Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Travel Sabbatical Budget

As more and more friends and co-workers discover our impending plans, the reactions are interesting, to say the least. A common question takes the form of, "Wow! How much will this cost?" People aren't usually that direct.

Usually they say things like, "They (my employer) must be paying you well down there in education!" That's laughable, really. What education job has ever been paid well? I'm one of the least paid educators in my department since it's all based on years of employment and experience...none of which I have much of.

Others assume, "You must've been saving money for a really long time." Yes and no. We have saved money, but not specifically for this trip until recently. We save by living in a small house, driving older cars with no payments, not having children, and living a simple, minimalist existence. We live in an ever ready state where we can pick up and go without a lot of "baggage."

Some have been genuinely concerned for our financial state when we get back: "Aren't you worried about the economy. Aren't you nervous about not finding a job when you get back?" Perhaps we should be more scared and nervous, but we're not. Oh, yes...the economy. Not that this would have changed our plans, but we both work in industries that tend to be recession proof. After all, nurses are needed everywhere, and there will always be insurance claims. As long as we aren't picky about what we do when we return, we should have no problems finding employment. An important factor is leaving a legacy of being a valuable employee. Having a recession-proof career means nothing if you are a mediocre employee that everyone is glad to get rid of!

We will be spending what many would consider part of their retirement and/or kids' college fund, which scares the living day lights out of most people. Timing is everything. I agree that I will not want to risk my retirement on travel when I'm closer to 65 years old. However, doing this adventure now, we still have 20+ years left to fund our retirement when we get back. Again, by living below our means, there are more possibilities.

We do have a distinct financial 'advantage' by not having children. This is where I say the obligatory, "...but I will never know the true joy and love of having children." So, instead, we will experience the joy of traveling and connecting with people from all over the world, as an inferior substitute to the joy we will never know. :). However, I think Mike and I are of the mindset that even if we had kids, we would be dragging them around the world with us. My brother and I never held our cash-strapped parents back from moving to California when we were babies, and taking road trips all over the United States, then taking us back go Japan for a year, then another adventure to Singapore for 3 years, and so on and so forth. It all worked out somehow and the experience is priceless.

What is this really costing, you ask? I know what it's going to cost us, but remember that it will be different for everyone. A 20 year old backpacker's budget is probably less than what we're willing to tolerate. A traveler only willing to stay in 4-5 star hotels will need a bigger budget. The largest expense is the transportation cost, but that also varies by the type of transportation and what one is willing to spend. We are also maintaining our household expenses while we are gone. If we didn't have a house to maintain, or if we chose to rent our home, we could decrease our overall cost significantly. We are grateful for our house/dog-sitter who will be living in our home, and that is worth every penny!

We have budgeted $50,000 for an 8-month trip, which doesn't include the expenses associated with maintaining our home. Our RTW tickets and travel insurance cost $10,000 for two people. We have already spent approximately $2500 on vaccinations. We have a budget of $150/day for 8-months ($36,000). This should cover a decent hotel or hostel with private rooms/bath, food, and local transportation such as trains and buses. We are purposefully avoiding the more touristed places that tend to charge a premium. An additional expense that I will be blogging about soon is the private, high-deductible, catastrophic health insurance plan at approximately $200/month.

So, there you have it. Again, it could cost a lot more or a lot less. It just depends on what kind of travel adventure you want. -A

Do We Need Tourist Visas?

We have a pretty good idea about which countries we will potentially visit. We don't know exactly when we will be going to these places, but an important preliminary step is to research the tourist visa requirements for each of these countries.

Carrying a US and Japanese passport makes this process easy. Our passports provide automatic tourist entry into most countries without hassle - a privilege that some nationalities do not have.

After researching the requirements through websites such as and going to each country's embassy or consulate websites, we think we only need to obtain visas in the following 4 countries, out of the 20+ we will be visiting. Not bad.

