Saturday, July 31, 2010

How to pack for a RTW trip

Or, maybe I will revise this a few days or weeks from now and call it "How NOT to pack!" Either way, since I'm writing this from the Nashville airport, what's in my bag is what made the final cut. We're flying standby on Delta for the first leg(s) of the trip so we really don't want to check our bags in case we end up routing one way and the bags accidentally go somewhere else. Also, since we'll be carrying them on our backs for the next 8 months, we should be able to carry them through multiple airports on Day 1!

I guess you could say that packing my day bag (above) was the easy part. My only dilemma was that my REI backpack came with a detachable daypack but it's a bit smaller than the Eagle Creek day bag that I've been carrying for the past 12 years. I also have a fairly large Pacsafe purse which I really like because of its adjustable over the shoulder/across the body strap and multiple security features. So today I'm carrying everything in the photo above plus my netbook & charger in the REI daypack (which will barely zip closed as a result) and I've stuffed the empty purse into the outer pocket on the main backpack. I weighed the daypack when we checked in at the airport this morning and it registered 11lbs.

The photo above is of what is actually inside my backpack. It weighed in at 29lbs this morning. I was hoping to keep it closer to 25lbs, but assume it will get lighter as we travel due to use of medications, toiletries & other dispensable items. Of course, some of you may be wondering where we plan to put all our souvenirs. Actually, Greg & I have vowed not to buy any souvenirs unless we are willing to pay to ship them home immediately or, as I half-jokingly say, unless it is something that doesn't take up any room (like jewelry) or can be worn 24/7 (like a tattoo)! Besides, our best "souvenirs" will be our overall shared experience and these blog posts and photos.

This is what the backpack looks like completely packed. It doesn't scream "there's lots of cash & expensive travel gear stashed in here." Plus I have locks on all the major compartments to deter prying fingers. Check with me in a few weeks/months to see if all my safety measures are working.

Here is my RTW Gear Inventory. Greg is carrying comparable men's clothing & toiletries and he will be using the Lumix DMC-TS1 camera listed below.

