Travel Desires Overcome By Too Many Possessions?

Do your possessions get in the way of your travel desires? Do you have to cancel or change your travel plans because there is no one to watch your “stuff” while you will be gone? Is it because of a pet (a dog, cat or other living creature)? Or is a business keeping you shackled to a desk or storefront? Maybe you are involved in too many activities (bowling league, cub scouts, soccer practice, etc.). Or have you committed to running a marathon or training for some big event? If you said yes to any of these things, then you are not so different from most people. Life can be a constant struggle to accumulate and hang onto things. You’ve heard the old adage “the person who dies with the most toys, wins?” I’m here to tell you that ending up with a lot of toys as you get older becomes a burden, and severely restricts your mobility. If you want to be able to pick and go, then having a lot of possessions becomes a hindrance that frustrates any ideas of medium to long term travel that you may have.

“I find myself surrounded with so many obstacles to the travel freedom I crave.”

Here I am at the point in my life that should be my time. Time for my wife and me to have the freedom to hit the road and enjoy seeing the world. A time to get away from all those things that kept me busy and tied down in the past. The freedom to wake up in some far-off, foreign land and have nothing to do that day. Nothing at all…

But, reality strikes. I own a home. I have a storefront business. My garage has become a warehouse for all the “stuff” we’ve accumulated over the past 30 years. It’s discouraging to think that I’ve assembled the mass of possessions that will ultimately be a hindrance to the wanderlust I’ve been feeling for the past ten years. So it’s important that I continue to free myself from the possessions that can bring the eager traveler to a halt (that would be me!). But how to shed a lifetime of “stuff”? And harder still – how to do it in a way that is acceptable to the other people in your life? Not everyone wants to give it all up and take off for years at a time.

German train passenger car

A train car in Germany. So nice and comfortable!

As a business owner, I know that I can’t go far from the daily operations of the store. It is a labor-intensive business that requires customer service. I have to be there constantly to make sure the store is running right and that the employees are showing up for their shifts. We don’t have a lot of overlap, so if one person fails to show up, then the store can’t function (or I have to work alone). I find myself being at the store seven days a week. There’s nothing like a brick-and-mortar store to kill off one’s travel aspirations. I’ve been a slave to this store for 12 years. It’s time to cast off the chains and rid myself of the burden that having a business with employees can become. Just this year, I had to cancel a trip to Europe because of an employee who was unreliable and wasn’t showing up to work when scheduled. I felt it wasn’t worth the aggravation to try to go anyway, so we canceled that trip and I re-scheduled a summer 2015 trip to Paris. It’s only for two weeks, but I’m really looking forward to getting away! If you have a business, then you know that it is a huge demand on your time. If you can’t set it up to run without you for extended periods, then you might want to think about doing something else. Easier said than done, right? But, you’ll need to develop an exit strategy at some point. Why not start now and free up your time to enjoy the finer things in life? The travel life!

Uffizi Gallery plaza

The Piazzale degli Uffizi in Florence, Italy

I guess I’m better at giving advice than taking it. I’m really trying to live by the words that I write in this blog. But nothing seems to happen as fast as you want it to. So it is a process that could take a few years. But I will get there and have the freedom I want going forward in life. I just can’t bear the thought of being tied down any more. I’m going to make it a point to travel every year now, no matter what it takes. It can be (and will be) done. It just takes some determination to let loose and go!

My dilemma is that I need to sell most of what we own (how do you do that?) or sell a bunch of things and find someplace to store the rest. I think storing a lot of items that are irreplaceable is a good idea, but my wife is horrified at the thought of renting a storage locker. She’s seen the “Storage Wars” shows and is afraid that we’ll lose all of our treasured items if the locker was sold at auction (to avoid this, just pay your storage bill).

I have a job that has changed over the last few years (my full-time salaried job – not the store). We are now being allowed to work from home a few days a week. I’ve been doing that for a number of years. It sure improves commute time. But the thing that I realized a while back, is that if I can work my regular job effectively from home, why couldn’t I work effectively from Europe or Asia? Lots of people are using the internet to give them freedom to relocate. I’ve worked with web designers, travel article writers, lifestyle coaches, and others who choose to live somewhere else in the world, but still make a living by staying connected. I have a third small business that I intend to grow this year (I’ve been working on it since late 2013). It’s a proposal writing and construction bidding business that will not always require me to be in a particular place. I can research the work and submit proposals from anywhere in the world.  It will allow me to travel for extended times without having to always come back right away and sit at an assigned desk, like I do now. So getting this new business up and running is the key to gaining some of the freedom I’ve lost over the years. I am determined to take the knowledge and experience I’ve gained over the last 12 months and put it to good use by winning a decent percentage of the contracts I will be working on. It’s exciting to think that I might finally be able to break free!

So now I really need to hear from you. What do you think of the idea of having the freedom to pick up and go for extended periods? Wouldn’t that be great? I’d be forever grateful for some feedback here. Let’s here what you’re doing to remain free of the cubicle farm!

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The Pros and Cons of Group Travel

Have you ever traveled with another couple? Or maybe with a group of family members? If you have, you’ve most likely been frustrated with waiting for others to get ready or for small children to be dressed and packed up for the day ahead. It’s just harder to move from place to place with a large group. But it’s more fun to be with family and friends sometimes, than just going it alone or with another person.

“I love my family and friends. But, it can be hard to travel in big groups. It seems to take exponentially longer to get going when so many people are traveling together.”

As we get older, we get used to doing things the same way – our way. Other people may like to get up and go quickly, without eating or having a cup of coffee first. I always like to have enough time to be punctual for an event. I also like to have time for coffee. If you like to be early, you shouldn’t plan to travel with someone who is always late. You will not enjoy yourself at all, and will probably be miserable the whole trip. People are all different, and you MUST take this into account before you agree to travel with others.

Group Tours

Have you ever been on a group tour where 40 or more people are all traveling on a bus? There are advantages to traveling with a big group. The most obvious is the money you can save by being a part of group buying power. Most tour operators make their money by selling you a way to see a lot of sights, by booking rooms cheaper because of the volume they bring a hotel, and by providing transportation so you don’t have worry about how to get to each place along the tour route. Tours can be a very good deal and I don’t want to discourage anyone from joining a tour. They have allowed me to squeeze a lot of sights into a single day that I wouldn’t be able to do myself. You just need to be aware of the “pros” and “cons” of the tour group dynamic. Whenever you get people from different countries on a tour bus, it can be a lot of fun. Meeting people is really one of the nice things you will experience when taking tours. We’ve had a great time talking to all sorts of people on the tours we’ve been a part of. I definitely recommend it if you prepare yourself for it properly.

Tours are set up to whisk you away to the most interesting places to be found. Because of that, they are on a very tight schedule and have to keep people moving. As you can imagine, some people keep up just fine, while others can’t seem to maintain the pace of the group and are always falling behind, forgetting that they are part of a big group and keeping everyone waiting. These folks are usually dealt with in one of two ways. Either the tour guide says something to the “habitually late” people, or they drive off and leave them. We were on a tour to the Vatican once. The tour guide had warned everyone that they would need to be back to the bus at a certain time. One person who was traveling solo with us did not make it back to the bus in time, so we left her. We were all shocked and wondered what would happen to her. It turned out that the tour guide called her and gave her directions to the sight we would be stopping at next. She caught up with us later that afternoon. She also didn’t seem the least bit concerned about being left behind. Apparently she wanted to climb to the Vatican Cupola more than she wanted to be back to the bus on time.

The stairway to the cupola at St. Peter's Cathedral.

The spiral stairway through St. Peter’s Cathedral dome to the cupola at the top.

It’s an interesting thing to observe how people react to being in a group with others. Some people are very concerned about following the rules and keeping to the schedule (that’s me!). I don’t want to be the person that is keeping the bus from leaving. But some people don’t seem to care that they are always last to return to the bus. I don’t know how many times we’ve sat and waited for the same people over and over again. They are told when to be back at the bus, and yet they constantly fail to return on time. I’ve seen it so bad that people start making loud comments at them when they finally get back on the bus (“the bus was supposed to leave 10 minutes ago”, or “better get a new watch”). And even then, some just don’t seem to care that others are getting tired of the delays and getting vocal about it. Before you travel with this type of tour group, ask yourself if you can tolerate this kind of thing. Many people can’t and have a terrible time dealing with this type of group dynamic. If you’ve never taken a bus tour, I recommend that you find a short two or three day trip to try it out and see if you are OK with it. You don’t want to join a European tour for 12 days and find out that you can’t deal with the people you’re traveling around with!