A note of caution: being too proactive by obtaining visas in advance will not help you. Many of them have an expiration date from the date of issue. If the date of issue is too soon, the visa will expire long before you actually arrive! Therefore, the application process will need to be done while en route. Many countries also require that there is at least 6-months left on your passport before it expires. I guess they don't want us squatting in their country without the possibility of being able to return home! The cost of the visas vary widely from country to country, but may dependon the passport you have. It's still good to research the process in advance so you know how much to anticipate and cost. Also, this is information we found currently, but the world is ever-changing. Best to look up the most up-to-date information as requirements can change.

Usual required documents for application include passport (of course), permanent visa card, passport photos (we plan to carry a set of photos for this purpose), round trip ticket to show we have an exit plan, proof of residency in home country via a utility bill, and bank statement (to show you have plenty of $ to support yourself and get home without being a financial burden), a local phone number (maybe use the hotel phone number), etc.

Brazil: there is an online application that is accessible. They claim it only takes 2 days to obtain the visa so this will be on our to-do list while in Buenos Aires. The visa must be used within 90-days from issue.

Thailand: Thailand allows a 30-day entry without a visa. However, it's a popular destination for extended stay due to its affordability and being very backpacker friendly. A stay past 30-days requires a visa that must be used within 3-months of issue. Therefore, we can think about visiting a Thai embassy or consulate while we are trekking through Eastern Europe.

Vietnam: this application seems like just a formality. An eVisa is obtained online. The email confirmation letter is submitted upon arrival and that's it. We'll take care of this process while we are in Thailand.

Cambodia: again, an eVisa is issued online. The 1-month visa that costs $25 is effective upon entry, so technically, we can apply for this at any time. However, what's the rush? We will probably obtain while in Thailand.

We plan on spending a few moments in an internet cafe along our route to take care of the above requirements. Seems like one of the easier parts about our travels!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

10 things I take travelling then wonder why I bothered | The Career Break Site

10 things I take travelling then wonder why I bothered
24 February 2012

I just wrote a blog post on 10 things I can't travel without. But as you know, less is more. So here are 10 things I have, at one time or another, taken away with me for no good reason. And which I should probably start leaving at home.

  1. A book that I think I ought to read. I love books, and I've read loads while travelling, but these days I seem to leave my book in my bag the whole trip. It's because I take something that I feel will look good when someone spots me reading it on the bus (to make up for looking like a drooling idiot when I'm asleep).
  2. Spare plastic carrier bags. Don't mix these up with Ziploc bags, which are actually useful. Or the plastic bags you've got your shoes in. I always take spare because I think I'm going to need them, forgetting: one, that I won't and two, even if I do, I will end up with some from going to the shops. Duh.
  3. Fancy shoes that aren't very comfortable. I think I'm going to go to a cool club or posh place to eat. I don't. And on the rare occasions that I do, I normally end up wearing my slightly-less-smart-but-acceptable shoes because my feet already hurt from walking all day.
  4. An item of clothing that I never wear at home. Please tell me I'm not the only one who does this. I've got a shirt, say, that doesn't go with anything else and is too tight under the arms, but for some stupid reason I decide to pack it. Because "things are different when you're abroad". Unfortunately my arm fat is not one of them.
  5. Bits of paper that I think I'll need. Everything's done online now, but I insist on printing out all the stuff (twice) and taking it with me. Writing down the reference number in my notebook would be more efficient and less annoying.
  6. 8 different kinds of body lotion. "I need this one because my sister gave it to me for the trip, this one because it smells like pineapples, this one because just look at the packaging..." No I don't. I need one, plain, multipurpose one I can put on my sunburn.
  7. Items not designed for my destination. You can tell me until you're blue in the face that there's no malaria in Scotland, I'm still taking my mosquito net.
  8. Things that I'm not going to have time to do while travelling. I don't do lazy, lying on the beach trips - I'm always haring about to museums, up mountains and so on. Yet I still think I'm going to have the time and energy to write an eloquent, thoughtful blog post when I get back to my room, when really I just drink beer then fall asleep.
  9. Equipment for hobbies that I don't have. Sketch book and pencils? Yes, because even though I have the drawing skills of an angry baboon, I think that the mere act of going abroad will transform me into Picasso. 
  10. A small wooden doll. This is also on the list of things I never travel without. It's supposed to be a comfort thing, like travelling with your teddy, but I never even get it out of my bag. Also I'm 37 so I should probably stop playing with dolls anyway.

