We found that we had to figure out several major things as we prepared to give up our home and all of our possessions. If we are homeless…where do we have new passports sent? What about phones that work anywhere? How about something to track us if we are hiking and get lost or turned around? How are we going to get to places if we have several bags to carry? Since other countries have television programming in their local language, how do we watch TV or catch up on movies? And how long can we stay in these countries, anyway? What will we do about prescriptions if we are away from the US for a year? And if I get sick….?
Here are some things we have worked out/figured out since we started traveling full time. We hope it helps if you are planning extensive travel.
International Phone Options – Google Fi, T-Mobile, and Airalo
Google Project Fi and T-Mobile both provide service internationally for a reasonable monthly cost. For a couple of years we traveled with both. We found both to generally provide effective service in the countries where they say they do. Both of them worked well, but eventually we settled on Google Fi. If you are out of the US for less than three months at a time, either should work fine for you. Just be sure that you choose the correct international plan for your purposes and activate it while you are in the US.
If you are outside the US for longer than a three-month period, you will need to do something else if you want to have continual data services, because both Google Fi and T-Mobile have provisions in their Terms and Conditions limiting data use outside the United States. The Terms and Conditions of both companies state that their phone plans are mainly US-based and meant for people who reside in the US but travel outside the US for short periods of time (i.e., less than 90 days).
Both companies will shut off their data services after several months’ use outside the US, though voice and text messaging will be unaffected and will continue to work indefinitely. This has happened to us with Google Fi, and data was cut off the day they indicated it would happen (four months of continuous use outside the US). Data services were restored as soon as we arrived back into the US.
A solution for someone who travels to many countries and stays outside the US for an extended period is Airalo. The process for using their services is to download their app onto your phone. Then, if you have a phone that can use an eSIM (as opposed to a physical SIM) you can purchase an eSIM for the country or region you are in (or will be in) for various data amounts, for various time periods. You can do all of this over the internet, on WiFi, and do not need to go into a store, talk to a salesperson, or buy any other equipment.
We carry two late-model Google Pixel phones, only one of which has a cell phone contract (Google Fi). We have been using Airalo eSIMs with them for about one year now with good results.
During a time we are planning to be out of the US for an extended period, we turn off the Google Fi SIM and install an Airalo eSIM in one or both phones. So far we have purchased eSIMs for the UK, French Polynesia, Tonga, Australia (a global SIM that works in 86 countries), Europe (a global SIM that works in 130 countries), and the US (as an experiment and used on the east and west coasts).
Sometimes there is a bit of a struggle getting the eSIM up and running, and the one time we tried to use their Customer Service, they responded the next day with an unhelpful email. But eventually we were able to get every eSIM working; once it was, the coverage and data speed have been good. One suggestion, though, is that you should probably purchase and install an eSIM near the time that you are planning to use it. Some will activate immediately upon installation, and from what we have seen with other users, they may age out after a period of time, even if not activated. In addition to providing data for the phone, we are able to use it to tether (provide a hotspot for) our iPads.
Note that Airalo eSIMs are data only service. They do not provide voice services. To actually make a phone call using one you will need to use Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) service, such as Skype or Google Voice.
We use both of those services and we have a Google Voice number that we use now as our primary phone number. When the Google Fi SIM is shut off or when we are out of cell phone range (e.g., on a cruise ship), we can make and receive cell phone calls online. Google Voice allows us to make and receive calls and texts over any of our cell phones and iPads using that single number. We have generally been able to update online accounts with that number, including Two-Factor Authentication (2FA), except in the case of one credit card.
A quirky thing we have found using Airalo is that at least one financial institution we utilize won’t allow us online access through either their app or a browser using Airalo eSIM data. We can only theorize that the institution considers Google Fi to be US-based access and Airalo to be foreign-based access, and considers it to be a security concern.
The work-arounds to that problem are to either access an institution using WiFi (which of course doesn’t use the Airalo SIM) or install a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Refer to our VPN section below for further details. We installed the same VPN on our phone that we normally use on our iPads and run the data through a US-based server. That solved the problem.
