4 feet 2 mouths

walking and eating our way around the world

Archive for the tag “Advice”

Costs of Travel #5 – Real Travel for $50 Per Day, a Summary of Asia & the Entire Trip (by Nathan)

Polaroid taken of us at a party in HK

Polaroid taken of us at a party in HK

I present to you the final installment of our “Costs of Travel” series! Quick recap: the last four months of our trip were evenly split between Southeast Asia (including Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos) and China.  Our final city was Hong Kong, a grand finale to our enormous adventure. We travelled for 410 days and were able to do it for $50 per day. This post will look at the last four months as well as the trip as a whole to provide some advice on how you can get started on your own world tour.

4FEET2MOUTHS Costs of Travel - Regions

(You may notice that the entire trip shows up as $61.60 a day, but this will be explained later on.  We found a way to save at least $11 per day)

Our trip as analyzed through the Costs of Travel thus far:

All this travel definitely made a dent on our pocket book.  We toured 18 countries and explored everything from jungles and mountaintops to pristine beaches and without doubt, it was worth it.  We learned some financial budgeting lessons in South America, we got back on track in the United States and we continued our love of travel into Europe and India.

4feet2mouths Travel Costs - Southeast Asia

It is funny, but Southeast Asia would only feel expensive after arriving from a place like India which is what we did. India is incredibly inexpensive; a few dollars and we were eating like kings.  I am still amazed that we were eating dosas and idli every morning for 50 cents! Where else can you travel to a country for less than $35 per day with flights and visas?  We landed in Bangkok feeling a little awkward in the modernity of a city that is so starkly different from New Delhi.   The contrasts between India and Thailand were so vivid that we constantly grappled in our first few days to readjust to Thailand.  What we quickly learned was that everything in Southeast Asia was twice the price of India, but even still everything was very affordable.

Overall, the costs in the various Southeast Asian countries were very similar and our daily budget was pretty stable at $47 per person per day.  Hostels and hotels were pretty standard at $6-$11 per day and food $7-$9.  That means we were getting all of our basic needs met for $16 per person per day on average.  We did find that every Southeast Asian country had some relatively expensive excursion or activity that we couldn’t pass up: scuba diving, Ankor Wat, Halong Bay and jungle trekking were all wonderful and essential experiences, but they bloated the “Fun” category of our budget.  We also noticed that transportation in the region, both between cities (the Get In category) and within cities (Transit) can easily be done for under $5 per day.  We bused everywhere, with many overnight buses, and I recommend that as the most accessible and comfortable method of transportation.

2012.07.24FEET2MOUTHS Costs of Travel - China & Hong Kong

When we arrived in China it somehow felt more expensive to us than SE Asia.  But when finally sitting down and looking at the numbers it was in fact that same cost – $48 per person per day.  It felt like we were constantly being charged park entrance fees, but those costs rarely compared to the “Fun” costs we had in SE Asia.  A big savings was that we were touring China during winter, which meant that many of the boat cruises and beach adventure activities we were doing in SE Asia were not possible.  It was the buses and trains between cities that were roughly twice the price in China and we typically spent $8 each per day on that transportation, whereas transit within cities was excellent at only $1.34 per day.  All in all, China was extremely affordable. The food, sights and adventure were some of our best memories.

Rainbow currencies of Hong Kong

Rainbow currencies of Hong Kong

Excellent meals at Spring Deer and Da Ping Huo

Excellent meals at Spring Deer and Da Ping Huo

Hong Kong is one of our favorite cities.  We wanted to spend some time there, but at the same time not bust our budget that we had worked so hard to tame.  Hong Kong is one of those cities that must be balanced with one of the more affordable ones.   Planning a trip like ours requires a balance of the “India’s” and the “UK’s;” longer periods of time in the cheap countries provides for a few days in the expensive ones.  After three and a half months SE Asia and China we were ready for a world-class city.   Everything in Hong Kong is about twice the price of China and lodging is quadruple.  We did some pre-planning and found a few friends to host us on Couchsurfing.  It is possible to eat in Hong Kong for under $10 per day, but Hong Kong has one of the most eclectic restaurant scenes in the world so it is worth it to splurge a little.  And as many of you know, food was a quintessential reason for our travel adventures.  Even with succulent visits to Spring Deer and Da Ping Huo we were still able to reach our budget goals.

4FEET2MOUTHS Travel Costs - Every Country

South America was an eye-opener for us; $96 per person per day was not sustainable for a year of travel.  We re-assessed, adjusted and planned a seven month around-the-world trip (Europe to Asia) that successfully only cost $50.5 per day.  We learned that South America is inherently expensive because flights are costly, reciprocity visa fees are prevalent and food and lodging is just not that cheap.  Our revised plan did in fact find a balance of activities, sights and awesome food for an affordable cost.  One reality that we have not addressed was that investing our travel money actually funded major portions of our trip.

4FEET2MOUTHS Costs of Travel - Hypothetical Investments

One of the main advice points of Trip Tip #4 was to in invest your savings before embarking on your around-the-world trip.  I have created a little scenario to prove my point. Suppose I set aside $25,000 each for Carmen and me about one year before we embarked on our trip.  This money would be spent in increments during the trip so would have to be accessible. In this scheme we invested in one of the big Dow companies or in the S&P 500 (an index of the top 500 US companies) that is likely to slowly grow, but not sink.  I ran a scenario where $5,000 was withdrawn at the start of the trip and every three months during the trip.  I chose a selection of companies that everyone has heard of: Disney, Verizon, Exxon Mobile and CocaCola.  If you have a resistance to buying stock, then you are missing out on all the companies that are profiting off of you.  Truth: you are not off the grid. I like to think that I am taking advantage of globalization and the world reach of corporate America by allowing these companies to fund my travel of the globe.  I take my portion of their profits and reinvest it in the local communities I visit by buying food at a street cart or staying in a family-owned hotel.  

My investment scenario shows some amazing findings: two years after deciding to travel and investing the money resulted in thousands of dollars in free money.  Suppose in our investing scenario we did not invest in Disney, but we did earn $4,500 over the course of two years; over 410 days of travel we would have saved $11 per day! Carmen and I did not invest in any of these companies, and I must remind you that there is risks involved in investing, so please research every company thoroughly before you float your life savings on stocks.

Costs of Travel - Everything

So we did it!  Even though we were spending $96 a day in South America, we balanced our trip with some more inexpensive places like the Camino de Santiago, India and SE Asia.  We invested our travel money along the way and pulled it out as we needed it.  Therefore, the $61.60 a day we spent minus the $11 in investment earnings brought us to our goal.  The end result, 410 days, 4 continents, 18 countries at $50.6 per day. 

Check out all of our nerdy fun pie charts here:

Trip Tip #6: Bargaining Like a Pro (by Carmen)

As I’ve mentioned before, Nathan and I love to visit the market in every town and city we go to. Each one has it’s own unique flavor and vitality. But there is one common theme to all the markets we have ever seen – the art of bargaining.

Market in Arequipa

Market in Arequipa

Markets around the world - (clockwise: La Paz, Saigon, Bangalore & Zhongdian)

Markets around the world – (clockwise: La Paz, Saigon, Bangalore & Zhongdian)

Bargaining is huge part of the culture in many places throughout the world. This can take some getting used to for people from fixed price countries of the West. There are feelings of guilt associated with bargaining in the US. It’s as if by counteroffering with a lower price we are telling the person that the price they put forth is exorbitant, or even deceitful. Bring this uneasiness to a developing country, when you know you are relatively wealthy compared to the local population, and these feelings are amplified.

Souvenir fabrics from  haggled for in the markets of Bolivia

Souvenir fabrics from haggled for in the markets of Bolivia

But it doesn’t have to be that way. What if we can reimagine bargaining to be an exciting activity, even a way to asimilate with the culture, instead of something to be apprehensive about. For some people this comes more naturally than others. Nathan, for example, sincerely enjoys the bargaining dance. He briefly touched upon this at the end of his post on New Delhi, specifically noting the use of the head waggle to agree on a deal. India was our head-first dive into bargaining, especially with the rickshaw drivers. They are relentless and will spend plenty of time trying to wear you down to agree to their price.  It was good practice for the months of negotiation to come in Asia. Nathan took care of all the rickshaw haggling and became an expert bargainer, utilizing a no holds barred approach. I would occasionally try my hand at the bargaining dance in the markets. Truth was it still made me more nervous than excited. However, the most compelling reason for me to continue trying was that it is inherently part of the local culture.  To get the most authentic experience of a place I strive to do as the locals do. In the end, by bargaining you are participating in an important local ritual.

