Week 1: Purchasing Our Bus Conversion

Many things went into our decision to purchase a bus. We considered size, space, minimum amenities, and price. We had a budget constraint of $2,000 and required a minimum 125 square feet of workable space. The vehicle had to be high enough to accommodate standing room throughout and have enough roof space for potential solar kits. The engine also had to run. It could have some problems, need a tune-up, have a leak, but it had to run. We weren’t going to pay for a trailer or for someone to bring it down from wherever it was currently sitting. Also, a bit of an odd request, we strongly preferred a vehicle that had already been gutted. A blank slate, to cut down on demolition time and disposal cost.

We scoured the internet: Ebay, Craigslist, RVTrader, and even looked at some half-complete bus conversions we thought we could make work for our needs.

We got our bus from a Craigslist ad buried among the commercial ads with a list price of $2,800. We read the ad and really liked that it was an older shuttle bus, a stoic white fiberglass exterior and a near-empty interior. The listing said it ran and it needed updated but was in otherwise good condition. We thought it was possibly too good to be true, that it had surely already sold, but saw that the listing had been posted only an hour earlier. We reached out to him immediately, requesting more pictures.

The gentleman was very kind and forthcoming with the maintenance needed to get it working properly, and sent over a dozen pictures of the interior. He was using it as storage space, and offered to empty out the bus completely and clean it before we drove the 2 hours to go see it. We made a viewing appointment the next day.

It was in better condition than expected when we arrived. It was parked toward the back of the lot in what is probably the only neighborhood of this tiny Florida town. We scoured the inside for mold, rot, mildew, leaks, rust, and damage to the engine to best estimate renovation costs. Overall we were pretty pleased and told the guy we’d mull it over the rest of the weekend and let him know during the week.

The next day, Mark gets a message from the guy who’s now offered to drop the price to below our $2,000 maximum budget. Mark tells the guy to consider it sold – we drove up against the next weekend, test-drove it, and took it home with us!

Endnote: We were told there was a power steering leak, and the bus took 5 quarts of power steering fluid to make it the 180 miles, but we did, and the demo has just begun!

 

Caribbean Islands Visa Requirements for Americans

This is information for each country regarding American visa requirements for all countries in the Caribbean. This is current from the State Department as of September 2016.

Bahamas: No visa required.

Turks and Caicos: No visa for less than 90 days. Visas required for longer stays and is renewable once.

Cuba: Visa required. Initial 30 day stay, renewable once for 30 days. Travel is only permitted for 1 of 12 reasons as listed by the US Government. We are looking for legitimate, reasonably priced Cuban travel operators and will update this page when we have found one we would use.

cuba-travel-permissions

Cayman Islands: No visa required.

Jamaica: No visa required.

Haiti: No visa for less than 90 days.

Dominican Republic:  No visa required, but a tourist card ($10) must be purchased before or on arrival. Tourist card covers up to 60 days.

British Virgin Islands: No visa required for less than 30 days.

Bonaire St, Eustatius, and Saba: No visa required for less than 90 days.

St Kitts and Nevis: No visa required for less than 90 days.

Anguilla: No visa required if you can show proof of accommodation, onward ticket (for some point in the future), and proof of funds.

Sint Maarten: No visa required for less than 90 days.

Antigua and Barbuda: No visa required if you can show proof of accommodation, onward ticket (for some point in the future), and proof of funds.

Montserrat: No visa required.

Guadeloupe, Barbados, Martinique (Collectively the French West Indies): No visa required for less than 90 days so long as you can show proof of accommodation, onward ticket and proof of funds.

Dominica: No visa required for less than 180 days (6 months).

St Lucia: No visa required if you can show proof of accommodation, onward ticket (for some point in the future), and proof of funds.

St Vincent and the Grenadines: No visa required.

 

 

90 Days of Schengen: Free-Travel Countries

This post contains a list of countries in the Schengen area, where you are free to move about anywhere among these countries. For Americans, this free-travel time is limited to 90 days per 180 days (3 months/ 6 months). Once you enter one of these countries by rail, plane, or foot, the 90 days starts ticking. It’s kind of like tag. Entering Austria, for example, will tag you “in” and your 90 days in Schengen starts. You won’t be tagged out so long as you travel to any of the other countries on this list, and your 90 day counter will continue to roll.

If you leave Austria and travel to the UK (a country not in Schengen), you will be tagged “out” and your 90 day Schengen counter will stop until you tag yourself back “in” by returning to another Schengen country. You will go through passport control every time you leave and re-enter the Schengen zone.

Do not test this 90-day limit and try to overstay your time in Schengen. As of this post, the following countries are in the Schengen Zone. Due to the refugee influx, some of these countries have imposed border controls regardless of prior arrangements.

Austria
Belgium
Czech Republic
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
France
Germany
Greece
Hungary
Iceland
Italy
Latvia
Liechtenstein
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Malta
Netherlands
Norway
Poland
Portugal
Slovakia
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland

24 Hours In: Brussels

Disclaimer: Language. Mostly because I’m into my second glass of wine and feeling passionately about this.

Hottest city I’ve ever been in, which is saying a lot coming from someone who’s lived in America’s armpit (Florida) for three years. The average temperature in Brussels in August is allegedly 22C / 72F. There’s so much bullshit in this claim I could fertilize Texas with it.

It wasn’t 22C. It was 36C (97F for the Americans). Intolerable heat. Not enough water in the city’s free water fountains to cool you off heat. Legs sticking to each other, hair matted to your face, sweat beads racing down the small of your back, kind of heat.

Are you feeling this yet? Here’s another layer of heat. The Airbnb we stayed at had “nature’s” aircon: open the windows, get the breeze, y’all be fine.

