Slow Travel: Better for You, Better for the Environment

Hi there. Have you ever taken a vacation that plum wore you out?

Maybe you took a multi-day tour that didn’t provide enough downtime.

Perhaps you got tired of packing and unpacking as you moved from city to city.

Or it could be that you saw so many sights in a short time that they have all gotten jumbled up in your memory.

If you relate to any of these, slow travel might be right for you.

Steve and I have been traveling slowly since 2018 and highly recommend it.

In this post, I will explain what slow travel is, what the benefits are, how we practice slow travel, and how you can, too.

What is Slow Travel?

If you search the internet for “what is slow travel?” you’ll find varying definitions.

Some, like this Conde Nast Traveler article “What Does the Phrase “Slow Travel” Actually Mean?” stress moving from place to place in the most environmentally friendly way even if it takes longer.

Some focus on connecting to the local culture and people, as in “What is Slow Travel? And How to Do It” by Remote Year.

World Packers proposes rejecting conventional tourism and being open to unique and immersive experiences.

I think this definition from StudySmarter UK says it best:

“Slow travel is the art of not rushing around when traveling. The purpose of traveling slowly is to take in the sights, get to know the place better and have a local feel of it, creating lasting memories and connections.”

No matter how you define slow travel (also known as sustainable travel, mindful travel, slow tourism, and low-impact travel), putting it into practice can make your trips more memorable and meaningful.

Benefits of Slow Travel

Less stress

Traveling slowly reduces your stress level, and who doesn’t want that? Since travel is already full of stress, why add more?

By keeping your plans flexible and allowing free time, you are less likely to panic when something goes wrong. If you don’t see attraction A today, you’ll see it tomorrow.

Slow travel also encourages you to be picky about what you want to see. When we go to a new place, Steve and I list things to see and do, then, we prioritize them. By choosing which things are the highest priority, we can enjoy them leisurely.

Lower costs

Besides having less stress, slow travel helps you spend less.

The most apparent savings are on transportation. The less you move around, the less you spend.

But you can also save big on accommodations, especially if you use Airbnb. There is backlash against Airbnb and other home-sharing companies, but that’s an issue for another day. Frankly, until someone comes up with an alternative that offers as much as we get on Airbnb for a comparable price, we will continue to use it.

The way to save big on Airbnb is to book long term. Many hosts give discounts for weekly and monthly stays. The monthly discounts are usually a higher percentage than the weekly ones. Our average nightly rate for a month’s stay in an Airbnb is $70 compared to $120 for a hotel room. If you book an Airbnb with a kitchen, you can cook meals, too.

You can save even more if you forego the rental car and use public transportation.

More profound and authentic experiences

This benefit is near and dear to my heart. I love the feeling I get when I’ve been somewhere long enough that things become familiar and I feel at home.

It can be as simple as shopping for groceries or conversing with a local on the bus. It might be trying that out-of-the-way restaurant tourists don’t know about. The memories of the places we’ve discovered and the people we’ve met when living like a local mean more to us than the typical tourist experiences do.

Opportunity for unexpected experiences

When you stay in one place longer, you have time to wander. Often, we will be heading somewhere and discover other things along the way. Because we are traveling slowly, we can take the time to check them out.

We often come across cemeteries, parks, churches, and street art because we looked around the next corner.

a church with a garden and a graveyard
While heading elsewhere, we came across this church with colorful gardens and a cemetery in Walthamstow, London, U.K.

When you aren’t overbooked, and you spend time talking with locals and other tourists, you may learn about unexpected places and activities. We often discover something memorable after we arrive at our destination.

In Barcelona, it was stumbling across the delightful Parc del Laberint d’Horta, Barcelona’s oldest garden. There were surprises at every turn, and we had the park mostly to ourselves.

In the Galapagos Islands, it was heading into the highlands on electric scooters for a day of exploring. We came across a lava tunnel and a family-owned amusement center.

We searched for abandoned Austro-Hungarian forts in Pula, Croatia, where even their aquarium is inside one of these forts.

While in Cordoba, Argentina, we learned about the German-inspired hamlet of La Cumbrecita and spent a few days enjoying its solitude.

My favorite unexpected experience was visiting Medellin, Colombia’s District 13 (Comuna 13). Less than 25 years ago, District 13 was the most dangerous neighborhood in one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Today, it attracts tourists with its small businesses and street art. It was delightful to see the residents full of purpose, joy, and positive spirit.

Collage of slow travel adventures
Clockwise from upper left: the maze at Parc del Laberint d’Horta, Linda at a lava tunnel entrance in the Galapagos Islands, Steve in La Cumbrecita, Linda in La Cumbrecita, dancers in District 13, and Fort Giorgio in Pula

Less environmental impact

There are two ways slow travel can help the environment. One is to move around less, and the other is to take more environmentally friendly transportation methods, even if they take longer.

The first one is easy. Find a place you would love to explore and hunker down there for as long as possible.

We have found the second one more difficult. When Steve and I traveled from Budapest to Manchester, we considered taking a train since we had plenty of time. We would have spent almost 24 hours on four trains. In addition, work was being done on several stretches of track, so we would have had to use buses for parts of the journey. We chose to take a 6-hour flight instead.

Even though taking a train didn’t work in that case, we always consider it and other options.

For local transportation, the best thing for you and the environment is walking or cycling. You get the added benefits of exercise and seeing the sights along the way. You can also ride an electric scooter (if you are better at it than I am).

If none of these suit the situation, local public transportation (where available) is the way to go. Not only is it better for Mother Earth, but it is also a lot cheaper than renting a car.

Check out this article from The Travel to see how different transportation options rank.

How We Practice Slow Travel

Because we travel full-time, it is easy for Steve and I to practice slow travel. If we didn’t, we would burn out. We also need time to take care of day-to-day issues that can be ignored when you are on a short vacation.

We prefer to stay in one accommodation for four weeks. That gives us the benefit of Airbnb discounts and reduces the stress of packing and moving.

Since we have plenty of time in most places, we space out our sightseeing. We will usually pick one thing to do that will take several hours. Often, we find interesting things to see around that attraction or while traveling to and from it.

How You Can Practice Slow Travel

You don’t have to travel long-term or full-time to practice slow travel. The first step is defining what it means to you.

Will you seek out local experiences? Will you wander the area with no specific destination? Will you be mindful of the environmental impact of your transportation choices?

There is no right way to practice slow travel. You will know you’ve done it when the place you visited is etched on your soul.

Until Next Time

I hope you found this post engaging and thought-provoking. Are you ready to practice slow travel, or have you already done so? Let us know in the comment section below.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image by Beth Macdonald on Unsplash.com

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Wind and Whim Update: January and February 2024

Greetings from London, where Steve and I have spent the last seven weeks waiting for nice weather. I hope wherever you are, spring is already working its magic.

We ended 2023 by spending Christmas with our daughters, Steph and Laura (aka the girls), and Steph’s roommate, Jeff, in Jacksonville, Florida. It was the first time we’ve been together at Christmas since 2019.

In January and February, we spent time in Jacksonville and Orlando, Florida; Savannah, Georgia; Asheville, North Carolina; and Tonawanda, New York (a suburb of Buffalo).

Here are the highlights of our travels for January and February 2024.

Florida Fun

Our Florida visit included spending as much time as possible with Steph and Laura. It is rewarding to see the lives they’ve built for themselves. Even if we are just sharing a meal or watching a movie, any time together as a family is the best.

We got to see a few family members and friends in Florida, but as always, our return to Jacksonville included a lot of doctors’ appointments and shopping, so we didn’t get to see everyone we had hoped to.

Here are some of the best parts of our Florida visit.

Making Sushi

Steve thought we should try making sushi while in Jacksonville. I thought this project was destined to fail, as it is an art.

After gathering the ingredients at an Asian market, Steve prepared the sushi rice. The next day, we got to work, each of us making one variety of sushi. I think we were all surprised at how well it turned out.

Steph had hoped to use salmon, but we soon learned that it would require at least a week to prepare salmon fillet so it is safe to eat raw. Here is information on how to do that.

Two photos of women making sushi
Steph crafting her sushi, and Laura showing off hers

Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary

Catty Shack is the #1 thing to do in Jacksonville on Trip Advisor, with good reason.

Steve, the girls, and I visited Catty Shack, a big cat sanctuary in Jacksonville. To say we were blown away would be an understatement. The animals are well cared for, and we could see how much the staff loved them. Catty Shack has been in operation for 30 years. I can’t believe we never went to this wonderful place when we lived in Jacksonville.

Catty Shack’s mission is to give forever homes to endangered big cats. You will also see foxes and coatimundis there. You can learn about the residents here.

Some of the animals have impressive enclosures like the one below. I imagine the pools would be tempting not only to the animals but also to the staff on hot summer days. Not all residents have luxury accommodations yet, but judging by what we saw, it’s just a matter of time.

A tiger at the Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary
Adrian, a female Siberian Tiger, in her decked-out home at Catty Shack

Even though we weren’t on a tour, we saw staff members and volunteers throughout the complex, and they were happy to share information and answer questions.

If you’re in the North Florida area and love animals, check out Catty Shack.

Barbie, The Movie

The girls, Steve, and I decided to watch Barbie. I wasn’t sure I would like it, and I couldn’t imagine Steve sitting through the entire movie. Boy, was I wrong. We all enjoyed it. I didn’t want to miss a word. Even if this isn’t your type of movie, you might want to give it a try.

