Hi there, and happy November. Steve and I spent most of October in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, and then moved on to Kotor, Montenegro, at the end of the month. We had a low-key month in Podgorica, but Kotor should be busier since there is more to do.
Even though we weren’t as active in October as usual, that’s okay. We will be busy from late November through January. Here is our monthly update with the highlights, the low points, and a summary of what we did in October.
A Side Trip Back to Albania
We took a side trip back to Albania, the country where we spent most of September. We spent three nights in Shkoder, where we discovered a factory that makes Venetian-style carnival masks, explored castle ruins, visited the Marubi National Museum of Photography, and saw a few churches.
Our side trip had its own side trip. From Shkoder, we went to the village of Theth in the Albanian Alps for two nights. We spent most of our full day there on a challenging mountain hike.
Then we returned to Shkoder for one last night, where we ate at two of our favorite restaurants, Bar Restaurant Elita and Fisi Restaurant, and relaxed at our hotel.
A Great Neighborhood in Podgorica
Our Airbnb was in a new part of town full of apartment buildings, shops, and a mall just a five-minute walk away, but the best part was the nearby restaurants.
One of our favorites was Spago, which had terrific pulled pork sandwiches. We had fun with our waiter, who was quite taken with Hedgemeister.
We also loved Zheng He, a high-end Chinese restaurant. The best Chinese food we’ve ever had was in Quito, Ecuador. The food at Zheng He was a close second.
These websites are in Montenegrin, but the menus have English translations.
A Killer Steak Dinner
I’m a big fan of filet mignon, which isn’t easy to find as we travel. So, when I found a restaurant in Podgorica called The Living Room, and they had filet mignon on the menu, I was all over that. My filet was perfect, which is a miracle because they tend to overcook meat in Balkan countries (at least for our taste).
Steve ordered a T-bone steak, which was sold by weight. We were surprised when we got the bill and his steak cost 56 euro ($59). But he loved it, and it was one of the best meals we’ve had in a long time.
Ease of Filling Prescriptions
It seems that I have reached the age where filling prescriptions makes the highlights list, lol.
In last month’s update, I discussed the challenges of filling prescriptions in Albania. It was much easier in Montenegro. I was able to use the prescription from an Albanian doctor to buy my medication at an affordable price. The ease of keeping up with prescriptions while on the road ranges from incredibly simple to downright frustrating.
More Airbnb Issues
In last month’s update, I also wrote about our issues with our Podgorica Airbnb, including unusable cooking supplies and a poor cleaning job. Our host addressed these. But the fun didn’t stop there. One of the sliding closet doors got progressively harder to move and needed to be adjusted. Then, the water in the building was turned off for a brief time. When it came back on, we had a leak under the bathroom sink. Each of these issues meant waiting for a repair person to arrive and fix it.
We realize things will go wrong, but this Airbnb had more than its share. It’s funny how many more problems we seem to have in newer buildings than in old ones.
What We Did
Toured the Venice Art Mask Factory in Shkoder
Who would have thought that some carnival masks you see in Venice shops are made in a little city in Albania?
Steve and I spent several hours at the Rozafa Castle ruins, where visitors can wander at will. The oldest parts of the limestone and brick castle date back to the 4th or 3rd century BC (according to Wikipedia).
There is a heartbreaking legend about the castle that you can read about here.
Hiked the Albanian Alps
And what a hike it was. We got much more than we bargained for on this hours-long trek along steep, rocky trails and across rivers and a small waterfall.
We vowed to be more careful about which trails we commit to, but we can’t deny how much we loved the scenery along the way.
Visited the Dajbabe Monastery
The Dajbabe Monastery is a 126-year-old Serbian Orthodox monastery on the outskirts of Podgorica. Its church and several shrines are in a cave. The grounds are covered with dozens of olive trees.
The complex was beautiful and peaceful, but the best part was the cat who greeted us at the entrance and enjoyed all the attention we gave her.
Strolled the Older Areas of Podgorica
We took several walks into the old parts of the city, including Old Town and Gorica Park. Neither of these wowed us. The highlights of Old Town consist of a clock tower and two traditional restaurants. Gorica Park is a large park whose claim to fame appears to be its adventure course.
We came across the charming Church of St. George near Gorica Park. You can see the ropes used to ring the bells hanging on the front of the church.
We enjoyed the area around the Old Ribnica River Bridge. The bridge was built in Roman times and reconstructed by the Ottomans in the 18th century.
The Ribnica River was dry when we were there, but that didn’t detract from the charm of the bridge or the small park surrounding it.
Marveled at the Orthodox Temple of Christ’s Resurrection
This is a must-see in Podgorica. We’ve seen a lot of churches, and this one still impressed us. The outside has many reliefs. Inside, the walls and ceiling are covered with colorful paintings.
Photos aren’t allowed inside the temple, and we believe in respecting that request. This time, we were bad, and both snuck a photo because it was so incredible.
We also published two photo galleries: one for Skopje and one for Tirana. This is a new addition to the website. Please let me know what you think of the galleries.
Where to Next?
We will spend most of November in Kotor, Montenegro, and then head to Rome for eight nights at the end of the month.
In early December, we will board the Norwegian Gem and spend fifteen nights cruising from Rome to New York City.
Just before Christmas, we will have a short stay in New York City. Steve has been there many times, but I have only been there once. That was forty-four years ago on our honeymoon. I can’t wait to see the city decked out for Christmas. Maybe we’ll get lucky and see snow.
Then, we will travel to Jacksonville on December 23rd to celebrate Christmas with our daughters, Steph and Laura. We will be in Jacksonville through January 20th. As with every trip back to the U.S., we will spend time with family and friends, see doctors, and stock up on supplies. This trip promises to be less hectic than previous ones since we took care of many things on our visit last March.
Do you have travel plans for the coming holidays? If so, Steve and I would love to hear about them in the comments section below.
Until Next Time
That’s it for our October update. Steve and I wish you an enjoyable autumn and, for those of you in the U.S., a Happy Thanksgiving.
Hi! I hope you had a great September. Ours was quiet, which is sometimes a good thing. And now, here we are in October, and it’s time for another monthly update.
Steve and I spent most of September in Tirana, Albania. Since we had just come from Skopje, North Macedonia, Albania’s neighbor to the east, we couldn’t help comparing these two capital cities.
The streets of Skopje were uncrowded; Tirana’s streets were full of people. The city center of Skopje is loaded with classical-style white buildings due to the Skopje 2014 project; Tirana is full of unique buildings. In Skopje, stores and many restaurants are closed on Sunday. When we arrived in Tirana, we were shocked that nothing was closed on Sunday. It made sense when we learned that Albania is 60% Muslim. By contrast, North Macedonia is 60% Christian.
Even though our time in Tirana was more laid back than usual, Steve and I got to know a little about this city and the country of Albania. Here are the highlights, the low points, and what we did in September.
All money is in U.S. dollars.
Steve loves to cook, but I would eat out every day if I could. Unfortunately, that isn’t in our budget. But we came close to doing that in Tirana. I can’t remember a place we’ve been where restaurants were so inexpensive. It is possible to get lunch or dinner with beverages for two people for under $20. While the cost of restaurant food was very low, the cost of drinks was similar to what we’ve seen in other Balkan cities.
We took advantage of that, enjoying traditional food as well as Mexican, Chinese, and Indian cuisines. We also ate seafood at Lissus Fish, where I had fish soup and marinated anchovies for the first time. I loved them both.
Seeing the city grow
Albania is one of the poorest European countries, but Tirana is growing. The population of around half a million is increasing by 30,000 people per year, and tourism is rising.
There are already many modern buildings, and more are in progress. I loved the unique architectural styles.
A Short Trip to the Coast
It didn’t take long for us to see the Tirana attractions we were interested in, and it was too hot to hike, so we decided to spend a few days at the coast.
We spent three nights in Durres, which is on the Adriatic Sea. The point of the trip was to do a little lazing by a pool and listen to the sea. And that is precisely what we did.
Our hotel, the Hotel Palace, made it easy to relax. I spent two days doing nothing but lying on a lounger and reading (well, maybe I snuck a few drinks and a meal in here and there). Breakfast was included, and there was an amazing variety of foods.
I wish I could sing the town’s praises as well, but frankly, Durres was the least pleasant beach town Steve and I have been to. There is a lot of poverty, and the beach wasn’t very inviting.
Nice hotels are popping up, and there are some upscale shops and restaurants among the rundown buildings.
We stopped at Troy Motor and met Lona. She is super friendly and recommended two restaurants to us. If you are into motorcycles, particularly Harleys, and find yourself in Durres, stop in and say hello.
The cost of groceries
We were perplexed by the high price of groceries and couldn’t understand how restaurant food can be so cheap and groceries can be so expensive. The prices may be in line with grocery costs in the U.S., but they were a shock to us after having spent the last several months in Croatia, Romania, and North Macedonia.
There aren’t a lot of tourist attractions in Tirana, and two of them on our sightseeing list have been permanently closed: the National Gallery of Art and the Mezuraj Museum, which at one time displayed art and archaeological specimens owned by the Mezuraj family.
Trying to Fill a Prescription
After our experience with buying medicine in Turkey, we were spoiled. All we had to do there was go to a pharmacy and tell them what we wanted. Well, Albania is just the opposite. There, you need a prescription for pretty much everything, and the doctors I saw would only write prescriptions for medicines related to their specialties.
I was running low on diabetes medication, so I found a private clinic. Their schedule and ours didn’t mesh, so I went to a private hospital. First, I had to pay $40 to see a doctor. Then, I spent the next half hour saying no to the battery of tests she wanted to run. She finally wrote the prescription and suggested I get a few simple tests. I got a quote for $43 for a blood test and a urinalysis. This was twice the cost than at the first clinic I went to, so I took my prescription and left.
The doctor said I might have trouble finding my medication and was referred to Farmacia Greke. I did find it there, but it was $100 for 28 pills! I decided to wait until we get to Montenegro, where I hope to have better luck.
After wasting several hours and $40, I learned that it is hard for tourists to fill prescriptions in Albania. Specific medicines may be unavailable or hard to find, they may not have the dosage you need, and they may be expensive. It’s best to make sure you have plenty of all of your medications when visiting Albania.
What We Did
Explored Bunk’Art 1 and Bunk’Art 2
When I first heard of Bunk’Art, I thought it was an art gallery in a bunker. It isn’t. Bunk’Art 1 and Bunk’Art 2 are indeed bunkers, but they have been turned into museums about Albania’s communist era (1946-1991).
We visited both. They are full of artifacts that illustrate the horrors of that era. There is a lot of emphasis on the dictator Enver Hoxha, who ruled the country under communism from 1946 until he died in 1985.
Hoxha had 750,000 bunkers built throughout Albania from the late 1960s until his death as he became increasingly fearful of foreign invasions after politically isolating Albania from most of the region.
The House of Leaves was built in 1931 as the first private obstetrics clinic in Albania. It was briefly used by the Gestapo in 1943. With the advent of communism, it became the headquarters of the Sigurimi, the country’s security, intelligence, and secret police.
The building is called the House of Leaves because of the vines growing on it.
The museum, also called the Museum of Secret Surveillance, focuses on the equipment and methods of the Sigurimi. I particularly liked the exhibit about the movies produced to further the communist agenda.
Checked Out the National Historical Museum
The National Historical Museum is the largest museum in Albania. It covers the country’s history from the 4th century BC to the mid-20th century.
The best part was the Pavilion of Antiquity, which covers the Prehistoric Period to the Early Middle Ages. I’m not usually excited by ancient artifacts, but they were well presented in this museum. I even saw a few unique items, including this tool to measure dry goods:
The Pavilion of Antiquity had detailed descriptions in both Albanian and English. Unfortunately, the rest of the museum lacked English descriptions, even though there were many interesting exhibits.
Both Bunk’Art museums and the House of Leaves showcase the evils of the communist period. The National Historical Museum of Tirana has the Hall of Communist Persecution as well. I was disappointed here and in Skopje that there aren’t any museum exhibits about the fall of Communism, which was more than 30 years ago.
Climbed the Pyramid
In 1988, three years after Hoxha’s death, a museum dedicated to his “legacy” was built in Tirana. It was in the shape of a pyramid.
After the fall of communism, the pyramid had a few other uses. It was a nightclub, an event space, and a NATO base during the Kosovo War (1998-1999). After this, it was abandoned and fell into disrepair.
One morning, I decided to see it. I was expecting a wreck covered in graffiti since that was the last photo I had seen of it. I was delighted to find a gleaming white structure with dozens of brightly colored cubes being built around it. These buildings will be used as cafes, restaurants, and classrooms for after-school education.
I discovered a movie theater showing My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3. With some sleuthing, I learned that the movies are shown in English with Albanian subtitles. So Steve and I took advantage of the opportunity to see it.
There were only about ten people in the theater for the matinee. Tickets weren’t exactly a bargain at $7 each, and popcorn and drinks were another $14, but still cheaper than U.S. prices.
It was fun to spend a few hours in the theater, but the movie wasn’t nearly as good as the first one.
Perused the New Bazaar
Although we are seldom in the market for souvenirs or trinkets, we had to check out the New Bazaar. This is a neighborhood in Tirana’s Old Town that, as the name suggests, is a market center. There are over 300 businesses in the New Bazaar, but the centerpiece is the eye-catching steel and glass structure built in 2017.
No More Mr. Nice Guy and Gal
Steve and I headed to our next city, Podgorica, Montenegro, at the end of the month. As soon as we arrived, we were impressed with the city, or at least the part we were staying in. It is a modern area full of apartments, restaurants, and shops. Our Airbnb was in a new building.
When we first entered the Airbnb, it looked good. It was modern and appeared to be clean. We were surprised to see a mini fridge instead of a full-size one. That oversight was on us. Looking back, we saw that there weren’t any photos of the refrigerator in the listing. Except for one past stay, we’ve always had a full-size fridge. Now we have something else to add to our Airbnb checklist.
We asked our host if we could get a second mini-fridge since we booked for four weeks. She told us that small refrigerators are standard in one-bedroom apartments in Montenegro, and they wouldn’t provide another. I checked other Airbnb one-bedroom listings in Montenegro, and they all had full-size fridges. Interestingly, the dishwasher was large.
As I discussed in “The Truth About Staying In Airbnbs,” apartments generally look great on the surface. However, with a few exceptions, something has been overlooked or ignored. The main culprits, but not the only ones, are dirty cooking supplies, full vacuum cleaners, and dirty air conditioner and bathroom exhaust filters.
Up until now, we have taken care of these issues, not wanting to bother the host for minor things. That stops now. In this apartment, we found two pans that were unusable. The coating on the non-stick pan was flaking off. The spatula was coated with dried-on food. The bathroom vent was dirty and the filter was missing. We also found nine places that weren’t clean, including the balcony, which hadn’t even been swept. We let our host know. They replaced the kitchen items and sent a cleaner to take care of the rest.
Steve and I decided that from this point on, we are not going to fix these issues. We will ask the host to take care of them. I’ll let you know how that goes.
I’ve been able to tweak this website a bit to get closer to the design I want. Changing themes is proving to be time consuming and challenging, but I am not giving up.
Where to Next
At the end of the month, Steve and I headed to Montenegro for eight weeks, where we are hoping for cooler weather so we can do some hiking. We will split our time between the capital of Podgorica and the city of Kotor. Then, it’s off to Rome for a short trip before we get on a ship and cruise back to the U.S.
We will dock in New York City on December 19th and spend four nights there before going to Jacksonville for a month. I have only been to New York City once, and that was 44 years ago. I can’t wait to see the city at Christmastime and visit the 9/11 Memorial.
Until Next Time
That’s it for our travels in September. It looks like things will be picking up in the next several months. One thing is for sure; we intend to enjoy the fall weather.
Drop a comment in the section below and let Steve and I know what you did in September and what you have planned for the rest of 2023.
Hi there! Can you believe it’s September already? The summer has been flying by for us, but we’re having fun. I hope you are, too.
Steve and I started August with two nights in Brasov, Romania, and spent the remainder in Skopje, North Macedonia.
Check out this monthly update to see our August highlights and low points, what we did, and where we are going.
All money is in U.S. dollars.
Staying at Hotel Belvedere, Brasov
We made a short trip to Brasov to revisit Bran Castle (aka Dracula’s Castle) before leaving Romania. That part of the trip didn’t go as planned, as you’ll read below. However, our hotel in Brasov turned out to be a real gem.
We had a large, comfortable room, but the restaurant was the best part. We arrived at the hotel mid-afternoon and went looking for a late lunch. We were told there wasn’t any food service until 4:00 p.m., and there weren’t any stores or other restaurants nearby. I made do with a granola bar, and Steve sacrificed our last Milka chocolate bar.
You better believe we were at the restaurant at 4:00. Once we opened the menu, we were hooked. Every option looked so good we could have spent two weeks there and never ordered the same thing twice.
The food was so delicious and beautifully presented that we ate there on our second night, too.
Discovering How Much We Like Skopje
Because we knew little about Skopje or the country of North Macedonia, we weren’t sure what to expect. The city is getting on travelers’ radar but still has a way to go before it is well known.
We were blown away. We had a modern, spacious apartment near the city center. It was just a 20-minute walk to the main square. If we walked in the other direction for 20 minutes, there was a large mall with a huge grocery store. There were frequent buses along this street. There was also a small market just a few minutes away.
Two things about the city surprised us. The first was the prevalence of English. Almost everyone speaks English. And they speak it well. Signs often have Macedonian, Albanian, and English on them. Information in museums and menus also include English.
The second thing was the lack of crowds. Our apartment overlooked an intersection of two main streets, but there was less traffic and, therefore, less noise than in other cities. It was great to walk on uncrowded sidewalks.
We liked many things about Skopje, but that’s for another post.
The Holocaust Museum was the best museum we visited in Skopje. There was so much information that even after two hours, we hadn’t seen it all.
A video about Hitler’s rise to power gave me chills, as I can see how easily a society can head down the road to the unimaginable. Yes, I’m talking to you, U.S.A.
Even though I’ve been to many holocaust museums, I still learned new things. The video showed bonfires where tens of thousands of books written by Jews were burned. It is alarmingly similar to the banning that is going on in parts of the U.S. where books by Black and LGBTQ authors or about Black and LGBTQ issues have been banned.
The other thing I learned was after the liberation of the concentration camps, General Eisenhower invited members of Congress and the press to tour the liberated camps. He did this because he knew words could never express the horrors found there, and so there would be proof, as he feared there would be deniers.
Making a Kitty Friend
There was a pet store on the ground floor of our building, and they had the most adorable kittens. One was orange, and two were grey. After a few days, the grey ones were adopted, but the orange one remained.
We liked this gentle, affectionate cat so much that we visited him every day. He was still at the pet store when we left Skopje. We hope he gets a loving home soon.
Getting Our Second Housesitting Gig
This past spring, we joined Trusted Housesitters, hoping to get some house sits in places that are expensive to visit, like the United Kingdom, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. The idea is that you stay in someone’s home for free while they are away. The offerings almost always involve watching pets.
Not long after we joined, we got our first gig! We weren’t looking for sits in the U.S., but we came across one in the Town of Tonawanda, New York, where I grew up. Steve grew up in the adjacent village of Kenmore. We will be watching one cat named Niki for 17 nights in February and will be able to visit family in the Western New York Area.
Recently, we arranged a second sit. We will spend 16 nights in Bury St. Edmunds, England, in March while caring for and no doubt falling in love with two dogs, Mollie and Angus. We plan to be low-key during this stay but take advantage of being in England to spend time in Cambridge and London before and after the housesit.
Learning to Ask Airbnb Hosts for What We Want
We are happiest when we have a kitchen with what we call the kitchen trifecta: an oven, a microwave, and a dishwasher. You’d be surprised how many Airbnb listings only have two of these three items.
When we were looking for apartments in Albania and Montenegro, dishwashers were prevalent, but microwaves were virtually non-existent. In two that we booked, we asked the hosts before booking if they would be willing to add a microwave, and both said yes. Because we asked, we even got a good discount on our Jacksonville Airbnb.
When you are staying somewhere for four weeks, the hosts are pretty agreeable to any reasonable request.
Getting Rained Out in Bran
The whole point of going to Brasov was to take a day trip to the nearby town of Bran to visit Bran Castle. We had been there on a tour in 2018 but hoped to see more of the castle and the town.
A receptionist at our hotel said we could get a bus to Bran near the train station, but when we got there, several people told us we had to go to bus station #2. But no one could tell us how to get there.
I saw people lining up to get on a bus, and I asked if they were going to Bran. The driver said no, but he could take us to the other bus station, and he did so without charging us.
After waiting 50 minutes for our bus and an hour-long drive, we finally got to Bran.
