Which countries drive on “the wrong side” of the road?

Our to-do list is getting tackled this week! We have an appointment with a travel clinic to begin the vaccinations we’ll need, we have a possible property manager coming to the house for an assessment, and we have an appointment with AirTreks in order to compare their price for our itinerary. The kids just got their new passports… It’s getting real!

One small item on the list was to take a class for driving a car with manual transmission, or “learn how to drive stick.” ProShift looks like one of the best local options here in Ottawa. I don’t know how much this will be needed to be honest. Will we be renting a car in Europe? We’ll most likely just get a Eurorail pass. And lots of Southeast Asian countries will most likely see us renting a scooter rather than a manual car.

Supposedly, it only takes a few lessons to get the hang of stick shift. But you know what really scares me? The countries that drive on the “wrong” side of the road!!

Source

Looking at you Australia, New Zealand, UK, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Malaysia!

Elevation and Altitude – Where is the highest place on Earth that we will go?

South America was, at one point, a destination in our travel planning. Therefore, I researched various places, such as Argentina, Peru, and Chile, in order to make country profiles. I don’t think we’ll need to use them for our 2020/2021 trip. Fingers crossed for a trip to South America in the future!

However, during my research I kept coming across the possibility of “altitude sickness.” I was kind of surprised. I thought that was only an issue if you were climbing mountains or something? Silly Canadian. Visiting Machu Picchu is climbing a mountain!

However, the possibility of altitude sickness, or at minimum a negative reaction to thinner air levels, came up as a possibility in guide books to Mexico City as well. I was curious. What are the altitudes of our travel destinations?

My son GMan has been really loving using Desmos for his grade 9 math class. I asked him to whip up the following chart to show the elevation data that I found for each travel destination:

https://www.desmos.com/calculator/lma5dfhlcc

We found that almost all of our travel destinations are below 100 m of elevation. This also includes our home city of Ottawa! The exceptions are places such as Munich (519 m) and Wellington (495 m), which fall in the mid range seen above. And then there are the two greater anomalies of Mexico City (2250 m) and Reykjavík (2110 m).

Altitude sickness typically manifests when you are above 2500 meters. The symptoms are: shortness of breath, fatigue, headaches, nausea, trouble sleeping, and other symptoms resembling flu. Drink lots of fluids, take an advil, and slow the rate of your physical activity seems to be the general consensus for remedy. Add some Montezuma’s Revenge and you’re golden baby!

Country Profiles: Australia

Source

We’ll come back to this country profile in the future. In the meantime:

Donate to the Australian Red Cross here.

Donate to WIRES, which helps wildlife in Australia, here.

Donate to the NSW Rural Fire Service here.

Donate to the Country Fire Association of Victoria here.

Donate to the the South Australian Country Fire Service here.

The Smog We Breathe

We’ve been asked many times why we aren’t going to certain countries. Sometimes it’s because of potential danger (e.g. Syria), sometimes it’s because of time and/or cost (e.g., Antarctica), sometimes because the timing doesn’t work out (e.g., Namibia) but sometimes it’s because of pollution. With the limited number of countries we’re able to actually visit in the short time we have, we must cut certain countries from our list of places we’d like to see… and I’d rather avoid getting sick from air pollution if we can.

One of the countries we recently added to our world trip was Nepal. It was partly a strategic trip to help shorten flight times between Singapore and Oman, but also because it simply felt like a beautiful culture I had wanted my kids to experience. Sadly, it appears that Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, might be in the “midst of a pollution crisis” as one blogger called it. A meta-review of journals in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health, said that “short term exposures” to Kathmandu Valley’s air pollution “invite respiratory diseases and allergy.” There are countless videos on YouTube that describe how bad the pollution can get, from having constant black goock in your nose if you don’t wear a mask, to all your belongings constantly being grimy, to actually getting seriously ill.

New Road, Kathmandu, Nepal
(by S. Pakhrin)

But Kathmandu is actually not even among the worst offenders. According to this article in The Guardian, India has about half of the top 50 cities in terms of air pollution. The next country, China, has 8 cities on the list. My kids have the occasional snow days at school, but it appears many unfortunate kids in these countries have smog days.

Of course, if we’re being honest, we’d only be in any of those three countries (and their specific polluted cities) for a short time, right? How much would Kathmandu’s or New Delhi’s pollution affect us? Likely very little in the long term. But why bother having our kids suffer with the smog and dirt when there’s simply so much beauty elsewhere in the world? This real-time air pollution index and World Health Organization’s outdoor air quality database give a good indication of other places with amazing history, temples and nature that we could visit instead.

Smog Covering New Delhi, India
(by Jama Masjit)

Although the pollution above is mostly caused by cars and factories, we’ve been looking at carbon offsetting our travel (reading things like this blog entry from On The Luce). Carbon offsetting does mostly seem like a way to feel less guilty about your flights (since the flights are likely going to happen with or without you), but we don’t need to be doing this world trip while others might have to travel for work or family. There’s still a lot of research on this topic so expect another blog post or two in the future.

While I’m on the subject, I recommend NASA’s quiz on air pollution called The Air We Breathe.

The Land of Bitter Cold

The temperature has dropped a dozen degrees in two days, and is now expected to go down to around -20 C tonight (-30 or so with the wind). Although I prefer the cold over the heat, there’s not much you can do outside when the weather starts dipping past -20. I’m a little jealous (and worried?) because Palmer Station, Antarctica near the tip of Argentina is currently at only -1. Admittedly, Dome Argus Station which sits near the middle of the continent is hovering just below -40.

I had originally wanted to go to Antarctica on our world trip (via Ushuaia, Argentina) but unfortunately the time of year we’d be going just didn’t work as the tours mainly happen between November and March (we’d be there around September, or early October). The cost, too, was a bit much just so that we could say we’ve been to every continent during our travel. 5-10 day boat and flight tours would cost us about $5,000-$10,000 per person (see Polar Cruises and Swoop Antarctica, as examples).

Thankfully, Jonty Pressinger uploaded an absolutely stunning (and funny) video of the same trip I had researched. Some of it reminds me of the weather outside my window right now, though. I still want to do this trip (maybe it’s the completion-ist in me?), but it’ll be a separate trip when the kids are older, or perhaps on my own if I can’t convince anyone. Until then, enjoy this video!

Travel Tech

If anyone knows me, it’s not a terribly big surprise to say that I’ve been charged with finding the right technology for our travel. But, let’s be honest, I also enjoy technology (and spending countless hours reviewing the minutiae between two models of laptops). We’re a household with three times more wifi enabled devices as occupants after all…

There’s a few major considerations when choosing the right tech for our trip:

  • Size and weight: We’re packing light. So that means, we need to pick things that are not only small, but literally light as well.
  • Cost: We don’t want to blow our budget on things (we want experiences!), so cost is a major factor. On top of that, replacement cost should anything get broken, lost or stolen is important.
  • Theft resistance: Speaking of stolen, a piece of tech that isn’t a target of thieves is useful. Obviously, anything can be a target, but an iPhone 11 Pro is likely more of one than, say, a Nokia flip phone.
  • Usability and convenience: What’s the point of a piece of tech if it only does a part of the job, or does the job but not really that well?
  • Universality: Will it work everywhere?

With 7 months to go, what did we choose for our trip? Well, we decided on four primary pieces of technology:

Streaming: An easy topic that didn’t really exist more than a few weeks ago. On Black Friday, Amazon was offering a great deal on their Fire Stick, which allows streaming from multiple services such as Netflix and Disney+ (and Amazon Prime Video, obviously). This tool plugs into the HDMI port of any TV and will let us continue watching our favourite shows, providing the streaming service makes the show available in that country. And that’s the clincher that needs more research. Can we keep watching Nailed It! in Japan? For $25, it’s worth a shot and saves us from having to keep plugging in our laptop every time we want to watch a show.

Laptop: Speaking of laptops, our old Dell beasts that we’re currently using are getting long in the tooth and weigh a little over 5 pounds each and are thick (they still have a DVD drive!). Sadly, with what we’d like to do on our travel (blogging, light video editing, video chat, distance education for the kids, etc.) a laptop is a must. With that in mind, we purchased (on huge discount from the Microsoft Store of all places) two HP Stream 14 laptops. They’re about half the weight and thickness of our old laptops, are still 14 inches in size and run Windows, which is a must for Mega Mommy and G-Man’s needs (we’re usually a Linux household, so I made sure these suckers can work with that operating system as well!). We’ve been testing the laptops out and so far they’ve been wonderful. For $200 each, that’s not bad.

