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We’re experienced world travelers but that doesn’t mean we don’t occasionally make stupid mistakes. From flushing frogs down the toilet to being mistaken for a dominatrix, here are our top ten travel mistakes, so far: Read more

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.

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.

From a kitschy throwback hotel in North Korea to a nudist B&B in Portugal, we found a few unique places to stay in the world. Here are some of our favorites:

1) Little Petra Bedouin Camp, Jordan

 

Little Petra Bedouin camp Jordan

The Little Petra Bedouin Camp is so named because of its proximity to Little Petra, a smaller cousin of the world-renowned site of Petra. Just like the name implies, it’s little, but worth visiting as it gets less than 1% of the visitors of Petra. When we visited there were only three other people there. The Bedouin camp offers accommodations in tents. However, we were a little concerned at check-in when the owner cheerfully told us, “I’ve upgraded you to a cave.” So we spent a rather cold night in the cave but it was filled with blankets and pillows and ended up being quite cozy.

Website: Little Petra Bedouin Camp

2) Shichachai Shadow Art Hotel, Beijing, China

 

Unique places to stay Shichachai Shadow Art Hotel

Keen observers will notice that while Larissa is waiting for the next performance she is engrossed in a game of Solitaire.

Hutongs are traditional neighborhoods of small alleys and courtyard homes in Beijing that are rapidly being bulldozed over for new developments. While the hutongs are becoming a shadow of their former selves, will an art based on shadows help revive them? The Shichachai Shadow Art Hotel is in an old hutong neighborhood and showcases the ancient art of shadow puppetry. Banned by Chairman Mao during the Cultural Revolution, shadow puppetry is being revived by another Mao, this one an artist.

Unique Places to stay Shichachai Hotel Beijing

The man behind the curtain is puppet artist Mao.

Mao makes his own hand painted shadow puppets as he revives the lost art. A theater was built into the hotel lobby to showcase regular performances for guests.. Staying here provides the visitor a unique opportunity to experience life in an old hutong while watching an ancient art.

Book a room at the: Shichachai Shadow Art Hotel

3) Belar Homestead, Dubbo, Australia

 

Unique places to stay Belars Australia

The Belar Homestead sits in Australia’s bush country on a 3,000 acre ranch owned by 4th-generation cattle farmer Rob Wright and his wife Deb. In fact, the house was built by Rob’s great-grandfather. The setting off a mile-long driveway is perfect for someone seeking solitude with the only neighbors being a few cows, some chickens and the occasional kangaroo. The remote location provides a spectacular night sky for stargazing. It’s so clear that the Parkes Radio Telescope, which received the video of the first Apollo moon landing, is nearby.

4) Ai Aiba, The Rock Painting Lodge, Namibia

 

Ai Aiba rock painting lodge Namibia

Namibia has become a popular destination in Africa for independent self-drive safaris. Aside from the big game viewing, there are many areas with prehistoric cave art paintings. Ai Aiba sits within a 12,000 acre reserve boasting over 150 of these paintings. On a pre-breakfast hike we spotted some ancient artwork of giraffes while looking over our shoulder at real giraffes munching on the acacia trees. It was a sublime experience.

Ai Aiba rock painting lodge Namibia

Website: Ai Aiba, The Rock Painting Lodge

5) Yanggakdo Hotel, Pyongyang, North Korea

 

Yanggakdo Hotel Pyongyang North Korea

Okay this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it certainly wasn’t Larissa’s choice, but the Yanggakdo is the place to go when visiting the monolithic country of North Korea and experience some retro-70s style. There’s even a highlight of that era, a revolving restaurant on top. The rooms were nicer than we expected, although coated somewhat with several decades worth of tar and nicotine. The only way to visit North Korea is via an authorized tour operator. We recommend Koryo Tours. Extra bonus: There’s a two-lane bowling alley in the basement that comes with your own cheerleader.

Website: Koryo Tours

6) Casa Amarela, Algarve Coast, Portugal

 

Casa Amarela Naturist resort Portugal

If you’re seeking a vacation where you can pack light, really light, the Casa Amarela may be what you’re looking for. The guest house run by Brits Jane and Stewart is clothing optional. The feeling of diving into the pool and then drying off au natural in the warm Portuguese sun is so … well, you’ll just have to experience it for yourself. And while you’re relaxing just think of all the money you saved on baggage fees.

Web site: Casa Amarela

7) Munduk Moding Plantation, Bali

 

Unique places to stay Munduk Moding Bali

If you’ve dreamed of waking up to a view of a coffee plantation on the island of Bali then this is the place. True coffee addicts can hike the plantation then retire to the lodge for a fresh cup of Kopi Luwak. Made famous as the java of choice for Jack Nicholson in The Bucket List,  it’s brewed from beans that have first been eaten and shat out by the civet cat. Despite that history, Larissa tried it. Fortunately for Michael he’s not a coffee drinker. As an added bonus you can visit the civets in cages and watch them prepare the beans for roasting.