From time to time you may be surprised by something else when using Airalo. In November 2023 we arrived in Dubai and tried to purchase an eSIM for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from Airalo. A message came up that we had not seen anywhere before, indicating that we had to prove our identity by receiving a code by email and entering it into the app. We did so and were told that we could then complete the transaction. When we tried to do so the Airalo app still indicated that we hadn’t completed the process. We needed to use the phone to call a Careem or an Uber, so we turned our Google Fi SIM back on instead and used it without any problems for the next week in Dubai. It seems likely that the Airalo problem could have eventually been sorted out, but we were glad we had the Google Fi account available.
We are not providing a link for Airalo. We don’t receive any money for recommendations we make or anything else we do on this site, and we don’t want to make it look like we do. So, if you are interested in their service, Google them.
There a a few places in the world that you may not be able to get service through Google Fi, T-Mobile, or Airalo. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but just a few places where none of the services that we tried worked. Those places include American Samoa (not the Independent State of Samoa), New Caledonia, the Cook Islands, and Cuba. If you go to any of those places you may need to get a local SIM, rather than using one of the common sources for travelers.
Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
Is your video streaming service (which you pay for every month) not allowing you to see the next episode of that series you are only half way through because you traveled to another country? Is some authoritarian country not letting you see your Gmail because Google won’t comply with their requests to provide information on their users? Did your bank decide that you speak Japanese, when you never could before, because you arrived in Tokyo last night? Or, is you bank not letting you access their website because they don’t trust the source of the data?
If you are affected by any of these problems, they might be solved by installing and using a VPN. In the past VPNs were considered important for security, since they, among other things, encrypt the data traveling to and from your phone, computer, iPad, or other device. Since many security problems have been solved in other ways, VPNs are considered less important for those reasons, but there are many other reasons to use one.
There are many good VPN services out there and we would suggest paying for one. Many of them are less than $10/month and some less than $5/month. Why pay? As our favorite Tech Guy, Leo Laporte, says, you want to make sure that you are their customer. If they aren’t making money from you, they are getting it from someone else.
One good service is ExpressVPN. They reportedly have a strong dedication to privacy and advertise that they maintain servers in 94 countries. An agreement with them allows you to use their VPN on up to five devices simultaneously. However, they are among the more expensive services (around $10/month with special offers), and some companies don’t have any limit on the number of simultaneous connections. So do your own research and make your choice based on your own priorities.
Television and Movies
We have a habit of watching the syndicated game show Jeopardy! every night when we can and the CBS news show 60 Minutes on Sunday nights (or whenever we can see it following its broadcast on Sunday). When we had a home where we could record programs on a VCR, there was no problem.
But what do you do when you don’t have a house in which to leave equipment or have a cable contract? It is one of our general principles that we don’t want to rely on people who have homes for our needs. That is why we don’t have our mail delivered to any friends or family and never stay with friends or family, even if we are near them. What we can’t do without a fixed address, we don’t do.
A few months ago we found the answer to our broadcast television problem – USTVNOW.NET. To make use of this service you have to be in the U.S. military, a diplomat, or an expatriate. As people who spend 10 or 11 months outside the U.S. every year and have no home there, we comfortably qualify as expatriates.
With USTVNOW.NET, for a monthly charge of a little over $30, we have access to cable TV services from the northeastern U.S. and seven days of recorded programs from both local and national stations. So if you are dying to see the evening news from Altoona, Pennsylvania, NCAA Basketball on CBS, or Naked and Afraid on Discovery, sign up for the USTVNOW and 7-Days Catchup plans and you can watch all of that on your iPad or other streaming device for up to seven days after it airs on the east coast of the US. By the way, you may have different experiences on other devices, but we have found USTVNOW.NET to work best on an iPad using a DuckDuckGo browser.
For non-broadcast TV, for many years, we have used Netflix and Amazon Prime, which allow you to stream or record programs on your device. The ability to record programs comes in handy when you are in situations where you don’t have good wifi access or where streaming is not allowed, such as cruise ships. Note that for some services (but not USTVNOW.NET), you may need to use a VPN from time to time.
How do I get mail? What is my address?
