Monthly Archives: July 2012

Securing Visas for our Trip

Truth be told, there are only a few things that one must do before embarking on a Round The World trip. Don’t misunderstand: there are boatloads of tasks that one probably should do to ensure an easier, lower-drama journey with minimal hassles. But one mandatory need that should be set before showing up at the airport is making sure that Visa and Entry Documents are all set.

Handy Visa GuideBy our math, our itinerary is sending us to at least twenty-three separate countries. We wanted to avoid any surprises and make sure we’re set lllllooong before arriving at customs. Lots of research ensued. The State Department has a handy, easy to navigate, up-to-date website that clearly lists the policies for Americans visiting just about every nation. We were delighted to find that the vast majority of countries we’re visiting have a similar policy: No advance paperwork or fee required for a 90 day tourist visa issued upon entry with a valid US Passport. Since we’re not planning on working or spending anywhere near 90 days in any one nation, this makes it easy breezy.

As with all things, there are a few exceptions. In remote and geographically isolated New Zealand, we’re told that officials often check that you have a round-trip or onward ticket (i.e. – a way to leave once your visa expires). They also check to see if you have funds to cover your time in New Zealand. Both Argentina and Chile have recently adopted a fee that reciprocates US Policy. In short, every American has to pay a $130 “Entry Fee” (not a Visa fee) as a sort of equalizing measure for what the United States government charges their citizens to enter America. Note that this Entry Fee is only collected at major International Airports. Sneaky, Sneaky. Therefore savvy tourists could enter through bordering countries.  Lastly, we learned that you seem to need passport sized photos for just about everything. Get a bunch because agency after agency keeps requesting them. Update:  just found out that it looks like the fee has gone up to $160. Joy.

In the end, there were only three countries that required us to secure Visas in advance of our visit: Vietnam, China and Russia.

Securing the Vietnam visa was a simple and intriguing process. We visited the Vietnamese Consulate in New York City which is right across the street from the United Nations in a non-descript office with other foreign government offices. Once in the office, we were directed to fill out some long forms that asked us to explain (in great detail) the nature of our visit.  They took our pictures, took our money (cash only), and told us they would have the Visas ready in a week. At first, they asked us to leave our passports behind, but we pushed back on that request a bit without a problem. In the end, the staff might have been a bit cold and not exactly helpful if you’re seeking any tourist info, but they got the job done efficiently and easily.  One week later, we picked up the visas and had them stapled into our passport. Total cost: $160 for both of us. In retrospect, we’re glad that we were physically in New York City and able to deal with the staff face-to-face. We are pretty sure that made things much easier.

The Russia and China Visa process were far more complicated but also a lot more interesting. They are deserving of their own blog posts that will be coming later this week.

We’re looking forward to having well-used passports stamped with the colors of the rainbow by the time we arrive home in November.

-Phil

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Categories: Customs, Doccuments, Packing, Permits, Trip Prep | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

International Driver’s License

Among the numerous “important documents” that we’ve amassed for our trip, the easiest to secure was the International Driving Permit. Fancy sounding, yes? The permit sounds more impressive than it actually is. I’d love to weave a fancy tale about how getting the license required me to meet up with a strict driving instructor named Sven who insisted I demonstrate International driving technique inside a 1992 stick shift Yugo. The truth is that it was a simple fifteen minute visit to AAA.

International Driver's Permit 2012

First, some background on what the International Driving Permit is. The permit works in conjunction with a valid US driver’s license but cannot be used for driving in the United States alone. The signed & stamped permit contains a number of pages in a number of languages that basically say the same thing: “The owner of this permit is legally certified to drive in his/her country and therefore should be allowed to drive in yours.” Since a car rental office in Ulaanbaatar likely can’t tell a US license from a library card, this gives us some legitimate street cred. The permit is widely recognized and good in over 150 countries.

The permit is good for a year from a start date of the owner’s choosing. The fee is a mere $15.00 and the application process is simple; all you need is a passport photo and your current license.  The permit is about the size of a passport, so a bit too big for the wallet but it is light and folds easily.

There are a few ways to secure the permit in the states, but a visit to a local AAA office is likely the easiest.  I stopped at the only AAA office in New York City a few weeks back. Although my AAA membership apparently expired last year, they were happy to assist. Oddly enough, almost everyone else in the office was also getting the same permit.  It is also odd that there is just one true AAA office in New York City, but that’s neither here nor there.

We’ve gotten some feedback regarding how much we’ll actually need the permit. Some have said that many places will probably just rent to us with our trusty New York state license.  But we subscribe to the better safe than sorry policy. Plus, this can serve as one more Picture ID as needed. We should be all set. Now we just need to get “Life is a Highway” on our iPhone so we can jam as we steer our Yugo down the Romanian Highway.

