27 Jun

Practicing Ramen Slurping

I open the door spilling warm, steamy air out into the street. It’s an unseasonably cold, wet and miserable day in springtime Calgary; I step inside and let the warmth embrace me.

“Irashaimase”, comes the gentle call from chefs and waitstaff alike. Welcome.

Taking a seat at the bar where I can see the chefs in action, I order an Asahi beer and settle in with the menu.

It’s gotta be ramen. That’s why I’ve come – to practice my slurping. Unlike here in Canada, in Japan it’s considered polite to slurp while eating noodles. It’s going to take some practice to break the ‘good manners’ my parents taught me as a girl.

I order a tonkotsu ramen; I like the richness of the pork broth compared to the saltier, soy-based shoyu ramen.

Sssslllluuuurrrrpppppp!! I can hear tables behind me getting started on their noodles. Good, it’s not just a cultural myth that it’s polite; I’m not going to make an ass out of myself as I feared I might.

Before long a steaming hot bowl of soup is placed in front of me, the noodles hidden by the pork chashu and baby corn (who knew?) on top.

Japanese Ramen SoupHaving spent so long in Asia I am unfazed by the chopsticks but…the slurping…could I do it? Intentionally make noise while I eat?

I reach in, pull up a small mound of noodles and…slurp. Just a little. Did anyone notice? Am I being rude? Nope – all I see as I look around are other noodle-lovers slurping their way through their own lunch.

I pull up a larger noodle mound….ssslllluuuuurrrppppp!!! This is kind of fun and I’m being polite!

Slurping Japanese RamenSllluuurrrpp, sssllluuurrrpppp, ssllluurrrpppp…all through lunch right to the bottom of the bowl.

I think I did pretty good but I’ll be back at least once or twice before our trip so I don’t get out of practice.

Do you slurp while eating noodles? Could you?

24 Jun

Monday Moment: Chicken Man, Poon Hill Trek, Nepal

Poon Hill Trek

You know, I never really thought about it, but there isn’t much in the way of refrigeration in the Himalayas. Chickens can’t breed at this altitude so they are brought in from below. We caught up to this guy about three days into the Poon Hill trek in Nepal.  He didn’t smell so great but then, I imagine that after three days of hiking, neither did I.

20 Jun

Saving For Travel

Saving For TravelYou know that I don’t think it’s ‘luck’ that allows a person to travel. I think you have to have your eye on the prize, be willing to make sacrifices, and save, save, save!

Travel doesn’t have to be expensive; and saving for travel doesn’t have to be painful.

The cost of a trip varies greatly depending on where you want to go. Europe is notoriously expensive but I’ve heard that bargains can be found in northern Italy and Spain. We found Vietnam and Laos to be as cheap as legend says they are but we’re expecting Japan to cost us a pretty penny.

Overall, long term travel is cheaper than short term vacations. Distances between even major destinations are much shorter than traveling from ‘home’ and back every time. Local air carriers can be used and even ground transportation is possible. Mindset is different for long term travel also; without the need to do it all while you’re on vacation, you can relax and take things at a slower, less expensive, pace.

Figuring out a budget can be the hardest part but there is plenty of information out there now to help you figure out a typical budget:

Warren and Betsy of Married With Luggage run the RTW Expenses site solely to provide information on what it has cost them to travel long term.

Lauren of Never Ending Footsteps also posts a monthly summary of her finances on the road. Mostly Asia so far but I know she has recently been in Europe and is currently in Africa!

Jeremy of Living The Dream has a detailed account of every dime he spent while traveling. With lots of Asia and Europe in his travel resume he gives some great balance to the budget.

The Aussie Nomad focuses on Europe in this series of daily budget posts.

There is often plenty of information on Europe and Asia whereas South America and Africa budget posts are harder to come by. Simon and Erin have a great round up from their time in South America.

I also have budget series from our RTW trip as well as a detailed spreadsheet of what we spent in the 14 countries we visited. I’m planning the same kind of detail for Japan; I’ll be sure to post it once we’re back!

It’s important, when visiting these sites, to not just read the budget posts. You need to get a sense of who is spending this money; are they uber-budget-backpackers who would happily sleep in a 13 person dorm room, or luxury travellers for whom 3 star hotels are an abomination? I always get to know the writer and make sure that they travel in a way that is comfortable for me.

Which brings up probably the most important point; be honest about how you are willing to travel. Don’t plan on a backpacker budget if that’s not really how you travel – you’ll be miserable on $25/day and will begrudge every dollar over that you spend. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to travel but it’s worth saving what you’ll need to travel happily.