Once at the castle, we wound through it along with what seemed like every other tourist in Romania. Once we were through with the inside, we headed out to explore the grounds and the town, only to be met with a downpour even though no rain was predicted. We waited it out at a café, where I had the least delicious cake I’ve ever eaten.
Our first visit, in 2018, wasn’t the best either. The castle part was alright, but the bus trip from Bucharest and back was longer than expected because of heavy traffic. When we arrived back in Bucharest, it was after 11:00 p.m., and the metro wasn’t running. I remember frantically trying to find a taxi at an intersection of three roads. It took a while, but we finally got one.
If we ever decide to revisit Bran Castle, which seems cursed for us, we will stay in the town of Bran, which, from what little we’ve seen, looks quite charming.
Dealing With SIM Card Issues
On our first day in Skopje, we headed to Telekom (T-Mobile) to get local SIM cards. Even though T-Mobile doesn’t have the best reputation in the U.S., it usually works well overseas.
We got our SIM cards installed but were unable to log into the app to purchase the package we wanted. It took four days and several phone calls before the company could make that happen. Then, we discovered that the package worked in other Balkan countries but not in North Macedonia.
We switched to Lycamobile and paid a lot less for hassle-free SIM cards.
Dealing With the Heat
The temperature was in the mid-90s almost every day, and the sun was intense. We tried to do outdoor things early in the day or the evening, but because of the heat, there were a few things we didn’t do. One was hiking up Mt. Vodno, and the other was a day trip to Matka Canyon. Perhaps we will do these on a future trip to North Macedonia.
We had spent July in Bucharest, and it was hot there too. Note to self: Next summer, go someplace cool or on the water.
Other Things We Did
Wandered Skopje’s City Center
Steve and I spent many hours taking in the beauty of the city center. Its highlight is the 92-foot or 28-meter tall statue, Warrior on a Horse. It is in Macedonia Square and depicts Alexander the Great on his favorite horse.
This is only one of the many monuments and statues the city erected as part of its Skopje 2014 project. The project also included constructing many buildings and replacing the facades of others to make the city more attractive to tourists and foster national pride.
Neither Steve nor I are gamblers. We like to see something for our money. The last time we went to a casino was in 2018 in Bulgaria. We played slots there and had what they termed a “massive win.” It was all of $18.
There are a lot of casinos and slot halls in Skopje, so I figured, “When in Rome.” We spent a few hours at the Flamingo Casino playing the slots. We didn’t win anything, but it only cost us $25, so it was a good way to spend some time when it was too hot to be outside.
Planned a Lot
It’s no secret that travel planning is time-consuming and not much fun, but we bit the bullet and made some serious headway on our plans for the next six months (as you can read about below).
On the Website
After two months of working on a new website design, I decided to put it on hold, get a few posts written, and then try designing a new website using a different theme (the basis of a website).
Instead of considering it a failure, I see it as being several steps closer to creating our new site, since much of what I designed can be used with another theme.
We have our travels pretty much planned through mid-March. This is such a change from how we usually travel, which is to plan one or two months ahead. This time, since we booked a Transatlantic cruise leaving Rome on December 4th, we thought it prudent to plan our stays up to and after the cruise.
Our ship is scheduled to dock in New York City on December 19th, so of course, we had to take advantage of that and spend a few days in the city. Then, we will head to Jacksonville, Florida, to spend Christmas with our daughters and stay for most of January to visit family and friends, see doctors, and stock up on supplies.
Here’s our itinerary so far:
Aug. 31 – Sept. 28
Sept. 28 – Oct. 26
Oct. 26 – Nov. 24
Nov. 24- Dec. 4
Dec. 4 – Dec. 19
New York City
Dec. 19 – Dec. 23
Dec. 23 – Jan. 20
Jan. 20 – Feb. 9
Tonawanda, New York
Feb. 9 – Feb. 27
Feb. 27 – Mar. 5
Bury St. Edmunds, England
Mar. 5 – Mar. 21
Until Next Time
That’s it for our monthly update for August. As always, Steve and I would love to hear about your travels and thoughts about this post.
Hi there! It’s time for another monthly update. I hope you are surviving the summer heat. Steve and I spent most of July in Bucharest, Romania, where it was hot but, thankfully, not too humid. Even so, we didn’t do as much as planned since we were lazy about getting out before the days got too hot.
We enjoyed four visits to Therme Bucuresti, though. It was a great way to cool off and get some pampering. More on that below.
During the last five days of the month, we were in Sinaia, Romania, a two-hour train ride north of Bucharest. Here are the highlights and low points of the month.
This was our second visit to Bucharest. The first was in 2018. That is when we discovered Therme Bucuresti. This wellness center gorgeously combines thermal and mineral pools, saunas, waterslides, and a botanical garden. Check out our post about this must-visit place.
Each visit was over four hours long. Steve spent his time relaxing and dozing in the outdoor pool and the mineral pools, or the chemical baths, as he calls them. I spent my time whizzing down the waterslides, stretching in the water exercise classes, enjoying a heavenly massage, and of course, relaxing in the thermal water.
Don’t miss Therme when visiting Romania, and if you find yourself near Munich, check out Therme Erding.
The lucky folks in Manchester, England, will get to experience Therme close to home in 2025. Judging by the website, it promises to be as good, if not better, than Therme Bucuresti.
The Tiriac Collection
Steve and I love discovering hidden gems. This usually occurs by chance, and finding the Tiriac Collection was no exception. We were on our way home from Therme when Steve spotted it. After a quick check on Google, we knew we had to visit. I am surprised that this isn’t on more peoples’ radar. I’ve never seen it on a “things to do in Bucharest” list, although it isn’t actually in Bucharest, it is in the adjacent town of Otopeni. It is an eight-minute drive from Therme.
The Tiriac Collection showcases over 200 cars owned by Romanian businessman Ion Tiriac. He is a former professional tennis and hockey player. The collection has vehicles from 1899 to the present. It spans manufacturers and includes a few motorcycles.
Dinner with New Friends
One Sunday, Steve took an Uber to a flea market and struck up a conversation with Felix, the driver. We then had a lovely dinner with Felix and his partner, Ionela. Both work in real estate and are warm and fun-loving. We ate at Hanu’ lui Manuc, a traditional Romanian restaurant in the oldest operating hotel in the city. We had some tasty food and good company and enjoyed traditional music and dancing.
Seeing the Sights
Palace of Parliament
At 9 billion pounds or 4.1 billion kilograms, the white marble Palace of Parliament is the heaviest building in the world. It was started under the direction of the communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who was inspired by a visit to North Korea in 1971. Construction began in 1984 and finished in 1997.
Because of its weight, the building sinks 6 mm or ¼ inch each year.
The chief architect was a woman named Anca Petrescu, who was only 29 years old at the start of the project.
Ceausescu never saw the finished building as he and his wife Elena were executed on Christmas Day 1989. You can learn more about the rise and fall of Ceausescu here.
Cotroceni National Museum
This museum is part of the Cotroceni Palace, home to the Romanian President. The palace was built in the 1890s and was occupied by the royal family. After WWII, it was renamed Pioneer Palace and was the home of the Pioneers organization, which indoctrinated children into the communist ideology.
A 1977 earthquake severely damaged the palace. It has been rebuilt, staying true to the original style. Each room we saw was unique, and all were exquisite.
In 1978, Ceausescu visited Queen Elizabeth in London. This was the first time a communist head of state had visited the U.K. When he returned to Bucharest, he had two rooms refurbished in an elegant French style with the hopes that Queen Elizabeth would visit Bucharest. She didn’t.
Here is a fun article from The Independent about how Queen Elizabeth hid in some bushes to avoid speaking with Ceausescu and his wife.
The National Museum of Art of Romania
This art museum is in a former royal palace and displays Romanian and European art in two large halls. Frankly, the artwork was the least impressive we have seen in museums of this size.
There is also a section of the museum called the historic spaces. We were expecting artifacts in glass cases and were tempted to skip it. We are glad we didn’t. This area is part of the former palace with several majestic rooms and a spectacular staircase. I particularly loved the yellow marble used in the entrance hall and upper hall.
Carturesti is a Romanian bookstore chain. While the Carusel store is their most elegant and popular, we stumbled across another impressive store, Carturesti Verona. As we were walking one evening, we noticed a run-down-looking, squatty building that we thought might be a library or a bookstore. We were entranced once we entered. Despite the small façade, the store is huge.
This former home was built in the mid-19th century. Each room has something to delight you, from the architecture to the furnishings to the products. In addition to tons of books, many in English, you can find music, art and travel supplies, games, wine, clothes, and household products. As Steve observed, you could do all your Christmas shopping in this store.
A Short Stop in Sinaia
Way back in 2018, Steve and I took a tour from Bucharest to the town of Bran, where Bran Castle (aka Dracula’s Castle) is located. Along the way, we drove through a town called Sinaia. It was so charming that I never forgot it. When we found ourselves back in Romania, visiting Sinaia was a must.
The main draw in Sinaia is Peles Castle. This mind-blowing beauty was built by Romania’s first king, King Carol I. It was completed in 1883, and its amenities were state of the art. It even had an electric retracting skylight.
The castle has so much detail it’s hard to know where to look first. You can take a guided tour, but we explored on our own. Peles Castle is a big draw in Romania, so it is always crowded.
Peles Castle isn’t the only cool place to explore in Sinaia. There is the smaller Pelisor Castle, built by King Ferdinand I, the nephew and heir of King Carol I (the king and his wife only had one child, a daughter who died when she was four). Pelisor Castle isn’t as impressive as Peles Castle, but it is only a three-minute walk between the two, so it’s worth a stop if you have the time.
Stirby Castle is a small building near the center of town. It was build in the mid-1800s as a summer home for the Romanian aristocracy and is now a museum and hotel. At first, it didn’t seem like there was much to see, but once we entered the lower level, there was an eclectic collection of Romanian history we found interesting.
Sinaia Monastery, which is over 300 years old and is still home to a few monks, and Dimitrie Ghica Park in the town center were also great places to explore.
For a change of pace, we took the Sinaia Gondola 6,700 feet or 2,000 meters up the Bucegi Mountains. The views were some of the best we’ve seen on gondola rides, and the cooler air, at 18°C or 59°F, was a nice change.
The Propped-Up Table
Airbnb allows us to travel comfortably and economically. We spend hours combing over the listings for our long-term stays, but no matter how careful we are, there is often some minor problem with our choice.
This time it was the kitchen table. Our apartment was large, but the kitchen was small. From the photos, we could see that there wasn’t much counter space, but there was a four-person glass-topped table in the kitchen that could be used for additional work space.
When Steve moved one of the chairs, the table started to fall because one of the legs was loose. Fortunately, it didn’t fall far, but we were afraid to use it. The owner replaced it, but it is maddening that it wasn’t replaced before we got to Bucharest. It’s possible he didn’t know about the broken leg, but we see this type of oversight too often.
You would think living in Florida for 30 years would have acclimated us to the heat. That doesn’t appear to be the case. Like many places, Bucharest experienced above-normal temperatures in July. Many days the highs were above 32°C or 90°F, and on a few days it hit 38°C or 100°F. We had the best intentions to get out early, but many days we decided to stay in. Since we spent a month in Bucharest in 2018, we had already seen many of the highlights.
I told Steve I felt guilty about not doing more this time. He reminded me that we chose this location as part of our 90 days outside the Schengen Area (no offense to this fine city). We have stayed busy: Steve with his new interest, genealogy, and me with the website redesign.
Because it is in the mountains, the temperature in Sinaia was much lower than in Bucharest. Perhaps we should have spent more time there.
On the Website
Work on the new Wind and Whim website has kept me busy, so I only had one new post in July. It is a love letter to the small town of Opatija, Croatia.
Where to Next?
We will spend the first few days of August in Brasov, Romania. The main reason for this stop is to revisit Bran Castle, aka Dracula’s Castle. We visited it on a tour in 2018, but this time we will be on our own so we can explore more of the area.
For the rest of August, we will be in Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia. North Macedonia was part of Yugoslavia and gained independence in 1991.
The main attraction in Skopje is its statues. In 2010, the government started an initiative to make the city more attractive to tourists and boost the national identity. The project was named Skopje 2014. It included the construction or remodeling of dozens of buildings and the installation of over 100 statues.
The results have not been embraced by all. The city has been compared to Las Vegas, referred to as the capital of kitsch, and nicknamed Disneyland Balkans by Ashley on Global Dreaming. I look forward to seeing the buildings and finding as many statues as possible.
But Skopje has more to offer. There is the Old Bazaar, dating back to the 12th century, hiking on Mt. Vodno and the Matka Canyon, and side trips to Kosovo. Skopje is also the birthplace of Mother Teresa.
You may wonder what led us to choose North Macedonia and Albania. The answer is simple: the Schengen Area rules. As I’ve discussed in several other posts, the Schengen Area, which consists of 27 European countries, allows unrestricted movement between the member countries. Sounds great, right?
It’s not so great for long-term travelers and digital nomads, though. As U.S. citizens, we can only spend 90 out of every 180 days in the Schengen Area. This restriction has led us to visit places we may not have otherwise chosen, like Morocco, Bulgaria, and Romania. It even led us to Croatia, a country we adore, in 2018. As of 2023, Croatia is in the Schengen Area, and Romania and Bulgaria will become part of it in 2024.
Until Next Time
Steve and I hope you enjoyed catching up with our travels. Please use the comment section below to tell us about your summer adventures.
Hi there. I hope your summer is off to a great start. Ours sure is.
After laying low in May, we had a busy June. We spent most of it based in Pula, Croatia. While there, we took a six-night side trip to three other Croatian locations. After Pula, we spent a few days in Venice, then headed off the Bucharest for five weeks.
June was full of captivating sights and a few minor mistakes. Read this monthly update to learn about our adventures in Croatia and Venice and why Linda needs a refresher course in reading.
Four Weeks in Pula, Croatia
This city was our fourth and last one on our way up Croatia’s Adriatic Coast. Its most famous sight is its Roman amphitheater. It is over 2,000 years old and reminiscent of the Colosseum in Rome, although the Pula Amphitheater (also called the Pula Arena) is considerably smaller. Today the amphitheater is used for concerts and film festivals.
We enjoyed exploring Pula, including:
Visiting the Pula Aquarium – the aquarium is in a 130-year-old fortress and has over 200 species of sea life. But perhaps most interesting is that the hallways are loaded with naval memorabilia. So this is two museums in one.
Interestingly, I couldn’t find anything online about the naval displays. Perhaps they are new or temporary.
Strolling the coastline – the Adriatic Coast of Croatia has incredible scenery. So it was no surprise that our stroll along the coast led from one picture-perfect moment to another.
Delighting at tortoises living at a monastery – we’ve seen a lot of monasteries but decided to give the St. Francis Monastery in Pula a try. I’m glad we did because it was our first time seeing tortoises at a monastery. There were hundreds, and we weren’t the only adults enthralled by them. Seriously, one man was petting a tortoise’s shell.
Hunting for Austro-Hungarian fortresses – there are several long-abandoned fortresses in Pula. These small fortresses formed a ring around the city in the 1800s. Steve and I went looking for two of them. The first was covered in vegetation and couldn’t be entered. But the second one was wide open, and we were able to explore it on our own.
Learning about olive oil at the House of Istria Olive Oil Museum – I know, an olive oil museum wasn’t high on our bucket list either. But we enjoyed learning about the history and manufacture of olive oil. The entrance fee included an olive oil tasting, which was fun, even if I did choke the first time I drank some. Apparently, some people drink a small amount of olive oil daily. Who knew?
Perusing the markets – I am not a fan of markets, but Steve loves them. He visited a few, including a large weekend flea market, where he found two antique psychology books for our daughter Laura’s counseling office.
A Three-Stop Side Trip
In mid-May, Steve and I were in Zadar, Croatia. Since we were only a two-hour bus ride away from Plitvice Lakes National Park, we took a three-night trip there. It was our second visit to the park, the first one being a day tour in 2018. Unfortunately, this time it rained almost the entire time we were there. The heavy rains closed a large part of the park, and we only hiked for two hours.
We love this park so much that we were determined to try again. The only problem was that we were now in Pula, a more than six-hour bus ride away. And the only bus heading to Plitvice Lakes left Pula at the unholy hour of 5:15 a.m. So we decided to break up the trip by making a few stops along the way.
First Stop: Opatija
The first was two nights in Opatija. The town is on the Kvarner Bay, in the northern part of the Adriatic Sea. It was a popular summer resort in the 19th century and is chock full of the lovely Habsburg-era villas of that era.
The best thing to do in Opatija is enjoy the scenery. It is easy to do thanks to the abundance of seaside hotels and the Lungomare. The Lungomare is a 12 km or 7-mile-long seaside promenade along the bay.
Steve and I spent hours walking the Lungomare. We never tired of the beautiful rock formations along the coast, and we have hundreds of photos to prove it. We also relaxed on our hotel room balcony, which overlooked the bay.
Second Stop: Rijeka
The next stop was the city of Rijeka, just a 20-minute drive from Opatija but a world apart. Our primary reason for visiting Rijeka was to view the Habsburg-era buildings. We saw many, and they were architecturally beautiful, but they were all quite dirty.
We walked around, ate a few good meals, and visited Trsat Castle. The best part of the trip was when we stopped for breakfast on our second morning. As we usually do, we had Hedgemeister join us. When our waiter came by, he was delighted to see a hedgehog. He explained that one of the most popular children’s books in Croatia is about a hedgehog who loves his home. It’s called Hedgehog’s Home or Jezeva Kucica in Croatian. Here is a cute video of the story.
Third Stop: Plitvice Lakes National Park
They say the third time is a charm, and it was. This time we kept an eye on the weather before we headed there, and it was much better than on our last visit, although we did have one downpour.
The park includes sixteen terraced lakes that create over ninety waterfalls. It is laid out well, and the trails are well-marked and well-tended. This time we got to see almost all of it.
We drove from Rijeka to Plitvice Lakes because the bus trip was too long. This is only the second time we have driven overseas. The drive there was fine, but the drive back was stressful because it was raining the whole time, and a good part of it was spent driving on winding mountain roads through low-hanging clouds.
A Quick Trip to Venice
Venice was hot, crowded, expensive, and wonderful. We had a great tour of the Doge’s Palace, marveled at the beauty of St. Mark’s Basilica, and viewed the city from the top of the basilica’s bell tower.
We also checked out two nearby islands, Murano, known for its top-quality glass, and Burano, known for its brightly painted buildings.
And, of course, we got lost in the maze of streets, a rite of passage when visiting Venice. Google Maps did not work well on the city’s narrow streets.
Our Venice trip was short because we were close to the 90-day Schengen Area limit. We had originally planned to spend three nights in Venice but adjusted our plans, as you can read about below.
After our first day, we both felt that this short visit would be enough. But after our second day, we agreed that we would like to spend a week here during a less busy time.
Our Second Time in Bucharest
From Venice, we headed to Bucharest. We were there in the summer of 2018 and liked it. In addition to incredible architecture and history, they have Therme. You can read our take on this amazing wellness spa/water park here.
A Rookie Mistake
Midway through the month, we were finalizing our plans for our three-night visit to Venice. We realized that the airport we were flying out of when leaving Venice was an hour and a half away from where we were staying.
Since our flight was at 7:50 a.m., that was bad enough. But the trip would involve walking, taking a ferry, walking again, taking a train, walking yet again, and then riding a bus. All while dragging everything we travel with.
Apparently, when we booked the flight, we were so happy to find a direct one that we failed to check the logistics of getting to the airport. Even after five years of travel, we are still making rookie mistakes.
So instead of spending three nights in Venice, we only spent two. Then we spent the third night in Trieste, so we only had a ten-minute ride to the airport.
In Opatija, we stayed at Hotel Mozart, a charming pink building built in 1894. As pleasant as the hotel was, we quickly encountered a few problems. First, we noticed that there wasn’t a refrigerator in our room, as there was supposed to be. Steve called reception, and we soon had a petite young woman knocking on our door while carrying a small refrigerator.
After shaking our heads that no one had noticed this was missing, we quickly unpacked, turned on the air conditioner to get the room cool for our return, and headed out to explore.
When we returned, the room wasn’t any cooler than when we left. Steve returned to reception only to be told the air conditioner wasn’t working. I was ready to go to another hotel right then, but Steve asked for a discount, and we decided to spend at least the first night.
We had a hot night, and by mid-morning the next day, we still hadn’t heard anything about a discount. I finally went to reception an hour before check out to see what they were willing to offer. I was shocked when the receptionist told me they would give us our second night free.
Those who know me know I love a bargain, so I was willing to put up with another hot night for that sweet deal. We bought an inexpensive fan and lucked out because the second night was cooler than the first, so we slept well. As we were checking out, the air conditioning came back on.
