Medical Care on the Road: Challenges of Nomad Life

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

Subscribe to Blog via Email

If you enjoyed this post and would like to receive notifications of new posts by email, please sign up here.

 

Too Many Languages: Challenges of Nomad Life

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.

Stay safe and healthy,
Linda

Subscribe to Blog via Email

If you enjoyed this post and would like to receive notifications of new posts by email, please sign up here.

Like It? Pin It!

Pin for Too Many Languages post

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.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

If you enjoyed this post and would like to receive notifications of new posts by email, please sign up here.

Laundry on the Road: Challenges of Nomad Life

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 usually end up running them 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 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 easily?

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 slim and none of them 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 not get our own 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 at a cost of $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 $US30 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 took a look and 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 the machine 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, and he delivered a drying stand 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. We are still in this apartment riding out the pandemic.

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

Subscribe to Blog via Email

If you enjoyed this post and would like to receive notifications of new posts by email, please sign up here.

Like It? Pin It!

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 “12 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 Travel Costs – Europe

Wind and Whim’s 2019 Travel Costs – Latin America

Wind and Whim’s 2020 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

Subscribe to Blog via Email

If you enjoyed this post and would like to receive notifications of new posts by email, please sign up here.

Is Full-Time Travel Right for You?

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

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 Lessons from Airbnb. 

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

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

Subscribe to Blog via Email

If you enjoyed this post and would like to receive notifications of new posts by email, please sign up here.