Long Term Travel Lifestyle

long term travel lifestyle

People ask us: What does a long term travel lifestyle look like? After being on the road for 3 years now, I can answer that question.

In general, our days are very fluid. They also vary country to country depending on the customs, accommodations, and activities. But here is an overview of what our life looks like each day.

long term travel lifestyle
Just walking around Annecy, France. Often referred to as “Little Venice” due to the canals through the town.

Fun

Let’s start with the good stuff. Each day we try do something fun. It could be something as small as taking a walk, or it could be a big event like an all-day SCUBA dive. And on some days, “fun” is staying inside and playing video games (me) or watching a TV series (Alicia).

We tend to stay in places where fun things are easily accessible. It sucks to travel a hour each way: that’s basically a commute. So we switch locations often because that cuts down on overall travel time.

kayak tour new zealand
Kayaking in New Zealand

Learning how to live

We have to relearn how to live every time we change locations. From simple things like buying food, to transportation, and even how to work the shower. Imagine everything in your day as being completely different, every few weeks. And I mean everything: different bed, different meals, different home, different language, etc.

Sometimes, we even have to relearn pooping.

It can be very mentally draining, so we travel slower than a person would on vacation.

Sleep

Some cultures have different sleep schedules that basically force us to get in sync. “Siesta” (napping) cultures like Argentina and Spain have schedules that look like this:

  • 9 AM: wake up
  • 10 AM-2 PM: work
  • 2 PM: Lunch
  • 4-5 PM: Nap
  • 5-9 PM: Work
  • 10 PM: Dinner
  • 1 AM: Bedtime

Trying to get lunch at noon or dinner at 6 in these cultures will severely disappoint. Shops and stores close for siesta during the day. Trying to fight against an entire culture is a losing battle, so we take the naps and eat dinner at 10 PM like everyone else.

Exercise

Gyms don’t really want people who stay for one or two weeks at a time, so we mostly do bodyweight movements and running. Alicia does Jillian Michaels workouts¬†on her Kindle device with a yoga mat found at a random store. I buy a pull-up bar when I can find it in local stores. Between pull-ups, push-ups, and running, that fulfills most basic exercises. It might seem wasteful to use a pull-up bar for a week and then throw it away, consider it an at-home gym for $20.

The best part about travel is the constant walking. It keeps us naturally fit and healthy without even thinking too much about exercise.

Eating

picadas buenos aires
Sometimes dinner can be an event, too. Above: eating “picadas” in Buenos Aires. It’s a small meal at 5pm consisting of meats, cheese, and wine. It’s very Argentinian.

We eat what the locals eat. Trying to find an American style breakfast in other countries will generally lead to disappointment. Besides, the local foods are interesting and wonderful.

Eggs and coffee are staples of our diet because they are found everywhere. In some countries (typically South East Asia), getting enough protein can be challenging. But eggs solve that problem and are plentiful and cheap everywhere in the world.

As wonderful as other culture’s food can be, I admit there are times where I crave American food. I binge on the worst fast food when back in the US because it’s impossible to get anywhere else. Even the burgers at McDonald’s are different when traveling because they are from locally sourced beef. Hamburger in the US is typically 20-30% fat, but in other countries it’s 4-10%.

Travel Days

My wife and I travel with backpacks only. When we went around the world in a one year (top 10 and bottom 10 experiences), we stayed in 33 different locations. That’s an average of moving every 5 days! We’re quite experienced at moving around.

And I can say this about Travel Days: they pretty much ruin the entire day. Between checking out, getting to the station/airport, traveling, checking in, getting settled, and finding food, the day is nearly gone. Yes, even for short trips such as moving across town.

While typical vacationers can muster the energy to go sight-seeing (because vacations are less than 2 weeks long), it’s generally better for long term travel not to over-exert yourself like that. Your brain works overtime when you get to a new location because it’s taking in all the new sights, sounds, and smells. It’s mentally taxing to find your way around in the new location. It’s better to get situated and plan a bigger day for the next morning.

Remember, we aren’t on vacation: this is our life. We can’t go at vacation pace every day because we’d drop dead from exhaustion.

Work

Our work life ranges from very little to frantic. In 2016, we took on more work and there were a few months where we locked ourselves to our computers. That killed the south island of New Zealand for us, so we pulled back on the work front. We typically cram work into 1-2 days per week and enjoy a 5 or 6 day weekend. How can we do that? Tip: meetings are a gigantic waste of time and you should do everything in your power to avoid them.

The few meetings we have are typically at odd times because of the time differences. In South East Asia, our meetings are typically after midnight. In Europe, our calls are after 8 PM. The upside to the time differences are that we look amazing because we send emails while everyone back in the US is sleeping! It makes us look very productive. ūüėČ

Would you like long term travel?

I’m not sure most people would like our lifestyle. While it works very well for us, most people enjoy traditional things such as a home and local community. We have to relearn how to live our life every time we change locations, from food to shopping to transportation.

For us, it’s perfect. We just got into Italy yesterday, and now we are going to walk around Rome. It’s not a vacation, it’s our life.

How to find good internet while traveling

internet-speed

We’ve been to roughly 30 countries so far, and here’s how we find good internet while traveling.

Not having internet isn’t an option for us. Here are the things we’ve learned to continue to work no matter where we are.

Cities naturally have better internet than remote locations

Any large city is going to have good internet just because modern business requires it. This doesn’t mean that just because you’re in Rome that any location will do, but it does give you quite a bit of options. Going to the rural parts of the country can be very hit or miss as the infrastructure isn’t there.

Rural area internet is often based off of cell towers. This can bring unique problems. For example, in Ollentaytumbo Peru, the internet would crash when 3+ tour buses rolled into town at 10AM. Everyone on the buses had mobile devices and it was simply too much for the system to handle. The internet would magically come back on right as the buses left town. Another issue with cell towers is that the house needs to be in line-of-sight of the tower. The reception will be poor if a house is in a small valley or on the wrong side of a peninsula, as we experienced in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Check internet coverage maps of rural areas to check if your place is in a blind spot

This doesn’t mean you have to stay in a big city all the time! We typically schedule city stays for when we know we’ll have a higher workload. We still expect to get good internet in the rural areas by following the advice below, but it wouldn’t be a huge deal if it wasn’t great internet.

Airbnb internet is vastly better than Hotel internet 99% of the time

In one year alone, we stayed in 33 Airbnbs and 24 hotels across the world and have never found hotel to be better than Airbnb. There’s always some jerk in the hotel downloading the entire internet. Airbnb internet is better because there are fewer people on the router. Many times it’s just your devices only. A hotel has to accommodate not only 3+ devices per guest, but also the employees working there.

Note that some Airbnb’s are actually hotels pretending to be Airbnb’s. These are hit or miss. If each room has its own router, then it’s probably OK. If there’s a router per floor, it’s almost always poor.

How to Read Reviews

If the review has ANY bad mentions of internet, move on. There’s so many places to stay that you don’t need to put up with this.

Trust business traveler reviews over normal travelers that just want internet to post a picture or check email. Business travelers often need to download large files or screen-share.

Look for reviews that mention streaming or gaming (two bandwidth intensive activities) to get a sense of how good it is.

Have a backup plan

Let’s say you stayed in a big city Airbnb and read all the reviews, but you didn’t get good internet. That’s going to happen if you travel enough.

Starbucks and¬†McDonald’s, not local coffee shops

Sure it feels bad hanging out in McDonald’s while in a foreign country. But Ronald McDonald doesn’t screw around with internet quality: it’s consistently good from country to country. Starbucks is good too, but there will be more people slowing it down because it’s more typical to go there for internet.

A local coffee place is usually worse for internet. There’s a higher chance the employees are leeching it. Or as we saw in Peru, locals sit on the steps outside and leech it when it’s turned on (it’s usually off since it’s based on a prepaid cell phone plan and not unlimited). We visited several places just for internet, and everywhere we went there became a little group of people sitting on the stairs outside because this is how they got internet access.

