Preparing to Go

6 Months

Today is officially 6 months since I left the US. June 21 – December 21.

Technically, this means I have just 3 months left of my trip.

Realistically, I’m thinking this is halfway.

The past 6 months have been incredible. Setting out on this journey I knew I would have a life-changing experience but I had no idea how it would happen. I couldn’t have predicted the specifics – my reaction to the different locations, the fast bonds I formed with people, the parts of myself that have flourished, diminished, or been discovered along the way – but I could have predicted that at this point I would be addicted to the nomadic lifestyle.

Which is why it is too hard to give it up just yet. I’ve had my ups and downs, complete with “best time of my life” statements and the unfortunate travel fatigue, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Those moments are what make this trip complete. I’ve come to a place now where I am excited about the path of self-discovery that I am on, in addition to the ever-present excitement about the new places I am seeing. It has been a long journey to get here and it’s not over, not even close.

I don’t have any stats to give about how many miles I’ve traveled but I can say that I’ve been to 12 countries across 3 continents so far, all with their own language barriers and currency conversions, and might be adding a few new ones that weren’t on the original itinerary. I can say that there are certain cities, countries, or regions that have meant more to me than others and that I eagerly hope to return to one day. I can say that I have become comfortable with alone time, self-sufficiency, flexibility, embracing the unknown, overcoming obstacles, engaging strangers in conversation, and using hand signals to communicate. I can say that I miss people around the world who I did and did not know when I left 6 months ago, and that I have and will reunite with a handful of them as I keep going. To the people I knew before, you still mean the world to me, and I am so happy we’ve kept in touch. To the people I met in the past 6 months, you have made this experience the absolute best it could be and I thank you and can’t wait to see you all again, in the near or far future.

With the New Year approaching 2014 recaps are flooding social media. It’s hard for me to even process my 2014. It began when I officially declared I would be leaving on this adventure, and at the halfway point I boarded my first flight. Half a year dedicated to see-you-soon’s and half a year dedicated to nice-to-meet-you’s. It’s undoubtedly my most interesting year of life so far.

So cheers to 2014 and to 6 months gone by already. Hard to believe how fast it went, easy to believe how awesome it was.

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Jetstar Price Beat Guarantee

When I was looking to book my flight from Sydney to Cairns, and unhappily facing shelling out over $200, Peter told me about a helpful Jetstar trick.

When you find a flight on a competitor airline that is:
1) Cheaper than a Jetstar flight
2) Within an hour of said Jetstar flight
3) More than 72 hours from the day you find it

You can contact Jetstar with this information and, once they verify you’re telling the truth, they will give you their flight for 10% less than the competitor’s price. Seriously. It’s a great trick that helped me save over $50.

So the next time you’re thinking about flying with Jetstar do a quick search to see if anyone else is flying cheaper. It may just save you a day’s worth of money.

Indie Flight Help

When I was in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile I received an email from Indie: your flight on November 27th from Sydney to Bangkok has been cancelled. It was the end of August and I was in a remote town in South America. Normally, this would be an “oh shit I have to waste some time at the hostel finding a new flight” moment, but not with Indie.

The email included the alternative flight that the airline carrier was offering me, which happened to necessitate an overnight in Manila, and asked if that was okay with me or if I would prefer a refund and a new flight. I responded that I would rather not have an overnight in Manila and my days were flexible, and after a short correspondence the team at Indie was able to cancel and refund that flight, and book me on a new flight now out of Melbourne to Bangkok (so I didn’t have to return to Sydney on my way out of Australia).

Just a few emails and that was it, problem solved.

Thank you Indie. I can’t say enough about how great this website is for flight planning. I already raved about it when I found and purchased my itinerary through it, and now it helped me solve a flight issue completely painlessly.

If you are thinking about booking a RTW trip, or really any trip, take a look at Indie. It may become your new best flight booking friend.

Halfway Point Update

Today is Day 136 on the road. By my calculations, I am officially halfway through my 9 month trip. A) Holy shit that went fast. B) Now seems like a good time for a logistical update.

People have asked me how my clothes are lasting, how my bags are holding up, how’s my budget doing, what about the electronics, what have I been eating, am I exhausted of being constantly on the move – things that I forget to write about because it’s everyday stuff but it is also a big part of traveling. So here’s a bit of a summary on how my pre-departure planning has held up and the more day-to-day details of life on the move.

Clothes
I am sick of my clothes. Coming from a life where I wouldn’t wear the same thing within a few week period, wearing the same clothes all the time was definitely an adjustment. The more or less weeks-worth of clothes that I originally planned to bring has held up well. However there are two things that come to mind outside of that set that prove I may have underestimated my needs. First, I kept some of those Rio-only clothes I brought. The Amazon and Colombia were really hot so I needed more light options, and I knew I would face the same in Australia and Asia. Second, I underestimated the cold weather I would face. I picked up an alpaca sweater in Bolivia, a hat and gloves in Ecuador, and a scarf first in Salvador and then in Nelson, NZ after I sadly lost the Salvador one, and I wear these new additions all the time. I probably could’ve used some more warmer clothing, but I’ve made it out of winter and am going to be in heat for the rest of my trip, so I survived with what I had without having to carry around any bulkier, heavier items. Not a huge error really. I did have to replace my flip-flops after attempting to hold them together with duct tape for a month, and I grabbed a pair of casual sneakers knowing that my slip-ons would have to go soon. I suspect I will have a few more additions and swaps once I hit Asia and clothing is again a bit cheaper, but for the most part I think I was right in my estimations, even if I do miss having a little more variety in my wardrobe.

Bags
They are worn but great. I have walked up and down cobblestone streets and forced my way through bus turnstiles while wearing my Gregory backpack and it has been excellent for all scenarios. All the pockets have their own purpose – main for clothes, top for accessories, bottom for toiletries, sides for shoes, front for weather gear – and it has been easy to find everything and repack quickly. My second bag, the Fjallraven, has been perfect. I am constantly changing how I wear it – as a shoulder bag, messenger bag and backpack – according to city wandering or rural hiking. Again the different pocket options help organize all my stuff, it fits everything I need, and it is so durable. I’m never worried about it tearing or breaking and the navy color is hiding the probably high level of dirtiness well. I wouldn’t change a thing here. In fact I’d recommend this combination to everyone.

Budget
I’m on track! I’m happy and honestly a bit surprised about this fact. So far I think I have balanced things really well, finding ways to save by cutting unnecessary expenses (mainly attraction or food and drink related) so that I can splurge when I think it’s worth it (mainly experiences like skydiving and scuba diving). I left South America at the exact budget point I hoped I would be at and left New Zealand $500 under my goal, which ended up being exactly where I should be since Australia is going to be more expensive. Hopefully I’m able to keep up this balance throughout the next month; Australia has been my biggest concern. Not only is it the most expensive country in my trip but there are lots of experiences here that I think are worth the money. For starters the Great Barrier Reef, which is really a non-negotiable for me. But then things like sailing the Whitsundays, a 4WD on Fraser Island, and a 3 day Uluru tour also sound incredible and all cost a decent chunk of change. I have been lucky enough to start out with a super generous friend of a friend who has let me crash at his place in Sydney for 6 days (Thank you Jesse and Amit! And proof that the people you meet on the road are a fantastic international community that continue to amaze me) so hopefully I will make it out of Australia still in a good place before the ever-so-cheap (so I am continuously told) Southeast Asia.

Electronics
Perfect. Getting both cameras was a great decision. My Canon G16 takes amazing pictures with the portability I was hoping for, even fitting in my pocket when necessary, and the battery life far exceeds any other electronic device I own. I actually got excited once when a bar of battery finally went down; I was worried the battery level icon was actually broken. The GoPro is always a fun choice. I’ve used it under water and on dry land to get some great footage that I will be so happy to have looking back at this experience. My laptop is exactly what I needed it to be, with perfect portability and ability to handle the photos and videos I’m working with. And the built-in card reader is the best thing ever. Bringing my unlocked iPhone has been by far the most surprisingly great decision. I debated what to do about a phone for a long time before deciding my last night at home to just bring my phone. I had no idea how many places I would be able to get wifi – most restaurants, transportation terminals, and hostels in South America have free wifi, sometimes it’s even on the buses – so I’ve been able to stay in contact with people easier than I ever thought. And now in Australia I’ve gotten a reasonably cheap SIM card so I have been able to text, call and use data to meet up with people. It’s been really useful and now I would tell everyone to just bring their iPhone if only for the wifi. My only complaint is chargers. Can someone please come up with one charger that works for all of these? They are by far the heaviest part of my bag and having just one adapter means having to strategically decide what order to charge things in.

Food
Hm, food. This is an interesting one. Food decisions are dominated by price. It’s the easiest way to save money, choosing grocery store meals instead of restaurants, but that often results in less healthy or satisfying meals. I was a pretty healthy person in SF but on the road if an empanada costs $2 and a salad costs $15, guess which one I’ll be eating. I’ve been able to save a decent amount of money this way that goes towards things I think are more worth it, as I mentioned in the budget section, but sometimes I do feel like a bit of a blob. However through this I have also rediscovered some tasty treats that I generally refuse to eat at home (thinking about french fries and sweets right now). This year is a departure from the regulated life I lived for the past five years and that includes food. Sure I’m strict about trying to be cheap but I don’t need to feel bad about eating a little less healthy, especially when I’m active for the majority of my day, another departure from my previous desk-centered weeks. I did end up documenting all of my included meals in transportation and accommodation so I will hopefully post an update on that soon. I will say this: I miss the fruit in Brazil, I have had enough white bread and jam to last me a lifetime, and now that I’m in Australasia I don’t have as much to show as I did in South America (included food and internet both sharply decreased once I got to this part of the world).

Travel Fatigue?
I think the best way I can answer this one is that I’m shocked I’m halfway through. I’ve been on the go for 4 and a half months and like most times you think about 4 and a half months it feels like both a week and year; it has flown by but Brazil feels like a different life. The constant movement towards something new and excitement that comes with it has kept me going and made me not miss the US as much as you might expect. At the same time, there are moments where I miss the comforts of home – brunch with friends, movie nights in an apartment, being able to just pick up the phone and talk to people, sleeping in in my own bed, working out. Generally I am great. I am living my dream, and how often does someone get to say that? I do have moments of sadness or fatigue where I wonder why I have decided to be away for so long, but then I remember that in the grand scheme of life 9 months is not long at all, and everything I have experienced in the past 4.5 months and will experience in the next 4.5 is entirely worth it. This is the trip of a lifetime and that is reason enough to keep going. I miss you all at home, but I will see you again soon enough. I am happy and I can’t imagine doing anything else right now. And for those of you who have talked to me recently, you know that I already am thinking I will try to make it at least to the year mark. Once you start living this life it’s hard to imagine stopping. Now I just need the budget part to hold up so I actually can make it to June…

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Any more questions?

Instagram

So my blog had an instagram, @travelabrodge. I was planning to use just that for my trip photos so they’d all be in one collection. However instagram needs me to re-validate my account by texting me a code, and my phone is shut off, and it isn’t sending to an alternative number. So for now, I’ll just be using my normal instagram @kten421 and tagging everything #travelabrodge Maybe I’ll get it back up again at some point… Thanks to everyone who was already following it!

Bon Voyages

Over the past month I’ve said goodbye to a lot of people. I’ve moved out of the city I loved with some of the best people I’ve ever known, I’ve reconnected with college and high school friends only to say bye again, and I’ve gotten together with family in a wonderful sendoff celebration.

All of these goodbyes have been sad, and they’ve made this very real. But more than anything, they’ve reminded me of all the fantastic, supportive people I have in my life. For that I am forever thankful. I will miss you all so much.

I know I am looking forward to taking a break from our hyper-connected technological world for a bit, but I can’t help but feel grateful that the same technology I’m escaping will allow me to keep in touch from wherever I am in the world. Through this blog, through email, facebook messaging, google hangouts, and WhatsApp (yes I have decided to bring my iPhone as a wireless device), I will at least be able to say some quick hellos and hopefully have some great catch-up sessions while I’m away.

And maybe I’ll be able to convince more people to join me. Or at the very least, I’ll be able to feel like it hasn’t been so long when I see everyone again upon my return.

So for now, all of you have been a part of this journey already. Thanks for everything, thanks for following so far, and I will try my best to follow through on my promise to keep this blog updated so you can all come along with me, at least virtually.

9 hours till my flight.

Auf Wiedersehen, USA.

Packed and Ready to Go

I’m all packed. As someone who has a bad habit of packing very last minute and overpacking, this was a big accomplishment for me. I started out with an idea of how much I could bring, and in my typical packing style grabbed way more than that and laid it all out. Then I started the process of elimination.

They key is that every top I’m bringing can be worn with every bottom. I tried to have a bit of variety – at one point I had out two green v-neck t-shirts and two gray t-shirts, that really would have been wearing the same thing every day – and allowed myself one non-plain shirt per category. I found myself bored with all the solids so I threw in something different in each style. I did actually try on everything I’m bringing just to make sure it all works.

