Getting There: Travel Nuts & Bolts


“If you don’t write it on a piece of paper, it won’t happen!” Every few years Donna insists that we go into our separate corners and make our wish lists. It’s a serious undertaking that involves magazines, glue, poster paper, and colored markers. At first I thought this was overkill. Looking back at our wish lists it’s amazing how many items we have checked off.

Travel was on both of our lists. Donna’s daughter, Rachel, helped kick start our adventures. “Mom, instead of buying houses and knocking down walls…why don’t you put your energy into traveling!”  That was music to my ears!

I took a look at Donna’s travel notes. Here’s what I found!

You Can Afford It…

Staying in one place for a longer period of time is cheaper. Hotels are more expensive than Airbnb’s. You can negotiate if you are helping the owner eliminate blank spots on their calendar. Even at $1,600 a month you are only paying $53.33 a night for accommodations. For us that’s the high end, but it’s only one of the cost factors. I look at food and transportation too.

You are going to eat no matter where you are. We factor in eating at great restaurants, but having a place with a kitchen eliminates some of that expense. We find places that are close to local markets. The food is cheaper and better than we can get in the states.

Airfares vary throughout the year. Make a habit of checking them regularly. Flying out on a Tuesday or Wednesday is cheaper. Always get travel insurance. We use AAA’s. It eliminates worrying about cancellations.

Ground transportation adds up too. We try to choose locations that minimize those costs. Staying close to train and bus stations is not something I’d advise. Areas that are close to stations can be dicey.

Once you decide you’re going to travel it’s a matter of getting your budget to align with that priority. Just making your morning coffee at home for a year buys you the plane ticket.

Location, Location, Location…

We decide where we want to stay for a month, or longer. We make lists of things we want to experience. The where and the what figure prominently in our initial discussions. That’s where negotiations occur. Then there are the basics traveling together have made clear.

  • Don’t try to see it all.
  • Stay in one place for longer periods of time, and use that as a base. It’s less expensive, and less exhausting.
  • Stay away from tourist traps! They don’t refect the tastes of the locals. They tend to offer a substandard experience.
  • Stay within walking distance of the major sights you plan on seeing. Buses can be sketchy, and taxis are going to cost you. Always ask the taxi driver for an estimate before getting into a taxi.
  • Check out your access to other destinations. What modes of transportation are available? What are the travel times, and costs? We do this before we leave. What we find online and on the ground don’t  always match.
  • Don’t plan on driving in city centers. They are challenging, and you’ll spend a lot of your time looking for parking.
  • Once you’ve decided on your destination it’s usually cheaper to make reservations for restaurants, special tours, car rentals, and concerts from home. (So far we’ve missed seeing Sinead O’Connor in Rome, Manu Chao in Grenada, and The Stones in Barcelona!)

Keep It Light Enough To Travel…

  • Travel light! We only take one carry on and a small backpack even if it’s a two month trip.
  • We buy a cheap suitcase on the way home and fill it with our vacation purchases. (Wine & olive oil!)
  • On the way to our destination we don’t check any bags.
  • On the way home we check everything except our backpacks. Those are stuffed with meds, snacks, chargers, and anything else we might need if we get stranded.
  • Coordinate your wardrobe using hand washable items. Check the temperature extremes during the time you plan to visit.
  • If your travel is going to overlap seasons, take some clothes you don’t mind leaving behind. (Mark brings cheap black t-shirts.) Buy clothes that suit the weather locally.
  • Mark usually travels with a hat. He has come to the realization that buying a tourist hat and leaving it behind makes more sense.
  • I use a Kindle for travel guides and other reading materials.

The Essentials…

  • Make sure your passport is up to date! Each country has different standards. Check!!!
  • Pre-order your meds and get your medical appointments out of the way before you travel.
  • Arrange an international plan with your cell phone carrier. Call them the day before you leave to make sure they’ve actually followed through.
  • Get international contact numbers for your cell phone carrier. Something will go wrong!
  • Contact your bank and credit card carrier and let them know when and where you will be traveling. Expect them to block you several times anyway.
  • Keep an emergency stash of cash. Your card won’t work in the ATM in some out of the way town. Your bank just blocked you again. You won’t be able to contact them for another 24 hours!
  • Women should carry an across the body purse. I like the Baggallini. Mark uses a pacsafe across the body mini-pack instead of a wallet. Pickpockets are real and highly skilled! (Ask Mark!)
  • Keep a hard copy of all the reservations, contacts, phone numbers, and addresses you are going to make use of on your trip.
  • Keep a file for paying bills. I use my phone, but keep a paper trail. It has come in handy! (Verizon!!!)
  • Make a chronological itinerary of your trip.


Misc. …

  • When asked if you want to make a transaction in euros, or dollars say, “Euros!” If you choose dollars it will cost you more, and the store takes a cut!
  • Tipping isn’t mandatory. Servers in Europe are typically paid an actual salary.
  • Tipping is appreciated. Tourists make everything more expensive for locals. Tipping takes the edge off!
  • Expect to make adjustments and course corrections as you go along. With slower travel you have more options. You control the itinerary. It doesn’t control you!

Part Two: Packing Tips! Coming soonish!!!


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