That's All Folks!

By: leelefever on January 6, 2007 - 12:04pm

Dear reader, this dispatch concludes a 2 year odyssey for us – 1 year of preparation and 1 year of international travel.  And so it ends with one last dispatch before this site is frozen in time. 

Before we say goodbye, we want to remind you that a trip like this is something you can do too.  We often hear statements like “I wish I could do a trip like that” or “I could never do that now”.  Our message is that you can do it if you’re willing to make the trip a priority in your life.  The hardest part is mental – convincing yourself that a year of travel is a realistic and achievable goal.  Once you’re convinced, good long-term planning accounts for everything else.  It may not happen next year of or in five years, but the key is to start planning now. You’ll be surprised at how things fall into place.

  • Step 1: Set a realistic departure date (this enables you to plan ahead) and stick to it
  • Step 2: Alter your lifestyle to start saving money responsibly
  • Step 3: Tell your friends and family (a little peer pressure does wonders)

If you need help, we wrote a lot about our preparation and what we called “The Monetorium” – a change in lifestyle built around financing your next big adventure.  Further, you can always contact us with questions. 

Lastly, we want to extend an earth-sized thank you to the friends, family and readers who made us feel at home where ever we were.  Your comments, emails and advice gave us more support than we can put into words.  We hope that, through this web site, our trip became your trip too.

Is Japan Expensive for Tourists?

By: leelefever on June 11, 2006 - 2:57am

Like many travelers, we understood that Japan would be an expensive place in which to travel.  After spending a month in the country, we’d like to provide our perspectives on how much travel costs for tourists in Japan.  All prices are in American dollars.

In visiting any country as a tourist there are 5 costs that must be considered: 

  1. Arrival - The cost of getting there (and leaving)
  2. In-Country Transportation- The cost of moving around within the country
  3. Lodging- The cost of having a place to sleep each night
  4. Food and Alcohol- Keeping the belly full
  5. Tourist Activities- Seeing and Doing

Unfortunately, the first 3 of the 5 costs for Japan are likely the highest you’ll pay in almost any country- but there are some ways around the high expense.


  1. Arrival – It is generally expensive to fly into Japan from anywhere in the world.  However, there are places in the world that serve as major hubs and you may find that departing from these hubs can reduce the costs. We bought a round trip ticket from Bangkok to Tokyo for about $650 per person, even during Japan’s holiday season (Golden Week- April 25th- May 5th).  We hadn’t seen any tickets under $1,000 other than the ones we purchased.  The best advice is to plan ahead, be prepared and jump on any tickets that are below your expectations.
  1. In-Country Transportation - This one is an absolute no-brainer.  Japan has an amazingly safe, efficient and comfortable rail system that serves almost the whole country.  If you plan to travel to more than one or two cities it is essential that you purchase a “Japan Rail Pass” or “JR Pass”.  You must get the JR Pass before you leave - you CANNOT get one in Japan. The JR Pass web site has listings for ticket agents worldwide.  We bought a standard 14 day pass for $391 per person.  That seems like a lot, but once you start seeing how much inter-city train travel costs, you’ll be glad you have the pass.  For instance, a one way trip from Tokyo to Kyoto on the Shinkansen bullet train costs about $200 per person.  We figure that our JR Pass paid for itself within the first week of our trip.  Taxis are rather costly too and we took them very rarely.  In Tokyo, the charges start at about $5 and can quickly rise to over $50 on a late night trip home (subways stop around midnight). Further, most major cities have subways (not covered by the JR Pass) that cost $1-$3 point-to-point
  1. Lodging – Tourist lodging in Japan can be a complex mix of western rooms vs. Japanese style rooms, regular hotels vs. business hotels, ryokans vs. hotels and hostels.  Hostels offer the lowest rates ($20-50 per person) and the high end reaches to thousands of dollars.  On the whole, staying in hotels in Japan is an expensive affair, with 2-3 star western-style rooms costing $70 per night or more for two people. Often there are different prices for the number of people, enabling a single traveler to find a cheaper room.  For $80-$120 you get the regular hotel amenities (TV, A/C, bathroom, tea, breakfast, etc.) along with some Japanese treats like a yukata (robe), slippers, a shoe horn, disposable toothbrush, etc.  Near most train stations are “business hotels” which lack character, but have convenient locations, basic amenities (plus in-room Internet connection) and a decent price.  We found business hotels to be useful and easy for our travels in Japan and usually paid between $60-$80 per night.  If you want the Japanese experience of staying in a ryokan (traditional Japanese traveller’s lodge), we suggest going to a nice one and paying the $200 for the whole experience.
  1. Food and Alcohol - Aside from the basics listed above there are other costs that should be considered.  Food, of course, tops the list.  Food is one thing in Japan that offers a number of choices for different travelers.  It is possible to eat street-side noodles or a rice bowl meal for less than $4 dollars and then walk around the corner to a tempura restaurant that is $100 per person. Like many things in Japan, you pay for the experience.  Also, as a TwinF member mentioned, there are great choices in the convenience stores, like 7-11, which have delectable sushi rolls for about $2.  We found nearly all food, cheap or expensiv,e to be delicious, fresh and of high quality.  Also, you will surely drink your weight in Japanese tea, which is generally served free of charge.  The Japanese must consume more beer per capita than any other country.  Beer is sold everywhere and the prices are quite reasonable, depending on your drinking habits. A can of beer is usually about $2 from a vending machine and a draft beer in a restaurant is about $3-4.  Sake is also very popular and the prices vary widely based on reputation and quality, like wine.
  1. Tourist Activities - One of the wonderful things about Japan is that by simply being there, your tourist ambitions are fulfilled.  Walking the streets, riding the trains and sitting in parks all offer the tourist a view into the quirky and entertaining culture – free of charge.  You will pay for entrance into castles, some temples and shrines, etc.  These are usually between $5-10 per person. On the whole though, tourist activities in Japan are not prohibitively expensive and the most rewarding things are free.

