Archive for the ‘Planning’ Category

It’s time to renew my passport.

I’m not happy about this. Renewing my passport means I have to start all over with stamps.  And it’s going to be stiff and brand-new looking, with an RFID chip in it. My old passport doesn’t have the chip in it.  This occasionally causes problems with airport personnel trying to check me in, which is amusing.

Although on the bright side, I’ll get a new picture, maybe one that actually looks like me so security doesn’t do a double take every time they compare me with my passport photo.

I’ve heard the rumor that US passport fees are going to go up in the near future. It’s already $100 for an adult passport – so if you’re thinking about getting one or will need yours renewed soon, get on that and do it now.

If you don’t have a passport yet, go get one. Now. And then use it.  The United States has the smallest percentage of passport holders of any developed nation.  Everyone travels more than we do.  And with all of our nation’s wealth and affluence, that’s just sad.

So…how does one go about procuring a passport?  Very simple.

  1. Go to the US Government passport page. Find and fill out the proper form. If you’re over sixteen, you’ll be getting an adult passport, and if you’re under sixteen you’ll be getting a child’s passport, which is only good for five years.  You can either fill out the forms on the computer, or print out blank ones to fill in by hand.
  2. Get your passport photos taken.  It’s possible to do this yourself – look up how to do it if you’re really interested.  Or let a professional do it for you at a place like Walgreens, Ritz Photo, Meijer, etc.
  3. You can go here to search for the nearest place to apply for a passport.  Most post offices and government buildings will do it.
  4. Follow the directions on your form and on the website.  You’ll need to bring proper ID with you when you apply (and you must apply in person, unless you’re only renewing an adult passport.)  You must have either a previous passport or a certified birth certificate, naturalization certificate, or certificate of citizenship to prove that you’re a US citizen.
  5. Submit a photocopy of your identification.
  6. Give them money.  Rates are supposed to be going up, so get in there soon.
  7. Give ’em your two passport-sized photos that fit all the specs.  (See above.)
  8. Sign on the line. Don’t sign the form until they tell you to.
  9. Become a proud passport holder. –Once they send it you, ages later.

Win.  You’re now authorized to travel many places on the globe, with the exception of Cuba.  Border Patrol will be keepin’ a close eye on you if you travel to the Middle East for any reason, and Russia’s visa laws are silly.  Luckily, you can pay people to “sponsor’ you on a visitor visa so Russia really isn’t a problem, just more difficult. But you now have one of the best passports on earth–many countries don’t require visas for Americans to visit.  Do you feel lucky? Good.  Don’t take it for granted.  Try talking to someone from a third-world country and ask what countries welcome them in with open arms.


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Whether you’re in between trips, planning a trip, or just returned from one, here are four websites with quality travel advice to keep you inspired and help you plan your next trip.

  1. Bootsnall.com As adventure travel sites go, Bootsnall is probably the best. Nothing against the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forums or anything, but…they’re not as good as Bootsnall.  The site can also help you plan your trip, from helping you purchase Eurail passes to RTW plane tickets.  There’s not a lot you won’t find here. They have free city travel guides, an active community, a plethora of resources to help you plan your trip, and best of all their website isn’t full of advertisements for their own products.  I’ve never bought plane tickets through them, though I’ve heard good things about it. They also have a fare search that covers all the major aggregate search engines like Vayama, Kayak, etc.
  2. Oneworld or Star Alliance RTW fare calculators.  Hmm, maybe its’ just me, but I can waste good time making up theoretical round-the-world trips.  And if you’re actually trying to plan an RTW, these interactive maps are great for mapping out exactly what you want to do.  Depending on where you start your trip, the RTW fare might be higher or lower (the USA is a fairly expensive place to start, due to low demand and relative inaccessibility to the rest of the world, while the UK is the best deal I’ve found so far.)  Each program has different fare rules; Oneworld is based on continents visited and country of origin, while Star Alliance is based on miles traveled.  Check both with your planned itinerary to see which can give you a better deal.
  3. Nomadic Matt: Nomadic Matt has travel advice, articles, and  a good travel blog.  He’s actually developed his site to the point where he makes money off it — no mean feat in the oversaturated world of travel-writing-on-the-internet.  Look him up on Twitter too; he always has interesting travel article links.
  4. Vagabondish: “The travelzine for today’s vagabond.”  If it’s possible to make vagabonding posh, then this site has done it.  It’s a good way to stay inspired to travel and has some good travel advice.