-Phil

Categories: Doccuments, Driving, Packing, Permits, Transportation, Trip Prep | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

International Teacher Identification Card

Some of you may remember AIESEC from when you were in college—this was the organization where all of your friends who love to drink would host (party with) the foreign students who were studying at your university.  They also went on a lot of awesome trips abroad—again, mostly as an excuse to drink beer from many different countries.  Lucky for us, not only does being a student garner these benefits, so does being a teacher.

Okay, so it isn’t quite the same as in college.  For our RTW trip, I have procured an International Teacher Identity Card (ITIC).  The ITIC the grown up version of the ISIC and the similar AIESEC .  In order to get this card, I had to go to STA Travel, prove that I am currently a full time teacher (I failed to tell them that I was quitting my job for my travels), and pay a measly $25.00.  After a couple of weeks, voila!  My card was in the mail.

Teacher Discount Card for World Travel!

Of course the important question is:  What is the point of getting the card?  Well, it actually offers a number of benefits:

  1. It is proof that I am a teacher and in many places around the world, they actually respect and revere this profession, therefore offering a wide array of discounts and opportunities.  Many museums and major tourist attractions offer educator discounts and there are even occasional discounts on transportation.  Since we’re traveling on a budget, we’ll take any discounts we can get!
  2. It can be used as a pre-paid MasterCard.  We aren’t planning on using it in this way because we have other ways of accessing our money. But we could load money onto this card and access it easily from any ATM or use it like a credit card.
  3. The ITIC offers a very small amount of travel insurance that comes along with having the card.  It is not our primary source for travel insurance, but it offers some nice supplementary coverage.
  4. It is yet another form of photo identification that could be used in place of something else.  For example, if we rent bikes in Copenhagen and have to leave ID behind to ensure we return the bicycles, we could leave this rather than our driver’s license or passport. The thought of leaving those makes me a bit nervous.

Visiting the classroom in RTWReally though, what I’m hoping this card will help me do is to talk my way into different schools around the world.  It will be proof that I am a teacher and make me seem like less of a weirdo when I go barging into some middle school in New Zealand asking if I can observe a class or talk to some of their teachers (after all, New Zealand is ranked #2 in the world for reading scores…I could learn so much).  I am so excited by the prospect of seeing other schools and meeting other educators.  We will be visiting my cousin Gaye, who has been teaching middle school in Japan for the past 30 years.  Her first day of school is while we are there. Sure, she teaches at an American Air Base, but still: how cool to see their beginning-of-the-year routines.  Hopefully my ITIC card will help me get my foot in the door!

-Brooke

Categories: Budget, Discounts, Doccuments, New Zealand, Packing, Teaching, Trip Prep | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

New Zealand and The Olympics

As with many things, timing is playing a big role in our Round the World Trip. In this case, the timing is presenting a unique situation for us to watch the 2012 Summer Olympics from another country’s point of view. Specifically, New Zealand, which is where we will be stationed for the duration of the games.

Every four years (every two if you count the winter games), I’ve watched the triumphs and trials of the Olympics through a decidedly American lens. Catching the ubiquitous and never-aging Bob Costas deliver endless profiles of American athletes who have overcome adversity to be on this grand stage. It is cool. It is inspiring to cheer for the red, white and blue. It gets the heart racing from time to time. But it also gets a tad predictable.

Go Kiwis!We are really eager to see how the Olympics are presented & televised from another country’s viewpoint.  The New Zealand National Team is sending roughly 1/3rd as many athletes as the United States is sending. For a country that has approximately 1% of the population that the United States does (4 million as opposed to 314 million), that’s not too shabby.  They have 185 men and women competing in 15 sports.

In 2004 and 2008, New Zealand won medals in Rowing, Cycling, Sailing and Canoeing; all events in which they are perpetually favorites. I can name the entire US Men’s Basketball Team and many on the US Men’s Swimming Team, but I don’t know a single thing about how one earns a gold medal in Canoeing. I’m assuming it takes more than not flipping over the canoe, but it is a world I know nothing about. I’m excited at the prospect of finding myself in a Kiwi bar collectively yelling with others at the TV at 2:00 AM (due to the London time difference) cheering on the New Zealand Sailing Team race towards the finish line. Man, we have a lot of exciting things to look forward to on this tip.

On a related note, I’m also hoping that while abroad, I can finally learn what in blue blazes the game of Cricket is all about.

Categories: Diversions, New Zealand, Sports | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Final Packing

A couple days before we left NYC, we made one last trip back to Paragon Sports at 867 Broadway just north of Union Square to pick up some final gear for the trip. We keep getting sucked back into the store like moths to a flame. Paragon keeps surprising us with an incredibly knowledgeable staff, impressive selection and price matching offers. Miles from Backpacks set me up with a nice Northface daypack to carry around and Zach from shoes helped me select my first pair of Tevas in years. Found out that they are actually pronounced “Tev (as in Bev)-as.” And Teva actually means “nature” in Hebrew. See? Full of knowledge. We can’t recommend Paragon enough. It’s a great place

Both Paragon and Eastern Mountain Sports have set us up with some versatile, good looking shirts, pants and shorts. Staples that are quick drying, wrinkle free and sweat wicking. The other night, we shopped until they closed down the store, checked off some final items on our list and gave the credit card even more action. Still waiting on my bank to give me a call and ask what exactly has been going on lately. We also stocked up on travel essentials: Ear plugs, clothes line and this Sea to Summit Dry Lite crazy towel. And the challenge from this pair of quick drying underwear? You’re on! Now we have jjjjjuuusssttt about everything we need.