This post was written by Rachel Morgan-Trimmer, founder of The Career Break Site yet still startlingly bad at travelling. If you want to buy a sketchbook, hardly used, leave your details in the comments below.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Quotes from Documentary, 180 Degrees South

"The best journeys answer questions that in the beginning, you didn't even think to ask." -Documentary, 180 degrees South

"There is no substitute for just going there." -Documentary, 180 degrees South

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Everyone Deserves a Paid Sabbatical

We're not getting a paid sabbatical, but an interesting article, nevertheless.

Everyone Deserves a Paid Sabbatical

I've learned so much from my own wanderlust that I decided to pass it on to my employees: Everyone gets a free one-month trip every five years. Here's why.

Plain and simple: Sabbaticals make business sense.

Bolivia, Morocco, Vietnam, and many other exotic locations worldwide, have taught me valuable business lessons. That's because I would throw most of my income from my first business into yearly treks that would flood my head with business ideas. These annual, three-month trips never failed to rekindle the fire in my belly needed to lead a fast-growing company.

My biggest light-bulb moment—the one that spurred the idea for my company—happened on Red Frog Beach in Panama. I was thinking that marathons and 5Ks had become, well, boring. It was time to inject military-style obstacles, mud, and beer. We created an event called Warrior Dash, which did just that. In three years it became the world's largest running series.

I gained so much from my wanderlust that it only made sense to offer this benefit to my employees, my Frogs. Every five years they (and a guest of their choice) get a fully paid one-month trip to the destination of their choice. One catch: North America and Australia are off limits (most Frogs already go to Australia for our events there). This isn't a cocktail-umbrella-on-the-beach sort of trip. It's a push-yourself-outside-of-your-comfort-zone, culture-drenched, that-just-changed-my-life trip. Those trips bring home game-changing ideas. Those are sabbaticals.

My leadership philosophy has always been that when you treat your employees well, they'll perform well (see Give Your Employees Unlimited Vacation Days and Why Your Employees Need a Treehouse). Start a sabbatical benefit for your employees because:

  • Everyone needs to recharge. Frogs can disconnect for a full month every five years. A month away allows enough time to come back hungry to tackle the next big project.
  • Appreciation goes a long way. I give tremendous latitude, sabbaticals included, and it's appreciated. People who love their job perform better.
  • They gain worldly perspectives. Learning new cultures only helps bring fresh thoughts to the table on your next project.
  • Valuable family or friend time. Red Froggers flat-out work hard. A month away every five years allows time to reconnect with a loved one.
  • Going outside of your comfort zone elicits unconventional ideas. Being away for a month breeds creativity. My best ideas come during extended time away.
  • Africa is calling. My wife and I are headed there next winter and I guarantee I'll come home with plenty more than pictures of giraffes.

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    Sunday, February 12, 2012

    Things To Do in Tokyo - Our Way

    Last night, the 5 of us except Kris (we missed you Kris!) who will be traveling to Tokyo together in May were discussing the most important question...what shall we do when we get there? We already have a shinkansen (bullet train) ride and hotel booked for an overnight Kyoto trip, but when it comes to Tokyo, it's sometimes difficult to even know where to begin. There's just so much to do. Also, I've spent my life growing up in Tokyo so my ideas may not be at all what someone wants to experience for their first trip.

    As a start to a unique Japan experience, our friend Lisa found an apartment through that sleeps at least 4 guests. This is an excellent way to experience how the Japanese live, such as sleeping on futons, using the Japanese bath tubs and showers, learning how to separate out all the trash (burnables vs. non-recyclable plastics vs. recyclable plastics vs. aluminum, etc.), and so forth. The apartment is only one major train station away from my dad's house where Mike and I will be, so it's a perfect location for meeting up when heading out to downtown Tokyo.

    Rachel - the planner-aheader - and the rest of the girls came up with a Japan wish list. I felt, as host, that I should find out more information and 'report back' on whether or not these ideas were feasible.

