Everything must go!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"Pay no attention to the sticker price! Make us an offer! The longer you stay, the less you pay! YOU WILL NOT LEAVE EMPTY HANDED!"

Here's what the email to my local friends and coworkers said:

What: Garage Sale to sell lots of Pam's Stuff
When: Saturday, May 23rd, starting at 9:00am (please oh please oh please let it be a nice day because, uncharacteristically, I have no back-up plan)
Where: XXX Xxxxxxxx Avenue.
Why: Because I've sold my house and quit my job and I'm leaving for a year long trip around the world at the end of May. My house is 850 square feet, my storage space is 75 square feet, and traveling is expensive. You do the math.
I spent most of my free time last week sorting through every box, shelf, closet, drawer, trunk and cupboard I've got. I was doing ok for the first few days because I started at the top of the house - the bedroom. That was pretty simple. Then the spare room and the living room - lots of books to sort, but I found that the faster you make the decision, the easier it is. In fact, the more stuff you mentally "let go" the easier it becomes.

Then it was the basement, and after a night or two it was like the entire history of my life had exploded down there. I kept opening boxes and unearthing essays from university, packed alongside my Brownie handbook and Lego, and a cookie tin of broken crayolas that smelled like childhood, and a crest from my elementary school and a box of multi-sided dice from my geekier days*, and boxes of cards and letters from forgotten friends, work colleagues and family. It was overwhelming.

Thankfully, friends came over Friday night to help me price stuff, kibutz, put up signs, bully me into having a "Free" box, drink beer, and generally help me get through it all. Then they came back at an unGodly hour Saturday morning to haul dusty junk out of the basement, set up tables they'd brought over, and get everything out into the yard.

The morning of the sale. (Not pictured: the Housewares Department, Tools and Hardware, Women's Clothing, Sporting Goods, or the Library on the Mezzanine Level)

Upon viewing the amount of stuff crammed into my back yard one friend said "How did you fit that all in your house?" The sad thing is that, post-sale, there's almost no difference in what the place looks like, which makes me wonder why I had all that stuff to begin with. It's cliche, but purging like this really is kind of liberating.

The sale was fun, though sometimes discouraging. There busy were times, and times when we sat around waiting. The best was when friends came by, and lots and lots of them did, so it ended up being part garage sale and part reunion and part good bye. One friend even brought our whole running group through while they were out on their long run!

I think lots of people spent more than they would have at an "ordinary" garage sale, and I want them all to know that I appreciate that very much. Some bought $15 worth of stuff and then didn't take the change from a twenty. Some carted away so much crap it almost didn't fit in their cars. Some came and bought a few things and then stuck around all afternoon to help clean up at the end.

It's also nice to think that lots of my stuff went to people I know and care about. Now when I look back I can think, "Oh yes, I remember that chop saw... C. has that now." Or, "It's nice that D. took the whole series of Bruce Alexander books." Or, "That was a great breadmaker**. I hope E. actually figures out how it works."

There was even a pizza delivery guy who stopped in while on a delivery and carted away a giant oil painting done by my grandmother. I feel bad about letting it go, but it was one of her earlier works and I have many, many others. Also, the guy who bought it (while someone's pizza was congealing on his front seat) pronounced it "wicked". Or maybe it was "awesome". Or possibly "sweeeeeet." Something flattering, anyways.

By mid-afternoon we'd managed to move all of the "big ticket" items, and pack up everything else. We took two loads of stuff to Value Village and a half-dozen Venetian blinds went to the ReStore. The day before I would have been crushed to have some of those things hauled away with nothing to show for it, but after 8 hours in the sun I just wanted it all GONE.

(And a word of advice for your next garage-sale: DO NOT sell your Dollar Store bag of assorted coin rollers in the garage sale, and then try to roll all the coins you accumulated at your garage sale.)

I also have to say really, really huge thanks to everyone who helped. Karen, Steve, Natalie, Dwayne, Jackie, Laurie, Marilyn, Adam... you guys made it easy and fun. It will be hard to say good bye.