The Lightner Museum in St. Augustine

Our long-time friends Greg and Terry came down from Tennessee for a long weekend. We did several things together, including touring the Kingsley Plantation and attending an improv show at First Coast Comedy, where Greg volunteered to go on stage and brought down the house with an inappropriate utterance.

We also visited the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine, the oldest city in the U.S. It is less than an hour’s drive from Jacksonville but a world apart with its strong Spanish influence.

The museum’s stately Spanish Renaissance Revival style building began life in 1887 as the Hotel Alcazar, a resort hotel commissioned by Standard Oil founder Henry Flagler.

The hotel closed in 1931. In 1947, the building was purchased by Chicago publisher Otto C. Lightner, who turned it into a hobbies museum. Today, it holds an eclectic collection, from furniture to fine art, from salt and pepper shakers to newel post finials. Many items are from America’s Gilded Age (1870s-1890s).

Four photos inside the Lightner Museum
Inside the Lightner, clockwise from upper left: the former swimming pool, a lead glass panel, “Woman on Garden Bench,” artist unknown, a lead glass panel, “Cupid,” artist unknown, and a view of the cut glass collection

Kingsley Plantation

Kingsley Plantation is not large, but it packs a powerful punch. The plantation includes the planter’s house, the separate kitchen house (to reduce the risk of fire in the main house and keep the heat away from it), the slave quarter ruins (and one that has been restored), and the barn.

Owner’s house and slave quarter ruins at the Kingsley Plantation
The owner’s house and slave quarter ruins at the Kingsley Plantation

As always, it’s the stories that make history come alive, and Kingsley Plantation has some good ones. The plantation was built in 1797 by Zephaniah Kingsley, a slave trader and shipping magnate. He lived there for 25 years. Kingsley had four slave wives and nine mixed-race children.

His main wife, Anna, has a fascinating history. She was the daughter of a leader of the Wolof ethnic groups in modern-day Senegal. Her family were slaveholders.

Slave traders captured Anna when she was 13. She was purchased by Zephaniah Kingsley, who soon married her. He freed her from slavery when she turned 18. Spain controlled Florida at that time. They recognized three classes of people: white people, free persons of color, and enslaved persons.

Zephaniah died in 1843. After sorting out some legal hassles, the plantation ownership passed to Anna.

So Anna went from being the daughter of a slaveholder, to an enslaved person, to a free person of color and slaveholder herself.

It is free to visit the plantation, and an audio guide is available. Staff and volunteers are happy to answer questions and share their knowledge. It is a 35-minute drive between Kingsley Plantation and Catty Shack, so the two could easily be seen in one day.

A Short Stop in Savannah

But we weren’t done with January yet. The month ended with a few nights in Savannah. Our sightseeing included wandering Colonial Park Cemetery (the city’s oldest cemetery), dining at the Pirates’ House, lunching at Paula Deen’s restaurant, The Lady and Sons (good food, uninspired decor), strolling the near-empty streets at night, and taking an incredibly corny ghost tour.

We didn’t go to Bonaventure Cemetery once we discovered the Bird Girl statue is no longer there. It is now in the Telfair Museum of Art.

Here are two of our favorite things about Savannah.

The American Prohibition Museum

Children scooping up alcohol dumped by Prohibition agents
Children scooping up alcohol dumped by Prohibition agents (photo from Getty Images)

Our favorite activity was the American Prohibition Museum. It starts out a little hokey, but as you progress, there is a lot of memorabilia and interesting information.

Prohibition lasted 13 years, from 1920 to 1933. It banned the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. The consumption of alcohol wasn’t banned, and any alcohol people possessed before the start of prohibition was theirs to keep.

Before Prohibition, the alcohol industry was the 5th largest in the U.S. It is estimated that $11 billion of tax revenue was lost during Prohibition. New York State lost almost 75% of its tax revenue.

Prohibition also contributed to increased organized crime and the loss of jobs in related industries such as trucking and barrel making. Restaurants suffered because people preferred to eat at home, where they could also drink.

You can read more about Prohibition in this History Channel article.

The Thunderbird Inn with George Monk

When Steve and I were looking for a place to stay in Savannah, we blew off the Thunderbird Inn, fearing it would be substandard. We’re glad we reconsidered. This is not a luxury hotel, but it was clean and comfortable.

The Thunderbird dates back to the 1960s, and despite being remodeled in 2018, it has kept the relaxed 60s vibe. Popcorn, Moon Pies, RC Cola, and 60s tunes await your arrival. The hotel doesn’t serve a hot breakfast, but they have decadent donuts for the guests.

If you stay here, you can reserve the hotel’s mascot, a sock monkey named George Monk, and photograph him around town. George was well-behaved in public but got a little rowdy at night.

A sock monkey with two glasses of beer
George trying to steal our beer

On to Asheville

After Savannah, we drove to Asheville, North Carolina, for our first pet sit. It was a huge success. We cared for a medium-sized dog named Aspen and saw a little of the city. I will be writing more about our pet-sitting experiences in another post.

The highlights included the Biltmore Estate and the Pinball Museum.

The Biltmore Estate

Four views of the Biltmore Estate
The Biltmore Estate clockwise from top left: the grand dining room, the library, the conservatory, and the entry hall

In Asheville, we toured the Biltmore Estate. At 179,000 sq. feet or 16,600 sq. meters, it is the largest privately owned house in the U.S. I was shocked to learn the grand dining room is larger than our entire Jacksonville house.

The estate consists of the house, the grounds and gardens, a winery, and Antler Hill Village, which has shopping, dining, and live music. Visiting Biltmore is expensive. As of this writing, a ticket to the grounds (everything except touring the house) ranges from $50 to $85, depending on the day. Tickets to everything, including a house tour with an audio guide, range from $80 to $115. As pricey as the tickets are, the estate is well worth seeing. Our Asheville pet parents gave us ground passes, so we paid $47 each to add the house tour.

This Gilded Age mansion was built by George Washington Vanderbilt II from 1889-1895 in the Châteauesque style. The house cost $180 million in today’s dollars to build. Members of the Vanderbilt family lived there until 1956.

The estate grounds were open to the public for a fee before the house was completed. During the Great Depression, the house was opened to the public to raise revenue to run the estate and boost tourism in the Asheville area. Learn more about this in this article from the Winston-Salem Journal.

Biltmore House played a role in WWII when 79 pieces of art from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, were stored in its Music Room. The room was closed off from the rest of the house as tours continued. You can read more in this article.

The Second Floor Living Hall in Biltmore
Paintings in the Second Floor Living Hall pay homage to Richard Morris Hunt, Biltmore’s architect, and Frederick Law Olmsted, Biltmore’s landscape architect

The Asheville Pinball Museum

Steve and I love finding quirky things to do, and Asheville came through with the Asheville Pinball Museum. You can tour the museum for free or play as long as you like for $15. Some machines are display only, but there are still about 35 playable machines and 35 classic video games.

The pinball machine collection goes back to the 1930s. The machines are changed out to keep the experience fresh and do maintenance work. We saw the first machine with flippers, the 1947 Gottlieb Humpty Dumpty, and the best-selling machine of all time, Bally’s 1992 Addams Family.

Two pinball machines at the Asheville Pinball Museum
A machine from 1935 and Humpty Dumpty, the first machine with flippers

There is a snack bar where you can grab a soda or a brewski and a light bite. You can also buy T-shirts and other souvenirs. Here’s more about the Asheville Pinball Museum.

Even if you aren’t a pinball wizard, this place will awaken your inner gamer.

Shuffling Off to Buffalo (Well, Flying)

When Steve and I decided to try pet sitting, we intended to do it in Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand to keep costs down in those notoriously expensive places. However, the first sit that caught our eye was in the Town of Tonawanda, a suburb of Buffalo. I grew up there, and Steve grew up nearby. We still have many relatives there, so we applied and got the gig.

You may question the wisdom of someone choosing to go to the Buffalo Area in February, but since we grew up there, we figured we could handle anything Mother Nature threw at us.

I was hoping to get snowed in, but there was very little snow during our three weeks there, and that disappeared quickly as the temperatures climbed well above freezing. Steph and Laura joined us for a week and were there when it snowed. Neither has seen snow since they were wee babes.

Steph and Laura in the snow
Laura and Steph enjoying snow flurries, and Steph throwing a snowball

We stayed in a comfortable house full of eclectic art while we cared for Baer, an older terrier, and Nikki, a shy cat. We spent most of our time visiting family, including several members we hadn’t met. Because of his genealogy work, Steve connected with dozens of relatives we hadn’t known of.

One sad note was that Steve’s second oldest brother, Bob, passed away suddenly shortly after we arrived. He didn’t want a funeral, so most of the family got together at a local bar for an impromptu wake.

We were too busy visiting and eating all the yummy Buffalo food to do any sightseeing.

New on the Website

With all this exploring and family time, we only published one post:
Sinaia, Romania: A Great Addition to Your Bucharest Trip

Until Next Time

I hope you found this post interesting and inspiring. Drop a comment below and let Steve and me know if you’ve visited any of the places above and what you thought of them.

Happy traveling,
Linda

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What You Need to Know About Traveling in the Schengen Area

Hi there, fellow traveler. Are you thinking of visiting Europe for an extended period of time? If so, do you understand the Schengen Area rules? Don’t be like Steve and me when we first started traveling (more about that below). We weren’t familiar with the Schengen Area and came very close to having a giant monkey wrench thrown smack dab into the middle of our plans.

