Huh.

Well.

That was unanticipated.

I mean, we had planned on getting sick, getting robbed, or random natural disasters…

But not this.

I was doing okay when I started cancelling our reservations for the Mexico leg of our trip that was planned for August. I did that in late March. However, after getting an email from the Hobbiton movie set this week advising us that they would be closed in September, I have to say I got pretty bummed. Celebrating our son’s birthday at Hobbiton on the same day as Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday was going to be really special.

What can we do? No point stressing over things that are out of our control. We are healthy and managing well. Let’s focus on the positive and what we can do.

I think the kids will go to physical school in the fall. Again, not 100% sure but that is what we are guessing. In that case, our son can do one semester of grade 9 in a physical school and grab any credits he hasn’t completed at Virtual High School. No big deal. The fancy IB program school says that we can’t go on their wait list as we missed their deadlines. C’est la vie.

Maybe things will be okay for travel again in February? Maybe?

Maybe we’ll just travel Canada in an RV? Maybe?

I can honestly say with all sincerity, I DO NOT KNOW.

Things may open up slowly but then who knows what different countries will plan for traveller requirements… There are just so many variables that are impossible to logistically plan around.

I sold one thing on Kijiji, tapping elbows with a stranger, before covid-19 was declared a pandemic. My to-do list of further items to sell has been put aside. My list of things to pack for storage also is paused.

Probably our biggest worry is that our lease for our car is done at the end of July. We’ll need to figure out some sort of temporary solution to tide us over til….. whenever?

In the meantime, homeschool, Just Dance marathons, and lots of video games around here!

Stockpiling Toilet Paper

After five years of saving and planning for our family’s world trip, it seems that an excruciatingly small thing might curtail some of our intentions. The Novel Coronavirus, properly known as SARS-CoV-2 (which causes the disease COVID-19) has become a near pandemic, causing panic in some parts of the world. Entire countries have begun restricting its populace from travel (like Italy). I travel a lot for work, and it’s been a busy week postponing or outright cancelling work trips for myself and other colleagues. Colleagues hoping for vactions this spring — to places like Mexico, Italy and Spain — are now planning for staycations or simpler trips to in-country destinations.

So what about our world trip? It’s not a big surprise to say that we’ve definitely been paying close attention to the news. Having said that, we’ve gone ahead and firmly booked the first two-or-so months of our travel. Mexico, New Zealand and most of Australia are now paid for (nearly $10,000!). But we’ve stopped there as we’re waiting to see what happens with Asia, and, in particular, Japan with its slightly older population (on average) and the hosting of a massive worldwide event in a few months.

Here’s a video from someone who recently traveled to Da Nang, Vietnam, and the real world experience she’s having:

There’s a lot of talk about the spread of the virus slowing or halting in the summer. Sure, historically, many viruses do slow down during the warmer months, but that does not mean that SARS-CoV-2 will follow the same path. If we avoid media rhetoric and look at actual experts (like Harvard’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics), the virus may slow, but that will not stop the spread. But worse for my family – we’re only talking about the Northern Hemisphere. Our trip will be taking us to parts of the world where winter will actually be taking place in August. It will be an average of 10 degrees Celcius when we visit New Zealand, for example. This might be a good reason for us to avoid much of the Southern Hemisphere (think Africa and South America) during their summers.

With all that said, are we necessarily worried? A little. Are we stockpiling toilet paper like other people seem to be? No. First of all, we know the virus doesn’t cause diarrhea (it’s a respiratory disease), but secondly we have a bidet. But what about the trip? I’m not worried about the virus itself — we’re young and healthy so we shouldn’t be terribly impacted, medically speaking — but we might have to avoid travel if a country’s borders are closed or if a country has decided to shut down all of their main tourist activities/festivals/etc. There’s no point spending thousands to visit a place when there’s nothing to do. Of course, if we do get sick, then we’ll have to self-quarantine in whatever country we’re in, which could severely impact the next stages of our travel. Even if some calculations estimate up to 70% of the world will catch this virus, I’d rather minimize our spread of it, if at all possible.

