Journey of a Lifetime

A lot of people think we’re starting out on the big adventure of our lives in mid-October. But we both know that we actually got started on life’s greatest journey three years ago today (July 30).

It started with laughter that has yet to die down.

And while some like to debate whether it’s better to travel solo or with a partner, we’ve yet to find a road that’s not best when walked together.

Our upcoming trip will be a fabulous adventure, but it’s just one chapter in the journey of a lifetime.

The Countdown Begins

You know that point where “The departure date for this trip will never arrives” meets “Oh my god, I can’t believe how soon we leave.” Yeah. I’m there.

Think State Farm can help?

No? Me neither. But at this point, I’m certainly feeling like I could stand for someone to jump in and lend a hand (or twelve).

I can’t even count how many days, months, and years this trip has been brewing, so to think that it’s right on the horizon now is both exciting and overwhelming. It’s also a bit unreal. When you dream of something for so long, it can seem as if it will never actually happen. But it is happening. Soon.

For us, the problem of realizing that the dream is about to become reality is the facts of our situation. In our minds—and on paper—we don’t leave for almost three more months. That’s still forever, right? Well, yes. Unless, of course, you’re actually moving out of the country a good six weeks before what you consider to be the start date of your trip.

Jeff leaves for Sweden in three weeks. (Count them–one, two, three. Not many weeks at all.) I then follow two weeks afterwards. We’ll be there for one month. We’ll then be back here for about 2 weeks before departing for Nicaragua, the first stop on the world tour. Perhaps we should have been thinking of the Sweden adventure as part of the trip, but we didn’t. For Jeff, trips to Sweden are a regular occurrence, and for me, well I just haven’t thought about it at all.

So now, I feel like we’re a bit under the gun. Though some things can be done from Sweden, a lot needs to be done before we go (or will at least be much easier to handle while we’re in the U.S.) The biggest job of all, and one we cannot put off, is the packing and moving of our entire apartment. I’ve tried to avoid thinking of this, but I’m not sure I can much longer. While I’m good at packing for trips, and I’m excellent at throwing things away, I’m always completely overwhelmed by large-scale moving endeavors. I still remember trying to pack for college, sitting in the middle of my bedroom surrounded by eighteen years worth of stuff and being practically paralyzed. I had a list. I had boxes and suitcases. Yet still I called my mom at work near tears because I couldn’t figure out where to start. Hopefully I’ve improved in the past decade, but I’m not looking forward to finding out.

And then it’s make sure our finances are in order. Figure out that route and get some airline tickets. Purchase the last remaining supplies. Make a final decision on insurance. Say goodbye to all our DC friends…

Plus there’s that very simple matter of me finishing my book (only two more hikes to go plus a little writing and a lot of editing!) and Jeff finishing his dissertation (experimentation phase now complete!). No big deal, right? Good, I’m glad we agree. Deep breaths all around.

How to Save Money When You Don’t Have Much to Begin With

It seems like finances—personal, corporate, and government—are big news these days. I can’t click over to CNN without reading some story about the current financial crisis…or the custody battle of some celebrity. Obviously both topics that require careful consideration by the American public.

But I digress, the quality of news on CNN is a topic for another day.

Today I want to talk about finances, and in particular those articles that promise to tell you how to save money and usually offer some tantalizing tidbit about how some family saved $25,000 by just making a few changes to their lifestyle. I always click open these articles and begin reading, looking for a new way to save, only to find out that the family being profiled saved that money by cutting out their $10,000 a year coffee buying habit, only buying 15 couture dresses this year instead of 20, and using their Audi for routine errands instead of taking out their Ferrari when they just need a gallon of milk.

Very wise moves indeed.

But completely irrelevant advice to me.

If I had $10,000 to spend on coffee, then I probably wouldn’t have much need to worry about how to save $25,000. And if I owned a Ferrari would I seriously even blink when gas prices skyrocketed beyond the gas pump’s meager price telling abilities? I think not. But then again, I’m not rich, never have been, and almost certainly never will be, so I don’t have any firsthand experience with how difficult it must be to swim in cash (DuckTales, anyone?).

So since I find these how-to articles so irrelevant to my life, let me share here with you five of my own tips for saving whatever cold, hard cash you can find under your couch cushions or rolling around the floor of your 1996 Nissan.

