Recap

It has been a busy few months.

Since the last time I wrote I have:

A. Became a dual citizen (and only four excruciating years after starting the process). The first introduction I got to being a a citizen: more bureaucracy.

B. Realized I have raised food snobs. It occurred to me while sitting down to a delicious Mediterranean meal by the Ionian sea only to listen to one of my children complain about the quality. Maybe my taste buds have been beaten into submission by British food, because I thought it was actually pretty good.

C. Rented a summer penthouse with an ocean view in a land where I don’t speak the language. Yep. I feel like some sort of superstar. I would have gone with a normal apartment, but there it was and for only a quite reasonable extra bit of cash. There was no way I could say no. Who could resist, really?

D. Had dental work fall to pieces (crowns are supposed to last for 20 years, not 2!) and got to experience foreign dentistry. I went into the first place I found with a picture of a tooth on the sign and pointed to my obliterated crown. So far, it hasn’t been any more traumatizing than seeing a dentist in any other land (my heart speeds up just at the smell of a dentist’s office), and the bill is much more soothing.

Now it’s time to sit back, relax, and finally get a tan.

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A view from our balcony

Little Differences

Anyone that has established a routine, a love for a certain brand, or even a dependency on one particular product or medication is going to have some difficulty acclimating to hopping from country to country – and yes that even includes countries that share a language. 

Familiar name brands remain a near constant as we travel, and a reminder of globalization and the effects of television and bloated advertising budgets. I have seen the same overly fruity smelling (and absolutely chemically) laundry detergent on shelves across the globe. The same goes for over the counter brands of medications such as cough syrups and pain relievers. However, upon closer inspection, in many cases it is only the label that remains the same (although I have yet to come across a chemically scented detergent that I liked in any country). 

As I cross borders, in order to maintain the same basic chemical composition of products, I’ve been forced to go “off label.” An over the counter allergy medication that I trusted in the United States was only available as a sleep aid in the UK. The usual brand of allergy pills were on the shelf – but only the label remained the same. The product itself was an entirely different type of medication. Then there was birth control – I had to switch to a different brand that claimed to be equivalent to my old one. Life was never the same again – unless splitting migraines are normal. 

Thankfully, the worst I have to deal with is family planning and the occasional allergy, but I wonder about people that are so settled and dependent on the EXACT products, and yet they are hoping to explore the world. Do they really think that it will all be exactly the same, as if we can live in completely insulated and steady bubbles regardless of the countries we live in? Not even the water tastes the same. Why would the products be identical?

I was listening to someone the other day go on and on about the perfect medical marijuana strain that he had, and how he needed to go across the globe to grow it on a tropical beach because his current government was corrupt and he needed the substance on a daily basis. My eyes nearly rolled into the back of my head, and it’s not because I’d somehow managed decades on this planet without ever seeing a joint rolled (Is that even possible?). First off, government by its very nature is corrupt. You can’t amass that much power in one place and expect absolutely no one to take advantage of it. That would be insanity.

But, that’s beside the point. I was thinking about his exact strain that he needed every day, He wanted to grow and consume it, on a beach, and in a different country, and if he didn’t he said he would end up in the hospital.

1. First, what is he going to do in the time in his new country before his harvest (or, in the case of those of us that choose other cures, in the time while waiting for a doctor’s appointment or seeking out local remedies)? Is he just going to spend a lot of time feeling ill in the local hospital? 

2. Secondly, how is he going to get a usable amount of his exact strain into the country for long enough to cover his grow time (or, for the rest of us, the time required to try 5 different medications or local remedies until we find one that works as well as the one we are accustomed to)? – Last time I checked, there were customs limits on the amount of medications and other products that could be brought into many countries. Some countries even limit things like perfume. As for marijuana, I don’t know of an airline or customs officer that allows it. 

