Friday, July 31, 2009

On taking a break

The excitement of booking the first leg of my trip earlier this week, seemed reason enough to take a brief break from trip planning. Well, that, and the fact that I was visiting friends in New Jersey again. This isn't to say that I didn't talk about the trip...that would be crazy. :-)

(As an aside: These days I recognize that the trip seems to be the only thing I have to talk about - I am eating, sleeping, and breathing it, after all - so I try to consciously not talk about it too much unless people ask first. Lucky for them, they asked. But if you're someone I talk to regularly and I'm starting to make you insane with a trip tangent, just let me know. I can't help it.)

Anyway, for the first time in I don't know how long, three whole days went by that I did nothing related to travel. No research, no travel blog reading, no planning, nothing. It was weird, but I think it was also just what I needed. After the adrenaline rush the other day, it took a few days to recover. I'm back now, though, refreshed and ready to tackle things again.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Oh, holy moly!

You'll notice that I added a little countdown gadget over there to the right. (Hopefully it's working - it was giving me a couple of issues.) My first leg of my trip has been booked! On October 1st I will be flying from Dulles to London and then London to Barcelona (on October 2nd). I got AWESOME airfare on both flights and I am incredibly excited. Wowza, this is really happening!

Now I just need to arrange a ride to Dulles. . .Dad? Kath? Any takers? :-)

Btw, please excuse my abundant use of exclamations and caps, but the adrenaline is pumping.

**Edited to add: Until I can figure out how to work the countdown gadget, I've removed it. Rest assured, I am still counting down even without it. :-)

Monday, July 27, 2009


How frustrating. I just spent an hour trying to find a link that I forgot to bookmark last week. I did everything I could to retrace my steps (which should have been easier because I actually knew what day I'd been to this site) - I reviewed my history and went to the blogs and forums that I regularly visit. The problem is that I've been going to probably hundreds of travel related sites and clicking on links that take me to hundreds more travel related sites so it's hard to keep track of it all sometimes. I try to bookmark sites that look like they will be useful right away so I don't forget, but apparently this time I didn't do it.

This particular site was important because it was one that first allowed me to see at a glance what airfares are going for with multiple providers. There are a lot of sites like this out there, but so far this one has turned up the best/cheapest fares for what I need. That was a wasted hour, but you can bet that I've now bookmarked it, linked to it, and included it in my resource list!

Friday, July 24, 2009

To do list update

Things have been quiet around here the last few days, but that doesn't mean I'm not busy. HOURS have been spent researching, asking questions, and mostly trying to make decisions. The current to do list is as follows:

I officially know what the Kelley Blue Book value of my car is so now I'll have an idea of what I can sell it for. Still need to talk to the loan company to find out what I owe. Hopefully what I sell it for will equal what I owe, but even better would be if I could actually make a little bit on it. :-)

The dentist appointment has been made. My immunizations follow up appointment has also been scheduled. I've now decided to skip the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine because based on my research, the risk is relatively low unless you're in rural areas (like on a rice paddy or something). I'm going to stick to more urban areas for the most part, so I think I'll save my money ($450 just for the three course JE jabs). I already had my eye appointment and my doc and I have decided on a combo approach. I will use the monthly disposable contact lenses that I currently use in areas where sanitation isn't a concern - Europe, Australia, New Zealand. I'll use daily disposables everywhere else to minimize contact with my hands (washed in iffy water) to my eyes. And, of course, I'll take glasses as backup. Also health related: I've essentially decided what company to use for my travel health insurance, but still need to do a tiny bit more research first.

I've all but decided against purchasing a netbook. I'm just not sure that I'm comfortable with having that expensive an item with me. From what I can tell, internet cafes are super prolific and they're even equipped with Skype. If anything, I'll buy headphones (for Skyping - is that a word?) so I don't have to use skeezy public ones. Once I'm on the road, if I decide I'd rather have a netbook after all, I'll just buy one then.

I've also all but decided against a RTW airfare. I know, shocker, right? What I've discovered is that with RTW tickets you need to confirm travel dates at the time of purchase. This means that I'd have to decide now where I want to be 3, 6, 9 months from now. You can make changes to the travel dates (not the destinations), but of course that comes with a price - up to $350 per change. I want more flexibility than that. I want to be able to leave a city if I get sick of it, stay longer if I love it, or even go to a completely new city altogether just because I heard great things about it. Total one way fares will probably be about the same or maybe even a little bit more, but the added flexibility will be worth it. I plan to purchase the first leg of my trip (to Barcelona) in the next week or two.

