Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday five: road trip rules.

Sure, the driver gets to pick the music (or other listening entertainment) - that goes without saying.  Albums that sustained us for almost four months on the road included Frank Turner's Tape Deck Heart, Jared Mees's If You Wanna Swim With the Sharks..., REM's Eponymous, REO Speedwagon's The Hits, and Family of the Year's Loma Vista.  We also relied heavily on old podcasts of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me.

After 10,000+ miles of experiential learning, here are five additional road trip rules we know are true, in no particular order:
  • Rock, paper, scissors should determine who gets the first driving shift.
  • U-turns for ridiculous photo ops are mandatory.
 carrying a stuffed cow to participate in photo ops: optional
  • Mad Libs are fun no matter how young or old you might be!  We kept a bunch in the glove box and pulled them out when driving got really tedious (starting somewhere around Manitoba, continuing off and on through Ontario).  This Mad Libs version was specific to road trips, vacations, and saving money, so the story lines were particularly relevant.  The best one-liner was from one called "Sing Along", about singing to pass the time on long road trips - "Old MacDonald had a yurt." 
  • Always have a paper map, especially when exploring new territory.  Before we left Portland we ditched our GPS and loaded up on Canada maps from AAA.  Every province also had a welcome center that provided free, detailed provincial and local maps.  Tree-friendly?  Nope.  Absolutely invaluable?  Yes!  You crazy kids can keep your electronic handheld pricey mapping devices - paper maps are generally cheap/free, they don't require charging, they're totally reliable, they make good campfire kindling when you're done with them, and figuring out how to refold them can provide hours of entertainment for your co-pilot.
  • Fritos are a perfectly acceptable road trip snack! 
And you?  Leave your road trip tips or suggestions for driving music in the comments!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

How we did Canada on less than $30 per person per day.

One of the most common questions we hear is "how much does something like this cost?" It's an excellent question, and one that we're not shy about answering. Our extensive RTW research coupled with our own travel experiences showed that the cost of a year on the road can vary tremendously depending on travel styles, preferences, tolerances, where you go, how you get there, even whether you travel solo or with a partner/group (e.g., lodging is much more costly for solo women opting for private rooms at hostels).

None of that is really surprising, but the range did surprise us - for 365 days of solo RTW travel, actual costs published online ranged from $10,000 up to $100,000*. Our individual savings goals of $50/person/day were definitely on the lower end of this range, and the cheaper we travel, the longer we travel, which means an unspoken /person/day budget that's even lower.

Information we found on travel blogs (like this one) was really helpful when we did our research but we didn't run across any bloggers who had taken the same general route we've planned or volunteered in the same way we've planned. So to help future travelers, we'll be posting a cost summary of each country we visit. We'll include details about our expenses, as well as suggestions for how to travel even more cheaply (or what to splurge on so you don't regret it later).

First up - Canada!

Days: 110
Initial budget: $5495 ($49/day, $24.50/person/day)
Actual costs: $5946 ($55/day, $27.50/person/day)

Not too shabby for Phase One in a pretty expensive western country, and well under $50/person/day! While our initial budget and actual costs came pretty close, the categories of expenses ended up being quite different.

estimated $ to actual $

Here's the breakdown with some details...

cost breakout by category

Gas: $1658
Miles: 10,445 (16,809 km)
Oil changes: 0 (um, yeah... we don't recommend this)

Our original gas budget was $990. Yes, we did account for the gallon-to-litre conversion. But there were a few flaws in our planning which resulted in significant variance in budget-to-actuals:
  • We underestimated average cost per litre, which rose a bit after we created our initial budget and also varied widely from province to province.
  • We probably didn't properly account for a decrease in mpg/kmpl due to additional weight from the camping gear.
  • We definitely didn't account for an additional 5000 miles tooling around Canada!

Absolutely no regrets, we loved every mile... Er, every kilometer. Fortunately, our "estate sale" funded the majority of gas expenses; we didn't pay out of pocket until somewhere around eastern Ontario.

Lodging: $1687

nights by lodging type

The original lodging budget we put together was $2205. We'd budgeted 7 weeks on our own, with five nights camping and two nights in motels (counting on bad weather or camping weariness). However, Patrick's tarp skills know no bounds and most of the campsites were really quite nice, so we only ended up staying in 3 motels (twice due to tornado warnings, once due to Patrick's late flight back to Quebec City). And the price of hostels and Air B&Bs, which we employed only in the major cities of Victoria, Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City, was only slightly higher than camping. The only way to make it cheaper would've been to couchsurf... Not sure we're ready for that just yet.

