At the end of this month it will have been two years since we embarked on the greatest adventure of our lives. Many have asked us for more details. How do you do this? Where do you live? How do you get around? It’s been an incredible two years and has far exceeded the expectations I had before we started our peripatetic lifestyle. It’s also been a lot more work than I ever imagined. We knew we had to have a home address and our oldest son and his wife graciously let us use their home for our base. This made sense since they live just a few blocks from where we had last owned a house. (It also helped that they monitored our mail when I received a notice to appear for jury duty!) But I never realized when we started out the amount of time and energy it would take for us to attend to all the details that come with full time travel.
There are things like deciding where we want to go and how long we want to stay. And then we need to actually find those places to stay. Airbnb and VRBO have been our most used sites but we’ve also used Holiday Lettings. And we also have to consider, will we need motels or short term places between our stops? Then how do we get from one place to the next. Will be we need to fly? Because time is never a factor we try to fly as little as possible. It’s uncomfortable, a hassle, you see nothing and generally not a pleasant experience. What about rental cars? Can we get along with public transportation? How do we make arrangements for plane tickets and bus tickets? Then there’s the ongoing decision of what do we keep and what do we store? And do we store it or can we get rid of it?
We’ve learned a lot of things along the way that I wish someone had shared with us before we started out.
One of the first things we learned was to find a REALLY good credit card. I set up a spreadsheet so we’d be able to live within our budget. We always live on the income of the previous month and we budget for our rent, transportation, medical bills, car insurance, cell phone and monthly savings. We budget a monthly amount for day-to-day expenses and I set that up in a checkbook spreadsheet. This has worked well but it does take time. I run EVERYTHING through our credit card. I deduct it from our account, just like I would in a checking account so that at the end of the month I can pay the credit card bill in full. I do this EVERY month. While we try to never outspend out monthly budget the advantage of the credit card is that we get travel miles. We found as of 2016 the very best credit card for us is the Capital One signature card. It allows us to get two times the dollars spent on every purchase. (So if we spent $250 we get $5.00 credit.) And we can use the dollars to pay any travel expense we incur: Airbnb, airplane tickets, motels. It’s amazing. We’ve booked round trip tickets to Europe using our miles. Again, we pay it off every single month. We also learned that we always want to make purchases in the local currency. Our credit card generally has given us a much better rate than the local place where we make purchases. So when the local merchant says in local currency or dollars, I always say, “Local currency.” While I generally stay loyal to only one credit card I recently was offered a new credit card with a bonus of significant airplane miles, and I took them up on it because I was given 30,000 free miles, as well as $100 off my first flight and a free checked first bag on every flight. It just made sense.
As I mention credit cards, I must share one of our biggest mistakes. We use a credit card for all our purchases, but use a bank card for withdrawing cash (so we don’t get charged interest for cash withdrawn on our credit card). We were in Dublin, short on cash, went to the cash machine and lo and behold it was denied. We knew there was money in the account. We couldn’t figure it out…until…we looked closer…the card had expired. We called the company and sure enough they had mailed a new card to our US address, but we weren’t having our mail forwarded to us in Europe. Could we get a duplicate? Nope, not without involving a notary public, and in some cases an attorney. Security was tight, as we would generally want it to be. Finally we asked our son to send it via expedited mail. In the meantime we gathered all the US cash we had and went to the bank and converted it to Euros. It worked, but you can rest assured that in the future I will be checking expiration dates of all our cards before leaving the US.
Likewise, we’ve found benefits in free hotel loyalty programs. In Dublin this resulted in free upgraded wifi, Cadberry chocolates and cookies. In the US we’ve received free nights by sticking with Choice Hotels (making sure we always check to see if there is some ongoing promotion we need to register for). We don’t need fancy; we just want clean and convenient.
One of our greatest finds we learned about from a young American couple we met at an Airbnb bed and breakfast in Kevlavik Iceland. They explained that they were using TMobile because it has free data in Europe! Wow! That is huge! As soon as we came back to the States we changed. We’ve really been happy. There are a few places in the US where the coverage isn’t great, but in the larger cities it works! In Europe and the US we’ve been able to use Spotify and connect via Bluetooth to our car with no charge. But the biggest perk is that we can use Googlemaps all over Europe for free. It may be 2G but for maps that’s sufficient, and it makes us feel so much more secure!
