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Worldly Wisdom

Michael Flack

A FEW MONTHS BACK, this site’s editor suggested I write an article about the “10 things I learned about money from four years traveling the globe.” I thought, hey, if someone wants to pay me $60 to write about travel, I’m in. I’m hoping he’ll next suggest I write an article about drinking bourbon.

Starting in September 2017, my wife and I traveled the world for four straight years. Travel can be wondrous. Filled with new tastes, like grilled pig rectum in Tokyo. Filled with new smells, though the less said about that tannery in Marrakesh the better. And new people, like a picnic with strangers on the Temple Mount. Along the way, here are a few things I learned.

  1. If you’re going to travel for four years, why pay income taxes to a state you aren’t actually living in? Start your adventure by moving to an income-tax-free state. I went with Texas. Depending on your politics, heat tolerance and affection for the second amendment, you might prefer Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington or Wyoming.
  2. Use a mail forwarding service—that is, of course, located in your new income-tax-free state. If you go with the great state of Texas, may I recommend Texas Home Base? For $200 a year, it scans the contents of every letter sent to your new Texas address, which you can review at your leisure while drinking a bière on one of Paris’s Bateaux Mouches.
  3. My global travel adventure commenced when my working life ended, so I was in a great position to sell my house. From a practical point of view, this enabled me to avoid mortgage payments, property taxes and repair costs. From a spiritual point of view, this enabled me to avoid worrying about mortgage payments, property taxes and repair costs. I could truly focus on the romance of travel and not the banality of owning a home. I traveled completely unfettered, knowing I could settle down anywhere along the way or maybe never at all.
  4. After selling your home, put all your stuff in a POD.
  5. You may want to start your adventure with a bang by visiting Paris or Tokyo—two of my personal favorites—though a more economical strategy may be to find an inexpensive airfare from where you are to any city on the continent in question. Does it really matter if, instead, you start your adventure in Munich or Seoul?
  6. I never planned more than one city ahead. This gave the flâneur in me the flexibility to extend my stay if I found a location particularly intriguing or economical.

That, in turn, led to two strategies. First, I tried to book rental cars and lodgings that offered “free cancellation.” That way, if my itinerary changed or I found a cheaper option—which I was always looking for—I had flexibility.

Second, after making the initial payment through Airbnb or Booking.com, and ensuring the lodgings were adequate, I would later contact the owner directly to extend. Cutting out the middleman, and possibly the taxman, can be very economical.

  1. I enjoyed inspecting alternatives to America’s current version of democracy, capitalism, religion and educational system—such as places where there are more than two political parties, a non-Darwinian economic system, a kinder, gentler version of religion, and an educational system that produces graduates who speak more than one language, one of which—English—is often spoken better than it is by some Americans.

More than that, though, I wanted to try out some just plain good ideas. Like transportation systems that, while not necessarily cheaper, actually work, whether it’s a bus, tram, funicular, railcar, cable car, highway, subway, plane, ferry or donkey. Like a hand-held credit card terminal that was brought to the table at the end of my meal so I could pay by credit card, while not letting my credit card out of my possession, at which point it might be copied for future credit card fraud. Like restaurant prices and bills that include taxes and tip. Well, that’s only in France, but it’s still a damn good idea.

  1. Keep a journal. Otherwise, it’ll all become a giant blur.
  2. Spend a little more than you think you should. Don’t tell my wife about this one.
  3. Most cities in the world offer free walking tours. It’s a great way to get to know a city, get some ideas, and maybe make a friend or two. In most cases, guides will provide you with their phone number, so you can text them for advice during the balance of your stay. While technically they’re free, almost everyone tips, in my case around $10. I like the capitalistic aspect of these walking tours: If the guide doesn’t do a good job, you don’t pay them.

I must have been on more than 20 free tours, and on every one of them, the missus and I were the oldest partakers. Maybe it’s all the walking, maybe it’s ageism, or perhaps it’s because old people have more money and therefore equate free with crap. All I know is that walking tours are a good deal—and seeing a city through younger eyes can be a real tonic.

Michael Flack blogs at AfterActionReport.info. He’s a former naval officer and 20-year veteran of the oil and gas industry. Now retired, Mike enjoys traveling, blogging and spreadsheets. Check out his earlier articles.

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