And then we came to the end (Part 2) – the last post.

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!

And then we came to the end (Part 1)

Where do I begin to end this story?

We’ve been traveling for nine months out of a single suitcase. I’ve been wearing the same two pairs of jeans, the same two pairs of shoes, and yes, the same five pairs of underwear. We’ve slept in 69 different beds (if you also include airplane and bus seats as beds). We really miss our dogs and our cat, our cute new apartment in San Francisco, and especially our friends and family. And of course we miss our daughter, although we would have missed her just as much if we had stayed home, seeing as how she went off to college.

With all that, we’re not the least bit ready to be home. But here we are.

A number of people wrote me at the beginning of this adventure to say that they couldn’t imagine spending nine months in such close quarters with their significant other without killing each other or running out of things to say, or both. I’m happy to report that this didn’t happen to us. Oh, yes, we bickered once in a while, mostly about really stupid stuff (we once had an argument about how to zip up a suitcase), but we are unquestionably as close as we’ve ever been. During the past nine months, we always had something to talk about. Often it was about where we’ve just been or where we were about to go, but just as often we talked about the future and all the fun we still have in store for us. We talked about our daughter and our twenty seven years together.

We reminded ourselves how we’ve always taken risks. We quit our jobs in Hollywood and went back to school. We moved to Japan and then DC and then back to California. We quit our jobs again, sold our house, and went on a world tour because it sounded exciting and because it was the sort of thing people only talk about doing. We’ve reinvented ourselves four or five times, and we’re about to do it again.

More than anything, though, we’ve had fun. Lots and lots of fun, and we’re both sad to see this little escapade come to an end, because it’s been just magical. People have said that it was brave to do what we’ve done, but I’m not so sure. I think it’s a little more like eating dessert first. It’s unconventional, but I don’t think there will be any lasting negative side effects. I also think that there is room in almost anyone’s life to eat dessert first. Obviously, a trip like this may not be in the cards for everyone, but you might be surprised to learn what you’re capable of.

I’ll be very curious to discover what life will be like when we reenter society. Will we slip right back into the old rhythms and the old grind? Somehow I doubt it. Will we want to settle down and sleep in the same bed for a while? Maybe for just a little while, although believe it or not, we’re already starting to think about when we can do it again.

And now, since you asked, here’s a pile of facts and figures:

Days away from home: 270

Countries visited: 17

Continents: 5

Miles traveled: 68,864 (give or take)

Flights: 37

Number of Airbnb apartments: 21

Nights in those apartments, surrounded by all that Ikea furniture: 123

City with the fastest internet: Budapest (30.69 megabits per second – the first thing I would do when we checked in somewhere was run an internet speed test using Ookla)

Hotels: 28

Nights spent in friends’ apartments: 57

Nights spent in an RV: 17

Nights spent on overnight planes or buses: 9

Nights spent in a hut in the African bush: 3

Next time: A long list of things we learned, stuff we couldn’t do without, and a very brief recap of highlights.

London and environs – Mr. Elgin, give back those marbles!

I have always wanted to visit the British Museum in London, but that was before I knew how much the place resembled an evidence locker. Herewith I offer a vituperative rant.

We went to the British Museum to visit a nice variety of artifacts that were missing from the Parthenon and various sites in Egypt, among other places. Perhaps the most famous of the plundered loot at the British Museum are the so-called “Elgin Marbles.” I’ve always thought this was a dumb name. I have images of Lord Elgin in his short pants kneeling over a circle in the sand shooting aggies and cat’s eyes with his kindergarten chums. But no, the “marbles” are massive marble sculptures that were removed from the Parthenon at the turn of the 19th century. Extremely dedicated readers of this blog will remember that we visited the Parthenon last year and that I suggested that perhaps it was time for the museum to give back the stuff that Elgin took.

Britain claims that Elgin procured the stuff fair and square – he was given permission to appropriate the sculptures by the government in charge. The problem is that the government in charge at the time was made up of conquering Turks, not actual Greeks, and allowing Elgin to cart off Greece’s cultural heritage was the equivalent of selling Big Ben off the back of a truck.

There’s a display exhibit that offers a tepid defense for the theft. First, they say that removing the sculptures protected them from damage due to poor air quality and other environmental hazards. Is the UK going to invade China and remove the Great Wall because Beijing smog is bad? Next, they say that presenting the sculptures at ground level, as they do in the museum, is better than having to stare up at them at the Parthenon. I don’t buy it. Finally, they say that having the sculptures divided between the Acropolis Museum in Athens and the British Museum in London provides visitors with multiple perspectives on the works. Please. Each one of these arguments is worse than the one before. Using their logic we should cut down Big Ben and send half of it to New York and display it on the sidewalk somewhere so everyone can see it up close.

We also had the pleasure of seeing much of what was missing at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor, including the head of a decapitated sculpture whose body we visited in Egypt. Raise your hand if you don’t think the head and the body should be reunited. Oh, and we saw the Rosetta Stone. The Rosetta Stone! Give that back!

We saw the headless body in Egypt. I say we reunite them.

We saw the headless body in Egypt. I say we reunite them.

Okay, I’m done with my rant. It would be more honest if they said that they stole the stuff fair and square and they’re not giving it back, rather than insult people’s intelligence by pretending to use reason and logic. I feel better now…well…not really.

On to less controversial London-area experiences.

We’ve been to London many times, but we’d never ventured too far from the city center. Our daughter’s new roommate’s parents Anthony and Allison live in Cambridge (from which they both graduated), and they invited us up for an utterly charming day. (By the way, our kid is now an official New York City apartment dweller – your donations or just your pity are most welcome.) It’s only about forty five minutes from London’s King’s Cross station, but a visit to Cambridge is a trip waaaay back in time. The university dates back to 1209 and it feels like a movie set. Of course there were smart-looking students doing their thing, but there were also distinguished-looking ladies and gentlemen of a certain age wandering about, some of them even wearing robes. These folks take their education seriously. The architecture isn’t bad either. Anthony treated us to a great lunch and then walked us around campus, where he pointed out a number of the great architect Christopher Wren’s buildings, including the library at Trinity College, Anthony’s alma mater. To top it all off, there’s a charming little river running through it, and you can sit in a boat and be paddled along by a student gondolier.

The lovely River Cam running through Cambridge.

The lovely River Cam running through Cambridge.

After a mid-afternoon tea shop interlude, we headed off to what’s called an “evensong” service at the extraordinary fifteenth century King’s College Chapel, in which the program was almost entirely sung. It was kind of like an ecclesiastical Les Miz. Actually, it was like the kid’s version, because there was a choir of prepubescent boys, sounding like dozens of pan flutes, rising seven stories up into the largest fan vault cathedral in the world. Zamfir would be proud.

This may be the thing I like best about England – it’s so very English, and it’s old but functional. You can wander into a three hundred year-old pub, a six hundred year-old chapel, or an eight hundred year-old university and my guess is that a time traveler wouldn’t get lost. If they would just give every else’s old stuff back, the place would be damn near perfect.