Groceries: $948
Alcohol: $234

We'd estimated $980 for groceries; despite having to buy more expensive gluten-free products, and despite cheese being so expensive in Canada, we generally stuck to that. (Approximate jars of peanut butter consumed: 25.)

And we ARE on vacation, after all, so we'd allowed ourselves $200 in alcohol which would've lasted us 16 weeks in the States... Turns out, a mediocre lager at a bar in Canada runs you $9 and a bottle of wine equivalent to $3 Chuck is at least $12. So even with limited celebratory drinks we still exceeded our budget there. It was worth every sip though.

"Other": $1417

We budgeted for $1120 in miscellaneous costs - $10 for each day we were on our own - thinking this would mostly go toward car repairs if needed. Since we never got an oil change and never really addressed the "check engine" light, we never knew what needed to be fixed and we were able to reallocate our miscellaneous funds as follows:
  • Transportation: The majority of transportation costs were ferries (Port Angeles-Victoria, Nanaimo-Vancouver), parking downtown and subsequent parking ticket (Toronto), and airport parking (Quebec City). Meters and tolls were few and far between, but those are included here too. Other than minding neighborhood parking signs, there wasn't much we could've done to reduce this.
  • Dining out: This was generally reserved for special occasions and nights we stayed in motels and were unable to cook our own meals. Honestly, we vividly remember two experiences dining out and the rest have been forgotten. We'll be paying close attention to this as we venture into foreign lands without our propane stove and box o'spices.
  • Coffee: How could we forget a coffee line item? Never again. Luckily, Tim Hortons coffee is both tolerable and cheap! (Approximate cups of Tim Hortons coffee purchased: 100. Approximate # of TimBits consumed with aforementioned coffee purchases: also 100.)
  • Entertainment: The Toronto Urban Roots Festival, our Canada Discovery National Parks passes, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site, the Citadel tour in Quebec City, and the Family of the Year show in Victoria made up the majority of our "entertainment" costs. In hindsight, we probably would've opted for two days at TURF instead of the full four, but otherwise we enjoyed these experiences very much. Just a few regrets of places we skipped in an effort to save money - the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Montmorencey Falls outside of Quebec City, and some of the wineries on the way to/from Niagara Falls. Next time!
  • Laundry: Oh yeah, that. We brought way too much clothing on the road trip. Backpacking, handwashing laundry, and not sitting around a campfire every night should reduce these costs once we're overseas.
  • Gifts: This blog is your gift. You're welcome.

Other fun Canada facts...
  • Provinces visited: 8
  • National parks visited/camped: 11
  • Approximate miles hiked: 131 (209 km)
  • National historic sites visited: 10
  • Provincial parks visited/camped: 7
  • Municipal parks camped: 2
  • RV parks camped: 1
  • Cheesy tourist traps visited: 1

Canada and Eastern Europe will be far more expensive than Southeast Asia and South America. In the end, we'll have spent more initially but it will all balance out eventually. That's the hope, anyway! (As an aside, we found varying recommendations on whether to visit western countries first or last on a trip like this. Visiting more expensive countries first could help train you to be conservative early on; on the other hand, after spending months on $20/day in less expensive countries, once you reached the western countries you'd be wary of doubling or tripling your daily budget and therefore more conservative out of fear of cutting your trip short. Being fiscally conservative - or, as I like to call it, cheap - ourselves, we opted for the former option.)

So that's Canada in a nutshell. Not included in this summary, but included in our overall costs to date...
  • Car insurance: $500/6 months
  • Canada WWOOF membership: $62/2 years
  • Health insurance: $582/6 months
  • Kobo eReader for easy guidebook (and general book) storage: $110
  • Phase Two prep and 21 days in the United States: $2150 and counting - eeek, get us out of here!

We're still under $50/person/day, though, so things are looking good. Stay tuned for a summary of Poland!


*ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS. Do you know what we could do with ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS of travel budget? We like hostels and cooking our own meals; we don't shop when traveling; we have plenty of time for long, cheap bus rides instead of pricey flights. So we aimed for the daily budget claimed by the average travel blog we ran across - $50/person/day - figuring this would allow us a little wiggle room if we ran across an awesome (but expensive) opportunity here and there. At that rate, $100,000 would get us almost 3 years of travel!

That said, we know some of you are reading this thinking, "SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS to drive across Canada? Do you know what I could do with SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS?" Well... A lot, probably, depending on your priorities. We made this round-the-world trip our priority and worked hard to make it happen, and at least once a day, sometimes five or ten times a day, we take a moment to express gratitude that we're able to do this. We will look for opportunities to give back everywhere we go, as a small token of thanks to The Universe for allowing us this privilege.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Parks and recreation: New Brunswick.

