A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Chloeah

How we did it

Travel tips and tricks for the budget-minded

This post is going to be all random bits, so I'm just going to dive right in.

Gina and I plan differently, so it only made sense that we planned different aspects of the trip. She researched the gear and products, as well as food and restaurants. I was more on the flights and accommodation end. We both researched what to do and see because that's the fun part!
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I have tried most of the price comparison websites out there for flight deals, and I always go back to the same system. I look up flight possibilities on Cheapoair.com as well as Skyscanner.com, and usually go with whatever is cheapest. Keep in mind that for budget airlines such as Tiger Air, Ryan Air, etc you will probably have to look up separately on their own sites. When using Cheapoair, you can also usually save anywhere from $20-60 by also looking it up on retailmenot.com and getting a coupon code.
We were lucky that our schedule was usually flexible, so we could jockey for the best flight price. Usually it's cheaper to fly in the beginning of the week, but always check because sometimes you just never know. I was surprised it was cheaper for us to fly closer to Christmas but maybe it was because there are many more flights available on those dates.
But in the interest of saving money we also opted for many long layovers and inconvenient flight times. It was worth it, because the more money we saved, the further we could go, but we had to remind ourselves of that every time we had to sleep in an airport.
Between the two of us we've flown many airlines, and our unanimous favorite is Emirates. The planes were new and clean and high end, and the staff was kind and efficient. The food was excellent and we always got warm towels. The Dutch airline KLM was also excellent. We flew budget airlines a few times and it's worth saving the money but irritating to pack your own food and deal with the other downgrades of flying budget.
Sometimes I had to get really creative with the flights. For example, the whole reason Vienna, Austria got added to the itinerary was because we saved hundreds of dollars by flying into Austria from Asia instead of into Zagreb, Croatia (our final destination). Know your geography! Vienna is only a four hour bus ride from Zagreb, and it was only $30. We saved a few hundred right there. And it was cheaper to fly back to the US via Istanbul, Turkey, so I had to backtrack and find a way from Zagreb to Istanbul. Flight times sucked but rather than choose a different Istanbul flight, we decided to fly out of Ljubliana, Slovenia, since we could get there super fast (aaaand cheap) on a bus from Zagreb.
And there's always a way to get to the airport via bus.
Cross -country buses were a better option than flights in South America. There's not much of a flight network and so they are expensive. We had to opt for that once due to time constraints but other than that we took buses everywhere. It was great though because the buses are super nice and they feed you a lot. Buses were less fancy but also very convenient in Southeast Asia and Europe. And you might remember our admiration for the Intercity bus pass system in New Zealand. But Australia was just too big. There were buses from major towns but flights were usually comparable price-wise and much faster.
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Normally I find the best prices on hotels.com, but hotels weren't usually in our budget, so I relied on hostelworld.com for reviews and bookings for budget accommodation. It has guest houses as well as hostels, and the reviews are almost always accurate. I wrote hostelworld an email though, because the type of wifi is not always accurately represented on their rating system. For example it can say it has "free wifi" even if that wifi is retracted to a ten foot radius around the front desk. This is a big deal when you're trying to blog as well as book other travel plans. Sometimes I cross-referenced the hostelworld reviews with those on tripadvisor.
Gina has used AirBnB a lot and never had any problems, but my one AirBnB experience was our weird night in the Sunshine Coast with Rebecca and I wasn't a huge fan. Hostelworld always had my back, and when I accidentally got double charged (through struggling with the website and connectivity issues), I didn't even have to contact them and they refunded the error within 48 hours. When I choose a property I weigh price against amenities (wifi, free breakfast, discounted tickets to stuff, etc) and location. Maybe a place costs more but you can make it up by not having to use transport. Or maybe you are worried about safety and want to be close to a particular area.

I always gravitate back to Tripadvisor when I'm researching what to do and see in a new place. If I know someone local or who has been to this destination before I for sure ask for insider tips, but when that's not available I always like Tripadvisor. As someone who has worked a lot in tourism though, if there are just a few horrible reviews, take those with a grain of salt. There might be two sides of the story or it might have just been a fluke. Tripadvisor reviews can be great for unexpected advice too, such as free museum days or tips on how best to get there.
I can be a bit....thorough....when I'm looking up things to do and see. I note opening times and possible lower priced admission days, and group things according to location as much as possible so we're not wasting time bouncing around. But other times you just want to explore, so we just pack some water and set off from the hostel with only a neighborhood in mind. It always depended on where we were touring and who we were with.
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When Gina researches food and restaurants she usually starts with Google, reading Buzzfeed, local blogs and websites about "best eats in ___ city." Airline magazines can be useful for that too. She would note the list of places, look them up later to see their affordability, and then we would plot me on a city map to see what was close to where we would be, and what was worth going out of our way for (Nutella milkshakes!). Sometimes the front desk of your accommodation has great advice, sometimes they just usher you towards a sister enterprise or a go-to tourist spot. We found that in Siem Reap, Cambodia, we were always directed towards a really touristy area that was basically Cambodian Bourbon Street, with burgers and stuff. That works for many people but it wasn't really what we were going for.
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Number 1 piece of budget advice: visit friends and family! Chances are, you know some people in some cool places, and being able to see a new place with someone who lives there is always cool. Plus you get to visit with them! And then maybe they can come visit you in return, and you can show off where you live. We were so, so fortunate to be welcomed into many home of family, old friends and new friends, and I truly hope some of them are able to visit us in the future so we can even begin to try to repay some of their kindness.

