When it started to drizzle one afternoon in Lanta, we welcomed the rain. It cooled the air a little, and made walking outside more bearable, since we’d just returned our tuktuk to the rental place.
Then it got serious. The sky turned ashen, it began pelting down in earnest, and we took shelter where we could find it. The roads ran orange with clay dirt. Thunder and lightning joined the party. And by the time we made it back home, it was almost dark. There we were stumbling our way through to our hut, only to find the power completely out when we got there.
Rainstorm + electricity outage = our first slightly unnerving experience.
Luckily, the power came on maybe an hour later (partway through the movie we started watching on the laptop). Cue an almost-warm shower and a much more comfortable sleep.
The view from inside our tuktuk. We ran out of gas at one point (the gauge, unsurprisingly, wasn’t working) but fortunately, we puttered to a stop right outside a petrol station. Here, you pay the attendants at the pump!
Out and about at Palm Beach resort – the second place we stayed (a bit of a downgrade from the Nakara Longbeach resort, but still nice).
Over on the east side of the island is Old Lanta town. Check out the low lying fog.
Next stop, Bangkok. Trying to organise this myself online was thoroughly flustering, but Lanta is packed with travel agents who make the whole process pretty painless. And while this might not be the case elsewhere in Thailand, they don’t seem to be out to gouge you – the prices were on par with what I’d seen on the web.
How did we end up at a luxury beachfront resort on Koh Lanta?
Well, we winged it basically all the way from Malaysia. We booked our sleeper train tickets on the same day, and arrived the next morning in Hat Yai, but T wasn’t feeling up to any more journeying that day.
So instead of hopping on a van to Krabi, as originally planned, we spent the night at the first guesthouse we found. The next day we made the 4-hour trip to Krabi, followed by another 2 hours to Lanta … and found ourselves a little lost. Initially, I wasn’t sure we’d be able to make it to Lanta on the same day, and thought we might have to stay overnight in Krabi. But since my international data sim card wasn’t working, once we DID know we’d be reaching the island that afternoon, there was no easy way to book a place.
The ride to Lanta was a confusing one, but a fun one, as we were seated next to a gregarious American, which helped pass the time. It ended rather abruptly, though. The driver (who spoke very little English and seemed to be laughing at us half the time, which amused us and our new bud Catalina to no end) basically booted us out at one point. This turned out to be in the middle of Phra Ae (Long Beach), which was actually a pretty good part of Lanta to be in.
May marks the start of the quietest season of the year, so finding a place wasn’t difficult. The first one we encountered – the Nakara Longbeach resort – was a little pricey, but T’s eyes lit up as we walked in. At a mere 1200 baht (about $50), much lower than the printed rate of 1900, I didn’t have the heart to say no. So for one night, we basked in luxury.
The resort was absolutely deserted, and aside from one other couple that we briefly saw, we had the entire place to ourselves. Our little villa was just steps away from the two enormous pools, and a minute away from the beach. You could step straight off the deck onto the beach, which was itself practically a private beach at that time.
The sea itself? Like stepping into a warm bath. The two pools were just as comfortable, and you can bet we jumped in immediately after unpacking and blissed out.
Set down a long, wide, private driveway, the Nakara really is a prime piece of property. As I understand, it was recently refurbished, and the villas are absolutely luxurious. Spotless wooden floors, bathrobe and lockable safe, a luxurious bathroom with pebbled floor and both a wall and rooftop shower head … there really is nothing more you could ask for. It also seems to be staffed by perpetually smiley workers – the girl who came out to help us figure out how to work the air con was literally skipping and singing to herself.
A good start to our Koh Lanta adventures, all around.
I’d hoped to be spending a lot less per day right now (like $50 or under a day). But a couple of things are making this difficult:
I’m loving the fact that I can breathe freely in the Asian heat. Clear airways are a wonderful thing. (My skin doesn’t like the temperatures quite as much, though.) On the other hand, the heat here is making my poor husband a bit of a sad sack. I’d be fine in a fan room (and we stayed in a fan room on our first night in Thailand) but for his sake we’re seeking out rooms with air conditioning – which basically doubles the price.
