10 Things Airbnb Hosts Can Do Better

A rental from Airbnb gives you more than a hotel room for less money. What’s not to love?

Steve and I are currently in our twenty-fifth Airbnb rental since beginning our worldwide travels in April 2018. Overall our experiences have been very good. Even so, we have identified ten things Airbnb hosts can do better.

For even more information you can read about our Airbnb experiences during our first year of travel in Lessons From Airbnb.

Much More Good Than Bad

Now that we have our groove on we can quickly identify apartments that meet our needs. Since we typically rent for four weeks we look for a full kitchen with a range, a full-size refrigerator, a separate bedroom, a clothes washer (a dryer is a plus but not common in many cities), and of course wifi. We also look for a living room that looks comfortable to relax in after having stayed in one place with a very cheap sofa that sat low on the floor in front of a TV that was only a foot below the ceiling. Seriously, you haven’t seen anything until you see the weird ways people chose to decorate.

Most of our hosts have done a great job of providing a clean and pleasant environment. Many have provided welcome food. Wine is definitely appreciated but we really appreciate having a few bottles of drinking water available, especially in places where the tap water isn’t safe to drink. We have found the linens to be clean and in good repair, and there is usually at least one flat-screen TV.

Basket of red, yellow, purple, and white flowers
One host left these charming flowers along with chocolate and wine.

I could go on and on about the pleasure of staying with hosts who care about the quality of their guests’ experience. But this article is about the things hosts can do better. We have repeatedly found hosts coming up short in these ten areas:

Little Things Mean a Lot
1. More Hangers Please

Our rentals have always had clothes hangers. They have almost always had too few hangers. Six seems to be the number of hangers hosts feel their guests will need. I can tell them right now, we need more hangers! At least six per person. Preferably more. We have begun carrying our own hangers but would prefer not to.

2. And More Than One Mirror
A monkey looking into a mirror
Photo credit Andre Mouton on Unsplash.com

We usually have only one bathroom. Not always fun if you are traveling with another person (if you get my drift). We carry a bottle of Poo~Pourri for this very reason. Even so, you don’t always want to enter that room immediately after someone else has used it.

This can be a problem if you are getting ready to go out and need a mirror. Or maybe someone else is trying to get ready at the same time. That leads to our second request. A mirror outside of the bathroom. Extra points if it is a full-length mirror.

3. Speaking of Bathrooms

Maybe because we are staying in one place for so long we are sensitive to storage space. Many bathrooms have an under sink cabinet where you can store toiletries. Most of them also have wall space above the toilet that is usually filled with a cheap picture. How about some shelves there instead so guests can have their toiletries visible and easily accessible?

White floating shelves in pristine bathroom
Photo credit Andrea Davis on Unsplash.com
4. Damp Towels Are No Fun

Hosts are expected to provide one bath towel for each guest. A few will go the extra mile and provide more. This is usually not a problem. However, if the rental is in a building with a swimming pool or a hot tub it would be nice for the hosts to provide two towels per guest. It isn’t fun to dry off at the pool and then have to dry off from your shower with the damp, chlorine scented towel.

5. One More Bathroom Suggestion

Another thing that is often lacking is a mat to use in front of the shower or tub. Guests really don’t want to be drying off with the same towel that was just on the floor.

6. Decent Beds, So-So Sofas

We usually find the beds in our rentals to be roomy and comfortable. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same about the sofas. It is rare that we have one that is really comfortable for stretching out after a busy day of sightseeing. Too often the sofas are little more than cheap futons. Not a plus.

We realize furniture isn’t cheap and you are hosting an Airbnb to make money, not get into Architectural Digest. Even so, you can’t put a price tag on a comfy sofa. One that guests can stretch out on. Like this:

Dark gray L-shaped sofa in a living room.
Photo credit Sven Brandsma on Unsplash.com
7. Vacuum Maintenance Sucks

Many units have a vacuum for the guests to use. Steve is the vacuum handler in our house, and I can’t remember the last time he used a vacuum without having to empty it, or even unclog it, first.

Since most units have hard floors rather than carpet, a broom and a dustpan are preferable to a clogged vacuum.

8. Help Us Find Our Way

Yes, we have Google Maps but it isn’t foolproof. We really appreciate it when a host provides an up-to-date street map of the area. We recently stayed in one apartment where they had several copies (like about 20) so we didn’t feel bad about taking one and writing on it.

I know we can buy a paper map, but it is getting harder and harder to find them, and who wants to spend their travel time map shopping?

The Two Biggies
9. We Have Spring Cleaning For a Reason
Sign reading “This house was clean yesterday - we’re sorry you missed it.”
Photo credit Jonathan Francisca on Unsplash.com

It is a pleasure to stay in a new listing. Everything is freshly painted and color-coordinated. Appliances are out of the box shiny and have the latest bells and whistles. But nothing stays new forever. One thing that seems to be lacking is deep cleaning. Yes, the kitchen and bathroom get wiped down after each guest. The floors get washed and the bedding and towels laundered.

But what about the dust on the woodwork, the calcium deposits on the showerhead, or dirty air conditioning filters? An annual deep cleaning would go a long way towards keeping the unit like new for each guest.

10. This is the Big One

This is where hosts or their cleaning people drop the ball big time. I can’t tell you how many times we have had to scrub pots and pans or kitchen utensils because a previous guest did not clean it well and the person who cleaned up after the guest left never thought to check on the items in the kitchen cabinets and drawers.

Occasionally an item has been so rusty or crusty that we chose to buy our own instead of using it.

Heads up to all hosts and cleaning people. Please keep an eye on the kitchen tools and appliances!

A Quick List

Here is a list of the things we would like to see more hosts provide:

More clothes hangers
A mirror outside of the bathroom
Shelves in the bathroom
Extra towels if there is a pool or jacuzzi
A bath mat
A comfy, cozy sofa
A clean vacuum
A current local street map

And two things we wish they would do a better job of:
Spring cleaning
Checking the condition of kitchen appliances and tools

Thank You Hosts

Overall Airbnb is a godsend for travelers. Every host who is making a sincere effort to provide a safe and comfortable place for his guests is to be commended.