Note: I don’t take long group tours any more. When we want to join a tour, we ask the tour company to let us join the tour where we want to start and stop. That way, we can arrive and spend a few days or a week looking around on our own. We plan our trip so that we can join the tour at a major city (usually at the airport) and continue with them for a number of days. Then we leave the tour where we want to stop and continue on our own again. We usually get a decent price quoted from the tour company (like $$70.00 per person per day with double occupancy). This allows us to take advantage of the tour discounts on hotels and transportation. We also get a guide and admission to various attractions that we want to see. We don’t spend the entire vacation with the same tour group, and we have more than half of our trip to ourselves. This works really well and can save your trip if the tour group you ride with is difficult or there are a number of annoying members. Go only on the part of the tour that you really want to join and skip the rest. For example: We joined a tour that was already in progress starting at the airport in Nice, France. We traveled with the group to Monte Carlo, Milan, Florence, Rome, Venice and then we went to Lucerne, Switzerland where we left the tour and spent time looking around the Swiss Alps. It was great because we got a whirlwind tour of Italy. We loved it so much that we’ve been back there on our own three more times.

Murren, Switzerland

An outdoor cafe in Murren, Switzerland. Large chunks of ice would occasionally break off and go crashing down to the valley below.

Family and Friends Traveling Together

It’s great fun traveling with family and friends. When you have grandchildren, it’s even more delightful. But family travel comes with unique challenges, especially when small kids are involved.

Daydream – taking my grandchildren to Italy and exploring the streets and sights, riding the trains, buying them their first gelato, and ordering a big pizza pie to share.

I have five grandchildren and I would like to take all of them to see Europe and Asia. Do you have a similar dream? One day it will be my pleasure to travel with them to some wonderful places abroad. We’ll have all summer to look around and experience the culture of the cities we visit. No hurrying for me. Just relaxing and enjoying a wonderful trip. After a lifetime of work and worry, this is something I look forward to every day.

But, traveling with family can be just as difficult as traveling with a tour group. When small children are involved, there are a million things that can go wrong. Diapers need to be changed, the kids need a nap or they get the sniffles and don’t feel well. Lots of challenges to overcome. Mom and Dad have to constantly be aware of the children and tend to their needs. It can be frustrating when you are ready to go and something always seems to stop your forward progress. It’s easy to get annoyed to the point where you wonder why you agreed to travel with family at all. That is, until you sort out the real reasons for going. Because you love and cherish your family. That’s the reason why.

Let me offer my viewpoint on traveling with a group. I came to this way of thinking a number of years ago when I realized that my friends and family deserve the very best life can offer. I came up with a Golden Rule of Travel that I live by, because it makes so much sense for me that I couldn’t possibly do anything else where travel is concerned.

Steve’s Golden Rule of Travel:

1. When traveling with a group of people that have been thrown together (as in a bus or walking tour), I like to be pleasant and get to know them as much as possible. We’ve made some friends over the years while on tours. However, the purpose of the tour is for my wife and I to visit something new and special. We’ve paid for the experience. The tour is first and foremost. We want to get our money’s worth. The trip is all about me and getting what I want from it.

2. When we travel as a family, we often fly or drive to some destination and spend time together. A favorite activity is going to a nice restaurant. With all the interest in food and wine these days, it is fun to try restaurants run by famous chefs. The grandchildren are a joy to be around and we like to watch them so the parents can get a break for a few hours to go out on their own. I don’t expect to see or do a lot, because the focus of the trip is not me. The trip is all about my children and grandchildren. The same is true when traveling with friends. I try to make it about them so we all work together to get the maximum enjoyment out of the trip.

If this is obvious to you, then we think alike. But I’ve seen people over the years who seem to be annoyed by the inconvenience of having small children to deal with as they want to play golf or visit a museum or what-have-you. By applying the Golden Rule of Travel, you can get your priorities straight before leaving the house. When you focus on what is important, you’ll enjoy yourself much more on your next trip. And you’ll prepare for it mentally so that you place the importance where it belongs.

Here’s my list of Pro’s and Con’s when traveling with a group:

PRO’s (or advantages) to group travel:

  • When with an organized tour, you can just follow the tour guide’s lead and go from place to place. No hassle with driving, parking or getting to the next sight.
  • Tours provide a hotel, transportation and some meals, plus entrance to some of the sights you will be visiting. Most tours are generally a good deal, and can save you money over what it would cost to take the same trip on your own.
  • Tour operators try to fill your day with all of the things you want to see on a whirlwind trip. This allows you to see a lot more than you could do on your own.
  • You have a group of people who want to see the same things that you do, so the potential for common interests is high. Many people make good and lasting friendships by going on tours.
  • Tour operators usually hire experts at the sights you will see to provide insight and background to the sights on the agenda. Most of the people are local, and have a very good understanding of the history and the culture of the area.

Here are the CON’s (disadvantages) to traveling with a group:

  • Organized tours are on a very tight schedule. The tour guide will want the tour to be complete on time each day, especially if they live in the area and plan to go home at night. If the tour is supposed to end at 6 pm, then your guide will want to finish on time. Wouldn’t you want to finish on time if this were your job? Expect to be hurried along, especially if the tour leader starts falling behind schedule because of delays.
  • When you book a tour, you generally don’t get a choice of the hotel you will be staying in. In order to get a good price on the rooms, the tour operator has to make an arrangement to book all the rooms at one hotel so they can get a discount. Many hotels keep their rooms full by accommodating tour groups. Most hotels I’ve stayed in have been adequate, but they’re usually just nice enough so that people can tolerate them. I have heard of people who, upon seeing the hotel they would be staying in, insist on booking into another, better hotel. If you have a high standard for hotel rooms, be sure to check with the tour company and do some online investigation of the hotels where they are planning to put you up.
  • Transportation is provided by the tour company (most often a 40+ passenger bus). Most tours I’ve taken have had nice, clean, modern buses. But, be aware that you might not like being packed into a bus with so many people for a week or two. It can get to you after awhile if you have other people on the bus who are annoying. And be aware that you will be spending A LOT of time on the bus. A LOT!
  • Tours very often start early in the morning. If you are not an early riser, then be prepared to get up early, pack your suitcase and hit the road at some ridiculous hours. I went on a three day trip to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas a few years ago with my wife. One morning, they got us up at 4:30 am. They told us they wanted to get to the Grand Canyon right when they opened the gates so that we could beat the crowds that start rolling in soon after that. We spent 40 minutes at the Grand Canyon, and then got back on the bus to go to Las Vegas. We hardly saw anything except the visitor’s center and a look over the edge. It wasn’t hardly worth it. But, we had to stay on schedule. On to Las Vegas (and another 4 or 5 hours on the bus).
  • Because tours are designed to pack a lot of sights in each day, the time allotted for stops at any given attraction is miniscule. Some people just want to see a famous tourist attraction so they can say they’ve been there. They are fine with that. I want to see it, go in, and learn something about it. Organized tours don’t make allowances for people like me who want to linger and take in the sights, rather than just “do a drive-by”. If you want to have the time to really see something, you’ll want to think hard about whether you can tolerate being herded along on a fixed schedule.
  • ALERT! Be aware that just because a travel tour brochure says you’ll be stopping at some famous place, don’t assume that you will actually be going IN to this famous place. It costs time and money for the tour operators to purchase admission to these famous places. So while you might actually go there, you need to check with the tour company and see if you will actually be going inside. I once went on a tour bus to Rome. One of the stops advertised was the Colosseum. They took us there all right, but we just stood around outside for awhile, before heading back to the bus. We didn’t go in! I was so disappointed that I was at the Colosseum, but couldn’t see what it looked like on the inside. That’s when I realized that we were on a tight schedule and that the tour was aimed at getting us to as many places as possible in the short time we had. We had the same experience at the Eiffel Tower. We went there, but didn’t actually go up to the observation decks. We just got a look at the outside and we walked around underneath it. Buyer beware! Ask your tour operator to provide details on which tour stops will include admission and how long the group will be staying there before moving on. You’ll avoid the frustration that comes with not being able to actually go inside!
Lion Gate at Mycenae, Greece

The Lion Gate at Mycenae, Greece. We took a bus tour here and got to spend an hour looking around. Awesome!

So there you have it. My take on group travel. It can be fun and it’s definitely an adventure. Know what you are getting into before you sign up and you’ll have a much better time.

I would really like to hear from you on this subject. Do you agree or disagree? And what do you think the Golden Rule of Travel should be?

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Watching The Currency Fluctuations Before Traveling

“Travel Alert! Be aware of what is already happening and you’ll find that your buying power is better each day! Don’t miss out on this opportunity!”