We walked. Everywhere. Because transport costs add up fast and walking is sightseeing in and of itself! Of course, sometimes it's just too far, so in those cases, investigate if there is a pass or something that might be able to save you money. However, depending on how long you will be in a place and how much you will use it, a pass is not always the cheapest option.
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Check out the tourist info center. It sounds cheesy but they know their shit, probably speak your language, and usually have coupons. Also their eatery advice tends to be unbiased. New Zealand was a pro at tourist information centers, and they wound up saving us a lot of time and money. Plus, free maps!

Sometimes it was hard but we had to restrict our eating out while in pricier countries. For example, Sydney had lots of awesome places we wanted to eat, but to balance this, we ate breakfast at home and packed a piece of fruit, then ate around 4 or 5 so it was sort of a lunch/dinner combo. Same applied to Austria and New Zealand. We often just bought groceries and cooked at the hostel. We also raided the free food bins at each hostel. You never know what you're going to find. But don't be too cheap, food is one of the best aspects of visiting a new place.
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We kept our shopping (and suitcase weight) down by focusing on certain items. I collect fridge magnets (because they are small and every place has them) and we both bought a piece of local art from each stop. These are usually not too expensive, are unique, and at some point I will have a wall of reminders from my travels. If this sounds good to you then I recommend buying a mailing tube. I had ours in my pack the whole trip and when we bought artwork it got rolled up and added to the tube. Photography was harder to keep flat. Markets are awesome places to buy local artwork, and front desks and tourist info centers always know about local markets.

Be careful in Asia (and possibly elsewhere) if a stranger tells you something is closed. It's almost always a scam to get you to go somewhere else. Sometimes people work in teams (men and women). So if a kind tuktuk driver (for example) asks if you need directions and tells you that particular place is closed, he/she can ask a seemingly random stranger, who will back them up. All of this is probably to steer you towards another attraction, restaurant, or just a fare. People tried this several times and we just smiled, thanked them, and walked away. And our original destination was always open.
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Be gentle with yourself. If possible, build in some time for jet lag, altitude adjustment, etc. Dont feel pressured to do things you don't want to do, such as party every night or extreme sports. It's your trip, so make the most of it. That being said, consider trying new things. Gina and I were very fortunate in that we have very similar tastes in what to do and see, but they are just different enough that we push each other to try new things.

And above all, roll with the punches. You can't plan out every little thing, and why would you want to? Travel is about discovering the new and the foreign, and stumbling your way through that can be just wonderful. And if things go wrong, try to keep your head because freaking out never helps.
If you have any tips or tricks of your own, please share them with us! We appreciate your company on this epic journey, It's been awesome and life-changing.

Posted by Chloeah 18:56 Archived in USA Comments (0)