In this post, I will explain what you need to know about traveling in the Schengen Area as it applies to North American citizens. Please note that I am not an expert. You are responsible for understanding how the rules apply to you.

Our Schengen Near Miss

In January 2018, Steve and I were just months away from beginning our full-time travel journey. We had booked a two-week cruise from Port Canaveral, Florida, to Barcelona. We had three months of non-refundable Airbnb rentals lined up in Barcelona and Paris. We were raring to go.

Then I read about the Schengen Area’s 90/180-day rule. I panicked. Had we booked more nights than we were allowed? Luckily, no. We had booked 89 nights in Barcelona and Paris, so we were good. Or so we thought.

We soon realized that we had failed to consider the days our ship was in port or in the territorial waters of a Schengen country. Fortunately, nothing came of this.

We decided to take another transatlantic cruise in 2023. I researched how days on a cruise ship are treated for Schengen purposes. I couldn’t find concrete information, so we erred on the side of caution and included every day the ship was in the Schengen Area in our calculations.

What is the Schengen Area?

It is a group of 29 European countries that have agreed to allow people within its borders to travel freely between member countries. The name comes from the village of Schengen in Luxemburg, where the Schengen Agreement was signed in 1985.

For example, as a traveler, if you were to enter Spain, you could then go to any of the other 28 countries without going through border controls.

Which Countries are in the Schengen Area?

Most of the Schengen Area countries are members of the EU, but like many things in life, it is not that simple.

Of the 29 countries in the Schengen Area, 26 are EU members. Three countries, Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland, are in the Schengen Area but are not EU members.

Two countries are in the EU but are not in the Schengen Area. These are the Republic of Ireland and Cyprus.

You can find a list of member countries and a helpful map on schengenvisainfo.com.

Microstates in the Schengen Area

If that’s not complicated enough, there are six microstates (sovereign states that have tiny populations, land area, or both) within the Schengen area.

Three of these, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City, are de facto members of the Schengen Area. You are free to enter and exit these countries from the countries that surround them. For example, when we were in Rome and wanted to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica, it was as if we were entering a neighborhood of Rome rather than a different country.

Two of the microstates, Liechtenstein and Malta, are members of the Schengen Area.

The last microstate, Andorra, which is bordered by Spain and France, has border controls.

What is the 90/180-Day Rule?

There are many countries whose citizens need to apply for a visa (which includes quite a bit of paperwork and an 80 euro fee. Luckily, Canada, Mexico, and the United States do not fall into this category.

Instead, they are in a group of countries whose citizens do not need a visa to travel in the Schengen Area for short periods of time. If you are like me and prefer to see things for yourself, you can see that list here.

Visa-free visitors are allowed to stay in the Schengen Area for 90 days out of a 180-day period. The days do not need to be consecutive.

No matter what time you enter the Schengen area, it will count as one day. So, if you enter at 11:50 pm on January 1st and exit at 12:10 am on February 1st, this will count as 32 days even though you only spent 30 days and 20 minutes in the Schengen Area.

You can learn more about the Schengen area on the schengenvisainfo.com website.

What Happens if You Exceed 90 Days?

Firing squad!

Just kidding. If you exceed your allowed 90 days, you can be fined, deported, or banned from future entry into the Schengen area.

Practical Applications of the 90/180-Day Rule

For most travelers, the best thing is to keep it simple. Enter the Schengen Area, travel within it for up to 90 days, and get out. Since our near miss, we always give ourselves a cushion by booking less than 90 days, so if any issues arrive, we have wiggle room.

Should you choose to travel in and out of the Schengen Area, here are two calculators that can help you plan and keep you out of trouble.

The first one is from the European Union.

This one is tricky to use. When you enter your dates, you must start with a + for the entry date and a – for the exit date. The dates are in dd/mm/yy format without the / marks. So, an entry date of March 28, 2023, would be entered as +280323.

If you are confused about how to use this calculator, check the user’s guide, which you can find under the calculate button.

Here are results based on our two most recent stays in the Schengen Area with the assumption that we would reenter on March 18, 2024.

Calculator results for traveling in the Schengen Area

You can also use this calculator. It is more user-friendly and presents the information slightly differently but with the same results.

The Problem for Long-Term Travelers

Most travelers won’t come close to spending 90 days in Europe during one trip, so the 90/180-day rule won’t affect their plans. But for long-term travelers and nomads (like us), it is a big deal. And that big deal is getting worse as more countries join the Schengen Area, but the number of days travelers are allowed to stay doesn’t change.

That first year, after Steve and I had spent 89 days in Spain and France, we had to find countries to go to that weren’t in the Schengen area. At that time, there were 26 countries in the area. Our choices, since we wanted to stay in Europe, were the U.K. or Balkan countries. The U.K. was too expensive, so we opted for Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria.

We loved these three countries and have revisited all three. But when we went to Croatia in 2023, it was part of the Schengen Area, effective January 1, 2023. Bulgaria and Romania became part of the Schengen Area (with limitations) as of March 31, 2024. Initially, border-free travel between these two countries and other Schengen countries will apply only to entry by air or sea. This BBC article explains this in more detail.

Can You Legally Stay in the Schengen Area Longer?

Yes. There are several ways to extend your time in the Schengen Area legally.

You can apply for a long-term visa or a residence permit. Understandably, these require you to show proof of accommodation for the duration of your stay.

Steve and I had residence permits in Hungary for two years during the pandemic. We had rental agreements for the length of our permits. Signing a rental agreement wasn’t a problem since we were sheltering in place. Now that we are free to travel, we don’t want to pay rent on a place that will be empty much of the time.

There is also the cost and the hassle of applying for these permits. When we applied for our first Hungarian permit, we did it independently. It was inexpensive, but because we didn’t have representation and only spoke English, we made three visits to the immigration office and had a total wait time of 24 hours!

When it came time to renew our permit, we hired a company to represent us. This took a lot less time but cost $900.

There are several ways for North Americans to stay in European countries long-term (such as work and student visas). Still, all have strings attached that make them inappropriate for travelers looking to move frequently.

Some European Inspiration

Check out our posts on several countries in the Schengen Area:
Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Portugal, Romania, and Spain.

And here are posts about four countries that aren’t in the Schengen Area:
Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and the United Kingdom.

Until Next Time

I hope this has been helpful and informative. I also hope that you have the opportunity to experience some of what Europe has to offer despite the limitations caused by the Schengen rules.

If you have any questions or anything to add, please message me in the comments section below. As I stated at the beginning of this post, I am not an expert on visas or immigration law. This is my best effort to provide information for North American travelers unfamiliar with the Schengen Area.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured photo: a gondolier in Venice

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Memorable Moments From a Year of Full-Time Travel (2023)

It’s always fun to look back over our travels for the past year. As Steve and I wrap up our sixth year of full-time travel, we continue to be awed by this amazing world.

Our year was busy with visits to 32 cities and towns, so there was ample opportunity to collect memorable moments. We were in Florida twice, first in March to attend a wedding in Key West and then in December to spend Christmas with our daughters, Stephanie and Laura.

There was sad news in December when Steve’s oldest brother, Arthur, passed away after a long illness. We were on a cruise ship in the Atlantic Ocean at the time and weren’t able to attend his funeral. This was difficult for Steve, but we honored his memory by supporting St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and the fire company where he volunteered.

Below, I will share our 13 top travel experiences of 2023. I promise that this is not just a walk down memory lane. Throughout this post, you can find helpful and (hopefully) inspiring information.

All money is in U.S. dollars.

1. Exploring Marrakesh (January)

We started 2023 in Morocco, spending time in Tangier, Rabat, Tetouan, Chefchaouen (the Blue City), Marrakesh, and Casablanca. Of all these places, Marrakesh has stayed in my heart. I find this odd as I was not fond of it when we were there because of the crowds, especially in the medina (the old part of the city).

We stayed in a riad, which you can learn about here. What I remember most about our Marrakesh riad is the huge breakfast we were served every morning, along with the requisite mint tea. We were there in January, so it was cold in the morning. We ate with our jackets on while a space heater struggled to keep us warm.

So why do I remember Marrakesh so fondly? Possibly because it was so different from my other travel experiences. Making your way through the crowds in the medina while clutching your purse to your body and trying not to get hit by a motorcycle while escaping the clutches of the merchants is as real as it gets.

Jemaa el-Fnaa in Marrakesh
A busy square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, in Marrakesh

There is no shortage of places to see in Marrakesh. The medina has the 19th-century Bahia Palace, the 16th-century El Badi Palace ruins, and the serene 16th-century Ben Youssef Madrassa, a former Islamic school.

Outside the medina, you can visit Jardin Majorelle, a captivatingly colorful botanical garden restored by Yves Saint-Laurent and his one-time love, Pierre Berge. There is also the fun and funky Anima Garden, which features artist Andre Heller’s works among the plants.

Learn more about Marrakesh in our post “Marrakesh: Colorful, Crowded, and Just A Little Crazy.”

Eight months after our visit, Marrakesh and surrounding areas were devastated by an earthquake that claimed almost 3,000 lives. I believe these tragedies touch us more when we’ve visited a place, interacted with the residents, and experienced the culture.

We only spent four nights in Marrakesh, opting for more time in the capital of Rabat after reading about how hectic Marrakesh is. I would gladly trade our time in Rabat for more time in Marrakesh.