1. Spend all of your free time deep in the backcountry.
It’s practically impossible to spend money while you’re in a tent in a forest in the middle of nowhere. There aren’t any stores, and there’s no entertainment beyond the annoying people sleeping a few trees down singing loudly about pickles well past midnight. And those bears nosing around outside, they don’t want your dinero. They’d rather just have your hot dogs.

2. Develop your own special form of ADD.
See the preview for the movie. Get excited about the movie. Then remember that movies are long—two plus hours long. And during that whole, long time you’re expected to sit still and be quiet. Realize there is no way that’s going to happen and put your $10 back in your pocket (or better yet, the bank…but not all in one bank if you happen to have more than $100,000 because man, I hear those things are dropping like flies).

3. Convince yourself that coffee tastes like dirt. (Because it does.)
No one likes to consume dirt (unless you have pica, and then, really, you should get that checked out, because consuming dirt is totally not normal). If coffee tastes like dirt to you, you will not buy it. You will not spend any money (no less $10,000) on coffee consumption. When that well-meaning but budget-busting co-worker stops in your office and asks if you want anything from the coffee shop, you can say no and really, honestly mean it. Because heck if you want to consume dirt, there’s plenty of it to be had for free (see backcountry).

4. Become allergic to shopping.
Imagine, for one moment, a mall: the crowds, the racks and racks of clothes none of which contain the right size, those horrific fluorescent lights, that loud music, the perfume stench of department stores, the cookie place that looks like it should be so tasty but really isn’t. Did you not just break out in hives thinking about it? Me, I almost needed an epi-pen. You, not so much? Well then, fine, go ahead and spend your money to look trendy and cool; I’ll just be thankful that I’m still the same size I was ten years ago…and that every now and again fashion comes full circle.

5. Have no real idea how much money you make.
Remember when you were sixteen and worked at the zoo and made $5.75 an hour? Convince yourself that that’s still the case. Remember when you took the time to figure out just how many hours you would have to work to pay for whatever it was you wanted: a new paint job on your rusty old car, a Wendy’s value meal, tickets to the Tori Amos concert? Do that again, but calculate everything as if you still only make $5.75. Decide then how much it’s worth to you. When you turn 100, go ahead and check your bank account. Do a happy dance when you find out you’re a millionaire. Then spend it all like there’s no tomorrow (because, come on, let’s face reality, at 100, there’s a fairly high chance that’s true).

On Conversation

I’m following both my mom and Theresa’s recommendations and am currently reading Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux. Its a great book, a relatively easy read filled with the adventure, difficulty, and aura of travel. What I keep getting from it though, is the myriad encounters he has with locals. How easily he meets people wherever he is, and manages over the course of a few drinks to pull out a captivating life story. He does this over and over. Now, naturally, a fair amount of this is because he is the storyteller and this is his narrative;  I’m sure there were many very boring stories and uninteresting people he has blessed us not to write about.

But when I think about how I want our trip to go, that is it—seemingly constantly falling into interesting scenarios, going out of our way to meet what turn out to be fascinating people, having a keen eye for who is trustworthy and worth our time. And while our one week in Egypt says all these things are bound to happen in spades, I can’t help but worry about it.

So let’s have a conversation about these conversations. Obviously the discussion depends drastically on who you are and where in the world you are, but tell us what you think. Do you find yourself easily talking to locals? Do they talk to you first/annoyingly barrage you? Where are the friendliest people? The coldest? Do you have to force yourself to make the effort to talk to new people? Are you as outgoing when you are already traveling with people you know? Is your personality different abroad versus at home? Share your thoughts.

My First Time Abroad

It was 1996; I was 15 and alone. Well, not alone actually, I was traveling with a gaggle of girls, but none of whom I knew before that trip, and I was without any family members. I was, in fact, to be the first of my immediate family to fly overseas. Ireland was the destination, the ancestral home of at least 25% of my family. I’d spend a week camping in Ballyfin in the interior of the Emerald Isle, followed by time spent living with a host family in Dublin and then touring some of the rest of the country.

I’d secured my first passport. I was beyond excited, even if less than thrilled by my photo. I heard the term “ugly American” for the first time, and I was nervous about making the mistakes that could earn me that label.