Our entry into New Brunswick featured a crowded RV park - the first and hopefully last of its kind for this trip. 

prepping for rain amidst the cozy RVers

To its credit, it was cheap, it was fairly clean, it featured lakeside views with a beautiful sunset, it was close to laundry and the most amazing chocolate peanut butter ice cream, and it was right next to the Recreaplex (where the kids were holding hockey practice) and that weekend's Bon Ami festival, where we enjoyed a little local flavor...

think they were covering that Lumineers song
like every other band on the planet right now

... before retiring to our bottle of wine at "camp" (mandatory in situations like this).

the sunrise was pretty too 

But we got out of there as soon as possible the next day.  Midway through our long haul to Nova Scotia, we stopped at Kouchibouguac National Park for lunch. It would be the first of several parks we would encounter that have resort qualities rather than serene natural settings, but we're sure that without the hoards of families on bikes, ice cream shops, and massive swarms of mosquitos, it's a wonderful park. Probably.

swarms of dragonflies too 

{We interrupt this post to take you to four days in Nova Scotia. Please hold.}

Last but certainly not least in New Brunswick was Fundy National Park (#11!). About an inch of rain and possible thunderstorms were predicted upon arrival, and we considered a motel before deciding to plow on to the campground. Given the late hour and the weather, Jen was dubious about this plan but agreed; everything worked out perfectly.

no leaks, no puddles around the tent, and eating a cold dinner 
in the car counts as perfect in our rainy day camping book 

This was the point where Jen (the control freak) officially succumbed to The Universe. From this point onward, whatever happens, happens - and what DOES end up happening is meant to be. Besides, we started this national park tour in the rain; makes perfect sense to end it in the rain too.

Anyway. Fundy National Park is known for its tides - they change by up to 12 meters each day.




It's also known for its waterfalls, three of which are more than five meters tall. (FIVE WHOLE METERS? Everyone in Portland is laughing along with us right now.)  We ended up with awesome weather after the first night, and were able to see two of the three.

Laverty Falls

Dickson Falls

Our campsite the last two days was right near the beach, and we spent some quality time admiring the bay and breathing in our last full day of Canadian air.

I can see Nova Scotia! 
(this really is a selling point... 
it's an hour's drive away)

The park is small but the trails were some of the most lush and beautiful we have seen on this trek. Moss-covered rocks mixed with ferns and new growth baby firs - gorgeous beds of green lined our path.

photo does not do it justice 

While there...

we also made a visit to Cape Enrage 

and enjoyed some mighty fine post-homemade-lunch ice cream in Alma 

instead of paying $18 to see Hopewell Rocks 

So surreal to think that tomorrow we will cross the US border. A Canadian gratitude post is brewing... Stay tuned.

It also feels surreal to look forward to three weeks in actual housing with running water and fully equipped kitchens. Quinoa corn muffins, kale/spinach smoothies, homemade almond milk and peanut butter, fresh salsa, things that come out of the refrigerator cold instead of balmy and/or moist... These are the only things we have really missed.

Well, those things and not having to put shoes and a headlamp on when you have to pee in the middle of the night. 

to aventura!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Parks and recreation​: Nova Scotia.

Did you know that Nova Scotia is on "Atlantic" time? We didn't even know such a thing existed until we lost a precious hour crossing the border.

but cross the border we did

Halfway to Cape Breton, we stopped at Caribou Provincial Park where we got the second to last campsite and the car was in full view. This led to lots of friendly comments ("you're a long way from home, yuk yuk") and an extended conversation with a really nice Scotsman who shared some great advice about our next stop. (And if we had three weeks at our next stop, we totally would have taken his advice.)

This was also the town where the clouds looked like marshmallows as the sun was setting...

and the water looked like glass

... and coincidentally the town where we purchased our first (and last) bag of marshmallows. SUCH a bad idea...

but adding peanut butter, chocolate and granola bar?
GREAT idea

The next day we finally reached our easternmost point, Cape Breton Highlands National Park. This whole journey has been amazing, and different places have stood out along the way for very clear reasons, but Cape Breton - for lack of a less hokey way to put it - totally moved us.  And we can't really explain why.

perhaps this is why?

Here are some recommendations for enjoying the park (and surrounding area) in five way-too-short days and 30 miles of hikes.

