Sunday, July 31, 2011

I'm leaving on Thursday on a train, and some info about driveaways

A "driveaway" is where someone needs a car moved from A to B, so you drive it for them. It sounds like a great way to get from point A to point B! Here's how you can set one up:

- find a friend of a friend who needs a car moved. This is ideal.
- post on a rideshare board, like, saying that you're looking for a driveaway.
- post on craigslist or something; I never got this to work so I don't know how's best to do so.
- go through a company called Auto Driveaway. They maintain (to put it generously) this site, and if you find a car you want to drive, call them up and work out the details.

The friend of a friend is best, because if you work this out with a stranger, there's no real official way to do it, so you kind of have to trust each other. The car owner's insurance will cover the driver, and you could try signing some kind of contract to work out the details, but no guarantees.

Auto Driveaway is great in theory, but in practice it's a bit sketchy. I noticed 3 cars listed online, so I called them up to find that those 3 were gone but there were 2 more available, and I agreed to drive one to Chicago. A few days later, I called back to find that that car was unavailable (a week before I planned to leave), but I could try to call back on Monday about another car going to Virginia.

More details about working with Auto Driveaway: generally, the driver has to pay the gas. They'll let you drive any route within 20% of the most efficient route (so if you're going Seattle-Chicago, which would be about 2000 miles direct, you can go 2400 miles) and they'll let you take up to 10 days. And if you're calling up Auto Driveaway Seattle, Tiffany is super friendly; Scott is rather... direct.

If you're willing to deal with the sketchiness, unafraid of having to deal with them if the car breaks down or something else unfortunate happens, and super flexible with your travel dates (i.e. you can just pick up and leave whenever), maybe doing a driveaway would be great! As it is, I am not.

This is a long way of saying, I was going to do this epic road trip, but now I'm instead going to do an epic train trip. Thursday-Saturday on the Empire Builder to Chicago, stay a couple days with Dave and Erik in Chicago, and then on to Cleveland on Tuesday. The wheels are getting in motion! The ignition sequence has begun! All around the world, here we go!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sitting in the "real" Seattle, before setting out to the "fake" India

From the Atlantic: "What makes a place 'real'?"

When you say "I want to get to know the 'real' New York" or London or Paris or whatever, you're probably saying "I want to be an insider there", and you probably don't.

I follow the Couchsurfing Seattle message board. Probably about once a day, someone posts "Hey, I'm traveling through Seattle, want to recommend some places that are the 'real' Seattle? I'm not interested in touristy things, I'm more interested in the offbeat stuff, you know, off the beaten path, really just want to get to know what Seattle is actually like."

Dear all of these people: I guess what you're saying is "I want to get to know some people there." And Couchsurfing is indeed one of the best ways to do that, as far as I can tell. The people you're likely to meet are among the more outgoing folks, and you're likely to make short-term, shallow friendships. This is all fine. Know that that is what you're asking for.

Because if you "want to know the real Seattle," you want to be an insider here. And to be an insider here, almost by definition, you have to live here. Get a job, find an apartment, every week go do something you don't like in order to spend some time with people you think you might like. And there are opportunity costs to this! This is probably not what you want, especially if you're just on vacation.

"But for people whose place was once in the center, accepting a narrative that places them somewhere else is a tough adjustment." You'll likely want to feel like an insider, even if you can't be one. Here's my challenge to you: be honest with yourself, realize that you are asking to be an insider, and accept that you are not. There's no shame in that. And when you realize that that is all you want, it'll be easier to let it go.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Insurance. Do you know about it?

I've been advised to get some travel insurance. Seems reasonable. (and by that I mean, seems unreasonable, but it seems like the kind of thing I ought to think is reasonable.)

I guess I'll also need some health insurance for 3 months, because I turn 26 (and thus am off my mom's health plan) in May, and don't start grad school (where presumably I could get on the university's plan) until August.

Here's the thing. Travel insurance covers crazy emergency illnesses, loss of limbs, repatriation of remains*, etc. That's the only thing I'm worried about anyway- if I get a tummyache I'll deal with it myself. Could I get by with just travel insurance until August? Or does that mean I'm "off the rails", there's a gap in my Official American Health Insurance Coverage, and things get difficult or expensive when I try to sign up again?

* This means "if you die we fly your body back home". Why is this such a big deal? If I die, bury me wherever I am! Geez.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Again, mostly quiet, except for buying things

We are at T-minus-one-month-and-nine-days for liftoff. Things that are happening in the Dan-planning-travel world:

- Iran: I'm starting to work with a travel agent to plan a trip to Iran. Man, that place is expensive too! Well, mostly because you either have to go with a tour group, which means you're not exactly couchsurfing, or pay for a guide too, on the order of $80/day. Looking like I'll probably spend about 10 days, eat another big chunk of my travel budget, and try not to worry about it. But man, check this out; sounds amazing, eh?

