Hmm

The following post was initially hastily removed because of some internet bullies with no sense of humor, but here it is in its full glory. We received a bunch of funny and MEAN comments about this. Apparently, some people think us to be expert travel writers who hate beginners. Uh, we ARE beginners. We haven’t even left yet! Goodness.

The post never wavers from opinion and delves deep into the ocean of hyperbole (of course, this is my style if you’ve ever read beyond one entry). There is no misrepresentation of fact or slander, so all I can say is, if you don’t like it, don’t read it?

Anyway, the entry has brought us considerable traffic (thanks!!!!). But true to spirit, this site will remain, as it has, a portal for our friends and family to keep up with our musings…

—-
Travel the world for $14k”

This seems like an exciting and curious claim, but I’ve just pored
over travel writer Nora Dunn’s 11 tips for thrifty adventures (via
iwillteachyoutoberich.com) and some of it seems legit. Dunn, a
freelance writer, seems to break down all of my stress into a bunch of
concise entries.

Now, a lot of what she’s saying is common sense. But common sense, and
knowing when to deploy it, could really help us extend our journey a
long time on our budget. When I looked at the $14,000 estimate, I kind
of *gulped* a little. Where she pulled this number from is curious,
since it seems rather arbitrary (I’m thinking an ass). I tend to
imagine that some of these writers who espouse cheap travel (see:
NYT’s “Frugal” traveler blog) are staying in EURO 70 a night digs, sipping
those elitist lattes (right?) and munching on fancy dinners. Well, I
must have gotten those zany ideas from somewhere (hint: the last
link). So, it was with a bit trepidation that I read Dunn’s advice.

I’m not saying I know more than these travel writers when it comes to
their trade, but damn it, I’ve rummaged my fair of dumpsters. When I
first moved to California, I was broke, hungry and depressed. I made
my way on a $150 one-way ticket with $500 in my pocket (my, uh, bank
account pocket). Food, entertainment and sanity was scarce.

In Berkeley, there are notorious dumpsters for scavenging food if you
need it. Some may view this as theft (idiots) or disgusting, but I
enjoyed the steady stream of day old bread from Semifreddi’s and Luna
bars (are they specially formulated for women? still TBD). These
helped pad my stomach and save me money while I looked for work.
Though, I think if I ever eat another Luna bar, I may vomit
forcefully. There was even an oft-mythologized beer dumpster from
Budweiser (thankfully, I never located that one).

So, what the hell does this have to do with anything? Well, first, I’m
not a bum. Necessity is the mother of…scavenging, perhaps? (I’m
running out of idioms.) Basically, I can make do, and I will make do.
If we need to rough it on the road, we can. I’ve definitely adjusted
to a more comfortable lifestyle at home, but I have my reasons (revoke
my punk card, I guess).

That said, I tend to take some of this travel advice with a grain of
salt (and you may, too)-most of it seems superfluously aimed at people
who have no concept of how to fend for themselves or are complete
adult diaper babies.

Nonetheless, I found some of her gems helpful:

> Use Which Budget for cheap airline tickets that big sites like Expedia or Travelocity miss. These budget connectors may save you hundreds of dollars.

> Check out other volunteer opportunities than just WWOOF. While I acknowledge that there are many homeshares, couchsurfing and volunteering sites out there, WWOOF is one that has been vouched for by many of my friends who have traveled abroad. Others she suggests checking out?

– Caretaker’s Gazette – A site for caretakers
– House Carers – Is exactly what you’d think it is
-Workaway – Another favorite of mine-exchange work for food and housing

What else?

Dunn goes on to advocate a lot about freelance work while abroad. I’m
not sure about you, but the last thing I want to be doing while on a
round-the-world trip is to be on a conference call with some douchey
ponce in America, sorting out the placement of pixels or arguing over
the merits of the semi-colon (there are none). I do that now, and
though it provides my means, it is far from how I want to spend my
days.

One segment of the article professes that you “steer clear of souvenir
shops.” This warranted a hearty LOL. Was this written for my mother
(sorry, mom)? Who wants to buy some plastic shit in France that was
made in China, and spend an exorbitant amount of money to ship it
home, or make the mistake of carrying it around with them for the
entirety of the trip? I may be jumping the gun here, but I highly
doubt Mia and I will be wasting a lot of time in Ye Olde Souvenir
Shoppe. In lieu of my budget streamlining, I can hardly push myself to
buy new shoes that I need (instead, I’ve taken to hobby of mending).
An Eiffel Tower lighter is probably not in my future.

The rest of the article veers heavily into “no shit” territory, but
warrants a read, I suppose. Check out the whole thing here:

Cheap Travel

-Adam

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Pulling the trigger

Plane tickets are on sale everywhere. Sites from Delta to Expedia are promising cheap, discounted–and in some extreme cases (STA ran a sale today offering $30 tickets to Paris from a few major American cities)–nearly free. This is our double-edged sword lately. With a flight to Rome or Paris bottoming out around $500, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to know when to buy.

