Our Senior Nomads theme song is Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again”. We play it every time we pack our bags before moving on to the next destination. We’ve had the great fortune of visiting 80 countries and 265 cities over the past five years, and we are, as Willie says “… the best of friends, insisting that the world keeps turning our way!” And for the most part it has! For now, we decided to put down our bags for for a couple of months and give our bones a rest.
Two weeks ago, we finished 7 months of travel through New Zealand, Australia, and nine Asian countries before spending the summer in Europe. After “camping out” on three different Airbnb boats in Croatia, Spain and France, we settled down just outside of Paris and spent a fortnight with our younger daughter and her family. From there we flew to Los Angeles to see our oldest son and his family in Hermosa Beach. It was great to have time with all five grandchildren and see them off for the new school year.
Now we are “home” in Seattle house-sitting for the third time for friends who are newly-minted Senior Nomads. They have definitely caught the long term travel bug - and are quick to offer us their home whenever they are away. We will be in this fabulous home on Queen Anne Hill for seven weeks, which to us seems like forever! We are unpacked and settled in. There isn’t even a loose button or a foreign coin left in the bottom of our suitcases - which are stored away where we can’t see them. We’ve made two trips to the storage unit to collect a few books, my Kitchenaid and favorite pans, a few files, and warmer clothes now that fall is in the air.
Staying in one place for a while has given us time for some reflection. When you are “in it” it doesn’t seem that crazy, but when you finally reach a stopping point it’s staggering to look back at just how much ground we have covered. It also has given our Chief Travel Planner the opportunity to preen a bit over his navigation skills because during that long stretch through Asia he needed every tool in his toolbox. So this missive is about how Mr. Campbell uses apps and maps to get us from A to B on budget, on time, and in one piece. In his own words:
Early explorers traveled the world guided by nothing more than the sun and the stars. Today, all the tools you need to navigate the world can be held in your hand.
Ubiquitous WiFi, smart phones and hundreds of apps at our fingertips have made what we do possible. Considering we’ve managed to travel successfully these past five years, I want to share the apps we can’t do without. It all starts with our laptops which accompany us everywhere we go, my iPad and iPhones loaded with SIM cards in each country for data (and as WiFi hotspots when needed).
For trip planning, that would be SkyScanner to help find the best flights for us anywhere in the world, Rome2Rio to recommend the best way to travel between any two destinations, Around Me for finding anything on the ground from ATMs to pharmacies and supermarkets, Accuweather, and Google Translate for communication including the feature that uses the camera to translate written things like signage and instructions (Debbie often uses it on packaging in the kitchen). And of course Airbnb to find our next home on the road (we’ve stayed in 206 so far!)
Then we have NPR, The New York Times, News360 and Apple News as well as a dozen Podcasts to keep us up to date and keep us occupied during layovers. We have FaceTime and Skype (love the free calling to toll-free numbers in the USA) or WeChat or WhatsApp to reach out anytime, anywhere, to anyone in the world.
Debbie uses Culture Trip, TripAdvisor and Timeout to find out what’s happening in the city we are in or heading to next, and uses Instagram and Facebook to keep our followers updated on our adventures.
The star of our show, however is Google Maps. I think it does so much more than most people imagine. Of course if you are driving or walking, it will get you from A to B and provide lots of information along the way. But where it really shines is when you check on the “bus” icon and search for how to get to your destination using public transportation. Amazingly, at least to me, Google Maps is tied into the bus, metro and subway systems of almost every city we have visited! It can tell you how to get home from Red Square to our Airbnb in Moscow or how to find the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, or if you should take the train, the tram or the bus from wherever you are to your final destination. Details include where to catch your bus/train/subway, which way it is going, how many stops and when you will arrive. In some cities it will even tell you which platform if it’s a train or subway, how many stops before you get off, and what exit to take to get up to street level. This is especially critical information in super-sized cities like Tokyo, Seoul or Paris. We couldn’t travel without it! When we are not walking or using local transportation, we hail a ride using the Uber or Grab apps on our phones.
For entertainment and learning we download free Kindle books from the Seattle Public Library so we have an endless supply of current books to read and we keep track of them one of my all time favorite app: Goodreads. This has been a great money-savor for us, and we enjoy the “ping” we get from the library when a book becomes available. We also enjoy the New York Times Crossword App (thanks to son Chris for that gift) and thanks to the rest of the family for keeping us entertained through Netflix gift certificates.