And now it's done and I'm over one more hurdle. Next, I've got a few days to get everything that's left packed up and into a storage space. I've spent my last sunny Sunday in this house, and I can't believe how soon it's all going to be over.

Or, more importantly, how soon it's all going to start.

* I was going to write "geek days" as if they were behind me forever, but really, do you ever leave that behind? And what's the saving throw on a plate of bad sushi in Kyoto? I'd look if up, but I just sold my DM's Guide.

** Dear Mom: Yes, the bread maker. And the dustbuster. And the iron. Thank you for them all. They gave me faithful service, but it was time. Now they will buy me an extra few beers or entrance to a museum or a new guide book. They are the gifts that keep on giving.

Volun-tourism, Part Four

Friday, May 22, 2009

We've had house-building, dolphin-counting and farm-tending. The (probably) last volunteering option that I've given some thought to is based in the town of Luang Prabang, in Laos. It's another program run by Global Vision International (they're the dolphin people), here's the rundown:

Enjoy the amazing culture and traditions of Laos, the “Land of a Million Elephants”, teaching novice Buddhist monks and community members in the Royal City of Luang Prabang, a city of silent saffron robed monks and ancient monasteries on the mighty Mekong River.

In Laos, many rural boys move to urban areas to ordain as Buddhist monks for low-cost living and for the opportunity of an education. As a GVI volunteer, you will teach English – the most popular subject – to the monks at Wat Siphoutthabat School in Luang Prabang, helping the school’s few staff to provide their students with an excellent education. Volunteers will have time off at weekends to explore the local area and can take a boat trip up the Mekong to the Pak Ou Caves, swim in the Khuang Si Waterfalls, watch the sunset from the top of Mount Phu Si, take a tour of the night market, raft, trek or even take an elephant tour
When I first started investigating volunteer opportunities, it seemed like every other one was something to do with teaching English abroad. That must be the most popular activity for people who want to work overseas. Magazines like Verge have tons of ads for different agencies promising opportunities to "teach and travel", and frequently run articles on topics like "Choosing a TESL* Course". Despite the plethora of opportunities, I wasn't wild about this idea - I was much more interested in a hands-on project like the house-building or farming.

However, this particular program caught my attention. I find the location very appealing; as I mentioned in my TTNY post about Laos, I'm keen on the whole country, and on Luang Prabang in particular. The opportunity to go there for an extended period and really become part of the community sounds great.

Also, my travel itinerary right now has me in Laos in April, which is the hot season (yuck), but also when the Laos New Year's Festival is held, and I think it would be very cool to be in Luang Prabang at that time, especially if I were there as something more than just a tourist.

The nitty gritty details also sound good. Instead of camping on a beach, or living with a local family, volunteers are provided with a private room in a guesthouse (it even has electricity, so take that Dolphin Camp!). And 2 weeks of the program costs $1,190USD, which is cheaper than the electrically-challenged dolphins or the curried worms. 4 weeks in Luang Prabang would be a bargain at $1,590 USD.

Other bonuses? Lunch break is from 11:15m to 1:30 pm! That's enough time to eat, blog and nap!

What are the down sides? You may have noticed that all of the "pluses" I listed above don't have anything to do with the actual volunteer work. That's because I think I'd rather help build a school for the novice monks than teach in one. I also don't have any experience teaching English, though they say that's not required, and that native English speakers are in desperate need.
TEFL qualifications or experience are helpful (as is any previous experience of English teaching), but not necessarily essential as you will be provided with basic training and support during your stay.
Still, I can't help but feel this may not be playing to my strengths. Those of you who know me, please chime in with your opinion on this. I first bookmarked this project quite a while ago, and at the time I remember being really keen about it. Now that I've revisited it to write this post, I have some doubts. I'd love to hear what others think.

