Vancouver, Sept 2015

We switched cars in Bellingham, WA as requested by the car rental company. By the way, when I originally looked into rentals, it did not look like we could return a car in Canada, so we scheduled to return it to Bellingham. But always ask! When we asked in San Francisco, the office suggested we ask Bellingham directly, so we did and it worked out well. This saved us from one parent having to drop off five of us in Vancouver, return the car in WA, and take a bus to meet the rest of us, crossing the border three times on the process.  Also, we ended up with a giant minivan…for the last 70 miles of the 4500 mile trip!  

   We passed massive, snow-covered Mt. Rainier.   

 We crossed the border into a lovely Canadian sunset. We were kind of bummed that they don’t stamp US passports when you enter Canada. We were leaving the country! If you have to show your passport, you should get a stamp! We asked but no dice. Ah well.

We drove through the glittering city to the Strathcone neighborhood and our hotel. Budget, historic but not hip, with a pub attached and a homeless encampment a block away, the Patricia Hotel suited us fine. It was built 100 years ago and is known for jazz music, notably Jelly Roll Norton who performed and stayed at the hotel around 1919-1921, as well as for a boxing ring it once housed in the basement. The neighborhood was just what I love- within a few blocks we could check out Chinatown, downtown, the homeless scene which seemed to involve streetside vending of used items (we donated some things we were getting rid of from our luggage), a few parks, old hotels, and neat-as-a-pin middle class neighborhoods. We even walked back from the port where our ship leaves tomorrow! We dropped off the rental car there and hoped to catch a glimpse of our cruise ship, but a porter told us it doesn’t come until later. First, the port:

Then downtown: 


 Above is Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese classical garden

 By the way, that insurance building is in the Guiness book for being the narrowest building in the world! It ends where the color changes to a bluish color to the left.

We went to 2 playgrounds: 

   Nice houses! 

 And Hastings St.area. Our room was near the ‘T’ in Patricia.

 Views from our room:

   Candy bars from Canada! Apparently we have a special interest in local candy bars.

I liked the electric buses and the alleys full of wires 



I would love to bike this city! It is not too hilly, there are bike lanes, and walking is just so darn slow. But this day was not for biking for us; we still had errands and winnowing down our luggage and such. 

And that’s it for a while! We’re about to board the ship!

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.

Let’s pretend we leave next fall… AND A GAME-CHANGER!!!

Here is how this post started…

So I’m doing a little research.  I wanted to compare the first 6 months of the RTW trip starting in Europe vs South America.  I still prefer Europe, but as I wrote earlier, Mr. Fantastic had the South America start in mind.  So, what do the costs look like?  I researched online as if we were leaving next year rather than 2015.

to Europe: Cunard transatlantic cruise vs flying. Cunard is fancy and retiree-oriented. formal wear required. I’m a little worried about this vibe as we start our low-budget RTW trip with 4 kids!! But it may be our only option at that time of year from the East Coast. I would prefer to leave in mid-to late August.

There are no Cunard trips in August. Info on Sept. is below.  The Nov. cruise would only cost $4800 but what would we do between Aug 15th-ish (when our house would be rented out) and then?  It is almost 3 months- a significant part of our 2 years.  Time vs. money, sigh.

Sept 27 – Oct 4th Cunard line economy class NYC – Southampton (6 tix) = $7800

Aug 19th flight NYC – London (6 tix) = $4600 or Sept 11 flight (I thought people would be superstitious and it would be cheaper – not so!) = $5795

That puts us in the UK in August or Oct.  I looked at long-term rentals in London on Craigslist, and I have no idea what I’m doing.  I have to post on Lonely Planet or Boots’n’all forums to get more info on neighborhoods.  I did post on couchsurfing for info.

London to Ireland

time in Ireland.  we have one family to visit there.

Ireland to Spain.  Random town to look for a winter rental: Arcos de la frontera.  Soultravelers3 recommends the “white villages” of Andalucia for affordable furnished winter rentals.  This town looked interesting to me because of the cliffs and baroque churches, plus it has Roman ruins.  For rentals, this place looks huge, not sure of off-season price, rents for $800/wk, too much for us… I like the looks of this one, sleeps 8, $405/wk. Soultravelers3 assures me you can negotiate much lower prices off-season fall through spring.  We would be there roughly Nov-Feb if we start in Europe.

to South America:

Aug 19 flight NYC – Quito, Ecuador (6 tix) = $3819

rental in Cuenca, Ecuador: 3br $450/mo according to this highly detailed site.  I picked Cuenta because it was mentioned as being friendly to Americans without losing its identity, has beautiful architecture, and is said to be affordable.  It sounds nice from articles like this one. Not sure if we would really live here or not.  I found this blog about an expat family living there and loving it.  We would stay 3-4 months.

flight or bus to Asuncion, Paraguay.  Mr. Fantastic likes this town, and I can see why.  This article from today’s New York Times as I am writing this describes a walkable downtown, nearby excursions like to a riverboat town called Chaco-i, and affordable food + housing.

rent in Asuncion 3br apt. $250- $650/mo depending on proximity to city center.  Bus pass only 50¢ so might be nice outside the city.  Again, we would stay 3-4 months.

flight or bus to Rio de Janeiro

Costa repositioning cruise Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Savona, Italy March 24 – April 11 $9900!? I thought this was only $800/person but the site says $1650/person.  I bet it would be less than this since we have 4 people under 18 and we could have 3 people per room but we should budget for more I suppose.

Then everything got turned around…

Hold the presses!! New SUPER EXCITING Option!

I found a transpacific cruise from Vancouver to Japan, 15 nights, for $900 per person.  What?!  So cheap, plus we could go to Vancouver which I have always wanted to do, and we could literally circumnavigate the globe!  Yes!!!  This is the trip for us.  It leaves Sept 12, 2014 so I’m hoping there is a similar one in 2015 for us.  If so, that gives us almost a month to drive across the US.  We would try to see the Rockies, the Grand Canyon, and visit friends in CO, TX, CA, OR, and anywhere else we can think of on the way.  We would sell the car or leave it in a heap somewhere before moving on to Vancouver.  The ship would take us to Tokyo, where we could not stay long because I understand it is pricey.  I found this site on ferries to/from Japan.  Apparently we could go to China in 2 days for about $170/person, or to Russia in 7.5 hours.  We would likely aim for Vietnam/Thailand/Cambodia for the winter, since I have heard great things about those areas and we’re not planning to winter in Eastern Europe.  Then it would be India, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and possibly South America on the way back home.  This opens up a whole new world of planning!  Stay tuned!