It’s Thursday. We’re in Sarajevo and we leave for Budapest on Sunday. Our Budapest research is done, so I’ve used it as an example of how we plan. We spend about 1/3 of our time planning & educating ourselves about an area, 1/3 experiencing the places we’re in, and 1/3 just living our daily routines (or goofing off!) wherever we are.
1. Set up a shared Gmail account for photos, social media & budget, map pins & saved lists. We created our Booksboozeviews theme, and set-up a Booksboozeviews Gmail (includes Docs, Sheets, etc.), Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, & Twitter. We back up our phones’ photo libraries to that Gmail account, so all our photos are in one place, and the pictures, as well as our FB, IG, etc., can be used anytime by either of us. This is especially important with photos as the sheer volume is staggering: we took over 3000 pictures (including videos) in our 5 days in Rome…(that’s after deleting all the ones of my thumb!). We keep track of our monthly expenses on Sheets in the following categories: rent, car related, meals out, groceries, transport/metro, entertainment/sightseeing, phone, supplies, other/subscriptions, charity, & healthcare. We use the shared Gmail account to pin attractions on Google Maps to and save lists w/descriptions of each pin…86 places for Budapest!
2. Use Keeper notes for your grocery list, post-its, and language phrases. Since our phones are set up with our own separate Gmail accounts, we make each other a collaborator on Keeper notes that we want to share. Our ‘Grocery list’ keeper is especially handy, in that either one of us can modify & update it “live” while shopping in separate parts of a store. We have one note for our cash expenses, and another for learning language phrases. Keeper notes are also great for planning! We use one titled, “Post-its” that lists our entertainment bookings, information about places we want to visit, and we remove things as we do them. The Hungary, Budapest post-it list is amazing (there’s just no way we will do it all in one month!!!):
Apps, podcasts & websites
1. Useful for safety, planning and exploring:
- STEP traveler program to register and get notified of advisories by the local US Embassy
- Rome2Rio, helpful for travel planning
- Alltrails, many EU trails are listed
- Gaia GPS (overlap with Alltrails), I use this to plan and track our hikes
- AirBnb, VRBO, Booking
- FB groups for local happenings and Expat and Digital Nomad meetups
- Local tourist board websites and their IG & FB for local happenings
It’s very easy to find pictures and descriptions of an area’s major tourist attractions. Beyond that, there is no one-size-fits-all travel blog or information source: it totally depends on where you are going and what your specific interests are. For example, look at the variety of Budapest-related podcasts that we downloaded from Rick Steves, Izi travel & Spotify [in brackets, below]:
Rick Steves app has free podcasts, & walking tours in many EU cities [For Budapest, we downloaded: Budapest, Coffee Breaks in Hungary, Eastern European Cultures, Growing up under Communism, Hungarian Countryside I&II), Hungarian Hot Springs, Hungary 1: Budapest, Hungary II: Beyond Budapest, Hungary III: Goulash Culture, Hungary’s Favorite Foods, Hungary’s Old-World Town of Eger].
Izi.travel app has free walking tours in many cities [For Budapest we downloaded: Art Nouveau Buildings in Budapest, Budapest-history walk of Buda with Tim Richards, Budapest in 1 day, Budapest-inner city pest walk with Tim Richards].
Spotify app is used for our shared music and to get podcasts for research about our destinations [For Budapest we downloaded: History of the Second World War podcasts “Hungary Pt. 1 – Eastern European Outcast” & “Hungary, Pt. 2 – Expansion;” Some More News podcasts, “We Need To Talk About Hungary,” The Naked Pravda, “Russian Influence in Hungary;” History Behind News podcasts, “S2E22: Finland is Joining NATO…,” as well as their episodes, S3E8 and S2E28; The History of the Cold War Podcast, “Episode 102 – Hungarian Revolution Part 2 – Desperation,” as well as their episodes 99 & 101; and Revolutions podcast, “7.07 – the Hungry Forties,” as well as their episodes 7.06 & 7.22].
2. Used daily:
- Google translate
- Google lens
- Google maps
- Unit converter
- Radarbot, radar detecting app that works great if you remember to turn it on!
