Celebrating 500 Posts on Stowaway!

Welcome to the 500th post on Stowaway! I’ve been writing this blog for 3.5 years, and in that time it’s gone through one name change, 1508 comments, and, almost unbelievably, 500 posts.

catlins waterfall supremely happyI started Stowaway as a way to get back into writing, which is something I’d enjoyed doing in college but neglected in the years since. I also wanted to record my plans for this big RTW trip, partly as a way to encourage myself to actually go on the trip. I wanted to try my hand at travel writing, but not limit myself to that. Five hundred posts later, I’m writing on an almost daily basis, and I’m on my RTW trip, so I’d say I’m doing well on those fronts.

me and Sydney Opera HouseI’d enjoy writing Stowaway even if I were the only one reading it, but it’s even more fun knowing that other people like reading it too. I like the challenge of making my travel updates entertaining and the photos nice to look at. I have a small audience made up mostly of people I know personally, and in some ways that makes it easier to write, to guess who might like what joke or who might appreciate which detail.

Joy on Fox Glacier, New ZealandBut I’m still refining my style; as every writer has ever said, I want to write the kind of thing I like to read. For travel writing, I like a chatty but not chummy tone, thoughtful reflections on the implications of why and how we travel, and a few wry asides. I don’t know that I’ve ever spelled it out before, but there it is: that’s what I’m going for with Stowaway, but whatever actually turns up on the blog every Monday through Friday, I hope it resonates with you.


I don’t know what Stowaway will become once I return to the States. I might try harder to write pieces that can be published on other sites. I might put the blog to the side for awhile and focus on getting a job. I might take another year just to get the posts caught up to where I am in real time (yeesh).

bankok wat phoStowaway has already changed somewhat since I started it, as recurring features came and went, and I made the inevitable switch from planning the trip to doing it. It will naturally change again, and even after 3.5 years and 500 posts, I’m still excited to see how it does. I hope you’ll stay with me as I continue to explore the world with my faithful travel companion–Stowaway.


Where to next?

A Sailor’s Life for Me?

I’ve traveled by plane, train, and automobile. I’ve taken taxis, subways, horseback rides, and the English Channel ferry. But I’ve never traveled by sailboat or large ship, and I think this trip might be the time to start.

Luxury liner

Now someday Heather will convince the rest of us in the family to join her on a cruise, and that will be fun. But in the meantime, it’s possible to travel by large ship with a little less glamour but just as much comfort. You can hitch a ride with a cargo ship. When I first heard about this mode of transport, I envisioned rattling around in a vast ship full of container boxes, peeking my head out from below deck occasionally.

But the reality is much nicer: you pay for a room with its own bathroom, you dine in the officers’ mess, and there’s usually even a swimming pool on board. It actually sounds like the perfect way for me to travel; there are no more than 10 other passengers on the ship (since if there are 12 or more, they’re required to pay to have a doctor on board), and the crew is all busy with sailing the ship and looking after the cargo, which means little need to socialize and lots of time to kick back and relax. Of course, it’s more expensive to travel by ship than it is by air, because it takes many days as opposed to many hours. But the slower pace, and the endless ocean views, are appealing.

the sailing life

The other boating method popular among travelers is sailing. You can join up as part of a crew and work for passage, or you can pay a certain amount per day and sail as a passenger. I’ve been on a sailboat all of once in my life–although that was in the little harbor of a Greek island, not bad–so I’m not sure any crew would hire me on. I’m also not entirely convinced of my abilities if they did let me on, but maybe I’d be a fast learner whose muscles would be much stronger than expected? But sailing as a passenger, chipping in with cooking, rocking to sleep on the waves… I could do that.

Anyone have sailing experience and access to a sailboat this summer? Want to show me the ropes? (Ooh, I bet that’s where that phrase came from.)

Image 1. Image 2.

Stowaway Connections — Readers, I Need Your Help!

Hello, dearest fellow travelers! As Tuesday’s post announced, I have made plans official by putting down money on an airplane ticket. This is very exciting for a couple reasons: 1) I’m actually doing this, and 2) it means more planning. Even a cursory glance at this blog will show that I love planning. Some people get anxious when planning, and I feel for them, but I find the anticipation part of the fun of the whole travel experience. Which is all to say: will you help me plan?

Who do you know?
It seems every time I mention to someone that I’m going on this trip, they know at least one person living abroad. Often, they’ll offer to put me in touch with this friend abroad, which I greatly appreciate. One of the main reasons I want to go on this trip is to meet people everywhere I go, see how they live, make friends (as opposed to just meeting fellow travelers in hostels; that has its own charm but is often a more fleeting personal connection and no geographic connection at all).

A couch to crash on, or just a friendly face in a new place
So do you know someone living on my route? I would especially appreciate a place to stay (no more than three nights! I know the Benjamin Franklin quote: “Fish and visitors stink after three days.”). But not everyone is able to or wants to accommodate guests, and I totally understand that. If the friend abroad could have coffee or a meal with me, or even just give me pointers via email if they’ll be too busy to meet up, I’d appreciate it. All connections are helpful.

Below is a rough outline of my route and about when I expect to be in each place (so your friend can know when to expect a call). I’m putting down the names of cities I expect to visit, but I certainly won’t confine myself to just cities, so if your friend wants to make a pitch for their particular corner of the world, go for it! I love planning, but I know that half of all travel plans fall apart and flexibility is key.

The Suggestion Box
Drop by The Suggestion Box and add in some advice on where I should go, or have your friend abroad do it. I’d especially love to have the Google Map updated with restaurants, sights to see, cafes, bars, etc. from people who live there or who’ve been there (that may be you!). Do it this weekend before you forget all those places you went last time you were on the other side of the world.

Come join me!
Also, now that you can see where I’m going and when, you can plan your own vacation to come visit me. I am serious about this–if you have vacation time and some money, give it some thought. We’d have great fun.

Leave a comment or send me an email/Facebook message if you have a connection you’d like to share. Thanks so much!

Lisa’s World Trip, Part 1*
Oceania & Asia, September 2012-August/September 2013

  • USA — Honolulu, Hilo — 2 weeks 9/3-9/17
  • Australia — Sydney, Alice Springs (for Uluru), Cairns (for Great Barrier Reef), Byron Bay, maybe Melbourne? — 6 weeks 9/17-10/31
  • New Zealand — Auckland, Christchurch, maybe Dunedin — 6 weeks 10/31-12/12
  • Indonesia — Jakarta, Bali — 3 weeks 12/12-1/2
  • Singapore — 1 week 1/2-1/9 (too expensive for much more time!)
  • Thailand — Bangkok, Chiang Mai — 4-5 weeks 1/9-2/13
  • Laos — Luang Prabang — 3 weeks 2/13-3/6
  • Cambodia — Siem Reap, Phnom Penh — 2 weeks 3/6-3/20
  • Vietnam — Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Hanoi — 4 weeks 3/20-4/17
  • Japan — Tokyo, Kyoto — 3 weeks 4/17-5/8 (to see the cherry blossoms, but if this is too expensive from Vietnam I might make it the last point on the trip)
  • China — Guiyang, Shanghai, Beijing — 4-5 weeks 5/8-6/12
  • Korea — Seoul — 3 weeks 6/12-7/3

You’ll notice that the timing lands me back in the states in early July, but I’m planning to return mid-August or September. That’s because this is my general idea before I leave; I just know that I’ll stay longer in some places and shorter in others, or that I’ll find a cool volunteer program that requires me to stay in one place longer than originally expected. So consider that flexibility built in.

* Parts 2 and 3 will include Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India, and Latin America. So if your connections are in that part of the world, rest assured I will need your help in 2013-2014!

