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?”
When we travel for two weeks or less we stay mostly in hotels. Sometimes budget hotels around $100, sometimes we’ll even splurge and spend more.

budget beach guesthouse in the Cook Islands

On our trip we stayed in private doubles of hostels in first world destinations and paid between $40- $90US. Sometimes the hostels have flatscreen TVs and private bathrooms, sometimes you couldn’t fit more than a bed in there. Even on shorter trips we’ve stayed in hostels a few times as a way to stay in a central location without the extra cost. We love the social aspect of hostels, but we try and stay away from ones that target the younger crowd. Just like hotels different hostels have different personalities.

In Asia, budget hotels are a bargain. Our cheapest hotel was $5/night and we hardly ever paid more than $25US. The hotels are usually clean, include wireless, and sometimes even a hot breakfast.

For more on accomodation, you can check out this post

“What are your experiences with health insurance and issues?”

As a Massachusetts resident whom is required to have health insurance, I was definitely concerned about having to drop my employer plan. I ended up making some calls and finding out that you can qualify for a waiver if you’re outside the country. Whew (I may have to update this after I file 2011 taxes though!)

While traveling we used World Nomads, which covers both health and travel issues, and is incredably reasonably priced. We spent $500 for both of us over 5 months. It’s also important to note that if you join certain tours and other activities while traveling, a lot of companies will ask for proof that you’re internationally insured, so if you’re thinking about skipping it, it may be a bad idea.

The last thing about Health Insurance that I was concerned about was access to prescriptions. As I had hoped, most third world countries give you easy access to prescription drugs. The biggest hassle is actually communicating what you want. I had many entertaining conversations at pharmacies. I highly recommend bringing the package of previous prescriptions with you.

“Could you get on the internet and connect to back home? Did you ever feel alone or isolated?”

Internet access is always available. Sometimes it’s expensive (Australia and New Zealand), and sometimes you can’t connect wirelessly (tiny islands like Raratonga and Koh Lipe), and then other times it’s slow (Laos and Cambodia) but it’s always there.

I was always able to connect with friends and family, but actually felt that they assumed we weren’t available so I didn’t speak to them much. Tim and I definitely craved communication with people other than each other, but we usually seeked to find it in person. If we did want to call family, I found the skype on my iphone worked great. It felt just like a regular phone connection as long as the wireless connection was strong enough.

“What’s your top destination recommendation and what was the toughest place?”

Tim Says: Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, Africa. Even though it wasn’t from this trip, he wanted to include it because it’s really the most extroardinary experience to find yourself surrounded by so many wild animals. We found ourselves in the middle of a hyena chase at one point, you don’t see that stuff at your local zoo.

Elephant Crossing

Tim’s vote for toughest place is Vietnam in the middle of Tet. The place is chaos without the holiday festivities, with it you’re just caught in a mob filled with gold tinsel in every direction and orange trees unexpertly attached to the back of mopeds.

Robin says: Hoi An in Vietnam was my favorite place that I would particularly recommend to the ladies. I wouldn’t even call myself someone who likes shopping but Hoi An was just spectacular for tailors and super cheap everything. The best part was the town itself was the most scenic little town with great restaurants and entertainment.

My vote for the toughest place is Australia. I thought I would steer away from the obvious answers and go with a place that people might assume is easy. They speak English, after all. The thing about Australia though is that it’s super big and super expensive, and due to the drinking culture its pretty easy to spend more time than you planned drinking. The only way to really overcome this successfully is to use Australia as a working spot to take advantage of the high wages. (min wage = $15.50)

“What were planning resources you used?”

Best book: Vagabonding
Best Documentary: A Map for Saturdays
Best sites: Wikitravel, the Bootsnall forum

“How did you finance your trip?”

We saved $200 – $400/month each for around 2 years. There was also a small contribution that came from some vested company options I had, I would say less than a quarter of the trip was funded through that though.

“What is your top travel tip?”

Tim Says: If there’s something you really want to do, do it, don’t worry about the price because you may never have an opportunity to come back there again.
Robin Says: You can literally buy everything on the road, and usually cheaper, so bring a half empty backpack.

Other questions we got from MPG attendees

“How did you manage to not kill each other traveling together.”

Well…it wasn’t easy. Couples are not meant to spend 24/7 together. The best days were when we met a lot of people and went out for meals and activities in bigger groups, so I highly recommend attempting to meet people as often as possible.

being stuck on a boat for two days is way better with friends

We should have been better at doing our own things during the day. Tim hated letting me go places on my own in some places though, and the other problem is we mostly actually wanted to see the same things. Also if we did do our own things it was more expensive, so we avoided it more than we should have. We did split up for two days in Borneo while Tim climbed a mountain, and it was a good experience for both of us. It’s not weird to split up and have a chance to miss each other and actually talk about what you did while you were apart.

Lastly, if you’re traveling as a couple bring entertainment. We played cards during dinner, or sometimes chess on the ipad (I didn’t even know how to play chess before the trip). On nights we didn’t go out after dinner we would watch downloaded episodes of Dexter on the ipad. Trust me, staring at each other with nothing to say across the table isn’t the best way to keep a relationship strong.

“How can I work on the Road?”
Well, I once worked in the Gold Coast of Australia as a cocktail waitress. Other than that I don’t have any first-hand experience, but we learned this much on our trip:

You can get a work visa in Australia but you are required to work 6 months in the rural areas first. I met people who worked at a vinyard for example. Now, there are other ways to get jobs in the cities in Oz, or you can Aupair, but it’s best if you know people to make that happen.
New Zealand actually has a very easy work visa policy and I highly recommend looking into it. Also there are plenty of opportunities in Thailand/Laos to work at hotels and bars, the pay might be low but it will usually cover costs in that part of the world and then some.
Lastly, teach ESL. Places like Hong Kong, Korea, and Taiwan will pay really well, but you can usually find openings all over Asia, Africa, and South America. You usually need to commit at least three months, but I have rarely met anyone who didn’t like the experience.

“Would you ever do a trip like this again?”
I think we feel good about the trip we took and whats on our radar now are things like buying a house, that don’t mix well with long-term travel. I wouldn’t mind living internationally though. If we want to take some time off again 10 years down the line we would be more inclined to spend time volunteering for a month and traveling slowly from there. One lesson from our travels is less is more. The more time you spend in a place the easier it is to connect and really find out what it’s about underneath the touristy stuff. We need to stop being in rush to check things off the list.

“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big.”
— Daniel Burnham, Chicago architect.


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