From the first moment, I was amazed by everything. The plane had upper and lower levels of seating…who had ever heard of such a thing! The Coke cans were tiny, practically no more than a shot, and so fascinating that I kept them instead of throwing them away when the stewardess came around. From my window seat, I stared out the window as we flew in over Ireland and was blown away by how truly, truly green it was. Once in the airport, I read sign after sign about foot-and-mouth disease, which I’d never heard of before.

I learned that July in the northern hemisphere doesn’t always translate to hot weather, as I shivered in a sweater while fair skinned Irish rode bikes in tank tops, turning a bright shade of red. While lugging a huge duffel bag around, I learned that backpacks and wheeled suitcases were the much better option, and I vowed to become a better packer. I learned that though someone might speak the same language as you, it can seem like a foreign tongue, as I tried to translate the heavily accented words flying out of my host father’s mouth.

I was blown away the first morning when my host mother asked me to go outside and collect eggs from the hen house. I hadn’t the first clue how to do such a thing, and all that pecking frightened me. When the milk was delivered fresh to the doorstep, I was charmed. This was Dublin, the nation’s capital, yet there were hens in the backyard and fresh milk at the front door. Wandering around the city, I was taken aback by the dates on cornerstones of buildings, many hundreds and hundreds of years older than my entire nation, and I marveled at how you could have a downtown with nary a skyscraper. And when Sunday rolled around, I could hardly believe that everything, truly, absolutely, everything closed down.

Finally, I was amazed by the intensity of friendships that could develop in such a short period. I knew my host family would always have a place for me (and they did; when I returned in 2001 for a visit the family had grown in number but embraced me just the same.) And the people who I sat next to as strangers on the flight to Ireland were by the time we boarded the plane back home good friends (so much so that in 2003, I would be a bridesmaid in one of their weddings).

The world was, at once, both much smaller and much bigger than I’d ever believed it to be. A door had sprung open, and I couldn’t wait to push through it, to see what else lay beyond my immediate field of vision. I was ready to be shocked and surprised, challenged and charmed. And as I flew back, still stealing soda cans, still pressing my face against the window, I promised myself that that trip was only the beginning.

Computer: Check!

Finding a good travel laptop can be a difficult thing. You want something that is small, light, durable, has great battery life, and enough inputs to help you around the world. Oh, and cheap. We previously posted about trying to find a good travel laptop ever since we decided we were definitely going to take one. Well, I think we’ve found what we’ve been looking for, so take note if you’re in the same boat. It is actually a laptop we did not even consider in our first roundup (due to it not even being announced at the time and all).

Last year Asus released the eee pc, a small 7″ notebook for $400 that ran linux and basically was only good for accessing the internet. We mentioned in our previous post the myriad of reasons these would not work for us. They’re tiny, but that means tiny screens, cramped keyboards, poor battery life, no computing power. Turns out, this year companies are busy putting out slightly larger (and thus much more comfortable), substantially more powerful “netbooks.” There’s a larger eee pc, the HP Mini-Note, the Acer Aspire One, and the MSI Wind that have all come out in the last few months, and Dell is releasing one soon. They’re useful because they provide *just* enough power at a great price point, and we chose what I thought was the best of the bunch, the MSI Wind. The Wind has a 10″ screen (with 1024*600 resolution) and weighs just over two pounds (and the computer feels quiet durable), so already it fits those important criteria. Here it is lined up with my 13″ Macbook to give you an idea of just how small it is.

But its the fact that its pretty much a full-fledged computer otherwise that makes it really appealing. It has an Intel Atom processor, 1 GB RAM, 80 GB hard drive, SD card reader, webcam, 3 USB ports, and a “big size” keyboard. I’m typing on it right now and am not feeling cramped, Theresa’s small hands will probably find it perfect (I guess she’ll let you know when she gets around to playing with it). It runs Windows XP very well (and ambitious people have gotten OSX 10.5 running on it with little issues). The only downside so far is that it only comes with a 3 cell battery that lasts 2 hours or so, though there is supposed to be an add on 6 cell battery that will last 4-5 hours. Put those together and the computer should last 7 hours or so.

