Category Archives: Travel Tips

Nomading, it’s a thing…

Humans have been on the move since the beginning of time – seeking prosperity, more abundant pastures, an easier life, or just new adventures.  As exploring the world has become possible for more of us, various styles of travel have emerged, making labels like “tourist”, “traveler”, “holiday”, and “vacation” too limiting.

During, and after, our recent seven-month trip, I found myself struggling to explain that we were not really “on vacation”, or even “traveling”, as the term is understood by most, so, I decided a new word was needed to better describe those of us living on the road, homeless by choice.

Being tourists in Ronda, Spain

“Vacation” or “Holiday” a rejuvenating break from the pressures of a hectic life and/or work schedule.

“Tourists” prefer a structured itinerary, seeking to maximize the “must sees”, and through careful planning, waste no time, and leave no room for mishaps. They can be part of a group, or individual tour, but want things to be easy. (There is nothing derogatory about being a tourist!)

“Travelers” have a more relaxed itinerary, often winging it and moving slowly. They accept that wrong turns, missing a train, or getting lost, often result in the most memorable experiences. They enjoy a degree of challenge and the unknown in their journeys.

“Nomads” have no home to go back to. Some have never owned one, but many have just opted to sell, or rent it out for months, or years, to help fund their new lifestyle. Some nomads stay in one place for a few weeks or months, others just wander, with no set plans. Nomads can at times be tourists, and travelers, as part of their nomadic lifestyle, but they are primarily just living day-to-day, on the road, integrating with the local culture, often skipping the bucket list sights of tourists and travelers.

The term “digital nomads”, is used for those of all ages working remotely, and in Australia, they use “grey nomads”, to describe wandering retirees. I guess we fit into both of these categories, but I don’t really care for the grey nomad term, since retirees can be 45 or 85, grey or not! And for all of my single girl friends, we met so many female nomads, of all ages! Maybe I just noticed them more, but it seemed to me that 80% of the single nomads we met were women, some young, but many of them over 60. 

So, I hope this inspires you to think out of the box about what kind of holiday, trip, or life you want to have. As I like to remind myself – there are so many ways to define success, happiness and to live this life!

In my next posts,  I will get into more specifics about our Nomading.

Dear New Zealand

Dear New Zealand,

As you know, people travel to New Zealand for your magnificent scenery and adventure sports, certainly worthy highlights, but they are not what we miss most, it’s the freekah, the labneh, the Afghans, and the Bauernbrot!  It’s about your FOOD!


House made granola, lentil pie & flat whites.

It’s not just what you eat, it’s the whole food culture that was such a pleasant surprise to me.

P1010635Judging by the widespread use of organic, fair trade, pasture raised, sustainable, and local products, most Kiwis seem to expect quality ingredients and care about where they come from. So many have their own gardens, and stock honor boxes in their front yards to share the bounty.


“Honor boxes” – take what you need, leave the money in a can!

In many areas we saw beehives stacked along the roadside, and bought, or were given, local honey. And the BREAD – I was so excited to find the bakers in NZ know how to make my favorite German sourdough rye.

Bauernbrot and soup

Bauernbrot and soup

Where I live, the “farm to fork” movement is gaining momentum, but in NZ, it’s just a way of life, no catchy names or movements necessary. Do you realize how lucky you are??

Afghan cookie

Afghan cookie

 A flat white and a slice…

I never would have thought that New Zealand would have the best espresso in the world. We became connoisseurs, sampling from one end of the country to the other, even developing favorites (the Italian style roasts at All Press & Havana). I was impressed how often we saw “fair trade” promoted, and that Havana uses their own, “Real Trade” designation to educate consumers about economic fairness and sustainability. I learned so much from you Kiwi foodies!

drooling yet?

drooling yet?

Aside from the espresso, the food selection in your café’s is so creative, fresh and a good value. We had real muesli, “veggie stack”, frittata, grain & kale salads for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And then of course we couldn’t resist the “slices” and “Afghans”.  It’s refreshing to find so many places where everything is made from scratch – no bulk batters, packaged mixes, bottled dressings.

P1010077As far as I am concerned, there is only one major blemish on New Zealand’s foodie nirvana cafes – for crying out loud, how can you serve those McDonalds-style, deep-fried patties and call them hash browns? I was crushed. One chef I questioned said that they used to make real hash browns, but the Kiwis prefer the packaged ones.