We found that there are several services that deal with mail on a long-term basis. We chose Traveling Mailbox, which allows you to choose an address in quite a few cities. When a piece of mail arrives, they scan the envelope and send it to you in an email. You can have them open it, see what it is, and have them forward it to you or shred it, if you wish. If a physical item arrives that you must have, such as a new passport, you can instruct them to mail it to you anywhere in the world. It will cost you the going rate, but you don’t have to bother friends or family with receiving your mail and forwarding it. The cost is $25 per month for 100 incoming envelope scans per month, which includes 80 page scans.
Since you are paying for each envelope scan, you want to limit the number of items that are delivered. We worked hard to remove ourselves from all junk mail and advertising so that we aren’t charged for them. If you go over your monthly limit, you are charged per piece. We have been using Traveling Mailbox since we started living this lifestyle in early 2018, and so far, we have been very happy with the service.
Use credit cards that don’t charge Foreign Transaction Fees and always charge your expenses in local currency
Many credit cards will charge a foreign transaction fee for charges outside the United States (or online even if you are in the US). That fee is often around 3% and is charged even if the purchase is charged in dollars. If you are asked if you want the charges in local currency or dollars, always have it charged in local currency, or the credit card company may charge a conversion fee on top of the foreign transaction fee.
American Express, Chase, Capital One and others offer cards with no foreign transaction fee. Be sure to check the terms and conditions of each card before you use it for foreign purchases.
October 2019 Update
We like our Hilton American Express Card a great deal. It gives us many points we can use at our favorite hotel chain. It has wide acceptance in North America, the Pacific islands, Australia, and New Zealand. It is also accepted at many places in Asia. Europe is a different story. In Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria and Serbia, it has almost no acceptance. It gets a bit better as you move west. We found slightly better acceptance in Poland and Hungary, and a little better than that in Spain. But even in those countries the refusal rate was over 50%.
Often people operating the register would say that they would take it and would then find that their system would not accept it. So to simplify and speed up checkout we mostly began using MasterCard or Visa unless it was a large charge for which we really wanted to use AMEX, or if the vendor displayed the AMEX symbol.
In any case, do not travel internationally with just an AMEX Card unless you want to pay for many things with cash. MasterCards and Visas are mostly interchangeable (with just a few exceptions) and are accepted far more widely than AMEX. So always keep one of those handy.
Another thing to keep in mind if you have an American-based credit card is that it sometimes will not work at an automated purchasing station since technically, a signature is required. At times we have tried to get gas at non-attended gas stations and were unable to use our card at all. Other times when we attempted to use our card at fast food or movie ticket kiosks, we were forced to go to an attended station to pay.
We have also found new wrinkles in the local vs. US currency issue with regard to both credit cards and ATMs. First we will tackle credit cards.
Years ago, we only found credit card machines that would ask you clearly if you want to charge in US dollars or local currency (e.g., Euros), and you would choose which you wanted. Recently we have found machines that default to US dollars. It asks if you want to charge X amount in dollars, Yes or No. So it looks as if you say No, your charge will not go through. Since you want to pay the bill, your natural reaction is to just hit Yes.
Recently, although we were aware of this wrinkle in the scam, we were caught by it. We went to a restaurant one night and the waiter came to that screen and said, “in Euros?” We automatically hit yes without reading the screen. We immediately suspected what had happened when the 40.00 Euro charge came out to $46.42. The next night at the same restaurant we also had a tab of 40.00 Euros. This time we read the screen and hit No. The next screen indicated we had been charged $44.55. The nights were a Saturday and Sunday and the Euro/USD exchange rate had not changed. Normally the difference between those two types of charges are several dollars, not less than $2. So as our favorite consumer reporter, Clark Howard, would say, we were ripped off at a discount.
Speaking of being ripped off, another scam we have found is at ATM machines. Some of them will say something like, “This ATM offers conversion to your home currency.” If you are interested in reading more about this scam, Google Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC). In short, don’t do it. We have tracked what the cost would have been had we taken their “offer” and what we actually paid and in each case we would have paid more than $5 extra. For nothing. With all of these examples, making a mistake or being “caught” once, for a few dollars, isn’t a big deal when you travel. Since we travel 365 days per year, repeat instances of this can add up rather quickly.
June 2022 Update – more on the DCC scam
Due to Covid we hadn’t been traveling internationally for more than two years. In late April of 2022 we arrived in Rome, Italy, on a flight. We thought that since we were going to be in countries that used the Euro for a few months we might as well get some.
