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Travel And Your Creature Comforts…Store or Sell?

16 Apr

In light of the fact that we have spent the last three days moving into our new apartment, it seems like the perfect time to address the question that all long-term travelers have to deal with at some point.

What are you going to do with all your stuff while you’re gone?

storage

We knew we were coming home in less than two years, and we also had planned to settle in Colorado, so we chose to get rid of the stuff that we didn’t think we’d want/need later, and we drove everything else out to Colorado and loaded it into a storage unit.  The biggest argument long-term travelers have against storing everything is that, well, it can cost a fair amount of money.  Depending on where you are, and how big of a unit you have, you could be spending anywhere from $50-$200/month.  If you are living in a city, your best bet is to drive out, usually a half-hour will do it, and you’ll find rural storage units that can cost 1/3 of what you’d spend in most major cities.

It might seem, at first glance, that the $1000-$2000 needed to keep your stuff could be better used towards travel, especially when you factor in the money you could make selling it all!  The thing is, if you know you are coming home, you need to realize that you still are going to need a bed, dressers, bookshelf, couch, TV, dishes, towels, sheets, silverware, cups, pots and pans, a microwave, etc… when you return.

We have a really nice mattress that is only a few years old.  We have basically brand new dishes, pots, pans, glassware and kitchen appliances, most of which were wedding presents.  We bought a new TV just two years before we left.  Realistically, we would have had to spend far more money to replace these items than we ended up spending to store them, even taking into account what we might have made if we sold them.  If you don’t have high quality items, or many items at all, then storing things might not be worth it, especially if you have family or friends that are willing to keep a few personal items for you.

If you go the storage route, there are some things you can do to make packing, and unpacking it all just a bit easier when you get back.

  1. Bike boxes, usually free from bike stores, are great for flatscreen TV’s or artwork/mirrors.
  2. Shredded paper is fantastic for packing material.  Just start shredding everything you’d normally recycle.  You can get a cheap shredder for $20 that will do the job nicely.
  3. P1140359Number your boxes.  Then, make a list where you give a basic description of what’s in each number box.  For most things it can be as simple as just labeling the room the box should go in.  There are a few things you’ll want to name specifically though – like your wifi router, or the corkscrews…
  4. Tape up all the edges of the boxes.  It’s a pain, but it’s incredible how much dust can sneak into boxes from those edges that weren’t taped.
  5. Make sure you have a super thick, high quality mattress protector.  In addition, wrap your mattress (and box spring if you have one) in another layer, or two of thick plastic.  If the plastic isn’t thick enough it will tear, which leaves your mattress open to moisture (and mold…ick) and bugs.  If you are going to bother to keep it, keep it right.
  6. If you store your mattress upright, make sure it is exactly upright, and stack boxes flush with it so it doesn’t sag.
  7. Cover the furniture in some kind of sheet or cloth in the storage unit.  We didn’t.  It was a mistake that required many hours of cleaning.
  8. Put wooden palates down on the floor of the storage unit.  This will give you some protection in case of minor water leakage inside the unit.

Storing your belongings isn’t for everyone, but if you know you are coming home eventually, and you have even a few expensive items that you’d like to keep for the future, it might be worth it in the long run.

If you are a long-term traveler and have a different solution for dealing with your ‘stuff’ while you’re gone, let us know in the comments!

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The Indonesia Roundup

5 Feb

map_of_indonesia

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  30

Cities/towns visited –  Kuta, Bali; Ubud; Bali, Padang Bai, Bali; Gili Air, Lombok; Sengigi, Lombok; Kuta, Lombok

Number of different lodgings – 7

Flights – 0

Bus journeys – 4

Boat rides – 3

Taxi  journeys – 5

The Budget

indonesia chart

Total US dollar amount spent – $2054.14

Average cost per day, per person – $34.24

Average lodging cost per night, per person – $7.45

Most expensive lodging, per person – $12.50 for a private cabana with bath at Banana Cottages on Gili Air.  It was an ok value, though it would have been better if it included breakfast.  The cabanas were brand new though, and were cleaned every day, which was a huge treat for us.

Least expensive lodging, per person – $3.65 for a private double with bath (cold shower, toilet, no sink) including breakfast at Tri Putri homestay in Kuta, Lombok.  It’s a basic surfer compound but we had our own room with a fan and bathroom, unlimited banana pancakes (really crepes) for breakfast, a little patio area with a  drying rack, and it was just on the edge of the village.

Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $12.20 – We ate out exclusively, everything from $1.00 Mie Goring (the local cheap noodle dish) to more Western style meals, mostly on Gili Air.  We also drank copious amounts of beer.

The Best

Chill Out Bungalows and Bar on Gili Air – This was the most consistently decent Western food we had in Indonesia.  It’s beachfront and they have free wifi that actually works.  They have tables inside, little surfer decks (most have some cover) outside, and lounge chairs on the beach that you can use all day if you order something, even just a bottle of water.

Cheap cheap cheap Magnum ice cream bars.

Corner Warung, in Ubud, Bali (on the corner of JL Raya Ubud and JL Sugriwa) – Really great food for cheaper than comparable places.  The Thai beef salad and the BLT’s are the best.

Tude’s Family homestay in Ubud, Bali (on Sugriwa St not far from where the street branches off from JL Raya Pengosekhan.  There’s also an entrance on Gang Menda.  Call ahead – 081 338 227 008) – It’s walkable from the Perama bus stop and the town center, but far enough out to have a real neighborhood feel.  He’s got two rooms, one with a double bed, one with two twins, both have their own bathrooms.  The rooms are new and spotless, and come with breakfast , afternoon tea, and towels.  Prices vary, depends what you negotiate, but we paid around $7 per person in the shoulder season.