Running the Numbers: How to Save for a World Trip

The title of this post is a little misleading, since this is less a top ten list of ways to cut down on costs and ramp up saving (there are tons of those out there), and more of a question about how much of that is good to do and how much is too much. Can I save up for a round-the-world trip while still enjoying my life here in Chicago, or do I need to radically alter my lifestyle?

counting my pennies

Photo from http://igotmompower.com/2011/06/pennies-from-heaven/

I’ve been planning to go on a round-the-world trip for several years now, and I’ve been putting money aside that whole time, but the amount has varied over the years. I’ve never had a special account for it; I just designate my savings account as the place I save for the trip. It’s a little scary how very basic my financial situation is (no stocks or bonds, a 401(k) with like a grand in it), and that 30 Rock episode a few seasons ago, in which Liz’s nearly identical financial situation is roundly mocked, hit a little close to home. Part of that lack of funds is because I worked in publishing for a couple years, and as anyone who ever copy edited can tell you, you lose money doing that in the first few years. So it wasn’t until recently that I was able to put aside a set amount each month, which really ramped up the saving.

I’ve worked the math a few times, and so long as my employment situation stays steady and major disasters are kept at bay (knock on wood), I should be able to make my goal of $30,000 next August, and then I’ll be off. I’m proud of my ability to save more than I made at my first office job, but on the other hand, I don’t have any dependents, I live in a pretty affordable part of town, and I’ve been supposedly saving for years. Couldn’t I have saved more, faster? Where did it all go?

The answer is: it all went into my life. I’ve been spending my money on enjoying my time here in Chicago, and that has slowed down the saving noticeably. I’ve gone back and forth on whether this is the right way to do it, and usually I think it is. Several years ago, at the end of college, my then-boyfriend and I were considering taking this trip together, and we argued over how to go about it. I wanted to hoard all our pennies as quickly as possible, so we could be on the road right away. He wanted to explore the city we’d be moving to and have enough money to enjoy it fully. He didn’t want to have to miss hanging out with friends because they were going to a bar and we’d only budgeted two beers each that month. What’s the point in saving for fun if it means not having any in the meantime?

Now I think he was mostly right. I should have been saving more aggressively in the last couple years, when my salary got to a comfortable, reliable point, but otherwise I don’t have regrets about the way I’ve been going about it. I like being able to go out with friends and occasionally buy a round, or pick up the check on a dinner with a friend who’s a little cash poor at the moment. I think this kind of relative openness with money is healthy for friendships, much better than everyone counting out their share to the decimal and holding grudges against those who deviate. (Of course, it’s a different story when people between jobs or in a different economic stratum are in the mix, in which case common sense and compassion should reign.)

I also think a general kind of karma is involved. When I was a broke 18-year-old in Berlin, two Australians bought me a drink in a cafe and we spent the afternoon chatting about our travels. I offered to pay my share, but they were several years older, on a break from good-paying jobs, and they cheerfully waved my money aside. All they required was that I pass the favor on later in my travels, when I was in a position to do the same for someone else. A simple pay it forward concept, sure, but that doesn’t make it less important, and why shouldn’t it apply in our daily lives as well as our more exotic travels? Not that I walk around peeling twenties off a giant roll I keep in my pocket, and it’s not that I’m doing any better financially than most of my friends and acquaintances, but it is a conscious choice about how to spend what I have at my disposal.

After all, generosity doesn’t save nearly so well as money, so sometimes you have to spend a little of both and trust that it’ll balance in the end.

Running the Numbers: Where to Go

Hello, dearest fellow travelers! Sorry about the unannounced break; there were weddings and BBQs and many delightful things that kept me away, but now I’m back for our regular Tuesday/Thursday schedule. Today I’m introducing a new recurring feature called Running the Numbers. It’s time to get serious about budgeting for this world trip next year (NEXT YEAR JUMP BACK), so I’ll be working out what I can reasonably afford and sharing those insights with you so we can all furrow our brows in a shared nervousness about RTW budgets. Fun times, right? The budget I’m planning to work with is $30,000 over the course of a little under two years.