What we packed

20 kilos and the kitchen sink

Greetings! This is the first post in response to the many questions about the details of our trip--questions such as what we packed, how we budgeted, how we plan, and other travel tips. Every trip is different, as is every traveler, so our advice and experiences might not help in every situation. And were going to try to stick to bits that might be less commonly known.
On the whole, we wound up packing quite accurately for our trip. There was very little we brought that we didn't use, or that we wished we had packed. That being said, there are a few small changes I would make if I were to do it over again.
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Backpacks:
Gina's pack was 70 liters and mine was 85. Mine was perhaps a bit large in that it always came dangerously close to the airline weight limits, but it managed to get through okay. Gina's was an REI Osprey with a removable day back that detaches from the back, which was very handy in Peru. When we did the four day trek to Machu Picchu, we just used day packs and stored our bigger packs at the hostel. First I was using a North Face borrowed from a friend, but bought a new one in Australia. The North Face was quite heavy empty, and a bit unwieldy, but it held up like a champ. The new pack had wheels, and the backpack straps zippered out of the back whenever you needed to actually carry it on your back. I had debated about getting this style before we left and I should have just bought one from the get-go. My new one also had a removable day pack that zipped off the front, and while Gina's pack was more attractive, you just can't beat having wheels. But overall Gina loved her REI pack and recommends them. It held up really well through 27 flights worth of airline abuse, and anyways it has a lifetime guarantee.
One of my tried and true bits of travel advice is to not bring a carry-on when you start out. I always use a sturdy shoulder bag as a purse when I travel (cross-body is always a good idea both for hands-free convenience and to help deter theft) and so I just use this as my "personal item" on the flight out. Almost all airlines allow one carry-on and one personal item such as a purse or laptop. Then I have a foldable bag in my luggage, so that when I inevitably acquire something, any luggage overflow can be accommodated by this later carry-on. The same advice goes for expandable luggage. Don't expand before you leave, then you will have some wiggle room for your return. The foldable bag I had on this trip held up fantastically well, as was well worth the slightly high price. It was a backpack that folded up into a ball smaller than my first, and, to but it bluntly, that bag saw some shit. It got dragged through the Andes, stuffed into many overhead bins and under bus seats; it saw rain and snow and never tore and barely stained. It's a Sea to Summit and I definitely recommend them.
I've been through so many shoulder bags when traveling, so selecting one is a big deal. It's my one purse for the whole trip so it has to be multifunctional. This time I went with a Thirty One bag (the Retro Metro) and I was more than satisfied. I wish they had more colors and less goofy patterns, as I am just not a pattern person and thus selected a rather boring medium gray, but the gray also helped mask how much shit that bag went through. And interior zip pocket is a must, to help deter pickpockets (we are not moneybelt people, I find they make people into an obvious target as they reach up into their clothes for their cash), and the strap must be reinforced. What looks like a strong enough bag at JCPenny never turns out to be strong enough. And the opening must either zip or Velcro or, in this case, fold over to also help deter theft. If your bag looks like someone could just dip a hand inside, chances are, they will.
Packing cubes are totally worth it, especially if you're going to be on the move. We both had a set and it was so much faster to pack and unpack and get to the items you need when things are compartmentalized into little sections. Gina had almost all of her clothes in various packing cubes (hint: they're usually not actually cube shaped), while I had one for socks and underwear, one for miscellaneous stuff that would have otherwise floated around my pack too freely, and one small one for all of my cords and camera/electronic related stuff. So worth it.
Two locks, minimum. During travel I locked my big bag and one of the pockets on the detachable day pack (and put unimportant stuff in the other pocket). With two locks we could lock our big packs at the hostel during the day and still have a second lock to use on important items like electronics that we stored in the lockers. If there were no lockers then we did our best to lock everything to itself and make things difficult.
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Clothes:
Everyone knows to layer when packing light. It is one of the most often used pieces of travel advice I see. But here's a nuance that I hadn't considered before packing: I should have brought more over layers and less under layers.
When I think of layers I think of long sleeved shirts under short sleeved shirts, or Under Armor long underwear. There were two things slightly annoying about having gone that route. Firstly, you always look like you're going hiking. This is fine if you are in fact going hiking, (or tending garlic fields or climbing into a helicopter). But for general sightseeing or visiting with family and new friends I longed for something less, well, outdoorsy. And secondly, when you're out and about it's harder to remove a long-sleeved tshirt from under a tshirt than it is to simply remove a cardigan. And when dressing in layers if I was peeling off a layer I almost always wanted to ditch the long sleeved one and go down to a tshirt. So. If you are packing in layers, consider at least some light cardigans or zip up sweaters in your travel wardrobe.
Our Under Armour was indispensable. I had the black yoga pants (hello, 14 hour flights) and long underwear (top and bottoms) and Gina had long sleeved tees and running tights. The prices are reasonable when you realize the quality. And anything quick-dry is never amiss. We didn't often have access to dryers and when we did we were usually too cheap to use them.
Smartwool socks. Holy hell did we need wool socks most of the time. And the Smart Wool ones are easy to care for, don't smell like wool sometimes does and are thin enough to fit into any shoes. I wish I had brought exclusively Smart Wool.
Hiking pants. Useful not just for hiking but also for our various volunteer projects. I don't like the zip-off kind that turn into shorts but I did buy the ones that roll up and button into capris and this came in handy in Thailand. Eddie Bauer pants didn't hold a candle to Columbia in terms of wear and care. The Columbia ones went through more shit and look like I just bought them, the Eddie Bauer ones started to pill on the first day and took days to dry.
Quality rain jacket, preferably one that folds down as small as possible yet is stylish enough that you won't feel self conscious in a modern city or eclectic crowd. Read reviews! Waterproof labels don't always mean it actually holds up to real rain, and water resistant never does. If your trip necessitates a rain jacket, then water resistant just won't cut it. And what's the point in packing it if it's not going to do its job? I find the best rain jackets at hunting/camping stores. Big pockets are a plus, for your wallet or camera or whatever. A hood is necessary.
If you're staying anywhere on the cheap end, flip flops are worth it. You will need them for the showers, trust us. And they can double as beach wear if need be.
Gina brought hiking shoes, I brought hiking boots with a rather low ankle. Both were Merrells, and we were hugely satisfied. Mine looked brand new until elephant bath time in the river, and if I wash them in Oxyclean I'm sure they'll look new again. We made our choices so that they were good for hiking but could also be worn around town without looking too out of place. A professional fitting is super worth it (thanks Bivouac in Ann Arbor!).
Sturdy but cute was what we aimed for pretty much all around. The brands that really came through were Banana Republic tshirts, Victoria's Secret Pink brand underwear, North Face fleece, Under Armour everything, Marmot rain jacket, Toms shoes, Merrell footwear, and Columbia pants. We had some clothing items that performed in a so-so manner, but the let downs were Calvin Klein tshirts, REI coat (not water proof), Guide Series rain jacket (says it was waterproof, it wasn't), and Eddie Bauer shirts and pants (wore down really quickly).
We both brought simpler stuff that could all be mixed and matched, with no big logos or anything that would single us out as American. You can never been too careful, and we were traveling to observe other cultures, not to try and show off. Jewelry was next to nothing (we always wound up buying cute stuff along the way anyways) and shoes have to be sensible or you're screwed. I only had three pairs: hiking boots, Toms, and flip flops. The only time this was an issue was when trying to dress for the Sydney Opera House. Consider bringing a scarf to be a bit better dressed when you want to be and yet still utilize your simpler layers underneath. Plus if you bring a scarf that is stylish yet warm, it's multipurpose.