2. Sharing Athens With Our Daughters (April)

For two weeks in April, we shared the sights of Athens and the Island of Aegina with Steph and Laura. Steve and I had spent a month in Athens in the fall of 2022, so we were prepared to share the highlights with them.

Of course, we saw the Acropolis and the modern Acropolis Museum. We also wandered the grounds of the Ancient Agora, toured the Panathenaic Stadium, and strolled the streets looking for souvenirs.

Decorated penises for sale on the street
Prettily painted penises, a tribute to Dionysus, the god of fertility, are everywhere in Athens

We also had fish pedicures, went out for fancy drinks, and checked out the Alice in Wonderland-themed décor at Little Kook.

Four people having a fish pedicure
Laura, me, Steph, and Steve enjoying a fish pedicure (well, I’m not so sure about Steph)

This was the second time Steph and Laura joined us in our travels, the first time being in Budapest. Both trips were resounding successes and inspired me to write “9 Reasons Why Traveling with Adult Children Rocks.”

3. Walking the City Walls in Dubrovnik (April)

After Steph and Laura headed home from Athens, Steve and I headed to Croatia, where we worked our way up the Adriatic Coast. We spent time in Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar, and Pula. Even though we aren’t Game of Thrones fans, Dubrovnik was fun to explore.

One of the most popular things to do in Dubrovnik is to walk the city walls. The walls are 1.2 miles or 2 km long, and you can easily spend a few hours savoring the views. Entrance to Dubrovnik’s City Walls isn’t cheap, but it’s well worth it.

Ft. Lovrijenac, as seen from the City Walls in Dubrovnik
One of the many outstanding views from the Dubrovnik City Walls

There are many other things to see in Old Town, including the Franciscan Church and Monastery (don’t miss the wide variety of carvings on the courtyard pillars), the Dominican Monastery, the Rector’s Palace (a large Gothic building), and the Dulcic Masle Pulitika Gallery.

The War Photo Limited museum in Old Town displays powerful photos of wars and conflicts around the world. The subject matter is difficult, and the images are unsuitable for children, but I found it worthwhile.

Fort Lovrijenac stands just outside of Old Town. If forts are your thing, it’s worth a short visit.

4. Strolling Pula, Croatia’s Adriatic Coast (June)

The main tourist attraction in Pula is the 2,000-year-old Roman amphitheater, also called the Pula Arena. It is one of the largest surviving amphitheaters in the world and is a must-see in Pula.

The Pula Aquarium is worthwhile, too. Over 200 species of sea life are housed in a 130-year-old fortress. As a bonus, the hallways are full of naval memorabilia.

If you stop by the 14th-century St. Francis Monastery and Church, you can get a little surprise. Dozens, if not hundreds, of tortoises live in the courtyard.

Another cool place is the House of Istria Olive Oil Museum. The exhibits were interesting, and our entrance fee included an olive oil tasting.

However, my favorite memory of Pula was spending several hours strolling the coastline. The water was as clear and blue as any Caribbean Island can offer.

Two photos from Pula, Croatia: the Adriatic Sea coast, a cuttlefish in the Pula Aquarium
The Pula coast (can you believe that blue?) and a cuttlefish at the Pula Aquarium

5. Revisiting Plitvice Lakes National Park (May & June)

Four photos from Plitvice Lakes National Park
There is no end to the beauty at Plitvice Lakes National Park

We’ve seen so many beautiful places that it’s hard to pick a favorite, but Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia is definitely on the list.

Plitvice Lakes is a series of sixteen terraced lakes. Well-kept boardwalks lead you around the lakes and waterfalls. There are three hotels and two campsites in the park.

The park is a two-hour-long bus ride from Zadar. It is also a two-hour-long ride from the capital of Zagreb. You can find tours to the park from either of these cities, but I recommend visiting for at least two days on your own as the park is easy to explore, and the hotels are decent.

We were at the park twice this year. The first time was from Zadar. It rained the entire time we were there, so we returned a month later from Pula. The weather was perfect that time.

Since Plitvice Lakes is six hours away from Pula by bus, we stopped in two Croatian towns along the way, Opatija (more on that below) and Rijeka, to break up the ride.

6. Relaxing in Opatija, Croatia (June)

We weren’t impressed with Rijeka but fell in love with the resort town of Opatija. The town lies on the Kvarner Gulf on the Istrian Peninsula.

Opatija has grand 19th-century villas and charming gardens and is walkable. The best part is the 12 km or 7-mile-long seaside promenade, the Lungomare, which passes through Opatija as it goes from the towns of Volosko to the north and Lovran to the south. It is a pleasure to walk.

A majestic building in Opatija, Croatia
One of the many majestic buildings in Opatija

Learn more about all there is to do in this peaceful town in “Why You’ll Fall in Love with Opatija, Croatia.”

7. Venturing to Venice (June)

The Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs

Venice lies west of Pula across the Adriatic Sea, and we took the opportunity to spend a few days there.

I was a bit skeptical about Venice. I knew it would be crowded as we were going during high season. It is also notoriously expensive, and I had heard that some visitors were disappointed in it. I wondered if Steve and I would be.

We were not disappointed. Seeing the places I have often read about was a dream come true. We had a tour of Doge’s Palace, which included a walk through the Bridge of Sighs. St. Mark’s Basilica was more magnificent than expected, and I enjoyed having the city almost to myself during an early morning photo shoot.

We only stayed for three nights, but it was long enough to see the highlights and get lost in the streets a few times. And if you don’t get lost, have you even been to Venice?

Steve and I agreed that despite the crowds, we had a great visit and would like to return for a longer time in the shoulder season.

8. Returning to Bucharest (July)

After Venice, we headed to Bucharest, Romania, because we had to leave the Schengen Area for 90 days. We had been to Bucharest in 2018 and had good memories of that trip. That time, we stayed far from the city center, which we could reach via the metro but cut into our sightseeing time.

This time, we stayed in the city center so we could walk to most of the tourist attractions and many stores. Even though it was hot, we managed to see quite a bit.

If you love books and beauty (and who doesn’t?), you can’t go wrong with a visit to Carturesti Carusel. This is one of several Carturesti stores, and it is a vision in white.

Inside the Carturesti Carusel bookstore
The glorious Carturesti Carusel

We came across another store in this chain: Carturesti Verona. The vibe is entirely different but no less charming.

We spent time at well-known tourist attractions like the Palace of Parliament (the heaviest building in the world), the Stavropoleos Monastery, and the National Museum of Art.

The Palace of Parliament, the Stavropoleos Monastery, and the grand staircase at the National Museum of Art
The Palace of Parliament, the Stavropoleos Monastery, and the grand staircase at the National Museum of Art

The National Museum of Art is in the former Royal Palace. It has two art galleries. One features Romanian art, and the other features European art. In between the two is the Throne Hall, where you can get a glimpse of the elegance of the palace. I fell in love with the yellow marble used in the halls and stairway of the Throne Hall.

We also made several trips to Therme Bucuresti, a wellness center that combines thermal and mineral pools, saunas, waterslides, and a botanical garden in a gorgeous environment. Check out our post, “Therme Bucuresti: The Most Beautiful and Relaxing Place in Bucharest,” to learn about this must-visit place.

Not far from Therme is an excellent auto museum called the Tiriac Collection, where you can see over 200 vehicles from 1899 to the present. The collection is owned by Romanian businessman and former athlete Ion Tiriac.

9. Finally Seeing Sinaia (July)

After Bucharest, we checked out the Romanian town of Sinaia. It is in the Bucegi Mountains and is just 86 miles or 140 km north of Bucharest. It is most famous for being the home of Peles Castle.

Peles Castle
Peles Castle

Steve and I had seen a little of the town in 2018 when we took a bus tour to Peles Castle, and we wanted to see more. There is enough to keep you busy for several days, and the cooler mountain climate was a welcome relief after the heat in Bucharest.

Beside Peles Castle, we toured two smaller castles, Pelisor Castle and Stirby Castle. The town center is worth exploring, too, as is the Sinaia Monastery. Learn more about Sinaia in this post.

10. Soaking Up the Kitsch in Skopje (August)

We spent most of August in Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia. It is one of the most unique places we’ve been.

Due to the Skopje 2014 Project, many buildings have a neoclassic façade, and there are over one hundred statues in the city. Some statues are of historical figures, while others are more lighthearted.

Steve and I were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the museums, including the Archaeological Museum of Macedonia, The Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia, and the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle for Independence.

The Archaeological Museum and the Bridge of Civilization in Skopje
The Archaeological Museum and the Bridge of Civilization in Skopje

We chose Skopje because it was an inexpensive place outside of the Schengen Area. We weren’t sure what to expect but relished its kitschy vibe.

Learn more about Skopje in “What is Skopje Really Like? An Honest Review” and “What You Need to Know When Visiting Skopje, North Macedonia.”

11. Discovering Rome (November)

Our 2023 plans included a Transatlantic cruise from Rome to New York City so we could spend Christmas in Jacksonville, Florida, with our daughters. The ship left from Civitavecchia, a town close to Rome, so we spent the week before the cruise in the Eternal City.

Our week was full of activity. We had fantastic tours of the Colosseum, the Vatican Museums, and St. Peter’s Basilica. We saw Colonna Palace, a private palace full of incredible art. We were awed by the chapels in the Capuchin Crypt, where the bones of Capuchin friars have been arranged to make patterns on the walls and ceiling. Skeletons and mummified remains, clothed in the Capuchin habit, are placed throughout.

