Travel FAQ

At MPG a few weeks ago, one thing we didn’t have time for was panalists each answering some common questions about travel. The idea was to give travelers some great advice but also show that there isn’t a right answer because most of our answers are different.

“What type of accommodations do you normally stay in when you travel?” More


Meet, Plan, Go

I’ve decided to bring the blog out of retirement to share some quick updates about what we’re up to now that our backpacks are sadly tucked away.

While we haven’t been to any exotic destinations recently, our travel spirit remains alive. Tim and I are speaking next week at a National Event called Meet, Plan, Go. This is a seriously cool event. It’s all about promoting long-term travel among North Americans (because believe it or not, long-term travel in kind of normal in other places like Europe).

Tim and I are thrilled to be involved with MPG, not just because the other people involved are even more passionate about travel than we are, but because the opportunity to travel has meant so much to us that we can’t wait to encourage other people to take the same leap of faith.

If you don’t live in Boston, that’s okay because there are 17 events going on through-out the country. (the one in Boston just happens to be the coolest)  If you’ve ever thought about traveling for more than a few weeks then we hope to see you there.

P.S.  If you have been missing my traveling words of wisdom, Here are two places I have been moonlighting recently.

The Cost of Long-term Travel

Budgets and Spending for Five Months of Travel

on the island of Boracay in the Phillipines

(Note: I know I have been neglecting the blog lately. Although I was hoping to write more about our experiences, since there is still so much we never shared, I think Tim and I’s life has officially moved back to boring/conventional mode. Therefore, all thoughts of beaches and exotic curries have been replaced with excel files and how to find a decent apartment to rent in Boston. We hope you’ve enjoyed the posts!)

People always want to know how much money we needed to save to quit our jobs and travel the world. It was the question we got from everyone before we left, so Tim and I decided to keep track of everything we spent. (okay I did, and I bugged Tim about everything he spent money on that day during dinner.)

scribbles to convert between Kip, Dong, and Dollars

Quitting our jobs was a far from reckless whim. We saved for years before we went and I kept spreadsheets. I researched each country and gave us daily budgets based on other backpackers’ experiences. The daily spending was only a fraction of the cost though. We had to budget for travel, pre-departure expenses, other home expenses (b/c some bills just don’t go away), emergency funds, and we needed money for when we came home unemployed.

Now, I’m opening up my budget notebook. I want everyone to know just how cheap you can travel in Asia. How much money did we need to travel for 5 months and spend 6 weeks unemployed in the States? More

Where we rested our heads

Hotel Round-up

We slept in 58 different beds on our five month trip. Sometimes we slept on mats, other times we slept on the most luxorious beds in the world. We slept in huts, guesthouses, with local Vietnamese families, on trains and planes, in hostel dorms, in five star resorts, friends’ houses, and even in treehouses 150 meters off the ground.

We took pictures of the places we stayed so you can see what the more mundane part of our backpacking experience was like. Without further ado I give you Robin and Tim’s “Best of Southeast Asia Accomodation” awards. More

Stop this Train

Stopping for Sushi in Japan

Can you Navigate this?

Tim and I had never heard of Nagoya before in our life until we were going there. In fact, I don’t think I have ever met anyone who has ever even been there. We had to look it up. It turns out Nagoya is the fourth largest city in Japan and in the area of central Japan.

There wasn’t much that was fascinating about it, but then we were only spending nine hours there. We ended up with the stopover after I became desperate to get us home without shelling out an extra thousand dollars more than we had budgeted. We had found flights earlier that went from Manila to Hawaii, and then Hawaii home for a good deal. When we went to book, those rates were no longer there. It’s a likely story when you’re living your life one “one-way ticket” to the next.

I have a PhD in flight route planning these days. I have most airport codes memorized and a good understanding of what airlines fly where. I use several resources to find airlines that aren’t listed on regular sites, and we’re not above wiring money or paying cash in person. When all of these options fail though, I use the kayak multi-stop function. It saved us a ton of money on our tickets. It also earned us 9 hours in Nagoya, Japan.

It’s worth noting that we booked out tickets before the earthquake struck and were scheduled to visit seven days after. This added a new level of “fun” to our adventure. Our stop-over went like this:

We landed in Nagoya at 11am. An American flight attendant urged us not to go into the city because of radiation levels. This was BS. We were further from the nuclear plants than Tokyo. We ignored her.

We stood in the wrong line, finally found the right customs area, got stamped (no visa required), and headed for the trains. We put our carry-ons in a locker and grabbed a map…in Japanese. This was our first sign that our day-trip was not going to go well. I stared at the map with Japanese characters marking each stop, turned to Tim and said well let’s buy a ticket.

Buying a ticket required a lot of pointing and shaking our heads no. This was not good. We finally got our tickets and were on the train. All we had to do was look for the character that looks like a house followed the one that looks short of like a “W” (but not) to come up and that was our stop.

We missed it.

We went to the next stop, got off, and took the train in the opposite direction. It was an express all the way back to the airport. So, about 50 minutes after leaving the airport we were back again. We tried a third time, this time I pointed at the map to a father with two children beside me and mimed for him to tell me when we were at the stop. Success!

