Behind The Scenes with Plan B

It has been a year since we left home. Multiple people have asked how we’ve done it, if we like it, and what we’ve learned. You’ll find some of our travel, budget, and packing tips below. Please feel free to leave additional questions or suggestions as a comment.

General

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A simple calendar with a list of what we want to do and what happened each day.

  • Don’t be too attached to your plans. With open eyes, ears, and noses sometimes the world will present you with an opportunity that may become the highlight of your trip—as long as you are willing to let go of the plans you walked out the door with.
  • Always stop in the Tourist Information office. In addition to picking up the usual maps and pamphlets, showing genuine curiosity for the area often leads to stellar recommendations from the staff. Some of our best day trips, meals, and walks are from asking a staff person what they would do with a free day/weekend/afternoon.
  • Stay organized with planning. When we arrive in a new place, we post a one-page, blank, hand-drawn monthly calendar on the wall. At the header, we list the things we would like to do. As we make commitments, those go on their respective day. As each day passes, we write in what actually happened. This calendar becomes the outline for journaling and the blog.
  • Every time we book something, we keep a couple copies of the details (time, place, confirmation code, etc). We each have a copy in our email, a file is saved to our laptop, and the details are written on our paper calendar.
  • Edit photographs at least every two weeks to keep only the good ones.
  • Know common local scams. Guide books and travel websites can be a source of what to expect. For example, we read about two common set-ups for pickpockets in Paris. Within five minutes of exiting the train station, we were approached with one of them (a petition for English-speakers to help handicapped children). The next day as we walked the banks of the Seine, the other one happened three times in ten minutes (a gold ring that we “dropped”). By being aware of these before we arrived, we didn’t become victims.
  • Read more than travel guides. Reading fiction, short stories, and essays by local authors increases our understanding of the culture.
  • Find out what is going on: concerts, street fairs, festivals, races, etc. Pick up a weekly paper. Ask around. Read the posters plastered to walls. Pause at a community board in the grocery or library to see what’s on.
  • Use the Chrome browser to translate local webpages into English. The translation is often clunky, but lets you read and explore information that otherwise would be inaccessible.
  • Rick Steves is a great resource for Europe. He has a website and app with free videos, interviews, old radio shows, and walking tours. We have particularly enjoyed the walking tours for everything from museums, to parks, to historic neighborhoods.

Budget

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Our shopping bags. The red one is stuffed into its pouch.

  • Slow down. This has been our SOP. You don’t pack every day so there is time to seek out the music you hear wafting from blocks away, time to have a snack at the local bakery you didn’t know existed, time to sit in the sun and watch the people go by. Spending weeks in a place allows you to become a temporary local, return to the same cafe multiple times, develop a relationship with the cheese vendor, and attend events you see posters hanging around town for. Booking accommodation for a month is often the same price as 3 weeks or less. Buying a pound of butter is the same price as a stick. You spend significantly less money at a slow pace.
  • When booking onward travel, find out the location-specific equivalent of Expedia. In Sweden, we ran the same possible flights through our go-to booking conglomerates and our Swedish friend’s go-to page. The same exact flights on his page were about one third of the prices we could find.
  • If you are going to eat out, do it midday. Lunch is cheaper than dinner and has a more casual dress code. Daily specials are often tasty and a real bargain. Plus, it requires us to sit down and relax in the middle of the day, regardless of where we are.
  • Our home public library has a large selection of e-books and videos. With the Kindle and laptop, we are able to download these anywhere we can connect to wi-fi. Most of the guide books we’ve used have come from the library and 80% of our pleasure reading has also been free through the library.

Packing

A tidy suitcase with packing cubes.

A tidy suitcase with packing cubes.