Steve in front of the Colosseum
Steve in front of the Colosseum

12. Cruising Across the Atlantic (December)

Fifteen days of relaxation featuring fabulous food and world-class entertainment? Sign me up. In 2018, Steve and I started our full-time travel journey by sailing from Florida to Barcelona on the Norwegian Epic. We loved it. This time, we returned to the U.S. on the Norwegian Gem.

During port stops, we got to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa (once is enough), get acquainted with Marseille sufficiently to know we won’t go back, and tour Casa Batllo in Barcelona (the one place we missed when we were there in 2018).

3 photos from a Transatlantic cruise: the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Norwegian Gem, contestants in a shipboard game
The Leaning Tower of Pisa, our ship, Steve (black shirt, tan pants) participating in a game

For me, the best part of cruising is not the ports; it’s the shipboard life. From the food to the daytime activities to the evening entertainment, it is relaxing but never boring.

13. Hitting the Highlights in Manhattan (December)

Our ship docked in Manhattan a few days before Christmas. Steve and I spent four nights there before heading to Florida.

We loved our time in New York. It was clean, and we felt safe. Even though it’s a busy city, we had more elbow room than in many European cities since Americans value their personal space.

Despite the winter chill, we packed a lot into our short stay. First on the list was the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Frankly, I was not impressed with the design of the two fountains but loved that the names of all those who lost their lives that day are displayed. I thought the museum’s displays were well done.

The 9/11 Memorial
One of the 9/11 memorials on a winter day

We took a long walk through Central Park (again, very clean and safe) and saw the Blue Man Group. We also braved the crowds and shared a $26 brisket sandwich at Katz’s Delicatessen. And, of course, we had to check out the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center.

I was disappointed with the tree and the city’s decorations. They didn’t come close to what we saw during our two Christmases in Budapest.

On our last day in the city, we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We only spent a few hours there, but both loved what we saw. We agreed we must go back and visit over several days to experience all this epic museum has to offer.

Until Next Time

I hope you enjoyed reading about our top thirteen travel experiences for 2023. Hopefully, you got some inspiration for your future travels. As always, Steve and I love hearing from our readers, so feel free to drop a comment in the comment section below.

Happy traveling,
Linda

The featured photo is of a small harbor in Dubrovnik’s Old Town.

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Wind and Whim’s Monthly Update: November 2023

Hi there! Can you believe 2023 is almost over? I hope you are enjoying this festive time of year and looking forward to memorable holiday celebrations. Steve and I are anticipating Christmas with our daughters in Jacksonville, Florida.

November was a most unusual month for us. We spent the first three weeks in Kotor, Montenegro, and the last week in Rome. Our time in Kotor was pretty laid back, in large part due to the weather. However, our week in Rome kicked our butts as we were determined to see as much of the city as possible in one week.

Here are the highlights, one low point, and details of what we did in November.

Highlights

Exploring Rome

Hands down, seeing the famous sights of Rome was the best part of our month. We had several tours, which helped us understand more about the city. My knowledge of Roman history was pretty weak before we arrived.

Our best tour included an hour and a half at the Colosseum. I was surprised to learn that in addition to being used for entertainment purposes (i.e., blood sports), at one time, it was used for housing and that the games took place over many days, meaning daily life in Rome was put on hold. At mid-day, executions would take place, right about the time the spectators were eating lunch. And when a gladiator fell, the emperor had the final say on whether or not he was killed.

The Kotor Kitties

Kotor gives Istanbul a run for its money with its love of cats. Old Town is teeming with free-range cats. Every cat we saw was healthy-looking, and most were friendly. There is a fountain in Old Town that is a gathering place for many of the cats. Nearby, there is a row of several tiny cat houses. A local woman has been feeding the cats for thirty years.

You can help keep the Kotor Kitties healthy and prevent overpopulation by donating to the Kotor Kitties charity.

Photos of four cats
Four of the beautiful Kotor Kitties

Our Own Kotor Kitty

Not long after we arrived at our Airbnb, we had a visitor: a small, sweet black and white cat. We gave her lots of love and she came to see us several times a day. I wish we could have brought her inside, especially in the bad weather, but we didn’t since it wasn’t our apartment.

A black and white cat looking in a window
Our kitty friend

My Favorite Old Town

Kotor’s Old Town is my favorite old town so far. I liked it even better than Dubrovnik’s. Kotor’s Old Town has narrow, winding streets compared to Dubrovnik’s wider ones. In Kotor, it felt as if I’d stepped back in time. An added plus is that the streets are too narrow for motor vehicles. I also found Kotor’s Old Town less commercial than Dubrovnik’s, although it was no less crowded on days when cruise ships were in port.

Old Town Kotor street
A street in Old Town on a Sunday morning

Low Point

Bad Weather in Kotor

The weather in Kotor flip-flopped throughout our stay. Half the time, we had sunny, cool weather that was perfect for hiking. The other half was filled with heavy rain and high winds. The odd thing was that the good and bad days alternated throughout our stay.

We put our downtime to good use, working on our plans for the next four months.

Steve continued work on his genealogy project, and I worked hard to finish my website redesign, only to get a fatal error the day I hoped to go live.

What We Did in Rome

Fought the Crowds at the Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain with crowds

We stopped by this famed fountain, and each of us tossed in a coin to ensure we would return to Rome.

If you visit Rome, don’t miss this beauty. But beware, it is always crowded.

Toured the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica

The Vatican Museums were at the top of my list of things to see in Rome, and I was not disappointed. We opted for a tour that included the museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica.

I was surprised by the size of the Sistine Chapel. It is much smaller than I expected, and photos were not allowed. St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world, made up for that. Both the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s are places we hope to see again.

Michelangelo’s Pieta
Michelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica

Soaked in the Beauty of the Colonna Palace

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I scheduled a visit to the Colonna Palace since it isn’t one of the most well-known attractions. It is an understatement to say Steve and I were blown away. This private palace, built by the Colonna family in the 14th century, is full of amazing artwork and architecture. The Colonna family still inhabits the palace today.

Two photos of the Colonna Palace
Inside the Colonna Palace and in the garden

Explored the Capuchin Crypt and Museum

This place wins the prize for the most unusual thing we saw in Rome. The Roman Catholic church Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini was just a two-minute walk from our hotel. The museum and crypt are connected to the church.

We went there specifically to see the crypt, but the ticket included the museum, and you have to go through it to get to the crypt. The museum was interesting, even for the non-religious, but the highlight was the crypt.

When you enter the crypt, your mind can go two ways: either horror movie mode or THIS IS SO COOL mode. We chose the latter.

The bones of 3,600 Capuchin friars have been arranged to make patterns on the walls and ceiling. Skeletons and mummified remains, clothed in the Capuchin habit, are placed throughout. There are five chapels, and each has a name, including the Crypt of the Pelvises.

Inside the Capuchin Crypt, Rome
Inside the Capuchin Crypt, Rome (photo by Wellcome Images on commons.wikimedia.org license CC BY 4.0 DEED

The Capuchins are an order of Franciscan friars who strive to live like St. Francis of Assisi. Capuchin friars dedicate their lives to prayer and service to the poor.

Photos aren’t allowed in the museum or the crypt, but here is one from Wellcome Images:

Visited the Catacombs of St. Callixtus

After visiting the Capuchin Crypt, we toured the Catacombs of St. Callixtus. This was the official burial place for about half a million Roman Christians in the 3rd century A.D.

You can only enter the catacombs with a guide, and photos aren’t allowed. Our tour was only 45 minutes long, during which we walked through a small portion of the 12.4 miles or 20 km of the tunnels. We saw a few frescos and many niches where bodies had been buried. After the novelty of the Capuchin Crypts, these catacombs were a disappointment.

What We Did in Kotor

Hiked to Ft. Vrmac

We had a break in the rain and took the opportunity to zig-zag our way up the 2,575-foot or 785-meter-high Vrmac Mountain.

It took us two and a half hours to reach the top and two hours to go back down. Of course, we made frequent stops to appreciate the view of Kotor Bay and take photos.

A man hiking along a cliff
Steve hiking the Vrmac Mountain

This hike is easy to moderate. I was a bit uneasy on the trail because much of it is along the edge, and it is rocky. I spent far too much time wondering how badly we’d be injured if we fell over the edge.

We safely reached the top and saw the underwhelming Ft. Vrmac, many pot-bellied pigs, and one friendly white cat.

That night, it was early to bed, but only after downing a few painkillers.

Checked Out the Maritime Museum

Steve and I decided to see the Maritime Museum while waiting for better weather. It is big enough to have a comprehensive variety of artifacts, yet not so large as to be overwhelming.

The museum is in a Baroque palace that was once the home of the noble Grgurina family.

As the name implies, the museum’s primary focus is on ships and maritime life. There are many well-done model ships, along with maps, paintings, and photos of a bygone era. There is also a room displaying weapons from the 17th and 18th centuries. Two rooms have been recreated with period furniture, and there are countless examples of items used in daily life (primarily from the 18th and early 19th centuries).

Four boys in costumes
Four of the young boys chosen as Little Admirals of the Boka Navy Kotor in the 1930s

Most of the specimens had English translations but they did not include all the details that the Montenegrin descriptions did (hint: you can use the Serbian translation on Google Translate to translate Montenegrin).

An audio guide is available, but neither Steve nor I found it helpful as it focused heavily on personalities we never heard of. We were allowed to take photos. The entry fee of 6 euro was reasonable.