Co-working spaces

These are becoming very popular in any large city. While they are more expensive than hanging out in Starbucks, they also will have great internet, a quiet environment, and comfortable chairs and desks.

SIM cards

Installing a local SIM card in your phone and purchasing a local phone plan is cheaper than you think! You can find prepaid plans in most convenience stores in any country for $30 that offer several GB of high speed data.

NOTE: Your phone must be unlocked and/or an international version. The reason phone companies pay for your smartphone is because it’s locked to their network. If you leave their network, then you have to get a new phone. That’s how they keep you. We have iPhones simply because you can buy them unlocked directly from Apple and it’s the most compatible with SIM cards around the world. (I basically despise my iPhone otherwise)

Mobile hotspot device

In some countries you can purchase a personal internet device that’s basically a cell phone. It can’t make calls like a phone can, but it has WiFi that your devices can connect with. We’ve found these to be more expensive than a SIM card and payment plan, but it does have the advantage of freeing up your phone.

Phone plans

T-mobile is the BEST. No contest and no arguments. Free 2G data wherever you go, right off the plane. 2G data isn’t enough to load most webpages, but it’s enough to load email and your social apps. We’ve found it to work incredibly well across 20 countries in South America, Central America, Oceania, SEA, and Europe.

T-mobile also has high speed data packages you can buy for $50 for 500MB, but that’s too expensive and should only be used in a pinch. Call them up and they can enable it right away if you need it for that meeting in 5 minutes. Most of the time you should buy a local SIM and plan instead.

Internet is a necessity

Using the above, we met uninterrupted international deadlines and meetings for several years while traveling.

The only place in the world where we were cut off from a client call due to bad internet? When we got back to our home in Minnesota.

European Union, I know why your economies suck

european-union-flag

Dear European Union,

You seem to be having economic problems at the moment. Fear not, for I have found your problem: you seem to be the laziest people on the planet. Using my vast common sense, I will help you fix your economies.

Step one: go to work

typical-eu-business
We stayed in Nice, France for a week. This pharmacy right next door to us was open for less than 4 hours that week. And this is typical.

One of the terms of Greece’s debt plan was that they keep “reasonable business hours”. I know you didn’t want to show up to work today. I’m standing outside your shop as we speak trying to give you money, but you didn’t do the bare minimum and sulk behind the counter. ¬†In fact, you haven’t been open all week.

Here are some things that you Euro’s think are normal which are actually crushing your economy:

  • Take a 5 day weekend if a random holiday falls on Wednesday
  • Leave for several hours with a sign saying you’ll be back later
  • Fail to show up because you didn’t feel like it
  • Close shop for 2 hours every lunch and dinner
  • Be open randomly throughout the day with no consistent hours
  • Go on vacation for your busiest months out of the entire year

The last one is particularly bizarre. If your shop specializes in services for tourists, you really shouldn’t be taking one of your¬†busiest tourist months off for vacation.

At every stop in Europe, we see many businesses that are open for only 1-2 days per week.

Step two: eat meals in under 2 hours

Eating for 6+ hours every day is pretty cool, right? I think a lot of Americans would agree with you on this point. But you guys mostly just sit around waiting for your food, killing time and not actually eating. Across the pond, people like Elon Musk think that 15 minute meals are a ridiculous waste of time that could be used productively. Let’s try and cut back to an hour at first.

Food now comes in pre-prepared states and in disposable containers. This means you can take the food wherever you want, open the package, and eat it right away! Eating at your desk can give you 4+ hours of extra productivity per person, per day. Don’t give me the “healthy” angle either because I can clearly see your drinking, chain smoking, and fries-with-everything policies.

I know you as a continent are addicted to going to a restaurant with 2 people trying to serve and cook for 50 customers¬†at once, but sitting there waiting for food isn’t doing anything other than being lazy.

Step three: don’t drink alcohol and then go to work

Here’s a true fact about the United States you Euro’s didn’t know: if you drink alcohol at lunch, there’s a very real chance your company will send you home that afternoon without pay and give you a warning for unprofessional conduct. That sound just now¬†was European’s heads collectively exploding. I’ve just opened up tens of millions of jobs and reduced unemployment. You’re welcome, EU.

The crazy theory about NOT drinking at every meal goes as follows. A human thinks clearer when not drunk. Euro’s, read that sentence again until it stops spinning.

Step four: work is not just a place for smoking

The idea is that at work a person creates value for other people through products or services. Chain smoking out front doesn’t really create value for anyone. I’m sure this is confusing because I see every business with multiple professional smokers outside all day. Try mixing in a few non-cigarette related tasks between packs and see if you make more money.

Step five: try improving things that obviously suck

On Sundays, people typically rush to the market for the 1-3 hours it’s open before everything in the country inexplicably closes. The fact that the market is PACKED every Sunday morning means that there is a real desire for things to be open on this day. Maybe do something crazy like being open on a Sunday and vacuum up all the money that no one else seems interested in collecting.

Or try and solve problems that plague your countries, like terrible infrastructure or graffiti. Many of your centuries old towns are super cute, right up until we try to find parking or use the toilet. The first person to figure out graffiti is going to make a killing. Because you guys love spray paint even more than 2 hour lunches.

Stop lying to yourselves, Europeans

Someone right now is reading this and getting really mad. ¬†They are finding studies that show Euro’s as hardworking and blah blah blah. ¬†The problem is that I’m in your countries and can’t find any evidence of hard work. ¬†I can clearly see you getting to work at 10 am (rush hour), taking a 2 hour lunch, and leaving around 6 pm (rush hour). ¬†And doing this 3-4 days per week. ¬†It’s plainly visible that your businesses are closed most of the time.

Similarly, it’s easy to tell a hard working country like Japan. ¬†Their AM rush hour starts very early. ¬†Their PM rush hour goes very late. ¬†People are still in business attire past 9 PM. ¬†The cities are lit up at night with so many offices and businesses still going strong. ¬†During the day the cities feel empty. ¬†But they come alive at night as the people pour out from their offices to enjoy an hour or two before the next 10-12 hour work day. ¬†There’s tons of evidence of hard work.

Let’s compare some US and European experiences

I’m hungry in the US. I just drive to the corner market that’s open 24 hours, or one of the fast food chains open 24 hours, or a restaurant still open, or a convenience store open 24 hours. ¬†Tons of options because eating is a very simple need.

I’m hungry in Europe. ¬†Whoops, it’s Sunday and everything is closed. ¬†Or a holiday. ¬†Or after 10 pm. ¬†Or before 11 am and no restaurant is serving food. ¬†Or 3 pm and only coffee is being served. ¬†See, even when your businesses¬†are open you guys still can’t be bothered to actually work.

We are at Disneyland in Orlando, Anaheim, Tokyo, or Hong Kong.  The rides are open all day and we have fun.

We are at Disneyland in Paris. ¬†Literally half of the rides close for both lunch and dinner, and for several hours. ¬†Sure there are people saying it’s due to “technical difficulties”, but when it happens on multiple days during both lunch and dinner and staggered across all of the rides you’re not fooling anyone. ¬†No other Disney park does this, because other cultures¬†aren’t catastrophically lazy like Europeans.

Hiking in the US. ¬†There is a severe risk of fire that day, so no one is allowed into the park. ¬†That sucks, but it’s good to be safe.

Hiking in France. ¬†There is a severe risk of fire that day, but we arrived at noon to hike and that was during their 2 hour lunch break so the park officials¬†just left their post. ¬†To hell with safety if it interferes with lunch, right? ¬†We discover we weren’t supposed to be there when we exit. ¬†There were no signs or anything either. ¬†And several dozen people were in the park. ¬†So their lunch break was worth more than several dozen people’s lives.

Work isn’t everything, but you’ve taken it too far

European Union, if you ever wonder why you’ve been passed by the US and China, it’s simple. ¬†You were out to lunch.

America poops better than you

America poops better than you

It’s true, America poops better than you do. ¬†It’s part of what makes America so great. ¬†Other countries are willing to sit in disgusting, smelly bathrooms that are in their own home! ¬†Waking up in the morning while traveling is like going to a truck stop bathroom. ¬†Just…. ugh. ¬†America puts more effort into pooping comfortably than most other countries put into anything.

America poops better than you
Found in a hotel in Bangkok. This sign is instructing people that are familiar with a squat toilet not to stand on a western toilet, or you’ll break your butt. And bleed out of it.

Here’s why this is a problem

As an American, I eat American things before I get to other countries. ¬†At home, it’s all meat and potatoes, baby. ¬†And huge portions of it as well. ¬†The next morning I will get my caffeine of choice which will shift everything into high gear. ¬†I need to get to the bathroom ASAP because there’s a toilet baby coming OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD.

After giving birth pooping while traveling, surveying the damage can yield horrifying realizations. ¬†My American man poop is larger than most of the people I will encounter that day. ¬†It’s robust, strong, and defiant of these¬†substandard¬†toilets. ¬†American poop despises foreign toilets. ¬†This poop is built from $50 worth of food. ¬†This is top shelf fecal output worthy of praise and other countries think that a simple hole in the ground system is going to be sufficient. ¬†It’s not.

keep-calm-and-poop-strong
I don’t know why this image exists, but I found it and I’m using it.

FEAR. ¬†Seeing that log in the bowl sends primal terror through me. ¬†How the hell am I going to get rid of that? ¬†This stupid toilet isn’t up for the task. ¬†That magnificent turd will lounge for days, joined by new friends every 24 hours. ¬†The pitiful attempt these toilets make at flushing just keeps it moist so it can fester and turn into a American poo pool party. ¬†We check out of this place when? ¬†There’s no plunger anywhere because these people don’t crap awesome because their food can’t¬†make weapons grade shit¬†like this.

Arriving at a new country is the worst. ¬†Eating the local food, which tends to have more fiber and dysentery-like effects, helps with the issues but doesn’t solve the underlying problems that the infrastructure is terrible.

No you can’t put the toilet paper in the toilet

Here’s a handy guide on what countries are safe to put toilet paper down the toilet.

Most South American towns and cities have structural problems with both their water and sewage. ¬†The water will just go out randomly from time to time. ¬†Water pressure is non-existent. ¬†Flushing a toilet here is just sprinkling drops of water. ¬†Sewers back up from all the garbage in them and the tiny pipes they put it through. ¬†These are all reasons why you can’t put the toilet paper down the toilet: it’ll back up instantly.

So what do you do with it? ¬†Put it in the little basket right by the toilet. ¬†Every home in South America has a litter box for humans. ¬†Stinky shit rots in every home. ¬†Going into the bathroom is a gross experience where you’re greeted with stench and can’t wait to get out of there.

Things they don’t tell you when washing your butt with water

squat-toilet

If you haven’t used or are not familiar with a squat toilet, here’s a great guide to the squat toilet. ¬†I highly suggest you read that to get a full flavor of just how awful this is.

asian-squat
3rd world squat

You are supposed to squat on those ridges on the toilet. ¬†What you don’t know until you try to do this is that your Achilles tendons don’t have the flexibility. ¬†People in 3rd world countries can have their butt an inch off the ground right next to their heels, and sit this way all day. ¬†I can’t get my butt within a foot of the ground without raising my heels. ¬†The result is that a westerner will be high-altitude bombing the floor.

Notice how wonderfully wet everything is. ¬†This is a mixture of a whole bunch of other people’s waste that surrounds you. ¬†The bucket of water on the right is for wiping. ¬†You wipe with your bare hand, and then use the cup to splash water on your backside in lieu of toilet paper. ¬†Now that you’re soaking wet, it’s time to air dry.

That article linked above had a lot of things we don’t really think about:

If you’re new to this, we recommend you take off everything below your waist, including your shoes and socks.

This is great advice, because you’re crapping right off the floor. ¬†Splash-back is a very real danger that’s greatly increased by lack of flexibility. ¬†And most Americans haven’t tried splashing water up their backside or used a spraying down there. ¬†Try it next time you’re on the toilet. ¬†Take a cup of water and try washing yourself without soaking your socks. ¬†There’s definitely a trick to doing this…

Scrub your butt with your bare hand.

In Thailand, it’s impolite to hand someone something with your left hand. ¬†This is why. ¬†The author claims that this squat toilet is more hygienic than the paper glove we use in the states, but if that was true then why do cultures that poop this way avoid other peoples’ left hand? ¬†Because this method is gross and everyone knows it, that’s why.

If there’s no paper around, then just stay squatted for an extra minute, and gravity and evaporation will do its thing

News flash: water is wet, and pouring on your butt makes you wet.  Places that have these toilets seldom have paper to dry off with.  That means you get a nice case of swamp ass after using one.  Or almost as bad, the toilet paper will be completely awful and disintegrate the moment it comes in contact with water.

Oh, and places that have these toilets often don’t have soap to wash with afterwards. ¬†So clean and hygienic!

Pooping in America is a comfortable experience

The bathrooms in the US are generally clean, quiet, and odor free.  Sure there are the exceptions, but these cases are rightly seen as outliers that deserve scorn.  Most public places are quite good.

Americans go to the bathroom with a phone and read the news while having a clean and pleasant experience.  When done, we freshen up and head back to our day with a sense of calm.  There are even people who like pooping so much that there is an app that shows how much money they make while sitting on the toilet at work!

Exception: Japan

homer-japanese-toilet
Homer: *GASP* They’re years ahead of us!

Japanese toilets are the exception to the rule.  They come with heated seats, white noise generators, timers, auto lids, self-cleaning, and more!  20 features of Japanese toilets.

It creates a certain way of life

The United States is often derided for working too much and chasing the fleeting notion of success. ¬†But you know what? ¬†We care about things, and that leads to improving our lives even if it seems trivial at the time. ¬†Because once it becomes acceptable to store smelly poop in the waste basket of your home, pretty soon it’s acceptable that you can’t drink the water. ¬†Then later it becomes acceptable that the public services in the country aren’t worth a damn. ¬†The stench that started in the bathroom has infected everything. ¬†The quality of the bathrooms directly correlates to the quality of other things in society. ¬†It wasn’t surprising to see that Japan had remarkably clean and orderly cities to match their impeccable bathrooms.

Hey, other countries!  Fix your shit.

The White Man Tax

white-man-tax-machu-picchu

Humans are basically bigots. ¬†Or as Doctor Cox says, people are bastard coated bastards with bastard filling. We judge and categorize people all the time. ¬†When you walk into a room, you’re immediately judged on your looks, dress, walk, appearance, indicated social/economic standing, etc. ¬†And you do it to: that guy looks like a lawyer, that girl is attractive, that dude looks mean.

white-man-tax-machu-picchu
The price for the train to Machu Picchu has three prices: $6 for locals, $20 for Peruvians, $120 for foreigners. It’s robbery.

In the USA I’m part of the majority: white and English speaking. While traveling abroad, I’m typically a minority in either/both ethnicity or language. In those cases, the locals often upcharge me just based on the fact that I’m an obvious foreigner. I call this the “white man tax”.

First, a little background on the assumptions we all make every day.

Categorizing people saves a ton of time and it’s mostly useful. The issue is that it often crosses the line and is unfair, incorrect, and/or detrimental. When it happens that your assumptions were wrong, you have to reevaluate. That’s the step that true bigots miss. For example, I can tell that the guy across from me is a hipster. He’s wearing the thick rimmed glasses, skinny jeans, nice watch, and leather shoes. I can guarantee he has an iPhone, Mac Air, drives a Hybrid/Diesel, has a liberal arts degree, votes democratic, posts pictures of his meals on Instagram, and reads pretentious garbage like the Atlantic to appear smarter.