Now, this is not guntocat’shead.jpeg* “pulling the trigger” urgent (sorry for the overwrought metaphor), but it’s been causing me a lot of stress. With the trip still 10 months away (yes, it’s that far AND that close), it seems like the obvious choice would be to wait it out, develop a better plan and buy tickets later this year (oh, and cheer on the demise of our financial system). Most of the doom and gloom of the economy seems to suggest that plane tickets will be cheap for a long time to come. Right?

Well, maybe. There is nothing worse than buying a $500 flight for $1200. We’ve all been there, and we all know…it sucks. So, it’s no surprise that this has been rattling around my brain a lot. The bulk of our savings is not tied up right now and could easily purchase tickets. So, do I? (That’s an existential, rhetorical and annoying question you need not answer). Excluding things that seem like an obvious racket (travel insurance), there really is no way to know what to do. It’s all in the gut, and boy, do I hate my gut.

So, let’s hear it for economic failure and the ability to buy refundable, adjustable and convenient tickets to Madrid, Spain for April, 2010. Yeah? Yeah? Yeah.

* Oh, for reference, obviously:

-Adam

Busy week(s)

My updates have come to a trickle lately, despite the fact that I have much to write about. It’s all about time, people. Work is on a slaughtering rampage, which I suppose I should be thankful about (I’m not). Needless to say, this week was not one where I entertained the luxury of excessive free time. The weekend on the other hand…

That said, I did do a little online dabbling (gotta) and came across a great new site called Air B’n’B. I’m not exactly sure what that name is supposed to mean, but it’s a great place to look for rooms, apartments, hostels, and sublets while overseas. The interface is great and rather robust for a site that hasn’t been around too long. Many users post pictures and good descriptions of their spaces along with reasonable expectations they have of their guests (good for weeding out crazies). One feature I see coming in handy is the reviews. It’s sort of a Yelp-Craigslist hybrid with Twitter’s graphic feel (sorry, that was awful). Check it out!

Although I may not be doing much writing here, there are diligent folks doing stuff out on the vast internets. I’ll use my lazy Sunday update to post two great blogs:

First, I’m sure you’ve all heard about director Spike Jonze’s upcoming new film, Where the Wild Things Are. My buddy Matt is helping to manage and write for Spike’s blog of inspirational (not in a corny way) artists, musicians, filmmakers and other miscellany. Go stop by, you’ll love it: We Love You So.

There is another site I’ve been really addicted to lately (it’s also in our Links section ->) called Going Slowly, which chronicles the around the world cycling trip of a couple. The blog is well written, funny and really interesting. The duo, Tyler and Tara, have been in the UK for the last month and seem to be enjoying themselves. Do yourself a favor and check out the marvelous photographs they’re taking along the way. Very inspirational.

One last note: I need to stop watching the Travel Channel so much (not just because Samantha Brown irritates the hell out of me). Today, I caught a program on Lisbon, Portugal — one of the first stops we’re considering on our journey, and I WANT TO LEAVE RIGHT NOW. It’s strange though–it looks so much like San Francisco! It made me nostalgic for home and we haven’t even left yet. Here are some photos courtesy of Flickr’s Creative Commons:


credit: pedrosimoes7


credit: mcpig


credit: mcpig


credit:
Bernt Rostad

-Adam

Spotlight: Bern, Switzerland

Yesterday was a typical lazy Sunday. After coming out of the haze of a weekend of late-night fun in San Francisco, I was glad to spend the afternoon napping and catching up on DV-R. One my favorite (and frequently recorded) shows lately is called Dhani Tackles The Globe, which airs every Monday on the Travel Channel. The show follows Dhani Jones, a football player on the Cincinnati Bengals, as he travels the world and engages in the local games and sports of each destination. Jones is kind of a goofy, yet lovable guy, and he seems ready and willing to take part in every culture’s rituals and obsessions.

On the latest episode he visits Switzerland for a week to learn about the sport Schwingen, which is sort of like sumo wrestling crossed with those intense lumberjack games you see at 4 a.m. on ESPN 3. While in Switzerland, Dhani visits the capital, Bern (or Berne), for a day to soak up the sun. I immediately perked up when he strolled onto the riverfront park of Aare. It was a majestic public green hiding in the shadows of Bern’s mythic, medieval architecture. The park reminded me a lot of cross between San Francisco’s Dolores Park with Austin’s Barton Springs. The cool blue water looked refreshing and beautiful, and the people tanning, lounging about and eating is extremely enticing.

I started sniffing around online with Mia this morning, and we came across a few beautiful hostels in the area, as well as Bern’s great tourism site . Just a short trip from Zurich, Bern looks like a definite candidate for a short layover on our way toward Germany. Despite Switzerland’s reputation for being expensive, most rooms in Bern run at the low end of what you might expect to pay for a double room in Europe (around USD$30 a night).

Bern is quite a historic gem, clocking in at nearly 1,000 years old (it was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985). Up until recently, Bern had a bear pit on the edge of town (it was shut down this year)! It also served as one of the original scenarios for the first SimCity game (weird).

Check out Bern’s beauty:


image: http://www.travel-to-switzerland.info


image: http://www.unspecial.org


image: http://www.viamichelin.co.uk

Make sure to check out Dhani’s blog!!!

