Servas International

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I'm going to crib directly from Wikipedia here for a bit, to explain what Servas is:

Servas International is a non-profit worldwide cooperative cultural exchange network bringing people together to build understanding, tolerance, mutual-respect, and world peace. It works toward world peace by encouraging individual person-to-person contacts. It operates through a network of Servas hosts around the world who are interested in opening their doors to travelers, and, 'on the other side of the coin', many open-minded travelers who want to get to know the heart of the countries they visit.
And as Servas themselves say:
Servas is divided into nine regions around the world, each with its own coordinator. Each Servas coordinator maintains a list of approved hosts and travelers for their region. Names and addresses of hosts appear in annually produced lists which are made available only to approved travelers.

Through Servas, travelers have opportunities to meet hosts, their families and friends, and join in their everyday life. Where convenient, hosts may offer two nights (or more) accommodation and invite travelers to share a meal.
Or to put it simply, the whole thing is basically pre-screened and therefore safe(ish) couch surfing. I get vetted by the organization here in Canada and become an approved traveler with an official letter of introduction. Hosts get vetted by their local organization and then appear on a list of approved hosts that I have access to as I travel. I look over the list before arriving in a new city and contact hosts who look interesting or appropriate, and they're free to say yes or no according to their own criteria or schedule or whim.

I was first exposed to Servas many many years ago in the dim past of 1988 when I spent a summer in London, England working in the stock room of a W. H. Smith bookstore during the day, and being a tourist on evenings and weekends. My much savvier traveling partner joined Servas before we left, so on a foray to the Continent we were able to secure about 4 nights of accommodations and a couple of meals while visiting Paris. Now that I'm planning my much longer trip, I think it makes sense to hook up with Servas again. Not only does it give me the chance to save a bit of money on accommodations, it's also a way to connect with real local people in the places I visit and get a far more intimate sense of the customs, foods, culture, language and life of the area.

I've already made contact with the local Winnipeg coordinators for Servas, and we've agreed to get together in January for the formal interview process that will get me on the approved travelers list, and give me access to the lists of approved hosts in each country. (Unless, of course, they find out about my secret fondness for petty thievery and kicking puppies, in which case all bets are off.)

I really don't think I'll want to arrange all my accommodations this way - I'm pretty sure that would be a lot of work, and I'm also pretty sure that there will be lots of times when I'll want to be more anonymous. Still, it's another tool in the arsenal, and I'm looking forward to deploying it on occasion.

Book Review: "The Kindness of Strangers"

Saturday, December 27, 2008

I had a very nice Christmas this year, despite being afflicted by a mild cold which left me slightly sniffly and tired by Boxing Day. My family and friends were very generous, yet also quite successful at giving me presents that, for the most part, fit neatly within the "6 Things" rules, including lots of yummy consumables, and cool trip-related stuff. In fact, this was the first time EVER that I was able to fly with carry-on baggage only to and from Christmas at home. This is unprecedented, and a hopeful sign of things to come. However, while I was able to fit everything into my poor old carry-on eBag, I was weighed down quite a bit more on my return to Winnipeg than I was when I set out, mostly due to the acquisition of loads of great new travel-related reading materials.

All this is an introduction to what may become yet another recurring feature here at Go See Run Eat Drink – book reviews! (posts like this will be labeled "books" in the tag cloud). It occurred to me as I dove into the first of several new travel-related publications, that other people might also be interested in hearing about some of them. So here's a look at the first travel book I received this Christmas, one that I actually started reading on the plane home on Christmas Eve, and which I liked from the first page.

"The Kindness of Strangers" is a Lonely Planet published collection of 26 stories by different authors that explore "the unexpected human connections that so often transfigure and transform the experience of travel, and celebrates the gift of kindness around the world."

In his introduction to the book, the editor Don George, writes this alarming but hopeful message:

"In twenty-five years of wandering the world, I have learned two things: the first is that when you travel, at some point you will find yourself in a dire predicament – out of money, out of food, unable to find a hotel room, lost in the big city or on a remote trail, stranded in the middle of nowhere. The second is that someone will miraculously emerge to take care of you – to lend you money, feed you, put you up for the night, lead you to where you want to go. Whatever the situation dramatic or mundane, some stranger will save you."
As promised, these are stories by many different authors. Some are only a few pages long, some longer, but each one recounts a true experience of the author as traveler encountering some small or large kindness rendered by a complete stranger, usually when the traveler is in distress: alone, sick, lost, or otherwise in need of help and with no one to turn to.

In the happiest of these stories lucky travelers are showered with food and gifts and friendship in Venice, or picked up from the muddy, potholed streets of Haymarket in St. Petersburg, or even lead by a Wodaabe tribesman out of the darkness of a Sahara night and back to a lost campsite. In each case the friendship or gift or help is unexpected, but turns out to be one of the the most memorable parts of the journey. There are some more complicated stories too – ones where the exact nature of the kindness is murky, and where the traveler comes away conflicted about the experience. Each story I've read so far has been a pleasure, and because they're only a few pages each they are, fittingly, excellent for reading on the plane. You probably won't have to stop in the middle of one when the "Fasten Seatbelts" sign goes on.

The other thing I like about the book is that while many professional travel writers are represented in its pages – people like Tim Cahill, Pico Iyer and Rolf Potts, there are also several stories by ordinary travelers as well. This is because as the editor was soliciting entries from professionals, Lonely Planet sponsored a contest on its website and hundreds of people submitted their own tales from the road. Three of their stories are included in the collection alongside the professionals.

It's also worth noting that the collection is graced with a preface by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, so really, what more incentive do you need to seek out this book? It's recommended by Go See Run Eat Drink, AND by the Dalai Lama. Oh, and it was the winner of the 2004 Independent Publishers Book Awards in the Travel Essay category.

These stories give me real hope for this solo journey I'm planning. They reassure me that though I'll be traveling on my own I'll never really be alone, not if I can trust my instincts and accept help when it's needed and offered. Though I hope I never find myself in the kind of adversity that some of these story talk about, I also hope that when the inevitable small disasters befall me I can figure out who to trust and be grateful that they found me.

I'll leave you with a thought from the story "Adnan's Secret", by Maxine Rose Shur:
"As travelers we were strangers to everyone, and everyone a stranger to us. We had to rely on only the fragile, often surprising connection we knew we could feel with others, and others with us. This is the connection made despite difference, distance and even death. It is the delicate thread of sympathy that stitches humanity together."

Home for Christmas

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tomorrow I'm heading home for Christmas, on a quick 4-day break from work. I always go home for Christmas. ALWAYS. In fact when I first conceived of this trip I thought I'd do it in two legs - Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, then home for a break and some downtime at Christmas, then back out for India, China, SEA (that's how we savvy RTW types refer to South East Asia), and South America. It seemed like a good idea to build in a break from traveling - an escape hatch of sorts. Also, it would be nice to have an extended break at home during the holidays since I haven't had more than 4 days off at Christmas since I was in school in about 1990. Then I examined the costs of this plan and quickly decided maybe 2009 would be the first time I wouldn't be home for Christmas.