REI Women's Grand Tour backpack + daypack 4050 cu in/25x14x9 (mallard)
Safe Skies luggage locks x2
Pacsafe Wrapsafe Model 2500 adjustable cable lock
Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Pack Cover (Med Green 50-70ltrs)
ebags packing cubes 3pc set (red, gray, green)
Eagle Creek Pack-It Wallaby (black)
PacSafe Citysafe 200 purse (black)
Pacsafe Coversafe travel waist wallet (tan)
Petzl Tikka Plus headlamp (tan)
REI Multi Towel Lite XL (green)
Bucky eye shades (blue)
Eagle Creek inflatable pillow (blue)
Salt silk sleep sack (aqua)
Katadyn My Bottle
ExOfficio Buzz Off bandannas (blue, red)
Sun Cloud Edition 10 sunglasses (black)
Fat Cat 3 way eyewear retainer
SunCloud sunglasses case
Timex Expedition watch
HighGear Adventure Plus compass/multi-tool
Aloksak waterproof ziplock bags (4pk asst large)
EMS polyester trifold/snap wallet (camo)
rubber clothes line
sink stopper
Light My Fire sporks x2
Progressive International collapsible bowl w/lid x2
Sure Strap 1.5" x 80"
PMI utility cord black 50m
Panasonic DMC-FZ28K camera + spare battery
Tiffen 46mm UV Protector filter
Hoya 46mm Circular Polarizer filter
Transcend 16GB Class 6 SDHC card x2
SanDisk 4GB Class 2 SDHC card x2
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1 camera + spare battery
Acer Aspire One AOD250-1706 netbook
Nikon Trailblazer 10x25 Waterproof All Terrain Binoculars
Targus World Power travel adapter
USB 1GB flash drive
Nokia E75 with GoSim international sim card
Shure E4c sound isolating earphones
VOIP headset
Sanyo Travel alarm
Marmot Minimalist Goretex Paclite rain jacket (black)
Sierra Designs rain pants (black)
Seirus Hyperlite all weather gloves (black)
Eddie Bauer waterproof safari hat (green)
Sea to Summit mosquito headnet
DueNorth fleece beanie (black)
REI Windbrake Thermal (green)
ExOfficio knee-length skirt (black)
Royal Robbins Discovery ankle-length skirt (black)
ExOfficio DryFlyLite convertible shirts (mint green, bone, acorn)
REI Rendezvous convertible pants (navy blue)
Columbia Sportswear Mumbai Mover pants (black, gray, army green)
REI lightweight l/s zip top (black)
Uniqlo l/s top (gray)
REI Traverse Tech s/s tops (orange, aqua)
ExOfficio s/s top (black)
EMS tank (black)
REI lightweight long underwear top & bottom (black)
underwear: Gordini boy short (black); Soma Amazing Lace thongs x6
Lily of France sports bras (white x2)
Soma bra (black)
SmartWool Light Hiking socks (black)
SmartWool Saturnsphere socks (multi-stripe)
SmartWool PhD Outdoor light crew socks (gray)
REI organic merino lightweight hiking quarter socks (blue green)
SmartWool Potpourri socks (light blue, cream)
2 pc swimsuit
Teva Open Toachi sandals (turquoise blue)
Merrell Arabesque (taupe)
Hilo Hattie rubber flip flops (black)
Toiletries/First Aid
Proclear Toric x8; Proclear Sphere x8 (contacts)
DKNY prescription glasses
LowOgestrel 28s x8 (birth control)
Ciprofloxacin 500mg x10 (multipurpose antibiotic)
Doxycycline Hyclate 100mg x150 (anti-malarial)
Ventolin HFA inhalation aerosol (asthma inhaler)
Zomig 5mg x15 (migraine relief)
Relpax 40mg (migraine relief)
Ketotifen Fumarate ophthalmic solution 5ml (eye allergy relief)
Equate lubricating & rewetting drops (dry contacts)
Rite Aid acetaminophen 500mg 100ct (pain reliever)
Walgreens acetaminophen PM (sleep aid)
Excedrin Migraine 24ct
Rite Aid Loratadine 10mg 120ct (allergy relief)
Phenylephrine Hcl 10mg (decongestant)
London Drug decongest nasal spray 20ml
GasX Prevention
Nature’s Way activated charcoal 280mg (digestive aid)
Rite Aid hydrocortisone cream 2oz (anti-itch)
Go Girl female urination device
Rite Aid anti-bacterial moist towelettes
Mentisan 15g (menthol balm - to open airways or block odors)
Olay Regenerist UV lotion 2.5oz (face cream)
Avon Clearskin 15ml (acne treatment)
Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard w/sunblock 2.5oz
Banana Boat Sport sunblock 3oz
Neutrogena UltraSheer sunblock 3oz
Ben’s 30 DEET 1.25oz
Go Toob 3oz 3pack $24.95(filled with hand sanitizer, lotion, multipurpose body shampoo)
Adventure Medical Kits Ceralyte 70, 10 gram, 12 packs each (oral rehydration)
Flents Quiet Please foam ear plugs 10pr
Soft bristle toothbrush in plastic travel container
Crest Glide mint floss 54.7yd
Colgate toothpaste 3oz
Equate multipurpose contacts solution 4oz
Sure antiperspirant/deodorant
Gin-gins ginger candy (anti-nausea)
Alterna hemp hair sculpting putty 2oz
Chapstick lip balm
Trader Joe’s facial tissue pocket packs x3
mini first aid kit containing assorted bandaids, sterile gauze, alcohol wipes
Schick disposable razors
Tampons/panty liners
Cough drops: Boots Nirolex lozenges, Halls
Po Chai pills
Scissors, tweezers, nail clippers, nail file
Sewing kit (needles, thread)
Rite Aid moleskin (blister relief)
Sea-Bands (anti- motion sickness)

Here we are at the Nashville airport at 4:30 this morning. We had hoped to get seats on the first flight to Atlanta at 5:30AM but there were other more senior employee standbys on the list ahead of us so some of them got on and the flight went out full (without us). Ditto for the next flight at 6:30AM. We re-listed to go through Salt Lake City instead of Atlanta at that point and tried for the one & only flight at 7:45AM. Close, but not quite! After spending a couple of hours regrouping in the SkyClub (special thanks to my mom for giving us day passes and all the other Delta employees who tried their best to find alternate routes for us), we decided to purchase one-way tickets on American Airlines from Nashville to Dallas Ft Worth to Los Angeles that cost only $225 for Greg and I used 25,000 AA miles and booked a last minute award ticket for $105. So we now have confirmed seats all the way to Los Angeles and are listed for the Delta flight to Sydney tonight at 10:35PM. It's hard to say what our odds are for getting on. There are other standbys who will get cleared before us due to their Delta employee seniority and/or active status, not to mention the flight is technically oversold by about 13 seats. But apparently there is a high no-show frequency for this flight, so we might have a chance. If we do get on tonight, we'll actually get to Sydney a day earlier than previously planned. If not, we'll have to overnight in Los Angeles and try again tomorrow night (and Monday, and Tuesday) and decide at what point we give up on flying standby and just purchase the one-way ticket (currently pricing from $750 and up. Thank goodness we bought tickets for all the other major legs of the trip with the exception of our flights home next year!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Final Preparations

We are in the final stages of preparing for our RTW trip. Here's what we've been working on the past few weeks:

Prior to leaving Portland, we got our final round of vaccinations (for a total of 12 injections per person over 6 weeks) and filled our doxycycline (anti-malarial) prescriptions, plus I had a full physical, a final follow up appointment for my toe surgery, an eye exam, and a dental exam & cleaning. We also purchased the majority of the OTC meds we plan to carry with us on the trip (I monitored the weekly ads and took advantage of BOGOF sales at Rite Aid + no OR sales tax).

Other items we recently checked off our to do list:
  • We purchased most of our flights from Airtreks along with a special Airtreks-exclusive Travel Guard insurance policy with trip protection & medical coverage. I am letting my U.S. health insurance policy lapse due to the exorbitant $350/month cost (through COBRA) and will apply for a new policy closer to our return date.
  • Greg & I both opened & funded Charles Schwab bank accounts because they refund all ATM fees, don‘t charge foreign transaction fees and have no minimum balance requirements.
  • I ordered GoSim international SIM cards that will work in our unlocked cell phones. Outgoing calls to pretty much anywhere in the world only cost $0.50/minute with no other usage fees. Incoming calls & texts are free. The catch is that to reach us you have to call an Estonian cell phone number. The better alternative is to set up a Google or Yahoo Voice account so we can talk online for free.
  • Greg purchased a AAA membership which gives us discounts & extra car rental protections through their partner programs around the world.
  • We purchased our Japan Rail Passes (which are only available outside of Japan).

Since returning to Nashville last week, my primary focus has been completing our pre-trip checklist:
  • Greg & I have spent hours researching and booking hostels & looking for couchsurfing opportunities in Australia, our first not exactly cheap destination.
  • I scanned & uploaded all of our important documents (passport & visa pages, vaccination cards, international & TN driver's licenses, birth certificates, AAA membership card, insurance policy, wills, health care proxies, itinerary, any tickets bought in advance, front and back of ATM/credit cards, spreadsheets of financial accounts and access info, detailed inventory of items we are taking with receipts to be kept in a file at home) and discussed them with the designated family member who will manage everything while I’m away. This same person will also open & review all of my mail and notify me if anything requires my immediate attention. All of my accounts are online and I receive e-statements so I can pay my bills while I‘m on the road (which should only be for my CapitalOne credit card that I‘m using on the trip). CapitalOne is the only card I could find that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees or an annual fee.
  • I paid the deposits for our Egypt tour..
  • In the past week we received our passports back from Travisa containing our new 1 year China visas & 10 year India visas, our plane tickets & itinerary from Airtreks, and our Australia train tickets from Great Southern Railroad. 
  • Greg resigned from his job today!!!

Remaining items:
  • Packing (again!)
  • Scanning or downloading travel guides/destination articles. We are not carrying any guidebooks due to the extra weight so all this information will be electronic and accessible offline on our netbooks. Here are some of the resources I have been using:
    • Internet: BootsnAll forum, Lonely Planet Thorn Tree, travel blogs
    • Guidebooks borrowed from public library: Rough Guides, Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, Fodor’s, National Geographic Traveler, DK Eyewitness Travel
    • Magazines: Shermans Travel, Conde Nast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Budget Travel, etc.
  • Make extra passport photos. I will do these at home with my photo printer to save money as it costs around $6 for 2 photos elsewhere and we each need to carry about 20.
  • Consolidate all contact info for people we know at our destinations.
  • Print homemade “business” cards (I use Avery card stock 5871).
  • Complete Greg’s living will/health care proxy (I already have one).
  • Suspend subscriptions (i.e. Netflix) & cancel unneeded accounts (e.g. store credit cards).
  • Send out final itinerary.
  • Say our goodbyes.

