4 feet 2 mouths

walking and eating our way around the world

Archive for the tag “Travel”

Quick trip: Portland & Beyond (by Carmen)

Little white church in the Oregon countryside

Little white church in the Oregon countryside

Wedding guests at sunset

Wedding guests at sunset

Towards the end of last summer we had the pleasure of attending a wedding in the verdant hills outside Salem, Oregon. Oregon in the summer is especially beautiful and, honestly, we’d accept any excuse to go. To be there for a family wedding in a cute little chapel surrounded by old oak trees was even more special. Our flight back to California was via Portland so we decided to spend a day and a half enjoying the city.

Voodoo Doughnut

Voodoo Doughnut

Portland is known for its great food but also for its somewhat alternative culture. Both these aspects were reflected in our trip to the famous Voodoo Doughnut. This was our pre-breakfast (hey, our time in Portland was limited!) and we were jarred by the neon pink interior of Voodoo as we walked in. The case contained a mixture of appealing (maple!) and appalling (bubble gum??) options slowly rotating under florescent light. Although I was tempted by the voodoo doll shaped concoction, I kept it simple with an old fashioned while Nathan tried a yeasted and iced doughnut. The old fashioned was definitely the winner and I thoroughly enjoyed it even though I felt the amount of icing tipped this snack more towards dessert than breakfast. By the time we left there was a line forming out the door.

Scandinavian breakfast at Broder (not sure what's going on in the back)

Scandinavian breakfast at Broder (not sure what’s going on in the back)

Actual breakfast was at Broder, a Scandinavian cafe tucked into a quiet strip of retail in Southeast Portland. As we waited for a table (good thing we had the doughnut to hold us over), we peeked at what people were eating. Everything looked so unique and enticing. Ultimately we tried the “Soltice Bord” (a very European mix of cheeses, jams, yogurt, granola, soft boiled egg, ham, bread, pastry) and a smoked trout hash. The restaurant lived up to the hype and it reminded me to enjoy these simple pleasures more often.

Heart Coffee shop

Heart Coffee shop

The in-shop roaster

The in-shop roaster

When in Portland it’s required to have multiple cups of artisanal coffee a day. We obliged at Heart Coffee shop where part of the entertainment is to watch the in-house roaster spew out fragrant coffee beans ready to be ground and brewed.

Bridge over the Willamette River

Bridge over the Willamette River

Public space in downtown Portland

Public space in downtown Portland

Powered with caffeine we made our way west, past the Willamette River to downtown. We took in the wonderful public spaces in this very walkable part of the city. I love bookstores and insisted we spend a solid hour at Powell’s Books where the cooking section alone took up two long aisles. Heaven.

Salt & Straw Ice Cream (sorry for the poor photo quality - this was pre-phone upgrade)

Salt & Straw Ice Cream (sorry for the poor photo quality – this was pre-phone upgrade)

Double fisitng at Salt & Straw

Double fisitng at Salt & Straw

My favorite bite of the whole trip took place later that night at Salt & Straw Ice Cream. I’ve tried plenty of good, quality ice cream in my life but this might be the best I’ve ever had. The creativity of flavors and freshness of ingredients came together so well. It was unbelievable and Nathan and I are going to attempt to recreate it with our new ice cream maker. Yes, even despite the freezing temperatures in NYC right now.

THE way to get around town

THE way to get around town

Our time in Portland would not have been the same without our excellent hosts Tom and Fontaine. They gave us recommendations, lent us their bikes, introduced us to yummy New Orleans food, and took us to local bars with some heavy handed bartenders. Thank you! Another special shout out to Nalat who encouraged us to try Olympic Provisions and Cascade Brewery – both delicious and worthy of checking out. Reminds me that no matter where we find ourselves, we get by with a little help from our friends.

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Chicago Living (by Carmen)

Lake Michigan Coast

Lake Michigan Coast

Obligatory Cloudgate (or The Bean) shot

Obligatory Cloudgate (or The Bean) shot

We just couldn’t stay away. Our last visit to Chicago was during a July heat wave. We managed not to melt by visiting the beach and ducking into air conditioned restaurants for our fave regional eats – namely deep dish, hot dogs and anything by Rick Bayless. But it wasn’t enough. So this May, Nathan and I set down our backpacks for a whole month.

Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me recording

Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me recording

Wait, wait – why were we spending a whole month in the Windy City? Was this an extension of our travels? There was in fact a very specific reason to plop ourselves in this beautiful city by Lake Michigan. Our wedding was to take place at the end of May and we had a lot of planning to do! It was exciting but tiring times. To take a break from all the planning we fit in a few special meals, good beers, and fun shows. Like Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, the excellent NPR Saturday morning show recorded in downtown each week.

Spent a lot of time on our L platform

Spent a lot of time on our L platform

Revolution Brewing

Revolution Brewing

During our month in Chicago we were fortunate enough to stay with a family friend in the excellent Logan Square neighborhood. I thought it fitting that we were next to the California stop on the L (the name for the local train system). It was also fortunate to be very near one of the best breweries in the city – Revolution Brewing. The space has a huge wooden bar in the center of the lively restaurant. My personal favorite was the Rosa beer, which was a beautiful red color thanks to being brewed with hibiscus. It was a truly refreshing beer as the weather began warming up.

Longman & Eagle breakfast

Longman & Eagle breakfast

Lula Cafe cinnamon pasta

Lula Cafe cinnamon pasta

Logan Square has a lot to offer but two of my favorites are Longman & Eagle and Lula Cafe. The former is quite the multi-faceted business with a hotel, full bar and a restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner all on one site. The owners are able to pull it off it with style and as well as delicious food. I find the breakfast menu to be a particularly good deal so Nathan and I walked over one morning to enjoy chicken and waffles as well as a duck hash. Every time I eat there I wonder how they make their food so tasty.

Just across the square (actually more like a large roundabout) is Lula Cafe. The food was also of very high quality but in a comforting way. Like my pasta mixed with feta, cinnamon, garlic and brown butter. Simple, a little unusual, but ultimately delicious.

Kurowski Sausage Shop

Kurowski Sausage Shop

Polish goodies

Polish goodies

Speaking of comforting, Polish food ranks high for me in terms of homey goodness that just makes me happy. We found gold at Kurowski Sausage Shop, a grocery store full of delectable items like sauerkraut, kielbasa, borscht, dill pickle soup, hunter’s stew and, of course, lots and lots of pierogies. We happily stocked up and wondered if we could move in next door.

Urban Belly rice cake soup

Urban Belly rice cake soup

Belly Shack bulgogi

Belly Shack bulgogi

While I love Polish food, my heart will always belong to the cuisines of Asia. So I couldn’t wait to try Urban Belly. I went with a group and we each ordered a different soup. Through the variety of noodles (udon, rice, ramen and round rice discs), broth bases (chicken, pork), and spiciness levels one theme emerged – each bowl was incredibly scrumptious. We had such a good experience that Nathan and I took a group of family to Belly Shack, a sandwich shop from the same chef. I was a little worried that the group might prefer burgers and fries to the eclectic menu offerings at the shack (example: meatball and noodle sandwich) but everyone came away happy. I particularly enjoyed my bulgogi with flatbread and kimchee.

Fat Rice, a new fave

Fat Rice, a new fave

I thought Urban Belly was an unusual name, but then Fat Rice came and blew it out of the water. Turns out the name is a translation from the more elegant sounding arroz gordo, a specialty of Macau. The whole restaurant is dedicated to Macau cuisine which has a mix of influences – mostly Portuguese and Chinese but also a little bit of everywhere else the Portuguese went. I absolutely love when east meets west so this was right up my alley! While I really wanted to order the arroz gordo (a rice dish with a variety of meats and seafoods, chinese sausage, tea eggs, linguiça and sofrito) it is meant to serve 6. We still considered it though :) Instead we settled for Piri Piri Chicken with peanuts and potatoes in tomato sauce, Crazy Squid and large spears of stir-fried asparagus. Tangy, spicy, tingly, nutty, sour – everything melded together perfectly. From the concept to the food to the decor, this has become one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago.