Hopefully, this can be a wake-up call to those hosts who are coming up short on the last two items and maybe, just maybe, some wonderful hosts will step up on the first eight.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image by Pineapple Supply Co. on Unsplash.com

Our 2019 Latin America Travel Costs

With our second year of full-time travel under our belts, it is time for a recap. This post details our Latin America travel costs from February through November of 2019.

When Steve and I first toyed with the idea of traveling the world full-time I was very grateful to Never Ending Voyage and A Little Adrift along with other bloggers who generously shared their travel costs on their blogs.  It is my hope that seeing how affordable and attainable full-time travel can be will inspire you.

Why We Picked Latin America

After returning to Florida in December 2018 we assumed we would spend 2019 continuing to explore various cities in Europe. Then we watched the stock market take a nosedive during the month of December to finish the worst year in ten years.

Knowing that many parts of Europe and the U.K. can be expensive I checked out Price of Travel for an alternative. You can see their list of 137 cities ranked by how costly they are to visit.

The first half is dominated by cities in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. The bottom half contains cities primarily in Western Europe, the U.K., Australia, and the U.S. and Canada.

We decided that Latin America would be a fiscally responsible choice for 2019.

Since our travel philosophy is to go with the flow (hence the name Wind and Whim) we did not detail the locations or related costs. We knew we would start in San Juan, Costa Rica then visit Panama City. After that, it was anyone’s guess.

The Budget

We traveled internationally for eight months (243 days) in 2018 and spent $38,900. This averaged to $160 per day. You can read the details in this article.

We decided on a budget of $45,600 for 2019. This came out to $148 per day for the 309 days we were traveling.

We have been scheduling our stops in four-week intervals for the most part. Our basic four-week budget breaks down like this:

Four Week Basic Budget
ItemBudget
Lodging$1,500
Food$1,300
Transportation
& Activites
$1,000
Total$3,800

In addition, we have annual costs like evacuation insurance, vaccinations, and international drivers licenses. You can see the total budget in the next table.

So What Did 10 Months Cost?

Here are the cities we visited with the actual and budgeted costs:

LocationActual CostBudgetOver (Under)
San Jose,
Costa Rica
$4,200$3,500$700
Panama City,
Panama
$2,900$3,500($600)
Cartagena,
Colombia
$3,700$3,800($100)
Galapagos Is.,
Ecuador
$5,500$5,000$500
Quito,
Ecuador
$2,400$3,100($700)
Cuenca,
Ecuador
$2,800$3,800($1,000)
Various Cities,
Peru
$6,100$3,800$2,300
Buenos Aires,
Argentina
$7,200$7,700($500)
Cordoba,
Argentina
$3,100$3,800($700)
Medellin,
Colombia
$4,000$3,800$200
Flight back to U.S.
$100$400($300)
General
Expenses
$2,900$3,400($500)
Totals$44,900$45,600($700)

As you can see we came in $700 under budget at $44,900. This is just over $145 per day.

General Expenses are items that cover the year or aren’t related to a specific place. This includes things like:
Evacuation insurance from MedJet  $1,100
Vaccinations $600
Supplies $500
Virtual mailbox subscription $200

Here is a breakdown of our costs by category:

CategoryCost
Lodging
$15,400
Food$13,600
Transportation$8,800
Activities$3,400
Supplies$500
Medical$2,200
Office Related$200
Telephone$500
Other$300
Total$44,900


We not only spent less per day than in 2018, but we stayed in budget!

A few notes about this analysis:

* All costs are in U.S. dollars.
* All costs are for two people.
* It only includes expenses directly related to travel.

The following items are not included:
* Stateside medical insurance
* Routine medications and visits to doctors
* Base cost of our AT&T cell phone plan
* Storage of our possessions in the U.S.

Our style of travel was higher than backpacker level and definitely under luxury level. I would classify it as three-star.

Our lodgings were clean and comfortable, often stylish, and almost always had a kitchen and a separate bedroom. Most of them had a clothes washer. Our meals were either cooked at home or eaten in mid-level restaurants.

A modern living room opened to a balcony
Our fantastic apartment in Medellin had two bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, and a huge balcony. It was only $1,350 for four weeks.
Cost By Location
LocationTotal CostDaysCost per Day
San Jose,
Costa Rica
$4,20028
$150


Panama City,
Panama
$2,900

28$104
Cartagena,
Colombia
$3,70028$132
Galapagos
Islands,
Ecuador
$5,50028$196
Quito,
Ecuador
$2,40028$86
Cuenca,
Ecuador
$2,80027$104
Peru Tour$6,10029$210
Buenos Aires,
Argentina
$7,20056$129
Cordoba,
Argentina
$3,10028$111
Medellin,
Colombia
$4,00028$143
Flight to U.S.*$100
1$100

Subtotals
$42,000309$136
General
Expenses

$2,900309$9
Totals$44,900
309$145

* The flight back to the U.S. was inexpensive because we used points from our Chase credit card. The full cost was $600 including baggage costs.

Notes On Budget Variances

We were over budget in:

San Juan, Costa Rica – because of two side trips We took two side trips to beaches while we were San Juan. One was to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean Coast and the other to Jaco on the Pacific Coast. We enjoyed the change of pace at both of them. The total cost for 6 days was $1,600 or $267 per day.

A sloth with a baby hanging from a branch
Mama and baby sloth hanging out at our hotel in Puerto Viejo.
Man and woman throwing shaka sign
With my instructor in Puerto Viejo for my very first surf lesson.

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador – because of a side trip While visiting the islands we spent most of our time in Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz. In order to see more of the famed wildlife, we spent a few days in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal Island.