Know what kinds of activities you will be doing and pack accordingly. I know you probably want to be cute but when space is limited things really need to earn a spot in your luggage. Gina brought a dress that she wound up ditching because she just didn't have enough occasions to wear it to justify carrying it around.
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Personal care:
K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple Stupid. Especially in you're going on a long, multi-destination trip like ours, you're not going to need much makeup or fancy stuff. Embrace your natural face, and get used to being greasy haired now and then. It's not the end of the world. I had a wide headband scarf thing that helped with this in our dirtier situations. I didn't even really use the travel bottle of dry shampoo I had. Gina swears by Bare Essentials makeup for all situations. And prepare for breakouts because your body, no matter how old, will be going through some hard times and it might show up on your face when you're least prepared. It's just not worth trying to bring hair styling tools. Hair dryers shouldn't run through a converter and most heat tools shouldn't. If I stay in one place a long time I just buy tools there so I don't have to worry about outlets and currencies.
We shared most of our toiletries and many of our miscellaneous items to save space (why two toothpastes or two shampoos?). The only thing I hoarded was shark week supplies before we left for Asia, because I didn't know what to expect at the stores and that's just not an area I felt like experimenting with at this juncture. So I bought enough tampons in New Zealand to get me through Asia and onto Europe. It was worth it.
Bring bandaids. It sounds so summer camp but I always need them and I also wind up giving some away to other travelers who weren't prepared. Also bring whatever medications you might need according to where you are traveling. We weren't sure if we were going to India, but we brought anti-malarials just in case. We brought anti-diarrhea meds that were over the counter as well as prescription, as well as Advil and antibiotic cream. Adam gave us Paw Paw ointment which was lovely for cuts, burns, bites, and pretty much everything you can think of. If you see some for sale, get it. It's in a red tube. Bottom line with regards to medications: be prepared. You don't want to waste time and possible agony trying to get some in a foreign country when you probably won't even feel like getting out of bed. I hope you won't need them but if you do, you're better off having some on hand.
I was able to use one Thai salt crystal deodorant the whole trip and it isn't even all gone yet. Salt crystal is a natural deodorant and it was very small in my toiletry bag. Plus when I packed it in my carry-on for flights it didn't count as a liquid or gel.
Speaking of which, a toiletry bag deserves careful consideration. I always get one that hangs, won't leak if there is spillage, and has clear pockets so I can see my shit. Mine doesn't have a brand written on it but I've had it for like ten years now and it's doing just fine. I've had some in the last where they tear or zippers break, so many bags out there are crap. And one of the money-saving rules is not having to buy things twice, even if you pay a bit more for quality (hello, clothing section above).
We brought a small thing of powdered laundry detergent but didn't wind up using it much. The hostels that had laundry facilities always had some available.
Towels! This won't apply to you hotel folks, but for anyone roughing it or staying in hostels, your own towel is a must. Since those are bulky and unexciting, we wholly recommend a quick-dry travel towel. That being said, don't get a travel size! Most come in several sizes, and you're probably going to want one that can at least wrap around you, or be good for laying out on at the beach. Multi-functional, remember? Check ratings if you can. Gina bought a towel at the last minute and it wound up being a bigger thorn in her side than one would think, since it was small and wasn't truly quick-dry, yet I was a happy camper with my larger, faster drying towel that she had given me for Christmas.
Again, know your trip ahead of time. Most situations will call for sunscreen, but many won't need bug spray. Maybe your trip is beach heavy and you might need two towels, or you might need more meds than usual.
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Miscellaneous:
One of the best pieces of packing advice we received was from Gina's friend and former landlady Taylor. She recommended that we being a compact portable harddrive with some of our favorite movies on it. Strange, right? But sometimes you get homesick, or are in such foreign surroundings all day that you just need a bit of solitude and familiarity at the end of the day, and your favorite movies are a great way to that. Plus, in our case, we had many insanely long bus rides and layovers to burn through. So thanks, Taylor, that was unusual packing advice that was quite lovely. Incidentally, if you're using one with an Apple device make sure they are compatible. We had to get a wireless harddrive and install the app for it on my iPad.
Gina bought a nice camera for the trip, but she mostly had her iPhone for pictures. I tend to take more pictures and I just had my pocket camera. In retrospect, my iPhone takes better pictures so I wish I had just cleared it and brought it, even though I wouldn't have been able to use it as a phone internationally. It would have been simpler to take pictures with and share them to my iPad, and it would have been useful to have in wifi situations. As it was I was glad I at least had a spare battery for my camera so I didn't have to worry too much about he one running out during the day. But if I only had my iPhone then I wouldn't have needed the multi-region travel adaptor, which is the size of a large potato and didn't even work in Australia and New Zealand for some reason. I would have then only needed my Apple travel cord which has removeable heads on it that change the prongs according to your region. It converts too so you don't need to worry about hooking it up to a converter (for any travel rookies out there, adapters and converters are not the same and you will need to make sure both of these bases are covered or the fires of hell will quite literally reign down on you).
I bought my iPad before a previous extensive trip through Eastern Europe, and it was so worth it, then and now. I realize a lot of these recommendations are electronic, but these days it just seems necessary. We used Gina's phone a lot for maps (as well as photos), and the portable harddrive had my bank of photos during the trip as well as music Jane and Adam gave us and the movies we started with. And Gina had an iPad mini and I had a regular iPad and they are indispensable for a long trip. We used them as e-readers, for maps, blogging, games, Skype, photo storage, messaging and emailing home, etc. I wish I had ponied up the dough for the 64G though, because transferring my back log of photos to the harddrive all the time was a bitch.
We also had a portable battery (Anker brand, it worked quite nicely) which was also nice for those long bus rides, layovers, etc. completely worth it.
Scissors. This is one regular piece of Chloe travel advice. I always pack scissors (just small cosmetic scissors but they are bigger than nail scissors) and I always, always use them. And people always need to borrow them. Because you just never know.
A plastic grocery bag. I know! But we always use them for something random. Wet clothes, dirty shoes, smelly stuff, stuff that might leak... At one point we were hoarding them. But this is probably only for those of you roughing it or going through hostels.
A tide pen. Because you don't know when your next wash opportunity is going to be.
A reusable water bottle. These were more handy in countries with safe drinking water but still worth the space in our packs. We carry them empty through airport security and fill them up before we board, and usually carried them during sightseeing days as well as hiking or other outspdoorsy days. Budgeting means not spending money on drinks unless you have to.
A blank book. I always grab a blank journal before a big trip, and it's always indispensable. I write down directions and phone numbers as I need them, addresses of new friends, blogging ideas, new artists and music names, recipes, basically anything I don't want to forget. I don't carry my iPad around during the day so I copy all necessary information into the book. By the time the trip is over its all ratty and stuffed full of ticket stubs and dried flowers and it's wonderful. A cover pocket is a nice detail.