So there you have it. I still have to lots to do, but I definitely feel like I'm making progress.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Random thoughts

Because my brain is complete mush with all of this travel planning, here are some random thoughts in bullet format:

- It occurred to me that I'm going to go a year without driving a car. Since I was 16 I haven't gone more than, what, a few days without driving? Weird, huh? I anticipate using many modes of transportation - planes, trains, taxis, tuk-tuks, motorcycles, buses, boat, bicycle, maybe an elephant - but probably not a car as I won't have an international driver's license. I wonder if I'll forget how to do it after all that time. . .

- I'm going to miss a lot while I'm away. Christmas with my niece and nephews (and the rest of my family, of course). My best friend's daughter's first birthday. Other events that will pop up in the lives of my friends and family. I know I'm going to experience a lot, too, that will make up for all the things I'm missing at home, but it still makes me a little sad to think about it.

- I'm having second thoughts about the RTW airfare ticket. Even though I got a second quote that was even better than the first (woo!), I'm starting to think that this type of ticket just won't allow me the flexibility that I need. And aside from the first leg, budget airlines might allow me to piece together my own trip even cheaper than the RTW price.

- People LOVE to talk to you once they find out you're about to travel to Barcelona/Thailand/Fiji/fill-in-the-blank. A couple of times over the last few days I've hunkered down in a coffee shop with one of my (many) travel guides and people always interrupt to ask when I'm going. Then they tell me what awesome things they've heard about that particular place (if they've never been before) or that I should check out such and such because it's so cool, or pretty, or interesting (if they have been). It's kind of fun, actually.

- In the midst of all of my RTW travel planning, I'm also planning mini trips to New Jersey and New York to visit friends before I leave. It's bizarre to me that this feels like a "final goodbye" of sorts, even though I know it isn't.

And. . .that's about enough randomness for one day.

Link love

Over there on the right, you'll notice I added a section called "Resources and other interesting sites to check out." The two main reasons for this are that 1) some people were sending me very useful links, but then couldn't remember what links they had or had not sent (hi Dad!), and 2) it allows me to have all of those very useful links in one spot for my own convenience. I intend for this to be a fairly dynamic list, so it will probably change and evolve over the course of my journey.

The links are a mix of resources that I've used in my own planning as well as the travel blogs of some other folks who are doing the same thing. I read them for inspiration and encouragement, but maybe you'll just want to read them if you get tired of reading about me. :-)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Secret fears

You gotta face your fears, right? Put them out in the open instead of hiding from them?

- I didn't go to Artscape this weekend because I just didn't feel like going by myself. What if I don't feel like doing stuff by myself while I'm away? It should be relatively easy to meet up with other travelers if I want to so I won't be 100% on my own 100% of the time, but I won't always have that option. If I'm being logical, this isn't a huge concern because I'll be so excited about seeing and experiencing new things (and, let's face it, if you've seen Artscape once, you've seen it a million times), but it is a fear that's kinda hanging out in the back of my mind.

- Everyone who knows me has probably heard the story about me going on vacation for two weeks and only taking a carry on bag. I consider myself a pretty low-maintenance gal. But low-maintenance for me still includes make-up, a blowdryer, my own clean bed, and easy access to showers and clean clothes. What if, once on the road, I come to the realization that I need those things more than I imagined, that I'm actually not all that low-maintenance after all? My budget will allow for occasional hotel stays, but for the most part I'll be staying in hostels and guesthouses. Can I hack it?

- I'm pretty independent and I always have been. I like it that way. But what if I get miserably homesick and miss my family and friends more than I can handle? Will I decide to throw in the towel and come home early or will I stick it out?

There's probably a million others if I really think about it. I think that now that I have a RTW ticket quote, the trip is getting more real by the day. It's not just a fantasy or daydream; I'm DOING this. Whoa. Time for a deep breath.

Friday, July 17, 2009

I think I am actually, truly, seriously considering this

I want to get my hair cut before my trip. Right now my hair is long and I blow dry it every day. I won't be taking a hairdryer in my pack, so I started thinking about shorter, more low maintenance cuts. It's also going to be hot in the tropics, another reason to get the hair off my neck.