Except there wasn’t a breeze. And we weren’t fine. We were staying right in the middle of the pedestrian walkway so exploring on foot was easy. We found city hall and marveled at how old everything was, and got a postcard-perfect shot in front of the Godiva store. We did that for about 2 hours, and then found ourselves in the food district.

The food district is a place to go if you want to be aggressively guided into a restaurant. Don’t dare look at a menu because that’s your way of saying you want to eat there. I don’t remember where we wound up eating, but I do remember day drinking.

We got chatting with our servers whom were all from a country other than Belgium. I appreciated that about the city. We learned the drinking age in Belgium is 14, that it was uncharacteristically hot, and most people speak four languages which is absolutely mind-blowing. We day drank outside and people watched.

Day drinking has a way of leading into a 5 hour nap, which we took, because we were feeling a heat-induced buzz. When we woke up, it was dark, and the sheets and the bed were soaked in sweat. Hair was wet. Pillow cases were wet. The window in our room was like a prison window, a narrow horizontal opening about 6 feet up from our bed, unreachable without standing on tip-toes.

I opened it expecting healthy gusts of wind, and got nothing.

Twenty minutes into sizzling we decided it’d be cooler outside than it was in our abode. So we put new clothes on to instantly sweat in and went out night-drinking. Would you believe it, the temperature dropped to 30C/ 86F. What a fucking relief.

The rest of the night is a blur but it basically ends up at a place called ‘Delirium’ which isn’t just one bar but a  whole row of bars and each bar has its own alcoholic theme: vodka, tequila, huge ass beers, whiskey, and more.

Summary of Brussels: 2 days is enough for it, avoid August, and prepare for liver obliteration at Delirium.

Visa Requirements of Asia and India for US Citizens

This list is for people traveling independently, without a tour group**, as a tour group will file this paperwork on your behalf. In all cases, assume that passports must be valid at least 6 months after your intended stay.

China (Mainland, excluding Hong Kong and Macau):  Visa required. Visa must be presented upon arrival in China. You must specify your exact entry date and exit date, and do not deviate from this at all. The penalties for overstaying are harsh and you do not want to test them. If you are staying at a hostel / hotel / AirBnb, please ensure you are registered with the police within 24 hours to avoid trouble.

Chinese Visa Application Form and the steps for processing are available here. Apply no earlier than 2 months before your departure. The absolute latest you can apply for a visa is 3 weeks. We recommend you go for the 10 year multi-entry visa, as it makes subsequent visits to China much easier.

India: Visa required. Application must be sent and visa received before you enter India.
Exception: 30 day stay or less, an electronic visa (e-TV visa) can be issued no earlier than 4 days before entry.

India’s eTV Application.

India eTV application
India’s eTV Application

 

Japan: No visa for less than 90 days.

  • Be prepared to show an onward / return ticket or proof of funds. If you have neither, Japanese immigration may deny you entry.

Mongolia: No visa for less than 90 days.

Republic of Korea (South Korea): No visa for less than 90 days.

  • If you are planning to teach in Korea, you will need an E2 visa. Send it to the consulate in the US, and you will receive your visa in 3-5 business days

Teach English in Korea (E2) Visa Application.

Taiwan: No visa for less than 90 days.

Nepal: Visa Required. Visa on arrival available at Kathmandu International Airport. Three available visa options: 15 day, 1 month multi-entry, 3 month multi-entry. Maximum stay of 150 days per calendar year.

Nepal Visa Application

**Bhutan: Visa Required. You can only travel to Bhutan with a tour operator who applies for tourist clearance on your behalf. Here is the directory of Bhutan tour operators.

  • There is also a Minimum Daily Package, which covers many things but at a rate of $200-$250 per night. Please review the details carefully. This is a small country with a very, very strict set of laws.

Bangladesh: Visa Required. Visa on Arrival available for stays less than 30 days. If you think you may stay longer, fill out the official visa application and get approved before you arrive in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh Visa Application

Myanmar: Visa Required. Myanmar participates in eVisa. When your visa is granted, you will receive an approval letter, which you must have with you when you arrive in Myanmar.

Myanmar eVisa Application

Myanmar eVisa
First Page of Myanmar eVisa Application

 

Thailand: No visa for less than 30 days (for air arrival) or 15 days (for land arrival). You MUST make sure your passport is stamped before you leave the passport control, or you will have a hell of a time when you go to leave. If you do not get your passport stamped, there will be no proof of your entry into the country, and you will be subject to fines and arrest.

Thailand Visa Applications

Laos: Visa Required. Visa on Arrival offered at many points of entry for a 30 day stay. Visa can be extended for up to another 60 days for $2 / day. After that, you have to move to a different country.

Vietnam: Visa Required. Many countries (UK, Germany, Israel, India, Brazil, et al) are exempt from this requirement (full list available here) but US citizens must have a visa. For instructions regarding the information required on the visa, click here.

Vietnam Visa Application

Philippines: No visa for less than 30 days. If you are already in the Philippines and decide you want to stay longer, you can request a 29 day extension from the Philippine Bureau of Immigration and Deportation’s (BI) main office at Magallanes Drive, Intramuros, Manila.

Malaysia: No visa for less than 90 days. Check your stamp before you leave passport control, as some people have been granted less time. Visas can be extended for two months.

Indonesia: No visa for less than 30 days. Requirements for an extended tourist visa are available here.

Indonesia Visa Application

Singapore: No visa for less than 90 days.

Timor-Leste: Visa Required. Visa on Arrival for 30 days is available for $30. Visa can be extended for 30 days for an additional $30, up to 90 days.


