Monday, August 31, 2009

Only. . .

. . .one more out of town trip til I leave.
. . .four more weekends til I leave.
. . .one more wedding related event til I leave.
. . .three more scheduled outings with friends til I leave (I'm sure there will be more).
. . .six more friends and family birthday celebrations til I leave (boy September is a busy bday month!).
. . .19 more days of work til I leave.
. . .one more Thirsty Third Thursday til I leave.

But Dad may have put it best when he said "
Holy Crap - the countdown thingy is at 30 days!!"

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Still plenty to learn

So on Sunday I went to a local CouchSurfing event that I think I mentioned before. Essentially this was just a gathering of CS members where we did the potluck thing and just chatted, hung out, and talked about things related to travel (of course). The travel part of it was a good way for people to exchange ideas and tips and it was in one of these conversations that I found out I still have plenty to learn.

One of the guys asked me if I'd ever heard of card churning. I had a moment of panic because I thought I'd researched every possible thing out there when it came to my trip. No need for panic, though; card churning isn't a necessity, just an extra bonus tip. So what is it? Some credit cards out there offer bonuses when you sign up for them. For the purposes of a round the world traveler, the best bonuses are air miles. You sign up for the credit card, spend the minimum amount (usually around $750), collect the miles (usually somewhere around 30,000), pay off the card, and close the account. The "churn" part comes in when you then sign up for a new account and do the same thing all over again. Not all cards allow you to do this, but it's perfectly legal. An added bonus is that you don't even have to actually spend that minimum amount. How? Go to the U.S. mint website, purchase $1 coins using your new credit card, deposit those coins into your bank account, then use that money to pay off your credit card. There's a shipping and handling fee, but that's it. This won't work for every one, but if you are interested in traveling, particularly for free using air miles, it's something to consider. Just Google "credit card churning;" there's TONS of info out there.

The other thing mentioned at the CS meeting that I wasn't very familiar with was Help Exchange. Help Exchange is "an online listing of host organic farms, non-organic farms, farmstays, homestays, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, backpackers hostels and even sailing boats who invited volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation." In my opinion, it's a good way to really get a feel for local life while at the same time saving money and occasionally even doing something good. I've only begun to research it, but I definitely think that at some point during my trip this type of set up will be very useful for me.

These were two new or relatively new concepts to me. Things like transportation, vaccinations, travel health insurance, accommodation types, etc have been highly researched and are pretty well covered. But let's play Stump the RTW Blogger. :-) Is there anything you can think of that you think I haven't thought of? Put it in the comments. . .

Monday, August 24, 2009

On a non-travel related note

Look! I have company for a few weeks:

These are five-week-old little girls called Eureka, Fizz, and Heine(pronounced 'hine,' not 'hiney' as in butt). (Hey, don't look at me, I didn't name them!). I'm a foster parent with the SPCA and told them last week that I have to take a fostering hiatus because of my trip, but that I wanted to help out as much as possible until then. So. . .voila, within days I had the call to take in these sweet things.

I think this might be my favorite pic of them so far:

That's right. I put them to work getting beer for me right away. :-)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Weird hotels

I've recently come across a couple of links for weird hotels around the world. There's even a website all about them - Unusual Hotels of the World. I'd heard or read about ice hotels, cave hotels, and underwater hotels before, but never really gave them much thought.

Now that I'm only 40 days (!!) away from heading out, it was fun for me to look through all of these crazy pictures. I won't be staying at any of these places, though. A lot of them are located in areas that I won't be traveling to, but even if I was, I wouldn't/couldn't stay there. Some of them are as much as $500/night - well outside the range of a backpacker's budget! The Hang Nga Guest House in Vietnam, aka Crazy House, might be a possibility, however, since I will be in that country. But I don't know if I could sleep in those rooms. . .might be nightmare inducing. :-)

What about you? Would you ever sleep at one of these hotels?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Countdown by activity

It's weird thinking that, including this upcoming weekend, there are only six more weekends to go before I leave. I've realized that rather than thinking about time left in terms of days - yes, even with that handy dandy countdown gadget - I've been thinking about time left in terms of what I'll be doing and who I'll be seeing between now and then.

For instance: I have an engagement party and a bridal shower to attend; I'm visiting friends in both NJ and upstate NY; I'm going to King's Dominion with my sister; a few days later I'll be babysitting her kids while she plays soccer. There's only two Thirsty Third Thursdays left, including the one this week (ladies - what's the plan?). I'm having a foodie movie marathon with DSH wherein we plan to watch Babette's Feast, Like Water for Chocolate, Eat Drink Man Woman, Tampopo, and Chocolat back to back (and hopefully stuffing our faces throughout since we're sure to be hungry as we watch!). A few weeks after that I'm having lunch with DSH's mom and I haven't seen her in ages. There's a holiday, Labor Day, and my last day of work will be September 25th. Oh! And I'm also going to a local CouchSurfers event. It'll be my first one, so that should be fun.

