Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Angkor Wat: Capstone of RUINED CITY WORLD TOUR 2016-17!!!

Jen at (I think) Banteay Srei

Angkor WHAT?!

Angkor Whatchutalkinbout Willis?

Okay, all right, it's the world's greatest tourist destination and a startling remnant of an empire which, as an American, I had never considered, been taught about or really (honestly) knew existed. It's a huge complex made entirely of fitted and piled stone (no mortar or grout) made over hundreds of years. It probably doesn't need a clever not clever pop-culture pun to justify it.

I think Angkor Wat in the morning looks like Hotel California

So here's some things about Angkor Wat:

  1. It's right outside the city if Siem Reap, which seems to exist primarily as a tourist gateway for the ruins. Were it not for the ruins, you wouldn't go to Siem Reap, as nice as it is. You're not dying to go to Battambang, are you? (Lonely Planet Headline: "There's really not all that much to do.")
  2. Jennifer was more excited to go to Angkor Wat than anywhere else on the planet.
  3. Angkor Wat is a very specific place in the ruin complex, but people also refer to the entire complex as Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is one wat (a wat is a temple), but there are many other buildings.
  4. The complex is very big and every surface has a bas relief on it. You could look at it forever.
  5. No matter how early you woke up, everyone else woke up earlier than you and is already there.
  6. You're probably to cheap to pay for a tour guide, rather than just a driver, so you will benefit from very little interpretation. Instead, you'll look at it and shake your head and be like "huh."
This is the road through Angkor Wat as the sun sets

So you've been reading our blog, wishing you had an RSS feed of it so you can read the next installment the minute it comes out! (True THRTW heads know if you read it right away you get the juicy typos and autocorrects that we don't find until the post is up a bit) So you know that your authors have visited many ancient ruined cities. There was Pompeii, Akrotiri, Knossos, Polonnawura, Dambulla, Sigiriya, Anuradhapura... probably more.  And so you're asking: "more? really? more ruined cities?"
I think this is Bayon from a distance

Believe me, Otis has asked this question many times before it ever occurred to you to ask.

I will admit that at some point the returns diminish. I am pretty done with ancient ruins at this point (I think Jen and Otis are too; we didn't see any in Thailand, and from what I hear, the Thais can ancient ruin with the best of them). I want to say that Angkor Wat was grander than anywhere else, but then I remember Sigariya; I want to say its bigger, but Anuradhapura was really big; it certainly isn't older, Knossos was destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed and lost before any of these other places had their first road. Angkor Wat was a good one to end on because what it had was the power to inspire joy and wonder and whimsy and exhaustion and more wonder (and more exhaustion) that extended well beyond the other stops on RUINED CITY WORLD TOUR 2016-17!!!
This is certainly Bayon up close

Maybe it's because the Angkor ruins are often in better shape, so you can see where they made columns so as to look like elephant trunks, or where they made the bridge's balustrade a series of charming Khmer warriors, or where serene faces rest atop pillars. Maybe it's because of the environment, because there's something relentlessly Indiana Jones about an ancient temple where a tree grew on a wall, was swallowed by a strangler fig, and then the fig grew into a gigantic tree whose roots reach down the wall and into the soil. Maybe it's because every surface seems to be covered with ornamentation that makes you think the artists were telling a story in stone - which they often were.
Of all the carved up temples, Banteay Srei is the most zadonga-zonga

I can't tell you what the various temples mean, or even in many cases which temples these were. The sites blend together and you can't easily recall whether you saw that amazing thing at the giant pyramid or at the temple. The whole, though, is remarkable.
Angkor Wat from the inside, off to the side, with miraculously few tourists to ruin the vista

I guess that in the mid 19th century, some French dude pulled a Captain Kirk (he boldly went where no one had gone before, and met a bunch of people who were already there) and "discovered" Angkor Wat. Going there now, with 2.1 million of your closest friends, it makes you think wonder what it was like for Monsieur Mouhot walking through the jungle and saying "Zut Alors! Sacré Bleu!" when you see this "lost" city rising out of the foliage. You get a very firm understanding of why the romance of the lost city in the jungle was the plot hook of so many pulp novels and cartoons and comic books and tv shows and movies. You wish you could have that sense of discovery to yourself. 
Banteay Srei as it's just about to pour, making the light beautiful. Banteay Srei is a long drive from Siem Reap and our poor tuk tuk driver really had a tough go of it in the bad weather on the way home. SO SORRY MR. MAB!!!
Here's some more things about Angkor Wat:
  1. We got a three day pass, which you have to have on you at all times, and lets you get a little sneak preview in if you go after 5pm the day before you really start. Going for that short period of time (they kick you out around 6) is really nice because the light starts to be in the golden hour. It makes everything look even more lovely.
  2. We got up at four (or some similarly unpleasant hour) to go watch the sun rise. WE WERE NOT THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO HAD THIS IDEA. It was a zoo. The sun rose behind some trees with absolutely no fanfare. It simply changed slowly from dark to light. We got some nice time in the morning golden hour, but this was not inherently better than the evening golden hour, so, eh, sleep in.
  3. We got caught in a rain storm and it killed my iPhone 5s. RIP iPhone 5s. 
  4. My advice is don't over-do it. It's always hot in Cambodia; it's not a contest; trim your sails.
  5. Look for some of the spots that are like the 9th most popular sites in Ankor Wat, they will still be incredible, but maybe there will be fewer people there to ruin the illusion of discovery. 
More Photos:
Angkor Wat sneak preview