So those were our thoughts and opinions on packing, there will be another post on travel planning and general tips. If any of you have any ideas you think we'd like, please share them! We're always refining our game.
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So after all of that, here is what I packed in one 85L bag for 6.5 months, four continents, and all climates and activity types:

  • three tshirts, one tank top, one sweater (ditched), two long sleeved tops, three 3/4 sleeve tops and a set of long underwear
  • two pairs of hiking pants, one pair of yoga pants, one pair of plain cotton sleep pants, one cotton skirt and two pairs of jeans (one pair of hiking pants would have been fine)
  • ten pairs of socks and ten pairs of underwear, one sports bra and two regular bras (should have been two sports and one regular)
  • one waterproof light jacket, one rain jacket with hood, one thick fleece (I layered my outerwear rather than packing a coat)
  • one scarf, one swimsuit, one belt, one pair of gloves, a handkerchief and a wrap headband
  • one pair each of flip flops, hiking boots, and Toms shoes
  • electronics as listed above, plus requisite chargers and a wireless keyboard
  • foldable backpack, reusable water bottle, Lifestraw (didn't need) multi-vitamins, laundry detergent
  • meds as described above and toiletry bag. Unpersonal toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, sunscreen, contact solution, etc I split with Gina
  • blank book, copies of both of our passports and requisite visas

If it's a trip where I will be hauling my stuff around a lot, I pack in advance so I can test the weight. It all adds up fast in terms of weight and space. I advise that you don't pack anything you're very attached to in case something happens to it or you need to ditch it. Plus you'll most likely find cool stuff on your travels and you'll want room for that!
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Posted by Chloeah 16:36 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Kalamazoo: el fin del mundo