For the longest time, the Dollar has had a lousy exchange rate with the Euro. One time, we were getting ready to leave in a few weeks and the exchange rate was 1 Euro = 1.48 Dollars. We really had to think hard about whether we could afford to go. Since our plans had all been made and finalized, we just decided to go for it and hope for the best. That’s not ideal, but if you want to go somewhere bad enough, you’ll pull it off somehow.

Today, we’re seeing a steady strengthening of the dollar, which is good for travelers from the US. I checked the rates today, and the Euro is at $1.24 and still declining slowly. I read recently that the Dollar is expected to gain on all of the world’s currencies over the next 12 to 18 months. The Euro should get as low as $1.15 or maybe less. That’s exciting to me, as we are headed to Paris in the not-too-distant future. When I booked the Paris apartment for 7 nights (600 Euros), the Euro was at $1.38. Now that it’s at $1.25, we save $78.00 on the one week stay. And if it gets down to $1.20 by the time we go, we’ll save a total of $100.00. That’s really great stuff! And we’ll be staying in another apartment after that for a week, so more savings compared to what it was when I booked. In fact, everything we do while in France will be at a reduced price, so we will enjoy the trip just that much more!

Here’s a little history from my old(er) traveling days. In 1980, when I went on a backpacking trip to Europe, the exchange rate for Swiss Francs was about 2.5 for $1.00. Today, one Swiss Franc will cost you $1.04. Quite a change. And I recall the French Franc being about 5 to $1.00. And on a trip to Japan, you would get a little over 200 Yen for $1.00. Today, the exchange rate is about half of that. One Dollar = 115 Yen.

When the European Union came along a few years later, the Euro started out around $0.85 each, if memory serves me. We watched the Euro climb to levels above the Dollar and stay there for a long time. This is problematic only because it places a premium on travel to Europe for people outside the EU. It’s great if you are an EU member and want to travel to other countries, but it hasn’t been so good for us here in the U.S.

You’re probably wondering why I’m bringing all this up. If you think about it for a minute, we are probably going to see the best exchange rates for other currencies in the next one to three years, and maybe longer. Europe and Japan are having a tough time with their economies. It looks like economic problems will continue to plague them for the foreseeable future. The dollar is up against all major currencies and should continue to strengthen. So now could be the best time to start planning that trip you’ve wanted to take. The exchange rates are only going to get better, so make hay while the sun shines! And tourism will help other countries out as they try to climb out of the financial hole some of them are in. It has been a tough 5 years for all of us. Imagine – you get to travel a little cheaper and help the economy of whatever country you choose to visit. That’s a winner for everyone involved!

CIA St. Helena

Culinary Institute of America at St. Helena, CA

In previous posts ( here and here ), I said that you should consider traveling while you are still young – meaning today! Waiting only makes it tougher to escape from whatever you “think” is holding you back. I’ve made that mistake all my life and now, I really regret it. There is so much more I could have seen and done with my travel life. Instead, I told myself that I would finally travel to the places I want to visit when I could “afford” it. Or when I “had more time.” Sound familiar? I talked myself out of taking some time to see the world many, many times. With the possibility of a stronger dollar, the trip of your dreams is just getting cheaper. So there won’t be anything holding you back except for “you” – if you allow that to happen. I encourage you to start planning a trip. It can be a big adventure or just a quick one-week journey to someplace new and exciting. But don’t go year-after-year compromising your dreams like I did. Find a way to take a trip every year and just do it. You’ll be glad you set aside the time for it and really happy later in life that you don’t feel as though life conquered you. I sometimes feel that way. Not a good frame of mind to be in. It’s easily fixed if you just resolve to do it.

Look at it this way. If the exchange rate for the dollar is improving, and you are saving money, then the money you are putting away is gaining at the same time. So your purchasing power is improving and a trip that might have been out of reach before is now possible. Just set your mind to it and book your flight!

Venice, Italy

Join all the tourists – visit Venice, Italy while the exchange rate is good!

I hope you will consider saving some money and heading out to see someplace that you’ve always wanted to visit. It’s not hard. It’s just a matter of setting the dates and making plans. No matter your budget – big or small – you’ll find that travel is affordable with a little patience, planning and ingenuity. Good Luck!

UPDATE: 11/25/2014 – a news article supporting this post was published. You can see the analysis for yourself by going to the Bloomberg news page here! This is exciting news for those of us who want to travel next year!!!

ANOTHER UPDATE: 1/2/2015 – we’re definitely seeing a strengthening of the U.S. Dollar. Today the dollar was $1.20 against the Euro. And all indications are that the European Central Bank is going to start some type of “quantitative easing” along the lines of the U.S. program. That is expected to further weaken the Euro and many other currencies against the dollar. So watch the rate of exchange and start booking your travel now.

The price of gasoline has also come way down, which will eventually translate into a savings for air fare. From what I understand, though, the airlines aren’t reducing fares very much yet and some carriers still apply large fuel surcharges to their flights. If the fuel prices stay down for awhile, then tickets will be cheaper, for sure. Another reason to start looking for deals (I’ve seen some pretty great fares to Turkey. From Istanbul, you can fly anywhere in Europe on a low cost carrier. Think about it!).

And by the way – at $1.20 per Euro, we’ve already saved $100.00 on the apartment I booked in Paris. Let’s hope it will be a little more between now and May when we depart. That would be awesome!

YET ANOTHER UPDATE! 3/5/2015 – Euro = $1.10 today! Yeehaaaa…

Let’s hear how this changes your plans. Where are you planning to go now that the timing is so right?

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Take Care Of Your Money While Traveling

“I’ve made my share of mistakes when getting money ready for the trip. Luckily, my mistakes weren’t too costly.”

You know the feeling – excitement about the impending flight to the place of your dreams. I love the feeling, and hate it at the same time. Mostly because I’m always concerned that I’ve forgotten something important. There’s a lot to do before you leave, and one of the most important things to take care of is your money.

Santorini Island in Greek Islands

Approaching the Island of Santorini and the town of Oia on top of the caldera.

We used to go to the bank about a month before departure and order Euros for the trip. I wanted to be able to pay for the hotel or the apartment in full once we arrived. I also thought that it would be a good idea to have 1,000 Euros or so in my money belt just in case. Who knows what you will run into and it seemed like a good idea at the time. But once reality set in, I learned that changing a lot of money is expensive and really not necessary.

If you were to change $1,500.00 into Euros at the bank, they charge a fee that very quickly gets expensive. I recall paying something in the neighborhood of $220.00 for the privilege of buying a packet of about 1,000 Euros. I was outraged when I found out just how much they wanted to make the exchange. But, I guess they have to make a buck on the deal. I tried to cancel the exchange, but they wouldn’t do it. You would think that your bank might want to provide this service for you at a more reasonable cost. You would be wrong. In future exchanges, I limited the Euro purchase to about 400. That way, the bank doesn’t get such a big commission on the transaction. And besides, it’s not really  necessary to carry that much cash with you in most cases. Unless you have a really urgent need to arrive with a lot of cash, you should keep it to a minimum.

So how do you make sure you will have the cash you need when you get to your destination? The best way is to see if anyone you know has some currency from the country you are going to. Buy it from them so you’ll have money in your pocket right away. That is always the best way to get a great exchange rate. We always bring back $100.00 or so in coins and bills if we think we’ll be returning in the future. It really comes in handy to have some large coins and various bills to start the trip with.

If you don’t have access to currency any other way, then you can do one of two things. The first is to check with your bank and find out if there are other banks where you are going that have an agreement with your bank on fees for withdrawal. For example, I asked my bank to give me a list of foreign bank ATM’s I could use that wouldn’t charge me a fortune in fees in Italy while we were there. We looked for those ATM’s as soon as we got to the airport and withdrew the limit right away. Whenever we were walking around, we made it a point to keep an eye peeled for one of the ATM’s on the list. We would always withdraw when we had the opportunity to keep from running out of money.

The second choice you have is to pay the fees at your bank and exchange your money. They will order the currency and have it shipped to your branch, usually in a few days. Be sure to exchange only what you need to get started, and then withdraw from an ATM as needed once you get there. Don’t forget to take all precautions and wear your money belt!

