Sunday, December 19, 2010

Trip planning, now more organized

In an effort to get myself to actually do some things, I've set up Pivotal Tracker and Workflowy.  The first is a project-managey software, the second is a big outline on the internet.  I think Tracker is made for software, so I'm not sure how well it will work for this.  I like Workflowy, though; it's pretty minimalist.  Just a huge collapsible/expandable outline.  Tree-structured thoughts.  Well, time will tell how well they both turn out.

At any rate, I've started actually doing more, which at this point still consists of "looking things up."  things I've learned include:
- you can get a 6-month India visa for something like $70 or a 5- or 10-year one for $150.  (who would get the 5-year?  I guess I'll find out more things when I apply.)
- apparently, you can go from India to Pakistan, and even at the Wagah border near Amritsar (and therefore near the Wagah Border Ceremony).  However, this is kind of too bad.  (I mean, bad that they were hurting themselves in the first place, not bad that they're stopping this amusing-but-painful exercise.)

EDIT, 8 months later: Workflowy has been great. I recommend it for everything. Pivotal Tracker was indeed too heavyweight, and they started charging, so I dropped that.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The weight of packs, the importance of shoes.

When I was taking a shower at the Googleplex in Mountain View (seriously, you could live there), I noticed a scale.  And I had my bag, which contained a fleecey sweatshirt, a full change of clothes except pants, a toothbrush and stuff, my work laptop (macbook pro) and cord, and a book.  Maybe a bottle of water too.

Weight: 14 lbs.

Comfort: middling.  It's a messenger bag.  I think messenger bags in general are just worse than backpacks.  They slide around you.  And they are either too loose and hit your legs while you walk, or they're too tight and it's a chore to get it over your head.  Plus, this one is not super easy to buckle/unbuckle.

Computer: strike one.  At 5.6 lbs, plus the transformer, that's a big fraction of the bag's weight.  And you can feel it too.  Granted, when I travel around the world, I'd have a much smaller laptop, but still, it's heavy!  I guess the question is, do I think I'll actually want to program anything while I travel?  I'm leaning towards no, which would mean I could cut the bag down to about 8 lbs.  That's exciting.  At that point (and if it's actually a backpack instead of a messenger bag), I almost wouldn't even notice carrying it.

Shoes: my beat-up clogs are not doing it for me.  I ended up walking about two miles a day for various reasons, and my feet hurt for a couple days after.  My light-hiking shoes would have worked well; plus, they're waterproof.  However, having worn them in India, they're clunky, hot, and awkward in hot places.  (and ugly.)  I guess the ideal is shoes and sandals, but the #1 rule of packing light is not to bring 2 pairs of shoes.  Hmm.  I guess the sandals don't take up that much space, and I could always just wear the shoes while I travel... this is still not sounding awesome.  Hmm hmm hmm.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Bon soir, de la Mision

The first rule of business trips: plan them how you like, do what you want, and don't take no guff from nobody. Instead of a soulless box in a Marriolidilton in Mountain View, I'm sitting in a super deluxe B&B with nice owners in the Mission District in San Francisco.  For less money!  It is too bad that all of Silicon Valley is so so so far from San Francisco; otherwise, I might actually live here.

And I'm on my own, which means this is the slightest taste of Big Trip 2011-2012.  And as I walked around said neighborhood tonight, I realized that this is going to be The Biggest culture shock.  And life shock.  I mean, I was feeling kind of out of place and intimidated in my own country.  In a very similar city to my own, where we all speak the same language and have the same cultural norms.  Good grief.

At the very least, I will have to come out of this trip with more ability to handle myself when I am a fish out of water.  (otherwise, I will implode.)  That's... actually, really exciting!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Circumnavigators, pilgrims,

I just finished watching The Long Way Round, starring Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman, and reading The Size of the World by Jeff Greenwald.  Riveting stuff!  In the former, these two guys ride motorcycles from England to far eastern Russia, then Anchorage to NYC.  In the latter, this guy goes one better, and gets all the way around the world on buses, trains, boats; anything but airplanes.  I recommend them both!

