Tag Archives: travel budget

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 Thailand Roundup

9 Jan

Thailand Map

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  19

Cities/towns visited – Bangkok, Koh Tao, Khao Sok, Phuket

Number of different lodgings – 7

Flights – 0

Bus journeys – 10

Boat rides – 4

Taxis – 3

The Budget

Thailand chart

Total US dollar amount spent – $1,642

Average cost per day, per person -$43.22

Average lodging cost per night, per person – $11.86

Most expensive lodging, per person – $32 at the Royal President in Bangkok.  I had just gotten out of the hospital in Nepal and we decided to treat ourselves to a few days at a proper hotel.  It was lovely.

Least expensive lodging, per person – It’s a tie at $6.50 for a fan room that was pretty basic at SB Cabana II on Koh Tao, and an air-con room at a dive hostel in Bangkok that was also pretty basic.

Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $17.  Generally our meals were cheap street food in Bangkok, but we splurged big time with meals on Koh Tao and ate out many times at nicer places since my brother was there to give us some great recommendations.  The alcohol accounts for probably half of this total as we made up for all that beer we didn’t drink through Turkey, Jordan, Israel, India and Nepal…

The Best

$1 Pad Thai on the street.  Practically everywhere you look, you’ll find the super-cheap pad thai carts.  They aren’t always great, but they are a great value for a huge pile of noodles with veg, and chicken/beef/prawn on request.

 

Barracuda on Koh Tao – This place is run by a chef who worked for my brother when he had his restaurant on Koh Tao, and it’s easily the best place for a nice fish meal on the island.  Their appetizers are to die for.

 

Lung Pae on Koh Tao – It’s is a bit out of the way, high up on a hill with a great view of the ocean, which makes it perfect for a sunset dinner.  If you don’t have a scooter, they’ll come pick you up.  Interestingly enough, even though it’s a Thai place, they are best known for their steaks, particularly menu item # E4.

Portobellos on Koh Tao – Craving Italian?  This is the place to be.  Excellent thin crust pizzas and a decent wine list.

Sunday Roast at Banyon on Koh Tao – Obscene amounts of comfort food for when you are feeling particularly homesick.  It’s a local’s hangout so you’ll likely encounter bar and dive staff from all over the island at this weekly feast.

Going to the movies in Bangkok –There are massive movie theaters at the tops of nearly all the big shopping centers in the Sukhamvit area.  These are no ordinary theaters though, and they range from huge and classically decorated to enormous and lavish rooms filled with couches, soft lap blankets, and bottle service.  You can choose your level of service/quality of seat (and believe me, even the regular seats are generally nicer than those you’ll find in the States).  It’s a perfect way to deal with a rainy afternoon.  Don’t forget to stand for the national anthem…for real…it’s the law.

Photo by drekne on Flickr

Massage parlors literally line the streets!

$6 massages – Massage parlors are everywhere in SE Asia, and Thailand is no exception.  They run the gamut from sleazy ‘happy ending’ factories, to luxury spas that will pamper you for hours.  We stuck to crowded places with a communal area for Thai massages (no happy endings possible in these!) and if one massage wasn’t that great, we just went for another with a different masseuse!  If you want a super luxury deal (so, not $6) at a fraction of what you’d pay in the States, head to the Jamakiri Spa on Koh Tao.  They’ll come get you for free and you can spend the day getting pampered, and then relax by their pool that overlooks Sharks Bay.

The Worst

Getting random jumbles of noodles with fish sauce at a ‘Pad Thai’ cart in Bangkok.  This happened more than once.  Watch the cart before you order to see if they are really making Pad Thai or if they are just dishing up mixed noodles and veggies to drunk tourists.