* TESL stands for Teaching English as a Second Language, which normally refers to teaching non-English speakers in an English-speaking environment (like Canada). This is distinct from TEFL, Teaching English as a Foreign Language, which would be teaching non-English speakers in a non-English-speaking environment. Both these would fall under the umbrella of TESOL, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. **

** Not that you cared.

Packing it in

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

This weekend I did two things that have been on my list for a while. I tried packing all my trip gear into the Tom Bihn Aeronaut, and I took the fully loaded Aeronaut (which I've now started to refer to in my head simply as "Tom") for a jaunt around town, on foot and by public transit. The result was somewhat discouraging and very revealing. For those of you who want the Coles Notes version, here are my conclusions:

  1. I want room for more stuff.
  2. I want to carry less stuff.
Me and Tom and my Boston Marathon jacket, at the bus stop. (A self-portrait)

The Stats:

Approximate weight: 25lbs - 3 lbs over the 10kg. limit for most carry-on.
Approximate dimensions: 25" x 15" x 10" - about 1" too big in all dimensions, due to bulging.

Some thoughts on the packing:

I am very grateful that Tom Bihn makes a high quality product. Heavy duty construction and good zippers are essential when you're cramming a year's worth of stuff into 2700 cubic inches.

Not surprisingly, shoes are an issue. I wore my traveling yak-leather shoes and packed my running shoes and my new sandals in the bottom end pocket of the Aeronaut, and it's a squeeze. I don't know what I'll do when I want to wear the sandals and pack the Yaks.

I also had to repackage my Malarone prescription, because when I picked it up it came in FIFTEEN boxes, with twelve blister-packed tablets per box, taking up about 12" x 5" x 2.5" of space. Luckily, the pharmacist provided me with a giant pill bottle, properly labeled, so on Friday night I popped all 180 tablets out of their shiny foil and dumped them in the bottle. Much better.

Dear GlaxoSmithKline: Seriously?

I did some triage on my first aid kit (heh heh... get it? Triage... first aid... heh...). I abandoned about half the bandaids and Pepto Bismol tablets, some antiseptic swabs, and the crash scissors. I also put everything into a zippy pouch that's flatter than the much swishier but slightly more bulky zippy pouch most of the stuff came in. Also, why do OTC drugs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen and dimenhydrinate (Gravol) come with 24 tablets in a bottle big enough to hold 100 tablets? And would I get into trouble at border crossings if I repackaged them into smaller, unlabeled containers?

Other items that may be on the chopping block:
  • bathing suit (Could I just wear a pair running shorts and running bra?)
  • extra running/sleeping shirt (I have 3 technical t-shirts and 1 sleeveless t. That may have to be enough.)
  • extra running/sleeping shorts (Though I haven't yet figure out how to wash and dry these overnight and still have something to wear to maintain basic decency in a hostel.)
  • the Absolute Shoulder Strap (The backpack straps are unquestionably the most comfortable way to carry a fully loaded Aeronaut, which means the strap would likely only be used for:)
  • the Convertible Packing Cube / Shoulder Bag (I love it dearly, but it may be extraneous.)
I've also decided on a new daypack. Astute GSRED readers may remember that my first pick for a traveling daypack was the Rick Steves Civita. The Civita has the advantage of being super light and packable, but its big disadvantage is its complete lack of structure (referred to by the GSRED Product Testing Division as E.F.Q. "Extreme Floppiness Quotient"). It's also not even remotely waterproof.

Instead I've decided on this pack, from MEC. It's a hydration pack, which will make it great when I'm doing long runs (or on long camel treks in the desert!), but also functions well as a daypack. It's smaller than the Civita (13 litres, as opposed to about 20), but I think I prefer that. Also, the interior sleeve for the hydration bladder fits the Eee PC perfectly, it has a chest strap and removable waist straps, a good number of compartments, and some structure. (I'll just have to get over the fact that it's called the "Petite Fille". Yeesh.) The problem is that all those extra features mean that it doesn't pack up nearly as tightly as the ole' Civita. Despite going through about 47 packing permutations this weekend, this is still causing some consternation.

