29 Aug

Travel To Japan: What Does It Cost (Part One)

During our RTW trip we tracked every sole, peso, riel, lira, euro, dinar, rupee, baht, kip, dong, ringgit and rupiah mostly out of necessity as we were on a backpacker budget and needed to know exactly what we had spent and exactly what we had left – even if it took us forever to figure out the conversion!

This time, as we travel to Japan, we’re going to track every yen because yes, we still have a budget. Granted, it is not a backpacker budget this time, but it is a budget all the same.

I also want to make our budget public because, once again, finding information about how much it costs to travel in a place is difficult to come by. It is getting better; there is more information out there about what people are spending but it always helps to contribute to the knowledge pool. So, just like last time, we’ll be posting our budget spreadsheet when we get home.

Sometimes coming up with a tracking spreadsheet can be daunting. I like to keep it simple then I’m more apt to actually use it rather than being overwhelmed by it. Here what we’ll be tracking:

  • Date – this will give us a sense of per day costs although many items are amortized over the entire trip (flight costs for example).
  • Type – there are five categories; accommodation, transportation, attractions, food&drink, and miscellaneous.
  • JPY Cost – if we pay for an item in Japanese Yen then we’ll show that cost in this column.
  • CDN Cost – here we’ve taken an average conversion of 77 JPY per CDN dollar – the conversion will vary but this should serve our purposes. Some items we have already paid for with our credit card and were charged straight to CDN dollar so there is no JPY noted.
  • Comments – here is where we’ll detail what the item actually is. This will help us further break down the categories and remind us exactly what we paid for.

We’ll keep a notebook with us and just quickly jot down our expenses as they happen and enter it into the spreadsheet when we get a chance. It’s really not that onerous at all. Here’s a screen shot of how simple the spreadsheet really is:

Japan Budget Spreadsheet

Notice something? Yep, we’ve spent just over $7000 and we haven’t left yet!! Japan is going to be expensive.

Wait a minute though – a lot of those expenses are in-country expenses, meaning we have paid them up front so we won’t have to pay once we’re there. It includes flights and train tickets (gulp…that was expensive…but I’ll give a full report as to whether the JR Rail passes were worth it. I hear they are more than worth it so we’ll see.) as well as tickets to the Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo. SUMO, people!!

It also means that 20 nights of accommodation are already paid for. We’ll only have to pay up for about a weeks worth while we’re there. Granted, some of those nights are some of the most expensive nights there. Staying in ryokans and temples is hard on the wallet but should be priceless in terms of experience.

This is most definitely NOT a backpacker budget but we weren’t planning on a backpacker trip this time. This is why we dropped Japan from our RTW itinerary…so we could come home, save, and go when we could afford to do it how we want to.

Stay tuned to see how much the whole trip costs us!

**Click Here to see Travel To Japan: What Does It Cost (Part Two)**


26 Aug

Monday Moment: Vietnam Moto Taxi

Vietnam Moto Taxi

In Vietnam the fastest, and most economical, way of getting around is the moto-taxi.

Just like regular taxis, moto-taxi drivers hang out on every street corner waiting for customers. We would simply walk up, point at the map as to where we wanted to go, negotiate a price, and hop on the back.

Even if we had all our bags with us; the driver would arrange them around his, and our, feet and off we would go.

My biggest tip for using moto-taxis is to strap the helmet on your head. I failed this step only once and lost my helmet in the middle of a huge, motorcycle-filled, intersection. Frantically, I started flapping my hands in front of the drivers face in the internationally recognized hand signal for ‘I’ve lost your helmet. You need to stop!’ He eventually understood that I wasn’t just waving to Jason on the other bike and pulled over allowing me to run back through the traffic to retrieve it. Good times.




22 Aug

Setting The Criteria

Hindsight, they say, is 20/20 and so it is for us.  We figured out back in April that it wasn’t the magic number that would hold us back but we still didn’t seem to be moving forward at a great pace. What was it that was holding us back? If we didn’t need to save all that money, then why didn’t we just go now?

Looking back on the past year and a half we can clearly see that we were engaged in a process but, at the time, we didn’t realize what it was we were doing.

We needed to know more about what it was going to look like. We’ve been deliberately not putting too many parameters in place for fear of limiting ourselves too much but, in turn, we’ve became paralyzed by not having much of a vision of what the future might look like. The paradox of choice.

We learned, while traveling, that having a set of criteria can help any decision. Looking for a hostel room? No need to endlessly agonize, comparing one against another against another. The first one that meets the criteria is the place to stay. Same for restaurants. Bars. Beaches. Movies. Attractions. Tours. You get the picture.

And so, it seems, that’s what we’ve been doing. Determining the criteria that will help us decide if an opportunity is the right one, or one to pass up.

