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Sheila Stoll: Creative ways to travel the United States, Europe and beyond

Woody Guthrie sang a song called I've Been Everywhere. Though I haven't been everywhere, I've certainly been to a lot of places. And I've learned a lot traveling. You can travel even when you're on the old side. Case in point: my mother spent her 80th birthday with us on the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. She even put a photo from that trip on her Christmas card that year. I've traveled on the land, in the air and on the water. Here are some stories — and tips.

RVing in the United States

I was married to my second husband, who died in 1994, for 14 years. He had a scientific background, a love of machines — and a major case of wanderlust.

So, he built and lived in homemade houses on wheels for many years before we were married.

We were usually on the road for about nine months of the year. Winter was problematic, so we holed up in our mobile home in the wilds of Central Florida where he did necessary mechanical repairs to ready our mostly plywood home on wheels for our next voyage.

In 1982, we undertook a great adventure.

The oil crises of the 1970s prompted him to try to prove that alternative fuels are not only possible but practical. So we built a vehicle with the shell of a very small Dodge van and drove it from Carmel, Calif., to New York City and back to Carmel in five and a half days.

The wheels were always turning, we never stopped, and we fueled it with cottonseed oil in an unmodified, industrial diesel engine. (Check the 1987 Guinness World Records, page 214.)

Anyway, I do know a bit about living on the road. We went to every state in our years together and I learned some useful stuff I'd like to pass along:

• Don't go far in a humongous RV unless you have lots of money.

• Nobody wants to steal what they can't see, making our house on wheels, which had no side windows, look like an anonymous truck. That provided stealth safety.

• Walmart will not usually chase you out of its parking lot if you stay there for one night.

• It's important to identify locations with good toilet facilities. Even if you have a waste tank on board, you will have to empty it fairly often.

• Campgrounds that have plumbing hookups are more expensive than those that don't.

• Union 76 truck stops have good facilities, often including showers, and good breakfasts all day.

• Casinos in Vegas also don't mind you staying there. They are always open. Just don't spend all your fuel money inside.

• Alaska is beautiful and worth the trip, which took us nine days each way.

There are lots of places to stop on the Alaska Highway across Canada. Some don't have much except an outhouse.

(If the aforementioned outhouse has giant claw marks deeply etched into it consider yourself warned.)

Also, wild animals DO NOT like having your wife take a picture of you standing near them.

Exploring abroad

In the 14 years I've been with (my current) Darling Husband, we have traveled a lot internationally. That sort of traveling involves at least one trip by air, which is tolerable if not fun. For us, that is always the most expensive part, but is cheaper if you don't have to go during the summer when fares are highest. Fall and spring are good. If you plan well, you won't need to pay an arm and a leg in Europe.

Don't rent a car in Europe if you can find any other way to get where you want to go. If you do rent one, know where you are going and stay out of the cities. You won't enjoy driving in European cities and it will probably scare the bejeezus out of you if you do.

Turn signals? What turn signals?

I love river cruises in Europe. It's a great way to see the wonderful cities you've dreamed of. Plus, no traffic, no fumes, no dragging all your stuff around.

We have cruised the Danube to Budapest, Bucharest and Vienna.

And, the Nile! We visited Luxor, Karnak, Lake Aswan and spent a few days in Cairo where we saw the pyramids and the Sphinx. (There are usually side bus trips to historical sites, museums and shopping areas.)

Here are some international tips:

• It's good to know the exchange rate and watch your pennies. Convert some money before you go.

• Even if you don't speak their language, learn to say a few polite phrases.

• If you can walk, even with a cane you'll probably do fine, but traveling is difficult if you are in a wheelchair.

• On river cruises, other passengers helped me where the going was rough. That didn't happen on huge cruise ships.

• • •

Whether you travel in the good old U.S.A. or choose a foreign adventure, traveling is good — big time!

Don't be afraid; you can do it with some good advance planning. Use the Internet to find tours and small hotels.

Bon voyage.

Sheila Stoll is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. Write her at PMB No. 309, 7904 E Chaparral Road, No. 110, Scottsdale, AZ 85250.

Sheila Stoll: Creative ways to travel the United States, Europe and beyond 09/25/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 2:41pm]

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