Here are some of my own travel saving tips:

  • Open a dedicated savings account. Name it. Our current one is called OneGiantStep Goes To Japan.
  • Think about what you’re spending. Those two beers tonight? That’ll easily pay for a bungalow for a night on a Thai beach.
  • Put all ‘extra’ money into the account. Pocket change, birthday money, pennies from the couch, anything extra. It all adds up.
  • Get a side job . Paper route? Barista? Slinging beers? Freelance writing? Whatever talent you have – pimp it!
  • Connect to the saving. Keep that trip forefront in your mind – post pictures, use screensavers, read articles/blogs- it’s easier to save if you are always thinking of the end goal.
  • Know how much it’s going to cost. You have to know the goal!
  • Sell stuff. What is in that spare room anyway? Do you really need that second set of golf clubs? What about that pile of books? That snowboard you didn’t use at all last year?
  • Keep track of what you make AND what you spend NOW, before you go. It’s much easier to keep track of what you’re spending while travelling if you’re in the habit of doing it before you leave. We’ve traditionally used spreadsheets for this but recently have started using Mint.com – it’s integrated with your banking and credit cards to help track and categorize spending. You can set budgets with it and know if you’re overspending in a certain area – it’s a great tool to get a handle on where all those dollars are actually going as opposed to where you think they’re going.And don’t forget about the free tax software that’s available too – remember, every penny counts!!

If you plan properly and honestly, put some effort into saving, and sacrifice just once in a while, you too can be ‘lucky’ in travel!

Share your saving-for-travel tips below…how are you getting lucky?

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk

17 Jun

Monday Moment: German Beer Radish

German Beer Radish

The best way to get to Andech’s Monastery is to park at the bottom of the hill it tops and walk the 6 kms through fields and meadows and up into the forest. As we did this I noticed most people carrying with them what appeared to be bags of salad. Our hosts, Hanno and Annette, had assured us that there was a fabulous beer garden at the top that also served meals…why would people be bringing their own salad? And what was in that bag than Hanno was swinging? Salad?

All was revealed at the top.

Once we had settle in with our pints of Doppelbock, and we were munching on pretzels (OMG…what I wouldn’t do for an authentic German pretzel!),Hanno pulled a German beer radish out of the bag that he had so carefully toted up the mountain. He proceeded to cut it in a very particular way – first in one direction and then precisely in another direction so that a ‘radish accordion’ was created. Carefully, he poured salt in the cuts and left it to rest.

I looked around and, everywhere I looked, tables were chatting and laughing and slicing up their radishes. Apparently it is a well known secret that salted radish, beer, and pretzels are heavenly together! (Heavenly…get it? We were at a monastery!)

In time, our radish began to ‘weep’ and was declared ready to eat. We pulled it apart and enjoyed every salty bite. My new favorite; beer, radish and pretzel.

07 Jun

You’re So Lucky!

I met Ken at a local blogging event this week. We exchanged pleasantries and then got into the meat of what it is that we blog about. I learned that he is the editor/content manager of a corporate blog; he learned that I’m a travel blogger and that we’re heading to Wyoming and Portland next month and then Japan for four weeks.

“Wow, you must make a lot of money”, he exclaimed.

“No”, I replied, “I save a lot of money, that’s the difference.”

It was a conversation that reminds me, again, that not everyone thinks the same way we do. Especially living here in Calgary; a corporate city filled with folk who come here to do nothing but make money. Many people think about how much money they can make in order to have the big house, the expensive car, the flashy boat, the family, the cottage at the lake, and the yearly vacation; not about what they can sacrifice in order to save money to make their current situation less immediate, their future more secure, and their dreams come true.

It’s a common refrain…”You’re so lucky”.

Yes I am. Lucky that I don’t have a huge hole of a mortgage. Lucky that I live in a rented, 900 sq ft apartment. Lucky I drive an old, uncool, paid for, car. Lucky that I don’t love shopping. Lucky that I value experiences and memories rather than acquiring ‘things’.

My friend Dave is much more straight up about these things.

Stopping for ice cream while in Portland last year, the ice-cream-scooper ever so casually asks what we’re doing in town. Dave explains that he’s a travel blogger in the middle of a trip to attend a conference.

‘Wow’, she drawled, ‘I wish I could travel like that’.

‘You can’, he said. ‘Just stop spending your money on expensive jeans and fancy nails!’

She was obviously taken aback, but Dave’s right; why are we dancing around how some can afford to travel and others ‘can’t’? It’s not about luck, it’s about choice.

What’s yours?

*Photo Credit: egazelle

04 Jun

Monday Moment: Mui Ne, Vietnam

Fishing Boats, Mui Ne, Vietnam

Mui Ne, on the coast of Vietnam, is a sleepy fishing village that produces a lot of fish sauce. The colorful fish boats leave on the morning tide and return late in the afternoon. The hills lining the shore are filled with baskets of drying fish…yep, you can imagine the stench!

Drying Fish, Mui Ne, Vietnam