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 Jordan Roundup

14 Aug

*Right now we should be somewhere around Upper Pisang on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal*

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  5

Cities/towns visited – Wadi Musa (Petra), Wadi Rum

Number of different lodgings – 2

Flights – 0

Bus journeys – 3

Boat rides – 0

Combi/collective/taxi  journeys – 5

Days of rain – 0

The Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – $603.57

Average cost per day, per person -$60.36

Average lodging cost per night, per person – $14.29  We only stayed in one hotel (3 nights) and our 4th night was spent in the desert outside of Wadi Rum as part of a Bedouin overnight trip.  We had our own room/bathroom with just a fan in Wadi Musa (Petra), which was totally fine since the temperature drops significantly at night.  Breakfast was included.

Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $12.50.  Breakfast was included at the hotel, and they offered a great packed lunch service for about $5 which we took with us every day to Petra, and on the day we left since we had such a long bus ride to get to Amman for our flight. During our desert trip, dinner and breakfast were included.  We ate dinner out the other nights, at local budget restaurants.

The Best

Petra.  It’s just awesome.  This was the main reason we came to Jordan, and we were not disappointed by these ruins.  It’s got a hefty price tag, but it was worth it.  Do yourself a favor and spend at least 2 days exploring the site, but skip the ‘Petra by Night’.

The Treasury at Petra

The Worst

Wadi Rum and the Bedouin Meditation Camp.  We kept hearing about how great a trip to Wadi Rum was, and how we just had to go and spend a night in a Bedoiun camp.  I believe the words “magical” were used.  Yeah, well, we didn’t get it.  The deal is you take a fairly standard jeep tour of the area, then you kick back for the evening at a Bedouin style camp, have dinner, and sleep under the stars.  These trips don’t come cheap. The desert was nice enough, but not much different from some of the other desert landscapes we’ve seen.  Our guide was less than interactive, which was a huge bummer, and the camp itself was filthy with leftover food from the last trip rotting on the tables and counters, half-drunk water bottles strewn about in the sand, and used tissues littering the seating area.

The best part was sleeping out under the stars, which really is pretty awesome and on a clear night you can see basically the entire universe.  For the price, nearly $60 per person for less than 24 hours, we just didn’t think it was worth it.

To be perfectly honest, the other major problem we had, even in the very short 5 days, was the way I (Ashley) was treated by many of the men we encountered.  In the 110 degree heat, I wore long pants, and a long sleeve button up shirt the entire time.  Despite this, I was leered at nearly constantly, with the exception of when we were inside Petra.  In addition, many men did things like wink and lick their lips at me, or made mildly obscene comments as they passed me.  All of this was done right in front of Justin, who was angered, but didn’t really know what to do to stop it.  I want to point out that not EVERY man we crossed paths with behaved this way, but it was enough that I was ready to leave on day 3.

On the first day, we shared a taxi from the border of Israel, to Wadi Musa (a 3 hour drive into the desert where Petra is located) with two single girls, one of whom chose to sit in the front seat for the long ride since she is prone to motion-sickness.  At one point the driver reached over to her and began to stroke her hair and her neck, and we had to ask him to pull over so she could switch seats with Justin who was with me in the back.  She too was in a long skirt and long sleeved shirt.  It was wildly inappropriate, and I found it very bold that he would behave this way with all of us, including Justin, in the car.  We would have gotten a new taxi if we hadn’t been out in the middle of nowhere.

I was disappointed by these situations and felt a bit defeated, especially since we’d heard so many lovely things about Jordan.

The Israel Roundup

7 Aug

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  12

Cities/towns visited – Tel Aviv, Haifa, Akko, Jerusalem, Bethlehem (in the Palestinian Territories), Eilat

Number of different lodgings – 5

Flights – 0

Bus journeys – 6

Trains – 3

Boat rides – 0

Combi/collective/taxi  journeys – 2

Bike rentals – 1

Days of rain – 0

The Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – $1,157

Average cost per day, per person -$48.22

Average lodging cost per night, per person – $22

Most expensive lodging – Our Airbnb stay in Tel Aviv was $33.50 per person, per night, but it was well worth it since two beds in a dorm room there would have been only slightly less.  Through Airbnb we were able to stay in our own air-conditioned room, in a fantastic area, in the apartment of a lovely couple who helped make our time in Tel Aviv so much better than it would have been on our own.

