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Strange Things We Wouldn’t Travel Without

Shannon with Backpack

Living out of two carry-on sized bags requires making some tough choices about what to bring. We can’t possibly carry everything. In fact, we can’t carry most things. But hard experience has taught us to make room for these often overlooked items.

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5 Things we learned researching our European trip

Louvre at night, Paris

One week from today, we’re setting off on a six-month exploration of Europe. In truth, we don’t know exactly how long we’ll stay there. One thing we do know is that in six month’s time the weather will turn cold again. After enduring this past winter in the U.S. we promised ourselves we wouldn’t spend another one anywhere near a cold climate. So six months sounds like the right amount of time before we’ll want to start a southern migration.

The other thing we know is that we’re limited to 90 days in any and all Schengen area countries. After that we’ll need to exit the visa area, which encompasses most of continental Europe, for another 90 days before we can return again. We intend to spend all of our “Schengen days” this time around in Spain and France.

With our flight to Madrid fast approaching, we’ve spent these past few weeks trying to catch up on trip planning and have made some surprising, and some not so surprising, discoveries.

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The Upside of (Travel) Planning

Spring European Travel Plan

I love it when a plan comes together.

It is the most alluring advice that never seems to work for us. We’re a bit skeptical it works for anyone in any real sense. But we recently discovered an entirely new way in which the seemingly world-wise travel advice to eschew planning in favor of “just going with the flow” fails us.

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Travel Agents for Do-it-Yourselfers

When you live an unconventional life you realize quickly that the world isn’t designed to meet your specific needs. From the silly (30 day limits on credit card travel notifications) to the serious (difficulty obtaining health insurance without a fixed address), a range of inconveniences go hand-in-hand with going your own way. Even internet travel resources, as great and as liberating as they are, are built to answer questions different from the ones we need answered.

Sites like Expedia and others are great for pricing airfare on a specific itinerary. If you know the where and the when of your travel, the internet is awesome at aggregating flight options. But what if where and when are secondary considerations to price? The internet is less helpful in answering the question we’re currently asking: what is the best travel deal for a winter flight to a warm weather destination anywhere in the world from any southwestern U.S. city?

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What We Learned Backpacking for 2 Months

Caye Caulker Belize

40 liter packs are (almost) all you need

Imagine living out of a suitcase no bigger than a 1.5 square foot box. That’s basically what Shannon and I did for two months backpacking around Central America. We’re proud to report that not only did we have the smallest bags of anyone we met but that our 40 liter packs were perfectly adequate for this specific trip.

While “perfectly adequate” is a true enough description of what we experienced, “barely adequate” fits too. We’d have been in trouble if we needed to plan for colder weather or multiple seasons. Traveling through Central America we had the luxury of packing lightweight clothing, although the highlands of Guatemala got surprisingly chilly. I was happy to have a heavy fleece I didn’t originally intend to pack but brought along because Houston was so damn cold when we left.

Even in colder climates, we probably could have made the 40 liter backpacks work if not for all of the electronics we hauled: two laptops, a digital camera, a video camera, an iPhone, a surge protector, a universal power adapter, battery charger, and the cables needed to power all this junk. Leaving the electronics at home would have freed up almost an entire bag – but we’d never do that.

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