In Which I Offer An Explanation 

I gave notice at work, we moved out of our house so the renters could move in, and we are basically beginning The Adventure!  Exciting! Scary!  People who are just now hearing about it have some questions, often the same questions, so here goes: What?!  We are taking about a year to travel around the world. Who??? My husband and I, both in our 40’s, and our four kids aged 9, 9 (yes, twins), almost 12, and almost 15. Where!?! We are driving to Vancouver (via Cleveland, Chicago, San Francisco and Portland, OR to visit friends and family), then taking a ship from Vancouver to Shanghai, spending some time in Eastern China on the way to Laos Vietnam **** by train and bus. After a few months in that area (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand), we have loose plans to go to India and then back through China to Russia on the Trans Siberian Railway.  We hope to go East from there back to the US, possibly across the Atlantic Ocean in the Fall of 2016. Why the heck? We want to see the world together while our kids are still home with us.  They are homeschooled and we are taking advantage of the freedom we have as homeschoolers.  We parents value what we have learned travelling and we want it to be a part of their education.  We parents want to do this while we are relatively young and healthy, rather than after retirement when health issues can surface.  The kids want to see different things they have read about, like different animals, landscapes, and structures. Doesn’t everyone like to travel? I think it’s kind of self-evident. How in the world…? I assume this question is about finances. We have talked about it and planned for it over about 8 years.  Two years ago, we refinanced our house and paid off credit cards.  As for income, my husband has a few small properties he rents out and we will have some income from that.  We also are taking out a low-interest loan on one of the properties so we don’t have to use credit cards so much. We are going low-budget (hoping to spend $100-$200/day) and we researched lower-cost areas to explore, thus SE Asia, India, and Eastern Europe.  Western Europe and Australia, as contrast, are probably not within our budget.  We plan to travel slowly and get longer-term rentals of weeks to months rather than nightly hotels to help lower expenses. As for other logistics, we have looked at blogs and other resources about travelling, especially detailed family travel blogs such as soultravelers3,  traveljunkies, GlobeGazers, and NomadicFamily. What about school/friends/healthcare/natural disasters/political unrest? We homeschool, we hope to keep in touch on the Internet and also meet new people, we have traveler’s health insurance and we got medications and vaccines for what we could, can’t do much about earthquakes and all wherever you are but we’ll avoid obvious danger zones when it comes to natural and human-made threats to safety.  I hope to continue this blog to keep friends and family updated. So, stay tuned tripsters, it’s going to be a wild ride!!

 

**** Update: Vietnam is looking unlikely due to unforseen visa hassle.  We went through it with China (6 weeks, 3 rejections, total cost of over $200 per person!), which we had to do because we can’t board the ship without Chinese visas, but Vietnam is not a necessity.  If you’re interested: the Vietnam visa by land costs about the same as the China visa – around $130 per person – but only lasts 3 months rather than China’s 10-year visas we now have!  Arriving by air in Vietnam, it is about half this, however it requires prior planning (applying in advance online for an “approval letter” then dealing with more paperwork at the airport) as well as, for us, buying 6 plane tickets and the 6 visas, which would really add up.  And I prefer to go by land since we want to travel slowly and see things.  If we find another way, we may make it to Vietnam, but for now we are planning to exit China into Laos (visa cost = $35, available at border, yes!).  Especially interesting, this route takes us to Kunming “the City of Eternal Spring”, and Xishuangbanna, where there are minority villages and an elephant reserve!http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/26/world/asia/in-land-that-values-ivory-wild-elephants-find-a-safe-haven.html?_r=0

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We’re gonna miss ’em when we’re gone

I bought a ticket for the long way ’round, the one with the prettiest of views. It’s got mountains, it’s got rivers, it’s got sights to make you shiver, but it sure would be prettier with you. – Carter Family “When I’m Gone”, 1931

We are saying good bye to a lot of people these days. I do not like goodbyes. I do not like them, Sam-I-am.  I usually don’t take pictures of them, but…

 

 Dr Mama and kids came up from North Carolina and we frolicked in center city Philadelphia. There are wonderful fountains and we had a big sleepover and swam at their hotel’s rooftop pool. When will we see them next?