Real potato pancakes at the Courthouse Cafe!

REAL potato pancakes at the Courthouse Cafe!

My favorite breakfast of the whole trip was at a place in Golden Bay that made real potato pancakes topped with avocado, spinach, poached egg and hollandaise. I still dream about it. Maybe the esteemed district councils could outlaw the frozen hash-slabs and require real, grated potato hash browns?

Now that's a sandwich!

Now that’s a sandwich!

I thought maybe our experience in NZ was unique – we just got really lucky and happened upon fantastic meals? But then I noticed that people who have traveled in New Zealand, always mention the food, before I get a chance.  That’s when I knew I had to write, to make sure you realize that your culinary culture is special. Please, continue to appreciate the healthy options you have and protect them, don’t take them for granted. Bigger and more is not better. Pay attention, be diligent, don’t let your food supply become corrupted in the name of “advancement” and profits.

Missing New Zealand!

fresh berry ice cream!

fresh berry ice cream!

Julie & David

Travel Tug of War

DSC_0034It has taken me many miles and months of travel to recognize the tug-of-war that begins on day one, and lasts well into my second or third week of a trip. I could label it jet lag, but it’s more complex than that. It’s that slow process of letting go and embracing what is new, and now. And that doesn’t come easy for most of us, hence, what I call the internal “travel tug-of-war” – one foot in one world and one in the other – straddling the abyss between comfort zone and the unknown.

I think most people are only vaguely aware of this battle going on inside them because they travel at the same frenetic pace they live by at home, so not much changes, you just see a lot of new stuff – you acquire knowledge about another culture, but you don’t have time to experience it, or share with the locals on a deeper level. That takes time.
On the plane, I immediately jump into the transition – no Western food for me! I order the Bento Box breakfast. The flight attendant passes me three times carrying my meal, looking quizzically at her colleague, I am sure thinking – that blonde woman in 7A can’t be having the Japanese b’fast? I try to convince David to choose the Bento, but he stubbornly opts for the “egg benedict”, which turns out to be a mistake – a cold egg with artery-clogging tasteless sauce. (I mean, come on, it’s difficult enough to make a decent poached egg and hollandaise sauce in a proper kitchen!) The bento box was amazing. If you fly Japan Airlines, for sure order the Japanese b’fast!

IMG_0006Whether you ease in, or dive in, on your next trip, pay attention to your internal tug-of-war and the feelings that arise as you slowly let go of your comfort zone, give up control, and let the new culture flow through you.




Seeing the world, with new eyes…

The only true voyage, the only bath in the Fountain of Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees.  Marcel Proust

Gaucho with smiling eyes!

Gaucho with smiling eyes!

Travel helps me to see the world, and my home, with new eyes.

My minimum travel  time is three weeks, and a couple of times, we were able to do a six-week trip, but this time,  after exploring Chile, Argentina & Uruguay for three months, I am really noticing my “other eyes”.


Guanaco enjoying their view

The longer you are away, the more acute your awareness becomes when you are once again surround by the familiar.  “Home” is so much more interesting – suddenly I’m living life in a hyper-aware state – I find myself noticing all kinds of little things about people, places and our customs.  I’m going to try my best to maintain this travel hangover for as long as possible.


Alpaca shearing with the Galileos at Estancia del Zorro

A frequent comment we get is: “Wow, three months, was that too long?”  No, not at all for us. I think it’s like anything in life – it’s what you are used to.  We love to travel slowly – parking ourselves at a homey B&B, connecting with locals, getting to really know a place – this enables us to feel more “at home” wherever we are.  We hang out until we are sure we’re ready to leave, even if that means skipping something we had planned for the end of the trip.  For us to be ‘tour-ists” – to have a set schedule, get a taste of places, and then hurry on – would be very frustrating, and exhausting.