Least expensive lodging – $15.75 per person for a dorm bed at Corrine Hostel.  It’s got some crappy reviews on the hostel sites, but we didn’t think it was that bad.

Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $12.25  We had to really cut back on the food spending to compensate for the cost of lodging.  This doesn’t mean we ate less, it just means we didn’t go out to restaurants generally.  It’s super easy to grab cheap and filling shwarmas and falafel all over the place.  For dinners we mostly cooked for ourselves, which really means we ate hummus and pita by the kilo, and went to the market for fresh tomato, cucumber, cherries, apricots and olives.  It was fantastic.

The Best

Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem – This is the world’s largest Holocaust museum and memorial.  We went on a Friday morning since it was one of the few tourist things open on Friday, and our biggest mistake was not giving ourselves enough time.  We spent nearly 3 hours here before we had to leave because the museum was closing, and we could have spent easily twice as long.   It’s the most organized and thorough museum we’ve ever been to.  There are dozens of short video narratives given by a number of survivors, and those were really the highlight for me.  Their stories are incredible and heartbreaking.  In addition, the museum has amassed a huge collection of person items salvaged from the camps, or thrown from the trains that took the victims to the death camps.  They do a very good job of bringing light to so many individual stories, as well as providing a thorough historical overview. Give yourself twice as much time as you think you’ll need, and bring a package of tissues.

In Akko you can visit ancient underground tunnels that were only recently re-discovered!

Akko – A smaller city north of Haifa that not as many tourists include in their plans.  Akko has a lovely old city that’s really worth visiting if you’re in the area.  We went for most of a day as a side trip from Haifa and had plenty of time to see most of the old city.  We also had some fantastic falafel from a street vendor there.

Green Bikes in Tel Aviv – Tel Aviv has recently implemented a new bike rental system similar to what London has done.  There are bike stands set up all over the city and you can pick them up and drop them off at your leisure.  You can rent by the day, week, or month, and it’s very affordable, even on a tight budget.  For less than $5 each we were able to pedal all over the city!

Taking a dip in the Dead Sea – Incredible!  We had read all the stories about how you simply can’t sink, but to experience it for ourselves was so much better than we anticipated.  You really can’t sink!  We had a blast covering ourselves in the mud and watching crazy lines of salt dry on our skin.

The Worst

Eilat.  We had heard that Eilat was fantastic from a number of people, but honestly, we weren’t impressed.  We snorkeled one day, which was nice, but other than that, we found it kind of ‘meh’.  It’s a good stopping point if you are travelling between Israel and either Jordan or Egypt, but we didn’t need more than a day there as there’s not a whole lot going on and the beaches aren’t anything to get excited about.

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.

The Bolivia Roundup

11 Jun

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  19

Cities/towns visited – Tupiza, Uyuini, Potosi, La Paz, Coroico, Copacabana, Isla del Sol and various little settlements in the southwestern part during our jeep tour.

Number of different lodgings – 10

Flights – 0

Bus journeys – 6

Combi/collective/taxi  journeys – 3 plus a 4 day jeep tour.

Days of rain – 3

Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – $1497.36

Average cost per day, per person (excluding the visas, which cost $135 each) – $32.30

Average lodging cost per night, per person – $8 – We were able to spend most nights in private rooms with private bathrooms.

Most expensive lodging – Both places we stayed in La Paz (Hotel Avenida, and the Adventure Brew B&B) were about $11.40 per person for a private room with private bathroom.  Adventure Brew was a much better deal as they had consistent wi-fi, pancakes for breakfast, and a free beer every night.

Least expensive lodging – $3.50 per person in a nameless hostel in Coroico.  We had a 3 person room with a shared bathroom.

Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $12.35 We ate out for every meal, and drank like fish. We had a mix of street food and restaurant meals, as well as a healthy amount of snacks… usually in the form of pastry.