So, to answer the question: Is Japan Expensive?  We would say yes.  We spent about $200-250 per day, all inclusive.   Compared to a place like Thailand, Japan is 3-4 times more expensive on a day-to-day basis.  But, the expense is the cost of admission to experience a truly unique, sophisticated and beautiful country that is extremely safe, clean and very rich in culture.  It was well worth our money.



Filed Under: | | |

Hire a Driver in Sri Lanka

By: sachilefever on March 12, 2006 - 4:18am

Note: We worked with two drivers and tour guides in Sri Lanka and whole-heartedly recommend them both.

To contact and learn more about the drivers in this post and view pictures of them, go here: Honest Drivers and Guides in Sri Lanka

Because other travelers love Mervyn Perera's service and want to help him, I'm collecting reviews about his tours here.

We’ve learned from several sources that Sri Lanka is not for the shoestring traveler – those who spend around US$15 day or less on travel expenses. But it is great for those who are tired of spending $100US/night and having dinner bills of $30US/person.

This our driver, Mervin, showing us how to drink from a King Coconut:

We were looking for a good way to see the major cities, cultural sites, beaches and wildlife of Sri Lanka in just 9 days, and read that it was just not possible to see all that we wanted using public buses and trains. The schedules were unreliable, the pace was very slow and it would be a headache to find the hotels and sights with most signage in Sinhalese etc. Plus, Sri Lanka has a history of being a bit unsafe. So we hired a driver based on a first-hand recommendation and it has turned out to be a great decision.

Here’s what US$90 per day includes for both of us.

  • Modern 4 door sedan with A/C and a full gas tank each morning
  • English-speaking, honest and safe driver available to us 24 hrs/day (includes his R&B)
  • Pick-up and drop-off at the airport
  • Lodging at mid-range and top-end hotels and guest houses
  • Sit-down breakfasts each morning
  • All entry fees to parks, museums, temples and tourist spots (between $3 and $40 each)
  • All expenses for an afternoon wildlife safari (entry fees, Land Rover & driver, tracker guide – about US$80)
  • 3 expert English-speaking guides to the 3 ancient cities
  • Full itinerary/tour planning for the 9 days

What is not so obvious makes this decision very worthwhile:

  • A local driver to explain the colonial history, politics, local etiquette, scams, and local street vendor snacks like King Coconut freshly cut with a machete
  • Someone to set us heading in the right direction and watch our bags during every activity – the car is never out of his sight
  • Someone to make all reservations and sort out any issues
  • Complete independence from tour busses or vans – it’s just Lee and me
  • No need for road navigation so we can enjoy the sights
  • Comfortable rides in A/C where public transport squeezes 17 people in a 7 person van – no A/C of course
  • Flexibility to change a day’s schedule on a whim – very important when your stomach isn’t doing so well or you’re tired from the day’s hike

To this expense, add a few tips here and there, and lunch and dinner for two (less than US$20 total) and you have a great trip to Sri Lanka. We know we could have paid $75-80 per day instead and seen less sights or gambled more on our driver, but it’s worth the few dollars extra when the reliability and service we have is impeccable.

What about the adventure of figuring it out for ourselves? Yes, we factored that in when we made our decision. We like the adventure, but with so little time here we wanted to make the most of it, and as Lee mentioned earlier, we’re not 20-year old backpackers and are greatly appreciating the A/C six degrees from the equator.

You can learn more about our driver and his contact information on this post.

Standing in Line for the Monetorium, Cairns, Queensland Australia

By: sachilefever on February 24, 2006 - 1:01am

The game is on folks! We decided for this very rainy evening on a movie at the big mall in central Cairns. We haven’t seen very many previews or trailers, and we have been noticing that movies and TV series are released later here than in the US, so off we went to check out the selection. We stood in line and asked the clerk about Munich showings – it was only showing during the day, not in the evenings. Why?

So we discussed it and stood in line a second time. We went for Derailed with Jenifer Aniston and I’m not sure who the main actor was. AUD$29 (US$22). What? A ticket was $14.50. I couldn’t believe it, but bought the tickets anyway. Maybe that’s Cairns. We must have lost the Monetorium game tonight.

We then had a few hours before the movie so we walked around the food court of the mall. At the last stall, an Indian place was offering a meal and movie deal. Instead of paying $14.50 for a movie, we could get a meal, drink AND a movie ticket for $16. Don’t forget I could have leftovers for breakfast too. We were in. Only…we already had tickets…could we get the tickets we purchased earlier refunded? I didn’t want to buy the package if we couldn’t get a refund!

The third time standing in line we realized we met up with the same clerk again – she laughed and with a confused shrug helped us with the refund. Okay, now we can get the meal deal with the movie passes. The curry was good and we ate before we stood in line for the fourth time to use our new passes with full tummies.

Mystery Milk

By: leelefever on February 15, 2006 - 2:28am

Mystery Milk, originally uploaded by LeeLeFever_TwinF.

Just like home, you find your basic cheap hotel on the outskirts of any town in Australia. After practically being berated by a woman at the A&A hotel down the street, we ended up at the Whitsunday Palms Hotel in Proserpine, Queensland, Australia (it has AC - YAY!).

The older gentleman running the place is skinny and tattooed in the way that reminded me of a WWII vet. He and his little white yippy dog welcomed us with the normal but more charming motel spiel.

Even before we paid, he said "Oh, let me get you some fresh milk" and came back with a metal cream server filled with cold milk, and covered with a rather dainty weighted doiley (pictured above) as if was as normal as the room key which he had yet to provide.

I said nothing, but gathered the key, paperwork and my new cup of milk and walked out to join Sachi, with a silly grin on my face that I'm sure said - well, this is something new.

The best we figure, it's for coffee or tea, even though there are milk packs in the mini-fridge. All I could think about was how well the new milk will go with my value packs of cereal in the morning.

From Minimizing to Maximizing

By: leelefever on November 30, 2005 - 11:29am

So, for these last couple of weeks, I think the monetorium is slipping a bit.  We used to be concerned with the question of whether to maximize and take advantage of home, eating, drinking and experiencing all we can, or minimizing and prepare for a different lifestyle.

I’d say we’re switching into a maximalist mode as things seem to have this use-it-or-lose it quality.  We’re constrained of course, but much more likely to join friends for dinner, have a cocktail at our favorite places and take advantage of what home has to offer.

In some ways, with work mostly behind us, the trip has begun and is currently focused on experiencing the people and places of our home is Seattle.

Every Penny Counts, Literally

By: leelefever on November 28, 2005 - 1:26pm

Last night we marked a few more things off the to-do list and one of which was counting an old stash of spare change. It always amazes me how quickly miscellaneous coinage can build up over time.

Once we were done, we had about $120 in spare change, plus casino chips, foreign currency and a driving range token.   
Do you know what $120 can buy in India or Thailand? 

 Of course, we didn't waste money with Coinstar, those machines in grocery stores that count the money and take a %.  It took us about 30 minutes to package all the coins in the little sleeves.  Every little bit counts when you live the monetorium.

Filed Under: | | |

Making Extra Passport Photos

By: leelefever on November 21, 2005 - 9:33pm

We've read that it's smart to take extra passport photos on a trip around the world, mainly because visas often require photos and having them with you can be a way to save time and money.  So, tonight we made our own passport photos. 

If you're going to make passport photos, it's important to know about the government guidelines.  This page is very helpful.  Here is a good tutorial too.

 As you can see on the left we had problem with light, or lack thereof, but in the end we were able to print them on photo paper on our home printer.

We're taking 24 pictures each, which should last us for a while.  Also, you might remember to save the file that contains the photos in an accessible place on the Web while you're on the road. 


Boat Drinks

By: leelefever on November 18, 2005 - 9:37pm

I think we're getting a little stir crazy.  We have 23 days before we leave and the monetorium is in full effect, so we're not going out.  Sachi mentioned that we got a handy-dandy blender for our wedding and have some rum in the cabinet.  So, we decided to make it a dark Seattle November Friday night at home- with Boat Drinks.


 Everything we know about Boat Drinks, we learned from Stephen Gwyn's Boat Drinks page.


Boat drinks are drinks that are drunk on a boat. Or near a boat. Or while wishing you were on a boat. Or near someone who is wishing they were on a boat. They tend to be colourful, sometimes too colourful. They tend to have fruit in them. The tend to taste almost, but not quite, booze-less and they tend to pack a hidden wallop.

As a general (but not infallible) rule boat drinks have two main ingredients:  Rum and A paper umbrella.

We call tonight "practice", sans paper umbrellas.

To Minimize or Maximize

By: leelefever on November 15, 2005 - 9:27pm

People have asked a lot what it feels like a month before this all begins.  We’ve been thinking about that too.  What does it feel like?

There are different ways to look at the situation over the next few weeks.  We could begin to wean ourselves from our daily rituals and work to ease the transition through practice.  We could minimize and prepare.

Or, we could live life trying to take advantage of every minute of our blissful domestic existence.  We could maximize and take it all in.

Our dog Amos is one example with an easy answer.  If we minimized, we could start to disengage a bit and try to get ourselves prepared for missing him.  That’s not too doable, so we’re going for the full-on maximizing- trying to take advantage of every minute.  He is more spoiled all the time.

Knowing that our food choices will be limited and we will long for the comfort of our home choices of food, we’re faced with a similar decision.  We could start experimenting with more healthy and practical options, minimizing our normal diet in preparation. Or, we could gorge ourselves on the food, meals and places we love and hope that it will help us appreciate their existence.  The way it’s looking so far, we’re appreciating the existence of a lot of home comforts, but not gorging, per se.

We’ve been thinking about Seattle (and the surrounding area) and how we can make it part of the trip by taking a look at it as a tourist would.  I’d love to maximize Seattle before we leave, but minimizing would save money and make more time for preparation.

Just tonight I was buying milk and remembered learning that people often miss having milk on long international trips.  I considered maximizing and going for the whole milk, but reconsidered and stuck with the 1%.

We could start to let go of our media habits by minimizing TV consumption and non-productive computer time. Or, we could take advantage of the media access and veg out with the TiVo while we can. 

It’s all about philosophy I suppose.  I think we’ll have a healthy mix of minimizing and maximizing with a leaning on the maximizing side.  It may make the transition a bit more harsh, but we’ll have peace of mind that we considered it and did what we wanted.

Syndicate content