02 Sep

Tokyo Feels Like An Old Friend

Walking the narrow streets and alleyways near our tiny Tokyo apartment I am filled with a sense of comfort and familiarity.

The air is warm and humid even at this late hour. The smoke from yakitori stands beckons me, filling my nose with the aroma of chicken and pork. As the doors to izakayas and sushi joints are drawn open I can hear the call of those behind the counter welcoming the new guests or wishing those leaving a good evening.

Tokyo Street Scene

I cannot understand a word that is said. And I love it.

We are outside of the hustle and bustle of downtown Tokyo; 20 minutes down a local train line where we can feel the ebb and flow of a real neighbourhood. In the morning school girls make their way to the high school down the street as salary men and office girls head the other way toward the train station. In the evening the flow is reversed and those yakitori stands, izakayas and sushi joints fill with men and women grabbing a quick meal on their way home.

Tokyo's Nishi-Ogikubo Train Station

I love the closeness of the streets; it feels cocooning and welcoming. I love that the mix of pedestrians, bicycles, cars, scooters, buses and trucks all organically weave together on the narrow roadways. I love that, although we are clearly different, the formality and politeness of Japan dictates that we are not stared at but, should we need help, someone will help us immediately.

Tokyo's Nishi-Ogikubo Neighborhood

It is quiet. Thirty six million people live in Tokyo – that is the entire population of Canada – and yet Jason and I can walk down the street and have a quiet conversation. And yet it is not quiet. We had an evening in an izakaya where raucous laughter spilled out into the alley and we were drawn in by the possibility of a good time – we were not disappointed.

Tokyo's Nishi-Ogikubo NeighborhoodThe food is familiar, and yet different. We enjoy a lot of Asian and Japanese food at home but here we are not sure of how it all works. There are particular places to go for particular types of food and we haven’t figured it all out yet. For now we stumble about, probably breaking as many rules as we are following, happy to take it as it comes.

Tokyo Ramen ShopTokyo feels like an old friend. I am loving being back in Asia.

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

29 Jul

Monday Moment: San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Lake Miniques, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

It’s hot here in Calgary this week. I’m feeling like the dog days of summer have a firm hold on me.

Looking through my pics I’m reminded of our trip to Lake Mineques near San Pedro de Atacama in Chile…also in July. It was NOT hot!

We knew it would be chilly (no pun intended…okay, maybe!) in this region but had no idea just how close to the snow and ice we would get on this day. I think I was wearing everything I could think of!!

This image, and an icy cocktail, might just get me through the week!

25 Jul

Flying High

I’ve said that I don’t have a bucket list, but I can honestly say that I never, in a million years, thought I would find myself in a glider high above the earth. It wasn’t even on my not-a-bucket-list!

In the past I have been very fearful of flying. In fact, I relied on small prescription pills and liberal doses of gin in order to get off the ground. Anxiety and fear ruined travel days, leaving me an exhausted mess in the arrivals area.I have always hated that I hated flying and so have been working on it for the past while. And quite successfully, I might add.

Auto-piloting home from work late last week I perked up on hearing that the Cu Nim Gliding Club just south of the city was holding a ‘Chicks Take Flight’ day on Saturday. A chance to mingle with flying types, learn a thing or two about aviation, and an opportunity to co-pilot a glider.

Could I do it?

Would I have the balls?

Did I want to?

How could I not?

So I did what we all should do when we really want to do something but are afraid we won’t…I publicly pronounced I was going to do it. I told my friends, slapped it up on my Facebook page, sent out tweets and generally made sure that if I didn’t do it I would have to spend some time explaining why.

I headed out to the airfield bright and early on Saturday morning to ensure that, if there was to be a crowd, I would get a flight. I wasn’t about to pump myself up for this and be let down due to bad timing and logistics!

Glider Hangar

As one of the first to arrive at the clubhouse I quickly sign up for a flight, get weighed in (one of the first times in my life where it’s possible I am underweight for an activity!), and head to the hangar for ‘ground school’.

I’m a little bit nervous so I listen intently and take copious notes during the ‘Airmanship’, ‘Meteorology’, and ‘Flight Theory’ classes as though the learning I’m doing is absolutely critical to the aircraft staying in the air. A quick trip to the flight simulator and I’m ready to go!

