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Four Essential Things Needed for an Overseas Trip

After getting kicked out of St. Blaise's church because SOMEONE didn't have their shoulders covered, we decided to go to the friendlier confines of Motovun.
Last month, my wife and I returned from 9 days in Croatia, with a brief stopover in Munich. We took our nine year old daughter on her first real vacation. It was her first time flying, and her first time leaving the country. Needless to say, I think she (and we) have a great deal of new and lifelong memories, mainly from our daughter meeting her extended family for the first time.
Croatia

Since I just got back, I’ve been thinking about the things we brought, and the things we didn’t. As usual, we traveled with one bag each (I’ll talk more about this below). This means that packing has to be light, both for weight’s sake, and not to draw the wrath of the airlines, who do everything they can to get extra fees from you.

When away from home for a good amount of time, the key is to balance necessity and comfort with the very real and very important notion that this is an opportunity to get away from the objects that fill our homes. Even if you are staying in a luxury hotel, 10 days away from home is a chance to restart your life in a new place in new circumstances. In our case, we rented, along with 3 other couples, a luxury villa. It had 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, an in-ground pool, sauna, full kitchen, etc. Though this might sound expensive, when split amongst the guests, it was cheaper than staying in a hotel for the same amount of time. The only trade off is not having maid service or continental breakfasts, but the communal cooking and providing our own food also saved us a great deal of money.

Based on our experiences, here are some things you should bring on an overseas vacation.

One Reliable Mobile Phone-GSM Network

If you live a modern life, you need a mobile phone. Chances are you left a family behind that may need to contact you. When on the road, you will need a way to call for help should your rental car break down in the middle of nowhere. To serve this purpose, I brought my old iPhone 3G3, which was top of the line in 2009, but has long sat in our junk drawer. I’ve saved this phone specifically for this purpose, because as you can see in the heading for this section, the phone should be a GSM Band or Dual Band, meaning it has a removable SIM card. This allows you to purchase a cheap SIM card in your destination country, and have a local number and data access. CDMA network phones, like Verizon, may not be a good choice.

You will also notice that I said “reliable” – there’s a reason. It was not until I was lost by myself in the twisty Croatian city of Pula that I discovered my iPhone could not hold a charge. I had driven into Pula by myself with the specific mission of buying a phone card, and overestimated my familiarity with the city. Like a dumbass, I left my GPS and phone charger at our accommodation. After driving around for an hour, I went to a grocery story to buy a SIM card. The man, speaking no English, handed me a piece of paper after taking my money. I realized he had sold me a minutes-refill, and not the actual SIM card I needed. After finding an employee who spoke English, I then realized they did not sell the actual cards, and could not give me a refund. They did direct me to a news-stand that sold the cards. where I could buy one and use the paper/code to recharge it. After driving there, the lady (who also didn’t speak English) told me she had a SIM card, but did not accept credit card or Euros. In my haste in being lost and late to meet the car rental guy, I had forgot to withdraw some local Croatian Kuna from the grocery store.

Back I went to the grocery store for $20 in cash, then back to the news stand where the same woman proceeded to…sell me another paper recharge. Apparently she misunderstood me. In broken Croatian I asked her where I could get the “kartica” and she directed me to another news stand. They did have a card, but to add more tragedy to this story, I had no small pin with which to open my SIM card tray. After five minutes of futility, I found an old ball point pen in the rental car, and took it apart, MacGyver style. I straightened out the spring, and it worked! Of course, I poked it into my finger first, drawing blood.
Moral of the story: make sure your phone works ahead of time, and that you bring your charger.
This story makes a nice segue to…

GPS

In addition to this phone, we brought our Asus Tablet, which was preloaded with a cached-map GPS app for Croatia, meaning we could have turn-by-turn directions without the need for a Wi-Fi connection. I will recommend that you to bring a separate device to use for GPS, one that isn’t connected to a data network. This is because using GPS data can kill your minutes or cost you quite a bit of money in data fees. By preloading maps onto your device, they can be used without the need to be connected to a network. If you don’t have the ability to do this, I would suggest paying the extra money to a rent-a-car company. Ten dollars a day is worth the peace of mind, and it will probably save you a bunch of lost time that could be better spent enjoying your vacation.

One Bag Only

I’m not afraid to say that if you can’t go on vacation with just a carry on, there is something wrong with you. I’m not talking about a tiny handbag, but rather something like the eBags Weekender, specifically designed to maximize space while still complying with airline carryon restrictions. As I mentioned earlier, airlines are getting more stingy every day, and if they make you stick your bag in their sizer, they might get you. To make sure they don’t, check in online ahead of time or use a kiosk so you don’t have to talk to airline staff, and make sure your cinch straps are tight and shoulder straps are tucked away during boarding. It’s best to keep your bag out of their sight until the last possible moment.

By having one bag, things are less complicated, especially on an international trip. You are free to scope out standby options for different flights without worry that your already-checked bag will be lost. Also, you don’t have to spend an extra 45 minutes after the flight staring at a sleeping baggage carousel, wishing it would start spinning.

Every time I go overseas, I use less and less bag space. Even this time, I packed lighter than last time, and still didn’t wear everything. If you stay somewhere that has a laundry option, you can bring even fewer clothes. Vacation should be about spending as much time in your swim trunks as possible anyway, so who cares what you wear?

An Open Mind

The most important thing you can bring is an open mind, meaning that even the best laid plans will fail. This is what I tried to remind myself as I aimlessly drove the winding streets of Pula, lost in a country where most people don’t speak my language. As you can see from my experience, unless you make the journey part of the trip, rather than something standing in the way of your trip, you will become disappointed, especially traveling five or six thousand miles.