So many people welcomed us into their homes, and families

If you want to try a longer trip, but are hesitant, don’t worry, just do it! Expect to get antsy, or home sick at around two weeks, if that’s what you are used to. Just ride out those emotions, they will pass. For the first couple of weeks, I struggle to let go of that “have to be doing something productive” drive that always seems to stowaway in my backpack. You will be amazed how hard that is to shake, it is so engrained in us, and when it does start slipping away, you get the inner voice saying “geeze, you’re getting so lazy”.  When you can reply “good, that’s what I am here for – to become a human being, not a human doing!”, congratulations, you’ve had a breakthrough.P1030849

This will be followed by the big payoff.  You will settle into a new rhythm, you will begin to understand what “slowing down” really feels like, you’ll take the ups and downs of travel with a shrug, knowing that you need the lows, in order to fully appreciate the highs.  When you begin to see mishaps and disappointments as benefits, you are really on your way! As the Buddhists believe, your life’s challenges provide opportunities for growth, and I believe, the same applies to travel. (Not to mention, we have had some of our best experiences, as a result of a things going “wrong”.)

Family weekend at the estancia.

“No plans? Great! Join our family reunion!”

Another benefit of extended, independent travel is the mental stimulation – I’m convinced it’s an alzheimers-buster. Every part of your brain gets a workout, every day, all day – calculating prices, deciphering menus, communicating, figuring out driving, bus schedules, maps, IVA taxes (and how to avoid them!*), and the constant barrage of sights, sounds and tastes foreign to you – what could be better therapy to keep those neurons firing on all cylinders?

Travel slow  and see the world, and your home, with new eyes.DSC_0085


*I should write a post on the in “IVA” taxes in Chile, Argentina & Uruguay (19-22%) but seeing as we never actually gained any real  clarity on the rules, (and we certainly tried), I will have to just let you enjoy the mental exercise, or the challenge of letting go and just paying whatever is charged. Note: the rules differ in each country, and even the locals are confused. And, the way the taxes are charged (or not charged) varies from city to city, province to province. The good news: the system for getting money back at the airport is pretty well organized, but you only get money back on locally made products, not hotel rooms or dinners.





Patagonia adventures!

Five years ago I had the privilege of filming 2 Passport to Adventure episodes in the Aysen region of Chilean Patagonia. I fell in love with the raw beauty of the place, and met so many wonderful people, I have returned with David, to visit and explore the region further! The more I explore, the more I realize there is so much more to see…

First stop, reconnect with friends at Cinco Rios lodge!

First stop, reconnect with friends at Cinco Rios lodge!

We are not much for checking stuff off a list, and we never have an agenda, which leaves us free to accept spontaneous offers. Our first choice is always to hang with the locals. Boy did we score – we were invited to join in the family reunion weekend out at Estancia del Zorro (their ranch).

Such a fun family - all 23 that we spent the weekend with!

Such a fun family – all 23 that we spent the weekend with!

We went horseback riding, watched the alpaca shearing, learned to play Chilean liars dice with the entire extended family, helped cook, practiced our meager Spanish, and shared homemade schnaps, wine and lots of laughs. We enjoy activities and sightseeing, but for us, getting to know the people is always the priority. For this type of travel, you must be flexible, not be in a rush, and not get too attached to seeing certain sights. For us, it’s all about connecting, that is why we travel.

David studying the family tree he requested, and Nacha drew up for us.

David studying the family tree he requested, and Nacha drew up for us.


Which one are you?

Are you a human being, or a human doing?

Just hangin'. Muang Ngoi district, Laos

Just hangin’. Muang Ngoi district, Laos

Is your life an endless series of planning and to-do lists?

What percentage of your time is spent just BEING?

Based on the number of talk shows and self-help books on the subject, it appears that we are taking that first step toward breaking the addiction – admitting we have a problem.  Only eleven more steps to go! If you are in the Passport to Adventure recovery program, the next step is – GO TO LAOS! (Recommended dosage is 3 weeks. WARNING: Staying longer may lead to an uncomfortable sense of well being, and diminished desire compete in the rat race)


Minding little sister and the herd. Laos

If Bhutan can market their “Gross National Happiness”, then Laos needs to brand its laid-backness. It’s too bad that so many visitors rush through the country – most spend a few days in the UNESCO world heritage city of Luang Prabang, then fly to neighboring Vietnam, Thailand or Cambodia. They are missing a real opportunity to understand that there IS a different way to live this life. If there was ever a place to “chillax”, Laos is it.