Souvenir dolls for negotiation in China

Souvenir dolls for negotiation in China

How hard you bargain is a personal choice and is also dependent on the item you are purchasing and the local context. For example, food generally has a set price. You get a bowl of pho not just in that market but on the next street and pretty much anywhere in all of Vietnam for around the same price. Therefore, vendors are not likely to quote an excessive price. Even tourists will have a sense of the costs of food. But this also depends on context. Souvenirs, local handicraft and clothing all tend to have a sliding scale and thus require a little bargaining. Anywhere considered to be a tourist center will jack up prices and it’s definitely worth bargaining in these situations. Prices will come down fast because, without fail, there will be another shop nearby selling the same thing.

Chinese hand gestures for numbers, essential for market bargaining. Note that ten can also be represented by a closed fist, palm facing forward (Image credit: Cognition, Volume 116, Aug 2010)

Chinese hand gestures for numbers, essential for market bargaining. Note that ten can also be represented by a closed fist, palm facing forward (Image credit: Cognition, Volume 116, Aug 2010)

If you can point to one country being known for its skillful bargainers, it would be China. The Chinese treat it as sport and they are top bargaining athletes. It is not uncommon for people to ask what you paid for your belongings and offer their opinion on whether that was a good price. When a good bargaining match goes down at the market, people gather to watch who “wins.”

Nathan knows how to go for gold as a bargaining athlete

Nathan knows how to go for gold as a bargaining athlete

Nathan, of the no holds barred bargaining camp, has taken to the Chinese model like white on rice. Through much practice, he has become a haggling pro. I decided to do a little interview with him so that we can all learn some hard bargaining tips.

*********

You’ve seen something at the market you like. What now?
There is much to be done before you even make your first contact with the vendor. First, scope the market to see how many stalls are selling the same thing (often times, it’s quite a few). Try to eavesdrop to hear what they tell others the price is. If this doesn’t work, casually ask a few vendors what the price is without getting into the bargaining, just to get a sense. After you’ve selected a vendor to bargain with, make an assessment of how hungry they are for a sale. Are they calling out to you? Following you? They may be more willing to go down in price than someone who acts disinterested. After doing this homework, there are three questions you should ask yourself before going in: 1) How much am I willing to pay for that item? 2) How much do I expect them to quote as a price? and 3) What price would I consider it to be a steal?

How do you begin the bargaining dance?
Learning how to say “how much?” is extremely useful. If you don’t even have that, it is a good idea to carry a pocket calculator around to type in prices. Most vendors will also have a calculator to help the process. The key thing is to insist that they give the first price. They might ask what you’re willing to pay but don’t let them get away with that. They know the value better than you. When they do give you an offer, refuse this price as too much. This is true even if the price is lower than expected or even lower than you’re willing to pay. My personal strategy at this point is to wince at his or her offer as if I was just kicked in the stomach. Remember – it’s all a game to play!

How much do I counteroffer?
Don’t counteroffer – at least not right away. That would be showing them your cards. Instead, tell them to lower the price for you. If they insist that you give a counteroffer you can start with 30% of their asking price (though read up on this as it can vary slightly country to country).

He or she seems annoyed or offended!
As soon as you show interest in a particular item you are signalling that they are selling something of value. That’s a compliment. They will not be offended by the bargaining process.  They are professionals that do it everyday so they will be sure to make a profit. If they do seem annoyed, it’s part of their act to make you feel like you are getting a ridiculously good deal. Do not feel awkward, instead get used to drawing out the process, ask the cost of a few things that you don’t even want, talk to the vendor next door, then return. Sometimes they’ll even call their “boss” to check if the price is okay, making you feel even further validated. In the end, they are under no obligation to sell to you if they don’t like the money you are offering.

When do you stop?
If the price isn’t to your liking, simply walk away. Many times this is enough for them to chase after you with a lower price. You can always return to resume bargaining from the price point you left off at. If you’ve followed these steps you will eventually get a sense of their lower limit. And if that price jives with yours, it’s a deal.

Anything else we should know?
Getting a good deal takes time and patience. Sometimes, even taking a day to think about it and returning the next day or at the end of the day is helpful to get a better price. Also, when bargaining, consider getting multiple items for a lower unit cost. This is particularly useful for small gifts.

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Thank you, Nathan, for the excellent advice! Not everyone is ready for this advanced level of bargaining. And each person has their own style (I will never be able to do the wince like I got kicked strategy with a straight face). But that’s why Nathan is a good travel partner for me. I determine what to buy and he gets me a deal. Win-win!

Have fun on your own bargain adventures!

Our excellent hotel stay in Naxos, Greece, where we paid half the initial offer.

Our excellent hotel stay in Naxos, Greece, where we paid half the initial offer.

Trip Tip #5: Learning the Lingo (by Carmen)

Studying in the Vamos Spanish Academy Lounge

Studying in the Vamos Spanish Academy Lounge

For the first part of our year abroad, from February to early October, Nathan and I were able to stick to Spanish or English-speaking countries (minus a couple weeks in Brazil). As intermediate Spanish speakers we were able to get around easily and communicate our needs or concerns. When we got to Greece, we not only encountered a new language but a new alphabet. And from that point on we knew things were generally going to get harder as we made our way eastward to China.

The Black Sheep all Greek menu

The Black Sheep all Greek menu was our first time last year experiencing a new alphabet

Trying to communicate in foreign countries in which you do not speak the language is probably what makes people most nervous about traveling. We’ve often been asked how we got our daily needs met, how we ordered food or got around the city, especially in places that don’t even use roman letters. I won’t lie – it’s not alway easy. There’s a lot of smiling, pointing and miming involved and sometimes you feel a little shy to put on such a performance. But now, after 33 countries I can say with confidence, don’t worry. You will eventually get where you need to go or find the food you want to eat.

Indeed finding food is the most common interaction with locals. This occurs at either a restaurant or at a market stall. At the stall it’s rather easy to point, pay and eat. A “thank you” and patting the belly with a “mmm…good” (in the local language of course) is a nice touch. At restaurants it can be a little tricky if you don’t recognize items on the menu. In these cases it’s important to be at a popular eatery so that you can bring your waiter to other tables to point at what you want. Yeah, sometimes don’t want to make a spectacle of yourself because people will stare. But oh well. When you’re done eating there is one restaurant trick that always works. To get the check, just make eye contact with the server, hold out your hand and pretend to write on it. Then, voila, the check appears like magic.

Lost in translation sign at the former royal palace in Kyoto

Lost in translation sign at the former royal palace in Kyoto (2009)

For me, the key thing to remember is that you only need to get your point across. Often, I’ll see phrase books that give you long translated sentences such as “Hi, my name is Carmen. What is your name?” For one, this is not a phrase you get to use everyday. Secondly, it is much too long to remember in a foreign language because, unless you’ve studied it, you don’t understand the individual words making up the phrase. It comes across as just a series of sounds that are easily messed up. So I aim to make my phrases as simple as possible. Instead of “I would like two tickets to Beijing, please” I go for “two tickets Beijing”. Instead of “what time is the bus leaving?” it’s “what time bus?” No one cares about your grammar.

iPhone screenshots from World Nomads Greek Language Guide (Photo credit: World Nomads)

iPhone screenshots from World Nomads Greek Language Guide (Photo credit: World Nomads)

Even for these simplified phrases you need some translation help. For this I turned to the free World Nomads Language Guides. I downloaded all the apps I needed before I left and would study them on the plane, train or bus ride as I entered a new country. Guidebooks also tend to have a translation section these days, but the app made it more portable.

Based on my experience in the field, using the language apps and translating things online, I created my own master list of key phrases to know. With these 23 words plus knowing the numbers you can pretty much get anywhere and anything you want. Of course, there are many more words you can learn but it can be difficult to remember more than these. I recommend printing this list than writing out the translations in the language of your destination to help with the memorization process.

Yes
No
Thank you
Please
Hello
Goodbye
Good
How much?
Numbers (1-10 then as many as possible up to 100)
Where?
Lunch
Dinner
Menu
Check
Water
Tea
Coffee
Beer
Wine (or local spirit)
Ticket
Train
Bus
Station
What time?

And that’s it. That’s how we traveled the world with only Spanish and English. But now, I can add Greek, Turkish, Thai, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Laos and Chinese to the list. At least enough to get by.

Good luck and thanks for reading! ¡Gracias! Σας ευχαριστούμε! Teşekkür ederim! ขอบคุณ! Cảm ơn bạn! 谢谢!

Costs of Travel #3: Highs and Lows in Europe & India (by Carmen)

In August of 2012 Nathan and I were excitedly preparing for the Big Trip – our around the world adventure that would take us eastward towards Europe, Asia and all the way back to California. Based on our travels earlier in 2012 we felt ready – we knew what to pack and how to plan and, importantly, how to budget. South America had taught us valuable lessons on blowing a budget and we managed to find a better balance in our US travels.