Why is categorizing him useful?

  • We’re in Ecuador, so I know he’s not a local.
  • Since he’s not a local, I’d try communicating with English before my terrible Spanish.
  • He’s also a traveler, so I could ask what he’s done here for price and quality comparisons.
  • His background is similar to mine, so I would tend to believe his recommendations would be good for me as well.

Why is categorizing him not useful?

  • When I hear him speak, it’s obvious he’s a European (from Italy. I didn’t even know they had hipsters there!). So everything I stated above about his background is likely wrong. If he was from the US, it would have been pretty darn close. But that little bit of information I was missing caused me to suddenly become way off in my estimation of who he was. I have to reevaluate from the ground up and ditch my previous categorization.

What does any of this have to do with the white man tax?

We get categorized as tourists instantly while traveling. At 6’1″ and pale a ghost, I tower over and blind people from other countries. Alicia’s blonde hair is a beacon in a crowd of dark hair. It’s hard to blend in. A vendor or tout can spot us from a mile away. And when they do, there are going to be some common assumptions they make, almost all of which are usually correct:

  • Here for a short time
  • Has money to spend
  • On vacation
  • Unfamiliar with surroundings
  • Doesn’t know the language
  • Doesn’t know the prices of various goods/services
  • Doesn’t know you personally nor could point you out to anyone else

Studies have shown that if humans can cheat the system with zero risk of getting caught, they will. So when a tout sees me, a tourist, this is what is going through his mind:

  • This guy is a tourist
  • This guy has money
  • He has no idea what things actually cost, so I can just name a number
  • He has no idea who I am, so it’s not like he can give me a bad reputation
  • He’ll be gone in a day or two

So the touts just make up a number in their head, and the tourist pays it. It turns out that the touts’ categorization of the tourist was completely correct. When you look at it from their perspective, it makes perfect sense. If some goofball wants to travel halfway around the world and doesn’t bother knowing anything about anything, why not just charge them whatever?

This business practice occurs in the US, but in differnet places. In other countries it’s common to barter more for common goods. In the US it’s more common to barter for specialty goods. For example, the best business lesson I’ve ever received was from an old boss and business owner on the phone with a client. The client asked how much the product costs. My old boss replied: “How much do you have?”. The client replied that he had $80,000 this quarter, so can you guess how much the product costs? That was a real eye opener for me. If someone doesn’t know how much something costs and they aren’t concerned with getting the best deal, why not just make up a number?

Does the white man tax ever go away?

I like to ask expats this all the time, and they all say that No, It Doesn’t Go Away. Even when the expats are fluent in the language and have lived there forever, they still get upcharged just based on their ethnicity.

Maybe calling it the white man tax isn’t appropriate, as it happens to every ethnicity

While biking in Thailand, we got to talking with our tour guide about the local culture. He was resentful of Thai’s because very few people would hire him. He’s Chinese. The bike company is run by an American expat. The guide explained how the pricing system worked around Chiang Mai in terms of whiskey at a local club. Alicia and I would get charged 1000 baht ($35) for a bottle, he’d get charged 300 ($10), and Thai people would pay 200 ($7).

I thought this was weird and mostly a Thai phenomenon. Nope. In Peru going to Machu Picchu, there were three prices on the sign. One for foreigners, another for Peruvians, and another for town residents. On a lunch menu!

Some cultures are just notoriously racist. In Japan, there are signs saying “Japanese only” on some establishments. You can’t even get upcharged!

(Since I’m white and English speaking, I can’t comment on how people are categorized in Europe/Australia/US as I blend in. Feel free to comment on your experiences)

Dealing with getting upcharged

WALK AWAY. ¬†It’s the easiest and fastest way to cut through the bullshit. ¬†I promise you that someone else is offering the exact same thing and is very willing to take your money. ¬†Typically the person will lower their price the moment you start to physically turn.

Know beforehand roughly what things cost

Ask around on some forums about prices around the country. Some prices really are too low for them to accept, so get a good idea how much the basic things like food/drink/taxi/housing should roughly cost in each area. Recognize that different cities and even areas within cities can have price fluctuations.

Getting the absolute best deal isn’t always worth your time and energy

Haggling for 20 minutes over a price difference that will amount to a few dollars really isn’t worth it. While we were in Cusco, we were told that a cab from the airport to their place would be 10-15 pesos. The taxi drivers started us at 35, and we ended up paying 20 after a minute of holding firm. So instead of the cab ride costing $3-$4 USD, it cost $6 USD. Who cares? It was worth more to us to get to our destination and take a nap than go through 20 other cab drivers trying to save 2 stupid dollars.

And last, call them out on it. I’ve been upcharged when the sign above their head clearly states a lower price. Point to the sign, offer the amount it says, and they’ll relent.

Let’s call it the¬†foreigner¬†tax

If you travel to another country, it’s likely you’ll get charged the foreigner tax at some point. At the very least, you’ll get categorized in the locals’ minds. Don’t try to fight against it. It’ll just aggravate you. Instead, learn how to deal with it quickly and easily by walking away and/or ignoring it. ¬†People are not going to stop being bastard coated bastards with bastard filling any time soon.

Should you get a money belt for travel?

Should you get a money belt for travel?

People that are new to travel continually ask: should you get a money belt for traveling abroad? ¬†The short answer is “No”, and here’s why…

It doesn’t increase your safety

I’m not sure how other people in the world behave, but in America we are very conscious of our personal space. ¬†Everywhere 1 meter around us¬†is basically off-limits to strangers, and we get anxious when someone comes into our “bubble”. ¬†This is actually a great thing for traveling!

When we travel, we are voluntarily putting ourselves in potentially dangerous situations:

  • Foreign country
  • Don’t speak the language
  • Not familiar with surroundings
  • No one knows exactly where we are
  • Inept police
  • It’s obvious we are foreigners

How does a money belt solve these problems? ¬†It doesn’t. ¬†Keeping a healthy suspicion up around strangers¬†will not only protect your wallet, but also your life.

Do you really think the guy mugging¬†you believes you don’t have money?

The mugger¬†knows you came from halfway across the world to stay here for a week or two. ¬†You’re of a different ethnicity, dress differently, and speak another language. ¬†You have an iPhone and designer clothing. ¬†You flew across the planet and are coming out of a trendy bar that the mugger¬†can’t even afford to enter. ¬†And you really think that this guy is going to believe that you have no money?

All you’re doing is pissing off the guy with a gun. ¬†Here’s a tip: don’t piss of a guy with a gun.

Think of it as an investment. ¬†You’re giving him $200 so you can keep living for a few more decades. ¬†It’s so worth it, I’d make sure to give him all the change I had as well.

The mugger is a professional, you’re an amateur

The mugger has done this before. ¬†Do you really think that they’ve never encountered these belts? ¬†“Darn! ¬†Another tourist who only had $5 on him! ¬†I guess I should stay in university, because crime doesn’t pay.” ¬†Fuck no. ¬†The very definition of mugging is forcibly taking something from another person against their will. ¬†This is their job.

What about pickpockets?

Why are you letting strangers within 1 meter of you? ¬†If you are in a subway type of situation that forces close proximity, why aren’t you paying attention to everyone around you? ¬†Pickpockets need you to be distracted before they can work. ¬†If you’re alert in your surroundings, you don’t get targeted. ¬†Period.

We saw a pickpocket working on a subway in Spain. ¬†This woman was very short, under 5 foot, with a coat in one arm. ¬†In a crowded subway, it was very easy to lose track of this person. ¬†Two women were with their purses hanging over their backs were talking to each other. ¬†The pickpocket noticed the purses were open and the women not paying attention. ¬†She put the coat over the purse so others couldn’t see she was rummaging around in there. ¬†One of the other passengers who wasn’t completely oblivious tapped the woman on the arm to notice the pickpocket. ¬†Everyone backed away in a circle from the would-be thief, who got off on the next stop.

