Thursday, 29 December 2011

Ball-ivia

So, after approximately 13 hours in Bolivia, I know what the Spanish word is for testicles. It's criadillas. Could've done without that helpful lesson so early in the trip, but there it is.

But let me back up- maybe I should start with our arrival in Bolivia. Actually, I'll start with our departure from the States. We left my parent's place yesterday, saying our goodbyes and using our backpacks for the first time. Here's us right before we left, with our gear on our backs, looking super dorky.




We flew into Santa Cruz this morning on an uneventful flight from Miami (the most eventful thing that happened is that I got sick, but I always get sick, so it's hardly worth mentioning). As we flew overnight and didn't get a ton of sleep on the plane, we went straight to our hotel room (yes, I said hotel. I'll explain in a second) to rest. We were able to check in early, take hot showers and pass out for a few hours, which we desperately needed to recharge our batteries before exploring Santa Cruz. The plan wasn't always to have a nice hotel. We actually had booked a hostel for tonight, but I had some airline miles that were about to expire, so we decided to use them for a comfortable hotel to start our trip off right.

We spent the afternoon exploring Santa Cruz, which, in all honesty, was not that exciting. There is little to see in the city, so we just wandered through the streets and people watched. One of the cooler things we saw was this nativity scene, where the wise men are bringing baby Jesus corn instead of frankincense and myrrh. Personally, I'd prefer to be the Bolivian baby Jesus; frankincense just doesn't sound that tasty...


And here's my favorite wise man, who looks pretty pissed that he only brought one ear of corn while his buddies both brought whole baskets full. Embarrassing...


We also found some good stuff to eat. We tried chicha, a drink made from fermented corn, which is sweet and milky and delicious. We then had some surprisingly good fried chicken and rice, which, in addition to two pints of beer each, set us back a whopping $4 a person. Bolivia is ridiculously inexpensive when you go to the right places.

However, when you go to the wrong places, you end up eating bull testicles that cost twice as much as the fried chicken. Which is exactly what we did this evening.

When we were walking today, we saw an adorable restaurant with a veranda and a band playing tonight. When we returned this evening and sat down, we realized that the restaurant was pretty expensive by Bolivian standards. In order to keep to our budget, we ordered the cheapest main course: los criadillas de toro. The way the name of the dish was handwritten on the menu, it looked to us like griadillas, which looked like the French word grillade. We thought we were ordering grilled bull steak. Boy, were we wrong... The realization that we were clearly eating something we would later regret, coupled with the music from the band, which ended up being terrible, ended our day on a lower note than we would have liked.

So here we are after our first day on the trip, burping up bull balls, but still pretty happy and excited about what's next. We head to Samaipata tomorrow and will spend three nights there. We've read that it is beautiful, with tons of hiking trails through the mountains. I think tomorrow we will feel a little more like we are in Bolivia. Santa Cruz is very tropical and hot, so we feel like we are in Mexico, rather than the cold, high-altitude Bolivia that we've read so much about. Can't wait to see what the rest of the country is like, bull balls and all!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

'Twas the night before...

Well, tomorrow is the day.

After a month straight of visiting family and friends before our departure, we are finally leaving tomorrow to start the trip. In 24 hours, we will be on the plane to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, with nothing but a backpack and a plane ticket going everywhere but home. Crazy.

For the past few weeks, we have been asked, "Are you so excited?" by everyone we see. Those sweet, caring souls are always disappointed by our answer:

No, not really.

We aren't so excited. We want to be, believe me. But we just aren't.

It's not as if we don't want to go, it's simply that it still hasn't hit us that we are actually going. It feels like we are leaving for a vacation or a short trip and that we'll be back in a week or so. I don't think either of us realize that we are actually leaving for a year. Backpacking around the world. Realizing a dream. Finally embarking on an adventure that we have been planning for over a year.

I hope to document our experience as much as possible the first few days, as we start to realize what we are doing. I'm curious to see how we will react and when it will actually hit us. I also can't wait to start writing about our travels, rather than the trip preparation. We've been planning this for 14 months and it's finally here.

Oh my god, we leave tomorrow!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Testing our goods

Spoiler alert: I froze my a-- off and I hate my pants.

Today V and I went for a hike up the Luberon mountains in southern France and took the opportunity to equip ourselves solely with the gear we are bringing on the trip. The idea was to test our clothes, shoes and day packs at low altitude in the sun at the start of the hike and then later at a higher altitude where it would be much colder.

We both wore multiple layers and brought even more in our day packs (along with our awesome picnic lunch of pasta salad and juice boxes). I wore one of my two t-shirts, one of my two long sleeve shirts, a light weight zip-neck long sleeve shirt, my convertible pants, heavy hiking socks and my heaviest walking shoes, bandanas around my head and neck, and sunglasses (and a bra and undies, but we don't need to go into those details, do we?). In my day pack were a scarf, a micro-fleece and my rain jacket/ wind-breaker. If you are really interested in all of this stuff, go back to this post to see pictures of each item.

As we started up the mountain on our hike, it was sunny and around 55 degrees. About ten minutes into the hike came my first discovery: I hate my pants. My convertible pants for the trip, besides making me look like a total dude, have no stretch in them and are frankly too tight to comfortably hike in. I had tried on a larger pair at the store and they were too baggy, so I went a size down. Seeing how unhappy I was with the pants after only five hours of hiking, I certainly don't want to be stuck with them for a year. I'm now on the look out in the next three weeks for new pants.