  
  
  Last minute goings-on are stressful. Yes, we are getting ready for an exciting trip around the world but I’ve been spending my time cleaning obscure, greasy corners of the kitchen.  Cleaning, packing, painting the house ugh. I am not, shall we say, the most fastidious housekeeper and we are kind of doing eight years of spring cleaning in a couple of weeks.  Then there are the Chinese visas. They have been denied 3 times! Ommmmmm it will work out…

The packing and organizing go on and on… I think the new tenants come tomorrow!!!

planning the first few months of RTW, part 2

We rented the house yaaaayyyy!! Boy is that a load off my mind.  But they come Aug 1st so, much to do!  Anyway, here are notes on some planning I have done recently and some from a few months ago.  Also, I spent time a few days ago with a woman who just returned from 3 months in Thailand and she said not to plan too much!  She said housing, etc. is easier and cheaper when you are there.  Good to know.

Shanghai to Nanning

I have been researching the train routes from Shanghai to the border town of Nanning, China.  If we go to see the terra cotta warriors in Xi’an from Shanghai (still not sure if we will do that from Shanghai), we will go between Xi’an and Nanning.  It is basically along the eastern border of China going south towards Hanoi, Vietnam. I wanted to consider stretching this journey a bit, especially since we just paid almost $1200 for Chinese Visas (good for 10 years but still!  We gave cash to the travel agency in Philly’s Chinatown, along with our passports and also our cruise itinerary and a hotel reservation in Shanghai we were told we had to get, and copies of our kids’ birth certificates!!!  This better work out!!) So here is a list of towns, and notes to myself about them. p=population in millions, (+/-) indicates whether or not they have a train station, *1-10 is my ranking based on what I read about them in a 2008 lonely planet guidebook I have.

Hangzhou p=6.16 (+) *7, known for beloved-by-poets West Lake

Nanchang p=1.9 (+) *5, city undesirable but nearby ‘bucolic’ villages

Jiujang p=4.7 (+) *5, access to European-style village LuShan

Wuyuan p=0.334 (-) *10, historic villages outside of town, known for best-preserved ancient architecture

Wuhan p=4.23 (+) *8, is on both sides of Yangtze

Changsha p=2.1 (+) *2, Mao-related sights

Pingxian p=0.1?  book confusing, there looks to be 2 of these I have to research further

Hengyang p=7.1 (+) *6 near Mt. Heng, impt mtn.

Guilin p=0.67 (+ but not recommended) *5, great scenery but maybe too touristy. Karst land formations may make this closer to a 10, see this article http://www.geotimes.org/apr07/article.html?id=Travels0407.html

Yangshuo p=0.3 (-) *9, backpacker haven, many nearby trips+activities

Liuzhou p=1.2 (+)*6, nearby minority villages

Kaili p=0.153 (+ but recommend bus) *8, markets/festivals/good base for trips

Guiyang p=1.7 (+) *7 minority Ming/Dong festivals

Quinzhou p=0.18 (+) *7 walkable town, puppet museum!

Yichang p=4 (+) *4, gateway for Yangtze cruises

Chongquing p=5 (+)*3 expensive, ancient town restored for tourists

Fenghuang p=1.3(+) *8 minority Miao & Tujia, good sights for walking around

Nanning p=1.3(+) *3 but we have to go, train ends here then there appears to be a bus and train to Hanoi. people stay here to get visas for Vietnam, which cannot be bought at border.  We may get visas before leaving US so maybe not spend time in Nanning.

Bangkok to Cambodia

I want to settle in Cambodia for a time, since it seems affordable per budgets from Bootsnall, lonely planet and also Traveljunkies and Globegazers, and it is central on the SE Asia peninsula, bordering on Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.  So, on to Battambang. It is in northwestern Cambodia about 170 km from Angkor Wat and boasts a bamboo railroad, a scenic river trip to Angkor Wat, and a lot of bicycle tours. I chose it as a place to stay a month or so due to its size, bikability, location, and the fact that it is a quieter place than, say, beach/bar/backpacker favorite Sihanoukville. Those days, if I ever had them LOL, are gone for me and I am looking for a family friendly place.