We are not posting visa requirements for North Korea considering US citizens have been detained and worse even with proper documents. Americans are unwelcome in bits and pieces of the world, but traveling to North Korea is signing your own death certificate.


If you’re having trouble navigating the world of visas and forms, send us a shout! We are more than happy to help out a fellow traveler.

Salut and cheers.

Mark and Melody

8 Things That are Distinctly American

Most people, before they depart on a trip, understand that cultural differences are inevitable. What usually comes to mind is the big things – different language, different transit schedule or method of transit, different currency – all very in your face and memorable. When you’ve been on the road for 3+ months, it’s the little details that take shape in your mind and become much more laughable.

1. Unlimited drink refills. A 10/10 on Americanism. We went to Subway in Toulouse, France and ordered the combo. In America, this comes with unlimited sweet tea or coke or whatever you fancy. When Mark got up to refill his Subway cup, he was promptly told that refills aren’t free. Color me surprised.

2. Free, unlimited water at bars and restaurants. I think Kosovo is the first place where we have asked for water and it’s been given to us at no charge. For the other 18 countries in Europe, table water ranged from 2 to 6 euro per decanter.

3. Employees that bag up your groceries and the free plastic bags at grocery stores. Wholly American. In Europe, not only do you pay per plastic bag, but you also bag your own stuff! The first couple of months of grocery shopping were hilarious as both of us had to Tetris our purchases on our arms like a Jenga tower and walk slowly out of the store. Now, well, we just buy less.

4. Complimentary bread at dinner. Are you noticing a trend? Nothing is free in this world. We noticed this in Italy, where bread was offered at each meal and we took from it, thinking nothing of it. When the bill came, we were charged for all of it, even if we didn’t eat all of it. We figured it’s maybe a douchy restaurant thing, but when it happened again we realized, nope, just an Italy thing.

5. Clothing dryers! We’ve only had access to them twice: in Ireland and in Southwest France. I learned the delicate art of hanging clothes out to dry in a way that dries them the quickest. I also learned how much of the day revolves around clothes. A sampling of my clothes washing woes:

Scenario 1: I wash my clothes in the washer in the morning. Irish mist rolls in the afternoon. Guess who doesn’t get dry clothes? This girl.

Scenario 2: Ran out of clothespins while hanging up socks. Folded socks in half over the line. Gust of wind comes. Here I sit in the kitchen sipping on my hot tea when I notice socks rolling like tumbleweed in the yard.

Scenario 3: Clothes are dried. Had too much Rakia (homemade brandy resembling jet fuel) and forgot about the clothes before the sun went down. Went to collect clothes. No longer dry, but damp.

6. 27 minute wash cycles on the clothes washer. Actually, any wash cycle that’s less than 2 hours. In Finland, Bulgaria, France, Scotland, Ireland – anywhere that we washed clothes, it was a minimum wash cycle of 90 minutes. The longest was 4 hours. YES. Imagine waiting for your clothes for FOUR HOURS. Then you have to hang them out to dry. Do you see why it’s a full-time job just making sure the laundry is clean and dry?

7. An Inability to Separate Trash and RecycleAmerica is definitely considered an industrialized nation, but I fail to understand why so many people here take such an issue with separating the plastics, glass and paper products into three containers. Europeans have mastered this and it is an art-form. We can’t master paper or plastic, and there are people that have 7 bins to separate their trash?

8. The saddest public transit system of any industrialized country. This has got to change. We have 40,000 miles of highway in America and yet there are only six cities that have halfway decent public transit options? Why does a train cost as much, or more, as a flight? Why do we have a stigma that public transit is for society’s degenerates instead of people that want to be productive and travel at the same time?

There’s going to be a part 2 to this list, I can feel it. But 8 things at once is enough.

October 28, 2015

 

Visa Requirements of The Americas and Islands

We have been researching visa requirements for countries around the world and have been unable to find a readily available list. So naturally we decided to make one for ourselves, and now share it with you!

The following information was obtained on the U.S. Department of State website at http://travel.state.gov/ – as such, it is only applicable to U.S. Citizens / Passport holders. If I have missed anything, or you would like to see something that is not there, please leave a comment.

Cheers!

Country Visa Required for Tourism Duration Allowed Visa Cost (If Available) Restrictions
Anguilla No Onward Travel. Sufficient Funds
Antigua and Barbuda No $27 Departure Tax, Onward Travel, Sufficient funds. Lodging information
Argentina No 90 Days $160 Reciprocity Fee (Valid 10 years) Reciprocity fee must be paid online BEFORE visiting.
Bahamas No Short stays only Onward Travel.
Barbados No 6 months Onward Travel.
Belize No 30 Days $25/month after 30 days up to 6 months $50/month after and additional documentation Onward Travel. Proof of Funds ($60/day minimum). $39.25 Exit Fee by air, $15 by land if less than 24 hours, $18.75 more than 24 hours.
Bolivia Visa on Arrival Valid 5 Years (3 times a year, no more than 90 days) $160 at Consulate, $135 at air or land crossing. Onward Travel, Vaccination Certificate for yellow fever, proof of economic solvency. Exit tax assessed. 4cm x 4cm passport photo, hotel reservation or letter of invitation in Spanish.
Brazil Yes Visa must be obtained in advance from consulate
British Virgin Islands No 30 Days Onward Travel, accommodation, economic solvency.
Canada No 180 Days N/A N/A
Colombia No 90 Days Visa on Arrival. If visa valid longer than 3 months, you must register it online or at Migration office within 15 days. Onward Travel.
Cuba
Dominica No 6 Months Onward Travel, $22 departure tax.
Dominican Republic No 60 Days $10 Tourist Card
Ecuador No 90 Days per Calendar Year Onward Travel,
El Salvador No 90 Days $10 Tourist Card Visa may be obtained in advance for no charge. Onward Travel, Economic Solvency and/or Proof of US Employment
French Guiana No 90 Days Yellow Fever Vaccination
Grenada No 3 Months
Guadeloupe No 90 Days 6 month Passport Validity
Guatemala No 90 Days $30 departure tax by air.
Guyana
Haiti
Honduras No 90 Days N/A Onward Travel. 40 USD if departing by air.
Jamaica No Onward Travel, Economic Solvency, departure tax (usually included in airfare).
Martinique No 90 Days 6 month Passport Validity
Mexico Stays less than 72 hours within 20-30km border zone, no. Outside of zone, FMM required. N/A
Montserrat No Onward Travel, economic solvency. Departure tax at airport or ferry dock.
Nicaragua No 90 Days