Despite the problems at Hotel Mozart, the staff was superb, the view was great, and the breakfast buffet was delicious. I would consider giving them another try if we visit Opatija again.
You Know What They Say About Assuming
I have a bad habit of not reading things carefully. I did it with train tickets from Paris to London, which cost us US$200 to change the tickets. I also did it at the Sofia, Bulgaria airport, where I led us to the wrong terminal. Since their two terminals aren’t within walking distance from each other, we had to take a taxi to the correct one. And I did this not once, but twice, two years apart!
This time, I failed to read the details about our tour of Doge’s Palace. I assumed we would meet our tour group in front of the palace. When we arrived, I asked a man at the entrance where the tour groups met. He said (in a very unpleasant and unhelpful way) that there weren’t any tours and asked to see our tickets. Before we knew it, he had checked us into the palace and informed us (again in his unpleasant way) that if we left, we would not be allowed back in.
Then I read the instructions, which directed us to the tour operator’s office. We headed there and explained the issue. From their reaction, this wasn’t the first time they had a problem with the palace staff.
Our guide solved the problem by going through a different entrance with a nicer staff member, but the man at the entrance certainly left a negative impression.
One of these days, I will learn to read more carefully.
On the Website This Month
In between our explorations, I’ve been busy updating this website. Soon it will have a more modern look with more functionality. Because this has taken a lot of time, I didn’t have any new posts in June. The last one, from late May, looks at the problems of overtourism and possible solutions.
In late June, Time Out Travel published this article about France’s plan to find ways to reduce the number of tourists at its most popular spots.
Where to Next?
Steve and I will spend most of July in Bucharest, then head north a few hours to Sinaia and Brasov. These two Romanian towns are near several castles, including the medieval Bran Castle (also known as Dracula’s Castle) and Cantacuzino Castle (Nevermore Academy in the Wednesday TV series).
Then we will go to Skopje, North Macedonia, for a month, and Tirana, Albania, for another month. After all this, we can reenter the Schengen Area. Perhaps we’ll go back to Italy.
Until Next Time
Do you have any summer travel plans? If so, drop a comment below and tell us about them. Maybe we’ll find ourselves in the same place.
Do you dream of riding a gondola on Venice’s Grand Canal, visiting the Game of Thrones filming locations in Dubrovnik, or getting a little wild in Amsterdam?
If so, you aren’t alone. These places ignite our wanderlust. They have something else in common; they, and many others, are overtouristed.
So how do we reconcile our desire to experience the places we dream of with being a responsible tourist? There are no easy answers, but some thought and knowledge can go a long way in helping to mitigate the problems overtourism causes.
What Is Overtourism?
Overtourism occurs when a tourist destination sees a decline in the quality of life for both residents and visitors and damage to the natural environment due to more people visiting than the area can reasonably handle.
From bucket-list-worthy cities to tourist attractions, from entire countries to continents, here are some of the most overtouristed places in the world:
Cities including Amsterdam, Barcelona, Dubrovnik, Florence, Paris, Prague, and Venice
Attractions and areas like Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, some U.S. National Parks, and Lake Tahoe
Even Mt. Everest has suffered because of its popularity. I was shocked when I found out that there are around 200 dead bodies on the mountain. A 2019 clean up removed twelve tons of garbage and discovered four more bodies.
Islands including Santorini and Maui, the country of Iceland, and the continent of Antarctica
Businesses, such as Lavraria Lello, a beautiful art nouveau bookstore in Porto, Portugal, can also be impacted by overtourism. This bookstore is rumored to have been J. K. Rowling’s inspiration for Hogwarts. The author denies it, but that doesn’t stop thousands of people from queuing at its door.
Lavraria Lello charges five euro to enter the store, which you can apply towards a purchase. Even with this fee, the store is packed with people trying to get the perfect photo. Good luck with that!
Overtourism causes problems for locals, visitors, and the environment. Here is a list of some of the issues caused by overtourism.
Issues that affect locals: *increased cost of housing, often due to the proliferation of Airbnbs *noise and congestion *businesses like supermarkets and pharmacies being replaced with those that cater to tourists *increase commuting time as locals move further out and roads become more congested *resentment towards tourists because of the above
This article by Honolulu Civil Beat discusses the water shortage on Maui and the anger locals have because they have to conserve water while resorts are running fountains, filling swimming pools, and keeping golf courses green.
Issues that affect visitors: *overcrowding *increased prices *loss of authenticity
Issues that affect locations: *increased cost of maintenance and policing *increased pollution *degradation of attractions
A special problem with cruise ship passengers
When tourists rent hotel rooms, eat in restaurants, book tours, pay entrance fees, and buy souvenirs, they help the local economy. However, not every tourist visit contributes to the economy in a significant way.
The biggest cause of this is cruise day trippers. Cruise ships can unleash thousands of people in a city. These people will not book a hotel room. They are less likely to hire local tour operators since it is easier to book a tour through the cruise line. They may grab lunch and some snacks or buy a few souvenirs. Overall, their visits provide little benefit to the local economy.
What Is Being Done about Overtourism?
Cities and attractions need tourists, but not too many. Overtouristed places are struggling to find the right balance. Here are a few actions various locations have taken to preserve the local way of life and protect resources.
Maya Bay, Thailand
After it gained worldwide attention from the 2000 movie The Beach, Maya Bay exploded in popularity, sometimes having 8,000 visitors in one day. The large number of people, along with an increase in the number of boats in the bay, took a toll on the coral reefs and wildlife.
The Thai government closed Maya Beach in 2018 to give the ecosystem time to recover. This took four years. Per this April 2023 article by The World Travel Guy, the beach is now open but will likely close for a couple of months each year to give it time to recover from the strains put on it by beachgoers.
Venice has banned large cruise ships from docking in the lagoon since 2021.
Because of erosion to the city’s foundation and pollution concerns, Venice faced the possibility of being put on UNESCO’s World Heritage danger list. You can read more about this in this article by Travel + Leisure.
You can learn more about places attempting to restrict cruise ships in this article from Euronews. This Business Insider article talks about several U.S. cities attempting to restrict cruise ship traffic and the opposition they face from the cruise industry, local businesses, and state and federal governments.
In 2019, Dubrovnik capped the number of cruise ships to two per day and limited the number of passengers to 5,000 per day. A look at the docking schedules on cruisetimetables.com shows that they are keeping close to this. On some days, there are more than two ships, with a combination of large and small ships. On some days the total number of passengers exceeds 5,000 by a few hundred.
Steve and I were there in April 2023. During that week, cruise ships were in port on our arrival and departure days and the first full day of our visit. On that full day, four ships were in port, carrying a total of 4,726 passengers. We went into Old Town that day, and it was busy, but not horribly so.
Barcelona has tried several ideas to control the crowding in their city, including a temporary ban on the building of new accommodations in 2015. Currently, they have banned the rental of private rooms for less than 31 days. Entire apartments can be rented short-term (less than 31 days) as long as the owner has paid a few hundred euro to procure the appropriate license.
The city has recently limited tour group sizes, banned the use of megaphones on tours, and designated some streets one-way for pedestrians.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Amsterdam attracts millions of tourists partly because of its liberal lifestyle. Unfortunately, far too many of them come with the intention of taking their partying to the extreme. It is so bad it has made parts of Amsterdam virtually unlivable for its residents.
The city is finally fighting back. One way is with a digital discouragement campaign with the uninspired name “Stay Away.” It targets 18-35-year-old British men. The ads show the risks of hardy partying. They will pop up when someone searches terms like “stag party amsterdam.”
The Amsterdam city council instituted restrictions in the Red Light District, including banning cannabis and mandating earlier closing times for bars and brothels. There is also talk of relocating sex workers from the Red Light District to an “erotic center.” This idea is not going over well with many of the sex workers or with residents who don’t want the erotic center in their neighborhood.
The South Asian country of Bhutan has dealt with tourism differently. Since the country opened to tourists in 1974, international visitors were required to spend at least $250 per day. This covered accommodations, meals, a mandatory tour guide, and a sustainable development fee of $65.
Post-pandemic, the government ditched the package plan and instituted a daily fee of $200. Unlike the previous $250 per day minimum, the $200 fee doesn’t cover any travel costs.
Our Experiences with Overtourism
Back in the spring of 2018, when Steve and I were newbie world travelers, I was excited to visit Barcelona. It was the first city where we spent an extended amount of time. The concept of overtourism wasn’t on our radar, but it didn’t take long for us to see how crowded the city was. Barcelona’s overcrowding is made worse because it is a compact city with a high population density.
We stayed in Barcelona for a month. During that time, we saw many marvelous sights, but when I think back to our time in Barcelona, crowds are a big part of my memories.
In hindsight, we stayed in Barcelona too long, adding to its overtourism problem. I would love to go back, but if I do, it will be a much shorter visit.
In 2018, Steve and I also visited Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, and took a side trip to Split. We skipped Dubrovnik because it was further away and because of its reputation for being overtouristed.
Fast forward to 2023. When planning where to go after our visit to Athens in early April, we chose Dubrovnik as our first stop. Even though we knew it was overtouristed, we felt it was a worthwhile place to see. We limited our stay to one week. Visiting in April also meant it wasn’t nearly as crowded as it is in the summer months.
Steve and I loved Dubrovnik. We found it interesting, clean, and easy to get around. There were a lot of people, but no more than we have seen in many other places.
Steve and I spent four weeks in Istanbul in 2022. It was one of our least favorite cities, partly because of how crowded it was. Over 15 million people live there, and around 10 million people visit every year.
While walking through the city, Steve and I frequently said there were too many people. The irony that we were contributing to the overcrowding wasn’t lost on us.
I learned about Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia from a calendar. The spectacular scenery in the photo wowed me. In 2018, Steve and I were in Croatia and decided to take a one-day tour from Zagreb to the park.
The park lived up to my first impression. It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Wooden boardwalks lead visitors over sixteen terraced lakes and past ninety waterfalls. However, the crowded boardwalks detracted from our enjoyment.
We visited in the summer when the park is busiest. Our guide told us the park capped the number of daily visitors at 14,000. I do believe they hit that point the day we were there.
The park is so enchanting that Steve and I revisited it in 2023. This time we stayed at a hotel in the park for three nights. Unfortunately, heavy rains closed many of the trails and limited our hiking time.
When I think of overtourism, Venice is one of the places that immediately springs to mind. Yet it is a place I long to visit. And in June 2023, I will get that chance.
Steve and I will spend most of June 2023 in Pula, Croatia. This city on the Adriatic Sea is kitty-corner from Venice, a three-and-a-half hour ferry ride away. So after our stay in Pula, we will spend three nights in Venice!
I’ve always known that if I went to Venice, it would be a short trip. First, because it is notoriously expensive, and second, because I don’t want to add to the overcrowding. I know that we will probably only scratch the surface, but just getting the chance to see such a place is a privilege.
What Can You Do About Overtourism?
If you are concerned about the negative impact your visit may have on the city, you might decide to skip it. But should you?
Not necessarily. Overtouristed places rely on tourist dollars to support jobs, fill tax coffers, and help with conservation efforts. During the pandemic, when tourism dried up, poaching in Africa soared since there weren’t any tourists or guides to hinder the poachers. Here are some tips to help you be a more thoughtful traveler:
General tips: *Think about why you want to visit that place (not just to get the perfect Instagram shot, I hope). *Consider other places where you can have a similar experience. You can find many suggestions online like these from Hidden Lemur. *Avoid high-season; you will likely pay less and deal with fewer crowds. Win/win *Stay for more than one day. Conversely, if you are a long-term traveler, consider taking a shorter trip. *Consider exploring beyond the main sights. For example, after visiting Barcelona for a few days, explore other Catalonian towns such as Sitges or Montserrat. *Support local businesses when possible. Here are some ideas from mediafeed.org to get you started. *Avoid large tours. *Use cruisetimetables.com to see the number of cruise passengers expected to visit on your days. Plan your trip or your daily sightseeing around them. *Be respectful of the culture and customs. Common courtesy should be your constant travel companion.
If you choose to cruise: *Pick smaller ships when possible. *Consider routes that don’t stop at overtouristed places. *Arrange tours through locals, not the cruise companies.
As travelers, we believe the world is our oyster. Our ideal trips include beautiful views, exciting attractions, interesting new friends, and great meals. What we have failed to realize until recently is that every place we visit is somebody’s home. Our tour buses clog their streets, our free spending drives up prices, and our lodgings price residents out of their neighborhoods.
Hopefully, those of us fortunate enough to travel will keep the issues of overtourism and the ways to mitigate it in mind as we plan our future trips.
Steve and I would love to hear how overtourism has impacted or changed the way you travel. Just drop your message in the comment section below. Also, if you found this post helpful, please consider sharing it using the share buttons at the top of the post.
Happy traveling, Linda
Featured image of crowds in Florence, Italy by Taylor Smith on Unsplash.com
Adult children. I believe that is an oxymoron. But what else can you call them? They are your children, your kids, your babies, all grown up and running their own lives. You may live with them, see them regularly, or not very often. Whatever your situation, I ask you: now that they’ve evolved into self-sufficient beings, should you travel with them?
Below are nine reasons why traveling with adult children rocks.
A Little Background
Steve and I have two daughters, Stephanie (Steph), 31, and Laura, 27 (aka the girls). They both live in Florida. Steve and I live everywhere. Therefore, we don’t get to see our girls very often.
When we returned to Jacksonville, Florida, in December 2019, our Christmas gift to Steph and Laura was a trip to visit us somewhere in Europe in 2020. Unfortunately, the pandemic put those plans on hold. It finally happened in December 2021 when they visited us in Budapest.
We braved the cold to explore the Christmas markets, enjoy the colorful lights covering the buildings on Fashion Street, and luxuriate in the thermal water at the Szechenyi Thermal Baths. We ate well, especially at the Lang Bistro and Grill Sunday brunch buffet in the Hilton Budapest Hotel. But perhaps the most fun we had was at both locations of the Museum of Sweets & Selfies.
Even though the weather was cold, damp, and windy (the worst weather Steve and I had seen in Budapest in two years), we had a wonderful time reconnecting. It doesn’t get much better than quoting your favorite lines as you watch Christmas Vacation with the ones you love.
So it was a no-brainer that their Christmas 2021 gift would be another trip. In April 2022, the four of us spent two weeks in Athens.
While the weather was cooler than normal, we had another great time. Between visits to the Acropolis, the incredibly cool Acropolis Museum, and the Ancient Agora, we made time for fish pedicures and a short trip to Aegina Island. We petted numerous cats, enjoyed Greek food, and ate too much gelato.
With two successful international family trips under our belts, we are already talking about next year’s trip. Here are nine reasons why traveling with adult children rocks.
The Nine Reasons
1. They don’t need strollers, car seats, or diaper bags – I admire parents who travel with young children. As every parent knows, kids are a lot of work and need sooooo much stuff. And they aren’t any help with lugging it all around, the little freeloaders.
2. You don’t have to plan your days around nap time (unless you want to) – During the girls’ visit to Budapest, the bad weather, along with navigating the COVID-19 rules, tired us out. Naps came to the rescue. Even in Athens, where we had better weather, we all enjoyed an occasional nap. Why not?
3. They are self-sufficient – Adult children can handle all the daily tasks that young children need help with, like personal care and doing their laundry. It is nice to enjoy their company without the extra work. And best of all, you can leave them home alone, and you won’t end up in jail.
4. They can help out – Beyond being self-sufficient, adult children can help with everything from carrying groceries to cleaning, from cooking to doing the dishes. They can even help with planning. With all the travel planning Steve and I do, it is nice to have someone else take the wheel for a while, even if it’s just navigating the metro. And if you’re lucky, they may even cook a few meals for you as Steph did in Athens.
5. They can understand and appreciate what they’re seeing – You know little ones. They like what they like, and they aren’t shy about telling you. Unfortunately, what they like is often limited and seldom includes culturally enriching activities. The same can be said for many teens.
Just because your children are now adults doesn’t mean they have developed into lovers of all things culture. But one would expect they have developed interests beyond theme parks and playgrounds.
It’s interesting to see where their interests lie. Laura was keen to go on a short hike with Steve and me. Steph, not so much, so she stayed home. Conversely, we all went to the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens. Steph and I enjoyed it, while Steve and Laura did not.
6. They can go out on their own – whether it’s souvenir shopping or bar hopping, your kids can handle it by themselves. Although I must confess, when they are at home in Florida, and Steve and I are God knows where, I don’t worry about them because I don’t know what they’re doing. However, when we are staying in the same place, and they go out at night, I don’t sleep well until they are safely back. If your kids are likely to go out after your bedtime, you’ve been warned.
7. They can go to bars with you – Even though two of us don’t drink alcohol, there are plenty of delicious mocktails to choose from. So off we went to spend a few hours in the Kolonaki neighborhood in Athens. We enjoyed some creative drinks and the girls picked up the tab!
8. They can contribute to the cost – As the parents, you may be footing the bill. But as your kids age, they may be able to pay part or all of their way. Even if you are paying, they will likely have money for any extras they want and may even treat you to dinner (or some cocktails).
9. You get to spend time with the awesome adults you raised – Even if you live near your kids, traveling with them can give you a different perspective. Because Steve and I don’t see our girls often, these trips allow us to enjoy their company and see how they have grown personally and professionally during our time apart. We had several enlightening conversations in which Laura, a licensed mental health counselor, shared her psychological knowledge. Steph showed us how proficient she has become in the kitchen with a few tasty meals.
The fact that Steph and Laura are single and don’t have children makes it easier to travel together than if significant others and little ones were added into the mix. On top of that, we all get along, which sadly isn’t true for every family. For now, Steve and I are thankful that we get to share these experiences with our girls.
Come on. Admit it. I bet you’ve dreamt about chucking it all and traveling full-time. And I bet those dreams were full of jaw-dropping experiences, sunshiny beaches, and endless smiles.
Like most things in life, the reality doesn’t always match the fantasy.
With almost five years of full-time travel under our belts, Steve and I are here to share the surprising truth about full-time travel with you.
That’s right. We’ll tell you what happens between those jaw-dropping experiences and the lazy, hazy days of sunshine.
A Little Background
We started traveling full-time in the spring of 2018. Since then, we have returned to the U.S. twice, for a total of nine weeks. The rest of the time has been spent in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and now, Africa. Our “traveling” included two years in Budapest during the pandemic.
We have enjoyed many of the tourist standards like climbing the Eiffel Tower, taking a balloon ride in Cappadocia, and exploring Machu Picchu.
We’ve also had memorable experiences that don’t necessarily top the must-see lists, including visiting the tiny German-inspired hamlet of La Cumbrecita in Argentina, spending a few nights on Taboga Island in Panama, and for Steve, riding ATVs in Cappadocia and Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.
Both of us are happy with our decision to travel full-time and hope to continue for several more years. Even so, the truth is that “living the dream” isn’t always dreamy. Here’s why.
1. This is not a permanent vacation
It should come as no surprise that we have to do many of the mundane things we did when we lived a conventional life in the U.S.
We have to clean, cook, shop, do laundry, handle finances, and take care of our medical needs, all in unfamiliar places where English may not be widely spoken.
Since we discovered that full-time travel does not mean full-time vaca, we have gotten into the habit of taking short side trips. These give us a chance to be tourists. We stay in hotels, eat all our meals in restaurants, and spend our days exploring new locations.
Some of our favorite side trips include ten days in Prague, several stays at Aquaworld in Budapest, where we lulled the days away in their thermal baths, and indulging in luxurious hotels in Eger and Lillafured, Hungary.
All of our moving around and taking side trips means we spend a lot of time analyzing Airbnb listings and hunting for affordable flights. Not our idea of fun.
The good news is that we’ve learned what works for us, so the planning has become easier.
Airbnb has been a godsend. It has allowed us to live in apartments with kitchens, washing machines, and separate bedrooms. And we rely on Booking.com for great deals for the times when a hotel makes more sense.
Cue the violins. I know this is a first-world problem taken to the extreme. You may think that when you can go practically anywhere in the world, it would be easy to decide.
Well, it isn’t. Besides pulling out the bucket list and booking a flight to dream location number 7, there are many things to consider.
Cost is a big one. Like you, we have to work within a budget, so balancing costly places with less costly ones is important.
Of course, the weather matters too. Depending on your desired activities, this can seriously narrow down the ideal time for visiting a location.
Now add safety and logistics concerns. You don’t want to fly to Argentina, stay for two months, then shoot over to Asia for a bit before returning to the U.S. And you certainly don’t want to visit a place that is experiencing unrest.
5. Visa restrictions are a pain in the b**t
Every country has rules about how long visitors can stay. In South America, all the countries we traveled to allowed us to stay for 90 days, making this aspect of planning a breeze.