Paying a few dollars to spend the day lounging around at fancy hotel pools.  Lots of places will let you do this, just ask around until you find one you like.  Biyukukung Suites and Spa, on JL Sugriwa #89 near Tude’s is great because it feels like you are in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by rice fields.  There’s an upper and a lower pool, the lower is much more private.

Super cheap local food – you can get a plate of Nasi Campur (rice based dish) or Mie Goreng (noodle based dish) for a dollar or two at many local places.  Quality varies, so ask around about good places.  This particular plate we found at a tiny little place in Ubud for $1.  It was pretty good, and Justin ate a total of 3 full plates in one sitting.

We took a cooking class at Casa Luna one day, and we were very pleased with the value.  It’s a group class, so you don’t get to do everything, but there’s TONS of food and it’s really interesting to see the curries made from scratch, especially since they take a fair amount of effort if you are hand grinding all the ingredients.  We took a class on a day with the market tour and it was great to be able to wander around the local market with a guide who could tell us a little more about the food and spices that we were buying to cook with.

The Worst

The never-ending calls of ‘taxi/transport/massage?!?’ you get while walking down the street.

Kuta, Bali.  Wow.  I mean, we somehow just had no idea that Bali is to Australians what Mexico is to Americans, meaning a place to get crazy drunk for super cheap, or a place to stay in nice resorts for a fraction of what you’d pay in Australia.  We were expecting paradise, but Kuta just reminded us of Cancun…only tackier.    It’s the place to be if you want super cheap t-shirts/sarongs and a souvenir penis in the form of a bong, bottle opener, lamp or just about anything else you can imagine and you can get them in wood, plastic, aluminum, or disco ball style.  You can also find a full range of some of the most offensive stickers I’ve ever seen.   Most people end up here for at least a day since the airport is here, but it was our least favorite place in our entire 15 month trip.

The Cambodia Roundup

30 Oct

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –   4

Cities/towns visited – Siem Reap, Chong Kneas, Kompong Pluk

Number of different lodgings – 1

Flights – 0

Bus journeys – 1

Boat rides – 1

taxi  journeys – 1

Rickshaw rides – 7

Bike rentals – 1

Attempted extortion by border officials – 1

The Budget

Total US dollar amount spent –$ 348.60 including $40 in visa fees

Average cost per day, per person -$43.58

Average lodging cost per night, per person – $7

We only stayed at one place during our time in Cambodia – The Phrom Roth Guesthouse – $14 for a HUGE room with AC, private bath and wifi.  The only room they had was for 3 people and cost slightly more than we would have paid for a double room, but we arrived at night and didn’t want to waste a lot of time searching for a place in the dark.  We had already looked at a few other places in a similar price range, but this was easily the nicest.  They also had a FREE water re-fill service which saved us probably $8-10 during our stay so it worked out very well in the end.

Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $9.75  You can eat at anything from local street stands to very nice Western Restaurants.  Some days we spent $12 each on food, other days we spent $6.  We also drank a lot of beer here as there were .50 cent draughts all over the place.

The Best

Angkor Wat – This really goes without saying, but if you are in Siem Reap, this is what you are here to see.  This was my second trip and it was just as awesome as the first time, even with the HUGE increase in tourists.

Too many people to deal with pre-dawn…

FYI, if you want to get the classic reflecting sunrise shot at Angkor Wat, you will need to battle for your spot in the massive crowds that gather along the edge of the little reflection puddle.  We took one look at the mob and opted to go to the other side of the road, skipping the classic shot, but still seeing a lovely sunrise.

Breakfast at Temple Club – This was a pretty good deal for a hearty breakfast.  The cheese omlette is large and comes with a huge baguette, fried tomato, and a tiny little juice for $2.50.

Pumpkin curry from the local food stalls that line the market.

We heart cheap beer.

50 cent mugs of beer from most places in town.

Hammocks and beer.

If you rent a bike you can ride the 11 kilometers out to the boat launch for the incredibly touristy floating village Chong Kneas.  We rode out there, but didn’t end up taking the boat since we found what we consider to be a much better option for whiling away the afternoon.  All along the road before the village are little local restaurants where you can lounge about in a hammock with a beer and a great view of the rice fields.  With the bike you also get the chance to see the villages along the way.

The Worst

The border crossing at Poipet can be a pain in the ass.  If you pay in Thai Baht you are getting ripped off.  If you let someone buy your visa for you ahead of time you are getting ripped off.  If you pay the extra ‘fee’ the border officials ask for, you are being ripped off.  The visa costs – for US citizens at least – $20, payable in USD.  That’s it.  Don’t pay more. When we were asked for extra I smiled politely and shook my head ‘no’.   There is a ton of info about the crossing on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum as well as on Travel Fish so I won’t reinvent the wheel here.

We found the ‘tour’ of Kompong Pluk, a stilted village, to be a bit of a rip off.  The village itself is interesting enough to see, but it takes about 40 minutes in a tuk-tuk (about $15 round-trip) to get to the boat launch, then an hour in a little boat to get to the village itself.  We were taken around in the boat for about 20 minutes through the main town area, and then returned to the boat launch.  In the guidebook the price was listed as $8 per person, but when we arrived it had risen to $20 per person.  We balked at this and turned around to leave but it was low season so we ended up getting a ‘discounted’ price of $25 total.  It just wasn’t worth even the discounted cost for how little time you actually spend in the village, especially considering our boat guy didn’t say a single word to us the entire time.

