Month: March 2014

Visas and Travel Insurance and Immunizations, Oh My

I am in full logistical planning hell.

Outlining my route was fun, buying my tickets was exciting, and then the “do all this serious stuff in the 3 months before you leave” time hit and what used to be a wonderful dream became a taxing reality.

First came the visas. I knew that Brazil, my first country, would be the hardest to get a visa for. So my first stop was the Consulate General of Brazil in San Francisco website to try to make an appointment (after buying my flights – you need proof of travel to even get a visa, which is a bit unnerving, buying a flight without knowing you can get into the country). Booked for 3 months solid. This would be surprising, except that they only let people get visas in person with an appointment between 9am and 12pm on weekdays. And it’s the World Cup year. I checked every day until I finally got an appointment in May. Here’s hoping the 5-7 day turnaround is true – I leave SF just 2 weeks after my appointment.

Having accomplished that, I went to Project Visa and looked up every single country I plan to go to. The first thing that was clear: there will be a lot of visa fees in my future. Luckily most of the countries I’m going to I either don’t need a visa for the amount of time I’ll be there, as a tourist, or I can get it upon entry. In my small travel notebook (which is really becoming the thing I can’t leave home without) I wrote down the three countries I have to plan ahead for:

  • Australia: apply online before I leave
  • India: apply online within 6 months
  • Vietnam: in Sydney or Bangkok

An important thing to know about visas is when they are valid. Vietnam and India visas can be applied for up to 6 months in advance, so if I got either of these now they would be useless by the time I arrived in December/February. Australia’s time frame starts once I enter the country, so I have at least a little more flexibility there.

After figuring out all the different visa requirements, I started to feel a little better.

Then I moved on to looking up travel insurance. This is not cheap, but it’s also one of the most recommended expenses I’ve come across. It covers everything from stolen baggage to airlifting you home in case of a medical emergency. It even goes so far as to cover loss of limb or life, but that’s too morbid to think about. What I’ve found it doesn’t always cover are some of the more fun elements – skydiving, for example, is something I really want to do in New Zealand, but it is only covered at a pricier level of travel insurance. So now I’m faced with the decision of going with the basic level, or trying to cover more. You never know what will happen right? But sometimes the lower level seems like all I would need.

And then there’s all the different providers. How do you choose? WorldNomads seems good, but there’s also Travel Guard, IMG, or Travelex, just to name a few. With all the names being thrown around at this point I’m thinking about just picking the one that shows up on my two favorite planning sites – both Lonely Planet and BootsnAll link to WorldNomads. Maybe this isn’t the best reason to pick one, but it seems recommended enough. I trust the sites so why not? I never was the kind of person to control my medical or financial logistics much. Health insurance? Whatever you recommend work, Plan A sounds great! 401k? I just have to check this box and the provider my company chose will figure it out? Great you know what you’re doing, whatever you want to do with my money, go for it. I realize that this is probably not one of the smarter habits I’ve picked up, and travel insurance is immensely important, so I am making myself focus and do the comparison research before picking a provider and level. TBD on this one.

Then there’s immunizations. The first thing I wrote down about this was “At least 8 weeks before I go START IMMUNIZATIONS.” I now leave San Francisco in just over 8 weeks, which puts me at less than 12 weeks before departure. Time to start calling doctors.

April has always been a good month for me. Maybe I’m biased because of my birthday (3 weeks!), but it has also had exciting moments in the past for a variety of reasons: as a kid we had spring break in April, in college my thesis was finally done in April, I moved to San Francisco in April, I’ve gone to Coachella for the past 2 years in April. This April is different. This April I have to be serious about the logistics. With visas well underway and travel insurance a mere few days from purchased (I think), I just have to get my doctors appointments scheduled, endure some shots and pick up some medications.

Then in May I can go back to the wanderlust excitement.

 

A Wish List

With my birthday less than a month away, a few friends have unnecessarily and incredibly nicely asked me to write a wish list of things I want for my trip. We stopped doing friend gifts a while ago, opting for celebration dinners or even just a text if we’re not near each other, so their justification was that it’s the only tangible gift I’ll get for past and future birthdays.

