Lessons From The Road / Travel

A Traveler’s Thanksgiving: 10 Things I’m Thankful For

Thanksgiving_chapel Dallas, TX_

The spiraling tower of Thanksgiving Chapel, Dallas, Texas

The holidays are rolling around again, and for me, this pleasant downtime is a good opportunity to reflect on what’s been happening in my life.

Terri and I have been on the road a fair bit lately, so thoughts on travel are at the top of my list. Thanksgiving is just a few days away, and as a traveler, I have lots of things to be thankful for.

Barstools

1. I’m thankful for airlines that don’t assume that the entirety of the traveling public is no taller than 5’2” (I’m 6’2”). There aren’t many out there these days, but there are a few. Airlines are in business to make a profit, and I get that. But, there has to be a limit on how many more rows of seats can be crammed onto a plane. I’m convinced that at some point in the future, plane seats will be nothing more than row after row of backless barstools.

Работа ОАО

2. I’m thankful for staff at airport security checkpoints that treat me like a compliant, security conscious traveler, rather than a potential terrorist. Unfortunately, security screenings at airports are a necessary evil, and I understand and appreciate the effort. But, procedures and laxness vary from place to place, and sometimes it’s impossible to know exactly what to do. Just tell me what to do, either with well marked signs or in a pleasant voice, and I’ll breeze right through (that’s as well as I can breeze in my socks and holding up my pants). And for goodness’ sake smile every once in a while.

Portland Street fountains

3. I’m thankful for being able to drink tap water. Bottled water is a lifesaver (literally) in much of the world, but buying it and lugging it around gets tiresome. After a long trip to countries that have unsafe water, it’s always a pleasure to arrive somewhere and take a few gulps straight from the tap.

Computers Connect

4. I’m thankful for the internet and the myriad ways it’s made travel easier and more rewarding. It’s difficult to overstate the positive impact that internet access has had on us as travelers. I can plan and arrange travel anywhere in the world with an internet connection. Bank and credit card accounts are at my fingertips, and family and friends are an email or Skype call away; the list goes on and on.

clouds-version-2

5. I’m thankful for Dropbox. Using cloud storage is a convenience for everyone, but it’s particularly helpful for travelers. Our Dropbox account has gotten to be an indispensable part of our travel life. We store copies of passports, credit cards, travel documents, tourist info, copies of our wills and other legal papers; as well as more mundane but helpful things like user’s manuals for our travel gadgets. If you can scan it, you can load it up to the cloud, and the beauty for travelers is that all this information can be accessed anywhere, anytime, and on any device with an internet connection.

Our Mobile Computing Devises

6. I’m thankful for mobile computing devices. According to the MIT Technology Review: “Mobile computers are spreading faster than any other consumer technology in history.” Mobile devices are a routine part of life, and it goes without saying what an incredible convenience they are for travelers. We’ve experimented for years, and on our recent trip to Europe we honed our gear to one 11in Macbook Air, two iPad minis, and one Kindle. This was the perfect, lightweight combination for us.

I’m thankful for ebooks and ebook readers. We use Kindles and iPad minis in our travels, but any reader does the job. Having travel guides, and our favorite fiction in small, lightweight packages is the bomb.

Even Wroclaw's Gnomes Use ATMs

7. I’m thankful for ATMs. Gone are the days of pockets-full of traveler’s checks and worries about carrying large amounts of cash. Instant access to local currency at favorable exchange rates  makes money planning hassle-free. Any bank can provide a debit card, but we’ve had an excellent experience with our checking account at Charles Schwab. In addition to charging no foreign currency exchange fees, they will refund any ATM fees – worldwide. We’ve used our debit card all over the globe, and have had zero problems. The only hitch is that Schwab requires that you open a brokerage account as well, but there are no fees to open or maintain the account, and no minimum balance.

Rental Apartment

8. I’m thankful for online apartment rental websites like HomeAway, Vrbo, and Flipkey. When possible, we prefer to stay in apartments rather than hotels, and we’ve had good results with each of these websites. It takes a bit of research and planning, but for long-term travel having a comfortable, private space that feels like your home makes all the difference.

Rolling backpacks

9. I’m thankful for rolling backpacks. Like most travelers we’re picky about our luggage. We only carry on, and whether we travel for 6 days or 6 months, all our stuff must fit in one lightweight bag. And for us, that’s a rolling backpack. Whether rolling through Dubai International to make a connection or hiking up the hill in Ella, Sri Lanka to catch the train, our bags have to be sturdy, lightweight, and functional.

Lighthouse 1

Lighthouse 2

10. I’m thankful for travel zoom cameras. Traveling light is the way to roll, and these small, high tech, feature-rich cameras are the perfect compromise between weight, size and function. If you take photos when you travel (and who doesn’t), a travel zoom camera is the perfect tool.

