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). Side note: This has nothing at all to do with my finding out the hard way 20 years ago that the US doesn’t actually like its official parties questioned on radio and will go as far as to arrest the person doing nothing more than adjusting the sound board. Nothing at all….

 

 

 

 

 

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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Where there are no closets (not really a travel post)

My daughter has always had a strong need to support those whose rights have been diminished or violated by others, and thus she expresses concern at the opposition to gay marriage. It has gotten to the point that “allows gay marriage” is right up there on the list along with “somewhat affordable” and “good weather” when it comes to requirements a travel destination should preferably have. This is despite the fact that there is no one in the family with marriage plans any time soon, gay or otherwise, which gets me closer to my point…

 

Lately she has been asking what we think her preference will be. Will she like boys or girls (or both *faints*)? My response: “You’re eleven, wait until you’re a teenager and the hormones kick in. You’ll just know.” A generation or so ago, this was a topic that rarely came up, especially in straight households like ours. It was assumed that you would grow up to like the opposite gender the same as your parents had, and if you didn’t – well, that was possible but unlikely or even uncomfortable, so it wasn’t much food for thought. Whatever my daughter’s preference might end up being, there is never going to be that moment of realization or coming out of the closet of generations past. It’s just going to be an answer to a question, and that’s it.

 
It’s a question I have been getting pestered with enough lately. No kid likes to hear that they aren’t going to get an answer any time in the near future. I have done my best to explain that whomever we are attracted to has little to do with what our rational mind tells us we should be attracted to, and thus our sexuality really is something that our hormones – rather than our minds – tend to dictate. Yes, our minds can take over and tell us not to listen to our bodies – I used to do that every time my hormones told me that I should be interested in a cute blonde dread-locked stoner dropout that was never ever going to grow up (I still wonder how that would have turned out) – but we cannot ignore those hormones completely.

 
I know, I’ve considered wholly ignoring my annoyingly straight urges for what seems like a simpler life. I have to say that I’ve always thought life as a lesbian could have its advantages. Unplanned pregnancies would be a thing of distant legends and I wouldn’t find myself stuck in a gender specific role that has me slaving over the stove for pretty much every meal. In reality, I ended up with a man who was raised in a idyllic gender-sorted 1950s household (with parents from that actual era). Thanks to that upbringing, he cannot even cook an egg without burning down the house or endangering the health of everyone around. Earlier today, I thoughtlessly offered up a grapefruit for him to cut for his breakfast, since the rest of us were eating something foreign to his taste buds. His stricken and horrified expression at the unprepared piece of fruit made it obvious that I had just asked him to do the most complex task on earth. If he were a woman and I could just get breakfast in bed now and then… I’m just saying it sounds like bliss. I did hang out with lesbians for the longest time in university and quite enjoyed the company as friends. I just couldn’t get my hormones to behave in a way that would make me actually attracted to them, despite my brain saying that it would be a blissful and breakfast in bed filled existence.

 
As for my hopes for my daughter, when she grows up I hope she finds happiness and someone that can cook an egg, whatever gender they might be.

 

Note: my daughter approved this post, although she did object to my feigning fainting at bisexuality and my stereotyping women into the role of people that provide breakfast in bed. I guess even now I’m still considered old school.

 

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The second leg: San Francisco in the 90s

Riding from coast to coast on a Greyhound bus began to feel like a moment displaced in time. Ever since then every Greyhound bus ride has felt like an extension of the first one. There was the never ending movement, the hushed conversations and a parade of characters with long lives and even longer stories to share – they were the ones that had traveled enough to know that sitting in the back and vying for the only section that had more than 2 seats together was about the only way to guarantee a good night’s sleep during the journey. For some reason, a disproportionate amount of the tales told back there were spoken by jazz musicians and centered around New Orleans.

As we entered California, it seemed that every town we passed through had rows of palm trees as if to symbolize and strengthen the image of sunny California. It seemed a bit odd since we were driving in through a northern route and heading straight for foggy San Francisco. Finally, we arrived. I remember it taking an age to get my luggage since they insisted on taking it off the bus for us there. I walked out of the station and into the Market district. Other than it being a sunny day, it was classic San Francisco. I saw electric buses running along their power lines, wide Market Street, trollies, hotels, and a tourist section surrounding a small green park complete with its own mad woman feeding the pigeons. I watched while she was literally covered in the birds. Someone sitting nearby leaned over and whispered to me, “Those birds have lice.” – good to know.