All of those events mean that I have ONE unaccounted for weekend. But that will probably be the weekend that I spend surrounded by boxes as I pack up my apartment and put things in storage. Plus, there's still all those little (and some not so little) items related to my trip that I have to take of, too.

Something tells me it's gonna be a busy 43 days.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Open invitation

I'm frequently asked by people who are hearing about the trip for the first time who I'll be traveling with. I say that I'll be going solo and they either "get" that, or they don't. There are so many reasons why it's a good idea to do a trip like this on your own. You can do what you want, when you want. You can go where you want and you can change your mind along the way if you so choose.

Another big reason that's maybe not so obvious is that a single person is more approachable than a group, or even a couple. If you've ever traveled by yourself, perhaps you've noticed that you tend to be more outgoing or more willing to talk to people you'd otherwise not talk to. As part of a couple, on the other hand, you probably isolate yourself a bit more as you already have a companion with whom to enjoy the sights, the restaurants, your free time, etc. To put it simply, traveling solo gives you more opportunities to meet other people, both other travelers and locals. And again, since you're alone, this is a choice you make cuz, let's face it, sometimes you just want to be alone.

Ok, that was a little bit of a tangent. To get back to my point - after people ask who I'm traveling with, a lot of times they then ask if I'll be meeting up with anyone along the way. It looks like that may just happen; one of the book club gals will be in Vietnam and maybe Laos with her boyfriend at about the same time that I plan to be there, so we're gonna try to meet up.

Here's the open invitation: Do you have plans to be in any of my destination locations (or even somewhere close that might make a good side trip for me)? Are you looking to take a vacation in the next year but don't have ideas on where to go? While I am psyched to go on this trip by myself, I also think it would be really cool to meet up with someone from home on the other side of the planet. So if you're looking for a little adventure of your own, let me know and we can try to make plans to connect at some point.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

According to the "what type of travel personality are you?" quiz

Your Travel Personality Is: The Adventurer
For you, travel is how you learn about the world. And you like to learn the stuff that's not in guidebooks. You truly have wanderlust. When you're not traveling, you're dreaming about where you'll go next. And your travels are truly legendary - they leave you with stories you'll be telling for the rest of your life!

Well, I'd say that's pretty accurate considering the trip I'm about to take. What kind of traveler are you? Find out here, and be sure to tell me your results!

Friday, August 14, 2009

The identifying mark of a traveler

There must be a set of core characteristics among people who like to travel that makes them inherently kind, generous, and friendly. I don't know why that is exactly. If I had to guess, I'd say it has something to do with why people travel in the first place. People who travel want to see and experience that which is beyond the boundaries of their own backyard, their own cities and states, their own country. They are open-minded and want to learn about other cultures. If you are a traveler yourself and meet someone else who identifies themself this way, you can already assume all these things about the type of person they are.

So what has me thinking about this, before I've even left? Well, I've already experienced that kindness, that generosity, that friendliness of people who are, in some cases, complete strangers to me. They have no reason to want to help me, they get nothing in return. And yet I've had people offer all kinds of suggestions based on their own experiences, from what are "musts" to pack to what are tourist destinations that can be skipped. I've had someone offer to pick up travel related books for me because he lives near a used bookstore and he noticed they had a lot of them in stock. I've had someone offer to put me in touch with her friend in Singapore who loves to play tour guide to out of town visitors. I've had people recommend hotels/hostels, restaurants, websites, markets, clubs, and caves (yes, caves!).

It's all pretty cool, actually. It's making me look forward even more to meeting other travelers over the course of my trip, to those moments when someone I've met at the hostel tells me I've got to go to such and such place because it's so fabulous. . .and even though I've never heard of that place, I suddenly decide that I need to go there now, more than anything. Because anything coming from a fellow traveler is something worth paying attention to.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How to ward off homesickness

At my book club meeting the other night I was talking to the ladies about my trip (after we discussed the book first, of course). The topic of homesickness came up and I joked that hopefully I wouldn't get so homesick that I'd just change my mind about the whole thing and come home early. They insisted that I would get homesick, but then I'd get over it, realize what an awesome journey I was having and get on with my trip.