I was joking around with a friend the other day about this when he said, "Why don't you just shave it off?" Ha, ha, funny, right? Well, but actually, ever since I saw Natalie Portman's 'do in V for Vendetta I've wondered if it was a look I could pull off.

A couple of examples for you:

Can I really be considering this? I know that men, for the most part, dig women with long hair. I also know that the women who hear that argument against short hair from men will reply that men aren't the ones who have to style/maintain/"deal with" their hair. But I would be doing this for me and not for anyone else. Do I have the guts to go through with it and would I be able to pull it off? I have no idea, but yes, I am actually, truly, seriously considering it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What are you going to do in ______?

As I tell people about my trip and fill them in on my plans (why aren't they reading the blog again?!), one question I get asked over and over again is in regards to specific activities I plan to do or sights I plan to see. It's a hard question to answer because when you're going to be away for a year, you don't plan out every day like you would for a one or even two week vacation. If that's even possible, which I really don't think it is, you'd go crazy in the process.

My approach will be to come up with two or three things that I'd like to do in each place and then kind of wing it from there. This will make you Type-A personalities out there hyperventilate, but I think it will allow for the most flexibility. If I decide last minute that I want to go shopping, or to a museum, or the beach, I'll be able to do it without any major adjustments to my itinerary.

There are definitely things that I really, really want to do, though. On the suggestion of the Brits, I'm now way excited about seeing a football match at Camp Nou in Barcelona. This is one of the world's largest stadiums, seating about 100,000 people. Soccer is huge pretty much all over the world except in America and FC Barcelona is supposed to be a pretty good team, so I can't imagine not having a good time.

The architecture in Prague is amazing, so the biggest thing I want to do there is wander around for hours just taking pictures. The Czech Republic is known for their beers, too. I've drank Pilsner Urquell at home, I just have to do it there!

Since I'm into yoga, I think it would be pretty awesome to take a yoga class in India where it originated. I've been doing yoga for years, but there's still probably nothing I can do to prepare myself for how very different I expect a "real" yoga class to be. Along that same vein, I love to cook and would like to take cooking classes in as many different countries as I can. For cost purposes, this is most likely to happen in SE Asia, but that's okay because I love Asian food. A cooking class in Thailand is a must and if I can take
them in Vietnam and Malaysia too, even better.

I want to see wildlife. This orangutan lives at the National Zoo in DC, but they currently only survive in the wild in Indonesia. (Did you know orangutan is Malay for 'person of the forests'?) I probably wouldn't actually see them in the wild, but there are parks and rehab centers and such where I'd get to see them up close and personal instead of behind glass. I'd like to see tigers and elephants (and bears, oh my! Well, ok, maybe not bears.). I want to see brightly colored birds and huge sea turtles.

I want to see and hike to the top of Angor Wat in Cambodia (wat means temple). I don't even know if hiking to the top is allowed lol, but if it is, I want to do it! I think the view would be awesome. Taj Mahal is obviously a must. And I've never been snorkeling or scuba diving before, so wouldn't it be really cool to do it for the first time in Australia's Great Barrier Reef?

That's just a sampling of some of the things I'd like to see and do, but it should give you an idea. Is there anything I haven't mentioned that you'd like to recommend? I'm open to suggestions.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

To do list

This post is gonna kinda be like the world's largest and most visible Post-It note to myself. :-) Now that my itinerary is getting really close to being finalized - I got an email back from AirTreks with a couple of questions, but should have an official estimate within two business days! Woo! - I'm starting to think about all of the things that will need to be done before I leave. Here's what I've come up with so far, but I may have to edit and add things as I think of them.

_ Sell my car. (Yes, I just got it, but I really can't afford to pay for it, just to have it sit idle for a year. I can always buy it again when I get back.)
_ Decide what possessions I will keep and what I will sell. Put keepers in storage and pay in advance.
_ Advise landlord that I won't be renewing lease.
_ Make a dentist appointment.
_ Make an eye appointment. Be sure to discuss varieties of contacts with doctor.
_ Finish getting immunizations.
_ Get travel health insurance.
_ Decide whether to purchase netbook computer to take with me.
_ Purchase travel related gear: medical kit, clothesline, SteriPen, packing cubes, Ex Officio undies, etc. In other words, all those little things that I'll need for my pack to make my life just a little bit easier.
_ Buy airfare!
_ Discuss travel plans with my bank.
_ Consider a second credit card so I have an emergency back-up plan.
_ Set up Skype account.
_ Make copies of passport and all travel related documentation to give to Dad and Kathy just in case I lose it or it's stolen. Perhaps also email this stuff to myself for the same reason.
_ Make my first night (or first few nights) accommodation arrangements.