It's immensely satisfying to turn something from, "I always wanted to..." to, "that was fucking amazing."

overcast

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Well it's over.
4 continents, 9 countries, 26 flights, 6.5 months, or 197 days. Countless miles, innumerable adventures, and heaps of friends. We successfully circumnavigated the globe, finally skidding into Chicago's O'Hare airport three days before Christmas.
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Yes. It's weird to be back. I wake up at night and don't know where I am--something that never happened on the trip. It's weird to step back into your old life as if none of it ever happened. Especially since we feel as if we've been gone for about three years.
There are a few things we would do differently a second time around, but some stumbles were inevitable. But I also can't say that I would choose to erase the bad moments, because they always led towards great ones.
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For example, if we hadn't suffered through the Don of Mildura, then we wouldn't have fled to Port Macquarie to work at Beachside, which led to Jane. Closed doors, open windows, you know the drill. It's completely true.
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It is good to be back in many ways. It's nice to drive my car (on the right), snuggle my kitties, hang out with my loved ones and revel in the cozy familiar. It's nice not. To. Live. Out. Of. A. Backpack. It's not to have to switch languages and currencies every hour.
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Things I missed about the US:
-Peanut butter. The good stuff.
-Working, full-sized showers that don't require shoes or a bucket.
-Restaurant servers bringing you the check without you having to submit paperwork and a blood sample.
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But I already miss adventure. The thrill of discovery. I miss facing the world with my sister and plunging ahead.
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And we did alright, you know. We didn't kill each other. Oh, there were many moments of flared nostrils and high tempers, but she is 50% of my family, and she can't leave me behind. Mom would kill her. My sister is the only one I could have in my hair for 6 months without sending out on an ice floe. We shared everything from toothpaste to bank accounts, and now we have to face living on opposite ends of the country again.
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We speak a language only the other can translate, full of quotations and imitations, adages and private jokes.
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She is the only one who knows the hole our father left behind, and she is the only one who can fill it in my heart.
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And pardon my French, but we did a motherfucking number on our bucket lists. One's travel lust is never truly slaked, not if you are hardcore, but we slashed through our mental lists with shocking speed. I highly recommend it. It's immensely satisfying to turn something from, "I always wanted to..." to, "that was fucking amazing."
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One of the things I like most about travel is that with every trip, of whatever length/distance, the world gets a little bit smaller. It's like walking through a giant house and turning on the lights one by one. Now we have an idea of what life is like in Thailand, Cambodia, Australia, Argentina. We weren't able to scour each country, to be sure, but we have an idea. And that is wonderfully illuminating.
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We went to some very poor countries. We went went to some very wealthy countries. All of them had rich cultures and beautiful landscapes. All of them had homeless people and other social struggles. And all of them had beautiful, wonderful people who shared those cultures with us and helped us along.
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I have been asked many times what my favorite part of the trip was. You will understand that this is a very difficult question. It's hard to compare experiences. We saw so many scenes that were literally breathtaking, and did so many new things.
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New Zealand was the biggest surprise for me. I expected to like it but I had no idea I would be blown away. Each day got better and better, from the glow worm caves to Hobbiton to the Weta tour to Milford Sound. And Gina fulfilled her every expectation to love it. I loved Australia but I expected to love it. And the temples at Angkor in Cambodia were a great itinerary addition.
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The Mindfulness Project was the single most life changing experience of our trip though. Learning new things about myself and the world, as well as getting in touch with things I already knew was something I really needed at this point in my life. Paired with the simplicity of living in rural Thailand and the hugely diverse group of volunteers (and new friends) it was the recipe for a new me.
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But really, my "favorite" part of the whole trip was the people. I know, I know, slap me on the wrist for being cliché. But it's true. Santiago was more fun to discover with Anita. Bangkok felt safer with Tae. Australia wouldn't have been Australia without Jane and Adam, Rick and Jenny, or Rebecca.
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Getting to know our new Argentinean family was priceless, especially meeting Dad's friends and goddaughter. And don't even get me started on our Croatian family. We were ready to shred our tickets home and just entrench ourselves in Dalia's guest floor.
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Looking back, we had the good fortune of staying with locals in five of the nine countries. We learned to cook and to say thank you. We read history and observed popular culture. Over time these are the things that will surface when we reminisce about this trip. We won't remember the layovers, getting lost, being worn thin or the huge expense. We will remember Frano showing us how to crimp an empanada, off roading in the ute with Jane, sobbing on Carina's shoulder, watching Siniša drink champagne out of his son's championship cup.
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These memories will be set against a backdrop of New Zealand mountains, Peruvian jungle, Viennese monuments, and Patagonian fijords.
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Would I do it again? Of course. A hundred times over. Could I leave tomorrow? No. Money aside, I'm exhausted. An exhaustion that reaches down into my soul. My heart is wonderfully full and my memory bank is straining to contain it all. At least I will always have my sister, whom I can call up anytime and say, "do you remember...?"
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We will write one last post with travel and packing tips, as requested. But before I close this I would like to thank you for sticking with me. I know the writing wasn't always my best or the posts consistent, but if you're reading this then we made it around the world together and I appreciate that more than you can know. Thanks for joining us.
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Extra special thanks to Donna, Jane, Adam, the Katavić family, the Mirjanović family, Carina, Marisa, Anita and Belinda, Rick and Jenny, Angel, Jorge, Tae and family, Rebecca and family, everyone at the Mindfulness Project and in Surin, Mirjana and Mladen, Mirna, Federica and Max, Margherita, Jim, Stuart, and the loads of other smiling faces who made this trip beyond incredible. Thanks too for the support from back home, especially to Megan, Michelle, Karen, Ryan, Grandma, and our wonderful mother.
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Posted by Chloeah 17:36 Archived in USA Tagged del el fin mundo kalamazoo: Comments (1)