Munduk Moding Plantation Bali

Website: Munduk Moding Plantation

What unique places to stay can you recommend?

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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.

Our first ever guest post is from our friend Paula who traveled with us in Portugal to peek behind the curtain at Changes In Longitude:

Spending time with the “Traveling Milnes” is like finding yourself on a TV sitcom. One that was probably canceled after three episodes.

First of all, half of what they tout on their website is a scam. “We’re traveling light!” they exclaim. Have you actually tried to lift Larissa’s suitcase? The thing weighs a ton. It’s a wonder half of it didn’t fall off in Pyongyang.

Then there’s Little Rocky. Their photos make him look huge, imposing, sleek. In person, the poor thing is decrepit, held together by scotch tape, his coloring half flaked off. He’s even a bit waterlogged after an ill-fated attempt to float him in the Dead Sea. (Newsflash: statues don’t float.) It’s like seeing me without my makeup.

Portugal Duoro Valley

Yes, Portugal’s Douro Valley is gorgeous, but who’s got time for that when there’s laundry to do?

Then there’s their technology. They blog! They tweet! Surely they have all the latest gadgets. Yes, Larissa has a MacBook Air and can whip up a wifi hotspot as easily as a chicken dinner. (Which was delicious by the way.) But Michael, stuck in the past, sluggishly clicks away at an ancient PC. It’s a sad sight to see.

And the glamour? What a joke. Their idea of exotic adventure is washing out their underwear on a beautiful day in Portugal’s Douro Valley.  Heck, they spent half the morning trying to figure out the knobs on the washing machine, probably just to kill time.

Changes In Longitude blog

On a slow day, watching the spin cycle is a fascinating event.

So all in all, Changes in Longitude needs some changes in attitude.  Because traveling with the Traveling Milnes definitely makes you want to jump on a plane and go somewhere immediately. Preferably straight back home to resume life as you know it.

(P.S. All of the above, while based on fact, is meant strictly tongue in cheek, of course. I’m happy to report that Larissa and Michael are great fun to travel with. And now they owe me 100 euros.)

We really looked forward to visiting Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Travel writers outdid themselves crafting clever similes to describe its ethereal beauty and local color. Others used one word repeatedly to describe it: amazing. That overworked description should have been our first clue that it would be anything but.

Just another tourist ghetto?

Perhaps Chiang Mai was once a magical place for a visit. But whatever attracted those early tourists has morphed into what our Canadian friend Markus calls a “tourist ghetto,” places where the visitor and their wallets are fresh meat. The amenities of such a place are usually no different from hundreds of other similar towns around the globe.

Chiang Mai

In Chiang Mai each block takes on a monotonous sameness: hostel, laundry, pub, souvenir shop, 7-11, cross the street and start over again. One sign of a tourist ghetto is a locale where the burger and fried chicken joints outnumber places offering the local cuisine, which in Thailand is a real sin.

Adding to the atmosphere, quite literally, is the incredible air pollution hovering over Chiang Mai. After spending a week hacking and wheezing through the gray air of Hanoi, we looked forward to finally getting out in the country and giving our overworked lungs a break. That was not to be.

Burning season in Chiang Mai

As our flight from Bangkok descended into the muck of Chiang Mai we noticed a change in the cabin air quality, as if some long-lost “Smoking” sign had turned on and the first twenty rows obliged. A view out the window revealed sporadic fires spewing various shades of gray on into the horizon. Farmers here engage in a form of slash-and-burn agriculture that creates a burning season as predictable as spring or summer. Add to this the local custom of burning trash wherever it sits and it appeared that we were descending into Dante’s Inferno.

When we got off the plane we noticed that the air was actually worse than Bangkok, a crowded city of 18 million people. Chiang Mai sits in a bowl formed by the nearby mountain ranges. All that smoke has to go somewhere but it can’t. Instead it gets breathed in and filtered by the people trapped below.

Chiang Mai street scene

The sex trade in Chiang Mai

On the ground our impression of the place didn’t improve. We knew that Bangkok had a notorious red-light district and was a world leader in sex tourism. We didn’t think that Chiang Mai, a city with over 300 Buddhist temples also offered its own tawdry side.

One night after dinner we strolled a few blocks from our hotel. We came upon a street that appeared to be the type of pub row found in many tourist areas. Upon looking in the open-air bars a little more closely we noticed that the typical male tended to be a Westerner in his 60s, gray-haired and paunch-bellied.

