On September 15 2017, my wife and I sold our home and since have traveled continuously around the world and around the U.S. Sometimes people have questions.
1. How did you wash your underwear?
Bumped into a quite learned and sophisticated former colleague of my wife's. When he prefaced it with "Can I ask you a question?", I was expecting something a bit more philosophical.
- When a washing machine was not to be had, I washed mine in the shower (my wife bought me magic quick-dry underwear: ExOfficio Quick Dry Boxer Briefs).
2. What was the best place you visited/where would you go back to?
This is the most popular question.
- Two places:
1. Paris: Because, well it's Paris.
2. Tokyo: When you're in Paris, unless you dress in flip-flops, cargo shorts and a t-shirt that says "I'm with Stupid --->", no one will know that you are not a local. But in Tokyo you will quickly realize that everyone knows you're not a local and that you are someplace very foreign. Also Japan is how western civilization should operate, but seldom does: there is no litter, tattoos or cut-off shorts, no tipping is required or desired (we're all professionals here), there is no crime, no homeless, the trains run on-time every time (even the subway run to a published schedule), taxis doors open and close automatically, store clerks greet you and look you in the eye. You get the idea.
3. What was the worst place?
- Can't say that anyplace was all that bad, though I have no desire to return to Morocco. A very good friend raved about the place prior to my visit, but the compressed alleys, packed with people, cars, scooters, donkeys, leading to a crowded square with monkeys in diapers and a man appearing out of nowhere with a snake in his hand, all became just too much. Ever been to a tannery? Not sure you really need to go. If you do, you'll only visit and smell one . . . once.
4. What was the best museum?
As my travels wore on, I became much more judicious in spending my time (and Euros) on museums. There are a lot of tourists out there and more than a few museums have sprung up to take advantage of this fact. Even the best museum, even under the best of circumstance (minimal tourists within eye shot), has a shelf-life of 3-4 hours. That being said the three best museums in the world are:
- The Louvre: Hey, it's the Louvre. There are plenty of other travel blogs that can provide a far better review. The one piece of kind of original advice I can give is to skip The Mona Lisa (though you won't listen to me). It's a letdown, as seeing it here, is far better than standing 15 feet away, trying to catch a glimpse of it through bulletproof glass and 100 selfie stick-wielding Chinese tourists trying to take a photo of it (and themselves).
- The Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg, South Africa: This state of the art museum did an outstanding job of conveying the horrors of apartheid and the courage of those who finally ended it.
- Strokestown Park, House Gardens and National Famine Museum. This is really two museums in one (either one worth the price of admission):
National Famine Museum: Gives a detailed overview of the British subjugation of Ireland and it's devastating effects on the Irish. As an American, I knew that the Irish had suffered, but I never realized the magnitude of the suffering until I visited this museum.
Strokestown Park House: A typical manor house in the Downton Abbey tradition, where once the Lord of the Manor (Baron Hartland) lorded over his Irish tenant farmers while living in relative splendour. The entail was finally extinguished in 1979 leaving the house in a state of disrepair and squalor.
5. How much do you spend per month to tour Europe/Africa/Southeast Asia?
I was asked this by some good friends when I met them in NYC for drinks and dinner. Prior to answering, I asked them to answer their own question. Both responded with $4000/month. When I almost did a spit take, they both realized how ridiculously low their estimates were (one admitted that he answered without giving the question any thought - and he's an accountant!).
- About $9000/month (inclusive of all travel costs, health insurance, cell phone, incidentals, and accidentals).
6. What's the most important piece of advice you can give me for traveling around the world?
- Don't over-pack (but trust me you won't listen).
7. When visiting various cities should I hire a guide?
- I found almost every tour guide we hired to be overpriced and therefore am very reluctant to use or recommend one. If they don't perform, you have very little recourse.
*The one exception being the "In the Steps of Cezanne" walking tour in Aix-en-Provence.