The Long Way Round was pretty intense and also Hollywood.  Throughout Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and eastern Russia, the roads got increasingly worse, and here they are with two motorcycles.  Roads are scarce, there are bears, and there is not much else.  Two men and their bikes against the world!  Well, not just two men: also Claudio the cameraman.  Well, not just three men: like 15 men if you count all the support crew who helped them clear all the borders and trailed behind them.  Plus the probably dozens more who helped make the film happen.  Okay, fine.  I'm sure with every filmed thing like this, there's a hidden Hollywood behind it all; at least they were pretty honest about it.  For a show about a couple of movie stars going traveling, it was a lot less glossy than it could have been.

And, quibbling aside, it was pretty epic.  They found themselves in the middle of nowhere many times, and in pretty hopeless situations: broken bikes, injuries, bridges that don't exist.  They got angry, depressed, homesick, exultant, excited, the whole gamut.

(and there was one super awesome scene where the police are pulling people over and Ewan goes "these aren't the bikes you're looking for, move along." :D)

The Size of the World was also pretty intense, and not very Hollywood.  The same deal: everything went wrong, they got stuck in the Mauritanian Sahara for days on end, he had to take a last-minute shady little boat from Dubai to Karachi, he spent weeks schlepping through China, and then it was almost impossible to find a boat to take him across the Pacific.  I found it even more interesting, as he wrote about his mind's workings even more.  His internal debates about whether he should take the outside chance at a bus/boat combo, try to bribe his way into a visa, or just break his rules and fly.  His further debates about, well, if he flew, who'd be missing out?  Who cares?  What's this journey for, anyway, besides a whim?  His reactions to places he visited: some of the "this is primitive but wonderful", some of the "this is primitive and awful."  Exhaustion after months abroad.  Uncut, unvarnished, very believable.

I guess there's probably something in there about how he CHANGED, because it's a JOURNEY therefore CHANGE, as we learned in high school.  Yeah, he did.  How?  I couldn't put it into words.  Why did he even do this?  Why did Ewan and Charlie take their trip?  The less reason I know, the more intrigued I am, I guess because I can relate.  Why am I going (mostly, partially, etc) around the world?  Beats me.  No big insights here, just kind of wanted to toss these recommendations out there and also record how I'm feeling at this point in time.

Friday, November 5, 2010

New passport new passport

Complete with RFID!  (woo??) (those ?? are like you put in chess notation when someone makes a real blunder.)  Looks like I'll actually invest in some kind of tinfoil passport holder...

Mine was expiring in 2013, but it wouldn't have had enough free spots for all my stamps.  And more pages costs like $80 while a new passport costs $110, so, meh?

Incidentally: $80 for more pages?  Come on.  Is this 1839?  (incidentally incidentally, I hear you can get more pages in US embassies in other countries for free.  I'll be making a few embassy stops anyway, so hey, there you go.)

But anyway, this trip is now slightly more serious than it used to be, because I have spent honest cash on it.  And now I can start applying for visas.  ... after I figure out where I'm going and when.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

This phenomenon needs a name; maybe it's "endearing quirks".

Here's a reaction I have sometimes all the time when I'm traveling.  I start to find parts of places charming, quaint, cute.  In India, the guy on the street who was selling beards.  (everyone's selling stuff!  But beards?)  Or the trucks: all brightly colored, with "horn please!" (or sometimes "horn do" (huh?)) painted on them.  Or in Japan: that someone would have thought to make a... comedy aquarium. In the Netherlands, shoot, the whole damn language.