I figured that a wish list could be helpful for anyone really to see some things that I’m hoping to bring with me. It’s easy to start thinking about packing with the essentials – what you’ll bring everything in (I chose backpack), how many items of clothing, the necessary medical kit – but then there are additional things that make it on some lists but not on others. Some people swear off accessories like alarm clocks, while others stress the need for such a device. Personally, I won’t be using a smartphone for an alarm clock and have a few early flights, so I think this would be helpful for me.

So here are a few additional things in a range of categories that I’m considering bringing with me:

  • GoPro camera
  • GoPro mounts: Head Strap + QuickClip and Wrist Housing
  • Guidebooks: Lonely Planet or Rough Guides guidebooks. (I’m still debating which of these companies I prefer and need to spend some more time in bookstores comparing them. I’ve been a LP fan for a long time so I tend to default to them, but after a brief comparison the other day I’m leaning toward Rough Guide to South America on a Budget to start with, then LP for Australia and NZ. Either could work in the other countries. Even though I know I can find a lot of information on the internet, I still want to use guidebooks for each country/region.)
  • 1L water bottle
  • And on that note, water purification system (I’m thinking tablets)
  • Travel Sentry lock (for hostel lockers)
  • Multiple port charger
  • Travel adapter (for outlets)
  • This portable washing bag thing looks kinda awesome: http://thescrubba.com/
  • And maybe a portable clothes line to go with it?
  • Small travel umbrella
  • Travel alarm clock
  • Leatherman
  • Packable rain jacket/shell (I’m thinking Outdoor Research, Marmot or Patagonia. Something that folds up into its pocket or very small at least, but still is good in terms of water protection.)
  • Laptop (most likely a netbook, mainly for blogging, emailing and skyping)

 

Going to See the Elephant at Anchor Brewing Company

IMG_3669One of the activities on my bucket list was to go on a tour of the Anchor Brewery. I’ve grown to love the Anchor beers (personal favorites: California Lager and Zymaster) and just love brewery tours in general, so this was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Unfortunately the only time to do these tours is a weekday and you have to book a while in advance. A little hard when I’m still working.

Then the Bold Italic emailed about a competition to win two tickets to Anchor’s SF Beer Week kick-off party to release their new IPA. I entered, as I do with fun sounding local events, not expecting to hear anything. Then one day I got an email with the subject: YOU WON! This is how my brewery tour bucket list activity changed to a brewery party instead.

All we knew was that they were going to release their IPA and the theme was to See the Elephant. This vague invitation was enough to convince me and friend to go, and it ended up being an awesome event that is definitely a bucket list highlight.

To “See the Elephant” is a 19th-century metaphor for the hopeful but risky pursuit of happiness, adventure, and fortune. From the Anchor Brewing Website:

The expression to “see the elephant” originates from a tale that predates the California Gold Rush.

There once lived a farmer who had heard of elephants but had never seen one. He longed for the day when he might catch a glimpse of this rare, exotic creature. When the circus came to town, he loaded his wagon with fresh produce and headed to the market. On the way, just as he’d hoped, he came across the circus parade, nobly led by an enormous elephant. The farmer was ecstatic, but his horses were terrified. They reared and bucked, overturning his wagon and scattering its precious contents in the road. “I don’t give a hoot,” exclaimed the farmer. “I have seen the elephant!”

The elephant became the universal symbol of the Gold Rush, as evidenced by the journals, letters, and sketchbooks of the forty-niners.

So to recap: I was now at a party at Anchor Brewing Company that was focused on pursuing your hopes and dreams. I couldn’t have imagined a better theme. It was a convergence of this major life decision I’d made to take a break from my every day life and pursue my travel dreams with a bucket list activity of beer tasting.

IMG_3671This party was designed to be an adventure through the brewery. Each of us was given a map and a passport; stamp every destination in your passport and you got a goodie bag when you left. At each passport stamp location you could learn something – about IPA’s, elephants, or other participants’ ambitions. During this entire event, the tap room was open with unlimited pours of whatever they had on tap, with a few stations scattered throughout the floor serving the IPA and California Lager, as well as some food stands. Not only were we inside the brewery for a release party of a new beer, but we got to wander around at our leisure, participate in activities, learn about beer, and taste their beers! You can understand our excitement.