Huh. That's all I can think of right now. On the one hand, it doesn't seem like very much at all and on the other hand, it seems like a crap load. Is there anything really obvious that I'm leaving off?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Have I officially spoken out loud and/or written here on the interwebs for all to see what my leave date target is? I know I mentioned awhile back that it would be sometime in the October to January timeframe. It is now officially set for. . .October. (Well, ok, ok. I guess nothing is "official" until I've purchased my plane ticket, but that will be happening very soon.) I haven't decided on the day in October yet, but I'm thinking either the 1st, 5th, or 12th. It can absolutely be no later than the 12th unless I decide not to go to Europe at all. The only parts of Europe that I'm planning on seeing at this point are Barcelona and Prague (oh and maybe Switzerland since I know people there!). Weather has been a big deciding factor. October won't be too bad with average highs at 68 and 55 degrees for Barcelona and Prague, respectively. I might have to wear ALL of the clothing that I take with me for Prague lol, but I should be okay. If I wait any later then I have to skip right over Europe and head straight for the tropics. And this way I still get to hit three continents!

So what's the itinerary looking like now? Well, I just submitted it to AirTreks for refining and finalizing but here's what it looks like so far. Baltimore--> Barcelona--> Prague--> Cairo (cheaper with this added in as a stopover)--> Bombay/Mumbai--> overland to--> Delhi--> Bangkok--> Hanoi--> Saigon/Ho Chi Minh--> Angor Wat--> overland to--> Kuala Lumpur--> overland to--> Singapore--> Bali--> Sydney--> Auckland--> Fiji--> Los Angeles (cheaper with this added in as a stopover)--> San Francisco--> Baltimore. I was trying to figure out how to show this on a map, but couldn't. Hopefully by the time the trip is finalized, I will have it all worked out so I can include it here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

I think I have a problem

Yes, I happen to be reading all of these books. At the same time. And this is in addition to everything I’m reading online (travel related blogs and general research, for the most part). Someone please stop me from stepping foot into another bookstore or library!

All of those books are travel guides except for the bottom two – one is the 75 page booklet I got from Passport Health and the other is a novel. You may ask how I could possibly have time for a novel, but it’s not just any novel. It’s The Beach by Alex Garland and it takes place on the beaches of Thailand. It’s purely “mood” reading.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dog-sitting and driving an unusual car

What do dog-sitting and driving unusual cars have in common? Well, unless you're me, probably not very much, so stick with me here.

First up: dog-sitting. Last week I was in charge of my sister's dog while she and her family were out of town on vacation. Klondike is a 90 pound (at least) German shepherd. My apartment isn't exactly tiny, but it's also not the three bedroom house with big backyard that my sister has. He's a good dog, though, so even though he overwhelmed my space a bit and was shedding white doggie hair like it was his job, I quickly got used to having him with me. Yesterday I woke up and was a little bit sad when I didn't have to step over him to get into the bathroom.

Next up: driving an unusual car. I drive a Smart car
and they're pretty uncommon in these parts. When I first got it, it took me awhile to get used to the fact that most people had never seen it before and would stare at it (or point, or laugh, or ask questions, etc.). I don't notice these looks anymore unless I'm driving in a new neighborhood.

Putting it all together: At some point it occurred to me that both of these things bode well for my upcoming trip. To me, the dog-sitting scenario meant that I am flexible and easily adapt to whatever situation I find myself in. If I've learned anything so far during all the research I've done, it's that travelers have to maintain flexibility and adapt to the region if they're going to "make it." And getting used to stares, I think, has prepared me for the stares I'm bound to get as a solo white woman traveling through SE Asia - I'm sure to stick out like a sore thumb.

What do you think? Am I reading WAY too much into this? Do I have travel on the brain so much that I could see lessons in just about anything?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Another product of note

Any guesses as to what that handy-dandy thing to the left does?

It's called a SteriPEN and it is a portable water purifier. According to their website, it "uses ultraviolet (UV) light to destroy waterborne microbes." Essentially all you do is push the button, wait for the green light, and stick the tip in the water. Everything is automatic from there and you're left with water that's free of viruses and bacteria.