$10.00

Tourist Card purchase on Arrival. Onward Travel. Evidence of funds.
Panama No 180 Days N/A Onward Travel. Proof of funds ($500 minimum)
Peru Visa on Arrial 90 Days Free Yellow Fever Vaccination recommended. Onward travel.
Saint Barthelemy No 90 Days 6 month Passport Validity
Saint Lucia No, as long as you prove onward travel Onward Travel. Six month Validity
Saint Vincent and The Grenadines No Passport Valid at time of entry. One page for entry stamp.
Suriname Yes 90 Days $25 Tourist Card Return Ticket required. Visa required prior to arrival. Yellow fever vaccination if arriving from Guyana, French Guiana and Brazil
Trinidad and Tobago No 90 Days N/A
Turks and Caicos Islands No 90 Days Immigration form must be filled out if staying longer than 24 hours,
Uruguay No 3 Months Departure or Airport Tax on departure.
Venezuela Yes 90 Days per Calendar Year

$30.00

Proof of Accommodation, economic solvency, onward travel, exit tax by air, Yellow Fever vaccination if arriving via some countries.

24 Hours In: Istanbul!

Our whirlwind of Europe is finally coming to an end – final destination Istanbul, Turkey!

After 22 hours of busses, trains and planes we arrived to Istanbul welcomed by a steep hill and many cobblestones. Note to self: don’t fly into Sabiha Gokcen International Airport in the future.

Connection from Gokcen Airport was achieved through an hour plus ride on a coach (14 Turkish Lira, TL) and two train / tram rides (4TL)…or we could have taken a private transport for ~90TL.

We arrived somewhere near the touristy Taksim Square on a steep hill next to the deepest construction pit I have ever seen. There are buildings under construction everywhere.
Navigating the cobblestones and taxi packed sidewalks, we slowly made our way to Taksim station – tantalizing aromas of sweet, spicy and fragrant combined for an unforgettable combination. This is my first impression of the city, and one I will likely not forget. Melody wanted to sample the wares from every restaurant we passsed. Everywhere we walked we have received a cascade of shouts offering taksi rides or a sampling of foods and drinks. For the easily overwhelmed, this is not the place to visit.

IMG_4059

The metro system in Istanbul is, by and large, efficient and effective. There are your standard metro ‘subway’ type cars, street trams, and even ferries…all of which you can take a ride on for 4 TL. For this purchase price, you receive a little plastic coin about the size of a nickel. There is an option to purchase a metro card, but our pleasure for walking meant we did not go this route.

With our little coins we took a short connector ride underground and then a slightly longer ride on an overground street-car, reaching our hostel in good spirits.

Even at 11pm, there were many shops open and crowds of others milling about. In the short walk we were hailed no fewer than 20 times for dining – did I mention you get shouted at?

IMG_4040

December 7, 2015

 

 

Currencies Across Europe

Depending on who you ask, Europe has as many countries as America has states. If you’re planning a sojourn across the continent, you can choose to stay in the euro zone or hop among countries with different currencies. We are a bit of currency collectors ourselves, reveling in the shape and design of a foreign bill or coin.

Because we’ve spent a lot of time in airports and currency exchange booths, we’ve just about got this down to a science. To help you plan your journey, or sate your curiosity, you’ll find:

All the countries on the euro

These countries are on the Euro, from north to south:

Ireland
Finland
Estonia
Latvia
Lithuania

Germany
Netherlands (Holland)
Belgium
Austria
Slovakia

France
Luxembourg
Spain
Andorra
Portugal

Italy & Vatican City
Slovenia
Greece
Kosovo
Montenegro
Cyprus

Everyone else uses a different currency!

Balkans

Croatia – Croatian Kuna
Bosnia & Herzegovina – Convertible Mark
Macedonia – Macedonian Denar
Albania – Albanian Lek
Serbia – Serbian Dinar

Scandinavia

Norway – Norwegian Krone
Sweden – Swedish Krona
Denmark – Danish Krone
Iceland – Icelandic Krona

Central Europe

Switzerland – Swiss Franc
Poland – Polish Zloty
Czech Republic – Czech Koruna
Hungary – Hungarian Forint

Black Sea Area

Bulgaria – Bulgarian Lev
Romania – Romanian Lei
Moldova – Moldova Leu
Ukraine – Ukrainian Hryvnia
Belarus – Belarusian Ruble
Russia – Russian Ruble

United Kingdom

England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are all on the pound. Even the notes will vary in design from Northern Ireland to Scotland, say. However, we were told that if you want to use your Northern Ireland pounds or your Scottish pounds in England, you may have some trouble.

Mission Statement – Why We Travel

Starting in 2013, we began our journey by driving around the United States of America with the only intention being to gather pictures of ourselves next to each state welcome sign. That trip turned into something much more – it sparked the realization that as large as the United States seemed to be, we were missing out on something by staying within the bounds of our home country – a global perspective.

cropped-cropped-2013-08-31-16-09-55-1.jpg

There are 24,642,757 square miles of habitable space in the world and 7.2 billion people living within 196 countries. With all of these people within all of these countries it doesn’t seem fair to be speed travelers spending two days in capital cities to make determinations about the world. Such quick stays are unlikely to provide much perspective on the way life is lived.

Scoping out this guy's wagon. We kind of like it.
Scoping out this guy’s wagon. We kind of like it.

We want to experience difficulty communicating, difficulty getting around, and completely surrender of the congested, exhaust filled wide highways that belt the United States.

Over the past 2 1/2 years, we have traded in a life of huge highways for two lane roads that

In Costa Rica we drove on roads with potholes so large they could break axles.

Bulgarian posters in memory of those passed.
Bulgarian posters in memory of those passed.

In Bulgaria we have stayed in villages with less than 500 people and even fewer resources. Where the best internet we could update our blog from was a half lit connection from an iPhone nestled on the top of the roof, traded American standards of plumbing for long drop toilets and experienced what it meant to reuse and repurpose everything you buy and everything you produce.

We wanted the edge – where you’re wondering why you would ever sign up for a cross country bus with no toilets.

We have been robbed of sleep, found like-minded travelers, and met people living on less money than we made in a week in The United States, yet were a great deal happier and more giving.

While our travels have been filled with challenges and difficulties, we have also received some of the warmest welcomes from people in countries that notoriously ‘despise’ Americans. We have experienced first hand how schools in Finland are operated. We have learned of historic figures that have made pretty dramatic changes within countries that we would never have read about in our history books. We have seen landscapes that make you say, “Wow”.

It’s true, we have also participated in some of the touristy bits of travel, but that is just another part of the experience.

If anything, our appetite for travel has grown during the last 2 1/2 years. We have learned as much (if not more) about ourselves as we have about the world. Our desire to see the world has continued on an exponential growth curve as we have more experiences – ultimately filling us with a greater number and complexity of questions.

While we are not always sure where our experiences and journeys will take us, we will continue to eagerly pursue them.

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves. We travel, next, to find ourselves.

The Evolution of Our Travel – So far.

As we wait at Varna Airport* in Bulgaria to board a flight toward Istanbul, Turkey for a connection, I cannot help but think about just how much our travel plan has changed since we began planning.

What was originally to be a 48 day, non-stop movement blast of every country in Europe has become something much more satisfying.

We are currently 80 days in, with a scheduled 68 more on the calendar. Wow.

We may not have visited every country yet – in fact we have only been to 16 – but the things we have experienced more than make up for that.

A quick overview of where we have been and what we have done so far:

July 8 – 15: London, England – Crown Jewels, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, London Bridge, British Museum, Jewish Museum (Melody), National Gallery (Melody), Imperial War Museum, Beefeater Distillery, London Overground / Underground, Tube Strike, Long walks to our AirBnB (learned from this mistake), fined 20 GBP for not buying proper ticket on tube.

July 15 – 21: Oslo, Norway – Overpriced pub night first night, Pier 41, Historic Oslo, Drove up to Lillehammer, Port of Oslo, Took bad pictures of Opernhaus, had most expensive quesadilla of our lives (post about that here), overall felt very financially abused, Experienced what it is like to have a dog that has an indefinite amount of energy,

July 21 – 28: Glasgow, Scotland – Took bus from Edinburgh to Glasgow and picked up rental car, learned that speed is in MPH, not KPH, went to Glengoyne Distillery, drove to highlands (Ft. William & Glencoe), hiked up to waterfall, stepped in marsh land up to our knees by same waterfall, saw Glasgow and had a great burger, went to Edinburgh and were a little underwhelmed, visited Museum on the Mound (free), Glen Nevis Park, Contributed to Yarn Project at Renfield St. Stephens Church.

July 28 – August 6: Dublin, Ireland and Northern Ireland – Temple Bar, Trinity College, Giants Causeway, Watched an aging dog (Lucky) with medical problems, spent a couple days at vet with Lucky due to said problems and learned that vet care is quite awesome in the middle of the night, Hiked in Wicklow Mountains,

August 6 – 7: Brussels, Belgium -Delirium Bar

August 7 – 11: Paris, France – Louvre, Eiffel Tower (day and night), Champ de Mars, Luxemborg Park, Notre Dame Cathedral, Arc de Triomphe, Montmartre, Had to walk home at 1:30 AM 10km because metro closed earlier than we thought.

August 11 – 14: Prague, Czech Republic – Walking tour of Prague, Astronomical Clock, Charles Bridge, Gastronomy Museum, Old Jewish Quarter, Jewish Cemetery, Old Town Square, beers along the river, Old New Synagogue, beers in the street, Black Angel Bar ( great craft cocktails in a speakeasy environment), Franz Kafka statue, St Cyril & Methodius / Heydrich Terror Memorial

August 14 – 29: Helsinki/Artjarvi/Oramatilla, Finland – Taught at Finnish School (Melody), carved 3 walking sticks, picked a LOT of cherries, picked black and red currants, picked gooseberries (had no idea these were a thing before), attempted a bike ride, aborted bike ride, laid foundation and placed bricks for BBQ relocation, raised elevation of ground around greenhouse, trimmed apple and cherry trees for days, resurfaced a table, used an infrared heater for table, drank lots of homemade cider / beer, learned to make mead, helped make mead, learned some Finnish, experienced a Finnish birthday party, taught modded Minecraft to someone in another language, SAUNA!!!, adapted our favorite recipe for use in Finland, set the world right during late night drinking sessions.