Here they are, my clothes for the next year:

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Not bad right? This is what I’m bringing:

  • 3 t-shirts
  • 4 sleeveless shirts
  • 1 comfy long sleeve shirt (pre-treated with insect repellent!)
  • 1 nice long sleeve shirt (sometimes I’ll want to actually look decent at a dinner)
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 1 pair of ankle length black Gap Body athletic pants
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 black maxi skirt
  • 1 bathing suit
  • a weeks worth of underwear and socks
  • 4 bras from regular to varying degrees of sports bras
  • 1 pair of athletic shorts and tank to sleep in (this was a last minute addition)
  • 1 packable rain jacket (Marmot)
  • 1 packable coat (one of those synthetic down ones that’s really warm and gets really small, by Mountain Hardwear)
  • 1 pair of low ankle hiking shoes
  • 1 slip on day shoe
  • 1 pair of flip flops
  • 1 pair of fold up black flats (again last minute and for the occasional nights I want to give the other shoes a rest)

I ended up allowing myself 1 more of everything than I planned. So that overpacking habit didn’t exactly go away. But it all still fits so I’m starting out with all of this and if I need to make changes on the road I can. Plus when it’s all packed up, it takes up no more room than this:

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Packing cubes are a traveler’s best friend. Everything I just listed (except the shoes and jackets) is in those two cubes. It’s all contained and hopefully will help reduce wrinkling at least a little, although it’s inevitable that it will all end up wrinkled. One cube is tops – shirts, bras – and one is bottoms – pants, underwear, socks – and everything in both is rolled to take up less space.

In addition to what I’m wearing, I have three other small packing cubes: electronics, medical kit, toiletries. I could list everything that is in these, but it’s a lot of little things and you can easily find these lists online or in RTW planning books. To summarize, I have medicines to cover itching to colds to common problems travelers have adjusting to new foods, in addition to my malaria pills. I have all manners of getting clean and minimal items to make me look pretty (aka not really much makeup). I have some helpful survival tools like duct tape, water purification tables, compass, headlamp, foldable 1L water bottle, and a leatherman. And I have all the chargers and GoPro mounts I need to make sure I can post more pictures along the way.

This is how it looks all packed up:

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Honestly it is not as big as I thought it would be, and not too heavy really. These packs are engineered so well that it doesn’t feel nearly as bad as it probably sounds like it would, carrying all of that. Then again I haven’t run through a crowded town trying to catch a bus with this on my back yet, so I’ll let you know if I say the same thing when that happens.

Then I got an awesome second bag for a day bag. I can’t rave about this bag enough from Fjallraven (mine is navy). It is a tote bag and shoulder bag, but it is also a backpack and a messenger bag. It is waterproof, rolls up to barely anything when I don’t need it, and has a laptop sleeve inside that is well hidden. Durable and with a zipper that I can keep a hand on while walking through crowded cities, it has everything I wanted and never thought I’d find in one bag. And with a lifetime guarantee, I see this thing lasting for a long long time. (Thank you to my friends who brought me to this store. On the way they told me: “You will buy something here.” I was skeptical. You guys were right.)

So there it is, I’m ready to go. Or at least my clothes are ready to go. As for my mental state, well, we’ll see how I feel at the end of the day.

…Ok so I’m cheating a little. I’ll be in Rio de Janeiro for 2 weeks with friends, and since I have all this extra room in my bag, I’m bringing a Rio-only set of clothing that I plan to ditch once I leave. But 2 weeks in Rio during the World Cup deserves some fun outfits! So when you see pictures of me not in anything I just listed above, that will be why. When I leave Rio though this list will be it. I’m just allowing myself a little fun in the beginning. Nothing wrong with that right?

Bucket List Results

I know you’ve all been dying to know how I did on my San Francisco bucket list, or #brodgesbucketlist as it’s now known. Below is the entire list – maroon text is completed, black text I didn’t get to do. What do you think?

The Bucket List

The Bucket List

I think I did well! 34 out of 40. There are a few missing, unfortunately, but for all the ones missing and more I did plenty of #unofficialversion bucket list items. Plus there are a few that I did part of – my last weekend I did make it to Bootie and then Aces, we just happened to nap during what was supposed to be the EndUp time so I didn’t count it. And then there are a few that I admit are a bit of a stretch – I did go climbing at Dogpatch Boulders when I stopped by my friends’ climbing competition, and we did have a growler from Magnolia at their apartment after, so technically that counts right?

In the end I am just so happy that I was able to do as much as I did, and I’m even happier that so many people joined me for the fun!

I’ve posted some highlights already, but really everything I did could have had its own post. I had the best time exploring all the city has to offer. My last months in SF could have been filled with sadness about my upcoming departure, but instead they were a celebration of the wonderfulness of the city and all my friends.

There are still plenty of activities to do and places to visit in San Francisco, so when I return one day I hope more of you will join me again for my #brodgeisback list.

 

Electronics Decisions

Just a few days now till takeoff. I expected this to be the time where I’d be so excited to leave that all I would be doing is reading my guidebook and talking endlessly about everything I’ll see.

Instead, this is the time where I’m doing runs to various stores for final supplies and calling every account I have to either tell them that I’m leaving or cancel them. Tedious stuff, but necessary.