In the end, and to answer questions from family and friends, we’re definitely keeping the spread of the virus on our minds as we continue to plan for the trip. We will regularly watch the appropriate travel authority websites of the countries we’re visiting. And, finally, we’re continuing to teach our kids proper hygiene by enjoying websites like Wash Your Lyrics or watching amazing videos like this one from Vietnam:

Country Profile: Japan

Tokyo 2020 Olympic poster “Wild Things – Hachilympic” by Tomoko Konoike
Tokyo 2020 Paralympics poster – “The Sky above The Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa” by Hirohiko Araki

Travel Advisories: Canada, United States Visa: Travel visa not required for less than 90 days. You should have your outward ticket, accommodations, and proof of sufficient funds organized. Vaccines: Yellow fever is not required, you may want to consider Japanese encephalitis.

Currency: 1 CAD = 84.30 JPY (2020.01.18) A quick way to convert is to just take the last two zeros off of the Japanese price, should get you close enough.

Things to Read:

Phrases to Know:

  • Sumisen – “Excuse me.”
  • Hai, wakarimashita – “Yes, I understand.”
  • Dōmo arigatō – “Thank you very much!” Domo can also be used as a casual way of saying “hi!”
  • Arigatou gozaimasu – “Thank you.”
  • Onegaishimasu – “Please.”

I feel like, growing up in Canada, we are exposed to Spanish a lot more than languages from Asia and Southeast Asia. Probably all of that American tv… Living in Japan for a few weeks feels much more challenging than living in Mexico. At least we know some Spanish numbers and how to say yes or no!

Life Where I’m From shares some good advice about ordering food with little to no command of the language:

Stuff to See:

  • Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum (advance tickets required)
  • Tokyo – Robot Restaurant (advance tickets required)
  • Tokyo – Imperial Palace (surrounding gardens open to public)
  • Tokyo – Disneyland + DisneySea (Touring Plans and TDR Explorer guides). We’ll be using our experience planning a Disney World trip here!
  • Tokyo – Ueno – National Museum, Museum of Nature & Science, Zoo, Shitamachi Museum, the Metropolitan Art Museum, and the National Museum of Western Art. Not to mention, the beautiful park itself, the pond, and the temples! You can get a “Ueno Welcome Passport” at any Tourist Information Centre for 2000 yen. This gives you admission to many attractions plus a cool passport, a map, and a stamp game. (Without the pass the attractions cost about 4770 yen.)
  • Tokyo – Odaiba – Miraikan (National Museum of Emerging Science and Technology) looks really great! There are lots of attractions for kids in Odaiba, like Legoland, which our kids have kind of aged out of, Joypolis, Leisure Land, the giant Gundam statue, weird techno art installations at Team Lab Borderless, and the, ahem, poop museum. Oedo-Onsen-Monogatari (hot spring baths) is also a popular attraction in Odaiba.
  • Akihabara, Shinjuku, Harajuku in the Shibuya district…. Phew! So many neighbourhoods in this mega-city! That’s 13 million people in the core and 37 million in the metropolis, in case you were curious. This is the biggest city in the world!
  • Kyoto – Temples! Palaces! Gardens! Time to knock 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites off your to-do list baby! I’m hoping that we can see Kyoto with fall leaves?
  • Animals – Deer in Nara Park, rabbit island (Ōkunoshima), and cat island (Ao Island). And don’t forget Hachikō!
  • We plan on travelling to Osaka to feast on delicious food. I love the fun, oversized signage at some of the restaurants.
  • We’re not really sure how much the 8 year-old will understand about Hiroshima but we plan on going nonetheless.
  • We plan on crossing at Fukuoka to travel to South Korea by ferry.

The Hangry By Nature Youtube channel has been helpful for us in planning:

PLACES TO SLEEP:

Life Where I’m From shares an excellent break down of the different accommodation options to consider on a trip to Japan:

We took the kids out for ramen this past weekend. Oh my goodness! What a hit! Their excitement for travelling to Japan is “over infinite and the scale broke,” as TRex says.

To Store, or Not to Store

Even though our travel dates are still seven months away, MegaMommy and I are gripped with excitement. We want to travel now. Of course, we can’t for many reasons, one of which is the fact that we need to do something about our house (the other being I don’t want to get fired for not showing up to work!). At this point, we’re assuming we’ll need to rent our house unfurnished, which basically means we need to pack and store everything. Again. Then in a year, move and unpack everything. Again. Didn’t we just move less than two years ago?