Since that time I've been trying to get used to the idea, and I'm starting to make peace with it. My sister and brother-in-law missed Christmas at home a few years ago; their excuse was the birth of their first child, my niece, on Christmas Eve. They survived fine (all three of them), and I imagine the new baby thing was distracting enough that Christmas was a mere footnote that week. Similarly, I suspect that when next December rolls around I'll be so far removed from my "normal" life that the whole Christmas season won't have nearly the all-pervasive impact that it has here in snowy, urban western Canada. Or at least I hope so.

I sort of plan to be in Africa around the holidays next year, and I can't imagine anywhere less Christmas-y. I also sort of plan to connect with an old friend who is now living in Uganda, but it seems awkward to basically invite myself over for Christmas. Perhaps I'll get lucky and he'll see this post and pick up on my not-so-subtle hint. If that doesn't work out, I may go on safari over the holidays. It might also be kind of neat to see how people in a place so very different celebrate something so very familiar.

I suppose being away for Christmas is just another aspect of being away in general - part of committing myself wholly to this adventure. I'm sure there will be some bouts of homesickness in my future, and not just around the holidays. I have no idea how I'll react to that. For now I'll just enjoy seeing family, unwrapping exciting travel-related packages, eating my weight in Christmas baking, turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, and wondering what next Christmas will bring.

I guess if I really want to, there's nothing stopping me from booking a flight from Kampala to Calgary next December. It's only money.*

*Note to family: DO NOT count on this!

Random Realizations

Friday, December 19, 2008

First Random Realization:
I normally get my hair cut about every 4-6 weeks; I keep it short, and short cuts need frequent attention. This means I'm going to be getting a lot of haircuts on the road, and the idea of getting my hair cut by someone I can't really communicate with is sort of alarming. It's not like I'm particularly particular about my hair - it's a wash-and-wear style that doesn't even require a brush, just a dollop of some kind of goopy styling product. Still, it's an odd thought. I've contemplated taking my camera with me the next time I get my hair cut here at home, so I can get some pictures to show the friendly Chinese stylist in Beijing. Then again it's probable that I'll often be able to find a semi-English speaker for this task. Also, I guess I just need to get used to the idea that my hair will probably look different once I've been out there for a while.

Second Random Realization:
I don't eat out very much. At all. Maybe once or twice a month I'll go out for lunch or supper with friends. I cook at home a lot - breakfast, lunch and dinner. I make up recipes. I improvise. I bake stuff. I watch the Food Network (Alton Brown rocks!). I subscribe to more than one food blog. I have an actual vanilla bean in my fridge right now. So what I'm saying is I really like to prepare food for myself, which is something that I think I'll rarely get a chance to do while traveling. Yes, there will be a lot of hostel kitchens in my future, but I imagine those will be more breakfast oatmeal / PB&J kinds of places. I doubt there will be a lot of long-simmering pots of yummy goodness in my future. At least not ones I cook for myself. I think I'll really miss that after a while.

Third Random Realization:
Once I sell my house, even after I spend a big bunch of money on traveling, and even after I settle back down in a new city, I should be completely free of debt. This is not to imply that I'm drowning in debt right now; I've got the mortgage and a mortgage-backed line of credit, but my net worth is definitely positive and I pay off my credit card bills every month. Still, the fact is that ever since I got that first student Visa back in about 1989 I have never been completely free of debt. Sometimes I think about my first Visa purchase - lunch with a friend - and I realize that I really haven't actually paid that back yet. That Visa debt got rolled into a line of credit and consolidated and mortgaged and blah blah blah... but it's still with me. It's cool to think that my new life after traveling will start with a clean slate. Of course the flip side of having no debt is that I'll also have almost no assets, other than my personal belongings and a sturdy 1998 Toyota, but you can't have everything.

Gear Picks - Tilley Travel Socks

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Now we finally come to a piece of gear that I've actually tried, tested and found worthy of pack space - Tilley travel socks. Tilley is a Canadian company best know for the Tilley hat, seen on the heads of (usually) senior travelers around the word. While I'm definitely not going to join the ranks of the Tilley Hat Crowd (not that there's anything wrong with that...) I am so far quite impressed with my Unholey Socks. I've got 2 pairs of the women's ankle socks, and one pair of the crew length, which I took with my on my eastern trip this summer.

The socks come in navy blue, white and beige. I bought beige, because it's my firm belief that the best colour for travel clothing is the colour of dirt. (I've also got the Tilley short-sleeved "cool" shirt in "tan stripe", perhaps more on that in another post. ) At $16.00 per pair, they're not cheap, but not outrageous either, especially considering they are guaranteed to remain free of holes for three years.

I tested the claim that they dry overnight several times and so far that's been true. In fact, they probably dry quicker than that. They're fairly thin, which means they don't have any of that thick-sock-coziness that's so comforting, but I figure if I need some extra warmth or coziness, I can just put on two pairs. (Layering! It's the one-bag traveler's friend!) I'm even contemplating using these socks for running, saving me from carrying the extra .0000001 lbs of a pair of running socks.

Or perhaps that's taking things a bit too far...

Edited to add: I had a lot of trouble linking to the different Tilley products in this post, for some reason they all morph into links to the Tilley start page whenever I save the post, so if you they're working right now, great. If they're not, and you want details on the socks or hats or shirts or whatever, you'll just have to click around and find them for yourelf.

Regarding Henry

Friday, December 12, 2008

Some of you may be lucky enough to have met my dog Henry, a purebred basset hound of immense character, advancing years, and lingering pungency. Henry has been with me almost the whole time I've been in Winnipeg, and will turn 10 years old in January. He even comes with me to work most days, and has been a joy, a frustration and a constant companion since I first picked him up from the kennel almost ten years ago.

Obviously Mr. Henry will not fit in my carry on bag, so my original hope was to take him to live with my sister and brother-in-law for the year while I was traveling. Also occupying that household is my 3 year-old niece who is a big fan of Henry Hound. They're definitely dog people, and they seemed amenable to the idea, so it looked like a great solution.

Here's the bad news: Mr Henry was recently diagnosed with an inoperable cancerous prostate tumor. It's an adenocarcinoma, which is apparently the more aggressive type. Palliative treatment is possible with radiation, but that would mean sending the dog the the vet college in Saskatoon for 3 weeks at a time, and would really only prolong the inevitable. I won't be doing that; he'll stay here with me in comfortable, familiar surroundings.

Now for the good news: someone seems to have forgotten to tell Henry that he's got terminal cancer, because he is almost completely his normal self. He's as active as he ever was (not very), he's snoozing 22½ hours a day, he's lapping up the love of his fan club at work, and he's savouring the fancy new canned dog food recommended by the vet, which I could hardly refuse him, could I?

When I pressed the vet for a timeline - "Weeks? Months? Years?" - he suggested that we're likely talking about months, though he also said Henry may surprise us.

And that's the dilemma. If Mr. Henry turns out to be a trooper he could be with us for a while yet, but at the same time I can't send him off to a new home when I know he's sick, and I know the inevitable is coming. It's not fair to the people I send him to ("Here's my dying dog, when the time comes, go ahead and do what needs to be done. Oops, gotta go - they're calling my flight! Bye!"). And of course it's certainly not fair to Henry. It's my responsibility to be there for him until the end, and maybe even for me to decide when that end should be. He may be gone before the snow melts, but if he hangs in there, my plans need to be flexible enough to accommodate that.

So I guess I'm saying that countdown timer over on the right may need to be adjusted. Maybe by a few weeks, or months, maybe more, maybe not at all; I don't really know. I do know that I will take this trip, and I know that I will do right by Henry. But it has to be Henry first, trip second.

In a strange way, the thought that Henry won't be there when I get home is one more thing pushing me to take this trip. I don't have a spouse or boyfriend or kids to leave behind, and I've prepared myself (I think) for giving up my house and my job. Henry is kind of the last really big thing that ties me to this place and this life.

And to end on an up-note, for those of you who've never seen Mr. Henry's famous helicopter impression, here's a taste:

This time next year - December 9

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

POP QUIZ: Can you guess today's "This Time Next Year" location from this audio clue?:

If you guessed the Lost City of Petra, you're correct! (And you know me well.) To quote Wikipedia:
Petra is an extraordinary archaeological site in southwestern Jordan, lying on the slope of Mount Hor in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of Arabah (Wadi Araba), the large valley running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. The site was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 when it was described as "one of the most precious cultural properties of man's cultural heritage".
To quote me: "Petra is dead cool!"

The best known site at Petra is the iconic Al Khazneh, or Treasury Building, but the whole site has a lot more to see. I'll admit that when I thought of Petra, I really just thought of that one building, but it turns out that Petra is not just the Treasury, a souvenir stand, and a guy selling falafel from a cart... its a whole CITY, and they think most of it hasn't even been uncovered yet. There's the remains of the fantastic Ad-Deir monastery, along with "rock-cut tombs, obelisks, temples, sacrificial altars and colonnaded streets". One website claims you need 4 or 5 days to really explore the whole city so I'm a little worried that my proposed itinerary will rush me through Petra too quickly. (Of course if I wanted to do it really quickly, I should run the first ever Petra Marathon on September 26th, 2009.)

I'm actually planning on seeing Petra as part of a package tour (more on the whole idea of package tours is probably coming in a later post). The particular tour I've got my eye on is called the "Jordan and Egypt Adventure", and just reading the itinerary makes me positively buzz with excitement:

This tour combines our ‘Petra to the Pyramids’ and ‘Nubian Sailtrek’ tours to give you the highlights of both Jordan and Egypt. We’ll see the hidden city of Petra, take a camel ride amidst the weird rock formations of Wadi Rum, sail along the Nile on a felucca and explore the Pharaonic treasures left by the Ancient Egyptians.

  • Camel ride in Wadi Rum
  • Overnight in Bedouin camp
  • Full day guided exploration of Petra
  • Sunrise on Mt Sinai
  • Pyramids & Sphinx at Giza
  • 1 day felucca cruise
  • Horse-drawn carriage ride to Karnak Temple
  • Donkey ride to the Valley of the Kings
Seriously? A camel ride? A bedouin camp? A felucca cruise? Pyramids? It's like the Greatest Hits of the Ancient World. How is it that YOU have not already signed on to come with me on this? I mean look at this map:

The Jordan and Egypt Adventure, December 7-22, 2009. You know you want to.

Wonder of Wonders

Friday, December 5, 2008

Here's an exciting discovery: during my trip, I will actually be visiting six out of seven of The New Seven Wonders of the World:

  1. Chichen Itza (Mayan archeological site) - Yucatan, Mexico
  2. The statue of Christ the Redeemer - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  3. The Colosseum - Rome
  4. The Great Wall of China
  5. Machu Picchu (Incan archeological site) - Peru
  6. The Lost City of Petra - Jordan
  7. The Taj Mahal - Agra, India
The only one I'll miss on my present itinerary is that Mexico thingy. As compensation though, I will be seeing the Great Pyramid of Giza, the last remaining Wonder of the Ancient World.

The declaration of the "New Seven Wonders" was spear-headed by a Swiss company, starting in 2001. They claim more than 100 million votes were cast on the internet and by phone, though duplicate votes were allowed so they admit the results are "decidedly unscientific". Of particular note on the subject of unscientific voting is a story about the voting in Brazil, where cell phone companies not only stopped charging people for voting, they actually solicited votes:
One morning in June, Rio de Janeiro residents awoke to a beeping text message on their cell phones: “Press 4916 and vote for Christ. It’s free!” The same pitch had been popping up all over the city since late January—flashing across an electronic screen every time city-dwellers swiped their transit cards on city buses and echoing on TV infomercials that featured a reality-show celebrity posing next to the city’s trademark Christ the Redeemer statute.
So like they say... the voting was not exactly United Nations sanctioned as "free and fair". Perhaps these Swiss were also the ones behind the voting system in Florida for the 2000 U.S. election.

And as an aside, I will also see several of the other 13 finalists in the voting, including the Acropolis, Angkor Wat, the Hagia Sophia, and the Eiffel Tour (seen it already, though).

And to gild the lily, I may also check out several of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, as decided by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Stuff like the Channel Tunnel, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Delta Works in the Netherlands (dams, sluices, locks, dikes, and storm surge barriers).

It's all going to be pretty wonderful.

Gear Picks - One Bag to Rule Them All

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

In case you haven't realized it yet, my plan isn't just to spend a year traveling. It's to spend a year traveling with just a single carry-on sized bag. Therefore the choice of bag is, to put it mildly, somewhat important. The best website out there for packing light is that of the one-bag guru Doug Dyment. If you're looking for great information on what to pack, how to pack, and what to pack it all in, you can't go wrong at that site.

Here are my basic criteria for an RTW bag (RTW is short for 'Round The World, and is what all the Cool Kids say). My bag must be:

  • Soft-sided - No wheels! They add weight and take away interior space. Also, they're Hell on cobblestones, dirt, grass, gravel... really anything that isn't a smooth airport concourse or featureless sidewalk. I know there will be times I wish I could roll along, but I think overall the extra weight and bulk would be too much.
  • Convertible - meaning it can be carried with a handle like a suitcase, or with a shoulder strap, or with stow-away backpack straps. Note that the backpack straps on convertibles aren't nearly as ergonomically designed as those on REAL trekking backpacks, but I'm not climbing Everest here.
  • Carry-on sized - Every airline has slightly different rules which makes this is a slippery concept, but most people seem to agree that about 9" x 14" x 22" is a reasonable size (about 45 litres). A bag this size will end up being too big to carry on with a few airlines, but anything small enough for all contingencies might be, well, too small. (For a look at a bag that would probably pass anywhere, check out the Tom Bihn Westen Flyer and imagine living out of 26 litres for a year.)
  • Tough - This bag has to last me through a year of packing and unpacking almost every day. While my eBags Weekender Convertible was a steal at $69.99, I really don't think it would last.
My current favourite pick for an RTW bag is the Tom Bihn Aeronaut. It's been very well reviewed here, here and here (and in a zillion other places too). There's even a video here of a guy taking a ten-minute shower with a packed Aeronaut showing Tom Bihn's claim that the zippers are "splash-proof" is a bit of an understatement. I think I've read every word the internet has to offer on this bag, and most people agree that Tom Bihn makes really high end stuff of exceptional quality - tough enough to live out of for a year. In fact, people tend to rave.

