November 3, 2020

This is how we do it – Today’s Travel

Are we just imagining it or is it easier to travel today than it was 25 years ago. Technology has sure come a long way since then. In the early 1990’s I had just started using a computer for my everyday tasks at work ๐Ÿ’ป  It’s the year 1995 and we are planning a trip to Mexico City. We couldn’t just log online and go to Expedia and book a trip. Back then you had to go to a travel agent to book your entire trip or an airline office to book a flight. We had a great travel agent at AAA that we used for years to plan all of our trips. Now everything can be done yourself online without even leaving home until it’s time for your trip. When we got ready to leave for the airport we had things that were absolutely essential in our suitcase ๐Ÿงณ These included travel guides and maps, a pocket dictionary in that language and a handheld conversion chart in that currency. 


Prior to our trip we normally had to go to the bank or AAA and get travelers cheques to cover our expenses once we got there. Then when we landed we would try to get some money converted into the local currency at the foreign exchange counter in the airport which you do not always get the best exchange. If we need cash ๐Ÿ’ต later on we would have to find a bank that would cash a US travelers cheques and not forget to take our Passport otherwise your trekking back to the hotel. Now, we can go to various ATM’s across the world ๐ŸŒ and withdraw whatever cash we need in the local currency or go inside a bank and present our debit card and get US Dollars. 

Once we arrived we had to find transportation to our hotel or resort. You had to either find a taxi and try to negotiate a fare to our hotel or get a shuttle from airport to where we were going. In many instances this meant getting screwed by the taxi driver ๐Ÿš– or get taken for a drive around the city for hours before finally arriving at your destination. Sometimes you could find a bus ๐ŸšŒ but needed to know what route to take. So basically you were at their mercy in the airport. There were no Uber or Grab apps to use. Now, we can get off the plane and depending on what city we are in and use our ride share apps to take us directly to our new apartment. Easy Peasy!



Once you arrived at your hotel if you had made reservations in advance you would have a confirmation letter that was mailed to you ๐Ÿ“ฌ in order for you to hand to the clerk at the front desk. Hopefully something on the confirmation is in the local language so If the clerk doesn’t speak or read English you wouldn’t have issues. Heaven forbid if we had to just show up and try to get a room without speaking the language. This is where the pocket dictionaries and some short local phrases come in handy. Now you can just pull up an app for travel reservations, select the hotel you want and pay online. Your confirmation is emailed to you within minutes. No longer do you have just the option of staying at a hotel or guest home. Years ago forget trying to rent an apartment without first arriving in the overseas location first then going to a local cafรฉ or bar to ask if they know anyone renting for a week or two. Now you have Airbnb, HomeStay and many others in which you can find apartments for short or long term stays. Each one has an app where you can select the city you want to go to and the a map to see where all the rentals are located. We are big fans of Airbnb and have stayed as long a 2 months in one place we found on the app. 

 

If you wanted to figure out how to get to the nearest tourist attraction you had to get out your paper map ๐Ÿ—บ that your AAA agent provided you so you could get your bearings and know where you wanted to go. Of course you had to keep taking it at every corner looking like a tourist. Then you would walk to the next block and find out you were going the wrong way. Now you can just pull up Google maps online and just follow the prompts to where your headed. Travel guides are also great for planning the things you want to see once you get there, but we hated carrying around a 2 lb book. So we have numerous travel apps such as Culture Trip, Lonely Planet and Fodor’s we use to plan our next adventure and the things we want to see.



When we would go out to eat it was usually a little family run restaurant that may or may not have had ambiance but the food would be fantastic. These are our favorite since the meals are home cooked and the food was authentic. The menu was always in the local language but we prefer to use the “point and shot method” to order. If we see something the waiter was taking to another table that looked good, we would point to that ๐Ÿ‘‰๐Ÿป๐Ÿ›to let our waiter know that is what we wanted and would order ☝๐Ÿปor ✌๐Ÿปand it worked every time. I never recalled seeing a McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken in many of the places we have been until much later. Now a-days every major city in the world has at least a few American fast food chains which makes us furious that they have given into these corporations and we avoid them like the plague. They also contribute to the obesity problems in many countries now just like the US ๐Ÿ˜ข