The water taxi trip to Puerto Baquerizo Moreno was a bit of a nightmare. The captain was trying to avoid an approaching storm. In spite of his best efforts about half of the 40 people on the boat got seasick. Fortunately, the trip back to Santa Cruz Island was much smoother. Even so, the experience made us decide not to visit any more islands.

In spite of the rocky boat ride, we enjoyed our three days in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno which included two hikes to secluded beaches and a few cool experiences in town.

A woman and a sea lion on a beach
A morning hike led us to La Loberia where it was just us and the sea lions.

These 3 days cost $688 or $229 per day

It is well known that visiting the Galápagos Islands is expensive so we budgeted extra for it. We spent four weeks there and feel that it was far too long. You can read about our experiences in Is A Land-Based Galapagos Trip Right or You?

Peru Tour – because of  a bus tour, a visit to Machu Picchu, and the flight from Cuenca to Lima

Our four weeks in Peru cost $6,100, $600 more than our four weeks in the Galapagos. The reason for this was that we started in Lima, spent 19 days visiting various towns in Peru, and went to Machu Picchu.

At $900, our flight from Cuenca to Lima was the most expensive we have had since we started traveling. From there we took a Peru Hop tour bus which went from Lima to Cusco, a distance of 685 miles or 1,100 km.

The Peru Hop tour lets you chose among several routes and spend as little or as much time as you want in each city. We spent 18 days in a total of 5 cities before heading to Machu Picchu.

The tour took us to several towns we would never have visited on our own including Paracas and Huacachina, an oasis town that introduced us to dune surfing.

A small lake surrounded by palm trees and sand dunes
We had never seen anything like the oasis town of Huacachina, Peru.

Even though we ended up spending sixteen hours in a decrepit little town in Peru because of a protest I would recommend Peru Hop. You can read about our experience with the protest, which included using the worst restroom we have ever seen in Stranded on the Road in Peru.

Peru Hop and Machu Picchu Costs
ItemCost
Flight to Lima$900
Peru Hop bus$400
Train to Machu
Picchu Town
$300
Machu Picchu tour$300
Accommodations
$1,400
Food$1,000
Total$4,300

The remaining time in Peru was spent in Lima and averaged $160 per day.

We were under budget in:

Panama City, Panama – because of a great deal on lodging  The cost was lower here because we got a great deal on an apartment in a new complex. We paid only $700 for four weeks in a one-bedroom apartment with a washer and dryer in a golf community.

The downside was that it was about 15 minutes from the city and we had to take a taxi everywhere even the grocery store.

Sunrise over a golf course
Sunrise over Panama City and the Panama Canal as seen from our balcony.

Quito, Ecuador – because of illness Both Steve and I felt a little ill not long after we arrived in Quito. At first, we thought it was altitude sickness, but when it lingered for more than a week we determined it was intestinal. I love being under budget, but not for this reason.

Cuenca, Ecuador -because of an inexpensive apartment, low transportation costs, and low activity costs

Since we went to Cuenca from Ecuador the flight was inexpensive ($100). From what we saw, flights within a country were inexpensive, while flights between countries were not.

We found the town to be very walkable. Tours, taxis, and food were all inexpensive. Cuenca is a popular place for U.S. citizens to retire, partly because the cost of living is low.

Buenos Aires – a two-month stay meant lower transportation costs

Both lodging and food were considerably less expensive than you might expect in a city that is nicknamed the Paris of South America. There wasn’t anything in Buenos Aires that we considered expensive.

Our time in Buenos Aires we took a side trip to Iguazu Falls. At $400 per day, this was our most expensive side trip because it involved flying from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazu. Even so, it was well worth it.

Crowds of people on a boardwalk at Iguazu Falls, Brazil
Our side trip to Iguazu Falls was definitely worth it.

Cordoba, Argentina – because of low food, transportation, and activity costs

The first reason our expenses were low in Cordoba was that we ate most of our dinners at home because almost all the restaurants closed from late afternoon until 8:00 or 9:00 pm. The second reason is that we went to Cordoba from Buenos Aires so the cost to fly was low. And the third reason was that our activity costs were low because quite frankly there wasn’t a lot to do in Cordoba.

While in Cordoba we took a five-day side trip to the small towns of La Cumbrecita and Villa General Belgrano. The daily cost was only $130 and included 3 days at a spa.

Was It Worth It?

Absolutely!

Latin America was not at the top of our list before December 2018, and in the beginning, we didn’t love it. But we stuck with it and fell in love with several places including Buenos Aires and Medellin.

Machu Picchu was an experience of a lifetime and worth the effort and expense to get there. It is truly a magical place.

Even the places we didn’t love so much had many positives and I am glad to have experienced them.

We came home with many happy memories and a few scary ones. Best of all, we met so many friendly and inspiring people along the way.

Further Reading

You can see what we spent during our first 8 months of full-time travel in Europe in 2018 in The Bottom Line: Our 2018 Full-Time Travel Costs.

Also check out Our Top 10 Latin American Travel Experiences.

Happy traveling,
Linda

 

Featured image by Jason Leung on Unsplash

The Bottom Line: Our 2018 Full-Time Travel Costs

You may be wondering what it costs to travel the world full-time. I think you will be surprised to learn that it can be less costly than you think.

When Steve and I first toyed with the idea of traveling the world full-time we thought it might be a pipe dream. Our main concern was that it would be unaffordable. Then we researched world travel costs and found that many people are living a nomadic life and are generous enough to share information about their costs.

Seeing how affordable travel can be was the difference between having a dream and having a goal. Three and a half years later our goal became a reality.

Now we are happy to share our full-time travel costs in the hope that it will help others take the first step toward turning their dreams into reality.

The author’s daughters at a wedding reception
Leaving our daughters, Stephanie and Laura, was the hardest part.
The Budget

We originally set our budget at $3,000 per month. We then tacked on an additional $4,000 a year for general expenses such as supplies, travel insurance, and virtual mailbox service. This put our original budget at $40,000 per year ($36,000 + $4,000).

