The Art of (our) Travel
Our way of traveling is different to what most people do when they travel. Given we want to explore and discover new things and often off the beaten path, we go out of our way to not plan too much in terms of where to stay and what to do. All our holidays start with looking at a world map and trying to figure out where we have not been yet. We start by picking out places from our ever-growing list of places and matching that against months we want to travel. Once we have a rough list, we start to do extensive research on how to maximize our time there. We find OneNote (or Evernote) an indispensable tool in this respect as it allows for writing down free-form thought while also building an itinerary. It also syncs to all our devices and is accessible over the Internet from anywhere. We save many of the links and pictures on pages dedicated to a given city and organized by country. Besides TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet, we look at a lot of the photography sites such as Flickr, 500Px, or TravelersPoint. We find that photographs are the best means of deciding what to see as each certainly do tell a story. Using a combination of photographs, travel blogs, and other peoples’ stories, we start adding details to our trip such as places we want to see, hotels that are unique, and of course, the best places to photograph.
Below is our approach to the various elements that are necessary for travel.
Time of Year
We generally are fans of warm weather and sunshine, the latter for photography of course :-) January usually finds us in Seattle getting back to work and catching up with our friends after the holidays. This is also the month we plan our holidays for the entire year and do research. Given the weather is dismal in Seattle until around May, we spend Feb-Apr in places such as Sydney or San Diego. In late May, we do holiday in Europe as the weather is generally nice and it's before the tourist season. We return to Seattle in Jun and usually stay in this part of the world as summers are simply stunning. Most weekends finds us on a beach in the Olympic National Park or along the Oregon coast. September is our next holiday, which is also typically in Europe. We then return home in Oct and then finish the year with a holiday starting in India to see our relatives and then ending up in Asia somewhere. We also do many random trips based on work or the never-ending itch of wanderlust.
We look at hotels as a place to clean up, sleep, and charge our various batteries and nothing else. We do value cleanliness and location over all else, though the latter is often not much of an issue as we almost always rent cars unless we are part of a guided tour (very rare). For the most part, we stay in 3* hotels as we tend to find these as the best balance between features and cleanliness. We don’t care much for room service or mini-bars as we spend almost no time in the room. We do put a review of most of the hotels we stay in, including pictures, on TripAdvisor. All our blogs include a link to our review so you will know exactly what we think.
The rise of AirBnB has been one of the greatest things to happen to our style of travel. We LOVE staying in places that offer authentic, local experiences and nothing does that more than somebody’s actual home in a city we are visiting. We have met some of the nicest and interesting people in the places we have staying in and call many of them our friends. Maybe this is psychological, but staying in a homes helps us relax and acclimatize far better than any 5* hotel I have ever stayed in. We also tend to get fresh produce and cook which also makes for a healthier holiday. Increasingly, given a choice, we almost always pick this option over staying in a hotel. About the only time it does not always make as much sense is when staying in a place for a single night. Given the extra effort needed to meet the owner, get the key, check in, etc., we find that staying in a hotel saves time.
Like most other things in the age of the Internet, airlines have also been commoditized to basically providing transport between two points. While we don’t have attachment to any single airlines, we do to Star Alliance as the benefits of frequent travel quickly add up with global travel. While our “home” carrier is United, we chose this alliance because of Air Canada and Lufthansa. Those two airlines account for the bulk of our travel and the benefits of membership add up quickly. Air Canada is the hidden gem for travel to Europe and Australia as the planes and new/modern and prices very reasonable. We also get to clear US customs and immigration in Vancouver (30m flight from Seattle) which saves even more time. Pick an airline based on the places you most travel to and stick to that airline/alliance. Combined with miles from credit cards, we are able to book free tickets or upgrade a base-price ticket to premium economy or business.
In this age of connectivity and information, this is a tool that one simply cannot do without while traveling. This is especially true for our freestyle method of travel where we have to make last minute bookings or change our route based on a random road we took. While each of us have a different favorite phone (he loves Android while she is Apple), it does not really matter as they all mostly provide the same functions. But, the key to getting the most out of your device is the carrier and plan you choose. Given our global travels and need for connectivity in rural places, there is no better plan than the current T-Mobile One for us. For about $70/month, we get unlimited international (140+ countries) data and text which is an unbelievable deal. We have used this to book a last minute hotel in Ireland, look up restaurants in a small village in Croatia, find our way in an island in Thailand, and hail a Uber in Varanasi, India. No matter what we needed, the smartphone paired with a global data plan is probably the single most important tool we have.
Almost wherever we are able, we rent a car as it affords us the ultimate freedom to go explore. Over the years, we have rented from all the major brands and also some local ones. There is no real difference between companies and you are better off going for the cheapest one. Definitely read the fine print as some companies bundle mandatory insurance which you most probably don’t need. For most people, your insurance provider covers you globally, sometimes for a nominal extra charge. We have the American Express travel card which provides cover for collision an liability above and beyond our insurance. It also gives us 3x points on all travel-related stuff which more than makes up for the $75 annual fee. Whatever card you use, make sure they do not charge you transaction fees on foreign currency. These can add up fast, especially when traveling abroad.
Accessories for electronics and luggage can make or break a holiday. Years of travel and experience has led to the stuff we used today.
Best Travel Suitcase: There is no better than the Ful 30” Tour Manager. This is a rolling duffel bag that is organized into two compartments which is fantastic for organization. Coupled with eBags excellent packing cubes, this is the guaranteed way to luggage nirvana. Ful also has amazing customer service where they send you a new bag if anything happens to your bag in the warranty period of 5 years. I have owned a few of these over the years and only once did I have an issue where the zip lining separated from the bag. I opened a case with photos of the issue and they shipped me a new bag.
Best Latop / Travel Backpack: I have owned literally over a hundred of these over the last 20 years, some purchased and most given by my employers. Of all of them, I finally stumbled upon the perfect bag in the eBags Professional Slim Laptop Backpack. The single biggest selling point of this bag is the front accessible accessory organizer. It makes it extremely easy to get to stuff like adaptors and cables without opening the rest of the bag. Besides the laptop compartment, there is also a mini tablet pocket and large middle compartment with a deep shelf. I should go work for eBags as I have convinced at least 10 11 other people to buy this one.