When I tell people I plan to travel around the world for about two years, the questions usually go: Really? By yourself? Is that safe? How can you afford it? To which I respond, yep, yep, as safe as living in a major American city, and I sure hope so! Since I plan to leave in 15 months, it’s time for me to get serious about that last part, and I’m starting to break down the budget and be judicious in which places I can realistically visit on that budget.

Every single blog written by world travelers contains at least one post on how much money the authors spent on their trip, so there’s a lot of info out there to analyze. I like the breakdowns on this blog and this one, although I do get dispirited when I see that our routes are different enough that they might not make the greatest basis for comparison. In fact, they go to many fewer countries than I had been planning to visit, so I’m starting to seriously considering pruning the itinerary. I don’t want to visit lots of places only to not have enough money to see all I want to see in each.

Currently I say I want to start in Australia and then see a lot of Asia, take the Trans-Siberian, and work my way down to some of Africa, then end in India. Looking at the phenomenal cost of visas ($80 to get into Kenya! $70 to visit India!), carefully plotting a course seems an even better idea.

So now I’m thinking my best course would look something like this:

New Zealand
South Korea
South Africa

I’m sad to cut out Scandinavia, but those countries are super expensive and one of the main reasons I’d want to go, the aurora borealis, is never a certain sighting, so it’s smarter to come back another time when I can focus on patiently waiting for the lights to appear. I’m still not totally sure about each of the countries in Africa, because unlike in Asia they are much farther apart from one another and therefore they add quite a bit to transportation costs, but there are specific sights and cultures I want to experience in each of the countries listed, so I’m keeping them on for now.

Don’t forget that the plan is to return to the States after India, spend time with all the loved ones I missed, and save up a bit of money so I can go to Latin America (for those who are about to comment, “how can you not go to Peru/Argentina/Mexico?”).

Right then, dearest fellow travelers, what do you think? You’ll be reading about each of these places for the next several years, so chip in if you think I’m really missing out on a particular spot, or if you’re especially excited to hear about a place listed here.

Share the World: The Suggestions Page

Hello, dearest fellow travelers, and welcome to a short post that is INTERACTIVE. Exciting! In the 6+ years I’ve been planning this trip, I’ve received numerous suggestions from many people on specific places I should visit, restaurants I should eat at (or at least food to try), and bedbug-ridden hostels I should absolutely avoid. I welcome all of this advice; I’m fortunate to know so many people who’ve traveled and lived abroad and who have insight into what to do and where to go in places as diverse as Tibet and Cape Town. But it’d sure be helpful to have all that advice in one centralized spot.

Lucky for you and me both, I’m brilliant, so I’ve put together a couple tools to aid in this venture: the Suggestion Box and the Google Map. Head on over to the Suggestion Box (which is now the first tab at the top of the page, on any page on the blog) and leave a comment with tips on what to see, where to stay, etc., and then go to the Google Map and mark the spot. Now I can keep track of all these great suggestions, and when I actually go on my trip, I’m going to mark out my route on the map too, so you’ll be able to see where I go and how I get there in just about real time.

Here’s an example of what the map looks like so far:

See? It’s all bare and sad, with just a few sights and sites, and not a single eatery to be found. Don’t let this map continue in this way — adopt it today and shower it with love and helpful icons.

Suggestion Box: https://lisafindley.wordpress.com/suggestion-box/

Google Map: Lisa’s World Trip 2012-2014: http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF&msa=0&msid=110828102940815708391.00048a592ae072ccc0b8e

The Plan, In Sum

Travel the world. The end.

Okay, a slightly more detailed summary: Take my paltry savings and two years, and travel around much of the globe, on my own and ready to make friends.

Still not enough? All right. The summer after I graduated high school, I took my money from working in a second-run movie theater and the cafe of a local bookshop, and went to Europe for six weeks. This mini-Grand Tour was a solo affair and a revelation in self-sufficiency and finding happiness in independence. The summer after my freshman year of college, my friend P and I borrowed P’s mom’s minivan and drove around the Western part of the U.S. for five weeks, figuring out how to travel together and still be good friends at the end of it. (That worked out just fine, by the way.)