This budget included an average cost of $1,000 per month for lodging. After our experience with our Paris apartment, which you can read about in Lessons From Airbnb, we upped the lodging budget to $1,500 per month. This put our monthly budget at $3,500 and our annual budget at $46,000 ($42,000 + $4,000).

All costs are in U.S. dollars. It is important to note that we are only including expenses that relate directly to travel. The following items are not included:
Stateside medical insurance
Routine medications
Base cost of our cell phone plan
Storage of our possessions in the U.S.
Gifts

It is also important to note that we do not have many of the expenses of daily life that we had when we lived in the U.S.  We sold our home and our cars, so we don’t have insurance, maintenance, or property tax expenses. We have no mortgage, rent, or car payments. For the most part, we are spending the money we would have been living on in the U.S. on travel.

The French Pavilion at Versailles
Mow the lawn or visit the French Pavilion at Versailles?
The Reality: Costs by Category

CategoryCost
Food$11,500
Lodging
11,100
Transportation8,000

Activities4,000
Supplies1,800
Medical1,000
Office Related700
Telephone300
Other500
Total$38,900

Our 2018 travels included a fifteen-day Transatlantic cruise with five ports of call and stays in fifteen foreign cities over eight months. As you can see, we spent $38,900 (just under $4,900 per month) during these eight months. Annualized this comes to $58,300. This was $12,300 higher than our annual budget of $46,000.

This is where I should write about how bad we feel for going over budget and vow to do better. But we don’t feel bad.  If we were putting our finances in jeopardy we would be expressing remorse. Steve and I are working closely with a financial advisor and he’s not worried, so neither are we. We made some conscious choices to spend more in certain cases, and we made a few mistakes. The bottom line is we reached our level of comfort and it costs $58,300 per year.

Our style of travel was higher than backpacker level and definitely under luxury level. I would classify it as three-star. Our lodgings were clean and comfortable, often stylish, and almost always had a kitchen and a separate bedroom. Most of them had a clothes washer. Our meals were either cooked at home or eaten in mid-level restaurants.

That being said, I believe a couple could travel for a year on $40,000. However, it would not be three-star all the time and would not include a Transatlantic cruise.

Five people in silly costumes walking on a boardwalk
You can see sights like this one in Sitges, Spain for free.
What These Expenses Include

Lodging – The cost of the cabin for the cruise is not included here.  The entire base cost of the cruise is included in transportation because we chose this method to get to Europe in lieu of flying.

Transportation – This includes all costs to get to each destination and fly back to the U.S. in November. It also includes the cost to travel within each city and the cost of a rental car for two weeks in Byala, Bulgaria.

Supplies – The largest cost here was a MacBook Air and accessories for $1,000. It is included as a travel cost because we would not have bought it if we weren’t traveling since we had a perfectly good desktop computer at home. This category also includes $350 for shoes and hiking boots. You can’t put a price tag on foot comfort. Clothing, in general, is not included, but if something was purchased specifically because we were traveling it is included. We also spent $54 to mail several items home from Strasbourg. According to other nomads, it is not uncommon to take too much when you start out.

Medical – This entire cost was for annual Medjet travel insurance coverage. This provides evacuation services in case of serious illness along with other protections. You can read a little about Medjet’s services in Travelers’ Little Helpers: Our Favorite Services and Apps or visit their website at https://medjetassist.com/. Vaccinations and medications needed for travel would be included here but we did not need any for this trip.

Office Related – The largest cost here was $199 for our annual virtual mailbox subscription and $34 for scanning overage charges. You can learn about this service at https://my.travelingmailbox.com/. We spent $125 for additional internet service on the ship. This was necessary since we were in the process of selling our house in the U.S. Website hosting for one year was $71, AAA membership was $66, and a Rosetta Stone subscription was $55. The remainder was for printing, postage, notary service, and office supplies.

Telephone  – This was for the purchase of SIM cards and any additional charges we incurred using our AT&T international day plan. It does not include our base cost for AT&T since this is not directly related to travel.

Other items  – We spent $200 for laundry for those times we did not have a washer available, $200 in currency exchange costs due to the dollar being weaker than the Euro, and $100 in money lost to theft.

Where We Went Over Budget

Three items contributed to this overage: The cruise, our short trip to London, and moving around too much during the second half of our eight months abroad.

In deciding to take a two-week cruise from the U.S. to Europe to begin our adventure we made the conscious choice to spend the extra money. Even though the cost of $4,300 for fifteen days was more than double our budget, we are glad we did it.

We opted for a cabin with a balcony and probably would not do that again. A couple of cruise company-sponsored tours also added to our cost. Now we are confident enough to explore on our own. We thoroughly enjoyed our time on the ship and plan to do other one-way cruises again.

Two young women in traditional dress in Seville, Spain
Young women in Seville, Spain, one of our ports of call

In July our daughter Laura and her friend Ashley visited us as part of a two-week tour of several European cities. We decided to take a short trip to London with them. The three-night trip was fantastic and we look forward to seeing more of London. It was also extremely expensive. This short trip ended up costing $700 per day for a total of $2,100. This included $230 to reissue our Chunnel tickets because we missed the check in time. Ouch!

Huge statue of Jeff Goldblum in front of the Tower Bridge in London
Jeff Goldblum and the Tower Bridge in London

Staying in Airbnb apartments for twenty-eight days or more provides deep discounts. We visited fifteen cities in these eight months, not including the ports of call on the cruise. We spent twenty-eight days or more in five of them and were only slightly over budget for these five combined. Considering that two of them were in France, this was not bad at all.

Our stays in the other ten cities were shorter which drove up the daily cost of lodging. We also chose a few more expensive places like a sailboat in Lisbon.