So, on up the mountain we went. As we reached the top, a massive wind swept over the summit and clouds rolled in from the other side of the range, covering the sun. The temperature dropped from 50 degrees to probably around 35, maybe lower with the wind chill. This is where I made a huge mistake and my second discovery. To combat the cooler temperature, I added the rest of my layers, except the scarf. Those five layers of technical, carefully chosen tops should have kept me warm in 30 degree weather. The problem was that my sports bra and t-shirt were humid from my sweating (I know, I'm such a lady) during the ascent, so regardless of the extra layers, I was still cold.

At the summit, V and I took shelter from the wind and had our picnic. The combination of my wet base layers and no longer moving pushed my discomfort to another level: I was freeeeezing. I complained enough in between sips from my juice box to make V hurry up so we could get moving again. To my dismay, V kept stopping to take pictures of the view as I danced around and hugged myself like a crazy person, trying to warm up.
Me on the summit, hating everything.
Finally, after walking a bit more and giving my shirt time to dry, I started warming up, but not before learning a seriously valuable lesson: if base layers are humid in cold weather, TAKE THEM OFF. I would have been far, far warmer without my t-shirt under my heavier layers than with it wet. While I suffered a bit today, I'm so glad I figured that out before I find myself at 12,000 feet in Bolivia with a wet t-shirt.

At the end of the day, we had a great hike and are both feeling good about the gear we are bringing on the trip. So I'll leave you with a picture of us, feelin' good:

Friday, 2 December 2011

Buh-bye Switzerland

Well, that's done.

We have finally moved out of our apartment and have officially left Switzerland. After more than a week straight of packing, moving, cleaning and traveling (we are currently in southern France at V's dad's house), I am too exhausted to write anything clever or profound.

It has not hit us at all that we have actually left and no longer have a home- it still feels like we are on vacation and will go back in a few days. I doubt we will realize that we aren't going back until we are packing our backpacks and flying to the States.

Even when we left the apartment for the last time, we weren't that emotional, simply because it hadn't hit us. We were a little sad, but it was more like, "Bye dude, it's been great," than, "Waaaaaaaah!!!" We were both so tired and stressed from the move that there was little room for much else emotionally. Here's an idea of how we felt during our last 30 seconds in our empty apartment, where we spent three wonderful, cozy, comfortable years in a place we loved:

Bye, Switzerland, it's been great...

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Weepy and Weird

I'll start with the bad news: this post might be a downer. Things are getting pretty emotional over here and I don't even have a hilarious Vincent picture to make it better.

At least there is some good news: this post won't be quite as long as the last one. I've gotten the ranting out of my system. At least for now....

These last few weeks have been much harder than I imagined. We are in full-on moving mode: packing up everything in our apartment, finalizing the administrative stuff and saying our good-byes, one by one.

The good-byes are the hardest because it feels like everything is a goodbye. Our last trip to Geneva, the last time we see certain friends here, the last fondue in front of the fireplace, our last hike in the Jura. As the clock counts down (10 more days!), nearly everything we do is a "last."

We've both moved enough in the last ten years that we should be jaded and immune to it all by now, but unfortunately for my tear ducts, that's not the case.

Leaving Switzerland is really, really hard for both of us, especially me. Part of it is that we love living here and will miss it, but I suspect the real reason it is so difficult to say goodbye is because Switzerland was the first time Vincent and I were able to actually start our life together as a couple. We had moved around so much and been apart for so long before moving here that it felt like our little haven where we could finally be together and build our future. Leaving Switzerland feels like we are saying goodbye to those wonderful memories of being a newly married couple embarking on a new adventure together.

The trip of course is another adventure altogether. It's totally cheesy, but it really feels like we are closing one chapter of our lives and opening a new one.

But this in-between phase is seriously wearing on us. I have been randomly bursting into tears on a nearly daily basis, which is exhausting for poor Vincent and straight up embarrassing for me. Today, we said goodbye to our friends Michael and Celine (Salut les Auvergnats!), and as soon as we were out of their sight, I dissolved into a blubbering mess. It wasn't that I can't go a year without seeing people I care about- I'm pretty used to that by now. What made me cry- and still makes me cry when I think about it- was the feeling that we are ending a phase of our lives that has been so important and formative and enjoyable, and we have no idea what to expect from the next phase.

This coming week will present even more goodbyes- to the rest of our friends, to my car (my poor little Clio, sniff sniff...), and lastly, to Gingins and our apartment. Needless to say, I expect to be an emotional disaster in the coming days.

And speaking of disaster- this is the state our sweet, innocent apartment is currently in due to our packing efforts:

If you've never seen our apartment, we don't normally live like animals.... In fact, here's an idea of what our place usually looks like.





















Awww man, I'm going to miss our apartment....

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Obligatory anti-materialism post

So here it is, my rant against consumerism (conveniently posted before I reveal just how much this trip will cost us...). Brace yourself, this might get ugly...

I assume that anyone who willingly restricts their belongings to what will fit into a backpack for a year goes through some realization during their trip that they normally live with much more than they actually need. I expected to go through that well into the trip, during that freeing moment when my pathetically limited choice of clothing stops being a restriction and starts being a form of liberation. I certainly didn't expect to feel this way before we even left.