Here is a place with a pool for $235/wk.  I like that B’bang is not too far from Thailand.

 

signing off for now!

 

What I did and didn’t say when advertising our house for rent

What I did say… lovely three-story historic Victorian home for rent, 12 month lease, excellent location near universities X, Y, and Z, Very family friendly in the [Fancy Grade School] school district, 1/2 block from the [Cool Urban Hipster] Park and its twice-weekly farmer’s market and many festivals, 3000 square foot house including 2.5 baths, 6 bedrooms, and several multi-purpose rooms. washer/dryer, dishwasher, small yard, terrific neighbors, block parties, some furnishings available, flexible start date, 12 month lease, near shops, restaurants, bike share and public transportation…

What I didn’t say…

This place was built in the 1890’s people!! There is no updated kitchen or recently remodeled bathroom. We spent a bunch of money on things you will never notice or appreciate like the sewer line, front porch roof, and water heater! There are unpredictable ceiling leaks depending on the various combinations of snow fall, snow melt, and rain. It’s cold in the winter and hot in the summer!  No central heat or a/c!  Parking is becoming scarce as nearby apartment buildings are finalized, and it’s getting worse.  If there’s a chair in a parking space, be aware that you may be harassed or possibly shot for parking there, especially when there is snow. This ain’t the suburbs!  You want a garage, you have to rent one!  We had at least 5 bikes stolen since we have lived here, plus more than one stroller. Occasionally, I find a homeless person sleeping on our porch.

I give up on gardening every year because the mosquitos get so bad in the tiny back yard. We do have a great view of our neighbors’ yards, and we appreciate their gardening efforts and feel sorta bad that they have a great view of our neglected, junk-strewn yard. As for front yard gardening, consider dog poop because it will be part of whatever you plant. About block parties, we haven’t had one for about three years. My husband might be block captain but I’m really not sure, its kind if a slacker block for that kind of thing.

Our dishwasher technically does work, but we hardly use it because it doesn’t really get the dishes clean. The on-demand hot water heater seems to stop after a few minutes before it gets going again, so good luck with that. There are probably toys from my teenager’s babyhood stuck I places that we missed. We really haven’t cleaned since we moved back in about 8 years ago. Before that, we rented to students and also a heavy metal band (friends of Mr. Fantastic; not as bad as it sounds, but still).  Before that, we lived here about 4 years with another family who had 3 kids and you can still see traces of wall finger painting by them as well as some permanent marker on the staircase. Which reminds me – the twins fingerpainted on their bedroom wall once when they were supposed to be napping – in poop. We cleaned it but…ewwwww.

The washer and dryer work OK as long as the washer hose is in the sink. It frequently falls out and pours water all over the basement floor, soaking anything you have stored there.  We don’t think the sewer line will back up and flood the basement again, so water from the washer is really not too bad in comparison anyway. Unfortunately, we are storing our things on the shelves down there so you may indeed be storing things on the floor.  I’m sure it will be fine. By the way, did I mention we will be in southeast Asia for a good part of your 12month lease? so good luck getting a hold of us! Happily, we have friends looking out for the place, so don’t think you can get away without paying the rent! See how great that works out?

We will clean up a lot and repaint some walls but when the walls look nice, the woodwork just looks that much worse.  It is like 120 years old after all. If you want a gutted, modernized place, our house is not for you. Oh, yeah, be ready for park festivals and college kid parties, both are clearly audible from the house. People are friendly, as in their kids will be coming by trick-or-treating at Halloween and trying to sell you lemonade, girl scout cookies, etc. all year. Also, there are sometimes scammers that come to the door lying about a neighbor in a car accident and needing cash, that kind of thing. But I’m sure you know about urban living.

Yeah, I probably shouldn’t say most of that…

Links of interest to future world travelers- especially me!