Best

Hostel Adventure Brew B&B in La Paz.  There are two Adventure Brews, almost right next door to each other.  We stayed in the B & B because it was more chilled out than the actual hostel.  We had a private room/bathroom for $11.40 per person including a pancake breakfast (REAL pancakes!) and a free beer for each person every night.  They had the most consistent internet of anywhere we stayed in Bolivia.

Food – The food in Bolivia gets a bad rap, but truth be told, we ate pretty well there.  Perhaps it’s that we went in with very low expectations.  Maybe it’s just that the value is just so great.  It could be that half of what we ate was pastry, which was delicious.  Whatever it is, we have lots to say in the ‘food’ category!

Falafel at La Mia Pizza in La Paz – A hole in the wall that serves some pretty good falafel at cheap prices (15 Bolovianos for one huge sandwich).  It’s on Calle Illampu near the corner of Santa Cruz.  It’s just past a big outdoor/camping shop.  Look for the crowd of hippies outside.

4060 in Potosi, Bolivia.  Named for the altitude of the city (incidentally, Potosi is the highest city in the world at 4,060 meters, which is 13,320 feet!), the food at 4060 is definitely one of the better meals we had in our last 6 weeks in South America.  It’s a tad pricey for Bolivia, which means a plate will cost you about $8.  They have a big variety of dishes, both local and international, as well as a variety of smoothies and desserts to choose from.  It’s just off the main plaza, going uphill on Hoyos.

Alamos  in Tupiza on Avaroa Santa Cruz –

This massive heap of food cost all of about $3!

The food here is average for Bolivia, but the portions are gigantic and the prices are dirt cheap. The biggest draw for me was the décor…which was insane.  Walking into Alamos was like stepping into another dimension.  There are knick-knacks everywhere, most of which are western themed.  A huge steer skull with glowing green lights in the eye sockets stares down at patrons from the top of a wall that is plastered with publicity photos of celebrities, photos of tourists sitting in the booths, old movie posters, random license plates, and all kinds of other junk.  It’s incredibly entertaining.  Huge meals with liter beers will set you back about $5.

Inside Alamos.

When you find this guy, you’ve found the best chicken dinner in Bolivia.

Chicken place in Uyuni – Uyuni is a shithole.  Sorry, but it is.  The most redeeming thing about the place (other than the salt flats) was the fantastic chicken dinner we had for…wait for it…about $2.  We had huge plates of the standard rice and french fries with 1/4 of a chicken.  It was some of the best chicken I’ve had, ever.  It’s roasted on a spit right outside the restaurant, and is perfectly cooked.  Go to the corner of Potosi and Bolivar.  Head down Bolivar going away from downtown until you see the guy in the picture.  There’s no name.  We were the only gringos in the place, and some of us (gentlemen, I’m looking at you here…) had more than one plate.

Carla’s Garden Pub in Coroico – Just off the main square, towards the bus station, there are stairs leading downhill from town.  If you go down them you’ll run into Carla’s Garden Pub, a lovely place to while away an afternoon.  There are snacks, cheap drinks, hammocks, a cat, and wifi!  It feels more like Thailand than Bolivia and we spent a few afternoons drinking Tequila Sunrises as we watched the sun set over the hills.

Activity

4-Day jeep tour to the Salt Flats – I will write an entire post about this at some point.  We took a tour of south-west Bolivia through La Torre Tours, and started from Tupiza.  We saw some crazy landscapes, culminating in the huge salt flats outside of Uyuni.  If you have the time, it’s a great trip.  If you don’t, get yourself to Uyuni and just do a one-day of the flats, it’s totally worth it.

Riding horses outside of Tupiza. Photo by Bryan of http://www.happytobehomeless.com

Horseback riding – You can’t ride horses for this cheap anywhere else in South America.  We went on a 4 hour ride outside of Tupiza, near where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid met their demise.  Incidentally, make sure you check around and find a place that will give you helmets…our ridiculous cowboy hats would not have done us much good had we suffered a fall.

Worst

The worst is really a relative term in this case.  There were plenty of completely mediocre, and some downright awful, places we encountered…but…it’s Bolivia and that’s just how it goes.  There wasn’t anything in particular here that we could really single out as being more terrible than was tolerable for the situation.    Except maybe the freezing cold showers.  Especially the one in Uyuni.

