It’s a Small World After All

(Travel Dates: June 28, 2016 – March 22, 2020)

This is my last blog post. I’m now fully settled in Portland and it’s time to recap my travels. Eventually I’ll archive my blog. It has been a habit that when I complete a project I like to provide a recap that includes a few statistics, lessons learned and personal insights. And I decided this recap should have a name: It’s a Small World After All. (Because it is.)

The purpose of writing this blog was two-fold. Primarily to document where I’ve been, what I saw and experienced, and include personal thoughts as well. The other purpose was to share this adventure by having my posts available to anyone who might be interested in my travels. No advertising or promotion. The idea was that I would write daily (as possible or necessary) postings. This resulted in 915 published posts.

Preparing to leave on this adventure took several years of planning. First to test the feasibility, including a travel budget, before I made a final decision. I didn’t have a roadmap to follow, since few people have traveled this extensively for multiple years, so I developed many scenarios and contingencies. I had to answer questions such as: destinations, length of stay, where to stay and cost per night, food costs, medical insurance, transportation costs, etc.

The big question to answer, and this was the toughest, was: Why am I doing this? The idea started one Sunday morning in Spring of 2012 when I read an article about people moving to Ireland after they retired. How is this possible? This began a process of discovery. “Why not?” was my response each time I continued the discovery process. It became clear over the next several months that I could make my vision of living abroad a reality.

Once I made the commitment to proceed it was time to set a goal of when I would leave. This is when I started to develop a series of budgets, cash flow estimates and contingencies. I established the initial goal of leaving soon after I turned 62 (March 2016). Could I retire at age 62? I was working on a contract at the time and didn’t know where I would be working when I turned 62. As it turned out I began a permanent full time position at OHSU in 2014 and I could retire from there.

The next big decision was what to do with my condo and the house I inherited from my dad’s estate. Thankfully, the housing market, including condo properties, was improving and if I sold the condo I would have a good chunk of equity. The option of renting out the condo was not attractive since the income was not necessarily dependable plus I was already renting out the home in Hood River. Having two rentals to manage while traveling would be a distraction. At the time I was conservator of my cousin’s estate so I needed to confirm that I could still act in that capacity as I traveled. Much to be considered.

As I approached my 62nd birthday I made the decision to retire June of 2016 if I could sell my condo before I planned to retire. This action was to be the final trigger that would set into motion my travel adventure. I put the condo up for sale in February and it sold in March just a few days after I turned 62. The next step was to announce my retirement.

By now I had developed a project schedule that contained every activity that I needed to complete before stepping on the plane. Each day I reviewed the schedule to make sure I was on track. The two items that I was most concerned about was selling my car and finding someone to adopt my cat.

Because I knew finding just the right person to adopt my cat was going to be difficult, and most likely time-consuming, I set the date to complete this task a couple of months ahead of when I was planning to leave. At first I wasn’t having much luck and decided to change strategies and to market the cat, like a company would advertise a product. This concept worked and I was soon contacted by the perfect couple to adopt Buddy. The couple who eventually adopted him were very gentle and when they met the cat for the first time he rolled on his back and allowed his belly to be rubbed.

As for the car, initially I didn’t have much luck finding a buyer. It wasn’t until my workplace going away event, and sitting next to a co-worker, I discovered that she and her husband were looking for a new car. While enjoying our drinks I sent a picture to her and she immediately sent to her husband. Within 15 minutes we made arrangements for them to test drive the car the next evening. They made an offer after the test drive. This was just short of two weeks before I was scheduled to leave.

Then the real fun started as I made flight and lodging reservations. I kept a spreadsheet where I recorded the reservation information. I was diligent about keeping the spreadsheet current for the duration of my travels. I can now look back and see where I was each day, how I got there and how I was getting to my next stop. As I started traveling in earnest I usually mapped out travel plans in detail at least a month in advance.

My last day in Portland was frantic at times. I still had a few items left in my apartment and I still needed to pack my suitcase. Thankfully my flight to New York City was scheduled for later in the evening so I had all day to finish. I’ll mention here that I rented an apartment for three months while my condo was being sold. When I selected a realtor to list my condo I asked that they stage my condo as part of the deal and as a result I needed to move out. Eventually, on my final day in Portland, I was able to meet friends for a going away party later in the afternoon and had arranged for a friend to take me to the airport. As it turned out my flight was delayed and by the time I boarded the plane I was ready to begin my adventure, starting in New York City.

During my first few months of travel I found myself on a steep learning curve. I must have looked so out of place but I tried to stay focused and open to learning. Establishing phone service seemed to be my biggest obstacle since I was accustomed having easy access to internet service with my Verizon contract. More on this later, but suffice it to say that it was a struggle for the first few months.