We started talking about ways to prevent or deal with homesickness and there were some interesting ideas tossed about. The most obvious is to take along pictures of your friends and family (and not just digital pics, either, but actual physical photos...remember those?). An added benefit of this is that you can show new friends you meet along the way pictures of what home looks like to you.

The most unique suggestion actually used by a friend of one of the book club gals is to take your favorite spice with you on your trip. This is something I never would have thought of, but it actually kinda makes sense. Think of all the times you've smelled a smell and it immediately took you back to a specific time or place: Christmastime at Grandma's house, summer vacation as a child, the first time you made your favorite dish. I suppose that if there was a specific smell, such as a spice, that could be bottled and would instantly make you feel like you were back home - well, that's definitely one way of dealing with homesickness!

I don't know if it will ward off the homesickness exactly, but I plan to write postcards to myself from the road. I can chronicle thoughts or moments that I may or may not want to post on the blog, perhaps something just for me. I kind of envision it as being a way for me to feel sorry for myself for only as long as it takes to fill a postcard (not long) and then moving on. I'll send these postcards to myself, of course, which means that when I get home I can extend the memories of my trip a bit longer and have fun reading notes to myself about things that I may have forgotten already.

Does anyone out there have any other suggestions for how to deal with missing home when you're on the road for extended periods?

p.s. what's another word for homesickness? cuz after this post i kinda never want to see or use it again lol!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Another to do list update

Things are moving right along. There are officially only 49 days left til I leave, so I thought I'd provide another update on my to do list. (By the way, didja notice that I found another countdown gadget thing-y? I don't like this one as much, but at least it seems to be working.)

- Almost all health related items are taken care of. I still have a dentist appointment this week, but that's the last of the doctors' visits. Travel insurance will be taken care of by the end of this week, too.

- Travel plans have been discussed with my bank. I never knew it was as easy as going online, accessing your account, and indicating via a quick and easy tab/pull down menu/button that you will be on vacation. At my bank you can only do this in three month increments, so I'll have to make sure that I remember to do this once I'm on the road, but it's a pretty simple process. I also applied for and received my backup second credit card. The one I got gives triple points for travel and lodging - which I plan to be doing a lot of! - so that's a bonus.

- I downloaded Skype and created my account. If any of you Firefox users out there decide to also do this, let me save you a headache. The download adds an automatic Skype extension add-on to the Firefox browser. This is bad, very bad, because it slows down Gmail (and pretty much everything else you're trying to do) to dial-up modem days of slowness. It's fixed, though, by simply disabling the add-on. If you need help with the specifics of how to do this, just let me know.

- One thing not on my original list: I have to get my driver's license renewed before I leave. Not that I expect to need it while I'm gone, but it expires while I'm away and I'd kinda like to be able to use it without any hassle when I return.

This is all pretty mundane (but still necessary) stuff. I hope it doesn't make for boring reading over the next <<<49!!>>> days because most of the interesting pre-trip stuff is (essentially) done now.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Why flexibility is important

I mentioned before that I wasn't going to do a RTW airfare after all because I wanted as much flexibility as possible. So why is it so important? Because as recently as July 14th (was it really only less than a month ago?!), Laos was not part of my itinerary plans. Guess what? I've decided I'd like to go to Laos. But of course.

There was no real reason why Laos hadn't been part of the plan. In fact, it makes more sense that I do include it because all of the countries surrounding it - Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia - are on my agenda. I guess I just never knew much or heard much about Laos, so I never considered it.

That has all changed. How about some pictures, shall we?
The first shot is a sculpture of a reclining Buddha, borrowed from National Geographic. The second is a temple, or rather, the ruins of one; and the third is simply Laos. claims Laos is "the highlight of Southeast Asia" and they have a whole bunch of cool photographs over here.

So this is why I needed flexibility. I haven't even left for my trip yet and my plans have already changed. I fully expect that this will happen again once I'm on the road. In fact, I hope it happens because it will mean that I'm opening myself up to all the possibilities the world has to offer.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Shopping spree

Unemployment has kept me pretty well house bound for the last few weeks. I'm trying to stick to a budget and going out means it's too easy to buy a coffee or a bottle of water or a new paperback or lunch because I've been out for hours and oh, hey, I'm starving and it would take too long to get home.

So yesterday I found out that my unemployment benefits have finally kicked in (about six weeks after the fact, grr). And, I figured a little celebrating was in order. I was dying to get out of the house anyway. :-) I was on a mission to buy some trip items, so I headed out to Marshall's, Target, Hudson Trail Outfitters, and Best Buy.