We went to an ATM machine in the airport to draw out €250 ($260). It asked if I wanted to do a conversion for an 18% fee and said our cost would be over $300. We withdrew the €250 without the conversion (AKA the DCC scam), and the cost to us was $268.53. Shortly thereafter our bank refunded the ATM fee, giving us a net cost of about $260 for a €250 withdrawal at that dayˋs exchange rate.
So the DCC scam is alive, well, and more expensive than ever.
Hotel Rewards Programs
Most major hotel chains offer rewards programs. You can do an online search and find many opinions about what the best one is, which gives you “the most bang for your buck,” and which gives you the most points per dollar. At first, we belonged to Hilton, Marriott, Starwood, Hyatt, IHG, Club Carlson, and Hotels.com, which in effect gives you 10 percent off all rooms, as you get a free night for every 10 you stay. However, if you are booking any of the major chains, you must do so on their website in order to get points. We have winnowed down our memberships to make our lives easier and less complicated, and now use only Hilton supplemented by Hotels.com when the need arises.
We prefer the Hilton Honors program over all others. We have attained a Diamond status with Hilton for the past three years. Hilton is very generous with its points, often giving Honors members bonus points for stays. The Hilton credit card gives extra points for different categories, depending on the card. And, of course, the more you stay at one brand, the more points that build up. We have received, and redeemed, millions of points by now, saving us many thousands of dollars per year. This year, we estimate our rewards are saving us between $10,000-20,000.
In 2017 we were in Ireland and the UK for 104 nights. We stayed at Hilton hotels whenever we could. Our overall record is startling: out of 104 nights, 60 were FREE on points. Another 20 were booked with points + cash (when you have some points to use, but not enough for a whole night), and the cash total for those nights was $39 per stay, per night. We only paid full price outright for 24 nights. Hilton’s most ubiquitous properties include Hilton, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, and Hampton Inn. As Diamond members, we receive free breakfast every morning, regardless of whether or not breakfast is usually included. We are entitled to a free upgrade if any are available; in the UK, we were upgraded to suites about half the time! Most of the time, checking in, we are given a gift as a thank you for being a Diamond member – snacks, water, soft drinks, cookies. And we have access to the Executive Lounge, if the hotel has one (usually only Hiltons and Doubletrees). In the Executive Lounge, soft drinks, coffee, tea, water, and snacks are available all day. In most, there is an evening reception that includes beer, wine, and hot hors d’oeuvres at a minimum. In an Executive Lounge in Dubai, there was always a soup, three entrees, salads, sandwiches, cheese and crackers, fruit, and eight different desserts. It is an exceptional value for being loyal to Hilton. In addition, we always know we will have a clean and beautiful room, a fitness center, pool, etc. We generally live fairly frugally, but a nice hotel is our one indulgence when it is the only home we will have for a few days or weeks.
One of the best things we have discovered as we book on Hilton, and what we do with any hotel brand, is to NEVER book a room that is nonrefundable, even though the price will be anywhere from $5 to $25 cheaper per night if you do so. The reason? As the time of your reservation gets closer, and rooms haven’t sold as robustly as the hotel would like, hotels start to lower their prices, lower even than that $5-25. So, 3 months out, a room can be changeable and refundable at, say, $150. A non-changeable, non-refundable room might be priced at $132. Who wouldn’t want an extra $18? But you are stuck with $132 no matter what. They will NOT let you change or cancel that reservation! Fast forward to 1 month prior to your stay. Rooms haven’t been moving well in this hotel. Now, a refundable room is $120. But you paid more. If you had booked at $150, you can simply make the new reservation at the lower rate and cancel the one for $150. Easy and perfectly legitimate. Just be sure to watch your dates! For some rooms, depending on the location and the brand, you cannot cancel if it is 2-7 days before your stay. So be aware of that. Yes, this takes a little managing, a little time to see what the rate is today (and sometimes it is higher), but judiciously checking and rebooking saves us around $350-500 per month. We don’t rebook if it will only save $5-10, but anything more than that is….dinner!