Again, I’m in my element here. Him? Not so much. He’s not used to the food (we eat a lot of Asian at home, but not for breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and is wary of street stalls (sigh). He misses steak and burgers and dairy products. And while at home he swings between eating hardly anything at all (most days) or eating everything in sight, while in Asia it’s been a case of the latter constantly. Nothing keeps him full. That said, I’m glad he’s getting into some sort of regular eating routine.
Everything is still crazy cheap by Western standards, but we’re on a tight budget.
I definitely knew we weren’t in Kansas/Auckland any more when I was woken by the early morning Muslim prayer call.
A heady mix of the familiar and the new would be the best way to sum up KL. Sights and sounds long forgotten, but instantly recalled. Navigating the footpaths, cracked tiles, grates over open drains, and all. The underlying scent of sewage. Solid retro fire hydrants. The curious juxtaposition of all this against the high tech digital billboards, endless shopping (malls after malls after malls!) and other trappings of a cosmopolitan city on a whole different scale than what we’re used to. I veered between feeling like a total hick (e.g. attempting to figure out the monorail) and marvelling at the lack of certain basics (no GPS in taxis? Whaaaat?).
It’s been more of a shock for T, bless, who’s soldiering on despite:
The heat. Our first order upon arrival was to seek refuge inside an air-conditioned mall, but as we learned, things don’t open till 10 or later, and finding your way out of the currently-being-refurbished Sungei Wang plaza is a hell of a lot harder than it might seem.
The unfamiliar food. He’s reasonably used to Malaysian, but not for 3 meals a day. I would happily wander around at length, eating only street food, but comfort/hygiene concerns on his part are curtailing me a little bit. Where he sees a disease-ridden hawker stall, I see good, real, cheap food. Having been here before, that kind of thing is not that jarring for me.
“Is that a prison?” he asked of the first big building we passed. “Erm, that’s a school,” I said. True story.
Our four days passed in a bit of a whirlwind, meeting up with an old friend, a fellow blogger (again, thank you for showing us Putrajaya – see above – it was fantastic), some family, and my godmother/former neighbour. The latter was probably the most emotional. Physically, somehow the terraced row of houses looked smaller than I remembered; the entire street itself felt somewhat cramped. While some of the roads were familiar (I sometimes dream about those streets) the area, like any other, keeps getting built up further and expanding.
One common thread that comes through very strongly is the importance of politics. Elections were held just a week before we arrived, and is still the topic on everyone’s lips. Friends and family all brought up the fact that my parents emigrated to give us a “better life”, but speak of hope for the future, a more equal, democratic, peaceful one.
Aside from a couple of monorail trips, we mainly got around on foot, with rides from others (in particular from my friend, who deftly navigated the cavernous carparks and chaotic traffic like a pro – driving on these roads would probably send me into a catatonic state in no time) and via taxi. Oh, the taxis. Cabbies in KL are meant to be among the worst in the world. While I still have a tiny bit of Malay, my knowledge extends to, say, counting to 10, or simple words like hot/cold (panas/sejuk), which, combined with my NZ accent, made us prime targets for taxi rip-offs. As long as you get either a) prepaid taxi coupons or b) a taxi that uses its meter, you’ll be okay.
Next stop: Thailand. We haven’t been vigilant about avoiding ice while in KL, but we will from now. (I seriously hate paying for bottled water, but it’s a necessary evil.)
One other thing we haven’t been vigilant about? Tracking money. It’s been a little wacky as we’ve bought a couple of things and what with the meeting up with so many people (I feel sorry for T, being dragged around to meet all of them, which isn’t the most relaxing) but from now it’ll be about sticking to a budget (this is where blogging should help!) and taking things a bit slower as we (hopefully) settle into a little bit of a routine.
I honestly don’t think this is going to feel real for some time yet.
I guess that’s what happens when you embark on something you’ve never done before, and thus simply can’t fathom.
A new chapter
I’ve always admired and envied the likes of Teacher Finance and Newlyweds on a Budget for their ability to stick to personal finance topics so tightly (I read almost every post on those blogs and shake my fist in disappointment that I didn’t write it first)
But that’s never been me.
This wee blog is evolving and it’s going to chronicle this new chapter, because writing isn’t just a hobby, it’s an essential part of my life.