Not so for Europe. As U.S. citizens, we can only stay in the Schengen Area for 90 days out of every 180 days. That might not sound like a big deal until you realize that the Schengen Area includes 26 European countries.
Steve and I spent three months in the Schengen Area in the spring of 2018. We then had to leave it for 90 days. We ended up spending three months in Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria.
This was a silver lining situation as we had never considered visiting these countries. Now, they top the list of our favorite places. Steve’s favorite country to date is Croatia, while Bulgaria is one of my favorites.
6. We’ve become hard to impress
When you’ve been fortunate to have seen countless marvels, it is easy to become numb to them. Churches all start looking the same, and in my opinion, few places can match the architectural impressiveness of Paris, Vienna, or Buenos Aires.
We call this the Versailles effect.
At the beginning of our travels, we spent time in Paris. This included two trips to Versailles. The first visit was with a tour. We were so impressed with the palace and grounds we revisited them on our own.
Since then, whenever we tour a palace or other majestic building, Steve will say, “It’s not Versailles.”
You can read all about the incomparable Estate of Versailles in this post.
7. Dream places will disappoint you
I know I’m not the only one who dreamed of visiting the Galapagos Islands. In 2019, I got my chance.
Steve and I stayed there for a month. It was the only place we had ever stayed where we were counting the days until we left.
Don’t get me wrong, I am glad we both got to experience the marvels of the Galapagos Islands. But a month was way, way too long.
Yes, the islands are full of natural wonders, and we have some fond memories. But it is hot and expensive, and nothing on social media or in tourist ads gives you a true picture of what the towns are like. Hint: they aren’t great.
8. The world is full of fantastic places you’ve never heard of
As you travel, you will discover amazing places that were unknown to you.
While in Lisbon, we discovered Sintra, Portugal. This municipality has several palaces with attraction-filled grounds and a large Moorish castle ruin. Read more about Sintra here.
The tiny village of Huacachina, Peru, was also a delightful surprise. We spent a few nights there while touring Peru.
Huacachina is basically a small lake surrounded by huge sand dunes. There are two things to do in Huacachina; party and sand surf. Our party days are behind us, but we did give sand surfing a try.
In 2018, we also spent several days in Lagos, Portugal. This laid-back town on the Atlantic Ocean boasts impressive rock formations along the coast.
9. Friendships will change
We have found that traveling has had two effects on our relationships with the people we knew in the U.S. Either they are interested in what we are doing, and our relationship strengthens, or they are disinterested, and the friendship dies.
We have lost a few friends but also reconnected with old friends, and even made new ones through word of mouth. And of course, we have met countless inspirational people while traveling.
10. You will miss out on things back home
Weddings and funerals are the biggies. Each time one occurs, you must decide if you will make the journey home. This is not always an easy decision.
My sister’s ex-husband passed away in New York State while Steve and I were boarding a plane to the Galapagos. It was a tough decision not to attend, but the logistics were against us. Not only would we have to take at least three long flights to get there, but all our possessions are in Florida. Travel time combined with either stopping in Florida to get the appropriate clothes or shopping for them in New York were the things we considered when we decided not to attend.
11. No Airbnbs hit all the marks
There are a lot of great Airbnbs, and we have stayed in a few that were top notch. But none are perfect.
Some things are constant in the Airbnbs we’ve stayed in: vacuums have to be emptied before we can use them, appliance filters never seem to be clean, and knives usually need to be sharpened.
We have also found that not everyone is particular about the cleanliness of their cooking utensils. We believe guests put things away without cleaning them properly, and neither the hosts nor the cleaning people seem to check them.
Fortunately, we’ve never had a horrible bed; conversely, we’ve seldom had a great sofa.
12. You will deal with many cultural differences
There are two types of cultural differences: the ones you embrace and the ones you detest.
For Steve, the Muslim call to prayer, which we first heard in Turkey, was one he embraced.
The ones we detest include motorcycles driving on sidewalks, which we’ve seen pretty much everywhere we’ve been, prevalent nose picking in South America, and public urination and sometimes more in Barcelona and Paris.
In Buenos Aires, we saw daily protests that often caused streets to be blocked and metro stations to be closed.
You can’t flush toilet paper in Greece or drink the water in Turkey or Morocco.
The widespread graffiti in Thessaloniki, Greece, and to a lesser extent in Athens, shocked us. I love me some street art; this is not street art.
Except for the danger the motorcycles present, none of these are dangerous; they just take some getting used to.
13. You will look at your country differently
I grew up hearing that everyone hates America and Americans. This is bull-hockey.
When people hear that we are from the U.S., they either tell us about their visits or how much they want to go there. We have never had anyone treat us badly because of where we are from.
Foreign travel allows you to learn about your country from a different perspective. I was shocked, but not surprised, to learn about Argentina’s Dirty War (1974-1983), in which right-wing forces overthrew the government with U.S. support. It is estimated that 30,000 people disappeared during this time.
As you can see, the reality doesn’t live up to the dream, but does it ever? Even so, this is still one of the best decisions Steve and I ever made.
Traveling the world has filled our eyes with incredible beauty and our hearts with love for people we would otherwise never meet. It has educated us as no book or course ever has. It has also opened our minds, challenged our beliefs, and hopefully made us better people.
We can put up with language issues, crappy sofas, and motorcycles on sidewalks if we get all of this in return.
Until Next Time
As always, Steve and I would love to hear your thoughts on the truth about full-time travel. Is it for you, or would it require you to give up more than you are willing?
Happy traveling, Linda
P.S. Also, please consider sharing this post. Just go to the top and pick one of the social media options. And if you haven’t signed up for email notifications, you can do that below.
Happy New Year! Is it just me, or did 2022 go by faster than a Parisian pickpocket can grab your wallet?
I hope last year has left you with wonderful memories and new friends. Steve and I have been fortunate on both fronts.
Sometimes when we are having a low-key day or two (or seven), I feel guilty that we aren’t doing enough or seeing enough. Then I look over our photos and decide we’re doing okay.
These are the memorable moments from our 5th year of full-time travel.
The year got off to a slow start. We were still living in Budapest long-term because of the pandemic. In the early months of the year, we only took side trips in Hungary because we didn’t want to deal with Covid restrictions in other countries.
We filled our days with exploring Budapest. The city is full of beautiful sights and cool things to do. It will always have a special place in my heart.
We also went to many comedy shows and made new friends at the Stay Sane Social Club’s quiz nights while we waited for Covid to complete its retreat and spring to make its appearance.
Our Final Visit to Aquaworld
During our two-plus years in Budapest, we enjoyed five visits to Aquaworld Budapest. We love this thermal bath, spa, and waterpark complex. A visit there means lazy days lounging in warm spring water, swirling around in the lazy river, and stuffing yourself silly.
It turns out that thermal baths are one of our favorite things, and Budapest is full of them. I wish every city were.
In March, we took a five-night trip to Szeged, Hungary’s third-largest city. One of the draws was the thermal baths at Sunshine Aquapolis Szeged, which are connected to the Hunguest Hotel Forrás, which is where we stayed.
The second draw was the Art Nouveau buildings. The city had a devastating flood in 1879 that wiped out most of its buildings. The rebuilding continued into the early part of the 20th century when the Art Nouveau style was popular.
It was colder than expected while we were there, which hampered our sightseeing, but we did tour the New Synagogue and the Votive Church, both of which are splendid. We also enjoyed art in the Reok Palace, an Art Nouveau building decorated with irises.
Several people suggested we visit Vienna since it is only two and a half hours by train from Budapest. In April, we finally did.
This was during the evacuation of Ukraine. Both the train terminal and the train were teeming with refugees. It was sobering to see people carrying everything they had, and it was tough to see the children.
We had combined our Vienna trip with a visit to Salzburg. However, it was so cold and rainy in Austria that we postponed the Salzburg leg. Because of the weather, we limited our sightseeing to museums, of which there are plenty. And they are phenomenal.
We saw art, history, and the Lipizzan Stallions at the Spanish Riding School. We visited a multi-story aquarium and had to leave a crypt tour in St. Stephen’s Cathedral because we didn’t have enough euro to pay. The tour guide was not amused.
I wasn’t excited about going to Vienna, as I wrongly assumed it would be like Budapest but larger. There are similarities because of the shared history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But as much as I love Budapest, I found Vienna grander, the museums a cut above, and the buildings in better condition.
When we arrived home, we had a message from the hotel where we stayed. They accused us of stealing a high-end makeup mirror worth $115. There were supposed to be two of these curved mirrors in the bathroom. Our bathroom only had one, and we didn’t give it a thought. Luckily, a forceful email put an end to that.
A Visit to Visegrad
In April, we visited Visegrad, Hungary, for the second time and finally had some good weather.
Visegrad is a small town only forty minutes from Budapest by train. Its main attraction is the Citadel, a 13th Century castle set on a hill overlooking the Danube. You can also tour the 14th-century Royal Palace, which has twenty rooms open to the public and a good-sized garden.
Since we love cemeteries, we enjoyed the Visegrad Cemetery. It is the best-kept cemetery I have seen.
We also enjoyed some fun on the summer bobsled and alpine coaster at Bobsled Visegrad.
We stayed at Hotel Visegrad. Despite some problems with our toilet, it was good. Our stay included half-board and dinner one night at the Renaissance Restaurant. The hotel also has decent pool and spa facilities.
May Visit to Prague
Since we were still in Budapest in May, we took the opportunity to visit Prague for ten nights. We split our stay between two hotels: one in District 1 and the other in District 3, and learned that staying in District 1 is the way to go. It is where most of the sights are and is very walkable.
We hit all the top tourist sights, including the Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, and Vysehrad Castle. However, one of the most memorable things we did was visit the KGB Museum. Our guide, a Soviet native, was the only employee, and we were the only customers. He delighted in telling gruesome stories, complete with thrashing and horror-film sound effects. He seemed to enjoy this a bit too much.
Another favorite was the Troja Chateau. This 17th-century chateau’s walls and ceilings are covered with ornate frescos. The grounds are pretty impressive, too.
Since we had wet and cold weather on our April trip to Vienna, we decided to give it another try in June. We combined this with stops in Salzburg, Lake Bled, and Ljubljana.
Fortunately, the weather was much better this time, so we saw Vienna beyond the museums. It is beautiful and easy to get around. It has been named the most livable city in several polls and is one of my favorite cities.
We spent a day at the 270-year-old Schonbrunn Zoo, the oldest zoo in the world that is still in operation. We also enjoyed the grounds of the Belvedere Palace with their beautiful statues and joined in the revelry of the Pride parade.
The Rollercoaster Restaurant in the Prater amusement park was a lot of fun, too. Your food is delivered on a rollercoaster (surprise, surprise), and a light show plays periodically.
Salzburg was as charming as you would expect. The highlight was a visit to the Schloss Hellbrunn. The 400-year-old Baroque villa is lovely, but the real attraction is on the grounds. They are full of water features and trick fountains that surprise guests as they wander through the gardens.
We also checked out the Mirabell Palace grounds. I wanted to see the Dwarf Garden. This garden contains seventeen marble statues of dwarfs in various poses. The statues are over 300 years old and were recently restored.
The rest of our short visit was spent wandering the picturesque streets and trying to pronounce the Austrian names.
You’ve undoubtedly seen photos of Lake Bled with the Assumption of Mary church standing on an island. It is as magical as the photos suggest.
From the minute we arrived in Bled, we were captivated. And we had a lot of time to be captivated because we caught the wrong bus and spent 45 minutes dragging our luggage around the lake to our hotel.
Besides enjoying the lake, there is some good hiking in the area. Unfortunately, our hiking plans fell through because of my upset tummy, but that just gives us a reason to return.
The last stop on this trip was the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana. Of the four places we visited on this trip, this was my least favorite. The city center is pretty, and the dragon is the symbol of Ljubljana, which I think is pretty cool, but it didn’t seem like there were many things to do there. Perhaps we didn’t look hard enough.
Ljubljana had the most unusual public art I have ever seen. I just don’t get it.
One of the things I like best about traveling is learning about unusual places. In Ljubljana, Metelkova fit the bill. Metelkova is an autonomous culture zone populated by squatters since 1993. It is sometimes compared to Christiania in Copenhagen.
It isn’t very big, and we were a bit uneasy because we didn’t know what to expect, but no one bothered us. Metelkova is based on the principles of equality and acceptance. Because of this, it has been targeted by hate groups, including neo-nazis.
Read more about Metelkova in this article by Adventurous Miriam.
And for the really adventurous, how about an overnight stay at Hotel Celica? It is a former military prison in Metelkova that is now an art-filled hostel.
Walking the Dales Way in England
In July, we finally got to do the eight-day Dales Way walk we had initially planned for 2020. We walked the 81 miles and then some since we got lost frequently and had to retrace our steps.
When we weren’t busy dodging cattle and their leavings, we marveled at the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales.
We highly recommend this adventure. You do not have to be athletic, although there is some climbing over stiles and navigating rocky inclines. Read more about walking the Dales Way here.
We spent several days before and after the walk in Manchester, a city full of the friendliest people we’ve ever met.
A Month and a Half on the Turkish Riviera
This was our first time in Turkey. Before then, the only places I knew of in Turkey were Istanbul and Cappadocia. Discovering all the beach towns along the western and southern coasts of the country was a happy surprise.
In six weeks, we visited six coastal towns. Each one had a different vibe, but all were relaxing and beautiful.
We enjoyed the super touristy town of Marmaris, admired the amazing scenery in Dalyan, and had fantastic food in Fethiye, including pizza with filet mignon and hollandaise sauce.
We also mistook a nighttime party boat cruise for a romantic moonlight cruise and spent three hours willing the pounding music to stop.
We only saw six of the many, many towns on the Turkish Riviera. No matter which you choose, you can’t go wrong.
Learn more about the places we visited on the Turkish Riviera here.
Bucket List Destination: Cappadocia
Since we were in Turkey, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to visit Cappadocia. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of photos of the dramatic rock formations and the sunrise hot air balloon rides.
Cappadocia is as intriguing as the photos suggest, and our balloon ride was incredible. I was surprised and pleased when Steve said he would do it since he avoids all thrill rides. As he will tell you, there was nothing scary about it.
Istanbul was our final stop in Turkey. The city is full of contrasts: beautiful buildings among slums, kind people who turn into maniacs on the road, and an efficient metro system but undependable bus service.
Visits to fascinating places like the Topkapi Palace, the Basilica Cistern, and the Dolmabahce Palace contrasted sharply with walking through rundown neighborhoods. Even our modern Airbnb rental looked out over a litter-filled dump.
The highlight, if you can call it that, was a fire in the building where we were staying. Fortunately, it was limited to the exterior, so no one was hurt or lost belongings.
Greece was a welcome change from Turkey. The first city we visited was Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in Greece.
Life was so much easier there. It is much less crowded than Istanbul, and English is more common, which we don’t expect, but do appreciate.
There aren’t loads of things to do in Thessaloniki. The Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki was very well done, with excellent English translations. The War Museum was also worthwhile. Strolling the seaside promenade and spotting random ruins throughout the city were also enjoyable.
The highlight of our time in Thessaloniki was a side trip to Meteora. This area rivals Cappadocia for stunning rock formations, which can be almost 600 meters or 2,000 feet high. Some of these rocks have centuries-old monasteries on top. You can tour the monasteries, and they are beautiful.
Then to Athens
After Thessaloniki, we headed to Athens. We stayed in the Plaka neighborhood, which is the best option for tourists as it is close to most of the sights. We walked by the Acropolis daily.
There was plenty to keep us busy. In addition to touring several ruins, we spent time in the Panathenaic Stadium, the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble. The stadium was originally built in the 2nd century and was excavated and renovated in the late 1800s. It is definitely worth a visit. Be sure to get the audio guide; it adds a lot to the experience.
Another cool sight is the Psyri neighborhood. It is full of antique shops and restaurants, including the over-the-top Little Kook.
Our First Time in Africa
The last city of 2022 was Tangier, Morocco. It is the first stop on a two-and-a-half-month stay in Morocco before we return to the U.S. for a short visit.
After the chaos of Istanbul and the busyness of Athens, Tangier is a welcome break. There aren’t a lot of sights or museums, but the medina and the promenade along the Straight of Gibraltar are must-sees.
Everything is easier here. Traffic is light and respectful of pedestrians. Shopping is convenient. The official languages are Arabic and Berber. French is also widespread, and Spanish and English are sometimes spoken.
What’s Planned for 2023?
It’s unusual for us to plan too far ahead, but we made an exception this time. We’ll be spending March in Jacksonville, Florida. While there, we can spend time with friends and family and attend a wedding in Key West.
Then it’s back to Athens for us, this time for two weeks with our daughters, Stephanie and Laura. We hope that Laura’s boyfriend Nick and his mom will join us.
After that? Time will tell.
Until Next Time
I hope you have enjoyed our walk down memory lane. Hopefully, some of them have tickled your travel bug. Steve and I would love to hear about your experiences in the places we visited.
We wish you health, happiness, and prosperity in 2023.
“A great way to learn about your country is to leave it.”
— Henry Rollins
Starting a post with a quote feels a little cheesy, but this quote by musician, writer, and actor Henry Rollins just fits too well.
If you were born and raised in the United States as I was, you likely grew up thinking you lived in the greatest country in the world. Maybe you do. And maybe you don’t. Since this is a subjective opinion, there is no right or wrong answer.
When I reflect on my life, I realize how fortunate I have been. I grew up with love in a middle-class suburban family. I got a decent education, never went hungry, and had top-notch medical care. To be born as a member of the majority in a wealthy, powerful country is a blessing that I did nothing to deserve.
Like many of my fellow Americans, I believed that we had the most freedom, the most opportunities, the best education, and the best medical care.
Now, after more than four years of traveling and living in Europe and Latin America, I feel that I, and my fellow citizens, have been sold a bill of goods.
Is Our Belief In Our Superiority Blinding Us?
The belief that we are the best, always the best, has left many U.S. citizens embarrassingly blind to the shortcomings of our society and the strengths of other countries. And if we can’t see those things, we can never improve.
During my time outside of the U.S., I have developed a recurring wish: that every American could travel to other countries for an extended time. Of course, not everyone can do that, nor would everyone want to. So here are eight observations I would like to share with my fellow citizens.
1. People in other countries know an impressive amount about the U.S.
As Steve and I travel, we continue to be astounded by the knowledge of people we meet. We have met many European and Latin American people who are well informed about the U.S.
Because we don’t have a car, we meet many taxi and Uber drivers. We have had thoughtful conversations with many of them about events in the U.S.
We met a woman from Poland who not only knew where Jacksonville, Florida (our home for 30 years) was but also knew the name of Jacksonville’s football team and a man from England who knew the name of Florida’s governor.
Contrast this with comments our daughters’ received from fellow Americans before their trip to Hungary. One was told that Hungary isn’t a country. Some people were concerned with what our daughters would eat (they have restaurants and grocery stores in Hungary just like in the U.S., who knew?).
Just recently, one person my daughter spoke with was shocked when he heard we were in Turkey. He was under the belief there was a war going on here.
2. Many people around the world are multilingual.
There may be nothing as humbling as seeing how many people around the world are multilingual. Yes, there are people in the U.S. that speak more than English, but we lag way behind many countries.
Data on bilingualism and multilingualism by country is hard to come by, but this article from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences claims that 25% of U.S. residents can speak more than one language. In the European Union, 66% of residents can. This data is from 2017, but I have no reason to think that things have changed dramatically in the past five years.
Seriously, how impressive is it when the guy driving your taxi can discuss your nation’s current events in your language while you are struggling to learn the basics of his?
We’ve been in more than one tour group in which young people from Europe were able to follow an English-speaking guide and ask intelligent questions.
And then there was a waiter we had in Budapest. He told us it was his first day on the job because he had just returned to Hungary. It turned out that he had been traveling in Europe for several years. Steve asked him how many languages he spoke. We stopped counting at seven.
3. Multilingual signs and phone menus won’t erase your culture.
There is no reason to get in a tizzy over them. If you speak English, read the English words, and pick the phone option for English. We need to get over the idea that presenting multiple languages hurts us. If they take away your language, then you have something to complain about.
Granted, Steve and I spend most of our time in cities that rely on tourism. It is to their benefit to offer the languages that most tourists speak. And I am sure that there are citizens in those countries who also resent foreign languages. I say the same to them: get over it.
Someday, you may find yourself in a place where your language isn’t the main one. If people are patient with you and options are made available, you will be as grateful as we are.
4. The U.S. isn’t the only country immigrants are flocking to.
If your world view is limited to the U.S., you may think that every immigrant is invading your country. This is far from true. You might be surprised to learn that since 2013 Germany has taken in more immigrants than the U.S. while their population is less than one-third of the U.S.