Day 1: A pod of pilot whales in the bay greets you as you cross the border. You stop for lunch at a small provincial park where a friendly couple exchanges two beautiful cookies for the use of your frying pan. You set up camp, watch the rainclouds come in, cook dinner in the kitchen shelter and amaze the Quebecian family with your astounding shoe box o'spices. You play cards and Scrabble, and go to bed when the smell of your camp neighbor's wet dog permeates the shelter.

oh hai, pilot whales
(apparently very rare in this area)

not gluten free
oh darn, he got to eat both

we could've used some tumeric though

Day 2: Hike-o-rama! First you hit the Coastal hike (3.5m) to Jiggling Cove Lake (1m), then you walk along the road to your car (1.5m). You lunch at uber-touristy Black Brook beach, then walk up Jack Pine trail (1m) and along the Coastal trail where you watch meatheads jump off a big rock, but sadly miss the moose. Next up is the short but sweet Broad Cove Mountain hike (1.4m) followed by Mary Ann falls, dinner, stars and marshmallows. 

perfecting the panorama

making Bob Ross proud

we don't recommend this option -
it was quite boring

not pictured: hordes of people


the view from the big red chair

hi, MAM!

Day 3: You break camp, meander up the Franey hike (4.6m), drive to Lone Shielding for lunch, visit MacIntosh Brook and find the waterfall (1.1m). Then you stop along the coast for amazing views before you set up new camp and tackle the Corney Brook hike to a nice waterfall (4m). Finally have dinner, watch the sun and Mercury set (YOU WATCH A PLANET SET!!), and stargaze. With marshmallows.

edge schmedge

sheep go here
when it's cold

the creek was almost prettier than the waterfall

beachside property

like fairy falls (PDX) on steroids

worth tearing away from our sausage nachos for a peek

Day 4: After breakfast, hike the Acadian (5.2m) and pick wild blueberries, have lunch and rest with the eagles before setting off on the Skyline hike (5.7m). Dinner, beach time, and - of course - marshmallows.

as recommended by locals

a dime a dozen to us now
but still awe-inspiring

there are itty bitty people up there on that ridge
where we were itty bitty at one point too

Day 5: Stop by the Alexander Graham Bell historic site on your way out of town.

we're working on it, sir

Wish that you had about six more weeks to explore. Vow to return someday...

If you joined us from the New Brunswick post, return to that here.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Parks and recreation: Quebec.

Our motel in Quebec City was actually quite nice and we both enjoyed a good night's sleep after being on a plane all day/spending five nights in a six-bed hostel dorm. A full day of driving the next day led us to the empty (but thankfully still open) information center in Matane, where three helpful youngsters on duty pointed us to Camping Municipal Rivière Matane

We were a bit skeptical given our last municipal camping experience, but the very nice (mostly-French-speaking) woman at the registration desk and helpful bilingual camper Pierre (no idea what his name was, he looked like a Pierre though) helped us find a nice quiet campsite.

After a quick walk down to the river to commune with the ducks...

see? they get the orange feet thing

 ... we spent the rest of our evening by the campfire, eating way too many chicken kebabs and enjoying the silence. Cities are loud.

we also finally finished our maple syrup from Portland 
(but never replenished with the "real" thing) 

Onward to Gaspésie (the Gaspé Peninsula to the non-French) and Forillon National Park! Every time we mentioned that we planned to visit this area, people would sigh wistfully and say we were going to love it. Turns out they were right. The northern scenic drive to the park is lined with cape cottages, quirky shops and galleries, and absolutely stunning views. (Of which we took almost no pictures because we were on a mission to get a good campsite at Forillon. But the coast is beautiful, trust us.)

In our three days at Forillon, we enjoyed...

Cap Gaspe lighthouse hike 

porcupine sightings 

Alaskan salmon salad by beach (thanks, J&J!) 

Les Lacs woods hike 

Swiss chard by campfire (who knew?) 

morning sunrises 

And stargazing galore!  The Milky Way was out in full force and the stars were just amazing.

I think this was the place where I finally started to mentally slow down - to stop obsessing about plans and phases and hikes and dishes for a while - and just BE. It probably helped that I still had a sinus infection and Patrick was still recovering from his stomach bug, but we took our time getting up to Cap Gaspé the second day, and getting to Les Lacs the third day, and I have to say it was some of the most enjoyable hiking I have done in a while.

The southern drive down the coast was not as charming as the northern route, but Forillon and the entire stretch we saw of the Gaspé Peninsula was most definitely worth the trip. How funny to think that six months ago, I had never heard of this place and now it stands out as one of the most memorable spots we visited. Looking forward to many more of those moments in the months to come...

(and more of these scenes too)