Category Archives: Prepping

Where to next?

The question has been answered…a few times.

I’m going to take a short 3 night/4 day trip to LA to visit a friend in September.

We’ll be spending our Christmas vacation in Nicaragua.

February will be spent in Thailand, volunteering with elephants and relaxing on beaches.

Many posts to come!

Advertisements

Let’s Do the Math

Quite a few people have asked me how Jeff and I afford to travel. Most people assume we make a lot of money, but I can definitely tell you that that is not true. When we got married we decided to make certain things priorities in our lives, one of them was to travel. We employ several strategies when it comes to saving money, which I could write a whole post about, but I thought I would break down the budget for our Japan trip and hopefully shed some light on how we make it all work. Keep in mind that Japan has been a dream for us for the last three years so though this might make it sound like it was thrown together in a matter of weeks, it was not. Years of saving and hoping and planning went into this trip.

It all starts with the budget. Through research I get a rough idea on how much the basic things cost in the country we want to visit (accommodations, food, attractions) and how much it’s going to cost to get there. After a few weeks of research I develop a rough budget, for Japan it was between $5,000 – $6,000. I typically break any trip budget into several sections; Accommodations, Transportation, Attractions, Food + Miscellaneous and I input everything into an Excel spreadsheet. Then we book the flights. I had had my eye on flight prices while researching so when I saw a good one we bought the tickets and never looked back.

Once we know our dates I start looking into where to stay. We prefer to stay in private rooms in hostels, usually with a shared  bathroom. In Costa Rica it took a bit getting used to but now it doesn’t really bother us. I’d rather save the money by staying in a hostel and I like the community atmosphere, there’s always someone to talk to and you get to meet a lot of really interesting people. I use Hostelworld.com, Hostelbookers.com and Hostels.com to find options and then I review the ones I like on Tripadvisor.com. Some of the things I look for in a hostel are a reasonable price for a private room, free wireless, easy to get to location and pictures of a clean kitchen and clean bathroom/shower room. The places I decided on for this trip were Juyoh Hotel, Kyoto Hana Hostel, J-Hoppers Hiroshima and J-Hoppers Osaka.

Accommodations

With the flights already purchased I moved on to figuring out how to get around Japan and getting a JR Pass made the most sense for us. Then I looked into getting to and from the airports, as well as how much public transit cost in each city and averaging it out over the days we would be there. Going to Japan I had a rough idea how much the Transportation was going to cost us and once we got home I finalized what we actually spent.

Transportation

Using the internet and the guidebook Japan, Day by Day I looked into the different things we could do in each city that interested us. It was a long list and I knew we weren’t going to be able to make it to everything, but we originally budgeted that we would. That way we would go to Japan with a bit of extra cash in case there was an emergency or we found something else we wanted to do. Once we got home I figured out where we went and how much was actually spent on all the Attractions we visited.

Attractions

Last is the food budget and miscellaneous items. Wi-fi is hard to find on the streets in Japan and I was nervous about getting lost without Google Maps so we rented a pocket wi-fi from Japan Wireless. The wi-fi was really fast and we had no problem getting signal anywhere we went, except on the trains. We aren’t big souvenir buyers so our budget for this usually isn’t very big. I think if we saw something we absolutely loved then we would splurge, but most of the time our souvenirs are small but meaningful.

The Food budget is usually the hardest to figure out and I searched a lot of forums to see what the average cost of food is in Japan. Typically we eat breakfast at our accommodation (yogurt, fruit and a pastry) bought from a grocery store and then lunch and dinner are eaten out. 7-11s and other convenience stores in Japan are great for cheap meal options, like sushi and noodles. In North America you probably can’t imagine eating sushi from a convenience store, but in Japan it’s quite common and most stores have a great selection. We don’t always stick to our per-meal budget, but we do try to stick to the per-day food budget. For example, if we have a big lunch then we’ll have a small dinner and vice versa.

Food + Misc

My strategy is to overbudget initially and then come home with any extra cash we don’t end up spending. We try to not use our credit cards while travelling to avoid bank fees, but that’s not always possible depending on the amount of cash we would need to carry around. After we get home I go through each of the separate budgets and adjust the numbers to what was actually spent. In the case of Japan I originally planned on spending $5500 and we actually spent $5300 – very close! We also happen to luck in with a good rate for the yen, when I started planning the trip it was roughly 80 yen to the dollar and now it’s closer to 97 yen to the dollar.

Totals

Though the destinations may change my method is usually the same. Now that we are home from Japan the burning question resurfaces, “Where to next?”

