maintain, it’s in their best interest to resolve any disputes to everyone’s satisfaction.

3. Stay within the system. Booking sites and rental agencies do charge a fee, but they also provide a service.

Avoid the temptation to save a few dollars by going around them—a trick scammers often use. Last year while booking an Airbnb apartment in Italy the “owner” contacted us directly and asked us to wire the payment to them rather than working through the normal Airbnb channels—something that is specifically outside the company’s guidelines. This set off warning flags—sure enough, we contacted Airbnb, who confirmed it was a false listing and took it down.

Vacation rentals are a fabulous lodging alternative when traveling. However, the Internet makes it very easy for scammers to create false listings. Don’t be that guy stuck out on our porch. Always do your due diligence, particularly when the property or price seems too good to be true.

Larissa 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.

Please note, due to the high number of spam comments we receive, we’ve disabled comments on posts. If you’d like to reach out to us, click on the “Contact” tab at the top of this page.

After the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl this year (a fact we still like to repeat) what got a bit less attention was the fact that New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski returned from his team’s loss to find out that his house had been robbed in his absence. Unfortunately, for a public figure playing in the nation’s most watched sporting event, it was difficult to hide the fact that his house would be empty that week. But that shouldn’t be a problem for ordinary folk like you and us: but it is. There are definite social media risks to updating your status while away on vacation.

These days, many people are pretty loose with what they share on social media, and this behavior isn’t just confined to tweens. Older adults are active on Facebook and other social media platforms and think nothing of telling the world about their upcoming travel plans. How convenient that is for would-be burglars to know when a residence will be empty. It’s sort of like the couple below just handing their keys to you.

Lest ye think this is unlikely, police in Glastonbury, Connecticut recently arrested a Hartford couple that was robbing homes in the upscale community. How did they know the houses would be empty? They researched social media to see who mentioned upcoming trips or even posted vacation photos in real-time while they were away.

Could you imagine your parents taking out an ad in the local paper to announce when the house would be empty? We didn’t think so. The lesson here is do not share news about when you will be away on social media and never share photos while you’re gone. While you think only your friends can see your posts, that’s not always the case.

Don’t just take our word for it. According to the Philadelphia Police Force, “Do not post about your vacation on Facebook or any other Social Media site until after you get back. If that takes more discipline than you can muster, at the very least keep your location status off any public social networking pages.” Change your privacy settings before you travel; it’s safe to assume the default setting for most social networks is “public.” Your friends can still give your photos a “thumbs up” after you’ve returned.

For more ideas about keeping your home safe while traveling, read this post about vacation planning tips on the Philly Police blog.

Always assume that the default mode for social media privacy settings is to automatically share things. Which brings up Airbnb. While we love using this service, it constantly annoys us that the default mode for wish lists for places to stay is automatically public. That’s right, anyone in the world, they don’t even have to be an Airbnb member, can find you on Airbnb and figure out where you have stayed and where you want to stay next. We can’t imagine Marriott or Hilton doing that. So go in your account and change all your settings to private.

And while we’re on our tirade, we ask you to do something today: change your birthday on Facebook to one that’s not the actual day you entered the world. (Here’s a chance to make yourself younger.) Sure, you’ll get less birthday greetings on your actual special day, but you’ll also help foil identity thieves in the process.

Larissa 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.

Please note, due to the high number of spam comments we receive, we’ve disabled comments on posts. If you’d like to reach out to us, click on the “Contact” tab at the top of this page.

Field-Tested Travel Tips: Should you pay in local currency while traveling?

We were using a credit card to buy a camera in Germany when when the sales clerk asked us, “Do you want that charged in euros or U. S. dollars?” Huh? We hadn’t been asked that question before and really had no idea of the right answer. We assumed that, as Americans, we’d want to be charged in dollars and not pay in local currency while traveling overseas. Wrong answer.

Be it euros, pounds, drachma or renminbi, always choose to pay in local currency. When your credit card company processes the transaction, they will convert the currency at a more favorable wholesale rate that will be much better than the rate used by the local store or bank overseas.

The same policy applies to withdrawals at international ATMs. Many cash machines offer a choice to convert the transaction into your home currency (in our case U. S. dollars). This is the electronic version of going to an exchange kiosk and paying a poorer rate.

Withdrawal from an ATM without conversion is the better deal.

Here’s an example. Recently in Bucharest we were given this option of conversion while making a withdrawal of 640 RON from an ATM. Based on the current exchange rate of 4 RON/USD we expected the amount to be about $160. Take a look at the photo above that shows the message that popped up saying “This terminal offers conversion to your home currency,” with a posted exchange rate of 3.7492 RON/USD, meaning the withdrawal would have cost us $170.99. This seemed like no bargain, so we chose withdrawal without conversion. Sure enough, our bank gave us the better exchange rate and we were charged with a $161 withdrawal. Going for that other choice on the screen would have cost us an extra $10.

The same thing would have happened had we chosen to be charged in dollars at that store in Germany. On a small purchase at a souvenir shop this might only amount to a dollar or two, but the exchange spread on a week’s worth of hotel and restaurant charges can really add up. Whenever possible, charge items or withdraw money in the local currency; doing so will save you money because of the better wholesale exchange rate that your bank or credit card company will apply to the transaction.