Oh snap wait I have the perfect example.  When I was a kid I went to a computer summer camp.  They tried to teach us some things in C++.  Good grief.  (it was also an outdoorsy camp.)  But the thing is, in C++, if you want to print "hello" to the screen, you can type:
cout << "hello"
And you use << for other things too.  So my teacher was an Indian guy, and whenever he wanted to tell us to type that, he'd say something that sounded like "put two character."  As in, "you type cout, then you put two character, then you put "hello".  I thought this was just the best saying, and of course I never mentioned it, because I dunno I thought it's not okay to draw attention to the peculiarities of his speech.

It's an interesting kind of enjoyment I get out of this.  It's not really "cute"- it's not condescending.  It's sort of like childlike admiration.  Something is a little quirky and, if I were a young kid, I'd point it out and say "hey that guy says "put two character" when he means the little arrows."  But y'know pointing these things out might offend.  So I just secretly toss it away in the back of my mind, in the pile of "inside jokes for exactly one person", and kinda forget about it (except I never forget about it, and in my mind, whenever I'm writing C++, I often have to put two character, and I grin.  (this is kinda the only redeeming thing about writing C++)).

Anyway, I think this is mostly great.  I'd love to hear about other people's quirky things they really dig about places or people from places.  I'd also be willing to listen to counter-arguments, that this is racist of me or something, because I'm making fun of people's poor English or whatever.  The main reason I don't think I'm being racist is that I'd love it if people enjoyed the hell out of my cute mistakes; but the argument doesn't go both ways for racial epithets so it's possible it doesn't for endearing quirks either.

If you'll excuse me, I'm off to my slaapkamer.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Maybe one guideline of this trip will be that it'll be guided by stories.

I just finished "India: a Traveler's Literary Companion."  It's very good!  I mean, I like it a lot.  A dozen or so short stories, arranged by geography.  They all sound very different.  I get a little feeling of being there.  Same with Stones into Schools.  Really amazing stories.  (okay, this is different; it's not fiction.)

The same was true with a movie I watched recently called The Fall.  It was a little different: it wasn't actually about these faraway places; it just happened to be filmed there.

But instead of reading about the ho-hum day-to-day of current hotels, restaurants, and sights to see in a guidebook, I'll try to guide myself by crazy places I've seen in fantastic movies and lush descriptions in books.  Worth a shot, anyway.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Lump this one in with "hipsters", "jocks", and "nerds".

The more you read about travel and talk to travelers, the more you'll hear people hate on "tourists."  Paul Otteson, in a book called "The World Awaits" that I will not recommend (read Vagabonding instead), does a pretty thorough job of hating on tourists:
"The tourist takes tours; guided groups of like-minded folks enjoy the convenience and relaxation of having it done for them."
"The tourist goes to tourist places, eats at tourist restaurants, and stays at tourist hotels."
"Tourists go to places when they are supposed to go."
"Tourists never quite know where they are."
"Tourists always move as if they were attached to an invisible leash."
... and on and on.

There's always a little caveat in these rants, if you let them go on long enough, like "oh well sometimes it's okay to be a tourist, if..." and a few experiences about how they were a tourist once in Bali because it was the only thing to do, or because they were with their family, or whatever.  I think the feeling we're supposed to get is not that it's a sin to be a tourist, but that being a tourist is a bad thing generally caused by ignorance or immaturity, kind of like picking your nose or saying bad words because you don't know what they mean.

But talking about "being a good traveler and not a tourist" only accomplishes three things:
1. lets us "enlightened travelers" feel superior to the unwashed masses
2. makes us revere and cower before those who are "better travelers" than we
3. makes us always worry "am I being a good traveler now?"
Two of these are bad feelings.  One feels good but is ultimately destructive.  So let's stop talking about it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


When I meet people from a faraway place, I want to know more about what that place is like.  But then I get whiteman's guilt, and majority-person's guilt, and I figure that person probably doesn't want to spend all their time talking about what China or India or y'know Namibia is like.  This is probably true.  I floated this question with a couple of friends the other day, and one of them offered the obvious answer:

Don't ask them about their place, ask them about their personal experiences.