So we found what we’re looking for, a lightweight, long battery life computer that we can use to keep up with email, write on the blog, use skype, do light photo editing, and other odd things. The best part of it is yet to come though … the price. The MSRP for these is $499, which is way less than we were anticipating spending. This is useful both in saving money, and keeping us from over-worrying about the safety of our equipment all the time. $500 is a lot of money, but a $500 laptop is way more replaceable than a $2000 one. So overall, I’m highly pleased with what this computer can do, though we’ll have to test it out some more to be sure, and I think I’ll be even more pleased when I’m the one hauling it around the world.

So if you’re looking for a good travel laptop, take a look at these types of laptops. All of the brands I mentioned above are in the $500-700 range, they all have 8-10″ screens, and all are powerful enough for your everyday tasks. I went with the Wind because of the specifications at a lower price, but they all looked pretty useful and effective to me.

On My Way to Unemployment


Pronunciation: \‘jōb\
Function: noun
Etymology: perhaps from obsolete job lump
Date: circa 1627

1a: a piece of work; especially : a small miscellaneous piece of work undertaken on order at a stated rate
2c: a damaging or destructive bit of work
3a: something that has to be done; an undertaking requiring unusual exertion

(Excerpted from Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary)


Come August 28, the etymological root of job will not be the only things that is obsolete; my days as an editor at the Smithsonian American Art Museum will also be. On Monday, I gave notice, and boy does it feel good to have that off my chest. It’s been tough sitting in meetings about projects that everyone but me thought I’d be working on.

Am I sad? No, not really.

Much too frequently my job has been “a piece of work,” and the “stated rate” has been far too low. On occasion, it’s been “damaging and destructive,” making me want to tear out my hair or give someone a good piece of my mind (if only I were confrontational). And almost always, it’s been “something that has to be done,” not something I get excited about doing.

But of the three jobs I’ve had since I came home from Greece, it was probably the best. Being an editor is something I enjoy. I like working with words, trying to find the gem that is usually hidden inside a lot of junk and polishing it until it shines. I like working with authors and designers and publishers. I have friends at work whom I will miss. I am well-liked by my boss (which did make the notifying her of my intent to leave kind of awkward as all the “I’m so lucky to have had yous” made it feel a little too much like we were breaking up instead of sorting out my resignation). And I had the privilege of working for an esteemed institution, and I can’t deny that having Smithsonian Editor on my resume probably helped open a few doors in the writing world (and will hopefully continue to do so).

What I don’t like is the bureaucracy of working for the federal government. I don’t like having co-workers whose most common refrain is “That’s not my job.” I don’t like having to go to work and sit all day at a desk on days when there is absolutely nothing to do. And I hate that hard work isn’t rewarded while whining is.

But why linger on that? I have less than 30 working days left. Then it’s off to Sweden and then the world.

As we prepare to leave, I have no need to think of where I will end up next, but I can’t help but ponder it every now and then. At this point, I’m seeing myself moving into the world of freelance—editing, writing, etc. I’ve given the office space world the old college try, but I just don’t think I’m cut out for it. But who knows, maybe after a year of complete freedom, I’ll miss the working world. It will be interesting to see how my perspective changes over the course of this coming year. Will I come back even more determined not to return to the 9-5? Or will I long for the routine of office life? What do you think?

I’m putting my money on option one.

Seven Good Reasons We Shouldn’t Take This Trip

1. The American economy is tanking, and it’s a deep, deep pool. Where people gladly took dollars, they now sneer at our greenbacks and demand local currency or Euros. Everything is more expensive than it was just a year ago.

2. America isn’t winning the World’s Most Popular Country competition. In fact, we were eliminated in the first round, not even getting a chance to show off our star-spangled bikini. People dislike and distrust America. We’re going to have to constantly defend our country, or at least listen to a lot of criticism.

3. Jeff’s just finishing his PhD in Neuroscience and the traditional next step is to move directly into a post-doc. Some labs might not look kindly on him being away from the science world for a year. Not all science nerds understand that there is life beyond the lab.

4. I have a permanent federal job. To a lot of people in DC, this is equivalent to winning the lottery. It’s practically impossible to fire me, and if I stay in my job, at age 50, I’ll have put in enough years to get a full federal pension. And these days pensions are as rare as flying pigs.

5. I’m about to get some good projects at work and I’m up for a promotion, which I’m likely to get. Considering I haven’t so much as gotten a free cupcake at my work, this is the big time.

6. The airline industry is in shambles. We could be dealing with a lot of hassles as airlines go under, merge, and lose baggage at an even more astounding rate than normal.

7. Moving is a pain. The boxes, the deciding what to keep and what to get rid of, the driving of a monstrous truck 500 miles, the bribing people with pizza to help you carry your couch, the discovery of God only knows what under furniture you haven’t cleaned under in four years… We have a good apartment and good friends, and we’re perfectly content not knowing what lies between the counter and the stove. Staying put would be much, much easier.

But still, there’s one good reason—a reason that trumps all reasons—why we should take this trip:

Nothing but this moment is guaranteed.

We are not promised tomorrow. We are not promised five years from now. We are not promised eighty years. Hopefully we make it to all of those milestones, but I’m not going to wait and see. Instead, I’m going to live for today.

And if I do make it to 50, 65, 80, 100, then I’ll have a darn good time sitting on my front porch talking about all the adventures I had rather than dwelling on all the things I wish I had done. Unless I’m still out having adventures, which is, of course, the plan.

A Pain in the Arm and the Wallet

I type this with a right arm that’s a little bit sore, and a left arm that’s not too bad off, but wouldn’t be happy if you gave it a friendly punch. This morning Jeff and I accomplished one of the big to-dos on our list: we got vaccinated. In an earlier post, we invited you to vote on what vaccinations we should receive. And you should be pleased to know that we listened … for the most part.

I can now say that we are vaccinated against Polio, Tetanus, Meningitis, and Yellow Fever. We are 1/3 of the way towards being vaccinated against Japanese Encephalitis. And we have a pack of Typhoid pills hanging out in the refrigerator, and by the end of next week, we’ll be vaccinated against it too. So yes, we got 5 shots in the arm today, and we have two more to go. Fortunately, we’d both already been vaccinated against Hepatitis A & B, so we could forgo that one, and we passed on the Rabies. Although, to be fair, we didn’t have a choice. The rabies vaccine is in short supply right now and is being restricted to those who have actually been bitten. I can’t help but say I’m a little pleased by this, because it means I didn’t have to make a decision.

In addition to all the vaccines, we have a mountain of prescriptions waiting to be filled: two different types of malaria pills, anti-diarrheal pills, and general antibiotics.

We also have two bound books filled with information specific to our trip.

That makes me feel a little bit better about the office visit fee, and to be fair, we were there for an hour and a half, and they were very friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. They were also more than a little blown away by our plans. I think they thought we were a little loony. (She did double check with us that we didn’t have any known psychological issues when going through our medical history forms.)

As for the answer to the question you’re all wanting to ask—what it all cost—well my friends, the answer is $1,263. And finishing off the Japanese Encephalitis vaccines will cost us another $540.

For those unable to do math, that’s a whopping $1,803. (You can see how that breaks down in the Details section of our site.)

It’s a phenomenal amount of money when you consider that what we got out of it is some sore arms and the possibility of feeling like we have the worst case of flu ever (that’s a direct quote from the doctor, but so far, so good).

But it’s a tiny amount of money when you consider that it will go a long way towards keeping our brains from exploding, our jaws from locking, our limbs from paralyzing, and our organs from failing.

In the end, you were right. You can’t put a price on your health, and I’m fairly certain that my life is worth more than $901.50.


Next on the to-do list in regards to health:

1. Make a decision on health insurance policies.
2. Get life insurance.


In honor of us heading to to pub quiz tonight instead of doing all the things we need to do, see if you can get the trivia questions that we couldn’t get (and a couple we guessed right on). No cheating now kids (google, for our purposes, is not your friend!). We’ll post the right answers in the comments soon.

1. What river is the only river to flow in both the northern and southern hemispheres?

2. What country has the largest man-made waterfall?

3. What European capital’s name means “Merchant’s Harbor”?

4. What country in Europe has the longest continuous royal family?

5. What city is still threatened by Mt. Vesuvius?

6. What country was Elvis stationed in in 1958?

7. In what country do they drive on both the left and right side of the road?

Post your guesses/answers in the comments, and we’ll post the right answers in due time, though surely you’ll have them all answered before then!