We are currently preparing ourselves for the move out of our apartment and part of that process has been going through everything we own and trying to get rid of what we can. Now, I will give us a little credit here: both V and I are really good about minimizing clutter. Neither of us are packrats by any means and for the most part, we don't let ourselves get emotionally attached to material things. If you look around our apartment, we don't have a lot of random objects that just sit on shelves or in drawers in that purgatory of being kept "just in case." You know what I'm talking about- that drawer everyone has full of pens that no longer work, batteries that may or may not be dead, broken jewelry or dishes that you plan to repair one day, little trinkets that people have brought you back from vacation... Generally, we are pretty good about getting rid of that kind of stuff.

That said, going through all of my belongings this past weekend made me realize that I have SO much stuff, and that I don't need or even want the vast majority of it. That realization and the ensuing purging of said stuff was both freeing and depressing.

The act of giving away a bunch of my clothes, shoes and beauty products- all of the random things I've accumulated over the years- felt so liberating. I feel lighter, more streamlined, and feel like I can see what I have more clearly and actually appreciate my belongings. I gave away or donated (or, in the case of old t-shirts and undies, simply threw out) five huge bags of stuff that I don't need, use or want. Don't believe me? These are just the "give away" bags:





And these are all of the beauty products that I've barely used and jewelry that I never wear.

All of those bottles, boxes and tubes are completely FULL.

Why it took me this long to get rid of all of this crap and why I even had it in the first place is beyond me.

Which brings me to the depressing side of my epiphany.

As I went through my stuff-- shoes that were too uncomfortable to wear, jeans that had been too big for four years (thank you, active Swiss lifestyle) but that I had kept just in case the chunk came back, perfume and make-up that I had bought just because I was bored-- I was forced to acknowledge that I had made some pretty terrible choices as both a consumer and an owner of goods. I had several items of clothing that I had worn maybe once but that I had never been able to bring myself to get rid of  just in case I wanted to wear them again. I had half-empty bottles of lotion, perfume and make-up that I was always saving for a special occasion and that had since gone bad. I had, and this is where it really got difficult, tons of clothes, accessories and jewelry that people had given me as gifts and that I didn't actually like or use but felt bad about giving away.

I realized that all of it- the clothes, the products, the gifts- weighed on me. They distracted me and took space, time and energy away from the things I had that I actually liked. Every morning when I got ready for the day, I would open my closet and have to mentally separate the wearable from the unwearable. Then I'd sort through the jewelry that I never used to find the pieces that I actually liked. Then I'd have to push aside mostly empty bottles of old lotion to get to the one that had something in it. I never realized just how much energy that took until I didn't have to do it anymore. It feels incredible.

Decidedly less incredible was the process of actually sorting through it all- note my dejection as I realized just how much crap we had:

Going through the contents of our bathroom cabinet and hating life.
During the course of my purging, I also separated the clothes that I will need in the coming weeks before the trip from those that can go directly into storage until we get back. I grabbed around 25 of my favorite pieces from which I will choose to clothe myself for the next two months. It will take some creativity to mix things up and not wear the same five outfits every week, however I'd rather be challenged to get the most out of what I have rather than keep more than I need. Just opening my closet and only seeing the things that I love to wear has turned me into a born-again minimalist.

The point of all of this is that I want to learn from this experience and remember how this feels so that when we come back from the trip, I will change my consuming habits. Granted, I still love clothes and make-up and don't plan to become a hunter gatherer or anything, but I can make small changes to become a more discerning buyer so that everything I acquire actually goes to use.

I promise I'm wrapping this up, but at the risk of sounding even more like a sanctimonious a-hole, I want to end this with a quick round-up of the needless waste that made me feel the worst, the goal being that I can read this later and not make the same mistakes.

Of all of the things I got rid of, the following made me hate myself the most:
  • A massive amount of half-empty bottles of beauty products, make-up compacts, boxes of medicine, etc. I was horrified to actually have to look at the pile of stuff that was going to waste just because I didn't finish a product before buying a replacement or because I had been saving a product for special occasions and then forgotten about it completely. And I want to share my horror with you:
It looks innocent enough, but let me assure you, that pile was taking over my bathroom floor.
  • A trash bag full of cheap clothes. While I put aside a few bags of nicer things to give to friends, I still had a full bag of clothes that were of such poor quality that I was embarrassed to offer them to people I knew because they looked like hell after one or two wears. It's too easy to go into one of those cheap stores (I'm looking at you, H&M) and buy a bunch of crap I don't need simply because it doesn't cost much. In the end, I can't get much use out of what I bought because it falls apart easily or fits poorly, making it much worse of a deal in the long run than a more expensive, quality item that I wear all the time. Ditto for sale items that I would never buy at full price but that I just can't pass up because it's such a good deal! Cost per use and quality over quantity are my new mottoes.
  • Travel products taken from business hotels. Now, I love an adorable miniature shoe shine sponge as much as the next gal, but seriously, do I really need four (FOUR!) gallon-sized ziploc bags of hotel shampoos, shower gels, and the like? Of course not. I'm lucky enough to be able to afford shampoo, and chances are, so are you, so believe me when I say that it is not worth it. Not only is it a waste when you don't use them, but even if you do, the amount of plastic that goes towards producing those cute little bottles is heartbreaking.
  • Gifts. This one really makes me feel like an a-hole, but if I want to be honest about what I've learned, I need to address it. If you are someone who may need to give me a gift in the future, please don't. I'm serious. From now on, please, if you absolutely must give me something, make it consumable, i.e. edible, drinkable or able to fit in an envelope. No more things, I'm begging you. I am picky to the point that I can hardly buy for myself, so it is an exercise in futility for others to try to pick something out for me. Of course, I appreciate the thought and generosity, but 9 times out of 10, the gifts I receive sit in the back of my closet, jewelry box or drawer of batteries until I give it away. I realize just how awful that sounded, but if it saves even one person I care about from wasting money on a gift I will never use, it will be worth it.
So there they are, my life lessons learned from one weekend of clearing out our apartment. Since that post wasn't at all funny, uplifting or even travel-related (some travel blog this is...), I will try to make it up to you with my version of an olive branch:
Yes, that is a picture of V with a bowl on his head, pretending to be Asian. 