 

In order to keep in touch with our family while gone was a major chore. There was always the pay phone on the street but just try to figure out how to call anywhere without someone helping youIn most cases we would have to find a phone center somewhere in the city and then make sure you could call the US from there. If so, you may have to wait hours to make the call and then when you did it was in a hot sweaty phone booth inside the center. I can recall making a call from Lhasa, Tibet to Michigan to talk to Robb’s mother since she was worried about us on our trip. That call for a few minutes was $20 which was about $5 a minute. Now we have a service called Google Fi on our iPhone๐Ÿ“ฑ and it connects to the local cell service in over 200 countries. Calls to the US are only 20c a minute which is very affordable. Data is prorated at $10 a GB up to 6 GB and then free. We can make WhatsApp chats and video calls anywhere with our data. No more searching for a SIM card as soon as we land.  

 

Now it’s 2020 and I can’t imagine an easier way to travel. We have apps for everything on our iPhone. Our phone has replaced our travel agent, camera, maps, travel phrase books, currency converter and more. I love technology as much as I love to travel. However, I still long for those trips where every part of it was an opportunity to learn something new and exciting everyday.

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August 2, 2020

Working on Plan B

Our travel plans started out like this – sell everything, buy a one way cruise ship ticket to Australia and travel around overseas from country to country for the next several years. Well that strategy work great until Spring 2020. That’s when the pandemic hit and countries around the world went into lockdown. We could have gotten on a flight and went home to the US but that was just not in our plans. 

Our initial plan this June was to take the train from Hanoi, Vietnam up through China and Mongolia then get on the Trans-Siberian train across Russia into Moscow. We figured it would take us all summer and by late fall we would start heading south again back into Burma or India. We talked about what country we may be spending Christmas in this year so we could make reservations early enough to guarantee us a choice place. Who would have imagined in a million years that a virus out of China would halt travel around the world. We never thought we would have to come up with a Plan B on the spur of a moment. Here we are living in Laos ๐Ÿ‡ฑ๐Ÿ‡ฆ  We have had many people ask us are you tired of living here or what are your next plans? The simply answer is depends.


Do we like living in Laos – depends on what you consider living. Living in Vientiane is just like living anywhere. You do your weekly shopping ๐Ÿ›’ you go out to dinner ๐Ÿฅ˜ or visit friends ๐Ÿ‘ซ. Maybe go to a movie at the mall or the park for a picnic just like at home. Only difference is your in another country. You still do basically the same stuff more or less. They have golf coursesand ranges if you like to golf. Maybe go watch the local kids play soccer  or have a pizza ๐Ÿ• or tacos ๐ŸŒฎ at one of the many establishments here in town. You can visit the local brewery to see what’s new on tap ๐Ÿบ  Now I’m not saying you can find everything just like in the US. Yes, there are a lot of things just like home but not like home that’s what makes it fun. Like they say here in Asia “Same Same, but Different” ๐Ÿ˜„ As with every country in the world, you make what you want it to be. Since we have been here now for 5 months we have made this our “home”. Everyday we discover new things about the city in which we live. We can still travel around the country too. So far we have been to Vang Vieng and heading to Luang Prabang in the north next week. We have also heard that Pakse in the south is a great place to visit too. 

Party with Lao friends
Night out on the town
Our local fresh market

So many things to choose from!

Just some snacks ๐Ÿ˜‹















                        

Do we want to leave Laos – depends on where else we can go. Every week we watch the news about COVID-19 upsurges in various countries. We want to stay in SE Asia right now if possible. Initial we thought we would go back to Thailand for a few months. But every time we think they will open the country it gets extended another month. Just a few days ago we found out there borders will remain closed another 8 weeks until September 26th. So for now Thailand is just not in the plans. We also thought about going to Cambodia once we left here since that was our original plan. Then we found out that the Cambodian government will let you enter but is requiring that you pay a $3000 US deposit each upfront to cover hospitalization in case you get COVID-19 while there. Nowhere does it say how you get your 3K back if you never get sick and knowing many of these countries you won’t. So we say Cambodia is a no go. That leaves us with the option of Vietnam. They seem to be following the lead of Thailand. They have recently have an increase in COVID cases in the city of Da Nang due to migrant workers returning. We are sure they will lockdown the country again but it has not yet been announced. We also think now about what if we left Laos and went to Vietnam and then got stuck in the middle of a resurgence. We would be there in quarantine without our current support system we have here and would have to start from scratch again.