The Nepal Roundup

23 Oct

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  31

Cities/towns visited – Kathmandu, Bhulbule, Ghermu, Karte, Chame, Upper Pisang, Manang, Ledar, Muktinath, Kagbeni, Jomsom

Number of different lodgings – 16

Flights – 1

Bus journeys – 3

Taxi  journeys – 11

Rounds of antibiotics – Justin-1, Ashley-5

The Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – $1289 including visa fees of $80 for the two of us and $188 for air tickets from Jomsom to Pokhara.

In addition, we incurred $1500 in hospital bills.  Our insurance paid for everything except the overnight fees, which were far more than the maximum covered amount of $50 per night that World Nomads provides.  We didn’t include that bill in the general roundup cost breakdowns since it was more than we spent otherwise for the entire month.  Incidentally, if you get very ill while in Kathmandu, the CIWEC clinic, just across from the British Embassy, is the place to be.  It’s clean and staffed with mostly Western doctors who speak a variety of languages.

Average cost per day, per person – $21.50 If you take the plane tickets out of the equation (you can take busses that will save you nearly the entire cost of the flight…though we felt the cost was WELL worth it considering how scary the bus rides were) that number drops to around $18.  If you only ate at cheap local places and really hunted for the most basic economic rooms, you could probably live on $12 per day.

Average lodging cost per night, per person – $2.70

Most expensive lodging, per person – $5.60 for a double room with bathroom and AC at the Karma Travelers Hotel in Kathmandu.  We booked this online specifically because they included an airport pickup and it was recommended in the guidebook.  We stayed only two nights before we found better, and cheaper accommodation elsewhere.

Least expensive lodging, per person –  $.56 for a double room with shared bath at the Hotel Nilgiri in Manang on our Annapurna Hike. This place had fantastic yak cheese and fresh bread for sale.

Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $8.90.  Breakfast was not included at any of our hotels and we generally ate three meals per day.  Accommodation is cheap on the Annapurna Circuit, but you spend quite a bit on food.  In Kathmandu we ate at more Western-style restaurants, which were more expensive, but it was what we were craving after 13 day of Dhal Baht on the trail. We had only four beers the entire time we were in Nepal as it was relatively expensive and we didn’t drink while trekking.

The Best

Rooftop at the Hotel Backpackers Inn

Hotel Backpackers Inn in Kathmandu – We stayed here for 2 nights before our trek, and then for two weeks afterwards.  We left our luggage there during the trek, including our computers, and there were no problems since they have lockers that you can store your valuables in and you are responsible for the keys. Pre-trek our room was $9 per night for a double room with a fan, private bathroom, TV, and wifi.  After the trek we negotiated a rate of $6.75 per night since we knew we were staying for longer than a few nights.  Prices would definitely be higher during peak season.  The managers were very kind and helped Justin with contacting the embassy for doctor recommendations when I was sick.

OR2K in Kathmandu – This restaurant has good Middle Eastern food, including a mezza platter that was big enough for Justin and I to split.  They also make really good salads.

Beef Noodles

Chinese (Sichuan) Restaurant next to Hotel Backpacker’s Inn in Kathmandu –  An excellent spot for a cheap meal, they have some hilarious menu translations that include things like ‘Tiger Skin Fry Pepper’ and ‘And Pulled A Red Leather’.  We ate a variety of things there, but our favorites were the Rice with King Pao Chicken and the Beef Noodles, which is a HUGE and delicious vat of soup.

Northfield Café in Kathmandu – Justin has a burrito problem.  This was the only place we had been in the last few months that served a burrito that was even close to what he wanted it to be like.  They have a good mix of food, nice outdoor seating, and live music every night.  It’s a little pricey, but that’s what you have to expect if you want passable Western food.

Monsoon season? I don’t see any monsoon!

The Annapurna Circuit – We dove right into this classic hike, despite the fact that it was the middle of the monsoon season and we were in no kind of shape for a trek this big.  It turned out to be one of the greatest experiences of our lives and I wouldn’t go back and change a single thing, leeches, blisters, dramatic meltdowns and all.  We met wonderful people, pushed ourselves harder than we thought possible, and fell in love with the spectacular scenery.  If you are in Nepal, make time for a trek, even if it’s a short one.

The insanity that is the backpacker area of Thamel in Kathmandu. You can buy just about anything here…

Shopping – We didn’t do much shopping here, partly because I didn’t have the energy after I was sick, and partly because we don’t have any room in our packs.  However, if you want cheap mountain gear, this is the place to be.  There are literally hundreds of stores selling knock-offs of everything you can imagine, from backpacks to down jackets, to sleeping bags and poles and water bottles and….the list goes on and on.  Certain things, like backpacks and boots, I’d be wary of since they won’t fit or function as well, but otherwise you can get some great deals here.  We rented knock-off sleeping bags for the trek (at a whopping .50 cents per day) and they were fantastically warm and comfortable.  We could have bought a down “North Face” sleeping bag for about $20. When we come back I’m going to arrive with an empty suitcase and just buy all my gear there.  Make sure you bargain, the first offer price is usually very ambitious.

The Worst

Typical crowded bus

The bus rides.  I mean, we thought we took some scary rides in S. America, but the rides in Nepal were literally the most terrifying experiences of our lives.  I am not kidding when I say that more than once I thought we might actually tumble down a cliff in one of these death traps on wheels.  In fact, according to some statistics (please know that in a place like Nepal the statistics are a bit vague, so don’t think these numbers are carved in stone…) there are over 1,500 deaths per year due to buses tumbling off the sides of the mountains.