Hopefully our next lesson will be cultural sensitivity...

Monday, 24 October 2011

Packin' heat

I'm taking a little break from strangling my husband over our ever-changing itinerary to write a post that I've been looking forward to for months now. Well, to be honest, it's not the post itself that I've been excited about, it's the fact that clothes are involved.

Packing!!

Basically since we decided to do this trip, V and I have been obsessing over what to bring. We each have 60+10 liter bags (that's 70 liters for you Communications majors...) and while a 70L bag is considered big, we still have very limited space.

Now, while the hard-core, experienced backpackers will scoff at our massive, snail-like backpacks, the idea of fitting clothes for all events and climates during a year of travelling in a backpack of any size is daunting. V and I have spent hours upon hours discussing the best clothes, tecnical gear, packing techniques, etc. to minimize what we are bringing and maximize the space available to us. I'm not exaggerating (yes I am), we have agonized over a 50L bag vs. 70L bag, a sleeping bag vs. a sleep sheet, hiking boots vs. hiking shoes, daypack vs. no pack. I personally spent the better part of an afternoon looking for the perfect rubber sandal that I can wear both in the shower and in a nightclub. We each have painstakingly researched, searched for and chosen every item we are bringing.

So here it is (almost, I actually haven't yet purchased the holy grail of rubber sandals). Vincent hasn't done his test pack, so this post only covers my gear, but honestly, who cares what Vincent is bringing? :)

Behold- the bounty of my backpack:


That's it. FOR A YEAR. It looks like a lot, but I assure you, just the idea of clothing myself with these twenty-odd items for an entire year is enough to make me hyperventilate.

And now it's time for the break down- click on any picture to enlarge:

 
Tops: Collared hiking shirt, 2x Long sleeve t-shirts, 2x T-shirts, 2x sport tanks,  long tank


Bottoms: 2x trekking pants (1 convertable, both roll-up), long john pants, hiking shorts and sleep shorts






































 Outerwear: Mid layer, micro-fleece, rain/ wind shell
Underwear and bras (sport and regular), socks (4x hiking, 1 regular), hat, swim suit, scarf, 2x bandanas. And a dress. I'm bringing a dress, damn it.
Light-weight water trainers, hiking shoes, temporary fill-in for my rubber sandals (for test-packing purposes)
All the extras (Click to enlarge). Missing from this picture: Kindle, collapsible water bottle, nylon sack, inflatable pillow. Vincent's carrying other extras like drain plug, knife, converters, etc..

So there you have it. I did a test run and packed all of this in my bag, adding a 1-pound book to make up for missing items.

Grand total weight? 22pounds or 10kg with everything in the bag except my hiking shoes. Not bad, if I do say so. I've always been told that 10-12kg is really the weight limit if you expect to do any trekking with your bag. As we don't want to be limited in the amount of time we spend with our bags and want to be able to trek with them, we were shooting for less than 12kg. Mission accomplished, so far.

To give you an idea of what a mostly full 70L bag looks like, feast your eyes on this:
Feelin' pretty awkward in my nightgown and hiking shoes. You're welcome.

Now that your hotness quota has been filled for the day, back to packing.

As mentioned, I'm still in the process of purchasing the last few remaining items. I will be sure to document any massive changes, but hopefully this is what will actually leave with me. What will come back with me is another story. We have spent the last nine months planning what to bring, now watch our bags get stolen after a week. Right now, we are completely obsessed with the smallest, lightest, fastest-drying, but give it a few months and we'll be traipsing around Bolivia in wool ponchos.

When we do, I'll be sure to post pictures.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

And then we fought about the Amazon...

Ahhh trip-planning. I guess it's comparable to wedding planning in that it turns you into a crazy person. A crazy person that picks fights over enormous geographic wonders...

So we are still truckin' along in our planning and making huge, albeit terrifying strides towards our departure. 

Checked off the to-do list in the past few weeks:
  • We have rented our apartment out-- to our good friends Joe and Lisa! Woohoo! I couldn't ask for two better people to take over our life!
  • Sold our cars- Vincent's to Joe and Lisa, who seriously are buying our life- it's awesome; and mine to a guy from my work.
  • Got our first round of vaccines: yellow fever, booster shots and Hep A & B. We need to go back next month for round two and to pick up our malaria prescriptions.
We are currently in the process of:
  • Buying health/ travel insurance for the trip (A lot less straightforward than it should be...)
  • Closing/ consolidating bank accounts (My Swiss bank will only let me keep my account open if I have $50,000 in it. Back to the American banking system it is...)
  • Finalizing our finances and methods of payment (credit cards, cash cards, etc.)
  • Applying for/ researching visas (Just the fact that I'm American will make my visas in South America around $600 more expensive than Vincent's. Thanks US Immigration and reciprocal visa fee policies...)
  • Starting to pack up our belongings to move out :(
We only have 6 more weeks in Switzerland! Six! Time is flying and while it's totally cliché, it really is bittersweet. We are so excited for this trip and the next stage of our lives, but we are also really sad to leave. We have loved our time in Switzerland and are saying good bye to some great friends and a lifestyle that we love. Of course, I can't complain (I know, I want to smack myself too), but the excitement of what's next doesn't negate the sadness of leaving.