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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.

One question that keeps cropping up in our global travels is, “How do you handle language barriers while traveling?” As full-time global nomads, we can’t become fluent in the language of every country we visit, that’s just impossible. We used to feel bad about this but the reality is that, as people whose native language is English we are fortunate, which can also make us a little lazy if we are not careful.

English is now the international language of the world, used as the common ground for individuals from far-flung locations. We’ve witnessed an Italian communicate with a Vietnamese shopkeeper in English, similar with Germans traveling in Romania. However, we still learn some basic expressions to show we are making an effort. It’s incredible how these attempts, in our admittedly terrible local accent, often break down barriers. They certainly draw a smile.

Helpful phrases include: “yes/no,” “please/thank you,” “where is…,” “how much” “I’m sorry, I don’t speak _______ [fill in the blank of the local language],” and “where is the bathroom?” Although pantomime often works with the last one.

Language barriers chinese menu

But there are times it’s handy to have a pocket translator. For this we use the Google Translate tool that we’ve downloaded to Michael’s iPod Touch. (Someday he may get a phone, but until then . . .) The app works offline on both Android and IOS devices—which is especially useful while traveling, when you might not have local cell or WiFi coverage.

The tool is simple: type an English word into the built-in dictionary and get the word in the local language. The reverse is also true. You can also play the word to hear the correct pronunciation, or speak a phrase for translation.

But the feature that blows us away is the photo scanning tool. Hold your phone up to a sign in a foreign language and it will translate it into English, or whatever language you choose.

Translating a sign in Oslo with the Google Translate tool. Photo by Larissa Milne

Here’s the tool in action at a construction site in Oslo. Notice how the app translates the word and even keeps it in the same font. This comes in handy while translating storefront signs, menus, bus and train info, and even road signs.

Using the Google Translate tool—and learning a few core words in the local language—makes communication while traveling a mostly seamless experience.

When we know we’ll be in a particular country long-term, and don’t want to rely on the kindness of strangers speaking English, we use the  _____ in 10 Minutes a Day series of books. We like their feature where you put stickers all over the house to learn what certain objects are. Twenty years after using this book to brush up on Italian, we still know the Italian words for everyday objects.

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.

Unlike strategies for men carrying wallets, here are my favorite tips for women to avoid pickpockets. I’ve seen all sorts of wacky gadgets for protecting valuables, including the mind-boggling “bra stash,” which must be uncomfortable (not to mention awkward when purchasing souvenirs). But with common sense and a few simple strategies you can keep your valuables safe.

Tips for women to avoid pickpockets

  1. Keep it simple: I use a simple basic purse suited for travel. Bags by PacSafe offer many clever safety features to foil would-be thieves and are my favorite traveling purse. However, even a thief-proof bag can be stolen from a distracted tourist so always be aware of your surroundings.Pascal city bag-Perfect for avoiding pickpockets while traveling
  2. Ditch the big wallet: Only bring the few credit cards you might use on vacation, along with some ID. Wallets full of store credit cards and other home-based necessities add useless bulk while traveling and are a nice chunky target for pickpockets.
  3. Use a bag with a zippered closure: Never carry a bag with a simple snap or flap closure. It’s too easy for prying hands to slip inside. And remember to keep that zipper closed.
  4. Or better yet, clip your purse shut: Thanks to Debra in Philadelphia who suggested this tip. She uses a paper clip to lock her zipper tag to the metal loop thats holds the shoulder strap, creating an additional barrier to entry.
  5. Never put your bag down: Even at a nice restaurant bags can disappear. (It happened to me years ago.) I keep mine slung over my shoulder and in my lap (another reason for the small size), or loop it around my leg when I place it on the floor.women pickpocket banner
  6. Wear your bag crosswise: Bags simply slung over the shoulder or carried by the handle make it easy for purse-snatchers to grab and go. Backpack-style bags are a ready target for slash-and-grab. Get a bag with a long strap that will fit comfortably crosswise across your torso, resting on the front of your hip. In busy areas keep your hand on the bag.
  7. Don’t get pickpocketed electronically: New credit cards with RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) can be scanned while still in your pocket. Purchase cheap RFID sleeves to slide your cards into and foil electronic pickpockets.
  8. Forget designer names: You might like Tory Burch bags, but so do thieves. High-end purses also send a signal to robbers that you’re a worthwhile target. Keep Tory at home 🙂
  9. Keep it small: It’s easier (and more comfortable) to guard a small bag than something big and bulky. I use a separate tote or daypack to hold water, guidebooks, etc.
  10. Planes, trains and automobiles: Anytime you’re in transit the odds are increased of being pickpocketed. A friend of ours was dealing with a stubborn turnstile in the Paris Metro when she noticed a man reaching into her purse. Fluent in French, she yanked her purse away and chastised him. Train stations and airports are likely places to be flustered over a connection. It’s easy to place your purse on a seat next to you without watching it carefully. No matter what mode of transportation (even taxis) make sure your wallet doesn’t slide out–another reason for that zippered closure!

These strategies soon become second nature, allowing you to enjoy your vacation without constantly worrying about your valuables.

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Please provide any suggestions from your travels below. Here’s Michael’s guide for how men can avoid pickpockets. And here’s our cautionary tale about encountering pickpockets on the Buenos Aires subway.

