May 28th, 2012
by Travis
1 Comment

Asia Ends and Australia Begins

Marie and I haven’t posted in nearly two months, mostly on account of getting my iPhone being stolen on a sleeper bus outside of Nha Trang (but got it replaced thanks to traveler’s insurance with World Nomads). Since then, we finished off our month in Vietnam with Ho Chi Minh City, explored Siem Reap’s temples in Cambodia, and ended on a repeat Malaysia and Singapore visit to kill some time. Killing time in countries already visited? We needed to fill an extra month in Asia before flying to Athens, Greece for some work my mom hooked us up with.
After a week of olives and dolmas, we swung by Madrid for a couple weeks to visit Marie’s family in Madrid and Toledo.
Lastly, a night in each city reversed order lead us to the final destination, Australia.

Working Holiday

We arrived in Cairns on May 24th, and while we brought sunshine with us to both Athens and Madrid, there was nothing we could do for Queensland’s uncharacteristically late, rainy winter.

Although we are a stone’s throw from the Great Barrier Reef, so far we’ve just been squaring away to-dos like tax numbers with the government, opening checking accounts with Commonwealth Bank, scouring for possible WWooF hosts, and keeping out ears to the ground for any paid seasonal work out there.

Holiday Backpacking through Asia has come to a close and now our Working Holiday Backpacking has begun.

April 2nd, 2012
by Marie

Storytime: Vietnam

I’m pretty sure Travis harbors secret dreams of being a model. The following post is my evidence. As well as a short history of our travels through Vietnam…

Exhibit #2. Notice how he accessorizes with a furry feline. And now he has fleas.

But back to Vietnam. Our first impression was a rather bumpy one, literally. After crossing the border at Dien Bien Phu in the north, we bought a bus ticket to the tourist hotspot, Sa Pa. What followed could possibly be described as my four-wheeled nightmare. It wasn’t a bus of course, but a minivan. And once all the seats had been filled the guy in charge decides we are all too comfortable and squeezes in 10 more people. Our row was lucky enough to seat 5 people on 2.5 seats. Our luck continues, as the trip only took about 10 hours. On windy and bumpy roads. One guy in the back had to open the window a few times in order to vomit. But through all of this the only thing I could concentrate on was the handful of hairs growing out of a mole on the guy next to us. They were about 8 inches long and blowing in the wind…

One thing I loved though was how they grow food in every space possible: empty lots, next to the sidewalk, even in public parks. This “urban agriculture’ that is becoming so hip in western cities is to them, common sense. As it should be.

After exploring Hanoi, we headed south to Ninh Binh and was rowed down a little river to see Tam Coc (a place that is described as Halong Bay without the water). This lovely old Vietnamese couple were to be our guides and we’re pretty sure asked Travis if he had given me a baby yet (oh my god). Well, she turned out to be quite nasty in the end when she screamed we didn’t tip her enough.

Travis and his iphone, Ninh Binh.

Travis without his iphone, Na Trang. Poor guy is in complete shock after having his phone stolen only a few hours prior.  We took a sleeper bus down from Hoi An and never suspected someone would go through our bags right next to us.  The bus ride itself was terrible too, but at this point we expected it. But some sneaker on the bus had the nerve to take the cash out of my wallet and an iphone out of Travis’s shoulder bag laying by our feet. We definitely learned our lesson.  This isn’t New Zealand.

At least the view that morning was nice!  Na Trang definitely isn’t the prettiest town in Vietnam, but I actually quite liked it.  We had some delicious food (as everywhere else I guess) and the beach was surprisingly deserted.

Activities in Na Trang include the natural hot springs and mudbath. Travis was a little grossed out by the latter, which was more of a thin muddy soup that had been reused a questionable amount.  But what can I say, I liked it as a child and still like playing in the mud today.

We also went on $15, all day snorkeling and fishing trip.  It was fun, but in Vietnam you get what you pay for.  At least I can now say I have successfully been snorkeling without having a slight mental breakdown (Carrie, you would be proud).  Once we came in from the water, we were handed a fishing line to then try to kill the pretty little fish we had just been admiring.

If all else fails in Asia, at least there is plenty of entertainment to be had in English translations.  Unfortunately, Travis was not verified as Prince quality.

To me, Vietnam in a nutshell means delicious food, beautiful scenery, super friendly people (as long as they’re not trying to sell you something, but most of them are), polluted as hell, and a constant rip-off.  I guess we liked it almost as much as we didn’t.  But then, if you’re not on such a strict budget I can see how it could be the best place ever.

March 22nd, 2012
by Travis

How I Start Planning for a Backpacking Trip

In my experience, one of the best ways to break down the planning and everything that comes pre-departure of any trip is thinking along the lines of time intervals.

Specifically, it’s creating a checklist organized by:

  • 2 months before departure
  • 1 month before…
  • 2 weeks before…
  • 1 week before…

I find this method inherently makes any/all tasks more bite-sized, manageable, and less overwhelming, but what I’ve realized more and more is how it also prioritizes itself. If something like ‘buying tickets’ hasn’t been done yet, but you’re for some reason thinking of booking a hotel or planning an excursion, you immediately know you’re past due on a task that should come before almost anything else.

Here’s an example checklist that resembles something similar to what I went by for a backpacking trip with no return date, but most of the info applies to shorter trips of other varieties as well.

(Some tasks may have detailed blog posts on additional information and advice. Stay tuned for more to come on the ones that don’t.)

Two months before departure

One Month Before…

  • Tell your work
  • Change the address for, or suspend, snail-mail
  • Start putting together a travel blog

Two Weeks Before…

  • Do some research and plan your first few stops
  • Tell credit card companies/bank about being abroad
  • Cancel/Suspend/Suspend all regularly occurring payments

A week before…

  • Get a haircut
  • Pack your bag and then take stuff out
  • Have a goodbye party

This isn’t meant to have any fine level of granularity (that’s for creating lots of smaller lists, two months before), but rather it’s a countdown to departure where you can strike through the big picture milestones as you complete them.

I feel that having a general pre-departure outline such as this helps immensely when planning for a trip.