Archive for the 'Finances' Category
Saturday, December 6, 2008
We have quickly given up on Easter Island’s cuisine. It is bland, unimaginative, and grossly overpriced, the latter which is explained by the island’s remote location. (I did learn, however, that most locals tend their own gardens, which explains the terrible vegetable situation in the grocery store: I’m just relieved to know that no one is going to die of scurvy.) Most menus offer fish, chicken, and beef, and each dish is accompanied by the exact same sauce and sides. We typically like to hang out in local restaurants, but there aren’t any. Because of food costs, most islanders eat at home; therefore, nearly everything is a tourist-oriented restaurant. Bummer.
As someone who enjoys experiencing a place through its food, the whole situation is a travesty. I’d be happy to throw my pesos at a worthwhile meal, but rather than fighting the situation, we’ve decided to go the cheapest route possible. And we’ve managed to ferret out the one place in town where locals seem to congregate: the hot dog wagon. (For some inexplicable reason, Latin Americans love eating food out of mobile units.) I’m not what you’d call a hot dog person. In fact, I eat approximately one hot dog a year, usually at the annual Isotopes baseball game. I know they’re supposed to be gross, comprised of all sorts of iffy animal parts (my vegan friend, Nikki, is dying right now), but believe me when I say that the Chileans have elevated the hot dog to new heights with the invention of the completo. The completo is basically a dog piled high with all the crap you can imagine: chunks of fresh tomato, a generous smear of guacamole, squiggly lines of mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard.
We stumbled on the hot dog wagon – if it has a name, I don’t know it – one night, when it was entirely too late to be eating and I was grumbling about the price to quality ratio of the local fare. A little corner, lined with three wagons like you might find in a carnival, glowed warmly in the twilight. A group of colorful plastic chairs and tables was scattered under a grove of shady trees, packed with obvious locals, and when I saw a banner declaring “Completos” on one wagon, I was sold. Not only are they the busiest place in town, but the proprietress is super friendly, and the handmade pineapple and guava juices are out of this world at an unbeatable price. Maybe that’s why I look so completely delighted in this photo (the proprietress insisted that the turtle pose with me)? We’ve been back twice, officially ending my once-a-year-hot-dog embargo.
Next we’re keen to visit the lady who sells grilled food at Anakena Beach. Given the remoteness of the island, we typically pack a lunch for a day out, but are growing tired of sandwiches. We hatched a plan to be at the beach everyday for lunch, so we stopped by today to see what her hours are. “All day, anytime, I sleep here,” she replied. After walking us through her delicious and reasonably priced menu, she gave us a tour of the parrilla, where skewers of chicken were hissing next to pescado wrapped in a foil jacket. Within minutes we were fast friends, she explaining her friend’s health problems to us and kissing me on the cheek.
The food situation is looking up.1 comment
Thursday, October 16, 2008
I like my new Indonesian mobile phone. It’s a sleek little model made by Nokia whose sole feature is a flashlight, in case I get lost at night. (The next most expensive phone advertised an FM radio.) While the phone is devoid of standard extras like a digital camera, it is unlocked, unlike those sold in the United States. So in most countries we visit, we’ll be able to purchase a prepaid SIM card, a small chip placed inside the phone, providing us temporary local service and a number.
We hadn’t planned on buying a mobile for this trip, as it seemed like an unnecessary cost. But we’ve encountered enough frustrating situations in which we’ve sighed, “If we only had a cell phone!” that it finally seemed worth it. What finally pushed us over the edge was spending $5 on a four minute phone call.
We have met a few travelers using their mobile phones outside their countries of residence, but we figured they were paying an arm and a leg in international roaming charges. It wasn’t until our friend Paul explained this SIM card scheme to us. Whether it’s accommodation, transportation, or other areas of travel, I’m continually amazed by the creativity of our fellow travelers to better their lives. If you’d like to contact us while we’re in Australia, our number is 0432269839.No comments
I had one goal – one seemingly simple goal — for Saturday: to add new blog posts and photos to our website. We started the day at the front desk of the hostel, and learned that the computers are unavailable on the weekends. Is there anywhere near with WiFi available, we asked? Maybe at the Vasco de Gama Mall (this seafaring hero is so beloved that they even named a shopping center after him), on “the last floor”, where the restaurants are at, we were told.
We hiked a mile down the road with our computer, roasting and basting ourselves with sweat in the midday sun. When we arrived at the mall, we rode the escalators to the top floor, home to the equivalent of a food court, where you can lunch on anything from McDonald’s (always the longest line) to Argentine parrilla. We didn’t see any signs for WiFi, and wondered if this was what he meant by the last floor. We proceeded up to the next floor, a sort of loft area, with fancier restaurants. Was this the last/top floor? But we saw no signs for WiFi, so we went back down the escalators to look for an information booth, and on our way spotted a small Internet kiosk. We could connect to the Internet, but they couldn’t access our USB drive.
