For my 30th birthday, I thought it might be fun to look back at the last 365 days and what I’ve learned. It is incredible to realize that we’ve been on the road for more than 15 months, and just how much more there is to see!
1. I hate the way airlines board planes and love flying. Just like I hate check-in at airports but love waiting for the flight and wandering the concourse.
2. Morcilla – blood sausage common in South America – is delicious as long as you eat it hot before the texture gets more unbearable as it cools.
3. Chilean volcanos love to play hide-and-seek. They are massive but still vanish almost with it a trace into the clouds.
4. The library at Trinity College really looks like the pictures, no color enhancement needed.
5. Finns on the ferry from Estonia all look like alcoholics. In their defense, they need to buy in bulk and take it with them when visiting their neighboring country… it’s a bargain compared to local prices.
6. Some brands are obnoxiously global like Coke and Colgate and shampoos. Dish soap, though, has a much higher localization rate.
7. Croatian and most Latin American beers are not to my taste. Too light, too beery. Poland, though, is so far the king of beer countries.
8. I am not impressed by beach resorts in Cancun. They are all carbon copies and a weird bubble unto themselves.
9. Antacids in South America are pricey. I guess the food is bland enough (at least on the eastern coast) that heartburn isn’t a problem.
10. I LOVE food-stuffed bread. Polish pierogies, empanadas, Estonian pastries, Hungarian langosh. GIVE ME ALL THE CARBS.
11. Budapest is gorgeous. No wonder so many people told us we’d love it.
12. Eurovision should be a holiday in Europe. I will now base travel decisions around this show and feel no shame.
13. Sweet fruit wines from the Baltic regions deserve more credit. At least they have the common sense to know grapes won’t work there.
14. Torres del Paine is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Destroyed my legs for days and was worth all the pain and hours on buses to get to hike each day.
15. Photographs do nothing justice (almost – see #4 for the exception proving the rule).
16. Both Anna Karenina and Middlemarch look intimidating but are brilliant reads.
17. In Peru, everyone asks if you’ve gone to Macchu Pichu and looks at you like you are crazy if you say no. Ditto Iguazu Falls in Argentina.
18. The hardest part about travelling is the unpredictable selection of books. No, I’m not going to get an e-reader.
19. Purse snatching can happen anywhere. Having a sturdy purse might keep the strap from breaking and sometimes helps you keep your stuff. But that can be good or bad… depending on how much the robber has invested into getting your stuff away from you… I really can’t recommend what is better.
20. For every place we visit, at least 3 get added to the list.
21. Romania is way more interesting than I had realized before going there. I hope we can get back to see Cluj-Napoca and Timișoara.
22. Just about every country has money that is more colorful and pretty than US currency. Uruguay’s coins have animals. Chile’s is a rainbow of colors and makes you feel rich (that 650:1 exchange rate). Romania’s bills are plastic so you can even toss them into fountains for luck.
24. Krakow, Poland and Montevideo, Uruguay are my two favorite cities for street art and murals.
25. I’m never too old to climb around fortresses and tunnels.
26. I might be at least partly Estonian?
27. High heat and humidity is a terrible combination, ergo I could not live full time on the Yucatan Peninsula. Likewise, year-round chilly days and especially windy winters are not to my liking. Sorry Punta Arenas, I won’t be moving to the far south of Patagonia permanently.
28. Travelling and living full time in some small spaces with another human, even one I’m as madly in love with as my hubby, can occasionally be trying. Especially when mosquitoes are fierce, the kitchen is under-supplied, not all the appliances function, and the sink drains don’t have a u-bend to keep smells in the sewer and out of the house. And it is absolutely worth every second.
29. Inca and the related civilizations of Peru have the best pottery. THE BEST.
30. Sometimes the mystery wine bottle is full of tasty alcohol. Sometimes it is terrible awfulness that gets dumped right down the drain. The only way to know is to try it.
Patagonia and the Falkland Islands have been on our bucket list for a while, and for some reason, a cruise seemed like a way to cover a lot of ground with minimal effort while have a few days off from cooking and the dishes. It also happened to be a way to move from Buenos Aires to Santiago. International airfare in South America is expensive; this would allow that price to be rolled up into the cruise. In the end, however, it was probably not worth the added cost, which worked out to more than 3x what we normally spend per day – despite the fact we bought the absolute cheapest ticket and spent as little money on board as possible.