I have been really enjoying two blogs about RTW trips. Both are wonderful in terms of nuts-and-bolts information like gear, budgeting, and finding housing and affordable things to do while traveling.  Both publish actual expenses, which is riveting for yours truly as we get closer to lift-off around here.

Travel Junkies is a blog about a family of three who sold their house, quit their jobs, and took off RTW about two years ago.  They are currently back in the US and planning to settle after a road trip.  Great blog!

Globe Gazers is about a young couple traveling for a year, roughly in the opposite direction from our plan.  Excellent details, thank you GG!

 

This post on squat toilets was intriguing to me since the author lives in Shanghai.  This one, directed at women, was also very informative.

I have referred to him before, but I would be wrong not to list here The Man in Seat 61. If you are planning other than airplane travel anywhere in the world, check out this site. Detailed descriptions of train, ferry, and bus routes to and from everywhere.

Of course there are the old standbys Bootsnall, Lonely Planet, NomadicMatt, and Couchsurfing. The first two have useful discussion boards, and the last is a great way to connect with free housing, although I plan to use it more for suggestions and play dates since I doubt most couch surfers could host a family of six!

That’s all for now, I hope to add onto this page as I find more helpful sites and blogs.

 

Vietnam w/kids, and other places too looks like: http://mylittlenomads.com/trip-review-vietnam

Another family in Vietnam: http://with2kidsintow.blogspot.com/search/label/Vietnam

and nomadicfamily there: http://thenomadicfamily.com/2013/02/you-ask-what-should-i-do-in-my-two-week-vietnam-vacation-the-nomadic-family-world-travel-blog/

 malaria info:http://www.drwisetravel.com/malaria.html

 Some posts on Vietnam, Laos: the traveling geek blogspot.com

 

planning the first few months of RTW, part 1

It’s getting closer, friends! Exciting and terrifying, the Global Fantastic Adventure gets closer every day.

Warning: this post is long and a bit confusing as I consider different routes and expenses.  I am mostly doing this to preserve links and thought processes as we try to figure things out.

We have been looking at logistics lately and, sadly, it looks like India may be out. Surprisingly, the infrastructure for getting from one peninsula- southeast Asia- to the one next door- India- is daunting. We were hoping for a ferry or interesting travel by land however it looks bleak. It looks like going to India would involve 2 extra flights – a serious consideration for our budget for the six of us. We have been planning after Asia to go West to eastern Europe by train. The trains appear to go through northern China, not from India.  Getting on the Transiberian Railroad seems to require us getting back north to Beijing, possible by rail compared unlike going from Thailand to India since we are trying to avoid airfare x 6. Anyway, that is an overview, a little confusing and I apologize for that. Here is some more budget planning.

Budget prediction time!  East Coast to Vancouver to China

We are planning about 20 days to Vancouver, with several days in San Francisco. Total planned budget:  $2300 – a little over $100/day.  This is a maximum, I hope to save on food and emergency numbers.  Here’s the breakdown:

Driving to San Francisco is about 2800 mi/30 MPG x $4/gallon gas = $375 for gas

Food: $30-$40/day x 20 days = Max $800 (hopefully less!!)

Housing: maybe 15 of the 20 days will be camping. We prefer state parks, but may have to resort to private campgrounds in a pinch. Example of a state park in Iowa is Wildcat Den, near Davenport Iowa off rt. 80. It is $9/night for primitive camping with water but no showers. A private campground near rt 80 in Grand Island, Nebraska near is $32/night including showers and a pool and wifi. Let’s average that to $25/night for camping x 15 nights = $375. We should assume at least 1 hotel stay for $150, just in case.  So, total = $525

Emergency: car repair, extra hotel stay, etc : I’d like to allot $500. Let’s face it, the car may break down entirely and then we are on the bus! But also: the car may make it and we can sell it, at least for scrap: $200?

