Today marks another year of home-free travel around the world with just a backpack each! According to a notification from Google Maps, we traveled a total of 77,084 miles, three times around the earth. That includes sea miles and air miles, but it often feels like that is our poor tired feet mileage! Many miles of Uber and taxi rides are not included in that figure, so we actually traveled more than that distance.
We only took four cruises this year for transportation, as it wasn’t the season for cruises when we were in the places we were….the off season. We took many more flights than our first year’s total of zero – 12, to be exact. But we did start out heading west in November 2018, and finished a complete circumnavigation of the world in early December 2019, returning to LA, from where we started.
Our Hilton rewards program continues to be the gift that keeps on giving. We have kept track of our free nights on points and anniversary rewards, and this past year we stayed 62 nights for free, worth a total of $15,657. We generally try to use reward nights for five-day stays, as you pay for four nights with points and get the fifth night included for free. It is a wonderful deal for us.
Over this past year, we have traveled to Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, and the United Arab Emirates, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Spain, Portugal, France, Andorra, the Canary Islands, and the Bahamas...26 regions/countries in all. So, here are the three questions we answered last year and hope to write (separately) about every year.
FAVORITE PLACE VISITED THIS PAST YEAR
Jan: Bali has got to be my choice. It is the first thing that comes to mind when we are asked that question, and it is somewhere we want to return. The peoples’ graciousness, kindness, caring, and sweetness are the number one reason to return, but the cultural heritage is also so interesting! Hindu temples abound, but intermixed with Hinduism are Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity. Being surrounded by the Indian Ocean, there are great ocean views everywhere, as well. Second choice? Anywhere in Europe!
Mike: My favorite place visited this year is probably Barcelona. It seems like there is always something new to see no matter how much time you spend there. It surprises me that the Catalonian separatist movement is still very visible, with flags, signs, and banners draped everywhere, but there is no change in the national situation.
My favorite place this year that I hadn’t been to before is Bali. It is very inexpensive and the people are friendly. The thing that surprises me about all of Indonesia is the high-pressure sales tactics at ports, airports, etc. It is a jarring introduction to the country, but once you get past that, the people are great.
BIGGEST SURPRISE THIS PAST YEAR
Jan: We feel so free to go wherever we wish and travel anywhere at all, for as long as we wish. Yet in Asia, time and time again, we met young people who said it would be inconceivable for them to leave their families and homeland for extended periods of time. They are very bound to their country and relatives, and could never just have a nomadic life like ours, although many said they would like to. Their parents and grandparents would frown on it. And the second, not a surprise exactly, but it settles in as you travel the world…how much religion is a part of everyone’s life, and of every countries’ history. Churches, mosques, synagogues, monasteries, temples, shrines, etc., have existed for hundreds of years, and many times are the only feature listed as a tourist attraction. They are all stunning, and as most charge an admission fee, they also bring revenue to their location.
Mike: My biggest surprise of the last year is how many places Game of Thrones was filmed. Neither Jan nor I have ever seen a second of it, so someday if we do, it will be like reliving many of our travels. It is interesting to see the differences between what the location looks like and what fans see on screen, such as an ocean that isn’t there.
A more significant thing that continues to surprise me is how hard it is to get a good hotel room that is not part of a major chain, which includes the things important to us. We are most often disappointed with independent hotels.
BEST THING WE LEARNED THIS PAST YEAR
Jan: Something I had never ever thought about when traveling prior to doing so full time was – rebooking the hotels that I had booked. I was diligent over the past 12 months about frequently checking our reservations (all refundable, never nonrefundable) to see whether the price had fluctuated at all. If the new price is less than $10, I don’t bother with rebooking, even though it is a few clicks away, but for anything over that, I rebook. I kept track of our savings over the past year to see exactly how much we had saved by rebooking. Get ready, it’s a big number: $4,775! That is money that is now in our pockets, not handed over to a bunch of hotels! (This year, since January 1, we have already saved $502!) It now seems crazy not to rebook!
Mike: I don’t want to sound like a shill for American Express, but since our favorite rewards program (mothers, don’t let your children use credit cards that don’t give rewards) is on AMEX, it is significant to us. AMEX has become more widely accepted in Asia and the South Pacific, but not as much in Europe yet. More than any other credit card, it gives us very significant rewards.
One thing I am glad to know, so I can avoid it, is the Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) scam that banks are running on their ATMs. It is just a way of taking more of your money. For more info on it, refer to our Tips for Travelers section.
PHOTOS OF THE YEAR
When we are talking with people, we often pull out our iPads to show them photos of what we are talking about. The two places we “show and tell” most often are the Bali Hilton, set on a cliff 15 stories above the Indian Ocean, and Mike’s dive with sharks in the Kuala Lumpur aquarium, for total shock value. The sharks are docile, but they look like Great Whites, so it is fun to see a jaw drop and have someone exclaim, “That is photoshopped, right? Right?!?!!!!” So for those reasons, we have to make these two photos, our photos of the year.