-Adam

Layout

Trying a new layout. What do you think?

Fund find

If only this could be a long, ongoing series, right? Not until I get my odd job business of the ground (kidding?).

I finally called up the gatekeeper (or crypt keeper–I leave the pleasure of interpretation up to you) of my investment portfolio, Fidelity. I have had serious questions about what will happen to my 401k and pension if I decide to leave my employer next year. Can I use this money to fund my trip? What expectations should I have about being taxed to high hell? When should I get the ball rolling? This is only the next, not the first, installment in my chronicle of financial neuroses for our trip. You’ll probably never get the key to unlock your stockbroker’s diary (or an admission of guilt anyway), so you might as well read a layman’s lament, right?

Lament be damned, all my queries were answered in an almost mechanical and sterile way by the representative on the phone. I’m sure that in these times, there is no shortage of questions about how to get your money out (in a panic, or not). So, it came as a great relief to learn that my money was coming to me, whether depleted by the market or not, whenever I make the choice to formally sever my ties with my employer.

Drat. There’s always a catch, huh. My initial plan was to take a leave of absence for 6 months (maximum allowed) so I could retain my health benefits and some semblance of employment should I choose to return. But when I started to look at the numbers (and COBRA), I shifted my point of view…Not to mention the staggering prices of some European cities warranting a second glance at cashing in my portfolio.

Since January, I have opted to stop funding my 401k and keep the money in a savings account. Now I have a chunk of change that shifts every time my company is lambasted by the press. If you only knew, you’d be uneasy about what to do, too.

After a few minutes of explaining the legal and tax ramifications, we got into numbers. Every statement, of course, was laced with “this is merely a quote, for instability in interest rates, as you know, is fairly common…” yada, yada. But things started to look up. My pension, as it seems, is now fully-vested (w00t), which means that apart from giving the government 20% of it, a nice chunk of change will come my way. Enough, in fact (based on my preliminary budgeting), that the pension alone may be all that fuels the first 3 months of our trip…”markets pending,” of course.

So, quit the job or not? I can tell you, there will be no surprise ending or existential crisis. After I hung up with the rep, I logged online to take another look at my portfolio balance.

Sitting like a pathetic sack of rotted potatoes, neglected and stinky, the pie chart representing my 401k (and future) beckoned to me:

Him: “Come on, man, think of all the good times we’ve had together.”
Me: “I don’t recall those times, actually. You look red and flushed. Like, really red.”

He shifted and writhed a little, trying to hide the thick redness of his decreased lines, sagging like the droopy jowls of a hound dog.

Him: “It’s not as bad as it looks. It’ll get better in time, like a fine wine!”
Me: “I prefer $2 wine from the corner store. You’re not winning this one.”

He huffed in protest.

Him: “You’ll regret this!!!!”

Yes, it was really that uneventful.

I looked around my dusty, dimly lit cubicle nightmare and thought about my job and the investments when the words of a one Biggie Smalls came to mind…

Me: “If I go, you gotta go.”

Sorry little guy, looks like your ass wrote a check that will be cashed.

-Adam

The route is ours

Though not entirely cemented or anything, I’ve added a new page to our site with our proposed travel route for what I’m formally deeming “leg 1.” Check it out!

What’s all this talk about legs you say? Well, it seems that after doing my homework, I have learned something new about traveling in Europe. Yes, it is true that I do not know everything (a sad realization, let me tell you). There is this mythical and magical invisible zone called the Schengen, which is made up of over 20 countries in Europe (read: most).

After reading more about it, I can tell you that it’s not exactly magical, nor mythical (though it is invisible)–rather, a giant pain in the ass for would-be travelers who plan on staying abroad for a long period of time. The gist of it is that although US citizens don’t need visas to visit the zone (America, fuck yeah!), we are permitted to stay within in it only 90 of every 180 days.

90 days to see Europe? Ouch. That certainly had our alarm bells ringing.

We initially planned to start in the UK and go slowly, eventually trickling into France and Spain. From there, we figured that something would guide us onward (probably, a, uh, guidebook). Now, it seems that we have to adjust our plans accordingly. We have to have a little more organization, a raison d’ĂȘtre, if you will.

Okay, relax. Be strong. Plan B.

The new route page (plug #2) addresses that very issue. So we’re splitting things up into more legs than a KFC family pack (but less vomit-inducing). Spend a little time here, dip outta the Schengen there, then come back.

It’s kind of like going from swimming pool to hot tub and back.

Our Pax Romana (don’t get literal, folks), or Leg 2, will likely be spent in England, Ireland, Scotland, or Wales. We have to spend 90 days outside the zone, then we can come back in. This 3 month period will serve as a rest period for us, but also a time to volunteer and give back. We hope to spend the summer (July, August, September) working on organic farms or helping out families in need. It could be a really rewarding rest period. Say that 3 times fast.

After leg 2 ends, its (hopefully) back to the quest! We have the option of hitting Scandinavia, going back through parts of Western Europe, or spending time in lovely parts of Eastern Europe like Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Croatia, Bosnia, etc.

Where should we go for leg 3?

-Adam