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael Milne 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.

Please note: There are links to Amazon and other companies on this blog to purchase items, most of which are travel related. We earn a very small commission on these sales and it does not affect your price for the item. These small commissions are one way we can continue this blog and provide readers with valuable free travel advice.

Even though we try not to look like tourists while traveling, there are still some places where visitors stand out and are approached by people trying to separate them from their money. To scam artists, tourists who are not familiar with local cultures or the language are an easy mark. In our travels we’ve picked up several tips for how to avoid scam artists on vacation.

How to avoid scam artists

Beware of anyone who approaches out of the blue with an overly friendly invitation. We’ve had several offers to join someone for coffee or a drink so they can “practice their English.” It seems harmless enough, but this is a widespread global scam where “marks” are taken to a local coffeehouse, teahouse or bar and then charged exorbitant prices, which only revealed when the check comes. At that point, the proprietor and scammer may use the threat of violence to make the person pay the bill. Here’s a detailed story about a solo female traveler who fell prey to a teahouse scam.

Avoid street sellers offering you a “great” deal. One night in Shanghai Larissa let Michael wander off on his own for a bit, figuring he couldn’t get into too much trouble. In the heart of downtown he was immediately accosted by a young man who whipped out a piece of cardboard that had pictures of various Apple products and high-tech devices glued to it. They were all for sale at record low prices if Michael would just follow him to his shop conveniently located up a dark alley. Michael turned him down so the seller flipped the card over to the other side where there were pictures of women in various stages of undress. They also had price tags next to them. Since there was an obvious language barrier Michael just pointed to his wedding ring. The enterprising seller then made a universal gesture making a pumping motion with his fist while saying in stilted English, “How about hand job then?” Larissa is now more cautious when Michael wanders off unsupervised.

Vintage telephones

Don’t touch that dial. We had just checked into our hotel room when we saw a note by the phone warning guests about a potential scam. Here’s how it works. Someone calls your room and says they are from the front desk and are having trouble processing your credit card, “Could you please repeat the number or give them another card?” Not really thinking the guest complies. Unfortunately the call came from outside the hotel and you just gave your credit card number to a complete stranger. We have to admit, this is a good one that a tired traveler could easily fall for. It is part of a growing trend of calling hotel guests to extract their private information.

How to avoid scam artists

Watch what you wear. Don’t wear clothes that scream “I’m not from here. Please scam me!” In particular, avoid items that show where you are from. I caught the man above leaving a train station in Italy. (Train stations are the source of many scam artists since they are crowded and passengers are often confused or tired upon arrival.) He’s proudly wearing a Michigan State sweatshirt while his wife trailing behind is attired in a Detroit Lions shirt. Not only are they announcing to potential scam artists that they are Americans, they are also sharing their hometown/state. In this case, it’s easy for someone to approach them by starting a conversation about Michigan or the Lions. Being from the midwest they’re probably too polite to rebuff him and the con artist is off to the races.

Be cautious when strangers are eager to pose with you in photos. A local family approached us on Tiananmen Square, saying they wanted a photo with us for good luck. While posing, Michael felt the grandmother’s hands rummaging in his pockets. After realizing they weren’t Larissa’s he immediately stopped our impromptu photo session.

Michael avoiding scam artists

Play dumb. This an effect that Michael has perfected through years of practice dating back to elementary school.  When approached by potential scammers, you should feign confusion about what they are saying. Since English is the lingua franca of scam artists the world over, Michael pretends he doesn’t speak English and says so in Russian, which most of the scammers don’t speak (except, of course, in Russia).This usually puts off the scam artist because the whole foundation of their con is communication. Thus frustrated, they quickly move on.

Don’t believe anything that seems too good to be true. While strolling on Red Square in Moscow, a man dropped a wad of U.S. currency right in front of us. Immediately, another fellow picked it up and offered (in broken English and hand gestures) to go somewhere quiet with us to split this unexpected bounty. Which, of course, would have ended up with an alley mugging. Nyet, thanks.

women pickpocket banner

Avoiding pickpockets. Here are our guides to avoiding pickpockets on vacation. While pickpockets are not as overt as street scammers, they are potentially more damaging.

Be aware of your surroundings. It’s easy to be on the alert when traveling in a gritty urban environment or crowded outdoor market, but what about when you’re in a genteel setting, say being out for a bike ride in a park in Montreal? Here’s a tale of being stolen from in broad daylight in the unlikeliest of places.

We hate to make travel sound like a dangerous undertaking with potential risks lurking around every corner. For the most part it is not. Don’t be so afraid of being conned that you don’t enjoy yourself. Just be aware of the potential pitfalls that are out there so they don’t ruin your vacation.

Please share in the comments section below any scams you’ve come across in your travels!

Pin it!How to avoid scam artists on vacation

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

Several years ago I traveled to Israel on a business trip and ran up a $900 mobile phone bill in 3 days. The coverage was good and the connection so clear that when the phone rang I forgot I was 8,000 miles from home and in “roaming mode.” BIG OOPS! It was a huge wake-up call (pun intended) that I needed some tips for using mobile phones overseas.