Second only to Brews on the Bay (a personal favorite San Francisco event), this was an amazingly fun and well-executed brewery party. The staff was engaging, we learned a lot, and who doesn’t love beer tasting. By the end we had stamped all our passport locations and took home some fun Anchor Brewing Company swag.

At one of the passport stamp locations, there was a board where we had to write down what our version of Seeing the Elephant was. “To See the Elephant is to…” This was a no brainer for me. Without hesitation, I picked up my chalk and wrote down “finally go on my Round the World adventure.” To me, this trip is my pursuit of happiness, adventure and fortune.

Thanks Anchor Brewing Company (and Bold Italic) for an awesome night, fantastic beer, and another reminder about pursuing what really matters.

A few more pictures from the night.

IMG_3675

Signs directing us from England to San Francisco and India

The board where we wrote down what Seeing the Elephant is to us (and my friend pointing out what to do)

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We made it to India

The Big Trip

When I started to plan this trip I knew I would do a lot of online research, but I have always had a soft spot for real books. So when I got an email from Lonely Planet that they were having a sale I jumped on the chance to get their book “The Big Trip – Your ultimate guide to gap years and overseas adventures.”

Lonely Planet's "The Big Trip"

Lonely Planet’s “The Big Trip”

This book became my bible. I made myself wait until I was a year out – June 2013 – until I read it. I thought that planning too early would just make me too excited and make the reality of waiting to go so much harder. So the summer of 2013 I would dedicate to reading this book cover to cover. It didn’t take me the whole summer, I could barely put it down.

The guide is set up to help you plan out logistics as well as destinations. It’s arranged in four parts:

Part One: Travel Smarts – This is where the logistics are. From visas to immunizations to travel insurance, it has helpful websites and information to get you started on all the less fun but entirely necessary details.

Part Two: Tailoring Your Trip – Starting to get more into the details of actually traveling abroad, this part has options for where to stay, working and volunteering, even learning a new language abroad. I took some notes on international German programs in case I want to explore that option (despite being a German major in college, I’ve gotten embarrassingly bad).

Part Three: Where to Go – Ah the fun part. This is where the day dreaming starts and the destinations get mapped out. I wrote down so many places and activities that I wanted to see from this section. It also helped more substantially form my trip; I was able to rank places as Must Sees or Would Like to Sees or Could Misses.

Part Four: Directories – I am considering taking these pages with me. They’re helpful websites and organizations to know about before and during travel.

I took a lot of notes in my travel notebook from reading this book. I frequently refer to them to see when I need to start looking into things (get a passport ASAP! Brazil visa first! Immunizations 8 weeks out!) or just as a reminder of the cool places I’ll be going. I carry this notebook with me everywhere in case inspiration hits or I feel like I need to check about some important task that I think is coming up.

I can’t recommend The Big Trip enough. It’s a great resource in so many ways and it helped me with a lot of the pains of initial planning. And it made for inspiring evenings staying in reading.

Wine helps calm the planning nerves

Wine helps calm the planning nerves

More Why Thoughts

I had someone ask me why I wanted to do this again recently. I know I’ve already written (perhaps too extensively) why I want to go, but I think my elevator pitch-length response may have summed it up even better than my ramblings from before.

Because there’s so much more out there.

The world is so much larger than what I’ve seen. There’s too much for me to stay in one place. Too much more to discover, more than I can even begin to understand from my life so far.

And on that note, another friend independent of that conversation said something to me the other day that I thought was just great.

“The world is your oyster! Literally, the world actually is your oyster. You’re the only person I can say that to and it is actually true.”

Thanks friends for reminding me and challenging me to remember why I am doing this.

 

Flights: Purchased!

I did it! I bought my flights! This is real! I’m going!

I don’t even know how to begin to describe the feeling of clicking “purchase itinerary” and seeing the confirmation come through. I guess I’ll try, starting from finding the perfect route.

I had played with lots of options in Indie and decided on the airports for the major legs of my trip (as described before). Then I experimented with length of travel time, departure and arrival times, and price options for each leg.

