When asked to describe The Good Life, many of us include a desire to travel and see the world, often in our top three or four goals. Yet, often we find reasons why it seems impractical or impossible to do so today. My college roommate, Marty Regan, travels more than anyone I know, and I have always found it fascinating to talk with Marty about how he does it. Here’s my interview with Marty.
SS: We met up in Taos in May and now you are in Tokyo for the summer. Give us a rundown of where you’ve been in the last 12 months.
MR: Last year I was conducting research in Cambridge, UK, and during the summer I traveled to Ireland, Italy, and Iceland. I returned to the USA in late August and have since taken domestic trips to Maine, New York, California, and New Mexico. Over Christmas and New Year’s I traveled in New Zealand for five weeks.
To be a world traveler, a lot of people think you have to be very wealthy. Did you win the lottery or inherit a family fortune? This is all from your college professor salary?
Yes, it is. However, I am single with no children, have no debt and lead a simple lifestyle in an area with a relatively low cost of living, so I have dispensable income to spend as I wish.
What do you enjoy most about travel? What have you learned from other cultures?
As a composer, I have always been fascinated with the relationship between life experiences (including travel!) and artistic expression. If a writer, artist, or composer experiences a cathartic moment when doing something significant like cycling through the Netherlands when the tulips are in full bloom or witnessing an architectural masterpiece like the Pantheon in Rome, how are those experiences manifested when they begin their next work? For writers and visual artists, it seems to me that the relationship is often quite direct. For example, a writer could attempt in prose to capture the details of a particular scene or space, while an artist could be inspired to render the scene realistically or perhaps more abstractly in a painting. In either case, one could argue that the resultant work was directly inspired by the experience. For a composer however, this relationship is a bit more slippery. For me, musical “inspiration” often involves finding myself in a new and unfamiliar environments and allowing myself to be stimulated by the experiences that await me.
I strongly suggest reading Pico Iyer’s article Why We Travel.
I think many people – myselfincluded – could work from anywhere in the world, as long as we have internet. How has travel impacted your work?
As long as I have my computer or iPad with me, I can conduct most of my work remotely. Travel has not negatively impacted my work in anyway.
You’ve obviously figured out how to travel on a budget, because you spend weeks or months in some of the most expensive cities in the world. I imagine that hotels in these cities can cost $500 a night and up. How do you make this work?
Well, I am very lucky in that I have a network friends and colleagues all over the world. I sometimes plan trips where friends of mine reside, not for the promise of free accommodation, but because of the companionship and benefit of having a local teach you about their city. If I travel to a place where I do no know anyone, then I find other ways to keep costs low by living like a local. I rarely stay in hotels.
Let’s talk more about lodging. Where do you stay? How do you find places?
When I stay in a place for a long period of time, Airbnb is my preferred accommodation option. VRBO is also dependable. Some cities I have used Airbnb for extended visits include London, Rome, Paris, Prague, Helsinki, Shanghai, and Seoul, among others.
Outside of lodging, any advice for saving money on transportation, food, and entertainment while you are travelling?
I don’t purchase plane tickets until I have spent time exploring the market for a while and I am confident that I am getting a fair price. I try to stick to the Star Alliance network and pay with my United Chase Plus credit card because purchases add up really quickly that can redeemed for free flights. I always try to stay somewhere with access to a basic kitchen so that I can buy food at local groceries to save on meal expenses. As far as entertainment is concerned, I rarely book in advance but rather show up the day of the performance (symphony orchestra concerts, ballet, theater, etc.) and inquire about last minute rush tickets. Often I am given tickets for free by patrons who can’t use them and have left them at the box office. This happened recently for a performance of Götterdämmerung at the Houston Grand Opera. I was prepared to pay $150+ for a good seat!
You rent your house in College Station through Airbnb. How has that helped you with your travel?
I started renting my house on Airbnb in 2011. Basically, I use the rental income that I receive from Airbnb to pay for expenses that I incur when I travel. At the moment, I am currently residing in Tokyo for 2+ months, but rental income from my home covers my rental expenses here. Here is a link to my home.
Who is a good candidate for Airbnb? If someone is thinking of making their house available, what should they know?
A good candidate for Airbnb would include a person who can appreciate the unique quirks that you might encounter when living in someone’s home. If you are hoping for a cookie-cutter Hyatt or Hilton experience, then Airbnb is not for you. If you are thinking of making your house available, be aware that fielding questions from guests can sometimes take a lot of time! Create a profile in which answers to the most commonly-asked questions are available. Have a system in which guests can check in and check out without you being there, such as having a lock box on the door or installing a keyless entry system. Consider providing amenities that will make their stay memorable. In my case, I usually leave a snack and fruit basket along with fresh-squeezed orange juice. I also leave a hand-written welcome letter as well as a guest book where I request that guests leave their comments.
Do you set a daily or weekly budget for when you travel?
I have never planned daily or weekly budgets!
Favorite travel memory?
Taking a snowmobile tour in Iceland to the top of a glacier in August for my birthday to view a filming location for the Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
Best place to visit that has a surprising value?
Many thanks, Marty, and safe travels! See you in Texas in the Fall.
Originally from Long Island, New York, Marty Regan is an Associate Professor at Texas A&M University and lives in Bryan-College Station. He is a composer who specializes in composing music for traditional Japanese instruments. Marty graduated from Oberlin College, lived in Tokyo for 6+ years, and received a Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii, Manoa.