I’m talking everything from narratives to practical advice and tips to posts where I’ll evaluate and share travel resources. Shoot me questions and ideas! Anything you’d like to hear about, I’ll try to cover. And I’m hoping to also do a few more interviews/features here on the blog – maybe with other long-term travellers, digital nomads, or Kiwis living overseas (as my posts on the differences in life in NZ always garner so much interest).
I know a lot of you have been waiting patiently for this long-expected post! Here it is.
Travel on a budget
Travel on a budget often involves housesitting, a mainstay of RTW travellers. We won’t be staying in one place for very long, though, and we’d need to crack the market first – getting that first gig without experience is probably the toughest part.
Instead, we’ll be backpacking, hostelling, and looking for apartment/room rentals. In lots of cases, private rentals seem to be cheaper than hostels in big cities. There are sites like AirBNB and Roomorama, which have large databases but also high prices and hefty fees. There’s also plenty of others, like Wimdu, 9flats and Housetrip, which I prefer due to the no/low fees. These range from shared apartments to full private apartments, but at the very least you’ll generally at least get a futon to yourself. Some rentals may charge huge deposits/bonds/cleaning fees, or extra fees for extra guests. I would just browse listings on all the sites and see what catches your eye on a case by case basis. Most of them are easy to use – you can search by date, area, sort results in list format or view on a map, and some display reviews on the page and even an availability calendar.
Then of course there’s Couchsurfing, though I’m aware that as a pair we may find it difficult. New Zealand is a land of houses, but I know tiny apartments are the norm in lots of cities around the world. In scouting out potential hosts overseas, it became obvious that many, many hosts can only accommodate one guest. That said, we’re also open to staying further out in the suburbs – that’s just an opportunity for another experience entirely. (You can read about my experiences as a Couchsurfing host here.)
Finally, there’s volunteering. Hosts shelter and sometimes feed you in accommodation for your labour, which could range from helping out on a farm to cleaning or even more creative pursuits like graphic design or photography. Look on sites like HelpX, Workaway, WWOOF,GlobalHelpSwap and Staydu. To sign up as a member, you’ll usually be charged a fee that gives you access for a year, and freedom to contact as many hosts as you want.
Budgeting for a RTW trip
I read a lot of RTW blogs and have looked at a lot of travel budgets (Legal Nomads has a large list of links to various bloggers’ travel budgets here).
I’ve also combed through Budget Your Trip, a super handy website that aggregates costs from real travellers. Obviously, any crowdsourced data is only as good as those who partake, so costs are likely to be more accurate in cities that are well trafficked. On Budget Your Trip, you can see budget, mid range and luxury budgets based on real data, in local or other currencies.
Costs are going to vary a lot by region. Asia will be the cheapest and Europe probably the most expensive. I’m hoping we can average out to $100 a day over the whole trip, though I’m also accepting of the fact we’re very probably going to blow through that at times.
Funding a RTW trip
There are two parts to this equation.
Savings is pretty self-explanatory. You’re all grownups; you know how to save money (at least in theory, even if you’re not quite as good at it as you might like to think). Savings = income – expenses. To break that further down, you can cut costs, increase income (which I tend to be better at), or both, in order to maximise that gap.
Expenses so far have been about $10k. Thankfully, we got a killer discount on our backpacks and some other gear (nearly 50%) this month due to T’s staff discount at Fishing Camping Outdoors. There are probably more I haven’t included below (eg travel adapters and other bits and bobs).
At this stage, there should be enough in the kitty to cover a $100/day budget, once I get my leave paid out, given that we’re spending a month volunteering. Odds are we’ll spend more than that in some places, so…
Income is the other half. I’m aiming to keep some money flowing in while we’re on the road, which hopefully will have the added bonus of keeping my skills sharp. How?
Where print ads typically cost more than a month of my salary, online advertising is absolutely buggered. For all that digital offers (interactivity! measurement! mobile! targeting!) I don’t know if it will ever catch up. Ideally, ads would flow in and help fund this blog, with me only needing to worry about editorial and keeping you guys interested. Unfortunately, traditional advertising just isn’t working anymore. Advertisiers want more integrated and sophisticated solutions. THEY WANT EDITORIAL. That means rather than being relegated to banners and sidebars, they want in content links, for example. Sometimes this is more lucrative than a plain ad but it’s a lot more work for us. At a company, you can generally leave that to the ad sales guys; as a blogger you have to be much more involved.