Half Dome at Yosemite National Park

View of Half Dome at Yosemite National Park

Fees for withdrawing from ATM’s vary, but you will get a decent exchange rate when you do. The rates are much better than when you use a currency exchange service. You see them all the time in the airports. The darn things are SO EXPENSIVE that you definitely want to avoid them. Don’t use them unless you are really desperate (I can’t imagine when that would be, but it could happen). They will hit you with so many fees so fast that you won’t be able to react quick enough to cancel the transaction. We made the mistake of trying to exchange $200.00 to get a few more Euros to finish up our trip. Once they have your money, they are behind a bullet proof glass window and there is nothing you can do to get them to cancel the transaction. They will only tell you part of the story to get your money and then you’ll learn how much it will really cost – but it will be too late. No matter what you do or say, they’ll tell you that the transaction has already been processed and can’t be reversed. In frustration, you’ll give up and walk away cursing at the person in the booth. On the $200.00 exchange we made, we only got 99 Euros. I figure the transaction cost us about $65.00. Don’t let this happen to you!!

Once you have your currency in hand, you will want to protect it from thieves and pickpockets. Europe has a big problem with theft and you have to watch your money, luggage and valuables like a hawk. Otherwise, you’ll quickly find that your belongings are gone with the wind.

A great example of a place to be wary of is the Trevi Fountain in Rome. We stopped there with a group to have a look and to throw a coin into the fountain. While we were there, we observed young girls going through the crowd, reaching into women’s purses and trying to take wallets from all the tourists packed into the square. Some of the locals chased them off, but before we left the area, we saw a woman in tears talking to a policeman. Thieves had taken her wallet out of her purse. She lost her passport, money, credit cards, everything. That could have been easily avoided. But people either don’t know that there are pickpockets working the crowds, or they ignored the warnings. Either way, I hate to see that happen. It need not happen to you.

Your money should be kept in a money belt under your clothing so no one can gain access to it. There are many types of money belts offered. Pick one that you like and keep your valuables in it. You should only have the money you need for the day in a pocket (preferably a pocket with a zipper or button on your shirt). Pants pockets are fairly vulnerable. You should keep your money close and in a place that is hard for a thief to get to.

Also, you never want to go into your money belt in public. You don’t know when people are watching. Keep your money belt a secret. If you must get into it, go into a bathroom or some other private place. If you make it difficult for a thief, he will look elsewhere for an easier target. That is the whole strategy in a nutshell. Make it hard for a thief and he will look for an easier target. It’s really that simple.

PLEASE TAKE NOTE: Most places you go in Europe are very safe. You might have your luggage stolen or your pocket picked – it’s been that way for a long time. But physical violence is rare. If you can learn the tricks and scams that are run on tourists, you can avoid being separated from your money. Being prepared for what is ahead is the key to guarding your money and belongings.

Roman Colosseum soldiers

Roman soldiers just waiting to take a picture with you. They also demand payment for being in your picture. Be sure you are willing to pay what they ask before agreeing to be photographed with them. They have been known to demand 20 Euros or more for their services!

I have a number of great travel tips on 10 Minute Travel to help you prepare yourself for your next trip. If you want to start to prepare for your next trip, read some of these articles to get started. If you’re looking for hints on money safety, review these articles for the 411 on that. Personal safety is always important, so check out these travel tips to see if you have prepared properly. And lastly, see this article on getting money while traveling.

You can see a cloud listing of travel tips and choose the subjects you are interested in. This is time well spent so that you are familiar with things you might run into all over the world.

Remember – keep your money, luggage and personal items like cameras, iphones, ipads and jewelry close (it’s really best to leave jewelry at home in the safe deposit box) so you won’t lose it. Don’t set things down, even for a minute, as thieves are waiting for you to be distracted so they can snatch whatever they can. If you stay aware of your surroundings and don’t take your eye off the ball, you’ll do fine. Vigilance is a small price to pay to protect your valuable documents, money and possessions. You’ll enjoy your trip much more if you can avoid being ripped off by the people who prey on tourists.

I’d really like to hear from you if you have a story to tell about keeping your money and possessions safe while traveling. Consider sharing it with the 10 Minute Travel readers!

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10 Easy Ways To Save Money For A Grand Vacation Overseas

Venice, Italy

Beautiful Venice – this should motivate you to build a travel fund.

“Let’s face it. Vacations are expensive, since you have to run a parallel household for the time you’re gone. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a permanent home or apartment to pay for while they’re traveling. And there are the never ending bills that fill your mailbox….”

Most of us have to save money in order to travel. I’m always looking for a way to save up enough to pay for the deposits, rent, airfare and food. Then you have to worry about the cost of tours, admissions and souvenirs. Saving a little each week over a year or more will insure success in putting away enough money to fund your growing wanderlust!

First, let me tell you how my wife and I save extra money towards our trip. We collect pocket change and the occasional loose dollars and put them into a glass bowl. I purposely pay for things with paper money just so I can put the change I’ve accumulated at the end of the day in my jar. It’s usually a few dollars a day, and by the end of the week, I’ve managed to save 10 or 12 dollars. My wife does the same thing by saving coins and bills in her own jar. Once in a while, we take the money to the bank and deposit it, adding to the growing vacation stash. By the time we are ready to leave, we’ll have set aside another $600.00 to $900.00. It really helps when ready to leave, to have money saved up for your trip. This works pretty well for us. Of course we have other money saved as well. But this is extra money for those fun things you want to do while away in another country. You might want to try this and see if it works for you, too! Here are some more ideas that work:

1. If you like to stop at Starbucks or some other coffee chain, try skipping that expensive Latte or Mocha once in a while and saving that money in your change jar. It adds up fast. Or try getting the regular coffee (cheaper) and dropping the difference in cost in the jar.

Sunset Beach in Oahu

Save your money for a trip to the beach!

2. eBay – I’ll bet you have a few things lying around the house that you’d love to get rid of. Things like last year’s clothing, your old watch or computer, software packages that you don’t use anymore, an old set of dishes that is (fairly) complete, an exercise machine that is now a place to hang coats, old pictures in frames that you no longer display in the house, tools, cameras, games, knick knacks, etc. There is always something taking up space that you can sell on eBay. Try it and you’ll see how easy it is to make some extra travel cash!

3. Part time job – If you have extra time on your hands, get a part time job for a few hours a week and add the money you make to the travel pot. You’ll see that it will grow quicker and you’ll enjoy seeing the balance going up in your account.

4. Yard sale – Same idea as eBay, only you put up some signs and sell things right from your yard or driveway. This is the preferred way to sell large furniture items that aren’t easily shipped. And don’t forget about your local flea market.

5. Coupons – For people who like to collect and redeem coupons anyway, this is an ideal way to save money on your purchases. You can put some or all of the savings in your travel fund. If you really search, you might find some coupons good for the trip you are planning to take (I’m thinking of Groupon and Amazon for some of the great deals they offer on travel). Be sure to subscribe to Groupon’s email notices. They have travel Groupons that can offer big savings.

Heraklion, Crete

Or visit the island of Crete in the Greek Islands,

6. Automatic bank transfers – Once you have a savings account set up that is just for your travel funds, you can set your bank’s automatic transfer feature up to move a certain amount each week to your account. Without having to think about it, you’ll be saving money each week automatically. It’s really easy and you’ll soon see a substantial amount piling up.

7. Tax refunds, dividend checks, escrow refunds – We periodically get small dividend checks and refunds from our insurance company and mortgage company. Whenever these checks come in, we try to save all of it for our trip. Save at least half if you can and you’ll be glad you did. And don’t forget to set aside a big chunk of any tax refund you get!

8. Dine out a little less often – If you eat at home just once instead of going out, you can save the difference and put a nice sum in your travel account. You need not give up eating out entirely. Just discuss how much it will cost to go to your favorite restaurant and decide whether you want to skip it and save the money instead. Most of the time, I’d rather skip an expensive meal out. I’d rather know that we just put away a little more towards our goal.

9. If you get a raise or a promotion – Think about saving some of your raise to your 401K and send some to the travel account. While it’s always necessary to keep saving for retirement, it’s also critical to have enough money to enjoy your trip. Having to count every penny and skip eating at the amazing restaurants you’re going to encounter is no way to travel. Don’t do that! Instead, set a budget for food and lodging and you’ll be able to enjoy some really great meals that you will remember forever.

Pompeii, Italy

Visit a magical place like Pompeii in Italy near Naples.

10. Also save frequent flyer miles and credit card rewards points – Are you accumulating points and miles that you can use to get free hotel nights and airfare? If not, why not? The number of rewards cards out there these days is staggering. You can get two free round trip tickets within the U.S. just for signing up for an airline branded credit card. It’s easy and actually a lot of fun.

There you have it! Some great ways to save for the best trip ever! If you have some great ideas for me to try, let me know! We’ll get them listed here.

