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US Road Trip 2017, Day 5.

Today was another one of those Point A to Point B days. I wanted to get from Pigeon Forge up to Bethesda, MD at a reasonable time. The hotel had limited amounts of oversized vehicle parking, and the truck won’t fit in the hotel’s parking garage. Also, the D.C. Traffic can be BAD! 

The drive into the city area wasn’t bad at all. I love driving through the mountains, so the run up through Virginia was excellent. There was a haze for most of the day, but it didn’t ruin the views. 

The traffic didn’t turn horrible until about the Centerville area. From that point in to I-495 and then north up to Democracy Boulevard was much more stop than go. I mean ugh! 

The hotel, the Marriot Suites, which is awesome, ended up having a parking spot for the truck. Yeah! And I’m full chil for a couple hours before exploring.

This is also the first multi-day stop. I’m going to spend a couple days exploring the Washington DC area, and seeing what there is to see. I imagine I will also be making a list of things I want to see next time I’m here. I usually always assume I’m going back to a city. That way I don’t try and shove too much in to too small a time window. Enjoy what you’re seeing, and see the rest later. That’s my Motto! 

I’ve lined up a good looking tour guide for part of it, so it should be fun! Speaking of tour guides, I just got back from dinner, and then a wild frozen yogurt trip, with my good friend Beth and her two girls. It was a great time! Lesson learned: toppings and sauces are not the same thing and need to be negotiated separately! 


Driving in the Virginia mountains. Cruisin. 


The Potomac River. Really thought there’d be more water. 

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Packing.

There is a truism about traveling the globe, I think. That truism is that you are always going to come back with more stuff than you left with. It habit, especially for us first world people. You buy cool stuff found along the way. You pick up gifts for people back home. Lets face it, nobody can resist that souvenir T-shirt from the street vendor. It’s a fact of travel. That being said, I like to leave space in the backpack to allow for newly acquired stuff. Not a lot of space, but enough so I can come home with one bag the way I left home.

Backpacking is a style I have been employing so long, I can’t remember another way. Well, that’s not completely true, I used to take a large blue hard-sided suitcase to summer camp as a kid. I held everything I needed for the week at camp and was basically indestructible. I think it was one piece of a set my mother picked up when she was young. It was old and showed the signs of many, many places. But camp was a learning experience. So, was the military. You go into the army ad they give you a fancy green backpack. You put all your stuff in it, and then you put it on your back. I learned fast during those days that LESS IS MORE. if you don’t have it, you don’t have to carry it around.

I have never forgotten that lesson. I still travel that way today. Still, less is more. Whether your in Cairo or Paris, Lima or Honolulu, if you need to find something you usually always can. Dragging around a lot of “Maybe” items doesn’t happen. You can rent gear or find a place that sells it. It’s a great world out there, and they have stuff.

As far as my individual travel style, I pack for a week. If I’m going out for a week, 2 weeks, 3 weeks, I pack for a week. 7 days worth of pants (shorts and jeans), 5 days worth of shirts (I will have bought a couple by the time the week’s out) and 10 days worth of underwear and socks (Cause sometimes you don’t actually find the laundry mat where you think you will). It’s really that simple. It also takes up surprisingly little space in your pack. Extra space is god when you’re on the go. It allows for the rest of the crap you need to pack.

My standard packing list is pretty much like this:

Kelty Backpack (2600)

Rip Curl drawstring bag

Journal with extra pens

A cloth Royal Crown bag containing toiletries, Zantac, and Imodium

A small backpacker first aid kit

A small cloth zippered bag with passport, shot records, travel itinerary, diving cert card and log book (If Required)

A couple of trash bags for the odd rain event

5 shirts, 2 shorts, 1 pair of jeans, good long sleeved shirt, 10 days underwear and socks, hiking boots, Tevas sandals, a rain shell, and a hat (usually bought along the way)

Multi-country electric adaptor

Apple phone charger

Camera battery charger

digital camera

and an external battery for the iPhone

That’s really about it. That amount of stuff will fill the backpack about 85 % full. The drawstring bag can be used to carry stuff onto the plane or as extra storage. I pull the drawstrings full out and tie them off to the carry loops on the backpack. Sometime, you just end up buying extra crap.

I know it doesn’t seem like a lot of stuff. It’s not. It’s what I need to get around wherever I’m at. If something really comes up missing, I go buy one. To be completely honest, the only things you actually need to travel are a passport and a good credit card. The rest of it is just stuff. Back in the days of the tall ships people went abroad with just the clothes on their back. They all had a good time. You can too.

I can just images the thoughts at this point. I can’t go on vacation with just that little bit. I have to have changes of clothes. I have to have extra shoes. I have to have my computer and my dvd player and my big thick book (Okay I admit I drug a copy of On the Origin of Species all over Europe one summer). The truth is , you don’t. You don’t really need it. You certainly don’t need to be dragging it everywhere you go. Trust me, your back will thank you if you don’t.