Here's what the Aeronaut looks like:It's pricey, especially when you add in things like the Absolute Shoulder Strap, and the Convertible Packing Cube, but I have a feeling this is an area where I really shouldn't cheap out.

Here's what I like about the bag:
  • It's got a few compartments which will help with organization, but it doesn't have so many pockets that I'll forget where I put things.
  • I think the end pockets will be big enough to hold two pairs of shoes in one end and a day pack with Eee PC, guidebook, MP3 player, and snack in the other end. This would make for easy extraction of the day pack before stowing the main bag and sitting down in a plane, train, bus, rickshaw, donkey cart etc...
  • I like that it's got lots of places to grab - both ends and the top, plus the straps.
  • Most reviewers say that they were able to fit lots more into the bag than they expected, and found it more comfortable to carry than they thought they would, despite the weight.
Here's what I don't like:
  • It's expensive, and there's really no way I can get a look at one without shelling out the money up front.
  • It only comes in red, black and grey. Though the red is flashy, I'm leaning towards grey.
  • There's no obvious place for a water bottle, unlike the Rick Steves bag, which is also a contender (though the decided underdog) in my One Bag Smackdown.
  • The square-shaped centre compartment looks like it might be kind of awkward to pack.
Despite these minor drawback I think that once I actually commit fully to this crazy plan one of my first purchases will be a shiny new Aeronaut, with all the accessories. I even have a short trip to Montreal in January which would let me test it out a bit. When I actually take the plunge, you'll hear about it here first.

Fun times at the WRHATH&TMC

Friday, November 28, 2008

On Monday of this week I went for my first appointment at the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority Travel Health & Tropical Medicine Clinic, where I met with a nurse named Judi, who was really friendly and helpful and laughed at my jokes, so she's ok in my books. Also, the clinic itself is located conveniently close to work, and they have a whole shelf of Rough Guides to peruse while you're waiting around. So far the WRHATH&TMC gets two thumbs up.

My appointment lasted over an hour, and Nurse Judi gave me the rundown on a horror-show of diseases that I need to consider vaccinating against, including the relatively mundane Hepatitis A and B, polio, tetanus, diptheria and rabies, moving to the more exotic yellow fever, typhoid, malaria and meningococcal meningitis, and finishing off with a touch of altitude sickness and the decidedly ferocious-sounding duet of Tickborne and Japanese Encephalitis.

Today I got the booster shot for polio, diptheria and tetanus (thoughtfully provided in just one needle), and my first round of Twinrix, for Hep A/B. I also picked up the oral vaccine for typhoid, and made an appointment for early January to receive another shot of Twinrix, and the Yellow Fever vaccine, and whatever else I decide to go for. Finally, in early June, I'll get my last Twinrix shot just before I jet off.

For a mere $150, I'll likely go ahead with the meningitis vaccine, but I have a decision to make about Japanese Encephalitis. At $120 per dose, and requiring 3 doses, it's not cheap vaccine. The virus that causes JE (as we savvy 'Round The World traveling types call it) is carried in birds and pigs, and transmitted to humans through infected mosquitos, mostly in rural areas, and almost exclusively at night. And what happens to the infected? Here's what Wikipedia says:

Japanese encephalitis has an incubation period of 5 to 15 days and the vast majority of infections are asymptomatic: only 1 in 250 infections develop into encephalitis.

Severe rigors mark the onset of this disease in humans. Fever, headache and malaise are other non-specific symptoms of this disease which may last for a period of between 1 and 6 days. Signs which develop during the acute encephalitic stage include neck rigidity, cachexia, hemiparesis, convulsions and a raised body temperature between 38 and 41 degrees Celsius. Mental retardation developed from this disease usually leads to coma. Mortality of this disease varies but is generally much higher in children. Transplacental spread has been noted. Life-long neurological defects such as deafness, emotional lability and hemiparesis may occur in those who have had central nervous system involvement. In known cases some effects also include, nausea, headache, fever, vomiting and sometimes swelling of the testicles.

Well at least I don't have to worry about swollen testicles.

In all seriousness though, bad JE infections are one of those things that are very very rare, but very very bad if they do happen. My risk of getting infected is really low - I likely won't be in rural areas late at night, and even if I am I'll be taking precautions against mosquito bites anyways, because of the much higher risk of malaria. Nurse Judi said that unless I'm in a rural area hotspot for more than 3-4 weeks, I should be fine. On the other hand, these people decided to go for it. When it comes down to it, $360 isn't much to protect me from lifelong neurological defects.

And then there's biggie: malaria. Malaria kills between one and three million people each year, and there is no vaccine. It's carried by mosquitos, like JE, and is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, where I will be spending some time. It's also in India, Southeast Asia, and South America. Because there's no vaccine, the only thing you can do is limit your exposure to mosquitos, and take anti-malarial medication when you're in a malaria zone. The WRHATH&TMC offers three options, which I would buy here and pack around with me until I hit the M-Zone. Those options are: Malarone, Doxycycline and Mefloquine. Of these, the best choice seems to be Malarone, which is the newest, and has the fewest side effects, and is also (of couse) the most expensive. Anti-malaria meds need to be taken before, during and after any stay in the M-Zone, and Malarone costs about $5.00/day, whereas the other two come in around $5.00/week. I have to think about what to do here, and figure out how much anti-malarial medication I should take with me. It is possible to pick up the stuff while out on the road, but Nurse Judi pointed out that travelers need to be wary of counterfeit drugs when buying overseas.

Nurse Judi also gave me a helpful handout on how to stock a first aid it for world travel, and confirmed my suspicion that it would be a good idea to get and fill a prescription for a broad spectrum antibiotic to have with me, just in case.

As for the budget, Monday's tab breaks down like this:

  • Consultation with Nurse Judi: $52.00
  • Tetanus/Diptheria/Polio Booster: Free (thank you Manitoba Health)
  • Twinrix (Hepatitis A/B), first round: $62.00
  • Oral Typhoid Vaccine: $42.00
  • Total: $156.00

Still on the menu:

  • Another two consultation/visit fees: $42.00
  • Yellow Fever vaccine: $78.00
  • Twinrix, rounds 2 and 3: $114.00
  • Meningococcal Meningitis vaccine: $150.00
  • Japanese Encephalitis vaccine, 3 rounds: $360.00
  • Malarone anti-malarial meds: estimate $300-$500

The total here comes to a staggering $1,100 - $1,300.00 (not including first aid kit supplies) which is close to double what I budgetted, and I thought I was overestimating. Perhaps it makes most sense to spend my money on the good anti-malarials, and consider skipping the JE and meningitis vaccines. Then again, is this any time to cheap out? Opinions are welcome, especially if you actually have experience with any of this stuff.

Gear Picks - Tiny Speaker

Monday, November 24, 2008

Here's another new (maybe even recurring) feature I'm calling "Gear Picks". As you might guess from the title, this will be a post about some item of travel-related gear that I've already purchased, or am considering, or just think is really cool (because I'm really all about the cool gear, especially if it's also TINY, which makes today's offering extra-great).

Behold the X-Mini Capsule Speaker:

Look how tiny it is! It's a little more than 2" across, and about 2-1/2" inches high, and weighs in at a mere 52 grams (1.8 oz.). The trick is that it actually extends upwards expanding an accordion style vacuum chamber that acts like a loudspeaker, giving it much more volume than you'd expect from such a tiny thing. The manufacturer, XM-I, call this the "Bass Expansion System", and say it mimics the resonance of a sub-woofer (a sub-woofer the size of a dust-bunny, but a sub-woofer nonetheless).

The device has USB-rechargeable batteries and separate little retractable cable that plugs into any standard mini headphone jack. Reviews claim it's got surprisingly decent sound quality, though of course it's only in mono. If you can't live without stereo, check out the X-mini's big brother, the X-Minimax.

And here's a little Youtube video about the device that also features some nice Irish accents:

The list price on the website is $29.90 USD for the Mini, and $55.00 for the Minimax, available in black, red and white. I really like having the ability to play music or podcasts from a speaker instead of just from headphones, and I figure an iPod Nano and an X-mini speaker are a bit cheaper and less theft-magnet-y than an iPod Touch. So, X-mini speaker, you're on my list.

This time next year - November 21

Friday, November 21, 2008

Today's exciting "This Time Next Year" destination is Istanbul, Turkey. In fact it's the whole country of Turkey, though I suspect I'll spend most of my time in Istanbul, which I was surprised to learn is actually the third largest city in the world (population 11,372,613 at the time of writing). It's situated on both the European and Asia sides of the Bosphorus Strait, so it's the only city in the world that spans two continents, and it's commonly thought of as an East-meets-West melting pot.

Istanbul is an ancient city - archeological discoveries in the area go back as early as 6500 BC, and the city of Byzantium (the first known name for the city) was established in 667 BC. When the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great made it the capital of the Roman Empire in 330 AD, he changed the name of the city to Walterople (literally "City of Walter"), after his late uncle. Ok, actually he changed it to Constantinople, I suppose because he was the freakin' emperor of Rome and figured he was kind of a big deal. The name Istanbul was apparently in common use in the city from before 1450 or so, but didn't become popular in the west until someone wrote a catchy song about it.

One of the big things to see in Istanbul is the Hagia Sophia a 6th century basilica/mosque/museum that was, until 1520, the largest cathedral ever built. Though it didn't make the grade as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, it did manage to rank in the top 20, so since I'll be in the city anyways I'll probably wander over there.

Istanbul has a gajillion brilliant historical sites and markets and museums and things, but right now I think the coolest thing going on there is the construction of the Marmaray - the world's deepest undersea immersed tube tunnel - being built underneath the Bosphorus Strait. Once completed it will mean that a passenger could travel by rail all the way from the northern tip of Scotland to Beijing, China. (Said passenger would be well-advised to pack a few sandwiches for such a journey.) It's a fantastic engineering project, though it's been delayed by more than two years because workers unearthed an incredible Byzantine archeological site and have had to trade in their backhoes for those weeny little dental picks and paint brushes. The site they uncovered is the fourth-century-Constantinople port, Portus Theodosiacus, and includes what may be the only Byzantine naval vessel ever discovered.

Also of note is the fact that the placement of the tunnel runs distressingly close (a mere 18 kms) to a big geological fault which scientists calculate has a 77% chance of unleashing a earthquake of 7.7 magnitude or greater in the next thirty years. Perhaps our weary passenger should pack a inflatable dinghy along with his PB&J.

The one thing I won't be rushing out for while in Turkey is Turkish Delight, which has always seemed to me like a waste of calories that could better be expended on chocolate. Also, I suspect I won't be eating much turkey.

If the idea of a trip to Turkey floats your Byzantine naval vessel, I plan to be there between November 18 and December 2, 2009.

Who doesn't love a good sale?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Thank you to Practical Hacks for the heads-up on a big 20% off holiday sale at the Rick Steves Travel Store (on until December 14th). Rick Steves is a well-known travel guide who claims to show people "Europe through the back door" - his catchphrase for getting off the beaten track and seeing real people and places instead of just tourist traps. He runs guided tours, and he writes a popular series of guide books, and he has a radio show, and a podcast that I like, and a tv show that I watch, and he sells travel stuff on his website. What can I say? The guy's definitely covering all the bases. I also like him is because he's another "one bag" zealot.

I've had my eye on a few things from the Rick Steves store, so I'll definitely be placing an order while the sale is on. I'm just hoping to catch it when the Canadian dollar is a bit stronger against the US, so I can spend as little as possible.

Here's what's on my list:

Civita Day Pack - This will be the everyday pack that goes everywhere with me. I imagine it will normally carry the Asus Eee PC, a guidebook, a water bottle, other books, a sweater or jacket, and anything else I might need or pick up in the course of a day touristing around. When I'm in transit between locations I'm hoping it can live sort of rolled up in the top end pocket of the Aeronaut, acting as a bit of padding for the Eee PC too. I'll be getting it in the lovely, low-key "slate" colour. (BTW, more on the Tom Bihn Aeronaut is coming in a future post.)

Silk Sleep Sack - I'm splurging for the silk one because they're lighter, pack up smaller than cotton, and should be more comfortable. (Colour: Sage Green) Here's what Rick has to say about sleep sacks.

Serious budget travelers need a sleep sack. The primary use is for hostels. If you don't have one, you'll rent one each night... the ones you rent can range from straight — jacket tight to crinkly disposable paper versions. A sleep sack has uses beyond hostels. If you'll be sleeping out, the Mediterranean is warm enough without a sleeping bag-but the sack gives you the thin bit of warmth and protection that makes this a realistic option. In Scandinavia, many budget alternatives to hotels rent beds without linen. With your sack you can say "ya sure, ya betcha" and save piles of kroner. Sleeping for free on the train is more comfy and feels much cleaner, if you have your own sack to crawl into. And, in more rugged corners, cheap hotels can come with dirty sheets. More than once, I've been thankful to be cradled in my own sleep sack rather than some questionable sheet in a dumpy hotel. Mountain huts often come with blankets only — washed once a year. While some travelers don't care, I prefer to have the clean linen this sack provides between me and the hut bedding which one German hiker described as "the germs of centuries."
Travel clothesline: This is a must - the whole premise of traveling light is based on being able to do one or two small items of laundry in a sink every night, or every other night. A travel clothesline lets you dry things overnight and wake up to a fresh pair of socks without having to spend hours in a laundromat. Apparently the good ones are made with 3 lengths of surgical-type rubber tubing braided together (as opposed to those shoddy 2-length twisted knock-offs!). The braided design lets you tuck the corners of clothing in between the tubes, thus eliminating the need for clothespins. (And yes, I appreciate the extreme travel-geekness of the fact that I've researched and carefully considered the relative merits of three-stranded-braided vs. two-stranded-twisted travel clotheslines. And that's not even getting into the Great Velcro Loop vs. Suction Cup Debate.)

I'm also considering a new toiletries kit; My current kit is showing its age a bit, and I think I can afford to splurge on this one, along with the handy removable mesh shower caddy that can go right into the shower with me. I'm concerned that even the smaller of the two kits available is still quite large, but for $15.95 USD I may risk it. I'm waffling between the red and the yellow.