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How To Save Money On Your Way To Great Destinations

“I am by no means a hardcore travel hacker. I’m just a guy who wants to take advantage of everything I can to travel better and cheaper. I’ll leave the esoteric stuff to others!”

Eiffel Tower Paris

The Eiffel Tower in Paris – where I want to be sometime soon!

There are a lot of interesting ways to save money when you travel. I really enjoy trying to assemble frequent flyer miles, hotel chain loyalty points, American Express points, Ink card points, etc., into a usable mix of discounts and free stuff! We are leaving for Paris in May, 2015, and I’ve already done the following:

1. Booked direct RT flights from San Francisco to Paris on Air France using miles ($240.00 total fees for 2 people and 130,000 miles), and paid a deposit on an apartment in Paris for 7 nights (we got a small discount for staying a full week). We are still figuring out the rest of the itinerary, but the Paris portion of the trip is confirmed, so now I have to see if we will need to book any hotels for short-term stays.

I’ve got to find the ideal apartment to rent in the Provence region of southern France, so we can spend another 7 nights there and visit all of the interesting Roman sights that this area is famous for. I’ll be doing travel articles on all the places we visit. I’m looking forward to getting some great pictures from the top of the Eiffel Tower and from the Pont du Gard in the south of France! I’m so glad that I can take all the pictures I want. Years ago (for you youngsters), we had to load rolls of film in our 35 mm cameras and every shot had to count or there would be a lot of wasted pictures. It’s so great that I can shoot all the pictures I want these days. And, we can take video, too! Isn’t technology grand?

2. Hotel points – I’m checking all my accounts for hotel points to see what I can get from Hilton and also from the Chase Ink card I have. I’ve converted my American Express points to Avios (British Airways) and will see if I can put enough Avios together to stay at a hotel near Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG) in Paris. We’ll need to stay close to the airport the night before we return home. It’s amazing how the points can pile up on some of the credit cards we have. Using an airline mileage credit card can be a good way to add to your mileage accounts. There are many good resources for choosing a card that is right for you, so I won’t get into that here. Go here if you want to learn more about airline miles and how to collect them. Travis will get you on the right track.

3. City cards – This isn’t a travel hack – just a good way to save money and avoid some lines. Who wants to wait in hours-long lines? Yet every time I go to Italy, I see people waiting in unbelievably long queues just to buy a ticket to a museum or attraction of some sort. When you can book your admission on the internet and go straight to the entrance, why wouldn’t you? I wouldn’t wait for two hours to buy a ticket to see something. I’d skip it and get a good cappuccino and people-watch instead at a sidewalk cafe somewhere.

Italian cups of coffee

Wonderful Italian coffee at a restaurant in Milan.

There’s no secret to booking your tickets to sights you want to see in advance. Just do a little research ahead of time and find out how to purchase tickets before you go. I always buy a Rick Steves travel guide book before I go to Europe. That way, I can decide where I want to go and what I should see. There’s always information on how to skip lines, which is more than worth the price of the books. So pick a guide book and learn about the City Cards that are available where you’ll be going. Here are some examples of City Cards and Museum Cards you can get to save money and speed your entrance into the various attractions:

Roma Pass – Check the Roma Pass and see if it will save you anything. We used the Roma Pass and were very glad to skip the ticket line for the Colosseum (but everyone has to wait in the security line).

Paris Pass or Paris Museum Pass – Here’s a good review of the two passes. I’m going to study this post in detail before we go to Paris. I want to make sure to buy the pass that is right for us.

The London Pass – A card covering many of the sights in London that you’ll want to see.

Whatever city you plan to visit, you can Google the name of the city and add “pass” or “card” to see if a good value card is available. For example, if you were planning to visit Milan, Italy, just type “Milan city card” in your favorite search engine and you’ll most likely receive a list of available discount cards for transportation and attractions.

4. Timing your flight reservations – I’ve learned one really valuable thing about booking trips with frequent flyer miles. You have to book as early as possible if you want to get seats as soon as they are released. The airlines only make a certain number of seats available for each flight. You must start searching for the flights you want about 330 days prior to your departure date. That means that you need to pick travel dates early and be a little flexible. If you go on an airline’s website and go to the booking page, you can see how far out their calendar will let you make a reservation. You’ll find it to be about 330 days, give or take a little. I started checking for potential travel dates for our last two European trips more than a year in advance. I’d come back to the site once in a while, just waiting for the dates I wanted to come up. Finally, when both the outbound and inbound flights I wanted were showing as available and the price was right, I pounced. Next year’s trip to Paris is on a non-stop flight and we’re booked on the new Airbus A380. We’re on the second deck, which looks to be a little more comfortable. I haven’t seen the inside of an A-380, so that will add the to the anticipation and the fun.

Note: You can still book frequent flyer seats right up to the departure date – if they are still available. On the most popular routes, don’t expect to find seats as they will go fast. The secret is advance planning and pulling the trigger early! Check out this 10MinuteTravel tip.

5. Booking a place to stay – I mentioned that I had reserved an apartment in Paris. I spent a lot of time looking for a place in a good location. I wanted to be able to walk to restaurants and shops in the area, and to be close to transportation so we could take the Metro. I finally found a really nice apartment in the Montmartre area. It has excellent reviews and should be ideal for us. The total price for the apartment, including a cleaning fee, is 600 Euros. Thanks only $108.00 per night for a fully-equipped apartment in a great location. And the best thing about it is, we’ll be meeting with the owner’s sister, who can answer our questions and recommend some local places to eat. People who rent apartments know that they have to be a cut above the hotels whenever they can. Many of the apartments I’ve stayed in have provided a bottle of wine as a welcome gift, along with fresh fruit or pastries. I don’t recall ever getting a similar welcome gift from a hotel.

Milan apartment

We stayed in this apartment in Milan, Italy. Wonderfully located so we could take the train into the city center. The owner was renovating the apartment on the second floor. And there was a wonderful restaurant just down the street.

In addition to the extra room you will have in an apartment, most are also outfitted with a full kitchen, plates, silverware, pots and pans. We’ve cooked some really nice meals in Venice, Florence and Milan in the places we stayed. If you go out to eat every day, it can get really expensive. So plan to cook a few simple meals while you are staying at your apartment.

We also had a wireless internet connection and a washing machine at each rental. When staying at a hotel, it is always a hassle to wash clothes. But when you have a washing machine in your apartment, it is one less thing to become an annoyance. Who wants to be annoyed with finding a place to wash your clothes when on vacation? I’d much rather be out sightseeing and eating runny cheese!

Here are some excellent websites you can use to find an apartment for your next trip. Rental units are available all over the world, so do a little research and save some money, too!

Here’s an example of what we will save by renting an apartment instead of a hotel room:

Paris – Seven nights in a desirable location.

Hotel Room (2 or 3 stars in the Montmartre area) = about $147.00 per night (based on Hotels.com prices) = $1,029.00. This will get you a lower-end hotel. You can spend a lot more for a hotel room anywhere in Paris.

Apartment (rated 5 stars on Homeaway.com) = about $108.00 per night = $756.00

We’ll save $273.00 just for the Paris portion of our trip. And, I have no doubt we’ll live better to boot! Our $273.00 savings will pay for more than half of the cost of seven more nights in Avignon (southern France in the Provence region), as it’s cheaper to rent an apartment there than in Paris. Check out some of the websites and have a ball finding your perfect apartment.

Homeaway.com
VRBO.com
AirBnB.com

Summary – We’ve done enough traveling over the years that we know a few ways to live better and save money when out in the world. If you are planning a visit somewhere soon, you can benefit from some of these ideas. Have a good trip. Let me know if you have any good ideas for saving that hard-earned cash! I’m always open to some new ideas.

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The Travel Clock Waits For No One

 

Lauterbrunnen Valley

A train ride to the Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland. Snapped while the train was moving through the mountains.

In the last post, I talked a little about the importance of consistent travel throughout your life (and regrettably, how I failed to follow my own advice). Don’t make the same mistakes. As the years go by, your opportunities to build travel friendships, travel memories, and ever-stronger travel bonds with your family are lost. Caught up in the daily grind, we keep putting off the one thing that is so very life-enhancing, which is traveling to foreign lands.

“As silly as it sounds, it’s so true. You can’t get the time back – no matter how hard you try. So don’t let another minute pass without starting to make some travel plans for yourself.”

These days, there are many places to go in the world. Places that were closed to tourists not long ago, are opening up and welcoming tourism. Exotic places like Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos. Places that you wouldn’t even consider just a few years ago. Now people are trying to visit these countries to get a feel for the culture and the people there. There are all kinds of opportunities to experience something new. All that is required on your part is to decide where you want to go and for how long.

Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and so many others are very inexpensive to visit. Food and lodging is cheap, and there is a wealth of things to see and do. It might be a bit of a culture shock for you if you’ve never been to Asia, but let’s face it, there’s a culture shock just about anywhere you would go for the first time. Even landing in London is a shock, as the airport and the city are so crowded and fast-paced. So resolve to step outside of your comfort zone a little, pick a destination, and go for it!

Anthony Bourdain travels all over the world to sample cultures in the form of food and drink. He often visits countries more than once, to see how one side of the country differs from the other side. If you’ve never seen his shows on CNN (called Parts Unknown) or reruns of his previous show on the Travel Channel (called No Reservations), you’re missing the chance to see some places that might really interest you. He’s done some great shows in Italy, France, Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Spain – too many to list. You can get a feel for the various countries and pick a place you’d like to go. I highly encourage you to watch the show and see if anything gets you revved up! That would be a great place to start thinking about your first (or next) trip!

Taiwan temple

A temple in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. My wife and I were traveling around Taiwan and visiting some of her relatives.

Wouldn’t it be great to visit Taiwan and learn a bit about the history, sample the food, and watch all the crazy drivers on motor scooters? I’ve been there twice, and I learn something new and interesting each time. My wife and I rode the elevator (at the time, the fastest in the world) to the observation deck in the Taipei 101 building in Taipei, Taiwan. Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world, until another taller one came along. See the elevator ride and a little bit about Taipei 101 here.

It’s interesting to note that Taiwan is experiencing a flood of immigrants these days. Now that people can travel from Taiwan to China and vice versa (it wasn’t long ago that direct flights between the two were prohibited because of the political friction), poor people from China are flooding into Taiwan to better their lives. Consequently, there is a lot of resentment towards people coming from the mainland and there have been a lot of loud protests at the universities, as students feel that people shouldn’t be allowed to come into the country illegally and take jobs. Stay tuned for what happens next…

I’ve mentioned Anthony Bourdain (whom I’ve grown to like) and his antics. Some of his shows are good and some flop. But he is always with the wise-cracks. So they’re worth watching just for the scenery and some of the interesting places he goes and the exotic foods he gets to sample. He’s a lot more adventurous than I am when it comes to food!

Another excellent travel show that I really enjoy is the Rick Steves “Europe Through The Back Door” series. These days, I only find his shows on PBS – usually during pledge drives. But that’s OK. I really like the places he visits in Europe. As a Christmas present one year, my children gave me a boxed set of 70 of his shows on DVD. I have watched most of the shows more than once. Every time I get the urge to travel, I pull out the collection and do a little travel day dreaming. He now offers a boxed set of 100 shows. Unreal. How do I get a job like Rick Steves has? I guess I’ll have to invent one…

I took Rick’s “Europe Through The Back Door” travel guide with me in 1980 when a friend and I followed his advice and rode the fabulous trains through 11 countries and just had a blast!! Things were cheaper in those days. And the European Union had not yet been created. So we had the fun of collecting money from every country we visited. I still have some coins from that trip tucked away somewhere.

“I’ve found travel guide books to be a lot of fun to read, especially when you are contemplating a big trip and you need to decide on an itinerary. There’s no better way to learn about the things you are going to have a chance to see and do.”

These days, the Euro is accepted in many of the countries in Western Europe. And they’re adding more countries to the EU all the time. I have some Euros from our last trip that are just dying to get back to France. I promised to take them back home next May when we go to Paris! And I always keep my promises!! But then, I digress.

There’s one other show that I really love to watch. I record all the new shows as they are broadcast and watch them when I get a chance. They offer the viewer a chance to see what real estate looks like in many other countries. And you learn a lot about how things are done all over the world. I’m referring, of course, to House Hunters International. If you haven’t seen it, look up HGTV (channel 229 on DirecTV, I believe) on your cable or satellite provider and set your DVR to record the series. My favorites are the shows where they go to Paris and try to find a suitable place to buy. The properties are so small and many of them are in need of some kind of renovation. They’re old! A facelift is in order for many of the houses people choose. My favorite part is when they show the “before” and “after” shots. What a difference. It is sometimes like night and day when the renovation work is finished. It’s a show that lets you contemplate what house you would pick and what you would do with it once you bought it. I look forward to seeing this show when I get home from work. And the best part of all is that they take you to some places that you probably know nothing about!

Greek Church Santorini

A Greek Church on the island of Santorini in the Greek Islands. This church is on the top of the caldera, a volcano that exploded many years ago and left a crescent-shaped island. There were people living here when that happened and the explosion was felt many miles away.

I’ll bet you’re wondering where I’m going with all this? Well, travel shows do a very good job of motivating you to get out and see something new. It’s a lot easier to understand the history and the culture of another country if you actually go there! Try not to stay in hotels. Try not to eat in tourist areas. Get away from the tourist centers and meet the people who live and work there. Rent an apartment outside the city center and ride the train or bus to get where you want to go. Shop in the local markets and strike up a conversation with the owner. And join tours that are run by the local people. We’ve met so many hard-working, wonderful people who have enriched our lives by sharing their love and knowledge of their city with us. It’s all out there waiting for you. As I said at the beginning of this post, you can’t get the time back if you let it pass you by. Before you know it, your life is half over and you haven’t traveled to the places you’ve always wanted to see. Take a few minutes right now and think about where you want to go on your next trip. Then, either make a list or discuss it with someone and make a commitment to go. The clock is ticking……..

P.S. I took the photos in this post, and I have so many great memories from those trips. My wife always gets excited to see them. We immediately sigh out loud and wish we could go back. Start loading your photo album with great pictures that you will enjoy looking at and remembering. You’ll sigh out loud, too!

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So I Waited Longer To Travel Than I Should Have…

Pyramid in Rome

Pyramid of Gaius Cestius in Rome.

“OK, I admit it. I goofed.”

Where has the time gone?

There are a lot of reasons (and excuses) for why it has taken me so long to do the one thing that makes me feel happy and right (besides being with friends and family, of course). I don’t honestly know why I ignored the signs – they were there – but I thought somehow I was not going to be a victim of time. Of getting older. But I’ve come to the realization that I waited much too long to start to quench my thirst for travel. As the old Chicago song goes – “Time passes much too quickly.” Now I’m really dating myself!

I don’t want this post to discourage anyone. Instead, I hope to encourage people to get started with their travel adventures as soon as possible, because the world will not wait for you! It is an important fact of life that we all have to face, so you need to make some plans TODAY. You can start small and fly somewhere that you’ve always wanted to visit. How about a very tourist-oriented place like Puerto Rico or Costa Rica? How about Canada or Bermuda? There are so many places that you can “cut your travel teeth” on. And the best thing is that they won’t bust your budget, because they’re fairly close and you can spend just 3 to 5 nights for a short vacation. Choose whatever you feel comfortable with and go for it!

I’d like to list a couple of things that might prove to be motivational for you. I would hope to encourage more than just a few people to break out of their office/cubicle and do something about the wanderlust that has been tugging at you all. My own need to travel is very strong, and yet I haven’t been able to pull the plug on the demands of life that we all get tangled up in. I won’t offer any excuses, because they serve no useful purpose. I’ll only say that I have developed a “soon I’ll be free of all my commitments” mentality, which does not liberate you. It is just another excuse. The sad truth is that you most likely won’t do anything at all if you continue that line of thinking. So don’t use that excuse and start planning for your next journey, be it big or be it small.

It’s hard to pull up stakes and go. We all know that. It takes planning, money, determination. But most of all, it takes a firm commitment to just go, no matter what. That’s a very hard thing to do. I get it. I’m living that fight every day as I want to pack my bags, sell everything and hit the road. For me, it has been about exploratory trips. Short two or three-week vacations to get my confidence up. My wife and I have made six or seven trips to Europe and Asia so far, and we’ve enjoyed them immensely. Every time we go, we are more confident in our travel skills and we enjoy things a lot more. This is what life should be about for me. And yet, it’s not. Why not?

I’m going to have to wait for actual retirement before I get to travel as much as I want. I’ve gotten so wrapped up in businesses, paying a mortgage that went under water for a long time (I live in California, where property values really dropped badly), and wrapping up my professional life so that I can collect that pension I’ve worked so long and hard for. But that’s OK. It really is. The travel bug bit me in 2006 and at that time, I came to the realization that I would have to wait to travel on a long-term basis. I just had too much STUFF. So I’ve been slowly getting rid of unnecessary things so it will be easier to pack up and hit the road when the time finally comes.