6 Weeks and One Pair of Underwear?

Nevertheless, shopping has been a bit hard because we don’t know precisely what we need. We’ve been going on best advice and things we’ve read. Adding to our indecision, we caught European Travel Guru Rick Steves on TV the other night reflecting on his one itty-bitty backpack that he takes on every trip and that it is all anyone should ever need. That did a great job of making us fear that we’re packing too much. But the bottom line: we won’t know till we get halfway around the globe, which is half the fun yet half the stress as well.

Also what has made it a touch difficult is that, in general, I’m not that big on spending money on clothes. In a dream world, I would simply spend five minutes tossing everything I like into a suitcase and go. Including the ridiculous polyester shirt with dice on it that displeases my wife and that I actually do own. But then I would be unprepared and look like an idiot. It’s strange: I can spend $260 for two visas on a country that I’m visiting for five days, but balk at the same costs for some great clothes I’m going to wear for four months. Dumb. But, I’m coming around. Now that the final outfits are set, I’m kinda looking forward to wearing them from Singapore to Santiago. Just be patient when you see a lot of pictures of Brooke and I in similar looking outfits week after week. Hey, for all you know, we’re just standing in front a green screen every few days with a different background.

-Phil

Categories: Clothes, Packing, Trip Prep | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

PODS Success!

As I stated in an earlier post, I was incredibly worried about fitting our entire apartment into a PODS unit.  For weeks in advance of our PODS arriving, I was mildly obsessed about loading everything up.  Not only was I worried about everything fitting, I was also scared we wouldn’t have enough help to get it done in 4 hours.  After all, we were doing this on a Tuesday morning when most of our friends would be working.  In fact, I even had a nightmare about loading the PODS and it was a total disaster.  Clearly, this was preoccupying my brain.

Luckily, there was no need for me to worry.  I can say with 100% confidence, loading the PODS was a total success.  First of all, they arrived on time which is always a good thing when you have recruited outside help.  They even called about 15 minutes before arrival to let us know they’d be there.  PODS offers a special city service that requires the driver, ours was David, to stay with the truck.  He was really knowledgeable and offered a lot of helpful hints and advice.  As soon as he opened the door, I breathed a sigh of relief.  I knew immediately we would have enough space, but the challenge would be organization and working efficiently to get done in the 4 hour “city service” time limit.  We had managed to recruit 4 of our friends, Dan and Dean (both who work, but didn’t have to go in until later) and Melinda and Violet (both teachers with the summers off).

PODS with David

David suggested we load all boxes first, but I didn’t listen and decided to start with some of the bigger furniture and fill in with boxes.  I should have listened to him.  He watches people load these things all the time—he knows!  But, I got cocky and decided to do it my way.  It worked, but as it filled up it got a little bit tricky and ended up less neatly organized that I would have preferred.   One of the really great things was that there was a lift on the end of the truck where we could just stand with the heavy stuff and David would raise us from the ground.  That was awesome for some of the bigger pieces and saved some difficult lifting onto the bed of the truck.

It may not have ended up as pretty as I would have liked, but, in the end, we made it all fit!  It took us about 2 and ½ hours.  We were so impressed with our hardworking friends—everyone said that it went so much easier than they expected.  Yay!

Done and Done!Now, our stuff is on its own adventure on the way to be stored in Louisville. (I sometimes like to imagine Toy Story scenario where everything comes to life and has its own storyline when there are no humans around.) As for the security of our items, they are locked in with two of our own padlocks and we keep the keys.  David cautioned us to make sure we do not lose the keys because replacing the door is some ridiculous amount of money.   When I asked him why we couldn’t just cut the locks, he said cutting them without damaging the door is virtually impossible.  Yikes!  The warning scared us enough that we are keeping the keys in a very safe spot.  As added security, he also had me sign an orange plastic label connected to a zip-tie.  This way when we receive our items we will know that no one has been inside the unit.

Now, we are able to track our PODS as it makes its way to Louisville where it will wait until we need it again.  I’d say the whole thing was a resounding success.  I guess the real test will be when we open it up and see if our stuff made it in one piece.  Hopefully it did, but if it didn’t…well, it’s all just stuff.  We have too much of that anyway!

–Brooke

Categories: Moving, Packing, PODS, Storage, Trip Prep | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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