Up, Up and Away (or Tips for Smooth Travels)

We made it! We’re in Japan with all our luggage, checked into our hotel and neither one of us has cried or yelled the entire time. I think there’s a certain finesse when it comes to travelling, some people have it and some don’t. And if you’re one of those people who don’t and find travel to be extremely stressful, fear not and follow these tips for smooth sailings (or flyings).

Know Your Shit

Some of this may seem like common sense but I am amazed at the number of clueless travellers I’ve overheard who don’t know the answers to these basic questions. Who are you flying with? What time is your flight? What is your flight code? What airport are you flying into? And most importantly, where is your passport?

At one point or another you will need this information, whether it is for a human being or customs/immigrations forms. Your ticket or boarding pass will have this information, but to make it easier just try to remember.

And your passport, keep it handy at all times. You will need to produce it and telling the agent that it’s in your backpack is not helpful and will result in dirty looks from me, the agent and everyone around you who has someplace to be. You cannot get on an international flight without producing your passport. Period.

Pack Smart

I get that not everyone can travel carry-on only like some rockstars I know…

Image

So when you are packing keep in mind a few things. If you are checking bags then your carry-on should have the things that you will require during your flight and the bag should be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you. You don’t want to be that person who decides in the middle of the flight to open the overhead bins and have a bunch of bags come toppling out. I’ve seen it happen and inevitably, on every flight there are a bunch of people who jump to their feet as soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off because they desperately need their ______ (whatever). Keep your carry-on small and thoughtfully packed to avoid the embarrassment.

On a flight I like to bring a couple magazines, a book, headphones, chapstick, snacks (apple, almonds, crackers), toothbrush/toothpaste, gum, green tea bags and an empty water bottle (in addition to travel documents and an emergency change of clothes). Just because the flight attendants offer you watery tea and crappy coffee doesn’t mean you have to take it. I ask for hot water and dunk my own green tea bags (or fruity tea bags if I’m feeling fancy). It tastes just like home and I don’t get an upset stomache from the coffee. Liquid restrictions prevent you from bringing a full water bottle into the airport and excuse me, but I don’t feel like paying $6 for a bottle of water at the airport. Instead, I bring an empty water bottle and after take off I ask one of the attendants to fill it up for me. I find most flights to be super dry and the 3 tablespoons of water they offer you never quite quench my thirst. If I finish the bottle I just ask for a refill.

Speaking of liquid restrictions, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last 10 years, containers of liquids, aerosols or gels in your carry-on must be 100 ml/100 grams (3.4 oz) or less. All containers must fit in1 clear, closed, resealable plastic bag no more than 1 litre (1 quart) in capacity. The approximate dimensions of a one litre/quart bag are 15.24 cm by 22.86 cm (6 in. by 9 in.) or 20 cm by 17.5 cm (8 in. by 7 in.). One bag per person. **taken from the CATSA website** I thought this was fairly common knowledge, but every time I get to the airport there is one person holding up the security line refusing to part with with her $100 bottle of shampoo (or some other large liquid container of something so precious she decides to put up a fight over). Listen lady, everyone here plays by the rules, regardless of whether you know the rules or not. Now chuck it and move on.

Be Nice

This should be fairly standard in every day life but is even more important when travelling. For your sake and the sake of people around you, be a nice person damn it! Be nice to the people waiting to board the aircraft, be nice to your seat row mates, be nice to the people you’re travelling with and for the the love of everything, be nice to the flight attendants! These are the people who hold your happiness in their hands for the next 3 – 14 hours (depending on your flight). They’ve heard it all, they’ve seen it all, they’ve dealt with it all. They have horror stories from all over the globe and you do not want to be the asshole they talk about at the hotel bar that night.

In my experience a smile goes a long way, cracking jokes can help (appropriate jokes) and offering to help someone struggling with their luggage gets a gold star. Think of the aircraft as a social experiment. You don’t want to be the case study where it all descends into anarchy and you end up eating each other. You want to be the shining beacon for civilization, where people come together to lift each other up and you all walk away better people at the end. Just be nice. Please?

Sometimes, if you’re nice, your seat mate will give you a present that she makes while you struggle to speak to her in Spanish, though she is Japanese and you only speak English and limited French.

Image

Drink Water and Move Around

Flights are dry and Deep Vein Thrombosis is a bitch. This is more than a tip, it’s an order. Drink lots of water, which will make you need to pee, which will make you get up, walk around and stretch. Walk up and down the aisles (but not during meal service), stretch your hips, legs, arms, neck and shoulders.