King Henry VIII's Hampton Court Palace in London

One of the kitchens at King Henry VIII’s Hampton Court Palace in London

Enough about me. I would like to offer some advice to you that I wish had been given to me when I was younger. It would have helped me to see that travel is possible at all stages of a person’s life. And that excuses are the things that prevent us from doing what we really want. Here are my “words of wisdom” for your consideration:

For those of you in the 18 to 30 group –

Do you know very much about the history of the places you want to visit? I confess to learning as I go. I always do a little research before I travel, to make sure I know what I want to see. I also like to know something about the history. It’s true that the more you learn about the tourist attractions you plan to visit, the more you come to realize that you don’t know very much at all. And therein lies the connection of travel to history. The places I enjoy visiting are all old churches, magnificent palaces, Roman buildings, ancient arenas – anything connected to important people of history. My fascination with the Medici family in Florence, Italy is due to the things they built and the places they lived. I’m not so impressed with their wealth, but I am impressed with what they did with it. It always seems to be a race to build the biggest, grandest and most expensive. And what they leave behind is now open for the world to see. That’s where you come in.

You can travel to Europe and visit Florence. If you don’t come away from the trip dying to know more, then you probably haven’t been bitten too hard by the travel bug. But, if you turn every corner, and see something you only seconds before knew nothing about, and now want to know more, then you are well on your way to being a traveler in the first degree. I had a very hard time in Rome, because I kept finding new things every time I took a walk. There’s something to see around every corner. There’s so much to see that it is really overwhelming. But that is what makes exploring a new city so incredible!

My advice to you is to either go on a backpacking trip and spend a few months moving about Europe or Asia to really experience the cultures. Or, just put a 3 or 4 week trip together and get started with an exploratory journey to figure out which country or countries you like best. I made a backpacking trip when I was 23 that took me to 11 countries in Europe. I was gone for 4 weeks and loved every minute of it. Unfortunately, I didn’t return to Europe for nearly 30 years after that. I regret that every day. I should have made it a priority to go somewhere great at least every 5 years. But life overtakes your dreams many times (most of the time, if you let it). Get a backpack, fill it with only the things you need, and hit the road to see what people built for you to visit.

I strongly recommend a stay at a youth hostel. It’s an experience you’ll never forget. You’ll meet a lot of people from all over the world. In Europe, hostels are all over the place. It’s inexpensive and fun.

Note: When was the last time you walked on cobblestone streets? Rode on a really great high-speed train? Walked 440 steps up to the top of a bell tower made out of marble and stone? Took a tram to the top of a mountain peak and enjoyed the best-tasting cup of coffee you’ve ever had (with a view to match)? Stood inside a 2,000 year old building made out of Roman cement, granite columns, and marble statues? Gazed at an original Michelangelo painting or sculpture? Walked up to the top row of an ancient amphitheater? Or visited the Acropolis, Pantheon, Colosseum or Saint Peter’s Cathedral? This is something to consider! There is really no reason to wait.

If you’re over 30 –

Most likely you have moved up the ladder of success a little bit and are doing well. You have a job or maybe a business and there’s a little more disposable income. You may have kids and a wife/husband and you feel there is little chance to travel and see any of the places that interest you. I’ve been there. I failed to take action. I missed this part of my life, and if I had it all to do again, I would make sure that I got out to see more of the world. My kids would have benefited so much, too!

Even with children in tow, you can still have a great time traveling all over the world. There is so much to see and do, that it will broaden everyone’s horizons. Parents always want the best for their children, and traveling is THE best way to bring a family closer and build a wonderful lifetime of memories.

Leonardo Da Vinci

Statue of Leonardo Da Vinci, across from La Scala Opera House in Milan, Italy.

I have a friend who took his family on cruises all around the world. They had a great time and they still talk about them to this day. Consider taking a cruise if you still have young children. You will have the opportunity to visit some really interesting places (assuming you go overseas. Even a trip to the Caribbean would be a step in the right direction).

If you don’t have children yet, you’ll definitely find it easier to travel. So there is nothing stopping you. I recommend that you shop around for a plane ticket and rent an apartment somewhere so you can live like the locals do. It’s so much more fun than staying in a hotel. And you’ll get to meet someone who lives there and can give you advice on where to eat, what to see, and how to get around. It’s also cheaper. You usually have a refrigerator and stove, a washing machine and many times, a bedroom or two. So this is a very comfortable way to set up a base and go exploring from there. I don’t even consider hotels anymore, except for when we have to stay just one night somewhere. Hotels mean extra expense and less convenience. At least, that’s the way I see it. See the bottom of this post for some resources you can use to find great accommodations for your next trip. Start planning today. I think planning is enjoyable. It builds excitement for the trip as your departure date gets closer and closer.

If you are slightly older than the 20-somethings, you can still stay in some hostels. Many of them allow older people to rent rooms, and private rooms with a bathroom are available at some hostels. So you can save a few dollars and still have the opportunity to mingle with travelers from around the world.

If you’re over 50 and waiting to retire before you travel –

Take my advice – wait no more! As I’m discovering, for every year that goes by, I have to cross certain things off my list that I’ve always wanted to do. This makes me sad and I regret that I waited until I was older to start getting out to see the world. Now I’m not sure if my physical condition will allow me to climb those 440 steps, hike some of the trails I’ve always wanted to hike, or to take some of those self-guided walking tours that sound so good to me. My next trip to Paris will let me know if I have to scale back or not. Paris is so huge that walking is a must. If you have doubts about your ability to get out and see things, then I urge you to do it now! There’s no better time!

As someone who is over age 50, you will most likely have more disposable income. You’re going to want to stay in nicer hotels and rental apartments. There are some really excellent tours you can take that will provide a hotel and an experienced guide with transportation. I’ve taken guided tours in Florence and Rome, and also in Athens and London. So far, every tour I’ve taken has been totally worth it. If you have a chance to take a half-day or a full-day tour, don’t hesitate. Use TripAdvisor.com to read reviews and pick one that interests you. See a list of recommended resources at the bottom of this post.

Castello Il Palagio winery.

Castello Il Palagio winery in the Tuscany region of Italy.

I think the holy grail of travel is to have your kids and grand kids visit you while you are traveling. My hope is that someday my children will bring their children and stay with my wife and me in our rented house or apartment. It doesn’t matter where. It only matters that we are together and experiencing another culture together. That is my wish for the coming years. You might have some other wish, but the desire is the same. To live as you want and to do as you want. And hopefully to live life on your own terms. The ultimate travel experience!

Note: People are living longer and staying healthy and vibrant for many more years than they used to. It’s important to take advantage of the “twilight” years to live life to its fullest. That’s what I am advocating here. You can do it, with a little push from your family and friends. Go out and live your dream. No matter your age, if you want to travel, then make it happen. You’ll benefit in so many ways.

Here are a few resources that I use when planning a trip. It’s not as expensive to travel as you might be thinking – if you plan it right!

Homeaway.com (for apartment rentals. We use this site a lot and have rented five apartments with absolutely no problems. Plus, we made some friends and stayed in amazing places!)

Hostelbookers.com (one way to search for hostels in your travel area)

VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals By Owner)

Rail Europe (For rail passes)

Bestfares.com (A good place to search for travel deals on airfare. Sign up for the free newsletter. Sometimes they have some really good deals.)

All photos taken by me with a small pocket camera. I have a slightly larger camera now that takes great pictures. I really need to dust it off and give it some exercise. How about Paris next year? Why yes, that will be my next trip, thank you very much! I can’t wait to snap some choice photos in Paris. We’ve already rented an apartment for seven nights, so all I have to do is wait for the departure date and get busy with the camera…!!

Do you have frequent flyer miles? If you are persistent, you can find some great deals for plane rides. You just have to know how to put them to good use. I’ll plan to write a post in the near future to help with using your miles.

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A Shift In Travel Writing Strategy

I haven’t spent a lot of time posting to this blog lately.  I have a big project going on and it has taken up much of my time.  I’ve decided to shift my travel writing strategy and move towards a self-publishing model.  I enjoy writing and posting new articles on 10 Minute Travel.  I also enjoy taking pictures and putting together interesting video for the site.  So now I have invested in a website design for a new concept that I hope will be well received.  I will produce and publish the content and hopefully attract some advertisers.  It’s where I want to be in the 5-year plan I’ve put together.  When the site is ready, I’ll announce it here!