Now we needed to locate the local subway to Nagoya Castle. This took some patience but ultimately we arrived. The Nagoya Castle was destroyed and this one was a replica of the fort like structure from almost a thousand years ago. We were thankful that some of information was in English, although we didn’t see one non-Asian person there, or anywhere in Nagoya.

After a quick stop at a Tea house (I couldn’t resist), We only had one other thing that we needed to do. We were in search of Sushi. After wandering aimlessly, like the clueless foreigners that we were, we found a place that was exactly what we wanted. It was the kind of place that counts the plates when you’re done and adds up the price by color.

We walked in and were created by shouts from the Sushi chefs behind the counter. Did we win some secret contest? No, it turns out they shout like that when anyone walks through the door. It’s like a surprise party every few minutes. Tim and I once again resorted to a mixture of pointing and we searched our brain for the Japanese words for the fish we wanted (suddenly very thankful sushi restaurants in the U.S. often keep the Japanese names on their menus). The sushi was fresh, unique, and had way too much wasabi. I was in tears, and Tim almost was too – from laughing at my face. I realized there was a thick layer of wasabi between the rice and fish in the maki rolls. Lesson learned.

At the end, we probably ate as much as family of Japanese would eat, and it cost us about as much as we would have spent in a week on food in Cambodia.

adding up our plates

Stomachs full, we headed back to the airport ( a full 2 hours early). We had very little faith in our ability to navigate ourselves successfully back to the airport, but we did fine. A few hours in Nagoya was enough. We had certainly been spoiled by the amount of English there was around us in Southeast Asia. Japan seems to be for a different kind of traveler. One that has money, can pronounce sounds from pictures, and has had more than an hour of sleep.

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”
– Clifton Fadiman

Valley of the Malls

So I guess we’ll go to Singapore?

We didn’t mean to go to Singapore. Travelers never rave about their trip there. This is what people who have been have to say:

  • Disneyland with the death penalty
  • world’s only shopping mall with a seat in the United Nations
  • Asia Lite
  • spotlessly clean, sterile, well-regulated (Read: boring)

This pic taken by Shane when we happened to sit down on the floor next to he and his friends

The thing was, stopping in Singapore was a better and cheaper option than stopping in Manila twice. So with a few days notice we booked a flight, and then we emailed a guy we met in Bali over suckling pig. His name was Shane, and he was an American living in Singapore, who had recklessly said, “If you find yourselves in Singapore come stay with me.” So with only that much of an invitation, we did just that. More


Cambodian Immersion at its Best

A procession of local Villagers...dressed in drag

Tim and I obviously love traveling. That doesn’t mean we love being tourists though. Actually, this is true of most long-term travelers. Chandler Burr really sums it up best:

“I hate looking at monuments. I hate waking up in the morning and thinking, ‘Oh! Today we’re gonna visit this abbey.’ We don’t do it at home, why should we do it abroad? The only thing I’m interested in is people, views, restaurants, and a clean, warm place to crap, as What’s-his-name said. You never meet real people when you’re touristing.”

So true! And yet each place that we went to we felt it was our duty to “see the sights.” Meeting locals and doing what locals do is even harder when you’re in places with cultural gaps as large and they are in Asia. More

Getting Better
Volunteering outside Siem Reap, Cambodia

This post is very near and dear to Tim and I. We knew we wanted to take advantage of the time we had during our travels to volunteer at some point on the trip. Cambodia always seemed like the most likely place. Half of the 12 million people who live there are under the age of 22. (In America half the population is under 36). There are politics involved with volunteering though. Many orphanages demand a fee – and it is not insignificant. Volunteering for three to six months is the best way to get around this, but not everyone has that much time. We were lucky to run into a woman in Phuket who had just come from the Savong School and gave us the info. Our experience there was phenominal.

While no day was the same during our two weeks. Here’s what our days were filled with: More

Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of
Emotions take over, in Cambodia

some of the thousands of skulls dug up from the Killing Fields

Sometimes when I watch a movie, when its a good movie, it draws me in and I find myself, like many people, finding it hard to watch a scene because of the high emotion it evokes. I whisper to myself, “It’s just a movie, it’s not even real.” Here I was in Cambodia, and it is real – for better or worst. I kept looking for a pause button but I couldn’t find one.

Losing our Appetites in Phnom Penh
Everywhere we went in PP was sad. There were people with no limbs in the streets. I was once forced to step over a naked baby in the sidewalks, her mother most-likely purposefully positioning him there with this idea in mind. But the worst sight wasn’t of Cambodians it was of white men. They were everywhere. More

Ramble On
Loving Everywhere, in Vietnam

Vietnam is a place that people don’t associate with “a good time”. Americans in particular think of war and communism. The Vietnamese will even proudly tell you they’re #2 in the world for both rice and corruption. But maybe Vietnam was our favoirte country for the same reason we love lobster – you have to work to crack the shell and get to the good stuff. More

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