    I thought I would share this list because it looks fun and slightly off the beaten path of the typical tourist list. There are things on here that Mike and I haven't even experienced yet, so that will be great. I think that anyone planning a trip to Tokyo could enjoy any of these attractions and experiences. Warning: it's a foodie's paradise.

    Here's their Tokyo wish list...and some other stuff I thought of!

    Saturday, February 11, 2012

    Lessons Learned from My Greencard Renewal Saga

    Greencard, I-90 Visa, Permanent Resident Visa, etc. However you want to refer to it is fine, but they all mean the same thing. I (Akiko) am a Japanese national, living in the States with a permanent visa since 1990. At this point in my life, I can't imagine living and working in Japan; so I am VERY grateful for this opportunity that has been given to me and my brother through efforts that took over a decade with the help of many people, including our uncle Yoshi. (And no, despite the movies and popular belief, one does not automatically receive permanent residency or citizenship by marrying an American).

    One recent unexpected stressor in our travel plans has been the renewal of my Greencard. The visa needs to be renewed every 10 years. So, a permanent visa is not so permanent after all! But, no big deal. I've been a model resident - I've renewed it before, no problem. I knew my visa expired in March 2012, and with all the upcoming travels, it was definitely a priority item.

    Friday, February 10, 2012

    Around the World in 80 Days

    Woohoo! In 80-days, we will be departing for our RTW trip; not to be confused with the 1873 classic novel, where Phileas Fogg attempts to circumnavigate the world in 80-days on a wager. We will be taking closer to 200+ days, which is happening in 80-days...tick-tock, tick-tock. -A

    Japanese Encephalitis - Part 1

    Another vaccination step closer to our departure date! You, too, can get yourself a Japanese encephalitis vaccine if you scrounge up $250/shot. Still cheaper than the who-knows-what-cost of actually getting this disease from the pesky mosquitos when we visit any rural areas of Southeast Asia. To be repeated in 28 days...Thanks to David and Helen, our parents for giving this vaccine as our January birthday gift!

    Thursday, February 2, 2012

    Foreign Equivalents of Over-The-Counter Meds

    One thing we know for sure is that we will get the occasional headaches, muscle aches, cold, sniffles, etc. while traveling. We have our favorite over-the-counter (OTC) meds in the States, but will we be able to find the same meds anywhere else?

    The answer is, most likely long as we know the generic drug name (e.g. diphenhydramine instead of Benadryl). Many countries come up with their own brand names. Surely, visitors to the States are equally as confused by the plethora of strange sounding meds when they walk down our drugstore aisles.

    Interestingly, acetaminophen (Tylenol) is only called that in the US, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Iran, of all places. Anywhere else, and they won't know what we're referring to. We would need to ask for paracetamol. Sometimes abbreviated APAP.

    Ibuprofen seems to be a truly generic name and universal around the globe. Some brand names to watch for besides Motrin and Advil are, Nurofen and Nuprin.

    We also swear by Advil Cold and Sinus. The pseudoephedrine component with the ibuprofen really helps clear up cold symptoms. It's unclear as to how the rest of the world handles the sale of products with pseudoephedrine, but some of the countries are similar to the States where a pharmacist supervises the purchase and the purchase quantity is limited. Interestingly, the Japan Consulate website says the following:

    "The following over-the-counter medications are prohibited in Japan since they contain narcotic or stimulant ingredients in excess of the Japanese standard: a) Tylenol Cold b) Nyquil c) Nyquil Liquicaps d) Actifed e) Sudafed f) Advil Cold & Sinus g) Dristan Cold ("No Drowsiness") h) Dristan Sinus i) Drixoral Sinus j) Vicks Inhaler k) Lomotil."

    Naproxen sodium (Aleve) is also a go-to OTC med for me, especially with the 12-hour dosing. The fact that it comes in many brand names around the world is useless because outside of the US and Canada, it is apparently a prescription only med. We will not be making a doctor's visit just to get some Aleve!

    Fortunately, for those who are not allergic, Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) or ASA is widely available.

    We should be fine wherever we go, as long as we know the generic name, and don't expect the same exact dosing. We certainly don't plan on taking a big supply with us so we will have to make it work, wherever we are.