At the information booth we learned that there was WiFi in the mall, but that we’d have to “talk to the Clix people.” The woman at the booth motioned towards another kiosk, emblazoned with black and hot pink Xs. Through our sorry attempts at Portuguese, we learned that we’d have to buy some sort of a device at another store before we could set up a subscription with Clix before we could use the WiFi at the mall.
We walked out of the mall, defeated, and stumbled upon another Internet cafe. They, too, did not have WiFi access, nor could they read our USB card. We wandered back out the other side of the mall, stopping at another informational booth. Here, we learned that there was free, public Internet access available at the science center down the road. Bingo!
We found out way towards the modern (and air conditioned) space, which boasted a corral of new Apple computers. And yes, we could transfer our files from the USB card. For free! We ran into some major snags with uploading photos, so only managed to get the posts up.
It took us all day to learn what should have been obvious from the beginning: that any expectations we had about how something functions at home (in this case, WiFi) doesn’t necessarily translate to another culture. We emerged eight hours after our day began, able to accomplish only half of what we had set out to do.
This seems to be par for the course: everything takes twice as long to do half as much as you’d like. Most things we set out to do in a day – from figuring out how to buy a bus ticket to asking for directions to the procurement of food – take eight times longer than we think it will. Even making Top Ramen, the world’s simplest meal, is a major feat. Everything is a multistep process, and we rarely get it right the first time. This is taking some getting used to. We take our habits and routines, our basic orientation to our lives and culture, and our easy access to just about everything for granted. There are times when I just want to sit down and cry, wanting only for the simplest thing to be easy. This has been a week of calibration, of slowly learning to set my expectations low. “Going with the flow” sounds easy in theory. But it’s more complex than just learning to take things as they come. It’s about accepting the fact that everything will take longer and be harder than you think – anything additional is a bonus.No comments
A recent news article on MSN caught my eye: “Stimulus Plans? Gadgets Worth Blowing Your $600 On.” The article, of course, was referring to the Economic Stimulus Act monies that Americans began receiving at the beginning of the month. As a married couple who filed our taxes electronically, we received our $1,200 check a few weeks ago…and promptly deposited said check in The Trip Fund.
You may recall me writing here last February that I was I feeling a little guilty about using our rebate check to stimulate foreign economies. To assauge my guilt, we decided to put that money to good use by using it as fodder for the blog. After reading that PC World is encouraging Americans to put their money towards such useful items as $1,200 Japanese toys, a space-age looking gadget called a “modular synthesizer,” and something that allows you to pretend to be a rock star (something I do in my head on a daily basis without the help of any electronic device, thank you very much!), any remaining tinge of guilt faded away. (Only two of the fifteen PC World employees suggested that they might use their money for non-electronic-related purchases, like paying down existing debt.)
As I am fond of telling my career counseling clients and students, values aren’t good or bad: they are simply a reflection of what’s important to us. My mission is not to tell anyone what they should and shouldn’t spend their money on. I have no doubt that there are readers out there who consider traveling around the world to be a foolish waste of money. But I know myself well enough to know that I value experiences over things. People frequently ask us, “How can you afford to take a trip like this?” It’s certainly not because we’re independently wealthy (despite my best efforts to win the New Mexico state lottery). Travel is simply the thing we value most, and where we choose to spend our money. The editors at PC World would be disappointed in our spending habits: we’ve never had the latest TV or cell phones, we own approximately 10 DVDs, and I’m just now joining the iPod age.
As we promised a few months ago, we will be begin reporting how we spend that $1,200 — peso for peso — when the trip commences. It’s a big job, but somebody’s got to do it. In the meantime, if you had to spend your Economic Stimulus Act monies on travel, where would you go? What would you do? Or, would you spend it on something else entirely?3 comments
One of my favorite episodes of The King of Queens involves Doug and Carrie agreeing to attend a seminar on purchasing a timeshare in exchange for a free weekend at a swanky New England bed and breakfast. Doug’s afraid to say “no.” Carrie’s a big meanie. Hilarity ensues. The underlying message of this episode seems to be this: how far are you willing to go to save a buck?
As it turns out, this theme is not only the makings of good situation-comedy, but a recurrent theme in round-the-world travel. In recommending cost-saving tips for dining out, my Rough Guide’s First-Time Around the World states that, “Pizza gathering is not officially recommended, but it works. Travelers have been known to hang out in franchise pizza joints, order a small salad, then grab the untouched slices from other tables when groups get up to leave” (p. 94). It also warns me against becoming infected with budgetitis, whose symptoms include “walking an extra twenty minutes to find a bread shop whose loaves are three cents cheaper; full-blown arguments with taxi drivers over the equivalent of 25 cents; and skipping a meal because the local supermarket prices seem a little high” (p. 87).
Somehow, I don’t see myself falling prey to any of these scenarios. When faced with the question, “How far are you willing to go to save a buck?” my answer is typically a resounding, “Not very far.” However, since we’ve embarked on this planning process, I have noticed that I’ve developed an affinity for entering sweepstakes, large and small. In addition to entering to win lottery tickets and selling old stuff on Craig’s List, I’ve observed that my ears perk up when I hear about contests which seem to meet my specific travel needs.
