We’re on the road!

So, we all but abandoned this blog over the past several months. A lot has changed in that time…but the good news is that we are finally traveling!

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Our plans are different than they once were, but for now we are in Taiwan. We left on January 27 so we’ve been gone almost a week now. We are here for 3 weeks total, then we head to Hong Kong for 9 days (during Chinese/Lunar New Year), and then Japan for almost a month. After that, James will be returning to the Bay Area for work, and Katie will continue traveling for several months.

We have a lot of great pictures and stories already from Taiwan, so stay tuned. We just got the mobile app – we are traveling with iPhones and an iPad only – so we hope to use this space to actually document our travels.

Scenic Workout: Telegraph Hill, San Francisco

I work in downtown San Francisco, and I go to a gym nearby several times a week. It’s easy to get caught up in the cardio and weight machine routine. But once in awhile, especially on a really nice day like today, I ditch the gym and get outside. My outdoor workouts aren’t necessarily as intense or focused as my gym workouts, but they tend to be much more relaxing, and are a reminder of how great it is to live and work where I do.

Today I headed for the inclines of Telegraph Hill. From the Financial District, I headed up Kearny St. After a few steep blocks, there are some stairs on the right, which lead up to Coit Tower. There are some great views of San Francisco Bay up here, and on the south side there is even a nice patch of grass, perfect for stretching – that is, as long as you don’t mind the tourists taking photos from the viewpoint nearby.

After my stretch break, I walked down the stairs on the western side toward Lombard St. Midway down the stairs, there is an asphalt path to the right that continues to wind down the hill.  It leads to another set of stairs I had not seen before, which had an amazing view of the Bay, and not many people. I decided this is one of the best spots in the city for a stair workout – which I’m going to have to make a regular thing.

After some stair jogging and incline pushups, and a sighting of the parrots of Telegraph Hill, I took Lombard down the hill, and turned left on Stockton. Walking this way through North Beach affords some pretty views of Coit Tower from below, and of streets lined with the quintessential pastel-colored, bay-windowed houses San Francisco is famous for. After a few blocks, I was in Washington Square, which was thronging with dinnertime tourists. I walked back up the hill on Green St, away from the crowds and restaurants. I returned to the gym on steep Montgomery, which has another set of stairs with perfect views of downtown, including the Transamerica Building.

I never get tired of wandering these classic San Francisco streets.

View from Telegraph Hill 

Pioneer Park sign and stairs

New spot for stair workouts!

Workout selfie

View of downtown San Francisco

 

 

Planning update

So, it turns out we are pretty bad at blogging. I’m looking at my last post from three months ago, talking about how James and I need to get in the habit of blogging before our trip. It’s only June…we still have plenty of time to get the hang of this, right?

Even though we’ve been bad bloggers, we have been making slow but steady process on the goals I outlined in that post.

  • Immunizations: We had our travel clinic consultation and got lots of great information from San Francisco’s AITC Immunization and Travel Clinic. Our nurse was very knowledgeable, and didn’t push us into unnecessary immunizations. We got our early round of Hep A/B shots so we can finish those fully before we leave (the full series takes about 7 months). We have some research to do on Japanese encephalitis, rabies, and malaria, but we don’t have to worry about those until much closer to our departure.
  • General health care: I’ve taken care of a few routine appointments. Still haven’t got James to go to the dentist…but he did use his expiring FSA funds to buy us some cool travel first aid kits. If you have FSA funds that need using, check out FSAstore.com. Everything on the site is approved for FSA funds. If I have any money left on mine at the end of the year, after immunizations and other checkups, I’m going to load up on sunscreen and contact lens solution for our journey!
  • eBay/online selling: I’ve been steadily selling some items on eBay, and working a bit on reducing my yarn and fiber stash. I spent several years accumulating a lot of wool for my knitting and yarn spinning hobbies. Now, I’m trying to downsize the stash, which is a pretty big job. Most of my stash is nice stuff, hand-dyed by independent artists, so I’m trying to “destash” by selling it to others who will use it, and pay approximately what I originally paid. James is out of town next week, so I’m planning to spend a few evenings getting a lot more listed for sale and making a bigger dent. Our “craft room” is the scariest room in our house to clean out, so I’ve got to keep the momentum going.