The shopping trips are pretty easy to figure out with some research (and I’ll post my final packing list soon) but the electronics have been a constant debate full of store visits, online research, and support line calls. Here’s where I’ve landed:

Cameras

I’m bringing two. First, I got a Canon G16. I basically describe this as a souped-up point and shoot camera. It has many of the settings of a DSLR such as Manual, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and more, but without the detachable lenses. It won’t fit in my pocket, although honestly what camera would fit in women’s clothing pockets, but it will fit nicely in my day bag. It is less showy than a DSLR and more portable so I can quickly bring it out for a picture and put it right away, hopefully not attracting much attention. It will still take very high quality pictures and video, and with a viewfinder and large back screen for image review it is really the hybrid camera I was looking for. This is what most of the pictures on my blog will be taken with.

Then I got a GoPro Hero3+. I was debating this one for a while, but on a trip like this I felt like I just had to take one of these. I’ll probably use it primarily for video, but the camera option is great. Small, portable, waterproof, it will be used in a range of ways. I imagine strapping it to my backpack and documenting arrivals to and travel around new places, as well as using the wrist mount while skydiving and scuba diving. It has a different purpose than the Canon, since I can’t actually see what I’m shooting and don’t have as much control over the images, so I think together they’ll fully document all my adventures. Plus I like the ability to take video and images without having a camera in front of my face the whole time.

I figured I get one chance to do a trip like this (theoretically), so I chose to get both cameras so I could document it how I wanted.

Laptop

This was a tough decision. I know there are computers in internet cafes and hostels, but I also know that this would be my main form of communication. Talking to friends and family on skype in a cafe is not only very public but also very slow. Add in online banking, hostel and flight booking, and regular email communication and having my own computer sounded not only better but more secure.

Plus I want to blog, obviously, and be able to upload photos and videos to the cloud. If something were to happen to my electronics, the cloud is the most logical place to store everything. Cafe computers are incredibly slow for this purpose, and would be seriously limiting.

Then I had to find a small, portable laptop that won’t weigh down my bag and can handle everything I just mentioned. After talking to numerous people, I decided on the Lenovo Yoga 11S Ultrabook. At 11.6″ it is very portable, but with an i5 processor it can actually handle the tasks I want to use it for. It was unfortunately more expensive than I wanted, but since I need something that does more than simple word processing and minimal email I had to go for it.

For those of you thinking “why didn’t you just bring an iPad or a Macbook air” (this is a common question), here’s why: 1) iPads don’t have real keyboards, USB or SD drives, and only really work with wifi, 2) Macbooks are pricier and don’t have as many ports as Lenovo (mainly SD card reader) and 3) Mac just seems to scream “steal me!”(Yes laptops can scream that no matter what but this one is at least a little more discreet, and yes I will still make sure to be careful with it). So far I’m very happy with this decision.

Phone

I came up with a phone plan a long time ago, then got talked around in circles about all the options by everyone and ended up talking to lots of people about what to do, and now have gone back to my original idea. Well, sort of. Honestly this one is still not entirely finalized.

Despite having an unlocked iPhone 4S, I have decided to just get a phone when I get to Sao Paulo that can switch out SIM cards. I will really only use the phone for occasional texts when meeting up with people or the rare phone call to a hostel. Calling home I’ll just use Skype or Google Hangouts. So I only need the local SIM card, which I’ll have to change often since I’m going through a lot of countries.

This means that I’m going to suspend my phone plan in the US for as long as possible. I have to suspend it, not cancel, because I don’t want to lose two things: unlimited data and the phone number I’ve had for the past 13 years. I can suspend it for up to 6 months within a 365 day period, so after 6 months I’ll have to start paying my US phone bill again. I talked to Verizon and reduced my plan to the absolute minimum I could without losing those two things – 30 min of talk, no texts, same data plan – so that it’s not too big of a hit when it is reactivated in January.

Since my phone number will reactivate in January, I didn’t want to risk messing up this plan by switching out SIM cards on the road. Plus using a phone with data isn’t entirely essential, and I already have enough electronics that I’m worried about being stolen, so I don’t want to have an iPhone as my communication device.

All that’s left to decide now is whether I take the iPhone as a purely wireless device. I would be able to sync maps for use offline, use WhatsApp while I’m in a wifi zone to talk to friends, have a calculator and clock, and Instagram when on wireless (a friend did mention once that she was concerned I wouldn’t be able to Instagram while I’m away). Honestly right now, I’m leaning towards leaving the iPhone behind entirely. But I still have a few days to decide this, so TBD.