This museum is okay if you’re looking for a short activity, but don’t feel bad if you miss it.

Visited St. Tryphon’s Cathedral

This Romanesque cathedral was consecrated in 1166. It was severely damaged by two earthquakes, one in 1667 and one in 1979. It has since been restored.

We went there to see the Sacral Art Museum, but I was more intrigued by the interior architecture.

Inside St. Tryphon’s Cathedral, Kotor
Inside St. Tryphon’s Cathedral, Kotor

Saw a Bit of Tivat

We had a break in the rain, so we decided to see the nearby town of Tivat. It was easy to reach Tivat via a fifteen-minute bus ride. Tivat does not have an old town because the town is too young, having been founded in the 14th century. Kotor, with its remarkable old town, was founded in the 5th century BC!

Tivat may not have an old town, but it does have a town center. Tivat’s center is a twenty-minute walk from the bus station. Walking along the main road to the center, we commented on how unattractive the town was.

Once we reached the center, we decided to head to the bay and look for a restaurant for lunch. We quickly found one and had a quick pizza lunch. At this point, we weren’t impressed with Tivat. Then, we strolled along the waterfront and discovered the area of Porto Montenegro. This upscale area has a large marina, shops, restaurants, and lovely buildings.

We walked around, admiring the modern beauty we had been missing, and agreed that this area deserves another visit.

A man in front of the Porto Montenegro sign
Steve enjoying the elegance of Porto Montenegro

Hiked the City Walls to Kotor Fortress

We were apprehensive about this hike because we had it confused with the Ladder of Kotor hike. We skipped the Ladder of Kotor hike after we learned our limits during our hike in Theth, Albania, in October (which I wrote about in our October update).

On the City Walls hike, you climb up 1,350 steps to reach the Medieval Kotor Fortress (also known as St. John’s Fortress, San Giovanni Fortress, St. John’s Castle, and Castel St. John). The fortress sits 850 feet or 260 meters above sea level and has great views of Old Town and the Bay of Kotor.

Hiking Kotor’s City Walls
A view of the bay from Kotor’s City Walls and Steve and me at the Kotor Fortress

Once at the fortress, you are free to explore the ruins.

We were charged 15 euro per person to hike the City Walls.

Here is helpful information about climbing the city walls from Wanderful Journeys Travel.

If you are more adventurous, check out the details for the Ladder of Kotor hike from Earth Trekkers.

A Bad Airbnb Review (Boo Hoo)

In our last two monthly updates, I talked about the issues we had with our Podgorica Airbnb and how we decided that we would no longer clean or fix things that hosts missed. Our host in Podgorica didn’t like being held accountable and left a negative review. This is only our second less-than-glowing review out of 46 reviews.

Airbnb allows you to reply to a review, but they don’t make it easy. You need to log in on a desktop computer. Really? In this day and age? Get it together, Airbnb.

Fortunately, our Kotor Airbnb was much better. The only issue was that we didn’t have use of the washer/dryer for the first week, but our host offered to pay for us to have our laundry done in the meantime.

Our Take on Kotor

Kotor Bay and the surrounding mountains are incredible. Unfortunately, except for the Porto Montenegro area of Tivat, everything else we saw was uninspiring. If the weather had been better, we would have seen other nearby towns and attractions.

Shopping was disappointing as well. There are three decent-size supermarkets a few minutes’ walk from Old Town, as well as others in the city. For anything else, like clothing, office supplies, or household items, the selection was the most limited we’ve seen in any town.

See more of Kotor in our Kotor, Montenegro Photo Gallery.

Our Take on Rome

After having been in the Balkans for the last several months, it was great to return to a world-class city. We are happiest in places with many attractions, which you don’t get in the Balkans, even in the capitals.

The downside of Rome was the cost. We’ve enjoyed low prices for so long that we had extreme sticker shock. It may seem normal to people in the U.S. and Western Europe, but we can’t get over restaurants charging $13 (12 euro) for a bowl of soup.

After a two-week cruise from Rome to New York City, we will spend four days in New York City. No doubt we will continue to be shocked by high prices.

Until Next Time

That’s it for our November update. Steve and I wish you joy, love, and peace this holiday season.

Happy traveling,
Linda

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Wind and Whim’s Monthly Update: October 2023

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.

Highlights

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 hotel courtyard
The courtyard at Hotel Treva in Shkoder

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.

Chinese food
Delectable Chinese food at Zheng He

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.

Low Points

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?

We saw a wide variety of masks and learned how they are made. You can read about this interesting attraction in “A Venetian Surprise in Shkoder, Albania.”

Explored the Rozafa Castle in Shkoder

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).

The church ruins at Rozafa Castle
Ruins of a 13th-century church at Rozafa Castle

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.

A man hiking on a mountain
Steve on the trail

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.

A trail in the Albanian Alps
On the trail

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 altar in the Dajbabe Monastery
The Dajbabe Monastery altar

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.

Two photos of a black and white cat
The monastery cat greeting me and holding still long enough for a photo

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.

The Church of St. George
The Church of St. George

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.

The Ribnica River Bridge
The Ribnica River Bridge

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.

Three photos of the Orthodox Temple of Christ's Resurrection
Clockwise from upper left: the front of the temple, Steve’s clandestine photo of the interior, and a relief of Noah’s Ark on the exterior of the temple

On the Website

We published two new posts in October: the aforementioned “A Venetian Surprise in Shkoder, Albania” and “Wind and Whim’s Monthly Update: September 2023.”

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.

Happy traveling,
Linda

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Wind and Whim’s Monthly Update: September 2023

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.

Highlights

Inexpensive Restaurants

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.

A sign in a Mexican restaurant in Tirana
A sign in the Serendipity Mexican Resaurant

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.

You can read about Albania’s growth in this article by Emerging Europe.

There are already many modern buildings, and more are in progress. I loved the unique architectural styles.

Two modern buildings in Tirana
Two of my favorite buildings in Tirana

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.

Four photos of the Palace Hotel in Durres
Scenes from our stay at the Palace Hotel

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.

Bunkers and apartments in Durres, Albania
Three abandoned bunkers in Durres

Nice hotels are popping up, and there are some upscale shops and restaurants among the rundown buildings.

Dresses in store windows
Fancy dresses in shops on the main street

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.

Low Points

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.

Closed Attractions

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

Two photos of the entrance to Bunk’Art 1
The Bunk’Art 1 entrance

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.

You can learn more about the Albanian bunkers in this National Geographic article.

Visited the House of Leaves

The House of Leaves in Tirana
The House of Leaves with listening ears in front

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 in Tirana
The front of the 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:

Ancient measuring device
An ancient measuring device

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.

Here is more information on the pyramid project.

Three photos of the Tirana Pyramid
The pyramid and one of the new buildings

Saw a Movie (With Popcorn!)

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.

Carpets at the New Bazaar in Tirana
Colorful carpets for sale

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.

On the Website

There were two new posts in September: “Wind and Whim’s Monthly Update: August 2023” and “What Is Skopje Really Like? An Honest Review.”

To see more of Tirana, check out our Tirana photo gallery.

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.

Happy traveling,
Linda

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Wind and Whim’s Monthly Update: August 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.

Highlights

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. 

Filet mignon with vegetables
Delicious and picture-perfect food at the Hotel Belvedere

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.

View of Skopje buildings and mountains
Our morning view

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.

Seeing Some Great Museums

We visited several museums and were impressed with their quality, especially the Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia and the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle for Independence. You can read more about these museums and other places we visited here.

For a comprehensive list of things to do in and near Skopje, see “21 Things to Do in Skopje, North Macedonia” by Wander-Lush.

The Macedonian Memorial for Holocaust Victims
A memorial statue outside of the Holocaust Museum

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. 

Two photos of an orange kitten
Our little buddy

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.

Low Points

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. 

Bran Castle courtyard
The courtyard in Bran Castle

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.

Warrior on a Horse statue in Skopje
The Warrior on a Horse statue dominates Macedonia Square

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.

Four statues in Skopje
Four statues in Skopje

Gambled

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.

Besides the July 2023 update, I published two new posts, “The Truth About Staying in Airbnbs” and “79 Things to Know When Visiting Skopje, North Macedonia.”

If Skopje interests you, check out our Skopje photo gallery.

Where to next? 

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:

Tirana, AlbaniaAug. 31 – Sept. 28
Podgorica, MontenegroSept. 28 – Oct. 26
Kotor, MontenegroOct. 26 – Nov. 24
Rome, ItalyNov. 24- Dec. 4
CruiseDec. 4 – Dec. 19
New York CityDec. 19 – Dec. 23
Jacksonville, FloridaDec. 23 – Jan. 20
OPENJan. 20 – Feb. 9
Tonawanda, New YorkFeb. 9 – Feb. 27
OPENFeb. 27 – Mar. 5
Bury St. Edmunds, EnglandMar. 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.

Happy traveling,
Linda

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Wind and Whim’s Monthly Update: July 2023

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.

Highlights

Therme Bucuresti

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.

A large indoor swimming pool
Therme was just as stunning and hedonistic as we remembered

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

Four photos of expensive cars
Look at these beauties

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

Budapest’s Palace of Parliament
The massive and stately 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.

Entrance hall in the Cotroceni Palace
The entrance hall in the palace

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.

Two photos from inside the National Museum of Art of Romania
A staircase in the former royal palace and an exhibit of 16th-century icons

Two Beautiful Bookstores

Bucharest is the home of Carturesti Carusel, which is often found on lists of the most beautiful bookstores in the world.