Proud Grandpa, Luang Prabang, Laos.

This was our third trip to Laos – we were there 12 years ago, and 5 years ago. On each trip we spent 3 weeks, and covered different areas of the country, always returning to Luang Prabang. So, “how has it changed?”, you ask. Well, there are more tourists, more hotels and guesthouses, cars and motorcycles have replaced some of the bicycles, everyone has a cell phone, but aside from that, I did not detect any major changes the Lao people and their attitudes.

If you are planning to visit Southeast Asia, do not make the mistake of assuming the cultures are the same, or even similar. They are not. The main thing that makes the Lao people different is their complete lack of materialism. I think we are so consumed by consumerism, and our capitalist nirvana notions, that it’s really, really tough for most Westerners to fathom this non-attachment to earning money. Working hard, and getting bigger, better stuff is admired in our culture, but I saw no indication that the Lao have embraced this philosophy. We had more than one smile and tell us frankly, and even proudly, “we are lazy”.

It doesn’t look like laziness to me, it appears they just would rather enjoy life with little, than work hard for more. Their lifestyle seems to make a clear statement: we value time over money, and laughter over perfection. Lao culture is strongly influenced by Buddhist teachings, with acceptance of circumstances, detachment from outcomes, and the belief that ‘all is as it should be’ shaping attitudes. Western directness, planning, and problem-solving are truly foreign concepts.

After a couple weeks of travel in Cambodia, (which comes right after Laos on the “chillax” list) I was slowing down – lingering at cafés, not planning our next move, wandering aimlessly, taking naps, reading novels (instead of guidebooks) in the middle of the day – all stuff that should be part of every day, right!?

Well in Laos, they are. Neighbors hang out on the front step chatting, shop keepers don’t hassle you, children don’t have tantrums, people giggle a lot, they don’t hurry, they nap in hammocks or on the office floor, they celebrate often, they play music loudly, and they prepare food anywhere and everywhere all the time.


Making yummy coconut crisps on the street.

Your meals will rarely be delivered quickly – the prospect of getting a tip does not seem to motivate servers. In my opinion, they like tips as much as anyone would, but they see it as more of a gift, as in, those that have should share with those that have less, a common tribal ethic. They do not get the idea of trying to earn a tip – if they give good service, and you are financially able to tip, great, but they will never be solicitous, rushed or stressed out about it, nor angry if you do not leave one. They enjoy the opportunity to chat with you more than they covet thy money.

After two weeks in Cambodia and three in Laos, I had completely shed any urgent need to do anything. I found that the “eh, whatever, whenever” shoulder-shrug was becoming quite natural for me. Now that I have experienced true laid-backness, I’m really going to work hard on keeping it. (pun intended) And whenever I feel stress creeping in, I’ll just shrug my shoulders, remember the wonderful people of Laos, and recite my new mantra “baw pen nyang” – no problem!

Watch this fascinating TED talk: “What Makes Us Happy?”!


Yes, even savvy travelers blow it…

Love, love, love the holiday spirit in Southeast Asia!

In my experience, this is when most travel screw-ups happen – when you are disembarking in a jet lag stupor and excited to have arrived.

In the rush to “stow personal articles for landing” in HKK, I shoved our “pill bag” into the shoe cabinet and forgot it there! (beware of the handy little nooks for storage in biz class) Yes, it had ALL of our vitamins, prescription meds, and first aid supplies that I have carefully assembled over my years of travel. I realized it pretty quickly and ran back to the gate, but it was already gone.  That the Cathy Pacific staff did not share my shock that it had disappeared, is what annoyed me the most. And it’s worthless to whomever end up with it, as all the pills are in tiny plastic bags, most unlabeled. Only I know what they are.

Hard to stay upset for long once we arrived at our favorite little bungalow resort!

As with all travel mishaps, good people appear when you need them. I mention my problem to the guy that picked us up at the airport here on Phu Quoc, he says his wife is a doctor, and he will see what he can do. The next day, someone appears at my beach chair, with my prescription medication in hand!! And when I try to pay, he hands me his cell phone, I thank Nghe (sp?) and he says it is a “gift”! He also says if it is the correct medication, (it is) he will get me 20 more, so I will have enough to finish our trip, and again, he won’t let me pay.