Newlyweds

Newlyweds

Hot Doug’s hot dogs as celebration

Hot Doug’s hot dogs as celebration

And then we got married! Or at least it felt like it happened that fast. All the efforts of not only me and Nathan but our families culminated in what will forever be one of the best days of my life. A smile creeps onto my face anytime I think back to that wonderful weekend full of family, friend and love. And what better way to cement our union than to eat gloriously delicious hot dogs at Hot Doug’s?

Soaking in the modern “Flamingo” sculpture in Chicago downtown with friends

Soaking in the modern “Flamingo” sculpture in Chicago downtown with friends

Filafill

Filafill

Having so many of our family and friends in Chicago at the same time was somewhat surreal. We tried to spend as much time as we could with everyone over the wedding weekend. Most people wanted to check out downtown so we wandered around, admiring architecture together. When we needed refueling we visited Filafill, an excellent falafel and sandwich bar where you fill up your pita with as many sauces, pickles and veggies as you like.

Chicago’s sweet side (clockwise from top left: olive oil cake at Floriole; decadent doughnuts at Glazed & Infused; cookies and hot chocolate at Hot Chocolate, sundae at Margie’s Candies)

Chicago’s sweet side (clockwise from top left: olive oil cake at Floriole; decadent doughnuts at Glazed & Infused; cookies and hot chocolate at Hot Chocolate, sundae at Margie’s Candies)

I will leave this food heavy post off with a sweet ending – dessert! Nathan and I have sweet tooths to be sure. While we revisited Floriole for a moist olive oil cake we were happy to discover Glazed & Infused this time around. They offer some seriously decadent doughnuts in unique flavors like maple bacon. Based on a recommendation from my dad, we also made a trip to Hot Chocolate for (what else) hot chocolate. It was smooth and had perfectly balanced sweetness and richness. Finally, my favorite is Margie’s Candies, an institution since 1921. You walk in and you are transported back in time before artisanal gelato and fancy toppings. There is no salted caramel here. Just simple (but huge) sundaes with lots of hot fudge to drip over it. And you can’t forget the neon maraschino cherry on top!

Thank you, Chicago, for being a sweet setting for us to start a new chapter in our lives.

Road Trip Redwoods (by Nathan)

A good start to any road trip: breakfast at Acme, brunch at Sol Food, and Pinot Noir in Anderson Valley.

A good start to any road trip: breakfast at Acme, brunch at Sol Food, and Pinot Noir in Anderson Valley.

Our blog has been overshadowed by many crazy life events over the the past few months. Obviously returning to the real world after a trip around the world is tough. But…we are bringing the blog back! The next few weeks will be dedicated to bringing our stories to the present.

Every successful road trip requires a few essentials- a supply of snacks, solid tunes, interesting diversions, good company and an end destination. We set out from San Francisco to visit my grandparents 450 miles away in Oregon. The plan was to see some of the beautiful California coastline, hike in the towering redwood forests and enjoy every bit of the landscape along the way. Within the first several hours we were off to a good start with an Acme Bakery apple tart, brunch at the ever delicious Sol Food and wine tasting in Anderson Valley (favorite winery – Husch). Road trip Pacific Coast here we come…

Northern California Coastline

Northern California Coastline

A blooming California poppy

A blooming California poppy

Descending from Anderson valley onto the California coast is a subtle, but exciting experience. The pinot noir vineyards and patchy redwoods pull away to reveal the jagged and tumultuous Mendocino coast. Highway 128 ends and Highway 1/101 is the only route left to meander is way along the coastline.

Carmen celebrating not scraping the mirrors of our rented car!

Carmen celebrating not scraping the mirrors of our rented car!