Helsinki Bathroom Sign

I’m also thankful for a number of other things that don’t take any explanation: public bathrooms, English-speakers, short flights, and the kindness of strangers.

Happy Trails and Happy Thanksgiving,
James

Which Way?

Photo Credits:
1. D.H. Parks via Wikimedia Commons
2. Frank C. Müller via Wikimedia Commons
3. RIA Novosti via Wikimedia Commons
4. Dori via Wikimedia Commons
5. Knight Foundation via Wikimedia Commons
6. By Irish_Eyes
9. Courtesy Homz Short Term Rentals

74 thoughts on “A Traveler’s Thanksgiving: 10 Things I’m Thankful For

  1. I am with you on all of the above. Our new Smartphone would have been a nice companion on our travels. I just opened an account with Schwab, so the ATM without fees is a great tip! Thanks for that.

    Your story is a pleasant reminder of all we have to be thankful for. Many blessings to you this Thanksgiving. – Mike

    • Mike, we keep toying with the idea of phones when we travel abroad, but haven’t managed to pull it off yet. Cell phones would make life easier for sure, but with lots of moving around, I’m sure that finding the right SIM cards, etc is a hassle. I’m sure that eventually we’ll get over the technical hurdles and add them to our gadget bag. ~James

      • Suggest you take a look at T-Mobile. They have a month by month plan (i.e. cancel at any time with no penalties) with unlimited text and low speed data and 20 cent/minute calls from 120 countries. I’m using it on my current trip. Aside from no coverage for Balkan countries (but Ukraine is in, go figure!) and data not working for some reason in Nice, it’s been great. Costs $50/month plus tax.

      • That’s good info Kathy, I’ll check it out. Part of the reason for my procrastination is having so many choices and not being excited about doing the research to find out the best choice. Unsolicited testimonials are the best. Thx. ~James

  2. James can you hear me saying “YES!” all the way from Canada? Water, ATMs, gadgets, carry on luggage…yippee to all of them. Now Dropbox that is a great tip. thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!

    • We love Dropbox Sue, and it’s brilliant for travel. As you can read from other commenters, there might be some security concerns, but where aren’t there security concerns online these days. And we feel that the benefits far outweigh the risks. Give it a try, you’ll love it. ~James

  3. Hi James & Terri,
    What a wonderful post and tribute to all the necessities, luxuries and wonders of travel! I wish you both – and your families – happy thanksgiving, and may you continue to enjoy many more years of miles, landscapes, serendipity & sweet adventures 😉

  4. Happy Thanksgiving to you both!

    I agree with almost all your list (and I agree, that first photo is a killer) but not with posting everything important in your life in the cloud. Too exposed to hackers, even if you trust the Dropbox people. I do email important stuff to myself, but I pay for my email account, which is with a company no one else seems to have heard of, and I feel safer doing that.

    For no fee ATM access I use Capital One. I’ve also relied on their credit cards for seveal years, but for my current trip I got a chip and signature/pin card from the Pentagon Federal Credit Union (really!). Aside from a couple of transport passes it’s always defaulted to signature, but that hasn’t been a problem.

    • We use Cap 1 credit card as well Kathy, and it works great. But recently, with easy access to ATMs, we have started paying cash for more and more things, which lessens the worries about credit card fraud. As for Dropbox, there’s always a security risk online, no matter what site you use. We lessen this risk with Dropbox by using password protected files. Any files that have sensitive personal or financial information are generated in our WP program (Pages on Mac), and then are encrypted with a password which is different than the password for the Dropbox account. So if our Dropbox account gets hacked, the hackers then have to get by another password to access our files. It could happen, but it’s unlikely. ~James

    • Every traveler has packing tricks Jill, but we’ve learned that it’s not so much HOW you pack, but WHAT you pack. When it comes to travel, we’re absolutely spartan in what we take. Basically we wear one outfit, and pack an outfit. We’re also big believers in buying stuff along the way. On our last RTW we experienced all sorts of weather and temps, but if we needed a sweater, we just bought one. And when we reached a hot climate, we’d ditch the sweater and buy a pair of shorts. ~James

  5. An excellent list of things to be thankful for when traveling. I’ll add 2 things to your list…1) a wonderful travel companion to share all of your finds and 2) a place to come home to after your adventure. Amazing you can fit everything into your carry on. I usually travel with so much camera equipment that I have to check my clothing and the like. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

    • I couldn’t agree more Laura. Solo travel can be fun, but there’s nothing like someone to share the experience with. And one thing we’ve learned with our small condo on SSI, is that if we do it right, we can have a base to come home to, and it’s made our life much easier. ~James

    • As I said to Kathy above: “We lessen this risk with Dropbox by using password protected files. Any files that have sensitive personal or financial information are generated in our WP program (Pages on Mac), and then are encrypted with a password which is different than the password for the Dropbox account. So if our Dropbox account gets hacked, the hackers then have to get by another password to access our files. It could happen, but it’s unlikely.” This gives us the peace of mind to feel fine using Dropbox.

