How To Deal With Travel Warnings And “Average Advice”

Escape The Average Advice

Throughout the past few months, Vicki and I have been telling friends and others we’d planned to visit Lviv, Ukraine.

“Don’t go,” was the universal response. Friends pointed to the war between Ukraine and pro-Russia rebels in the east of the country. The U.S. State Department had issued a travel warning on Ukraine. Bombs and demonstrations had killed people in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital.

“Dangerous and unnecessary,” one friend wrote.

All this came before Malaysia Air Flight 17 was shot out of the sky over Ukraine air space.

But Vicki and I rejected the above as average advice. Sure, the average tourist might want to skip Ukraine this year. But Vicki and I are not average. We determined to decide for ourselves.

I first ran into what I call “average advice” in my youth, when I attended a public high school in a Los Angeles suburb. Counselors in my high school told A students to go to UCLA, B students to L.A. State, and C students to a local junior college. Average determined destiny.

I came up with the concept of average advice to explain the process. Average advice keeps us focused on the status quo, mired in how John Doe views the world.

You want average advice, go to the U.S. State Department. The State Department makes its living thinking about average Americans, the 300 million Americans with average concerns. The average American wants to stay home in Iowa. We wish him well.

But as a Live and Invest Overseas reader, you want to explore a bit…or at least think about it. The last thing you need is average advice. Our mission is to give you the raw material you need to make a decision that fits with your needs.

Back to our Ukraine trip…

Vicki and I read the United States travel advisory. Even average advice helps in a tense time. We noted that the advisory omitted any mention of Lviv, the area we wanted to visit.

We talked to travelers in nearby Poland, the locals who come and go over the Ukrainian border all the time. We drew on our knowledge from previous visits to Ukraine. I was in Ukraine three years ago with two friends, savvy travelers both.

Vicki and I made up our minds. We would go to Lviv, in western Ukraine, an anti-Russia region some 800 miles from the fighting. We would enter Ukraine by land from Poland, flying in and out of Warsaw—Polish airspace—rather than Kiev.

And that’s what we did.

We could have run into trouble, I suppose. We’re rarely sure about where danger might lurk. Then again, we had done our pre-prep.

We found ourselves in Lviv without plane tickets back to Bangkok, where we wanted to go next. We waited until the last minute before buying. We figured that, with so much average advice on Thailand out there—avoid Bangkok because of the coup, because of lack of civil rights, rains and floods, and so on—ticket prices would come down.

When we finally decided to book our flight to Bangkok, flying out of Kiev and over the eastern-Ukraine war zone looked pretty attractive, with reasonable fares and easy access from Lviv. Remember, the Malaysia Air tragedy hadn’t happened yet.

But Vicki insisted on sticking with first principles. For safety’s sake, we avoided Kiev, the pro-Russia areas, and Ukrainian Airlines. In retrospect, the Malaysia Air incident makes us look prescient. But we simply stuck to our game plan.

So why were we intent on making our way to Lviv? Lviv offers terrific opportunities as a travel base. We wanted to think about living there part of the year. From Lviv, we can get to six international borders within 200 kilometers: Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova. Only Belarus requires visas of Americans. Just a bit farther on and we’re in Russia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, even Istanbul.

Vicki and I are perpetual travelers. A base for us simply means a place we know well, as opposed to a year-round dwelling. A base offers a retreat from too much new-and-different. Returning to the same place again and again means we can quickly settle into a comfortable daily rhythm. We know where to find the best deals. We return to the same favorite hotel, restaurants, grocery stores, pharmacies, etc. We usually end up making local friends.

Most Westerners can stay in Ukraine for three out of every six months. Then we can travel into the EU for three out of every six months. Or into Romania or Moldova for three out of every six months. Enjoy and repeat. We could make it last forever, the perfect base.

We see one major drawback to Lviv: The language uses a different alphabet. We can’t even read, much less pronounce, what we see on a menu or map.

But we learned to get around the language problem. In my next report, I’ll tell you how…and also about Lviv’s surprisingly low cost of living.

Paul Terhorst

Editor’s Note: Every month, Paul shares his non-average advice with Overseas Retirement Letter readers in his retirement planning column.

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