The International Living Podcast

Episode 45: On the Road with Host, Jim Santos, in Greece

October 04, 2023 International Living
Episode 45: On the Road with Host, Jim Santos, in Greece
The International Living Podcast
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The International Living Podcast
Episode 45: On the Road with Host, Jim Santos, in Greece
Oct 04, 2023
International Living

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This week, podcast host Jim Santos, and his wife, Rita, set off on their long-delayed roving retirement plan. As Jim records this episode, he and Rita are in Thessaloniki, Greece, after a great week in Athens, and are about to head to Istanbul to continue their nine-week romp through Europe.

Since more and more people are opting to spend months at a time abroad instead of choosing one destination to settle down, International Living thought this would be a good opportunity to explore how Jim and Rita reached this decision, and how they prepared for roaming. Also, some of the logistics of planning that international lifestyle Jim talks about on the show.

In an interesting tweak to the format, IL's Panama editor, Jessica Ramesch, hosts the show, allowing Jim to be the guest of today's podcast.

If you’re enjoying the podcast, we would really appreciate it if you could leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform:

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Send us a Text Message.

This week, podcast host Jim Santos, and his wife, Rita, set off on their long-delayed roving retirement plan. As Jim records this episode, he and Rita are in Thessaloniki, Greece, after a great week in Athens, and are about to head to Istanbul to continue their nine-week romp through Europe.

Since more and more people are opting to spend months at a time abroad instead of choosing one destination to settle down, International Living thought this would be a good opportunity to explore how Jim and Rita reached this decision, and how they prepared for roaming. Also, some of the logistics of planning that international lifestyle Jim talks about on the show.

In an interesting tweak to the format, IL's Panama editor, Jessica Ramesch, hosts the show, allowing Jim to be the guest of today's podcast.

If you’re enjoying the podcast, we would really appreciate it if you could leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform:

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube

Jim Santos 00:11 
Hello, everyone. I'm Jim Santos, and this is the International Living Podcast. In this podcast series, we introduce you to a bigger world full of communities that are safe, welcoming, beautiful, and sometimes undiscovered. A better world, too. A friendly, warm, great value world where you could live richer, travel more, invest for profit, and enjoy a better life. So let's get started. 

Greetings, everyone, and welcome to the International Living Podcast. You heard right. We've changed the name of the podcast starting with this episode. Why? Well, thanks to you, our listeners, the podcast has become very popular. In fact, each week our show is downloaded more often than 99% of the podcasts out there on the web. 

We still will be bringing you a bigger, better world, but changing the name to the International Living Podcast will allow us to expand to an even bigger audience and bring our listeners a wider range of topics from around the globe. And that's not the only thing different about this episode. As I mentioned last week, Rita and I were about to set off on our long-delayed roving retirement plan. That's right, we practice what we podcast here. And as we record this episode, Rita and I are in Thessaloniki, Greece, after a great week in Athens, and we're about to head to Istanbul in a few days as we continue a nine-week romp through Europe.

Since more and more people are opting to spend months at a time abroad instead of choosing one destination to settle down, the folks at International Living thought this would be a good opportunity to explore how we reached this decision and how we prepared for roaming. Also some of the logistics of planning that international lifestyle we talk about on the show. So to help us out here, international Living's Panama editor, Jessica Ramesch, has agreed to switch things up and make me the guest of today's podcast. So let me welcome the host of today's podcast, Jessica Ramesch. Thanks for helping us out here, Jessica.

Jessica Ramesch 02:14 
Thank you, Jim, for having me. And how fun that we're turning the tables today. I get to be the one asking you about your travels and what an ambitious tour you've planned and continued to add to right when opportunities presented themselves.

Jim Santos 02:29. 
Right. We fully admit that we're overcompensating on this trip.

Jessica Ramesch 02:35 
Now, you and Rita are traveling around Europe, and you've lived in different places. When I first met you, you were living in Ecuador. You were there for quite a while. When did you first start thinking about this roving retirement where instead of just sort of committing to one place and living there year round or six months of the year, you're getting to explore a lot more?

