Cost is obviously one of the most important factors in deciding where and when to travel. Before beginning, I should say that a lot of my trip was in the low season for many places (that is, not summer), and I would almost always travel in the cheapest class of transportation
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As I am starting a trip that will take me from China to (hopefully) Eastern Europe over the next several months, I thought I might go through what I am packing for this trip. There have been a few changes since my last trip's packing list (link for original packing post), mostly in terms of electronics, but for the most part it is very similar. Overall, my goal is maximum mobility and minimum weight, but not bare-bones, super lightweight (for that, see No-baggage challenge). My backpack is right around 25-28 pounds (11-13 kg), so it's light
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Bolod was the owner of the guesthouse that I stayed at in Ulaanbataar, and, due to it being the low tourist season, also my source of transport/translation when I headed out to the Mongolian countryside. His main guesthouse was actually closed, but I stayed in his "suburban guesthouse", which was just a room in his house with his wife and kids.
He grew up in a small village in Eastern Mongolia and came to the capital when he was young for school. Coming of age when
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Preparing for my trip to Asia, I had to obtain visas before arrival to China and Russia. Since I am just finishing up this process, I wanted to describe the steps that I went through in case anyone might be doing the same thing and wants to save some time on research. This is geared for the independent traveler without set itinerary.
5:30 am. I'm leaving my hostel in San Cristobal as the sun breaks, already reminiscing about the cool weather, good people, and nice local markets stocked with fresh produce every day for pennies. I have left myself two weeks to hitchhike back to Michigan (click here to see the route). After talking with a few of the dread-locked, unicycle-riding sort on the street last night about hitchhiking, I decide to take colectivos up to Villahermosa since hitching in Chiapas is supposedly fraught with long waits and suspicious people. Another big plus is that the main highway to
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This story is the other side of the news reports, the non-profitable story, the anti-State Department website of the capital of Guatemala, Guatemala City. Instead of pointless violence, I am writing about pointless kindness.
After being abroad for a long period of time in non-traditional tourist spots, a certain persistent question always and unavoidably comes up: “But, isn’t it dangerous in [insert city]?” Even between long-term travelers who should know better the question is frequently asked, with swapping stories of tourist crime (usually second or third hand and undoubtedly exaggerated for narrative effect) being an entertaining way to pass the time
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You have set out to travel to extract yourself from the daily routine, but there is one chore that will never go away: dirty clothes (nudist colonies an exception). And if you´re trying to save money on the road, or just don´t trust that random lady on the corner lavanderia, washing your clothes by hand is the only option that´s left. The good news is that it´s easier than you think, and with practice becomes no chore at all and you can tailor it to your situation. Here´s a quick run down on how to get it done.
With the cash economy spread to every corner of the globe, it´s no hidden fact that travelers abroad are many times looked at more as breathing cash machines and less as curiosities from foreign lands. It´s not that people are necessarily looking to grab money from tourists, but rather that poverty incentivizes creative pricing where price tags are lacking. Those of us traveling on a budget for extended periods need to economize since we´re already putting a hefty bit of cash into the local economies of the places we visit, so let opportunists prey on the less saavy traveler. There
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Cost is obviously one of the most important factors in deciding where and when to travel. Before beginning, I should say that a lot of my trip was in the low season for many places (that is, not summer), and I would almost always travel in the cheapest class of transportation available. I also hitchhiked quite a bit, utilized Couchsurfing, ate basic food, and wasn't afraid of camping. If you have higher standards for when you travel, you can expect it to cost that much more.
So I'll break this down into three groups: flights, visas, and on-the-ground costs. All of my purchase history is online through my bank, so I went back through the information to determine how much my trip cost. Also, if you don't have travel equipment you have to factor the price of that in; you can see what I pack at this link.
After hitching into Bucharest from Bulgaria and spending the night there in a hostel, I set off the next day to a farm a few hundred kilometers north close to the larger town of Brasov. I found the farm through WWOOF, which is a network of organic and conventional farms that ask for moderate levels of work (4-6 hours) in exchange for a place to sleep and food. From what I heard, it was a good way to experience the local culture, explore the beautiful countryside, and save money to boot.
The farm was located in a national park among the Carpathian Mountains in the Transylvania region, right on top of a ridge with mountains rising on either side in a village called Magura. The family, consisting of a thirty-something guy named Iosef with his mom, sister, and sister’s daughter, had cut down on food production in favor of retrofitting their house to take tourists to gain income. This left mainly just cows and sheep to take care of as well as a smallish garden.
It took several bus transfers to get from Brasov to the farm, and it was dusk by the time I was making the final 4 km hike up to the farm. They welcomed me with a bit of food, and the next morning the work started in earnest. The big project for the day was collecting the hay that had been cut with a scythe and dried for a few days. We lumped it into large piles, carried the piles to a thick synthetic sheet that was tied to a truck, pulled it up from the valley to the house, and then added it to the winter storage pile.
I’m not sure whether hitching together with Anna helped get rides or I was just having bad luck, but thumbing up to Bulgaria from Turkey (click for my articles on Turkey) was much more difficult than in the rest of the country.
Taking a bus out of Istanbul was enough of a delay, and after a handful of short rides, with long waits in between, the border crossing finally popped ahead on the road.
Walking the expanse took a while, but actually going through customs was just a matter of them looking at my passport and waving me on. After getting through and wasting time at a bank that wouldn’t change my Turkish lira, I started walking into Bulgaria.
The story of long waits repeated itself; eventually, as the sun was going down, a girl who worked at customs picked me up and left me at a bus station in Svelingrad, not far from the border. Looking at the map and Wikitravel on my iPod, I decided my next stop would be Plovdiv (yes, incredible planning skills), a city with a quaint old district, Roman ruins, and cheap hostels. Of course, there were no more buses to Plovidv that day, so I just went out to the road after walking through some dicey Gypsy neighborhoods and started thumbing again to get back to the highway.