I estimated that I had roughly enough money to settle in for a month and do some serious job searching, and not much more. I found a coffee shop a few blocks above market and settled into one of its sofas with a coffee, a sandwich, and the classifieds. My backpack seemed to attract conversation, mostly from other travelers. The first person I met was the classic vision of a surfer – lingo, long blonde hair and all. It seemed perfect that he was the first to welcome me to the land. He could have been an ambassador for the California life. In that moment I thought there would be others like him, but I wouldn’t meet anyone else with that same style in San Francisco. I must have stayed in the coffee shop for hours. In my time there, I managed to find something out through a combination of perusing the classifieds and speaking with the natives – at age seventeen, I wasn’t actually old enough to work in California without some sort of permit that was out of my reach as a visitor. Having just come from a state that allowed me to live on my own as well as seek employment since the age of 16, I was shocked. Call it my first expat-in-training lesson in how states and nations never seem to follow the same basic laws that we take for granted and that govern our lives. In that moment my entire plan just sort of died. I had to find a way to make it through the next eleven months without employment. The first change that I made – I stopped buying expensive coffee shop sandwiches. That was a major sacrifice.

My surfer friend wasn’t doing much better apparently. When I met him he had been staying in a hostel. During the next few weeks, I would start to find him waking up in a building’s doorway more often than not when I was on my early morning walks. I felt bad for the guy and buying him a morning coffee became a tradition. It got to the point that I actually worried about him when I didn’t see him there. As for myself, I lucked out and found a really decent residential hotel nearby with nice staff in an older and well maintained building. It was about $125 a week for a private room and served free breakfast. There were no complaints from me, even if I did have to share a shower room with about ten other people (I bought flip-flops). As for how I rented a room at age seventeen, well, let’s just say that being a nerd pays off sometimes. The university ID I had from my time in an on-campus young scholar’s program was something that no hotel clerk ever questioned despite it lacking a birth-date.

Having finally settled into San Francisco to some degree, my next stop would be the Haight-Ashbury district. I still had to find my community – and an income.

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

Photo by John Sullivan 

The first leg

When I was a teen, I probably should have died a hundred times over. I was just finding my way in the world and would tumble, fall, and go with wherever life happened to throw me. I set a stable path for myself and worked hard on it, but it must have been made of glass. I always managed to slip off in the end.

One of the first (travel related) glaringly obvious times this occurred, I had just turned 17. I was going to school, getting straight As, working, living on my own in a house full of university students, partying on the weekends and generally having one of those lives that made the other kids either jealous or grateful for their limited responsibilities. I thought I had everything under control, until I found out the student that we had been giving our collective rent money to all year had just spent three months straight spending it on himself rather than actually paying the landlord. We lost the house.

I spent that summer bouncing between friends’ couches and contemplating what to do with my life. A friend and I decided to go spend time in Rhode Island where he was from. I was tired of bouncing around aimlessly and decided to go a week earlier than him in order to get myself acquainted with the area. I gave notice at work, insanely over-packed for the journey, and off I went on the train to Providence. I must have been wearing some giant “Bother and exploit me; I’m young and clearly vulnerable.” sign that I couldn’t see attached to my 100 pound backpack. Within an hour of entering the city, I already had some random man with a heavy accent following behind me like a dog and trying to get me into his car (Yeah, right. Like that was happening.). After what seemed like an age, I spotted an underground parking garage and ran into it (If this were a horror movie I’d be screaming at myself on the screen at this point – “No, not in there!”).

Thanks to sheer luck and stupidity, it ended up being the safest place imaginable. I had just stumbled into the parking garage of a government building that took its security seriously. A guard showed up almost instantaneously and whooshed me away up into the building while another one ran the man off. After half an hour spent in their lobby while they checked things out and tried to catch my pursuer, I was pretty much done with Providence.

I left the building, took half of the stuff I had packed and dumped it into a nearby waste bin, walked to the closest Greyhound bus station, and bought a ticket for the next bus to San Francisco based sheerly on the need to leave and a few things someone had once told me about the Haight Ashbury district of SF. By the next morning, I was well on my way across the country.

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The cat has nine lives and still finds this worrisome.