Initially, the cheapest route was going to take over 90 hours of travel, thanks in large part to an 11 hour overnight layover in Dubai between Buenos Aires and Auckland. This did not sound appealing to me. What am I supposed to do in Dubai between 11pm and 10am? Not to mention the crazy long flights from BA to Dubai and Dubai to NZ. So I found a flight that, by paying a couple hundred more, would just have a layover in Santiago and save me around 30 hours of travel time. Having found what I believed to be my best options for all the other legs, I saved the details and told myself to take a day or two to think about paying more for the Santiago connection option. This was Monday. I prefer to buy flights on Tuesdays and Wednesdays anyway (they’re supposed to be the best days to purchase, you can find better deals).

Then Tuesday happened. I looked at my saved route again and repriced it to current prices, and it spiked. A couple thousand more now to not go to Dubai. Back to playing with this leg, I tried some options on different days and found that, by leaving BA 3 days earlier, I could not only go through Santiago but it was actually cheaper than the initial Dubai flight. This was not an option I’d seen before. Did it even exist until now? How did this happen? I have no idea. But I had to jump.

I did a quick check on all the flights to make sure they were still the ones I wanted, got to the purchase page, entered my credit card info – and stopped. Was I really about to buy this? This is huge, this makes it real, this means I’m going.

I quickly panicked to everyone I was talking to on gchat while my purchase page was hidden in another tab. After resounding encouragement (thanks friends!) I jumped back to the tab and clicked purchase without thinking anymore. Then agonizing seconds went by while the website had to think. It does this sort of movement of dots darkening and lightening in a row while it’s thinking. This visual was like torture. My heart was racing. Then: confirmed.

CONFIRMED. Thank you for your purchase!

Commence total freak out.

I ran outside, almost breaking down in emotion as I got in the elevator. I hit the ground floor and took off walking. I didn’t have a destination, I just needed to walk, as fast as I could. I went in circles, wherever the green walk light would let me go. I probably passed the same places 3 or 4 times. I called my dad, I told him I’d bought them, he talked me through it, amazed that the flights aligned so well, equally excited and shocked as I was. Thanks Dad. I kept walking and called a few more people. People I passed looked at me strangely as I visibly freaked out in my speedwalking. But they also smiled. They could tell it was an excited freakout, that something huge had just happened in my life.

The confirmation from Indie said it would take up to 72 hours for the airlines to confirm the flights. So I settled down and tried to not think about it, I had time before that would come through.

4 hours later the airlines confirmed. I have ticket numbers. I am going.

At this point I lost all focus on my day and went out for a celebratory drink. Still totally freaking out, I realized that while I was freaking out I was smiling. This was excited freak out. This was knowing I made a huge step toward completely changing my life, and being not just okay with it, but ecstatic about it.

The flights I ended up with are, in my mind, as perfect as I could get them. With the longest layover at 4 hours, I don’t forsee a lot of sleeping in airports like I thought I would when I was finding 9 or 11 hour layovers. I’ll have to deal with a few early morning flights, but those also saved me a lot of money. It ended up being even cheaper than I expected. Again, I have no idea how. I found a lucky time and I jumped on it. My advice: search as much as possible in advance and explore all your options for each combination and individual leg, then save them to buy on a Tuesday.

My first flight is booked for June 21, 2014. My last is booked for February 9, 2015. And that last flight is to India, not back to the U.S.

My One Way Ticket Around the World has been purchased.

Making progress on the SF Bucket List

I figure it’s about time I post an update about my progress on my San Francisco Bucket List.

I think I’ve done pretty well so far! Thanks to some awesome companions I have been regularly checking off bucket list items since I first sent it out to friends less than 2 months ago. I’ve seen a variety of shows at a variety of venues, eaten wings from Hayes Valley to the Richmond, played at the Exploratorium and the Seward Street Slides, and tasted my fair share of cocktails everywhere from new bars in the TL to Anchor Steam’s IPA Release Party (thank you Bold Italic for that one!).

Each of these activities could take a whole post, but thanks to social media and my tagging them with #brodgesbucketlist it’s pretty easy to find them all through my personal instagram (the one connected with my blog won’t start until the trip starts). So instead I will post highlights here of some exceptionally awesome places to play in SF.

I’ll start with where my bucket list started. The first adventure.