Don’t let people get close to you. ¬†It’s not like you’re missing out on surprise hugs that strangers will give.

Credit cards are extremely safe from fraud

Fraud prevention on credit cards is astoundingly good.  Two weeks after we got back from Thailand, we get a call from the credit card company:

Hi, I’m with Wells Fargo and just checking up on something. ¬†Are you in Germany right now?

“Uh, nope.”

OK, it seems there’s been a large transaction at a convenience store and we’ve shut down the card. ¬†Someone must have gotten the information off of it. ¬†We’ll send you a new one right away. ¬†You won’t be charged for their purchase.

“Thanks!”

Other times when we try to book through a foreign website, our phone will ring within a minute of the transaction. ¬†It’s the bank wondering if it’s a fraudulent purchase and they want to confirm it.

Not only are the banks really good at catching fraud, you’re not liable if someone does rack up fraudulent charges on it! ¬†Give it to the robber with a smile, and cancel the card as you walk away. ¬†This is why “express kidnappings” have become popular in some areas of South America. ¬†An express kidnapping is when they force you to make a withdrawal from an ATM and/or try to ransom you. ¬†What exactly is the money belt going to do in this situation again?

Note: debit cards do not have this kind of protection. ¬†You may still want to travel with a debit card to avoid cash advance fees from ATM’s, but rarely have it on your person and don’t keep a lot of money in that account. ¬†To avoid potential losses, limit the daily maximum withdrawal limits on your cards.

Small amounts of cash are all you need

Most things and activities that you do aren’t going to be overly expensive. ¬†Thus, you won’t need a lot of cash on your person. ¬†Even if you do have more cash on you than you’d prefer, this will generally be a short-lived situation. ¬†For example, you have a pile of cash on you to pay the entry fee for an attraction or tour. ¬†But since most of these things are during the day, it’s a pretty small risk that you’ll be robbed on the 20 minute ride or walk to the tour. ¬†That’s fine.

Most tour companies in this day and age get much¬†of their business through TripAdvisor. ¬†They’ll ask for reviews if you had a good time and brag about their ranking. ¬†This means that they need to have an online presence, which means they probably have a way to pay online. ¬†Even the smallest shop can use PayPal to do transactions. ¬†Since you’ll be booking your tours online, this further reduces the need for a lot of cash on-hand.

Awareness trumps any tools you could buy

By limiting the amount of cash you carry, limiting the daily withdrawal limits, and primarily carrying a credit card, you’re already well protected against big financial loss. ¬†The goal in a mugging is to get out of the situation intact. ¬†Calmly do what you’re told and the situation should pass quickly. ¬†Pickpockets won’t target someone who is aware of what is going on around them.

A healthy suspicion of other people works far better than a money belt ever could. ¬†It’s free, and best of all: it keeps you safe.

Dining with Hookers

dining-with-hookers

I travel to learn about myself and the rest of the world. ¬†Sometimes I learn things that aren’t pictured on most travel brochures. ¬†Like prostitution. ¬†I’m going to admit straight up that I don’t have first hand experience with it, but we see it all around us when we travel. ¬†Usually at dinner. ¬†The guys will bring the working girls to eat before they presumably go somewhere more private. ¬†And I just have one question: why is dining with hookers so common?

dining-with-hookers

How to spot it

It’s generally pretty easy as it almost always starts with white male and native female. ¬†That can’t be the only factor because obviously people of different ethnicity get together all the time. ¬†It becomes more likely when the two are pretty far apart in age and/or attractiveness. ¬†The clincher is when there’s a language barrier. ¬†A 50 year old eating with a 20 year old and neither are talking? ¬†That’s not some old family friend coming to visit… (Bonus points if only he is eating)

The First Time We Saw It…

…was in Jamaica. ¬†This was our first international trip together, and it wasn’t going smoothly on our first night there. ¬†Everyone and their brother kept offering us drugs, our room¬†was a shit-hole crawling with bugs and lizards, it was hot as hell even at 10 pm, and we were hungry. ¬†Our cabbie took us to a run down place the locals frequented that had the most mediocre food I’ve ever eaten. ¬†And then, sitting at the next table was an aging hippie with two girls that couldn’t have been older than 20. ¬†Neither of the girls were eating, no one was talking, and he was not in any hurry. ¬†All I could think was: Jesus this country is hell on earth… we have how many days left here?

It wouldn’t be the last time we saw Dining with Hookers. ¬†We are in Thailand at the moment, and here they have made working girl dinners into an art form. ¬†We are staying in the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok which is a trendy area for tourists to be. ¬†We are a few BTS stations down from Nana plaza which is widely considered to be the hub of prostitution in the city. ¬†Next to us is a collection of tents that is it’s own makeshift mall. ¬†In typical Thai fashion, people set up their shops/bars/restaurants wherever there’s an open piece of cement. ¬†Inside this tent-mall, the clientele is predominantly tourist. ¬†The tables are usually¬†some combination of white guy(s) and Thai girl(s). ¬†There are Thai women dressed in what we’d call “clubbing gear” back home, just whiling away the evening looking at their cell phone or nothing in particular. ¬†Eventually a guy will show up, and they’ll sit to have the ritualistic silent meal.

It got better!

A couple of days later in Jamaica we walked by the restaurant we’d visited on the first evening where we’d had such a bad experience. ¬†One of the working girls we saw before was talking and laughing with a group of friends. ¬†The drug dealers who are on the beach in Negril were playing a pick-up game of soccer. ¬†It was very humanizing to see them this way. ¬†If someone is in abject poverty or a real hopeless situation, it can seem like they are just doomed and you can get an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. ¬†But seeing people enjoy the simple things in live was very uplifting. ¬†I even mentally forgave one of the drug dealers for threatening my life the evening before.

tourist-information-full-service
In Thailand, many places you might not expect are “full service”.

Refreshing Honesty

Livingthai.org (not safe for work!)¬†is a fantastic website around the sex trade in Thailand, written by a purveyor. ¬†In his own words, “a pimp”. ¬†Warning: if you have strong moral objections against prostitution in any form, just don’t go there. ¬†If you want to learn about a sub-culture you might have not known existed, it’s a fascinating read. ¬†In many ways it’s a lot more honest than what goes on back in the US. ¬†In between learning about the sex trade, you’ll see people struggling with racism, wanting to create a meaningful life, and building a community. ¬†It’s a fun experience when after reading an article about the best brothels in Chiang Mai there’s an article on how to succeed in building your business. ¬†Surreal.

Getting rid of the demons

I think it’s pretty easy to sympathize with the people who have sex for money. ¬†Maybe they have no other choice or other options are even worse than selling their bodies for sex. ¬†I don’t really know the situation.

Seeing the guys take them out for dinner reveals a less common thought: maybe it’s not even about the sex at all. ¬†Maybe it’s just sheer loneliness. ¬†I mean, these guys fly halfway around the world just to pay a girl to have dinner with them. ¬†When the best option available is to travel thousands of miles just to pay someone to talk to you… It’s difficult to see the guys as sex tourists and easier to see them as social pariahs.

Watching the working girls operate is interesting: they have a method

The working girls typically operate from a few areas in Thailand, namely go-go bars and massage parlors.

Bar girls usually stand in front of the bar¬†to drag in western guys and get them to buy the girls overpriced drinks. ¬†Seriously, the drinks are like double anywhere else nearby. ¬†As long as she has a drink in hand, she will talk to the guy. ¬†It’s sometimes funny to overhear the guys not quite understand what is going on (“Dude, why won’t she talk to me if I don’t buy her a drink?”), like these guys have the most amazing lives that the Thai girls who barely speak English just have to hear about. ¬†After a few drinks, the bar girl is free to negotiate with the guy regarding other services.

