How We Travel

Frequently asked questions about our life on the road

Portrait of Chris and Melissa

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Here are a few posts that talk more about our experience vagabonding:

Portrait of Chris and Melissa

How can you afford to travel so much?

Chris has a small pension from her former job at the U.S. Congressional Budget Office. We both work as freelance editors, which we can do on the road with our laptops, as long as we can get a decent wifi signal. We have a budget of about $85 a day for the two of us. We make that work by traveling in places where we can get a room (or sometimes an apartment) for $25 to $45 a night, or by housesitting or staying with friends or relatives.

What are your favorite places?

So far, our favorite countries include Switzerland, Italy, France, Slovenia, and Malaysia. But who knows what places we’ll fall in love with in the future?

How do you get around when you travel?

We typically fly from the United States to other countries. Between cities or adjacent countries, we take public transit, such as trains or buses. Within cities and towns, we usually walk or take a bus, subway, taxi, or ride share. We rarely rent a car, because of the cost. In places where public transit is scarce (such as Bali), we’ve sometimes found it more cost-effective to hire a driver who has a car than to rent a car ourselves.

In the eastern half of the United States, we typically drive our friends’ extra car. We have an arrangement with them in which they keep the car registered and insured (something that’s hard for us to do without a home address), while we pay for repairs and maintenance.

We do all of our trip planning ourselves—that’s part of the fun. The only time we join organized tours is for day trips to places we can’t easily reach by ourselves.

Where do you typically stay when you’re traveling?

Our most common lodgings are local guesthouses, small hotels, or apartments that we rent through AirBnB or Booking.com. In expensive places, we sometimes stay in hostels (bunkbed dorms or private rooms) instead. Sometimes we stay with people in their homes, through hospitality organizations such as Servas or Lesbian & Gay Hospitality Exchange International.

We also do a lot of housesitting, in which we look after people’s homes and pets while they’re away in exchange for free lodging. We find housesitting opportunities through websites such as TrustedHousesitters.com or MindMyHouse.com. Before we started housesitting, we sometimes worked at people’s farms or inns in exchange for meals and lodging. (Opportunities like that are available at Helpx.net and Workaway.info.)

How do you decide where to go?

We read a lot of travel blogs and magazines, watch a lot of travel shows on TV, listen to travel podcasts (such as “The Amateur Traveler” and “Get Out of Here”), and talk to other travelers. Melissa, in particular, likes to read guidebooks for fun. So we always have a list in our heads of places we want to visit or revisit.

We also get emails every day with new housesit listings from the housesitting websites we subscribe to. Often, we’ll apply for a housesit opening somewhere that sounds interesting, and if we get the “job,” we plan a trip around it.

What do you do if you don’t speak the language?

Wherever we go, we try to learn a little bit of the local language—things like “hello,” “goodbye,” “please,” “thank you,” “excuse me,” “sorry” (an important one), basic numbers, and “do you understand English?” We find that starting with even a few words of the local language, before we need to switch to English, brings us a much warmer reception from local people. Beyond that, if we can’t find anyone who speaks English, French, German, or Spanish—the languages in which we can make some amount of conversation—we rely on phrasebooks, the Google translate app on our phones, hand gestures, or pointing at pictures.

We’re very lucky, as native English speakers, that English has become one of the main languages of tourism and business worldwide. (For example, if a Norwegian and an Indonesian want to converse, they’re likely to use English.) That means that in many places we visit, some of the people who work in the tourism industry are likely to speak—or at least understand—a little bit of English.

What do you do when you’re not traveling?

Several times a year, we return to northern Virginia to stay with our dear friends AJ and Nick Ferraro and their young daughter, Francesca. Their generosity with their spare bedroom (and a few spare closets) gives us a home base and helps us stay connected to our friends, work colleagues, hobbies, and health care providers in the Washington, DC, area.

Each year, we also visit our relatives spread out around the eastern United States. And sometimes we do house sits in the United States to see new places or to avoid taxing the hospitality of our friends and family.

Do you ever miss having a home?

Sometimes, especially when we’re feeling sick or tired, miss our developed-world comforts (such as drinkable tap water), or wish we had more of our familiar possessions around us. We keep saying that someday we’ll buy a house in the United States, live there part time to put down roots in a community, and rent it out the rest of the time while we travel.

How long do you plan to keep traveling?

For as long as we’re able to physically and financially. As time goes by, we may find that we value our creature comforts more (that’s already started), and we may stay in one place for a longer period instead of moving around as much. But Melissa’s paternal grandmother ran her farm well into her 80s, and Chris’s maternal grandmother visited Thailand and rode an elephant at age 80. So we have good role models for staying active in our later years.

Do you ever buy souvenirs?

Not as many as we’d like to! Since we travel with backpacks, our space is limited. So we generally buy packable souvenirs—things like textiles, small carvings, baskets, or souvenir books. We especially love buying things we’ve seen people make or wear in the places we visit. One of the attractions of someday getting a house is so that we can unpack the mementos we’ve acquired on our trips and have them all around us.

What principles do you try to follow when traveling?

• Learn as much as we can about the cultures we spend time in—history, religion, etiquette, food. Don’t expect them to conform to us.

• Make sure our money benefits the communities we’re visiting. That means staying in small, locally owned lodgings instead of big chains, eating in family-run restaurants, shopping where local people do, and buying art objects directly from the artisans (or at least in their villages), whenever possible.

• Try to be environmentally responsible travelers. Although we do fly sometimes, we try to use public transit the rest of the time. We carry reusable water bottles, a small Steripen UV water purifier, roll-up nylon shopping bags, and small wooden utensil sets so we can minimize our use of plastic water bottles, bags, and utensils. We recycle as much as we can and try to conserve water in places where that is important.

• Be good ambassadors so that people can learn as much from us as we do from them. We hope that by being open, friendly, and respectful travelers, we can dispel any negative stereotypes that people may have about Americans, women, or same-sex couples.

How does being a queer (LGBT+) couple affect your travels?

We generally avoid countries where homosexuality is illegal. That puts large parts of Africa and the Middle East, plus some parts of Southeast Asia, off limits for us. We avoid those places not because we’re afraid of getting caught but because, if we do happen to run afoul of the law (say, through a traffic stop or an immigration problem), we don’t want to give the authorities an easy charge to make against us. And we don’t want our money to support governments that persecute gay people.

Since our marriage in 2010, we’ve always traveled openly as a married same-sex couple. We refer to each other as “my wife,” and if people look confused (and we have the language skills to explain it), we say that in the United States, women can marry women and men can marry men. Most people seem to understand—even if they’re just thinking that this is another way in which foreigners are strange. We’ve undoubtedly had potential hosts or housesitting clients rejects us for being queer, and we’ve gotten a few dirty looks over the years. But we’ve never experienced any real harassment. (In general, unfair as it is, female couples tend to encounter less antagonism than male couples.)

Anywhere we can, we enjoy attending gay pride festivals, visiting gay bookstores or bars, and making contact with gay groups as part of learning about local culture. One cherished memory is meeting a young Vietnamese woman who was assisting with a food tour we took in Hoi An. As we walked along, we talked about our respective lives, and she remarked that it was hard to be a lesbian in her area because everyone is so closeted and she might have to move to a big city to meet anyone. At the end of our conversation, she said how happy she was to meet us—an open and happily married lesbian couple—because we showed her what might be possible someday for her country and for herself.

Have a question about how we travel?

Send it to melissa@theslowroad.org


Here are a few posts that talk more about our experience vagabonding: