When we started this blog six years ago, we never thought we’d see the day that people who weren’t our friends or family would read it, much less that they would write us — but that day has arrived. We thought it might be interesting to answer a few of the questions we’ve received from readers.
How are you able to pack so much into your trips?
We only get three weeks of vacation per year. In 2013, we went to amazing number of places purely by being judicious in our planning. We piggyback vacations onto work trips and, once we get to our destination, we try to do as much as possible. One of the key pieces in our planning process is knowing relative distances.
For example, in Rome, if you stay in the triangle between the Spanish Steps, the Colosseum and the Pantheon, you are centrally located. If you stay further out, you’ll save money on lodging, but the tradeoff can be time. In some cities, staying in a more remote part of the city can cost you as much as an hour each way in commuting time – that’s two hours out of your day that you otherwise could use for exploring. We carefully weigh the cost vs. location for all of our trips.
For some of our bigger trips, we post step-by-step travel itineraries so you can see exactly how we maximize our time in a destination.
How do you plan your time at your destination?
While there is an element of spontaneity in our travels, not all of it is luck. We do a lot of research in planning to find cool things do, places to photograph and restaurants to experience. There are a ton of internet resources out there, plus numerous traditional guidebooks. We’ve found that some guidebooks tend to be more budget travel-focused while others focus on more trendy places with a higher price tag. We’ve never found a guidebook exactly geared to our tastes, which is why we always do a fair amount of Internet research.
Recently, we’ve been fascinated with an app called Trover – it’s a photo-focused tool that allows you discover cool things. It works like this: Trover’s community of travelers contribute amazing photos that are tagged by location, these travelers also offer tips (such as how to save money or the best time to photograph the location or the best way to get to the hidden gem that isn’t in the guidebooks). You can sort through the photos, find cool places, like them, and then go visit them. The app tells you exactly how far away the place is from your current location. Trover is amazing travel inspiration! The best thing is, Trover is built by travelers for travelers and it is really high quality. You’re not sorting through someone’s cat pictures or selfies – it’s just great travel advice. In addition to the app, you can also use the Trover website to plan your travels in advance.
Trover has become one of our top social media apps/sites. The Trover app is free to join and free to use. If you sign up, we hope you’ll consider following us on Trover and liking some of our discoveries! (shameless self-promotion)
Where do you get your foreign currency? Our bank charges really high exchange rates!
First, don’t get your foreign currency in the U.S. U.S. banks and travel bureaus charge really high fees and unfavorable exchange rates. We haven’t exchanged currency in the U.S. in years. When you arrive in your destination country, withdraw cash from an ATM – you’ll get the best exchange rates. We’ve done a little experiment and not all banks charge the same exchange rates. We recommend using a bank that has a lot of international business/customers. You want a bank that deals with foreign currency as a matter of routine. Personally, we use USAA for our banking, which has a huge number of customers oversees so they do a lot of foreign exchange. We find we get an exceptional exchange rate through them.
Once we get bills, we try to break them as quickly as possible and try to carry only small bills. Cash machines in Europe typically dispense €50 notes. But we’ve had some difficulty over the years with businesses (particularly taxis) accepting them. So, try to get all of your big bills broken as soon as possible in your trip. Also, if you are in a country where haggling is common, having smaller bills will facilitate the haggling/negotiation process.
However, you don’t always need to pay in cash. When we first started traveling in Europe years ago, many businesses would not take credit cards. Now, it is more uncommon to find someone who doesn’t accept them. Visa and Mastercard are more universally accepted (American Express is still less common), however, they typically charge a 2-3% foreign transaction feel – on every single transaction. This can add up to hundreds of dollars over the course of a trip. If you find yourself doing significant amounts of international travel, get a credit card with no foreign transaction fee.
You have some photos of major attractions with nobody else in them. Do you edit them a lot?
We both take photos — usually me using the DSLR and Laura with the iPhone so that we have photos for the blog and for social media — which increases the chance of getting good ones and/or ones without people. We also have a lot of luck and have found that one advantage to traveling in the off season is that there are fewer people at the places we’re taking photos. Sometimes, there are extenuating circumstances like when we visited Egypt shortly after the Revolution, and there were no tourists at big attractions like Abu Simbel.
In general, we try to have a lot of patience and set up our shots carefully. There are times where we’ll wait a long time to get the perfect shot without any people in it. This can take awhile, but we enjoy the results. Obviously, there are many times where that’s not possible, though. When we return from a trip, we edit all our photos in Lightroom. Sometimes we can crop people out, but we don’t digitally remove them otherwise. We try to leave the photos pretty true to their original image, except for photos were we intentionally shoot in HDR or try to manipulate the colors for aesthetic purposes.
We saw you drove around Europe, didn’t that scare you?
Driving oversees is really no different than driving in the U.S. Sometimes you’re driving on the “wrong” side of the road and sometimes you can’t read the signs, but if you keep calm, you should be fine. We’ve driven in France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Turkey – all without any major problems (except that time I drove into a rock wall in Ireland).
Here are a few tips we’ve found that make it better:
- Rent from a big-name car rental agency. Yes, you’re going to pay more, but you’re also going to save yourself some headaches with hidden fees and being overcharged.
- We generally don’t do the pre-pay option. Again, it is slightly more expensive, but it also gives us more flexibility.
- We do purchase the rental car agencies insurance or we buy a special insurance package before we leave home. We don’t only rely on the credit card coverage. When I drove my little rental car into a rock wall in Ireland and scrapped up the left fender, we walked away from it without owing anything.
- An international GPS unit (such as a Garmin nuvi) is a huge help. We always take ours from home and it works like champ! We use the now-discontinued Garmin nuvi 1370t, which was preloaded with both North American and European maps. Your best bet now is the Garmin nuvi 2555LMT and then add a regional map micro SD card (for example, the Garmin European maps on micro SD card). But, it’s also helpful to have a hardcopy map backup. We buy our maps at the first gas station we come across on our travels.
- When refilling on gas, you’re going to be shocked at the price. Also, it is very helpful to have a pin-and-chip credit card because some of the gas stations overseas don’t take the less-secure U.S. signature cards.
What is your number one tip to save money on travel?
First, we’re not budget travelers. In our travels, if we have to make the tradeoff between and cost and convenience, we’re going with convenience. However, we also like good value. For us, the best way to save money on travel is through travel hacking. We have a whole travel hacking section on our site with tips, tricks, and information about airline programs (and are always adding new content). For those unfamiliar with it, travel hacking essentially involves accumulating loyalty points with travel companies (airlines, hotels, airport parking, etc.) to significantly subsidize or completely eliminate your travel costs. If you are interested in this, we’d also encourage you to sign up for our monthly newsletter called The Fix, which regularly features tips.
If you have questions, please contact us. We’d love to hear from you!
We’re working with Trover to publicize how absolutely cool it is! Also, some links may earn us a small commission. As always, all views are our own.