London Expenses 2012

The lovely Borough Market offers delicious (but pricey) eats in London

The lovely Borough Market offers delicious (but pricey) eats in London

But we were about to be tested. Everyone loves Europe’s history, culture, and food but invariably people always need to mention the expense. This is especially true of our very first destination – London. And they’re right. London is expensive for the visitor. I will note that living there is a different story since cooking your meals offers huge costs savings (more than in the States) and my former employer covered all transit costs for me and Nathan (a dream deal). But this time we were tourists and we needed to cut costs somewhere. Enter couchsurfing, round 2. Our first experience couchsurfing, which took place in Nebraska, was unique and resulted in us borrowing a tent and setting up in a local campground. This time around, it was much more of a cultural exchange. Our host, a Malaysian native studying law, cooked us some fried rice. We later cooked him a feast with supplies from the nearest polski sklep (Polish grocery shop). Couchsurfing saved us at least $50 a night – and that’s the price for 2 beds in a 12 bed dorm room! For a private room, forget it. Instead, we spent our money on the city’s excellent restaurants and riding my favorite transit option, the tube. And, as always, London has some of the best museums in the world and they’re free! Hence, the low entertainment costs.

Camino de Santiago Expenses 2012

One of the best meals on the Camino, broiled octopus with chunks of bread and bowls of white wine

One of the best meals on the Camino, broiled octopus with chunks of bread and bowls of white wine

After London, we began one of our greatest adventures yet – the Camino de Santiago. Plenty of literature can be found online and in books on the average costs of the Camino and we were right on target at $32.42 per day (not including costs to get to Spain and back). Obviously, the biggest budget item is food – necessary to fuel your body to walk 8 hours in a day. In this chart, I love how our transit costs are so low. This is because for an entire month I only moved by the power of my own feet. No buses, trains, bikes or cars. This $0.46 represents a day trip we took to La Coruna at the end of our trip, as we spent a few days in Santiago. Overall, the Camino is a great option for learning about Spanish culture on a serious budget.

Madrid Expenses 2012

At the hip Madrid tapas bar, La Musa

At the hip Madrid tapas bar, La Musa

During the Camino we became used to spending very little. So by the time we got to Madrid, we were ready to splurge! We joined the crowds at hip bars and new-age tapas joints. We ordered an enormous pan of paella topped off with a jug of sangria. We stayed in a private room in a well-located hostel. We still saved by timing our museum visits for free entry and walking around instead of taking transit or taxis. But in the end the Spanish capitol became our most expensive stop on the Big Trip.

Greece Expenses 2012

Gyro are filling, cheap and everywhere

Gyro are filling, cheap and everywhere

Everyone knows Greece has been one of the hardest hit by the recession. So this must mean low prices, right? Well, kind of. Museums have their entry fees and hotels were not cheap. So we did our best to couchsurf, which led to more awesome experiences and new friendships. Where we did stay in hotels, we used the fact that it was the shoulder season (October) to our advantage and bargained with hotel owners on the islands. This worked out to have some significant savings for us. You can’t really bargain at restaurants, though, so our food costs ended up being the biggest chunk of the pie. But at least our cheap gyro meals kept this cost lower than it could have been.

Turkey Expenses 2012

Delicious cacık is a tradition in Turkey

Delicious cacık is a tradition in Turkey

Turkey proved to be a similar cost to Greece, though the breakdown is quite different. Our eating costs reduced significantly even though we were still eating in casual restaurants. But our couchsurfing efforts didn’t pan out therefore we ended up in hostels. I really loved our Selcuk hostel, though, so in the end it all worked out. Compared to the rest of Europe, Turkey really offers great sights and food for relatively low cost.

Europe Expenses 2012

Overall, Europe was not a budget breaker at all. It can be, as our splurge in Madrid showed. And without the couchsurfing our costs would have gone up. But I feel that we had really found our balance in spending where it meant the most for us (more simply, food).

India Expenses 2012

Delicious idli and gunta ponganalu breakfast from Hampi, India.  I'm pretty sure this cost about $0.75 or less with our morning chai.

Delicious idli and gunta ponganalu breakfast from Hampi, India. I’m pretty sure this cost about $0.60 or less with our morning chai.

And now for something completely different. India was not only a culture shock to the system, it was shockingly cheap. Especially all the gloriously delicious food. We mostly ate at street food stalls and casual restaurants, but everywhere we went we just shook our heads at the low prices. Food has no cost premium, but land does. Fit a billion people in a country a third the size of the continental US and you better believe it’s crowded. Therefore, hostels were relatively expensive at $25 a night for a private room in the bigger cities. Of course, in the bigger picture this is cheap so go ahead and live like a king in India. For me, the budget in India was so low that it inspired my personal back-up plan. If at some point in my life I need to take a break, some time to step back and breathe, I’m headed to India where I could probably spend a year living comfortably and eating well for $10K.

Expenses YTD through India 2012

So I’ve taken you through the highs and lows of our Big Trip budget. Europe was our high, but by making key cuts in our sleeping and eating costs we were able to keep our budget in check. In India it’s not expensive to splash out but we still decided to keep budget in mind and stayed at low-cost hotels and ate plenty of street food. We were striving to keep our overall travel budget for the year at $50 per day, which means we were going to have to make-up for our blown South America budget. So far we were still around $67 per day.  Did we succeed in bringing it down? Our next post on costs through the rest of Asia will reveal all!

Trip Tip #4: How to Finance a Year of Travel (by Nathan)

Step one- get a hand full of money!

Step one- get a hand full of money!

For the fourth installment of our travel advice series, we decided to tackle a big one, the question that everyone is thinking about- How do you pay for a 14 month adventure?  It is not easy, but it is possible for anyone that is committed to the journey of a lifetime.  In the big picture there are costs of travel that are somewhat predictable; the challenge relies on funding the trip and reducing expenses everywhere possible.

Check out the entire travel advice series for all the information you might need before setting out on a trip of your own:

Let’s start the pre-planning.  The seed is implanted- you are going to take a yearlong around-the-world trip.   Better start saving.  Make a rough guess at your grand plan.  Separate the places into three categories, expensive ($75-125+ per day- western countries & South America), Average ($40-50+per day- SE Asia & China) and Inexpensive ($25-30+ per day- India).  Create a rough estimate of cost, say $75 per day including visas and flights; now refine that number based on the number of weeks in each type of country listed above.  Now we have a number for the whole trip.

Now, we can start saving.   The necessity here is that 1) you have a job and 2) your earn more than you spend.  Long ago, several years now, Carmen and I decided to prioritize our savings for this long-term trip. Major life decisions such as buying a house, a new car, or having a pet were considered.  For us, we put those things on hold because seeing the world was that important.  Travel around-the-world will definitely make a dent on your nest egg but I promise you, it is well worth it.  Numbers are not for everyone, but some simple budgeting efforts will help you save and spend while traveling.

Our pocket expense book

Our pocket expense book

We keep track of our money while traveling in two ways.  The first is a spreadsheet or list that tabulates each ATM transaction, credit card payments and conversion rates.  The second is our pocket calendar that we write down what we spend each day (this is only necessary if you want to know exactly where your funds are going – otherwise you can just watch your spreadsheet).  We sum our outgoing expenses every week to answer the question “are on budget?”  If you have finite funds, you’ll want to pay attention closely so that you have enough money to actually make back home.  Think of travel in number of dollars per day.  If you are doing really well, then adjust for more time in expensive countries, if you are over-budget then slow down and travel more in the inexpensive countries.  Having a good bank will also make it easier to save money.

BANKING- Get a bank account that covers ATM transactions at non-bank ATM’s.  We found out this the hard way with over $300 in fees in South America.  We traveled in Europe, India, SE Asia & China for twice the time and we only spent $75 in fees.  This happens because the bank abroad charges a fee, the US bank charges a fee then there is a 1% transaction by MC/Visa.  Online banks do not have physical ATM’s of their own so they cover the transaction cost issued by the ATM.  We have been using Scottrade because it allows a pretty seamless transition to selling off portions of our nest egg into money to be withdrawn.  With Scottrade we have been able to keep fees at about 1.5%. Bring at least one other bank card, one from a big bank, not to use, but just in case your no-fee one is not working.

MasterCard Conversion Rates for July 5 - USD

MasterCard Conversion Rates for July 5 – USD

Do some research on which ATM’s to use.  Some banks are very dodgy, they charge a fee to use the ATM, but then they also try to slip in an added 2-3% conversion.  Scottrade typically only reimburses $3, so you have to avoid these dodgy banks.  Use Techcom in Vietnam, Bank of China in China, and BCEL in Laos.  Europe seemed pretty standardized.  Do not use HSBC unless you already bank there, they charged me $9 for withdrawing $250 in Vietnam.  You can track the currency conversions on Google, but I like the MasterCard conversion tool.   Thailand ATM’s are horrible, they are prevalent, but most of them are owned by currency exchange houses.  This means $6-8 every time you withdrawal money.  I suggest you run a Google search (such as: site:www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree best ATM Thailand ) before you enter a country to get the most up-to-date discussion.   If at all possible, minimize your ATM pulls by using a good credit card.

