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!

 

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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.