Most major cell phone companies offer some type of international plan, meaning the phone you have in your home country will work overseas. Coverage in populated areas is typically good and international alliances between carriers makes the voice/data/text experience seem like you’re in your own backyard.

using a cell phone overseas

Such good connections make it easy to forget international roaming charges, which can really add up. If you answer a call from a friend who didn’t realize you were out of the country you might be spending several dollars on a conversation that could easily wait until you were back home. Meanwhile, surfing the ‘Net to check out bistros near your hotel for dinner may end up costing more than the meal itself.

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid these costs. We’ve picked up a few tips for using mobile phones overseas that will help prevent running up huge bills:

Capitalize on WiFi

Save your web surfing for when you have access to a WiFi connection. Some hotels and resorts charge a hefty daily fee for internet access, so consider your potential usage and do the math to determine if it’s cheaper than roaming charges from your home carrier. Fortunately free WiFi is available in shops and cafes the world over, seek those out to do your surfing.

Helpful tips for using cell phones overseas

Use VoIP for voice calls

Many carriers now allow WiFi calling with your own phone number. In cases where this doesn’t work, use phone apps such as FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp and Viber to place voice calls over an Internet connection. This is particularly useful when you are communicating with someone in the country you are visiting, since for them calling or texting to a foreign number can be expensive. While traveling through Prague last summer virtually every local we met used WhatsApp to connect with us–including our 70-year-old Airbnb host!

Also: resist the urge to answer calls from home while you’re out and about; even the simple act of telling a friend you’ll call them later can add to your bill. Leave a voicemail message that you are out of the country. Chances are they will tell you to call when you return home.

Communicate via texts

For many cellular carriers, texting is the cheapest way to communicate. Check before you travel to learn what they charge for texting in the country you’ll be visiting; they may offer an international texting plan for a flat fee. In the US, T-Mobile offers unlimited text and data while traveling in over 140 countries at no extra charge for contract customers, along with a fixed per-minute fee for voice calls. We used this on our recent trip to seven countries Europe and found texting worked everywhere (the data is at local cellular speeds, which can be slow, so we saved our internet use for WiFi).

Mao-Mausoleum

 

*note: When investigating international texting with your carrier, be sure to get the rates for texting from a foreign country. Many carriers also offer plans for texting from your home country to a specific overseas destination (often popular with people who have relatives there). The fees are usually different.

Purchase a local SIM card

Those traveling for extended periods in a given country may find it useful to have a local phone. Provided a phone is “unlocked” you can purchase a SIM card in that country which will give you a local phone number and service. In the US, many phones are “locked,” meaning they are tied to a specific carrier while you are under contract. Check with your US carrier about unlocking a phone. If unlocking is not possible, purchase a cheap prepaid phone in said country for local calls and use your smartphone with WiFi for everything else.

*note: If you opt to purchase a local phone or SIM card for extended travel, check with your home carrier about suspending your service before you leave. In some cases you can have your monthly fee deferred until you return home.

These tips for using mobile phones overseas have saved us a lot of unnecessary fees over the last several years. We spent three months in Central Europe last fall and I managed quite well with texting and VoIP. I only had about $3.50 in roaming charges, for one call when I was nowhere near WiFi. I’ve come a long way.

Local Hero phone booth Scotland

Using these tips you shouldn’t end up like this poor guy, scrambling for a pay phone. 🙂

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

Since travelers stick out in most places and are obvious targets, protecting your wallet and avoiding pickpockets is very important when you’re on the road.   Once Larissa and I were posing with a group of elderly local women on Tiananmen Square in Beijing. It was going well until I felt tiny hands groping inside my pocket. Fortunately I wear trousers with hidden zippered pockets and the would-be thieves were foiled. Zippered pockets are just one way to avoid pickpockets. Here are a dozen tips to protect yourself while traveling.

Tips for men to avoid pickpockets:

  • Never store your wallet in a back pocket. Never. I don’t care that’s what your father did and your grandfather before him. It’s like wearing a sign on your back that says “Please rob me.” Don’t think that buttoning the pocket protects you either. It’s just too tempting and easy a target.
  • Be on high alert after you leave a taxi. If you are being dropped off at a heavily trafficked location like a train station, airport or hotel, there are people who are watching to see which pocket your wallet goes into after you pay the driver.
  • Be careful of people who approach with a clipboard in hand asking you to sign a petition for some “good” cause. In Europe these are known as “chuggers,” short for charity muggers. While you are distracted by the clipboard in your chest, they are sliding their hands into your pockets below.

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  • 15180887_m copyBe aware of signs that say “Caution: Pickpocket Area” or something similar. Would-be thieves hang out near these signs. Why? When people read them they subconsciously reach for their wallet to make sure it’s secure, while also revealing its location.
  • Be careful in “cattle chutes,” that is, any area where you are forced to go slower such as a subway turnstile. Those are prime spots to get you when you are focusing on something else while also slowing down, making yourself an easier target.
  • Don’t wear expensive jewelry or watches. Ostentatious shows of wealth indicate to thieves that there’s more cash to be had in your wallet. I wear a cheap Timex watch I purchased over 10 years ago for $18. It tells the time just as well as a Rolex or Bulova. (Added benefit: It doesn’t set off airport metal detectors so that’s one less item to remove.)
  • I don’t like inconvenient money belts or cumbersome pouches that are worn around the neck to hide my money. I want my cash secure but reachable. To do this I wear pants that have hidden zippered pockets. Lately I’ve been wearing P-Cubed Pick-Pocket Proof Pants by Clothing Arts. They have so many hidden pockets I’m still finding a few.

