Year One On The Road: Lessons Learned

Year One On The Road: Lessons Learned

It’s hard to believe it has been a whole year since we (Bonnie and George) sold our home in Southern California (along with almost everything we owned) and hit the road. Since then we have traveled to 13 countries (some more than once) slept/stayed in 28 different cities and logged more than 50,000 air miles.

During that time, we have learned a few tips and tricks that we are happy to share with others. Hopefully they will come in handy whether you are a road warrior or just an occasional traveler. If you have other tips, or tricks, you’d like to share, please add them in the comments below.

Take only what you will use or can’t get easily at your destination:
Now more than ever, travel cost is affected by the number of bags you take and the weight of those bags. We have our global travel kit honed down to a total of six items. Each of us has a 20 kilo roller bag that can double as a backpack, a small backpack to carry or for day trips, and an instrument case.

We both carry a “luxury item” in our roller bags. For Bonnie it is a rolled canvas set of kitchen tools including chef’s knives, a whisk, spatula etc. Bonnie cooks nearly everywhere we go, and there is nothing more frustrating for her than a dull kitchen knife. For George it is a small foldable 120 piece tool set, with extras like duct tape and zip ties. In the last year he has rewired small appliances, replaced a kitchen faucet, repaired locks and tightened countless handles of pots and pans.

There are some travel days when we question the value of lugging our instruments in their hard travel cases, but there has never been a week during the year we have not played music.  The instruments provide us with a sense of constancy in an otherwise turbulent world. We also know from previous travel experience if George went to long with out a guitar, he would go out and buy one locally.

On the other hand; there are things we have purged along with way, like shoes, both of us are down to one pair of Suavs, everyday shoes which can be thrown in the washing machine when they need it, a pair of flip flops and a pair of beach shoes (many of the beaches around the world are made up of sharp rocks/shells or blazing hot sand).
Pro Tip: Put dryer sheets in your shoes when they are not being worn to keep them fresh

In short: if you are not positive you will use it… leave it at home.

Travel Electronics:
Electronics these days are small light and powerful. We have compiled a set of sites and apps that allow us to read books, watch movies/TV, do our banking, blog and stay in touch. at the core of our gear is an iPhone and iPad each. We also carry the obligatory chargers, earphones and cable accessories. One of the best things we have found and use constantly now is an adapter that goes from lightening to HDMI. This little goodie allows us to stream music and videos from our apple devices to any monitor that has a HDMI adapter. We streamed The Rocky Horror Picture show to a large wall-mounted TV in Transylvania, we showed karaoke style music lyrics for a sing along in England and we have watched all seven seasons of the great British Baking Show on screens around the globe.

One more hint, most travel sized devices are powered and/or charged via USB. Invest in a USB hub and you won’t need to worry about multiple power adapters for every country you are in, just one for the hub.

Low Priced Flights are Not Always Cheaper in the Long Run
We previously mentioned that we have a total of 6 bags, only two of which are typical carry-ons. In many cases we find that it can be cheaper overall to pay more for a larger carrier airline that includes a baggage allowance (usually either 20 or 23 kilos per person). But, in some cases, the cheap flights plus the extra fees for baggage are a better deal as long as you book your extra baggage online prior to arriving at the airport. Speaking of which, if you are traveling with a discount airline, always print your boarding pass and bring it with you, believe it or not, will charge for printing your pass, and many airlines charge a much higher premium for bags not booked in advance.

Credit Cards and Airline Point Programs
We cancelled all our other credit cards and got a single VISA card (many places around the world do not take American Express). We chose our Visa card very carefully to make sure it included excellent services for travelers, we use the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. It costs about $400 per year, but each year we get an annual $300 travel bonus (we get an immediate credit for the first $300 of travel related expenses). They also have an amazing point system that awards triple points for all travel related expenses, no foreign transaction fees and no ATM fees (if we are charged one anywhere in the world, Chase credits it back). It goes without saying that it is best to pay the total balance every month and avoid any finance charges or interest fees.

By having only one card and using it for everything we can (we try never to pay cash if we can help it) we rack up thousands of points each month. These can be used to book discounted flights, hotels and other services through the Chase travel program. The same holds true for Airline points programs. Leverage airline alliances to combine points whenever possible.

Be Nice to The Airline Staff
It has always boggled us to see people get huffy or be rude to the people at airline check in desks, especially given that these people have the ability impact your trip. A cheery smile, a kind word or a sympathetic comment about someone who was not nice to the attendant goes a long way. During our year, a polite rapport with airline check-in staff has saved us hundreds of dollars. Little things add up, a bag that weight just a little bit over the 20 kilo limit can be ignored. The guitar in the hard case can be checked into the hold or gate checked at no extra cost. Seat upgrades, being booked into a three seat with no one in the middle, exit row aisles or just being able to sit together are all at the discretion of the check in person or gate agent. Be nice to them, and (almost every time) they will be nice to you.

One of our other tricks is to purchase a nice box of chocolates to be presented to the member of the flight crew that greets you as you board the plane. Flight attendants work hard, get lots of hassle and very little recognition. A box of chocolates and a kind word (both of which can cost you less than ten dollars) can put a smile on the entire flight teams faces. Over the year we have really enjoyed thanks, smiles and sometime extra perks awarded to us by the flight teams

When Booking a Room, Look at Detail
Whether you are booking a hotel room, Airbnb or something else, check the details. If it is a hot area, does the place have air conditioning? Is it on the ground floor, is there an elevator (or lift as they say in England). What area of town is the place in, will you feel safe? How were the reviews from previous travelers? Does the quoted price include all extras like water, power and internet? Each one of these questions are based on lessons we learned the hard way this year.

Research Your Travel in Advance
There are so many fiddly little rules that can catch you by surprise. Just a few examples include: groups of countries and that band together and limit the amount of days you can spend in them in total (a great example is the Schengen region of Western Europe). If you want to stay more that 90 days in Thailand, you must organize a visa from within your home country. When you travel into Malaysia, you need to have proof that you have booked your tickets out of the country. If you fly to Australia to have to apply for a tourist visa online prior to your travel date.

House Sitting Works Great
House sitting is an amazing way to live like a local, get a pet fix and save a lot of money. We have been using Trusted House Sitters and are really pleased with them. We already have more than 140 nights of free stays booked in Australia, Costa Rica and Mexico for next year. That adds up to thousands of dollars in savings. Pro tip, the better your reviews, the more bookings you get. Be a great house sitter, rack up good reviews and watch how much easier it becomes to snag the choice opportunities. I know this sounds like a no-brainer but we have heard some real horror stories from home owners.

We are still ‘learning as we go’ but after a full year of travel we are feeling confident that we can handle pretty much anything the road has to throw at us.

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