It almost seems too good to be true, right? I mean, anyone who's traveled even a little bit has heard horror stories about Montezuma's revenge, tourist trots, or some other version of what basically boils down to "Don't drink the water!"

I'll have to do more research because the reviews I've read so far are very mixed. The people who love it, really love it and talk about how they were in Africa for three weeks and never got sick after drinking their SteriPEN treated water. But the people who hate it complain about the unreliability factor - batteries that quit working, etc. - and what good is it if it only occasionally works or randomly stops working? (Especially since this is a $100 product and you'd be left high and dry (ha!) without it.)

Is it just me or does it seem that the more research I do and the more I find out, the more I realize I still have even MORE research to do?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I'm loving this book right now

I'd picked it up at the book store, flipped through it a bunch, and liked it - but didn't buy it. Ended up ordering it online instead; I guess delayed gratification isn't a problem for me if it means I save a few dollars. :-)

You'll see over there in the title the phrase "gap year." If I haven't mentioned it before or if you're not already familiar with it, a gap year refers to time taken off in schooling or career and is usually spent traveling and seeing the world. In the UK and Australia it's a very common concept and it's usually done by students in the year after high school and before college (or university, as they would say). I think it's a great idea and think more American students should steal it for themselves. What better way to prepare yourself for college and expose yourself to the real world, all at the same time?

Anyway, as the gap year is not a particularly American phenomenon, most gap year books are geared towards young, British adults. I am neither (obviously) so those books aren't really a fit for me and what I'm looking for. This one, however, is perfect. It makes use of the British way of spelling words (organise, favourite, etc.) so clearly it realizes its audience is mostly a non-American one, but it has sections specifically for British, American, and Australian travelers. It also doesn't forget that gap years can be taken by people of all ages and not just young adults.

It includes sections on working, volunteering, and studying which I'm all about. Its sections on specific destinations are very detailed and informative, including material on sample itineraries, things to do, when to go, sample costs, and even books and movies to get you in the mood. Oh! The best part? Lots of awesome, full color photos that are amazing. It's full of good advice, hints, and tips and is doing a really good job of getting/keeping me excited.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Oh, wow

So I was reading some travel blogs and happened to come across a product that I'd never heard of before. It's a product described by the sellers as a "feminine urinary director for women of all ages." You know what that means, right? It means women can now pee standing up! Guys always brag, "Yeah, well, at least I can pee standing up, ha!" Apparently they don't know about Freshettes. (No, really. Check that link because the illustration is pretty hilarious.)

All joking aside, this handy product gets really good reviews. And it may not seem like something that you'd need all that often, but have you ever heard of squat toilets? Go do a Google image search on that one. Then come back and tell me how useful Freshettes would be in that situation.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Whatever. I've been back for DAYS now. . .

Ok, so apparently it took me a few extra days than I'd anticipated to recover from my Jersey trip. But I am back now and wanted to pick up where I left off with telling what vaccinations and immunizations I'm going to need prior to my RTW trip.

The Passport Health experience has been pretty positive so far. I met for about an hour with a nurse manager who did a brief medical history before jumping in to where I'm going and what time of year it will be when I'm there. Some diseases or infections are more prevalent during certain times of the year, so if I plan to be in that area then, the vaccination is recommended; otherwise, it's not necessary. For example, Japanese Encephalitis, an infection of the central nervous system spread by mosquito bites, is prevalent in Indonesia and Malaysia year-round. I plan to go to both of those places, so the JE vaccination has been recommended for me.

Here's the rundown (with costs):
Hepatitis A&B - $155 x 3
Tetanus/Diphtheria/Pertussis - $75
Polio - $65
Meningitis - $135
JE - $150 x 3
Typhoid - $85
Flu - $30
Doxy - $75

The Doxy is actually an anti-malarial pill that I have to take everyday that I'm in an at-risk area and then for an additional 28 days beyond. This essentially means that I'll most likely be taking this little pill for something like 120 days! The other vaccination that was recommended is for rabies, but I'm going to skip that one as it costs $800 - yes, you read that right. I'll just have to stay away from things with fur and teeth. . .

Also, I'm going to go back and edit any posts that discuss expenses (it may only be one), so that I can have a record of my pre-trip costs.