All this should add up to about $88 USD, plus about $16 USD for shipping. I figure it'll come to about $120 CDN after exchange, plus there may be taxes and duty and stuff when I pick up the package. All in all though, I think that's a great deal, and much less than I budgeted for the above items.

Now about those suction cups...

Rule Britannia?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Here's a dilemma I've been struggling with: Due to the fact my mother had the foresight to be born in England (thanks, Mom!), I'm actually eligible to claim British citizenship. This would mean I'd be a dual citizen of Canada and Britain, and I'd be able to hold a British passport along with my Canadian one. Because Britain is part of the European Union, having a British passport would make traveling into and out of E.U. countries a complete breeze. In fact, as far as I know I could even live or work in an E.U. country if I felt like it. This all sounds like a very good thing for someone in my position.

So what's the dilemma? Well, there are two:

1. The Cost: Applying for British citizenship currently costs £459.00, and that's just for the actual application itself. That doesn't include the cost of gathering all the properly certified paperwork that's required to accompany the application. It also doesn't include the cost of the passport itself (another $237 USD), or the courier costs, or the passport photos to be taken, or even possible costs associated with getting to a swearing-in ceremony, which is apparently mandatory. (I guess you can't just sign on the dotted line while humming a few bars of "God Save the Queen".) I estimate the whole affair would probably add up to about $1,500.00.

2. The Gut Reaction: I'm not sure why, but the thought of being a citizen of somewhere other than Canada gives me pause. Part of me worries because having citizenship in a country doesn't just mean having rights in that country, it also means having responsibilities. What obligations - legal, moral or otherwise - would I have to Britain if I went down this path? Deeper still, it just feels funny to think about being a citizen of anywhere other than Canada - it feels like a betrayal of the country of my birth.

I don't want to imply that I have anything against Britain - I strongly identify with all things English. I'm not just a WASP by default - I grew up with grand and great-grandparents speaking in an accent, and steak-and-kidney pudding for Sunday dinner (Mmmm!) (No, really!), and Beatrix Potter books. I still have family there. If any country other than Canada could really be home to me, I think it would be England. In a very real sense, they are my people. (This is not to lessen the contribution of the prairie farming stock that make up my Dad's side of the family. I'm also a big fan of Saskatoon pie and have been known to cheer for the Roughriders.)

Friends I've asked about this idea tend to take a purely pragmatic stance - Shorter line-ups! Legal short-term work if you need it! They might change the rules again - do it now while you still can! On a more philosophical level, they've pointed out that we live in an increasingly global society, and being a citizen of an E.U. country might have great benefits for me down the road quite apart from the advantage it would be on this trip.

So what do you think? I'd be interested to hear other opinions on the subject. Leave me a comment and give me something to think about.

This time next year - November 7

Friday, November 7, 2008

This week Winnipeg set a new record for the warmest temperature reached on November 3rd, breaking the old record set in 1905. On Monday the temperature went up to 19° Celsius; when I got up this morning the view from my back door looked like this:

So since winter has arrived as decisively as Barack Obama, I think today is a good day to introduce a little (hopefully) recurring feature I've been thinking about called "This time next year..." (posts like this will be labeled TTNY in the tag cloud). It's something I've been using to keep myself a bit more motivated. I've got a widget on my iGoogle homepage that shows me the weather in Winnipeg and whatever other location(s) I choose, so I've been viewing the place where I think I'll be in one year's time. Of course the schedule is all just theory at this point, but I still think this is pretty good motivation:

Today's "This time next year" location is Athens, Greece. Exciting! I imagine Greece will feature boatloads of history, crystal blue Aegean seas, and enough olives, feta cheese, lamb and ouzo to sink the Argo. (How appropriate that I'm currently working on a production of "Medea".) Greece would also be an excellent place for friends to meet up with me for a little R&R on the beaches of a Greek Island. I'm serious - think about it! I plan to be in Greece around November 3 - 17, 2009.

Even more exciting is that this time next year I hope to be running the Athens Marathon (I think it will be on Sunday, November 8th, 2009). This is THE marathon... the one that actually starts in the city of Marathon and runs to Athens, theoretically following the route that Pheidippides took to announce the Greek victory over Persia in the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. (The fact that the legend says he dropped dead after making his announcement is something marathoners like to gloss over).

The modern Athens Marathon actually finishes in the Panathinaiko Stadium, which was built in 566 BC and has been renovated many times since then, most recently for the 2004 Olympic Games when it hosted the finish of the Olympic Marathon. How cool is that? Participants in the Athens Marathon run the last 170 metres of the course in a stadium built out of white marble that's 2,574 years old.

And that thought, my friends, is enough to get me through a snowy Friday afternoon in November, in Winnipeg.

An inspirational thought.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Thank you to my friend S for passing on this quote from Goethe. He (S, not Goethe) has just made a big, exciting decision to move his career, life, and family around the globe. He passed this on to me when I told him about my plan, and about how I'm still waffling about committing to it.

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back-- Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.

(Edited to add that it turns out this quote is actually from W. H. Murray in "The Scottish Himalaya Expedition", 1951. Thanks, Phonella!)

Sounding Off

Monday, September 29, 2008

Thanks again to Phonella, I now have the ability to paste a little MP3 player into a post so I can embed sound files into the blog.

Oh look - here's one now, a short Lonely Planet podcast:

My Maps

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Here's a Google Map I've created to show where I plan to go. To get back to this post easily you can click on "Maps" in the menu bar. Eventually there will also be map of where I've actually been, which will probably a lot different than the plan. I may even add other close-up maps of my travels around a particular area, so you may want to check back here every once in a while.

You can also see this map in the side bar, but here it's much bigger. You can pan around on either map, change the view, and zoom in and out. Click any of the little blue markers or lines to read its label. You can also click on "View larger map" at the bottom of this one and be taken to the Google page where you can muck around even more.

View Larger Map

June 5, 2009:

Ok, rather that editing the original blue line from a hundred years ago, I've started a new RED line that shows what I've actually done! I thought it might be fun to see what really happens, compared to what I
thought would happen. Also, I really didn't have the inclination or energy to muck around with that original line... Let's just say that these days, I've got bigger fish to fry.

A few of my favourite things...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Here are some great links that I've used in planning this trip, or that I just like to drop in on occasionally. This page is a work in progress, so if you run across dead links or odd, half-completed sentences, that's why. If you discovered this post by perusing the archives, you can return here easily by clicking on "Links" in the menu bar right under the beautiful Go See Run Eat Drink image at the top of the page. If you discovered this post by clicking on "Links", well done.

General Travel Information:
- a great wiki-style resource for tons of info on traveling to different places. It includes lots of real-world practical info on things like how to buy a train ticket in China, or the best way to exchange currency in Zimbabwe. I should spend more time here than I do.

Travel Discussion Board/Forum/Things:
Lonely Planet Thorn Tree - I think most people consider this the go-to place for travel discussion.
Boots 'n' All Travel Network - But I like this one too. They've got a whole area devoted just to Around-the-World travel (or RTW, as the cool kids call it).
Rick Steves Travel Forums - Mostly concentrating on European destinations, but it's got some good info on traveling light.

