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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 travel newsletter here.

The second most popular question we get about how to travel for a year has been: How do you decide where to go? (We’ll tell you the most common question later.) Trip planning is different for everybody but here’s how we did it.

We knew there were certain sites that were “must sees.” Our top five were: the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat, Sydney Harbour, Petra and wild game in Africa. On top of that there were a few destinations that we definitely wanted to include in an around-the-world itinerary: Paris, Buenos Aires, Dubai, Hong Kong and Jerusalem.

travel for a year Sydney Harbour

We originally hoped to go to Tokyo, but when we were planning the trip in early 2011 Japan was feeling the aftershocks of their earthquake. Things were still a bit unsettled there, so we decided to postpone Japan for another time.

We also had a few other criteria:

1)      Weather – We didn’t want to be anyplace during their winter. Packing for a temperate climate is easier, plus we just didn’t want to be cold.

2)      Geography – We wanted to hit 6 continents. Antarctica would be left out for this go around. It’s too expensive, plus see the previous comment about cold.

3)      We were going to North Korea for the Mass Games which only occur in August/September so we had to work around that.

Our planning bible was National Geographic’s 100 Countries, 5,000 Ideas: Where to Go, When to Go, What to See, What to Do . It provides an overview and photos of each country along with information on the best time to visit for weather, etc.

travel for a year Bayon Temple Angkor Wat

Along the way we came across an issue which severely impacted our planning: the Schengen Agreement. The what agreement? This obscure little treaty limits how long travelers can visit most of continental Europe to 90 days within a 180-day period. We didn’t know about this when the trip started, but later on it severely limited our options when we were in Europe.

Combining the must-see sites, destinations and criteria gave us a sort of framework to wrap the trip around. When we left America we had the first two months planned. September would be spent in China and North Korea, followed by a month-long flat rental in Sydney. Beyond that we had no idea where we were going.

travel for a year Dubai harbor

Initially we thought we would always have the next two months planned out, but that notion quickly fell by the wayside. As we got deeper into the trip we became more adept at planning and more used to being flexible. We often didn’t know two days ahead of time what country we would be in next. But that unknowing became part of the fun.

We had decided against buying a round-the-world airline ticket, so we had more flexibility. However, airfare was part of our planning equation since we were always buying one-way tickets. In Australia we couldn’t explore as much of the country as we wanted since flights were ridiculously expensive. In Southeast Asia it was the opposite, there we found low-cost carriers that allowed us to hop around quite cheaply.

Vietnam Airlines duct tape

Okay, so maybe some of the planes were held together by duct tape but we were assured they were safe. 

A major source of destinations that popped up during the trip was recommendations from other travelers we met along the way. Namibia and Turkey were not on the radar for us when we started out. But so many people gushed about them that we added them to our list. We’re glad we did, as they became two of our most enjoyable places.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi

Yes, that’s Larissa as we toured the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Michael was petrified of breaking the PDA rule, hence his “no hands” pose.  

Our favorite trip planning tools

We brought with us an inflatable globe and a fold-out map of the world. They became two of our essential trip-planning tools. We’d sit for hours poring over them to pick our next destination. It’s incredibly fun to plan without any time constraints. That only became an issue towards the end of the trip when we had set up a date by which we had to return.

map round the world trip planning

The trusty map displays the end result of all our planning.

At some point we realized it’s not like this is the last trip of our lives, so we don’t have to see everything on this go around. That realization made planning easier. Overall it worked out pretty well. While we didn’t enjoy every place that we went, we had a pretty good batting average. It’s helpful to start out with some idea of where you want to go, but make sure to be flexible along the way.

Oh, and the most popular question we get? “What was your favorite place?” There were so many so we still haven’t figured out an answer for that one.

What would be some of your “must sees” on an around the world trip?

Earlier this year we attended the Travel Bloggers Unite conference where we met many people who were going to travel for a year. Most of them were lugging huge backpacks, while we had wheeled suitcases. One girl looked longingly at our bags and said “I wish I had done that instead of a backpack.”

We’re not packing geniuses, we’re just not backpackers. So when it came time to plan this trip backpacks never entered the equation. Each of us had plenty of business travel experience, where a wheeled suitcase is the luggage of choice. Our motto was “go with what you know.”

How to travel for a year Paris vacation apartment rental

This apartment was our home in Paris for two weeks. 

The same goes for our lodging options. A married couple in their 50s is not really interested in a hostel dorm room. Many hostels do offer double rooms with private baths, but we were surprised to discover that the prices for two people were often similar to a decent hotel, guesthouse, or even a small apartment. Again, we’ve chosen to go with what we know and have found lodging that is comfortable and within our budget.

For more of our luggage and lodging advice read the article we wrote, Career Breaks: They’re not just for backpackers, for Meet, Plan, GO!, the organization that helps people with career break planning (their online editor was one of the envious backpackers at the conference.) Take a look and you’ll also find many other helpful posts on the site about planning your own grand adventure.

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.