This actually reminds me of my eternal search for a lotion that is natural and that actually absorbs into my skin instead of leaving it feeling oddly dry and greasy at the same time. As soon as I find one, usually in some tiny niche market in some equally tiny bit of the globe that refuses to export, they tend to either go out of business or start adding chemicals and other junk (that overly obnoxious perfume) to stay in the competition. I just recently ordered a bottle of lotion for the road from my latest favorite niche company. What arrived was smaller, overly geranium scented, and a whole lot more drying than their regular product that I had grown to love. I spend a lot of time with dry skin. 

3. This is all assuming that our grower buddy can even get his seedlings for his exact strain into the country to grow in the first place. I’m not sure that ending up in jail for breaking international shipping law is really going to help his medical condition. The same goes for my over the counter jar of allergy medication. To me, it’s just something to make my nose stop running, but do you think I really want to have that conversation while in a holding cell? In at least one country, it’s illegal in large amounts, so I have to make due with a packet or two until I find a local alternative. In Japan, it’s not allowed in the dosage that it comes standard in everywhere else. In Zambia, my innocent over the counter pills are illegal in any amount, so if I ever go there you’ll find me sniffling, when I should just be out and enjoying the sun. 

Travel is one of those wonderful things that allow us to get away from all of the things that irritate us and find a completely new world of things that irritate us. The thing is, if you’re prone to having negative side effects from even the smallest changes in a product, like my skin is by the simplest addition of one ingredient to an entire bottle of lotion, then consider just how much further irritation you can take and if it’s worth it. Because that product bubble you are in – travel will burst it. Take it from someone that currently owns over $100 in lotions that don’t work. 

Coincidentally, if you ever run across me and happen to need something for dry skin, I have about half a dozen bottles to spare.

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Fantasy vs Reality

There’s something so enticing about traveling the globe. It could be (and usually is) plastered across shiny magazine covers as an escape from the ordinary. The average published scenario usually goes something like this:

Picture perfect travel parent to picture perfect child:

“Honey, we’re going to Greece!”

Child happily exclaims:

“Weeee, I love the food there and maybe we’ll get to see our friends Αλκιβιαδης and Φιλιππος again!

Meanwhile, in my reality:

Me: “What do you think about a couple of months soaking up the sun in Greece?”

Angst filled teen:

“Oh my god, ANOTHER language? Have you SEEN their alphabet? And what about their INTERNET speed? Did the internet speed survive their financial crisis???”

England was actually one of the easier places to sell, thanks to the common language and promises of a decent internet connection. Or it was until the topic of politics came up.

In other news, Greece is still on the list. I’ll post nicely Photoshop-adjusted magazine quality photos of beaches when we go – or a picture of a working wifi source – whichever the family collective ends up feeling is more important.

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Misconceptions and Minor Peeves

There’s something about the online travel community that drives me to drink on occasion. I love everyone, I love the stories, I love the photographs, but there are a few things that just……

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Such as:

How it’s always a competition as to who can have the smallest carry-on/pack the least amount of stuff. 

Everyone does it. They show you pictures of this tiny name brand well-packed bag of essentials that magically fits carry-on luggage specifications. Everyone fawns over their amazing ability to somehow travel the world with nothing but two pairs of rolled up shorts and a tablet.

Want to see my backpack for the next trip through Europe? Here is one of its twins:

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It won’t win me any packing awards, but I bet it does a better job of keeping the rain off than the emergency poncho shoved into the side pocket of that carry-on.

or

How every digital nomad has amazingly successful startups that all blossomed from day one. 

Want to know a secret? I’ve spent the past 5 years working for startup companies. I have never owned one. I’m not amazingly rich. In fact, there have been years when I have done my taxes online and the little warning icon has popped up along with the message, “This income is too low to be real. You are likely to be audited.” Does that mean I’m penniless? Thankfully, usually, no. Does it mean the next thing on this list irks me? Probably.

or

How anyone can pay $2000+ a month for accommodations for one person and then claim to be a budget traveler. 

Now, this one primarily applies to long-term travelers, and not tourists. $2000 a month for a tourist is probably astoundingly low. I was looking at tickets and accommodations for Disneyland France the other day, and a couple of night in a park sponsored hotel could have eaten up that entire budget with ease. But, if you are staying in a country for a couple of months with $4000 a month rent (I recently ran across people paying exactly that to stay in a room in San Francisco and elsewhere on a temporary basis), plus paying airfare, plus all of the other million little things (taxes, medical, visas, food, coffee, clothing to supplement those two pairs of shorts), then you may as well be bleeding out money all over the map. Is that really sustainable for a *cough* “budget” traveler?

or

That guy that made a Youtube travel video in a country where nodding means no and shaking your head means yes, and then spent the entire video responding to locals as if a nod meant yes and a shake of the head meant no.

Okay, actually I love his videos and he had me dying laughing. And perhaps the natives knew that tourists are generally confused, and thus they nodded in a way that most of the world would understand. All I know is that we spent a good half hour eating popcorn and giggling every time we saw him respond positively to a nod of the head. I’m sure it’s a mistake that any of us could have made, but that didn’t make it any less funny. Personally, I’m practicing not nodding at all – that’s one problem solved.

or

The fact that no one is my age.

There are a few that are, but they’re generally the “one year of travel” types. They’ve saved up their whole lives for this, have a planned itinerary, and will be spending their days drinking margaritas on the beach (actually, that last part doesn’t sound like a bad idea) before heading back home. The fact is that most people wandering the globe seem to be either in their twenties or retired. I have teenagers, thus I belong to neither of those categories. Sometimes it’s lonely being me.

 

Rant over, if it even was a rant….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choices, choices

To car or not to car?

I have a confession to make. Well, two actually.

1) I do not want to live out of one piece of carry-on luggage.

2) Whenever I go car shopping, my brain drops out, all reasoning flies out the window, and I end up hugging the biggest and shiniest fuel guzzler on the lot.

So, while planning a trip that involves traversing the entire European Union and then some, I started going car shopping….and I fell in love with a Land Rover. Yes, my carbon footprint is crying. But it comes with advantages, really.

1) It should survive even the most dangerous roads, and since at some point I’ll be driving through one of the more notorious countries in the area when it comes to fatal roads that are falling apart (Albania), that’s a definite plus. If fact, I bet I could install a roll cage in a Land Rover.

2) It opens up the possibility of going camping.

3) Sleeping in it now and then isn’t entirely implausible.

4) There is room to bring a few comforts of home that I would probably wither away and die without.

5) Protection from the rain and snow!

6) I love driving. I bet I’d really love driving a Land Rover.

7) Portable mobile phone charger!

8) Shinnnnyyyyyyyyyy!

9) It will be easier to access cheaper accommodations outside of urban areas.

 

And the disadvantages:

1) 13 miles to the gallon in the city.

2) The cost of fuel…..

3) That’s a lot of fuel. It would cost nearly $1000 to get across Europe, one way. The trip involves a return at some point.

4) Evil well-deserved looks from environmentalists.

5) The cost of multi-nation insurance, maintenance and parking

6) Larger import fees/taxes and higher rates on ferries than a normal sized car would have.

7) Driving through nations that scare me, rather than flying over them. Bosnia, for example. I would wholly understand if someone there didn’t like Americans very much.

8) Not as much of an opportunity to spend my life trying to get bumped off of flights for the chance at free tickets and other swag.

9) What if I suddenly decide I want to go to South America?

 

Decisions, decisions…..

 

Countries to stay in long(ish) term as an American without a visa

I hate bureaucracy. I mean, I really hate it. I’m still waiting on one country to get back to me after submitting several thousand dollars worth of official signed, sealed and then re-sealed documents…and it’s been about 8 months since I turned it all in. Their consulate quit returning my phone calls 3 months ago. So, when planning our upcoming adventures, it’s probably understandable that I started hunting for places that required a bit less paperwork. This is what I found:

Note: rules change every day. Check with countries to make sure these are still valid before heading off to anywhere. This is in no way an extensive list. I may have missed a dozen countries because of minor details like their embassy no longer having a website (seriously). 