Kayak - This has become my go-to site for getting a quick idea of what a flight from anywhere to anywhere might cost. Very handy, and it often turns up unexpectedly cheap results.
European Low Cost Airlines - a handy amalgamation of information about all the discount air carriers in Europe, including a map of who flies from where.
One World Itinerary Planner - Though I've elected not the travel with a RTW ('Round the World) ticket, they can be a great bargain. One World's offering is priced according to the number of continents you visit, and their trip planner is a fun way to while away a week of your life.
Star Alliance Mileage Calculator - The other offering in the RTW ticket game, Star Alliance bases their prices on total mileage. They also have an online planner, but it's not as fun as the One World one.

Practical Travel Gear - Reviews of gear, clothing and other gadgets related to travel
Rick Steves Travel Store - This seems like a good spot for cheap-ish odds and ends. I suspect I'll be spending some money at Rick's place before this is all over.
Tom Bihn Designs - High end messenger bags, backpacks, laptop sleeves and accessories, and manufacturer of the Aeronaut, my pick for a Bag To Take Around the World.
Redoxx - Shockingly expensive but super-tough looking soft-sided luggage of all shapes and sizes.
Mountain Equipment Co-Op - A Canadian company (yay!), where I spent many hours and more dollars getting geared up.
Tilley Endurables - Another Canadian Company, and makers of the famous Tilley Hat. I like them for their other clothing, though many of the styles seem to be geared towards... older consumers. They also have excellent tavel socks.

Packing and Traveling Light:
One Bag - Doug Dyment, the Grand Poobah of the Cult of Packing Light
One Bag, One World - A great blog with gear reviews, travel news etc...

Package Tours:
GAP Adventures - Camel treks, felucca cruising, donkey rides, the Inca Trail, the Trans-Siberian Railway - these kinds of companies package stuff together into everything from 3 day to 60 day tours and publish irresistible glossy brochures that make me swoon with excitement.
Imaginative Traveler - Almost indistinguishable from GAP... I have no idea how to decide between the two, other than by which particular detials of destination or schedule fit your plan. I hope to visit Jordan and Egypt with ImTrav (that's what the cool kids call it).
Intrepid Travel - This one seems much the same as the two above, but perhaps a bit newer and a bit edgier. Perhaps best in Asia, I'm going to Moscow and St. Petersburg with Intrepid.
Tucan Travel - This one seems to concentrate mostly on South America, and on overland travel is specially kitted-out buses.
Dragoman - They specialize in overland travel, in more of those specially kitted-out buses, but Dragoman tends to be pretty bare bones - mostly camping, with participants expected to share cooking and cleaning chores. I'm going to Africa with Dragoman!

Accomodations:Servas - Couch-surfing for grown-ups. See my post about this for a lot more details.
Hostelworld - A great place to search out hostel-style digs all over the world. They have reviews from what seem like real people, and lots information about price. I used this site a lot to help me budget for accommodations in all different parts of the world.
Hostelbookers - Another online boking site, though this one charges no fees!
Monastery Stays - This seems like an interesting idea.

Favourite Travel Blogs:

Thirteen Months - I love this site - a honeymoon couple who take a year off to travel. It's beautifully designed, has tons of photographs and great information, an excellent FAQ section, and even details everything they packed. Nice job!
Around The World - One young American guy traveling mostly in Southeast Asia. There's nothing that really stands out about how this blog looks or acts, but I really like the guy's writing, and his general level of enthusiasm. His journey was completed in August/08.
One Year on Earth - Another honeymoon couple, another good site, a lot more good information.
One Giant Step ... Is All It Takes - A site I just discovered of a couple who seem to be my doppelgangers - two 40-ish people from B.C. who are selling their house, and hitting the road at the same time I am. I'm looking forward to seeing the choices they make as they get ready to take off.
The Art of Nonconformity - This blog is about more than just travel but the author, Chris Gillebeau, has a goal to visit every country in the world before he turns 35. As a result, he's got a lot of really good information to offer about traveling cheap and smart. He's a master of maximizing the RTW ('Round the World) ticket, and a mega-collector of frequent flyer miles. He's got a couple of ebook poducts related to travel too, and they're quite good. And he's got a post on why you should quit your job and travel around the world.
Nomadic Sabbatical - (Added October 2012!)  I periodically get requests from people to "trade links" and ignore most of them, usually because the requests are obviously automated spam-bot crap.  But Pete seems to be a real person, and I've had a look through his blog, which is really nicely designed and seems to say all the right things, and have lovely photographs.  So thanks for the email Pete!

Habitat for Humanity - a "faith-based" international organization that build homes for people all over the world, with the help of volunteer labour. I wrote about them here.
Global Vision International - a non-religious, non-political organization that "promotes sustainable development worldwide through responsible volunteering programs." TO faithful GSRED readers, these are the dolphin people.
Projects Abroad - Another "volunteer abroad" organization that I'm considering.
WWOOF - World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (formerly known as: Willing Workers on Organic Farms). An network that allows "willing workers" to connect with organic farmers; in return for volunteer help, WWOOF hosts offer food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles.

Citizens Bank - A Canadian web-based bank founded and run out of British Columbia. Their Global Chequing account is the one I've chosen as my traveling bank account because they charge no fees for international transactions. Scratch this.  They stopped offering that excellent Global chequing account while I was on the road which was inconvenient and impolite, to say the least.  Boo! - A really handy currency conversion site.
Project Visa - A handy site that tells you which countries require visas for citizens of which countries.

Edited: Oct. 18/12

Farting around

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Here's a post from One Bag, One World, one of my favourite "traveling light" websites. I've quoted it here in its entirety, because it struck a chord with me, and I've bolded the bit that really hit home.

From Tim Ferriss’s interview with super traveler Rolf Potts, author of the new book Marco Polo Didn’t Go There:

“Be a minimalist. Reduce clutter. Obviously travel by its very nature is going to do this, since you can’t pack everything you’d keep in your home office. But this should apply to your travel office as well. For example, get a cheap laptop, and use it only for your work. Save your important information into Google documents (or something similar) in case the laptop gets lost or stolen or your pack falls in a river. Don’t use the laptop to surf news online; go to the local newsstand instead.

Don’t use the laptop to watch DVDs or listen to music; go to a local cinema or nightclub instead.This is not just a matter of travel aesthetics or cultural appreciation — it’s a matter of breaking bad habits. Back home we use our work technology to fart around and pass the day. Nobody should travel around the world just to sit in front of a laptop and fart around.

This doesn't mean I've decided NOT to take technology with me - it's just a reminder not to let the technology rule me. Having said that though, a year is a long time to be on the road. I'm expecting that there will be times when I'll need a vacation from traveling. When that feeling hits I plan to hole up in the nicest hotel I can afford and spend a day or two surfing the web, watching tv, and lounging around NOT seeing the sights. You know, just farting around.

Gadget Lust

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ok, Apple announced new iPods last week, including a new iPod Touch, now with dedicated volume control buttons AND A SPEAKER. This basically makes it my dream music player - lots of storage, proper audiobook stopping/starting, built-in speaker, easier volume control than the last version, integration with iTunes and its lovely podcast-catching abilities, Wifi email, beautiful web-browsing, the iTunes App store... all it really lacks is GPS naviagtion.

Of course the big downside is that if I were to take a device like this with me on the trip I might as well tattoo "Rich and Naive Western Tourist Here Please Steal My Stuff" on my forehead.