Glad my first destination was in London since I wanted to reduce risk by being in a country where the language and customs were familiar. Like putting your foot in the water before swimming. I also eased into London by booking my first night’s stay in a nice hotel in the Kensington area, and by nice it was very nice and found myself staying in a full-sized suite.

While in London I booked accomodations in three different Airbnb listings. The first was where I had the whole flat to myself, the next was a private room where I shared a kitchen and bath with several other people but had my own bedroom and the third was where I shared the flat with the flat owner. I wanted to see how far I could stretch my comfort level. When I arrived in Brussels, my next stop, I confirmed that sharing a kitchen and bath with strangers was not for me. And it only worked out well when I shared the flat with the owner because we got along so well. By the time I reached Amsterdam, my third city, I started to only book Airbnb accommodations where I had use of the whole flat. It was my first lesson learned.

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Speaking of “lessons learned”, a project management activity I’ve carried over to my travels. I’ve been keeping a list of those lessons learned as I traveled. Below is a list of those lessons I considered to be the most significant.

Take note of where you’re staying In addition to the address, pay attention to the surrounding buildings and streets. Note any landmarks, businesses or street signs. There were several times I was so tired upon arrival, when I went out later and returned to the flat I had trouble finding the entrance to the building.

Shuttle service from airport to hotel A few times I neglected to ask if there was a hotel shuttle service from the airport, usually at a reduced or free service offered by the hotel. Best to email the hotel at least three days ahead of when you’re arriving. Recommend a private car to the hotel if you’re visiting a location such as Egypt or India that does not have defined and dependable mode of transportation from the airport.

Confirm the taxi fare before getting into the taxi Even commercial taxi drivers may try to charge extra. Once you’ve given the taxi driver the address, ask for an estimate of how much the fare might be. Then confirm back the amount the driver provided as a quote. This will require that you are aware of the value of the local currency is to the U.S. dollar. I never had a taxi driver who did not know how to quote amounts in English. Also, if you’re not comfortable in any way with the driver, politely apologize and ask to be let out at the next stop. Do not be intimidated. Always smile and never argue.

Make sure to document your reservations If you’re making your own travel arrangements, make sure to double check your reservations. I double booked lodging once because I had the wrong dates reserved. My biggest error was trying to catch a flight from the wrong airport. Though all were resolved satisfactorily, I wished afterward that I had double checked travel plans to spreadsheet.

Ask for a quiet room when checking into a hotel Being disturbed at night or in the morning, if you’re a light sleeper like me, you prefer a room a where you can expect the fewest interruptions. I ask for a room that doesn’t face a main street, a back alley where rubbish is collected in the early mornings or near an elevator. I’ve also asked if a large wedding party is scheduled during my stay since, in some countries, these parties can last until the next morning. (I know from personal experience.)

Obtain a SIM card only from a company store This Lesson Learned only applies if you don’t have a SIM card that works in the country you’re visiting. Do not be tempted to obtain a SIM card from a convenience store but find a company location, such as Vodafone, where my SIM card is from. The main reason is that the convenience store only sells the card and may not have staff that can set it up for you and confirm that it will work.

Always have a Plan B, or even a Plan C When you travel you’re away from home where daily tasks are predictable, for the most part. When in new surroundings, not everything works as you might expect. What if you miss a train? Forgot your ticket? Can’t get a wifi connection? No one speaks English? My solution was to always expect the unexpected and to keep an open mind or have a backup plan. Most of all, keep calm and maintain an open mind and a sense of humor.

More people speak English than you’d imagine When in a foreign country you may run into people who claim they can’t speak English. I was a bit bold and asked my question anyway when all I needed was a simple answer. Maybe ask using a single word, such as closed, open, good, bad, okay, up, down, today, tomorrow, etc. Showing your ticket, a map, a store name, a street name might be helpful too. And always end the conversation with a thank you, preferably in the local language, and of course a smile.

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Favorite Places I was frequently asked about my favorite locations to visit. They were: Scotland (Edinburgh), Switzerland (Zermatt), Egypt (Cairo and Luxor), England (London), France (Nice, Bordeaux), Cyprus (Larnaca), and Malta. Mostly because I enjoyed the local sites, people, history, weather, and sometimes just because I did. I especially enjoyed places where I met up with friends and family. Overall, I enjoyed every place I visited and would go back to any of them if given the opportunity.

Traveling Solo Though I’m far from being considered an introvert, I did enjoy traveling solo most of the time. I seemed to meet a variety of people as I traveled and enjoyed conversations with drivers, fellow passengers, Airbnb hosts, hotel staff, waiting at train stations or airports, shopping, or in a restaurant. As a result of my gregarious nature, I now have friends in many different countries. I never felt alone or bored as I traveled. Of course, friends and family from the U.S. were always welcome to join me over the years.