Marshall Islands – indefinite stay and right to work 

If you do not mind moving to an area that the US once used as a nuclear test bomb site, they are willing and happy (??) to allow Americans to live and work there indefinitely without need for a visa or work permit. Just show up on your best behavior. This happy little rule is due to a reciprocal agreement between the US and the Marshall Islands. I believe it is due to expire in 2023, but internet rumor tells us that the right to stay should remain beyond that year.

Micronesia – indefinite stay and right to work

Same deal as the Marshall Islands and in the same Pacific area, just a bit less irradiated, and I’m not sure of when the agreement expires.

US territories and the like – Guam, US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands

As an American, you may work and stay in these locations as long as you would like without needing a visa or work permit. They may have some of the same government services that you are accustomed to back home. Yay for familiar bureaucracy?

Palau – one year stay and right to work

Palau is another tropical paradise in the Pacific (or it looks like one from my current location behind a laptop in cold and rainy England). Americans may enter without a visa and stay for up to one year. You may work without a permit during that time.

Albania – one year stay and right to work 

As an American, you may enter the country with no visa for up to one year and work there without a permit. There is some sort of work permit exemption document that you may have to pick up at the Ministry of something-or-other in order to show potential employers that it’s okay to hire you. After a year, you must leave the country for three months before the timer is reset and you can enter for another year.

Countries in which you can enter without a visa and stay for six months with no right to work

  • Armenia
  • Canada
  • Cayman Islands
  • Dominica
  • Mexico (but requires a “document Forma Migratoria Multiple” for stays longer than 72 hours)
  • Montserrat
  • Panama
  • Peru
  • United Kingdom

Countries in which you can enter without a visa and stay for four months with no right to work

  • Fiji -There is a visa issued upon arrival. Hey, it’s slightly less paperwork, right?
  • Tunisia

Countries in which the original entry without a visa is for less than 6 months, but it can be extended to 6 months or so. There is no right to work in these as far as I know. 

  • Barbados – 28 days, extendable to up to 6 months
  • Belize – 1 month, extendable to up to 6 months
  • Bermuda – Up to 6 months, but it is decided upon arrival
  • Ecuador – 90 days, extendable for an additional 90 days
  • Grenada – 90 days, extendable for ??
  • Seychelles – 1 month, extendable to up to a year
  • Sint Maarten – 30 days, extendable to 180 days
  • Vanuatu – 30 days, extendable to 120 days

Countries in which you can stay up to 90 days without a visa

– Too many to mention

……Next (if I ever get around to doing all of the research) will be countries that you can get citizenship in even with a criminal record (yes, Dorothy, they do exist and there are more than you think).

It’s been a while

I let life catch up with me for a while and missed blogging for so long that WordPress changed its entire theme while I was gone. I can’t even find the messages section. It has to be somewhere, right?? I have been packing and unpacking, planning and unplanning (Yes, spellchecker, I’m aware that is not a word.) as we move towards getting on the road again. There is something about trying to fit a year of European travel into a budget and suitcase ahead of time that you just know is going to fail in some vital area.

Do I get a van with all of the associated costs as well as the associated comforts of protection from weather and not having to limit myself to the contents of a suitcase?

Does a warm beach in a conflict zone count as a vacation or work when one has a conflict-related degree?

All of the stuff the family has accumulated together in our time in England – Do we sell it all off on Ebay, throw it all in storage (In which country?), or is there a third option? I’ve been going through it bit by bit, discarding what is useless, bribing the kids to reduce, and slowly selling off the things we never even used. Say goodbye to all but one – or two – of my pairs of very impractical but oh so awesome heels. Yes, there is a consumer that lurks in me – her current incarnation has involved shoes. At my present rate of progress, we could be here for several more months.

Then there’s work. I need an additional gig that manages to pay enough that there will still be something left over for me if I have to sit around in a coffee shop ordering lattes and scones for 3 in order to steal (um, borrow) their wifi and get any work done.

So, that’s what I have been up to. How have you been?

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