Oh, did I mention that we are completely changing our route in South America? 

Basically, we had a plan for the first six months of our trip preparation and now, two months before we get there, we are changing everything. I guess that's part of the adventure, right? Once we have an idea of what the hell we are doing, I'll update our itinerary. We are still flying into Santa Cruz on Dec 28th, but now instead of going North through Peru and Brazil, we are considering heading South to Argentina. Who knows what we'll end up doing. Part of the fun is that we are completely open and can change the plan at any second, however we also need to take into consideration that we will need to set dates for volunteering at least a month in advance and that we want to be able to get through our itinerary in South America in four months. 

Which brings us to our fight about the Amazon...

In any other stage of our relationship, we'd be fighting about who has to do the dishes or who left the dirty sponge on the counter (Hint: it was Vincent. It's always Vincent.), but now we find our more heated discussion are about things like whether we will take a boat from Peru to Brazil or whether we will skip Iguazu Falls in order to spend more time in Patagonia. Just like our idea of a romantic evening in is spending hours on our couch extolling the virtues of convertible trekking pants and nylon packing sacs.

I'm telling you, trip-planning turns you into a crazy person...

Friday, 23 September 2011

Ok, We Admit It: We’re Scared.

Seriously, we are.

Not sure why it just started; maybe because now we have both quit our jobs or because we are actively planning our move out of Switzerland, but it seems like just in the past week, it has really hit both of us what we are planning to do and what it is going to mean for us.

Maybe fear isn’t the correct emotion- it’s more like apprehension. We are just now realizing that we are giving up our amazing quality of life, our comfortable apartment, our good jobs, our great friends- all of that, and in return, we are choosing to put ourselves through significant discomfort for a year. OF COURSE there are massive benefits to what we are going to do and I’m sure we will appreciate those so much that we will forget the feelings we have right now. It’s just that at this point, we are only seeing what we are giving up and haven’t started seeing what we are giving it all up for, and that is what is so scary.

We were talking the other day about how we were feeling and admitted to each other for the first time that the nervous, borderline-negative feelings were creeping into our consciousnesses, almost to the point of being equal to the excitement we have about the trip.  Just saying it out loud and realizing that we both felt the same way was a relief. It is normal to be a little scared; we are making a huge life change and taking big risks.

We also might have been a little naïve in our excitement before. We were just so thrilled to be doing this and were so caught up in the planning that we didn’t give a lot of thought to the reality of traveling for a full year. Also, before the last few weeks, the trip was far enough away that it wasn’t yet real. Now, we have two more months in Switzerland and three more months before the start of our trip and time just seems to be flying. It’s overwhelming, and frankly, terrifying.

All of that said, I think the fear is a good thing because it is making us look at the trip more realistically. For example, we are starting to talk about and plan for what we will do if things don’t go as well as expected or if we find ourselves in a dodgy position. We don’t want to psych ourselves out, but it is important to mentally prepare for discomfort, confusion, aggression, sickness, and all of the million other negative things that we could, and probably will, face during the trip.

In terms of where we are in our planning: we are in full ‘leaving Switzerland’ mode. We have the moving out plan set (special thanks to Christian and Michelle, who will help us move all of our shit out of our apartment and into the Bertots’ place in Burgundy), we have our cars and apartment ads up, we have all of our doctor’s visits out of the way, we are getting vaccinations in the next few weeks, we have cancelled all of our contracts. Basically, all of our energy is focused on the inconvenient leaving stuff, and not at all on the exciting travelling stuff, which can probably explain the emotional funk we are in.

Next steps are to do more research about volunteering in South America and get that finalized, get our travelers insurance, and buy any gear that we won’t get in the States. Once we get back into trip planning instead of leaving preparation, our apprehension will probably dissipate and our excitement will return. At least, let’s hope so…

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Resignation and Rabies

So now it's official- I gave my notice to my job this week. This was the last step to take before we start screaming our plans from the rooftops (although we have been mostly doing that for months- hence this blog...). My two supervisors reacted very well, with emotions ranging from relief that I was leaving for personal, not professional, reasons, to disappointment that I had only been with the company for a little over a year, to excitement and support for what we are planning to do. I really couldn't have asked for a better response.

Next on our to-do list: vaccines. We went for a consultation at the vaccination center this week and sat through a two hour monologue by a young doctor about all of the different exotic diseases we are going to die from during the trip. She gave us her recommendations, some of which we will ignore, and we'll start getting the shots in October. She recommended measles, mumps, diphtheria and tetanus, which we will get; rabies, which we won't; yellow fever, hepatitis A and B, which we will get; Japanese encephalitis and typhoid, which we probably won't; and emergency malaria pills. She also explained that we need to prepare ourselves to basically have diarrhea the entire trip. Awesome. Honestly, we aren't all that worried about the big diseases. We of course want to protect ourselves with vaccinations and knowledge about the risks, but we do not want to load up on vaccinations that are only 50% effective, like typhoid. Where I personally am concerned is my stomach during the trip. I have a super-sensitive stomach and no self control when it comes to what I eat, so I'm expecting to suffer considerably as a result of my eating choices (like the time I had a fish sandwich from a street vendor in Morocco in 90 degree heat. Terrible decision.)