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.

Carturesti Carusel and Carturesti Verona
Carturesti Carusel and Carturesti Verona

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.

The Great Hall in Peles Castle
The Great Hall in Peles Castle

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.

Toy hedgehog on a fencepost in the mountains
Hedgemeister enjoying the mountain views

Low Points

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.

The Heat

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.

Happy traveling,
Linda

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Wind & Whim’s Monthly Update: June 2023

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.

The Pula Amphitheater
The Pula Amphitheater

Highlights

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.

Four photos of Pula, Croatia
Clockwise from top left: A cuttlefish at the aquarium, a beach on the Pula coast, Steve discovering Ft. San Giorgio is open, Headgemeister meeting a tortoise at the monastery

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.

Two photos of Opatija, Croatia
The Hotel Miramar and a small harbor on Kvarner Bay in Opatija

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.

Four photos of Plitvice Lakes National Park
Four scenes from Plitvice Lakes National Park

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.

Three photos of Venice
Scenes from Venice: a cat marionette, a gondola bringing people to a restaurant, a sea creature made of Murano glass

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.

Low Points

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.

Hotel Mozart

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.

Detail from inside the Doge’s Palace
Detail in the Doge’s Palace

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.

Happy traveling,
Linda

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Overtourism in the Places We Love

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.

This article by Solimar International (a sustainable tourism marketing and tourism consulting firm) does a great job of explaining what overtourism is and how we can prevent it.

Where Is Overtourism a Problem?

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

A street crowded with people
Barcelona’s Las Ramblas with its typical crowds (photo by Yoav Aziz on Unsplash.com)

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!

Inside Lavraria Lello in Porto, Portugal
Inside Lavraria Lello

Learn more about overtourism in the places we love in these articles:
Overtourism in Europe’s historic cities sparks backlash on The Guardian.com
9 destinations struggling with overtourism on Trafalgar.com
Fodor’s No List 2023 on fodors.com

For something more positive, check out Fodor’s Go List 2023

What Problems Does Overtourism Cause?

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

People and boats at Maya Bay
Not the tropical paradise you hoped for at Maya Bay (photo by Diego Delso CC-BY-SA 3.0)

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, Italy

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.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

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, Spain

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.

Bhutan

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

Barcelona, Spain

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.

Be sure to check out our post, “6 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Barcelona.”

Dubrovnik, Croatia

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.

Istanbul, Turkey

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.

A large group of people waiting for a bus
People waiting for a rush hour bus

You can read our take on Istanbul in “Visiting Istanbul: The Good, The Bad, And The Startling.”

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

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.

An empty boardwalk at Plitvice Lakes National Park
Heavy rains during our visit kept the crowds away

Venice, Italy

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.

Final Thoughts

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

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9 Reasons Why Traveling with Adult Children Rocks

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?

Absolutely!

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.

To read more about our visit with our girls and their 12-hour delay in the Paris airport, check out “December 2021 Recap: Christmas in Budapest.”

Four photos of traveling with adult children
Clockwise from upper left: Steve and Steph at the Szechenyi Baths; Steph, Laura, and Linda stuck in the ball pit at the selfie museum; Laura, Steve, and Steph enjoying the lights on Fashion Street; Linda and Laura at Sunday brunch

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.

Four photos of people on vacation
Clockwise from upper left: Laura and Linda goofing off on Aegina Island; the four of us getting fish pedicures; Steph and Laura at the Ancient Agora; Steph, Steve, and Laura at the Panathenaic Stadium

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!

Two photos of people enjoying cocktails
The four of us enjoying mocktails and cocktails

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

If you are considering traveling with your adult children, here are “7 Tips for Traveling With Adult Children” by Paul Henry on TravelPulse.

Steve and I love to hear from our readers. Please tell us about your experiences traveling with your adult children in the comments section below. Would you do it again?

Happy traveling,
Linda

The featured image above includes a few of the hundreds of photos we took at the two Museum of Sweets & Selfies locations in Budapest.

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The Surprising Truth About Full-Time Travel

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.

13 Truths

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.

Check out our posts about the challenges of nomad life:
Laundry on the Road
Medical Care on the Road
Too Many Languages

This leads to item number two.

2. We take mini-vacations

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.

Check out our posts: “Aquaworld Budapest: Tons of Fun in Hungary,” and “Eger and Egerszalók: A Great Hungarian Getaway.”

3. We spend a lot of time travel planning

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.

Find great tips for your next Airbnb search in “5 Tips for Finding the Best Airbnb Rentals.”

4. It can be hard to decide where to go

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.

Two photos of the Galapagos Islands: a sea lion covered in sand, an sidewalk in disrepair
Two sides of the Galapagos Islands

Find out more about our Galapagos trip in “Is a Land-Based Galapagos Trip Right for You?

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.

Two images: Huacachina, Peru, and Lagos, Portugal
The Huacachina oasis in Peru (photo by Jorden Beltran on Unsplash.com) and rock formations in Lagos, Portugal

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.

A public urinal in Paris
A Parisian attempt to deodorize the city

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.

A stately building with graffiti on the fence
A typical scene in Greece

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.

A group of people marching in protest
Mothers of the disappeared and their supporters march weekly, demanding answers to what happened to their loved ones

Check out our post, “Why I Wish Every American Could Travel the World” for our take on the difference between what many Americans believe about the rest of the world and what we have found.

Still the Best Decision Ever

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

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Memorable Moments From a Year of Full-Time Travel (2022)

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.

Budapest

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.

Read our impressions of Aquaworld here.

Chilly Days in Szeged

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.

Interior of the New Synagogue in Szeged
The interior of the New Synagogue

Read more about visiting Szeged in “The Best Things to do in Szeged, Hungary.”

A Rainy Trip to Vienna

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.

Staircase in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna
Inside of the Kunsthistorisches Museum (fine art)

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.

Lipizzan stallion looking out of his stall
A beautiful Lipizzan

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.

People enjoying a Renaissance dinner
Steve and I enjoying the food at the Renaissance Restaurant

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.

A man sitting in front of the Troja Chateau
Steve and Hedgemeister in the Troja Chateau garden

Read “12 of the Most Interesting Things to Do in Prague” for more information.

Four Cities in Austria and Slovenia

Vienna

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.

Inside the Rollercoaster Restaurant in Vienna
The Rollercoaster Restaurant – colorful and fun

Salzburg

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.

Two dwarf statues
Two of the little charmers in the Dwarf Garden

The rest of our short visit was spent wandering the picturesque streets and trying to pronounce the Austrian names.

Bled

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.

Ljubljana

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.

Four photos of statues in Ljubljana
A dragon on the Dragon Bridge and three examples of Ljubljana public art

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.

Three people sitting in front of a hot air balloon basket
Steve, our pilot, and me after our balloon ride

Be sure to check out our post “18 Things to Know Before Visiting Cappadocia.” Instagram does not tell the whole story.

Four Weeks in Istanbul

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.

You can read all the details about our Istanbul stop in “Visiting Istanbul: The Good, The Bad, and The Startling

Off to Thessaloniki, Greece

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.

Toy store exterior decorated for Christmas
Little Kook decked out for Christmas

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.

The medina in Tangier
The medina

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.

Happy traveling,
Linda

The featured image was taken on Lake Bled.

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Why I Wish Every American Could Travel the World

“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.

In 1976, Argentina’s government was overthrown by right-wing forces with U.S. support. It is estimated that 30,000 people disappeared during this time. You can learn more about that in this article from The Guardian or in this one from The Conversation.

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.

Statistics

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.

A 2021 analysis of health care systems in 11 high-income countries by The Commonwealth Fund ranks the U.S. last in every one of five categories except care process, where it ranked 2nd.

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?

Safe and inspiring travels,
Linda

Featured photo by Gerd Altmann on pixabay.com

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Medical Care on the Road

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:

The Complete and Easy Guide to Insurance for Travelers

Expat Health Insurance: Travel Insurance for Full-Time and Long-Term Travelers.

U.S. Based Medical Insurance
Our  Medical Insurance Experiences

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.

Happy Results

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.

This article from USA Today also discusses evacuation costs.

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.

Prescription Medicine
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.

OTC Medicines

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:

Best Healthcare In The World 2021

Healthcare Index by Country 2021 Mid-Year

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

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Too Many Languages

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.

CountryPercent
Bulgaria58%
Croatia60%
France55%
Portugal60%
Romania60%
Spain56%
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.

Immersion Subversion

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.

An ivy-covered grave marker
One of the remaining grave markers at the Old Cinkota Cemetery

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.

A church and two embroidered pouches
The Lutheran church next to the Old Cinkota Cemetery (Cinkotai Evangélikus Egyházközség temploma) and the two cross-stitched 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.

Misc Observations
Galapagos sign

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.

A sign reading “We spoke English.”
A poor translation in the Galapagos Islands
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.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

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Oops! Did We Do That? Our Biggest Travel Mistakes

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.

View of garden and mountains in Funchal
We did get to spend some time enjoying the Madeira Botanical Garden during our day in Funchal.
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.

Buyer Beware

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 large statue of Jeff Goldblum with the Tower Bridge in the background
It’s not every day you get to see a bigger-than-life Jeff Goldblum and the Tower Bridge in one place.
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.

The Ponts Couvert on Strasbourg, France
The Ponts Couvert in Strasbourg
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.

