Saturday, June 20, 2009

Frequently Asked Questions

Studies show that traveling around the world is people's single most popular fantasy. Everyone I speak to say that we are living their dream. With a little planning, anyone can do what we are doing. Here's a list of questions that I get asked a lot and hopefully will help catalyse your dream trip -

1. How are you funding this trip?
My husband and I have known each other for 5 years now. We live a very 'basic' lifestyle by New York standards and have therefore been able to keep aside enough money to satisfy our yearning for adventure. We are debt-free, don't have money tied up in property (land or house), don't own a car and don't have any student loans.

2. How much will it cost?
Our daily budget while on this trip is $150 for 2 adults+1 child.
200 days of travel adds up to $30,000. Our daily budget of $150 includes the cost of accommodation, food and train tickets. This does not include visa costs, international medical insurance and other fixed costs (such as our rental storage unit and mail forwarding service) we will continue to incur in the U.S. when we are out of the country.
We estimate that given all contingencies and adding up our trip costs plus fixed costs in the U.S, our total cash outflow will be $40,000.

3. Isn't $30,000 a lot of money?
Yes it sure is and comes with sacrifices both before and long after this 200 day trip is over. But in the end we know it will be well worth it. We would rather be traveling and living our dream than sitting at work or standing in a grocery check-out line.

Also note that $30,000 is what we are willing to spend to travel in 'relative' comfort - this means apartment/hotels with private showers and toilets, 4 berth coupes and a restaurant meal every other day. If you are willing to rough it out a bit - stay in backpacker hostels or 1-star hotels, travel in 6 berth train cars, and limit yourself to self-cooked meals, you could do this trip for well under $20,000 or even less. When we did the math at the end of 80 days, we found that our monthly cost of living in the U.S - paying for medical insurance, taxes, NYC apartment rent, daycare costs, groceries and utilities would be comparable to the cost of this trip.

4. Why now?
Shortly after Thanksgiving 2008, the financial meltdown dominating the headlines became a personal reality when my husband was let go by his firm. With 2009 being a wash-out year, the timing was perfect to travel on a shoe string budget rather than getting frustrated looking for a job. As for me, I resigned my job and opted to do this trip instead. I am hopeful that my travels and 8 years of work experience will open up other career possibilities.

Secondly, our toddler was 20 months at the start of this trip. While some may say he is far too young, we see 2 benefits -
a) He isn't in school. Even if he was, I would have home-schooled him for a year. Children learn more about finance, history and language when they travel.
b) A 20 month old adds relatively little incremental cost to this trip. Hotels/apartments, trains, museums and buses do not charge extra for a child under 2.

Thirdly, we are in our 30s and healthy and can replenish our funds by saving wisely after we are done with this trip. We are both averse to the idea of waiting till we are 60 to live our dream.

5. What did you do with your apartment?

We were renting our NYC apartment and decided to give it up. We moved all our stuff into a rental storage unit, and terminated our rental agreement by finding tenants to take over our lease. Would we do this trip if we we owned our own house/apartment? Yes, we would have simply rented out our furnished house/apartment to fully or partially cover our mortgage cost. I have read of several other 'Round the world' travelers who have done exactly that.

6. Why do this by train?

Because of our toddler, we wanted to make this experience as comfortable as possible. We would have to pace ourselves to preserve our own sanity and to ward off travel fatigue. We quickly ruled out driving by car or hopping on flights, as both would mean strapping our son to a seat. We both love the slow and easy romance of train travel and it would allow our toddler the freedom to run the length of the train car. Besides, the economy of doing this journey by train was far too enticing to turn down. The longest continuous train journey is from Portugal to Vietnam covering a total of 17,852 kms and most of it included the countries we had on our wish-list. With a bit of creativity and lots of research, we knew it was possible.

7. Why did you choose this itinerary?
Apart from safety and steering clear of countries with civil unrest, our primary criteria was to pick countries that needed more than 2 weeks to explore. The logic being that a 2 weeks vacation is what we could spare while still holding onto our jobs. Given their vastness, both Russia and China fell into that category. We then added bordering countries to the wish-list.

Our second criteria was to have a common thread to our itinerary - most of the countries we added to our itinerary had a Communist past (or present in the case of China) or totalitarian regimes that have failed in recent history.