The point of this post is to continue discussing the pursuit of income, deducting expenses and ways to get your work in front of the people who can publish it, pay you and ultimately help you in your career aspirations.  I’d like to share my journey with you so we might both learn something.  The time-frame is 5 years and the project is massive (scary massive).  But, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Publishing content has its advantages, since you don’t need to go through the query process and try to sell ideas to prospective magazine editors.  You establish the type of content you want to deliver to your readers and start writing!  The hard part is going to be getting readers to come to your site (or find it in the first place).  So good search engine visibility is key.  But many people want to be writers, not webmasters.  So we’ll skip the discussion of how to develop and promote a website, and focus instead on how to do the following:

1. Write good quality articles (know what the editor wants)
2. Safely and accurately deduct your allowable travel expenses
3. Be more productive

Valuable Lesson #1 – Pay attention to what the editor wants!

As a publisher myself (I get a small number of article submissions to 10 Minute Travel), I know that people don’t usually bother to try to understand the type of articles I will accept.  I have a detailed description on the site of what I am looking for, but even though I have the terms of use right on the submission page, most people don’t bother to try to understand what I am looking for.  So I end up deleting a lot of articles, tips and travel reviews because they don’t conform to the terms of use.  I hate to discard these articles, but they do not fit into the framework that I’ve worked so hard to establish.  There is also a large amount of SPAM that is deposited by people just to get links back to their own websites.  Those are deleted almost immediately, and I often delete their username if the submission is obviously SPAM.  So the point I am making here is – editors have a magazine to fill with content.  They have a certain type of content that they want writers (YOU) to send them.  If you don’t follow the same style that all the articles normally follow, the editors will not even consider your work and you are done before you even get started.  Do a little homework, ask them if they have style or submission guidelines, and read their publication to see what they are offering their readers.  You will have to write articles that fit into their way of doing things.  If you don’t, you won’t get any assignments.

Valuable Lesson #2 – Follow the editor’s instructions when you do get an assignment!

People often send me articles that aren’t right for 10 Minute Travel.  They are general in nature and wander all over the place.  There’s no real focus to the piece and I wonder why someone even took the time to write it.  In other words, the article is poorly done.  I often take the time to write a long email to the person who sent me the article, and ask them to modify it.  I provide feedback and an explanation of how the article should be changed to be acceptable.  When I get a reply back, the article has been edited, but it seems as though the person didn’t even read the directions I gave.  It is still all wrong and not something that I would even consider publishing.  So I usually send one more request for changes and hope that I get a usable article.  I bring this up because editors have it much worse than I do.  They are up against deadlines and all kinds of pressure to fill their pages.  The last thing they want to do is go back and forth with a writer who can’t follow simple directions.  If you are lucky enough to get an assignment, don’t mess up your chances of getting another writing job by being hard to work with.  People who don’t follow directions won’t be invited to write for a publication a second time.  Your livelihood depends on repeat business and a good working relationship with as many editors as possible.  If you can make the editor’s life easier (by producing good work, on time and with a minimum of hassle), then you might eventually become one of his or her go-to writers.  Make the editor’s life miserable, and you’ll have a lot more time on your hands.  Enough said?

Valuable Lesson #3 – Don’t try to fool the IRS.  Do your homework on travel deductions.

So many people are tempted to try deducting travel expenses that aren’t actually deductible.  The IRS is pretty specific about what you can and cannot do.  It’s not that hard to understand, but it can be confusing.  So always ask someone who knows the tax laws before you take a trip.  You will have a lot less trouble and sleep better at night.  Don’t try deducting your vacation because you spent some time writing, either.  Being audited is not worth it.  You can do a lot better by finding out what deductions you can take and maximizing them.  For example, you can deduct a certain part of your house if you use that area exclusively for writing and conducting your business.  This is the home office deduction.  It is useful for people who spend a lot of their time working at home in a dedicated place.  Don’t be afraid to claim this deduction if it applies to you.

Valuable Lesson #4 – Stay away from those things that waste your time.

I can’t emphasize this point enough.  Start disconnecting yourself from time-wasters.  You know – Facebook, Twitter, news websites, etc.  These things all cut into your valuable time during the week.  It’s really easy to waste two hours when no one is cracking the whip over your head.  If you spend a lot of time doing unproductive things online, it’s time to start breaking away from them and setting goals for yourself.  As a writer, you should be writing 1,000 words every day.  That’s how you stay sharp and focused.  Musicians practice every day.  Athletes work out constantly to stay in shape.  Writers need to practice their craft often to stay at the top of their game.  So should you.

I hope this helps a little bit.  I have been able to claim a few of the deductions on my taxes this year.  A good way to get all your deductions lined up is to use tax software.  It will help you get your taxes done right.

 

If you are looking for more in-depth information on travel writing, please visit Gordon Burgett’s product page for some of the best ebooks on the subject of writing. He’s one of the best!  And his book, “The Travel Writer’s Guide” is first rate!

How to Get Your Book Published Free in Minutes and Marketed Worldwide in Days
Test Your Niche Book First!
Travel Writer’s Guide (Trade Paperback Book)
How to Set Up and Market Your Own Seminar (audio series)

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Review Of IRS Rules For Deducting Travel

I’ve been doing some more research on what the IRS says you can and cannot deduct when you travel.  This is important to know so that you don’t run into trouble when tax time comes.  I have a trip coming up in June and I want to find out if any of the business work I plan to do will be deductible.  The trip will be mostly for a vacation, but real work will also be done to gather information for the website.  I have a plan to talk to my tax preparer before I go to see if they offer any worksheets or guidelines.  Preparing taxes is their main business, so they should know!

The IRS says you must classify any trips outside of the United States as one of the following:

1. Travel Entirely for Business – this is where you fly somewhere overseas and spend each day working or being on site for business purposes.  This applies even if you spend a lot of the time waiting for something or someone or if you are just required to be there because the business requires it.  There are many possible scenarios, so you should read the rules to be sure you understand them.

2. Travel Primarily for Business – If most of your time will be spent on business, but some of your time will be non-business related, then you cannot deduct the entire cost of your trip.  You must follow the IRS “Travel allocation rules”.  That way, you can deduct the correct amount of your expenses and stay out of trouble.

3. Travel Primarily for Vacation – If your primary purpose for traveling is for a vacation, then you cannot deduct any of your expenses.  The exception would be if you attended some type of seminar or continuing education training that was directly related to your business while you were there.  You might also be able to deduct expenses for travel or meals if the expenses were directly connected with your business activities.  Here’s an example: You fly to France from the United States on a vacation.  While in France, you go to another city with the intent of meeting a person to interview for a travel article you are writing.  If you spend the day working on your article and gathering information, then the cost of your travel to your destination and back is deductible.  Also, 50% of your meals should be deductible.  You will have a tougher time deducting hotel costs for this work, though.  It would be best not to try deducting hotel costs unless you have a letter from a magazine or other publication telling you to proceed with an article submission.  Without having that first, you are going to have a difficult time justifying the expense.  So stick to the basic deductions and you should be fine.  The same applies to travel expenses in the United States.  You will want to deduct your car mileage, so keep good records when you travel for business.  Finally, when traveling primarily for vacation, forget about deducting any airfare or other expenses.  The IRS will not look kindly on a tax return with travel expenses taken during a vacation trip.

And, in addition to the above, your trips out of the country need to be classified as either one week or less, or more than one week.  The rule for that is:

1. If your trip overseas is less than one week, then you would not count the first day of the trip, but you would count the last day.

2. If your trip is more than one week, then you would count the day you leave and the day you return.

There are rules for the things you can deduct as well.  The IRS allows a deduction for hotels, travel, entertainment and meals.  The rules are very specific and you are allowed to take a standard meal allowance or else you can deduct 50% of your meal costs (but make sure to get receipts).  Thankfully, there is plenty of Online tax software to help you along the way.

Here is a link to the IRS website.  The rules are fairly complex, but study them and you’ll soon be well-versed in allowable deductions for travel.

http://www.irs.gov/publications/p463/ch01.html

As usual, do your research and know what the rules are.  You don’t want to try to claim anything that is not allowed. Be reasonable and stay within IRS guidelines.

 

I hope this helps some of you to understand the rules for travel deductions in the United States.  You’ll get fewer (unwanted) letters from the IRS if you know the rules before you go.  Good luck!

Please visit Gordon Burgett’s product page for some of the best ebooks on the subject of writing. He’s one of the best! And his book, “The Travel Writer’s Guide” is first rate!

How to Get Your Book Published Free in Minutes and Marketed Worldwide in Days
Test Your Niche Book First!
Travel Writer’s Guide (Trade Paperback Book)
How to Set Up and Market Your Own Seminar (audio series)

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