We did see pretty things from the boat and get dropped off in gorgeous places, but that is the best I can say for our fifteen days on board the Norwegian Sun. I would have willingly spent more time in many of the ports, and cut out Punta del Este and Puerto Madryn. Puerto Chacobuco would be a great base for hiking, but we were in port such a short amount of time it was basically a wasted morning.
Our cabin was tiny, which I completely understand. It’s on a ship, after all. It was an interior room, meaning no windows. We tried to compensate for this utter lack of light by leaving the TV on at night and tuned to the live video feed from the front of the ship. This is a good idea in theory, but I am a light sleeper. Since the southern summer sun rises early, I’d wake at 5 a.m., as soon as the light shifted. This lasted about two days before we switched back to alarms. We did have enough space for our clothes, and the beds are sized so that luggage can disappear underneath. The woman who took care of our room was very kind, and commiserated with us on the days when we encountered larger waves and everyone was feeling a little woozy.
Unlike shorter Alaskan or Caribbean cruises, we had a total of six days at sea out of fifteen total days. We mistakenly looked forward to this as an opportunity to work. In the end it turned out the internet onboard was far too expensive for any meaningful connection (about $30/day, but only when paying for the 15-day package, so $450 total). Workspaces were few and far between when everyone else was on board and bored. Our room was too small for us to be set up comfortably, and by 9am, most public spaces on the ship were occupied by others also escaping their tiny quarters.
So maybe we take a break from work and let ourselves be entertained for those days. Turns out that the cruise didn’t really compensate for the lack of a port with extra activities on the ship. We could hang out in the casino, play poker, or attend a sales seminar – none of which appealed to us in the slightest. Trivia was the best option, which helped us amuse ourselves for about ninety minutes spread throughout the day. But after a week the questions began to repeat and it became an exercise in seeing how many we could remember correctly from earlier in the cruise (waaay too similar to fact-vomiting grade-school tests to be fun). The staff members running the few non-trivia games kept making jokes about how much better it would be if they had a budget and reminding us that there were no real prizes. But it rang bitter rather than funny, because it was true. We made the mistake of participating in the Newlywed/Longerwed Game. That one actually did come with a small, cheap bottle of champagne as a reward, but it was filmed and aired over and over on the internal TV channel. We were famous! This might have been fun on a 7-day cruise but by day 10 it gets a little wearing. Everyone assumed we were on a honeymoon (nope), had just gotten married (also no), are extroverts (lol), and were younger than we are (actually…that one is just fine).
On our only previous cruise, a shorter trip to Alaska we took about five years ago, there were good musical acts and comedy troupe performances in the evenings. In this case, the acts in the theatre seemed to be desperate to kill time, and laughs were nowhere to be found. A couple musicians working on bar stages around the ship were better than the headliners, but usually not playing music to which we could relate. A trio called the Amber Strings was the best, playing classical as well as snippets from movie soundtracks.
My favorite stop was the library, which also hosted a book exchange. While there are a good number of beach reads and light lit on the shelves, I was happy to find recent award winners as well and caught up on a few that are hard to find overseas. The book exchange also yielded a couple good trades. But that seems like a cop-out after paying so much for the experience of the cruise and hoping for a wider variety of options.
I suppose this lack of activities is one reason the buffet and day-drinking were so popular. But, honestly, the buffet was only good for breakfast, and only because that meal included prepackaged cereal and yogurt so we could avoid the ‘freshly-made’ items. For lunch and dinner, the food served there was often cold and tasteless. Of course, this could be true in the sit-down dining rooms as well. Some of the dishes were clearly scraped together – I’d have warm curry surrounding already-cold rice. The chocolate volcano cake (probably the single best thing to eat on board) might arrive with a warm and still-gooey center or already resolidified and at room temperature. At one point I ordered grilled veggies, which arrived fresh-from-the-fridge cold and fresh-from-the-fridge slimy. To me, grilled implies some sort of residual heat should still be clinging to the eatables. Noticeable to our palates was a distinct lack of spice. Chorizo sauce at the tapas bar was the ONLY item we found that had any sort of spiciness whatsoever (and the guacamole there was passable as well). We debated bringing on hot sauce (tabasco doesn’t count as hot sauce, clearly), but didn’t want to sink the added expense when we knew we wouldn’t be able to bring it ashore in Chile.