On our bus from Kathmandu to Besi Shahar to start the Annapurna Circuit, we saw the wreckage of one bus that had already crashed down the cliff to the river below AND we passed a dump truck that had just started to go over the edge, fortunately it was only half off the cliff and I’m pretty sure that was only because the back end was full of rocks.

We took a smaller bus to another little town that same day and it was swaying back and forth as it tried to go up a tiny cliff-side road that was completely washed out in some places, and so muddy and rutted in others that the wheels were spinning and we were almost sliding backwards at one point.  The bus was completely overloaded with four people in seats made for two, and yet more people packed like sardines into the isle.  In addition, there was something like 15 people on the roof (which, as it turns out, might be the safest place to be since in a fall you can just fling yourself off the bus and hope for the best instead of tumbling all the way down the mountain inside it), along with everyone’s luggage, a goat, three or 4 baskets full of chickens and 8 or 10 full propane tanks.   I was having a visible panic attack at this point and a little boy next to us decided this would be the perfect time to pipe up and proclaim “This very danger part! Sometimes the bus fall down…”

We had a choice of transport – airplane or bus – to get us from Jomsom to Pokhara at the end of our trek.  We know a couple who opted for the bus route back to save money, and after one day they decided they would just walk for the next four days to get back rather than risk one more minute on the bus.  We went for the plane, which brings me to the second worst thing in Nepal.

Our itty bitty plane

The tiny 15-seater propeller airplanes that fly through the mountains – we took one of these from Jomsom to Pokhara to avoid two or three days worth of bus rides like the ones I just described, and it comes in a close second as far as scary moments go for us.

The flight in and of itself turned out not to be so bad, but the anticipation was pretty awful since we could see the wreckage of a flight that had crashed into the mountain right above the town just a few months before.

Not my favorite thing to look at while heading down the runway.

It freaked me out just having to look at it from the town, but when we got into the plane and I realized I could see it out my window as we were heading down the runway I just about lost it.  I’ve never had so many panic attacks as I did in Nepal.  The woman sitting behind Justin had a death grip on his shoulder and was praying vigorously the entire flight.  Still, given the choice between this and a bus, I choose this.

The India Roundup

9 Oct

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  33

Cities/towns visited – Mumbai, Aurangabad, Madgoan, Hampi, Mysore, Bangalore, New Delhi, Jodhpur, Pushkar, Jaipur, Agra

Number of different lodgings – 13

Flights – 1

Bus journeys – 20

Train trips – 10

Boat rides – 6

Taxi  journeys – 2

Rickshaw rides – 23

The Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – $1955 (includes cost of visas – $76 each)

Average cost per day, per person -$29.62

Average lodging cost per night, per person – $10.80 – We generally stayed in hotels with a private bathroom and air conditioning.  You can go much lower than this if you are on a budget, but we found that we couldn’t tolerate the lack of basic sanitation at lower price ranges.  On three occasions we splurged on much nicer rooms than we would normally take, mostly to have access to a nice pool.

Most expensive lodging, per person – $19.25 at the Welcome Hotel in Mumbai – double room with air conditioning, breakfast included, shared bath.  Not the best value, by far.

Least expensive lodging, per person –  $1.80 at the White Elephant in Hampi for a double bed bungalow with fan and private bathroom.

Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $8.18 We ate out for 3 full meals per day, mostly in local, but mid-range restaurants.  It was monsoon season and we were advised to stay away from most of the street food during this time.  We ate like royalty in this price range and you could definitely do it for less if you stuck with super cheap street food.  We had almost no alcohol in India, but if we had it would certainly have doubled our spending.

The Best

Hotel – Devi Bawhan in Jodhpur.  We stayed here for the weekend of our anniversary and while we intended to stay just one night because of the cost ($38 per night, which is a steal by Western standards and slightly cheaper than one of our hotels in Mumbai), it was so lovely that we ended up extending our stay to three days.  The hotel gardens were lovely, the rooms were very well appointed, large and clean with air conditioning that worked very well.  The pool was clean and chlorinated (not always the case with hotel pools).  The staff spoke excellent English and were kind and helpful.  It’s a little far out from the center so you must take a rickshaw to the tourist sites, but that made it a very peaceful stay.

All the food.  Seriously.  We just walked into restaurants that seemed busy and that had a price range we were comfortable with.  We ordered at random from the menu most of the time and generally the food was plentiful and delicious.

The Only Place in Bangalore – If you are craving some good ol’ American grub, this is the place to be.  They have burgers, lasagna, mac and cheese, and good apple pie.  The prices are tourist range, but the portions are big and the flavors will make you feel right at home.

The Mango Tree in Hampi – The view over the river in Hampi makes this spot stand out in our memories.  The food was consistently good, we ate here every day that we were in Hampi.  It’s a 5 minute walk outside of the main village area, but it’s not far, and it’s totally worth it.

Monsoon Mangos – Travelling during the monsoon season can be a pain.  Rain POURS in some places, and it’s hot as hell in other places.  One serious benefit of the monsoon is the abundance of delicious mangos that ripen in this period.  We gorged ourselves in Mumbai and Goa on fresh, juicy mangos that can be bought cheaply all over the place.

Mysore Palace – We’ve seen a lot of tourist sites, but this one is truly awesome.  The price is 300 times higher for tourists than for locals (the norm across India) and this is one time where it was completely worth it.  The palace is in excellent condition (no photography allowed inside, so you’ll have to take my word for it) and truly made us want to go back in time and live like Indian royalty.

Hampi – Filled with ancient temples and surrounded by a crazy landscape full of giant boulders, this turned out to be one of our favorite places in India.  The town is very mellow, the pace is super slow, but there is enough to do to keep you occupied for at least 3-5 days.  When you are all templed-out, you can rent a scooter and go zipping around the countryside to visit lakes and crazy rock formations.