So the question that comes to my mind is, what should we store? Is it worth storing T-Rex’s stuffies? G-Man’s Legos? My (now ancient) gaming computer? Although it would be fun to just “leave everything behind” and travel, it would be nice — especially for the kids — to come home to familiar things. (And there’s no way MegaMommy would ditch her record collection.)

There’s obviously no perfect solution to this problem, but I’m leaning towards the following rules:

  • Anything that costs more to store than it would be to (easily) replace should go. This means, if we’re talking about a 10×20 storage unit that’s CDN$275 a month (for example), any 2 cu. ft. box worth of stuff that’s less than $20 needs to be culled. I’m rounding up quite a bit since I’m factoring in oddly shaped items (e.g., furniture) and the fact that temperature controlled storage units need extra space to breathe.
  • Anything that’s old and worn (and has no sentimental value) should go. It’s probably time I replace those winter gloves with a big tear in it (the tear that’s been there for three years now). This 9 year old laptop I’m currently typing on, partially held together by duct tape, might also be a contender.
  • Old clothes need to go. I have a feeling it would be nice to get back to our daily lives (and school and work) with fresh styles.
  • Things we haven’t used since we moved 1.5 years ago are gone. If we haven’t touched them for that long, why pay money to store them for another year? Certain sentimental things excluded, of course.
  • Things that could be useful to friends or family should go to them temporarily or even permanently (e.g., our trampoline). Same goes with donations. If that item could go to a family in need, why have it waste away in a storage unit?
  • Foods and liquids are obvious no-gos for storage.

Considering, as I said, we recently moved, there shouldn’t be too much to sell/donate/throw out but it’s still a process we need to follow. Next question: Is it too early to start packing?

Which countries drive on “the wrong side” of the road?

Our to-do list is getting tackled this week! We have an appointment with a travel clinic to begin the vaccinations we’ll need, we have a possible property manager coming to the house for an assessment, and we have an appointment with AirTreks in order to compare their price for our itinerary. The kids just got their new passports… It’s getting real!

One small item on the list was to take a class for driving a car with manual transmission, or “learn how to drive stick.” ProShift looks like one of the best local options here in Ottawa. I don’t know how much this will be needed to be honest. Will we be renting a car in Europe? We’ll most likely just get a Eurorail pass. And lots of Southeast Asian countries will most likely see us renting a scooter rather than a manual car.

Supposedly, it only takes a few lessons to get the hang of stick shift. But you know what really scares me? The countries that drive on the “wrong” side of the road!!

Source

Looking at you Australia, New Zealand, UK, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Malaysia!

Elevation and Altitude – Where is the highest place on Earth that we will go?

South America was, at one point, a destination in our travel planning. Therefore, I researched various places, such as Argentina, Peru, and Chile, in order to make country profiles. I don’t think we’ll need to use them for our 2020/2021 trip. Fingers crossed for a trip to South America in the future!

However, during my research I kept coming across the possibility of “altitude sickness.” I was kind of surprised. I thought that was only an issue if you were climbing mountains or something? Silly Canadian. Visiting Machu Picchu is climbing a mountain!

However, the possibility of altitude sickness, or at minimum a negative reaction to thinner air levels, came up as a possibility in guide books to Mexico City as well. I was curious. What are the altitudes of our travel destinations?

My son GMan has been really loving using Desmos for his grade 9 math class. I asked him to whip up the following chart to show the elevation data that I found for each travel destination:

https://www.desmos.com/calculator/lma5dfhlcc

We found that almost all of our travel destinations are below 100 m of elevation. This also includes our home city of Ottawa! The exceptions are places such as Munich (519 m) and Wellington (495 m), which fall in the mid range seen above. And then there are the two greater anomalies of Mexico City (2250 m) and Reykjavík (2110 m).

Altitude sickness typically manifests when you are above 2500 meters. The symptoms are: shortness of breath, fatigue, headaches, nausea, trouble sleeping, and other symptoms resembling flu. Drink lots of fluids, take an advil, and slow the rate of your physical activity seems to be the general consensus for remedy. Add some Montezuma’s Revenge and you’re golden baby!

Country Profiles: Australia

Source

We’ll come back to this country profile in the future. In the meantime:

Donate to the Australian Red Cross here.

