A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.

"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Fix your shit man!

[An attempt to ghostwrite a ranting blog post with Ron about the horrid state of affairs in hostels, guesthouses, and shitholes all over the world.]

Why is it that everything everywhere is totally screwed up? (Or maybe I should say un-screwed up) Nothing works and is falling apart wherever I go or stay, so I’m constantly repairing other people’s shit. Of course, I never thought to bring any tools along on this trip. Big mistake. I ask myself over and over why I didn’t pack that Leatherman 831102 Super Tool-300 Multitool. (A shameless plug to Amazon where we get 4% of your purchase.)

Or the better question is why can’t these owners spend a few minutes - or weeks, cuz it’s going to take that long due to their neglect - fixing their shit?!

First, you walk up four flights of stairs to your room, either because there is no elevator, or everything is so dilapidated it is certainly a death trap. Each stair is a different height like you’re in a fun house. Not all different, mind you. The first eight or so are equal height and then the last is a half stair so you trip and unexpectedly lose your balance. What kind of ku-ku brain is building these places? Don’t they know to measure twice, and cut once?

Then I’m handed a skeleton key. What is this - 18th century technology? Once we got locked inside our room in Africa and had to slide the key under the door to the manager to get out. God forbid there is a fire. If the lock is not an ancient relic, it is a cheapo Chinese-made padlock: real high security. But apparently, there is a deep historical tradition of padlocks in China. Inevitably the light bulb is blown out over the door so it 15 minutes of fumbling around to even get inside.

Inside the room there are at least twenty light switches, half don’t do anything, half go to lights in a purely random fashion all over the room, or perhaps to something in next room. The light switch that isn’t labeled rings the front desk, so then someone shows up with whom you can’t communicate with. WTF?

The lighting is invariably a single energy saving florescent light that casts an unnatural hue on everything and everybody, making an already depressing room feel like a cross between an insane asylum and a prison cell. Never let yourself get excited by the bedside lamp, it doesn’t work. Face the fact that when it gets dark, you won’t do any reading in bed unless you use your Black Diamond Icon Headlamp (Cha-ching!)

Electrical outlets are inconveniently placed halfway to the ceiling, way too high to actually plug anything in. That is, if you even dare to plug in your Pink iPod Nano (Double cha-ching!) or other prized possessions. The electrical outlet holes are the definition of sketchy, and so worn out you have to use duct tape to fasten anything you might want to plug-in. Then there are always exposed wires of some sort that dangle threateningly from the ceiling, sometimes sticking out of an old water heater looming above your head in the shower! An electrician’s nightmare.

There is no such thing as a right sized curtain. It is too short, either lengthwise or longwise. Or it is too sheer, so we are on display like a zoo exhibit. The windows themselves are paper thin and useless to block out any sound - not the cows mooing, not the locals speaking at shout level, and certainly not the Call to Prayer blaring at 3:45am.

The switch for the A/C or the hot shower or both are outside or potentially in someone else’s room. You won’t realize this until you are naked, however, and have to call down for assistance from the front desk to get a little hot water. Often the A/C units are hooked into some scary voltage adapter that would cheerfully electrocute you. I got a 240 Volt zap while taking a shower in India, I went to turn off the hot water and as soon as I touched the knob…POW!

The TV is probably from the 1980’s with an average diagonal size of 13”. A far cry from our Samsung 58" Plasma(Quadruple cha-ching!) Although, at least it’s in color, there will be only three channels you can tune in. One is a serious religious prayer of some flavor, one is a disorienting frenzy of high-pitched singing and choreographed dancing that would make perfect sense on acid, and one has a great American movie on - OMIGOD! …But then you slowly realize that its sub-titled in Arabic and all the good parts are censored out anyway. You reach for the remote, but the remote never works so don’t even try.

Paint is most likely slopped on out of a bucket onto the walls with ill regard for the boundaries of trim, ceilings, or floors. It appears as if the concept of using a roller has not been invented in other parts of the world. The implement of choice is a broom of some sort that makes the finishes more careless and amateur than a blind man painting. My cat can paint better!

There are dust mites and bed bugs and future vaccines growing in the corners, waiting to be discovered. That’s if you are lucky. If you are unlucky you have cockroaches the size of circus peanuts crawling on your feet in the bathroom.

Now, don’t even get me started on the bathrooms!

You can’t even get through the doorway without incident, rusty nails sticking out of the wooden threshold to give you Tetanus followed by a trip up or tumble down the step into the bathroom.

If the shower works at all, you have a one percent chance of hot water; that is, if you remembered to call down twenty minutes in advance. The bathroom, or what is more accurately called the shower room, is essentially a showerhead positioned in the middle of the room over the bare floor and drain. Usually this is where the toilet sits so if you’re really into multitasking it’s great! The nozzle, although aiming down, will spray out sideways or trickle out in a low flow or in tiny spikes that feel like low levels of electrical current. The showerhead hose is at least forty years old and most likely you will have to hold the slimy implement while showering because the hook for it is broken.

The sink leaks on the floor. The hot and cold levers never work, or are backwards. The knob can be so hard to turn that when you finally force it on, the water sprays out of the sink onto your shirt. Forget about the sink stoppers, they never provide one, and even though we brought two different sizes with us the sink will never stay stopped up. This makes the hand-washing of laundry really fun. One minute after you fill the sink, you return to find your clothes stuck to the inside: damp and poised for escape over the edge. A completely sub-par wash job for clothes so stinky they need submersion in high-octane tide for at least two hours.