Train travel – If you go to India and don’t travel by train then you are out of your mind. We took trains all over the place, everything from short 2 hour trips to long-haul 27 hour journeys.  For the overnighters we stayed in AC 3rd class, which was just fine, and on shorter trips we just went with the general non-ac standard sitting class, which was usually fine.  The trains were where we met the nicest people we encountered on our trip.  Whole families would strike up conversations, share their meals, and give us advice about where to go and what to see.  In addition, you get to see some gorgeous, and some not-so gorgeous, landscapes along the way.  You can book online using cleartrip.com (also a great resource just for checking schedules etc) but we mostly booked at the train stations using the foreign tourist counters.  In high season seats can book out as far as 3 months in advance, so be prepared to plan ahead.

The Worst

Hotel Empire International in Bengaluru – A decent location, and better priced than most things in the area, but overall a big pile of suck.  The hotel itself is generally run-down, and they lied to us about the type of room we were in – they were charging us for a ‘deluxe’ fan room even though we were placed in a standard fan room. We questioned the charges because the room didn’t seem to match their own description of ‘deluxe’ but we only knew for certain that we had been over-charged when we insisted on a room change after discovering ours had a roach infestation.  They tried to tell us they only had AC rooms left, but when we threatened to leave without paying they reluctantly changed our room to…surprise, surprise, a real ‘deluxe’ fan room.  We hadn’t been so blatantly deceived by a hotel until this point, and it left a very nasty impression.

It’s The Little Things – Essential Items for Long-Term Travel

2 Oct

Photo by Natmandu on Flickr

Earlier today, as we were trying to avoid walking through a thick stretch of tourist market in Ubud, Bali,  we were talking about how light we feel without the need to have all the ‘stuff’ that we regarded as essential for our daily lives when we were in NYC.  Our priorities have obviously shifted, and as such, our essential items have also shifted.

When we began to gather our gear for this trip we spent a lot of time thinking about what would suit our needs best.  Our packs can only hold so many things, so we wanted to make sure that we weren’t filling the space with frivolous items.  We searched other long-term travelers’ packing lists and made lists of our own.  We bought, and returned what seemed like a million different items of quick-dry clothing.  We were even running around on the last day before we left trying to gather those last minute items that we had forgotten about.

A few months ago we finished posting our own packing lists in the hopes that others might find them useful.  Today we’d like to narrow those items down into a list of little things that, as long-term travelers, we have found to be the most useful over the course of the last year.

Cheap flip-flops – This might seem obvious, but if you plan on staying in dorms these are essential for avoiding foot plague and other nastiness in the common showers.

Packing cubes – I never really understood these, but now that we pack up and move every few days I see that they are a huge lifesaver.  Nearly everything in our packs goes into a cube, and then the cubes go into our bags in a jigsaw-like manner to maximize space.  It makes it so that we can each get packed, empty to full, in just a few minutes.

Small combination lock– Again, this might seem obvious to some, but we’ve used our locks for everything from hostel lockers, to just locking our bags every day when we leave our rooms (we lock the laptops, etc inside them).  Sure, people could slice the bag open to get to our stuff, but it prevents opportunistic theft.  We also carry a little package of zip ties that we’ve used to secure smaller bags when we’ve had to leave items with a hostel (like when we go on multi-day treks).

Headphone splitter – Sometimes we want to just have a night in to be ‘normal’ and watch a movie.  These allow us to watch movies together on one laptop.

Quickdry towel – This is not my favorite item (it’s like drying yourself with a chamois), but has been one of the most useful.  We’ve stayed in many places, mostly in S. America, that didn’t provide towels, so these were essential.  In addition, when we hand-wash clothes we find that they dry more quickly when you wring them out in a towel, and these towels not only absorb tons of water, but they dry in only a few hours.

Smartphone – We brought Justin’s phone with us, even though we cancelled his plan (and it doesn’t use a SIM card so we can’t use it for calls), because we use it for an alarm clock, emergency wi-fi,  and GPS.  If we connect to wi-fi we can download maps of our destinations, which is incredibly helpful when you arrive in a new city and aren’t exactly sure where to go.  It was also essential in India where they don’t always announce train stops…without this we definitely would have missed some of our stops!

Multi plug thing – This is one of those plugs that allows you can charge 3-4 things at once.  With two laptops, two I-pods, two kindles and two cameras this allows us to make sure we’re always charged up and ready to go, even if we get a room with only one outlet.  It’s important to just get a two-pronged plug unless your voltage adapter allows for grounded plugs.  No need to go fancy with this, we picked ours up at a hardware store for less than a dollar.

Sleep sheet – We never would have expected it, but this has turned out to be one our most useful, non-clothing item on this trip.  They are made to be used when a place lacks sheets, has questionable cleanliness, or to put inside a rental sleeping bag.  We’ve used them for all these purposes, but also for loads more, including – warmth on long, cold, bus rides; as sarongs when we need to enter temples in Bali; as beach towels (they are huge, so your whole body fits on them!); and as a laundry bag.

As a counter to our favorite items, we figured we should include some of the crap we didn’t need after all:

Money belts – Justin doesn’t carry a wallet, so that solves his pick-pocket problem.  We do have an Eagle Creek money belt that we really like, and he used to wear it on the long bus rides in S. America, but honestly, we haven’t used it in at least 5 months.  We keep it around just in case. I had a more traditional money belt, and again, I used it once or twice on overnight bus rides, but other than that it just sat in my pack and wasted a little bit of space.  I got rid of this after 6 months.