One of the biggest advantages to travelling full time is that we can take our time. We can visit the sites, take a day off to relax and read, wander through neighborhoods, but also we found that when we book stays for three weeks to a month we can get quite substantial discounts. We just booked a place outside Boston for the month of May and got a 60% discount! There’s lots we want to see in Boston and we’re not there in the dead of winter but rather in spring and before all the chaos of summer travelers. It works for us!
One thing that saves us (and our kids a lot of headaches) is that we got credit cards for each of our kids so when we ask them to forward mail to us, or send us a package, or if we’re leaving the car with them and it need repairs, we don’t have to figure out a way to pay them. They just put it on our credit card. It doesn’t seem like a biggy but anything that saves time and hassle is a plus.
When we rent a place, we read the ads very carefully. We look for what’s on our must have list. Does it include a microwave, a coffee pot? Europeans generally have boilers for tea, but fewer provide coffee pots. We are big coffee drinkers but have purchased a French Press that we carry in Europe and it works fine for us. Is there an oven? While we prefer there was, we know we can do without. We do require a washer. And while few places in Europe have dryers (they do have drying racks) we travel with so few clothes that it is imperative that we have a washer. What about steps? It’s important to remember that the first floor in Europe is the second floor in the US. This doesn’t seem really important unless we’re renting on the third floor without an elevator and then it really is a climb. When we first started traveling, I loved the term, “garden apartment.” Now that I realize that just euphemistic way of saying basement apartment it’s not so charming!
Because we book online and I do a blog and we want to communicate with family, wifi is very important to us. If it doesn’t say in the ad I contact the host and ask! Three weeks or a month is a long time to do without something that is important to us. And while I am sure there are many people who would disagree with me, we carry a Chromecast with us. We find when we’re out of the country that we really enjoy a movie (Netflix), a hockey game or a family television show for bit of home.
We haven’t needed converters as we’ve traveled abroad because the only electronics we use are our phones, computers, tablets and readers. (I bought a European hair dryer.) And while those things need adapters they do not need converters. We found it much cheaper to buy adapters for the UK and Europe through Amazon before leaving home. We carry a half dozen of each in our suitcases.
We also have learned not to try to have prescription sent to us abroad. Our son mailed 90 days worth to us in Spain and we never received them. We did find out that we could get all of Bob’s seven prescriptions over the counter in Spain for a very reasonable out of pocket cost. (Lucky thing I’m not sure what we would have done otherwise!)
Cab drivers, we’ve found, are very good sources of info. In Dublin our driver gave us advice about how to avoid certain tourist traps. Our Polish drive in London offered suggestions when we asked what we should see in his native land. Our Uber driver from Victoria Station to our Airbnb pointed out things along the way we should see including Abbey Road. We’ve also gleaned a lot of ideas from locals we’ve met. We stayed in a lovely complex in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands where virtually everyone but us owned an apartment in the complex. There were lots of Brits, Scots and Irish and they gave us wonderful suggestions on what to see when we visited their home countries. In addition, we found that the pool in the complex was a great gathering place and we spent many enjoyable hours making new friends from around the globe.
There are some customs and vocabulary we’ve found confusing even when many do speak English. But usually if you just seek out information, locals graciously help you out. For instance in England we found that when ordering at pubs, we were to go to the bar, order, and then give them our table number (which was found on the corner of our table). We also learned that when we have a question, the straight forwardness of Americans can be perceived as rude. It’s much preferable to preface all requests with, “May I chat with you?” or “I hate to bother you..” or “Hello, how are you today?” It does seem like a much more civilized way to do interact.
These are just a few of the many things we’ve learned along the way. Wishing you all the best…and looking forward to new adventures in 2017 when our plans are to visit Panama, Cuba, Boston and Quebec City and then who knows? Happy Holidays!