  6. Hi James and Terri: thank you for your inspirational posts! It is amazing that you can carry a small carrying in a six months’ trip! I just came back from a three day conference in L.A, my suitcase is……!!
    By the way, I returned from my Spain trip not long ago. Very interesting! Love to stay there! Catching up with you all!
    Denise

    • Thanks Denise. I guess for us what we pack is really about priorities. We’d both rather wear the same clothes over and over, and have lightweight luggage, than to take along extra stuff that just makes our luggage heavier. And we absolutely will not carry 2 bags – no way. BTW, Spain is one of my favorite countries, and it makes a wonderful destination. ~James

    • Thanks Martha. Face it, lots of aspects of travel are a pain in the neck. The key for enjoyment of long-term travel is figuring out what bugs you, and doing what you can to make it less of an issue. This works along the roads of life as well. Tell the bees hello, and have a great Thanksgiving. ~James

  7. That first photo is stunning! Wow!!! You wrote a wonderful summary of modern travel. You’ve got me beat on bags though. Our camera gear alone would barely fit in your bag! 🙂

    • Heavy luggage is a bugaboo for lots of travelers Pam. As I said to another commenter, it really is about priorities, and takes a real focus and determination to overcome. For instance, on a two month trip to Europe a few years ago, my luggage got lost, not once but twice! I said: never again. Since then, I only take one carryon, no matter where I go. It’s made life so much easier. ~James

  8. Thankfulness is something we don’t often think of. Thank you for sharing yours. These are all excellent to remember while traveling.
    I’m not sure about everything in Dropbox either, but I have a friend who’s used it for y.e.a.r.s and feel confident as well. ❤

    • Tess, Dropbox has become such a part of our travel life (and our normal life) that I can’t imagine getting along without it. As I said to Kathy above: “We lessen this risk with Dropbox by using password protected files. Any files that have sensitive personal or financial information are generated in our WP program (Pages on Mac), and then are encrypted with a password which is different than the password for the Dropbox account. So if our Dropbox account gets hacked, the hackers then have to get by another password to access our files. It could happen, but it’s unlikely.” This gives us the peace of mind to feel fine using Dropbox. ~James

    • Not only is Dropbox convenient Dixie, it’s also a great option for emergency prep. We keep copies of our driver’s license, passports, credit cards (front and back), immunization records, and contact #s for all our financial accounts. If you loose your wallet or passport, having these backups will make replacement much easier. ~James

    • And then there’s the fear that you’ve been good for a month, and then you forget and have a glass somewhere, or brush your teeth, etc. Or, as has happened to me before, I was in a place where bottled water wasn’t available, and I had to have a drink. Yep, we’re terribly spoiled in North America, and many folks don’t know how good they have it. ~James

  9. Amen to all the items on your list! I wouldn’t argue with a single one of them.
    Dropbox however is new to me and I’ll have to check it out.

    Happy Thanksgiving and safe travels!

    • Definitely check out Dropbox Joanne. We upload lots of tourist info, but it’s also great for emergency prep. As I said to another commenter, we keep copies of our driver’s license, passports, credit cards (front and back), immunization records, and contact #s for all our financial accounts. If you loose your wallet or passport, having these backups will make replacement much easier. It’s great peace of mind. ~James

  10. Great idea to write about what you are thankful for, and several new ideas for me to try: Dropbox and rolling backpack. I use Dropbox for work, but never thought of it for travel. Just makes sense. And getting all my stuff (purchases, too!) into one backpack? Not sure that will ever happen. But it’s a goal! Happy Thanksgiving to you both!

    • As I said, luggage is very a very personal decision, but rolling backpacks work best for us. In fact, I wore one out on our last 6-month RTW, and replaced it with exactly the same bag. Good luck on downsizing your suitcase. It’s liberating. ~James

  11. Let’s all add the kindness of strangers in faraway lands.

    We just had a major travelers’ crisis (see our blog), but we prefer to think of it as an opportunity, not a setback. Thus, in the true Vance spirit, we’re saying thanks for all the opportunities that traveling offers!

