Budgeting for Your Round-the-World Trip: Coming Home

On December 15, 2009, just a little over two months after landing back in the United States after our year-long trip, Jeff and I closed on a house, putting a solid 20% down. No, we aren’t rich. We didn’t discover that we were the long lost relative of a member of the royal family. We didn’t win the lottery, embezzle funds, or steal and pawn a gold Buddha. No, the money we used to purchase our house didn’t come to us in any exciting way. Instead it came to us the old-fashioned way: by working and then saving.

When the idea of a RTW trip first weasels its way into your head, all you can do is dream. You dream of what it will be like to stand at the Sun Gate and look down on Machu Picchu after three hard days of hiking. You dream of the way your heart will race the first time you see a lion in the wild. You dream of the taste of the pad thai that you will learn to cook yourself in a class in Chiang Mai. You plan routes in your head. You read blogs and travel guides and you watch travel shows to fuel your dreams of all the places you can go and the adventures you can have.

Then when the idea has entrenched itself so much that it’s no longer a dream but a plan, you begin to look into the costs. How much is a RTW ticket? What about individual legs? How much does it cost to sleep and eat in South America? Africa? Asia? Australia? What’s the price tag for a gorilla trek in Uganda or learning to scuba dive in Malaysia? You determine what kind of traveler you are. You decide what you can live without and what you must have. You calculate, add and subtract, guesstimate here and there, until you have a number. Your budget. The amount it will cost you to take a round-the-world trip.

Maybe it’s $50 a day. Maybe it’s $100 a day. Doesn’t matter. Everyone travels differently. What does matter is that what you have here is only a partial budget. What you have here is the cost to travel. What you’ve forgotten is the cost of coming home.

Of all the destinations on your trip, home is going to be the most expensive for the majority of round-the-world travelers. Sure, maybe Mom will let you crash in your old room and will have missed you so much that she’ll fix you food and let you borrow her car, but after the absolute freedom of long-term travel being dependent on someone else is not going to be very fun. So what you’re going to want to do is budget for both your trip and your return home.

Here’s how in five easy steps.

1. Take a realistic look at how much it costs to live at home for one month.
How much is an apartment going to cost? Don’t forget the deposit and utilities. How much do you need for groceries? What are your transportation costs? Assume that you’ll live pretty frugally upon your return, but don’t be too ascetic in your budgeting. Chances are you’re going to want to catch up with friends over a beer or hit your favorite restaurant when you get home.

2. Assume you’re going to be without income for at least one month upon your return. Then plan for three.
While some people are able to line up work in advance of their return, most travelers return from their travels to find themselves unemployed. Getting hired, especially these days, isn’t the easiest thing, and even in the best economy, the time from application to interview to hiring is usually a few weeks at minimum. And honestly, you’re going to want to give yourself some time to readjust to home before you slip back behind a desk. Three months worth of savings gives you time to re-enter, look for a job, and hopefully get hired, if not at your dream job, at least at the local coffee shop.

3. Take the three month figure and then pad it.
Did you consider the fact that if you’re unemployed, you’re also without health insurance (at least in the U.S.)? You’re going to need money for a temporary policy. Did you sell all your stuff before your trip and have to go shopping for something to wear to your interview? Regular life is often filled with unexpected costs. Be prepared.

4. Set up a separate account as your re-entry fund.
Every time you feed your round-the-world account, feed a portion of it to your re-entry fund. It’s just as important as the actual travel fund, so don’t neglect it with the idea that you’ll feed it at the end. Even better, feed it first, and then start in on the travel fund. You’re going to want to make sure this is a secure account (not stocks that might crash before you get home), and it’s a good idea to make it an account that is really hard to access from the road so you don’t “accidentally” spend it when some “opportunity-of-a-lifetime” presents itself to you when you’re drunk at 3 a.m. in Nicaragua.

5. Depart on your trip, knowing that you’ve done what you can to make re-entry easier.
With a nest egg set aside for re-entry, get going. Have fun. Take part in all those adventures you dreamed about when the idea of a round-the-world trip first crossed your mind. When you do come home, re-entry will be challenging (and that’s okay), but you’ll have made it a bit easier on yourself by taking care of the coming home part before you ever left.

If you’ve taken a long trip, how did you manage when you returned home? If you’re planning a trip right now, do you have a coming home fund? Share your tips for planning and saving for re-entry costs.