Inexpensive Cruises for Transportation Rather than Airlines
Cruises can be very expensive or very cost-effective. We have been on cruises just to cruise and see new places, but we have also used cruises as transportation. If you want to go to Europe and you have the time, Repositioning Cruises to the Mediterranean can be as cheap as $40 per night per person. We even saw one for $17 per night, from Costa Rica to Barcelona! Considering that modest hotels normally cost anywhere from $100-200, this is quite a savings. For $80 a night per couple, you are getting a cabin, transportation, food all day long, and entertainment throughout the day (movies, classes, lectures, trivia, gambling, games, and shows). Quite a deal. Some higher-end cruises are all-inclusive, meaning that alcohol (or at least beer and wine) is free. But if that isn’t so important to you, average-cost cruise lines like Holland America, Royal Caribbean, and Princess provide coffee, tea, lemonade, iced tea, and water for free. You can live quite well on a cruise ship if you don’t require lots of amenities.
We look at a website called vacationstogo.com for what cruises are available, often at least 2 years into the future. We don’t book there; we use a local travel agent who receives a commission from the cruise line but charges us nothing. To join, you just need to sign up at vacationstogo with an email address.
We travel with just a backpack filled with a few essentials. The shoes on our feet are the only shoes we take. (Shoes take up more room than almost anything else you pack.) You can always supplement your clothing or toiletries when you arrive at your destination. We always remember arriving by train in Budapest, where we had to change trains. We arrived in Track 6, and our next train was on Track 1 and leaving in 3 minutes. There are no elevators or escalators, of course. We put on our backpacks, raced down the stairs, through the corridor, and up the stairs to Track 1. We made it with 10 seconds to spare. Others on our train who had huge suitcases with wheels never made it. We pulled out as they were clunking their suitcases down the first set of stairs. It reinforced for us how advantageous it was to carry our luggage on our backs.
We only take two pairs of pants, 3-4 shirts, and a few pair of underwear/socks/bras. We wash out our socks and underwear in the hotel sink every night and hang them to dry. If your clothing is plain and simple, nobody notices if you wear the same items three times in a week. And even if they did….nobody cares. Please yourself. We also take no “dressy” clothing or shoes, no heels, ties, suit coats, or pantyhose. We always pack to be comfortable. This does mean that we won’t eat in the “finest” restaurants, nor will we be admitted into the top casinos in Monte Carlo. But with the help of other travelers on Yelp and TripAdvisor, we also rarely have a bad meal. We eat in casual restaurants that don’t have dress codes. We can always find salads and interesting local dishes.
Since it is hard to always find the supplements we take in foreign countries, we take them with us. Usually, supplements and our prescriptions are the single heaviest and biggest item we carry. We remember one travel expert saying, “Nobody has ever returned from a trip saying, ‘I should have packed MORE!'”
Many years ago, we both started traveling with just a small over-the-neck pack, or wallet, that we placed under our shirts and then tucked into our pants. It is very effective for keeping your valuables safe and out of sight, foiling pickpockets. Pickpockets are always looking for travelers who look a little clueless and carry a purse, or have a bulging wallet in unzippered pockets. So…guess what? With all of our downsizing, and subsequent freedom, we both realized that an under-the-shirt pack is just too much. We have “graduated” to buying zippered travel pants and carrying our valuables in our pockets. It does feel weird, for Jan, to have no sort of purse, just to walk free. But her pockets hold folding glasses, lipstick, ID, and a credit card….all that is needed to get by when just walking around. For Mike, getting rid of the bulging pack under shirts is a relief. The less we have, the less we want. Freedom comes with simplicity.
We were at a concert the other night, and the woman in front of me needed to refresh her lipstick. Rather than pulling out a compact or mirror, she pulled up her phone’s camera, put it on the Selfie setting, and looked at her face to apply lipstick. Genius! Another item out of Jan’s pocket!
The policies on visas for various countries are readily available online with a simple search. Most countries will allow Americans to visit for 3 months before you must leave for 3 months to “reset” the clock and return. The exceptions are Canada, UK, and some South American countries, where you can stay for 6 months before needing to leave. In Chile, you need to leave for just one day (to a neighboring country) to reset the clock, and you can stay another 3 months. In Peru, there is an open door policy; you can stay for 183 days without a visa.