CREDIT CARDS – Most banks will tack on a fee and a 1-2% conversion which can get expensive when you are spending a few thousand dollars every month.  Get a credit card that does not have a foreign transaction fee. And use it at all possible transactions, there is no better exchange rate.  I like my Capital One cash card; Chase offers a sapphire preferred card that has some enticing initial rewards & no foreign fees, but an annual fee after a year. Find one that suits your needs and maybe you can get a bonus out of it.  Bring a spare card just in case and never let your credit cards go overdue.

The last 18 months could have earned you 25%!

The last 18 months could have earned you 25%!

INVESTING- there is no reason that your money should be sitting stagnant while you travel.  Savings accounts and money markets are not going to make you anything; CD’s lock your money into a long-term contract that does not allow you to access it.  Now, I am not your financial advisor but here is my personal opinion: invest in the stock market. I think high-dividend stocks from blue chip DOW companies are reliable for a decent return on investment.  Another option would be to invest in an index fund that has little overhead cost.   A good resource for financial advice is Motley Fool.  The reality is that I am not a day-trader but some businesses are making lots of money out there, regardless of the economy, and I am happy to let them fund my vacation.  Even if we make just 5%, it may be $2,500 and a month of travel expenses.  We recommended a Scottrade bank account, but their main operation is as a brokerage offering $7 trades.  It is very useful to sell a stock and have the money available within a week.  Try it, understand the risks of investing and hopefully it will work in your favor.

The final leg in financing a year abroad is to get rid of all your expenses.  You are wasting your money if you are paying for car insurance, car payments, domestic health insurance, phone bills, rent or a mortgage while you are traveling.  You will be much happier not worrying about all that crap anyway.  If it does not help you on your trip, then scrap it.

I understand that it is an enormous effort to afford and actually execute a trip like ours.  There are the costs of travel that need to be kept reasonably under $50 per person per day for everything.  There are the expenses left at home that should be $0.  And all this without any real income.  It can be done through careful planning, moderately paced travel and being observant of an ongoing budget.  We recommend that you fund your big trip with several years or months of dedicated saving and investing.  If we can travel around-the-world, then almost anyone can, just commit!

Costs of Travel #2 – Finding Our Bearings in the US of A (by Nathan)

Carmen and a Grand Canyon Sunrise

Carmen and a Grand Canyon Sunrise

We crash landed into North America after four months trekking in South America.  It was exhilarating to travel in a new continent and deeply satisfying to break the mold of a mere two week vacation.  Surprisingly, the trip felt very short and we were definitely itching to travel more when we finally returned to Los Angeles.  Originally our plan was to arrive back at the United States and then re-evaluate if it was actually possible to travel the world for the rest of the year.  Upon arriving back to LA, there was no doubt, we were going to continue traveling and we were going to make it the best year of our lives.  One challenge was that to travel for another year, we would really need to reign in the costs.  We began our research and started to plan “The Big Trip.”

4feet2mouths - Costs of Travel - United States

The plan was simple, we would take a couple months to explore and travel in the United States.  It is funny sometimes that it is so easy to travel to somewhere exotic and foreign, but the best of our own country was often overstepped.  In order to gain our bearings, re-assess the financial situation and best plan our around-the-world trip we decided tour parts of the United States for three months.  We embarked on a tour of Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Grand Canyon, New York City, Chicago and even a little Nebraska.

Like before, I have created a few colorful charts to describe the costs of travel.  Carmen and I use charts like these to compare travel destinations and better plan our vacations in the future.  These figures include everything: flights, transit, food and lodging and we hope they can be a helpful tool to those needing a rough idea of the possible expense of travel.  There are eight categories of expenses.  There were no visas and we decided to travel without any health or travel insurance.  Flight costs were smeared among the destinations of NYC and the Midwest.  “Get in” refers to expenses related to travel to a destination- buses, gasoline, subways.  “Transit” refers to the transport costs once at the destination.  Lodging is usually a big expense of travel, but we utilized family, friends and camping to significantly reduce this cost.

The Pacific Ocean seen from Palos Verdes

The Pacific Ocean seen from Palos Verdes

Costs of Travel – Los Angeles

This time we took some of our own advice and began the careful monitoring of a budget that would be sustainable for the next year of travel.  The United States is pricier than many parts of the world, but we were able to keep our costs down by cooking a bunch and staying with family and friends. Countless people went out of their way to host us in spare bedrooms and couches and we are grateful for their hospitality.  Los Angeles was our home base; Carmen’s parents were a valuable resource and we can’t thank them enough for letting us stay with them.  My family is spread all over Southern California, and we traveled some weekends to the mountains and San Diego.  It was really wonderful to spend some quality time with our parents and my brother.  We made our best efforts to use transit, which is a major feat in car-loving Southern California. Our favorite ride is a train that connects Downtown LA to San Diego that is relatively easy to use and only about $17 for a one-way ticket. Our biggest costs were food, gas a new camera and an iPad for the blog.

Costs of Travel – Grand Canyon

Of course we got a little stir-crazy and after two weeks for being stationary we set out on a road trip to Grand Canyon.  Some of the most beautiful land formations on earth are relatively close to Las Vegas.  We decided to take a road trip from Los Angeles.  We camped for 11 nights and drove back.  I could spend months exploring the beauty of Utah and Arizona.  Every national park has an entrance fee and lasts a week, so on this trip we decided to focus just only on the Grand Canyon.  Car-camping in the U.S. runs about $35 a night.  But, both the South and north Rim are flanked by national forests that promote “freedom camping.”  If you can deal with the lack of facilities (i.e. paved roads, bathrooms and showers), then you can go find a beautiful spot all to yourselves in the middle of the forest.  We also took several visits to the wilderness permit offices to establish hiking trips into the canyon and forests.  After many nights of sleeping in the dirt it was nice to settle into a hotel bed in Las Vegas.  If you visit Vegas on a Wednesday, and stay in downtown instead of on the strip there are big, comfortable rooms for $37.   We splurged on a Cirque du Soleil show, and for two weeks of Grand Canyon it only cost us $42 per person per day.

Costs of Travel – New York

Costs of Travel – Chicago

We also wanted to spend time in two of our favorite US cities: New York and ChicagoWe enjoyed the great company of our friends Taylor and Andrew in Brooklyn and many laughs alongside our cousin Tracy and her pugs in Chicago.  Something we love about both these places is the accessibility to amazing food.  As you can see by that we spent $27 each per day on food alone!  We have a hard time turning down a Momofuku pork bun, torta at Xoco or popsicle on Highline Park, but the food of a place is part of the essential experiences that we love about travel.

Costs of Travel – Nebraska

Nebraska was one of those states that was never on our travel list for its excitement or adventure, but more of a place for its hospitality and family charm.  I have an aunt who is 93 and I had really wanted to visit her for many years.  And, because Nebraska is in the middle of the country we never prioritized it into our travel plans.  In a trip across the US it was essential to make this trip to Grand Island and Dannebrog Nebraska. We felt inspired by long bus rides in South America and we took a greyhound from Chicago to Omaha.  But from there we had to rent a car, our biggest cost, and we drove across hundreds of miles of corn fields.  We couchsurfed a night and then camped in a nearby park.  We were pleasantly surprised with the down-to-earth people and the mellow life in Nebraska.  Though vastly different from our other travel differences, it stands out as a rewarding and peaceful experience in our travels this year.

4Feet2mouths Bay Area culinary tour 2012

4Feet2mouths Bay Area culinary tour 2012

Costs of Travel – San Francisco

Our final hoorah before our around-the-world trip was a road trip to San Francisco.  We visited one of our favorite restaurants in Santa Barbara and enjoyed two exciting weeks with our friends in the Bay Area.  This was a food tour more than anything else- we gorged on all our favorite restaurants and bars.  These places used to be our stomping grounds, but we were now visiting them as visitors.  One of the biggest outcomes of this trip was that we sold my truck and we bussed back to LA.

 Costs of Travel – The United States – Bar Chart

Looking back in hindsight, three months was a long time in the United States when we really wanted to be seeing more of the world.  I valued the time that we had to plan and prepare for the Big Trip and I feel that it was essential to the success of the next seven months abroad.  The biggest success was that we were able to work out an around-the-world series of flights for a relatively cheap price.  We listened to our own advice from South America and we slowed down, cooked more and enjoyed the company of our friends and family.  The end cost was not a budget breaker, but something more impressive- travel in the United States for $46 per day per person.

Trip Tip #3: Five Steps to Making the Grand Plan (by Carmen)

Where are you going?

This is the first question to ask yourself as the idea of travel transitions from fantasy to reality. The world is full of beautiful and intriguing places to visit so the answer to this simple question is never easy. Yet it’s an essential part of the travel planning process, or what I like to call making the Grand Plan.