So we think living our life here is not so bad. It’s a much slower pace and has given us time to think of contingent plans for the future. One of these days we will be able travel again somewhat like before. Until then we are still working on Plan B. 
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March 26, 2020

What has this world become!

It is amazing how the world around us changed in the last 90 days. Country borders have closed, flights cancelled and people are genuinely apprehensive about the future. As slow travelers it has also disrupted our plans and schedules until further notice. We thought we had plans for this Spring & Summer but now all that has changed. When we started traveling a year and a half ago we would never have imagined the world would be in such a state of upheaval.

It all started in December 2019 when we heard about this new Coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China. As we watch the world news about China and the spread of the virus ๐Ÿฆ  we couldn’t help but think this is another H1N1 scenario. Prior to this we were already making plans to visit China and Russia the Summer of 2020. We dreamed of taking the train from Vietnam up through China and Mongolia and then across Russia into Moscow and St. Petersburg. As it became the New Year, things continually got worse in China. We figured now we would not be able to go to China but maybe could still plan on Russia if the virus stayed contained in China. 

Fast forward to January 2020. We have been in the Philippines since mid November and closely watching the news reports about China. Still trying to figure out where we will go this Spring & Summer now. So far virus has been contained to China but some of the surrounding countries are closing their borders to Chinese tourists. We will be staying here until January 21th then will be going on to Thailand for the next 2 months. We are looking forward to our Daughter and Son-in-law visiting us there the beginning of March. We discover that Russia is also off the table especially since we planned to transit through China. Now all of our plans to either China or Russia have been scraped for this year. 

February 2020, boy were we wrong about the spread of the virus! It is now in Iran and Italy and growing in the number of cases daily. We knew it probably won’t be long before it would start spreading across Europe. We were scheduled to do a house sit in Chiang Mai for a couple from Switzerland the month of May. They were planning on spending time away in Switzerland and New Zealand to visit relatives and friends. By the end of the month they contacted us and told us they would be cancelling their holiday for the time being. So now our plans of spending May in Chiang Mai are over and we have to start planning all over again. Very few Asian tourists here in Thailand now but still quite a few Europeans that have not yet gone home. 

It is now beginning of March 2020. The world is turning into a giant Petrie dish. Here in Thailand they only have 19 reported cases so far. Everywhere we go you see people wearing face masks ๐Ÿ˜ท and using hand sanitizer. We worry about our daughters visit since they will be flying through Incheon airport in S. Korea which has turned into a hotspot for COVID-19. We have asked them to take precautions on the plane like taking anti-bacterial wipes and wiping down the hand rests, tray table, light switch, shade, etc. on the plane. Also to wear masks in any public places they travel through and wash their hands frequently. Once they get here, this may be a safe place to visit for now. The number of cases worldwide are dramatically on the rise and it has spread to our home country the USA. 

Our world is upside down

It is now the end of March 2020 in the capital city of Vientiane, Laos. You cannot enter a bank or grocery store without having your mask on, temperature taken and washing your hands first. Very few people on the street and fewer and fewer shops are open each day. We ended up here since we had originally planned to go to Cambodia on March 18th. When we arrived at the airport that afternoon we were told that the border was closed to US citizens the night before. It didn’t matter that we had not been in the US for over 18 months and were refused a boarding pass. The only country close to Thailand that we could fly to that day was Laos so we changed our plans and flew into Vientiane. The flight was pretty empty and we believe was the last flight from Bangkok to here for awhile because they closed the borders here the next day. Here we sit and we wait to see what the future brings since going back to the US was not an option for us. 
We are thankful for all the precautions taken everywhere around us at this time. We are blessed that we are both healthy and well. We found a nice apartment to stay at until we know how long we will have to be here and are practicing self-quarantine. Slow travel will take on a whole new meaning now since it will be much slower than we ever could have imagined. May the world recovery quickly and everyone be safe wherever you happen to be. ๐ŸŒ๐ŸŒ๐ŸŒŽ
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