Beyond confirming our departure with our companies and worrying about diarrhea, we are now working to figure out volunteering for South America, planning our moving out plan of attack and finalizing our equipment. Vincent is nearly finished with his equipment and is ready for a test-pack. I'm still lagging behind, but once I have everything, we will do an equipment post to show what we are bringing. We plan to try to carry less than 12 kilos on our backs and I would really like to shoot for 10, so packing will be a challenge. I will document that adventure when we come to it. In the meantime, this is our current packing list, which I am religiously following and Vincent is pointedly ignoring: RTW 2012 Packing list

So, as we are finally getting serious about our planning, I will be posting more often with updates on our progress. It's coming up so quickly!!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Starting to Solidify

As I said in my first post, I only plan to document the planning of the trip when we take some significant step in organizing. Well, we have made leaps and bounds without any new posts, so it's high time I write about it.

The first huge news is that we bought our plane tickets! This was the step we were most looking forward to because it is really the foundation of everything else. We bought a Round the World (RTW) plane ticket through One World alliance which means that all of our continent-to-continent tickets are booked. We still have flexibility with the dates, but the locations are set (they can be changed with a small fee- $125- but we are not expecting to make too many changes). While the ticket is insured, this purchase seals the deal- there is really no turning back now short of something major (even then, I can think of many scenarios that would keep either of us from going).

So, the big reveal is our final itinerary. I use the word "final" pretty loosely since anything can change, but here's generally what we are planning to do. Everything in bold is included in the RTW ticket, while the rest will be figured out along the way:

FromToWhenComment
London (UK)NYC12/15/2011RTW
NYCSTL12/18/2011RTW
STLSanta Cruz (Bolivia)12/28/2011RTW
Santa Cruz (Bolivia)Cuzco (Peru)
Surface sector
Cuzco (Peru)Lima (Peru)1/2012National flight
Lima (Peru)Iquitos (Peru)1/2012National flight
Iquitos (Peru)Manaus (Bra)
Boat
Manaus (Bra)Salvador de Bahia (Bra)2/2012National flight
Salvador de Bahia (Bra)Rio (Bra)2/2012National flight
Rio (Bra)Buenos Aires (Arg)
Bus
Buenos Aires (Arg)Santiago (Chile)
Bus
Santiago (Chile)Easter Island (Chile)5/01/2012RTW
Easter Island (Chile)Santiago (Chile)5/08/2012RTW
Santiago (Chile)Auckland (N.Z)5/15/2012RTW
Auckland (N.Z)Sydney (Australia)06/01/2012RTW
Sydney (Australia)Darwin (Australia)
National flight
Darwin (Australia)Singapore07/01/2012RTW
SingaporeBangkok (Thailand)
Surface sector
Bangkok (Thailand)Angkor (Cambodia)
Bus
Angkor (Cambodia)Chang Mai (Thaliand)
Bus/ Train
Chang Mai (Thaliand)Laos
Bus/ Train
LaosVietnam
Boat/ Bus
VietnamHong Kong
National flight
Hong KongKathmandu (Nepal)10/01/2012RTW
Kathmandu (Nepal)Johannesburgh (S.A)11/15/2012RTW
Johannesburgh (S.A)Cape Town
National flight
Johannesburgh (S.A)London12/14/2012RTW

I know, it looks like a lot for only one year, but that's the plan. Those are just the main jumps, everything else we will figure out as we go. While we have an idea of what we want to do, we know that all of that can easily change as we go along.

"How much?" you ask? Well, the RTW ticket cost us £7243, which ended up being a great deal for us as we paid in Swiss francs which was really high compared to the pound. We plan to spend another $1500-2000 per person in internal flights and around $1000 for buses, trains, boats, etc. All in all, we are looking at around $8000 per person just for transportation, which makes up a little under one third of our budget. I will eventually get around to a Budget post, but we are still working out all of the actual costs of the before-leaving expenses.

The other big solidification steps we are currently taking are all of the "leaving" tasks. Vincent gave his notice at his work a few weeks ago and I will give mine in about a month. We both have to give two months notice to our jobs, but decided to give a little more to give them time to replace us. Vincent's resignation went very well and his boss actually told him that he wished that he had done the same thing before having kids. We are getting that a lot, which only confirms that we are making the right decision at the right time.

Vincent did get mixed responses from his colleagues though. Most were happy and excited for him, while some were openly resentful or jealous, telling him the he is "lucky" and has a "good life." While I would never argue that we don't have an amazing life, I find it hard to accept that luck is the reason that we are doing well. Both of us are extremely lucky to have the health, intelligence and good upbringing to be able to do the things we are doing with our lives, but in my opinion, it's our choices and the result of risks we have taken that make up our "good life." Sure, we have certain resources necessary to do a trip like this, but most of those resources are a result of a series of decisions we have made. The trip is going to cost us the equivalent of a really good down payment for a house or a college fund for a kid, but we made the conscious decision to make this experience a priority over those things. We have those funds in the first place because we have risked moving our lives and our couple to take jobs abroad and have worked hard to save as we go along. Those are choices, not luck.

The other "leaving" tasks we are currently taking care of are much less exciting: ending contracts for insurance, phone, gym, etc.; giving notice on our apartment (we are leaving it completely, not sub-leasing); organizing storage (we'll store most of our furniture at the Bertots' house in Burgundy, the cheap stuff will get tossed/sold/given away); closing banks accounts, transferring money, tying up pension funds, etc.; scheduling doctors appointments; and all of the other million little things to get done before we leave Switzerland. It's INSANE that we are leaving in a little over three months. It is almost overwhelming to think of all the things that need to happen before then, but knowing what the end result will be makes it much easier to get through.