TRIP TIP #3: Plan early and leave room for spontaneity.

Managing travel logistics is the less sexy side of exploring the world – a tiring but necessary coordination of details. At times it can all seem overwhelming. But there are steps that I use to make the process go smoothly. The key is finding a balance between planning too much and too little. Plan too much and you miss out on things you learn about by talking to people along the way. Plan too little and you spend a lot of time abroad figuring out your next step instead of exploring. Your personal balance will be influenced by travel style and length of trip.

Me checking out my guidebook in Tokyo (2009)

Me checking out my guidebook in Tokyo (2009)

Travel is so personal. That’s why I consider myself lucky to have found a partner with a similar travel style. We aren’t exactly the same – Nathan loves to push himself to see and experience as much as he can, while I like a slightly slower pace. But for the most part we have found a happy middle ground.  I wrote this post as a sort of summary to how we plan our travels. I like to have a general itinerary of countries I’m visiting as well as an end date. I really value having an overall plan as it gives me peace of mind as well as events to look forward to along the way.

For Claudia, an inspirational person and adventurer

For Claudia, an inspirational person and adventurer

Yet some people prefer the complete opposite. They want total freedom to go wherever they fancy along the way, returning home at some unspecified time in the future. Such was the case with Claudia, a wonderful family friend who left her home in the UK and never really made it back. Instead, her travels eventually led her to settle in Los Angeles, where my family and I enjoyed her company for almost two decades. Claudia recently passed away and since then I’ve heard stories about how she would buy a one way ticket somewhere, have very little money and expect to be able to work her way back home. At this point in my life I feel that I could appreciate her travel stories more than ever. I regret not learning more about her journeys and adventures before she left us. But her courage to travel reminds me to push myself too. To approach places with an open mind and sometimes even an open-ended ticket.

So without further ado, I present the 4feet2mouths method for creating our Grand Plan.  May it help you in determining your own balance.

Our notes on scrap paper of all the places we'd like to go after South America

Our notes on scrap paper of all the places we’d like to go after South America

Our trip planning map with red "must sees" and blue "like to sees"

Our trip planning map with red “must sees” and blue “like to sees”

1) Map your “must sees” and “like to sees” – The most important (and fun) step.  First list all the countries and places you know you want to visit. Then consult friends and guidebooks, specifically the suggested country itineraries within the books, to get a sense of a country’s highlights. Narrow to a list of “must sees” versus “like to sees.” From there, it is super useful to have all the points of interest mapped out. I like to use the “My Places” function on Google Maps. I color coded the must sees vs like to sees then played a game of connect the dots. Soon enough a pattern will emerge that can become your route. Note: the same is true of planning within an individual city. Mapping always makes figuring out the days activities much easier. Be sure to pick up a city map at the airport or bus station you arrive at – they’re not always easy to find once you get to the city center.

Our first draft calendar for the Big Trip

Our first draft calendar for the Big Trip

2) Draw a rough calendar – After reviewing the cities and places along your route, assign an amount of time in each and compare that to how much time you have overall. Chances are you won’t have enough time to see it all, in which case you have to cut either time in each place or the number of places you visit. Brutal, I know. We had to cut out Italy and Croatia and Morocco and Egypt and Nepal and…well you get the idea. But we knew we couldn’t part with Greece and Turkey. Here is an example of my calendar process for those two countries: “I want to see a couple islands, with at least three or four days in each one, so at least a week for that. I’ll have to fly into Athens anyway so I have to reserve time for the city as well. Let’s just say 2 weeks for Greece. I can take a boat to Turkey and if I work my way up the coast that could take a week. Then I want some time in Istanbul so lets say at least two weeks in Turkey too.” Finally, put all this info on a calendar. This helps give the trip some structure without being overwhelming to plan all at once.

First flight by the Wright Brothers, 1903 (photocredit: Wikicommons)

First flight by the Wright Brothers, 1903 (photocredit: Wikicommons)

3) Buy your major flights – Almsot everyone has to buy at least one flight in order to start their travels.  I use Kayak as my first step to finding flight prices, except in China where Ctrip dominates. I do not have any real tricks to finding good prices; they an go up $100 one day and then go on sale the next. I find this to be one of the more frustrating parts of travel planning – you just have to be diligent and patient and hope for the best! If you are long term traveling you will have an additional consideration: a ’round the world (RTW) package versus individual flights. Be sure to compare your options. We ended up saving thousands of dollars by purchasing five individual flights to make our way around the world instead of a RTW package. Of course, there is the third option – no flights at all! For true travelers cred you can cross the globe completely overland and oversea. I heard of this, but we did not meet people doing this. It sounds legendary.

Our room at one of our favorite hostels ever, The Travellers House in Lisbon. This most definitely required advanced planning.

Our room at one of our favorite hostels ever, The Travellers House in Lisbon. Staying here most definitely required advanced planning. (2009)

4) Locate ho(s)tels – I’ve heard that most things in life can be only two of these three categories: good, fast or cheap.  This is definitely true of figuring out where to sleep.  The cheapest way to get a good night’s sleep is Couchsurfing.  This comes with the added bonus of being immersed in a culture and connected to a broader traveler’s network full of some of the friendliest people ever.  Our experiences Couchsurfing in Athens, Rhodes and Hong Kong were awesome but required time to set up.  (Sidenote: Check out this photographer’s year spent couchsurfing, especially the ones on grandmas’s cooking – complete with recipes!)  Time is also required to set up AirBnB, a great way to get a deal as well as a taste of local life.  Whether you’re planning ahead or at the last minute I love using Hostelworld for the honest reviews.  At the very least, look up where a few hostels are in the guidebook before you arrive so that you’re not at the bus station looking clueless while touts shout at you.  We’ve done all these methods – from planning ahead to walking around town looking for a bargain.  Again this comes down to personal choice but, for me, I despise that time wasted looking for a place. Especially if it turns out to be a holiday and everything is full.  So my advice is to plan ahead if you can (especially for bigger cities) and know as best as possible where your hotel is.  Nathan and I would embark on the Great Hotel Search upon arriving at a place and occasionally failed.  Maps or directions can be wrong, there are rarely street signs.   Every bit of information you can gather helps keep your sucess rate high.

Vamos Spanish Academy Worksheets

5) Find food and fun – Here we come back to the exciting part of travel planning!  There are some things that are best to plan ahead, such as volunteer opportunities or work programs, in order to really find an organization that suits you.  I was also happy that I took the time to research and compare language schools in Buenos Aires.  Vamos Spanish Academy was a fantastic experience with great staff and students.  The rest of it you can probably wait to figure out there but I know I have a hard time resisting scrolling through local food blogs, drooling over my potential future meals.  I generally find  my blogs by searching Google, clicking the “More” tab at the top and selecting “Blogs.”  Blogs eventually lead to other blogs and you’ll have some great recommendations before you know it.

I repeated these series of steps on various scales (country, region, city) many, many times in the past year and a half.  I’d take advantage of bus rides or down time to do some reading and planning.  Being diligent helped free my time in the cities we visited in order to just enjoy myself, eat well, take pictures and share it with all of you!  Whatever your personal method, these logistics all work out in the end.  The most important thing is approach travel with an open mind and open heart.  As you take your journey also let the journey take you.  As Claudia demonstrated for me, you never know where you might end up.

Costs of Travel #1 – Blowing Up a Budget in South America (by Nathan)

4feet2mouths Costs of Travel Bar Chart – Country Comparison

Travel is expensive! Yes, but it does not have to be.  Exploring the world is a dream that many of us have, but in Carmen and my case we went after it.  There are just too many beautiful places to see and too much awesome street food to eat.  There was a clear point in our lives where travel had to happen, no matter what the cost.  That intense excitement led to a thrilling exploration of South America and eventually the world.  Through trial and error we did learn how to travel cheaply. In our explanation of how to finance a trip around the world we must first discuss our failed budget when we went to South America. I’ll detail some of our mistakes and hopefully we all can become better travelers from it.

We set our original goals at $10,000USD for 3-1/2 months in South America.  We had some experience traveling in Asia and Europe; we reviewed some guidebooks checked out some prices and $50 per person per day seemed like a plausible goal.   We had an excellent trip to Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Chile, Bolivia and Peru and we saw some fabulous things.  We kept track of our finances, we had thought (cough) we were on track, but when we returned home that summer we found that we had spent twice what we had planned. Ouch! And our end expense exceeded $98 per person per day.