A marina in the Belem area of Lisbon
Our short-term home in Lisbon

Moving between cities also increased our transportation costs. We were able to use the very economical trains and buses in Portugal but opted for a personal driver when going from Bucharest, Romania to Byala, Bulgaria. The total cost for this was $225 ($175 plus a $50 tip for our driver who went above and beyond in helping us secure our rental car). We used the rental car for two weeks in Byala then drove it to Plovdiv, Bulgaria. The total cost including gas was $426.

Costs by City

CityCountryTotal CostDaysCost per Day
CruiseU.S. to Spain$4,30015$287

BarcelonaSpain3,60031116
ParisFrance3,80028136
StrasbourgFrance3,70028132
LondonUK2,1003700
ZagrebCroatia3,20028114
BucharestRomania2,6002893
ByalaBulgaria1,80014129
PlovdivBulgaria1,7001894
SofiaBulgaria7005140
LisbonPortugal2,80014200
AvieroPortugal5003167
PortoPortugal7005140
SintraPortugal1,30010130
LagosPortugal5004125
FaroPortugal6004150
LisbonPortugal7004175
FlightTo U.S.8001800

General3,500
Totals$38,900
243$160

General costs include $1,700 for supplies, $1,000 for Medjet coverage, $500 for office-related expenses including $200 related to our virtual mailbox, $200 for loss on exchange rates and $100 for international driving permits.

You Can Do This Too!

Right now you might be thinking that you could never afford to do this. Guess what? You probably can. We are in our early sixties and are living on money we have saved over forty years of marriage. But you don’t have to wait until your old(er) to travel the world.

Thanks to the Internet you can meet people of all ages who are living a nomad life. Some of them save up for a year or so of travel and others work on the road as digital nomads. You can certainly see many of the world’s wonders and have exciting experiences on considerably less than we spent.

If the idea of traveling full-time is appealing to you Google the heck out of it. There are so many resources that planning has never been easier.

What’s the worst that can happen? You spend all your money and return home with wonderful memories, funny stories, and far too many photos.

Was It Worth It?

Absolutely!

I could say that you can’t put a price tag on the experiences we had, but I just did. We met wonderful people, were exposed to different ways of life, and saw sights that we had only read about. We made friends with several cats and ate way too much. History came to life, we enjoyed wonderful art in museums and on the street, and we learned the difference between Bucharest and Budapest.

Ponts Couvert in Strasbourg, France
Oh, the places you’ll go, the beauty you’ll see (Ponts Couverts in Strasbourg, France)

These eight months have enriched our life beyond words and dollars. And that is really what this whole dream was about in the first place.

 

Steve and Linda at Plivites Lakes National Park
Steve and I enjoying the beauty of Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Find out what we spent for 10 months in Latin America in 2019 here.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash.com

 

Oops! Did We Do That?

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”.

Mistakes like this are the makings of cute stories and fond memories. As Steve and I prepared to travel full-time we knew that mistakes would be made, and some of them would be more serious than using the wrong words.

Stay on the bus

We started our journey on a Transatlantic cruise from Florida to Barcelona. Being new to cruising we opted for a cruise company sponsored hop-on-hop-off tour in Funchal, Portugal even though it was more expensive than doing it on our own.

One of the things we wanted to do was ride the wicker toboggans. We hopped on the bus and two stops later saw the sign for the gondola to take us to the toboggans. The gondola ride up the mountain was breathtaking, and the fast ride back down was exhilarating. The rest of the walk down the very steep hill as we looked for a hop-on-hop-off stop was not so enjoyable. We ended up spending about $80 to go two stops on the bus.

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 straight to a kiosk to buy a SIM card. The clerk wasn’t the least bit helpful, so we left. We headed to the post office, which was also in the airport, and spent 40 Euros (about $45 US dollars ) for 2 SIM cards. The man who helped us did not speak English, and as I demonstrated above, I do not speak French. Even so, we managed to get our SIM cards installed.

We quickly discovered that they were only good for making calls and didn’t include data. They were quickly replaced with less expensive cards that included everything we needed. We never used them, but carried them around for several months until we finally threw them out.

Slow Down and Read the Email

In order to receive our mail while out of the U.S. we subscribe to a virtual mailbox service. When the service receives our mail they post a picture of the envelope in our account and we direct them to forward it, destroy it, or open and scan it.

One of the first items we received was an insurance contract. I opted to have them open and scan it. They sent an email letting me know it was very thick and would be costly to scan, but I did not read that email. Instead, I verified that I wanted it scanned.

I was not happy to find out that this cost us $35 since scanning it put us well over our monthly scan limit.

Also Read the Train Ticket

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 Ashley and 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 depart. 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 US.

This was totally my fault as I had neglected to read the fine print on the tickets that clearly stated the check-in cutoff time. As one lady nicely pointed out the train was entering a different country so the requirements were similar to airline travel.

Actually, the difference was that we were leaving the Schengen Area, which encompasses 28 countries that have joined the Schengen Agreement. This agreement allows for movement among these 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 timewise, but our wallet sure wasn’t happy.  In addition to reading the ticket (Linda), in the future, we will check in as soon as possible and then eat.

Close Call in the Schengen Area

Occasionally things work out in spite of our ignorance and tendency to procrastinate. We only had three months to go before we set out for our travels when we first heard of the Schengen Agreement and the Schengen Area. We discovered that we would only be allowed to spend 90 days in this group of 28 countries and would then have to leave the Schengen Area for 90 days.

Cue the cold sweats. We had already booked three months’ worth of nonrefundable stays in Barcelona and Paris. I quickly 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 the destination after Paris saved us. We had been thinking about Prague. If we had booked a monthlong stay there or anywhere else in the Schengen Area through Airbnb we would have lost that money.

All’s Well That Ends Well

As you can see from this map of the Schengen Area we were left with very few choices for the next three months since we wanted to stay close to Europe so we could re-enter the Schengen Area after 90 days. Our choice was between the United Kingdom and Ireland and some countries in Central and Eastern Europe. We chose Central and Eastern Europe because of the much lower cost. We ended up loving our time in Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria.

Some of you would probably be very uncomfortable with having things so open-ended, but it fits in with our travel philosophy that you shouldn’t plan too much because some of the best experiences happen by chance.

Near miss with Booking.com

We were able to avoid a very 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 a great 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.

Warnings Are Warnings For a Reason

When you repeatedly hear that you are in the pickpocket capital of the world, TAKE IT SERIOUSLY!

It happened to Steve while we were boarding a crowded Metro car in Barcelona. First one woman bumped into him on one side, then another woman bumped him on the other side. They both jumped off the car as the doors were closing. That’s when Steve realized that they had taken his passport holder from his front pocket. They got away with his passport, several bank cards, and 40 Euro (about $45 US).

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.

Imagine our relief when we were told that Steve’s passport had been 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.

After this Steve carried a camera bag which he insisted on referring to as his purse.

The Rules Are Going to Get You

Our daughter Laura and her friend Ashley 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.

It’s All Worth It

Let’s face it, mistakes happen. That’s life. Why would travel life be any different? Given the fact that we spent eight months traveling to fifteen cities in 2018, 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.

And what doesn’t kill you makes a darn good story.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured image by Estee Janssens on Unsplash.com

Travelers’ Little Helpers: Our Favorite Services and Apps

There are many helpful services and apps that are making travel easier and more affordable than ever. Although we aren’t getting paid (yet) to publicize them, we want to share our favorites with you.

Accommodations
Airbnb

Since April 2018 we have stayed in fourteen Airbnbs. We got off to a rough start and were about to give up on Airbnb. Instead we learned to make it work for us. Read about our first year’s experiences here and get some helpful tips from Lessons From Airbnb.

With a monthly budget of $1,500 for accommodations we are able to get an apartment with a separate bedroom, a kitchen, and WiFi. There is usually a clothes washer, and we often have a balcony. At $50 per night this is the bargain of the century. Many hosts offer discounts for stays of more than 7 days, and even deeper discounts for stays of 28 days or longer. We find the site very easy to use, and we have had relatively good support.

Find the perfect place to stay with Airbnb.

Booking.com

For short stays and side trips we prefer booking three-star hotels since that does away with the need to coordinate check-in with an Airbnb host and we aren’t looking to set up house. In these cases we have used Booking.com and we have been very happy with them. They also offer apartment options similar to Airbnb and conversely Airbnb greatly expanded its hotel options in February 2018, although we have not booked a hotel though them yet. A little competition is a wonderful thing!

Booking.com has a loyalty program they call the genius program. It kicks in automatically after you have booked five reservations through them. The program gives you 10% off future bookings with properties that choose to participate as well as other perks like free airport transfers and late check-out. The discount percent increases as you book more.

Book a great accommodation at Booking.com and be the genius you always knew you were.

Transportation
Uber

We can’t say enough good things about Uber. Although we are big fans of public transportation, it isn’t always an option. With Uber we get door-to-door service, all done electronically. No payments to deal with at the end of the trip, no fumbling for tip money, no worries about being ripped off. In one year’s time we only had one billing problem. It was an overcharge due to a technical problem in the browser. By using the app’s help option we were able to quickly get a refund. And in case you didn’t know, Uber’s app will also let you schedule a ride for a later time.

Communication
Local SIM Cards

Our cell phone provider is AT&T. They have an international option that allows unlimited use for $10 per day, charged only if you use it at least once in a 24 hour period. That is fine for short trips. However, that would cost $600 per month for the use of two phones if we used it every day.

For longer trips our best option is a local SIM card. A quick online search tells us which providers are available in our location and what prepaid plans they offer. Plans can be as  short as one day or as long as one month. After we pick a provider and a plan we go directly to the store and have them insert and register our cards. Be aware that this requires an unlocked phone and ID. And for some reason we still don’t understand it can take up to an hour to get two cards installed.

Our average cost for a SIM card good for one month is $20 US. This includes data, SMS, and local calls. We have found it more economical to use our AT&T international plan when calling U.S. business.

WhattsApp Messenger

For personal calls to the U.S. we use WhattsApp. It is a free service owned by Facebook that you can use to send test messages and make voice and video calls.

Mail Service
Traveling Mailbox

One service we would be hard-pressed to do without is our mailbox service. Without it the best option would be to have mail sent to our daughter. She would then have to open it, scan it to us, forward items we need hard copies of, and deposit any checks received. Traveling Mailbox does all of this virtually. They notify us via email when we receive mail. We then log in to see our mail and tell them what we want done with it.

They will forward mail anywhere in the world and deposit checks for you. Both of these have small fees attached. There are several virtual mailbox providers, but when we researched them in the Spring of 2018 this was the best for our purposes. We have used them since then and couldn’t be happier with their service. This service costs us $199 per year and is definitely worth it.

Let Traveling Mailbox make your life easier.

Travel Insurance
Medjet Travel Insurance

Medjet is an air medical transport and travel security membership program with two tiers of coverage: Medjet Assist will transport you to a home-country hospital of your choice if you have a medical emergency while traveling. The insurance also covers the transfer of mortal remains. Medjet Horizon covers the above situations and adds guidance and evacuation services in cases of terrorism, natural disaster, political threat, pandemic, and violent crime. They also provide crisis response services if you are a victim of a crime such as kidnapping or extortion, or if you disappear. You can purchase coverage for one trip or for a full year.

Medjet offers a discount for AARP members. Our cost after the AARP discount for a full year of coverage with Medjet Horizon is $1,078 for both of us.

Explore your Medjet options here.

World Nomads Travel Insurance

World Nomads travel insurance comes highly recommended. We opted not to use them because some of their coverage would be duplicating coverage we have though our Chase Sapphire Credit Card. Their policies cover emergency medical and dental care in the country you are visiting as well as medical evacuation in certain cases. They will also transfer your mortal remains. World Nomad policies also include things like trip cancelation and delayed or lost luggage coverage.