Pacsafe – We got it ‘just in case’.  We NEVER used it.  We sent it home after 6 months..

Ethernet cord – In some places this might be a good idea, but we’ve found that most places have wi-fi, and if they don’t, they don’t often have wired internet either.  Not a huge waste of space, but totally unnecessary.

Tell us, what are your ‘must-have’ travel items?

Photo Friday – Taking Salt Flat Photos in Bolivia

24 Aug

We’ve seen a lot of optical illusion type photos taken in the Salt Flats of Uyuni that come out terribly fuzzy, so we thought we’d share with you how we got ours to be relatively clear.

In the photo above, Bryan looks like he is about to eat Kristin.  To get a shot like this Kristin had to be far enough away from Bryan to appear small enough to sit on the spoon.  You can eyeball this and have the person in the background move as necessary.  Whoever is taking the photo needs to be down on the ground, relative to whoever is in the foreground of the shot.  From here it’s just a matter of lining them up so that she appears to be all the way on the spoon instead of just above, or below it.  In some cases it’s easier for the photographer to move, in others you can adjust the subjects slightly.

The real trick, however, is getting all the subject to be in focus.  To accomplish this we used the manual settings on our cameras, though really you just need to be able to adjust the aperture.  We set the aperture to a high number (the higher the number, the smaller the opening that lets the light in) and then let the camera set the shutter speed.  In the first photo, we had the aperture at f29, with a 1/60 shutter speed.  We took 8 or 10 photos, adjusting the focus slightly in each one until we were happy.  Sometimes it works to focus somewhere in between the subjects, other times it works better to focus on either the front or the back subject.  At this point I can’t remember what worked best in each photo, but just take loads and you’ll be sure to get at least a few that turn out.

For some, like the jumping shots with the guidebook, the photographer has to get right down onto the ground in order for the effect to work correctly.

Again, the key for us seemed to be getting the aperture at a high setting, with a slower shutter speed.  For the jump shot we used f25 with a 1/80 shutter speed.

Good luck, and don’t forget to bring some props!

The Turkey Roundup

18 Jul

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  25

Cities/towns visited – Istanbul, Goreme, Kahta, Sanliurfa, Harran, Olympos, Selcuk, Kusadasi, Pammukale

Number of different lodgings – 9

Flights – 1

Bus journeys – 11

Boat rides – 3

Combi/collective/taxi  journeys – 13

Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – $2,445

Average cost per day, per person -$49

Average lodging cost per night, per person – $14.63 – We generally stayed in private rooms, often with our own bathroom, but in simple guesthouses.  In Istanbul we stayed in dorms because of the high lodging cost.

Most expensive lodging – Shoestring Cave House in Goreme for $22.50 per person.  This was our splurge because we wanted to stay in a cave hotel, of which there are zillions to choose from.  You can do this much cheaper if you want to stay in a dorm.  We ended up being upgraded for free to the penthouse room with our own balcony that looked out over the town and surrounding countryside.  There was a good breakfast included, wifi, and a pool.

Least expensive lodging –  Dorm bed at Red River Hostel for $11.00 per person.  This was a good little hostel, brand new, near the Galata Tower in Istanbul.  It’s a bit off the main roads, so it’s nice and quiet, but still right in the area you want to be in.  Breakfast was included, and there was wifi.

Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $13.50 – Breakfast was included everywhere we stayed, but we ate out for pretty much all dinners and most lunches.  The food was such an interesting change from S. America that we couldn’t help ourselves!  You could probably cut this number in half if you stuck to kebabs or wraps, self catered some lunches, and ate at really basic places for dinner.

Best

The beach at Olympos

Olympos – The tiny village of Olympos is on the southern coast, near Antalya.  The thing that makes it so great is that it combines two of our favorite things – Ancient historic ruins, and awesome beaches.  At the end of the main road, which is really just a string of lodgings on a dirt path, is the ancient ruined city of Olympos, which dates back to, well, a very very long time ago.  You can wander around in the ruins for a small entrance fee and at the end is a gorgeous stretch of beach on the Mediterranean.

If you’re there for a few days, buy the 10 entrance pass, it’ll save you a bundle since you have to pay to enter the ruins even if you are really just headed to the beach.  Many accommodations include breakfast and dinner.  We were there at the very beginning of June, just before the peak season hit, and had perfect weather, and a fairly peaceful stay.  We hear it gets slammed in the summer, so if you are looking for a more laid-back time you should stick to the shoulder seasons.

Muze Pass in Istanbul – This was the best deal we’ve gotten on sightseeing in ages.  The Muze Pass gets you into a heap of different attractions in Istanbul and is valid for 72 hours.  If you get to 5 places, you’ll get your money’s worth, and if you hit up at least 6, you’ll be saving yourself some cash.  You can buy it at any one of the attractions, and having it lets you skip the sometimes obscenely long ticket lines.

Vardar Pension in Selcuk – Most places we stayed in Turkey were pretty good, but we liked Vardar Pension in particular.  Breakfast was served on the roof terrace, which had a great view of the countryside.  They provided nice fluffy towels, each room had a little balcony space with ample laundry lines, and the mattresses were temperpedic-like and super comfortable.  Finally, the bathrooms were IMMACULATE.  That rarely happens, and I really appreciate having a bathroom where I don’t feel like I have to wear my flip-flops to shower.  It was also very well located, right down the block from where the bus drops off, a half-block to the local markets, and walkable distance to all the ancient sites in town. The family who runs it is kind and accommodating, which is just a bonus at this point.

Tomatoes and cherries – Literally the best tomatoes and cherries we’ve ever had.  We bought them all the time from the fruit and veg stands.  We were there starting from mid-May, so perhaps it was the right season, but still….amazing. You can get more than 2 pounds of cherries for about $1.50!!!!