Bring a Pen

You’re going to need a pen to fill out the customs and immigration forms, as well as take notes and jot down ideas for when you get to your destination. Don’t be that guy asking everyone around you for a pen. Pens are like gold on flights, once it leaves your hands it’s never coming back so just bring your own.

Have a Plan

Alright, so you’ve followed all the tips and you’ve made it to your destination in one piece. Now what? How are you getting to your hotel? Taxi? Bus? Shuttle? Subway? Horse and Carriage? Some cities have more options than others and it’s always a good idea before hand toresearch what’s available to you. If you’re thinking about cost you’ll probably want public transit. If cost isn’t a concern and you just want the easiest route, look into getting a taxi.

A bit of research goes a long way and an informed traveller is a confident traveller. When you have a better handle on what’s going on around you there’s less of a chance of feeling overwhelmed and stressed out.

All my bags are packed…

I’m usually a pretty light packer. When we honeymooned in Hawaii for two weeks Jeff and I managed to bring everything we needed in a couple carry ons. It’s so much easier to get out of the airport when you don’t have to wait for the luggage to follow you off the plane, not to mention the peace of mind knowing your luggage is always with you and won’t get lost along the way.

Unfortunately, for this trip I’ll have to check one of my bags. It’s a camping trip and I have to bring a sleeping bag and they won’t let me carry that on. The second packing issue I’ve come across is the size restrictions. I can have one small daypack and one bag that is 60cm x 30cm x 30cm and the sleeping bag needs to fit inside that, as well as all my shit. Not awesome, even for a light packer.

20120113-125328.jpg

Over the last couple months I’ve been semi-packing. Every time I come across something to bring I throw it in my luggage. Then came the time to be realistic and realize there is no possible way to fit everything I want to bring. Bummer. Both Gap and Intrepid had some pretty solid packing checklists so I used those as a guide, as well as this awesome article by Solo Traveler, and organized/edited all my belongings. A month is a pretty long time to be away and here is what I’m bringing with me…

Clothing
Fleece jacket
Waterproof jacket
Work gloves
Swimwear
Beach coverup
4 shirts/t-shirts, cool and breathable
Long-sleeved shirt or sweater for evenings
2 pairs of long trousers/capris
1 pair hiking pants/track pants (convertable)
Comfortable shoes
Socks
Underwear
Bra
Sandals
Hat
Sunglasses

Night
Sleeping bag
Dry sack
Pillow
Sheet set
Ear plugs
Sleep mask
Toque
Yoga pants/sleep shirt

Accessories
Water bottle
Pocketknife/multitool
Empty bags (for garbage)
Whistle
Padlocks
Digital watch
Small Sharpie
Deck of cards
Clothesline for laundry

Toiletries (biodegradable)
Hand sanitizer gel
Soap (multipurpose – detergent, soap)
Toilet paper
Sunblock
Deodorant
Shampoo+Conditioner
Toothbrush+Toothpaste
Towel
Facial Cleanser
Comb
Mirror
Tweezers+Clippers
Safety Pins
Razor
Baby wipes (unscented)
First-aid kit (Lip balm with sunscreen, Aspirin , Malaria pills, bandaids/plasters, tape, muscle relaxant, Pepto , insect repellent, Dramamine/Gravol)

Electronics
Cameras (DSLR + point and shoot) and memory cards (+ power cable)
Extra batteries
Electricity Plug Adapter
Battery powered alarm clock
Headlamp (with extra batteries)
Pocket calculator
iPad (+ power cable)
USB to uground
Earbuds
Air blower/camera cleaner

Documents
Passport (with photocopies)
Travel insurance (with photocopies)
Yellow fever certificate (with photocopies)
Airline tickets (with photocopies)
USD cash
Credit/debit card (with photocopies)
Trip vouchers, pre-departure information and dossier
Hotel confirmation email

All of it has been crammed inside those 2 small bags. I think I should get a gold star for that.

Hello Hello

In one week I leave for the continent of Africa, to visit Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, for one whole month. This will be my first time crossing an ocean in a plane, it will be the farthest I’ve been from home, for the longest amount of time and I’m going solo. My ever-supportive husband is letting me spread my wings and fly far, far away in search of something I can’t define and I am so incredibly excited for this opportunity (and only a little bit terrified).

I decided to start a blog for you, family and friends, who want to make sure I haven’t been eaten by a lion, mugged by locals or blown to bits by terrorists. I’m going to be fine mom. I promise.

This trip to Africa will not be my last amazing adventure, but hopefully the first in what will be a life filled with taking chances, exploring exotic lands and experiencing something out of the ordinary.