Learn what World Nomads can do for you.

On-The-Go Apps
Currency Converter

We use the free My Currency Converter & Rates app by jRuston Apps but a quick look at the App Store shows that there are many to choose from. This is indispensable when grocery shopping and eating out. You can quickly see that your 80,140 pesos meal in Colombia costs you only $25.60 US.

Google Translate

We try hard to learn basic phrases in the local language, but sometimes we just have to resort to an online translator. As with the currency converter there are many apps to choose from. We like that Google Translate allows you to type, speak, or take a photo to get a translation. We have found the photo option is very helpful for translating cooking directions.

Google Maps

Of course when you are traveling in a new city you need a map. Our go-to is Google Maps. However we did have some problems using it in Europe. It would often reroute us, thereby sending us in circles. The lack of street signs in some European cities added to the problem. We have learned to carry a paper map and when possible we plan the trip before we leave home so we have a mental picture of where we are going. Google Maps seems to be working better in Latin America.

Bank Cards
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

This card is on many lists as one of the top cards for worldwide travel. While I can’t compare it to other cards, we have been very happy with this card. It has a great sign-up bonus, no foreign transaction fees, and offers double points on all travel and restaurant spending. There is a $95 annual fee, but if you use this card for virtually all your purchases you will get so much more back in rewards. Reward points used for travel are valued at 1.25% so you get an even greater benefit.

A note about our thoughts on credit cards. Many years ago we discovered finance guru Dave Ramsey and worked hard to become debt free. This is the main reason we were able to retire early and travel full-time. One cornerstone of his program is using cash for all purchases. The main reasons are that with cash you can only spend what you have and research has shown that people spend more when they use credit cards as discussed in the article from Forbes.

We have now switched to using the Chase card. By using our card we get an accurate record of our expenses. We have found that when we use cash while traveling we often can’t account for all of it. You would think it would be simple to keep a record of cash expenditures, but being in an unfamiliar environment and not speaking the language means we often fail to get a receipt or record what we spend while we are on the go.

Because I keep a careful record of our spending, comparing our ongoing costs with our budget, and I pay the balance every week, we are not putting ourselves in the position of getting back into debt.

Find the perfect Chase credit card for you.

Other Bank Cards

The Chase Sapphire card is our primary card but we also carry a AAA MasterCard, a Chase debit card for withdrawing cash, and the debit card from our credit union in Jacksonville, Florida. We are very careful not to carry all the cards in one place in case of loss or theft.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured photo by Rob Hampson on Unsplash.com

 

 

Lessons From Airbnb

In this post I will share some of our Airbnb experiences and the lessons we learned from them. If you are in a hurry you can scroll to the last section The Big Lesson (in table of contents below).

During the eight months that we traveled in 2018, we stayed in twelve Airbnbs. The option to rent apartments at reasonable rates helps make full-time travel affordable. While Airbnb is not the only place to book short-term accommodations, it is probably the most well-known. We have relied on it and continue to do so. However, it was not without some bumps. One host misrepresented his apartment, leaving us with a curtain in place of a bathroom door. Another host canceled our reservation 11 days before our arrival date. But possibly the strangest thing was the solid block of ice in the freezer in our rental in Croatia. Despite these and some other issues, we learned to make Airbnb work for us, and you can too.

A Not So Smooth Start

After our first three months on the road, we were losing faith in our go-to accommodation booking site, Airbnb. We were initially drawn to Airbnb because of the wide range of choices worldwide and the fact that many hosts offer deep discounts for stays of 28 days or more. This fit in perfectly with our plans to spend one month in each location.

We got off to a less than promising start. Our first booking was an apartment in Barcelona. It was an instant book. Just push the button and your stay is scheduled. So we booked it and immediately posted this milestone to Facebook. We were on our way!

The next day we got a message from Manuel, the host, saying the price was wrong. He didn’t name a new price but asked us to make an offer. We said no and asked him to cancel the reservation. If you cancel an Airbnb reservation of 28 days or more (long-term in Airbnb land) you are liable for the first month’s fee. But Manuel wouldn’t budge.

After waiting several days for Manuel to cancel the reservation I called Airbnb and they said the best thing was for us to cancel and there would be no penalty.

With that taken care of we were able to book another apartment in Barcelona for $500 more than the first one. It had two bedrooms, a kitchen, a small balcony, and I kid you not, a washing machine on the rooftop patio.

Lesson learned – do not instant book.

We now communicate with the host before booking. We verify the dates and price and ask any questions about the accommodation at this time.

A small living room with a sofa, a table with two chairs, and a refrigerator
The living room of our apartment in Barcelona. It was safe and clean, but nothing special. And yes, the refrigerator was in the living room.
Two chairs and a smaill table with a stuffed hedgehog on a balcony
Our tiny balcony in Barcelona. Hedgie loved watching the action from up there.
Next Stop – Paris

We were so excited to find a studio for $1,000 US per month. From the description, we knew it was small and we knew that $1,000 per month was very inexpensive for Paris. We planned to spend two months in Paris, so we grabbed this baby. The minute we walked in we knew that there was no way we could spend two months there.

There is small, and there is microscopic. The whole place was about 100 square feet. In addition, two things in the posting were misleading. First, there was a picture of a Murphy bed with shelving on either side. There was a Murphy bed, but no shelving because there wasn’t room for any. Second, there was a review stating that the bathroom didn’t have a door, with a reply from the host saying there was a door. Unless door has a different meaning in France this was a lie. There was a curtain separating the bathroom/kitchen area from the living/sleeping area. And it didn’t even go all the way across. Because of these two issues, the host agreed to let us out of the second month without penalty.

Are with a shower door, toilet, small sink, and towel warmer
The bathroom area in our Paris apartment. Note the tiny sink above the toilet. It did have an amazing shower though.
A foldable table and chair set in front of a shower stall and toilet
A foldable table and chair that became my early morning workplace while Steve slept.