What! A tree you can dive through? Yeah, we did that! Because every good American road trip requires a visit to a 60’s style tourist trap. Carmen expertly maneuvered our rented Ford Focus through the Chandelier Tree. We had now entered the redwood forests of California. To everyone that has not been to see California redwoods, there are several national, state and local forests that spread throughout California. The Northern California coastline boasts the tallest trees in the world, Kings Canyon in Central California, the fattest, but there are redwood forests all over the place. To name a few of just this trip, we saw Hendy Redwoods, Smithe Woods, Richardson Grove, Humboldt Redwoods, Prairie Creek Redwoods, Redwood National Park and Jedediah Smith Redwoods. Each park or forest is can be enjoyed along the drive, but it is the national and state parks that really take the prize for being spectacularly amazing.

Nathan in Fern Canyon

Nathan in Fern Canyon

Redwoods holding onto the shear bluff

Redwoods holding onto the shear bluff

Early in the road trip we had received a recommendation to visit Fern Canyon. The canyon was formed by a small creek that cuts through the redwood forests, carving a narrow gulley into the hillside. The vegetation is lush, vibrant and dripping with life. It is such an impressive sight that it was used for filming the first Jurassic Park movie. Usually, visiting the canyon has a fee but lucky for us it was free State Park day so we drove right onto the five mile dirt road towards Gold Bluffs beach. The road was in fairly good condition with the exception of a creek that caught us off guard; let’s just say I was happy it was a rented car that jumped that ditch.

Fern Canyon

Fern Canyon

Wild elk near the mouth of Fern Canyon

Wild elk near the mouth of Fern Canyon

One amazing thing about the Redwood National Park is that there are a few wild herds of Elk that migrate through the park. Supposedly they like to go swimming in the ocean! We did not see any elks catching waves, but we did get to see five of them eating shrubs near the beach. This female elk was huge and not at all scared of our presence.

Towers of Redwood National Park

Towers of Redwood National Park

Nudist tree? Open for interpretation.

Nudist tree? Open for interpretation.

The thick redwood forests around Lady Bird Grove

The thick redwood forests around Lady Bird Grove

Within the Redwood National Park, we headed towards an excellent and easy hiking loop in the Lady Bird Johnson Grove. This is probably the third or fourth time I have been here in my life and every time I love it. There are a handful of short or long trails that make it easy to fit in a short or long hike during the road trip. We started with just a small loop, but both Carmen and I got excited and we continued to meander through the forests for a few hours. We did see this rather graphic tree, which we dubbed the nudist tree, that continues to make us laugh.

Tree canopy

Tree canopy

Nathan and one “Big Tree!

Nathan and one “Big Tree!

As we hiked up and down the hillside we heard this faint, yet tremendous crash. Somewhere in the distance a tree branch or maybe an entire tower collided into the ground. It was an amazing rumble that of course sparked the existential debate of a fallen tree in a forest absent of listeners. Walking between, around and through these trees creates a similar feeling to exploring a great city. The height, the culture of the environment are something I enjoy through my core. The majestic height of these trees is inspirational to me to design taller and more beautiful buildings.

Phosphates for 25cents in Oregon!

Phosphates for 25cents in Oregon!

It was tough, but we dragged ourselves back into the car for another five hour stretch of roadway. The end destination of our trip was southern Oregon. It is always exciting to visit my family here. The city where they live has a small-town feel with a very homey downtown. One of my favorite places on the main street is this old pharmacy that sells phosphate sodas for 25 cents. There is a nostalgic charm that continues to welcome us. Oregon boasts an easy-going tranquility that we rarely have seen in all of our travels. To get out of town for a while my aunt took us on a hike along the Rogue River and in the rolling hills.

Fresh beets from the farmer’s market.

Fresh beets from the farmer’s market.

At the time of our visit, the farmer’s market was abundant with local vegetables. We stocked up on several types of beets and made a delicious salad to enjoy on the deck. It was a spectacular road trip that concluded with great food, sunshine and the wonderful warmth of family.