Donate to WIRES, which helps wildlife in Australia, here.

Donate to the NSW Rural Fire Service here.

Donate to the Country Fire Association of Victoria here.

Donate to the the South Australian Country Fire Service here.

The Smog We Breathe

We’ve been asked many times why we aren’t going to certain countries. Sometimes it’s because of potential danger (e.g. Syria), sometimes it’s because of time and/or cost (e.g., Antarctica), sometimes because the timing doesn’t work out (e.g., Namibia) but sometimes it’s because of pollution. With the limited number of countries we’re able to actually visit in the short time we have, we must cut certain countries from our list of places we’d like to see… and I’d rather avoid getting sick from air pollution if we can.

One of the countries we recently added to our world trip was Nepal. It was partly a strategic trip to help shorten flight times between Singapore and Oman, but also because it simply felt like a beautiful culture I had wanted my kids to experience. Sadly, it appears that Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, might be in the “midst of a pollution crisis” as one blogger called it. A meta-review of journals in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health, said that “short term exposures” to Kathmandu Valley’s air pollution “invite respiratory diseases and allergy.” There are countless videos on YouTube that describe how bad the pollution can get, from having constant black goock in your nose if you don’t wear a mask, to all your belongings constantly being grimy, to actually getting seriously ill.

New Road, Kathmandu, Nepal
(by S. Pakhrin)

But Kathmandu is actually not even among the worst offenders. According to this article in The Guardian, India has about half of the top 50 cities in terms of air pollution. The next country, China, has 8 cities on the list. My kids have the occasional snow days at school, but it appears many unfortunate kids in these countries have smog days.

Of course, if we’re being honest, we’d only be in any of those three countries (and their specific polluted cities) for a short time, right? How much would Kathmandu’s or New Delhi’s pollution affect us? Likely very little in the long term. But why bother having our kids suffer with the smog and dirt when there’s simply so much beauty elsewhere in the world? This real-time air pollution index and World Health Organization’s outdoor air quality database give a good indication of other places with amazing history, temples and nature that we could visit instead.

Smog Covering New Delhi, India
(by Jama Masjit)

Although the pollution above is mostly caused by cars and factories, we’ve been looking at carbon offsetting our travel (reading things like this blog entry from On The Luce). Carbon offsetting does mostly seem like a way to feel less guilty about your flights (since the flights are likely going to happen with or without you), but we don’t need to be doing this world trip while others might have to travel for work or family. There’s still a lot of research on this topic so expect another blog post or two in the future.

While I’m on the subject, I recommend NASA’s quiz on air pollution called The Air We Breathe.

The Land of Bitter Cold

The temperature has dropped a dozen degrees in two days, and is now expected to go down to around -20 C tonight (-30 or so with the wind). Although I prefer the cold over the heat, there’s not much you can do outside when the weather starts dipping past -20. I’m a little jealous (and worried?) because Palmer Station, Antarctica near the tip of Argentina is currently at only -1. Admittedly, Dome Argus Station which sits near the middle of the continent is hovering just below -40.

I had originally wanted to go to Antarctica on our world trip (via Ushuaia, Argentina) but unfortunately the time of year we’d be going just didn’t work as the tours mainly happen between November and March (we’d be there around September, or early October). The cost, too, was a bit much just so that we could say we’ve been to every continent during our travel. 5-10 day boat and flight tours would cost us about $5,000-$10,000 per person (see Polar Cruises and Swoop Antarctica, as examples).

Thankfully, Jonty Pressinger uploaded an absolutely stunning (and funny) video of the same trip I had researched. Some of it reminds me of the weather outside my window right now, though. I still want to do this trip (maybe it’s the completion-ist in me?), but it’ll be a separate trip when the kids are older, or perhaps on my own if I can’t convince anyone. Until then, enjoy this video!