After San Francisco, we have to get to Vancouver and I’d like to stay two nights there. San Fran to Seattle is 800 miles/30 MPG x $4/gal gas = $107  We will probably stay a night in Portland with friends or maybe camp along the beautiful way. Sell car in Seattle, get rid of all our camping gear 😦 greyhound to Vancouver is $75 for all 6 of us, but I believe we have to buy the tickets in advance or it is much more. The trip is 4 hours. I found this Vancouver airbnb place that sleeps six for $124/ night. Planning for 2 nights = $260

That ends the first 20 days.

Then we just have to get to the port sometime before 1pm so we don’t miss the boat! We are paying for this repositioning cruise in advance (it’s about $6500 incl. taxes + gratuities + insurance. It is a splurge at over $430 per day but we have mostly decided we want to do it. As a comparison, flying from NYC to Bangkok would be about $3000 + approx 14 days room+board, added since they are included in cruise price). 15 nights onboard including a day we lose due to crossing the international date line. We have to be careful not to spend money here for things not included in our cruise price such as: Wifi, alcohol, spa treatments, excursions, special restaurants.  We get to explore Alaska (1 night) and Japan (3 nights) as the boat docks, one big reason for choosing the cruise. Then we are in Shanghai.

Shanghai and China

Big shock with China: the visas.  Per the Chinese Embassy, it appears to cost $140 per person plus what sounds like an excruciating beaurocratic process in both NYC and Washington, DC.  Minimum just for us to enter the country = $840.  We will do this in the next few months.

In Shanghai, we would stay at an Airbnb or a regular hotel for a night or two to figure out our next move. This airbnb place would set us back about $450 for their 3-night minimum. Here is a youth hostel, it appears we would have a 3-night minimum for $260 total. This place, another airbnb, is $293 for 3 nights. Here is a budget hotel for Y359 (Chinese Yuan)/night, which is US $57.44. We may have to commit to a place to stay in the process to get a visa, which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.  From there we would spend time in Shanghai, we could go to see the terra cotta warriors as we have looked at, and eventually we would head down to SE Asia.  If we could find a cheap, interesting place to stay in China, especially if we could learn some of the language, I’d stay a month or so, but I am more excited, at least for now, to get to SE Asia.

China to Bangkok

Yeah, ok we could fly, but where’s the fun in that?  I want to see the area, travel with locals, and check out the train system.  But just for comparison, I did a quick check and got:

Flight for 6 Shanghai to Bangkok: $1372

We may fly the opposite way after a few months in SE Asia as we head to Beijing for the 6-day Beijing-to-Moscow train.  Then again, we may do the train/bus trip the opposite way to check out other things we may have missed.  I love this flexibility and the option to avoid planes!  We may try to do the whole trip without planes!  It is partly the cost, but I feel we would miss out on local sights and opportunities if we always jetted from place to place.

So, for this Shanghai to Bangkok portion of the trip, here we go.  I think there are child discounts that I am not seeing online, and even without those, it looks to be an affordable option. There are issues of connecting at different points, and it may not be the most comfortable option, but after the cruise we have to keep expenses down.  If we are sleeping on a bus or train, that saves us lodging costs as well.

We plan to go to Bangkok to get vaccines as I have looked into. Train to Hong Kong:hard sleeper overnight is $62 pp, likely with discounts for kids. So less than $62x 6=$372 total. From there, we could fly to Bangkok or go overland.  Flight looks to be about $180 per person ($1080 for us). Overland is 3 days, max $150 per person per Rome2rio ($900). The same site has a range, minimum for which, not including kid discounts, same trip, is $714

So: train to Hong Kong and fly to Bangkok for 6: $1452

train to Hong Kong and flight to Kuala Lumpur then train to Bangkok for 6: $1374

train to Hong Kong then trains/busses to Bangkok for 6: $1849 (incl visas)

Here is an option I have to look into. I am not sure of route…  looks like train to Hanoi, bus to Vientiane, train to Bangkok. Train (as recommended by seat61) to Hanoi is 2 night sleeper trains with a day in Nanning in between. This is $68/person x 6 = $408, then Hanoi 24-hr trip by bus to Vientiane $30pp = $180, then train from there to Bangkok is $11 for 2nd class sleeper = $55 since the twins each pay 1/2 price.