  • Packing cubes are simple cloth zippered bags. They come in different sizes. We each have about five in our luggage and use them to stay tidy. For example, warm clothes to wear in cold weather are all in the same cube. Toiletries are in another. They make packing and unpacking quick, neat, and orderly.
  • Small tote bags. We have two bags that fold into themselves, each to be smaller than a tennis ball and very light. We often use these multiple times a day. They save us money in places that charge for grocery bags. They are endlessly useful: at the beach to carry wet bathing suits, when we come across a great deal on ripe pineapples, or to hold our lunch before we eat it on the train.
  • If the water out of the faucet is questionable, a water purifier not only will save you lots of money on bottled water but also will save you from wasting all those plastic bottles. We have one that takes out even the smallest nasties and can conveniently be set up with a gravity feed, so it doesn’t require manual pumping.
  • A headlamp guides you to the bathroom, lets you explore a cave, allows you to read at night, and becomes indispensable when the power cuts out and you’ve just sat down to dinner or stepped into the shower.
  • Sheets are heavy but can guarantee a better night’s sleep. They protect sensitive skin from scratchy synthetics. In Europe, we found many places only provided a comforter and it was too hot to sleep under but too cold to sleep without—a sheet was the perfect balance.
  • Laundry facilities are not everywhere, but you can always do your own if you have a drain plug (many sinks lack a stopper). We have one of those flat rubbery ones that will cover any hole.Fifteen feet or more of line can make a clothesline on which to dry your newly-washed clothes.
  • Our Camelbak daypack comes out with us almost every day. We stay hydrated and are able to carry whatever else we might need for the day: snacks, extra clothes, camera, etc.
  • A sarong can become a picnic blanket, beach towel, shower towel, shade cloth, changing screen, or even a dress.
  • Early in the trip, we made a packing list. Since we usually stay in a place for a month we seriously move in. The list doesn’t include things like clothes but does include all the things we are likely to not see when leaving a place, like electrical adapters, dirty laundry, the dish scraper, shampoo, snacks for the road, the alarm clock. In fact, the only time we left something behind was when we both had colds and didn’t run through the list.
  • Even the worst cheap knife becomes usable with a diamond sharpener. Since we’re making most of our meals, being able to cut things is necessary. Give Jim five minutes with the Diamond M and he can get an edge on the worst blades.
  • A lightweight, bluetooth, compact speaker makes anywhere feel like home. We can listen to the morning news on NPR or our favorite tunes.
  • While in the tropics, pack a mosquito net that has been pretreated with mosquito-repellent. Having about 100 feet of line will guarantee that you can find ways to string it up and sleep soundly. A king size model can be adapted to fit a double, queen, or two twins.
  • Before leaving we got a a global telephone. In each place we stay, we pick up a local SIM card and are able to make local calls. This isn’t essential but has been very handy. It has been used mainly to call/text with our host. With a small data plan, we’ve been able to check bus schedules on the fly and have a back-up when the wi-fi is spotty or not functioning.
  • Simple flat slippers have become our best friends. We always leave shoes at the door to keep our place cleaner. Slippers mitigate a cold or grimy floor and make you feel cozy and at home.

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There are a few things that we wished we brought along but did not need enough to pick up en route:

  • a compact world atlas for planning the next legs of our journey and brushing up on geography
  • compact high-quality zoom binoculars
  • more toothbrush heads for our electric toothbrush as we were unable to find them in many countries

If you have any additional questions for us or suggestions from your own experience, please leave them below as comments.

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2 thoughts on “Behind The Scenes with Plan B

  1. Dear Jim & Megan,

    We have thoroughly enjoyed all of your blog entries. The historical perspective pieces and nice variety of pictures has been a perfect balance for keeping reader interest and providing a solid taste of your experience. You are traveling at a scale that is daunting, even to this humble couple that likes to camp in a van while touring this country’s park systems. Despite that, I loved this last entry for its wonderful suggestions about the practicalities of what and how to pack and how to make the most of the place you are visiting. Thanks so much!

    We are so glad you are back having had a wonderful experience (not that you are done yet really). I’m sure Brian and Jackson are beside themselves excited about joining you for your upcoming sailing excursion. Hope your health and general well being is intact and that the prevailing winds are in your favor at all times 😉

    Love and hugs –

    Laurie & Dana

    • Laurie and Dana,
      Thank you for your sweet note and your other comments. We have a few more posts before we get back to Oregon and will likely be putting Plan B Tour to rest when we get there (at least for a while). Thanks again!
      -Jim and Megan

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