The massage parlors are everywhere in Thailand and they are actually more honest than the go-go bars. ¬†If you want a massage for the listed price, that’s what you get. ¬†If you want something else, that’s what you get. ¬†Like the bars, the girls sit out front and offer massages and other services to passersby. ¬†When I’m walking with Alicia, there are only offers of a massage. ¬†When she isn’t with me, that’s when I hear offers for other “hands-on” activities. ¬†On Phi Phi island, where there is a large backpacker presence, the working girls are even more forward. ¬†They walk right up to the guys and grab their junk. ¬†Even the most clueless guy can figure it out. ¬†If he refuses, they even challenge his manhood: “Are you chicken?”. ¬†You can see the wheels turning as he mulls it over while she has him firmly by the nuggets, thinking “1500 baht is like… $45… that’s less than taking a girl to the movies back home”.

I don’t know what to think anymore

Before the trip I would probably have come down on the sex trade much harder than I would now. ¬†On the one hand, I certainly agree with one of our tour guides: “It’s bad for the Thai people. ¬†The culture”. ¬†On the other hand, seeing the clientele doing it out of severe social isolation makes it difficult to condemn them as well.

So now I just roll with it, politely letting the working girls know that I’m not interested so they can go grab the junk of the next guy. ¬†And maybe, even have dinner with him.

How to save money without feeling broke

save-money-big-purchases

We’ve all read the stories about how multi-millionaire athletes lose all their money soon after retiring. ¬†Developing good spending habits is essential, but no one wants to sacrifice a good life just to save a few bucks. ¬†Here’s how to save money without feeling broke. ¬†Yes, it’s possible!

save-money-big-purchases

Some of these may not mesh with your particular situation. ¬†Take those that you like, leave those you don’t. ¬†I’ve made estimates below based on what we save in real dollars.

High-deductible insurance: Go back and count up all the money over the years you’ve spent on insurance, and then count up how much you actually got from insurance. ¬†You won’t like what you see. ¬†Since we are required to have health and car insurance, saving big here is very important. ¬†It’s also very easy to do: raise your deductibles. ¬†The differences between high and low¬†price plans are usually very minimal. ¬†Often they are exactly the same, with the only differences being your monthly payment amount and the deductible.

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t have a lot in savings just yet, which is why you want insurance to kick in after you pay $500 or so: because a surprise $2,000 bill would crush you. ¬†But you pay a huge monthly fee for this, often several hundred dollars per insurance plan. ¬†Play around with the numbers and watch how your monthly payment goes down as your deductible goes up (there’s typically a chart you can look at to compare). ¬†Slowly increase your deductibles for insurance over time, making sure you can afford your current deductibles before raising them again. ¬†When you are able to afford $5,000+ out of pocket for an accident, the amount you pay into insurance is minimal.

Savings – $500/month across health, auto, home insurance.

Buy in bulk: If you know that you’ll need something, buying it in large amounts will¬†often¬†get a discount. ¬†For example, auto insurance gives a significant discount if you pay up front. ¬†Our plan for two cars over 6 months was quoted at $850, but if you paid it up front it was $620! ¬†Memberships to Costco or Sam’s Club pay for themselves by loading up on the essentials at great prices.

Savings – $100/month on stuff you were going to buy anyway.

Get rid of the car payment: Not only does this save $300-600 per month, but it also lowers your insurance as well. ¬†I know it’s tempting to trade your old car in for a new one, but keeping your working vehicle for another year instead of taking on another $300/month payment comes out to $3,600 saved: that’s airfare and a month in Thailand for two people!

Savings – $300-600/month.

Preventative care: This is boring and un-sexy, but an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. ¬†Getting regular checkups at the dentist and doctor is covered by insurance, but having to fix big problems isn’t. ¬†It sucks, but get to the doctor. ¬†If you want discount health and dental care, go visit a nearby university that lets graduate students work on you. ¬†Don’t worry, licensed professionals make sure they do a good job. ¬†And it’s much cheaper.

Ditch cable: Hulu costs less than $10/month and gives you 90% of what a cable package does, all for a fraction of the price. ¬†For things you can’t get on Hulu, buy the season off of Amazon.

Savings – $100/month over traditional cable.

Outlet stores, Ebay for clothes: It’s the same stuff, just cheaper. ¬†Look and dress nicely by wearing designer clothes are bargain prices.

Savings – $100/month. ¬†More if you get a lot of new clothes, less if you don’t.

Buy last years’ model: Car, phone, computer, whatever. ¬†It’ll be deeply discounted because people want the latest and greatest out there. ¬†But do you really want to pay 30-50% more for effectively the same thing? ¬†Think about your car: do you even know what has been improved over the previous year? ¬†Most likely not. ¬†Even if you do, was it worth paying several thousand dollars more? ¬†Most likely not. ¬†Computers and phones are notoriously bad with this. ¬†Last years’ model is 90% of what this years’ is, but it costs a fraction of the price. ¬†You’re still buying brand new stuff, just with a different year on it.

Savings – $1,000/year. ¬†You’re not going to be buying big ticket stuff all the time, but when you do it’s substantial.

Amazon Prime: Before you buy anything, check Amazon first. ¬†With Primes’ free 2-day shipping, you can get that thing you saw in the store quickly and for much cheaper.

Google Play: All the music you can handle for $10/month.

Grocery shop at 2 stores: Most stores will have things differently priced, and you want to get the cheaper items at each store. ¬†For example, we buy a lot of produce, dairy, and basic foods at our local Target. ¬†Then we buy the packaged meals and specialty items at Trader Joe’s. ¬†For things like yogurt, Trader Joe’s is very expensive. ¬†However, TJ’s is much cheaper with their heat-and-eat style of meals.

Savings – $200/month.

Buy generic food brands when possible: This TIME article says it best: “The foods [brand and generic] have been known to come out of the same factories, with the same ingredients inside and everything, with the only difference being the label. The result is that often, switching to a store brand is an easy way to save 30% or so, without sacrificing quality.”

Free to Play games or Steam Powered: Instead of that new Xbox game that costs $60, go onto Steam and download several games for less than $1.00 apiece.  Not just any games, award winning and massively popular ones.  Or check out F2P games like Candy Crush, World of Tanks, or Team Fortress 2.

Roku: We had an Xbox for streaming media to our TV.  The Roku does that for just $30 instead of the several hundred for the Xbox or Playstation.

Smartphones: Review your plan and reduce it if you aren’t using what you’re paying for. ¬†Switch providers to get discounts on new phones or plans. ¬†Often your old cell provider will reduce your plan to get you to stay. ¬†If you think you use too much data and can’t downgrade, here’s a tip that will cut down 50-90% of your data usage: go into the settings and set all app background updates to “manual” or turn off that app’s cell data usage completely. ¬†Instead of Facebook/Twitter/etc sucking data and battery all day, they’ll only update when you tell them to.

Savings – $100/month.

Loyalty programs: Get free stuff and discounts on things you were going to buy anyway.  For example, using our Target Red Card and Cartwheel saves us 10% on products we had to buy to live (food, household items).  Using our airlines credit card gives us double points towards the thing we like most: travel!

Do it yourself: Whatever you need to fix in your home, there’s a YouTube video showing you how. ¬†For example, I save $80 by starting my sprinkler system up every spring instead of having the local company do it. ¬†Instead of paying $2,000 to resurface our driveway, we did it ourselves for less than $600. ¬†I’ve even changed my own brakes on my car with no problems and zero prior experience working on cars. ¬†You can do it!

Travel: Fly during the week rather than the weekend saves 30% in airfare costs.  So instead of going from Sunday to Sunday, go from Wednesday to Wednesday.  Getting 30% off for effectively free feels like cheating.

Matinee movies: Same movie, half the price.

Summary

We’ve done all of the above for years. ¬†Most of the above are pretty painless. ¬†I mean, hey, who wants to spend more on insurance? ¬†Literally no one. ¬†Adding up the savings I made above, it comes to $1,500/month saved. ¬†That’s $18,000 per year that you can get with some easy, easy, easy lifestyle changes.