The bungalows are basic, but the beach is stellar!

Another example of why we travel – it forces you to be vulnerable, and to accept the kindness of strangers. And now, we have a new adventure – visiting local pharmacies, trying to decipher which pills are what, to restock a new “pill bag”. I’ve already found the Vietnamese version of Claratin, one down!





I am, but we’ll get to that later


No travel story worth reading is going to be about an airline losing your luggage.   Try to interest listeners with a lost luggage story and be prepared  for everyone else’s lost luggage stories,  so let’s introduce this episode as the one in which we spend our first three hours in Paris shopping for French Lingerie.   I am herein capitalizing French Lingerie because it deserves to be.

It was United Airlines that lost our luggage but it was Lufthansa that made the offer to reimburse us for a day’s worth of clothes.   I am not sure why Lufthansa stepped in to cover United’s screw-up but it seems  the Germans do a lot of that these days.

Lufthansa having rescued us from UAL took us,  but not our luggage now on a vacation of its very own,  from Frankfurt to Paris.  Upon arrival we checked in with Lufthansa’s lost luggage agent, a  cheerful and pretty German girl who offered to buy us a few days worth of clothes; specifically;

“Ya.  Vee vill reimburse 50% for da outervear duht you buy   …  und  100%  for duh undervear”.  The girls and I exchange something-for-nothing raised-eyebrow smirks.  Personally,  I was okay with the prospect of wearing the same underwear for three weeks.  Why not, I do at home.  But the girls, my wife Jacki and my sister Carolyn,  not so much.   We check empty-handed into our apartment in the Marais district of Paris and  straightaway we are off  to a department store on the Rue de Rivoli.  It’s after dark by now and the sidewalks are crawling with supermodels with shopping bags.  Actual supermodels.    If one is going to step out onto a Parisian sidewalk for the very first time you might want to time your visit with something called Fashion Week,   a city-wide event that makes it difficult to walk in a straight line with all the head-turning.

I digress.  Back to the mission.  I am following the girls who have been given a free pass to shop for replacement underwear in Paris France.  Tres bien.   We find an unimposing department store that could have been a Mervyns, until you get to the second floor:  women’s underwear.   Now I admit I used to occasionally stroll through the girl’s underwear dept in Mervyns  on the way to … you know … Pep Boys.  But this was Paris and in Paris underwear is Lingerie !   The  second floor girl’s underwear department in this non-descript French grand magasin was a dazzling acre of lace and silk and strappy stuff decorating mannequins that you want to date.   In Mervyn’s would you see a lifelike plastic madamoiselle wearing, for example, a lace garter supporting one red stocking, one black, and a red feathered mask ?  Probablement pas !

The girls were studiously hunched over a bin of panties holding them up to the light for some reason.  I know why guys hold underwear up to the light.  I don’t what girls look for and I would have asked them but I was distracted weaving my way through silk and lace tableaux on weak knees like Scarecrow in the Emerald City.

My wife eventually bought $100 dollars worth of bras and panties which by the way I could have folded into my breast pocket and walked out with undetected.   In the meantime the store began to flicker its lights indicating we would have no time to get to the men’s underwear department for the free thong I was conjuring up for myself.  But that was ok, I was happy where I was and the girls were gracious about subjecting me to all this shopping.

“Thanks for being so patient Michael”

“Yeah sure. No problem.  Can we come back tomorrow ?”

Voulez vous avec moi c'est soir ?

Voulez vous avec moi c’est soir



Cambodia for Christmas?

Christmas dinner at a rooftop restaurant in Pakse, Laos.

This will probably sound strange, or even blasphemous, to some, but the merry Christmas I dream of, is not white, it’s palm fringed along the Mekong.  I guess most people look forward to the holidays all year, and would never consider missing cherished family traditions, and I completely understand that. This post is for those that share my wanderlust, and may wonder what it is like to skip our version of X’mas one year, in favor of an adventure!

Traveling during the Christmas season is a great way to stretch your minimal vacation time, escape the expensive December shopping frenzy, and for me, relax and embrace the JOY of the season. The downside is that it’s high season in Southeast Asia, so you will need to book early. And, of course, if you have a family that requires your attendance at holiday festivities, this may not work for you. But, I say, if you are one of those over-worked Americans with only 2 or 3 weeks vacation, give it some consideration, your family can probably live without you for one holiday season, and you will have a “proper” holiday! (proper, as in longer than 2 weeks!)