Relearning to Travel

I know this sounds spoiled. Indulge me. Forgive me. But re-learning to travel like an American (aka on limited time) is hard. Yes, I hear you all crying for me from here. It’s a real sob story.

Our trip to Colombia is quickly approaching, and we’re trying to prepare for it. We’re going to be gone for 16 days. In American terms, that’s forever. After a one year trip, that’s not much time at all. There’s a little voice inside my head yelling at me that there’s absolutely no way we can see everything we want (or anything at all) in that amount of time. I keep yelling back and telling it to shut up, reminding it that there’s never enough time. Though we spent six weeks in Argentina, we didn’t make it to Mendoza. We missed Colca Canyon and Lake Titicaca in Peru. In Thailand, the only island we made it to was Ko Phi Phi. Must see places went unseen. Sometimes entire countries–Bolivia, Rwanda–got chopped form the itinerary. Sixteen days, one year, a lifetime–it’s never enough.

So what to do? Well, first step. Make a big long list of everything we want to do. Our included scuba diving in the Caribbean, shoring up on Vitamin D on the beaches of Tayrona National Park, wandering the walled city of Cartagena, diving in the Pacific, hopping to the island of Providencia, getting to the source of the world’s best coffee, checking out the once notorious now revitalized Medellin, scaling the mountains of El Cocuy National Park, getting high on adventure in San Gil, and popping in on the capital Bogota. Mourn for a moment that there is absolutely no way on God’s green earth that you’ll get to do half of that in sixteen days, that you probably couldn’t even do it in a month. Then dry your eyes and move on.

Step two. Decide on top priorities. For us, scuba diving was a primary goal. I miss the amazing feeling of being under the sea, surrounded by crazy plants and animals. And the intense sunshine withdrawal we’re experiencing (after a year of summer, this winter has been particularly rough) made us favor Colombia’s warm, sunny destinations over its colder, snowier ones. Jeff said Tayrona was a must. I couldn’t imagine missing Cartagena. That’s three Carribbean coast destinations. Looking at the map, it made sense to dedicate at least a week of our time to that area. But where from there? In the end, we decided on Medellin, the coffee region, and Bogota (where we fly out of). Getting to the Pacific coast or one of the islands would have eaten up a lot of our time. Throwing out San Gil and El Cucoy were harder, but the fact that they were in the same region though made the choice easier: It will be that much easier to hit both of them on a return trip.

In the end, we based our decision on 1) desire and 2) logistics. If we had more time, if this were last year, we could have opted for the destinations that require 14 hour bus trips. We could have planned to cover much more territory. But bleeding entire days to travel on a trip this short just doesn’t make sense. Making the most out of what you’ve got is what life’s about.

And so, we have a plan. I managed to adjust my mindset, to re-learn to travel on borrowed time. But at the same time, I resisted many urges of the American traveler. We have a hotel booked for our first night, but that’s it. We have a flight in to the country and a flight out, but no other transportation arranged. I read blogs and message boards and websites, jotting down recommended hotels and things to do, but we’re not packing a guidebook. We sketched out a rough itinerary, but it’s in pencil and on paper, ready to be thrown out the window the moment we decide we want to spend another day on the beach at Tayrona, have had enough of the city, need to eat at that ceviche place once more time, want to rent bikes and tour the coffee region on two wheels. Though we might now have to abide by the rules of American vacation time, we don’t have to live by the rules of American vacations. Our time might be shorter on this trip than it was on the last, but we’re still the travelers we’ve always been. Ready for adventure. Open to opportunity. Excited to touch, taste, feel, hear, and see a place.

We have sixteen days. Aren’t we lucky?

Travel Plans 2010

Topping 2009 travel-wise is, well, pretty much impossible. At least at the moment, with our mortgage payments and book contracts and post-doc positions. It just ain’t going to happen. Sadly. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to at least try to have a little adventure. There’s no way we’re going to pass the year without going somewhere we’ve never been before. That’s just plain unthinkable. I mean, seriously, the travel bug does not just disappear. Oh no, my friends. It infests. And multiplies. It simply can not be killed. Not that I’d want to kill it anyways. It’s no worm.

So though it’s plenty safe to say that our 2010 travel plans aren’t nearly as grand as our 2009 plans, I don’t think they’re at all shabby. And to say that I’m looking forward to them is like saying that Durham did a lousy job plowing the 7 inches of snow we got on Saturday. (In case you’re unclear, it’s a huge understatement.)

With 2010 now all the way in the door and not looking a bit like it plans to retreat, I think it’s safe to go ahead and unveil the plans. So without further ado, here’s what’s on tap for us.

The first trip of the year and the biggest is a 16-day trip to Colombia in March. As we traveled through South America in 2008-09, we kept hearing over and over that Colombia is the place to be. Rumors of its beauty, friendly people, and affordability barraged us. While in Ecuador, we pondered making the trip across the border, but we just didn’t have the time. I’ve been haunted ever since.

As for what we’re planning to do in Colombia, I’m not yet sure. All we know is that we land on the Caribbean coast and depart from Bogota. I’m definitely going to get a few dives in, and I want to enjoy the beaches of Parque Nacional Tayrona and the colonial ambiance of Cartegena, but beyond that I can’t choose. Do we take on San Gil, the adventure capital of Colombia? Do we spend a few days on a finca in the world capital of coffee? Do we taste city life in Medellin and Bogota? Do we jibe to the Afro-Caribbean Beat of Providencia? The only thing I know for sure is that we can’t really go wrong. But if you have some tips, we’re all ears.

The second trip we have planned is a domestic roadtrip that will take us from Chicago to Yellowstone and back in late May. We’ll be traveling with my brothers (or at least Gregory and Mark, as unfortunately last I heard Matthew doesn’t think he can make it), so it will certainly be full of funny moments. We plan to ditch the interstate system for the old highways and see what kind of nonsense we can find along the way. We’ll be taking a northern route there and a southern route back and should have time for the Badlands, the Black Hills, and other awesome scenery along the way. On a family roadtrip in 1993, my brothers and I covered much of the same ground, so it will be cool to see what we think 17 years later. And to find out if in 17 years the photos we take on this trip will be as embarrassing as the photos taken on that trip.

And well, that’s it for the year’s big trips. Apparently when people hire you around here they expect you to work. A lot. I can’t say I’m a fan. But I’ll survive, especially since we also have a slew of small trips thrown in to keep our cabin fever from turning into cabin swine flu.  We’ll be hitting up Bloomington in early May to watch my baby brother (that’s right Mark, I called you baby) graduate from Indiana University, and in August, we’ll be in the Seattle area for the marriage of Jeff’s sister. We’ll also get to say hello to Charleston, SC, when our friend Kristi says I do to our other friend Ziga (who we hear will be saying I do back).

And though I guess technically it’s work, I’ll be spending a lot of time exploring the Bluegrass State as I work on the Moon Kentucky guidebook. It’s a cool state, I tell you, and I’m going to be covering it top to bottom, inside and out. Diving into Appalachia has definitely got me excited. The culture completely intrigues me, and I have to admit that I really, really, really want to see a blue person.

Finally, we’ll be dedicating any free weekends we have to exploring our brand new home state. That is if they can figure out how to get the snow off the roads before, say, April. I definitely intend to make it to the beach a time or two…or three or four. And I’m committed to adding a few more miles to my Appalachian Trail in pieces project, with the 30-mile Art Loeb Trail in Pisgah National Forest looking like it might be my first NC leg.

You know, I think it just might end up being a pretty darn good year. I really do.

But gosh, enough about me, let’s hear about you. What’s on your travel calendar for 2010?

The Decisions We Make and How We Make Them

Sitting in Johannesburg after returning from our “Round the Cape” road trip, we were left with six weeks and a blank slate. Well, not quite, we did plan to be in Uganda by June, so really, four weeks. And a whole lot of options for getting there.

Since Ethiopia has always fascinated us, and got nothing but the highest reviews from the people we have met, we considered flying to Addis Ababa and spending all of our time there before flying to Uganda. Looking into this, though, we discovered it was about the same price to fly from the US to Addis Ababa as it was to fly from Johannesburg to Addis Ababa. Either way it wasn’t particularly cheap. Plus, Ethiopia is so spread out and its roads so difficult to navigate that to properly visit the country would have required all the time we had…plus more. Ethiopia, though still high on our places-we-want-to-see list, would have to wait.

We also thought about heading straight to Dar Es Salaam or Nairobi and doing the traditional East Africa tourist trail. We could climb Kilimanjaro, do a safari circuit through the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and Masai Mara, tackle Mt. Kenya, and chill out on Zanzibar. And while there’s certainly a huge amount of appeal in those attractions, we didn’t want to feel like we spent all of the remainder of our trip immersed in tourist activities but separated from the general population. We had a desire to experience Africa on its own terms, not just hop from sight to sight.

