I’ve been procrastinating on writing this post. I felt too much stress to write something fantastic. I mean, how often does a person reach such milestones in one week: 4 years of travel and 15 years of marriage. But, last week we celebrated our 4 year travelversary (yes, that’s a word) and our 15th wedding anniversary, within a few days. I liked receiving messages on Facebook from people wishing us “Happy Anniversaries,” but I couldn’t wrap my head around what that really meant.
I wanted to share our favorite travel experiences over the last 4 years of travel. Or, share our tips on how to survive 15 years of marriage when we spend 24 hours a day together. But nothing seemed, well, fabulous enough. I wanted wise words of wisdom. To inspire people to travel. To commit to traveling together. To commit to spending time together.
This is a hard time for me to share wisdom. The last few months have been difficult. We run four businesses together, and the one that provides the majority of our income has had a lot of stumbles the last several months. Other opportunities that were showing a lot of promise have been stalled. I still feel confident that our life is sustainable. I just don’t think I have as many thought provoking insights as I should after 4 years of travel and 15 years of marriage.
List to us talk about our 4 years of travel on our travel podcast.
15 Travel Tips From 4 Years of Travel
Instead of sharing my wisdom, I’ve decided to share my 15 best travel tips and my 4 best marriage tips. Some of these tips might be new to many travelers, and some might seem obvious. But, for me, they all bear mentioning. Because these are my 15 bits of travel advice that result from this crazy journey we’ve been on.
How to Book Travel
Travel Tip 1: Book direct to earn miles and get the most from airline amenities: We learned this the hard way a few years ago when we tried to book a series of flights through Kayak. They sold us a flight that didn’t exist and were entirely MIA when we tried to fix it. Luckily the airline helped us out, but they didn’t have to. I learned my lesson about never booking through Kayak, or any other third party platform. But, it is not only this doomsday scenario that makes me say this. When a ticket is booked through Kayak or Expedia, it might not be possible to earn miles on your preferred airline. Or, if you can earn miles, they might only give you 50% of what you would otherwise receive. Then, there are the benefits of booking direct, including picking your seat ahead of time, checking in online, and if there are any flight cancellations due to weather, it is much easier to manage them when you book direct.
Travel Tip 2: Be smart about earning miles: People have written books on this topic and have dedicated entire websites to travel hacking. It’s way more complicated of a process than what I can cover here in a single paragraph. People always ask us how we travel business class so often. It’s all about earning miles, on the right airline, with the right partnership, and using those miles wisely. The Points Guy is my go-to resource to keep up to date on points and miles news. Travis and Heather over at Extra Pack of Peanuts also run a Tracking Hacking Bootcamp for beginners. We’ve booked business and first class tickets that would have cost $5,000 or more each by using these techniques. It’s worth the effort.
Travel Tip 3: Use Seat Guru to pick flights and seats ahead of time: We are ardent fans of Seat Guru and don’t know what we would do without it. First, when shopping for a flight, we use Seat Guru to check the routing of an itinerary before we book, to see whether the seats have entertainment, whether it is a new Airbus A350 or an older, smaller airplane, and more. Once we book the flight we will use Seat Guru to pick the best seats we can find. Their airplane maps explain which row is bulkhead (extra leg room) and which row is next to the toilets or the galley (yuck for a long flight).
How to Pack and Prepare
Travel Tip 4: Let your banks know that you are traveling: This is particularly important if you don’t travel overseas very often. If your bank suddenly sees charges for gas for a road trip in Italy, or an ATM withdrawal in Bangkok, they may flag the card and shut it down. Most of the time this is to protect the cardholder from identify theft by identifying suspicious activity, but it can be a real pain to handle when on the road. So, call all the companies before hand to let them know travel dates and destinations.
Travel Tip 5: Leave the traveler’s checks at home: I can’t even believe I am saying this in 2016, but please leave those traveler’s checks at home. Less and less places accept them, they can be a pain to exchange, offer awful rates, and result in change fees. We use our ATM cards everywhere and 99% of the time have no problems withdrawing money in the local currency when we arrive at the airport.
Travel Tip 6: Pack light: During my first solo trip to Europe in 2000 I learned this the hard way. Imagine trying to get big luggage on and off a train in Europe, up and down stairs when there is no elevator, or trying to fit it in the trunk of a small taxi. Imagine running to catch a flight and lugging 40 kilos of luggage behind you. Currently, we each travel with the awesome Eagle Creek Load Warrior 22 Inch Carry-On, which generally weighs about 11 kilograms during each trip. We can travel for months on those 11 kilograms. We do sometimes still check our bag because we carry too many liquids over 100ml, but we never have to check solely because of the size of our bag. If you want to go all-in, only packing with a carry-on bag, no matter how long you are gone for, check out The Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide to Packing Light.
Travel Tip 7: Pack practical: Do I occasionally get jealous of women who are dressed to the nines when they travel, wearing a new dress and a different pair of shoes each day? Sometimes I am. Until I see them lugging 40 kilograms of luggage around, looking ridiculous. We have gotten extremely smart about how we pack. A combination of practical and comfortable shoes, one sweater to keep me warm along with a scarf, one pair of jeans, one skirt, one dress . . . you get the picture. We also travel with a small bottle of powder detergent to wash clothes in a sink when needed. It’s the less glamorous side of travel.
Travel Tip 8: Make a PDF of the information page of your passport: We initially did this in case of emergency. If our passports were stolen we would have a copy stored somewhere electronically, like in a Gmail account or in Dropbox. If everything else you own is stolen, you still have identification. We use it more now for a variety of other purposes, like applying for travel visas, booking tours, and more. It’s also important to travel with a passport that has at least 6 months left before the expiration. Many countries won’t let you in if your passport is about to expire.
Travel Tip 9: Bring an empty bottle through security: I am addicted to water. It’s one of my only healthy habits. I also hate being gauged airport prices for water. I always bring an empty bottle with me through security. Most airports have a place to refill in the terminal. If not, I will ask a flight attendant as soon as we get on board to fill it for me. With a smile, no one has ever said no.
How to Get Around a New City
Travel Tip 10: Learn to say hello and thank you in the local language: People always ask us how we handle traveling when we don’t speak the language. It’s not as difficult as you think. We generally try to learn hello and thank you, we do a lot of pointing. And, a smile goes a long way to bridge the gap.
Travel Tip 11: Use Uber and public transportation: When we were last in the US, in 2014, I first heard of Uber and was amazed. We have since used Uber in France, Bangkok, Hanoi, and even China. Because we normally get a sim card for our unlocked phones on arrival, it’s easy for us to get around by ordering an Uber. I also recommend exploring the local transportation system, particular metros and trains. We do this all for sanity because I hate taking taxis in foreign countries. That is a rant for another day.
How to Eat When Traveling
Travel Tip 12: Do your food travel research: Before leaving home, Google what to eat or where to eat in your destination. Sure, this may seem like a shameless plug for food travel blogs, but they offer better organized and better researched advice than merely looking at Trip Advisor’s list of the top 10 (and almost always most expensive) restaurants in whatever city you are traveling to. Some of my most popular blogs are what tapas to eat in Barcelona and the must eat foods in Osaka for just this reason.
Travel Tip 13: Look for the food stalls with the longest lines: People often ask us if it is safe to eat street food when traveling. Most of the time, we say yes it is! One of our favorite tips is to look for the food stalls with the longest lines. The locals often know which place serves the best food, and long lines mean quick turn over. Our friend Jodi over at Legal Nomads also wrote this comprehensive guide on how to eat street food when traveling without getting sick.
Travel Tip 14: Walk 3 blocks from the tourist traps: Another favorite tip. Some of the worst food in the world is on a major square or close to a major tourist spot, particularly in Europe. Higher rents mean higher prices, and a lack of local diners mean less authentic food. But, often, if you just walk three blocks away from that spot you will find more authentic food and a more reasonable price. If enjoying the view from the square or piazza is important, enjoy a cup of coffee, and move on for food.
Travel Tip 15: Avoid the concierge recommendations: This pains me to say this, because we have a lot of friends in the hotel industry, but we almost never ask for a recommendation on where to eat from a concierge. Not only do they have a list of pre-approved places to recommend, but they are going to recommend a place for the lowest common denominator traveler – the least adventurous and most picky hotel guest. When we arrived in Bangkok a few years ago, we asked at the hotel where to go for street food in the neighborhood. They quickly warned it’s not safe to eat any street food in Bangkok. Instead they recommended a Thai-Italian restaurant next door. We walked outside, sniffed around, and found a street stall grilling meat and making fresh papaya salad. And, it was fabulous. Instead of the concierge, try the young bellman or the bartender, and ask them where they would go to eat.
For more tips on how to travel, check out our Ultimate Guide for Travelers.
4 Tips After 15 Years of Marriage
I was on a call with a friend last week who said he thought Eric and I “had figured it out.” Perhaps that is the case. Some days we operate like a well oiled machine. Some days, not so much. Even when living this lifestyle that many consider to be glamorous and enviable, the problems of real life sink in, and we have to deal with them. I am in no way an expert on marriage, but I do have a few marriage tips for younger couples.
Marriage Tip 1: Take risks, together: If you would have asked me on our wedding day in 2001 whether we would not only still be together now, 15 years later, but living this life of travel, exploration, and entrepreneurship. That we would be running 4 businesses together. Well, it would have been unthinkable. I am grateful that we took this leap, that we took the risk, together.
Marriage Tip 2: Adapt, together: At the time of our wedding, we were on the path to the predictable life. We registered for china and crystal, and the dreaded fondue pot that is still a point of contention today. We were married in front of friends, and even family, we no longer have relationships with. We were entirely different people then who never could have anticipated this life for themselves. Over time, we both changed, in extreme ways. I am thankful that we have adapted and changed, and that we’ve done so together. We are more similar to each other now than before, but it is one of the reasons why we can stand to be around each other so much.
Marriage Tip 3: Spend time, together: When we were living in the US, we were living separate lives. Always working, on different schedules, traveling separately for work. Now, we spend all of our time together, which might frighten couples, but for us it works. I look at young couples who aren’t on the same page, who have entirely different lives, different friends, and different interests, and I know that life isn’t for us. I worry that they are not in a real partnership. It’s not necessary to spend all your time together, but sharing common experiences and genuinely enjoying each other’s company is important.
Marriage Tip 4: Travel, together: This is probably not a surprising tip coming from me, but when I look back on our last 4 years of travel together, and I think of all the experiences we’ve had, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Looking back on our last 15 years together, I have more joy from looking at the photos of the trips that we’ve taken, than remembering all of the stuff we spent our money on while living in the US. Finding the time to travel together is hard, and I know not everyone wants to do what we do, but it is important. Make it a priority.
Our Anniversary in Bangkok
After all of this, how did we spend our anniversary? We had hoped to be somewhere exotic, but due to the struggles of the last few months, it just became increasingly harder to plan. It was a quiet day spent in Bangkok, with very little work. We watched the new Star Trek movie at our favorite first class movie theater. We enjoyed a lovely sushi meal at Tsu in Bangkok, which was topped off by a petite cake that read “Happy Anniversary.”
People assume we live an entirely unique and enviable lifestyle. In the end, we probably spent our anniversary like many other couples. With dinner and a movie. See, we’re just like you, even after 4 years of travel.
Share your best travel tips and marriage tips in the comments below!
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.