Jim Santos 03:00
Well, as someone who's traveled yourself, you know what part of the problem…now, we lived in Ecuador and we loved it. But once I started writing for IL, we also started traveling around the country, so we'd have more to write about and the more you see, the more you want to see. So we ended up also going to Peru and hiking the Inca Trail. We went to Uruguay, and then since we were so close, we went over to Buenos Aires, and you start to wonder at some point, what else am I missing? Plus, we met some people during our travels who were doing the Roving Retirement thing in one way or another, so that's what originally got us thinking about it.

Jessica Ramesch 03:37 
Very cool. So when did this happen? When did you start thinking about it and what sort of went into the decision when you were planning on where to go and how to structure things?

Jim Santos 03:50 
It was probably about 2017 or so. After we did our Galapagos Island trip, we started deciding that we really loved Ecuador. But the problem with Salinas was that we were two hours from an international airport, and that was just a little too difficult. And trying to maintain a property in one foreign country while you're traveling to others just kind of added a layer of problems to that. Plus, we also have, between us, four children and nine grandchildren, so it was necessary to have some kind of return to the States from time to time. So we decided the best thing we could do was to sell our condo in Ecuador and purchase a home in a State that didn't tax your income and had mild weather and was kind of central to all the kids. So that's how we ended up in Knoxville, Tennessee, late in probably 2018.

Jessica Ramesch 04:45 
Right. And then how did the Lockdown years affect your thoughts on travel and doing a Roving retirement?

Jim Santos 04:54 
Well, as you know, it was very frustrating. We had set up our home base. We bought an investment home that we were going to rent out then, so we'd have income while we were traveling, and we finished all this just about the time that COVID clamped down all travel. So we were kind of stuck. So I ended up writing books for a couple of years because we couldn't travel, so I could at least talk about it once travel started becoming more available. 
We started thinking about it then, and unfortunately, we had a serious illness in the family that kind of delayed it last year. So finally this year, around April, it's when we finally said, if we're going to do this, we have to go ahead and start.

Jessica Ramesch 05:40 
Yeah. And it's so wonderful that you were able to use that investment property to help sort of fund this trip and this lifestyle. Really?

Jim Santos 05:50 
Yeah, it's very nice. You have to have some sort of plan, and we're lucky that things worked out for us that way.

Jessica Ramesch 05:56 
Yeah. You're channeling your funds toward experiences. Now, how did you settle on the current itinerary? And I know you've had a couple of different iterations. You've added on to it a little bit. I see. But tell me what the thought process was you probably have a bunch of places you still want to see in the world.

Jim Santos 06:16 
Of course. Yeah. Well we started out with just talking about what's something that we would really like to see. What's really high there on the bucket list and something that was high on it for both of us was Athens, Greece. We'd seen some of the ancient monuments in South America and now we wanted to see the ones in Europe and we've been to Rome and what better place to go to further that education than Athens, Greece? So that was kind of our first target.

Jessica Ramesch 06:45 
Yeah, definitely makes sense. And you have already been now on this trip to Athens, Mykonos and Thessaloniki.

Jim Santos 06:54 
Yes, we're actually in Thessaloniki right now. We didn't make it to Mykonos and that's an important thing that I should probably talk about. As far as planning, we found a very inexpensive one-way flight to Athens and we thought as long as we're in Athens and Greece we might as well see a couple of the islands. And Thessaloniki kind of appealed to us, up in Macedonia, second largest city in Greece. We thought it'd be a little bit more authentic and less touristy. The problem is though, no matter how well you make your plans, things change. So we were in Athens packing up and ready to go to Mykonos when we got an email that the Hellenistic Seamen’s Association had decided that they were going to strike on the day that we were supposed to go to Mykonos. So you have to be able to roll with the punches when you're traveling.

Jessica Ramesch 07:49 
Like this though you really do.

Jim Santos 07:52 
Yeah. It's important to keep a good attitude. You can really get hung up on worrying about this and that. But the interesting thing was it really didn't disturb us that much. It was know what's the downside? We have to spend a few more days in Athens and eat wonderful Greek food.

Jessica Ramesch 08:10 
Yeah. And I think what you said about just expecting it and having a good attitude about it makes all the difference because if you're expecting it and you've decided that you're going to have a good attitude about it then when things come up it's just not as upsetting because you're sort of mentally prepared for it, isn't it?