Countries taking in the most immigrants include Spain, Japan, and the U.K. These countries all have considerably smaller populations than the U.S.
Here are statistics on the number of immigrants by country from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development.
5. Immigrants are not the enemy.
Even before we left the U.S., I was fortunate to meet many people of different races, nationalities, and religions as a member of two Toastmasters groups. Many of these people were immigrants to the U.S. These experiences made me more comfortable with people who are different than me (in some way) and appreciate their life experiences.
Now, as I travel, I am amazed at the number of people living in a country other than their native one. They are often well-educated, gainfully employed, and respectful of the country they are currently calling home.
Yes, nasty people can enter your country and cause harm. But from my experience, most people who go to other countries to live, temporarily or permanently, are not there to do harm and have the potential to make for a much richer nation.
While in Paris in 2018, Steve and I lived near a canal where there were a few hundred tents housing male migrants from Africa. The men kept to themselves while waiting for help from the French government. We even walked by the tents several times with no problem.
One day, we watched as the migrants listened patiently when a government representative spoke to them about their future. Another day, we watched with sadness when the tents and any remaining possessions were bulldozed after the migrants had been moved out.
6. We have more to fear from governments run amok than from individuals, including immigrants.
While running for president in 2015, Donald Trump portrayed Mexicans entering the U.S. as rapists, with the acknowledgment that some might be good people. He was exploiting the basic human trait of fearing what we do not know.
While an individual can cause great harm, it seems to me that it is governments gone to extremes that cause the most damage.
As we’ve traveled to various cities, we repeatedly find one or more museums dedicated to the horrific actions of a previous government. Not only does this include memorials to victims of the Holocaust, but also events like Argentina’s Dirty War, which I knew nothing about before visiting Buenos Aires.
One of the most powerful things we have seen is the surviving mothers of the people who disappeared during the Dirty War walking in the Plaza de Mayo as they have done every Thursday afternoon for over four decades. While the mothers and their supporters march, they call out the names of the missing, followed by a demand that the current government “presente” or tell them what happened to their loved ones.
Medellin is the only city we have visited where the impact of one criminal, drug lord Pablo Escobar, was strong enough to make a lasting impression. The Inflexion Commemorative Park was developed on the site of one of Escobar’s former homes. It is a place to remember the more than 46,000 victims of narcoterrorism during Escobar’s reign.
7. There is less anger in other countries.
There seems to be less anger in other countries. I have never seen someone flip off another person or chase them down to exact revenge (as in road rage). It probably happens, but overall I have found a more peaceful, forgiving climate.
The few times Steve and I have seen an argument break out in public, we have said to each other, “If this were the U.S., someone would probably be shot by now.”
If you think that is extreme, consider that for the first seven months of 2022, the U.S has seen more than one mass shooting per day. This article on Wikipedia has done a great job of tracking the 2022 mass shootings.
8. A lot of places have good, affordable medical care.
It has been a relief to travel and not have to worry about the cost of medical care. We’ve had experiences with medical care in several places in Europe and South America. Except for Steve’s horrible hospital stay in Bulgaria, the care has been high-quality and affordable.
Since we both routinely take several prescriptions, it has been a godsend to be able to pay for our medicines out of pocket. That doesn’t mean they are dirt cheap, but even the most expensive ones are within reach.
As older people with savings, we could travel almost anywhere in the world and be able to pay for medical care out of pocket. There is no way we would take that chance in the U.S.
The above observations are based on my admittedly limited experiences and are anecdotal. Here are some statistics that look at the ranking of countries for various benchmarks:
Citizens of many countries enjoy freedom of speech. Ranking of countries with the most freedom of speech by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance ranks the U.S. 13th along with Luxembourg and Peru.
The U.S. ranks even lower for freedom of the press based on data compiled by Reporters Without Borders in their World Press Freedom Index for 2022. Not only does the U.S. not make the top ten, but it ranks 42nd.
And finally, the Economist Intelligence Unit recently released a list of the most livable cities in the world. No U.S. city made the top ten. The first U.S. city on the list is San Francisco, at number 35. Our lovely neighbors to the north have three cities in the top ten. To see all 100 cities with beautiful photos, click here.
Areas Where The U.S. is Strong
The U.S. does lead the world in higher education. According to the QS World University Rankings the U.S. is home to five of the top ten universities in the world. Leading the pack is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The United Kingdom is second with four of the top ten.
Other rankings have slightly different outcomes, but in all of them, the U.S. dominates higher education.
Other areas where the U.S. remains strong include technological innovation, space exploration, and cultural influence.
The U.S. has also won the most Olympic medals. However, if you take population into account, it doesn’t even make the top ten. You can see the statistics here.
Why “Love It or Leave It” is Misguided
Some readers may be thinking, “If you don’t like it in the U.S., you can leave.”
I know I can leave. I did leave to see the rest of the world, and frankly, I am in no hurry to return. But whether or not I live in the U.S. or am even a U.S. citizen, I have a right to my opinion.
This sophomoric reaction, along with “love it or leave it,” may feel warm and fuzzy, but it also shuts down critical thinking and shows an unwillingness to acknowledge, let alone address, the issues the U.S. faces.
A Final Thought
If you have read this far and are saying, “I don’t care what you say, The United States is still the greatest country in the world,” I have one last observation to share with you.
One morning, I was walking down the street in Cuenca, Ecuador, as children were heading to school when a thought hit me: as a U.S. citizen, the country of Ecuador wasn’t even on my radar. Before visiting, I could only name one city in Ecuador, the capital of Quito, and I knew that the Galapagos Islands belong to Ecuador. Yet, as I watched those kids heading to school, I realized they could go to school without worrying about being shot. Their parents could rest much easier than the parents of U.S. students.
Can any country whose children are being murdered at school be called “The Greatest Country in the World?”
Until Next Time
I hope you have found this article informative and thought-provoking. Steve and I would love to hear your opinions on these issues. For the American travelers out there, have you found these things to be true?
One of the biggest concerns people contemplating long-term travel have is handling medical care on the road. I am not going to sugarcoat it: it can be a challenge. And if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that no matter how well-laid your plans are, something will come along to mess them up.
After more than three years on the road, Steve and I have had several medical-related experiences. All were positive except one. In this post, I will share those experiences with you so you can get a feel for the types of medical issues that may arise when you travel.
Medical Insurance Options
There are so many things to consider when choosing how to insure yourself and your family when you travel long-term. Do you keep your U.S. plan? Buy a travel insurance policy? Can you afford to self-insure?
These issues are beyond the scope of this post. If you want to dig deeper into medical insurance options on the road, I recommend starting with two articles by Nora Dunn, The Professional Hobo:
Steve and I both retired when we were 60. Since we were too young for Medicare and didn’t know how the whole world travel thing would go, we needed to have a solid U.S. medical insurance policy. We opted to stay with the plans we had through our employers.
In each case, we paid premiums through COBRA for the first 18 months after retirement. The combined monthly cost for COBRA was $1,500. If you do the math, you can see that it cost us a very scary $27,000 for the 18 months we were both on COBRA. I checked alternatives, but anything else would cost at least that much, even the Affordable Care Act (ACA), since you aren’t eligible for a subsidy if you have a viable insurance option available to you.
ACA Saves the Day
The good news is that once Steve’s COBRA period ended in July 2018, we were able to sign him up for insurance through ACA. This worked out great because we were living off savings, so we did not have taxable income. For the past three years, one or both of us have been insured through ACA.
I am currently the only one on ACA, and I pay $26 per month. We paid $65 per month in 2020 for coverage for both of us. The best part was that we got the most generous policy either of us has ever had. That’s saying something since both of our work policies were very good. The new policy is a PPO worth about $1,000 per month.
Disclaimer: everyone’s situation is different, and it is important to understand how ACA works. We happened to luck out with a great set of circumstances when our COBRA periods ended.
We have U.S. medical insurance policies in case we return to the U.S. to live or get medical care, but were pleased to find that our policies paid for a large part of coverage outside of the U.S.
The first time was when I had to visit a doctor in Quito, Ecuador. The total bill was $80. I was still on my PPO through COBRA, so I submitted a claim online. Insurance paid all but the $20 copay.
When Steve had his skiing accident in January of 2020, he was on a PPO through ACA. We decided to submit a claim but didn’t expect much. We were thrilled when they paid $1,800 of our $2,100 costs.
Since that time, we submitted all our medical bills and were reimbursed for most of them.
Travel Medical Insurance
The Choice to Self-Insure
We chose not to purchase travel medical insurance because everything we have read says how cheap medical care is outside the U.S., and we have savings to cover potential costs. And as discussed above, most of our costs have been reimbursed by our U.S. PPOs.
Then Steve turned 65 in January, meaning he was now eligible for Medicare. It also means he is no longer eligible for ACA. Since the basic medicare policy does not cover care outside of the U.S., and he needed proof of insurance to get a residence permit in Hungary, he signed up for Nomad Insurance through SafetyWing. It costs him $138 every four weeks.
One of the cool things about SafetyWing is that you can start and stop it in 4-week intervals. I cannot comment on how good the coverage is since we thankfully haven’t used it yet.
If you don’t have enough savings to cover an unexpected bill that could run into thousands of dollars, you should definitely get travel medical insurance.
The One Insurance We Won’t Travel Without
One insurance we always have is evacuation insurance. We felt this was particularly important since we started our travels on a transatlantic cruise. As high as the amount of our COBRA coverage was, it pales compared to the cost of a medical evacuation.
According to this Forbes Advisor article, “The average emergency medical evacuation costs can set you back $25,000 within North America and up to $100,000 from Europe, according to estimates by Travelex Insurance. In more remote locations, a medical evacuation can cost as much as $250,000”. You can find out more here.
We have used MedJet for our evacuation insurance since 2018. Medjet is available to citizens of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. It is not medical insurance. It will not cover the cost of seeing a doctor or being hospitalized. Medjet Assist will arrange medical transportation to a hospital in your home country if you are hospitalized while traveling. It will also repatriate your remains should you die while traveling. The Medjet Horizon policy adds crisis response services for a variety of situations.
The price is based on age and the length of coverage. We are in our 60s and get coverage for the entire year. With the $100 discount for AARP members, it costs us $1,100 per year, a great deal since AARP membership for two is only $16 per year.
Beware that while Medjet provides a layer of comfort, it may not be available when you want it. In the early part of the pandemic, Medjet informed their policyholders that they would not be able to evacuate you for any reason because of travel restrictions. Eventually, they were able to resume some transports, including Covid related ones, in some parts of the world. They recently announced as of July 12, 2021, they will transport COVID patients globally.
Our Original Plan
Before we left the U.S., we discussed our plans with our doctors, and they gave us prescriptions for a year. We filled each prescription for the first three months. For our inexpensive medications, we filled the rest of the prescriptions by finding the best prices using GoodRx and paying out-of-pocket.
Steve and I each take a few medications that are too expensive to pay for out-of-pocket in the U.S., so we left with only three month’s worth of these medicines, knowing we would have to refill them while traveling (which is discussed below).
We enlisted our daughter Stephanie’s help in filling our prescriptions for the expensive medicines. We order refills online every quarter, and Stephanie picks them up. The plan was that we would restock for the year on our annual return to the U.S., then we would repeat the cycle.
The plan was foolproof until it wasn’t. Because of the pandemic, we decided not to return to the U.S. in December 2020. That meant we couldn’t pick up the medicine Stephanie had saved for us or see our doctors for refills. That meant we now had to refill all our prescriptions in whichever place we find ourselves.
Traveling With Medication
Since we travel with hundreds of prescription pills, we follow these procedures:
Each of us has a letter from our doctor listing the medications we take, why we take them, and how long we plan to be away.
We also keep about a week’s worth of medication, the doctor’s letters, and copies of our prescriptions in our carry-ons and packed the rest in our checked luggage.
The medicine in our check luggage is kept in the pharmacy-issued bottles, although we do combine bottles to save space.
So far (knock wood), we have not had any issues bringing our medications into other counties.
Your Medicine Will (Probably) Be Cheaper Outside the U.S.
Our first experience with buying medicine overseas was in Croatia. Steve was about to run out of a few medications. He found out that he would need prescriptions for them, so he found an English-speaking doctor to write them. The cost of the doctor’s visit was only $15. The cost of the medicine was $212. The cheapest it could be purchased out-of-pocket in Jacksonville at that time was $1,832.
One month later, I noticed that I was about to run out of one medication. By now, we were in Bucharest, Romania. I was kicking myself for not having taken care of it when Steve did his. But all’s well that ends well. I stopped at a pharmacy to check that if I would need a prescription. The pharmacist said I didn’t. She asked how many boxes I wanted and handed them to me. The cost was $45 per box, compared to the lowest price in Jacksonville of $422 per box.
If you take away one piece of information from this post, it should be this: every country has different rules about which medications require a prescription. Before you visit a doctor, stop by a pharmacy and ask if you need a prescription for your specific medicine or check online.
Every time we have purchased medicine while traveling, it has been in boxed blister packs. The pro is that you can walk into a pharmacy, and as long as they have what you need (they usually do), you walk out a few minutes later all set. No waiting for the bottles to be filled. The downside is that you have to take each pill out of the blister packs.
But Your Medicine May Not Be Available
I found out the hard way that not all medicines are available in every country. I ran out of the thyroid medicine liothyronine in Ecuador. Since it wasn’t available in Ecuador, I arranged to have my daughter mail some to me. I never received it. Fortunately, it is something I can do without.
Liothyronine is also not available in Hungary. My doctor in Budapest explained why: liothyronine is a booster for Levothyroxine, so only a small percent of Levothyroxine users need it. There are not enough potential customers in Hungary to make it available.
So, two words to the wise:
If you have a medication you can’t live without, make sure you have enough with you or that it is available where you are going.
Do not count on getting it via mail. It may work, but in my case, it didn’t, and it was a costly experience both time-wise and money-wise.
You can’t walk into a store like Target or Costco and walk out with a year’s worth of pain relievers for $5. For one thing, some medicines that are OTC in the U.S. require a prescription in some countries. Secondly, if a medication is sold OTC, it will usually be in a box of 10 or 20 tablets and cost much more per tablet than we are used to paying.
And some aren’t available. In Budapest, I couldn’t buy diphenhydramine hydrochloride (anti-itch) medication (crème or pills). My doctor suggested another OTC medicine, and it seems fine, but once I get back to the U.S., I will be replenishing my diphenhydramine hydrochloride supply.
Our Experiences With Doctors
The second time we visited a doctor was in our second year of travel. We arrived in Quito, Ecuador, from the Galapagos Islands. Soon after we arrived, we both started feeling lethargic and slightly nauseous. At first, we feared altitude sickness because the Galapagos Islands are at sea level, and Quito is at an elevation of 9,350 feet (2,850 meters). Digestive issues followed a few days later. After a bit, Steve felt better, but my symptoms lingered long enough that I decided to see a doctor.
The visit couldn’t have been smoother. I found the name of an English-speaking doctor on my insurance company’s website. When I called, the receptionist put the doctor on the line. I explained what was going on, and he said to come right in.
I saw the doctor, and he ordered some tests, which were done right away in the same building. After a few hours wait, I got the results. Total cost: $80.
Before we traveled to Budapest in March of 2020, I ran across a blog that recommended FirstMed for English-speaking travelers. I made a note of it just in case, and I am glad I did. We have been in Budapest for sixteen months now because of the pandemic and have used the FirstMed services many times.
At first, we only visited to get prescriptions, and the out-of-pocket cost was reasonable. When it became evident that we would be here a while, we signed up for the Premium Plan. It cost $1,200 for the two of us ($689 for an individual). The plan covers a lot, including up to 28 doctor visits, annual checkups, and diagnostics. Learn about the plans they offer.
I was blown away by their efficiency when I had my annual physical (included in the Premium Plan). It started with a visit with my primary doctor, then a mammogram including ultrasound, an ECG, bloodwork, and two vaccines. All in 1 ½ hours and all in the same building.
Our Hospital Experiences
We have had two experiences with hospitals; one bad and one good.
The bad one was very bad. That was Steve’s nightmarish experience in Bulgaria after his skiing accident. He was in a small hospital in the small town of Razlog. But in speaking with others in Bulgaria, I believe that medical care isn’t very good anywhere in the country, even in the capital.
Our second experience with a foreign hospital was in Budapest when I had an e-scooter accident. That was much more in line with the type of facility and treatment we are used to.
The quality of medical care won’t stop me from visiting it a location, but it may limit what I choose to do there. For example, now that I know that medical care is not so good in Bulgaria, I wouldn’t choose to ski there.
Here are two articles that rank healthcare by country:
I hope this post has provided you with some useful information about the medical care challenges long-term and full-time travelers face. I am not an expert, and everything I have written is anecdotal; however, if you have any questions, Steve and I would be glad to answer them to the best of our abilities.
As always, Steve and I would love to hear about your medical care experiences while traveling.
Safe and happy traveling, Linda
Featured photo by Daniele D’Andreti on Unsplash.com
Many years ago, I was picking out pastries in a bakery in Paris with my older daughter Stephanie. When the clerk pointed to a pastry, I confidently replied, “por favor.” My daughter quietly said, “Mom, that’s Spanish.”
Looking back, I have to wonder if this error was a harbinger of things to come?
Too Many Countries, Too Many Languages
Steve and I spent eight months in Europe in 2018. During that time, we visited seven countries, and each one had a different language. Even if we wanted to, there was no way we could learn the languages of all these countries in such a short time.
We did the next best thing. We learned the basics: hello, please, thank you, goodbye. This, along with Google Translate and pantomime, was enough for us to function.
We mainly visited large cities, and many of the people we interacted with spoke English. This certainly made our lives easier, but it also meant that we did not have to work very hard at learning the local language. In the words of the TV character Adrian Monk, “It’s a blessing and a curse.”
The table below shows the percent of people who were proficient in English in 2019 in the counties we visited. The data is from Statista.
Portuguese is Not Gender Neutral
You probably know that some languages assign genders to their words. Portuguese is one of those. So when I learned that the word for thank you is obrigada (feminine) or obrigado (masculine), I assumed that the gender I used would be based on to whom I was speaking.
I was wrong. Unfortunately, we were several weeks into our travels around Portugal when I learned this. Until then, I had been saying obrigado to men. A few of them replied with strange looks. But one man’s reaction really stuck with me. His smile was bordering on a laugh.
It wasn’t until our third week in Portugal that somebody set me straight. We purchased tickets at a museum, and I confidently responded with obrigado because he was male. The clerk politely told me that as a woman, I should always say obrigada. I thanked him for letting me know.
If you are wondering if you should correct a person who makes a mistake while speaking a language that is obviously not their native language, my vote is yes. If you do it politely, it will most likely be appreciated. I was certainly grateful to that clerk.
You might think that people who spent ten months in Spanish-speaking countries, as Steve and I did in 2019, would become quite adept at speaking Spanish. That wasn’t the case for us. We didn’t meet as many natives who spoke English as we had in Europe. Instead, we relied on Google Translate and therefore failed to pick up more than the basics.
While we were in Latin America, I spent time on Rosetta Stone lessons. Now that I have plenty of time on my hands because of the pandemic, I am continuing to learn Spanish using Duolingo. Both programs have helped me recognize written words, but speaking and listening are still a long way off.
Why Don’t You Understand Me?
Based on my limited experience with foreign languages, I noticed a distinct difference between the way English speakers (at least those from the U.S.) act when someone doesn’t understand us and how people in Latin America act when the listener does not understand.
In Latin America, we noticed that if we spoke a few words of Spanish the listener would assume we spoke Spanish well enough to converse. I sat through more than a few awkward bus rides where my seatmate would go on and on in Spanish. Saying “No hablo Espanol” usually had no effect. All I could do was smile, nod, and try not to look too dim-witted.
It seems as if Spanish speakers believe if they just keep speaking in Spanish, the listener will suddenly realize he understands Spanish perfectly well.
On the other hand, we English speakers tend to repeat a word or phrase several times, often getting a little louder each time. Surely if the person we are speaking to would just listen, he would understand what we are saying.
The Other Izquierda
The opposite of the above occurred in Arequipa, Peru. Steve and I were in a taxi heading to the pick-up point for the next leg of our Peru Hop bus tour. Our driver did not have a GPS map and did not know exactly where we wanted to go. My map showed our destination, which was a few streets to the left.
Coincidently, I had just learned the Spanish words for left and right over the previous few days. So I said izquierda, the feminine version of left. He kept driving straight and looking confused. I repeated the word izquierda several times to no avail (being careful not to get louder each time). Eventually, he managed to get the point and headed in the general direction we needed to go.
I relayed this story to a group of people. Some of them suggested that there may have been a regional difference in the word for left. That may be, but a Google search shows izquierda and izquiedo as the only Spanish words for left.
It is very frustrating when you get the nerve to speak a foreign language to a native speaker, believe you are using the right words and pronouncing them well, and you get nothing.
Letters May Not Sound the Way You Expect
One of the things we enjoy eating in Budapest is…wait for it…Subway subs. Yes, I know they are not Hungarian. And quite frankly, I never ate them in the U.S. But here, they seem fresher and remind us of home. That leads me to my next language error.
I thought I would impress the friendly staff at Subway if I ordered my sub in Hungarian. Since I wanted a ham sub, it seemed easy enough. The word for ham is sonka. I could handle that.
My plan failed miserably. The woman behind the counter had no idea what I was saying, so I reverted to English. Fortunately, she understood that very well.
I later found out that the letter s is pronounced like sh. I should have asked for shonka. So when you are heading to the capital of Hungary, you are going to Budapest. Once you arrive, you are in Budapesht.
That’s One Interesting Alphabet
The Hungarian Alphabet can be intimidating as it has 44 letters and 13 vowels. But it is a phonetic language, so once you learn each letter’s pronunciation, you can pronounce any Hungarian word.
Several Hungarian letters have more than one character! CS, DZ, DZS, GY, LY, NY, TY, SZ, and ZS are all letters in the Hungarian alphabet.
But We’re Always Learning
Steve and I were exploring the Cinkota Cemetery when Steve pointed out the word család on a tombstone. He commented on how it must have been a large family since it was on so many grave markers. We continued to explore, saying “C Salad Family” each time we saw it. After a while, it seemed like there were way too many családs, so I looked it up. It means family and is pronounced Chaw lad because the letter CS is pronounced like CH in English. See what I mean?
Learning that word led to one of my prouder foreign language moments. When we finished at the Cinkota Cemetery, we went to the Old Cinkota Cemetery. It is small and hard to find. The remaining grave markers are covered with vegetation.
As we were leaving the cemetery, we saw a man walking towards us from the church next door. He asked us something in Hungarian. Surprisingly I was able to pick up one word in his question: család. He was asking if we were looking for family in the cemetery. I was so proud that I could understand his question.
I told him we weren’t. Relying on gestures, he invited Steve and me into the church. We had a lovely visit despite the language barrier. It turned out he is the current pastor, as he conveyed to us by pointing to his name at the top of a long list of pastors. Before we left, he gifted us with two hand-embroidered bags.
Let’s Throw in Another Language
Shopping in a place where you don’t know the language adds time and stress to your trip. It can also lead to mistakes. For that reason, we make sure we take time all the time we need to pick out our purchases. What we didn’t expect in Hungary was to have to translate from German.
One popular drug chain in Budapest is D.M. This is a German company that sells cosmetics, health care items, and household products. So when you shop there, you may be translating from Hungarian or German. Good grief.
How Did He Know That Word?
Steve and I were at a pharmacy while he picked up some medication. Steve noticed the young man at the next window was listening to his conversation. In English, the clerk asked Steve if he knew how to use the medication. Being the smart-ass he is, he replied, “yeah, as a suppository.” The guy at the next window chuckled.
That store did not have the pills Steve needed. As we left the store, the young man stopped us and asked if he could help us find a store that carries them. I was surprised to learn that he was a Hungarian native and was awed that he knew the word suppository.
It Got the Job Done
Perhaps the most humorous language experience I had was in Bucharest, Romania. Steve and I were spending the day at one of our favorite places, Therme Bucuresti. One of the many services they offered was hairstyling, so while Steve was relaxing in the mineral baths, I got my haircut. I wanted to find out how much it would cost for Steve to get his cut. My cell phone was safely tucked away in my locker, so I couldn’t use Google Translate.
I tried several ways to get the question across. The woman helping me was patient but did not understand what I was asking. I finally resorted to pantomime.
I made a fist and held it in front of my crotch. She immediately understood what I was asking, and I got the price.
Steve got a nice trim. I got a funny story.
Sometimes other people mess up. We have seen more than a few poor translations in museums. Despite the less-than-ideal translations, we always appreciate when English translations are available.
This sign on a travel agency in Puerto Ayora in the Galapagos Islands always makes me laugh.
My Favorite Foreign Word
Romanian was one of the easier languages for Steve and me to decipher because it is a Romance language that has a lot in common with languages such as French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. There was one word we repeatedly heard in Bucharest: Plăcere (pronounced pleasz air ae). While it is not the official word for thank you, it was used that way.
Be sure to share some of your language blunders and victories in the comments section below. And check out our post, “Don’t Be Afraid of Multilingualism,” in which I discuss why I think Americans should rethink their aversion to incorporating foreign languages into everyday life.
As Steve and I prepared to travel full-time, we knew that we would make mistakes. Fortunately, we have been able to keep them to a minimum, partly due to luck, partly due to the graciousness of others, and partly because we spent more than half a year under lockdown.
Here are the biggest travel mistakes and near-misses we had during our first three years of full-time travel.
All money is in U.S. dollars unless otherwise stated.
The Schengen What?
We weren’t prepared for our first near-miss to happen before we even left the U.S. We only had three months to go before we set out for our travels when we first heard of the Schengen Area. We discovered that we were only allowed to spend 90 days in this group of 26 countries and would then have to leave the Schengen Area for at least 90 days.
Cue the cold sweats. We had already booked three months’ worth of nonrefundable stays in Barcelona and Paris. I broke out the calendar and started counting the days. Then I let out a huge sigh of relief. We had booked a total of 89 days!
The fact that we had procrastinated in deciding on our destination after Paris saved us. We had been considering Prague. If we had booked a month-long stay there or anywhere else in the Schengen Area through Airbnb, we would have lost that money.
Stay on the Bus
We started our journey on a Transatlantic cruise from Florida to Barcelona. One of our ports-of-call was Funchal, Portugal. We were looking forward to riding the famous wicker toboggans there. Here is a video of that exhilarating experience.
Being new to foreign travel, we decided to buy hop-on-hop-off tickets through the cruise company even though it was more expensive than doing it on our own.
We got on the bus, and at the second stop, we saw the sign for the gondola leading to the toboggans, so we hopped off the bus.
We marveled at the scenery as we rode the gondola up the mountain and had a thrilling toboggan ride. Then we spent close to an hour painstakingly making our way down a very steep hill while looking for another hop-on-hop-off bus stop. We never found one, but at least we got back to our ship.
We ended up spending $80 to go two stops on the bus.
They Weren’t Kidding About Barcelona
When you repeatedly hear that you are in the pickpocket capital of the world, TAKE IT SERIOUSLY!
Just a week into our stay in Barcelona, Steve was pickpocketed on a metro car. He thought his wallet and passport would be safe in his front pants pocket. It was not.
This mistake was more costly in time and frustration than in money. It involved treks to three police stations and a trip to the U.S. Consulate. You can read all the juicy details in “Pickpocketed in Barcelona” and get some helpful hints, so you don’t become a victim.
The thieves got away with Steve’s passport, several bank cards, and 40 Euro (about $48). Luckily Steve’s passport was found, which saved us the $145 replacement fee. Our bank cards were replaced within a few days, and our credit card company denied the $900 shoe purchase the thieves attempted.
By the second month of our travels, we thought we had SIM cards all figured out. After getting off the plane in Paris, we headed to the post office, which was in the airport, and spent 40 Euros (about $48) on 2 SIM cards. The man who helped us did not speak English, and we do not speak French. Even so, we managed to get our SIM cards installed.
We soon discovered that they were only good for making calls and didn’t include data. We replaced them with less expensive cards that had everything we needed. Even though we never used them, we carried them around for several months until we finally threw them away.
Read the Train Ticket (Read it Well)
The most costly mistake in our first year of travel involved the Eurostar train from Paris to London. We were heading to London with our daughter Laura and her friend. I had arranged for all of us to get there via the Chunnel.
Our experience with train travel was limited to two short journeys within France. In both cases, we showed up at the station about fifteen minutes before our train was scheduled to leave. There were no security checks, and no one asked to see our tickets. These two experiences made us lackadaisical about the train trip to London.
Armed with our Chunnel tickets, the four of us traveled from Strasbourg to Paris without any problem. We arrived at the Paris station with an hour and a half to spare before our train to London would leave, so we went out for a delicious breakfast. We arrived back at the train station to find that we had missed the check-in time for our journey and we would have to book a later one. The cost was $230.
I had neglected to read the fine print on the tickets that clearly stated the check-in cutoff time. As one lady pointed out, the train was entering a different country so, the requirements were similar to airline travel.
Actually, I believe the difference was that we were leaving the Schengen Area, which allows for movement among the 26 Schengen countries without border checks. The United Kingdom is not part of the Schengen Area.
Luckily the trains from Paris to London run every hour, so it didn’t set us back too much time-wise, but our wallet sure wasn’t happy. In addition to reading the ticket, in the future, we will check in as soon as possible and then eat.
A Near-Miss with Booking.com
We were able to avoid another costly mistake thanks to the goodwill of Booking.com. We had booked an Airbnb for a one-month stay in Strasbourg, France. The host canceled the reservation only eleven days before we were due to arrive.
It was the height of the tourist season, and we were not having any luck finding a place to stay for a whole month. We were able to piece together three hotels through Booking.com that would provide housing for a month. Then we found an Airbnb that was available for the month. We canceled two of the hotel reservations in time but missed the third by one day. This would have been our most costly mistake at $934.
We requested that they waive the fee, saying we had overbooked. We were so thankful when we woke up the next morning to find that Booking.com had waived the penalty.
Know the Paris Metro Rules
Our daughter Laura and her friend visited us in Strasbourg and then traveled with us to London. From there, they spent another week in Dublin and Paris. During their trip to the Paris airport to fly home, they learned that if you travel enough, something will trip you up.
They chose to take the Metro from their hostel to the airport. The Metro Police stopped them and told them they did not have the proper tickets for the zone they were in. The cost of this innocent mistake was $80 each.
A word of warning for Paris travelers: the Paris Metro Police are vigilant. Be sure you keep your ticket on you for the entire journey and understand the zones and related fares.
We Can Tell Time, Really
All the above mistakes happened before and during our first year of travel. In 2019, our second year of travel, we had only one costly mistake. To this day, we aren’t sure how it happened.
Steve and I had made reservations to fly from Buenos Aires to Cordoba. As always, we both checked the details before we finalized our purchase. The day before our flight, I was reviewing all our travel details when I did a double-take. Our flight wasn’t at 9 a.m., it was at 9 p.m!
We could have taken that flight, but that would have meant landing in a new city close to midnight. And we would have had to spend a whole day in Buenos Aires with all our luggage and nowhere to stay.
Changing the flight left us $175 poorer. To add insult to injury, the change fee was $60 higher than the original cost of the flight.
It’s All Worth It
Let’s face it, mistakes happen. That’s life. Why would travel life be any different? Considering that we’ve traveled to 42 cities in the past three years, I think we did a pretty good job. We made all our flights, only missed one train reservation, always had a place to stay in advance, and never went hungry. We also had luck on our side.
Steve and I would love to hear about mistakes you have made while traveling. Come on; I’m sure you have a few. 😀
Stay safe and healthy, Linda
Featured image by Estee Janssens on Unsplash.com
This post was originally published on April 20, 2019.
What’s the biggest challenge of nomad life? The language barrier? Missing family and friends back home? Boring footwear? Yes, yes, and yes. But perhaps the biggest challenge is laundry.
As a full-time traveler, I have dealt with possessed washers, a myriad of drying setups, and excess laundry soap issues.
I have learned that clothes dryers are not common outside of the U.S. You can read about clothes drying differences in this article by Real Simple.
But I have not learned how to determine the correct amount of detergent for each machine, so I run the load through a second time without detergent.
Here is a recap of our laundry experiences in our first three years of full-time travel. Future nomads, you’ve been warned.
We spent most of 2018 in Europe, and Barcelona was the first city we visited. As we checked out our apartment, Steve said, “Isn’t there supposed to be a washing machine?”
We didn’t see one in the apartment, so I sent a message to our Airbnb hosts. They replied, “the washing machine is in (sic) the roof.” A quick check told us that yes, it was indeed “in the roof.”
Our hosts stopped by to show us how it worked, and it seemed simple enough. But that washer had it in for me. I would press button after button, but it wouldn’t start. However, if I unplugged it and plugged it back in, we were good to go.
Our second city was Paris. The city of lights and high prices. Our apartment was too tiny for a washing machine, so we used the laundromat down the street. I know it was Paris, but $80 to do laundry for one month still seems expensive to me.
These first two experiences taught us to make sure that any apartment we rent not only has a washer but that it is inside the apartment.
The downside of nomad life is that you must constantly adapt. The upside is that you don’t have to deal with any inconvenience for too long, and, most importantly, you aren’t the one responsible when something breaks.
We were staying at a large building on the Black Sea coast in Byala, Bulgaria. It was after tourist season, and we had the entire building to ourselves (think The Shining without the snow). I started a load of laundry, and the washer immediately started leaking. And by leaking, I mean gushing. Suds quickly covered the kitchen. I shut it off, and we commenced cleanup.
Our host had the perfect solution. He told us to use the washer in the apartment next door. The door was unlocked, so we were able to walk right in and finish our laundry. Don’t you love it when things work out so well?
Everything went well for the rest of the year until we got to Lisbon.
We spent two weeks on a sailboat, so we did not have a washer. No problem. There was a laundromat a short walk away. It was spotless and had brand-new appliances. And we were the only ones there.
I confidently tossed a Tide Pod in each machine, threw the laundry in them, and sat down. Then I noticed a sign that said “Do not add soap, it is included” taped over the soap dispenser. Oops.
By the time we got to Latin America in 2019, we had the whole laundry thing down pretty well. All of our apartments had a washing machine. A few of them had a dryer. Those that didn’t had either a drying rack or a place to hang them outside, except in the Galápagos Islands.
Because the choice of apartments in our price range was limited, and none included a washer, we figured we would go to a laundromat. But as we explored the town of Puerto Ayora, we didn’t see any laundromats. We did see several signs for lavanderias, places where your laundry is done for you.
I felt odd delivering a bag of dirty clothes to a stranger, which is funny since I am no stranger to dry cleaning. I was also concerned that we might get someone else’s clothes back. So I made a list of everything we dropped off.
I’m happy to report all of our clothes were returned to us clean and fresh for only US$8 per week. Now I want this service in every city.
Our regular readers will be familiar with our prolonged stay in Bansko, Bulgaria, in early 2020 because of Steve’s skiing accident. When he left the hospital, we moved to a holiday resort outside of town since it was the only place I could find where he could be brought in on a stretcher. You can read about those experiences in Hospitalized in Bulgaria and Bansko, Bulgaria, Not The Trip We’d Hoped For.
The resort provided a laundry service which consisted of filling one large bag with laundry for a set fee. If memory serves, it cost US$30 for one bag of laundry.
Because we have very few clothes, I didn’t think it would be worth the cost. I probably wouldn’t even fill half the bag. So frugal me decided to wash by hand.
It was a good thing Steve was bedridden since every available surface outside of the bedroom was covered in sopping wet clothes. I learned how effective towel warmers and radiators could be for drying.
Once we were able to move on from Bansko, we headed to Budapest. Our first Airbnb had a washer in the bathroom. Just a few minutes into the first cycle, it started to do a lively dance across the floor and proceeded to knock the toilet bowl to the side. Because why would anyone actually bolt the toilet to the floor?
Steve discovered that the transportation bolts had not been removed. Even after he removed them, it still jumped. Even after a plumber supposedly fixed it, it still jumped.
So I developed a routine. I would start the washer, set a timer, and run to the machine as each spin cycle started so that I could hold it in place.
As if that wasn’t fun enough, after I washed the first load of clothes, I looked for a place to dry them. I didn’t see a drying stand. There wasn’t a towel dryer in the bathroom. The shower curtain rod was too weak and too high to be of any help. I even looked on the interior balcony hoping to find a clothesline, but there was nothing. I messaged the host, who delivered a drying rack the following day. To this day, I wonder where the guests that came before us dried their clothes.
After seven months in the Budapest apartment, we moved across town. I’m happy to report that the washer in the new apartment is well-behaved. No dancing! And it has a drying stand and a towel warmer. There was even a nearly full bottle of laundry soap with an adorable bear on the front. Everything was going well on the laundry front. Our clothes looked good. They smelled good. And they were really soft.
After several weeks the detergent bottle was approaching empty. I showed it to Steve so he could buy a new one. He then discovered that I had been “washing” our clothes in fabric conditioner. Oops.
No doubt, our laundry challenges will continue once we resume our travels. Laundry challenges are just one example of how full-time travel doesn’t mean full-time fun. But I am willing to put up with laundry frustrations if it means I can continue to explore this big, beautiful world.
Stay safe and healthy, Linda
Featured image by Elena Rabkina on Unsplash.com
This article was originally published on March, 31, 2021.
Do you dream of traveling full-time? You’re not alone.
Between thoughts of Parisian cafes, Maldivian beaches, and African safaris, you may be wondering how feasible it is. You are probably concerned about costs and practical issues like medical insurance, prescriptions, and cell phone usage.
In 2016 Steve and I announced that we were planning to retire and travel full-time beginning in 2018. You can read about how we came to this decision in “How It All Began .”
Other full-time travelers have written about getting positive and negative comments when they sprang their news, but we only got positive reactions. I’m sure some of the people we told thought we were crazy, but they were kind enough not to say so.
During our two years of planning, we got many questions. Here are the questions we were asked, along with one that everyone was too polite to ask.
All money is in U.S. Dollars.
Are you going to sell your house or rent it?
We opted to sell the house we had lived in for 30 years. It was a great house for raising children, but it had served its purpose. We had a decent-size yard with extensive gardens that our daughters no longer played in and a pool that took more hours of maintenance than we spent swimming in it.
Renting may be a good option if you are likely to return to the home or neighborhood. We didn’t want the hassles of renting. We would have to pay a management company and find someone to maintain the yard and pool. The last thing we wanted in our new life was calls about repair costs or delinquent tenants.
Will you return to Jacksonville, Florida, when you are done traveling?
When we left Jacksonville in 2018, our plans were open-ended. We had no idea when or where we would settle. Even now, more than three years later, we still don’t.
One thing we know is that it won’t be in Jacksonville. We have no desire to return to the heat and humidity. One of our daughters lives there; the other is in Orlando. Other than that, we don’t have strong ties to Jacksonville. Steve and I have often discussed that we might not even settle in the U.S.
What will you do with your cars?
Since we planned to spend only one month in the U.S. each year, we sold our cars. When we return to the U.S., we rent a car.
Keep in mind that if you don’t own a car, you won’t have auto insurance. Our main credit card covers theft and damage to a rental auto. We always make sure we get liability coverage in case we cause an accident that results in someone’s injury or death or damages someone’s property. This doesn’t come cheap.
The abundance of public transportation in Europe and Latin America has spoiled us. In many cities, we’ve used Uber. We find it efficient and affordable. Before our first trip back to the U.S., we considered using it instead of renting a car. I used the Uber Price Estimator to determine what we would spend. Because Jacksonville is spread out and has heavy traffic, the prices were high. Also, having used Uber in Jacksonville a few times, I knew it was pricey. We felt that in this case, renting a car was the better choice.
How do your grown children feel about this?
Our two daughters, Stephanie and Laura, have been very supportive. If the idea of us being out of the country for most of the year bothers them, they are selfless enough to keep it to themselves.
Our original plan was to return to the U.S. every December. During these visits, we can spend time with Stephanie and Laura, visit friends, and see our doctors.
This plan worked fine for the first two years. Then 2020 arrived. We spent December 2020 in Budapest, Hungary, where we have been waiting out the pandemic. We hope to return to the U.S. for a visit in December 2021.
How will you get your mail?
We are using a virtual mailbox service called Traveling Mailbox. The service notifies us via email when we receive mail. We log in to see our mail and tell them how we want it handled.
Traveling Mailbox will forward mail anywhere in the world and deposit checks for you. Both of these have small fees attached. We recommend Traveling Mailbox, but there are several companies that provide similar services.
When we arrive in a new country, we get a local SIM card that gives us calls and internet data. We use internet data when we are out and about. SIM cards are inexpensive. Our average cost for one SIM card for one month is $20. In our lodgings we have wifi.
Our cell phones are still connected to our AT&T account in the U.S. AT&T offers a plan that allows us to use our AT&T SIM for $10 for 24 hours. We do this when we have to make calls to the U.S. for financial or medical reasons. For talking with friends and relatives, we rely on WhatsApp, Messenger, or Zoom.
How will you handle finances?
The good news is when you sell almost everything, you have very few bills. And everything can be paid online.
Even so, things can slip through the cracks. We found out that we owed our dentist’s office almost $1,000. The office had submitted the charges to our insurance company, and this wasn’t covered. We found out about it because our Chase bank account informed us that our credit had been impacted.