This is the way I roll. I understand that other people don’t roll this way. I have lots of friends who have multiple bags all the time. If that is what you need for a security blanket, then do it. I have found a way that works for me. It may or may not work for you.

The one thing I absolutely do recommend is leaving a little room in your suitcase or backpack for the stuff you pick up along the way. The first time you find yourself in Heathrow, watching a bunch of shocked people trying to stuff all of the crap they brought into one piece of baggage because the customs people at Heathrow will only allow a single piece of baggage through x-ray with you, you start pack less. You also laugh when you get to the other side of the x-ray line because you only brought one bag and breezed right on through. Just sayin.

Try less. Just a little less. You find it’s not that bad.

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What’s in the pic, It’s all you REALLY need.

 

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Ways to cut some cost

Now that I’ve brought everybody down with the actual price of travelling Europe as an adult, let’s take another look at the actual travelling expense. There are ways to minimize what you pay while abroad. My favorite cost saving idea is timing. I travel off-peak whenever possible. Travelling outside of the natural high-travel period, or off-peak, is a blessing in many regards. First, if you aren’t too far outside the normal travel high-period the weather will not have changed drastically. This is important if you’re chasing the sun.

If you’re chasing architecture and museums, off-peak can be a true blessing. The normal travel crowds diminish significantly once you pass out of the high-travel seasons. Sites will have far fewer people to content with. Hotels and restaurants will also be less populated. This bit is important, as they want to fill space. Off-peak hotel and restaurant prices tend to drop, as to entice travelers. This ….. is good!

I travel off-peak whenever it’s good to do so. You will find a lot of the Mediterranean area of Europe is more temperate than North American travelers would think for. I visited Rome, in February, and the weather was quite pleasant. I pack the big coat and didn’t need any of it. It was a great change from the Chicago winter I had flown out of.

So, you say you can’t travel off-peak? Kids school breaks, or work high periods don’t allow for vacation. That being said, there are still ways to save a little cash. These things are all things that you have read about on other sites. There really aren’t too many NEW ways to save cash while abroad.

The real way to save cash now is to shop well. And by shopping well, that means shopping many website to see who’s really selling things at the lowest price. No one website will always have the lowest price. It’s just the way it is. Frankly, I don’t know how they decide how to price things. I think there actually might be a crystal ball involved somewhere. What I do know is, one website will always be slightly less expensive than another or several others.

I tend to use several sites for airline flights. My standbys are www.aa.com, www.kayak.com, www.easyjet.com, and www.cheapoair.com. I like to fly American Airlines as too keep my travel miles in one place. If you go straight to the actual carrier for any specific flight that you find on a flight search website, it will almost always be cheaper straight from the actual carrier. That cheaper rate may be 10$ or it may be 100$, but money is money.

Kayak is a great site for seeing multiple options for individual flight options. Cheap-o-air is another great option for seeing flight options. They both have easy to use search engines and are very easy to navigate. I use mobile apps for all of the above options as they are all good browsing options.

If you are searching for cheap flights inside Europe, I would suggest you take a look at the Easyjet website. They are limited in the amount of airports that they fly in and out of, but they are cheap. I also wouldn’t let the limited number of airports get you down. The price of the flights are low enough to usually offset the cost of a train ticket from your city to the city that easy jet is flying out of. And really, you traveling, aren’t you?

For full disclaimer I also use www.travelocity.com quite a lot. The site a bigger and clunkier than the ones mentioned above, but it does cover a lot of ground. I tend to keep its use to domestic travel as that’s really where it works best for me.

On the logging front I tend to use www.hotels.com, and www.booking.com regularly. I like staying at the Best Western chain, so I use the Best Western app also. I find that when staying in a new city, it nice to have a known hotel chain. Once again, domestically speaking Travelocity works well here.

If you want to stay local while in any particular city you are traveling to there are options for that as well. Both Frommer’s and Lonely Planet have great references for this. Their guidebooks break down each location’s dinning option and lodging options by dollar amount. They will give you a number of lower cost options, moderate cost options, and higher end options to choose from. This allows you to look at the actual locations and see what your money is buying. This is VERY important, IF you don’t travel much. European standards, and South American standards and their rating systems are different than those used in North America. Understanding how their rating systems work will go a long way to helping you have a better experience when you get there.

As with anything else in life it comes down to doing your homework. You need to search out the travel deals and look at all the options available to you. I can guarantee one thing, if some travel company says they have a great deal for you – It’s almost always a great deal for them. It’s sad but true. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t look at them. I have used several collected travel options in the past. I’m saying that you should understand what you’re buying. You’ll find that shopping it around will provide you with savings options and sightseeing options that you can’t find in packaged vacations.