Jim Santos 08:29 
Right. You have to understand that when you're traveling to a foreign land, especially an, itinerary as ridiculously complicated as ours is. And again, I admit we definitely overcompensated here. You just know something is going to change. 

To give you an idea of the complexity here, we picked Greece as a target and then we're in Greece and we figure, well, you know, Greece is just across the water from Turkey. We really ought to go see Istanbul while we're that close. So naturally a week in Istanbul becomes part of the plan and then, well, why don't we just head north and go see Vienna? Always wanted to see Vienna. And while we're in Vienna, it's only an hour and a half train ride over to spend a day in Budapest. Right. So we'd be crazy not to do that. Right. Then from Vienna, we decided we go to Prague for a few days. 

So you know, we weren't sure where we were going to go from there. And as we talked about it, we realized that we had both also harbored this secret desire to see Croatia. And I have no idea where that came from, but we both really wanted to see Croatia.

So we ended up planning another 13, 14 days visiting four different cities on the coast of Croatia. So now we're ready to go home. And it seemed a shame to fly back to Athens because we'd already been to Athens. So I looked around and found a very cheap flight from Dubrovnik in Croatia to Barcelona in Spain. And again we start thinking, well, we can't just land in Barcelona and then take off again. Right? That would be crazy. So we end up spending another week in Barcelona. We planned on going from Barcelona back to the US. But our flight on a Portuguese airline changed planes in Lisbon and I found out this particular air carrier has something that's called extended layovers. In fact, I wrote a short article for it in a recent International Living magazine. So, we could get a reduction on our flight by staying a few days in Lisbon. So naturally we'd be crazy not to, right?

Jessica Ramesch 10:46
So true. And Jim, you're naming some of my favorite cities and some of my top bucket list cities. So turning a little green over here. I can't lie.

Jim Santos 10:57
Well, you know, what's nice about this is our six years in Ecuador and traveling around in and you know, we've been to Italy before and France and some other countries. Once you've done some traveling, it kind of takes a lot of the stress and the concern and the worry out of it. It becomes just another trip. It's like traveling around the States suddenly.

Jessica Ramesch 11:22 

Jim Santos 11:23 
So it's very easy to be flexible. While we're in Dubrovnik, we're probably going to take a day trip into Montenegro again, just because it's so close. And while we're in Pula in Croatia, it's only an hour and a half drive to go into Trieste, Italy. So if we can be sure the car rental company will allow us to take it across the border, we're going to go ahead and try to shoot into Italy. 

And that's the really interesting thing about Europe is that everything seems to be so close and transportation between the countries and the cities seems to be so inexpensive. Once you get here, it really makes sense to stay as long as you can and see as much as you can.

Jessica Ramesch 12:06 
It really does. And for those of us, you and I, Jim, who have lived in Latin America, which should be easier to travel around, but it's behind in its development. It's not going to be at the same place where Europe is now. You get over the pond, as they like to call the Atlantic, and figure out how easy it is there. And like you say, it would be crazy not to take advantage as much as we can.

Jim Santos 12:30 
Right. For instance, while we're in Vienna to get to Prague, from there it was just €32 for the train ride. And that's for both of us.

Jessica Ramesch 12:40 
Imagine that.

Jim Santos 12:41
So about $35 for the two of us to go to another country and visit a wonderful capital city.

Jessica Ramesch 12:47 
Yeah. And what gorgeous cities those are. And I would absolutely love to get to Istanbul as well. Before we talk about Istanbul and Haghia Sophia and all of that good stuff, let's go through some of the places that you've just seen and let me know if this is the first time I think that you're seeing these places. So starting with Athens, home to the first known democracy, the city that got its name from Athena, goddess of wisdom and courage, favorites foods. What struck you about Athens?

Jim Santos 13:21
It was really an interesting place. I should mention that for most of these stays, we're staying at Airbnbs. So planning the trip was a mix of finding transportation and finding Airbnbs that were in the areas that we wanted to be in. For the most part, we're finding that they cost half or less of what it would cost to stay in a hotel, for instance. And it's important to pick the Airbnb that's central to the area where you want to be.

Jessica Ramesch 13:51 

Jim Santos 13:52 
So we were in a lovely little area of Athens, a couple of restaurants just a block from us, and a little convenience store just a block from us, convenient to busses. We were less than a mile from the Acropolis. So there were a lot of things that we could just walk to or take a cab to and then walk back. But of course, the Acropolis and the Parthenon is just stunning. 