Hanging out with the family on the porch

Hanging out with the family on the porch

Back to the Bay (by Carmen)

The glorious Dolores Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon in San Francisco

The glorious Dolores Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon in San Francisco

Ok, we are a bit behind. And by a bit, I mean a lot. We’re steering away from the trip tips and cost analysis for now to focus back on what we love most: travel stories and food photography. To kick things off I’m going to write about a trip way back in April, shortly after returning from our gastronomical adventures in China. It was a journey that included hyperactive bhangra dancing, hiking, beers, pottery painting, jello shots and non-jello shots, custom made t-shirts, wine and a veiled crown with inappropriate ornaments. Yes, it was our bachelor and bachelorette parties! I can’t reveal any specifics but I was so happy to be surrounded by wonderful friends to celebrate bachelorette-hood. As it happens most of these friends live in the city by the bay, San Francisco.

Manish slaving away at the stove

Manish slaving away at the stove

A wonderful and welcoming vegan meal

A wonderful and welcoming vegan meal

Manish welcomed us back from our round the world journey with open arms and a very tasty meal at his apartment in North Beach. While we regaled him with tales of travels far and wide, he graciously cooked us up a vegan meal of green beans, lentils, rice and stuffed flatbreads – just like his momma taught him (quick shout out to her homemade handvo!). We talked, shared a couple growlers and joined friends in what was a great first night in the city.

Pizza and wine at Preston Winery in Sonoma

Pizza and wine at Preston Winery in Sonoma

Preston Winery tasting area

Preston Winery tasting area

The next day our friend Nalat whisked us away to be her guests at Preston Winery. It is one of the best wineries in the region but has a completely unpretentious atmosphere. You do not have to be a wine snob to enjoy their delicious reds, whites and roses in a classic farmhouse setting. On the day we visited they were serving up some pizza made with local ingredients. Let me tell ya, they take local seriously around here. As in they grew their own wheat on the estate that they then milled into flour for the pizza dough which was baked it in their wood-fired oven. It’s hard to beat that.

Joe’s Sliders

Joe’s Sliders

Over the next week we transitioned from friends in SF to our lovely hosts Kristen and Mark in Berkeley. While we waited for them to return from work, Nathan and I stopped by one of our favorite Berkeley snack shops: Joes’ Sliders. This small cafe does excellent burgers in miniature. It’s such an easy concept, I’m surprised it hasn’t been done before. Sometimes you just want a bite of juicy patty or portobello cap with good quality cheddar, sauce, and sesame seeds bun. This way you get a taste without a full burger commitment.

Vine Street Wine Shop

Vine Street Wine Shop

The vast board of cheeses at Cheese Board

The vast board of cheeses at Cheese Board

While we were in Berkeley, we couldn’t resist a chance to have a final pot luck with our dinner party crew. We had posted about our previous dinner party which honored foods from the Bay Area. But this time we were all pressed for time, so we went with a three ingredient theme, inspired by the cooking show Chopped. To get supplies, we visited three of our fave Berkeley food shops that we dearly miss: Berkeley Bowl (the best grocery store in the world), the Cheese Board (a co-op that has no less than 5 types of feta in addition to pretty much any other type of cheese), and the Vine Street Wine Shop (all wines are well described and under $25…need I say more?).

3 ingredient dinner party

3 ingredient dinner party

My contribution to the three ingredient dinner party was 1) a dish of cantaloupe wrapped in sage in proscuitto and 2) ricotta mixed with herbs and olives on toast. Nathan created a salad of roasted carrots, arugula and avocado (a simplified version of this excellent recipe from Food & Wine). Add in a roast chicken, a cauliflower “risotto”, more greens and a cobbler and we were well fed and happy.

Dim sum at Hong Kong Lounge

Dim sum at Hong Kong Lounge

It was great to be back in the Bay Area yet China was still fresh in our memories. The noodles, and dumplings and tofu…oh yum. I never tire of it and wanted more. Fortunately, our friends were on the same page so six of us gathered round a table for dim sum at Hong Kong Lounge. Our table was soon laden with steamer baskets full of delectable treats on par with the dim sum we had recently enjoyed in HK.

In our visit to the Bay Area we were fortunate enough to spend time with many more people than I have mentioned here. For all those who hosted us, dined with us, drank with us and/or danced with us, we take a bit of you with us wherever we go. And by a bit, I mean a lot.

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.

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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.

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