Walking down a very steep and narrowly stepped pyramid, perhaps at Koh Ker?

Banteay Srei again

Jen looking fab

Jen and Otis posing for their folk music record cover

These places remain Buddhist holy sites (even where they were once Hindu or even Brahman holy sights), so they occasionally benefit from modern decoration

Otis takes in the culture (I think at Angkor Wat)

Another shot of Angkor Wat in the reflecting pools

Jen and Otis receive a blessing in Angkor Wat

I always keep my head on a swivel, you can't get complacent

Bayon is the number one place that would be more captivating if no one were there.

Stairway to heaven

This shrine was at the top of the pyramid

Jen keeps an eye out for booby traps at Ta Prohm

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

How Did We Do It? A Few Thoughts on Finances and Long Term Travel Sabbaticals

Money makes the world go round, also makes you go around the world

Jen here. It seems as if this type trip would be impossible for you to replicate, right? We have heard that regularly: "I could never do it." "We could never do that." Let me assure you that some iteration of a trip like this really isn't impossible for most of the folks reading this. Thousands of people are traveling long term, round the world as a family unit. So is there a lot of work and some luck in terms of right place/right time? Yes. Impossible? No. Maybe for you and your family it isn't the better part of a year, maybe it isn't multiple countries, maybe there is less air travel involved, maybe there are more or fewer people involved. And I am aware that there are large swaths of people who don't have the same resources. I suspect you are overestimating our resources (easy to do when we are posting beautiful pictures of amazing places, I get it). And full disclosure: we are not debt free, although we do not carry consumer debt. Some financial advocates/bloggers/planners would never thumbs up this trip based on the amount of student loan debt we have. With that said, we made a decision for our family to have this experience at this point in our lives, while we still were all together (university looms in less time than one might imagine) and have our health; as a consequence we will pay another year on our loans and lose out some on retirement this year. Seven months in, we can say it was beyond worth it. Onward.

From Encircled.ca
Lets Go!

Jobwise, you will have to figure things out for yourself, whether you can port your job, request a leave or simply leave. It is going to be subject to your individual situation. If you can figure out how to keep generating income on the road, all the better. I know many of our loyal blog readers have portable skills from yoga and dance teachers to writing/editing to consulting to nursing, vet tech or other professional skills. However, even though its a big subject, I want to put aside gainful employment for a bit and mention a few things that helped us launch: automating savings, living within our means and near paralysis by numbers analysis.

1. Automate
Automate your savings, simple as that. You all already know this and are perhaps doing this as we speak, but if not, know that you can set up an account within your bank/credit union, or if you want to make it more difficult for to access your savings, put it in a different bank. At home, savings builds modestly and generally doesn't get touched unless an emergency, like when we had to buy a new boiler last fall. Having an online account really helps. Believe me, I was not a born saver.

When we committed to the idea of this trip, I doubled down (nearly!) and autosaved as chunkily as I could. I was $800 short of my savings target for this trip when I boarded my flight to Italy in August, but along the way I got some birthday money and a settlement from Barbri so it evened out. And yes, should you be in the fortunate position to get money for holidays, birthdays or bar review settlements, stick that in your travel savings account. Be aggressive with trip saving. We hustled a number of side gigs throughout the spring to maintain our solvency this past spring which meant we didn't lose savings. It sucked at the time but we are glad that we did. We also eat a lot of lentil soup, which leads me to....