Justin totally made friends with the fruit stand guys

Pictures are just so much easier…

Ozturk Restaurant in Istanbul – Galipdede Cad #72, near the Galata Tower – This is really a pretty standard type of place, but it has consistently good food (we ate there three times…) and won’t break your budget.  We were drawn to it initially because the menus are actual photos of the food.  Normally this would make me avoid a place, but when you can’t figure out what anything on the menu is, it’s a lifesaver.  The mincemeat pide is particularly good.

Getting scrubbed at the Hamam – Hamams are old-school bathhouses that are found all over Turkey.  They come in every variation imaginable, from the super basic local operations to uber-expensive spas that cater to wealthy tourists.  The gist of it is that you go in, get mostly naked (they give you a little modesty towel for walking around in), get a mud mask, relax in a sauna for a bit, lay down on a marble slab, get covered in bubbles, and get the top 14 layers of your skin scrubbed off by a burly Turkish woman (or if you are a man, you get a male attendant) who may or may not shake a mitt full of your dead skin in your face and chastise you for being so filthy. Afterwards you can usually go for a swim or another round in the sauna.  I know, it sounds odd, but I swear, it was fantastic.  You can also get massages and facial treatments at most places.

Triple scoop dipped in pistachio. Justin is in heaven

Mado Ice Cream – I am fairly certain their secret ingredient is crack.  Justin and I both agree that this is hands down, the best ice cream we’ve ever had.  That’s right, ever.  It’s a traditional ice cream made with goat’s milk, kept in a big metal bin, and dished out on a huge stick by a guy who seemed to hate his job.  There are LOADS of imposter ice creams that are served in the same fashion all over Turkey, but the original, and clearly the best (we know, we sampled…a lot) is Mado.  On our Mount Nemrut tour it was actually a specific stop in the little town it originated in to taste it at the source.  We weren’t supposed to stop there again on the way home, but we all begged the guide and driver and they finally relented.

Worst

We don’t have much to say here about places or activities in specific.  There were things that were just ‘meh’, like the tour we took to Mount Nemrut…and really that’s just because we had a lapse in judgment and forgot how much we dislike being with tour groups…but otherwise, nothing stood out as really terrible.

Perhaps the thing that annoyed us the most was how despite the fact that most of the tourist parts of Turkey are pretty well organized, there is still a huge issue with littering, especially on the beach.  People just leave garbage ALL OVER the beach.  It’s awful.  Beaches where you pay to have a chair have guys that pick up everyone’s trash, but we watched numerous sets of people just leave all their garbage behind on the free beaches (including newspapers, food scraps, soda cans, etc) when they left.  We picked up after a bunch of people, but it really pissed me off that we were at this amazing place and there was such a lack of give-a-shit about leaving your trash everywhere.

Blogging Awards!

16 Jul

A few weeks back I was somehow nominated for not one, but TWO blogging awards!

Crazy Train to Tinky Town (she’s hilarious, an English girl who packed it all in and moved to Turkey) nominated me for the One Lovely Blog award, and Turkish Musings (whose site is inexplicably dismantled, but keep checking back, perhaps it’s just an update thing?) nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award.

Thanks!

As part of the nominations, there are some rules, which are as follows:

* Thank the person who nominated you and link back to them in your post

* Share 7 things about yourself

* Nominate 15 or so bloggers you admire

* Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know (If you find that I’ve linked to you below before I’ve notified you, sorry! We have junky internet right now so it’s taking a while to get all the messages out.)

Here are my 7 things:

1) I have never broken a bone.  That’s right, never.  Watch, I’m going to trip over my own flip-flop and break both arms tomorrow…

2) I have a secret love of Spaghetti-O’s.  They are so good.  I know they are horrible for you and made of fake toxic chemicals so I don’t allow myself to eat them as a ‘responsible’ adult (unless I’m hungover, then all bets are off)…but still, I love them.

3) I am allergic to cashews and pistachios.  The best nuts I hear.  This made it quite problematic to enjoy delicious things in Turkey and Israel, as there are pistachios on everything!

4) My right foot is nearly a full shoe size bigger than my left foot.  This is why I love flip-flops so much.

5) I can barely ever remember people’s names the first few times we meet.  It’s like I get introduced to someone and instantly their name flies out of my head.  It can be embarrassing.

6) I have a childish and pathological fear of ‘under the bed’.  No kidding, even in my own house I often leap onto the bed from as far away as possible to avoid getting snatched under by whatever monster lives under there with all my old sweaters.  Don’t judge me. Please.

7) Even after all this time, I still get nervous heading out to a new country.  You’d think I’d be over it by now, but I’m not.

And now, the 15 blogs

Travel blogs

Happy To Be Homeless – Another American couple who packed it all in for a big adventure.  We met them on our cruise to Antarctica, and managed to meet up again months later to travel together through northern Argentina and Bolivia.  They have an ambitious route planned in the next year and half, so you’ll have lots of time to get to know them!

Ric and Roll – A friend of ours from New York who decided it was time for a break and set off nearly 6 months ago for his own trip around the world.  He’s currently living it up in Buenos Aires.

Positive World Travel – A couple who has recently returned to Australia after some serious extended travel.  They post a lot of videos, which we love!

One Giant Step – Gillian and Jason took off for their own RTW trip in 2009.  Even though they are back to ‘real life’, they continue to travel regularly and post great a variety of great articles.

Fluent in Frolicking – A Hawaiian girl who frolics around the world, and shares the best of her tales with the rest of us.  I particularly live her drool-worthy ‘travel porn’ photos.