1. Jason wants to continue to work professionally. This, I think, is what was holding us back the most. None of my obviously fabulous plans were resonating with him and I couldn’t figure out why.

While I’m willing to toss it all aside and do whatever to get by (well, I do have a few ideas…), he has realized that he really enjoys what he is doing. He’s good at it and would like to expand it into an international arena. This means looking for consultant work with short to medium term contracts (6 months to 2 years) in areas that we are interested in living. The less we’re interested in living in an area then the shorter the contract would have to be.

2. In between contracts we would travel, or settle down somewhere else at least. The idea being that Jason won’t have to work all the time; breaks would always be coming and travel would still be a big part of our lives.

3. We definitely want to be outside of Canada and the US. I want to experience somewhere different; the more different, the better. Preferably not the UK, Australia, or New Zealand either; although each of these has appeal in their access to places that we can’t access from here.

4. I can travel even if J can’t. This is a biggie. We spend most of our time together and always have. I have never travelled alone.

We may not need to do this if we end up somewhere different enough but, if it’s Aberdeen, or Perth, or Aukland, then I may need to explore further afield on my own. If it’s Santiago, or Hanoi, or Seville, then perhaps less so. The point isn’t that it will happen but just the realization that it can happen; a nod to J’s desire to settle into a job for a little while and my desire to travel.

5. If J’s job search isn’t fruitful then we will go and set up somewhere inexpensive for a while and do what it takes to get by. This is the piece that closes the loop and sets a time frame around allowing the criteria to work. Without this we could find ourselves here even longer. We are currently thinking that we would like to be on our way to being somewhere else by the end of the year – this might be aggressive considering we’re away all of September and have some commitments in October that will take some time – but it gives us a goalpost and, right now, that’s what we need.

It feels pretty good to be moving forward, to know that we’re on the same page, and that we have the makings of a plan. It also feels pretty scary…and that’s how I know we’re on the right path.


19 Aug

Monday Moment: Wadi Rum Lunch

Wadi Rum, Jordan

In the middle of the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan, sheltered only by the rocky outcropping behind us, we scrounged for wood to make a fire and quickly a Bedouin lunch was created. Although this is not how they truly live today it was easy to imagine what life in this red-hued landscape was like in the not-too-distant past.

12 Aug

Monday Moment: Thai Amulets

Amulet Seller, Chiang Mai

I saw men like this all over northern Thailand; sitting at their folding tables selling their wares, usually to other men. I didn’t realize what they were peddling until we happened on a small shop in a temple one day and realized where they originated from.

They are amulets, much like the Saint Christopher pendant that many travellers wear to protect themselves. Thais buy them, or even rent them, to repel bad luck or evil spirits, to ward off sadness or sickness, and to overcome obstacles to good fortune.

Cast in clay, carved from wood, or imagined in silver or gold, they are created by the monks of the temple in the image of Buddha or other revered monks. They are often kept in a small case, held close to the body, and are called upon throughout the day to help the wearer gain strength.

They are bought and sold all over Thailand in temples and, as we often saw, from folding tables wherever they could set up.

Thai Amulets


05 Aug

Monday Moment: Chai-Wallah, Rajasthan, India

Chai-wallah, Rajasthan

This is one of my favorite photos from our entire trip.

Pulling into the small, roadside stand I couldn’t believe that there would be a phone at all but our driver was adamant that there would be a phone we could use to contact our next hotel and that chai could be had while we waited.

As he heard our tires on the gravel, a young mans head popped up from behind the small counter the biggest, kindest smile imaginable emanating from his face as he realized there were foreign tourists visiting.

He quickly set the driver up with the phone and set to making us chai all the while looking back at us, smiling.

I am not very good at asking people to take their picture but I did on this occasion and he happily obliged. Later, as were were leaving, he motioned me over and I could see that he had written his name and address on a small piece of paper. He slowly pushed it across the counter to me and motioned to my camera asking if I would send a picture to him. I said that of course I would.

It makes me sad to tell you that I lost that piece of paper and was never able to fulfill my end of the bargain. I hope he forgives me.

01 Aug

Summer Festival Fun: Calgary Folkfest

Ahhhh, the dog days of summer. The heat is on, punctuated only by summer thunderstorms. Weekends are filled with activity and if  not then they’re spent drinking beer on the patio. Playing hooky is a favorite past-time.

The Calgary Folkfest was on this past weekend allowing us to put checks in all the above boxes. Another great weekend on the prairie.

We’re heading to the mountains this weekend. More heat. More activity. More beer. More hooky.

Four weeks to Japan. Yay!

Calgary Folkfest

Calgary, Alberta

Calgary Folkfest

Calgary Folkfest

Calgary Folkfest

Calgary Folkfest

Calgary Folkfest

Calgary Folkfest

Calgary Folkfest

Calgary Folkfest

Calgary Folkfest