Glider Flight Simulator

Shuttling out to the airstrip from the hangar I realize I’m not as nervous as I thought I’d be. I’m more excited than nervous; feeling daring, and brave, and oh-so-proud of myself. Although I do notice that the breeze is picking up and wonder how that will affect the flight. Soon I am greeted by some of the other women returning from their flights; their huge smiles clear evidence that I am in for a great ride. Unanimously they tell me how fabulous it is up there, how they can’t wait to do it again, and (most important to me) how competent and kind the pilots are.

Soon enough Alan comes over, introduces himself, and escorts me to the glider. Strapping a parachute on, I climb into the front pilot seat, my nerves climbing just a little bit also. Alan takes the time to describe all the instruments – altimeter, air speed indicator,  control stick, tow rope release, rudder paddles – but it all blurs together and sounds like the teacher in Charlie Brown to me. I’m not paying attention as I’m thinking about what I’m about to do and remembering back to all the fear I used to bring with me.

Glider Pilot

Jumping in behind me Alan quickly secures the canopy, radios to the tow plane, and we’re off! Within a few seconds we’re airborne, being pulled behind the still grounded tow plane like a kite running behind a four year old. I watch as the small plane ahead also gains air and we start the dance up to 2000 ft; he dipping and swaying in the wind as he coaxes us up to the next level; we follow along like a good dance partner, staying steady and waiting for our turn.

 

The radio crackles and Alan tells me he’s going to release the tow rope. I realize I’m holding my breath as the rope flies free and the tow plane banks sharply to the left. My breath is stuck inside me released only in small squeaks as we bank sharply to the right at the same time.

And then.

Nothing but the sound of the air rushing by the cockpit. I am transfixed by the feel of it under me. I watch as the wings flex their way through it. I can see forever; mountains, city, hills and towns.

I relax into it, grab the control stick, and pay attention as Alan teaches me how to glide through the air. It’s touchy, and responsive, and scary. When he asks if I want to take it on my own all my bravado falls to the earth and I tell him ‘not this time’. I don’t want to ruin the moment by being anxious. I want to enjoy every second and feel comfortable.

We swoop and twirl a few more times before I can hear the last song being played and realize we must heed the call of gravity and return to the airstrip. And then I’m one of those women with a huge smile on my face encouraging others to give it a try.

In the end I was as impressed by the club members as I was by the flight. Over and over I witnessed members introduce themselves, get everyone all the information they wanted, and generally  make sure everyone had a great time. This community-focused, all-volunteer club takes care of all the business of flying; tending the aircraft, mowing the airstrip, caring for the hangar, maintaining the club-house, barbecuing the hotdogs, and watching out for each other…all for the love of gliding and soaring.

Thanks to all of you that made sure I had such a great day!

******

Cu Nim Gliding Club didn’t pay me to say all these fabulous things. In fact, they didn’t pay me at all, nor did they know I was going to write about them. They really were just that fabulous. If you’re in the Southern Albera area, and are interested in gliding, I encourage you to check out their website – they do introductory flights all the time.

******

Announcing the winners of the  The$100 Startup  book giveaway!

Congratulations to Ali in Germany and Arti in India – I’m not sure that two readers who live farther away could have won!! I’ll contact each of you by email and get your mailing addresses. I’m interested to hear what you think and how $100 could change your lives.

22 Jul

Monday Moment: Ubud Oasis

Ubud Bungalows, BaliI found Bali to be such a contrast sometimes.

The island is stunningly beautiful; tropical rainforest and jungle serve up a menu of green not seen elsewhere, the heat becomes just about unbearable before a tropical storm moves in and breaks it throwing down an alarming amount of rain and leaving nothing but freshness behind, and the people are some of the most gracious, graceful I have seen anywhere.

However, the traffic can be a nightmare with scooters and cars competing for roads built long ago, tourists (of which I recognize I am one!) crowd in everywhere, and touts fill in the spaces becoming overbearing and unbearable all at the same time.

Our guesthouse in Ubud was a beautiful oasis. It contained all the beauty of Bali and none of the ugly. The traditional architecture lent a soothing calm; I would sit on the veranda in the evening taking in the frangipani scented air and listen to the sounds of traditional music waft over the wall from the restaurant across the rice field. It truly was heavenly.

*****

There’s still time to enter the giveaway!!

It’s time to share the wealth!! I have TWO copies of Chris Guillebeau’s new book The$100 Startup to give away.  I have already read it (and loved it!) and will be reading it again and taking notes as I determine how best to put my World Domination Summit $100 investment to great use.

Just leave a comment on this post letting me know you’re interested – I’ll draw TWO names on July 25th and announce the winners the following day.