    • I did read your post Tom, and that truly sucks. As I said, these things can eat at you, but the two of you have the right idea: treat it as an opportunity and move on. I also suggested you might like the highlands of central Mexico. We did a bunch of posts that you can check out. Best of luck in coming up with fun alternatives and Happy Thanksgiving. ~James

  12. As an armchair traveler living vicariously through my Sister and Brother, Let me add that we need to create a salt and pepper shaker set from their rolling backpacks! Been loving your adventures since I compressed my right bun-wello on the right rear wheel well of the pinto ‘Beanie’

    • Very funny El. T and I had a good chuckle over this one. Of course, our readers won’t understand why this is funny, but we also laughed at the thought of a tent and couple of sleeping bags pressed against your left bun-wello. Take care and love to all there. ~James

    • Thanks Heather. I’m a huge Kindle fan as well, particularly the Paperwhite which is perfect for travel because I can read in the dark. As you may have read, we try to keep our gadgets to a minimum so I experimented with leaving the Kindle at home and reading on my iPad mini. I decided that because the Kindle is so small, lightweight and works so well, that it’s worth the extra weight. ~James

      • I’ve been eyeing the Paperwhite and am thinking it needs to go on my Christmas list! I love my iPad too, but it hurts my eyes reading books on it after awhile.

  13. There is becoming an issue with carry on luggage with some UK airlines. So many people are now converted that only the first 90 are guaranteed to go in the cabin. If you are at the back of the line, tough luck, it goes in the hold. This can be a real nuisance.
    I think that Wroclaw dwarf is my favourite!

    • As I said, I prefer carryon Andrew, but more importantly, I just want the rules enforced equitably. If each passenger is allowed one carryon, then a passenger should not be allowed 3 (These types really tick me off.). If luggage must be checked, then everyone should be forced to check. In the US, sometimes it comes down to plane size, particularly with small planes on very short flights. BTW, I’d be curious to know which UK airlines have these 90 bag policies. ~James

      • Ryanair and Easyjet mainly. They have been so successful in switching people from hold to cabin luggage and have now allowed a second bag. They have also introduced allocated seating which means when you get to your seat the overhead compartment is already full which means storing it many seats away and this creates havoc on arrival when everyone wants to get to their bags and get off the plane.
        The other problem is that people are so indisciplined and those getting on first fill the lockers without any thought for those getting on later.
        The airlines now oblige passengers to put carry on in the hold (without charge) once the overhead lockers are full. It is not perfect but it it is free.
        The solution of course is to get to the departure gate early and stand around in line for 30 to 40 minutes!

  14. What a perfect post for the long-term traveler on Thanksgiving week. We’re thankful also for so many of the ways that travel has become easier over the years and, now that our lifestyle is all about travel, we’re thankful for the items you mentioned that are indispensible. I have one more thing to add, though, to your list of things to be thankful for. We’re supremely thankful to travel blogs like yours that provide information, ideas, tips and, many times, a laugh. Happy Turkey Day! Anita

    • Anita, thanks very much for the kind words – high praise indeed from a blogger of your caliber. It’s also heartening for us because if you asked what we hope to provide with our blog, we would use exactly the words you used. Thanks again and we hope that you and Richard have a fun and decadent Thanksgiving. ~James

  15. Your list is right on! The kindness of strangers is at the top of my traveller´s thankful list. We have just moved to Spain to live for awhile and have already experienced the kindness of strangers. There is so much to be thankful for including wonderful blogging pals.. Happy Thanksgiving!!

    • Exciting news about the move to Spain Darlene. One thing that we learned quickly as expats is how important kind strangers are, especially the kind that help without being asked. Happy Thanksgiving! ~James

  16. Isn’t it funny how technology has changed the way we do things. I remember a time when I could to see the point of owning a mobile phone, now I can’t leave the house without it and my mini iPad has revolutionised my life and my travels. I love that first photo.

    • I was exactly the same Marie. In the early days of cell phones I remember thinking: “Why would someone want to be so “in touch” all the time?” And like you, now if I go out without my cell phone, I feel naked. And, we finally got rid of our regular iPad (big and bulky), and now each of us has a mini. How did we make it without our minis? ~James

  17. You travel only with carry ons?! Impressive! I want to learn from you!! (Fabulous post!) 🙂 And, Happy Thanksgiving to you both!

    • Downsizing my luggage has been one of the most liberating things that I’ve ever done in my travel life Liz. A couple of years ago on a trip to Europe, the airlines lost my checked luggage not once but twice. This was the catalyst for me to say “No More!” It makes traveling, whether abroad or in the US, so much easier. Have a great holiday, and stay warm up in the mountains. ~James

  18. Well into December, your Thanksgiving list still reads well 🙂 I haven’t used Dropbox but I suppose this very slow old traveler will get there someday. Thanks for the perspective and happy travels on through 2015.

    • Thanks Jo. Sorry for the delay in responding. I work hard to make sure comments don’t fall through the cracks, but sometimes it happens. I truly recommend Dropbox for travelers. It’s very simple to us and incredibly useful; whether you’re traveling or not. All the best for the New Year. ~James

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