2. Live Within Your Means and Reduce Your Spending
Easier said than done, and believe me, I get it, having lived on some weepingly, ridiculously stressfully low non-profit salaries in some of the most expensive areas of the country since leaving my little hometown over half a lifetime ago. You all know about the latte factor, where you save up your money buy not buying a grande soy mocha frappacino every day. It is easy to scoff at the thought of such small savings but when you drive a fuel efficient car, skip your Starbucks (or equivalent) most days of the week, make a meal plan and grocery budget for the week (ditching the regular takeout)...these little dribs and drabs can add up. You all know that at this point I have embraced my thrifty Yankee heritage so I don't mind eating the aforementioned lentil soup three days in a row. Lentils are inexpensive and delicious as well as nutritious and versatile. Put your savings from your new legume lifestyle into that savings account earmarked "TRIP."

3. Know Your Numbers and Run Them Hard Until You've Exhausted Them (and Yourself)
This one is pretty personal, only you and your family know how much is coming in and how much is flowing out. But what if you subtracted costs like mortgage or rent, car loan, car maintenance, car insurance, parking, health insurance, commuting costs, power bill, cable bill, internet bill, kids' weekly and monthly activities and sports, gym memberships, the money you spend on impulse purchases...you see where I am going. In some instances you are going to replace these costs with on-the-road equivalents but you can start thinking. Add all of those things up.
Then, too, take your mortgage/rent and household expenses and divide by 31 to give a sense of what you spend daily to sleep under a roof with the creature comforts you've deemed necessary. On the coasts in particular, it is a pretty steep number. Start thinking about where you might want to go in the world and for how long. See how much homes like yours are renting for in your area (or, if you are a renter yourself, imagine not having to pay rent!). In most instances, you should be able to cover your mortgage by renting your house out. You should be able to sell your car with the knowledge that you can buy another one when you return -- you may just want to set that money aside right away for your new car upon your return, but you won't be paying for a car. You may want to sell your furniture and home goods. I can assure you that after living for months out of a suitcase you will be casting a dubious eye on a lot of your crap when (if!) you return. Depending on your personal situation and your local market, you may even want to sell your house. If you live in our area, use our fantastic realtor.
Look on Airbnb and Home Away, plugging in a month at a time to see what the costs of renting are looking like at your destinations. The 2 bedroom apartment in Dubrovnik we stayed in was just under $1600 for the month. Coming from metro NYC, that is not an expensive amount for monthly housing, and was significantly less than the mortgage we just ditched. But most importantly, we loved the location and getting to spend that time in the city. Look up the cost of travel insurance for the period of time you'd like to travel. Check out what travelers are saying about costs where you want to go. The slower you travel the less money you spend. Italy was our most expensive month, and we moved around a lot. In Sri Lanka, we moved around even more but it was much less expensive than doing so in Italy; however, we blew the budget by doing fun things like surfing, yoga, safaris and tours of ancient ruins. This leads me to an important point: budget enough money to have fun! You don't want to get to your destination(s) and always feel like you don't have the wherewithal to do the fun activities on offer there. And let me highlight for you: if you are traveling as a family, things will cost much more than if you are a solo backpacker or a couple. You will pay more for entrance fees, you will pay more for reliably safe places to stay in family friendly neighborhoods, you will learn that paying more for a place with a pool is always a good idea. You will not be sleeping in the el cheapo dodgy hostel dorm rooms (although I encourage you to check out private rooms in hostels). Alternatively, and we wish we had done this sooner while we were still in Europe, you can pony up the membership fee for housesitting websites. Doing a housesit will wipe out your need to pay for your roof for those days. And if you're in the fortunate position of not needing to cover your mortgage or you have a complicated companion animal situation, you can sign up to receive house sitter applications and screen for someone trustworthy to mind your place while you are traveling.
You also want to have a very significant cushion so that you can pay for your cat's oral surgery, your own healthcare bills at home and abroad, and many other things you just can't foresee. And remember how you sold a bunch of your stuff? Save some of your funds for that new couch, car or Crock Pot when you return.
Choose your target destinations based on what your own numbers look like and types of experiences you seek. Vienna is expensive! Chiang Mai is not! And there are a million in betweens. Again, these are very personal to each individual family but I want to reiterate how you can sit and do a little out of the box thinking (ok maybe a lot of out of the box thinking) and suddenly (well maybe not suddenly) find yourself snorkeling in the Maldives.

The Long and Winding Road

It needs to be emphasized that long term travel is really, truly not for everyone. The idea of leaving the familiar behind for the unfamiliar is not comfortable. It can be challenging, lonely and frustrating. You miss sharing holidays, birthdays, hugs, smiles, laughter, cares and concerns. Things inevitably go wrong, you get tired of wearing the same clothing again and again, you get travel fatigue, you long for the familiar, you lose stuff.

There will be some.

But you gain so much, whether you are scratching your own wanderlust itch or hoping to help instill it in others.