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Note the tab that buttons over the zippered pocket for extra security. If you prefer for convenience not to use the tab, there’s a button to the side to attach it so it doesn’t cover the pocket.

  • Know the thieves’ techniques. On a crowded train or street they’ll bump the intended victim. Typically the tourist will then pat the pocket where their wallet is to make sure it’s still there, while also revealing its exact location. Whenever I get bumped like this I’ll pat down several pockets to ensure my wallet is not missing. Although I end up looking like a hyperkinetic third-base baseball coach giving the hitter signals, I don’t reveal where my wallet is.
  • Don’t keep valuables in your backpack, unless perhaps they’re buried under a week’s worth of dirty clothes. The outer pockets of backpacks are so vulnerable that someone can take your money and even leave you some change without you being aware of it.

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  • Fanny packs (or bum packs for you Brits). Do I really have to say that for so many reasons a fanny pack should not be part of your traveling gear. Not only are they vulnerable, nothing screams “Look at me! I’m a tourist!” like a fanny pack.
  • Don’t get pickpocketed electronically. New credit cards with RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) can be scanned while still in your pocket. Purchase cheap RFID sleeves to slide your cards into and foil electronic pickpockets.
  • Camera bags. A camera bag that obviously looks like a camera bag, particularly one with a Nikon or Canon logo or something similar is a no-no. There are camera bags out there that just look like ordinary shopping bags that don’t tell the world a $1,000 item is lurking inside. They even have padded compartments to protect your equipment and lenses. While you’re at it, change out the logo covered strap that came with the camera for something more inconspicuous. Sometimes just the strap poking out from the bag due to a hastily stowed camera is enough to give away the camera’s presence. Here’s an extensive review of camera bags that won’t make you stand out in a crowd.

Retrospective-5-Pinestone-2 camera bag copy

Pickpockets are everywhere, particularly where tourists congregate. Earlier this year the Eiffel Tower was temporarily shut down due to problems with pickpocketing gangs. Be aware of your surroundings and follow these tips to come home with your wallet, and pride, intact. Here’s our cautionary tale of mixing it up with pickpockets on the Buenos Aires subway.

These tips for men to avoid pickpockets is obviously geared towards, well, men. Please provide any suggestions from your travels below. Here’s Larissa’s guide for how women can avoid pickpockets.

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.

Like it? Share it . . . Pin it!Twelve tips for men to avoid pickpockets while traveling--and in everyday life!

We found an easier way to get around Paris. Download this Paris Metro map pdf and you’ll always know where you are in the City of Light. This official city map is difficult to find (we’re not sure why), so we’ve made it available for you below.

The entrance to most Paris Metro stations display the map "avec rues" (with streets). Get your own free copy to navigate like a local!

Paris’ public transportation takes visitors just about anywhere. The traditional Paris Metro map shows the train routes as a series of colored lines. That gives a you general idea where the lines are located in the city, and how they relate to each other. But it doesn’t show you, the visitor, exactly where you are compared to the actual streets above ground.

Paris Metro map avec rues (with streets)

Screen shot of Paris Metro map ave rues
A screenshot of the Paris Metro map avec rues

But we’ve found a better Paris Metro map: the grand plan lignes avec rues (lines with streets). It has three unique features that make it especially useful for visitors:

  1. The map displays the metro lines with all their twists and turns
  2. It overlays the lines on the actual city streets
  3. The map includes icons of major tourist sights

Download the Paris Metro Map PDF avec rues (It’s free!)

YES! Finally you can look at a map, figure out exactly where you are and where you want to go, then make an informed decision about how to get there. Additionally, when you arrive at your destination stop, you’ll be able to determine exactly where you are in the city. For me, one of the most frustrating things about taking a subway/metro is walking through the various underground passageways that twist this way and that. The typical metro map only displays how the train lines relate to one another, not to the city itself. By the time you pop up above ground, you are completely disoriented as to where you are.

Classic stylized map of Paris Metro
The traditional stylized Metro map is most useful for determining how the lines relate to each other, but it doesn’t tell you what’s going on at street level.

Heading to Paris? Compare Paris hotel prices using this handy tool!

With the map avec rues, you can figure out your location pretty quickly. Once you get above ground, a quick look at a few street signs will tell you where you are in no time. You can also make more informed decisions about where you’re going, and the best route to get there.

For example, take a look at the screen shot excerpts from the two different types of maps below. The traditional “cartoon,” or stylized map is on the left, the map avec rues is on the right. They both show the Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides. Assuming you want to visit both Left Bank attractions, you use a map to plan your day. Using the “cartoon” map at left, it appears that the first stop might be “Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel” to visit the Eiffel Tower. Then, after doing a quick Google search for the best metro stop for Les Invalides, you’d get three possible options: “La Tour Maubourg,” “Ecole Militaire,” or “Varenne.” Back onto the Metro you go, change trains, and pop up near Les Invalides.