- AccuWeather, YR, Windfinder, varying accuracy depending on locality
- Shazam, I screenshot songs that I like wherever we are and add them to Spotify later
- Duolingo, useful for reinforcing skills more than for language acquisition
- Italki for conversational acquisition
- Express VPN
- Downdogapp for yoga, easy to use and very modifiable for different levels
- Insight timer for meditation
- Canva for photo editing
- Darktable for photo editing
- Glovo, works in many places
- Viber, more useful than WhatsApp in the Balkans
- WhatsApp, useful in most of the EU
- Amazon Prime
- Audible [For Budapest: The Door by Magda Szabo; The Habsburgs by Martin Rady; Prague by Arthur Phillips]
- Kindle [For Budapest: The Bridge at Andau by James Michener; Death on the Danube by Jennifer S Alderson; District VIII by Adam Le Bor; Budapest Noir by Vilmos Kondor.
- Barnes & Noble [For Budapest: The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer]
- Bookbub, email list of e-book deals
- Bookperk, email list of e-book deals
- Chirp, daily email list of audiobook deals
- Netgalley, free books in exchange for reviews
- Balkaninsight.com news site for the Balkans
- Understandingwar.org, updates on Ukraine/Russia conflict, for world & business news, CNN, BBC, Reuters, DW (Germany), Aljazeera & Yahoo Finance
Phones, phone plan
We kept our phone numbers and cell service because our banks, credit cards, friends and family are all US-based. We haven’t had to buy local sim cards because our T-Mobile 55+ Magenta plan (under $70/month includes both of us) has worked in all the countries we’ve visited, mostly over 3G. That is slow by US standards but it, in combination with free wifi in every apartment we stay in & free wifi in most cafés and restaurants, has been more than adequate. It’s only frustrating when you’re in a low cell service area and need to change driving directions or find an open restaurant on Google maps because it updates slowly. Overall, it’s never been a big problem. Our new Pixel 7 phones have e-sim capability, so, if necessary, we can use that to get local sim coverage.
Credit/debit cards, passports
We use the Wise card because it has low fees for converting currency, is flexible/easy to transfer money from US banks & charges no ATM withdrawal fees, if you stay under their limits. Wise has been accepted everywhere we’ve been, except at handful of individual stores, so we each also carry another credit card. We each carry our US driver’s license as ID (we don’t carry around our passports). Those 3 cards fit into our pop sockets, which attach to the phones and have enough room for a few bills of the local currency. We haven’t often needed much local cash, except in rural Albania.
This kind of travel can test a relationship like a long backpacking trip: you’re together all the time, sometimes in your most embarrassing/frustrating moments—you can’t always be on your best behavior. At the same time, it can be very interesting, exciting and growth-inducing. You and your partner are on your own island in a country where you don’t speak the language: you’re each other’s safety net. In the States, you might go food shopping while she visits her friends or family. Here, there’s a steep learning curve wherever you go, so you’re more likely to do everything together. Be open, flexible, willing to try new things that take you out of your comfort zone, and be appreciative of the effort your partner makes. Don’t get hung up if things don’t go the way you wanted. Don’t sweat the small stuff, go with the flow. This kind of travel can bring out the best in your relationship, you find your strengths while going places & doing different things than you would have done alone. We’ve both grown as individuals and as a couple in the process.
It’s difficult for someone that doesn’t own property to buy a car in Europe, but having a car makes bringing the dogs with us so much easier. We chose a VW Golf because it’s the most common car in Europe, there are dealerships and parts for the car everywhere. It’s a 2017 gas model that gets 38 mpg, which is the higher than our previous US cars & helps alleviate the higher gas prices here. We don’t use as much gas, or travel daily as much by car as we did in the US: countries in Europe are close together, and we mostly walk and use public transit where we stay. The Golf is a solid enough car to safely navigate the highways at speed, but also small enough to park in a city & thin enough to fit in small garages (and through the narrow streets everywhere that Google Maps seems to think we should drive on). In addition, VW offers a “we’ll tow you anywhere you break down” option as long as you get the car serviced at dealerships, which gives us peace of mind while traveling in unfamiliar countries.