In Europe, be careful. Countries that have signed the Schengen Agreement as to travel reciprocity between them (which means that you can cross borders without showing a passport) makes it pleasant to travel freely. But, it also means that these 26 countries are considered as a single entity, and you can only stay for 3 months in all of them combined.
Health Insurance and Prescriptions
In general, your health insurance will likely reimburse you if you have an emergency medical incident in another country, but cannot be used for routine checkups or blood tests. You may have to pay for them out of pocket, but the good news is that medical appointments cost less in other countries than in the US.
If your doctor wants you to have blood tests while you are in the US, an excellent and inexpensive site is Walkinlab.com. Once you order and pay for a test, the site sends you a doctor’s order to take to a blood lab. Usually, you receive the results the next day. You can then hit a link to send it to your physician.
For prescriptions, pharmacies can only give you the quantity prescribed, even if you are paying out of pocket. For example, if the prescription is written for a 3-month supply with three refills, a pharmacy can only give you 3 months at a time. And generally, a healthcare plan will not pay for more than 3 months at a time. So, the solution is fairly inexpensive if your medications are generic and you pay out of pocket. If your doctor is on board with your travels, s/he can write you a prescription for 365 pills. Take it to Costco or a similar big-box store with a pharmacy. Our prescriptions – for one year – ranged from $32 to $101. The $32 prescription was one for which my healthcare plan charged me a $15 copay, 4 times per year. In other words, on that one prescription, my plan MADE $28 on me, and probably more, as they don’t pay the same prices that ordinary people do.
For dental work, our dentists were as supportive as our primary physicians. They supplied us with digital copies of our x-rays so that we don’t have to have another set taken in an emergency. We can get routine cleanings done wherever we are in the world, and have our x-rays if required.
Learn to Live Online
One of the things that you need to learn is how to live paperless. We completed our income taxes for the first time while traveling without using a single piece of paper.
In 2018 we sold our house, made dozens of stock and other investment trades, and rolled over some accounts to different brokerage firms. As we generated paperwork, mostly with regard to the home sale, we photographed the pages, which were uploaded to multiple sites for backup, then we destroyed the originals. We made notes about them on Google Docs and recorded the numbers on spreadsheets kept on Google Sheets (all of which are also saved online, of course).
As we started receiving tax statements, we recorded the numbers on our spreadsheets and made notes on where we could find them. None of them arrived as paper to us. Some were sent to our Traveling Mailbox, where we had them shred the originals and just left the scanned copies online. Some were available online at the account that generated them. We were missing one 1099, as the brokerage company was taken over by another. We had rolled over that account to yet a third brokerage, so somehow we were never sent the statement by the second firm. We called them and they were gracious enough to give us temporary access to our closed account to download the 1099.
We did our taxes online using TurboTax, which was able to download much of our information from our accounts directly into our online 1040. Between that, the forms we accessed online ourselves from some accounts, images of forms on Traveling Mailbox, and photos we had previously taken and uploaded, we were able to complete our federal and state taxes without using a single piece of paper that we would have had to carry with us.
We owed some money to both the U.S. Government and the State of California. We paid the federal taxes with a credit card (for which they charged a small fee, of course). Fortunately, though, they take AMEX, for which we get hotel points. California isn’t that advanced, so we had to have our checking account debited for that amount, all of which was also done paperless and online. And, we completed our first traveling year’s taxes and filed them from Malaysia!…that is how flexible working online is from anywhere in the world.
Every once in a while we need to generate hard copies of forms for some purpose or another, which we have to scan, fax, or mail, but those occasions are few and far between. When we do we usually destroy the originals and travel as paperless as possible. It takes a little work, but it can be done and it is worth it to keep traveling as light as possible.
Outside of taxes and forms, we also do all of our banking online, on iPads. We make all of our hotel and airline reservations on iPads and watch movies and television online only. The vast majority of our communication with others is done either on email or through texting…rarely through phone calls. Most of our world news comes to us online, as we rarely use or look at the televisions in our hotels or ship cabins (they are great for leaving on all day, getting warm, and used as a “dryer” for socks!). We have newspaper apps and magazine apps installed; we download and read online books…anything to reduce the load we carry in our small backpacks as we travel the world.