Grocery Shopping One of my favorite activities was to go grocery shopping. At first I was a little intimidated buying food in different countries, especially if I couldn’t read what was printed on the package. When I turned the shopping process into a game it became more interesting. I also learned about the local customs and food preferences through my shopping adventures. For instance, it was very apparent that Hungarians liked Chicken Paprika since I could find in each large market vast quantities of chicken parts in the meat department, displays featuring several varieties of paprika, and the diary case would have ample quantities of sour cream.

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Credit Cards I always carried a few credit cards as I traveled. The primary card was my Bank of America card because I wasn’t charged extra for purchases outside of the U.S. and also because of their generous travel credit. I figured that I received between $800 and $1,000 in travel credits each year from B of A. I had a credit card for about a year which gave me travel miles when I made a visit to the U.S. in 2018 and saving nearly $2,000. The debit card from my Credit Union I used to get cash and it worked in every ATM in every country. During the last year of travel I started using Google Pay since more retail locations allowed you to tap and go to make a payment. Much better than reaching into your pocket for a credit card. I seldom carried much cash.

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Airbnb and Hilton Hotels Early on I decided to only book with Airbnb if I wasn’t staying in a hotel. After I understood what to expect, the process of booking and staying in an Airbnb flat became easier. As for hotels, I tried out several hotel companies but eventually settled with Hilton. As a Hilton Honors member I received preferred rates, frequently was upgraded to an Executive room (sometimes a Junior Suite), and earned points that I used to book free nights. At last count I stayed in over 90 Airbnb flats and estimate 50 different Hilton properties.

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Typical Travel Day Not sure if I had a “typical” day while traveling, but I can generalize given three different scenarios: Travel Day, Touring Day(s), and Rest Day.
Travel Day: When I’m leaving one place for another I’m awake early, clean up wherever I’m staying, pack, leave early for the train or plane, secure transportation to where I’m staying, check-in to my lodging, quick nap, go to a local market (even if I stay in a hotel) to buy food, have a meal, write a blog posting for the day before, answer emails and texts, watch TV, and plan for the next day. My evenings are fairly standard, except when I stay in a Hilton I have breakfast in the hotel in the morning and visit the executive lounge in the late afternoon or early evening for dinner, which are complementary.
Touring Day: Once I’ve settled in and ready to see the local attractions I usually plan for something to do in the morning and the afternoon. For lunch I find a sandwich shop or a Starbucks, then continue on until mid-afternoon. I most always return before dark. I edit the pictures I took during the day before going to bed.
Rest Day: During my first year or so, I felt guilty about not getting out to see attractions every day. I needed to keep in mind that I was retired and there wasn’t a job to return to after a couple of weeks. This being the case for me, I took time off and rested or just walked around the neighborhood. And started my day later, because I could. This is why I began to plan my trips to include one day of rest wherever I stayed. I had many visits where Day One would be arrival day, Days Two and Three were touring days, Day Four would be rest day, and Day Five would be a travel day. I would add more days to my stay if there were more places to visit in the city or nearby towns.

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Meeting People and Making New Friends I met so many people while I traveled. From taxi, Uber or hotel drivers, hotel staff, Airbnb hosts, people riding with me on a train or plane, or sitting next to me in a restaurant. Some of these encounters have led to friendships. During the final months of travel I slowly said goodbye to many of these interesting people. Maybe we will meet up again, but for now, we will keep in contact via email, Facebook, or texting. I hadn’t taken into account that I would meet so many dear people as I traveled, which is interesting because that is one of the main reasons which drew me to this adventure – to meet new people and be acquainted with different cultures.

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Traveling with Friends and Family Was also fortunate that I met up with friends and family from the U.S. in various locations. When you see familiar people in unfamiliar locations it is quite different than when you visit together in the U.S. To observe their reactions and impressions as we made discoveries was the most interesting. This gave me insight and an opportunity to better know them and perhaps see them in a new light. Though to coordinate travel plans I needed to sometimes adjust my own travel plans. During one month I traveled from Germany, stopped in Switzerland then travelled on to Italy then to Egypt and then back to Germany was perhaps more effort than expected, but in the end it was well worth it. To share travel experiences with others is the best!

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Conclusion: On March 22nd, when I landed in Portland, I realized I’d accomplished what I set out to do. It’s spelled out in my blog’s name: Travel, Explore, Learn and Share. This adventure was more than I expected in so many ways. Perhaps the events that necessitated my return were unexpected, but the unexpected often happens when you travel. In any case, I returned healthy, under budget, with a suitcase of memories.

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What’s Next? As I wrote many times at the end of a daily post, “We shall see.”

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