Other, far better resources abound online on this subject, I'm just planting seeds. 

In Kuala Lumpur at Petronas Towers...
(and from top of Petronas Towers)

Ready for canyoning in Croatia

Trekking Plitvice National Park

At Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital in Bangkok

Tip of Borneo, Malaysia

On safari, Sri Lanka
Amalfi, Italy
Railay, Thailand

Oia, Santorini
Elafonissi Beach, Crete
Ferry to Maafushi, Maldives
Snorkeling trip, Maldives
Chiang Mai, Thailand

Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur
National Mosque, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Angkor Wat at sunset

Angkor Wat at sunrise

Chinese New Year decorations in Bangkok

Stand up paddleboarding in Ljubljana, Slovenia
Elephant Nature Park, Thailand

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Travel Gear: Must Haves and Wastes of Space

A picture of Ubud, Bali, Indonesia taken with our new Olympus mirrorless camera

By Jen, Chris & Otis

Here, each of us reviews our favorite travel things, and reveal those things we could have lived without:

  1. KINDLE!!! Mine is a loaner and my pal Busy Mom Kimya gave me a tutorial on how to use it and get books from our public library for which I am forever grateful. I'd be lost without it. Thanks to Tony P.'s kind lending and Busy Mom Kimya's lesson, I have read over 60 books in the last 7 months.
  2. Chrysalis Cardi -- I use this garment all the time as a scarf and a dress; a review will be forthcoming
    Jen using her Chrysalis Cardi as a scarf-shawl-blanket
  3. Water bottle. We all get headaches and cranky if we don't stay hydrated.
  4. Facial sunscreen and my Target hat. We have been in more sun than ever before and I like to stay as pale as possible because I have enough sun damage, thank you very much.

    Jen in her Target hat, wearing facial sunscreen and carrying a Chico bag at Pompeii, Italy
  5. Jade travel yoga mat + DoYogaWithMe.com I don't always do yoga but especially after long travel days this combo is hard to beat.
  6. My tiny makeup palette which somehow was lost when someone who wasn't me packed the bathroom somewhere in Thailand or Malaysia; my fault for not doublechecking. So annoying. Only eyeliner from here on out.
  7. My luggage set up -- Otis and I travel with similar roll aboard sized luggage sets (mine is an Osprey Meridian 22") They are suitcases that can transform into backpacks and have daypacks that zip off. Even on low cost carrier Air Asia we have been successful in bringing our suitcases on board (we got dinged for weight once but it while Chris was on crutches and looking harried so they took pity on him). We have found them to be a great size and the zip off pack is the best. I'll add that I am really happy with my set of packing cubes -- they are a winning combo especially with the suitcase's compression straps! Look for a fully formed review on our luggage choices soon.
    Jen with her Osprey and Otis with his REI adventure suitcases
  8. Lara bars. I have one hideous one left "for emergency" that Mom brought over. I think that time was in Borneo actually.
  9. Wizard Cards. Our friends gave this game to us a couple of summers ago and we have gotten through hours and hours playing this game. We also use them as regular playing cards with the specialty cards removed from the deck.
  10. My MacBook Air, which is my employer's property. I have been able to work around the globe. I am a big fan of babying electronic devices and it makes me happy to tote this magic machine around in its snug little sleeve in the padded compartment my Osprey zip off daypack. 
  11. Our Chico bags. They hold a lot, smoosh down small and we put them through paces. We lost our yellow one and replaced it with a larger green striped one that Chris now uses as his carry on.
    At KLIAA with our green striped Chico bag carryon, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

  1. I accidentally ordered and packed a year's supply of contact lenses. The fact that I did this is a strong indicator that I was stressed out at the end of July because that is not the kind of mis-planning I do (I do other kinds though). Since I wear my glasses most of the time, this is an incredible waste of space but also not anything I want to discard; I have missed multiple opportunities to send them back the U.S. So these are some well traveled little plastic discs.
  2. I had my mom bring watercolors, art pens and postcards. Since Chris is a gifted artist I had visions of the three of us having little art lessons from him in picturesque locations around the globe. I didn't really factor in the lure of Pokemon Go, Slither.io and an RSS feed; even a good book seems to be more compelling to my travelmates. Chris has painted exactly two postcards, Otis and I zero.
  3. Cool weather clothing. Not actually a waste of space during those cool fall moments but we probably should have shipped a few weather things back home or donated them.
  4. I got a new RFID blocking travel wallet. I have only used it a few times. It isn't that I don't like it, its just that I don't really use it.