So, in the end, we opted for the journey and not the destination. We decided to go overland from Johannesburg to Kampala, through Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, and Kenya. We would see Africa from buses and minibuses, boats and trains. We would stop to take a break or change modes of transport and in the process spend time in cities that would never make most traveler’s radar but which are the focal point of life for many Africans. As these weren’t tourist cities, there wasn’t the usual circuit of tourist restaurants, hotels, and amenities, so we would join the locals in bargaining for bananas from street vendors, washing our clothes in buckets, and seeking the rare hotel with hot water. On our overland journey, we would get as close to the African population as possible (literally, as we were often practically sitting on their laps, holding their babies, or watching as their children smeared bananas onto our pants). We would learn patience when our bus broke down, and we were left standing on the side of the road for hours, and we would learn to take in stride the total disintegration of any plans we might have, proving ourselves more flexible than we’d ever thought.

On June 17, when we fly from Nairobi to Bangkok, we will leave behind the continent of Africa without having stood atop the peak of Kilimanjaro, crossed the Serengeti in a 4WD, or seen the stone churches of Lalibela. If you had told me that would be the case when we were planning our trip, I would have gasped in horror. After all, these are essential African experiences. But once you hit the ground, perspectives change. I have no doubt we will return to Africa. And I know that arranging safaris or climbs or Ethiopian vacations is not difficult; it is possible even within the stingy framework of American vacation systems. But planning a trip with limited time around minibuses and ferries and trains and buses, all of which run when and if they feel like it, is not so easily done. And that’s why we did it now. Seize the day, they say. And that’s what we did, even when our day was spent squished with about 20 other people into a minibus smaller than a Dodge Caravan.

And We’re Off

Tomorrow morning we leave. We begin what will be a one year adventure around the world. We’ve thought about, talked about, and dreamed about this moment for years. Now that it’s here, how do we feel? Um, well, right now, we feel just about the same as we do every day. Even though we leave in less than 12 hours, it hasn’t hit us yet. I feel a little bit stressed about making sure we get everything in the bags as we want it to be. I feel a little annoyed that I have to get up so freaking early tomorrow because of the damn ferry. I feel a bit tired (though I’m sure I’ll hardly be able to sleep tonight). But for the most part, I feel just plain normal. Maybe it will hit me when I step onto the plane tomorrow. But I’m not even sure of that. We fly all the time. Being on a plane is not a new or unusual feeling. No, I don’t think it will hit until we step off the plane in Managua, when Spanish suddenly becomes the language of choice, when hot water is a luxury, when Internet connections aren’t available around the clock, when we don’t exactly know what we’re doing or where we’re going. Then I think we’ll realize that this is it, that we’re on what will be the adventure of a lifetime. I can only imagine now how that will feel. Next time I check in here, I’ll know, and I’ll be sure to let you know too.

Though we hope to continue posting regularly, please be patient with us over the next few days and weeks as we get into the groove of things and figure out how this all will work. Check back and I promise you will find good things…I’m just not sure yet when that will be.

(And in case you’re curious about where we are or will be check out the “Where Are We Now” section, as I’ve updated it with the latest information, including our now confirmed flights.)

Hasta luego mi amigos!

The Final Week

So forgive us for not posting at our regularly scheduled time, but things have gotten a little crazy here this past week, our final in the States. In the past week, we have:

  • Spent countless hours on the phone with Continental getting our flights arranged. We now have an itinerary that we think looks good, and we’re simply waiting for them to charge us for the taxes and fees (which they better do soon, since we leave on Monday!)
  • Booked spots on an Inca Trail hike in January
  • Purchased insurance for the trip and changed all our at-home insurance to policies better suited to our needs
  • Decided what credit cards/ATM cards we’re taking with and notified all the necessary institutions of our travel plans
  • Purchased a few last minute items
  • Signed papers granting financial power of attorney to Jeff’s mom
  • Voted for the next president of the United States
  • Got our computer set up and ready to go
  • Had my awesome mother sew secret pockets in all our pants and add velcro closures to all our outside pockets
  • Gone through all the mail that managed to accumulate in just one month
  • Sorted through all our stuff, debated over the merits of many items, and finally just packed the bags
  • Said goodbye to our family and friends in Louisville (sniff)
  • Flew across the U.S. to Seattle