Now, plan out the same excursion using the map avec rues (above right).With the metro lines overlaying the actual city streets, it’s easy to see that Les Invalides is fairly close to the Eiffel Tower. You probably won’t need to jump back on the Metro at all! Additionally, you can see that you have several options for which line to take to the Eiffel Tower at the outset. And take a look at the “Ecole Militaire” stop. It’s right between both sights, AND it drops you off in front of the large park where most people take those sweeping views of the Eiffel Tower—Score!

Download the Paris Metro Map PDF avec rues

In this larger view of the Paris metro map “avec rues” you see exactly where the metro stops are, along with major streets in the neighborhood.

Paris Metro map PDF (and hard copies)

The Paris Metro grand plan lignes avec rues is published by RATP, Paris’ public transit system. The Paris Metro map pdf is available on the RATP website, but it’s a little difficult to find. That’s why we’ve made it handy for you to download here:

Download the Paris Metro Map PDF avec rues (OUR FAVORITE!)

The map is easy to use on a phone or tablet.

Hard copies of the Paris Metro grand plan lignes avec rues are technically available at city ticket offices. According to Paris info.com (the official Paris tourism) website,

“There are detailed street maps, plans of the “arrondissement” or maps showing the public transport network. You can obtain free maps from the ticket offices in metro stations, in the department stores and at all the information centres of the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau (the latter is available in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese and Russian!).”

However, paper copies of just about everything are getting more difficult to find these days. We suspect (but we don’t know for certain) that this map may no longer be in print. Once existing stock is depleted, it may not be replenished. Therefore, if you are an “old school,” hard copy kind of person, it’s probably not a good idea to count on picking up a copy once you’ve arrived in Paris. We recommend downloading the PDF file and printing it out before you leave home. (If you’re able to find a hard copy once you’re there, consider it a bonus! 😊)

Certainly there are Paris Metro route finder apps that can be downloaded to smart phones or tablets. But based on our experience, this is one case where “a map is better than an app.” The map shows the big picture, giving you options to determine which routes are best for you. Apps, in our experience, don’t always give the best recommendations. (Plus the map is free, and doesn’t take up much memory in your phone or tablet, so what have you got to lose?!)

Armed with this user-friendly map, anyone can soon be navigating around Paris like a native. This map helped us find these less crowded sights in Paris, as well as Pere Lachaise Cemetery. And while we were riding the Metro, we enjoyed some of these entertaining Street Musicians of Paris.

Heading to Paris? Compare Paris hotel prices using this handy tool!


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Larissa 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 updates and valuable travel tips subscribe to our travel newsletter here. SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave SaveSave

Locals warned us to be alert on the Buenos Aires subway, or  “subte,” because the city is the pickpocketing capital of the world. Most major cities have petty crime so we were careful, as we are anywhere, but also wouldn’t let it affect our plans to go out and explore the vibrant city.

On our very first day riding the subway we managed to get a little too close to one pickpocketing and even had an encounter with one of the thieves. We had just stepped off the train at the crowded 9 de Julio station and were part of the scrum headed towards the exit.

Suddenly a man wearing a dark blue t-shirt bumped up hard against my left shoulder. I was ready to give him a Philly elbow back to clear some space when the man abruptly stopped in front of me. This set off my antenna.

Then I noticed that another man wearing a green hoodie, about three feet in front of me, had a white liquid dripping on his shoulder. A common ruse is to squirt something on the potential victim. This marks him to the pickpocket gang, which usually consists of three people, and sets up the next part of the con.

Buenos Aires subte subway two people

Passengers like these know to be extra vigilant.

One of the thieves said to the man that his sweatshirt was stained and started wiping it off to distract him. I tried to warn him but Larissa was standing right next to one of the pickpockets and I wasn’t sure if the whole thing was just a diversion to get to her. I called out “Riss, Riss!” and waved her over to me.

Meanwhile, as the victim was turning to look at his stained shoulder his wallet was lifted by the third man. A woman a few feet away noticed this and yelled at him that he has just been pickpocketed. The man who had bumped my shoulder agreed and pointed down the platform in the opposite direction of where his partner was running towards the exit. I finally managed to convince the victim that the guy pointing was in on it too so he finally ran up the stairs after his wallet.

In the meantime I grabbed the shoulder of the thief who was still there and yelled in my best high-school Spanish, ‘Polizia! Polizia!” Unfortunately I sucked at Spanish and people just stared at me oddly. The thief looked stunned to be accosted but recovered enough to say in his best movie English, “Fu** you!”

I was out of Spanish expressions at that point and called the crook a shrimp (he was pretty short) holding my fingers an inch apart for emphasis. Since no police were forthcoming (for all we know I yelled for a plumber, but we didn’t see anyone running up wielding a plunger either) I parted ways with the criminal.

Buenos Aires subway subte mural

 The tile murals on the subte are gorgeous, just don’t get too distracted by them.

A “charity” mugging in Paris

This was the second time we’d come across a pickpocketing on this trip. In June we rode the Eurostar train from Paris to London. On board we met an Australian couple who had been robbed just outside the Gare Du Nord station in Paris. When they got out of their taxi they naturally reached for their wallet to pay the driver. This let potential thieves know which pocket their wallet was in.

As they walked away from their cab they were approached by several young women with clipboards who said they were getting petitions signed for a charity. We see these people everywhere, including our fair city of Philadelphia. Most are legitimate but the British have come up with a great name for them, chuggers, as in charity muggers.