So I’ve long been a fan of taking extended, multi-stop trips, and by the time I graduated college, I’d decided to travel the world. Several people have suggested various ways of accomplishing this goal, including doing it in many mini-trips, working with a volunteer organization, and going on a group tour. Thing is, I want to be moving, not vacationing, so I need a long period of time, and the thought of paying for a package tour running around the big tourist stops with my drunken peers is not appealing. I’d like to volunteer with various organizations, and there are some good ones out there, but most of them require you pay a fee, so that won’t work for the whole trip.

It comes back to me, a backpack, and the very necessary spirit of adventure. I’ll happily meet up with friends along the way, so if you have any place in particular that you’ve always wanted to visit, or if you’re fluent in any of the languages of the countries I’ll be visiting (please!), let me know.

For now, the idea is to go to New Zealand/Australia in January of 2013, then work my way up Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Transiberian Railway to Moscow, Eastern Europe, Western Africa, South Africa, and India. Back to the States to make a bit of money, then down to Central and South America, and possibly Antarctica.

All of it’s changeable, except the date of departure. I turn 30 in 2013, and I’ve said since I was 18 that I’d start this trip before I was 30, before I started to settle down, move up in a career, or feel tied to a particular place. Life isn’t over when you’re 30, but if you’re not careful, the urge to try new things and become a different and better person is. So winter of 2012/2013 it is!

The Questions

This blog will generally be a travel blog, but there will probably also be posts on music, books, and the hilarious misadventures of my life in Chicago. I’m opening this up to the (what I’m sure will be tiny) public so we can exchange ideas, tips, ruminations. Do you write about travel–why, and how, and for what audience? Do you travel a lot–what kind of trips do you take, how often, with others or by yourself? Got practical tips and advice, a funny story, or a rambling reflection on why we do what we do? Have a follow-up to something I’ve written? Please share.

Without further ado, here are the big questions I’m pondering:

Why travel? Why write about traveling? How do I answer these questions without diving into the murky waters of self-importance and clichés?

Okay, so maybe I don’t answer those questions, or at least not right away. But it’s time to start considering them in a serious way, and to start writing about what I figure out, because it’s T minus three years from my trip around the world, and I’m not going to set off on a trip I’ve planned for 10 years without feeling confident that I’m ready for it. And by ready for it, I mean ready for the adventures, the mundane details, and my sincere involvement with the people I meet and the places I go. I don’t mean ready in the sense that I’ll have plenty of money or have every minute of my itinerary planned—that’s ridiculous and sad (okay, not the money part; that’d be kickass). I mean I want to be prepared for anything, because that’s what’ll happen. I mean I want to be prepared to change a bit, because that’d better happen. I mean I want to be prepared to engage with people in a real way, and not simply check places visited off my list, because being fully engaged is the best that can happen.

I’m starting to read some travel blogs and travel writing tips websites, and I’ll check some books out of the library. Let’s see what the pros do, what the dedicated amateurs do, and where I might fit in. There are many ways to cock it up, but some quick notes to self: My viewpoint is central to my life and no one else’s, so I shouldn’t discount any of my own emotions or thoughts, but I’d sure as hell think twice before expressing them in person or in print, to make sure that they have value for others. Even though I can get very list-oriented and methodical, I enjoy my spontaneous moments and need to leave plenty of room for them on my travels. This also means that I need to shift some of my thinking from checklists (“where are you going?” “Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia…”) to a compilation of experiences. How do I write about my own travels as a privileged white American woman in this world without falling into the traps of racism, classism, nationalism, etc.? How do I travel without falling into those traps? How do I travel in a conscionable manner, giving something back to each place I visit, without getting a bit noblesse oblige? How do I expand my own horizons without making it all about me, and how do I make my writing reflect that?