Argentina Travel Tips

Argentina can be tricky for tourists, so here are some Argentina travel tips.  We stayed there for roughly a month over a few locations, and had a pretty good of how to get by.

Getting There

You do need¬†to pay the reciprocity fee¬†or you won’t even be allowed onto the plane. ¬†This fee¬†can be paid¬†online and must be printed out before your plane boards. ¬†Show up at your gate early as they will call your name over the loudspeaker and/or come around to verify you have this completed. ¬†We saw several people not be able to board the flight because they didn’t have it!

Where to get money in Argentina

If possible, try to bring USD with you before going to Argentina.  Their inflation is 20% per year (yikes!) which means no one wants their currency.  A black market has cropped up around USD: everyone there wants it and is very eager to give you pesos in exchange.  You will still need to convert to Argentinian pesos for general use, but the higher priced items/services are going to want USD.  Bringing it avoids the conversion fees in the first place.

The official exchange rate in Argentina is going to be the worst that you can get. ¬†This will be the one given to you by ATM’s and banks. ¬†Sometimes it’s a necessity to withdraw from an ATM, but most of the time you’ll want to exchange on the black market.

Don’t worry! ¬†The “black market” isn’t quite the seedy operation that it sounds like. ¬†Well ok, it kind of is and it kind of isn’t.

There are two ways to go about exchanging money: one is to simply walk around the city and listen for the people saying “cambio! change!”. ¬†Don’t worry, you will find them around malls and tourist attractions. ¬†These are money changers that will give you pesos in return for USD at a greater rate than the official rate.

The better way that we found was to use xoom.com. ¬†It does the same thing, but without going to a sketchy looking guy in the street. ¬†Use it like Paypal: input your bank information, request the amount to withdraw, and then go to one of their approved locations and pick up the money. ¬†Their approved locations aren’t always the most convenient, but they are typically numerous and in safe areas of the city. ¬†This way you can avoid doing back-alley deals. ¬†We check for fraud diligently, and Xoom is legit.

Eating in Argentina – Time of Day

Time of day is very important in Argentina.  They are on their own clock and it can be very confusing for tourists.  Lunch is around 1pm-3pm, and dinner is from 8pm-12pm.  Picadas are from 5pm-7pm.  Restaurants are often completely closed at other times!

First: breakfast isn’t really a thing here. ¬†If you find a place that serves breakfast, great. ¬†Don’t count on it. ¬†You’ll probably be able to find a coffee shop that serves some bread on a consistent basis. ¬†Having a hotel that serves breakfast may impact your decision.

Next, lunch is a little bit later than normal. ¬†Some will start around noon, but don’t expect to eat at 11am. ¬†When 3pm rolls around, the kitchen will usually close. ¬†So don’t roll in at 2:50 and expect to be served. ¬†They will shoo you out the door.

“Picadas” in Argentina are appetizers and drinks. ¬†Think of it as happy hour food. ¬†Typically they will be a meat, cheese, and olive tray. ¬†This is to tide you over until dinner.

Dinner in Argentina¬†starts late and ends late. ¬†It’s possible to arrive for dinner around 8pm, but this is like going to dinner in the US around 4pm: you will be the only ones in the restaurant.

What to eat in Argentina

Argentina is very proud of it’s Italian heritage, and the cuisine reflects that. ¬†The food is meant to stay simple and true to itself. ¬†There will very little preservatives or spices in the food, making it quite healthy even when eating out.

I swear the menus all look the same here: big and confusing. ¬†In the US, the menus are grouped by item and the options (onions, pickles, cheese, etc) are underneath. ¬†In Argentina, each option is listed separately as a different item. ¬†For example,¬†a sandwich without onions will be listed as a completely different sandwich as with. ¬†So the entire page will be basically the same sandwich, but with different cheeses/breads/etc. ¬†Don’t get discouraged.

Meats and vegetables, grilled Рthis will be the go-to large meal.  Their specialty is beef, but all other meats are on offer as well.

Milanesa – This is simply breaded chicken, and it’s very common in both the restaurants and grocery stores. ¬†I’ve tried it all over the place, and I can’t figure out why it’s so popular. ¬†There doesn’t seem to be much special about it.

picadas in Buenos Aires
Picadas – a meat/cheese/olive tray served around 6-7pm

Picadas Рa meat, cheese, and olive tray that is typically served around 6-7pm to tide you over until dinner which can be as late as 11pm.  There will often be specials and it can be a very cheap way to eat dinner since they can be quite large.

Pizza РThere are literally two varieties: cheese, and cheese with onion.  In short, the pizza here is terrible.  They want to keep it close to the basics as possible, so the pizza is invariably just cheese bread with no sauce.

Empanadas РThese are meat and cheese pies that are available all over.  They will be good cheap eats.

Napkins in Argentina

worst-napkins-ever-argentina

Why do I mention these? ¬†Because they the worst napkins in the entire world. ¬†They feel and act like wax paper. ¬†If you try to soak up water-based liquid with them, they will fail horribly. ¬†You’ll just be smearing it around. ¬†Their one and only use is to soak up grease-based spills.

What to drink in Argentina

While Quilmes is an OK beer, you really should drink the wine to the exclusion of all else (except water).  In the local stores, great bottles of wine can be found for under $2 USD!

coffee-argentinaCoffee in Argentina will come with a few side items that we aren’t used to: a shot of soda water and a sweet treat. ¬†They are welcome additions and you’ll miss them when you leave.

Where to shop for food in Argentina

Make it a point to stop in the local stores for one simple fact: it’ll be cheaper. ¬†The government regulates the price of certain items such as eggs, but only on the large retailers. ¬†The little shops don’t have to follow these rules for whatever reason. ¬†In Buenos Aires they are referred to as “Chinos” as they are typically run by people of South East Asian descent, and they can be found all over the city.

Hotels / Airbnb in Argentina

It’s no secret that we are big fans of Airbnb. ¬†We have gotten entire apartments for under $40 USD per night in great locations. ¬†However, there are some caveats:

You might have to squeegee your own floors. ¬†The apartments in Buenos Aires are often old and leaky. ¬†The host will tell you if you are expected to mop or squeegee the floor. ¬†Don’t worry, it’s not too bad.

The showers are all terrible. ¬†There’s mediocre water pressure anywhere, and poor tubs abound. ¬†So if your host expects you to squeegee your shower, don’t be too surprised.

Having said all of that, if you just keep your expectations a little lower than everything will be just fine.  Charming, even.

Look where you’re walking

The sidewalks aren’t exactly well maintained. ¬†Moreover, in Buenos Aires there’s a large problem: dog poop. ¬†It’s everywhere. ¬†You are nearly assured of stepping in it at some point during your time there.

Do they speak English in Argentina?

Not a lot. ¬†I was kind of surprised by this, but they seemed to speak less English here than in Chile or Peru. ¬†Even in Buenos Aires, you’ll encounter a lot of people that don’t speak a lick of English. ¬†Heck, the English is far better in Myanmar than it is in Argentina.

If you want to study up on some survival Spanish, here are my recommendations on words/phrases to learn:

  • Numbers
  • How much?
  • Food items to read menus. ¬†Learn the names of common meats and vegetables.
  • Push, pull, open, closed, to-go

How to make it easier if you don’t speak the language

Try to bring things up on your phone before you set out somewhere.  This way, you can point on the map where you want to go.  This is very handy with taxi drivers especially.

Get an app called “Word Lens”. ¬†It translates signs just by pointing your smartphones’ camera at them!

Argentina can be more difficult to travel than other countries, but with these ideas in mind it can be fun

No doubt about it: Argentina can seem like a crazy place to tourists due to their unique eating and sleeping schedule. ¬†Add in the financial side of it and the language barriers, and it can be tough! ¬†But don’t worry, Argentina will be a great experience¬†with a few days of practice.