Michael has already written a few posts about getting rid of our stuff and how we are going to pack for this year-long trip.  Based on our prior travels I’m a pretty efficient packer.  (Truth be told, this all started when we were getting ready for our honeymoon almost 25 years ago. Michael watched me preparing a different outfit for every day and declared, “I’m marrying you, but not your luggage. If you pack it, you carry it.”)  So I’ve gotten pretty good at the whole mix-and-match wardrobe thing.

Larissa packing for a yearThis is it for luggage for a year of travel

But I’ve never had to worry about packing for a year so I’m wondering about a few things, like . . .

Will I have the right clothes for every occasion?  Probably not.  We’re not planning on climbing any mountains or herding yaks on a regular basis so we won’t be bringing clothes for those activities  Therefore anything we might do that requires specialty clothing will likely be a one-off experience. So we’ll either buy what we need or make do with what we have.

My more immediate “fashion concern” is whether I will have the right items for strolling around a city, going out to dinner or a light hike in the countryside.   I’m packing mostly multi-purpose garments; basic black separates with a few splashes of color here and there.  I don’t need to look like a fashionista everywhere I go, but I don’t want to look like something the cat dragged in either.

So my preliminary solution:  “accessories!”   I’m counting on sturdy pants, shorts and shirts that can take some abuse, with some costume jewelry and a scarf or two to dress up an otherwise mundane ensemble.  I’ll also be relying on my “miracle sundress” that I can dress up or down.  (Will this be enough?  Not sure.  Stay tuned for an update somewhere on the road.)

Will I get tired of the clothes I bring?  Probably.  (Will I get tired of Michael? Possibly.) No matter how many permutations I might try to create with this set of separates, I am bound to get bored with them by week five or six.  I am not going to ditch everything and start over, so what’s my plan?  Again. . . “accessories!”

In virtually every country I’ve ever visited I’ve found a market or bazaar that sells inexpensive trinkets and baubles.  This includes the US where they call it Target. They are not the best quality, but it won’t matter to me, since I will probably replace them in a month or two.

What about shoes?  A true woman’s question if there ever was one.  This is one topic to which I’ve given much thought.  No matter where you are, trudging around in uncomfortable shoes can tarnish an otherwise great experience.  I’m bringing shoes that are sturdy (but not ugly—I don’t like ugly shoes), comfortable and can multi-task.  After much deliberation, I’ve narrowed the selection down to 4 pairs:

Low-heeled loafers:  black patent leather, which will go with everything I wear, closed-toe (for bad weather, and visiting religious sites where open-toed shoes are considered offensive).

Hiking sandals:  good for city or country walking, waterproof.  I like the ones made by Keen—super sturdy and comfy.  (Michael thinks these are kind of goofy looking because of the black rubber cap toe, but I think they have a sort of nerdy charm.)

Flip Flops:  I have a pair of Fit Flops, which are really comfortable for walking, will be great for using at the beach or pool, plus they’ll work with a casual dress. I can also use them as slippers

Mid-heeled sandals:  (my big indulgence) Let’s face it girls, I can’t go away for a whole year without at least one pair of heels.  I’ve tried this pair out; they are comfortable for walking and dress up any outfit just because of the heel (I guess they sort of fall into my “accessories” category too)

The points I make above are based partly from experience and partly from what I think (read:  I hope) will work.  I will be reporting back from time to time on just how well (or poorly) I planned, and will highlight particularly useful (or useless) items.  And no smart remarks from you, dear reader, on seeing me in the same outfit twice!

See you from the road. . . Larissa

Related post: Our favorite travel accessories and gadgets

Click the link to see if Larissa made the right choices with her shoes: review of women’s travel shoes.

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.

When we tell people about our plans for a year-long trip one of the first questions we are asked is, “What are you going to do with all your stuff?”

It seems that there are two camps out there: “Pack Rats” and “Tossers.” To determine which camp you belong to ask yourself one simple question, “After you read a book do you get rid of it or put it on a shelf, to remain there in perpetuity?” (Probably right next to your high school chemistry textbook that you never opened then, so you’ll certainly never open it now.)

Since we get most of our books for free from the library we can’t hold onto them, nor do we want to. We are firmly in the Tosser camp so downsizing our home was a relatively painless experience.

Fortunately we knew for over a year that we would be taking this journey. In preparation for it we sold our suburban house and moved into a rental townhouse in Philadelphia that was less than half the size of our prior home. That forced us to make some of the tough decisions about which possessions really mattered to us. You know what? It turns out that most stuff is replaceable. We figured if it’s something we can get at Target we’re not going to pay to put it in storage.

Craigslist postings for free stuff proved highly effective for getting rid of things. Whatever we posted that day was usually gone by that night. It was a great year for twenty-somethings to know us as we got rid of much of our furniture and ended up furnishing a few dorm rooms and starter apartments.

The wide-screen TV went to a young physical trainer who did us a favor in return by taking some of the heavier pieces of furniture that we had no inclination to move. When the moving truck pulled up to our house they were surprised (and somewhat pleased) to see how little there was for them to haul.

This next move will involve even more culling through our stuff. At this point what’s left of what we own will fit into a 10′ by 10′ self-storage facility. Maybe at some point we’ll even ditch that and it will show up in a future episode of Storage Wars.

As comedian Steven Wright says, “You can’t have it all, where would you put it?”