Use Ride-Sharing Services
Many taxi drivers are honest, forthright, and hard-working individuals, and some day we will come across one of them.
We are just kidding, but trying to make a point. We have had many problems with taxi drivers in many countries, but we haven’t yet had a problem with ride-sharing services. We have had trouble getting taxi drivers to use the meter (refer to our Day 560 blog entry), overcharging, refusing to return change, or begging for tips.
Different ride-sharing services are available in different countries. Some countries (or local jurisdictions) don’t allow the services at all or put constraints on them. In the United States and Europe we have used Uber extensively, and in many Asian countries we have used Grab, which is based in Singapore.
Both services allow you to register a credit card and both have their own app. By using their app you can call a car to your location and put in the destination. They tell you upfront how much it is going to cost you and provide you with a description of the car and driver who will be picking you up, including the license plate number.
A few minutes later the car will pull up and you jump in. Often the drivers speak little or no English (or whatever other language you might speak), but that has never been an impediment to us. You know who they are, they know who you are, and they know where you want to go. When you arrive you just get out and walk away, with money not even being discussed. Usually right after that a message will pop up on the app asking if you want to rate the driver and leave a comment or compliment (and in some countries if you want to leave a tip). You don’t have to do either if you don’t want. You will never hear from that driver again, except in the unlikely circumstance that you end up with the same driver on two different rides. So don’t worry about leaving a tip unless you really want to.
We have never given a driver less than a 5 out of 5 rating and even in non-tipping societies we usually tip a little if given the opportunity. We do so because, although the cost of a ride-sharing service is usually lower than a taxi, that is not our primary reason for using them. The more important reasons are that there is a lower chance of any potential hassle than a taxi and an infinitely smaller chance of being taken advantage of. So by tipping, we want to support and encourage the service to continue.
As mentioned, because of the undue influence of taxi unions on politicians, some ride- sharing services can’t pick you up at certain places. In Cambodia we had to walk out of the airport to meet our Grab tuk tuk (essentially a motorcycle with a car body and enclosed back seat). Refer to blog entry Day 522.
In Bali we had to walk up to the third floor of the parking structure at the airport to meet our Grab car, as he wasn’t technically supposed to make pickups at the airport. By the way, while we were trying to make the connection with that driver we had several taxi drivers aggressively harassing us to use them and saying that they would match Grab’s price….yet another thing we hate about taxis. We later read online that people who changed from Grab to a taxi, supposedly for the same price, were told halfway to their destination that the quoted price was for one person only; everyone else in the cab had to pay the same amount!
Even if you are at a place where ride-sharing pickups are allowed, one major tip we can suggest is to find a specific business where you can locate yourself. If you are at large bus station, for instance, you may have a hard time finding each other, as there are often multiple entrances and exits. And when “where you are” is in Japanese or Thai script, you really can’t do much. It is probably best to walk across the street and give your location as a named restaurant, clothing store, hotel, etc., and wait there. Once you make the connection you are on your way to your destination.
Electricity Outside the United States
One of our favorite travel writers, Rick Steves, gives a good rundown on this subject, focusing mainly on Europe, so we will just give you the link to his article and fill in with a few details:
These are the Type C two-prong adapters you need throughout most of Europe:
You should be able to buy half a dozen for about $10. Don’t get anything fancier because they may not fit in the socket. We have also found these to come in handy on cruise ships, as some cabins may have just one or two American-style outlets and a few of this type.
These are the Type G adapters used in the UK, some current or former UK territories or places where the UK has had historical influence, such as the UAE (and also some British ships – e.g., Cunard ocean liners):
An American style plug just plugs into the two bottom holes, where it looks like they would. Ignore the other holes. As above, you should be able to get several for about $10.
These are the Swiss Type J adapters:
Like the others, you should be able to get a few for about $10 or so. Since Switzerland is surrounded by countries that use the Type C European adapter, you may find your Swiss hotel room supplied with that type of outlet as well as this one. So, unless you will be spending a lot of time in Switzerland, this is the one you are least likely to need.
In addition to adapters, you my want to bring along a USB charging hub:
If you have several devices that charge by USB, you will find it extremely helpful, both inside the US and elsewhere.
Another thing that we have found to be helpful is a simple American two-prong extension cord. Outlets on ships and in hotel rooms are often in inconvenient places. It is great to be able to have your power where you want it.
We have also found that adapters can be borrowed from a hotel’s front desk. In fact, one hotel in Italy recently pulled out a large box of adapters that had been left in rooms, gave us one, and told us to keep it!
Take a Portable Power Bank (or two)
As we are sitting on ships and in hotel lobbies using our iPads for hours at a time, we are often asked what the black boxes are that are attached to the iPad. Those are portable power banks. It is not always easy or possible to find a plug where we are using our devices, and we often use them nearly all day. We always travel with two power banks to keep them charged. They will work for cell phones, wireless headphones, or most anything else that can be charged through a USB port.
You can usually buy them for about $30 or less. We try to get ones that have only USB-A and USB-C connections. That way you only need a single USB-A to USB-C cord to both charge and use it. In other words, you plug the USB-A end of the cord into a wall socket or charging hub (see section above) and the USB-C end into the power hub to charge it. Then to use the power hub you plug the USB-A end of the cord into it and the USB-C end into the device you are charging.
It is common for the batteries to show a percentage of charge remaining while charging or discharging. Note that the airlines (and their government administrators) have size limitations for power banks to be carried onto an aircraft due to concerns for fire. The most common limitation is 27,000 milliampere-hours (mAh). We would suggest that you not buy one exceeding that size if you plan to carry it on a plane. Soon after those rules first went into effect, we were boarding a flight with a substantially larger one and had to discard it (as we never check our backpacks). We have generally found 27,000 mAh to be sufficient for our needs, even for a large screen iPad Pro, which uses a lot of power.
The first photo below shows the last three power banks we have bought. The middle one is an IXNINE brand, which is available on Amazon for about $20. The two on either side of it are another brand, which are not available on Amazon at the time of writing, but are shown as examples. The second photo below is a mophie brand USB-A to USB-C wire, which we have found to consistently charge iPads, unlike other brands of wires.
If you have traveled much in Europe and throughout the rest of the world, you know that hotel rooms and gyms are eclectic with regard to temperature control.
I (Mike) was born and raised in Southern California near the coast, where there are no seasons. So I was shocked when I started traveling around Europe and found that many hotels turn their air conditioners off in the winter and their heaters off during the summer. Sometimes it is because they are of older construction and they have boilers that they need to keep fired for heat, but often I think it is just tradition. In addition, a fact which eludes explanation, is that European buildings rarely have screens on their windows, so one is discouraged to leave windows open at night.
What do when you are trying to get a good nightˋs sleep in October and the hotel has turned off the A/C for the summer, or doesn’t have A/C at all? You pull your USB fans out of your backpack and plug them in to the wall, USB extension cord, or charging station, and enjoy at least a little air circulation to take the edge off.
If you have looked at our blog much you know that we travel very light; therefore, anything we carry must earn its keep. These little fans put out enough air that it is worth it to us to carry two of them. This one is available on Amazon, usually for $10 to $12. They are light and minimalist in that they don’t have anything extra such as a blade guard nor even an on/off switch. We keep them in their original packaging so as not to destroy the fan blades.
We use them in our room and in the gym. They provide a nice little boost, just enough to not feel overheated. You can plug them into a power bank and sit them on an elliptical or exercise bike.
Garmin GPS Locator
We purchased a Garmin inReach Explorer+, which is a handheld GPS locator with topo maps and two-way communication. The internal GPS receiver provides location and tracking data within 15 feet. The unit is small and looks like an old cell phone. But it is rugged and water-resistant, with a rechargeable lithium battery that will last up to 100 hours in tracking mode.
It cost about $400, but after watching many survival shows, and movies like 127 Hours (where James Franco cuts off his arm to free himself after a fall while hiking alone), we wanted the security of being able to be rescued should we ever need it. We purchased a contract with this device for $25 per month so that we can use its SOS button in case of an emergency. When deployed, local authorities with rescue responsibility for a particular country or area will determine where you are and will send emergency vehicles and personnel to extract you. We hope we will never need to use it, but it does give us some peace of mind.