I sat on the beach in a plastic chair in front of massage bungalow #9. Giovanni sat next to me. We were planning on getting oil massages in a few hours so the massage shack let us use their white plastic chairs shielded from the sun by trees on the beach. But for now we felt relaxed watching the aqua ocean and each small wave go back and forth.
Giovanni’s mom, Sandra, was lying on a beach mat in front of the sea with a multicolored umbrella keeping her shaded. The wind blew in our faces, but I wasn’t sure the breeze was the cause of my chair vibrating. Giovanni said he felt a small earthquake, but I continued to feel the vibration and small movements of my plastic chair. Giovanni’s mom turned and looked toward us and asked if we felt the earthquake. We confirmed and then looked at the girls sitting behind us who also felt the shake for a few minutes.
Sandra looked quite anxious as she had watched all the 2004 tsunami videos on YouTube before departing to Thailand, and quickly gathered her belongings on the beach. Giovanni went to inform the massage people that we would return the following day since we were worried about the earthquake. And then the news; there had just been an 8.9 earthquake off the coast of Sumatra.
We’re back in Thailand after a short fun stay in Kuala Lumpur. We land in Phuket and are waiting for our minibus to take us to the pier when we meet Luciano. He’s a mid-30 year old Argentinian traveling in SE Asia for 3 weeks. As we mingle for a few seconds, we decide to cancel the shuttle van and share a cab to the pier … less expensive and faster!
On our 40 minute trip to the pier, Luciano shares with us a sad, funny, and horrific story of his friend Ivan.
Ivan and Luciano work together in Buenos Aires in finance and decide to visit Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos for 3 weeks. They fly into Bangkok (BKK) and stay two nights before heading to the next city. However, all is changed on the second night of their trip.
A few days ago we got motivated to share our experience on how to travel the world with less than $50/day a person. The first post of this series was regarding flights. We received great feedback from our friends and as promised we will continue to share tips on travel. For the second post of the series we visit the topic of lodging.
Is this really possible? Pay for a place to spend the night and still have money to buy food, pay for entertainment, and transportation? The short answer is yes. For the long answer, keep reading.
So I admit it though I’m embarrassed. Sometimes I must challenge my own stereotypes. We were arriving in Malaysia and our friend introduced to a girl from Michigan she had met living in Kuala Lumpur. She happened to be a final-year medical student doing a program abroad for a year.
She and I had a lot in common…we both love to travel and learn about new cultures, we both love food, we both wanted to be doctors, and we were both raised in the US with immigrant Muslim parents. But we differ in that she wears a hijab to cover her hair and is more religious than I. In Kuala Lumpur, she fits in quite nicely. Many Malay women covered their hair. In fact, when being placed in Asia, she stated that she wanted to live anywhere she can work in a medical clinic. But it seemed like her religion took precedence in deciding where she would be placed, and the program felt it would be safer for her to be in a predominantly Muslim country. Ironically, she has lived in the US all her life, a predominantly non-Muslim country and she functions quite well.
I’ve learned that long term travel is not for everyone. Some people like to escape the 9-5 only for a week or two. They like to have a place called “base” and not be afar from family. Others, however, like the freedom that comes with long term travel. One morning you could be watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat and two weeks later you’ll be kayaking the Mekong river searching for river dolphins. Or you can be in Venice thinking your next stop is Florence but then decide on a last minute hunch that Slovenia is probably nice to visit and in a few hours you’re on a train to Ljubljana.
Many of our friends have asked us how and why we’ve taken a 10 month trip. To help you decide if long term travel is for you and if you can afford it, we will write a series of posts that hopefully address this issue.
Two days before we left Luang Prabang we were fortunate to meet a passionate and enthusiastic couple in their late forties / early fifties. They’re both retired working on a UN project to help establish a training program for guesthouse employees in Laos. They’ve been together for 30 years and have taken travel to be their pleasure and work lifestyle. Just last fall they were enjoying some Spanish wine in Granada and now are here in Laos working but they take weekend trips to see waterfalls and do other fun activities.
They’ve been retired for about 10 years. They lead a nomadic life with no house, no car, no stuff. They have made SF Bay Area their base but you’ll probably only find them there 3 months out of the year.
We were truly overwhelmed with the generosity of our friends and family. After less than 3 days of receiving donations, we had enough for the laptop and were ready to go to the store and buy a computer. It wasn’t quite as easy as we thought. May returned from university and said he saw one computer store on the way which had 4 computers and only 1 netbook, which cost 2 million and 800,000 kip. He had never gone to a computer store in Luang Prabang and didn’t know of any other stores. That was out of our budget so we decided to ask around. We were recommended one store, so we went with May that same day but it was closed. When we returned, that store only had 3 laptops all of which were priced over 3 million kip. So we decided to keep biking.
I’m writing this post to answer the question Sara and I had when we were planning our around the world trip: how can we volunteer for a short period while traveling abroad?
When Sara and I were planning our trip, one of the things we wanted to do was dedicate between a week to a month on a volunteer project. Sara’s a doctor and I’m an engineer turned business guy. We really wanted to offer our skill set to a non-profit. Unfortunately we could not find a project that would take us or that we wanted to be a part of.
After some debate about whether or not to go due to our limited time in Luang Prabang, Giovanni and I decided to accompany Mai to his village 3 hours away. Since the idea had arose, Mai was very excited and told us he wanted to show us his village. Also, he hadn’t been back to his village for a few years so he was curious to see how things had changed. He asked us multiple times if we could go and helped arrange our transport.
The plan was that I would ride behind Mai and we would pay another motorbike driver for the day to transport Giovanni behind him. The motorbikes were manual in Laos and Giovanni didn’t want to take the risks of driving a manual motorbike across dirt roads with potholes and rocks through the mountains. In hindsight, getting on the motorcycles of two Laotian men without helmets to go to a remote village was probably not the best idea.