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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:

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?

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…

Around the World with the Richter De Medeiros Family

The podcast, “This Must be the Place” had a great interview with Rodrigo De Medeiros in 2016 concerning his family traveling to 13 countries in 11 months. There are some great tidbits in this interview that make it worth the listen (it’s 45 minutes). There are some very familiar things for our family’s planning as well — like buying a map at the start of it all and simply marking off all of the places we’d like to go (and potentially needing Scotch to handle anxiety during the travel!). They mainly stayed in the Americas, Africa and Europe, while my family will be making Asia as a priority.

The Richter de Medeiros family also has their own website if you want to get a bit more about this family. what they saw and what they’ve learned: Learn. Live. Travel.

Money While Travelling

One of the concerns we’ve had while traveling is how to safely carry money and pay for things.  Looking into it, I think we’ve decided on a few rules:

  1. Pay everything with a credit card, which not only gives you peace of mind if it’s stolen, but also gets points you can use during the trip itself.
  2. Speaking of credit cards, we’re thinking of having two – an American Express Gold for  hotels and flights, since AMEX has always been great for travel insurance and other services, as well as a MasterCard or Visa.  Having a backup in the hotel/in your luggage will come in handy if your primary is ever lost or stolen.
  3. And speaking of getting stolen, we’re going to save our primary funds in a high interest savings account and only move a bit at a time into a chequing account so that if, heaven forbid, our card is skimmed or stolen, the thief can only get so much from the ATM.  We’re thinking of moving to HSBC for the trip since they’ll have ATMs in most of the places we’ll be visiting (to avoid withdrawal fees), though there ARE Canadian banks in some major foreign cities…  so maybe laziness will win out for this point.
  4. Mega Mommy also has a U.S. based account for her work, so we’ll actually have a third account specifically for emergency purposes.
  5. Some places we’ll be visiting will be cash only, and our bank will always offer a better conversion than currency converter kiosks.

There are a few websites we’ve found to try to get the most points and best credit cards for our travel.  They include:

One of the common recommendations we’ve seen is to get a good travel card where the first year’s fees are waived, then ditching the card when the travel is done.  Considering some of those fees can be ridiculously high for the average folk, I’ll be keeping my eyes open when the time comes.  (Though, in the end, a $250 year fee for something that offers amazing perks and peace of mind during  $100,000 trip is worth it).

Retired Grandparents Ditch Mortgage for Life at Sea

A fun little video from Alternative Living Spaces (Season 6, Episode 12).  This is one heck of a way to enjoy your retirement.

 

History of Global Living Conditions

A very interesting and must read article titled “The short history of global living conditions and why it matters that we know it” by Max Roser that answers the question, “All things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse, or neither getting better nor worse?” by looking at the history of global living conditions.

Where Have We Been?

Ever wanted to keep track of where you’ve visited?  You can use push-pins of course, but why not try a scratch-off map instead?  Apparently they can be hard to scratch, but it does look nifty!  There’s a few versions, but here’s one that I’ve found:

190f53827b1a353aece4293a0376ceef

https://globetrotclub.com/collections/posters/products/scratch-off-world-map

 

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