Er, my point? Online advertising is tough. That said, where possible, I will continue to try to monetise the blog – without selling out, that is.
I never wanted to make blogging a business. I have no desire to get to the point of bringing on staff writers – this is and always will be my personal blog – paid speaking gigs (shudder – I can’t think of anything worse than public speaking), or coaching (again, no desire to be a life coach). But I am grateful for the opportunities that it has brought. Which leads me to…
Yes, there really are jobs where you can travel the world and work from anywhere – the kinds of jobs where you can earn an income as long as you have a computer and internet connection. Technically, I can work remotely, but the reality of my particular workflow and daily local deadlines means keeping up my workload while constantly on the move would be, er, challenging. And I’m more than happy to take a bit of a break.
So I suppose I’ll be joining the hordes of digital nomads out there … to an extent. The plan is to do *some* work while on the road. Exactly how much I am not sure, but less than full time.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple of things that make this possible:
No commitments. That means no mortgage, no kids – living in a crappy house with hand-me-down furniture (not that I care about that, but I’m MAKING A POINT here!)
No/minimal debt. That means no student loan, no car loan, etc.
I’m a big believer in keeping your fixed costs low and committing to as little as possible. That’s allowed us the flexibility to do this relatively painlessly. Figure out the puzzle pieces and set yourself up for success.
Whatever your goal – travel, buying a house, having kids, moving to another country – it’s doable if you truly want it and commit to making it happen.
As national mascots go, the kiwi ain’t all that impressive. It’s slow, flightless, practically blind. If Darwin had his way, this rare bird would probably be well and truly a footnote in history by now.
Yet its otherworldliness, I think, evokes the protector in all of us. When I first laid eyes on the first of two kiwi released on Motutapu Island last week, I felt something stir in me.
Surprisingly animated – ducking, squirming, flexing – it was larger than I expected. Cuddlier looking, somehow. By the time it made its way to the end of the receiving line, where I was, the kiwi was getting slightly agitated. I refrained from touching it, not wanting to exacerbate the stress, but others said its feathers were firm, even hard, despite how soft and glossy they looked.
I’m not an animal person at all, but the passion of the conservation staff was infectious. There was a quaver in this man’s voice when he later spoke of the path that led him here, starting with seeing the remains of a moa at the museum, and today, when his 6-year-old son touched the feathers of the kiwi before its release. “Come back in 20 years – it’ll be real noisy,” he promised. I’m thankful we care enough to preserve the kiwi (and our other unique birdlife, which Lord knows need our help).
Here’s another kick ass bird being cultivated on Motutapu, the takahe. It’s a bird we spent many hours learning about and drawing pictures of in primary school, and which (to my best memory) we saw on a school trip to Motutapu back then. Sadly, my only memory of that first visit is of being teased by classmates about my hat. It was a baby bonnet, apparently, one my frugal mother would have picked up at one garage sale or another.
Motutapu has been pest free since late 2011 and thanks to replanting over the past decades, is stunningly lush and green, surrounded by some of the clearest, warmest seawater I can ever remember dipping into in New Zealand.
As I was discussing with one of the others at the event, it would be a pretty idyllic place to live – as long as you had a boat, of course.
When we say you get four seasons in a day, we mean it. Sometimes we’ll rotate through all four seasons two or three times, even. I could leave the house in the morning practically perspiring in the cloudless blazing heat, and get to worth 20 minutes later cursing the sudden downpour that caught me halfway. Speaking of downpours, it rains far too much here, and summers are horribly humid. But at least it’s fairly warm! Temperatures range from about 10-25 degrees, depending on the season.
The cost of living
Housing, petrol, food, and anything else you can think of is expensive. The “great Kiwi ripoff” resurfaces in magazine and newspaper features every couple of years or so. We all shake our heads – and fists – for a bit, then settle right back in resignedly. I also bemoan the lack of free and cheap entertainment here, though Silo Park is doing great things on that front.