The Argentina Roundup

28 May

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  43

Cities/towns visited – Mendoza, Bariloche, El Bolson, Esquelle, El Calafate, El Chalten, Ushuaia, Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, Salta, Humahuaca, Purmamarca, Cafayate, Angostaca.

Number of different lodgings – 12 hostels and a couchsurf

Flights – 1

Bus journeys –  26

Combi/collective/taxi  rides – 9

Bike Rentals – 1

Days of rain – 4

Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – $5522.62

Average cost per day, per person – $64.00

Argentina is not as cheap as it used to be.  Our ‘Local Travel’ category of the budget was by far the biggest chunk of spending here – long distance buses are triple the cost that they were in 2009, and flights are as expensive for foreigners on the domestic airlines.

Average lodging cost per night – $15.35 per person.  Hostels were pricey in Argentina compared to other places in South America.  We ended up in dorms often, though we went for a double room, even with a shared bath, in a few places.  You could do cheaper, especially if you are willing to stay in the party factory dorms, or sacrifice location or cleanliness.

Most expensive lodging – Reina Madre Hostel in Buenos Aires – a private room with shared bathroom was $23.25 per person.  The second most expensive was the Freestyle Hostel in Ushuaia which was $20.50 per person for a DORM.

Least expensive lodging – $9.30 per person for a dorm room in a little hostel in Angostaca.  We got stuck there overnight while on a road trip through northern Argentina.

Average food/drink cost per day (per person) – $14.30 – We consumed an obscene amount of cheap empanadas, usually for lunch.  We often cooked dinners in at the hostels because of the high cost of eating out.  We did go out for dinners sometimes though, or ate at the hostel when they had an asado night.

The Best

Empanadas!

Hostel Empedrado in Mendoza.  They have private rooms as well as dorms, clean bathrooms, TWO kitchens with plenty of cookware, a small pool, hammocks, free glass of wine every night, free empanada making class, good wi-fi…and FREE LAUNDRY!!!  It’s just an overall winner.  It is a little bit outside of downtown, but not more than a 10 minute walk.  You can book online, and if you’re headed there in the summer make sure to ask for a room with air-conditioning since some only have fans.

Hiking up to Fitz Roy in El Chalten. Looks like a fake background…but it’s not, it’s just a bad exposure!

El Chalten – Yeah, the town.  If you like mountains you will LOVE El Chalten.  There are multiple day hikes that get you way out into the hills with some of the most spectacular mountain scenery we’ve encountered.  Take your time and spend more than a hot second there, you won’t regret it.

Big Ice Tour in El Calafate – Even though we got ripped off by the travel agent who sold us our tour, this still goes down as one of our favorite activities.  It really was worth it, especially if you’ve never been on a glacier.  If the cost is too steep for you, look into a trek on the Viedma Glacier out of El Chalten.

Taking a break from biking in Bariloche

Biking around the Circito Chico in Bariloche – We haven’t gotten around to posting about this ride, but it’s a 25 kilometer ride around beautiful meditteranean colored lakes just outside of Bariloche.  You can rent a bike for the day and set out at your leisure.  There are many places to stop along the way for picnicing, swimming, or just gawking at the scenery.  The bike rental will only set you back about $18 and you can get there with public transportation.  Your hostel should be able to reserve you a bike, otherwise any travel agent in town can also, just make sure they don’t charge a commission for it.  You’ll get a map from the bike place, but don’t worry, it’s a loop and basically impossible to get lost.

The Worst

We really loved almost everything in Argentina, and the one major exception was Hostel Pudu in Bariloche.  We heard that it was fantastic, and perhaps it used to be, but now it’s just run down despite the bright and shiny website.  One of the hostel owners spent more time getting high with the guests than doing other things…like cleaning the bathrooms, which were disgusting.  There was a pretty high price tag for a dorm room, and I have to admit to sheer laziness or we would have moved after the first night.

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