Our Nomad Travel - It's Not a Vacation, It's a Lifestyle!

We are often asked ' What's it like being on vacation all the time?

Our answer is simple: 'We aren't on vacation. Traveling is how we live our lives - it's our lifestyle.'

But there's more to it than this simple statement. Our Nomad Life takes some forethought and planning. There are definite tasks that we do to make our lifestyle work. We offer our ideas below.

Research and Trip Planning
The first step is deciding where to go, a task that each person must do for themselves. If you are looking for ideas, you might peruse the stories of our travels, on the 'Searching the World for People Friendly Cities' pages elsewhere on this website.
For us, this is a continuous job, as the end of each trip is the beginning of the next.

Research to learn as much as possible before the next journey is essential as it vastly enhances appreciation and enjoyment of any place we visit - its history, culture, customs, cuisine. A good guide book is a prerequisite - usually one for each country, most recent edition. We prefer Rough Guide, others use Lonely Planet and there are other good ones, too. Most countries and cities also have good websites with information. Country and city maps are valuable navigation aids - more on this later.

As our research progresses - we develop lists of specific places that are of interest. Included are the more well known tourist attractions, of course, as well as museums, buildings of special architectural design or civic, religious, or historic importance. As we continue our research on what makes cities 'People Friendly', we also include walks through various residential neighborhoods and parks, search for transportation centers and ride buses, trams and subways.

Once we have a good list of places to visit, we estimate the number of days to stay in each one. Adjustments are then made so that the total equals the number of days we plan to be gone. (For us, there are always reasons to return to our home base, so our trips usually have a defined beginning and end.)

We then arrange the list of cities and places to visit into a logical itinerary. We always consider our itinerary 'tentative' to allow for changes as the trip proceeds.
As a part of our Nomad Lifestyle we normally make plans for only the next or maybe the next couple of places to visit. At each stop, we decide how long we want to stay, and when we're ready to move on, make further arrangements as we go. Some may not feel comfortable without more certainty, but, for us, this mode of travel works very well and has provided little problem.

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Making Transportation Arrangements
Once we have decided on our next destination, we then book our transportation, which means checking schedules and buying plane, train or bus tickets.

  • For Plane Reservations, we usually use online websites such as Orbitz or Expedia (no endorsement intended). It's easy and reservations can usually be made on virtually any airline in the world and for a fairly short time in advance. Payment is made with a credit card in US Dollars, which we find to be an advantage because occasionally the websites for foreign airlines won't accept our US credit cards.

  • Train - Schedules and fares can usually be found on websites for the country you plan to visit (just enter 'trains' and the country name in your search engine to find them). Tickets are easily purchased at the local railway station, but it's often a good idea to buy them a day or two in advance as tickets sometimes sell out on prime time departures. Be sure to write down your destination and date and time of travel on a piece of paper you can show the sales agent as English may not be easily understood. Trains are most often our choice in Europe as they are fast, comfortable and the sightseeing is good.

  • Bus - Schedules and fares can also be found on websites (just enter 'buses' and the country name in your search engine to find them). Tickets are best purchased at the main bus station and again, buying a day or two in advance is best to ensure a seat at the time you prefer. In some places there are agencies in a more downtown location that sell tickets, thereby avoiding a trip out to the bus station. Buses are most often our choice in Mexico and South America - the sightseeing is usually wonderful.

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    Accommodations (Where Do We Stay)
    As we travel, we continually need to find a place to stay at our next destination. We use our guidebooks for some ideas, but also have a number of sources for booking places to stay.

    For longer stays, we prefer a small furnished apartment which gives us a little more room including a kitchen with a fridge, a stove and microwave to fix breakfast and some other meals. Our best source for this kind of place is the website airbnb.com  It's easy to use, the pictures and maps on the site give us a good idea of the place we choose, and we can pay through the website using a credit card. We have used them in the US and many countries, with good results. It's best to contact the host to ask a few questions, read the reviews, and research the neighborhood before booking.
    We have also used agencies that specialize in short term rentals, with good results.

    For shorter stays, from a few days to a week or so, we generally will choose a hotel. There are many websites through which we can find hotels, review the accommodations and prices, and book reservations. We tend to use hotels.com and booking.com most often.