In other news, we found a half-off deal on an overnight, guided camping trip in Big Sur, which I am very excited about. Aside from being a fun little summer trip, we should learn some valuable trekking and wilderness skills from our guides. We did an overnight hike to a cabin in Yosemite back in February, but James and I have actually never tent-camped together, despite James being a certified Eagle Scout. We’d like to do some trekking during our RTW trip, so I think this Big Sur trip will be a good primer for future treks.

A Path Apart

Currently I live in the East Bay, on the island city of Alameda. Every day I take casual car pool into the city and am dropped off in SOMA at the base of the FiDi. The walk to work is almost mile exactly. I find that as street lights change I walk a few different routes to get to where I am going, but almost invariably, I find myself using a small throughway that connects Battery with Sansome at the head of Commercial.

The path has brick work circles that radiate over one and other in a repeating pattern. On one side, a empty fountain boasting a large patinaed copper sphere that would spew water from its many crates and craters if there were water to spew, on the other is a Dimitri Hadzi bronze work that I have never been able to bring myself to like. By all account this is just a narrow pedestrian ally, but I gravitate to it everyday (or at least five of seven).

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A few days ago I set my mind to figure out why I like this walkway so much, as it really has a lot of strikes against it. It is dark, a little under-peopled, and even though it is kept very clean, by city street standards, it is always ripe with the smell of cigarettes. What I came up with is this: under the mundane facade, this is one of the secret places of San Francisco.

As I write this post I am finding it very hard to convey what is so compelling about this short stretch. In the end, I don’t think I will be able to get it down exactly. There is the oddly fancy exterior ramp-stairs-thing that is artfully built between the two buildings it joins. This path lets the few who use it enter their office buildings from the second floor. There are the works of public art. There is the ash tray (one of the only public ones I can think of left in the city). In short, this is a place apart. There are no cars and few people. Those that know about it, found it through happenstance, not because they were looking for it. Every day I pass small congregations of smokers stepping off the street for a a moment of quiet and to enjoy of something they know they should not like.

This is a haven hidden just a block from the Transamerica building, and a few scent more from North Beach, and Chinatown. A tourist has no purchase here. Even if one were to find it, it would hold no weigh for them. It would not be a secret smocking spot, or a under peopled short cut, or back way into the second floor of their building. It would simply be a forgettable ally with a very forgettable Hadzi sculpture (would it really have been so hard to snag one of the amazing Armand Arman ribboned figures that seem to litter this stretch of the FiDi?). Certainly not a stretch to be remembered, let alone camera-worthy.

Every city has innumerable places like this, but it take a lot of time to find them, and even when you have, it take a lot more to recognize them for what they are. A few weeks ago Katie put up a post about all the places we want to go on our trip. I love the idea of a gap year and I really do want this thing to be an around the world trek; quite literally I want to travel this world’s circumference. But what I am coming to terms with more and more as we get closer, is that we cannot really think about this like a vacation. The constant need to try the best thing and never waste a second and always eating and seeing and doing is just not doable over the course of an entire year. And what’s more, that is the best thing about it. In a year we have the luxury of time. Even in the locations we end up staying for a month or more, I don’t think we will have the opportunity to find the secret places – but we will at least have the time enough to try.

The Planning Plan – March Goals

We have been saving for our ’round the world trip for a long time. We opened the dedicated savings account in September 2012. Every month we dump money into it and slowly watch it grow. With the trip being so far off, there hasn’t been a lot we can do the way of “planning” aside from saving saving saving. To keep myself motivated, I read dozens of travel blogs and articles every week, I obsessively research countries and regions, and I spend way too much time thinking about exactly what my travel wardrobe is going to look like. When I focus on a goal, I tend to do it pretty intensely.