I can't explain what America is like, really.  Nor would I feel comfortable speaking for everyone from Mainers to Los Angelenos: different parts are different, you know?  I'm sure someone from China must feel the same way.  But if you asked about my background, or my experience in Cleveland or Pittsburgh or Seattle, I'd be glad to expound at length!

Sorry, this is kind of pedantic and obvious, I guess.  But it wasn't obvious to me!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Where to go when

So I'm planning more.  You know, I've only got a year to do this.  Let's buckle down and cut the chit chat. Here's what I wanted to do at first:

But then, I started thinking about when I would be where: (months in tiny green letters)

Which presented a bit of a problem:

I think this is not only a "Dan's a wimp" problem.  I think it's logistical too.  I mean, we're talking about hard-to-spell Stan countries there.  You can't just hop on the interstate and expect to keep on trucking.  So I thought, well, what if I did it backwards?

Surprisingly, that helped a bit.  But maybe not enough:

So how about take three:

Perhaps I am on to something here!  Alas, this one has problems too:

But these seem comparatively minor. This is of course pending some serious investigation (for all I know, maybe the Pamirs are lovely in the dead of winter), but it's a start.

Monday, August 9, 2010


I'm planning on taking a computer on this trip.  (This could change.)  There are three upsides: I can work when I get bored, I can do something useful on the trip in terms of developing skills, and there's the possibility of the "Ukrainian National Parks" opportunity, in which I make Android apps about something sorta useful to a sorta under-served market, and thereby do something that nobody else is doing.

There is one main downside: I will lose focus on traveling and retreat to my computer.  This seems less of an issue, as I'm not going to be camping in jungles or something anyway.  I'm not looking for an escape, but rather a way to continue my life, just in different places.  (as @garybernhardt, among others, is doing right now.)  My life, at least my ideal life, tends to involve computers.

Anyway, given that I'm going to have a computer, the question is, which one?  I came across a recommendation for a Lenovo Thinkpad X201, and in order to save it for later when I'm actually making decisions about these things, I will link to it here.  If you have recommendations about travelley computers, I'd like to hear them.

Friday, July 30, 2010

But how much will it cost?

This is a thing to consider.  I found a good post about fellow travelers and how much their trips cost.  Their per-person rates go from about $50 to $75 per day.  Sounds like a lot, but it's only $18-27k for a year.  ... which is less than I spend here in the States.

I think I can do it for the lower end of that range.  I plan to travel mostly overland, and Asia (besides Japan) tends to be cheaper than Europe, Africa, Australia, and North America.  (not sure about South America, I think it's comparable.)  I've budgeted $20k.  Course, I'll keep you updated once I actually start spending money.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Check it out shut up

I've got a map! It's over there on the right. (if you're RSSing this, it's here) . It's a hell of a mess. I'll clean it up later; I'm tired.

The point is: some of you have asked where I want to go. Here are some of the places. Some of them are a pipe dream, some of them are very easy, and conveniently they're all in a straight line.

I get a buzz just hearing some of these places' names.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a ... blog.

If you say "I'm going to go travel for a year", most people would probably say something along the lines of "wow!" ... except other travel bloggers, in which case they say "only a year?" Yep. Only a year.

The "why" is mostly curiosity, the "how" is: save up some money and then travel. When? In a year, for a year. Who: just me (although you're quite welcome to join me for any part you'd like). The "what" and "where", though, are the most interesting.

I've started a map of some places I maybe want to go. It makes a nice diagonal line across the globe, Southeast Asia to Eastern Europe. It's all very preliminary though, so I'm looking for recommendations. This kind of ties in with the "what" too, as "sightseeing for a year" wouldn't be productive, fun, or satisfying. A few plans I've been kicking around:

- spend a month in each of nine cities. In each one, set out a programming (Android?) project goal for myself.
- same thing, 2 months in each of four cities.
- plan a series of cool things I'd really like to do, or places to go; traveling alone will take a lot of this time.
- do some research along the way. This fits in well with grad school plans.
- really don't worry about it.