Travel Notes

This page is always under construction.

We’ve given a lot of travel advice to our friends and family.  Much of the advice centers on not trying to do too much. A tour that offers 10 cities in 10 days isn’t better than a tour that offers just five. With travel time, inevitable delays, and checking in and out of hotels, the slower you go, the more you’ll see.

Driving vs. taking buses/trains: Driving is isolating, usually boring, and can be nerve racking. But sometimes it’s the only way to get to where you want to go, and makes sense. We usually tell people to consider buses and trains whenever possible. will usually locate the best route, whether it’s by bus, train, or some combination.

Group tours vs. private tours vs. going it alone: It depends on where you are, if you speak the language, and how adventurous you are. We have done all three in India. But in Mexico, we always travel independently (we speak Spanish, and the infrastructure is well established).  We traveled independently in Russia, Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, Turkey, Egypt, and throughout Europe. Generally, we try to travel independently unless the infrastructure prohibits it.

Baggage: We use backpack-suitcases (eBags Mother Lode). Waiting for checked bags that often never arrive – or arrive without your valuables – gets old. Dragging wheeled rollers over cobblestones or up a few flights of stairs is painful. We travel as light as we possibly can. Rick Steves offers great tips on packing light.

Best travel guide books? There is no one “best” guide series. Frommer guides usually have the best listing of sites and attractions. DK Eyewitness books are good at providing an overview of cities, but unhelpful for regions or entire countries. Although Lonely Planet used to be our go-to guidebook, it’s now our least favorite; they seem to have lost their way (as noted in Thomas Kohnstamm’s exposé, Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?).  Moon guides can be ok, but they’re never been our primary guidebooks. Our advice is to get a few from the library before you buy one. And better yet, if you have a tablet, get the ebook instead. Just be sure to print out a paper map; using the maps in ebooks is painful.

Best hotel website? We use, Airbnb,, Agoda, and perhaps a few others. BUT (and the others) have changed their lowest price guarantee.  Very often, a hotel’s direct booking price will be less than the price. Before you book a room, check the hotel’s direct-book price. Due to their refund policies (and other anti-consumer actions), we no longer use VRBO. If you do book directly, be sure to use a credit card, not a debit card.

Getting local currency: Get local currency from a BANK ATM when you arrive. Every country we’ve been to has ATMs in their arrivals hall. Staffed foreign currency exchange booths in the USA are a complete ripoff. Staffed exchange at your destination offer terrible rates and high service charges, no matter what they claim. And never use a Euronet or a no-name ATM. Euronet can change 40% — or more! And if you have two ATM cards – one for a major US bank – bring both. We had a scare in Honduras, unable to find an ATM that would take our ATM cards until we found a Citibank branch.

Cellphone: T-Mobile offers free (but slow) data just about everywhere on Earth. AT&T and Verizon charge an arm and a leg. There are lots of stories of AT&T/Verizon customers coming home to bills of $1000+ after just one week away. In most countries, you can buy a local SIM card and enough data to suffice for just a few dollars. If you bought your phone from your carrier, your phone is probably locked, and you cannot use another SIM.

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