The third criteria was cost - we chose emerging economies and countries that wouldn't stretch our budget. This would also serve the purpose for T's research which he is documenting on his blog - The road less traded.

8. Isn't traveling with a toddler hard? How is your son handling the travel?

Yes, we find it challenging but only at times. For the most part, our experience has been that much more enhanced and enjoyable because of our toddler.

We have found surprising homogeneity in consumer goods. Department stores in the most obscure towns sell diapers, wipes, pasteurized milk and baby food. Apart from generic store brands, large consumer brands such as Johnson&Johnson and Proctor&Gamble are ubiquitous. Case in point - I have found Nestle's HoneyNut Cheerios and Pampers Size 4 diapers in every country I have visited thus far.

We interject trips to museums and other places of interest with trips to parks and playgrounds so that our son can gets his daily fix of outdoor play. We are also traveling with a few matchbox cars, 2 of his favorite books, some educational DVDs (that can be played on my laptop) and washable crayons. All of these provide endless hours of play.

Children make friends fast. They find play partners on trains, in playgrounds and in restaurants. Isaac has turned out to be the best ice-breaker in any situation. He gets everyone to loosen up and we have made several new friends and won many favors from station attendants, museum and church caretakers as a result of Isaac's charms.

9. Doesn't staying in hotels get tiring?
By our 2nd week into the trip, I was tired of over-priced restaurant food and washing clothes in the bathroom sink. Our solution: short term apartment rentals. With the exception of 3 cities, we have stayed at apartments in every city we have travelled to. These apartments are fully furnished (washing machine, equipped kitchen) and sometimes offer free wi-fi. Apartments also help us maintain some semblance of continuity for our son by cooking meals he is accustomed to. More about apartments at this link.

10. How far in advance have you booked your tickets and made reservations?

We limit making reservations or ticket purchases too far in advance. In the unfortunate event that we have a personal emergency and need to bail out of the trip, we can do so with the least amount of sunk cost.

For apartments/hotels, we make reservations about 7-10 days in advance. We check online if the trains are getting filled up and plan accordingly. Most Eastern European trains were booked only a day in advance as most trains run half-empty. In the case of the Russian trains, we booked some through an agent but the rest were bought about 2 weeks in advance directly from the Russian railways service counter.

11. What about medical insurance and pediatric care?
We have bought international medical insurance from Seven Corners. In the case of a dire medical emergency, we can ask to be evacuated and brought back to the U.S. They offer a variety of plans, but we opted for one with a high deductible that covers all the countries that we will be visiting on this trip.

We consulted with our pediatrician before we started on this trip. She made sure that Isaac was up-to-date with all his vaccinations. We are traveling with Isaac's medical records and immunization schedule as well as a medical kit to treat regular fevers, colds, coughs and bruises.

We have visited a pediatrician twice on this trip and during both occasions we found medical care to be perfectly on par with U.S standards. Lonely Planet guidebooks lists English speaking medical services in major towns.

Updated on July 01, 2009 (Day 83 of 200 days)


Zarin Mohamed said...

you make it seem so easy!!! i can't even deal with a few days of travel with Z! either i don't have much patience or that Z happens to be a fussy baby...either way, i admire you guys!

Akarsh S said...

I chose to spend my Sunday afternoon reading your blogs over the 5 other things I could have done, and it was time well spent. Your trip is truly inspirational and I wish you guys a happy journey for the rest of your trip. You did the right thing by choosing to end the trip in SE Asia. There is no better way to end a journey than to come to a place where you will be pampered, and can relax your body and soul.

anu said...

This is perfect Aquin...hopefully some day I will be referring back to this for our own trip! Have fun in Russia!

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic opportunity you have this Summer-taking in the history, soaking up lots and lots of culture!! I am having such a good time reading about all of your adventures! Thank you for keeping me in the loop. Your photos are great. Enjoy the rest of your trip! xx

Sushil said...

Hi There

It is such a joy reading all about your travel. I wish I had the guts and the resources :-). Thank you for some great suggestions I would keep them in mind when I travel. enjoy your rest of the journey and dont forget to share the pictures when you are back

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