Some thoughts on wandering around with fully loaded pack:

I walked a few blocks to the bus stop and made my way down to the Exchange District where I enjoyed an unsecured wifi network and a tasty but very sloppy veggie burger. (Seriously, they should serve that thing with a bath towel because I almost needed a shower to get all the vegan creamy salsa off. I think I still have some in my eyebrows.)

I also spent some time at MEC. I hauled the Aeronaut up to an empty bench in a corner of the upper level, along with various sizes of small zippy pouches. Then I proceeded to unpack a thousand tiny bits of miscellaneous gear to try and organize them more efficiently for easier, tighter packing. I was only mildly successful, but very grateful that the sales person didn't mind me sitting there amid a pile of pill bottles, adapters, chargers, cables, toothpaste, sink stoppers and other travel effluvia, cursing softly and occasionally resting my face in my hands and sobbing quietly.

As for actually carrying the bag, the first few blocks were fine. The first hour was ok, but 25 lbs was hefty to swing around, especially when getting the pack on and off. I can't imagine how people travel around the world with 30 or 40 or 50 lb packs. By the time I was hiking to the bus stop for the return trip, my shoulders were sore and all I wanted to do was go home. Then I realized the next time I do this there will be no home to go to.

This time next year - May 15

Friday, May 15, 2009

The last TTNY destination we looked at was Laos; today we're in Malaysia! Specifically, the capital city Kuala Lumpur, referred to by locals and cool kids as "KL". Kuala Lumpur apparently means "muddy estuary" in Malay, befitting its start as a small tin-mining town in 1857. KL has now grown into a metropolitan area of more than 6.5 million people, and Wikitravel reports that it's home to "the world's cheapest 5-star hotels", which sounds great to me, since I'll be coming from about 40 days in southeast Asia where I suspect most of my accommodations will be cheap but rustic. I only plan to be in Kuala Lumpur for a few days, so maybe I'll splurge on one of those 5-star hotels, which can apparently be had for a mere $80/night or so.

Because I'll probably only be in KL for a short time, there are just two main things I want to do while I'm there: I want to see the Petronas Towers, and I want to hash.

The Petronas Twin Towers exceeded the Sears Tower as the tallest buildings in the world in 1998, rising to a height of 1482 feet (including the spires). In 2004 they were topped by Taipei 101, but they're still plenty tall, and definitely worth a visit, especially for someone with an already-professed interest in big engineering projects.

Here is a cool website that gives an interactive 360° view from the base of the towers.

One of the most interesting parts of the towers (other than their immense tallness) is the Skybridge that links the two towers together at the 41st and 42nd level. It's free for the public to visit the Skybridge, though you're required to get a ticket to do so, and they recommend you line up early to get the ticket since they only issue 1700 passes every day. I haven't been able to find out if it's possible to go to the top of either of the towers, which seems kind of odd. Taipei 101 boasts indoor and outdoor observatories as high as the 91st floor, and the Sears Tower Skydeck is on the 103rd floor. It seems bizarre that someone would design the world's tallest building and then not add a way for the public to go to the top. Of course there are other ways to get to the top...

As for hashing in KL - astute readers of Go See Run Eat Drink may remember that Kuala Lumpur is the place where the Hash House Harriers were founded, in 1938. So really, how could I travel in the area without paying a visit to the Mother Hash? Their website may be plain, but they're currently posting information for Run # 3410! To put that in perspective, the Winnipeg Hash House Harriers are about the celebrate Run # 400.

In addition to the Mother Hash, about 15 other hashes for KL are listed in the Directory at the World Hash House Harriers Home Page. Because the original "Hash House" was the Royal Selangor Club Chambers in KL (given its alliterative nickname due to its unimaginative fare) I'm also interested in the Royal Selangor Club HHH, which actually runs from that original Hash House.