Champagne and cheese for everyone

Our final week of travel

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Our. Last. Week. Ending a long trip is rather like graduating from high school. No, it's exactly like graduating from high school. You spend so long coasting from fun event to fun event, meeting challenges and new friends, and then in one fell swoop it is over and you are left standing there in a bad outfit while people ask you what you are going to do with your life.
But first we had one more precious week with our Croatian cousins. Dalia drove us to a nearby village to see the Christmas lights, but I think I speak for both Gina and myself when I say we were not expecting this level of Christmas cheer.
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This is all just one guy's property here people. Maybe a few acres. He's been decorating at a serious level for about fifteen years, every year adding more and more lights, and it began to draw quite a bit of traffic from all over this part of Croatia.
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Then about five years ago his village started stepping up and pitching in for electricity, and a small admission fee was added to cover the parking attendants and clean up crew. There's now a small restaurant, souvenir shop, and lots of our favorite little Christmas market huts selling the usual brandy, honey, mulled wine and Holiday baubles.
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So Dalia, Gina and I had a wonderful girl-date, wandering around this enchanted forest. There was two or three santas and a snowman, and an inexplicable village of Smurfs, but really it was just a forest of lights, which was quite romantic. Could have used about three inches of snow though, and it would have looked even more spectacular.
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He even floats little lighted rafts on the pond! They drifted around with little penguins and polar bears on them, one even had a swan.
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We had a snack in the restaurant and cups of mulled wine, and it was a pretty awesome date overall.
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She also treated us to one last visit to Tomislav, who seemed relieved to *fix* us a little more. I must admit I do feel more like myself now.
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Dalia and Siniša threw a big party on Saturday. They were expecting thirty-odd people, but seriously downplayed the enormity of such a party. They're so casual that having thirty people over for a full dinner and drinks doesn't phase them at all. Dalia cooked for three days and only let us help with the addition of two more batches of cake pops (we have started quite a cake pop following) and two pavlovas. I chose the Aussie pavlova because more desserts here are quite heavy, and I thought this would be quite refreshing.
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It went over quite well. Everyone seemed to like them. It was shocking how much food Dalia produced though, and everything homemade except for the bread and cheese--she got one or two things from neighbors, such as sausage, but most of it was churned out of this solitary kitchen with frightening efficiency. She had lists, and lists of lists, and crossed off line items with the resolution of a military general. There was stuffed squid and turkey wrapped in bacon, stuffed pigs feet and goulash with gnocchi. I loved the pheasant risotto and French bread stuffed with sausage, and lasagna rolls with cheese and tiny mussels. There were cheese trays and sausage trays, a veal aspic with carrots and celery, a massive veggie tray with four kinds of handmade dips. There were potatoes and a huge bowl of fresh white cheese, carrot salad and thick sausages with sauerkraut. In addition to the pops and pavlovas there were Dalmatian cookies that were like little empanadas of ground nuts, Christmas honey cookies, and Dalmatian nougat with almonds.
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Siniša was in charge of drinks and running to the store every hour because we forgot something. They even make their own wine! And it's delicious! He brought huge jugs of it in red and white, along with pop, juice, and of course the Croatian staples of medica (med-EETZ-ah) and šljivovica (SHHLEE-voh-veet-zah), which are brandies made out of honey and plums. I like them, especially the honey one ("med" is honey in Croatian, and Croats love them some honey), but they are the sort of alcohol that strips your nasal passages and makes you forget what year it is. But they breeze through it like mother's milk.
There was also a single bottle of champagne, which everyone drank from Bruno's championship cup in celebration of his gold medal. Especially Siniša and Coach, who pounded down what was left.
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The party went on until four in the morning. So our last day was one of recovery, and when I tried to clean up Dalia batted me away like a pigeon. Now we have to pack, one final, back breaking time, and start the two day shit show to get home.