We had the same feeling when we hiked the Inca trail. You look at these places that are kind of iconic. I mean, everybody's seen pictures of the Parthenon and pictures of Athens, and you feel like, you know what it's going to be like. But when you're actually standing there in front of it and looking at it, I'm getting the goosebumps right now. Again, just talking about it, it's just really incredible. And Europe has this sense of history that we don't have in the United States. You go back 300, 400 years and that's pretty much it. Other than kind of Neolithic stuff, the Native Americans didn't build the huge stone structures that last centuries.

Jessica Ramesch 15:04 

Jim Santos 15:05 
So you get to a place like Athens and you have these buildings that have been there for 2000 years, 2500 years, and it's just staggering and kind of humbling to walk around and see all of this work. So that was really impressive. We also really love the Roman agora there and the museum at the Agora, and really just walking around the city, very walkable city. And I really can't say enough about the food. Some of my friends have been complaining we send too many pictures of food.

Jessica Ramesch 15:44 
I'm turning green again, Jim, because food is one of my favorite things about travel.

Jim Santos 15:49 
Oh, yeah. We had to try moussaka. We had some baklava. I've got a big piece of baklava waiting for me when we're done with this interview.

Jessica Ramesch 15:59 
You can reward yourself there.

Jim Santos 16:01 

Jessica Ramesch 16:02 
For a job well done.

Jim Santos 16:05 
We both feel like when you're traveling, you do need to sample the local culture, and that includes sampling the local foods. Sometimes it's kind of hit or miss, and we're a little bit concerned, maybe in Istanbul what we're going to be finding, but you got to take that chance. And so far here in Athens and in Thessaloniki, we have not had a bad meal. Just everything has been really wonderful.

Jessica Ramesch 16:34 
Yeah. And if you do come across anything not so great, those make some of the best trip stories, too.

Jim Santos 16:41 
Right. Right.

Jessica Ramesch 16:43 
My first time backpacking around Europe, I was raised strict vegetarian, and our joke was that no matter how many languages I spoke in the countries that we visited, I speak Italian. My French is pretty good. I know how to say I don't eat pork or meat or chicken. But in all of those countries, Jim, they got the no beef, they got the no chicken, but by golly, pork is not meat. And so all of my vegetables wrapped in pork. We decided that pork was vegetarian.

Jim Santos 17:17 
Yeah. Here, I think you call it pink salmon. Right.

Jessica Ramesch 17:22 
Isn't that what they call man?

Jim Santos 17:27 
Thessaloniki has been an interesting contrast to Athens also. Athens is all about the tourism, but Thessaloniki is a working city now. There are cruise ships that come in, and there are, of course, tourist attractions, but it's really a completely different vibe from Athens. It's much more relaxed. People seem to be in less of a hurry around us here. So really glad we chose to come here to Thessaloniki, too, and get an idea of something about Greece other than just Athens.

Jessica Ramesch 17:59 
Does it feel more authentically Greece to you, Jim?

Jim Santos 18:04 
The area that we're in now, we're fairly close to where the cruise ships come in, so this particular area is not really and because this is a big university town, too, the largest university in the Balkans is here, Aristotle University. And because of that, you see a lot of English on the signs, and in the buildings, there'll be some Greek and some English. But today we went up to the old city up at the top of the hill here, the Acropolis of Thessaloniki. And that was definitely very much you were aware that you're in a foreign country there, visited a monastery that was just incredibly peaceful up there. 
And that's why one of our favorite things to do in a country is walk. You miss all that. I mean, hop-on hop-off busses are great, but you miss that if you don't walk through the city and see where the locals are eating and what the locals are doing.

Jessica Ramesch 19:00 
Absolutely. It's so nice to be able to take that time. And such an interesting history in Thessaloniki, named after the sister of Alexander the Great, whose influence went all the way to where my family's from in India.

Jim Santos 19:13 
Yeah. Yeah. It's a really historic area that you don't think about most of the time.

Jessica Ramesch 19:18 
Yeah, I never would have thought about it, but you've got it on my radar today. Now, Jim.

