We've found that it doesn't matter whether we're taking a 12-month trip or a 12-day trip. We still need pretty much the same amount of clothes. In Third World countries, doing laundry is very inexpensive—and often includes ironing and delivery
Before every trip, we stand in the attic of our friend's house where our remaining belongings—mostly clothes—are stored and decide what to bring. We learned from our early travels that it's important to be able to carry our own bags, which means traveling light. Our backpacks are medium-size, which we try to keep to 15 pounds each. We carry a small daypack as well. When we fly, we nearly always go carry-on, which has saved us a lot of grief and waiting time in some very hectic airports—but this has been more of a challenge since 9/11. Stan has stopped carrying his favorite pocketknife and just buys a cheap one when we arrive in a country. For cutting hair, which Stan does for both of us, we bought a good pair of hair scissors with rounded tips.
Most valuable to us is a zip pocket, which I devised and make for us, that is big enough to hold a passport, cash, and credit cards. We pin or stitch it inside an existing pocket, and access is near-impossible for anyone looking to steal from us. It has come in handy.
When we travel in warm climates, which we do often, it is easy to pack simply, with a few long- and short-sleeve shirts, a couple pairs of lightweight shorts and pants (good pockets are key), a wind- and water-repellent jacket, a long skirt for me, a few pairs of underwear, and a couple pairs of socks. Most of our clothes are from thrift shops and easily replaced. What we need we buy en route and often leave behind as we go, such as bulky cold-weather clothes.
In many less affluent countries, it's easy, and often quick, to have clothes made, especially if you have something to be copied. In Thailand, a tailor copied an expensive pair of Eddie Bauer shorts, including lots of pockets and zippers, for less than $10—overnight. For a wedding we attended in India, the groom took Stan shopping for a shirt, trousers, a silk vest, and a pair of loafers. For $13, he looked as good as anyone else. The friend who invited us to the event picked out one of her best saris, with gold jewelry to match, and insisted that I borrow it. Everyone was so happy to see us dressed like this that we were a big hit at the wedding.
The basic hostels and hotels where we stay don't offer much in the way of security, so it makes sense not to carry anything of real value, such as laptops or fancy cameras. We wear inexpensive watches, and I leave my wedding band in the States. Much of the weight in our bags is actually from medications, including ibuprofen—crucial for long bus and train journeys—and vitamins. We're at an age when we need more of these things, but fortunately, major cities in Africa, India, and South America have many drugs available, so we can get them as we need them. Toiletries, too, are generally easy to get.
What do you do about paperwork and money matters?
When we started on this path nine years ago, good friends of ours offered to pay our bills and handle our checkbook, as well as let us use their address to receive mail. That was, of course, before the Internet really took off. We have since made things easier by setting up automatic deposits from Medicare and Social Security, and arranging for medical insurance and other regular bills to be paid automatically by our bank. We also notified all catalog and other junk mail concerns to take us off their lists, so we don't actually get much mail. We've pretty much narrowed it down to two credit card bills a month. Anything of importance our friends forward to us. And every year we make sure we come back to the States before April 15 in order to file our taxes.
On the road, ATMs are our main source of cash (we use an ATM debit card), and they seem to be just about everywhere now. We carry $500 in traveler's checks as a backup, and an emergency $100 bill well hidden in one of our bags. We're selective about when we pay with credit cards because many banks are now putting a surcharge on purchases made outside the United States—we usually use them for larger purchases, such as airline tickets.
We always wait until we are in country to change money. The rates are often substantially better, and whether we arrive by plane, bus, train, or boat, there are almost always people standing around waiting to be of service. On arrival, we usually change about $25 from unofficial money traders until we get a chance to see what the rate really is. We once crossed from Senegal to The Gambia by ferry, which, to our surprise, threw an anchor out 100 feet from shore, leaving all the passengers to wade ashore or use one of a dozen strong, young men to carry us piggyback style. As we dismounted from our porters' backs, someone was right there with the offer "change money?"
We always have to be ready for the unexpected. At an ATM in Africa, we punched in the equivalent of $200—and received $20, along with a receipt that said $200. An airline clerk was waiting around the corner to sell us two tickets for a flight that day from this city that we were anxious to leave. Believe it or not, the airline's credit card machine was not working. In desperation, we tried the ATM again, to no avail. When the bank finally opened, we found that the assistant manager who assisted us not only spoke perfect English but had gone to college near where we had lived in Connecticut! Our experience has been that somehow things always work themselves out.
Where do you look for homestays and house-sitting opportunities?