So, as you can see, we are making good progress and, for the most part, I am not too stressed about our impending departure date. We’ve already had some fun visits with friends & family and are looking forward to more good times in the coming week.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Saying goodbye to Portland

Portland 13APR-13JUL

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I am sitting near gate D15 at PDX, waiting for our 12:50AM flight to Nashville via Minneapolis. We’ll spend the next 2+ weeks in the Nashville area visiting family & friends before starting the first leg of our RTW trip on 01AUG.

Today was a whirlwind of packing & cleaning. The packing part took much longer than I expected. We’ve really accumulated a lot of stuff these past three months! Most of it was intentional as we were taking advantage of Oregon’s no sales tax policy to purchase needed items for our RTW trip. We also picked up odds & ends things along the way (2 signed copies of Anthony Bourdain’s new book, 2 books from SakeOne, assorted beer glasses & other brewpub shwag, etc.).

I was hoping to “test” my RTW bags (backpack + small daybag) and carry both onboard the plane, but ultimately had too much other stuff that couldn’t be safely put in checked luggage. Still, I packed the backpack & detachable daybag as if I was leaving for the trip and when I checked in at the airport I was happy to see the backpack only weighed 23lbs. In spite of this semi-successful trial run, I will still do a couple more test packs at home and maybe walk back & forth to the library, which is about one mile round trip from my grandmother’s house where I stay when I‘m in Nashville.

Saying goodbye to Portland has not been easy. If it wasn’t for the fact that I know we’re leaving for Australia within the next couple of weeks, I definitely would have hung around here longer. The weather has finally turned summery (even though I didn’t mind the cooler, wetter days), there are beer festivals galore for the next few months, and I still have so many things on my Portland “to do” list.

One cool thing we got to do last week was meet up with Eva & Jeremy Rees. World travelers themselves, lately they are driving around the Pacific Northwest trying to find a suitable new home city. Sounds familiar, huh?! No word yet on whether or not Portland made the cut. Anyway, it was great to finally meet them in person. I started following their blog while they were traveling RTW last year through this spring. Getting a chance to chat with them face-to-face about their trip was enlightening, educational and entertaining all at the same time! I’m sure Greg & I will be able to use some of the experiences they shared with us to help guide us along on our trip.

We did take the opportunity last weekend to rent a car for 24 hours and drive out to Forest Grove, OR to visit the SakeOne brewery. True, we could have gotten there via public transportation but it was a one hour MAX ride plus a 45 minute bus ride and a 20 minute walk. So I opted for the car because it also gave us the flexibility to go to the rose garden and a few other outlying brewpubs. It was a beautiful, sunny day with temps in the low 80’s and I enjoyed the transition from city to suburbs to farmland and back.

If you’ve never tasted good sake or are just curious about the different styles and flavor possibilities, I highly recommend a trip to SakeOne, the only American-run sake brewery in the U.S. In addition to free brewery tours, they offer several different sake tasting flights for around $10 per person. We took advantage of a Groupon for $15 total for the sake shock flight, which is 5+ sake tasters paired with bites of food, a complimentary glass of nama sake, and sake primers (books) for both of us. This was an excellent value as the regular price for the sake shock is $10 per person, the books retail for $9.95 each, plus we got to enjoy full glasses of nama at our leisure on the outdoor patio with partial views of Mt Hood in the distance.

Well, that about wraps up our time in Portland and this wait at the airport. We’ll definitely look forward to returning to our new home city after we finish our trip!

Monday, July 5, 2010

The true cost of a RTW trip

It’s hard to believe this is our final month in the good ol’ USA for awhile. Not only that, but we have to say goodbye to our beloved Portland, OR in just 8 short days. We’re continuing to check things off our pre-trip to do list; most recently we completed our last round of vaccinations, got international drivers licenses, got our Australian visas online and sent off for our China & India visas. With the exception of a few minor things, we have purchased all of our travel gear. What we still haven’t done, amazingly, is book a single flight or tour. Of course, there’s a reason for this.