Get out there and look around. You’ll have a good time!

(Honestly, sometimes just planning a new adventure will give you a great amount of enjoyment.)

 

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A view from the steps of Saint Peters. In February. The Med had good weather.

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Seriously? I can travel for that?

I guess we’ll address one of the great internet myths regarding travel. Well, maybe not a myth but definitely a miscommunication. This would be the statements that you see saying “travel for 50$ a day” or “you can travel for 30$ a day anywhere”. These things drive me just a little crazy. Why? Simple. They apply to a specific type of traveller, but are always given as generalizations.

(What I’m about to say applies to Western Europe.)

If you are an 18-25 year old backpacker, bumming around the globe, YES, you can PROBABLY survive on 50$ a day. Will you have a great time? Hard to say. That would depend upon your idea of a great time. If you consider walking tours, hanging out in the park, and free exhibits a great time then you will make it okay. If you plan on couch surfing, doing the group bunk room at the hostile, or the rare house sitting gig, you can probably get by on 50$ a day.

If you have managed to make it to adulthood and have matured out of the Hostile crowd, making your way through Europe for 50$ a day will be much more problematic. Why? Simple. Hotels cost money. Decent meals cost money. Good museums cost money. AND, let’s face it, decent booze of your country of travel costs money. As you get older, and your tastes become more refined, living on the cheap becomes an issue.

I firmly remember my younger days, bumming around Western Europe while in the military. Living out of a vending machine at the train station. Buying whatever beer was on special at the local bar in town. Staying at the seedy hotels because they were cheap and I wanted more money for booze. They were good times! Do I travel like that now? Of course not. Well, of course not, all the time. I still have the random meal out of a train station vending machine just because it’s easy. I still buy the local beer at times just to try something different. These days I do so because I choose to, not because it is a necessity.

The main reason for this is because I have gotten older and my style of travel has changed. I like a good hotel. I like good meals. You can learn a great deal about a country by its food. I love great museums, and cathedrals. Therefore, I budget more money when I travel now. When you’re younger, I think that you’re expectations about a country are different from when you are older. That. Or you are looking for different experiences from your travel choices. The difference usually always costs more.

Okay, now that I’ve complained about the low-budget, what is my opinion? For Western Europe (Definitely any country in the EU zone, yes I mean add England) a realistic number for a middle-aged traveler who is looking to have a good experience and be On-The-Cheap is probably 150$ a day. Now, stop the freaking out. That number has a real world value behind it. Your standard Western European hotel is going to run you just shy of 90$ a night. (In my opinion, the difference between the 15$ Hostile bed and the 90$ ** Hotel room is worth every cent you pay for it, but I’m not 20 anymore either.) Now, you have 60$ left. Running around a European city that has a decent metro system will set you back 8-10$ a day. Okay, we’re at 50-52$ left for the day. A good meal, at a local restaurant will bang you about 20-25$ per meal. So, one good meal, one breakfast at the hotel, and a quick snack stand stop somewhere throughout the day, and you have spent another 25-30$. This leaves you with 20-25$ to spend throughout the day (Museum entrance tickets, t-shirts, and the like). It’s not a lot of extra cash.

That is what I consider the baseline. If I’m only going to be traveling for 10-14 days, I usually budget 1000$ on top of hotel costs, and subdivide it by the number of days I need to survive. Yes, this isn’t budget travel. This is real world travel. Now, do I actually spend the whole 1000$? Almost always, no. But, running out of cash sucks! I don’t like that. I would rather take a hit on exchanging my Euros back into dollars than running out of cash. By the way, almost all exchanger companies will give you a receipt stating the original exchange rate and exchange unused currency back for the same rate upon your return. The rate is usually always bad, but still better than whatever their posted “Buying Rate” is.

Like I said earlier, that piece is specifically for the Euro-Zone, and England. There are a great many places on the planet that a middle-aged traveler can do quite well for 50$ a day. It requires research and investigation, but it is definitely doable. South East Asia, Indonesia, chunks of India, chunks of Central America, parts of South America can all be done well for 50$ a day. I would caveat that the price is minus airfare. Airfare these days is a topic all its own, and is usually always considered an item outside of the standard expenses. At least in my world. Airfare can be reasonable and it can be expensive, but it is seldom cheap these days. Cheap flights are accidentally finds, or heavy research items. Again, I’ll jump off that bridge later.