So Many Places – Another couple from the US (yeah, as a couple we do tend to read about other couples…) who just started their wanderings, beginning at home with a trip around the USA to different national parks.  Stay tuned, their adventures are going to be HUGE.

The Cantaloupe Tales – a student blogger who has spent a semester studying in Morocco.  She’s hysterical!

Global From Home – A blog that sets out to prove you don’t actually have to leave home to be global.  She does weekly interviews with travel bloggers, or people who blog from abroad (we did a virtual interview with her earlier this month!) but she also incorporates food and other international tidbits into her posts.

Where’s My Toothbrush? – An adventurous girl who spends her time working in Asia and writing about her travels and day-to-day adventures.  She’s witty and honest and often makes me laugh.

Teacher Blogs – As a former teacher, I do still appreciate reading anecdotes from the classroom.  These are some of my favorites:

The Present Perfect – A former NYC teacher who hit the road to teach in Beirut, Lebanon.  Three years later and she’s still going strong!  She’s also an incredible photographer.

Bluebird’s Classroom – A middle-school science teacher who has been blogging regularly since before I started teaching, and who was a great source of inspiration to me when I was in the classroom.

Line 46 – A high school English teacher who writes about her observations, rants, raves, and the general nonsense that happens in the ed system.

Teenagers Are Ridiculous – The title says it all.  She posts anecdotes that are so hilarious that I laugh out loud regularly.  If you are not a teacher in real life you might think she;s making some of this stuff up, but I assure you, she’s not.

Other blogs – my favorite non-travel or teacher related ramblings:

Eggton – A perfect mix of funny anecdotes, fantastic food recipes (with photos) and adorable puppy photos.

Looky Here – My aunt – a professional stylist, shopper, and procurer of all things awesome – has created this fantastic blog that showcases great gift ideas. Seriously, it’s a lifesaver!  I regularly find things on here that I want for myself, and she does such a great job at posting a range of gifts that you’re sure to find something for that person in your life who is ‘impossible’ to shop for.

The Ecuador Roundup

19 Jun

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  16

Cities/towns visited – Banos, Lago Agrio, Cuyabano (rainforest reserve area), Quito, Otovalo

Number of different lodgings – 4

Bus journeys –  21

Combi/collective/taxi  journeys – 3

Boat rides – 8 short rides

Days of rain – 4

Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – $1,295

Average cost per day, per person – $40.50

Average lodging cost per person, per night – $11  We generally stayed in private rooms with our own bathroom.  Staying in dorms would have cut our costs a little, but not enough for us to deal with the hassle of sleeping in a room full of randoms.

Most expensive lodging – $11.50/person for a double room with a shared bath in Quito

Least expensive lodging – $8/person for a kinda gross dorm room with a shared bath in Quito

Average food/drink cost per day (per person) – $15.51  We had some splurge meals that upped this total, you could get by easily on half this cost for a food budget if you stuck totally to cheap set lunches and street meat for dinner.  We were pretty sick of soup, rice, potatoes and low-end meat by this point though so we opted to spend a little more and get a better variety/quality of food.

Our biggest budget buster was a 4 day trip to the Amazon, which set us back about $450, and was so totally worth it.  We booked our trip through an agency in Banos, and ended up at the Jamu Lodge, which I’d highly recommend.  All our food and lodging costs were included for those days, along with an English speaking guide and all the activities.

The Best

HostelTraveller’s Inn in Quito.  Rooms are a good price, spotless, and a huge breakfast is included.  They also have a happy hour with $1 big beers, though keep track of your tab or pay as you go, we were charged for at least 4 more beers than we really had.

Food – The encebollado soup (like a seafood and onion soup, sounds odd, but is DELICIOUS) at Picanteria y Restaurante Tiburon on Gyuaquil at Montufar in Quito.  A gigantic bowl of soup will set you back about $3.50 and comes with a little bowl of popcorn and plantains.

TourJamu Lodge 4 day Amazon tour.  I’ve said before that we don’t generally do tours but you can’t go to the Cuyabeno Amazon Reserve without a tour.

Rainforest waters at sunset

It’s a protected area of primary rainforest, and had we known how much we’d love it, we would have done a week there.  We heard you see more animals on a pampas tour in Bolivia, and compared to jungle treks there, that may be true…but I can’t imagine seeing much more wildlife than we saw in the 4 days we were on this trip.  There were multiple species of monkey, pink river dolphins, caimans, anacondas (2!), all kinds of birds and fish and bugs and and and and and!

A brave friend attempts to lick a giant “spiney lobster cricket”….blech!

The lodge was very well run, clean, and comfortable.  Our guide, Dario, was excellent.  The food was good and plentiful.  We got a better price than on their website by booking in Banos, though we didn’t realize it was a better price until later.  There are a variety of different lodges you can visit, so check out your options before you book.  They all seem relatively similar though, and are all located in the same general area.  I’ll write a full post about it eventually, but if you are on the fence about a jungle tour while in Ecuador, just do it!  It ranks in the top 5 things we did in South America for sure.

The Worst

The bus rides.  People say Bolivian buses are bad, but I’m telling you, we had worse rides in Ecuador than we ever did in Bolivia.  Cramped seating, a total lack of air conditioning or circulation, and maniac drivers that I thought were about to drive us right of off the cliff’s edge numerous times.  The absolute worst ride we had in all of South America was an overnight bus from Banos to Lago Agrio that was so cramped even I had my knees smashed into the seat in front of me.  No one would open their windows and it was horribly hot and humid.  They also oversold the bus so there were people actually laying in the isles for the whole ride.  It sucked.

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