Making thousands of meals each day, trying to not offend a diverse set of tastes, while working in the confines of what can be stored and cooked on a cruise ship severely limits the menu and lowers the average quality. The ceviche isn’t going to be genuine since raw fish is a health risk (one of the Peruvian staff warned us away after learning we’d been in Lima by saying we’d just be disappointed – he was right). We didn’t get norovirus or salmonella, so that at least was a plus. Worse than blandness would be being confined to a room while your one chance to see Stanley dissipates. Still, the menus were meat-heavy and seem to be centered on a steak-and-potatoes vision of a meal. That isn’t how we eat, and so much of the food felt gross to us; it all seemed to have a pervading gravy-flavored undertone (kind of how all McDonalds food tastes the same, except I actually like that one). But it was clear from eating a few times at the onboard restaurants (which cost extra) that good food can be made; we had decent duck and lamb chops, even a yummy tiramisu. The poor quality and ickily uneven temperatures in the included dining cost felt like a way to steer people toward feeling as though they had to spend more to get a decent meal.
Drinking was another area where it felt like the goal was to wring every penny out of the passengers. Some people bought all-inclusive drink packages; setting themselves back about a thousand dollars each. We opted to not be lushes and simply drink sparingly. But even beer is about $8 and mixed drinks start at $10. We ordered one cocktail – a daily special – and it was simply poured out of a gallon jug rather than being made fresh. So much for value. The best deal is to buy wine for a few dollars a bottle on shore – thankfully wine in this corner of South America is a readily available bargain – and then pay $15 per bottle to bring them on the ship. Even with the high corkage fee, it was still half the cost to do this rather than order off the menus.
By the end of the cruise, I had the feeling the staff was just as annoyed at many of the shortcomings as we were. They already have a tough job – dealing with thousands of people, many though a language barrier (on both sides, the staff and many passengers speak English as a secondary language), in a service job, often thousands of miles from their homes and family, while living out of a room that is probably the size of our cabin for months at a time. That sucks. A lot. And you know that the average cruise ship employee isn’t paid a premium to compensate for these conditions. And they seem to try their hardest to work with what they are given.
Most of the lapses in service aren’t the individual employees fault – the constraints they work under put a lot out of their control. It seems to be coming in part from the overall focus on upselling and doing the bare minimum to make sure the company can say the cruise provided a particular service or event. For example, though this ship was spending months around South America, not enough Spanish-speaking staff had been hired. Naturally, this creates difficulties on both sides – passengers upset they can’t make their requests known, and staff who have a hard time understanding when the solution might be incredibly basic. To their credit, some staff members were learning Spanish and making attempts to bridge the communication gap. But trying to patch up language barriers after the fact is much harder than simply hiring or moving crew around in advance of the ship moving into a new continent.
Another instance where it seemed like the crew should have been better prepared and given more support was at ports where tender boats were needed to get to shore. Each morning before the tenders started running, I woke up early to get a numbered ticket, usually between #4 an #6. Numbers 1-5 would be called in quick succession, usually before many people were awake or ready to make use to them. Once our group was called, we would go down as soon as we could. But whether we hurried or took our time, we were often kept waiting. Everyone who had purchased tours through Norwegian got priority, and wasn’t part of their numbering system. Keep in mind the Norwegian knows how many tours they’ve sold, how many boats it will take to get those people ashore, and approximately how long that will take. But inevitably we would end up waiting in long lines of irate ticket holders while the tour groups streamed past, and the staff continued to call numbers and add to the chaos. One particular morning, the wait turned into a full hour. The tour groups being boarded before us were already late as well, meaning they knew they were behind but still kept calling more numbers. One man went up to loudly complain that this was a disturbing way to be treated and that several elderly people in line should not be standing for this long. On some later tender-port days, they did put more boats into service, seemingly to stave off complaints, and let more time pass before calling the next group. But I can’t believe they didn’t know this would be an issue. It seemed like they simply hoped that not as many people would want to tender to shore on certain days. It felt like a terrible budget airline.
I don’t want to detract from the ports – Stanley, Ushuaia, Montevideo, and Punta Arenas are incredible places that were absolutely worth going to. But to spend 4-8 hours in a place just to see a main sight or two is not our preferred travel style. We like spending longer periods, taking in the museums, markets, local food. There were some experiences we could only have on a boat – passing by Cape Horn, spending hours whale and bird watching, seeing waves spray over top the deck when the weather worsened. But a ferry from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas or down the Chilean coast might have given us the same opportunities for less. Thankfully, we will be heading back to Punta Arenas and Montevideo in the future, and we’ll be able to get to know those places on a deeper level. Many people on board seemed to prefer to travel by cruise, and if that is what they enjoy, more power to them. But for us it is an expensive and impractical way to explore and detracts rather than adds to the sense of a place. We’ve only tried one cruise line, and I imagine others might be better and offer different experiences, but we won’t be finding out for a while.