Lesson learned – never book a place for more than one month. We can tolerate most places for that long.

Second lesson learned – always verify that there is a door on the bathroom. Only half kidding here.

Now What?

With the second month’s Paris lodging canceled we decided to go to Strasbourg, France for one month. We had to scramble because it was tourist season, but we found a place. We practiced the first lesson by communicating with the host before booking and came to an agreement with the host.

Eleven days before we were scheduled to arrive she asked for an increase of 54%. We said no. She replied by saying we should cancel the booking. She wanted to avoid the penalties Airbnb imposes on hosts when they cancel a reservation. These include financial penalties and a review stating that the host canceled. We told her that since she had changed the terms she would have to cancel it, which she eventually did.

I was surprised that she did not get a review that said she had canceled. When I asked Airbnb support about this they said they didn’t post a review about her canceling because she had a good history. Great way to support your customers, Airbnb.

We ended up finding a place in Strasbourg that turned out to be nearly perfect. It was clean, spacious, and uncluttered. It was a little higher than our budget but we were happy to pay the difference because it had a real door on the bathroom. Even if it was a sliding door that tended to open on a whim, requiring the use of a doorstop to guarantee privacy.

Lesson learned – do not book with any host whose comments show that they canceled a reservation unless the host provides a good reason.

We realize that emergencies happen. Airbnb gives hosts the option of responding to a cancellation post. If they don’t respond we can only assume that they did not have a very good reason to cancel on a past guest.

Airbnb in Our Future

During this time we had three more reservations booked through Airbnb, two of them long-term. We were feeling a little trapped but knew we had to make the best of it. I am happy to report that all these apartments had good, solid bathroom doors. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t other issues.

The next stay was three nights in London. We found what appeared to be a lovely two-bedroom flat, but it turned out to be quite dirty. The problems included food left in the sink, odor in the refrigerator, mold in the shower, stains on a curtain, and cooking supplies that belonged in the garbage.

The bottom of a stained curtain
Stains on the curtain of our London rental. Yuck!

I immediately messaged the host to let him know. I suggested he might want to see the apartment’s condition since he worked only two doors away. He did not respond to this. He did offer to have the cleaning crew come back. We declined. Since we only had two full days in London we didn’t want to spend them waiting for and watching cleaners and we weren’t comfortable leaving them with our belongings. And what assurance did we have that they would do a better job since he was not taking responsibility to check on them?

Since it was a short stay we decided to make the best of it. Because of the condition of the kitchen, we ate all meals out. Oh, darn! We were amused that his review of us included that “the apartment was returned clean and tidy”. What?????

No new lesson here. Sometimes you just chalk it up to experience and move on.

On to Zagreb, Croatia

Our next stop was Zagreb, Croatia. We booked a spacious apartment for only $813 US. It had air conditioning and was relatively clean and very comfortable. And it had a real door on the bathroom. There was only one problem, a solid block of ice in the freezer.

A frozen solid freezer
At least the freezer was cold.

We were shown into the apartment by Mladen, a friend of our host. He did not speak English, and we don’t speak Croatian. Steve set about looking around the apartment. He opened the freezer door and saw the ice. Mladen quickly ran over signally “no” and firmly shut the door. OK, so we didn’t have use of the freezer, no big deal.

Shortly after he left we had a message from our host telling us that we must not use the freezer to cool the apartment and if the refrigerator breaks we will be charged for it.

The next day Steve offered to defrost the freezer. Our host’s response was quite chilly. She told Steve not to touch it. She ended up sending Mladen over to take care of it. It turned out the entire freezer was a block of ice, so this problem had been going on for a while. We couldn’t understand why it wasn’t taken care of earlier.

Aside from this issue we had a great stay in this apartment and managed to put this issue behind us when dealing with our host.

Lesson learned – take pictures of any problem areas as soon as you arrive, and discuss the big ones with the host.

We’ve actually been doing this from the beginning. The other thing we do is take pictures before we move any items so we can put them back before we leave.

Lesson reinforced – You can’t make this stuff up.

Discovering Superhosts

While in Zagreb we took a side trip to Split, a small beach town on the Adriatic Sea. This time we rented from a Superhost. We were there for three nights and this was a wonderful Airbnb experience.

Superhosts are Airbnb hosts who have met several requirements including receiving high scores from guests, having no cancellations by the host except in extreme cases, and having a high rate of response to inquiries.

Lesson learned – Rent from Superhosts whenever possible. You may still encounter a problem, but it is less likely.

All’s Well That End Well

The seventh apartment we stayed in was in Bucharest, Romania. The host of this one was not a Superhost because we booked it before we instituted that policy. Nevertheless, it turned out to be a very good stay. The apartment was as advertised and the host was readily available even though she was out of the country. And the bathroom had a real door. We were on quite a roll.

During the rest of the year, we stayed in six more Airbnbs including a sailboat in Lisbon. All but one host was a Superhost.  Except for some mild seasickness on the boat, all of these stays were wonderful.

A white sail boat at dock
Our temporary floating home in Lisbon
A toy hedgehog sitting at a sailboat’s wheel
Hedgie settling into life at sea
The Big Lesson

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. We got off to a less than great start with Airbnb, but it has some serious pluses for long-term travelers. It offers affordable places to stay, it has a very user-friendly search experience, and it has very good support response.

Through trial and error, we learned to make Airbnb work for us and you can too by using these five rules:

1. Do not instant book. Communicate with the host before booking to verify the dates and price and get answers to any questions or concerns you have.

2. Do not book one place for a longer period of time for which you can deal with a less than ideal situation. For us it’s one month, for you it might be different.

3. Avoid hosts who have unexplained cancellations.

4. Document problems upon arrival.

5. Book with Superhosts whenever possible.

Happy traveling,
Linda

Featured photo by Deborah Cortelazzi on Unsplash.com