I’m sure I’m leaving out some things, but suffice it to say, we’ve been busy. It seems that no matter how well you plan, there is a lot to be done in the last minutes. And I have to say that it just might be easier to get up and go from your place of residence rather than A) pack and move all your stuff 600 miles across the country 1.5 months before your departure date, B) spend a month in a foreign country, C) return to original domicile to stay in a borrowed apartment, gather your last belongings, and then repeat 600 mile drive, and D) spend 5 days in one U.S. locale, then fly across the country and spend another 4 days in another U.S. locale before finally, finally, finally departing. But hey easy just isn’t our game.

I’d write more but I have to run. There are still things to be done! Check back on Sunday for our last post from U.S. soil, and then get ready, because the good stuff will be coming soon. I’m certain of it.

The final decisions

We were going through our things tonight. We have a large maybe pile of things we may want to take with us (in addition to a much larger pile of things we are definitely not taking with us). This pile is the culmination of all of our planning and packing and putting aside anything we think might be useful on the trip. Now the job is to make those final decision about what is going with us and what is not.

So what is it about us that makes these decisions so difficult? Both Theresa and I have spent much of the day sitting in the basement with this pile completely immobilized by the whole process. There’s so much to consider, so many scenarios to envision. How many sets of clothes to take, which shirts balance which pants in the best combinations. How many possible layers to take. Whether to take waterproof pants. What electronics to take, and what plugs and adapters to take to make sure they can get power, including redundancies. What to include in our first aid kit, and what container to put all of these components in. What toiletries are really necessary and which are luxuries we can do without. What types of entertainment to take, and how much. Each decision has two important aspects to balance: how much they will improve our experience, and how much it will weigh us down to to carry it around.

We’ll eventually make all of these decisions, for better or for worse, and we will learn whether we chose right when the time comes. And fortunately, Theresa has already put a general packing list online to work from (unfortunately, I am a procrastinator and have done no such thing myself). But its one thing to make a list and its another to actually pull out those items and leave everything else behind. The questioning comes … the what ifs flow. Every possible permutation comes to mind. What is it about us that can’t just let go, throw what’s on our list in a bag and call it settled? After all, nearly everything we’ll need we’ll be able to buy almost anywhere we end up, almost certainly at a cheaper price.

I think it has to do with the principle of the thing. Of not wanting to be wrong. Of being comprehensively prepared. Being in control of the situation … oh, I have anticipated this problem have the answer for that right here. And the finality of the decisions is always harder than a decision you can easily fix. While I may be able to get a shirt in Argentina, I certainly won’t be able to grab my favorite lightweight polo that just got the ax. What about you? Do you find packing easy or hard? Does it bother you to think you may be missing something you might need down the road, or do you have the faith that you’ll come up with something (or the knowledge to know you couldn’t possibly be missing anything)? Fortunately, we’ve got three more days to finish this project!

Down is Up and Up is Down

So there’s been plenty of thinking and talking and hand-wringing these last couple of weeks over finalizing our route, since we need to up and book our major airline tickets relatively soon (what with us leaving in now less than a month!). I wrote earlier about our first realization that all of our ducks were not in a row.

Since then, we’ve called Continental and talked about our flight options.  We’ve looked over weather patterns and high seasons and low seasons until we’re sick. Most places, this doesn’t even seem to matter … in fact, it may be preferable to go in low season to avoid all the people. India, of course, is one notable exception. We’ve kept up with the ongoing current events, what with there being no US embassy in either Bolivia or Venezuela these days. This certainly makes what were originally highly prioritized destinations much less certain … its never good to be in a country where there is no embassy to work on your behalf should something come up.

I guess, given the circumstances, its a very good thing we did not book our tickets earlier. As I’m sure you all are aware, situations change in a hurry and the best laid plans seem woefully off track. So with that in mind, we’ve more or less flipped our original plan, and have completely reversed our track through South America.

We’re still heading off to Nicaragua first for a few weeks, but then, instead of heading to Caracas to start our South American journey, we’re flying directly into Buenos Aires and working our way down to Patagonia in November (springtime there). We’ll then head up through Chile, perhaps (or perhaps not) entering Bolivia, then making it up to Peru in time for Christmas and a New Years climb of the Inca Trail.  We’ll then continue up to Ecuador and out to the Galapagos, may or may not go to Venezuela, but either way, return back to Buenos Aires through Brazil and leaving South America in mid-March.