Posted by Chloeah 02:26 Archived in Croatia Comments (1)

Cush life in Croatia

DOILIES.

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Gina and I have assumed the lifestyle of lazy house cats. Which is quite nice really, as we are mentally exhausted from months of change and excitement. Plus Dalia just makes it so easy. If you sit down for more than two minutes she will ply you with drinks--cherry tea or cappuccino, etc., and always with a little doily on the saucer. A DOILY. The woman's got class. When I wrote my Dalmatian blog post for example, she parked me in the leather chair in front of a roaring fire, covered me in a fluffy crocheted blanket, and brought me Irish cream cappuccino on a doily and a little crystal cup of shortbread biscuits, all on a silver tray. I might never go home.
Then when you do shoehorn yourself out of the chair or off the big squishy couch, it's only to find her making Croatian fritule (like donut holes) from scratch or arranging Christmas center pieces out of real holly. Lose track of her and she might be decoupaging an entire set of advent candles in her room. Her greatest fear though is that you are hungry or cold. The other night Marta, Gina, Dalia and I were all hanging out and talking in the kitchen (it is the perfect kitchen for socializing, and built with this intention), and even though it was almost 10pm Dalia was suddenly struck by the thought that we might be hungry. "Are you hungry?? Do you want bread? Because we don't have bread, and the store is closed right now. But I can make some! It only takes twenty minutes; do you want me to make you some bread??"
Dalia! No I don't need you to hand make me some bread at ten o'clock at night. But bless your heart for offering, and good luck getting us out of your house, like ever.
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But she loves that we are crafty, and vice versa. She taught us how to arm knit, after a trip to the tiny local craft store. I picked out a very fluffy yarn of various shades of blue, and after I finished knitting it I held it up to my neck only to discover that this blue monster was eating my head. So I unraveled the whole thing and started again, opting for a narrower width before stitching the ends together into an infinity scarf. Dalia knitted a scarf for her mother out of soft white yarn, and then a second and even third before we could blink.
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Gina chose a narrower yarn of burnt orange, so she had to use several strands together since arm knitting creates a really open weave (by the way arm knitting is where you use your forearms to knit the yarn together instead of knitting needles) This required much concentration from both her and Dalia, who was summoned several times to untangle my sister from a confusion of burnt orange. So here is my suggestion for first time arm knitters: it's all in the yarn choice. Opt for something fluffy enough that you don't have to layer strands together, as this can get really confusing, but not so fluffy that your end product makes your head look like a cherry on top of a large pile of whipped cream. I am talking from experience here.
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We have been filling our days with small craft projects, reading and writing, and learning cooking tips from Dalia. She's a good Croatian to learn from as she knows and prefers the lighter style of Dalmatian cooking, but also knows all of the northern styles too. She's an expert at simple and fast recipes, but I have to take a lot of notes as most of her cooking is from memory and she rarely measures anything.
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We have reciprocated a bit by making them American style pancakes with bacon (they do have real Canadian maple syrup available here), and I gave Marta a lesson in cake pops. Cake pops are not a thing in Croatia but both Marta and Dalia had seen them a lot on Pinterest, and Marta had told me she had read the instructions but had never summoned the courage to try making them. I told her that recipes and instructions make cake pops seem a lot more complicated than they really are; I make them at work and really the principle is quite simple.
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So one Friday we made a white cake (boxed cake mix is actually preferred for cake pops but they don't use boxed cake mixes here, so we just googled a recipe for fluffy white cake), and when it was still warm we mixed in some Lino. Lino is like Croatian Nutella, and Marta chose the white one for our pops, which tastes a bit like nutty white chocolate. The next day we melted down white and dark chocolate bars in a double boiler (candy coating is also not available here, so I can see why cake pops aren't really a thing, as you really do need candy melts if you want to make colors etc. Nobody wants to bother with tempering chocolate just to dip cake pops) and dipped our pops (made on a bamboo skewers, cuz guess what it's hard to find white sucker sticks), and decorated them with various drizzles and sprinkles. Dalia loved them and now we are scheduled to make them for their party next week.
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That night we also played their Christmas game with Dalia and Marta. They construct a different handmade Christmas card every year as a family, and one year they invented a Christmas board game. It's adorable and demonic at the same time. Adorable because it's all hand drawn and really inventive, with things like "you ate too much rum cake, move backwards on your next three turns" and ”Rudolph is helping to light your way, jump forward two spaces."
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But it's demonic in that it is amusingly frustrating because if you land on one of the three grinch spaces towards the finish line, you have to go back to almost the halfway point.
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So naturally you land on these as much as possible. And if you "eat" another player by landing on their space, they have to move back to start or one of the two "tea houses" significantly further back in the game. So tensions get rather high...
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Dalia won, by a rather wide margin. It was quite some time before Gina came in second, and finally I landed third. You can see the roller coaster of emotions from the photos I think...
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Posted by Chloeah 04:59 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

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