The nugget of advice being parted out here? Not really sure, probably it would be stop and evaluate what type of traveler you really are. If you are young and carefree, you probably read this and thought I was crazy. If you’re older, you may be looking at my thoughts differently. Once you understand how you like to travel and the experiences that you want to have, you can budget accordingly. Some people travel very well on very little. I like to have a little more comfort at this point in my life. I say do what works for you. Whatever you chose to do, make sure it fits who you are and what you want to do. Do not just head out based on what somebody told you on the internet. That includes me! Your best experiences are the ones where you are happy and comfortable. You can’t be happy and comfortable if you are constantly worrying about cash. Just sayin…..

No go. Get out there!

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The view from my hotel room in Bruges, Belgium. 90$ a night. Circa 2015.

 

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All the way around, or just part way?

One of the great questions in the traveling community is that of distance. Do you need to go all the way around the world or can you just go pat way? Can you go a third of the way, and do another chunk of it later? Personally, I say yes and no. The two acts of travel are different things. Or, at least they are in my opinion. When travelers say that they have traveled around the world, it’s a different statement than saying that you took an around the world trip. The first one indicates that you have traveled a great deal and covered a large amount of ground. The second one means that you have circumnavigated the planet, in one fashion or another.

I am a proponent of the partway and then partway method. Why? Simple, it requires much less planning. It requires fewer logistical problems. It can be done in a reasonable amount of time, whether that be a month of six months.

I very much like the idea of the grand adventure. The idea of circumnavigating the planet is a quest few undertake, and fewer complete. It’s a life’s pursuit type of thing. It is on my list of things to accomplish, before I die.

Getting back to the chunky-clunky travel in sections theory, I would say that to claim a “around the world” status you do need to go around the world. If you go a third of the way and then a third of the way, and then finish it off later with the last third, that’s okay. If you skip a section, that’s probably not okay. (My one exclusion to this statement would be war zones. no need to travel through the war zones.)

A great many people travel around one continent, and then on another trip travel around a different continent. I have done this as well. I would say that this approach is fine, as long as it adds up to around the world. Many people use this technique to accomplish a different travel trophy. That would be setting foot on all the continents. This too is a worthy goal, if you chose to attempt it.

I would say that as long as you understand the reason why you travel, go travel and enjoy! If you can pull off a full around the world trip, Awesome. If you do it in smaller pieces, that’s cool too. Either way, get out there and cover some ground. sooner or later, we’ll all make it all the way around to where we started.

Now go! Get out there.

 

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The author, traveling around Egypt with a bunch of crazy Australians. Summer of 2000.

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Staying Alive.

something that isn’t considered on the average vacation, but is a definite point of concern for the duration traveler is insurance. To be specific, medical insurance. 

I can understand if this isn’t something that comes to mind when I say lets go travel the world. As most people never leave their natural surroundings for long enough to make companies waver policies or get serious medical issues while at the beach. For the standards 2 week crew, this actually isn’t a major topic. Most policies, if they cover whatever you are actually doing on vacation, will cover your vacation issues. Worst case, you get sent home for treatment. However, if you plan on traveling for an extended time or ex-patrioting for work, independent medical insurance is an issue that you will need to consider. 

I have been carrying independent diving insurance for over a decade now. Diving has inherent risks, especially in unknown waters. Independent medical diving insurance is a must for the traveling diver. Personally, I use DAN – Divers Alert Network – for my policy. They have also covered medical insurance for other non-conventional travel experiences I have undertaken. (Think Running with the Bulls)

For the traveler that currently has an internationally recognized carrier, new insurance won’t be a major stumbling block. Both Cigna and Blur Cross Blue Shield offer international policies. Aetna also offers an international policy. Now, these policies will have pronounced restrictions, specified deductibles, and steeper premiums than the ones you get their your employer, but hey — you’re a traveler now. 

If you are quitting your current employer, have one of the inexpensive Obamacare options, or are covered by a regional coverage group, there is a very good chance that your insurance without transition out of the country with your traveling. Fear not! Okay, maybe fear just a little, but don’t get crazy. All the above mentioned carriers, as near as I could tell, also take on new individuals. Also, the traveler standard places like MEDEX , Allianz Worldwide Care, and Healthcare International are places to shop for a medical insurance policy that might fit your needs. Another thought would also be AIG – Travel Guard. 

All carrier have different coverage and different fee schedules. It pays to shop a couple and see where you can get better service for your money. But I would suggest that you think about this rationally. You do NOT want to try and argue your way through a crappy insurance policy in some far-flung land where you don’t speak the language. At least, I don’t won’t to. Maybe you like s challenge? 

Like I said, if you’re part of the two week crowd this probably isn’t a major point of concern. If you choose to pick up your pack and travel the globe it might be something to think seriously about. Something as simple as getting Pharohs Revenge because you drank the water in Cairo can quickly turn nasty. (I had it, it’s not joking matter.) 

Anyway, something more to consider. Face it, we’re not 20 anymore. Now, go on! Get out there!

Aaron. 

  
The La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles, California. Monday, 2-29-16. 

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