It turned out that the dentist’s office did not have our complete address on file (for the virtual mailbox). They also didn’t have our email addresses, and they only had our U.S. phone numbers, which we aren’t currently using. If it wasn’t for the Chase notification, this could have sat for another year.
What about medical insurance?
When we began traveling, we chose to self-insure because we believe medical costs outside the U.S. are affordable. A case in point: Steve’s ski accident in Bulgaria cost $2,000. This included nine days in the hospital with all tests and medicines and two ambulance rides. You can read about this less-than-ideal experience in “Hospitalized in Bulgaria.”
We had kept our U.S.-based medical insurance with Florida Blue, first through COBRA and then through the Affordable Care Act. We found that they paid almost every foreign claim we submitted.
ACA worked well for us until Steve turned 65 and went on Medicare. Since it won’t cover medical care overseas, and he needed proof of insurance for his Hungarian residence permit, he picked up a policy through SafetyWing.
This is a perfect solution for us, but for someone who doesn’t have ample savings to fall back on, I would definitely recommend travel medical insurance.
Here is an article from The Hartford that summarizes the different types of travel insurance.
We have trip cancelation and baggage delay coverage through our Chase credit card but wouldn’t buy it.
We always decline trip insurance when booking flights. Of all the flights we have taken, we only missed one when Steve was laid up from his ski accident. The way I look at it, the money we saved by not taking the insurance over the years more than covered the money we lost by not taking that one flight.
One coverage we won’t leave home without is our emergency evacuation policy through Medjet. It covers the cost of transporting us home in case of a medical emergency or transporting our mortal remains. You can add coverage for assistance during a crisis like a natural disaster or an act of terrorism. Medjet offers short-term and annual policies.
What about prescriptions?
Steve and I both take several prescriptions daily. Fortunately, most of them are inexpensive. On our annual returns to the U.S., our doctors write us prescriptions for one year’s worth of each of these. We fill what we can through our insurance and use GoodRx coupons to fill the rest of the inexpensive ones by paying out of pocket.
Unfortunately, we have a few medications that are too expensive to buy out of pocket. When we set out in 2018, we only had enough of these for three months. We found that it is easy to get medications in other countries, and they are nowhere near as expensive as in the U.S. Depending on the medication and which country you are in, you may not even need a prescription.
Initially, we were concerned about carrying so much medicine, but we haven’t had any problems. We make sure that they are all kept in their original bottles. We also asked our doctors to write a letter that lists our medications, what each one is for, and how long we plan to travel.
Once we got into a travel routine, we started ordering our medications quarterly using our U.S.-based insurance. Our daughter holds them for us.
Of course, 2020 had to mess this up too. Since we did not return to the U.S. in December, we did not replenish our supplies. Therefore we had to see a doctor in Budapest and fill our prescriptions here.
Which credit cards will you use?
Our primary card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. It is a VISA card that we’ve been able to use everywhere we have been.
We collect points for every purchase, which we can use at a 25% premium for travel or to pay ourselves back for grocery and restaurant purchases.
This can vary greatly. Some travelers spend very little by staying with friends, couch-surfing, volunteering in exchange for accommodations, or staying at hostels. Food costs can be kept low by self-catering or eating street food.
We have chosen to travel at a three-star level. Each year I document our costs. You can read about the past three years here:
This is the one question everyone was too polite to ask.
The simple answer is that we saved throughout our entire working lives. We didn’t save so we could retire early or travel full-time. We saved because we knew one day we would retire and need more than our Social Security to live on.
Are we rich? Rich is a relative term. I don’t consider us to be rich, but we have enough money that we don’t have to worry about unexpected bills like Steve’s Bulgarian hospital stay, and we can afford to splurge now and then as we did for our two-week-long Transatlantic cruise.
But we are also sensible and frugal. We love staying in four-star hotels at a two-star price, as we did in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, but we aren’t willing to pay a five-star price for a five-star hotel room.
We have a budget that we use as a guide. Sometimes we are under, like during the pandemic, and sometimes over, like in the Galapagos Islands and Peru.
Keep in mind there are oodles of people who travel full-time on a lot less than we do. Many travelers work on the road.
More Full-Time Travel Info
Get even more information about what it is like to travel full-time in these posts:
Barcelona sat right at the top of our bucket list. It was the first city in which Steve and I would spend a month as we began our new life as full-time travelers.
La Sagrada Familia and Park Guell awaited us. We couldn’t wait for the city to cast its spell on us as it had for several friends who spoke of it lovingly and longingly.
So why has this popular destination remained one of our least favorites after three years of travel?
Not the Fastest Start
Maybe it was the slow start. We were new at this whole world traveler thing. And we were on our own. No tour guide to fall back on. We were uncertain about the language, the metro, and the layout of the city. Every day for the first week we ventured a little further away from our apartment. First down the street. Then around the block. Then several blocks away. Weren’t we the great adventurers?
We finally worked up the courage to get on the Metro, not realizing what awaited us.
We knew that Barcelona is the pickpocket capital of the world. And Steve was well aware of the rule that you don’t keep your valuables in your back pocket. So he devised a foolproof plan to keep them safe. He put them in his front pocket. The pickpocket duo that relieved him of his cash, bank cards, and passport was able to circumvent his masterful security. You can read about that experience here.
Despite this setback, we did venture out to experience the magic for ourselves. As expected, La Sagrada Familia was incredible. We loved basking in the rainbow colors from the stained glass windows and marveling at the uniqueness of Antoni Gaudi’s creation. And we got to share it with thousands of other people.
La Sagrada Familia gets 4.6 million visitors every year (except maybe during a pandemic).That is over 12,000 people every day!
Gaudi’s failed planned community, Park Guell, was equally amazing and equally crowded. 95% of the park is free. Here you can wander along multiple walkways surrounded by greenery which is punctuated with unusual stone columns and porticos.
Unfortunately, you will also be fighting the crowds and trying to avoid trampling the wares of the vendors who take up a large part of the walkway.
The number of visitors to Park Guell is more than double that of La Sagrada Familia. 9 million people visit the park every year. That more than 24,000 visitors per day!
The remaining 5% of the park is the Monumental Zone. You have to pay to enter this area and the number of visitors is limited to 400 per half hour so you have a little breathing room.
Pretty much everywhere else we went was crowded except for two places: a little-visited but worthwhile park called Labyrinth de la Horta and Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau, an art nouveau complex that used to be a hospital.
You don’t stroll down La Ramblas, you move with the tide, all while trying not to be pickpocketed. Many people wear their backpacks in front to avoid this fate. And you can expect your metro rides to be up close and personal. If you don’t like crowds and noise, Barcelona is probably not for you.
Barcelona’s popularity has led to resentment and anger from the residents as they watch their city being overrun with tourists and the price of housing skyrocket as apartments are turned into vacation rentals. Perhaps this explains why this is the only city we have visited thus far in which the residents were unfriendly.
We had so looked forward to falling in love with Barcelona, only to be disappointed. Was this a harbinger of things to come?
After our first three months, which were spent in Spain and France, we needed to leave the Schengen area for at least 90 days. Since we wanted to return to the Schengen area after 90 days we wanted to stay close by. One option was to head north to the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The other was to head east to countries like Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania.
Here is a link to information about the Schengen area and what it means to travelers. Don’t be like us. We didn’t learn about this until three months before we were due to land in Barcelona, followed by two months in Paris. Fortunately, we had only booked 89 nights.
Eastern Europe wasn’t even on our radar before this. Besides being able to name a few major cities there and knowing the myth of Dracula, my knowledge of this part of the world was embarrassingly small.
Despite this, we decided to give Eastern Europe a try, mainly because three months in the U.K and the Republic of Ireland would be quite expensive.
So what did we think of our choice?
We loved it. The three months we spent in Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria were brimming with memorable experiences.
Some Highlights of Eastern Europe
Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, is one of Steve’s favorite cities. It has several wonderful museums including the super unique Museum of Broken Relationships, a peaceful Botanical Garden in the middle of the city, and the exquisite Mirogoj Cemetery. It is also close enough to Plitvice Lakes National Park for a day trip.
In addition to the Museum of Broken Relationship we enjoyed several other museums in Zagreb:
The Croatian Museum of Naive Art – this museum showcases the work of naïve artists of the 20th century. Naive art is art created by a person who was not formally trained.
The Nikola Tesla Technical Museum – this museum has historic vehicles including airplanes, an underground mine tour, and of course exhibits related to electricity.
Tortureum – Museum of Torture – Steve chose to visit this museum while I was at the naive art museum. I think the name says it all. Steve enjoyed his visit.
The Croatian History Museum – Not very large, but interesting. One of the displays that left a lasting impression on me was this sign:
A t the time of our visit there were still 12,000 signs in Croatia warning of the dangers of 38,000 mines left from the Croatian War of Independence (1991-1995).
The Museum of Illusion – not a must-see, but a fun diversion.
Zagreb has many other museums so you are bound to find a few that pique your curiosity.
You may also enjoy a Croatian Homeland War tour. Ours was three hours long and gave us a fascinating look at the Croatian fight for independence from Yugoslavia from 1991-1995. It included a visit to a tunnel citizens used as a bomb shelter and a stop at the Memorial Centre of the Rocket Attacks on Zagreb 1991/1995.
We chose to spend a month in Bucharest, Romania’s capital. Here we discovered Herastrau Park (or King Michael I Park), a large park in the center of Budapest. It is half the size of New York’s Central Park and loaded with cool things to see.
Bucharest is also the home of the world’s second-largest building, The Parliamentary Palace. Only the Pentagon is larger.
A visit to the CeauşescuMansion brought the dark reign of Nicolae Ceauşescu to life. The mansion is filled with opulent touches the belied the communist beliefs Ceauşescu promoted.
Other things to see include Cărturești Carusel, an amazing beautiful bookstore
and two distinctly different cemeteries:
Bellu Cemetery – the largest and most famous cemetery in Bucharest covering 54 acres.
Heroes’ Cemetery – this small cemetery of 281 identical graves is not far from Bellu Cemetery. The graves are for demonstrators killed during the 1989 revolution that put an end to communist rule.
On a happier note, Bucharest is a great location from which to visit Transylvania and explore cool castles like Bran Castle and Pele’s Castle.
No visit to Bucharest would be complete without a visit to Therme. This wonderful water complex combines spa features with waterpark features for an affordable, fun-filled, relaxing day.
Here is a video by Grounded Life Travel that will show you all the Therme has to offer.
I am in love with this country. In 2018 we visited three cities here. Each place has its charm.
One of our favorites was Bulgaria’s second-largest city, Plovdiv. It is a city of seven hills (one now gone as its stones were used to build roads). There are also Roman ruins everywhere you turn and more being discovered all the time.
Byala is a tiny resort town on the Black Sea not far from the larger city of Varna. The peaceful two weeks we spent there after the tourist season had ended have left us with some of our memories.
There were walks on a nearly deserted beach (we did see a few fishermen and nudists), great meals at the Seagull, a restaurant with one of the most enviable settings I’ve ever seen, and the pleasure of falling asleep to the sound of the sea every night.
Byala is also close to the country’s third-largest city, Varna, to the north, and the resort town of Sunny Beach to the south.
Sofia is the capital, and frankly the only reason we ended up stopping there was to fly out of the airport. We only spent five days there, much of it on the pedestrian Vitosha Boulevard. We loved the architecture and fell in love with a chain restaurant called Happy. The metro stations were clean and modern. We also had a great walking tour that brought the history of the fall of communism to life. You can learn more about this period of history in the Soviet Art Museum.
The Pattern Repeats
These experiences have repeated themselves several times during the three years we’ve been traveling. We felt so fortunate to be able to spend four weeks in the Galápagos Islands, yet that was the only place we have been where we were counting the days until we moved on. You can read about those experiences here.
On the other hand, we visited Cartagena, Colombia in the spring of 2019. At that time we chose not to visit any other Colombian cities. Then we repeatedly heard from fellow travelers how wonderful Medellin was. Yes, that Medellin. The city that not so long ago was plagued by the violence of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel, paramilitary groups, and guerrilla groups. We visited it in the fall of 2019 and we loved it. You can read about our experiences in “10 Things to Love about Medellin, Colombia.”
The Lessons We Learned
Preconceived notions mean very little.
This world is huge. The more you see, the more there is to see.
We love exploring large cities, but many of our favorite places are places we had not heard of before we left the U.S. like Cuenca, Ecuador and Byala, Bulgaria.
Any place we visit will leave us richer, even if it is a place we would not return to, even if we are counting the days until we leave.
So bye, bye bucket list. You got us started on this amazing journey. For that we thank you. Now it’s time to discover awesome places we have not yet heard of.
It may seem strange that I am writing about full-time travel during a pandemic. But the pandemic will not last forever. While it lasts we all have plenty of time to dream and plan.
It’s a dream shared by many. Leave behind the hassles of daily life and travel the world. See faraway places, have exciting adventures, and meet interesting people.
Steve and I are fortunate to be full-time travelers who happen to be retired. But even if you aren’t ready to retire you can travel the world full-time as a digital nomad. There are countless people doing this and many of them generously share their stories and tips.
You may be asking yourself if full-time travel (or a nomadic lifestyle if you prefer) is right for you. Below are five signs that this lifestyle may be right for you, and five signs that it may not be.
Full-time travel may be for you if:
1. You thrive on change
If you are the type of person who is always wondering what is next in life this may be a perfect fit. Nomads need never get tired of the same old scenery. They can change locations as often as they wish (pandemics notwithstanding) or they can choose to stay somewhere longer depending on visa restrictions.
2. You are curious and love to learn new things
Whatever your passion, travel is sure to broaden it. You may even discover new interests.
One of the things I love best about travel is that it has made history come to life for me. I have never been a history buff, but seeing where things happened and hearing stories that I was not exposed to in the U.S. have made me understand and appreciate history.
Another thing that I love is learning about geography first hand. Hearing about or reading about places leaves me uninspired. Experiencing them has ingrained them into my soul.
How much you experience is limited only by your energy and your wallet. Every location has a variety of sights and activities to add to your experiences.
3. You are not tied down to a specific location
When we told people we were going to be traveling full-time several of them said they could never do that because they couldn’t leave their grandchildren. I totally get that. Since we don’t have grandchildren it was not an issue for us. Funny, no one ever said they couldn’t leave their adult children.
Steve and I are both introverts who value our private time. We miss our family and friends, but we did not spend most of our free time with them before we left the U.S. If you are constantly getting together with family and friends and love that part of your life, this is not for you. Even if you keep in contact through the internet, the lack of face-to-face contact and the changes in your life experiences can be hard on relationships.
When you get together with people from home you may find that you don’t have a lot to talk about. You may wonder why they aren’t on the edge of their seats waiting to hear about your worldwide adventures. This article published by Forbes explains this phenomenon well.
4. You are flexible and adaptable
We all know that things can and will go wrong when you travel. Flights get delayed, luggage gets lost, accommodations disappoint. If you are the type of person who can accept these situations with grace and believes that things go right much more often than they go wrong, a nomadic life may be a good fit for you.
Not only can getting there be a challenge but living somewhere unfamiliar requires acceptance and adaptability too. Our first Airbnb was in Barcelona. It had a small kitchen. So small that the refrigerator was in the living room. It also had a clothes washer. That was on the roof. This life is not for the persnickety.
It is easy to get caught up in the trap of materialism. If you are able to let go of material things that are tying you down not only will you be free to travel full-time, you will feel freer too.
Full-time travel is probably not a good fit if:
1. You don’t like change or uncertainty
If you dislike change this lifestyle is not for you. If you strongly dislike change you are probably not even reading this article.
2. You are tied to an area because of friends, family, or job
Besides not wanting to leave grandchildren, another reason for not wanting to leave home is caring for elderly parents or a special needs child. If you are in one of those situations and would like to travel hopefully you can get away once in a while for a well-deserved break.
Your job can also be the reason you can’t pick up and go. Some jobs can be done remotely, some, not so much.
3. You are really picky about food and brands
The Rolling Stones weren’t singing about travel but they could have been with their song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. If you are not adaptable to substitutes you are likely to be disappointed. You can carry some of your preferred brands with you, and some travelers have items shipped from home.
The flip side is that you may fall in love with certain foods or products that you can’t find once you leave a location. I tried but failed to duplicate the cava sangria I had in the coastal Spanish town of Sitges. The ceviche I had in Budapest fell far short of the wide variety I enjoyed in South America. And I am still looking for the face cream I found in Colombia.
4.You aren’t willing to give up your creature comforts
Every bed will not be as comfy as yours. And in our experience, most sofas in our Airbnb rentals score poorly on the comfort test. I miss my cozy terrycloth bathrobe and have to make do with less than luxurious towels. Cooking can be a challenge if you don’t have the right tools and equipment. Your wardrobe will also be limited.
The list of things you will have to leave behind is very long. Only you can decide how important these things are to your happiness.
Of course, if money is not an object you can always travel at a 5-star level to get the fluffy towels and cozy robes. Personally, we are willing to do with some inconveniences in order to save money.
5. Pets are a (really) important part of your life.
If you can’t imagine life without Fido or Fluffy this is not for you. You can meet cats and dogs on the street and at animal cafes, but they won’t come home and snuggle with you.
When Steve and I left the U.S we only had one pet in our home. That was a rabbit that belonged to one of our daughters. We were lucky to find a great home for her. Before that, we were keeping that same daughter’s cats while she was in college. One of the things I miss the most is having them snuggle with me at night or cozy up on my lap.
2. Spending Three Days in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
We took the bus from the capital of San Jose to the Caribbean coast. When we arrived in Puerto Viejo our first thought was “where the heck are we?” This place looked kind of rough. The name translates into “old port”, so that should have been a clue.
It didn’t take us long to see the charm. By the afternoon we were in love. The beach is just yards away from a wooded hiking area where you can see wild howler monkeys and sloths.
Many restaurants line the beach and embody the phrase “pura vida” (pure life).
We enjoyed a visit to the Jaguar Rescue Center. The name is misleading because they rescue and rehabilitate many species. We learned that many sloths are injured or killed when they chew through electric wires.
The sloth above, who lives at the center, was just hanging around in the open.
Puerto Viejo is the most laid back place I have ever been and I hope to visit it again someday.
This is the only tourist attraction to make my top ten. I am not a big fan of Pre-Colombian history, so I questioned whether it would be worth the hassle and cost to get there.
It definitely was. There is something magical about this place.
It is not quick or easy to get to Machu Picchu. You have two choices, hike for about four days (definitely not for the couch potato) or make your way to the town of Cusco, Peru then take a train to Machu Picchu Town (or Aguas Calientes).
If you chose to get there through Cusco you need to become acclimated to the altitude to avoid altitude sickness, which I was surprised to find out can be deadly. While Machu Picchu is only 8,000 feet (2,400 m) above sea level, Cusco sits at 11,200 feet (3,400 m) above sea level.
The train ride to Machu Picchu Town from Cusco takes a little over three hours and passes through the Sacred Valley of the Incas where you will be dazzled by one breathtaking view after another.
“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware” Martin Buber
How true this quote so often proves to be. While in Cordoba, Argentina we decided to take a side trip to a German-inspired hamlet called La Cumbrecita.
The day started out foggy but turned out to be sunny and temperate.
We spent some time playing fetch with this sweetheart in the Rio del Medio.
We loved spending time climbing (carefully) on the rocks in the river.
The reward for hiking down a rocky trail.
We saw people every now and then but were often alone on the trails. It was so peaceful and picturesque. It reminded me of how we would spend hours in parks or on nature trails when we were young. Time spent in nature can make you feel like you don’t have a care in the world.
Imagine a hiking trail, a zoo, and a conservation organization in one. That is Amaru Biopark.
This park is built on a hillside and houses animals who have been rescued but cannot be returned to the wild. Because of its location, you will get quite a workout as you make your way through the park.
You will see so many beautiful animals, including African lions, which really made me scratch my head.
I would have loved to hear these animal’s stories, but I didn’t see any programs like that when we were there.
Squirrel monkeys roam free in the park.
The aviary lets you get up close to many beautiful birds.
If you go, don’t make the same mistake we did. Our first visit was in the afternoon. We were slowly working our way around and thoroughly enjoying the animals when we looked at the map and realized that in several hours we hadn’t even reached the halfway point.
We backtracked so we could get out of the park before dark and returned earlier on another day so we could enjoy all it had to offer.
You can get some amazing views of the city from the entrance to the park.
You can learn more about this park and our visit in “The Amazing Amaru Biopark.” We highly recommend you explore it when you visit Cuenca.