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Laundry on the Road

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.

Five pair of jeans hanging on a clothesline
As a nomad, you never know where you might end up hanging your clothes. Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash.com.

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.

A white bathroom with a shiny silver towel warmer
A towel warmer like the silver one in this photo does a great job of drying clothes. Photo by midascode on Pixabay.com.

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.

A clothes drying rack with blue shirts
I have come to prefer drying this way over an electric dryer: fewer wrinkles and no rush to put the clothes away.

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.

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12 Full-Time Travel Questions Answered

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.

A man and woman at Machu Picchu
Enjoying the splendor of Machu Picchu sure beats yard work.
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.

You can learn more about our favorite services and apps in “13 Trustworthy Travel Services and Apps.”

What will you do about cell phones?

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.

And here is information about some of the top travel health companies. 

Check out our take on “Medical Care on the Road.”

A note about other 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.

We carry one Mastercard and debit cards from two different accounts as backups. Our pickpocketing experience in Barcelona taught us never to carry them together.

How much does it cost to travel full-time?

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:

Wind and Whim’s 2018 Full-Time Travel Costs: Europe

Wind and Whim’s 2019 Full-Time Travel Costs: Latin America

Wind and Whim’s 2020 Full-Time Travel Costs: Europe

How can you afford to do this?

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.

Lovely hotel room in beige and aqua
Our room at the Iguazu Jungle Lodge in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina. All this and a large balcony for $86 per night.

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:

Is Full-Time Travel Right For You?

What Full-Time Travel Has Taught Us

That’s All, Folks!

I hope this answered some of the questions you have about full-time travel. If there is anything else you are curious about, please leave your question in the comments section.

Also, Steve and I would love to hear your answers to these questions.

Stay safe,
Linda

Featured Photo by Julius Silver on Pixabay.com

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Bye, Bye Bucket List

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.

pillars and ceiling detail in La Sagrada Familia
The amazing interior of La Sagrada Familia. Photo by Won Young Park on Unsplash.com.

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.

Looking over Barcelona from the theater in Park Guell
Part of the theater in the Monumental Zone in Park Guell. Photo by Denise Jones on Unsplash.com.

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?

You can find out more about the pleasures and problems of Barcelona in this post: “6 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Barcelona.

A Positive Turn of Events

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
Croatia

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.

Waterfall in Plitvice Lakes National Park
One example of the beauty to be found in Plitvice Lakes National Park

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 sign warning of danger from mines in Croatian
The sign reads: Do not approach, in this area is a great mine danger

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.

Romania

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 Ceauşescu Mansion brought the dark reign of Nicolae Ceauşescu to life. The mansion is filled with opulent touches the belied the communist beliefs Ceauşescu promoted.

A private theater with upholstered walls
The theater in the Ceauşescu Mansion

Other things to see include Cărturești Carusel, an amazing beautiful bookstore

Interior of the Carturesti Carusel bookstore in Bucharest
The stunning interior of the Carturesti Carusel 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.

Bulgaria

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.

Boats at dock on the Black Sea
Boats on the Black Sea

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.

Front of a Russian Orthodox church in Sofia, Bulgaria
The Sveti Nikolay Mirlikiiski Russian Orthodox Church in Sofia
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.

Stay safe,
Linda

Featured image by Ali Al-Mufti on Unsplash.com.

P.S. Here’s a short article about the limits of a bucket list by AFAR magazine.

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Is Full-Time Travel Right for You?

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.

You can read about some of our early Airbnb experiences in “5 Tips for Finding the Best Airbnb Rentals.”

5. You value experiences more than things

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.

Tuxedo cat lying on a bed
I miss this little snuggle bunny (Hershey Boy) so much!

You can see photos of some of the cats and dogs that have made me smile in “20 Captivating Cats Around the World” and “24 Delightful Dog Photos from Around the World.

Only you can decide if full-time travel is right for you. I can guarantee one thing. If you decide to do it, you will never be the same.

Safe and happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image by Alireza Soltani on Pexel.com

Our Top 10 Latin American Travel Experiences (2019)

When you are heading to a new location you think about the famous sights you plan to see. But often your best memories are of the little things that no trip planning could have anticipated.

From February through November of 2019 we traveled throughout Latin America. These are ten of our most memorable travel experiences from those ten months (in no particular order).

1. Riding Scooters in the Galapagos Islands
Woman riding an electric scooter

I may look like a nerd, but I just don’t care. This was the best day we had in the Galapagos.

We rented scooters in town and rode them into the countryside to visit the El Chato Giant Tortoise Reserve on Santa Cruz Island.

Galapagos tortoise with grass in his mouth

We ran into this adorable guy at the reserve.

Galapagos tortoise crossing the street

This fellow couldn’t be contained. We saw him crossing the road on our way back to town.

Horse standing in the road

We also saw this free-range horse just walking down the road.

Read more about our four weeks in the Galápagos Islands in “Is a Land-Based Galapagos Trip Right For You?”

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.

Our Top 10 Latin American Travel Experiences (2019) 1

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.

A beachside restaurant

Many restaurants line the beach and embody the phrase “pura vida” (pure life).

Sloth hanging upside down

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.

3. Visiting Machu Picchu

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.

A view of Machu Picchu

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).

Linda resting after the Machu Picchu tour

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.

4. Exploring in La Cumbrecita, Argentina

“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.

A foggy backyard

The day started out foggy but turned out to be sunny and temperate.

Wet dog on the shore of a creek

We spent some time playing fetch with this sweetheart in the Rio del Medio.

Steve standing on a rock in the river

We loved spending time climbing (carefully) on the rocks in the river.

photo of a pond

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.

Find out more about La Cumbrecita and Cordoba in “Visiting Cordoba, Argentina’s Second Largest City.”

5. Amaru Biopark

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.

Female African lion

I would have loved to hear these animal’s stories, but I didn’t see any programs like that when we were there.

Squirrel monkey

Squirrel monkeys roam free in the park.

A blue-headed parrot

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.

Overview of Cuenca

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.

6. Visiting District 13 in Medellin

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:

Colorful mural of a lizard

There are many small, tourist oriented businesses and young people form dance troupes to earn cash.

A dance troupe and tourists

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.

Steve and kids looking at his camera

Seeing the positive changes to this once forsaken neighborhood impacted me in a way that very few of our travel experiences have.

Be sure to check out our post “10 Things to Love About Medellin, Colombia.”

7. Sand Surfing in Huacachina

On our way to Machu Picchu we stopped at a tiny oasis town called Huacachina. It 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 were excited to give sand surfing a try.

Sand dunes in Huacachina, Peru

The lower dune where some people walk up and surf down.

Dune buggies on sand dunes in Huacachina, Peru

Dune buggies take people to the higher dunes.

One method is to ride a board that is similar to a snowboard down the dune. We novices chose the easier method, which is to lay on your stomach on a board and fly down the dune head first.

But before you can do any of that you need to get to the top of the dune on a twelve-person dune buggy. It is guaranteed to be an exciting ride.

Both Steve and I figured it would be relatively safe to sand surf since we were on sand. Unfortunately, Steve found what might have been the only rock in the dunes and got a six-inch cut on his arm.

8. Visiting Santa Cruz Cemetery Manga

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:

Cemetery crypt with black tarp

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.

Tomb with skeleton on top

Even with the disrepair, there was beauty to be found.

Flowers on a tombstone
Ant Stories

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.

Mural of two colombian women in traditional dress
Mural of a woman’s face

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).

Cat sitting on a chair
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.

While the memories are priceless, they did come at a cost. You can find out what we spent in “Wind and Whim’s 2019 Full-Time Travel Costs: Latin America.”

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image: llama at Machu Picchu

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What Full-Time Travel Has Taught Us

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
Woman hiding under a sheet
Don’t be afraid. It isn’t that scary out there. (Photo credit Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash.com)

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.

You can read more about that experience, including our difficulty finding an open police station in “Pickpocketed in Barcelona.”

3. The Greatest Danger is Ourselves

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
Two children in a city looking at a phone.
Photo credit Tim Gouw on Unsplash.com

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
Man and woman standing on a porch in Medellin
This woman in Medellin’s District 13 really wanted to be photographed. The man, not so much.
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.

My travel experiences have led me to ask “Is the Ugly American Dead?”

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
Protesters with a huge sign in Buenos Aires
This was an everyday occurrence when we were in Buenos Aires.

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.

A cow in a field of grass
Chow time (Photo credit Anshu A. on Unsplash.com)
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.

Four photos of plates full of food
Our meals in Argentina and Hungary were just as large as in the U.S.

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.

WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT OURSELVES
12. Mistakes Will Happen

No matter how careful you are, you will make mistakes. I talk about some of the mistakes we’ve made while traveling in Oops! Did We Do That? Our Biggest Travel Mistakes.”

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
Woman with a small suitcase
Photo credit @Brandless on Unsplash.com

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.

CLOSING

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!

Happy traveling,
Linda

Feature photo by Kalen Emsley on Unsplash.com

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Is The Ugly American Dead?

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.

Pandemic Unpleasantness

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.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image by Ayo Ogunseinde on Unsplash.com

Originally published on July 10, 2019.

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Don’t Be Afraid of Multilingualism

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.

Unnecessary Advice

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!

For more about our experiences with foreign languages, check out our post “Too Many Languages: Challenges of Nomad Life.”

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured photo – Steve and me with English language students in Strasbourg, France.

Originally published on May 6, 2019.

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