We’ll spend mid-March through mid-June in Africa, generally the rainy, low season in most of the places we’re headed. This makes things lusher, which I’m all for, but animals can allegedly be more elusive. Though oneyearonearth had no trouble at this time of year and really enjoyed it. On the plus side, places like Victoria Falls are at their best this time of year with all the precipitation and low season rates are to be had.

We’ll have an open jaw here, flying in to Johannesburg and out of Addis Ababa, then hoof it straight to Bangkok in mid-June. We’ll spend the summer in Southeast Asia, to mid-August, visiting Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Malaysia. There’s a mix of rainy seasons and dry seasons depending on what side of the “peninsula” we’ll be on, so I don’t think there’s any point worrying about the weather. We’ll go, we’ll see, we’ll get wet if we have to =).

After this period, we’ll head to India in mid-August, hopefully at the end of the Indian monsoon.e’ll spend about a month here, although we’ll be hardpressed to see all the things we would like to in that time, Bhutan, Darjeeling, Taj Mahal, Delhi, Mumbai, etc. We’ll do the best we can. Then its on back home, though since we have an extra leg available on our RTW tickets, we may stop in a remote Pacific island. Any suggestions?

So there you have it, our RTW trip version 2.0.  What do you all think? Any improvements? Disasterous decisions? Speak now or forever hold your peace folks.

It’s the End of the World as I Know It

Today was my last day of work. I distributed all my project files to co-workers. I forwarded emails that someone may one day need to whomever I thought might need it. I moved my electronic files from my own personal drive to a shared department drive. I verified my last time & attendance sheet. I had lunch with my favorite co-worker (and friend). I turned in my keycard and ID card. I said my goodbyes and my thank yous. And then I walked out of my office for the last time, taking one final glance at the nameplate beside my door.

I am no more Theresa Blackinton: Editor. There is a blank under my name. A space waiting to be filled. I am nothing, and I am everything. I am whatever I choose to be. I am free.

Yes, it is the end of the world as I know it.

But you know what? I do indeed feel fine.

My iPod is in Need of Your Help

I’m in the mood for soliciting help. Perhaps it’s because Jeff’s already gone to Sweden, leaving me to tie up all the loose ends alone that I’m feeling a little needy. It’s a bit overwhelming, I have to say, and when and where I can get help, I’m taking it. Did I mention that he left me with a car with a dead battery and a AAA membership that expired a few days ago? Thank God for friends! And also thank God for Craig’s List because Jeff also left me with a bookshelf, corner desk, and a couple of large items I was somehow supposed to dispose of on my own. (Just to be clear, he’s busy working his butt off over there in Sweden getting ready for his defense, not vacationing or anything, but I certainly could use him around here…or at least a clone of him.)

Anyhow, after all of your incredible input in regards to the packing list, I thought I’d come back to you all and ask for just a little more help. Please? I swear I won’t ask again for, well, at least a few days. This isn’t nearly as pressing of a matter as the packing list, but you know how sometimes you get something in your head and you just can’t do anything else until that one thing is taken care of? Well this is that thing at the moment—I need to know what music to load onto my iPod to keep me sane and happy while we travel.

Back in May, I wrote a list for Brave New Traveler of 30 songs that capture the spirit of travel. I’ll be making sure all of those are on my iPod. I’m sure I can use a little inspiration every now and then…or a reminder of why traveling is so wonderful. I’m guessing I’ll probably also want some songs that remind me of home. I’ll need to scan through my collection to see what immediately conjures up people or places that I’ll want to think of. But what else? What specifically? What songs have saved you on that 17-hour bus ride? What songs put you in a Zen place when you’re in your fifth hour of a flight delay? What will put me to sleep at night in a noisy hostel? What will keep me awake when I need to be extra alert?

Just so you know, I might have the most neglected iPod in America. I’m really not that much of a music person. I don’t know if I’ve even once updated my playlist in the year I’ve had the thing. People tell me, however, that I will absolutely want this on the trip, so I’m taking it. Now just tell me what to put on it. I’m open to all suggestions. I’m really a bit of a music idiot.

And thanks. You’re all swell. And if I can do anything for you just let me know. Or if I can give you something—a half jar of curry paste, a couple of cans of ginger ale, two rolls of toilet paper, a nearly full box of Q-tips—you just let me know.