The Petaling HHH also have a nice website and they seem to be quite active, but I worry that it might be hard to get to where their runs start. Petaling looks like a western suburb of KL, and as such it might be challenging for a public-transit-riding hasher to access. Also, the Petaling HHH website lists this ominous message in its "Announcements" section, alongside a note about guest fees (RM35), and a request to keep kids away from the Beer Truck:

There are still lots of Dengue outbreaks, so always wear mosquito repellent.
Of course there is no vaccine for Dengue fever, so even Nurse Judy can't help with this one. Luckily, it's rarely fatal, and recovery usually occurs in a few weeks. I suppose this is not much different than West Nile Virus, so a hardy DEET-loving Winnipeger like me should have no problem.

A weekend in Fargo, by the numbers

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

1 minivan. 7 hashers. 3 kinds of chips. 7 passports with amusing photos and never-before-revealed middle names. 1 contraband banana. 3 rude songs. 12 pumpkin ginger spice Krispy Kreme donut holes. 1 stop at the Duty Free Shop. 3 pairs of running shoes delivered to a very shady US mail drop, and 1 breakfast burrito with an attitude.

120 minutes in to a 3 day adventure. 358 kilometres from Winnipeg to Fargo.

45 seconds spent at the hotel dropping off gear. 73 wrong turns trying to get to the Fargodome. 73 "recalculating" breaks taken by the GPS unit. 5 half marathon and 2 full marathon race kits successfully retrieved. 3 GU packs bought for the race. 1 really really big truck, parked outside the Fargodome for no apparent reason.

4 cross-border shoppers itching to hit the stores. 1 nascent world traveler who's been out of the retail game for a long time. 2 boys along for the ride. 90 minutes at the mall. $130.95 USD for 1 Skype headset, 1 2GB micro SDHC card with USB adapter, 1 package of PDA/digital camera screen protectors, and 1 pair of Keen's sandals. 4 "things to get" crossed off the list. 1 run to the liquor store for 12 cans of American beer, 2 bottles of $3.00 wine and 1 bottle of premixed mojitos.

1 fresh driver. 1 more battle with the GPS unit. 7 plates of pasta and accompanying local delicacy, eaten by 7 friends in the company of 500 other runners and 1 annoying announcer. Hundreds of kids streaming across the finish line. 1 trip to the grocery store for race day breakfast items, including 3 bananas, 6 tubs of yogurt, 4 bagels, 2 mini blocks of cream cheese, 1 mango and 1 bag of Nutter Butters.

6 hours of fitful sleep. 1 wakeup call requesting up-to-date weather conditions from anxious fellow runners without internet access. 1 degree above zero. Bib number 952, attached with 4 safety pins. 7 pre-race shots of mojito, shared among 7 true hashers, at 6:30am.

0 wrong turns on the way to the Fargodome for the 3rd time in 19 hours. 2 hugs from friends before heading out for 5 minutes of warm-up running heading south. 1 anxious moment wondering whether 1 long sleeved shirt + 1 short sleeved shirt is too much clothing. 5 minutes of warm-up running heading north into 10km/hr winds. 1 anxious moment wondering whether 1 long sleeved shirt + 1 short sleeved shirt is enough clothing. 4 quick sprints before heading to the start line. 2 national anthems. 1 realization that we're really not in Canada anymore upon viewing 3 armed forces veterans saluting during the Star Spangled Banner. 1 blessing of the runners. 1 starting gun.

8 minutes and 24 seconds per mile for 26.2 miles with hopes of finishing in 3 hours and 40 minutes. 3 miles to get on pace while dodging 2,459,928,492 runners who started too quickly and got in the way of faster or more experienced racers. 1 vanilla Gu at 6 miles. 1:49:21 at 13.1 miles. 1 chocolate Gu at 16 miles. 1 nasty stitch in the side at 17 miles. 1 marathon bond formed with a total stranger at 22 miles. 4 very long miles to the finish. 1 run into the Fargodome after 3 hours, 44 minutes and 31 seconds of running. 2 cheering friends, and 1 very sweaty hug from a former total stranger. 1 personal best not achieved, but 1 hard-earned medal gained.