    While a hotel is an easy choice, it often isn't the most economical or the most interesting choice. A willingness to try alternative accommodations enhances the travel experience and can also save money! We have stayed in hostels in private rooms with shared bathrooms down the hall, or in separate rooms in someone's home, and we've even slept in a mixed dorm room. While the idea of staying in a room with people you don't know may not appeal to everyone, we have met fascinating people in these instances.

    For more of our ideas on what we look for, click here.

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    How Do You Get Around? How Do You Figure Out Where Things Are and How To Find Them?
    We learn about where things are from our maps. Most guidebooks have fairly good maps and we obtain better ones at the Visitor Info or purchase them at book stores or news stands, wherever we can.

    Before arriving, we study the maps to get a general idea of the city plan. We note where the airport or the train or bus station is relative to the city center and our hotel. We then identify a good route to get to our hotel, whether by taxi, transit or on foot.

    Once we're settled in our new 'home', we are ready to explore and find the places of interest we want to visit. From our maps we know where metro and tram stations are and with a short walk we can usually locate bus stops.

    We almost always use the public transit systems to experience traveling the way the local folks do. Transit is also less expensive and often more convenient than taking a taxi when we need a ride.

    Finding our way around on a Metro system is fairly easy. The stations are noted on any decent map and maps of the routes are posted in the stations, with the transfer points and the major points of interest usually marked. To ride most systems, we note the station at the end of the line as it designates the direction the trains are traveling on a particular track. Trains usually run quite frequently, so knowing the schedule is not necessary. The only disadvantage is they are usually underground, especially in city centers, so the sightseeing is minimal.

    Trams or street cars are also fairly easy to use as they follow designated routes, which are shown on most maps. They also run quite frequently, so knowing the schedule is not necessary. As they usually run on the city streets, the sightseeing is great. Sometimes we just pick one to ride, and get off at an interesting looking area to explore and then ride the same line back to where we started - an easy adventure at first, until we get to know our way around.

    Local buses are also a good option as they travel on city streets so the sightseeing is good. But for visitors like us, they are also a bigger challenge, simply because it's more difficult to learn where they go. We have a few tricks that help with this.

    • We first look for a map that includes the bus routes. If successful, this makes the job easy as we then know what buses travel to places we want to visit.
    • Many cities have websites with maps of their bus systems that we can view online or download. Some also have a 'Trip Planning' facility that displays the buses to ride between points we choose.

    On a more practical level:

    • As we walk around in our new neighborhood we note the numbers of the buses that pass by. This gives us a list of choices to get home as we need them.
    • As we travel to places around the city we note the bus numbers that pass by, focusing on those that go to our neighborhood.
    • Asking the bus driver or conductor where the bus is going can be a good confirmation we are going to our destination and can keep us off buses going in the wrong direction. In places where little English is spoken, we try to learn a simple name or phrase we can use, like the word for railway station or cathedral - you get the idea.
    • Carefully following our route of travel on a map of the city can be very useful, so we know when we're going in the right direction, and will alert us if the bus starts going in the wrong direction so we can get off.

    These approaches to getting around vary widely by country and region. In Europe, for example, we have found it very easy to learn how to use all of the transit systems. In comparison, in Mexico City and Delhi, using the Metro was easy, but learning about the buses was more difficult as there is far less useful information about the routes available in English; yet once we figure it out it's a great way to get a feel for life as a local.

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    What About Food?
    We find that one of the joys of travel is eating the typical local foods. We do our best to learn about the local cuisine, including the special local dishes that are offered. We seek out the places where the local folks eat, places recommended by our guide book, or places that look friendly and inviting (beware of places with a guy out front selling too hard!) It's a good idea to check the menu first to make sure it has the food you would like to eat, at the prices you are willing to pay.

    On days when we're out exploring, picnics are fun and economical. We buy bread, cheese, fruit, and drinks at a neighborhood market and sit in a nearby park or even on the steps of a nice building. Remember to carry spoons and a knife in your daypack if you plan to do this.

    When breakfast is included in the hotel, this is a plus. It saves us having to go out to find a restaurant every morning and if we can get our fill, it allows us to have smaller lunches or even get by with street food snacks, or picnics.

    Street food is a real temptation, but also a potential risk. Just peeled fresh veggies or just squeezed fruit juices make great mid-day snacks, but just be sure they don't include local water or ice, if you're not sure it's safe.