The woman held the clipboard up to the tourist’s chest and used it as camouflage for her hands to pickpocket him. We hadn’t heard of this scam before and thought we’d pass it along so you can be aware of it.

What scams have you seen in your travels?
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.

Yelp and Trip Advisor are our go-to web sites for finding reviews of restaurants, hotels and tourist attractions. They are usually pretty accurate but it’s important to weed out the reviewers whose opinion you shouldn’t trust. Also be aware that Yelp viewers skew younger than TripAdvisor so take that into account when comparing places. Here’s our guide for how to read TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews:

Watch the star ratings: Ratings go from 1 to 5 stars. Ignore the 1 and 5 star reviews. When someone says it’s the worst place they’ve ever been they are so hyperbolic you can’t trust the review. The same goes for those 5 star reviews that seem as if they were written by the hotel or restaurant’s public relations agency. The reviews that contain the best information, both pro and con, are usually in the 2 to 4 star range and are written by discerning, observant travelers.

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Seek reviews from locals: Look closely at the reviews written by locals. Visitors from far-flung locations rave about certain famous cheesesteak places in our hometown of Philadelphia, but Philadelphians tend to say they’re not that good. Local reviewers know what other options are available in their hometown and are less likely to be suckered by a place that relies on the tourist trade.

We love the English but: “Mustn’t grumble” is a common expression in England. But when it comes to reviewing a place we want to hear the bad stuff. The reviews will state where the person lives so if it’s someplace like Melting Cheddarshire, England you can skip the review. A typical English review will read, “The hotel caught fire at 2 AM and we had to be evacuated. But it had been feeling a bit nippy anyway so we appreciated the extra warmth and the firefighters were charming blokes.” So beware. You might want to be careful with Canadians too, they’re just too damn nice to say anything bad.

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Great gluten-free options: People who need to avoid gluten have a serious medical condition but “gluten-free” has morphed into the latest diet fad among foodies.  The latter group is so excited when a restaurant offers gluten-free options that it clouds their judgment of the meal and results in over-the-top enthusiasm for the place.

Great vegan options: See gluten-free above.


I love New York but do they love anything back?
As a native New Yorker I know them pretty well. When I see a review from someone in Manhattan I know to skip it. Although they are sometimes clever in their criticisms, someone who complains that the 800-count sheets only had 767 threads (they know because they counted them) is probably too critical for me.

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I normally don’t like _________ but I loved these: If someone doesn’t normally like, say, pizza, are you really going to trust their judgment when they find a pizza they do like? When I’m looking for a pizzeria I want to hear from true aficionados who know the difference between a good one and cheese-topped cardboard. (Or heaven forbid, Chicago style pizza.)

They only take cash: I’m astonished when I read complaints about cash-only establishments like donut shops where the bill might come to two bucks. But I’ve stood on line behind enough hipsters using a debit card to buy a Red Bull that I shouldn’t be. They’ve become the modern-day equivalent of the little old ladies who still write checks at the supermarket. If someone isn’t responsible enough to walk around with five dollars in their pocket, do you really trust their opinion about anything?

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My kids/grandkids love it: Sorry but I’m not taking restaurant recommendations from a runny-nosed five-year-old. Unless of course I’m taking my runny-nosed five-year-old niece out to eat.

People who have written only one review: There are many reviewers who have only one review on Yelp or Trip Advisor. Typically the review is either so over the top positive it was probably written by a fake identity who is related to the owner, or it is so negative that it is written by a competitor. Be very suspicious of anyone who has taken the time to set up a reviewer account but then only writes one review. Perhaps the place really was so horrible that they just had to take the time to tell the world about it, but be discerning if you read these.

It was AMAZING!!!: The word “amazing” is so over-used these days that it doesn’t really say much beyond, “Hey I didn’t get food poisoning or bed bugs.” When you come across the overuse of this hackneyed term skip the review and find someone who’ll describe the place in more detail.

Meh: If this word is used, usually in the first sentence, stop reading and move on. The person is obviously trying to sound trendy and really has nothing to offer you. See remark about New York above.

What other suggestions can you offer?

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I believe a garment should last at least a decade, sometimes even longer. It’s a trait I inherited from my father who held onto his 1970s-era wide ties forever, predicting they’d make a comeback someday along with sideburns and powder-blue leisure suits.

favorite shirtAnyone who is a regular reader of this blog may have noticed that I’m wearing the same shirt in practically every picture. It’s a fairly nondescript Columbia shirt, tan plaid on a black background. At first it wasn’t particularly one of my favorites, in fact it doesn’t even fit properly. I bought it when I weighed about 20 pounds more than I do now so I am swimming in it. But it was easy to maintain and went with just about everything I own.

After a few years I grew attached to it. By the time it reached the magic ten-year mark we were practically common-law spouses; but I always knew the day would come when I’d have to say good-bye. A prospect I didn’t relish.

favorite shirtIt was one of the four shirts I brought along on this trip (two long-sleeve and two short-sleeve). But after a year around the world it was finally fading and breaking down. By the time we reached Africa, near the end of our journey, I reached a sad conclusion. This shirt wasn’t coming home with me.