1 bottle of water, 1 slice of pizza, 2 more Nutter Butters, 1 can of fizzy orange drink.

30 minutes of stretching while attempts are made to locate 1 errant marathoner. 10 more minutes of stretching after errant marathoner is located in the massage area enjoying a well-deserved break after posting a new personal best. 7 medals displayed in 1 photo:

1 hot shower. 1 cold beer. 8 slices of bacon on a 6" BLT sub. 1 more shopping trip. $196.99 USD spent on 1 sleeping bag and 1 self-inflating mattress for 23 days of overland camping in Africa, and 1 pin-on compass for orienting world travelers to local maps. 3 more "things to get" got.

2 hours to nap before supper and sangria with 6 friends. 1 rude song performed for 0 other patrons of a Greek restaurant.

7 people in 1 hotel room with only 5 places to sit, sharing 2 more bottles of $3 wine and 2 more bags of chips. 11:00pm bed time.

40 minutes to wait for a table at IHOP on Mother's Day.

2 cups of decaf, 2 eggs, 2 strips of bacon, 2 sausages and 2 Nutella/banana crepes with strawberries and whipped cream.

127 kilometres from Fargo to Grand Forks. 6 people waiting for 1 shopper to emerge from a Gordman's fitting room. 4 cans of Boddington's from Happy Harry's Bottle Shop.

126 kilometres from Grand Forks to the Pembina border crossing. $1,100 worth of exemptions from tax for 7 people gone for more than 48 hours. 1 last stop for cheap gas and American candy bars.

112.5 kilometres from Pembina to Winnipeg. 10 minutes to sort out 1 vanload of running gear, shopping and empty bags of chips.

2 more hugs. 1 empty house to come home to. 2 loads of laundry.

1 realization that I'm leaving behind these 6 good friends in 24 days. 1 long moment of doubt.

And 1 damned good weekend.

The State of the Union, May 8th

Friday, May 8, 2009

Phew. I've got about 37 days to go, and it seems like the list of thing to do is getting longer instead of shorter. I know from experience that this is how it goes - the closer you get to the completion of a project, the more detailed the items become, and the longer the list gets. Now, instead of a general note to "get stuff", I've got a few exact things I'm still looking for (though I'm happy to report I've found The Shirt). Some day soon things will settle down. For now, here's a rundown of the current state of the Go See Run Eat Drink enterprise:

The House:

As I mentioned, the house is sold! Having that off my list of things to do has been a huge relief; I didn't realize how much time and mental energy it was taking. Now I have to deal with the lawyer stuff of transferring ownership, but that's relatively simple. Also, I haven't packed a thing yet. I'm actually a bit stymied on how to start, and it's depressing living in a place that's half-packed, so I've been procrastinating. I'm not sure how to go about separating things into "Keep and Store" piles and "Sell at Garage Sale" piles. And I'm really worried that even after the garage sale is over and the "Keep and Store" pile is complete there will be a lot of stuff leftover.

Other lawyer stuff:

I figured since I was seeing the lawyer anyways, I might as well go ahead and get a will drawn up, since I don't have one. I'm also having Power of Attorney papers done too, just in case anything needs to be dealt with back home while I'm away.


If you're reading this hot-off-the-press on Friday morning, I'm probably crammed in a minivan with 6 friends heading for the bright lights of Fargo, North Dakota. I'll be running a full Marathon on Saturday morning, hoping for a 3:35 finish, but (I think) resigned to the idea that my training and fitness might not be up to the task. I'll report back about how it all went next week. I'm looking forward to the weekend with friends, and after that I'm really really looking forward to NOT training for a marathon. There was a while in the previous few months when I was training hard, fixing up my house and very busy at work all at the same time. That was good planning.


The last big project at work is basically complete, and was celebrated with far too much scotch and an appropriate number of drunken "I'm gonna miss you"s. The New Guy starts after Victoria Day, and it looks like my last day of work will be May 29th. I'm looking forward to doing some shorter days leading up to that, because the list of things to do for the trip is now longer than the list of things to do at work.