Travel Tech

If anyone knows me, it’s not a terribly big surprise to say that I’ve been charged with finding the right technology for our travel. But, let’s be honest, I also enjoy technology (and spending countless hours reviewing the minutiae between two models of laptops). We’re a household with three times more wifi enabled devices as occupants after all…

There’s a few major considerations when choosing the right tech for our trip:

  • Size and weight: We’re packing light. So that means, we need to pick things that are not only small, but literally light as well.
  • Cost: We don’t want to blow our budget on things (we want experiences!), so cost is a major factor. On top of that, replacement cost should anything get broken, lost or stolen is important.
  • Theft resistance: Speaking of stolen, a piece of tech that isn’t a target of thieves is useful. Obviously, anything can be a target, but an iPhone 11 Pro is likely more of one than, say, a Nokia flip phone.
  • Usability and convenience: What’s the point of a piece of tech if it only does a part of the job, or does the job but not really that well?
  • Universality: Will it work everywhere?

With 7 months to go, what did we choose for our trip? Well, we decided on four primary pieces of technology:

Streaming: An easy topic that didn’t really exist more than a few weeks ago. On Black Friday, Amazon was offering a great deal on their Fire Stick, which allows streaming from multiple services such as Netflix and Disney+ (and Amazon Prime Video, obviously). This tool plugs into the HDMI port of any TV and will let us continue watching our favourite shows, providing the streaming service makes the show available in that country. And that’s the clincher that needs more research. Can we keep watching Nailed It! in Japan? For $25, it’s worth a shot and saves us from having to keep plugging in our laptop every time we want to watch a show.

Laptop: Speaking of laptops, our old Dell beasts that we’re currently using are getting long in the tooth and weigh a little over 5 pounds each and are thick (they still have a DVD drive!). Sadly, with what we’d like to do on our travel (blogging, light video editing, video chat, distance education for the kids, etc.) a laptop is a must. With that in mind, we purchased (on huge discount from the Microsoft Store of all places) two HP Stream 14 laptops. They’re about half the weight and thickness of our old laptops, are still 14 inches in size and run Windows, which is a must for Mega Mommy and G-Man’s needs (we’re usually a Linux household, so I made sure these suckers can work with that operating system as well!). We’ve been testing the laptops out and so far they’ve been wonderful. For $200 each, that’s not bad.

Phone/Camera: Now the most expensive part of this post – the camera and phone. I originally started with the need for a good camera to capture our trip (naturally). Our current cameras and the cameras on our smartphones were very sub-par, so that just wouldn’t do for something as memorable (momentous?) as this. I originally started looking at DSLRs, since I’ve had experience with SLRs in the past. I quickly realized that we’ll only be lugging around carry-ons, and a DSLR (with case, lenses, etc.) would take up quite a bit of room. Furthermore, it would cause us to stick out as tourists from the get go. So I began to investigate smartphones with good cameras, and three options peeked out: Google’s Pixel, Apple’s iPhone and certain Chinese phones such as the Xiaomi which advertise ridiculous levels of cameras and pixel densities. Going backwards, we chose to avoid the Chinese phones since we’ve had issues with them in the past, and avoided the iPhone since we’re an Android family (I mentioned we use Linux right?). So, that left the Pixel, which luckily had a Black Friday sale just as I was researching things. So, we’re now proud owners of two $400 Pixel 3a phones which have already proved to be perfect for our needs. Now we can take great quality photos without sticking out like sore thumbs – and, best of all, Google offers free backups of all of our photos. Although we’ll be storing them all on our own cloud server, it’s a nice peace of mind to know that should our phones be stolen or broken, we don’t need to worry about losing any (most?) of our photos.

Server: Speaking of cloud servers, we decided to set up a personal cloud server on Hetzner (Nextcloud-based), hosted in Europe for only a $2.50 a month. Separate from our website (which is also in Europe), the cloud will let the four of us access personal files, and keep it all encrypted and secure. This include password management, personal emergency documents, and so forth. We’re also considering a secure tracker so that close family can monitor where we are in the world, which is neat, but also a way to found out where we are should anything happen. On a side note, G-Man also set up his own Minecraft server on PebbleHost so that he can continue playing games with his friends as we travel!

Of course, we’ll also carry miscellaneous items such as a universal power adapter ($10-20 on Amazon), cables and a battery backup. Thankfully, we’ll be in some fairly big cities from time to time, so we should be able to pick up anything we might have forgotten or lost along the way.

So this is the technology side of things for now, although things might change a little as we get closer to the time. Seven more months of preparation only?! Time to start reading a bit more about the minute differences in universal power adapters…

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