We keep family, friends and followers updated (and able to live our travels vicariously) on our SquareSpace blog at seniornomads.com where we also have links to all 200+ Airbnb homes we have lived in. And we use Mailchimp to manage it all. I don’t know if it’s entertainment, but we keep track of our steps every day on the Apple Health Data app.
We can take photos of anything and everything all day long. Debbie has over 22,000 photos on her phone - whether that’s a good idea or not is up for debate. But hopefully they are backed up in “the cloud.” One of the most helpful ways we use our cameras is to take pictures of event posters, timetables, restaurant menus, and other things that help us plan our stay in a city, and screen captures of directions or other tidbits like entrance tickets we don’t want to lose due to a poor signal.
We ask Siri how much 100 Malaysian Ringgit is in US Dollars, what’s the weather forecast for the day, or what time it is in Seattle so we don’t wake people up in the middle of the night!
With 24/7 internet access through our laptops in our Airbnbs and our iPhones the rest of the time we can learn about the Reclining Buddha in the Grand Palace in Bangkok while we are standing at his feet, or the history of the Battle of Stalingrad in Russia. We can take our favorite music with us anywhere with Spotify, iTunes and free playlists from the Seattle Public Library via Freegal. In the more obscure catagory, we use Ship Finder to identify ships and their cargo at anchor anywhere in the world, and Debbie has become a little obsessed with Plantsnap, an app that will identify any plant, anywhere via the camera on her phone.
We manage our money online via our bank’s apps and I use Excel to track every Airbnb we've stayed in, every host we’ve stayed with, how much we spent every day and analyze the data for trends to make sure we stay on budget. I keep a spreadsheets for our travel expenses and monthly spending as well. If fact, I love spreadsheets so much I also keep track of the scores from our ongoing games of Scrabble, dominoes, backgammon and cribbage. For example, We usually play games a couple of times a week and I keep track of where we played and the scores. One of the reasons it is so much fun to track is because how evenly matched we are. In Scrabble, after literally hundreds of games, Debbie wins 52% of the time to my 48%. On average, she scores 312 points a game while I am right behind her at 311. So close!
We save documents on Google Drive, and can access them on our phones even if we don’t have internet access. This is helpful when we need to show boarding passes, event tickets or show a taxi driver an address. I can also scan signed documents with TurboScan. I had no idea how helpful that would become - especially at tax time!
Occasionally we use the iTranslate app for voice-to-voice conversations in a foreign language. It makes Debbie cringe, but I like it, and have used it many times to communicate with train-car mates, at the supermarket, with bankers, or to clarify details with hosts.
One app we are glad we have, but hate to use is FindmyPhone - you access it via the cloud and we were able to track Debbie’s phone as it left our possession and merged into traffic in the back of a cab in Saigon. We were resigned to never see it again. Fortunately, the quick-thinking guide we were quickly called the cab company. Somehow they were able to contact the driver and he kept the phone safe until we connected with him later in the day. Occasionally, we’d check to see where Deb’s phone was hanging out.
I could carry on like a Level 3 “Bla" client on BlaBla Car, a carpooling ride sharing app we use occasionally that rates the level of conversation you can tolerate in a car by Bla. BlaBla. or BlaBlaBla. But I will stop now so Debbie can take this blog out in her usual style. I hope you found this helpful! - Michael Campbell, Chief Travel Planner
Recently we were in Barcelona and I spent a couple of hours in the History of Barcelona Museum. It was very absolutely fascinating. You take an elevator three stories below street level where you wander through layers of archaeological excavations starting with the Romans and wind your way back to street level ending in the very room where Christopher Columbus presented his discoveries from the New World to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand.
We may not have discovered a new world, but for these past five years we’ve certainly become confident explorers. And we have tools Columbus couldn’t even fathom. Heck, he had to get past the notion the world was flat!
For myself, I like still like a paper map, the occasional guide book, my sketchbook, and keeping up our daily journal where we jot down what we do each day along with the expenses. Then we tape in the receipts and any snippets of memorabilia like tickets or a post card as a reminder of a day well spent.
Thank you Michael, for keeping us on track and on tech! We couldn’t be Senior Nomads without your commitment to staying current and curious.
Thanks for following along,
Debbie and Michael Campbell
The Senior Nomads