    When we have access to a kitchen, we make simple meals at 'home'. This frees us from the daily search for eateries and enables us to go shopping at the local food shops and markets. We always take along our own sturdy sack and a dictionary!

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    What Do You Take for Such Long Trips?
    We take only what we can easily carry. This usually means what will fit in a backpack and a carry-on size 'wheely bag' (suitcase with wheels and an extendable handle to pull it). We try not to overload either with heavy stuff like books as a heavy backpack is hard on the shoulders and there are many places where wheely bags must be carried up or down stairs or lifted onto the overhead racks on a train or a plane.

    We take only what we really need. For us this means a limited complement of clothes, so we don't necessarily wear different outfits every day and know we will need to frequently do laundry.

    Following is the list of what we carry. It currently includes our laptops as we are writing stories for our website and need to stay in touch by email.

    Wheely bags

    • Underwear, socks - 5 to 6 sets/pairs
    • Shirts - 5 to 6
    • Slacks/Jeans - 3
    • Sweater or fleece jacket- 1
    • Packable light jacket -1
    • Shoes - 2 to 3 pairs
    • Day bag/backpack for days when laptops are not needed
    • Toiletries (in zipped, plastic lined bags)
    • Nutritional supplements/Vitamins/Meds
    • Coffee filter holder and filters
    • Sewing supplies and limited first aid supplies
    • Packs of tissues
    • Adapters for various electric plugs (with two round prongs in most of the world)
    • 220 to 110 volt transformer, if you're taking any 110 volt appliances.
    • Hair dryer (optional, dual voltage if possible), shaver (guys)

    Backpacks (or in our pockets or wallet)

    • Passport with required visas
    • Credit cards
    • Mobile phone with charging wire
    • Camera, including the charger
    • Laptop PC, power cord, mouse
    • Books, travel journal, maps
    • Snacks, water (but you can't take bottles of liquid through airline security)
    • TP, tissues
    • Plastic forks, knives, & spoons (for picnics)
    • Comb, pen, pencil
    • Business cards to exchange with new friends
    • Small bag for shopping

    We carry only the papers we need for our trip and leave the rest at home.

    Items we take:

    • Passport with necessary visas
    • Credit cards we will use to pay expenses while on the trip. Any others are left at home
    • Drivers License and International Drivers License, in case we need to rent a car (we rarely do this).
    • Vaccination certificate and paper prescriptions for meds
    • Copies of our passports and Drivers License to carry when sightseeing, in case we need to show ID
      (this doesn't happen ofter). We leave the originals in the hotel or other safe place.
    • Extra passport pictures (needed for some 'on the spot' visas or permits and local ID cards, like monthly transit passes.
    • Transit cards for cities we plan to visit.

    Items we leave home. These are things we don't need on the trip and they are difficult to replace if lost or stolen.

    • Library cards,
    • Supermarket cards,
    • Membership cards
    • Electronic ID cards from work or for the place we live
    • Etc - you get the idea

    As we travel, we always gather a selection of maps and the books and brochures of the places we visit. When they get too bulky to carry, we pack them in a box and send them home. /The local postal service works fine for most places, but pay a little more to be sure it goes by air, and not by ship. Where the postal service is questionable, we use Fedex or UPS - it's more expensive, but at least it works.    

    How Do You Deal With Money?
    There is a short answer to this question - ATMs. They are everywhere, including smaller and more remote towns.

    Some cautions:

    • Check with your credit card company to verify what form of a PIN you need. Many ATMs won't allow a PIN longer than 4-digits.
    • Have more than one credit card you can use to obtain cash, just in case. If you lose a card or the account is blocked for some reason, you will still have a way to get cash. Don't carry both cards in the same place.
    • Notify your credit card companies that you will be traveling, the dates you will be gone and where you are going. That way they won't suddenly block access to your account when cash requests from a faraway place start to occur.
    • Be sure to note the customer service phone numbers for the credit card company so you can call and straighten out a problem should it occur (calls from almost anywhere in the world to the US aren't that expensive or difficult these days - see info on What We Do About Phone Service below).
    • To reduce the risk of unauthorized charges, we normally use our credit cards only in more secure situations: to get cash from ATMs, to buy plane and rail tickets, or to pay at more upscale hotels. We use cash for less expensive hotels, meals, local transport, etal. (these sorts of places don't often accept credit cards in any case).