Jim Santos 19:26 
I have to say also a recent article I did for Il was about eSIM cards where there are embedded sims that are on newer phones that you can go to a website and purchase a SIM for. That country or group of countries, download it onto your phone and be able to get data in that country just out on the street, anywhere. And I'm happy to say that worked out really great. For $20 each for a month, we have this eSIM that will be usable in 39 countries of Europe.

Jessica Ramesch 20:01 
How amazing.

Jim Santos 20:02 
Everywhere that's on our list.

Jessica Ramesch 20:04 

Jim Santos 20:05 
It's just great.

Jessica Ramesch 20:06 

Jim Santos 20:07 
When the plane landed in Athens, as soon as I turned on the phone, it came right up, and I was getting my emails. I was able to use WhatsApp I was able know, call for taxis and do everything that you need to do on a phone. Kind of take for granted when you have a SIM for that country, it's incredible.

Jessica Ramesch 20:26 
Jim. You don't have to be looking for Wi Fi at restaurants and cafes. You're just up and running and can find the info you need or even do a Google Translate if you need to. And that's another thing I wanted to ask you about, Jim. Accounts that I heard from the early 2000s about traveling around Greece were that despite what a huge tourist destination it whas, has always been that there were not a lot of English speakers. So how are you finding it communicating now? Are there a lot more English speakers now that it's not an issue, or are you making use of technology?

Jim Santos 21:00 
Well, let me say, first of all, that we've been here almost two weeks now, and I'm getting to the point where I can actually read Greek characters. I don't know what it says. I don't know what I'm saying, but I can read them now. But, no, as I said here, a lot of the signs are in English. Most menus are also in English. We've run into a lot of English speakers, especially in the restaurants and in the tourist areas. We really haven't had any trouble communicating. I learned how to say hello. Iassu is hello. Something that really annoys me is nay means yes. And we learned how to say thanks.

Jessica Ramesch 21:50 

Jim Santos 21:50 
And you'd be surprised how far you can get with efkharisto and of course, Milos Anglika.? Do you speak English?

Jessica Ramesch 21:59 
Great phrase.

Jim Santos 22:00 
So we were kind of prepared to run into problems, but it really hasn't been an issue. The biggest issue we've had is operating the washing machines. All the dial settings are in Greek, and for that we do use technology. Google Translate has a camera feature, so you can point the camera at it and it will translate and you can read what's on the dial and get your clothes washed. So that's been very amazing.

Jessica Ramesch 22:30 
You know, that's funny, Jim, because even in countries where I speak the language, I find washing machines and dryer situations. Those are the things that to me are different in every country and hard to understand. Even when I went to Argentina, I was like, these machines are completely different.

Jim Santos 22:47 
Yeah, washing machines and coffee machines seem to be the big problems.

Jessica Ramesch 22:51 

Jim Santos 22:53 
I'll tell you another little technology tip. We weren't really thinking about this when we did it, but we got air tags to put on our luggage, so if the luggage got lost, you can track it. And we found that's very helpful. If you're out walking around the city, you can just go to your phone and look and see where your luggage is and follow it.

Jessica Ramesch 23:17 
So that you don't even have to tell Google Maps what your destination is. You just follow the luggage.

Jim Santos 23:24 
Yeah, just go and look and see where's my luggage? And we'll head toward that. Get directions to your luggage.

Jessica Ramesch 23:29 
That's awesome. Things are just getting easier. And, you know, you deserve this, you and Rita. You've done so much in your life. You've been through some tough times, too. And what does it mean for you to be able to do this now, Jim? After looking back, after everything, all the different jobs you've done, all the stuff you've been through, family life, personal life.

Jim Santos 23:54 
Right now, it's still kind of difficult to believe that we still got like, seven more weeks of this ahead of us. 48 hours from now, I'll be sitting in Istanbul. I don't think that part has really sunk in yet, but it's really a liberating feeling to be able and feel like the world is your home now. You're not limited to a certain area or a certain group of places. It's very liberating to feel like there is a world out there that you can go and explore, and it's really not that difficult anymore. 

There's so many changes to travel and technology that make it so much easier to get out and see a lot of the world. So we're really looking forward to the next seven weeks or so. We'll be back home for the holidays and then we're heading your way. We're going to spend a month in Buenos Aires in January. I'm sorry. A month in Panama City in January. And then we're going to Playa Coronado for another ten weeks or so, basically sitting out the winter. So that's going to be much more relaxed. No packing and repacking and shooting all over the place.

