As I wind down this blog, it occurs to me that, as a public service, I might recap some of the things we learned for those of you who might attempt a similar endeavor someday.
For example, here are some of the things I couldn’t do without:
My goofy Scottevest jacket with the 26 pockets. For the first time in my life, I always knew where my passport was. It also had one really deep pocket that could hold a wine bottle, a laptop, and an ipad all at once, (although I looked a little like the Elephant Man when I did that). It had a little lanyard in the right pocket to which I attached our front door key. It had an eyeglass cleaning cloth on a string with a map of all the jacket’s pockets on it, in case I forgot a few. It was ugly, but it was my faithful and helpful friend.
A Schwab checking account, which comes with a no-fee, no-transaction ATM card. That’s right – we were able to get money anywhere in the world with absolutely no fees whatsoever. If a foreign bank charged a fee, Schwab would refund it. That probably saved us $1000 over the course of the trip. Talk to Chuck.
Frequent flier miles from United. Of the 63796 air miles we traveled, 41638 of them were free, using miles. For some of the long haul flights we used extra miles for business class, which I would never, ever, ever do if I was paying with real money. I have no idea how much money we saved, but it was a lot.
Traveler’s mailbox. This is a service that scanned and opened our mail for us. They even deposited checks for me. It worked great until the United States Postal Service messed up our forwarding address, and we pretty much haven’t gotten any mail for the last two months. I’ve been too lazy to do anything about it, figuring that most of the big items have been taken care of, although there lurks in the back of my soul a low grade fear that I have missed something important.
Our little kitchen kit. Over the months we’ve acquired a tidy little spice cabinet that we haul from place to place in a big ziplock bag. It includes salt and pepper, cayenne, emergency Nescafe packets, tea bags, smoked pepper (called pimenton, which we got in Argentina), coffee filters, and all manner of other culinary flotsam and jetsam. Far too many Airbnb apartments have nothing at all in the cupboard, which makes me crazy. Having a spice bag made me just a little less crazy.
Uber. Uber is great. It’s invariably cheaper and better than just about any cab (although in places like Cairo or Bangkok it would be entirely unnecessary because cabs are basically free), they charge your card directly, and you don’t have to mess with a tip. Yay, Uber!
Airbnb. After our first hellish Airbnb experience in New York, things settled down quite a bit. Most of our apartments were just fine and several, like in Melbourne, Athens, Prague, Siracusa, and of course, our houseboat on the Nile, were really fabulous. They’re almost always cheaper than a hotel, and you get much more room, a place to cook, and often even a chance to do laundry. The average cost was about $110 a night. If you factor in both fancy pants safari lodges and free nights at friends’ houses, our average daily housing cost was $91.
T-Mobile. Before we left, we switched to T-Mobile, because they offer free international calling, internet, and text. In the entire trip, the only country in which I had to buy a SIM card was Myanmar, and that was about five bucks.
Google Maps. I’ve mentioned this, but with the exception of being sent down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere in South Africa (although my navigator might have played a role in this), Google Maps was extraordinary, especially when it integrated public transit into the journey, which it was able to do in almost every city we visited (except, inexplicably, Melbourne). You can put pins in restaurants and tourist sites on your laptop and they magically appear on your phone. Then you can point to a pin on your phone and Google Maps will show you how to drive, walk, or take a bus or a subway there, and it will tell you how much time it will take. How did marriages last before Google Maps?
Virtual private networks. They allow you to fool Pandora and Netflix into thinking that your computer is in the United States (or anywhere else, for that matter). There are dozens of VPN programs out there, but I used Hola and Hotspot Shield, which allowed us to binge watch The Borgia (the bad one, not the good one with Jeremy Irons). Also, I was able to use a VPN to open my Schwab account from Egypt.
Ziplok bags, rubber bands, and plastic flasks. These little petroleum-based delights saved us a million and one times. You can’t imagine how many times you need a ziplok to hold papers or receipts or food items, or, well, rubber bands and plastic flasks. Rubber bands are just endlessly useful. They’re great for cords, bags of coffee, and for corralling any number of other things. I bought a bag of them at a stationary store in Istanbul. The clerk looked at me a little funny, but it was worth it. It was also about the only haggle-free shopping experience in Istanbul, which was something to treasure. We bought two plastic flasks at a travel store in Sydney. They stay sealed, they store flat, and they don’t seem to excite the x-ray people at the airport (don’t tell!). So if we had leftover hootch and we weren’t checking bags, we would distribute the illicit liquid between the two vessels to improve our chances. I only had to pour out a small bit of scotch once.
Duty Free Shops – Before he started Atlantic Philanthropies, Chuck Feeney, bless him, started the Duty Free Shops. Upon leaving a country, you can unload all your leftover currency, pay for the rest with a credit card, and stock up on very inexpensive gin, which you then transfer to your plastic flasks.
A portable speaker. With Wifi, VPN, Pandora, and a portable speaker, you can set the mood anywhere.
The first thing people ask us, every single time, is what was our favorite destination, which is impossible to answer. I’m a pleaser, though, so here’s an attempt at an answer. If I had to name the top five or six experiences, I’d start with the lion cubs in Kruger, which made me realize how big the world really is, but also how small. The amazing thing was that the day after we saw giraffes and hippos in South Africa, we were toddling along in our RV in New Zealand. After that, I’d toss in helicoptering up to the Franz Joseph Glacier in New Zealand, floating over Capadoccia, Turkey in a hot air balloon, seeing the Temple at Karnak in Luxor, Egypt, watching the penguins waddle ashore on Phillip Island near Melboure, Australia, and sipping a scotch by the fire in the 12th century castle Traquair House in Scotland. There were many, many more magical experiences, not to mention all the really fun people we spent time with. i could easily come up with a second set of five great things, and a third, and a fourth.
Our best meals? That’s another tough question, but right off I’d say Peter Lugar in Brooklyn (which almost doesn’t count), Saint Crispin in Melbourne, Kakinuma in Kyoto, Fratelli Burgio in Siracusa, Sicily, Soul Food Manhanakorn in Bangkok, and Timberyard in Edinburgh, with an honorable mention to the best sixty seven cents I’ve spent in my life at the koshary place in Cairo (I never did get the name. By the way, there’s a great koshary shop in Covent Garden in London called Koshary Street. If I closed my eyes, I’d swear I was back in Egypt. If you’re in London, go there. If I had any sense at all I’d open a chain of them in San Francisco, LA, and New York and I’d helpers just to count the money. Delicious, healthy, and cheap – what could be better?)
There’s more, lots more, but I think I’ve hit the high points. Once we got into a groove, we traveled with amazing aplomb. Each new place was an adventure, full of unexpected wonders and very little, if any, heartache. I’ve never had so much fun in my life, by a long shot. I think Janine would say the same. I am a lucky man indeed to have such a wonderful wife.
Have I left anything out? Do you have questions? Feel free to send me an email or post questions in the comments area and I’ll try to answer them while I can still remember any of it.
Finally, thanks for reading, friends. It’s been a wonderful journey, made all the more rich by being able to share it with people I love through these pages. I’ve really enjoyed your comments, your encouragement, and your friendship. I hope you’ve had fun too. See you at the Turkish bath!