- Free walking tours on the other hand offer incredible value. Most of the larger cities in Europe offer them. Generally, you will meet your guide at a specific location at a specific time and will be part of a group that is anywhere from 5-30 people. It will last about two hours and at the end of the tour, you will tip your tour guide according to how much you think it was worth. It is a great way to get an overview of the city and make new friends.
- Rick Steves isn't a big fan, but I think they make sense, if the tour guide does a good job (and most of them did, in my experience: Lisbon, Porto, Jerusalem, London, Barcelona, Bratislava, Munich, Berlin, Warsaw, Cape Town, Brussels, Budapest, Sofia, Belfast, Reykjavik, Amsterdam, Zagreb), then give them a good tip, if they don't, then don't. Twice in my experience (Liverpool and Bucharest), the tours weren't that good, so along the way, I just peeled off and had a beer.
- Sandemans does a fine job. Highly recommended.
- Many of these free tour outfits use the free walking tour to expose you to paid tours that they also offer. It makes a lot of sense: if they do a good job on the free walking tour, then maybe the paid tour will also be good. I did this in Jerusalem, after finishing the free walking tour of the Old City, I signed up for the Mount of Olives Tour. (Although, if you want to save €30, try my free Mount of Olives DIY Walking Tour).
8. How did you get your mail?
- There are numerous outfits that offer virtual mailboxes (mail scanning & forwarding). Most will scan the outside of the envelope and periodically forward you the scanned images. You then determine which envelopes you want opened, with the contents then scanned for your review. Prices run around $15-25/month, depending on the amount of mail you expect to receive and the amount of mail you want scanned.
- The option I went with is Texas Home Base. For a flat $200/year, I get an unlimited amount of mail, with all mail contents being completely scanned upon receipt. That way I completely review each piece of mail once (and then am done with it). I can then elect to shred it, forward it or hold it.
- Prior to hitting the road, after Texas Home Base gave me my new address, I changed the address for all my accounts (at the same time going paperless), informed the USPS to forward my mail to my new address, and then gave my new address to friends and family.
- While this world is going paperless, there is still a fair amount of physical mail required: credit card disputes, medical & dental invoices, mail-in voting, etc.
9. What cell phone service did you use?
- T-Mobile Unlimited 55 3L ($60) + ONE Plus ($10): Basically, $70 for unlimited data & text in almost every country on earth.
10. Did it change your perspective of the world?
- A well-traveled friend who let us stay at his place in San Francisco for two weeks (a good friend indeed), mentioned that before he extensively traveled (when younger) his father told him "not to expect an epiphany". I knew that going in, but was still hopeful that maybe there would be (a small) one. Well, there wasn't. That being said . . .
- It won't come as a surprise if I tell you English is the Lingua Franca of the world. Almost everyone we encountered (99%) spoke English, while some spoke a little, many spoke it better than most Americans, with some of the younger folk in Northwest Europe and Tel Aviv flawlessly and a few without a noticeable accent.
- You get, what you give: Some subscribers warned us about unpleasant locals (i.e. France), but we only noticed smiles and hospitality everywhere we went.
- I am very thankful that just being born in the U.S. has given me prosperity that is the envy of most of the people I met.
- There is a world out there filled with different people, smells, food, liquor, and sights. If you don't partake in it (even just a little) because of economics, I certainly understand it, but otherwise, you're a fool.
- The United States is no longer the leader when it comes to standard of living, technology, or education. And it certainly never was when it comes to safety and health care. This will become evident after spending some time in Northern Europe or Japan. What Otto Hahn said to German scientists after the U.S. exploded the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, could be said to all Americans "you're all second-raters".
11. Are you related to the singer, Roberta Flack?
- I certainly can understand this question, as we both share a healthy head of hair, a rich soulful voice, and a connection to Washington, DC. But we are not, as Roberta is of Cameroonian heritage, mine is Austrian-German mostly via Gottchee, Slovenia.
12. Are there any items you wished you packed but didn't?
- Small pair of binoculars.
- A wine opener. A wine key (without a blade), makes the most sense due to its low profile.
Questions? Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org