In this day and age, traveling somewhere with a language barrier, you can’t afford to be trapped with no information, unless you are traveling by yourself. In our case, I had visitors who were counting on me to guide them around and solve our logistical problems. Next time I do this, I will make damn sure I’ve got a better phone and link to immediate information, if only to maximize the time I can spend unplugged, next to the pool.

Photos from London, Istria and Croatia

IMG_0529

We’ve gotten a lot of requests to see some photos from our vacation. Herein, we oblige.

Thanks to all our online friends for continuing to support us when we were away.

This time my wife and I took less photos than trips prior, probably because we are taking more time to enjoy ourselves and have a more discerning eye for images.

So……here’s what we were up to for 12 debt-free days.

What We Did On Our Summer Vacation!!

 

London Olympics

We arrived in London off a red-eye nonstop from Chicago. Countdown to the Opening Ceremony in Trafalger Square.

 

 

The weather was a bit milder than what we left back home (105 degrees, no rain for months).

 

 

If you are in Istria, it must be time to eat.

 

 

Getting lost in the back streets of Vodnjan, in search of the mummies at St. Blaise.

 

 

After getting kicked out of St. Blaise’s church because SOMEONE didn’t have their shoulders covered, we decided to go to the friendlier confines of Motovun.

 

 

Yes, I quite like the view from Motovun. Totally worth the 30 minute hike up a mountain in the blazing sun.

 

 

So many interesting doors in Istria. Don’t you want to know what’s behind it?

 

 

My view of the Mirna River valley from Humska Konoba in Hum, the smallest town in the world. The meal was superb.

 

 

After Hum we crossed Mt. Ucka (actually went through her via a 16,000 foot long tunnel). Now we are above Rijeka in Kastav for pizza and beers.

 

 

From the darkness, into the light at Medveja.

 

 

Enjoying a full moon over Trsat with my beautiful wife.

 

 

The view from the Frankopan castle in Krk, on the island of Krk.

 

 

You shitting me? I gotta cross this expanse in a tiny Hyundai hatchback to get to the beach?

 

 

Okay, the drive was worth it. (Baska, Croatia).

 

 

Enjoying some drinks at Mošćenička Draga.

 

 

I almost forgot about the sky. The only clouds we saw, but they were the most beautiful.

 

 

Hey, ho, what’s this? We must be back in London for another day.

 

 

One last walk to one last strange bed, before one more flight before just one more until we are…almost home.

 

 

 

Make Your Travel Photography Magazine Quality

I used to be a travel photography purist. The way I took the photo was the way it was going to stay. I didn’t have Photoshop or formal graphic design skills, so I thought I was stuck with what the camera captured. I was okay with it.

travel photography

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I Bought a Tablet (Which Makes Me a Jerk)

So I finally broke down and bought a tablet computer, which officially makes me a jerk.

tablet

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The Best Travel Tip I Ever Learned

Best Budget Travel Tip

The following is a guest post from Simple Island Living, as part of the Yakezie Blog Swap. I wrote a post on the same topic at Simple Island Living, so make sure you head over there after reading this to see my post.

I am a huge foodie. My husband and I love food and wine almost more than anything else. The money problem we run into when traveling, therefore, is how not to blow everything on food. And as everyone knows, traveling and eating is a pricy endeavor – even for people who don’t like eating at $100/plate restaurants. For instance…

A family of 4 goes to Jack in the Box. Everyone gets a value meal – at a whopping $7 per person after taxes. That means that they spent $28 for 4 greasy burgers, 4 overcooked fries, and 4 large sugary sodas. Ouch.

Which leads us to the best budget traveling tip I’ve ever learned:

Don’t be scared of the words “fine dining.” Going to a chain restaurant, or a non-fine dining restaurant doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be saving money.

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Otok Brać – Vacation from Vacation

The phylloxera swept across the terraced hills of Otok Brać – Island of Brać – in the early 1900s, invading the soil.  Native to North America, the tiny yellow aphids traveled across the sea to Europe in the late 1800s, feeding on vino roots and spreading their wine death like an infestation of involuntary Prohibition.  The people on the island of Brać did not see it coming, and the families stood in awe and despair at the expanse of useless vineyards left in its wake.

And the families began to splinter.  Some sought refuge on the mainland of the Dalmatian coast; some found their way to the university in Zagreb, while many began to feed the Croatian diasporas in South America, the United States and Australia. Those that stayed planted more olive trees, knowing that it would be 50 years before they would bear fruit, and that the hard work might mean a better future for those generations to come. The old olive trees watched, some for hundreds of years or more,  and continued to put forth. 
The terra rossa soil held them close, and it was the color of blood.

 

My wife and I arrived on Brać via a car ferry from the ancient city of Split.  The third largest island in Croatia, Brać is within sight of the mainland, but hundreds of years ago, that distance was enough to insulate the people from the outside world.  The island is small, only 396 square kilometers, and the pirates who roamed the seas drove the people away from the stone beaches into the hills of the island, where they built beautiful churches and campaniles.  As our ferry came upon Supetar, or Sveti Petar (St. Peter), I felt like an invader must have felt as he came upon the small island.

The first things you notice about Brać are the stones…piles of stones everywhere.  Fences made from stone; terraces made from stone.  For hundreds of years the people pulled them from the karst to expose the soil necessary for grapes and olive trees.  The men dug and the women stacked.  And sometimes the stones were formed into bunjas, round huts built in the fields to provide shelter from the fast moving rainstorms and the oppressive sun.

Even if you know nothing of Brać, you probably have still seen its stone.  If you have looked at a photograph of the White House in Washington, D.C., you have seen the marble that is cut from the island’s bowels.  The stone is prized, yet the bits that protruded from the earth must have been the bane of the olden farmers of Brać.  It is hard to imagine that the millions of stones and millions of hours spent removing and stacking them…

 

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