    To avoid the risk or losing or being robbed of all our cash, we minimize the amount we have and divide our cash between us, and sometimes store some of it in our backpacks or suitcases instead of in our wallets or pockets.

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    What Do You Do About Phone Service?
    When we are in the US, we have our cell (mobile) phone, and use our US phone number (it's the one listed on this website). When we leave the US, we change the message to indicate it will not be answered and ask people to contact us by email.

    For folks who need US phone service while in a foreign country, you can usually extend your cell phone service to almost anywhere in the world, but for an additional cost, of course. Contact your cell phone provider for details.

    While we are traveling, we buy another sim card for our unlocked cell phone that gives us a local phone number in the country we're in. We use a 'pay as you go' plan, buying a set amount of call time when we start and add to it if we need to.
    Having a phone in this way helps a lot for contacting hotels as we go, or being able to contact new friends we meet along the way, and if set up properly allows us to call virtually anywhere in the world (like to the US).

    When we have a good WIFI connection (at our hotel or in a coffee shop), we make phone calls using Skype. Calls from our computer (or our phone) to phone numbers in the US are inexpensive (2-3 cents/minute). Calls to another Skype connected computer, anywhere in the world, are free - The only challenge is finding a mutually convenient time to call, when we are many time zones away from the person we're calling.

    In many cities around the world there are 'call shops' where you can make phone calls to anywhere in the world for a reasonable cost. They are useful if we need to make a call and are not by our computer for a Skype call.
    There are also Internet cafes where you can use a computer for making a Skype call. They are often 'call shops' as well.

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    How Do You Pay Your Bills Back Home?
    We either arrange for automatic payment, or we pay our bills on line.

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    What Do You Do About Your Mail?
    Our mailing address in the US is a mail service that accepts all our mail for us. Periodically we request them to package it up and forward it to us (minus the magazines and junk mail). Alternatively you could ask a relative or friend to check your mail and send you anything that looks important. Fedex and UPS deliver almost anywhere in the world for a moderate fee.

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    What About Your Home?
    We don't really have a home, as such. Even when we are back in Albuquerque, our 'home base', we stay with friends or in an 'Extended Stay' hotel or an airbnb place. We also don't have a vehicle. We rent one whenever public transit isn't workable.
    Many people wouldn't feel comfortable without a 'home' to always return to; we certainly understand this. We suggest that if you can spare the time, taking longer trips that involve longer stays in each place are a very enjoyable way to live and highly recommend it. Everyone's situation is different - be creative!

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    What About Reading Material?
    We have Nook e-readers which hold all of our reading needs, such as our travel guides and casual reading. They are certainly lighter and take up less room than carrying print books.

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    How Do You Stay in Touch With Family and Friends
    We travel with laptop computers. WIFI is available in most all hotels or apartments we stay in, so we can keep in touch with email or an occasional Skype call. We use Facebook to share our location and stay in touch, too.We also use our computers for updating this website.

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    Don't You Get Tired of Traveling?
    We find that exploring a new place is exciting, fun and challenging, but after several weeks of moving from place to place, we're ready to 'perch' for a while. That's when we plan an extended stay. We sometimes return to places where we feel comfortable to just live life. As time goes on we are doing this more frequently.

    Occasonally, shorter stays are necessary, in which case we prefer a stay of at least 2 nights. We always say that any place we stay for two nights or more is 'Home'. Avoiding one night stands helps prevent travel fatigue.

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    Final Thoughts
    Traveling in non-english speaking places sometimes gives us a feeling of 'isolation'. Not understanding the local language means we can't read the newspapers or understand the local TV news, thus leaving us with limited knowledge of local events and happenings.

    In some cities there are 'Expat' communities that allow us to meet folks who speak English and know more about the local happenings. We look for them whenever we can.

    In some cities, especially in Mexico, there are a large number of folks who live there in the winter or in some cases year-round. They often have events we can attend, which is nice and creates a 'circle of friends' at least for the length of our stay.

    Also, in most cities we can purchase international magazines and newspapers like the International Herald Tribune or the Economist. Online news sources have greatly expanded access to information, local and global. These sources help us keep up with world events.

    Is there anything we've missed, or you think should be included? Is there something you would like to ask us?
    Let us know. Send us an email to info@pioneerwest.net

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