Once we start buying tickets we know we are essentially dictating the course of our trip. True, we will be able to make changes, but not without penalties. We’ll be even more locked into our prepaid tours (a 10 day Egypt tour and a 14 day Kenya/Tanzania safari) and would definitely lose our deposit and potentially a lot more if we have to cancel or change those parts of our trip for any reason. We have also ultimately decided to only purchase the most expensive long haul flights this far in advance, either because we have to be somewhere on a specific date or because we‘re worried the fare is going to increase significantly. Unfortunately, we have six long haul segments, not including our Delta standby flights from Nashville to Australia (via Atlanta & Los Angeles), from Mumbai to Amsterdam, and from Madrid back to Nashville (via Atlanta). The six ticketed flights alone will cost us just shy of $4000. Combine that with the two pre-booked tours, visas, and a comprehensive trip protection & traveler’s medical insurance policy and we’ve spent over $9000 before we ever leave home. Not to mention the exorbitant cost of our vaccinations (over $2000 per person, not covered by our U.S. health insurance policies). As you can clearly see, this round-the-world trip is not going to be cheap!

We spend a lot of time these days talking about our budget. We’ve each allocated $30,000 for this trip. You would think that’s more than enough money to go around the world a couple of times, right??? And, yes, I’m sure you can do a RTW trip on a much smaller budget if you are willing to camp & self-drive or backpacker bus your way through some of the more expensive destinations like Africa. Or, spend the majority of your time in places like Southeast Asia, where you can live well for under $20 per person, per day. We don’t mind roughing it in a certain sense, by staying in dorms with shared baths in hostels or couchsurfing, eating from street carts instead of at sit-down restaurants, and forgoing some museums & activities with higher entrance fees. But we’re planning to be on the road for a minimum of 7 months, and, if all goes well, potentially longer. There are going to be times when we want a private room, an identifiable hot meal, and to see or do something that we’ve traveled over 10,000 miles from home for. We know it’s going to be tough to stay within our budget and that we’ll have to keep track of our expenses all along. While obsessing over the money we’re spending could easily ruin the trip, the last thing I want is to be 4 months in and realize I’m down to my last allocated $1000 and it’s time to pack up and come home.

Partially for that reason, but also for geographical & seasonal purposes as well as to ensure that we travel to the most far-flung, hard-to-do-on-a-typical-American-one-week-vacation places first, we’re starting in Australia & New Zealand. Not exactly low budget countries! We originally planned to spend about a week in Sydney, then fly to Cairns to explore the reef, Darwin to visit Kakadu National Park, Adelaide for the wine region, Kangaroo Island for the animals, and Melbourne for the food & culture. Based on our research over the past week, we’ve pretty much decided to axe Darwin from the trip, not because we don’t want to go, but due to the overall cost of activities there (1-2 night package tours to explore Kakadu are upwards of $400 and lodging in Darwin is at least $100/nt). This will also “save” us about $200 in airfare compared to flying directly from Cairns to Adelaide. In Cairns, a full day boat excursion to snorkel various sites on the reef is over $125pp. The logistics for Kangaroo Island make it fairly expensive (a RT ferry or flight from Adelaide, limited food & accommodation options - but there is a hostel that we’ll try to reserve, a 2-3 day car rental…). Ultimately it’s all about finding a balance and not blowing thousands of dollars in the first month of the trip!

It has been hard to write this post about money. But it’s very much a daily reality for us now and will continue to confront us in myriad ways throughout the trip. I just hope that we are spending enough time in the lower budget countries to offset the higher costs in the most expensive ones. I keep telling myself that this is why I worked so hard my whole life and got rid of all the excess “stuff”, to have this opportunity to travel, see the world and meet lots of interesting people in the process. But the truth is that it has been over 5 years since I traveled for longer than 1 month under sometimes tough conditions, alone, in northern India. Only time will tell if I have what it takes to not only complete a trip of this magnitude, but to share all of the ups & downs with Greg and come away from it at the end fulfilled & with the travel bug satiated, at least until the next time!!!