  1. Uniqlo AIRism Mesh underwear and t-shirts. They dry quickly, don't hold moisture, let air though nicely, are inexpensive, and pack easily. Jen hates the shirts with a passion heretofore not previously unleashed.
  2. The travel & outdoor shorts I already reviewed here
  3. Apple MacBook. We purchased this new before leaving. It is very small and light and is closer to iPad size than MacBook size. It has a beautiful screen which is big for the size of the computer. I am very disappointed with the keyboard which has a tendency to get gummed up by normal use and we are forever chasing after our space bar which has come off. 
  4. Osprey Atmos AG backpack. Its terrific though I think I would get the smaller, 50L version. It carries weight well, fits nicely and has a suspension system that keeps it away from your body. It is light and has clever storage features.Look for a fuller review on our luggage review post.
  5. Target socks. These are the higher end of Target socks and are smll to pack, dry quickly and don't have obnoxious seams.
  6. My iPhone 5s until recently. My phone got wet in a rain storm in Sri Lanka and recently gave up the ghost. I would recommend an iPhone 7 for travel (because of its water resistance) although I will probably get an iPhone SE when we get to Australia and try to keep it dry. I like the flat sides of the previous model which are still available in the SE; the iPhone 6, 6s and 7 are like trying to hold a bar of soap!
  7. RHA S500i earphones. I love this little Scottish company's earphones. They are inexpensive, well made and sound great. Their warranty is 3 years and hassle free. Someday when I'm rich I'll get their well regarded T10i (or even 750i!) but until the, the S500i is good enough for me!
  8. Spy Helm sunglasses when these were new, they were light and tough and their lenses were glorious. Unfortunately, they're not new anymore, and have been through a lot (including falling out of a full-speed tuktuk). They've gone from top ten to waste of space :(
    Spy Helm sunglasses in Ao Nang, Thailand
  9. Kindle Paperwhite. A new purchase for this trip -- it costs a small amount relative to how much you'd pay for all the books we have read. You save a lot of money and space with this. Don't pay extra to get rid of the ads, the ads are not annoying.
    Using the kindle as a post election balm in Negombo, Sri Lanka
  10. Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II. Have you noticed a recent uptick in our photo quality? This has capabilities of an SLR but since iti s a mirror camera is much smaller. You can replace lenses in a range from hobbyist to pro; I think this is the best mix of capability, size and price that there is. The E-M5 is weatherproof but costs a bit more but I didn't lay out the extra money. This was a Christmas gift from my aunt and uncle that we didn't purchase until we were in Kota Kinabalu so only our most recent photos are taken with it. 

  1. Warm clothing of every kind. The amount of time we have wanted it has been much less than the amount of time we've carried it. 
  2. Any clothing that is not travel clothing. I have found that it is better to have clothing designed for the outdoors and/or quick drying than say, Gap pants. You can also go swimming in it.
  3. Current backpack combo. As mentioned above, I would get a smaller travel backpack and a larger day pack. 
  4. Malaria medicine. We didn't take this, but it was good to have if we had decided to.
  5. Jen's contact lenses.

  1. My shoes. I can't get around without them.
  2. Dada's phone, iPod Touch and our computer. I got the iPod touch at a raffle, my great aunt helped us get our computer and Dada got his phone by switching with my grandmother. The computer is still alive and well except for the space bar situation. The iPod touch I accidentally swam with in the Maldives so it doesn't work now. My dad's phone got left out in the rain and now doesn't work. Also my Kindle. I can read on it and we don't have much room for books.
    Otis working on the MacBook while getting a foot massage from his football
  3. NY Giants Football. It is fun to play with and I have played with it in many countries. A monkey stole it the other day in Ubud and bit a hole it which popped it but it is still working.
  4. Roma soccer ball. We got this in Rome but lost it in Croatia.
  5. The water bottles. They give us water so thats good.
  6. Cat t-shirt. It is a shirt with a cat on it that I can wear and it looks awesome. 
    Otis in his cat t-shirt at Knossos, Crete, Greece
  7. Cats of Kotor t-shirt. Basically the same reason, it was nice to know the names of cats in different languages. This shirt is lost.
  8. Meowrica t-shirt. Same reason as the others.
  9. Cat pouch/purse thing. Meme and Grandpa got this for me. It is a good place to keep money besides my pockets because when I do the money goes through the laundry and falls out and I forget about it. And of course it has a cat on it.
  10. Notebooks. Most of them my parents bought for me because they thought I needed more. I use them for different purposes including planning a cat cafe, drawing, doing artwork and schoolwork.

  1. The paper books we brought besides the Dungeons and Dragons stuff.
  2. My slides. (He means his shoes, which he loved until they were played out)