Also, I'd want a device like this to act as an alarm clock while I'm staying in hostels and stuff. So my fancy, expensive, tiny, desirable and easy-to-pocket device would be sitting there out in the open while I'm unconscious. How would that work? Not very well, I bet. At least not for long.

I've got a little list...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Lately I've been feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the things I need to accomplish before setting out on this trip so I decided to go over the list and make a rough plan of when to try and get different things done. For instance there are a lot of small-ish renovation things I want to do on the house so I can squeeze every penny out of it when I sell, and there are a limited number of weekends when I can reasonably expect to be able to do this kind of work. Now I've got a timetable (not suprisingly, in spreadsheet form!). This is actually helping a lot, since instead of looking at the list and being paralyzed because I can't figure out where to start, I just need to look at the things I've scheduled for September, and then I can dive right in.

So far this month I've scraped the peeling bits and painted one whole side of the house, scraped and repainted the trim on front window, scrubbed the front steps, purged a lot of junk from the basement to the back drive (for easier removal to the dump), and installed two new florescent fixtures in the laundry area. This weekend I'll tackle building a big set of heavy-duty storage shelves in the basement. Apparently, buyers looooooooove storage.

Next up, in October: the Bathroom.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Here's my current best idea of where I plan to go, and when. Sometime I'll post about my reasoning behind where I've chosen to go and where I've decided to skip. And I'll try to update this as things become firmer.

Fly in to London, England from Calgary - June 15, 2009 (2 weeks in England)
Train to Edinburgh, Scotland (2 weeks)
Train/Ferry or cheap local flight to Dublin, Ireland (2 weeks)
Fly to Copenhagen, Denmark (it's about the beginning of August by now) (5 days)
Fly to Riga, Latvia (3 days)
Fly to St. Petersburg, Russia (1 week)
(This hop to Russia is out-of-the-way, but I want to get there in the summer - St. Petersburg in November would be grim...)
Fly to Amsterdam, Netherlands (3 days)
Train to Belgium (1 day, just passin' through)
Train to Paris, France (10 days in France)
Train to Barcelona, Spain (September) (1 week in Spain)
Train to Lisbon, Portugal (1 week)
Train/Ferry to Morocco (1 week)
Fly to Rome, Italy (October - 3 weeks)
Train to Ljublujana, Slovenia (1 week)
Train to Vienna, Austria (4 days)
Train to Prague, Czech Republic (4 days)
Fly to Athens (2 weeks, with Athens Marathon on November 9th)
Fly or Train or Ferry or ?? To Istanbul, Turkey (2 weeks)
Fly or other to Jerusalem (December) (3 days) Though I may skip Israel - I'd love to see the city but it makes me nervous.
Fly or other to Amman, Jordan for an Adventure Travel tour something like this one: Jordan & Egypt Adventure (2 weeks)
Fly from Cairo (end point of tour) to Kampala, Uganda (for Christmas?) (1 week) I'd also like to do some kind of safari tour thing, maybe like this one: Kenya Highlights (1-2 weeks)
Fly to Capetown, SA (January) (1 week)
Fly to Mumbai, India (24 days)
Fly out of somewhere else in India (Calcutta?) to Beijing, China. (February) I may want to do an organized tour of China too, like this one: The Road to Shanghai (24 days)
Fly or other to Vietnam (March) (1 week)
Overland to Laos (1 week)
Overland to Cambodia (1 week)
Overland to Thailand (April) (1 week)
Overland to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (3 days)
Overland to Singapore (3 days)
Fly to Tokyo, Japan (2 weeks in Japan)
Fly to San Francisco (beginning of May, hopefully staying with friends, for a rest - 5 days)
Fly to South America - probably Quito, Ecuador. I'll probably do an organized tour here, too. Something including the Inca Trail hike: Inca Adventure
General South America destinations: Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Argentina (or Chile). I've allotted 2 months for all of South America.

Home by about July 1, 2010.


R.I.P iPod Touch, Welcome Creative Zen Stone.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Let us bow our heads and mark the untimely passing of the beautiful iPod Touch. Touch, you were with us for such a short time – a mere 7 months – yet your sleek looks and remarkable screen resolution made you a treasured part of life. Your 16GB of flash memory for music and podcasts, your ability to store and view photos and videos, your quick and seamless integration with Gmail, and most of all your stunning web-browsing ability quickly made you indispensable. Who could have predicted that a short tumble onto the mat at the back door would cause such tragic damage?

And when you came to life after the accident, I still loved you – scars and all. You were damaged, but still functioning. I could live with your cosmetic flaws – you were my Touch. But alas, I could not know these were merely your death throes. The next morning your screen grew jumbled, and I held you in my hands as you sputtered out those last garbled flashes. And then, it was over. Rest in peace, Touch.

So yeah, I dropped my freakin' iPod Touch, and the screen cracked and it died. The DAY BEFORE I was due to leave town for ten days. And only 7 months after I paid almost $400 for it. I'm pretty crushed about this, especially in light of the “6 Things I'm Allowed to Spend Money on Rule”. A new iPod Touch definitely does NOT fall into any of the acceptable categories. This will be a true test.

To replace the iPod, I bought a Creative Zen Stone Plus (with speaker), a cumbersomely named but clever little device.

It's advantages are these:

  • It's bigger than an iPod Shuffle, but still really small.

  • Even though it's really small, it has a screen for keeping track of what's going on.

  • It doesn't require iTunes and can be loaded with a simple drag-and-drop interface that works fine with the Eee's Linux operating system.

  • It came with a silicone case and a belt clip, so it's already equipped for use while running

  • It has an FM radio, a microphone and recorder function, a clock and a stopwatch.

  • It's rechargeable and charges from a USB port, or from my existing AC iPod charger (which supports different voltages).

  • And best of all, the built-in speaker, though tiny, is remarkably functional, and will fill a small room.

It's disadvantages are:

  • You can load music in folders, but it won't support a complicated folder structure – all the folders on it appear in alphabetical order, regardless of how they're nested when they're loaded onto the device.

  • It plays files in alphabetical order, so if you want things to play in a specific order, you have to modify the file names accordingly.

  • As soon as you turn the device on, it starts playing whatever file was last selected.

  • The menus are annoying to navigate and not very intuitive.

  • The play/pause button is very small and inconveniently located.

  • The screen blanks out very quickly, so to play or pause a track you have to hit play/pause once to wake up the device and then again to actually do what you want

  • And, worst of all, the device doesn't seem to remember your place in a file if you navigate away from it. This is a huge problem when listening to audiobooks or podcasts, which make up the vast majority of what I listen to. In fact, this problem could be a deal-breaker.

What it comes down to is this: I love the speaker, but I hate hate hate the “go-back-to-the-beginning” problem. I'm now on the hunt for other options. Maybe I can find another non-iPod device with a speaker, and without the reset problem. Or maybe I should take a lower-end iPod (a new iPod Touch would just beg to be stolen). I suspect I could find an appropriate Linux-based substitute for iTunes, in which case I could stick with the Linux operating system, which is my preference. I could couple this with the tiniest external speaker I could find, though this is adding more devices to carry, charge and lose. More research is required and suggestions are welcome.