Travel Preparations:

My UK Citizenship was approved! I'm now waiting for my UK passport to arrive, and getting nervous about the fact that it hasn't yet.

I did go ahead and pay the deposit on the "Taste of Russia" tour, and I've got the confirmation voucher from the Russian tour company. That's an exciting bit of paper - it's got official seals on it, and loads of Cyrillic lettering! Here's what "Pamela" looks like in Russian:As soon as I get back from Fargo, I'll be popping my passport, visa application, and a money order for $75 into a FedEx envelope and hoping the important bits get returned by the Consulate General of the Russian Federation before I leave town (they say it takes 10 days...).

I also paid the deposit on a 23 day overland tour of Africa! This is the one I had my heart set on, and I managed to jig around my schedule so that it works with everything, everywhere, and everyone else I've got going on. Even more exciting is the fact that a friend (from my hockey team) is going to join me for the first two weeks of the tour, which is FANTASTIC! (Thanks Laurie! We're going to Africa, baby!) Now I need to dig up a sleeping bag and a camping mattress of some kind. I may borrow a bag, but I think I'll splurge on a really good pad of some kind. 23 nights is a long time to be sleeping with a crappy piece of junk between me and the Serengeti. And Laurie has even offered to be my pack mule and bring my camping stuff with her when she flies in to Nairobi!


I have been approved as a SERVAS traveler, and I've got my official Letter of Introduction. I've also got host lists for Britain, Ireland, Denmark, Netherlands and Benelux. I'll have to get in touch with SERVAS coordinators in another country to request additional lists, because it's just not feasible for me to carry all the lists I'd need - some of them are quite thick. The lists themselves are interesting, and will take a lot of time to peruse. Each one has an introductory section with general information about the country, and then the list is broken into geographic sections. Each potential host is listed by name, along with a lot of details about location, notice required, contact information, gender, age, profession, interests, languages spoken, countries traveled to, blood type, traffic violations committed, and grade school attendance records. There's a lot to digest.

Booking a ticket:

No, I haven't booked a ticket yet, because I started to get seduced by a possible around-the-world ticket again, after spending some time at this site. I've already whiled away many hours investigating whether an RTW ticket is worth it for me, and I think I've been confirmed in my suspicion that it isn't, mostly because my itinerary doesn't work well with the rules that go along with RTW tickets. I may take some time to write a post about the whole process, to clarify my own thoughts, and come to a decision once and for all. And I guess I better do that soon. Somehow, that countdown clock is winding down much faster these days!

Still on the never-shrinking list:

- find storage space
- travel medical insurance
- confirm Jordan/Egypt tour
- renew driver's licence
- get international driver's licence
- renew and revise auto insurance for keeping car in storage
- find out charges for international transactions on Amex and (new!) Mastercard
- get small padlocks for luggage zippers
- sell more stuff on Kijiji
- build spreadsheet to track expenses while traveling
- pimp my day pack
- test packing and wandering about with loaded Aeronaut
- get sandals
- call credit card companies to tell them I'm leaving the country
- figure out how to back up the blog
- figure out offline Gmail for access to stuff when I'm not connected to the internet
- get an SD card for my new unlocked GSM phone
- book first hostel or SERVAS host for London
- make appointment for last round of Twinrix Hep A/B booster shot
- order Britrail and Eurail passes
- make up package of Africa stuff to leave with Laurie
- get my external hard drive loaded up with video content by savvy friends (JBJ, I'm talkin' to you!)
- assemble first aid kit
- scan every important form, piece of ID, or bit of paper
- organize and conduct giant garage sale
- get a Skype headset (recommendations?)

I'm in the home stretch now, and though there's still a lot to do, I feel like a lot of things are falling into place just as I'd hoped. The house sale, the UK citizenship, the African tour, even finding The Shirt. It's like this is really true, and that's pretty cool.

