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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Per diem: Vietnam, China, New Zealand & Australia


I was in Vietnam for seven months. I lived & worked in a city about an hour from Ho Chi Minh City for five months, & traveled for the rest of the time.

Unfortunately, I don't have accurate numbers for Vietnam, but it's safe to say that it was very very cheap. I didn't worry about the price of anything while I was there - I went on tours, ate out & traveled to my heart's content. I even went to Bangkok for a week without thinking twice about it.

By the time I got to China, I was in the habit of recording my expenses, so I know that I spent an average of US$45 per day there. Based on that, I can guess that I spent about US$25 a day in Vietnam - without even trying to save money. It's so incredibly cheap there.


I lived & worked in Shanghai for two years, where I rented a room from a Chinese couple for US$365 per month, which is on the cheap end of the spectrum. I went out about once a week & went shopping for clothing about once a month. I ate out for almost every meal - mostly at Chinese restaurants - but I ate at Western-style restaurants too, about once a week. My highest monthly expense was accommodation, followed by tourist attractions, then food.

Here's the monthly breakdown:

US$407 - Accommodation (including hotels on trips outside Shanghai)
US$296 - Tourist attractions (tours, museums, festivals, flights, etc.)
US$253 - Food (95% eating out)



I traveled around the North Island for three months. I mostly stayed in free accommodation, either housesitting or Couchsurfing. I did stay at a few hostels along the way, so accommodation still figures in the top three expenses. My highest expense was food - even though I was careful to shop at the grocery store & eat at home. The next biggest expense was tourist attractions. Although I skipped the super expensive activities (skydiving was NZ$400!), I didn't miss out on the true once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Here's how the monthly averages turned out:

US$379 - Food (90% eating in)
US$342 - Tourist attractions
US$232 - Accommodation (mostly free stays, or cheap hostels)



I was in Australia for six weeks, staying with friends in Sydney for most of that time. Australia is extremely expensive, so I was really mindful of finding free or cheap things to do while I was there. The last ten days of my stay, I "splurged". I went to four different cities, flying cheap airlines, staying in backpacker hostels & going on affordable tours. I definitely skipped doing things that I would have done normally because of the cost. I didn't go to Ayers Rock (US$1000 round trip flight from Sydney!), & I only spent a few days in each city outside Sydney. I just couldn't afford Australia.

Here are my average monthly expenses:

US$715 - Tourist attractions
US$611 - Food (90% eating in)
US$217 - Accommodation (10 days in backpacker hostels)


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Baggage allowance: The tables have turned

When I first left the US three years ago, I was a nervous new long-term traveler. I had taken short trips out of the country before, but never had I spent such a long time away from home. I was so worried I wouldn't be able to find my favorite things overseas that I grossly overpacked, causing the scales at airport check-in to scream weigh-limit alarms.

Just a few days ago, at the check-in counter in Sydney, the aisles were lined with people unpacking & repacking, trying to get each piece of luggage under 20 kilos - exactly as I had done at LAX three years ago. It's nice to know I'm not the only one.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

10 Things I did for the first time in Australia

1. Attended a surfing competition
2. Visited a Bahai temple
3. Tasted passionfruit
4. Hung out with wallabies in the park
5. Saw wild cockatoos playing in the rain
6. Heard the laugh of the kookaburra
7. Got entangled with a leech
8. Swam with sea turtles
9. Saw the littlest penguins in the world
10. Frightened a platypus

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Touring Australia

I've just finished traveling around the eastern part of Australia. I went from Sydney to Hobart to Melbourne to Cairns back to Sydney in ten days. No small feat considering the size of the country.

Hobart is a cute little port town with one of the best museums I've ever been to. If you're down that way, be sure to check out MONA. I really want to go back to see the rest of Tasmania as well. There are so many mountains & canyons & rivers & wild spaces to see there. Maybe next time I'll get the chance to see a Tasmanian devil too.

Melbourne was cold & rainy, so the city didn't really get the chance to impress. However, Phillip Island made up for it in spades. We saw koalas up close, & watched as the tiniest penguins in the world came in from the ocean to nest on the shore for the evening. Waddle waddle.

After the chill of Hobart & the rain of Melbourne, Cairns was a pleasant change - sun, beach & palm trees. We spent a full day out on the Great Barrier Reef. It always thrills me to see something in person that I've only ever heard about. It stops being a story & becomes absolutely real. I love that.

The second day in Cairns, we took a tour of the rainforest. This was no ordinary tour. It wasn't the scenery that was so amazing - though at every stop we saw a beautiful waterfall or lake or rainforest path - incredible all on it's own. But the tour company really made the day one to remember.

We spent the whole day singing & laughing & waving at strangers as we drove from place to place. We played road trip games, drew pictures on the windows, splashed around in the water, tried to play the didgeridoo, & went in search of the elusive platypus. It was good clean non-stop high-energy fun for the entire 12-hour trip. If you go to Cairns, don't miss Uncle Brian's Fun Falls & Forest tour. It's a winner!

Now, back in Sydney, I'm getting my stuff in order to fly back to the US. It's been over a year since I've been back, & almost three years since I left to wander the globe.

This trip home will be relatively long. I have a summer job as a tour leader in the national parks, which will go through October. Afterwards, I'll spend the holidays with my family for the first time in four years. I'm really looking forward to that.

I'm not sure what's in store for me next, but I've had such an amazing time traveling over the last three years, & I've learned so much about life, the world & myself. I know there is so much more to discover out there, & I hope to continue my trek around the globe for a long time to come.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A brush with fame

For the past month I've been staying with friends in Sydney. It's been so nice to relax into family life for a while. I teach classes online during the day, & when everyone gets home from work, we all have dinner together. After we eat, we gather on the comfy couch for some TV time & a cuppa (tea).

One of the shows we've been watching is Australia's version of The Voice, a talent competition judged by four famous voices: Keith Urban, Delta Goodrem, Joel Madden & Seal. There's a running joke in my Sydney household about Seal & his yellow nail polish.

I wasn't that familiar with any of the judges before coming to Australia. I knew who Keith Urban & Seal were, but I probably couldn't name any of their songs. The other two were completely new to me. Now, after watching several episodes of The Voice, I find myself recognizing their faces in magazines & on billboards all around Sydney. (Although I still couldn't tell you what they sing!)

So imagine my surprise when at 6:30 on a Tuesday morning I saw Seal exit customs at Sydney International Airport! Strangely enough, if it weren't for The Voice, I would never have recognized him. & if it weren't for a visit from a friend from the US, I never would have seen him. Thanks Michelle!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Australia's national apology

I see graffiti like this littered around Sydney - the word "sorry" painted on street curbs, on the sides of buildings, on bridges & the backs of road signs. I don't know much about this issue - I'm only a visitor here in Australia - but my Australian friends say that the messsage is directed at the aboriginals who were part of the stolen generation.

If you've ever seen the movie Rabbit Proof Fence, you saw aboriginal children forcefully taken from their parents by the government & placed in reform schools, where they were taught European customs & traditions. The Australian governement hoped that these children would then assimilate into white society, & that the aboriginal culture would ultimately be eradicated. It took the Australian government until 2008 - just four years ago - to apologize.

Today, people continue to say "sorry" in their own way.