Here is a handy compendium of the websites and apps we use most frequently in our travels:
Airbnb – Indispensable. Use it wisely! There are so many options, and most of our experiences have been good. The more reviews, the more photos, the more information, the better.
Rome2Rio – Possibly the best get-from-point-A-to-point-B website out there. It will find you a route by car, on foot, or on transit. In our experience it is relatively accurate, especially in places where local transit runs predictably. And it even gives you pricing and a time estimate so you can judge for yourself whether a taxi will be worth it.
Skyscanner – So many flight search combinations! Often points to the cheapest tickets, and can give an idea of when is cheapest to fly across a month or a continent. Their open-ended “Everywhere” search opens up all sorts of possibilities for where to go next.
Uber – Better and safer than taxis, if you can get a connection. A few times in Cancun and Penang the app left us or our driver high and dry. And in Estonia, be forewarned that no drivers are going to be out for that early 5 a.m. flight.
Google Maps – Goes without saying that streetview and links to transit and business/museum/restaurant websites make everything easier. That is, until you are wandering around Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter and the iPhone it is running on has no clue where you are.
FlightAware – Find the route your flight will take, check delays, see what is over your head right now. It is really just fun to play around on and take inspiration from.
Generic drug search – Useful if you run out of any medication. It provides alternatives and the countries where each is available (in theory). It is a good starting point to check before heading to a pharmacy.
SIM Card Wiki – This will get you a working phone almost anywhere on earth. We check it before landing in a new country and find the provider with a store closest to our apartment. Make sure you phone is unlocked and capable of using the different signals around the world.
Duolingo – It’s not going to replace practice with real people, but until the Hitchhiker’s Babel fish is available, Duolingo is a good start. It is light on providing grammar rules and regular v. irregular words, but you can start stumbling through local conversations after a few levels. Spanish and German are the easiest new languages I’ve tried, but Hungarian and Polish both left my brain in a hopeless mire.
Google Translate – The app is incredible. Point it at text and it live translates on the screen. We download the language packs for every country we visit and it comes in handy everywhere from mystery food labels to telling the woman in the apartment above that she might have a water leak, judging by the drips coming through our ceiling.
Hangouts Dialer and Google Voice – Our permanent phone numbers live here now. Since we live in the future, the call now gets routed through the internet and then to my phone, no matter what the SIM card’s number is. I have some issues with delays between actual calls and text messages and when Hangouts decides it wants to tell me I received a call, but I usually get it in a few hours. Plus, I can call the US for free from basically anywhere with a stable internet connection. Miracles!
WhatsApp – Though this isn’t our preferred method of communication, it is for many around the world, especially Airbnb hosts. We’ve used it on many occasions to get in touch with them when, say, the ceiling is leaking.
XE Currency Exchange – On a daily basis, what our money is actually worth is some of the most important information to have. Should we go to the ATM today or try to wait out the weekend anticipating a swing in our favor on Monday? And if you think you are circumventing the exchange rate by paying in US dollars or on your credit card in other countries, chances are you are forking over at least 30% more than you should be. Prices listed in local currency are always cheaper, and it only takes 2 minutes to find an ATM. Learn some quick ballpark conversions ($1, $5, $20), and shop happier.
Expatistan – Cost of living analysis to make you feel bad about how expensive where we lived was. Compare your current location to oh, say, Bucharest. Long term travel looks a lot cheaper after playing around with this for half an hour.
Meetup – Practice language skills, take a hike, play board games, meet new friends. Between this and Facebook groups, we try to attend things in every city we are in. Language groups are the perfect way to practice up while getting local recommendations.
Cloud Storage: OneDrive and iCloud – I’d be freaking out without OneDrive. It holds photos, lists, journals, notes on books I’ve read or plan to read. Everything uploads itself when my phone connects to wi-fi. If I lose my phone or it gets stolen, I can buy another, but I can’t go back and re-take the thousands of pictures. Kevin uses OneDrive for documents and iCloud for photos since that is what his iPhone plays nicer with it. The nominal monthly fees are absolutely worth it and make these apps one of the few we’ve ever paid to use.