Here's our project plan to help us stay on top of things:

TaskDeadlineNotes
Finalize destinationsMarchDone
Get E's passport renewedMay Done
Buy intercontinental plane ticketsJuneDone
Let rental agency know re:aptAugust Done
Book accommodation for CarnivalAugust
Stop insurance policies in CHAugust
Get necessary vaccinationsSeptemberHep A, Hep B, Yellow fever-E, Typhoid, Tetenus
Finalize volunteering for S.AmSeptember
Dentist/ doctor visits/ Note blood typeSeptember
Figure out closing bank accounts, savings, pension, etc.September
Get visas for first countriesOctober
Get travelers health insuranceOctober
Buy electronicsOctoberIpod touch/ Small laptop
Sell carsOctober
Organize storageNovember
Get one year prescriptions November
Finalize volunteering for Aust/NZNovember
Buy gearOngoingBackpack, Clothes, Medicines, Journal, etc.

Next big steps, we get vaccinations and I quit my job. I'll try to get some posts up about those milestones as they happen.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Where to go? What to do?

We have finally figured out the answer to the big question, "Where to go?"

The "What to do?" is much more difficult.

We have our list of countries and a general time line, however that continually changes as we research what to do in each place. For example, we originally thought 10 days in Bolivia was enough, as we planned to get acclimated in La Paz and then head directly to Lake Titicaca and cross the border into Peru. Upon researching both countries, however, we realized that we might actually want more time in Bolivia, where it's cheaper and less touristy, and only hit one or two places in Peru. It's not easy though. How do you really get a feel for what a country has to offer from guidebooks and online forums? There is just SO much research involved that part of us just wants to say, "F-ck it," and just figure it all out along the way.

We have started putting together a general trip plan, which changes almost daily. This plan simply gives us an idea of when we will be where and how long we plan to stay. It not only helps us understand our projected costs, it also helps keep us on track in terms of getting back to Europe in time for Xmas 2012. Here is our current plan, which will probably change by the time I publish this post:


These destinations are pretty much set. The countries in which we spend more than one month are those in which we plan to volunteer. The countries were we will spend under two weeks are transit countries, where there is either only one particular thing we want to do or where we plan to fly in or out of on the way to somewhere else. We are looking at the most flexible plane tickets possible, as we want to be able to have the flexibility to stay longer in a place we love or leave a place we don't earlier than expected.

In terms of planning around our destination list, we have put together a spreadsheet of country facts. This is a very rough work in progress, but the goal is that it will help us to get a feel for what we need to do to prepare for each country (visas and vaccines), as well as what we should research to do in each country. Here is a rough draft of our country plan (click on the image to enlarge):



As we start to solidify the "Where?" and "What?", we will be able to get a better feel for the "How much?" That is another post in itself, but we are starting to get there and it's terrifying. This trip will be a huge investment. I use the word "investment" instead of "expenditure" because we are really hoping to get enough back from it to make it worth the cost. Every time I get frustrated by the amount of planning required, I remind myself that I put more time into wedding planning and that was just one day. I truly (albeit, naively) believe that the time, effort and cost that will go into this trip will be paid back in ways we can't even imagine right now. Fingers crossed those ways aren't just malaria and food-poisoning... :)

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Planning Pains

We need to back up. In the excitement of planning, we dove into the deep end without knowing how to swim. So back to the starting block, where we will actually create a plan of action before taking action.

This realization came last night, as we spent several hours looking at round the world (RTW) plane tickets only to come to the realization that we don't even know where we want to go yet. We thought we did. Or at least, I thought we did. But a huge project like this that involves two people takes communication, compromise and patience- three things that were sorely lacking as we attempted to plan our itinerary.

We started the planning by creating a spreadsheet with each country we wanted to visit and how long we wanted to stay there. It started off pretty straightforward, but then quickly went South as Vincent randomly started wanting to add countries and take time away from the countries that interested me most. Such is trying to plan a trip with two people. Between the constantly changing itinerary and the online RTW ticketing program, which alternated between tedious and maddeningly frustrating, dear reader, I lost my sh-t.

The ensuing tantrum led to an extremely necessary coming to Jesus talk, during which we stopped all discussion of planning and went back to why we want to do this trip in the first place. When we first talked about the trip and made the decision to do it, we had certain goals in mind. But as we started reading books and blogs, looking at maps and itinararies, watching travel shows and rising ticket prices, our excitement took precedence over our goals. We just wanted to see and do and taste and experience without asking why.

So now was are backing up and asking why. Why do we want to do this? What is our goal? Part of asking those questions is recognizing and accepting that each of our answers might be different. We asked each other the questions, "What is your goal for this trip? What do you want to get out of it?" My answer was, "I want to gain knowledge of both the world and myself, as well as experience and skills, to have clarity on how I want to live my life and what I want to do going forward." Vincent's answer was, "I want to have a completely new experience in order to see life and myself from a different perspective, which will help me see things more clearly."