August 29 – 30: Copenhagen, Denmark – Nuhavn, attempted walking tour twice, failed to locate walking tour twice,

August 30 – September 1: Berlin, Germany – East Side Gallery, Humboldt University, Walking tour of Berlin, Jewish Holocaust Memorial, Hitler’s Bunker, Brandenburg Gate, visited Hotel where Michael Jackson hung baby out of window, Checkpoint Charlie, straddled former Berlin Wall. Volkswagen showroom.

September 2 – 6: Rome and Vatican City, Italy – Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Sistine Chapel, Church of St. Augustine, Vatican Museum, Villa Doria Pamphilli,

September 6-9: Naples, Italy – Beautiful decorations in subway stop, couldn’t find a cab to save ourselves, Pompeii, driving in Naples (YIKES!), drove along the Amalfi Coast (didn’t quite reach Amalfi), experienced fairly rude service overall at every restaurant we went to (save one).

September 9-10: Sorrento, Italy – Due to weather unable to do our boat tour in the morning, got ripped off by cabbie for ride to pick up rental car, ate a burger for lunch and skipped dinner, had our first bad AirBnB Experience, drove along the Amalfi Coast (still didn’t quite reach it), fell asleep hot, unconnected (no wifi) and hungry.

September 10-11: Rome, Italy – took lovely train ride back to Rome from Naples, had some confusion reaching our hotel (there are two Best Westerns by the Fiumicino Airport), walked along beach, learned that restaurants literally do not open until 8pm by the beach, had best dinner of our Italian trip.

September 11 – 25: Sofia/Popovo/Varna, Bulgaria -Stayed at our first Hostel of the trip in Sofia (excellent experience), took bus to Popovo (not a great experience), met Joe and Julie our hosts and had a nice dinner, expanded and repaired a stone path that was damaged by the pigs, learned to cob, cobbed a part of a wall, milked a goat (Melody), harvested Maize, shucked Maize, de-kerneled Maize using hand crank machinery (excellent!), used long-drop toilet (wha?!), had traditional Bulgarian dinner (very fun and awkward as a foreigner), found old communist radio, learned about old communist radios, walked across train tracks to get to our train, visited Bulgarian version of Walmart (hint: not as big, nor as well stocked as you would think), laid garden beds, held chickens, pet sheep (Melody), straightened out a pig’s tail, trained the dogs to sit, adapted our favorite recipe for Bulgarian food availability, saw the Milky Way – every night, fought to get internet for Melody’s school / students, bought clothes at a ‘second-hand’ store, learned how to make bread (Melody), made bread (Melody), painted with Lime / coffee mixture, went to Bucharest, Romania to pick up a friend, showered using a wood-burning water heater, bathed in the kitchen sink, picked walnuts / hazelnuts, took train to Varna (much better public transportation option), stayed at second hostel of trip (excellent people, excellent city), went to Bulgarian ‘night club’, set feet in the Black Sea, ate very cheaply, lamented how expensive The United States really is, went to Primorski Park, drank really really cheap beer, discovered that beer is sold in 2L bottles for the equivalent of $1.39.

September 25: Istanbul, Turkey – learned that you don’t need a visa to connect in Istanbul, learned that Istanbul airport is REALLY busy, learned Turkish Airlines is a very nice airline to fly (new favorite), slept at airport waiting for our connection, vowed to return to actually see Istanbul.

September 25 – 26: Toulouse, France – met our first friendly French person.

September 26 – Present: Seix, France – Met Peta and Keith, our new HelpX Hosts, assessed project and learned it would be much more difficult than originally anticipated, removed existing retaining wall for garden bed, sorted stones, dug foundation for new retaining wall for garden bed, sorted stones, poured foundations, sorted stones, laid part of wall, sorted stones, chipped stones, smashed stones, stones, sorted stones, laid more wall, weeded a garden bed while Peta and Keith sorted stones, laid remainder of retaining wall (phew!), dug foundations for new steps to be laid next to retaining wall, poured concrete and laid steps, had concrete that was laid around pavers ruined by HUGE hailstorm, climbed Mount Mirabat, experienced first rate doctors help with medication for less than $30 (Melody) after hike up Mirabat, sterilized a lot of pots (Melody), went to downtown Seix, visited Foix (didn’t make it to the castle sadly), observed pigeons instead of visiting castle, tended many garden beds (Melody), washed A LOT of dishes, first indoor clothes dryer of trip, celebrated birthday with wonderfully made cake made by Peta, had delicious meals prepared each lunch and dinner,

Overall, we have experienced many times of magnitude more than what we thought we would. We have learned, sweat, bled, laughed, smiled and drank ourselves around Europe in a fashion that we feel grateful and satisfied about.

Don’t be afraid to let the travel bug bite.

*Started post on Sept 25, posted on Oct 10.

Hostels No Longer Cheapest Lodging for Travelers

When we talk about  travel, we are nearly always asked if we are staying at hostels. The answer is: out of 32 days so far, we have only stayed at one. Hostels for a long time cornered the market of dirt cheap lodging, but this is no longer the case thanks to…

AirBnb!

Hostels typically charge by bed, regardless of if its a dorm room or a private room. Let’s start with the dorm room. Let’s say you can get a bed in a dorm room for €20 which is pretty cheap in Western Europe. There’s two of us, which means we’re paying €40 for two beds in a mixed bed dorm. That means there’s people of either gender all sleeping in one room. €40 for zero privacy sleeping and a shared bath with any number of people. In some cases, towels cost an extra euro and the showers are the kind you want to wear sandals in.