TripAdvisor – I both love and hate this website. Too many popups and it is easy to miss more interesting and unique things. But previous travelers sometimes leave detailed and advice-filled posts that can make exploring much simpler and less surprise-laden. Bonus if they mention the free/discount days for museums!
Atlas Obscura – Pair this with a more mainstream site to get a better picture of the area you are staying in or your neighborhood at home.
REI – Currently missing REI shopping. Physical stores are only located in the US. We’ve found their store-brand items to be as good or better than pricier alternatives both during this trip and before on our many hiking adventures in Washington.
Sky Guide – Night skies differ depending on your position on the globe. This lets us explore new Southern constellations and get alerts when satellites or the ISS flies over. If only stars were more visible inside city limits.
Voyager: Grand Tour and BuildDown – Games are great for distraction during airport waits and flights since no internet connection is required. Rumor Games is Kevin’s company, and he has just updated Voyager to include even more content. So check it out, play it often, and add the expansions! I’m still working through the new lander levels and may not be the rocket scientist I thought I was.
Pokemon Go! – Ok, so it turns out to be a good way to learn about a new city. Many of the stops point out statues, murals, or historical buildings that we might not have noticed otherwise. Plus, if you need some a way to bond with people that speak different languages, this can work pretty well. Just ask for the local spot for Dragonites.
After a little more than a year of travel, I thought I’d add a post about how we live on the road. Of course, this is only our way. We’ve met people living out of hostels, couchsurfing, out of camper vans, off the back of a motorbike, who split their time between their favorite cities and keep apartments in each. It all depends on your travel goals, career, and budget. The amazing thing is that doing it full time for us means that we don’t have the expenses associated keeping with a house or car back home. Unlike a vacation, the cost of this kind of travel is the cost of day-to-day life. We live frugally just like we did in Seattle, only now we do it on a variety of continents.
We use Airbnb almost exclusively. Hotels are too expensive, not private enough, and don’t come with kitchens and in-room washing machines. Most hosts know the local restaurants and transit and tend to be very responsive if something goes wrong. Those good reviews count for a lot. And if we book for four weeks or longer, many rentals are discounted because a longer-term rental saves the host hassle and guarantees that the space is rented out; we saved as much as half on a month rental versus the per-day price.
We spend a fair amount of time researching before booking an Airbnb. We pour over the photos and reviews. We’ll search on Google maps to find the building front just so we get that extra perspective of the neighborhood. Ideally, the kitchen comes with a nice variety of cookware and utensils, there is a washer, fast internet, and comfy furniture or a desk for working. We haven’t stayed in a true studio, though many combine living areas and the kitchen into tight spaces. Preferably previous guests mention that the place is quiet but close to essentials. A grocery store, ATM, pharmacy, and transit stop should all be less than 15 minutes away on foot. In most cities, this isn’t a problem.
Of course, despite extra assessment, not knowing where you are living for a month always comes with surprises and catches. Sure, there is a stove, but only one burner works! Huge screenless windows let in so much light, but also all the mosquitoes! In some places water coming out of the faucet isn’t potable. In others, toilet paper can’t go down the pipes and needs to go in a trash can instead. We’ve had a recurring streak of picking places next to construction zones. Just today, a scaffolding went up on the building right next to our windows, ruining the quiet that we were so proud of finding in the middle of Buenos Aires.
We book airfare and our housing in tandem. A cheap apartment and a cheap way to get there is the winning combination, since our other living costs are small in comparison. Skyscanner is our favorite search tool because it has an “Everywhere” button. It regularly takes us down a rabbit hole of possibilities. The cheapest flights tend toward early morning or late night. We almost always pick the lowest price within reason; we’ll pay a little more to avoid multiple layovers and flying multiple countries out of the way. We’ve arrived in more than one new city at midnight; waking up at 3 a.m. is now a familiar moving-day routine.
Since we need to check bags, we have to factor that into the airfare price. It is a nice surprise when an airline will let bags fly free, as many will do in Europe and on trans-oceanic flights. Of course, the mobs surrounding the baggage carousel on arrival would be better avoided.