Sitting out in front of the pubs were clusters of understandably sullen twenty-year old Thai women available for the hour, the day, the week; legs splayed provocatively to show off their wares. Their lips were painted such a bright scarlet they practically glowed in the dark, as if they were each advertising their own personal red-light district. Now that’s a simile the writers never use to describe Chiang Mai.

What places have disappointed you in your travels?

Click on the link for our candid review of a rubbish-filled beach in Bali. Instead of a burning season this one has a “trash season.”

Chiang Mai air quality update

One of our readers suggested we do a bit more research on the air quality in Chiang Mai. We did and found this interesting story in the Bangkok Post which addresses some of the deteriorating air qualities issues in Northern Thailand. It looks like we were sort of fortunate because the air got even worse during the month after we left. Lesson learned here, even if a place sounds great do your own thorough research before going there. Since we’ve been traveling for so long we got a bit careless and didn’t do so.

To receive updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What other tips have you discovered in your travels?

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

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

Who is this guy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vietnam hotel room

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

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

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

Vietnamese Banh Mi

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

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

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

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

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

Ryugyong Hotel Pyongyang North Korea

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

Shanghai skyline Rocky

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

Singapore skyline

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

Hong Kong skyline at night

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

New Zealand Twizel view

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

Bali neighborhood near Kuta Beach

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

Munduk Moding Plantation Bali

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

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

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

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

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

Larissa

Clothing

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

Accessories

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

Electronics

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

Michael

Clothing

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

Electronics

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

Other Stuff

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

Shared Items

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

Luggage

Delsey quitled bag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Toto, we’re not in Philly anymore

We were at the Brisbane, Australia airport checking in for our overseas flight to Auckland when the gate agent stopped us cold.

“You can’t enter New Zealand on a one-way ticket so you can’t check in for this flight,” she said.

This was a new wrinkle. Since we are traveling around the world with no set itinerary, we have no idea when, or from which city, we will be leaving a particular country. So far we’ve been buying a series of one-way tickets and hadn’t encountered this obstacle before. We had read that Australia required an outbound ticket but no one asked us for one so we entered there with no problem.

 The gate agent said that if Customs in New Zealand caught us entering without a ticket we would be deported back to the United States and the airline would have to pay a penalty. That seemed kind of harsh. Traveling 8,000 miles back to the US would definitely put a crimp in our travel plans so we scrambled around at the airport to buy an exit ticket from New Zealand.

Flight Centre saves the day

Fortunately we found the glowing orange sign of Flight Centre in the terminal. Flight Centre is an Aussie-based travel agent that seems to be on every block. In caffeine-crazed Auckland there are more Flight Centres than there are Starbucks; that’s not an exaggeration, we counted them.

At this point we needed to get the ticket quickly or we would miss our flight and be out the money we had spent for it. The cheerful Roxy (pictured above with Little Rocky) at Flight Centre was great to work with. She helped both us and a young American backpacker who also needed to purchase an outbound ticket. (This made us feel a bit better that we weren’t the only ones who didn’t know the rules.) Roxy explained that this happens all the time. We also learned that her husband hails from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, a suburb of our hometown of Philadelphia. Small world.

Since one of the purposes of our journey is to meander around the globe and stay longer at those places that intrigue us, it was difficult to select a flight for some time in the future. We ended up randomly guessing a day. If we find that we love New Zealand we are locked in to leaving earlier than we would like, and New Zealand is out some much-needed tourism dollars. It seems to be a case where those who make the rules are not taking other consequences into account.

We bought the outbound tickets secure in the knowledge that we would withstand rigorous inspection by New Zealand customs and would not be kicked out of the country. The funny thing though, when we went through Customs in Auckland the agent just asked us if we had an outbound ticket, we said “Yes” and that was that. We didn’t have to show the ticket or prove we had it. Oh well.

Earlier, the gate agent in Brisbane had also explained that 99% of the countries in the world, including the United States, require an outbound ticket. So be aware of the specific rules for entering different countries on your travels. We thought we were fairly savvy travelers before this incident happened but you never know what unexpected hurdle may pop up in your path.

UPDATE:

Once we got to New Zealand we had a great time. In Auckland we may have had the world’s best gelato.

Travel Tips:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Rocky with new friends in Sydney

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

What gadgets do you bring on trips?

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

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

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

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

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

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

International travel tip local newspaper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus tip

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

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

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

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

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

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

vacation apartment rental venice

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

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

How to find a vacation apartment rental

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

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

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

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

airbnb-logo-bigger-275x154

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

Shanghai vacation apartment rental vrbo

Shanghai vacation rental.

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

How to pay for a vacation rental

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

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

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

vacation Apartment rental Paris vrbo

Paris rental on the Ile Saint-Louis

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

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

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

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