Another insiprational thought

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I first found this quote at a blog called "Wandering Why" which was a discovery mentioned in the comments on this post. The Wandering Why people found it in "a friend’s Peace Corps paperwork", but a little digging on Google revealed that it comes from a book called "Letters to My Son" by Kent Nerburn. Thank you to Google Books for letting me see the correct quote in context, by previewing Chapter 17, "Travel". (In fact, the whole chapter was great, though Google Books, quite properly, does not allow you to preview every page.)

That is why we need to travel. If we don't offer ourselves to the unknown, our senses dull. Our world becomes small and we lose our sense of wonder. Our eyes don't lift to the horizon; our ears don't hear the sounds around us. The edge is off our experience and we pass our days in a routine that is both comfortable and limiting. We wake up one day and find we have lost our dreams in order to protect our days.

Don't let yourself become one of those people. The fear of the unknown and lure of the comfortable will conspire to keep you from taking the chances the traveler has to take. But if you take them, you will never regret your choice. To be sure there will be moments of doubts when you stand alone, on a empty road in an icy rain or when you are ill with fever in a rented bed. But as the pains of the moment will come, so too will they fall away. In the end you will be much richer, so much stronger, so much clearer, so much happier and so much a better person that all the risk and hardship will seem like nothing compared to the knowledge you have gained.

As I get closer and closer to leaving behind everything familiar, saying good bye to friends and family, and putting myself out there alone, these are comforting and fortifying words.

Perhaps not so comforting is this "Traveler's Blessing", from the end of that chapter of "Letters to My Son":
"May you have warm shoes, a soft pillow and dry clothes."
Does this mean that everything beyond that should be considered luxury? If so, can I trade the soft pillow for a full stomach... or at least a beer?

Volun-tourism, Part Three

Friday, May 1, 2009

It's time to look at another volunteer opportunity that I'm considering. This one is based in India, working on a model farm in the Tamil Nadu region in the southern tip of India, not far from Sri Lanka. This program is offered by a company called Projects Abroad, which started in 1992 and has offices in New York and Toronto and a staff of 250 around the world. In 2008 alone, the company claims to have funneled 4,500 volunteers and $7,000,000 into less developed countries.

I'm interested in their Indian Eco-Development Project, which aims at promoting sustainable farming and environmental conservation in and around South Indian villages by teaching visiting local farmers sustainable techniques. The model farm is run by Projects Abroad volunteers who cultivate medicinal plants, maintain and sell the products of a vermicomposting system, and replant trees in deforested areas. Participants also go out to farms in the area to assist in implementing the techniques used on the project. Volunteers work about 6 hours a day, starting around 10:00am (Sweet!), and accommodations are with families in the area. Free time is on evenings and weekends.

In the evenings you can play cricket with local children, or take time to relax after a hard day’s work. On weekends you can meet up with the other volunteers based in India on our twice-monthly social events, or travel and explore the area with new Indian friends or some of the other volunteers on the project.
Though Projects Abroad seems to prefer that volunteers commit for a month or more, they do offer some two-week programs, and this conservation project is one of them. Also, unlike the other projects I've outlined so far, Projects Abroad has flexible start dates, meaning you can jump in to a project on any Sunday, stay for two weeks, or a month, or two months, and then move on. This is much more accommodating than most other volunteer projects I've looked in to.

The cost for a two -week placement is $1,995 CAD and includes all food, accommodation, comprehensive travel and medical insurance, airport transfers and support from the company's "expert staff at home and abroad". This is about the going rate for other volunteer work I've investigated, though it does include much more comprehensive insurance, and the ride to and from the airport.

I like this project for a few reasons - I've done some gardening myself, so I like the idea of promoting and learning more about sustainable growing techniques. I think it would be great to be able to settle in to a particular community in India as something more than just a tourist. And really, who wouldn't want to spend two weeks of their life vermicomposting?

Stay tuned for Volun-tourism, Part Four, and (maybe) an accompanying poll where you can cast your vote on what you think I should do. Houses? Dolphins? Worms? Or the last, mystery project?