If we book a flight on a super-budget airline like RyanAir or WizzAir, we splurge and upgrade our boarding ($5 or so per person) so we don’t have to fight the horde rushing for the gate before it even opens. I’m not large enough to deal with shoving a entire soccer team out of my way so I don’t get separated from Kevin. Yes, I know I’m paying to sit on the plane longer, but I’m also paying to not be trampled. Whatever happened to just getting in a decent line? I thought everyone learned that in kindergarten…
We have great shoes! (Though new insoles would be nice.) Why pay for transit when walking is free? Exploring a new city on foot is more intimate than looking out a window. We find all sorts of shops, street food vendors, and little markets that get missed on a speeding bus. Plus, we get to count it as exercise.
Taxis have a bad reputation for cheating tourists/new arrivals all over the world. We’ve never taken a taxi from the airport and don’t intend to. We work out a public transit route or arrange for a transfer; sometimes our Airbnb host will even meet us. If we need point-to-point around the city, we prefer Uber. It is more widely available every day. The fact that it comes with pre-set pricing, a driver rating, and the ability to track the trip makes us feel more secure. This is especially important if I’m going somewhere by myself. It frees us from needing to carry money and lets us report any issues. In some places, like Lima, using Uber or local apps like TaxiBeat will get you a regular taxi instead of a completely private vehicle. But it guarantees the cost – something that doesn’t necessarily come with flagging one down streetside.
Public transit is more usually more readily available in cities outside the US, especially in countries where cars are still very much a luxury for the average person. The transit may be publicly funded and very traditional – trams, subways, and buses on set routes. Others are more chaotic – songthaews in Chiang Mai are like group taxis and don’t follow routes. Buses in Lima come in all shapes and sizes and with an assistant hollering the route out the door and convincing riders to board.
Eating out is nice, and in countries like Thailand, Malaysia, and Mexico, it is feasible to dine at small restaurants and on street food for less than it costs to make it yourself. However, in most places we eat at home to meet our budget. And since Kevin is an especially good cook, this provides opportunities to try local ingredients and recipes. He’s made spicy soups in Thailand, paprika-laden dishes in Hungary, cuy in Peru, and ratatouilles; we’ve even sampled kangaroo and horse. Especially in European groceries, you sometimes find interesting bargains. We didn’t know to anticipate cheap duck in Hungary, but it was a happy surprise.
Growing up in America conditioned us to expect supermarkets with an incredible selection of items, both in and out of season. In other countries (especially in cities where shops are be crammed in to small spaces) many familiar products are unavailable. Our closest grocery might only be two aisles wide and fit into less square footage than our old apartment. And, in Poland, one of the two aisles might be completely taken over with vodka plus a few other hard alcohols. In Argentina it is more likely to be wine and yerba mate. In Asia, wheat bread and dairy products are luxuries. In Argentina, bagels and maple syrup don’t exist. And peanut butter, especially the creamy kind, is a rarity everywhere (in Croatia, a grainy version lived in the refrigerated section; Argentina’s local crunchy brand is turning out to be passable). Produce might also be more seasonal than we are used to in the US, though staples like apples and bananas are never missing. Local green markets are a great place to learn what local agriculture is like, and, at the right time of year, get some great bargains. I paid approximately 17 cents a pound 🙂 for perfectly fresh Italian plums in Hungary.
Everything that moves with us comes in four backpacks and my small purse. Our two checked bags are Gregory hiking packs, the Deva 60 and Baltoro 70. The bags we carry on (with our most essential items) are an Osprey hiking pack and an Eagle Creek backpack. We carry everything, nothing has wheels. This makes steps, tight elevators in old building, and getting out of the airport easier. It is also harder for an aggressive taxi driver to try to grab luggage away from us in an effort to get us to use their vehicle.
With 16 full moves behind us, we are getting reasonably good at packing. Our clothes are contained in large, airtight storage bags. These keep everything dry in rain and shrinks it down a bit to make it fit in a more arrangeable fashion. All our pointy objects (a chef’s knife, for example) go in checked luggage, which should go without saying. Anything valuable needs to go in the carry on. This usually means our electronics, and an couple changes of clothes in case our checked bags don’t make it.
A reminder for anyone who might be tempted to toss pricey items into checked bags: We had a cell phone (thankfully a spare, 6-year-old, worn-out-batteried, now-irrelevant-and-worthless one) taken out of a checked bag, clearly after an airport employee saw it on an X-ray. Also gone were spare luggage locks, presumably so they could rummage through other bags and then close them back up.