Santa on the Mekong!

Why am I drawn to Southeast Asia for the Christian holiday season?? Honestly, I am not really sure how this happened. Christmas was a big deal at our house growing up. All I know, is after honeymooning in Thailand and Vietnam over the holidays almost twenty years ago, I wanted to go back every year.

Need reasons?….The countries of Southeast Asia are predominantly Buddhist, but they love any excuse to put up colorful decorations, and wear Santa hats. Not to mention, the weather is delightful in Dec-Jan (if you like warm and humid) and shopping is WAY more fun (and a heck of a lot cheaper!). Plus, there are enough expats from Western countries, that you can easily find traditional Christian festivities, even church services, if you want them. I think the main draw for me, particularly at this time of year,  is he “vibe” – in contrast to our hectic, often exhausting, holiday rush, Southeast Asia is very relaxed – everyday life flows gently along the Mekong, and we happily fall right into this laid-back pace.

X'mas fun with the always-smiling locals.

We have spent several Christmas holidays in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. At home, the decorations, and shopping ads that appear just after Halloween, drive me nuts. They make me want to leave the country (almost as much as the politcal ads) In Asia, it’s not about gifts, it’s just a celebration! Most of the hotels have tastefully decorated trees in the lobby, and many offer western style Christmas dinners. We prefer to find a cute French restaurant and use the holiday as an excuse to treat ourselves to a nice bottle of Bordeaux and a pepper steak, at half the price of a similar meal at home. We have watched spectacular New Years Eve fireworks displays in Bangkok & Phnom Penh, even though they celebrate the Chinese, or Lunar New Year, which falls typically in late Jan or early Feb. One of my favorite memories – hanging out at sidewalk bar in Vientienne, on X’mas day, drinking “Beer Lao” with locals in Santa hats – it was classic!

Another thing we enjoy about holiday travel in Southeast Asia is that many of the foreigners working in Asia and the Middle East, instead of returning home for the holidays, use their vacation to explore neighboring countries. So you get to meet interesting expats, that have lived all over the world, wherever you go.

David and his elves awaiting their martinis.

There is nothing more exciting to me than having a ticket to BKK (Bangkok) in December! My mind spins with the options – so many places we have yet to visit, and so many we love to return to. I feel so at home there, and have so many great memories, and I am looking forward to creating many more this Dec-January! Watch for my posts starting SOON!


St Lucia…full circle and full sail!

Steve, Juls & Mark, on "Orient Express" 1992

I had already booked our sailing trip to the West Indies for May, when I suddenly realized that it was exactly TWENTY years ago that we filmed the pilot episode of Passport to Adventure, “Sailing the Grenadine Islands” on this very same route. A stroke of serendipity, as our fourth season of programs had just been completed and distributed to the PBS system. This would be an apropos anniversary celebration for me!

And away we go!

I had been to the island twice, once in 1984, and again for our shoot in 1992, so I was curious to see what had changed. Four of our seven-person sailing crew arrived together into Hewanorra airport in the south end of the island, which meant we would get to see half the island in route to Marigot Bay, and the Moorings base, on the west side. Our Moorings-arranged taxi driver welcomed us in style, with cold Piton lagers – we were on vacation!

no spilling our beers on these roads!

I had memories of bumping along winding, one-lane roads on my previous visits, so the first change I noticed was the improved infrastructure. Apparently the caldera we filmed is now a major tourist attraction, there are many new resorts, and more sailors means more stores for provisioning, but the countryside was as lush, mountainous, and scenic as I remembered.

Sunset at Marigot Beach Club

We arrived in Marigot just in time for sunset cocktails and getting to know the rest of our sailing “mates” over dinner at a casual, open-air restaurant.

Marigot Bay, St Lucia

Next day was busy – after a morning briefing at the Moorings offices, and a run to a very well-stocked grocery store for provisions, we sailed off into the

sunset, and our first anchorage, protected by St Lucia’s majestic Pitons.

A perfect evening sail to the Pitons.


Next leg of the journey… St Vincent and the Grenadines!