I walk to work, so I haven’t had to regularly catch the bus in over a year, and it’s wonderful. I have a rule against reading the comments on news articles, but this one basically sums up the state of Auckland public transport: “More evidence that those who plan our public transport don’t actually believe in it.” It’s unreliable, expensive and on some routes, infrequent. And apparently the trains are ditching the option to pay your fare onboard, and introducing a $20 penalty for those who don’t pre-pay. (I imagine a lot of tourists and new immigrants are going to get some nasty surprises.)
And now, to the pros…
Don’t get me wrong, we have some absolutely hideous eyesores of buildings around the place (a “nicer Rio” was how our last Couchsurfing guests described the CBD). But otherwise, we’re pretty darn good looking, with beaches, parks, volcanoes, creeks and more aplenty. Crossing the Harbour Bridge always offers a spectacular sight, and rounding the cliffside corner right where the vista of Piha’s coast opens up is enough to make the heart swell.
I’m sure we have nothing on bigger cities around the world (actually, I KNOW we don’t, having met so many well-travelled visitors through Couchsurfing), but on a national scale, we’re definitely ahead. Cheap and cheerful ethnic restaurants and supermarkets are all over the place, and every year Diwali and Chinese New Year celebrations take place in the CBD, shutting down parts of the streets.
It’s close to everything
Realistically, in New Zealand everything is just a few hours’ drive away. Skifields? Lakes? Forests? Bush? Beaches? Fill up the tank and go.
And of course, I’m thankful for the other things I enjoy as a New Zealand citizen. Free ER visits (though until I met T, I’d never been to the ER in my life), cheap medical care ($5 prescriptions, thank you very much), affordable education (student loans for all), four weeks of paid annual leave (plus a bunch of public holidays) and so on.
ETA: I’m also very proud that we’ve become the first Asia-Pacific nation and the 13th worldwide to legalise same-sex marriage. Ka pai!
My Evernote is (figuratively) bulging at the seams. I’ve finally seen fit to organise my notes into folders, and right now my note containing Things To See And Do In The US is grossly inflated. That’s mostly thanks to New York, skewing everything! It looks like we’ll be there for a full week in September, but I doubt we’ll be bored somehow. If you’re looking for things to do in New York there are plenty of resources online, plus I’ve got no shortage of recommendations from friends.
A few weeks ago I went into a slight panic when one of my best friends (who’s off to Minnesota, I think, for a conference later in the year) asked if I’d applied for our visas yet. As far as I knew, the only places we wouldn’t get a waiver would be Cambodia and Vietnam. But in its paranoid and profit-seeking ways, I guess the government has to make things complicated and take its cut:
International travelers who are seeking to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) are now subject to enhanced security requirements and will be required to pay an administrative fee. All eligible travelers who wish to travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program must apply for authorization and then pay the fee using the following process…
And so I paid the $30 fee and went through the ESTA rigmarole online. I tried not to freak out when we weren’t both immediately approved. Thankfully, a few days later I checked back in and found that we’d both been cleared. That’s about as much as we can do; from here on in we’re at the mercy of airport officials when we land, I suppose.
I’ve booked an apartment rental for our last few days in New York through a Wimdu host with good reviews (we want to stay somewhere nice for T’s birthday), but I’ve yet to decide what we’ll do for the days before that. Hospitality exchange hosts generally don’t want to commit until a few weeks ahead (I personally prefer not to when hosting) but given it’s New York, waiting seems risky when accommodation is so in demand. Do we wait and hedge our bets on finding an awesome free/cheap host who’ll show us the city from his or her POV, or shell out now for a guaranteed place to lay our heads?
Whenever people ask me how wedding planning is going, they get a noncommittal “ehh” and a weak shrug. Let’s face it, simultaneously planning a six-month trip is a much larger undertaking, and it’s taking a lot out of me. But it’s also way more fun.
Emma Goho presents The Gohemian’s Guide: What To Do In Jaipur posted at gohemiantravellers, a piece on her favourite Indian city, Jaipur. “A beautiful city, full of beautiful people!” One of my best friends will be tying the knot later this year in India. Alas, I won’t be able to attend (I’m not sure where we’ll be as I don’t know her date yet, but we don’t really have the time or money for a detour to India).
Kevin Giffin presents 10 of the Best States to Visit with Kids posted at Summer Nanny, saying that planning a family vacation can be an overwhelming prospect, especially when the budget doesn’t allow for international travel. We’ll hopefully be hitting up about half of these states while in the US.