4feet2mouths Costs of Travel Pie Chart – Category Comparison

We mapped out all of our costs to shine clarity on the culprit of this over expenditure.  We divided costs into 10 categories. Eating, sleeping, shopping and flights are obvious ones.  “Transit” describes buses and taxis within a city while “Get In” refers to the regional transportation costs of traveling between cities by long-distance bus.  A night at a club, entrance to a museum or winery, or drinks at a bar are part of our “Fun” category, but multi-night treks would be considered a “Tour.”  The category of “Visas/Ins/Fees” refers to the inescapable costs of travel- entry visas, travel insurance and the bank fees are impossible to avoid in the midst of a 4 month trip across South America.  Miscellaneous costs include toiletries, internet cafes, travel memberships or batteries.  What stood out as the burden to our budget?  All of it!  South America is expensive and to make it cheaper we would have to change our whole travel style.  Our budget goal would have been impossible provided all the fun that we had and the speed and diversity of our travel.  But we still took away some key lessons that we worked into our later travels.

One example: entry visas.  In South America we spent over $1,100 just to enter into these countries. That is over $5 per person per day.  In many ways these are unavoidable, but we learned the valuable lesson that next time we will make the visas worth it by spending more time in the countries.  When you are trying to determine how many days to travel in a country a good goal is for a visa cost to be in the range of $2 per day. The visa for Bolivia was a pain in the ass, but we got through it, Brazil was paid for ahead of time, but two countries could have been avoided entirely with the proper planning.  Here’s how: the Buenos Aires and Santiago airports charge a reciprocity fee of $140 per person.  They can be avoided by arriving by land or boat.  In hindsight we would have bused to Santiago from Mendoza and boated from Uruguay to Buenos Aires and we could have saved $560.
4feet2mouths Costs of Travel Pie Chart – Argentina

The food was not all bad in Argentina: Pierinos was some of the best grub we had!

The food was not all bad in Argentina: Pierinos was some of the best grub we had!

Argentina was where we thought we would save, but it turned out to be much more expensive than we thought.  We lived in Buenos Aires for three weeks.  We took Spanish classes, explored the city’s best restaurants and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in that wonderful city.  Later in our trip, we explored central and northern Argentina in depth with wine tastings, canyon tours and days at the spa.  Looking back on it, we were not traveling with a budget in mind.  We were using a guidebook that was three years old and already the prices of everything had doubled thanks the country’s infamous economy.  The challenge with Argentina is that the food really is not that good.  We were spending European prices for ok steak and crappy salads.  We had a handful of excellent meals, but after six weeks of traveling in Argentina, we should have learned our lesson: cook more when food is expensive.

Costs that we thought were unavoidable were bank fees.  Argentina is the worst because the max withdrawal limit is $200, then there is a fee by MasterCard, the local ATM fee and my bank’s fee.  That’s $12 for every $200, ouch again!  Four months in South America seems even more expensive when $300 is lost in ATM transactions.  Here is the solution: get an internet bank account to significantly lower fees.  We use Scottrade, and they cover the local ATM fee of any ATM anywhere.  We only pay the 1% fee to MasterCard. That means on our next 7 month trip we spent $75 in fees, twice the trip and a quarter the cost.

4feet2mouths Costs of Travel Pie Chart – Chile

4feet2mouths Costs of Travel Pie Chart – Uruguay

Similar to Argentina, Chile and Uruguay are not cheap destinations for travel.  The countries are very progressive, modern and exciting to visit; the food, lodging and entertainment are all similarly priced to what we pay for things in San Francisco. Don’t expect any deals. (Note: Uruguay sleeping costs were covered by Carmen’s parents, whom we were traveling with at the time.)

4feet2mouths Costs of Travel Pie Chart – Brazil

Brazil stands out as one of the most expensive countries we have visited in all our travels this past year.  Yet the country is beautiful and worth every penny!  From Iguaçu, to beaches, to samba and tropical fruit, Brazil is exotically wonderful.  It is a challenge to get affordable housing, hence the favelas; food is similarly priced to the US, and regional transit between cities is quite expensive.  My next visit to Brazil will include more economic adventures, like chilling on the beach.

4feet2mouths Costs of Travel Pie Chart – Bolivia

Bolivia is the most poor (affordable) and underdeveloped (adventurous) country in South America.  We can say it a million times, but Bolivia is the one place everyone should go and see.  The scenery is majestic – abnormal even – the people nice and the Spanish easy to understand.  Our most expensive activity was a four day jeep trek across mountains and canyons to the Salar de Uyuni.  It cost a whole $220 per person for food, lodging and the tour.  If you fly into La Paz, you can avoid all the challenges of a land crossing along the border.

Trekking with friends below Salkantay

Trekking with friends below Salkantay

4feet2mouths Costs of Travel Pie Chart – Peru

Everyone that goes to Peru is going to see Machu Picchu.  The tickets are expensive and the permits to walk the Inca Trail come with the price of a tour group.  We took an organized trek for six days with our friends.  It was well worth the cost of $800 per person and we saw the rustic mountainous ravines of Peru alongside the expected hordes of tourists.  Peru does not have a visa cost, so I encourage travelers to see more of the country to lower your overall travel expenses in South America: we particularly enjoyed Arequipa and Colca Canyon.

Flights are a huge cost to any trip.  Our flights alone to South America break down to about $12 per person per day which in retrospect was a lot. We believe that getting that cost under $10/day is a better goal for travelers on a budget.

Splurge day at a thermal spa, well worth it at the time.

Splurge day at a thermal spa, well worth it at the time.

Splurge hotel overlooking Lake Titicaca - so worth it!

Splurge hotel overlooking Lake Titicaca – so worth it!

There is a difference between vacation and long-term travel. Without a job and only a savings account a budget must always be considered.  This took months for us to adjust and during our time in South America we leaned more towards the vacation end of things.  I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed our spa day, shopping splurges, high-end dining experiences, bottles of wine and private hostel rooms instead of dorms but we realized that in South America we needed to moderate it more.  In many ways, South America was as expensive as Europe! But because we had a preconceived notion that it wasn’t we didn’t try as hard to save.

Even with the outlined changes, we would not have achieved our original budget. But we could have made it hurt a little less:

  1. $560 saved by rearranging our entrances into Chile and Argentina
  2. $260 saved by having a better bank account for traveling
  3. $580 saved by cooking just three more meals per week in Argentina & Brazil
  4. $800 saved with moderation of “splurge” purchases, dining and lodging.
  5. $300 saved by Couchsurfing in cities where hostels were expensive

All that cutting and what does it save?  A whopping $11.5 per person per day.    Not a whole lot, but it is a start.  Even at our best South America would still cost $86 per person per day. And $2,500 goes a long way when traveling.  The lessons are valuable: travel slower- enjoy the places, eat the food (cook from markets) and take the time to meet the people (Couchsurf).  Banking and entry visas require advanced planning, but it is an easy way to save money. And the biggest lesson: moderate the time in the expensive countries with the ones that are cheap.  Traveling for $50 per day cannot be done in South America alone, but mix in a little South-East Asia or Central America and your trip may be a budget success!

Trip Tip #2: The Art of Packing (by Carmen)

Nathan and his 12kg (26lb) REI pack

Nathan and his 12kg (26lb) REI pack

My durable Gregory backpack and REI shoulder bag that's lasted 7 years and counting

My durable Gregory backpack and REI shoulder bag that’s lasted 7 years and counting

Back in August, I described our packing list for our trip through Europe and Asia.  I am happy to say that it was a success!  In the 7 months of our journey, not once did we think, “if only we had brought that tool/gadget/extra shirt.”  Nor did we really feel that we had brought anything unnecessary, an important sentiment when you have to carry everything on your back week after week.  As we traveled, we did pick up a few things here and there – a shirt, earrings, little souvenirs – but most importantly we gained expertise on what is truly essential to pack.  This post is intended to share our expertise with you.

TRIP TIP #2: Pack what you need and need everything you pack.

The internet has A LOT of advice on packing.  Everything from how to coordinate wardrobe colors to elaborate folding techniques.  This is rather simpler than that.   I’ll cover the basics in three categories – clothing, simple travel tools, and electronics – and how they worked for us.  But there is one piece of advice that is often found online and in print that I would like to reiterate – PACK LIGHT!  I know, you’ve heard it before.  You already understand that it’s easier on your body to maneuver a smaller piece of luggage than a bigger one.  But consider this – I truely believe that one reason we did not experience any thievery on our entire world trip was because our small backpacks ensured we were able to move easily and quickly.  I’ve seen too many backpackers with enormous packs on their backs, another on their front, and then carrying one or two hand bags on top of it all.  Or people with gigantic suitcases that struggle to move about.  These travelers are slow and easily targeted.  So pack light. I promise you won’t miss a thing.

Happy packing!