In a private room, it gets more expensive. Very rarely a private rooms equipped with only two beds. Usually they are four, but sometimes three. Now we have €60 to pay for a private room, on a good day. 

Disclaimer: since we’ve been in Europe we have not found beds in a hostel for less than €20 per night.

Note also that most hostels have minimum day stays, especially through the weekend. That means if we want to stay Thursday through Saturday,we are paying a premium because it’s a weekend and we are confined to a minimum number of days – usually three days.

Enter airbnb.

In Paris, we are staying 15 minutes away from city center for €38 /$40 each night. Private room. Shared bath, if our host is here. When he’s not,  we have our own flat in Paris.  Kitchen to cook in. Metro across the street. Great food nearby. Amazing bed.

In Glasgow, we stayed with the loveliest couple in a brand new house just south of the city. They provided amazing food, company, and advice on travelling the area. Awesome comfortable bed. They provided a washing machine (invaluable if you’re living on 8 days of clothes), towels and bathing essentials. Also less than €40 / $44.

In Brussels, we stayed with a French gentleman right in the city center in that same price bracket.

We’ve not once had to abide by a minimum stay or pay for a towel.

For couples or group travelers, we remain convinced airbnb is the best way to go if you’d rather spend your money on experiences instead of accommodations. 😉

Travelling somewhere new and looking for the best airbnb? Check out this page and learn the best questions to ask your next host.

Cheers and happy travelling!

Mark and Melody

London on a Budget: Don’t Forget This! 

When looking to travel in a big city like London, it’s easy to be seduced into picking the lowest price for hotels/ lodging. We found out the hard way that the cheapest place actually ends up costing more…

Big Ben.

How? Because time is valuable too. 

Our 100+ day journey (no return ticket!) started with a week in London, so this is sage advice for long journey travelers and ambitious tourists who believe they can absorb London in a week.

It’s hard to find a way around London being pricey: bargain hotels start at $130 USD near the main attractions and hostels are mostly dorm style. AirBnB is typically the best way to get quality lodging at a deeply discounted rate. Unless you’re the worlds greatest hotel rewards points collector of course, in which case, don’t be afraid to share.

After looking into our options, we found a beautiful little place ‘just outside of London City Center’ for a modest $38 per night. That’s just $19 per person, per night. We had a nice little kitchen to cook in and a living room – excellent!

We flew ‘Into London’ (rolls eyes) and began working our way toward the house. Color me surprised to find that it would take us nearly an hour and a half via train and underground to get there.

Geograph-2430114-by-Malc-McDonald

Transit into London came at a steep cost of $77 via train on the express, taking about 45 minutes. Buy your ticket in advance and you might not get taken advantage of like we did. After another two transfers, we ended up on the train that would take us 45 minutes outside of London City Center ($4). We then walked / climbed the hill that brought us to the house we would call home for the next week.

Side note: This hill did not mess around. It puts San Francisco to shame. I’ve been on trail hikes less exerting than this. I felt like a winded mountaineer. What’s worse is these delightful little British kids are running all up and down this hill like it’s the easiest thing they’ve done all day. Ah.  Good ol days.

EVERY day we went into London to visit the Tower of London, or Tower Bridge, or the Beefeater Gin Distillery, or to visit a random park to have lunch, we were literally travelling uphill both ways. So that’s what my grandparents meant.


We took the bait for the cheapest place and paid a lot in time; over 18 hours was spent traveling to and from London city center which was $148 in fare over seven days for two people. The underground, overground and Thameslink train are surprisingly inexpensive, but we definitely could have used that 18 hours to spend another day at the Imperial War Museum, the National Gallery or the British Museum. 

Taking into account travel costs, the weighted cost of lodging became $415 – not taking into account our time (which of course everyone values differently). That brought the nightly rate to $59.29 or $29.65 per person.

We may have been able to find something that was more accessible and end up spending the same amount (or less), by opting for something a little higher in initial cost.

Pro-tips:

London’ is broken up into six zones. Zones one and two are where most of the popular attractions are. We were technically staying in London, but zone six, which was an hour away from the center. A trip to the Jewish Museum, a little further afield, was over 90 minutes away and back.

If you are staying at an airbnb (which we totally recommend) please ask them what zone they are in and what station they are near. Give us a shout if you need help deciphering the infamous London Underground map. 🙂

Think about how much time you want to spend getting to your points of interest each day, and always account for potential delays when you are further away. Remember – time is money!

Cheaper accommodation usually sacrifices: Convenience, Amenities, and/or Access to Transit. Even if you do not mind spending more time in transit, always take the everyday travel cost into account when making your decision.

AirBnB London

Consider a slightly more expensive accommodation to save yourself time or money overall. Looking back now, we could have spent $40-50 per night at a different AirBnB and found ourselves at a spot near London City Center, which would have saved us $65-135 – not to mention the time we spent and the stress incurred by the longer transit.


Whether you are on a mission to visit every country in the world as we are, or you’re just looking for a quick getaway to a world city, we hope that the information here might prove enlightening whilst you are planning.

Please send us a note of the travels you wish to embark on, and don’t be afraid to let the travel bug bite.

Mark & Melody

Travel Plans Update

After much planning, lots of missed sleep, and a good bit of caffeine, we finally have some tentative plans for our trip!

Setting off on the lofty goal of visiting every country in Europe, we realized that our original plan to do it in a little over two months would be…less than ideal. Thankfully, with my new found freedom (and Melody being able to work from just about anywhere) we are not tied to specific dates!