All this means the bathroom floor is constantly wet all day and all night long, and therefore so is the floor of your room. There are no bathmats or extra towels provided. You are win-the-lottery-lucky to get a towel in the first place, and then you must sacrifice it to dam up the damn bathroom floor.

The toilet seats are flimsy and made of some form of laminated cardboard. They have a tendency to just rip off, sometimes during mid-use. The toilet bowls themselves are ineffectually designed to make your daily business as smelly and disgusting as possible. Either, the water level is ridiculously low or there is a shelf in the toilet to catch the kids instead of dropping them off at the pool. Why, I implore you, why?!

After you’ve perched uncomfortably on the broken toilet seat and are on the verge of blacking out from your own foul fumes, you reach around and find the flusher doesn’t work. Of course not. That would imply that one thing in this fucking room works! Better get a bucket of water, placed inconveniently four feet away.

I mean, I know this ain’t the Ritz and I’m paying like ten bucks a night for this room, but FIX YOUR SHIT MAN!


Sunday, May 2, 2010

RTW Trip Cost

We traveled to 62 cities in 18 countries over 277 days. We spent a month preparing for the trip and a month or two in transition (read: recovery) after the trip. You may argue, we are still in major limbo. But Ron, bless his heart, has been gainfully employed for two months, where I’m still floating around not yet ready to come down.

A frequent question is: how much did we spend in a year of travels?

Bear in mind we are more Flashpackers than Backpackers. That is, we are not 20-year-old college students on summer vacation and we didn’t work our way around the world. We worked professional jobs and saved our nickels and dimes for several years. We stayed in budget rooms but not at the bottom-of-the-barrel establishments. We traveled cheaply, and overland where possible, but we didn’t hitchhike or ride on the roof of buses or in pick-ups full of chickens. We ate frugally, but we didn’t always eat street food. And the hallmark of the Flashpacker - we brought all sorts of techno gadgets: cameras, ipods, and a laptop.

Health Insurance: $1240
We were insured with IMG Global Patriot Travel Insurance which cost $310 per person for six months of travel coverage. We had a 1M policy with a $500 deductible and all the usual travel insurance benefits like emergency medical evacuation. Even with our scooter accident in Thailand, we didn't hit our deductible, so we didn't file any claims. Overall, we were happy with our coverage and more than happy that we did not need to use our coverage.

Medications/Vaccines: $2424
Before our trip, we loaded up on all the CDC recommended medications and vaccines. I spent five times as much money as Ron in this category due to my shoddy insurance coverage with Blue Cross. I also needed a year supply of birth control which alone cost $345. The list of vaccines we got are outlined in the post All Shot Up

Supplies: $3478
Most of this was spent at REI and includes everything from: backpacks, shoulder bags, cameras, clothes, shoes, sandals, water filters, books, a little netbook laptop, and even the world map we tacked to the wall and put pins in and dreamt about our trip, at the time was but a dream. For a full list, see our post What We Packed.

Moving/Storage: $4753
The move with Corrib Moving was $700 with all the supplies and the tip. Door to Door storage cost $280/month for 4 cubes of storage with extra insurance. Even though we downsized a fair amount, I guess we had a lot of stuff! For more details, see the post Packin it Up.

Daily Budget Europe: $10822
The daily budget includes room, food, drink, local transportation, and sightseeing. Our daily budget in Europe was $100/day, but we ended up at an average of $119/day for the 13 weeks we were in Europe. It is really challenging to live on the cheap in Europe. The most costly was the room which easily took up more than half the daily budget. I would highly recommend CouchSurfing to save money and meet local people.

Daily Budget Elsewhere: $10007
Our daily budget everywhere else (Ghana, India, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam) was $50/day, but we averaged $55/day over six months. We tried to keep it cheap but you have to splurge every once in awhile on a good meal, a nicer guesthouse, or a beachside massage.

Daily Budget US: $5000
Most of this expense occurred the month before we left. I had hefty rent and bills on a San Francisco loft totaling over 3k. The remaining was for daily living expenses when we returned to the US in March, luckily to the loving arms and paid-for abodes of our families.

Transportation: $9916
This covered all visas and major transportation between countries, mainly flights and trains. We bought tickets as we went instead of buying a RTW Ticket which we debated for some time. In the end, we had far more flexibility and even saved money because our trip was cut short. But if I had to do it all again, I may have opted for the RTW Ticket. Sometimes too much flexibility is a bad thing.

Special Events: $2226
This was our slush fund and a critical part of the budget. If you get too close to counting your pennies every day, you can forget you are on a once-in-a-lifetime trip and have to live a little. This funded epic luxuries like: a Buddhist Thangka painting, a party in Paris, a romantic hotel room in Venice, an under-the-table gift for Salomey, a two-week Annapurna Trek, and a cruise in Halong Bay.

And the unexpected pitfalls like: being scammed in Istanbul and our scooter crash in Thailand.

GRAND TOTAL: $49,866

I have two emotions when I consider this number. First, I'm amazed at how much money that is! Um, that's a down payment on a house! But then I realize that I would have spent that same amount of money living in SF over the same year. And think about how much we did, how much we saw, and how much we experienced. It is a year we will never forget. A year that has changed us, evolved us, and opened us up to ourselves, each other, and the world. That, I believe, is what MasterCard calls "priceless".

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