Though we count on Airbnbs to contain basic kitchen supplies and items like towels, we carry a few basics we discovered were often lacking. Kitchen items are the biggest luxury-but-really-necessity. It took us a couple months to accumulate our current travel kit of chef’s knife with sheath, knife sharpener, thin cutting board, and clothespins. We purchased tiny salt shakers for spices, but already broke those. And we brought along our own plastic wine glasses (thanks Northwest Cellars!) and a wine bottle opener, which turned out to be very prescient. I picked up a decent sewing kit in Croatia that has a dozen or more colors of thread, perfect to repair a shirt seams and my shoes. Our most used items are the clothespins – for closing snack bags, keeping cords in line, packing – and reusable shopping bags – for packing picnics, returning bottles, and avoiding grocery store bag fees.
Cheap and accessible SIMs spoil us. Just a few years ago getting cell service in another country was a major hassle. Now an unlocked phone will mesh with any network. Cell providers usually have SIMs good for a few days to a few months that are aimed at tourists. Otherwise, there are usually a handful of prepaid plans meant for locals that fit our needs, letting us buy a month’s worth of service all at once or load up with a balance equivalent to the data we need.
Ireland was the exception and charges a premium for short-term contracts that made it as expensive as cell service the US. But in Poland, for example, a SIM loaded with a month’s worth of data and a few minutes of talk time was only US$5. In Romania, for US$9.31/person, we got SIMS and 9 Gigs of data. Since Internet is included in our rentals (sometimes at speeds topping what we had in Seattle), we can get by with small amounts even in places, like Mexico, where prepaid cards are more expensive but allow for a few pesos to be added at a time. Like everything else, we try to only buy the amount we’ll need. Our monthly cell phone bill has averaged less than $15 per line.
All our big vaccinations (hepatitis, measles, tetanus, yellow fever) last more than a year, and so are still up to date. A new flu shot would be nice, but since we are in the southern hemisphere for their summer, we missed flu season and will have a harder time finding the inoculation.
We (thankfully!) haven’t had any major health scares since we left. The minor colds/upset stomachs have all been taken care of with some rest and OTC medication. Of note is that Ibuprofen is much more expensive and harder to get in Europe. If stores sell it, it is usually only available in a 10 or 25 count blister pack, which costs as much as a 200 pill bottle in the US.
In Thailand, I was bitten (lightly) by a dog. We tried the public hospital, but it was late at night and no one on duty spoke English. So instead, we went to the private hospital the next morning. Since they specialized in medical tourism, explanations were easier. I wanted the rabies shots, just in case. The appointments were spaced over three days and I added two more injections to my impressive record for the previous months. Prepping for travel is a good way to learn how to deal with needles.
It may or may not be obvious, but I very much do not want to get pregnant while travelling. (Not least because we’ve been in zika-outbreak areas in the company of some very vicious mosquitoes.) Not to get too much into detail, I take a daily pill. Turns out that in Europe, prescriptions are mostly not necessary, and a pack of pills costs less than $10 almost universally, with some as low as $3. (Why are they $60/month in the US?) Even in countries where you are supposed to have a prescription, you can find usually a sympathetic pharmacist who will sell it anyway, especially if you come in with a wedding band, a used pack, and stating that you do have a doctor in the US. (If all else fails, I keep a story about lost luggage up my sleeve.)
Hahahah. If only… A downside of travelling for an extended amount of time is that we only get to take home pictures and memories. We collect some of the ticket stubs, and randomly have the lid from a pate can because it says Tarczynski on it. Otherwise, the kitchen supplies and toiletries count for a while, at least until they break or get used up. They are at least covered in foreign languages. We’d rather not carry excess stuff with us, and paying to ship it home is no fun either. I’ve decided I’ll just go to Goodwill when we get back to Seattle and see what cheesy things I can find from the places we’ve visited.
Of course, extended travel isn’t for everyone. The distance from family and friends is hard. Living for months in places where the default language isn’t ours can be draining. Familiar things can be difficult to find and the abundance of new experience can be overwhelming. We wear the same clothes. A lot. Our apartments almost never have dryers (except for one with a combination washer-dryer that seemed more like a fire hazard than an appliance) or hair dryers. It would be nice to have our own place and things again. But I’m thrilled we made it a year on the road and have plans to keep going.
If you want extra information or inspiration for planning your own trip/world tour, feel free to contact me. I don’t mind sharing budgets or answering questions (to the best of my and the internet’s ability).