Those two answers sound similar, but we acknowledged that they meant different things. While Vincent was looking for new experiences, I was looking for knowledge and skills. We could easily see this difference when we started planning, as V wanted to see as much as possible, while I wanted to take more time to volunteer and stay in places longer. To work through this difference, we then made two lists: one list of things we wanted during the trip and one of things we wanted to avoid during the trip. These lists looked like this:

WANT:
• Feel like in each place we go, we are there for a reason
• Enjoy ourselves
• Take time to relax, live at a slower pace
• Experience/do things that are completely unique to the places we visit
• Learn another language

DON'T WANT:
• Feel like we are always on the move and missing the experience
• Spending too much time in transit, especially on planes
• Spend too much money, not spend money wisely

After looking at these sub-goals, we both had much more clarity as to what kind of trip we want and therefore, how we need to plan it. Vincent realized that he actually valued quality over quantity, while I realized that I can't see this trip as a compass for a resulting career. Most of all, we cannot put too much pressure on ourselves to see and do, and lose sight of our goals to enjoy ourselves and relax.

We are going to try to restart the planning tonight with these goals in mind. As we go forward, every decision we make will be held up against our goals. We can always be flexible, but now we understand that as we plan, we need to continuously ask ourselves the most fundamental question:"Why?"

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Beginning

The hardest part is over. After talking about it for months, maybe even years, Vincent and I decided a few months ago to take a year off and travel the world. At first, we thought about taking 6 months to do it, but the more we talked about what we wanted to do, see, experience, the more we realized that 6 months wasn't enough. Hell, a year isn't enough, but it's a start.

After we made the decision, the next step was committing to it. We immediately told everyone close to us what our plans were, so that we were tied into it. Forced to do it for our egos' sake. No turning back now. Not that that's a bad thing, it makes it more real.

At this point, we are at the very beginning of our planning. I am hoping that this journal will help anyone following along see what we are doing to organize ourselves and research for our trip. At the same time, this serves as a way to compare and contrast our plan now to what we actually do. Should be interesting.

Our plan now is to leave our jobs and apartment by the end of Nov 2011, spend Dec between France and the US and then leave the US after the New Year 2012 to start the trip. We plan to take one year to travel around South America (at the time of publication, we are looking at Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Argentina and a little bit of Chile) then on to the South Pacific by way of Easter Island and Tahiti. We then plan to hit Australia and New Zealand before heading up through SE Asia (Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam are in the cards at the moment). Hoping then to head over to Nepal before jumping down to South Africa and Tanzania. We expect to hit Southern Africa by Nov 2012, so we'll then head back to Europe to be back in France by Christmas. At least that's the plan.

Along the way, we are planning to spend around 4 of the 11 and a half months volunteering in various places. Our tentative plan is to try to do one month of volunteering on each of the 4 continents we are visiting, but that will depend solely on what is available and how long it makes sense to spend in each job. We are currently using the site www.workaway.info to look for volunteering opportunities. We will soon be reaching out to interesting hosts to see what might be available for us. As we know more, I will post links and details.

At this point, we are doing a ton of research to try to figure out where we want to go and what we want to do. We are both really interested in trekking, so we are throwing around ideas like trekking along the Inca Trail, around Lake Titicaca , in Patagonia, around Milford Sound in New Zealand, through the Australian Outback, in Nepal and around Mt. Kilimanjaro. We are also looking at doing as much overland travel as what makes sense and are researching barges up the Amazon, down the Mekong, etc to mix in with the trains, buses and flights we will be taking. We are planning on pure budget travel: hostels, guesthouses, couch-surfing, street food, etc., but also plan to take a few days a month to splurge on comfort and relaxation.

To do our research, we are using guidebooks and online resources such as Lonely Planet, Rough Guides and http://travelindependent.info/. As our plans solidify, we will document through this journal. During the planning stages, I only plan to post updates when we are working on something interesting or have hit a new step in the planning. Posts may be sporadic for awhile, but I'm hoping this will get me in the habit of journaling before the trip actually starts.

To end this post, I'm cutting and pasting an email I sent to my aunt Mary explaining the thinking behind the trip. I think the email captures the spirit of our current mindset:

"V and I have a new plan! We have been talking for awhile about taking time off and travelling or volunteering or something, and after we started looking into it, we have decided that in 2012, we are going to quit our jobs, leave our apartment and do a year-long around the world trip. We want to include volunteering in that, so we are looking at visiting 4 continents (South America, the Pacific/ Oceana, Asia and Africa) and volunteer for a month on each continent and travel the remaining three months. We have looked at different volunteer sites and there is a lot out there, everything from working on an organic farm in New Zealand, to running a sustainable b&b in Chile, to advocating women's rights in Nepal, to helping with the maintenance of a national park in South Africa. We are going to try to do 4 completely different things to really vary our experience, learn new skills and hopefully find things that we love to do that we never thought about before. Best case scenario is that we have a volunteer experience that we absolutely love that helps us to figure out what we want to do with our lives and we come back with a goal and a plan; worst case scenario is that we see the world, learn new skills and come back to our current career paths (well that's not the WORST case scenario, but I'm trying not to think of kidnappings and malaria.)
Either way, I'm super excited. We are still figuring out exactly where we want to go, but we have ideas of course and are now trying to whittle it down to about 10 or 12 countries to really be able to spend time in each place. We are also doing a lot of budgeting and research about backpacking to prepare for all of the logistics, i.e. budget, visas, vaccinations, etc. It's a huge project, but we feel like now's the time for it, when we don't have kids or a house or jobs we are really attached to. We figured that we can budget in order to save up for it in the coming year so as not to dig into our savings and are starting to look at the timeline for everything that needs to be handled before we go. I'm really excited!"