But how do you get rid of a favorite garment? Is there some sort of ceremony that covers this situation? Larissa suggested burning it (along with a few pairs of socks that could practically walk on their own). Along the way I’d seen a few interesting trees that were covered with discarded clothing. In the Australian Outback we spotted what was literally a shoe tree, that is, a tree covered with shoes. Further into the Outback we passed by a bra tree; draw your own conclusions what that one was covered with.

favorite shirt

Now we were staying deep into the Erongo Plain in Namibia, a long way from anywhere. I took the tree outside and hung it up for a few photos and a teary-eyed farewell. Then I left it there. I hope someone comes along who’ll treasure it like I did. Or perhaps in a few years that tree will be covered with other travelers’ shirts. Either way it will be a fitting memorial to a shirt that never let me down.

What items of clothing have you held onto forever and why?

There are many misconceptions out there about travel, so it’s time to set the record straight. This week we debunk seven common travel myths. Next week we’ll tackle seven travel myths about select destinations.

Travel Myth #1: International travel is unsafe

Etosha national park Namibia lions

This one always blows us away—in our travels to 70+ countries, including road trips in remote areas of Africa and the Middle East and a jaunt to North Korea, we have never felt unwelcome or unsafe. Travel may take you into unfamiliar territory, where you might not know the  language and jet lag can leave you a little less aware of your surroundings. But unless you’re planning to visit the middle of a war zone, just using a little common sense like you would at home should keep you out of harm’s way. But take a tip we learned the hard way, don’t wake a sleeping lion. For more specific tips on safety while traveling, see this excellent post about travel safety by Cole Burmester of Four Jandals.

Travel Myth #2: Long-term travel requires a backpack

travel myths luggage

Backpacks aren’t bad; they’re just not the only option. We traveled around the world for 14 months using 22”-wheeled suitcases and a shoulder bag. Since we weren’t camping and most of our transit was through airports or on streets, the suitcases worked well. And it was nice to simply pull them along behind us.

Travel Myth #3: You must carry your valuables in a money belt or similar device

cleavage caddy

Unless you’re into wearing a “bra stash” (and who are we to judge?) we don’t use money belts or similar devices and have never had a problem. We pretty much exercise the same common sense precautions as we would at home. We do make sure to split up our cash and credit cards so everything isn’t in the same place. Money belts may be a good idea if you’re camping or staying in shared rooms in hostels, but for most types of travel it’s not necessary. Larissa does use anti-theft bags made by Pacsafe when on the road.

Travel Myth #4: Duty Free is a Bargain

Petrol coke bottles

Nah. The prices might not have the import tax added on, but they are still priced at full retail. Unless it’s something you absolutely can’t get anywhere else, or you’re trying to use up your last few euros/pounds/yuan, skip the shopping and buy your booze and chocolate at home.  (Note: my one exception is makeup, although not because of pricing; you can often find neat travel kit versions of the major brands that are not available outside passport control.)

Travel Myth #5: It’s difficult to drive on the opposite side of the road

Travel myths

It’s a little strange at first, but after a while it seems pretty natural. Our tip is to arrange rentals so you’re not driving in or near major cities: in Scotland, England and Australia we took the train to secondary towns and picked up our rentals at suburban locations, bringing us closer to those remote country roads. You may also want to spend a few extra dollars for an automatic shift to reduce the “oddness” factor, although driving a standard on the “wrong” side becomes second nature quickly as well. Here are our tips to drive on the left side of the road.

Travel Myth #6: Hostels are the cheapest lodging option

It depends on your criteria, and how many of you are traveling together. We travel as a couple, and like our own room with an en-suite bath. These are available at hostels, but are often priced comparably to midrange hotels. For two people we’ve found the cheapest lodging choice is short-term rentals. We can usually get a small flat, including a kitchen and wifi for the same price, or less, than a room in a small hotel or hostel. If you’re traveling alone and don’t mind sharing your room or a bath, a hostel might be your best bet.

Travel Myth #7: Tuesday at 3:17 am is the cheapest time to buy a plane ticket

Who knows when the best time is? Some weeks it’s reported the cheapest tickets are available on Tuesdays and then the next week sunrise during the vernal equinox is the best time. Airline ticket pricing is a more closely guarded secret than the formula for Coca Cola. No one wants to pay more than the guy in the next seat, but trying to find the cheapest price can become a full-time job. Check out sites such as Kayak and SkyScanner, always comparing your selected flight to the airline’s web site which may be cheaper, and if the price looks good then go ahead and buy it. Then stop agonizing and start looking forward to the trip. For great tips on finding low-cost airfare check out Nomadic Matt’s post on finding cheap flights.

For more see 14 Travel Myths Debunked (Part 2)

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There's a lot of misleading info out there. Based on our experience, we set out to de-bunk several popular travel myths.
Changes in Longitude Larissa & Michael Milne at Arctic Circle

We’re Larissa and Michael, 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 updates and valuable travel tips subscribe to our free travel newsletter here.

Berlin’s transit system is easy to navigate with the Berlin WelcomeCard. Because it is valid on all forms of transportation, the Berlin WelcomeCard is very convenient. Use it on the U-Bahn (underground trains), S-Bahn (surface trains), Bus and Tram. No worrying about the correct change or the right type of ticket, Read more

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.