4 happy feet in comfortable sandals

4 happy feet in comfortable sandals

4 happy feet in comfortable shoes

4 happy feet in comfortable shoes

CLOTHING

  • The right amount of clothing – My last packing post got into more detail but here is the basic formula that we traveled with for 7 months – and we could have gone even longer!  It works for hot to moderately cold climates.  When we got to China in the dead of winter, we had to purchase jackets, hats, gloves and scarves but any cold weather area will have these.  Also, be sure to bring different types of layers, for example, a light long sleeve and a heavy long sleeve.  This will help keep you prepared for any weather condition.
    • Nathan = 3 short sleeves + 3 long sleeves + 2 pair pants (both convertible to shorts) + 1 set running tank top and shorts (doubled as pajamas) + 1 light rain jacket + 3 shoes (sneakers, sandals (Tevas), flip flops)
    • Carmen = 2 tank tops + 2 short sleeves + 3 long sleeves + 2 light sweaters + 1 pair shorts + 2 pair pants (one pair converted to shorts) + 1 skirt (doubled as a top) + 1 cotton dress + 1 set running shirt and shorts (doubled as pajamas) + 1 light rain jacket + 1 light scarf (doubled as a beach or picnic blanket) + 3 shoes (sneakers, sandals, flip flops)
  • Extremely comfortable shoes – You absolutely must invest in high quality shoes!  Outside North America and Europe, it can be impossible to find comfortable, durable shoes with good cuishion and support.  And there’s nothing worse than feeling tired and achey just because you have improper footwear.  Personally, I loved my Naot sandals from day one and they have lasted hundreds upon hundreds of miles without giving me an ounce of discomfort.  Ditto with my lighweight Puma running shoes.  Nathan has said similar praise for his Teva sandals.
  • Long underwear or leggings – Similar to shoes, it is hard to find good quality versions of these on the road (or in the case of men, impossible).  But they’re important as they widen the range of temperatures you can handle without a jacket by at least 10 degrees.  They’re also great pajamas in cold weather places.
The trusty day bag made it to many a photo

The trusty day bag made it to many a photo

4feet2mouths packing essentials

4feet2mouths packing essentials

SIMPLE YET ESSENTIAL TRAVEL TOOLS

  • A good day bag – I said above that I think our small backpacks protected us from being targeted by thieves.  Similarly, I think our well-constructed day bag helped deter pickpockets.  I purchased our day bag from REI in 2006 and it has been going strong ever since.  The key features that I like are a durable rain-resistant exterior, a sturdy cut proof strap, side water bottle pocket, zippered pockets for security, and lots of organization features to quickly find everything.  An important factor for me is that it is a small messenger bag NOT a backpack.  Backpacks are inconvenient for getting out frequently used items like maps and are also vulnerable to bag slashers. We did use an REI backpack we love for some things, like carrying our towels to a beach day, but not everyday.  Unfortunately, REI no longer makes my beloved day bag but another from REI and one from Eagle Creek look like pretty good alternatives.
  • Organization tools – packing cubes and ziplocks – I’ve already sung the praises of packing cubes in my last packing post.  But I’ll say it again – they’re an amazing organization tool!  We didn’t leave behind or lose anything in our travels in part because of our cubes.  A friend recently asked if one couldn’t just use a large ziplock instead.  I had to do this myself in South America when I forgot a cube.  But the packing cube is superior in four key ways: 1) You can compress you’re clothes much more, which means you’re carrying less air and a smaller bag. 2) Sometimes you won’t have a good place in the room to put your clothes. A cube has just enough structure to set it on the floor and move things in and out of as needed. 3) Cubes are ventilated with mesh panels which is better for your clothes hot and humid weather travel. 4) The cube has a handle to more easily pull it in and out of your bag.  In case this a useful gauge, I used one full size and one half for clothes, Nathan used two full.  Also, do bring a variety of ziplocks with you as well.  They don’t weigh anything and are great for one-offs, like  wet swimsuits or open packages of food.
  • Sleeping gear – eye patch, ear plugs and inflatable neck pillow – These may seem like luxury items as opposed to essentials, but I disagree.  Chances are you are going to take an overnight bus or two (or in our case 16!).  You don’t want to arrive in the mess of a bus station with touts and taxis shouting for your business without having had any shut eye.  No, the balled up sweatshirt does not adequately substitute for neck pillow.  And of course, the eye patch and ear plugs help no matter where you are sleeping – bus, noisy hotel, airport chair.  All these are truely essential for guaranteeing some quality zzzzz’s which means more time for exploring when you get there.
  • Repair tools – travel sized duck tape and mini sewing kit – Nathan and I wrapped duck tape around an old plastic gift card and voilà you have a travel sized version.  Great for patching up various holes and tears.  The mini sewing kits was also very handy for more permanent repairs to tears in our backpacks, cubes, socks, clothes, etc.
  • Medical tools – ciprofloxacin, cold medicine, blister band aids and elastic bandage wrap – Cipro is usually prescribed by doctors for visitors to developing countries to treat travelers diahorrea.  It really works and, even if you don’t use it, it gives peace of mind that you have some defense against pesty stomach bugs.  We didn’t really have many stomach problems on our travels but we did catch a few colds.  While it’s easy to grab some lozenges on the road getting simple cold medicine is more challenging.  Bringing it with you can alleviate some of the more annoying symptoms like a runny nose or congestion.  We carry a tiny pocket medkit with a handful of bandages, but most important are blister band aids (also called compeed), they are somewhat rubbery and saved our feet during many hikes.  Finally, I am so happy I decided to bring the elastic bandage wrap.  When Nathan banged his arm into a light pole, it helped keep the swelling in check.  When I twisted my ankle, it helped keep it strong. I’m always going to carry one now.
  • Laundry tools – universal sink stopper and stain removing pen – When you’re traveling light, you are going to do laundry often.  So that you don’t have to constantly send it out to the laundry service it’s easy to do a few pieces here and there by hand.  I bought a universal sink stopper for this trip and it was awesome at plugging any sink, anywhere.  Made doing laundry a breeze even when I had to soak and treat stains.  With so few clothes, stains are a traveler’s enemy.  Therefore, treat them as soon as possible with a stain removing pen. We carried it in our day bag and used it often.  Generally, 1 stick lasts about 6 months.
  • Favorite sunscreen, chapstick and anti-perspirant/deodorant – We brought travel size shampoo, conditioner, soap and toothpaste with the intention of replacing them along the way.  But not sunscreen, chapstick or anti-perspirant.  Stores abroad do not offer many options or variety for these items, if they offer them at all.  As a side note, I am intrigued by a recent blog post on travel-friendly homemade deodorant.
  • 1L water bottle and steri-pen – Nathan and I chose to drink the local water if the streets were generally clean and the infrastructure seemed to be in good order.  We would judge the latter by seeing how roads and sidewalks were maintained and finding out whether it was ok to flush toilet paper (many places you are asked not to).  If we could, we felt it was a good sign that the water infrastructure was modern.  This is by no means a foolproof method.  You really just have to follow your gut feeling.  But we never got sick from bad water.  You can buy bottled water anywhere and everywhere, however, it results in a lot of plastic waste.  We were happy to have our 1L Nalgene bottle and our steri-pen in order to reduce waste.  Even if you don’t care about the environmental effects, it’s useful for those times you really don’t want to have to leave the hotel just to get a drink. The basic concept is that you fill the bottle with water, swirl the UV-light emitting steri-pen in the water for a minute, and then you have cleansed water.  Simple and useful.  But be sure to bring extra batteries.
  • Camp towels and silk sleeping bags – Not all budget hotels and hostels have towels.  It’s much easier to bring your own.  We like the REI large towel for traveling and camping.  The same goes for sheets.  Let’s just say cleanliness standards vary for sheets.  Silk sleeping bags are very useful for having an extra layer of protection or warmth as the case may be.  In hot weather, they’re great for having a light layer to protect from mosquitos.
  • Head lamp – There are many reasons to bring a lightweight head lamp.  The reading lights on buses only worked some of the time.  On Chinese trains it’s lights out at 11pm sharp.  Roads in small towns and villages are very dark at night.  Electricity goes out.
  • Notebook and pen – Ahh, yes. Back to basics with this one.  We had two notebooks on our journey and both proved invaluable.  One was very small and fit in our day bag for us to jot notes on the day’s activities.  The second was a simple composition notebook in which we drafted blog posts, wrote ideas, drew pictures, wrote down contact info for people we met, jotted down to do lists, mapped out our calendar, noted budget calculations, etc.  It’s better than scrounging for scrap paper and it can be easier than trying to do everything electronically.  Which brings me to the next topic…
Useful travel technology to take with you (photo credit: Lonely Planet, Gadgetian.com, OpenCulture.com)

Useful travel technology to take with you (photo credit: Lonely Planet, Gadgetian.com, OpenCulture.com)