I got loot! I bought luggage locks, a hanging toiletry bag, and a couple of those cheap 99 cent, 3 ounce, airport security approved plastic bottles to go in the bag. I got a SteriPEN, a travel towel, and a pair of Ex Officio undies. (I'll need more than one pair, of course. But I wanted to try them out first and then I can buy more, cheaper, online.) I also bought a universal plug adapter/converter, a 16GB flash drive, and a pair of headphones for Skype-ing.

THEN, I went home, got online and bought a handful of quick-dry, non-cotton travel shirts that I'd had bookmarked for weeks. All on sale, thankyouverymuch.

It probably seems like I spent a whole lot of money even though I just said that I was trying not to do that exact thing. The best part, though, is that I used gift cards that I had, so I really didn't spend any of my own money. Technically I suppose I could've gone on this shopping spree sooner, but I guess my idea of a good time is celebrating unemployment benefits by spending money but not actually spending money. I'm goofy like that.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Full moon party

Ever heard of one of these before? They're held at Koh Phangan, Thailand and it's exactly what it sounds like - a party held on the beach to celebrate the full moon and give thanks. It's something my pagan friends (you know who you are!) would totally be into. What started a little over 20 years ago with just a couple dozen people has morphed into an all night party with 10-30 thousand in attendance.

It's definitely not really my scene (I can do without super large crowds of people. . .huh, wonder where I got that trait from?), but I'll probably try to go to a Full Moon Party during my trip. As long as I can hook up with a group of people to go with, that is.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Headline: Human Pincushion Rambles Shamelessly

Yesterday I went for my last round of vaccinations. It's a good thing I like shots (or, at the very least, I don't mind them) because I got five of them, three in my right arm and two in my left. These included polio, typhoid, tetanus, hepatitis A and B, and meningitis - the quickest $515 I've ever spent in less than a half hour. I still need the last course of hep A and B, but that won't be until I get back. Needless to say, both of my arms are a bit sore today, but actually less sore than I was expecting.

After being turned into a human pincushion, I met up with some friends and former coworkers at a bar/restaurant where one of the friends was guest bartending. Of course it was good to see people again, some of whom I hadn't seen in months. But it also gave me an opportunity to a) show off my new haircut, and b) talk about my trip. I may have mentioned here before that I really try not to talk about the trip too much because I realize that it (and I) can easily begin to monopolize the conversation. Last night, though, some people were hearing about it for the first time (or hearing the first update in a long time) and so were asking lots of questions. Yay! I got to talk about my plans shamelessly and guilt-free! I also got to talk to people who'd done some traveling of their own, some to places that I plan to go. Not only was it a good exchange of information, it reinforced for me that this trip is truly going to be a fantastic experience. . .that I will probably bore people with for many, many years to come. I apologize in advance. :-)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Grandma, DON'T read this post

There's this thing called couchsurfing, maybe you've heard of it? I know I never had until recently. It is essentially a group of people from around the world who have collectively decided that they will allow travelers to surf their couch, a.k.a. stay with them (for free). Hopefully these hosts will have the good karma passed on to them and someone will allow them to surf when they travel next. It's all kind of on an honor system; there's no rule that says for every time you surf, you must then host, it's just part of the community ethos that couchsurfing is a give and take. The idea is that the best way to really get to know a city and a culture is to get to know the people who live there. Hosts don't just lend you their couch and send you on your way. Often they will cook dinner for you, be your tour guide, and introduce you to their friends.

There are a number of internet based networks that connect these like minded travelers, but the biggest of them is There are systems in place to increase security, like name and address verification and references from other travelers. Obviously you still have to use your head, but it's quite a few notches above answering an ad on CraigsList.

I think it's an awesome idea. I like the community feel of it and I like that you get "the real Barcelona" (or Prague, or Bangkok, or Kuala Lumpar, etc.). Plus, since my whole mission for this trip is to learn about myself and the world around me, I'm not approaching it like your typical tourist on vacation. What better way to immerse yourself in a culture than to meet and live with locals (albeit only for a few days at a time)?

So I signed up and paid the $25 suggested donation to verify my name and address. Looking through the profiles of other members is a bit daunting and intimidating, though. Some members have been active for years and have very specific "rules" for making requests. As someone who's never done this before, I'm afraid I won't follow proper couchsurfing protocol and etiquette (by accident, of course). Bottom line is that I have no idea if this is actually something I'd follow through with on this trip. At the very least, however, my donation is supporting something I believe in and would like to see continue.

Btw, contrary to the title of this post, I've told my grandmother about couchsurfing before, so I'm not trying to lie to her or hide anything from her. But I know that she worries, so I wanted to give her a heads up in case she chose not to read. :-)