For example, as I was driving home from work last week, I heard on the radio that KB Homes is hosting a contest where one can win a year of free mortgage payments. This immediately piqued my interest because we’ve been searching for someone to rent our home. If I won the contest, all of my worries would vanish! As I listened further, I learned that all I needed to do was drop by any KB Homes location to pick up an entry ballot. This sounded suspiciously like Doug and Carrie’s situation all over again. I knew what would happen: I would be sucked into an hour and a half sales presentation on the joys of living in a KB community. Normally, this thought alone would be enough to drive the idea from my mind. Instead, I immediately went to the KB Homes website to locate the community nearest my house.
Today I spent 20 minutes filling out a Lonely Planet survey, which will make me eligible to win $2,000 from STA Travel. As a bonus for filling out the survey, they awarded me with a coupon to save 30% off my next purchase of a Lonely Planet guidebook. Normally I would have sniffed at that. But I’m pretty sure I whispered, “Sweet!” to myself.No comments
I have a love/hate relationship with complexity. When compelled, I’ll attack a problem with a nausea-inducing dogma. As I recently discovered when purchasing a round-the-world (RTW) ticket, it turns out that this statement is not an exaggeration. Just because one is good at something, does not necessarily mean he enjoys it.
In January, I embarked on a process following a disciplined approach, trying to get the most value for our money, adhering to the tenets of a money-saving credo. I quickly honed in on the OneWorld alliance RTW ticket as it provides excellent coverage to many of the places we want to visit. I carefully constructed a draft of our RTW itinerary, daydreaming about all the mystical places we’d soon visit. My best laid plans, however, were soon dashed by the thick French accent of Michael from American Airlines, tersely stating that our total number of segments had been exhausted before even reaching South America. I imagine Michael sitting at his computer terminal, cigarette dangling from his mouth, admonishing the system for its slow response time while he literally pounds on the keyboard, hot ashes falling into the deep crevice between the “n” and “m” keys. Michael takes pity on my naivete, offering helpful tips, but I clearly need to hang up and regroup.
Over the next months, I greatly enhance my OneWorld acumen, learning the intricacies and nuances of our itinerary. I call American Airlines enough times to actually learn the cast of characters. There’s Robert, who has a clear understanding of the rules and a calm demeanor, and I always have a feeling of progress made when I hang up. I have no doubt that the Indians would say a phone call with him is an auspicious event. But then there’s Robert’s antithesis, in the form of the curmudgeonly Rebecca, who dismisses all your statements with a monotone “mmm hmm.” And lest you engage her personally, she’ll drone on about the No Child Left Behind Act, not letting you get a word in edgewise, only to force you off the phone prematurely, citing the long queue of phone calls. But, I become adept at navigating this stormy sea, once even hanging up when Rebecca answers so I can call back and speak to Michael instead. Soon, I’m citing policy to the agents, and most frightening of all, I’m usually correct.
One day, Elizabeth tells me about the 13 months website, a no-nonsense, “how to” primer on RTW travel. They had also chosen a OneWorld ticket, and had shrewdly saved thousands by originating their tickets in the UK. The catch? They enlisted good friends who lived in the UK to purchase the tickets on their behalf. But I don’t know anyone in the UK very well. No matter, this is just a technicality, I think to myself. Through much work, I actually track down a business contact, who graciously agrees to help me after he returns from a holiday in Tasmania. I know he’s a completely trustworthy person, but I can’t help but feel a bit strange asking such a huge favor of someone I’ve only met a couple of times. Elizabeth asks if I’m trying to fit a square peg in a round hole in a mission to save a dubious amount of money. Nonsense, I say.
I set everything up: a special UK-based itinerary, research one-way tickets over there, money transfer options, and detailed instructions for my colleague to carry out the purchase. I spend countless hours stressing over this scheme, which often carries over to my sleep. On a particularly bad day, I have what I imagine is the precursor to a panic attack, where something like a horrifically oppressive Jamaican humidty is pushing on me from all sides, making it difficult to breathe. No matter, I think, since I’m almost finished. But, it seems like every time I enact a new step to this plan, there’s a new obstacle to overcome. I no longer know how close I am to the finish line; it is a mirage that keeps moving. The final insult comes when I go to transfer the money overseas, and I find there’s a currency conversion fee that will significantly eat away our savings. Elizabeth and I do a back-of-the-envelope calculation, and find that our savings are negligible, certainly not the thousands I had pined for.
To our relief, I purchased the US-based ticket this morning. Perhaps in an alternate universe, with more time, I could have devined a more clever solution. Elizabeth had been correct when she pointed out that the 13 months people had good, long-time friends to help them out, when I was asking so much of my business colleague. Our time frame was short, and our stress levels ever-increasing. Sure, we may have saved a bit more money by going with the UK option, but at what cost? I feel a great weight lifted off me as I purchase the tickets, once again filled with excited anticipation for our RTW trip.1 comment