Without further ado, we present our tentative trip:

July 7th Depart FLL to LGW, arriving July 8th

July 8th – 10th : Explore London and Surroundings

July 11th Depart LGW to BGO

July 11th – 15th : Explore Bergen / Fjord Tour / Northern Norway

July 16th – 21st : Home-Sit in Oslo, Norway / Exploration of Oslo

July 22nd Depart OSL to EDI/GLA

July 22nd – 28th : Explore Edinburgh and Glasgow

July 29th – August 4th : Explore Dublin and Surroundings

August 5th Depart DUB to FRA

August 5th – August 13th : Trains from Frankfurt, Germany to Stockholm, Sweden via Luxembourg, Belgium (Brussels & Antwerp), Netherlands (The Hague & Amsterdam), Germany (Bremen & Hamburg), Denmark (Copenhagen), Sweden (Gothenburg & Stockholm).

August 15th Depart ARN – HEL

August 15th – 28th : HelpX in Orimattila, Finland

September 12th – September 22nd : HelpX in Palamartsa, Popovo Bulgaria

September 26th – October 9th : HelpX at Rue Fons De Seix in Seix, France

October 10th – October 25th : HelpX in Argein, France

October 26th – End of year : Still up for decision.

If you have any ideas on places to visit or things to see / do, do let us know. We have much left to do before we depart, so now I’m off to work on pack fit-out.

Until next time!

Don’t be afraid to let the travel bug bite you.

Mark and Melody

Our Most Oft Asked Question: Travel – on the Cheap!

One of the questions that we get most often is, “How can you afford to travel? You must be rich / rolling in the dough / get money from your parents.” While all of these things would make traveling long-term much easier…it just isn’t the case for Melody and I.

Knowing that we would need to find a way to do it a little cheaper, and also knowing the type of trip that we both mutually enjoy, we set out to discover some cheaper ways to travel.

In general, the two largest cost items while traveling will be lodging and food – these are inescapable truths. While it is certainly possible to eat ramen noodles and camp in a tent, sometimes the weather and local culture may just not let that be a possibility (not to mention that would likely become old, very quickly). Striking a little bit of the middle ground, the following are a couple of other options:

  1. House-sit!We would first like to say a big thank you to Hecktic Travels for their amazing blogs and advice, as well as informing us and many others about house sitting as a travel option. Cheers, guys!Anyone with pets that loves to travel knows that bringing their animals along can make for…less than ideal trips. Traveling with a pet is expensive, and depending on your breed of dog / cat / bird / other exotic animal, may not be possible at all. For the longer trips, it is also not possible to leave your animals unattended (you wouldn’t do that, right?).

    Boarding your animals is another option – but again expensive.

    Some are lucky that they have close family or friends to watch after their furry / feathered babies – but again, not always possible for longer stays.

    For people who fall outside of these lovely conveniences, consider having someone come sit your house!

    In exchange for lodging, you can have a trusted and verified traveler stay at your house and care for your animals / property. The requirements for the stays are clearly stated (expectations and duration), and there are even some that are paid – though not very many – your mileage may vary.

    For our uses, we used Mind My House and Trusted House Sitters, but there are many others out there. Not only will you get to visit some unique and interesting destinations, but in most cases your only costs will be transit expense, food and some time commitment. A secondary bonus for people like us who live in a place that having animals is forbidden – you even get to enjoy the company of the resident animals.

  2. Help ExchangeMelody and I both enjoy staying active. We also love to meet new people and immerse ourselves in new cultures – out of the city and away from the tourist areas. Don’t get me wrong, we love to see the sights too, but there is something powerful about the countryside and the people that live outside of the hustle and bustle of the city.Keeping these things in mind, we set out to find a way to immerse ourselves into the everyday life of a local – and save some money doing it along the route. When we came across Help Exchanges, we knew we had found a winner.

    For our uses, we use HelpX – although there are many more sites out there that do the same thing.

    Simplified, a help exchange is an exchange of your time and labor for lodging and food.

    This exchange comes in many shapes and sizes, but the postings usually detail exactly what the expectations are in advance. The number of hours you are expected to work will vary, but most that we have seen are between 20-25 hours per week.

    Some examples of what you might expect to find:

    Hostel Operator looking for help in maintaining hostel. 20 hours per week to include: Admitting guests, making beds, dusting lobby, preparing food, general cleaning. In exchange you will receive private lodging with bathroom. Minimum 30 day stay.

    or

    Looking for helpers to work in the garden with some experience of gardening and growing vegetables to get the spring work done. Four hours work per each nights stay in return for 3 meals per day and accommodation. Double en-suite bedroom and single bed. Fresh food from the garden where possible and all home cooked meals prepared for you.

  3. AirBNBIf neither of the above sound overly interesting, or you are not really interested in working for your lodging / food, fear not! There are other options for you.AirBNB is, in effect, a house / room / couch sharing site designed to allow homeowners the opportunity to earn a little extra income on empty or unoccupied rooms within their home. These rooms are usually priced substantially below what you might find at a hotel in the same area.

    For smaller groups 2-3, this might actually be cheaper than if you were to individually stay at a hostel.

    The site itself is very simple to navigate, and rooms are available in 190+ countries.Capture

    With an available mobile application, the ability to instantly book rooms, and read reviews from others who have stayed, Airbnb is a viable option for those planning far in advance, or on the fly.

For our purposes, we will be using a combination of the three, in addition to some other creative maneuvering to create the most memorable and dynamic trip that we can.

We have almost finalized our rough travel itinerary, so keep an eye out for that soon. In the meantime, keep thinking about that trip you would like to take, and… don’t be afraid to let the travel bug bite.

Cheers!

Mark & Melody