Since Istanbul was such a huge city, we decided to take an overnight bus from Bergama instead of hitchhiking like we had in the rest of Turkey. The bus was stuffy and crowded, and I was glad we had hitchhiked through the rest of the country since I much preferred the lack of certainty and barely-intelligible conversations involved in hitchhiking over a packed bus and knowing when/where I was going to arrive.
We crashed in a sketchy hostel the first night, then met up with a friend Anna had met in Nepal, Osi. We stayed in her place for a few more days before Anna flew out and I hitched toward Bulgaria.
The touristy parts of Istanbul were really touristy since it was the summer vacation time for a lot of people. There were streams of cruise shippers and bus loads of Asians arriving in droves, and it was easy to forget you were even in Turkey.
I’m feeling a bit lazy and nothing of spectacular interest has happened since leaving the Kurdish areas, so I'm going to cram a lot of places into this post. It’s pretty much just been hitchhiking (ridiculously easy) from place to place, seeing really cool things, and liking Turkey and Turkish people more and more.
After visiting Nemrut, which was an ancient burial place on top of a hill for a king with remnants of huge carved heads visible today, we went toward the uber-tourist destination of Goreme. The formations of stone in the valleys of Goreme were pretty astounding (including realistic-looking phallic formations), but the profound tourist stench of the place made it a little less interesting. After there, we decided not to go to another major tourist draw in Tukey, Pamukkale. We took a stop in Konya, famous for the museum dedicated to the Sufi poet Rumi.
After hitching into Kurdistan and camping for a few days around Lake Van, we set off to visit the mountain town of Bahçesaray en route to Mardin. We also hitched there, but waiting took a little longer since there were not many cars and the sun was pretty strong. We got a few nice rides, took a pause on a mountain pass still covered with snow, and eventually made it there in the late morning.
It was pleasant enough, with a strong river flowing through the nicely wooded center. We were called in to drink tea by everyone that saw us and eventually sat with a store owner for some difficult, yet jovial, conversation due to the language barrier.
One of the Kurdish militia came in to the store to stow his AK-47 while in town, and I gathered up the courage to ask him to have a look at it. He gladly obliged, and fondling the well-lubricated Kalishnikov in the household supplies store led me to wonder how many people had been at the receiving end of it (I hoped none). It was much smaller than I expected.
We got up early to leave from Akhalsikhe in Georgia to cross the border into Turkey by bus, but found out the only bus to the Turkish side wasn’t until the late afternoon. So, we decided to hitchhike.
I was a little wary since I was with Anna (I would have done it alone without a second thought), but she seemed game and we took off walking down the road towards the border about 20 kilometers away.
The worst case was that we would get no rides and go back to the bus station in the afternoon, but after a few minutes of flagging cars, a bus toward the border town of Vale stopped and gave us a ride without charging for it. From Vale it was another few kilometers to the border, but luckily there was a border guard on the bus with us who brought us with him to the border.
We walked across the border, which was fairly isolated and unkempt but with beautiful surrounding hills, and did the whole Q and A thing that happens at every border. There wasn’t much car traffic once across the Turkish border, but after a few minutes of waiting the first car that came stopped and brought us to the first town of any size on the Turkish side, Posof.
The driver was actually a Georgian taxi driver who really liked George W. Bush and America in general and would prefer the US to give nuclear weapons to Georgia so they could bomb
After learning about a $40, one-hour flight to the difficult to access town of Mestia in the northwestern region of Georgia tucked away in the Caucasus mountains, I abandoned all intention of getting there by minibus and bought a seat on the next available flight. Luckily, there was amazing weather over the mountains and the views were stunning. Towards the end of the video I have a few shots if Ushguli, considered the highest inhabited town in "Europe", located about 45 km and three hours from Mestia over bone-jarring roads. The nice old lady you see toward the end was the caretaker of a 9th century church in the area with some incredibly ancient frescoes.
Armenia was…nice. Nothing mindblowingly incredible, nor anything that was difficult besides trying to get around with little Latin script outside of Yerevan, the capital. Armenia, like Georgia, has its own language and writing system that looks like this: շատ շնորհակալ եմ (Thank you very much). And no, I was not about to learn a new alphabet for less than two weeks in the country.
Although there are efforts to teach English, it was not very widespread and Russian was far more useful. Unlike Georgia, Armenia has a decent relationship with Russia and we didn’t have to be so judicious in our use of the language. Unfortunately, my exploration of Yerevan was limited due to handling business back home with medical school applications, and during our few trips into the city center I managed to forget my camera. Overall, Yerevan had a more spacious and slightly more modern feel than Tbilisi, but for whatever reason didn’t quite match the jumbled Tbilisi alleys in stroll-ability.
After leaving Kazakhstan, I met with Anna in Tbilisi (capital of Georgia) and plan to travel for a month or so together through Georgia, Armenia, and Turkey.
She arrived from a flight to Istanbul to Tbilisi by overnight bus; her ride seemed eventful, including an instance where someone was shot in front of her at a bus stop and a huge fight broke out. The gunshot victim was bleeding out while the Turkish men fought, and because of the fighting the ambulance wasn’t even able to take the dying man to a hospital. The bus left before the situation was resolved, although I think with a few less passengers. Anna was unharmed and kept safe.
Compared to that, my flight from Kazakhstan was uneventful with a layover in Ukraine. I got mild amusement by peculiar word usage in an English-language newspaper from Kiev and a brilliant article that listed the number one potential use for Chernobyl in the future to be a nuclear waste disposal site.
For the sake of time I combined all the cities we visited in Georgia into one post, with pictures after each city. So here we go: