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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Traveling on the cheap(ish)

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how I (and the wife) travel.

Before I met the wife, I did a number of trips:

  1. Italy and Switzerland in 2009
  2. Peru in late 2009
  3. China, Taiwan, South Korea in 2008
  4. Australia and Fiji in 2006
  5. England in 2005

After the wife and I got married in 2011, we did a couple of expensive trips:

  1. New Zealand in 2011
  2. Southeast Asia in early 2012
  3. Argentina and Chile in late 2012

Those three trips were not cheap. We flew regular airfare, stayed in normal hotels (or Vacation Rental by Owner, VRBO), and bought food frequently at restaurants.

Since that time, we’ve done several other trips:

  1. Vienna, Austria and Prague, Czech Republic in 2013
  2. Turkey in 2014
  3. Eastern Europe in 2015
  4. Germany in early 2016
  5. France in late 2016
  6. Hawaii in early 2017

We’ve been much more successful in driving down our costs in the later years than in the earlier years (both when I was single or married).

How?

It’s done through multiple methods.

First, I get to travel for work.

I volunteer to go to conferences, but I also research them and present my bosses with the estimated cost, and the justification for why I should attend. I am also active in the email community so people know me, and they invite me to participate in panels or present at the conference.

When you are asked to present, and if I ask early enough to go, I usually get permission to attend. I understand work’s travel budgeting process, and I really am one of the best people from my team to attend. I bring a lot to the industry, and I bring a lot back.

This means that when me and the wife travel, my flight is covered, and at least part of the food and lodging is, too.

So that reduces part of the cost.

Second, we’ve gotten good at reducing flight costs in other ways.

If you sign up for a credit card, you often get a sign-up bonus of 25,000 to 50,000 (or even 100,000) bonus points once you spend a certain amount within 3 months, which is easy. Sometimes you get a free ticket, or travel companion ticket.

The wife and I have signed up for multiple credit cards over the past couple of years and taken advantage of the airline points (I even flew my sister down on airline points). That also helps to reduce the cost.

It hasn’t affected my credit rating, either. And since I no longer have a mortgage and have no plans to acquire more debt, even if it did I wouldn’t care (unless it meant I couldn’t get another card, but usually it means the interest rate is higher and that’s no problem because I pay in full each month).

That’s another way to reduce the cost of travel.

Third, we don’t stay in hotels most of the time.

For long term trips, nothing racks up your travel costs more than hotel bills. Whereas a flight may be $1000 for a trip to Europe, or $500 domestically, a hotel can run you $200-$250 per day in the United States and Europe. 5 days and you’ve exceeded your flight cost for overseas travel.

To get around this, we now use AirBNB. These are often 1/3 to 1/2 the cost of a hotel. This makes it much easier to slash the cost of your lodging (if you travel to see family, the cost is usually free; but you can’t go see family or friends everywhere you go, and you don’t want to overstay your welcome).

Fourth, the lodging can help reduce the food bill.

Part of the reason traveling is so expensive is that you have to pay for all of your meals, and that costs far more than when you are at home.

To get around this, we again leverage AirBNB. We will stay in places with a kitchen (if long-term) or provide breakfast. If it has a kitchen, we will frequently buy bread, milk, coffee, and fruit so we can eat breakfast in the hotel/AirBNB. Then we also sometimes pack a small lunch, although half the time we eat that are are still hungry by 1 pm.

Still, it reduces the overall cost of food by about 20%.


So there you have it. Using a combination of techniques, we’ve gotten good at international or long-haul domestic trips at keeping costs under control.

I was decent at it before, but we’re really good at it now.

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A few years ago when I was learning about architecture while we were in Europe, I picked up on various styles – Gothic style, Renaissance style, and Baroque style. I thought I was pretty smart for figuring this stuff out.

But this past year, I realized that I wasn’t entirely correct. Whereas I was right that Gothic is a style of architecture that is older than the others, the buildings in Europe that look Gothic are not always the oldest buildings around, they are neo-Gothic.

What do I mean?

Gothic cathedrals are characterized by tall windows that let lights in from certain angles. The following Gothic window is the remains of a church window in Budapest that was bombed in World War II, notice how long it is.

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Here’s another Gothic window in the side of a building in Poland, you can see the building has a high ceiling and a tall window:

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That’s the original, older Gothic style.

I would confuse the older style with the newer Gothic style. Below is a picture of Marienplatz in Munich. You can see all the intricate carvings, those are also Gothic:

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And the parliament house in Budapest, Hungary is similarly in neo-Gothic style:

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When I first saw neo-Gothic architecture, I was blown away because I thought “How could those medieval people have constructed such amazing buildings?”

Well, it’s because they didn’t. They may have started in the middle ages (like the Dom Cathedral in Cologne, Germany) but they didn’t finish then. Instead, during the mid-to-late 1800’s, Europe went through its Romantic period, a counter-movement to the Enlightenment that preceded it.

The Romantic period looked back to the past and romanticized it as better than it actually was. The European elite looked to the middle ages as source of inspiration and built their buildings in middle ages and Gothic style. You don’t see too much fancy carvings in original Gothic but you do on neo-Gothic, and that’s because the architects drew their inspiration from all the old legends and stories (e.g., Aesop’s fables, Grimm’s fairy tells) that did contain fanciful creatures like gargoyles. They also put a lot of fancy carvings and images of saints and political leaders as well.

When I first learned that neo-Gothic buildings were new, I was disappointed. What I thought was super-old was actually recent; instead of 800 years it was “merely” 150-200 years old which sounds less impressive.

But it is still impressive. I like neo-Gothic architecture, so much so that I have a mural of the Charles St Bridge in Prague pained on our dining room wall.

So no, it’s not that old. But it does draw inspiration from the past and it is older than any building in Seattle.

And that’s pretty great, too.

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The other day, I wrote that I had to buy a new hat while here in Germany because my current one wasn’t warm enough for a European spring.

24 hours later, I lost it.

I can’t remember exactly where it was, but the wife and I were coming back from the town of Baden-Baden in southwestern Germany. We had a session at the spa (warm water baths, the non-nude one), caught the bus and then caught the train.

While back in Frankfurt, I started looking for my hat. I checked my pockets, and then my backpack.

Nothing.

I must have lost it somewhere on the bus or something.

Even though I was annoyed I lost it, I wasn’t that upset. For one, it only cost me €3. For another, the hat was kind of small. It hurt my head when I put it on. I tried stretching it out but it wasn’t working. Maybe over time it would have expanded a bit. I don’t know. But it was squeezing my head, giving me a headache.

So… meh.

I ended up buying a new one today while in Rothenburg. Fits much better.

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An optical illusion

The other day the wife and I were traveling in Germany along the Mosel River Valley in western Germany where, in one of the towns, we came across a strange sight.

The following street performers were acting as statues, but they are in a position that is impossible to hold due to gravity. Here it is from two different angles:

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As you can see, there’s one guy sitting on the ground and it’s a real person. He’s holding out a ball, and another guy is sit-standing on it. The illusion is that this should be impossible. That’s also a real guy, and it’s his real hand holding the ball… I think.

He’s doing the same thing, holding yet another ball with a third person sitting on that. That ball is definitely his real hand, I could see the fingers moving. The person on top would appear to be a woman. I couldn’t tell for sure, though, I think it’s supposed to look like a woman but I think it’s actually a prop.

I was trying to work out how this worked. My guess is that the lowest ball is a steel support structure that goes to the ground with a platform, and the lower guy is sitting on it to make sure it doesn’t tip. The middle guy is sitting on a chair made of steel and there is a brace which he rests his arm on. The person on top is a prop and is reasonably light.

I like the illusion, it’s hard to see how it works.

A few days later I came across this illusion:

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This one I can figure out, I think that the guy is standing on a platform hidden by his clothes on a pole that goes up to his arm, across to the green pole, and counter-balanced by a base on the bottom which is covered by a blanket. The whole apparatus needs to be strong which suggests that it is heavy.

Looks convincing, though.

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The wife and I are currently traveling in Germany. Before we left, I checked the weather. Since this is currently the end of April (late spring), I figured the weather may be cool.

In Seattle, it was warm the day we left, going up to 24⁰ C. By contrast, the city in Germany we were going to – Cologne – was only going to be around 12-14⁰ C. Less warm, but not so bad. The forecast was less accurate as time passed, but it seemed to be dropping.

Well, we got to Cologne and it was colder. It warmed up during the week but towards the end it started cooling down.

We left Cologne and headed to the Rhine Valley and Mosel Valley in southwest Germany where it got even colder. Below’s a picture of me overlooking one of the castle. I’m wearing all of my warm clothes but I’m still a little uncomfortable.

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Today, we headed to Frankfurt and while walking around town, it was really cold, windy, and rainy. I threw in the towel and bought another toque. The one in the picture is too thin (I lost my thicker one shortly before we left and didn’t have time to replace it).

I was prepared for cold weather. I brought a rain jacket, a heavier(ish) jacket, gloves, and a hat for my head. I also dress up in layers (I’m wearing four on my upper body in the picture). But the fact that didn’t have a warmer hat came back to haunt me. I figured that since it was later into spring I may be able to get away with it, but I was wrong.

I tested out my warmer hat today. It worked. But I hope that today is not the last day I need it.

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As I mentioned in my previous post, I recently went to Taiwan with my wife to visit her parents and extended family. And as I said in my previous post, I was really underwhelmed by the promise of “life in the cloud”.

However, there is one big advantage – when I take pictures with my phone, it syncs it to my OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) automatically; that is, whenever there is an internet connection nearby. My phone does not take pictures as good as a digital camera but I really like that it syncs without me having to transfer from the digital card.

So, here are 10 of pictures from Taiwan from my phone:

1. Me outside Din Tai Fung, one of the best dumpling places in the world. I’ve been to the one in Seattle (Bellevue) and now I can say I’ve been to the one in Taipei. If M3AAWG ever has a session in Taipei, someone should sponsor a night-out here!

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2. The fruit in Asia is better than anything in North America. This is Shakya and it is amazing!

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3. In Taitung on the southeast corner of Taiwan is a Museum of Prehistory. It is one of the best natural history museums I have been to. They used to have elephants in Taiwan, something I never knew!

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4. One of the computers I saw running Windows XP with Internet Explorer 6.

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5. One of the theories about the origins of the people populating Austronesia – the islands stretching as far west as Madagascar and as far east as Easter Island, but excluding New Guinea and Australia – is that they originally descended from Taiwan. This large head is not native to Taiwan but instead pays tribute to the Easter Islanders who may be descendants of the Taiwanese.

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6. Did you ever wonder how they grow rice? Below is a rice field. They’re all like this – slightly flooded.

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7. The Pacific coast of Taiwan.

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8. A busy street in Taichung on the west side of the island.

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9. Checking out some of the street markets in Taichung.

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10. Finally, can anyone translate what this says? The app on my phone says it means “F**k capitalism.” Is that true?

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That’s all for now, thanks for viewing.

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Time zone differences

This past week, I went to the conference in Montreal and took the wife with me. Since we live on the west coast of the United States and Montreal is in eastern Canada, that is a time zone difference of three hours further ahead.

I’ve done a couple of time zone jumps this year:

  • Late last year and coming back this past January, we returned from Argentina which was five hours ahead of Seattle.

  • We went to central Europe this year and it is nine hours ahead of Seattle.

Like anyone, when we got to either of these places, we suffered from jetlag. I don’t have any tricks to getting over it. Some people say drink plenty of water, or don’t go to sleep when you get there, or something else. I don’t do anything special, I just accept that I am going to feel tired and wait until my body catches up. It wasn’t too bad in central Europe; we felt sleepy around 9 pm but that was the extent of it. When getting home, my time shift was about 3 hours again and it took a few days to get over it.

Sure, we felt like zombies after getting there, and back, but we survived.

For this recent trip to Montreal, it’s “only” a 3-hour gap. Yet, for some reason, it was very difficult to get up in the morning. The wife announced that she was going to get up by 6:30 am or 7 am to get going by 8. That was to get a jump on things and see the city.

Well, the first day after we got there (Sunday) we got up at 9:30. Indeed, for the first three days it was tough every single day.

What’s going on?

I expect time zone drags when I make a jump that big, but I didn’t think it would take as long to adjust as it did. It was as difficult as going overseas. Indeed, I’m not sure the wife ever got over it.

It’s a week later and I’m over it now (almost). But jetlag sure is something I’d like to avoid as much as I can.

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