We're just going to sit down and relax and enjoy Panama for a while.

Jessica Ramesch 25:11 
Yeah. You'll be here during my favorite time of year, too. February especially is particularly glorious. Well, Jim, I have one more question for you. Have you read The Historian by Elizabeth Costova?

Jim Santos 25:27 
I have.

Jessica Ramesch 25:30 
I'm going to a bunch of the places, and my dream is to one day just follow that book around. It's one of my favorites. It is just the best version of a Dracula meets travel book that you can find. And when you're in Istanbul, when you're going across the river from Vienna, from Buda to Pest and Vienna and Prague, it's a fun book to have to be reading. So you'll have to let me know if you read it and what you think of it.

Jim Santos 26:08 
I'll definitely make note of that.

Jessica Ramesch 26:10 
All right, Jim. Well, I look forward to hearing more from you on your travels, and I look forward to seeing you and Rita here in Panama, too.

Jim Santos 26:20 
Yep, we will be there. And after that, I think we're really not sure, and that's the fun part of the roving, is not being sure where you're going. Now, we've been thinking about the British Isles and then over to France for a while, and then we've also been looking at the idea of signing up to be house and pet sitters. So you've met a few people who have traveled a lot abroad by volunteering to watch someone's house for a couple of weeks or take care of their cat.

Jessica Ramesch 26:48 
That's a great way to do it. I've got a house sitter arriving on Sunday, and I head out to Uruguay on Monday. I'm using, and so far, I've already had two great experiences as a host, and I'm sure one day I will sign up to be a sitter, too.

Jim Santos 27:05 
Yeah, I think we may actually try that come springtime. Might make it a little more interesting. Kind of throws a random element in there. Pick a country and see how long you can get a free place to stay there.

Jessica Ramesch 27:18 
Yeah, it's very cool. You find some really beautiful places. The more cities you do, the better your options get. And, hey, it's free. You get free lodging.

Jim Santos 27:29 
Right. But we've been enjoying it so far, and I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of the stuff on our trip here.

Jessica Ramesch 27:36 

Jim Santos 27:38 
Well, we've been chatting today with me. I'll keep you updated from time to time as Rita and I continue our journey, and you can look for upcoming articles, pictures, and videos from me in future International Living magazines and, of course, on the website. Jessica, thanks again for turning the tables on me here today on the International Living Podcast.

Jessica Ramesch 27:57 
Great fun. Thanks for having me, Jim.

Jim Santos 28:08 
The International Living Podcast is a production of International Living. If you enjoyed this episode and you'd like to help support the podcast, please share it with others, post about it on social media, or leave a rating and review. If you have an idea for an episode or a question you'd like us to answer, email us at And don't forget to put podcast in the subject line of your email. That's 

We created the International Living Podcast to help showcase the ideas we explore in the magazine and our other publications each month, and to grow our community of travel lovers, expats, and experts who believe, as we do, that the world is full of opportunity to create a more interesting, more international life. You don't have to be rich and famous to do that. You just need to know the secrets. And that's what we bring you at International Living. If you haven't become a member yet, you can do it today with a special discount offer for podcast listeners. You'll receive our monthly magazine, plus a bundle of special extras. You'll find the link in our show notes, or you can go to

That's In the next few weeks, I'll keep you up to date on our travels around Europe. We'll catch up with Il editor Sean Keenan in Italy, and much more. Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss an episode. Until then, this is Jim Santos from Thessaloniki, Greece, reminding you there's a bigger, better world out there just waiting for you.

When Did You Decide Upon a Roving Retirement?
Plans and Itinerary—Greece, Turkey, Austria, & More
Where to Stay and What to See and Do
Food and Flavors—Soaking up the Atmosphere the Tastiest Way
eSIM Cards—Finally, a Better Way to Keep Your Phone Connected Abroad
Language Gaps, And Some Ways to Bridge Them
Buenos Aires, Then Panama—The Next Leg on The Roving Retirement Tour
Housesitting—A Simple Way to Stay Abroad For Free
What Comes Next? Podcast And Travel Plans:

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