What to expect at airports when traveling

What to expect at airports when traveling

Airports can be incredibly confusing. ¬†Here’s what to expect at airports when traveling to make your trip smooth and enjoyable.

What to wear on the plane

Before you even get to an airport, your clothes will be a big factor in your enjoyment of the flight.

Dress comfortably, simply, and light.  The temperature on the plane will be unpredictable.  If the plane is full, it can be very hot and unpleasant to be overdressed.  If everyone has turned on their AC to the max, it can be cold and the extra layer your brought in your carry-on will be very welcome.  Try not to wear something that is difficult to put on or take off in a cramped space.

Airport security in the US will often require you to remove your shoes during the security screening. ¬†Other countries generally don’t make this check. ¬†If you expect to take off your shoes, try and wear the ones that come on and off easily.

International flights and/or long flights (6 hours+) will often provide a little blanket and pillow for extra comfort, but it may be easier to bring your own beforehand.

Packing

Luggage fees are the absolute worst things in the world, and I want to help you avoid them. ¬†Check your airline for their specific checked bag and carry-on requirements as they differ airline to airline. ¬†Don’t get surprised at the airport when you arrive to find out they want to charge you $50 each way for having a bag that is oversize/weight.

Don’t tiptoe the line and pack your bag right to max capacity. ¬†If someone wants to ruin your day because you’re a pound over the limit, they will. ¬†Give yourself some wiggle room.

In general, carry on bags for domestic US flights should be 22″ long x 14″ wide x 9″ high. ¬†45 linear inches (height + width + length). ¬†There is generally no weight limit for carry-on bags if they fit this size.

Checked bags will generally have weight limits of 50 pounds or you have to pay a fee.

Flights outside of the United States will have smaller bag limits! ¬†I’m sure lots of people get caught in this trap: they take their 45 pound bag internationally only to find out that the limits there are 40 pounds. ¬†In general, international travel will limit checked bags to 40 pounds and carry-on bags from 7 to 10 kg. ¬†The dimensions on carry-on bags will also be smaller but vary by airline. ¬†Check your specific international airline for the exact sizes.

There’s always someone at the airport re-packing their bags after throwing items away just to avoid paying another $100 in fees. ¬†Don’t be that person!

Packing for international flights

Bring a pen to fill out immigration and customs forms on the plane.  This saves quite a bit of time while the rest of the plane is trying to use the 5 community pens they have.

Getting there

Arrive 1 hour before departure for domestic flights and 2 hours before departure for international flights, no matter what the airport.  The time listed on your ticket is the departure time, not the boarding time unless specifically mentioned.  Do not try to show up at the gate 15 minutes before departure!  Many airlines will not let you board.

There is very little reason not to show up early.

Checking In

Airlines now offer e-check-in 24 hours before the flight.  At this time you can pick your seats before the rest of the people and let the airline know that you do intend to be there so if something goes wrong they can wait for you.

Check in is also available at the airport either at the service desks or automated kiosks. ¬†We prefer the automated versions because they are fast and you don’t have to wait in line. ¬†But, sometimes they don’t work and/or direct you to the service desk anyway.

Liquids, Weapons, Food

In general, you can’t fly with liquid containers holding more than 3 oz / 100ml. ¬†Keep your liquids inside of a 1 quart ziplock baggie. ¬†They will make you throw them away if you don’t.

“Weapons” might sound silly, but that little pocket knife you have on your key-chain isn’t going to be allowed on board. ¬†Other things you might not think are weapons, but security will surely protest.

Food in general is OK, but sometimes customs will want you to declare any food items that you have.  We try to make it easy and just not bring food across, but if you are bringing a special treat just declare it when they ask you to and it should be fine.

Have your ticket and ID/passport ready at all times

People all around the airport are going to ask to see these all the time. ¬†Don’t put them deep into your luggage until you’re actually on the plane.

Tickets are available in electronic form on your smartphone, reducing the amount of papers you have to carry.  Passbook on the iPhone is one such app that takes airline tickets.

Going through security

Everyone hates going through security. ¬†Don’t try to fight it, they will just make your life hell. ¬†Be calm and quick and they won’t bother you at all.

In general:

  • take out liquids
  • take out laptops/kindles
  • take everything out of your pockets
  • take off your sweatshirt/coat
  • Put the above items into two trays: one for the laptop and everything else in the other
  • US: take off shoes
  • Stay with your items until they go into the machine, then walk through the scanner. ¬†Pay attention to the person on the other side if they want to scan or frisk you.

Make sure you pack liquids/laptops in easy to get to locations. ¬†Don’t bury them deep inside the suitcase.

Don’t be lazy about these. ¬†If you leave your liquids inside the suitcase, they will want to search your entire suitcase. ¬†That tightly packed spring will uncoil and become a huge hassle, costing you time and happiness.

Finding your gate

See the gate number on the ticket? ¬†That’s a lie. ¬†Gates change all the time. ¬†There are monitors all over the airports telling you the up-to-date information. ¬†Never trust the gate number on the ticket.

If you are sitting at your gate and no one else is there and it’s getting close to your departure time, your gate has moved. ¬†Find a monitor with gate information and listen to the announcements to get the right gate.

When you are at what you think is the right gate, verify it by looking for your flight on the monitor in front of the loading doors.  It may have changed while you were walking.

I cannot stress it enough: the gate will change randomly without warning. ¬†Keep tabs that it’s still correct.

Getting to your gate

After getting to the airport and through security, it’s time to relax… WRONG! ¬†Find out where your gate is from a monitor and relax nearby. ¬†Some airports and ridiculously large. ¬†So large that you have to take buses or subways between them. ¬†You might think there’s enough time, only to realize too late that the airport is massive. ¬†If you are not familiar with the airport, get to the gate first just to make sure you can do it on time.

During the flight (international)

During an international flight, the flight attendants will hand out immigration and customs cards.  Fill these out on the plane to get through customs much quicker.

Dealing with Immigration

If this was an international flight, you will have to go through Immigration (the process of entering a foreign country).

They are going to be checking your passport as well as immunization history.  Check the country you are traveling to and make sure you have enough pages in your passport as well as the correct immunizations.  The vaccine for Yellow Fever is a very common request, and you will not be allowed back into the US if you do not have it!

In general, Immigration will want to know:

  • where you are from
  • why you are here
  • how long are you staying – in many cases, proof of onward travel is required (they want to know you will leave at some point)
  • what location you are visiting and/or address of hotel

Dealing with Customs

If this was an international flight, you will have to go through Customs (the process of taking items in and out of a foreign country).

Customs varies widely from country to country, but in general it’s best not to have the following:

  • $10,000 USD or equivalent in cash
  • goods intended for sale in that country
  • drugs
  • food products
  • plants
  • animals

Yes, even that prescription you have may be illegal and subject to be seized.  Check the laws with each country before going.  Most people will not have a problem.

Be aware of the time when you land

Many flights will arrive at late or super early hours.  Somethings that are normally available might be closed, like buses or currency exchanges.  Plan accordingly.

Dealing with Taxis

Taxis from airports are going to be higher priced than you’ll find elsewhere, but I’ve rarely had problems with them being downright sleazy. ¬†You can do a little shopping around within the airport, but if you haven’t found a better deal after 10 minutes of searching then it’s probably not worth looking further. ¬†Some airports have fantastic public transportation to begin with. ¬†Map out your route from the airport beforehand.

Getting cash

Most airports will have many ATM’s as well as currency exchanges. ¬†However, make sure the currency exchange is open when you are arriving. ¬†If you are unsure, get money changed beforehand in your originating airport. ¬†Travel with a credit card for most purchases and a debit card for ATM withdrawals to avoid the credit advance fees.

That’s it!

Most airports are pretty much the same in how they do things. ¬†It’s important to give yourself enough time to avoid missing the flight and potentially ruining your vacation. ¬†By having done a little legwork beforehand, you can have a smooth experience and a great trip.