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Unless you’re Dire Straits, and then you get your money for nothing and your chicks for free.

Luckily most of us aren’t Dire Straits.

A dingo ate my baby...random but I found it and couldn't help myself.

What does it really cost to travel? To do anything?  There’s money, but there are also the other possibilities/situations that you sacrifice in order to travel.  I remember talking about this concept in ninth grade economics. It’s not complicated. (I’m not talking about free chicks.)  Everything you do is a choice, and making one decision will instantly make the myriad other possibilities impossible. You pay a price – whether in time, money, or emotional attachment – and those resources can’t then be used in other ways.

“I’d love to travel but I can’t afford it.”

I’ve been to, I believe, seventeen countries.  I’ve paid for all of them myself with the exception of a family trip to Mexico.  And I do not have well-paying jobs.  They’re your typical summer tourist-town service industry jobs.

I think a lot of people assume someone else is paying for my trips, because I have traveled so much at such a young age and in such a short period of time.

But that’s not true. And there isn’t a secret to how I pay for anything.  I work my ass off, save everything.  I sacrifice my time here so I can spend time there.

And sometimes, when I’ve been working double shifts for nine days straight, I haven’t seen the light of the sun in at least two weeks, don’t own my own car, and haven’t seen any of my friends in a month, it does seem like a pretty large sacrifice to make.

But for me it’s worth it. I’d rather spend a few months here just earning money and then travel for a few months and spend all my time enjoying myself, as opposed to working less but being stuck here and only having a low-grade kind of enjoyment after work and on the weekends. After all, you can’t get very far away from home in two days.

So if you’d really like to travel – or do anything, really: buy a DSLR camera, open that antiques shop you’ve always dreamed of owning, etc, then don’t think you can’t afford it.  Re-evaluate what you’re spending time and money on now and see if you can’t make the short-term sacrifice for the long-term gain.  Sacrifice your weekends to work a second job and pay off your mortgage or car payment early.  Put your resources where your priorities are.

Looking at something as insurmountable is the wrong way to think.  Break it down into smaller steps.  Get a concrete goal in mind.  The first step, you know you can accomplish. i.e. get a second job so you can start a travel fund, or cut extraneous expenses out of your current budget. Go out less. Buy coffee less. Stop eating out so much.  Carpool or take public transportation instead of driving. Trade in your new car for a used one with no car payments. Forgo a weekend trip now in favor of a month-long trip in a year.

The next step you can accomplish.  Set a goal to when you will have the money you need. And then find a way to meet that goal.

For example, I want to leave the US for Budapest on October 19th at the latest, because there’s a CELTA course starting on the 26th that I want to make.  To make enough money to do so, I’m going to have to save about $1300 a month.  I know I’m going to have to work two jobs: I have one for the weekdays, and I have to find another one for the weekends and possibly nights. It won’t be fun.  I won’t be able to afford to move out of my parents house or do anything except work.  But it will be worth it to know that I’ll be back in Budapest – permanently –  in a few months.

When you write that last check, click “purchase” for your plane tickets to Brazil, or take home the camera that will allow you to start your own professional photography service, think about the sacrifices you made in the meantime.

Were they worth it?  And I know the answer, at least for me, is a definite yes.

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Jim Morrison, lead singer of the sixties rock band The Doors (if you haven’t heard of them I don’t know where you’ve been living but your existence is flat and empty) once said,

“The most loving parents and relatives commit murder with smiles on their faces. They force us to destroy the person we really are: a subtle kind of murder.”

So what is he talking about and how does it relate to traveling, life, or karate?  Let me explain…

I brought this up specifically because of a post I saw on Facebook the other day.  A friend is doing quite well and moving up in the state/national karate championships.  He’s up to nationals now.  And his aunt posted on his status with words to the effect of “Congratulations, but we love you so don’t go too far because we want you to be around here.”

I know she was well-meaning and everything, but the basic message she was sending there was, “You should sacrifice what you want so that you can stay here with your family and make us happy, even at the expense of your own happiness.” (There’s my karate reference.)

And this kind of situation happens all the time.  Family and friends aren’t trying to be malicious, but by being thoughtless and putting their own wants in front of your own, they can be very effective at sabotaging your dreams. (Jim Morrison quote.) It’s the famous guilt trip of the mother on a huge, subtle scale.  It’s your family, thinking they’re doing what’s best for you when really they’re trying to do what’s best for them–all they’re doing is holding you back, making you doubt yourself, making you fear, keeping you from achieving what you have the potential to achieve. And because this “advice” is coming from people you care about, you naturally respect and value their opinions, making it even harder to look at them dispassionately to see the truth behind the words.