- Gear: I've spent the last week and a half living out of my bag and washing my clothes in the sink every night. Things I have learned:
1. Quick-dryingness is the most important attribute of clothing. Particularly, clothes must dry if I hang them up for 8 hours. And most techy clothing is made of synthetic stuff (i.e. polyester) or merino wool; merino is warmer, stinkproofier, and arguably more comfortable, while synthetics dry faster and last longer. Synthetic it is.
2. This is surprisingly fun! I don't miss the variety of wearing different clothes. Nobody else notices either.
3. My old travel pants looked, to just about everyone, like space pants. I've got some new travel pants, and damn are they slick. Well, I don't know if they're actually slick, but they're very me.
More updates on the gear to follow.

- "What am I going to do on this trip?" remains a question. Artificially imposing a theme sounds like a bad idea, but at the same time, I'm a little scared of going on vacation for a year. Consuming-life is a dead end; it's important to be practicing, helping, and/or creating as well.
Some things that sound kind of interesting:
1. Dig in to the meditation more. This is promising, in that it really helps the whole theme of my life. Plus, India, y'know? I've scheduled a 3-day meditation class at this center in Ladakh. It's a start.
2. Stuff your rucksack. Maybe as a quite light traveler, I could help a few different places by bringing an extra bag full of stuff.
3. Geocaching. And by that I mean, exploring more, with geocaching as an excuse. For example, there's this cache by the Alchi Gompa in Ladakh. Without the cache, I'm just looking at a bunch of different temples, and why visit one instead of the other? With it, I'll remember the Alchi Gompa more than most. Creating mental texture with arbitrary guideposts.
4. Juggle some. This never hurts.

Edit: this post from the "Other Guy's Dime" blog appeared in a rather timely fashion. It feels applicable here: throwing off the (golden) shackles of corporate America is great, but if that's all that's guiding your trip, ... well, it's a negative definition. Not that I'm going to build a positive definition out of juggling and carrying things, but the more positively I can define things, the better.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Among other countries, I love this one

Happy Fourth!

Before I go off to India and other exotic locales, it looks like I'm going to get a chance to explore a bit of the USA, as I just coordinated with a fellow who'll let me transport his car across the country. Excellent!

Small-world side note: he's a potential future student of an old professor of mine. Also cool.

Time to plan this part of the trip. I'll probably have about 10 days. Things I'm thinking about this so far:
- Yes! I can keep my bike!
- I'm thinking of taking the northerly route across Washington, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Chicago, and then on to Cleveland. Not married to this route, though.
- I'd kinda like to see the Badlands. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance inspired me here.
- What if I took no interstates? I think that could be very cool. Interstates are boring. Or it might be madness. But Google Maps makes it seem feasible.

I'm open to suggestions! Have you done a trip like this yourself? Any ideas?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Malaria drugs.

There are 4 main ones that I know of: Malarone (Atovaquone/Proguanil), Doxycycline, Lariam (Mefloquine), and Chloroquine/Proguanil.

First, what areas will I be in? Let's check the CDC Map.
India (Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh) (September): No malaria. It is too high altitude, or too cold, or something. However, I'll be on my way to J&K for the first couple days of September, and I'll dip into Punjab between Kashmir and HP I think, so it would probably not be unwise to be taking something anyway.
India (all the rest of it) (Oct-Dec): lots of malaria! And it's Chloroquine-resistant.
Indonesia (Borneo) (January): Well, yes, in rural areas.
Australia (January): Nope.
Iran (February): assuming I'm flying into Tehran and leaving to Turkey, should be no problem. The Northwest only has occasional malaria in March-November.
Caucasus countries (February): only after May or June.
Turkey (March): just about none, except the southeast part.
Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine (Apr-May): none
Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan (Jun-Aug): none
Uzbekistan (Jun-Aug): "none reported in 2009"
Tajikistan (Jun-Aug): looks like there is some in the western parts.

Some other guides report even less malaria: Fit for Travel (UK)

Basically, I'll need about 4 months' worth of malaria drugs, for India and Indonesia.
Chloroquine/Proguanil: nah. Indian and Indonesian malaria is Chloroquine-resistant.
Malarone: I've used it before, had no side effects, all's well, it's okay for up to a year (or maybe 9-34 weeks? at least 6 months, anyway), etc. But it's expensive for a long stay: we're looking at maybe $800 for 120 tablets.
Doxycycline: is cheap: $30. You start taking it a couple days before and you take it for 4 weeks after you leave a malarial zone. You're not supposed to take it for... >4 months? >6 months? >2 years? No limit? Just about fine for me. Also can make you sun sensitive and/or your stomach upset.
Mefloquine: most of the ups and downs of Doxycycline, but with a few more side effects (vivid weird dreams- ooh! depression- ugh.) and a little more cost. Oh, and there's a little note about high altitude.

I wonder if my insurance would cover Malarone! Otherwise, Doxycycline sounds fine.

More info:
CDC short drug pros/cons lists
Consumer Reports in-depth drug guide