The first two months of 2014 have flown by, and while we did get this blog up and running, we’ve been posting less often than we’d like. We suddenly find ourselves 10 months from our planned departure. The trip itself is still a long way off, but now there are planning tasks we actually need to do. With this in mind, I will be posting a monthly update on our preparations. I’m hoping this will keep us on track for everything we need to do in order to pack up our lives and galavant around the world for a year. It will also be another reason to focus on writing posts here. I think it’s pretty important for both James and I to get in the habit of posting before we leave if we have any hope of keeping up with this blog once we’re on the road.

Aside from saving saving saving, here are some things we are working on this month that will get us closer to being ready:

  • Immunization research – I am pulling together information on recommended vaccinations that long-term travelers should get, and which ones we have and which ones we need. I’m researching prices, and we’re going to make an appointment with a travel doctor either this month or next. Some shots, like Hepatitis A, are given up to 6 months apart, so it’s good to get this process started early.
  • General health care – I’ve recently been to the dentist and I have a routine appointment I need to make with my regular doctor. James hasn’t been to the dentist in a few years and I’m nagging him to go…I want us to be up to date and in good health while we still have health insurance from our employers.
  • Selling stuff on eBay – We have been more or less in decluttering mode for a long time, even before we came up with the idea to travel long term. Despite that, we do have quite a lot of stuff. I’ve been putting aside some items for a few months that I think we can sell rather than donate, so my goal for this month is to get those listed on eBay and hopefully add even more to the trip fund.

I’ll post an update in April of what we actually accomplished and what is next. Even if almost no one is reading this yet, posting this still helps make me feel accountable!

Oh, the places we’ll go!

By far the most common question we are asked when we tell people about our plans to travel for a year is “Where are you going to go?” There are so many places we want to go – and already we are realizing that while a year is a long time, it is not nearly long enough to see the world. We also have no desire to rush through our trip, feeling exhausted while we check cities and countries off the list. One of the biggest pieces of advice I’ve come across over and over on travel blogs geared toward the RTW (Round The World) traveler is to  s l o w  d o w n . No one ever wishes in retrospect that they had traveled more quickly!

The list below is an overview of regions and countries that we are currently considering for this trip. We’ve already made a few tough decisions – for instance, no part of Central or South America is listed below. There are a million places in those regions I would love to go (in fact, we almost planned a shorter trip to Uruguay a few years ago), but we’ve decided that part of the world will have to wait for future travel.

There is no way we’ll make it to all of these countries during 2015, and we might scrap some of these plans altogether in favor of others, but this is a good place to start.

Australia/New Zealand
Right now one of these two countries is our most talked about starting point. At the moment, we are both leaning towards New Zealand. The idea is that we would fly to Auckland, rent a van, and road-trip around the country for a month. Ideally we’d do this on a stopover flight before heading somewhere in Asia.

Southeast Asia: Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, The Philippines
We certainly can’t backpack around the world without spending some time in SEA. Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos are all quite popular on the backpacking circuit and I’m sure we can have a blast spending a few weeks/months in any of these counties. James visited Jakarta last year for business, and is interested in going back to Indonesia to explore Bali and Sumatra. I’ve also heard good things about The Philippines, and it’s said to be less crowded with Western backpackers than some of the other countries in this region, though a bit more expensive.

Nepal
I am very excited by the idea of trekking in the Himalayas, and hopefully I can convince James it is something we should do, especially after our recent one-night Yosemite expedition (more on that soon!).

India
James has expressed a lot of interest in visiting India. I keep reading that “India is extremely frustrating and extremely rewarding.” Personally, I like the sound of lazing on the beach in Goa and trying food from different regions of the country.

China/Hong Kong/Taiwan
Taiwan is a must, so that I can “eat all the dumplings”, as I frequently insist. James had a 24-hour stopover in Taipei on a business trip last year, and my jealously still hasn’t waned. My dad raves about Hong Kong. China will be more of a challenge with the visa, but we have a friend who is currently living in Shanghai and we love when we can visit people abroad. The more time I can spend eating dumplings, the better. Beijing is also a great starting point for the famous Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian trains.

Russia (and Mongolia?)
I have been obsessed with Russian literature and history for the better part of my life. James and I are also looking forward to riding one of the cross-country railways – probably the Trans-Mongolian westbound. I keep telling James that the only way to really visit Russia is in the winter – but he’s not very keen on this idea.