And to go further into this, what is an appropriate sacrifice to make for the people you care about?  Would they be willing to make the same sacrifice for you?  Say, for example, that you wanted to move to New Zealand, about as far away as you can get from the United States and still be on Earth.  It would be pretty common for your family and friends to try to talk you out of it, or at least try to get you to come back and visit them as often as possible.

But is anyone offering to go visit you in New Zealand?  Or, if they’re the ones trying to talk you out of moving, would they be willing to move as well?  To go with you?  Because what they are, in essence, suggesting is that you should sacrifice what you want (to move to NZ) in order that they should have what they want (for you to stay close to them.)

And if they’re not willing to go the distance for you, but expect you to do for them what they would not for you, then perhaps you should re-evaluate your relationship.

And when people give you advice about a big change you’re considering in your life, examine their motives behind the words, even (especially) if it’s your own mother speaking. In the end, you have to listen to yourself, do what you want to do, and not be swayed by people trying to change your mind.  (The reference to life.)

In my not lengthy life so far, the majority of the people I’ve talked to have or have had some kind of dream to go on a big trip.  But almost none of them think of this as a realistic dream–they immediately come up with excuses: work, family, commitment, money, etc etc.  And these people regret not achieving their dream.  (My travel reference. Title is accurate!)

So are you going to be the person who listened to everybody’s advice and stayed home and is now regretting the choices they made for other people, or are you going to be the person who takes personal responsibility for what they do and lives a rich and fulfilling life because they’ve properly recognized and made the appropriate choices to achieve their goals and dreams?

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Eating out in Europe is almost never cheap and generally not in a backpacker’s budget.  Of course, there are those times when you really just want to try the local cuisine, and that’s important, but you can eat cheaply and conveniently without going out every meal, saving your money for that one splurge at a nice place.  Here are some tips for eating well on a budget in Europe.

Carpe Noctem and an American Thanksgiving in Buuuudapesht

1.) Stay at hostels. Don’t be afraid.  Hostels are almost always clean, safe, and fun places to meet other travelers like yourself–and best of all, they usually have a fully-equipped kitchen.  Buy food at the supermarket, and cook it in the kitchen.  There’s generally a fridge as well where you can store your (labeled and dated) food for consumption the next day.  Sometimes, hostels will even have a free food shelf.  People  tend to leave behind pasta and other non-perishables that they don’t want to carry with them, and you may be able to snag this for free!

Protip: Stealing other people’s food is a jerk move and will instantly give you bad traveler karma.  DON’T do it.  DO get together with other travelers and plan a big group meal if the opportunity/group is right.  It can be a lot of fun, it’s cheaper than buying food just for yourself, and have everyone cook their local specialty so that you get to taste food from all over the world.  Mmm.

2.) Street food. Namely kebabs.  And, in the British isles, fish-and-chip shops.  There usually isn’t room to sit–they’re take-out hole in the wall establishments.  But you can get a filling, greasy kebab–which is strips of chicken, beef, or lamb, cut off an enormous hunk turning on a spit, and put in either a pita or rolled burrito-type of deal, along with lettuce, tomato, onion, and yogurt sauce–for two or three euros.  If you’re in a hurry, your hostel doesn’t have a kitchen, or you’re just in the mood for some greasy street food, kebabs are the way to go.  You’ll find them all over Europe.  Germany and Spain have the best kebabs, although for the real deal they originated in Turkey.  I haven’t been there so I cant judge the quality of Turkish kebabs–yet.

Protip: Kebabs are really good drunk food, and best of all, most kebab shops stay open late.

3.) If you want to eat out, ask your hostel to recommend a place. Guide books are out of date by the time they’re published.  In Spain, we spent hours looking for a bar recommended in the Lonely Planet, only to discover that even the building it was in had been torn down.  Restaurants can change ownership and quality quickly.  The hostel employees will know the cheapest and best local places to eat.  In Rome, I ate a four-course meal with a carafe of wine at a nice Chinese restaurant for 6 euros.  Not a bad deal for enough food to keep me filled for the rest of the day.