ELECTRONICS

  • iPod touch (or smartphone on airplane mode with wifi turned on) – We loaded all of our Lonely Planet country guidebooks as PDFs on my iPhone and it was glorious. All the information we could need right at our fingertips.  For individual cities you can even download guidebook apps that are even easier to use than PDFs.  I loved that it was so much lighter than carrying the physical book, as we sometimes did in South America.  And of course, it can do so much more – use the compass, take pictures and video, show people photos, download maps, find free wifi to look things up on the go.  My most used travel apps were Hostelworld, AirBnB, Couchsurfing, Kayak and of course Skype.  I also downloaded some useful and free(!) language apps from World Nomads.
  • iPad for blogging – We brought an iPad purely to keep the blog going while abroad.  In South America we did this from hostel computers but this strategy was highly inconvenient.  Blogging from an iPad is definitely doable but can be frustratingly slow and cumbersome compared to a computer.  It’s really a matter of personal choice.  If you are doing a simpler blog with less text and editing, I would recommend an iPad mini.  If you’re not blogging, stick to only the iPod.
  • E-reader – I’m an avid reader and love to read cultural books about a place before I visit.  This can lead to a lot of weight in my bag.  Instead, I loaded a bunch of books on my e-reader and brought it with; a choice I was very happy with.  You can find English books in most places but they’re heavy and pricey.  An e-reader saves so much weight and my Nook even used the same charger as the Apple products (only bring the cord).
  • Audiobooks – But even more genious than the e-reader are audiobooks.  I borrowed CDs from the library, uploaded them to my iPhone and then took them with me.  I listened while walking the Camino de Santiago, on trains, planes and buses, in the Laotian jungle, in my bed before going to sleep.  It was especially great when I started feeling carsick from reading or if I forgot my headlamp and the bus was dark.

You may notice one key piece of technology missing, our camera.  That’s because Nathan will be covering the equipment and applications that we used to bring you photos from around the world!

Trip Tip #1: How to Travel The World…Forever (by Nathan)

Traveling the world (Credit: Pan Am)

Traveling the world (Credit: Pan Am)

So the biggest questions we get about our travels are: how did you do it? How do you afford it? And what was your favorite place? Picking a favorite is challenging and still as impossible as Carmen and I made it out to be in our summary posts. The costs of travel require the simple task of tracking the money that is one minute filling the pocket and the next lost in a flurry of memories, tastes and excitement. The planning, packing, financing and execution of a trip like ours takes finesse and commitment. A new chapter in our lives will be sharing our skills and educating the world in the ways of 4feet2mouths travel.

This is the first post of our two-sided travel series to educate and entertain all of our readers. The first series will be Trip Tips, which this post is part of. We will delve deep into the topics of planning, packing, financing and even bargaining to help everyone get out and see the world. The second series will be called Costs of Travel which will look at the real costs of travel that we experienced. We will show off some impressive graphs and we hope to provide some insight on how to travel the world for under $50 per person per day including flights, visas and everything.

Nathan in the woods, age 9

Nathan in the woods, age 9

To answer the questions of how, I first want to describe my motivations for travel because they have an impact on my travel style and choices.  This requires a brief history of myself: I was born and raised in a mountain resort community; we had a pet cow, endless pine trees and the companionship of dogs, many dogs. Looking back on it I think the mourning of each runaway, each death was quickly suppressed with the introduction of a new puppy. I kept mostly to myself, but with all these dogs I always had a friend to wander the woods and explore the forests with. I thrived roaming the hillsides and I always had a companion to share in the adventure. Quickly I learned the need of a good travel partner, the essential reinforcement that one gets from a friend.

As I got older I was eager to see something other than the mountains I knew so well. I wanted to be a little caught off guard and out of my element. I needed something different. I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area at 18, eager to get out of town. It is such a freeing experience to leave home; the confines of a roof disintegrates and opens to an enormous sky of stars. I let go of all my past and I moved away for good.

Berkeley is obviously on the opposite spectrum in comparison to the mountain I grew up. How exciting it was to finally be in a place that welcomed cultures and people from around the world; the birthplace of free speech was bound to teach me a little more than engineering. My excitement for exploration continued and I was eager to see more of San Francisco.

Sunrise on the Camino de Santiago

Sunrise on the Camino de Santiago

Right about then I got an invitation from a young lady down the hall from me to go to a Mexican/El Salvadorian festival in San Francisco. My first exploration of San Francisco involved hours of walking, talking and meandering through the stomach of San Francisco, the Mission neighborhood. Instantly our relationship grew; each step planted roots, each meal was another experience and each neighborhood was a new adventure. Welcome Carmen into my life.

Five weeks in Europe in 2006: Monarola cliffside homes, Cinque Terra Italy

Five weeks in Europe in 2006: Monarola cliffside homes, Cinque Terra Italy

Egg custard tarts first tried in SF, led to a trip to Portugal.  The best in the world are in Belem!

Egg custard tarts first tried in SF, led to a trip to Portugal. The best in the world are in Belem!

From there, Carmen and I shared a insatiable love to explore everything and anything. I found my companion. We let go of our hearts and we bound ourselves to each other. We hiked weekly in the Berkeley hills, we fulfilled our weekends walking across San Francisco and attempted to check every world cuisine off our lists. Our adventures started small, built confidence and grew rapidly and broadly. Quickly we wanted to explore more of the world. We started with small trips: a weekend backpacking trek, a week in Rosarito, Carmen studied the summer abroad and we eventually moved to London to work to work for six months. We planned and executed five weeks in Southern Europe in 2006, four weeks in Germany and Poland in 2006, three weeks in Portugal in 2010 and six weeks in Asia in 2009. Each trip was building our skills to plan, value pack, finance and travel with one another 24/7.

Carmen and I in May 2012 returning from Peru

Carmen and I in May 2012 returning from Peru

TRIP TIP #1: Letting go is easier with a good travel companion.

Then in 2012 we began the biggie- fourteen solid months of traveling. The idea of this trip was more or less in the making for several years before we actually got to it. The reason was that we had to learn to let go. Short-term travel pushes a pause button on typical routine life, the vacation happens, and then life is resumed with workflow, money-flow, friendships and daily life continuing uninterrupted. Long-term travel is different. Routine life is stopped; jobs are ended, friendships are pushed away and personal possessions are thrown out. It takes courage to tell society “enough time has been spent on your clock, I’m doing this for me!” This can be difficult.  The dull heart-wrenching feelings of telling your family you are not coming home this holiday was a hard choice to make.

Self-discovery requires more than just maintenance of the status quo. It takes letting go. We had to let go of everything that was stable in our lives; we suppressed it and welcomed the uneasiness and excitement that is part of a real adventure. It takes commitment to travel like we do. It is not easy living out of a suitcase. I still get uncomfortable watching my life savings deplete by the day. And the constant anticipation/fear/challenge of where we will be in two days time is often so overwhelming it feels like we could explode. But there is a WE, a companion is an essential part of letting go and taking flight into the world.

Durian is a sought after fruit across SE Asia.  It takes an open mind to get past its pungent smell and taste the unique sweet creaminess that is only Durian

Durian is a sought after fruit across SE Asia. It takes an open mind to get past its pungent smell and taste the unique sweet creaminess that is only Durian

Together, Carmen and I could support and encourage each other to achieve everything that you have witnessed on this blog. We experienced an uneasiness when we freed ourselves into the world, but it all became possible with knowing that we were together. Letting go of the handrail of our old life was possible knowing that we had the stability of each other’s hand to grab in case we fell.  To really travel, to really experience the world it takes an open mind to see everything and taste each morsel of a culture even if conventionally it is not comfortable. Letting of those conventions is that much easier with a teammate.

 Friends are essential travel partners gather as many as you can.  Here we are on the Salar de Uyuni.


Friends are essential travel partners gather as many as you can. Here we are on the Salar de Uyuni.

I am not saying that only couples can travel. We have met hundreds of travelers, many of them single. Most of them find a friend to travel with. There is comfort in pooling resources, communicating in a common language and struggling through regional transit. The nomadic lifestyle of world travel improves in small numbers. Travelers are some of the most welcoming and open-hearted people you can find. When traveling, let go of your guard and open up to a new friend, the travel will be more fulfilling and the friendship priceless.

An inspiration bridge in Putrajaya Malaysia.  So much is possible with an open mind and heart!

An inspiration bridge in Putrajaya Malaysia. So much is possible with an open mind and heart!

Lesson learned, we let go and we found a companion. We said goodbye to our belongings, postponed our careers and opened ourselves to the world. Becoming a world traveler required cutting loose those heart strings that guarded us. We lucked out finding each other. We grabbed onto the reins of our lives and took off in any direction we wanted. The plan is not to travel forever, just yet, but if we wanted that, we know together we could make that jump.  Our journey crossed drastic landscaped and diverse cultures; each day and each week we improved our ability to travel. Our experiences of traveling the world need to be shared. We look forward to delivering our Trip Tips series and Costs of Travel series to you. Let us know if you have any questions and we’ll try to address each one individually.

Nathan and Carmen - World Travelers

Nathan and Carmen – World Travelers

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