The Balkans
This area has such a complex history and is constantly evolving. The more I read about Bulgaria, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania…the more I want to go. There’s an incredible amount to discover in the Balkans, like Communist ruins, interesting cities and beautiful landscapes.

North Africa: Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt
We tried to visit Tunisia in 2012, but terrorist attacks in the region thwarted us. On this trip, we will definitely make it to either Morocco or Tunisia so we can visit the Sahara Desert, including decaying sets from the filming of Star Wars. I’d also love to go to Egypt to practice my Egyptian-dialect Arabic. Seeing the pyramids and sailing down the Nile both sound pretty good too.

Lebanon/Jordan
Lebanon is considered by many to be the most “liberal” county in the Middle East. I can’t wait to go there for the food. Jordan is home to wonders like Petra and Wadi Rum.
I wish that I could include Syria in this section too. Just a few years ago Damascus, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, was a wonderful place to visit and considered ideal for students looking to study Arabic abroad. Now, their civil war is likely going to make it pretty impossible to visit for quite some time.

Scotland
On our previous European travels, we haven’t managed to make it to Scotland, and James is very interested in spending at least a month living in Edinburgh. With highland hikes and Scotch drinking, not to mention all of the festivals, I’m sure we can keep ourselves entertained.

United States
If we can make the money last, we would love to spend the last few months of our travels on a cross-country American road trip. My love for road trips run deep, and as much as I want to explore around the world, America is an amazing and diverse place and I feel that I’ve seen so little of it. This post was written for foreign travelers, but is a great reminder of some of the perks and amenities anyone who travels in the U.S. gets to enjoy. If we can make it happen, we would stay with friends and family around the country, visit lots of national and state parks, and go to as many baseball games as money allowed!

Like I said, this list is a rough draft and I’m sure our actual trip itinerary will end up different. Another one of our goals for the trip is to be as flexible as possible – we don’t want to have the whole route planned out in advance. There are some major places we want to make it to, and some places (China, Russia) that will require a decent amount of advance planning, but my hope is to be able to let go of a lot of the planning. I am a major planner, but right now my “planning” is mainly just research in the form of reading a lot of travel blogs and resources about places we want to visit. I save everything that catches my eye on Evernote and Pinterest. There is so much information on the internet. There is also so much we can’t learn or understand until we are actually on the road. For now, I will keep reading and planning and dreaming to get me through the months until we can get out there ourselves!

The here and now

Our Elsewhere is not only about the trip we are planning in the future and the places that we will visit. It is also about where we are here and now. We can only be in one place in any given moment, and the place we have chosen to spend the past nine and a half years of our lives, the San Francisco Bay Area, is a diverse and amazingly beautiful place to explore.

The greater San Francisco Bay Area has hundreds of towns, trails, cafes, streets, beaches, and bars. Expand our “here” to the entire state of California (the state in which we were both born and have spent the majority of our lives), and the choices become endless. We have always made efforts to see what we can of our state, and since making the decision to travel the world, my desire to explore what is nearby has only intensified.

We have started off January well. Last Sunday, along with our good friend and her dog, we hiked a trail on Mt. Tamalpais and walked along Stinson Beach. The Sunday before that was spent on Tomales Bay eating oysters and drinking beer.

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Hog Island Oyster Farm

West Point Inn on Mt. Tam…a future overnight destination!

Stinson Beach

Stinson Beach

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Sunset at Muir Beach Overlook

Both of these days featured activities or locales that were new. I had never shucked an oyster before. I’ve explored so few of Mt. Tam’s trails. I might have visited Stinson Beach as a child, but I don’t remember. I hadn’t driven that particular stretch of Highway 1 before. It is amazing to me that I can still scratch that “let’s do something we’ve never done before” itch by traveling less than an hour in any direction.

So, as much as I am looking forward to our year of travel, of all the new places we’re going to see, of the freedom and the idea that “the world is our oyster”, my goal for 2014 is not to get too caught up in the planning and anticipation. After all, there are plenty of oysters right here.