The first bucket list adventure I went on happened to also be a friend’s last week in SF. She was up for anything before she took off, so we borrowed a car and went down to the Castro. Unsure what we were about to get into, we grabbed our cardboard and gloves and approached the Seward Street Slides.

(Why gloves you ask? If you’ve ever slid down a concrete slide before you will know how destroyed your hands can get holding onto your cardboard around turns, bumping into harsh concrete. I had the unfortunate experience of ripping up my hands on a different concrete slide during softball season last year. I was prepared this time.)

The Seward Street Slides were constructed over 30 years ago in the hills above the Castro. After the neighborhood successfully saved the park from development, they held a “Design the Park” competition. 14-year-old Kim Clark won with a design for curving concrete slides, based on a slide that used to be at Playland Amusement Park at Ocean Beach. (more at Curbed SF). This is what you see today.

Intrigued, we climbed the stairs, skeptically eyeing the slides next to us. Since there are two slides next to each other, we decided to go together. We bravely inched our way along the slide on our pieces of cardboard. We did not know what we were getting into.

These slides are FAST. They start innocently enough, then all hell breaks loose as they shoot you down a steep incline and around a sharp curve before spitting you out a longer than it should be drop to the ground. There is no way to land gracefully. We laughed a lot at how ridiculous the ride was and our astonishment that these are there for kids to play on. While my friend refused to go again, I was determined to document this crazy, random, slightly dangerous San Francisco oddity.

So I went again while she recorded it. At the risk of complete embarrassment, here is the video of my second ride. Just know that this was not the worst landing we saw that day.

Flight Planning

It’s March. Already. How did that happen? While usually the beginning of March is exciting because spring is almost here, this year for me it has much more significance: I can FINALLY buy my flights!

I have had the route planned and the timing planned for a while, but I haven’t been able to buy my flights yet because I can’t get them more than 11 months in advance. Since my last flight from Bangkok to New Delhi is in February of 2015, that means I’ve been waiting till March to make the big purchase. And now that it’s here, I’m simultaneously incredibly excited and terrified.

Buying my flights is the final commitment. I know telling my job that I’m leaving felt like jumping off the cliff, but as soon as I make this purchase that is it, I am going. And I am happy to say, I’m ready to do it.

I went through a few different options of how I wanted to buy my flights. At first I thought I would get a RTW ticket, so I played around on Star Alliance’s RTW site for a little while (I had already read about a few different RTW ticket providers before landing on Star Alliance). Ultimately I decided against this method because of a few things: 1) it has a mileage limit, and I kept exceeding the mileage; 2) it was more expensive than I had hoped it would be; and 3) it was too limiting. The RTW ticket really locked me into a final route – I had to move one direction within a certain number of miles, starting and ending in the same country. What if I didn’t feel like going home just yet? Or for some unforeseen reason I wanted to go eastward before continuing on west? With flexibility being as important as it is to me, this just wasn’t the way to go.

And then there’s the buying as a you go route. While this seems fun, spending hours on computers in hostels or internet cafes trying to search for the optimal flight prices and times didn’t sound like the best use of my time. Plus, as I’ve already said, I want to make sure that I keep moving to the next destinations. Not having that next big flight could mean I spend my entire trip in South America. While that doesn’t sound too bad, it’s just not what I’m setting out to do right now.

Then I discovered Indie. As I alluded to once before, BootsnAll is a terrific resource for all your RTW planning needs. It has articles on destinations, planning tips, links to other blogs – really anything you could want. And one of my favorite things about it is the route planner Indie.

Indie lets you play around with different options – you can change locations, sort by prices or length of trip, choose overland or flight between places – so you can find the route that works best for you. This is also how I ended up deciding to not have a return flight. Because you are searching individual legs as a package, there is no restriction on where you have to end. It’s the tool that helped me find my perfect combination of planned and flexible. And the price was right too.

For anyone who is planning a RTW trip, I highly suggest spending some time with Indie. I have saved a few route options and keep going back and adjusting them trying to find the right combination. I think I almost have it. As soon as I hit purchase, you’ll be the first to know.

My route on Indie Look familiar? This is where the image on my "Itinerary" page is from.

My route on Indie
Look familiar? This is where the image on my “Itinerary” page is from.