Two considerations here: visas and itinerary.  Right now, Vietnam requires a visa in advance which we would get in China if possible.  It looks to cost $312 for 6 of us, I’m hoping for a child discount.  Laos costs $35 per person payable at border x 6 = $210, again, hoping for a child discount!  Thailand no charge for visas right now.

The price is looking steeper for this overland travel, but it includes some nights sleeping on train, also we would get to see these countries.  I look at it as a tour of the countries and a slow travel way to see the area. We may even decide to stay awhile in Vietnam or Laos, though I have my eye on Cambodia for a place to live for a month/months.  The visas seem to allow for 30 days, so we could stay a week or more in Laos and Vietnam if we want to. No visa fee in Thailand, BTW. But I plan to stay in Cambodia for access to Thailand, and I have assumed we will want to spend time there.

Thinking about flying part way: what about going by air from Shanghai to Singapore and using the highly recommended train from Singapore to Bangkok?  It may actually be cheaper than overlanding, about $340pp x 6 for us = $2040, ugh. Kuala Lumpur, on the same train route, is also an option. $320 ($1920, still a lot) appears to get you from Shanghai to Kuala Lumpur. All of this is to say, we may boat to Shanghai, fly to Kuala Lumpur, then take a train to Bangkok before settling in Cambodia.

fly to Singapore, train to Bangkok: $2382

fly to KL, train to Bangkok: $2202

Train from KL to Bangkok: this appears fairly straightforward according to Mr. Seat 61. KL to Butterworth, apparently, is how the trip is done. This seems to be a 6-hour trip, however there is a time change so I believe it is longer. Anyway, $13 per person is the 2nd class (recommended) fare. Then Butterworth to Bangkok is the next leg, 20.5 hrs and only one fare option, $34 per person. That makes it $282 to get my family to Bangkok from KL.  If we do not choose this option, we may make the trip anyway since it sounds great and I have a friend in Singapore.

In Bangkok, we would stay a few days and get vaccines. If we were to stay in Bangkok for a week, there are a few options. Here is an airbnb place for $209 a week.

It would be around late November if we were to spend a month in China and a month getting to Bangkok. Three months of the trip gone!  But wonderful so far.

That ends this planning part for now, I’m working on a part 2 where we live in Cambodia for a month/months, then go to Beijing for the train to Moscow.

The Repositioning Cruise, Revisited!

Oh-Emmm-Geeeee I was just checking the prices the other day on the NYC-to-Bangkok flight and the Vancouver-to-Tokyo cruise when the prices converged!  It seemed that for our timeframe, the flights were suddenly looking more like $700 than $500 and then I decided to check on the cruise.  It was down, way down!  About $800 per person!  As in, we could afford it and justify the expense and go back to our enthusiasm about going by land/sea and literally going around the globe.  Woo-hoo!!!  I tried calling the cruise line immediately and their offices were closed.  Oh, yeah, the holidays.  So, there was Christmas and then we were gone a few days at the cabin, then on a fateful Monday between Xmas and New Year’s, I finally reached someone at customer services and talked details and thought about the budget for a fraction of a second and…put in a down payment.  Yes!

And it gets better!  The cruise goes all the way to Shanghai!  That saves me the $1000 two-day trip we were going to take from Japan to Shanghai.  Early forays into airbnb show much friendlier pricing in Shanghai compared to Tokyo when the cruise ends, also we could take the side trip to see the terra cotta warriors from Shanghai as I had researched, before heading to SE Asia.  Also wonderful, the cruise stops in Alaska for a day so we could explore there without paying for a hotel.  Also happily, it stops for 3 days in Japan!  Two in Kobe and one in Tokyo, again with the day trips and no need for hotel.  So we are bagging the 24-hour flight from NYC to Bangkok and we are back to hoping our car will make it to Vancouver about eight months from now.

Yay for concrete plans and driving across the country!  Now to continue to work on the budget, rent out the house, get passports, etc. Did I just say eight months?!?! I gotta sign off!