4.) Go to an outdoor market and pick up picnic supplies. This is probably my favorite option.  Many European cities have a central farmers market on certain days of the week, or sometimes big, permanent open-air markets.  Budapest has a colossal two-floor structure; Barcelona has an open-air market filled with every type of seafood you can imagine and some you can’t, along with fresh fruit, cheeses, sausages, Iberian hams, baked goods, coffee, wine, and confectionary.  Fresh, authentic food sold by locals, often lower prices than in the supermarket–what’s not to love?

delicious Iberian Ham. Don't be put off by its appearance on the leg, so to speak.

Protip: Pick up a friend or two at your hostel, grab a bottle of wine, some chorizo, a loaf of crusty bread, and some cheese and go to a public park to enjoy your fresh purchases together.  A toast to traveling!

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I freaked out for the first time today.  I was looking at hostel availability in Belfast for October 8, and I looked to see what day that was.  A Thursday.  Ok.  And then I realized: that’s next Thursday.  The Thursday after this one.  I’ll be in Belfast.  And I had a little moment of freakout.  Which is good.  I was starting to worry about myself because I couldn’t stop thinking about the trip in a theoretical sense.  Much better now.  I suppose.

Will next Tuesday never arrive?  No, I take that back.  Time is suddenly going at quite the blistering pace.  FOUR days.  Wow.

Anyways, since I think this is about the last post I can handle before I leave, I thought I’d share a little bit of itinerary info for those of you who want to know where I’ll be.

Tuesday: My plane leaves at 3:54 pm.

Wednesday: I’ll land in Dublin in the morning after a wonderful all-night flight in cattle class.  Last time I flew Aer Lingus, though, they weren’t bad at all and we had a new plane, so hopefully it’ll be the same thing this time.

Then I’ll have the day to wander around Dublin.

Thursday: Going to Belfast and spending the afternoon/night there.  Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll even get to see/participate in a riot!  That would be exciting.

Friday: taking the bus/ferry from Belfast to Edinburgh.

Saturday-Sunday: Edinburgh and surrounding (I really want to see Rosslyn Chapel)

Monday-Friday: 5-Day Highland Tour through Macbackpackers.

Saturday: London.  Don’t know how long I’ll be here yet.  After that it’s on to the Netherlands and the rest of mainland Europe!

I’ve been kind of packing, but I suspect I’ll make the final decision on what clothes I’m taking and everything on…say, Tuesday morning.  Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?

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I got my Eurail pass in the mail today.  I wasn’t going to get one at all, but after looking up actual point-to-point ticket costs I saw how it might add up to way more than I wanted to pay.  So I bought the Global 3-month pass, which covers 21 countries.  It cost me $1359, more than I actually earned in an entire month of working, and it was rather painful to part with that much money all at once.  So hopefully it’ll be worth it in the end.  


I’m going to keep track of all the extra reservation fees and so on that I have on the trip and at the end tally up how much I actually spent with the Eurail pass as opposed to how much I would have spent on point to point tickets.  


The only thing I’m still waiting for now is my Lonely Planet Europe on a Shoestring guidebook.  The new version comes out on October 1st and I’ve pre-ordered it through Barnes and Noble.  If it doesn’t get here in time, I’ll just have to get a different one. 


The money is still coming in–I’ll probably have about $8500 by the time I leave.  If I add up everything I’ve spent on Eurail passes, plane tickets, backpacks, insurance, guidebooks, etc, I earned well over my goal of $10,000 and did it in less time than I’d hoped for too.  W00t.   


I’m starting to feel slightly anxious.  Have I overlooked something important?  What if I forget to pack something?  What if I get robbed?  At the same time I feel like I’ve planned the trip to death.  I have three different ideas for itineraries and hopefully won’t be following any one of them.  I’ve read every website that exists on indie travel and backpacking Europe in particular.  There’s not a lot more I can do at this point.  

It’s like this before every trip though.  Once I’m in the airplane, it’ll be different.  I’ll be fine once I actually land and start traveling instead of just thinking about it.   


Right now I’m focusing on the beginning of my trip: Ireland and Scotland, and to a lesser extent, London.  Would I be a bad tourist if I skipped the Guinness factory tour for the second time I’ve been in Dublin?  Everyone asks me if I’ve done it and it’s kind of like going to Hawaii and not surfing, but I’ve heard it’s not that great and is expensive.  The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam is supposed to be a lot better, and how many beer factory tours can you really take in your life?  I feel like one is sufficient.  


I have two days of work left, and then a week off to get everything packed and ready and my affairs sorted out at home, and then I’m off!  

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