District 13 (Comuna 13 in Spanish) is a poor neighborhood in the foothills of the Andes that less than 20 years ago was the most dangerous neighborhood in one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
Many people associate the violence in Medellin with Pablo Escobar’s drug empire, but guerrilla and paramilitary groups were also causing problems.
In 2002 the government initiative called Operation Orion freed the district from the scourge.
While it is still poor, it is now a popular tourist stop due to an abundance of street art like this colorful lizard:
There are many small, tourist oriented businesses and young people form dance troupes to earn cash.
A series of escalators carry people up the mountainside. At every step, you are greeted with smiles and warm hellos.
At first, Steve was a little apprehensive because of the area’s past reputation. He kept his camera in its case for a while. Then he slowly started taking pictures but would quickly put the camera away after each picture.
At one point I turned around to look for him and he was surrounded by several children and was sharing his pictures with some local children.
Seeing the positive changes to this once forsaken neighborhood impacted me in a way that very few of our travel experiences have.
This memory is not a typical travel memory. We love to explore cemeteries for the history and art. Early in our travels, we went to Montmartre Cemetery in Paris and it was so compelling that it ruined us for other cemeteries.
That doesn’t mean we’ve stopped visiting them, but we haven’t found another one that comes close to Montmartre.
So we approached this visit as something to do. What a shock. This cemetery is in bad repair and you can see below:
As we continued exploring we were shocked to see open crypts with either cloth bags or exposed bones. Perhaps the saddest and most bizarre sight was a tomb with a skeleton lying on top.
Even with the disrepair, there was beauty to be found.
Many years ago I read about a family with young children who visited the Grand Canyon. The mother was a little dismayed when they returned home and all the kids could talk about were the ants they had seen in the hotel parking lot.
Thinking about this I realized that it is sometimes the little things, things that you can’t anticipate and could happen anywhere, that stay foremost in our minds after a trip.
I have started to refer to these as “ant stories” and here are two of my favorites from 2019:
9. Come In and See My Cat
One day Steve and I went to the neighborhood of Getsemani in Cartegena, Colombia. This neighborhood was once plagued with drugs, prostitution, and violence. It is now a safe, authentic neighborhood that attracts many tourists, often looking for street art.
While I was taking these pictures a local man heard Steve admiring a cat outside his door, and invited him in to meet his cat (below).
10. Maybe Later
In several touristy areas, we have been annoyed by people who stand in front of restaurants and try to get you to go inside. They are referred to as bringers.
Even when you say “no, gracias” or indicate that you just ate they won’t leave you alone.
It took a while but we finally discovered the magic words that make them happy and gives us some peace.
While walking through Machu Picchu Town we were being bothered as usual. When we said no to one bringer he said: “maybe later”. We replied, “maybe later”. He broke into a huge smile.
We looked at each other with glee. We had found the magic words. We would never be driven crazy by bringers again!
That’s Not All Folks!
I hope you enjoyed this look back at our ten months in Latin America. These memories and many others have enriched our lives beyond our expectations.
More than three years of full-time travel has taught us a few things. I’m happy to say they are mostly positive. We’ve learned about safety, other cultures and people, and ourselves. Here are fourteen things full-time travel has taught us.
WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT SAFETY
1. Take Warnings With a Grain of Salt
As U.S. citizens, we sometimes research information about countries we are considering visiting on the U.S. Department of State website. When reading the warnings, it is easy to walk away feeling that the world is a dangerous place.
We have found the best way to get a balanced view of the safety of a place is to check the Department of State website, Google the heck out of potential destinations, and talk with fellow travelers.
Of course, there are countries, cities, and neighborhoods you should avoid. But it really isn’t that scary out there.
As we were preparing to leave the U.S. and head to Europe, several people mentioned the threat of terrorist attacks. My response to this was two-fold:
1. Europe may have more terrorist attacks, but they also have fewer mass shootings.
2. The odds of anyone being a victim of either of these are negligible.
Information from the Cato Institute discusses how unlikely it is for someone to die in a terrorist attack. We are talking about odds of 1 in several million. Not even worth thinking about, in my opinion. If you want to worry about something, worry about auto accidents. You are much more likely to die that way.
Steve had one scary incident during a private ATV tour in Jaco, Costa Rica. The guide’s quick thinking kept them safe. While on an isolated trail the guide noticed a man with a pipe up ahead on a hill. Presumably, he wanted to rob Steve and the guide by throwing the pipe through the spokes of the quide’s motorcycle. The guide signalled Steve and they gunned it, passing the would-be robber sooner than he expected.
2. Unless They’re About Pickpockets
When you repeatedly hear that you are in the pickpocket capital of the world, take it seriously!
Despite the warnings, Steve was confident that if he kept his wallet in his front pocket, it would be safe.
During our first week in Barcelona, the first city we visited on our journey throughout the world, Steve was pickpocketed.
It happened on a crowded Metro car on a Friday afternoon. First, one woman bumped into him. While she was apologizing, another woman bumped him on the other side. They jumped off the car as the doors were closing, taking his passport, forty Euros, and three bank cards with them.
Fortunately, his passport was found, and our credit card company denied the $900 charge the thieves attempted.
We have had several experiences that either led to injuries or could have. All were our fault and had nothing to do with the safety of the places we were in.
If Steve hadn’t been paying attention while we were on a tour bus in Quito, Ecuador, I would probably not be here writing this. We were on the upper level, and I was facing the back, taking photos. I was unaware that we were about to go under a low overpass. We were going fast enough that the impact would have almost certainly killed me.
I have fallen several times (twice on the same day) because I was busy gawking at the scenery and did not watch where I was going. One time I fell inside a church with a loud smack because I was marveling at the ceiling and did not see the leg of a bench in my path.
I’ve also had two e-scooter accidents that you can read about in “Beware the E-Scooters.” Steve had a near miss while he was demonstrating a moped to me, and he inadvertently took off onto a busy street sans helmet.
So my advice is to avoid the dangerous places, enjoy all the others, and for God’s sake, stay seated on the tour bus.
4. We Are Going to Look Like Tourists
Many articles about tourist safety tell you to try not to look like a tourist. I think this is ridiculous advice because you are going to look like a tourist. The way you look, sound, and walk all give clues that you are not a native.
Not only can people peg you for a tourist, but they can do it quickly. I can’t count the number of times Steve and I have walked into a restaurant and been handed a menu in English before we opened our mouths. Store clerks and museum personnel have spoken to us in English before we said a word.
So we will continue to walk down unfamiliar streets with our camera ready, taking in all the new sights and desperately looking for street signs because most people aren’t a threat, and it’s what we do.
WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE
5. Most People Are Nice
Since we started traveling, we have been amazed at how friendly and helpful most people are. And even when they aren’t initially, they usually come around.
Steve and I noticed an interesting phenomenon in South America. When waiters greeted us in restaurants and saw that we did not speak the language, they sometimes had a little attitude. Nothing nasty, but we got the feeling that they were thinking, “Oh brother, I have to deal with these foreigners.”
As always, we did our best to be gracious and modest, used the local language as much as possible, and said thank you frequently (also in the local language). Quite often, we left these restaurants with smiles from staff and sometimes even handshakes and air kisses.
This has also happened with other interactions like buying bus tickets. Humility, patience, and gratitude are the keys to receiving great customer service.
6. People in Other Countries Don’t Hate Americans (or America)
Throughout my life, I had heard about how the rest of the world disliked people from the United States and referred to us as Ugly Americans. While preparing for a life of full-time travel, I wondered: would we face animosity overseas?
Even with this uncertainty, I vowed never to hide where I am from. People will have to take me as I am. If they have any preconceived notions, maybe I can help dispel them.
Since 2018, Steve and I have visited fourteen countries in Europe and Latin America. We never felt we were being judged negatively for being from the U.S. Just the opposite. Many people seemed delighted when they heard we were from the U.S. and either shared their wonderful memories of visits there or expressed a desire to visit. That doesn’t mean that some people don’t have negative feelings, but if they do, they either avoid us or keep their feelings to themselves.
And as a side note: I don’t tell people I am American; I tell them I am from the U.S. Why? Because there are 35 countries in the Americas. All these people are “American” too.
WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT OTHER CULTURES
7. There Will Be Unpleasant Things You Have No Control Over
The streets smell of urine (Paris).
Nose picking is more prevalent than we are used to (Western Europe and South America).
Protests pop up regularly (Buenos Aires).
An apartment that advertises hot water may only have it in the shower (our apartment in the Galapagos Islands).
We all know that travel sometimes means having to deal with unpleasant or inconvenient situations.
Our worst experience during these last two years was being delayed for 16 hours because of a protest. We were on a bus tour in Southern Peru when this happened. We were luckier than many people on our bus because we would be spending several days in the next town before heading to Machu Picchu. Many people on the bus missed some highly anticipated and costly experiences. I have shared the details in “Stranded on the Road in Peru.”
The best thing you can do is realize that you have no control over these events, although travel insurance and credit card benefits may ease some of the financial pain.
Remember, what doesn’t kill you makes a darn good story.
8. Using A New Language Will Feel Awkward
It’s one thing to sit at home going through your Duolingo or Rosetta Stone lessons. It’s quite another to go out and speak that language to a native speaker.
Some things start to come naturally, like please and thank you. But I often find myself missing a few words to complete a sentence.
One trick is to use an online translator to learn the sentence before you start a transaction. Sometimes you will have to resort to using the online translator as you are completing the transaction. That’s OK too.
We have found everyone to be very patient while communicating with us. If anything, I am the one who tends to get impatient when I say a simple sentence, am confident that I am using the right words and a reasonable approximation of the pronunciation, and I am not understood. UGH. I have to try very hard to hide my frustration.
9. Stores and Restaurants Aren’t Always Open at “Normal” Times
The first city we visited was Barcelona. We arrived on a Sunday morning. After we got settled into our Airbnb, we went looking for a restaurant and grocery store. As we passed place after closed up place, we became concerned that we would not find food. “We’re going to starve to death,” we cried.
We eventually found a small store that was open so we could at least get the basics. That experience led to one of our travel rules: never go to a new city on a Sunday.
It is not uncommon for restaurants in Latin America to close from mid-afternoon until 8 or 9 p.m. when they open for dinner. We found this to be widespread in Cordoba, Argentina. We adapted by eating lunch at the restaurants we were interested in and having a light dinner at home.
When we visited the tiny hamlet of La Cumbrecita in Argentina, we stayed at a hotel that provided dinner. We were not thrilled when we checked in and were told that dinner would be served at 9 p.m. Even so, we accepted this and were quite amused when at 9 on the dot, a cowbell was rung to let the guests know that dinner was now served.
10. Food Portions Are Big Everywhere
Almost every article I have read about things foreigners find strange in the U.S. mentions our portion sizes. It makes me think that the authors of these articles have never eaten a meal in a foreign country.
Every place we have visited has served large portions. They may not use the term ‘supersize,” but the result is the same. This article from the Guardian talks about the growth in portion size and the difficulty humans have with portion control.
11. Tipping Customs Vary
You get the bill at the first restaurant you’re visiting in a new city. Now, what about the tip?
A quick Google search can tell you if it is customary to tip and how much. You can also gather information about tipping other service providers like taxi drivers.
Beware that in some countries, it is common to add the tip to the bill. It may be labeled service charge (propina in Spanish). You can refuse to pay it but probably wouldn’t unless the service was abysmal.
We ate at one restaurant in Medellin where our waiter disappeared, and it took 45 minutes to get our food. We were not happy and would not have paid the propina on the bill, but the manager gave us a piece of flan as compensation, so we called it even.
During our travels in Europe and Latin America, we did not eat in any restaurants that would allow us to add the tip to our credit card payment. Therefore, it is wise to carry small bills or coins in the local currency.
Our most costly mistake was while traveling from Paris to London. My failure to thoroughly read our train tickets cost us $230. However, there were other times when we were saved from more costly mistakes by sheer luck and the kindness of others.
13. Less Really is More
The most sure-fire way to get control of all your stuff is to sell (almost) everything and adopt a nomadic lifestyle.
That pile of papers on your desk that never seems to get smaller? It will be diminished to almost nothing when you cull it every time you change locations (about once a month for us).
The disorganized closet with items you forgot you own? It is easy to keep track of what you have when it all fits into a suitcase or backpack. The downside is that you will be wearing the same things over and over and over ……
Do you love housework and yard work? Me either. It’s easy to keep things neat and organized when you stay in a small apartment. Total cleaning time: less than one hour. Time spent on yard work: zero hours because – no yard.
Looking back over how much time, money, and effort went into maintaining a suburban lifestyle, I wish we had downsized decades ago.
Do I miss buying cool clothes and awesome shoes? Yes, but not as much as you might think. And I get to play dress-up when we return to the U.S.
14. Adaptability and Flexibility Are Indispensable
No apartment will have everything you are used to, no Airbnb host can anticipate your every need, and stores won’t necessarily carry your favorite products and brands. You will learn to make do on the road.
In every city we visit, we end up buying something we need to make our lives easier. We have bought wheeled shopping carts, plastic pitchers, and non-slip shower mats, to name a few. We don’t mind leaving these things behind because they are inexpensive.
These lessons can be summed up quite succinctly:
Most places are safe.
Most people are nice.
You will screw up.
Other people will screw things up for you.
You will discover another side of yourself.
And most importantly, you will cherish all your experiences!
We’ve all heard about ugly Americans. Tourists from the U.S. who talk too loud, wear garish clothes, compare things in other countries to how they do it in the U.S., and expect everyone to speak English.
A Case in Point
Many years ago, I was sitting at my daughters’ soccer practice when a very loud man told a story of his experience in Paris. When he and his wife arrived at their hotel, their room wasn’t ready. They expressed displeasure about this and were upgraded to a suite. The hotel manager told them to help themselves to anything they wanted from the minibar.
He then bragged about how they consumed everything in the minibar. He was proud. I was appalled.
I Am What I Am
At this time, the only foreign country I had visited was Canada. But I had heard about ugly Americans and how the rest of the world disliked us. I had also heard that some U.S. citizens who visit foreign countries say they are from Canada to avoid being painted with the ugly American brush. Again, I was appalled.
I vowed never to hide where I was from. People will have to take me as I am. If they have any preconceived notions, maybe I can help dispel them.
Maybe We’re Not So Ugly After All
The good news is that after traveling full-time internationally for more than two years, I believe the ugly American may be dead or at least on life support.
During our ten months in Latin America and fifteen months (and counting) in Europe, there were only two times that Steve and I felt we were being judged negatively for being from the U.S. (more on that below).
Most of the people we talk with have positive things to say when they find out we are from the U.S. Many have spent time in the U.S. and speak of it fondly. Others talk about how much they would love to visit it.
That doesn’t mean that some people didn’t have those feelings, but if they did, they either avoided us or were very good actors.
Many of our conversations have been with Uber and taxi drivers, who are often fluent in English and love to talk about the U.S. They know a lot about our politics and separate their feelings about our leaders from their opinions of us.
Not to be too mushy, but I often felt like we were welcomed with open arms.
It wasn’t until we were in Budapest, Hungary, during the COVID-19 pandemic that we experienced any negativity for being from the U.S.
The first time was when Steve went to get a haircut after businesses were allowed to reopen after being shut down for several months. When the barber and the other men in the shop found out he was from the U.S., they were understandably cautious and quickly put on their masks. Then they discussed how poorly the U.S. was handling the virus.
The second time was a few days later when we were taking a walk. A few street cleaners stared at us, and one woman coughed in our direction.
Neither was a big deal, but I am including them here to show how quickly positive feelings can turn negative because of something outside of our control.
You Get What You Put Out
I was reading a blog in which the author complained that the people in Quito, Ecuador were rude and bashed the city he had spent only four days visiting. Someone responded that he did not have that experience as a tourist. The author then replied that because tourists bring money, the locals are nice to them but are rude to each other.
I did not see this rudeness during our four weeks in Quito. The locals were polite to us and each other. They often went out of their way to be helpful and friendly.
I felt compelled to add a comment stating that I disagreed with the author’s opinion, and you get back what you put out.
Putting In Extra Effort
I do find myself going out of my way to be gracious and not make assumptions based on how we do it in the U.S.
We were in one apartment where the neighbors were throwing loud parties every day beginning in the afternoon and lasting through the night. People were coming and going at all hours and had no consideration for those who were sleeping.
I could have gone to the guard complaining about the noise. Instead, I asked what the rules about noise were in the building. Fortunately, he said any noise that bothers other tenants is not allowed. He knew exactly who was causing the problem.
He was our go-to guard as the partiers continued to disobey the rules until that wonderful day when they were evicted! We showed our appreciation for all that guard’s help with a bottle of scotch.
Except When We Don’t
I did have an ugly American moment of my own. We were in Panama City waiting for a prearranged Uber to take us to a ferry dock. Since we were staying in a gated community, I had sent directions, in Spanish, on how to get to us.
We used the app to watch the Uber driver pull up to the guard gate, then we watched him turn around and drive away. Repeated messages to him to turn around and come back, again in Spanish, went unanswered.
I became frustrated because we had a time constraint. As I called for a replacement Uber driver, I exclaimed “and he probably won’t speak English either.”
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew how entitled they made me sound. Luckily, Steve was the only person who heard them, and it has not become one of our inside travel jokes.
What a Wonderful World
We have found most people to be friendly and helpful. Perhaps it is because we are seldom rushed and therefore more patient, Uber tantrum aside. This makes us more pleasant to be around.
Perhaps it is because we try very hard to be gracious and courteous and learn some basic phrases in the local language, which has resulted in many positive experiences.
Seeing famous sites, strolling through great museums, and enjoying the vibe of each city are some of the rewards of traveling. But some of my best memories are of the interactions with the people we have met along the way. I hope that we have left equally positive impressions.
Traveling to countries where English is not the primary language has made me rethink my attitude toward multilingualism.
Before Steve and I started traveling full-time, I would be annoyed when businesses offered a Spanish option on their phone menu. I was even more annoyed when they asked me to press one for English. I felt like many Americans. Why should I have to press anything? English is our language. If people want to live here, they should speak English.
A Happy Surprise
Then in 2018, Steve and I spent eight months in Europe, and much to our surprise, English was everywhere. From large cities like Barcelona and Paris to the Bulgarian towns of Plovdiv and Byala, many people, particularly those in the tourist and service industries, spoke English.
It’s a good thing because being able to communicate in the language of each country we visited would have required us to learn six different languages.
Even though English was virtually everywhere, we made sure to learn and use basic words like hello, please, and thank you.
What surprised us the most was how well many Uber drivers spoke English. I’m not talking about basics here. Many were able to hold intelligent conversations in English about politics and travel. This made me wonder how many people in the U.S. can converse intelligently in a foreign language.
So I Googled it.
According to this article from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 25% of Americans can speak a foreign language compared to 66% of residents of the European Union.
Standard travel advice is to learn to say “hello” and “do you speak English?” in the language of the country you are visiting. If the person replies that he does, you can switch to English.
We found this entirely unnecessary. Apparently, we look American. Quite often, clerks and waitpeople would begin speaking English to us before we even said hello. Almost every restaurant we visited either had English on the menu or a separate menu in English. These were often handed to us before we said a word.
The Tables Have Turned
2019 was our second year of travel. We spent most of it in Latin America, where English as a second language is far less common. Even in tourist areas, we often relied on Google Translate to communicate.
During that time, I learned some Spanish through Rosetta Stone. It was slow going, but it was great to be able to communicate on a very rudimentary level in the local language.
Food for Thought
The fact that English is so prevalent in European countries makes me wonder what those of us in the U.S. are afraid of. From what I can see, being multilingual and offering services and menus in multiple languages hasn’t hurt our European friends. The more people you can communicate with, the richer your life will be.
I think if someone chooses to live in a foreign country, he should learn the language. But a little help along the way benefits those learning English. And don’t forget, not everyone who is in the U.S. and doesn’t speak English plans to stay. Some are tourists like us!
To provide the best experiences, we use technologies like cookies to store and/or access device information. Consenting to these technologies will allow us to process data such as browsing behavior or unique IDs on this site. Not consenting or withdrawing consent, may adversely affect certain features and functions.
Functional Always active
The technical storage or access is strictly necessary for the legitimate purpose of enabling the use of a specific service explicitly requested by the subscriber or user, or for the sole purpose of carrying out the transmission of a communication over an electronic communications network.
The technical storage or access is necessary for the legitimate purpose of storing preferences that are not requested by the subscriber or user.
The technical storage or access that is used exclusively for statistical purposes.The technical storage or access that is used exclusively for anonymous statistical purposes. Without a subpoena, voluntary compliance on the part of your Internet Service Provider, or additional records from a third party, information stored or retrieved for this purpose alone cannot usually be used to identify you.
The technical storage or access is required to create user profiles to send advertising, or to track the user on a website or across several websites for similar marketing purposes.