Phone/Camera: Now the most expensive part of this post – the camera and phone. I originally started with the need for a good camera to capture our trip (naturally). Our current cameras and the cameras on our smartphones were very sub-par, so that just wouldn’t do for something as memorable (momentous?) as this. I originally started looking at DSLRs, since I’ve had experience with SLRs in the past. I quickly realized that we’ll only be lugging around carry-ons, and a DSLR (with case, lenses, etc.) would take up quite a bit of room. Furthermore, it would cause us to stick out as tourists from the get go. So I began to investigate smartphones with good cameras, and three options peeked out: Google’s Pixel, Apple’s iPhone and certain Chinese phones such as the Xiaomi which advertise ridiculous levels of cameras and pixel densities. Going backwards, we chose to avoid the Chinese phones since we’ve had issues with them in the past, and avoided the iPhone since we’re an Android family (I mentioned we use Linux right?). So, that left the Pixel, which luckily had a Black Friday sale just as I was researching things. So, we’re now proud owners of two $400 Pixel 3a phones which have already proved to be perfect for our needs. Now we can take great quality photos without sticking out like sore thumbs – and, best of all, Google offers free backups of all of our photos. Although we’ll be storing them all on our own cloud server, it’s a nice peace of mind to know that should our phones be stolen or broken, we don’t need to worry about losing any (most?) of our photos.

Server: Speaking of cloud servers, we decided to set up a personal cloud server on Hetzner (Nextcloud-based), hosted in Europe for only a $2.50 a month. Separate from our website (which is also in Europe), the cloud will let the four of us access personal files, and keep it all encrypted and secure. This include password management, personal emergency documents, and so forth. We’re also considering a secure tracker so that close family can monitor where we are in the world, which is neat, but also a way to found out where we are should anything happen. On a side note, G-Man also set up his own Minecraft server on PebbleHost so that he can continue playing games with his friends as we travel!

Of course, we’ll also carry miscellaneous items such as a universal power adapter ($10-20 on Amazon), cables and a battery backup. Thankfully, we’ll be in some fairly big cities from time to time, so we should be able to pick up anything we might have forgotten or lost along the way.

So this is the technology side of things for now, although things might change a little as we get closer to the time. Seven more months of preparation only?! Time to start reading a bit more about the minute differences in universal power adapters…

Thinking About Packing…

Guide books, travel blogs, and YouTube videos will devote a large portion of their energy to a subject that brings many pre-world travellers stress and, dare I say, TERROR!

WHAT DO WE PACK?!?!

What is the right bag? Do I need clothes with special wicking fabric? Should I roll or fold? Do I need packing cubes? What tech doodads do I need? And on and on…

JBot and I have always kept the Rick Steves mantra “pack light, pack light, pack light” in mind in all of our previous trips. And we plan on doing the same again. Everyone gets a bag (carry-on sized), a few days of clothes, and… that’s pretty much it. It is not really a source of stress for us.

The one big item that JBot researched was cameras. Buying a new camera just didn’t make sense. Neither of us has photography training. I really don’t like the idea of having a large and expensive bulky item that flashes with similar fashion to a neon sign: STEAL ME. We both also prefer living in the moment and grabbing quick shots. Therefore, we decided to upgrade our cellphones. JBot found that the camera quality on a Google Pixel 3a was pretty much equivalent to a fancy camera as well, cool! The cloud aspect will be helpful to keep an extra backup of all our photos. He also purchased a two year warranty which will be a good safety net during travel. And for some of us who are a bit dropsy when it comes to cell phones. Ahem.

However, the big reason for wanting to post was to share this video from Lefie. She has a YouTube account in which she talks about the philosophy of minimalism. Her challenge of “what’s the worse that can happen, you will feel slight discomfort?” is an essential question. Especially for us pampered Westerners.

Country Profiles: New Zealand

Photo credit: 2il org/Flickr

Glow worms!

Hobbits!

The How-to-Dad guy!

Suffice to say, we are VERY excited about travelling to New Zealand. It is our second most anticipated place, after Japan. Unfortunately, like Japan, it is also a very expensive place to visit. We will try to do our best to plan well and to have a great time without breaking our budget.

We will be arriving after Mexico City. Most likely flying from LA, unless the situation in Chile improves we switch back to our original route. We have gone back and forth many, many, MANY, times with how to get to New Zealand. We even considered a re-positioning cruise ship! The Pacific Ocean is just too dang big and there is just no easy and quick way to get across.

The number one goal for our trip to NZ is to celebrate our son’s birthday. As per his request, we will be visiting the Hobbiton movie set. It looks really cool!

Travel Advisories: Canada, United States

Visa: Not required

Vaccines: Yellow Fever

Currency: NZD (0.88 CDN) as of 2019 07 02

Other Requirements: Onward ticket with visa. NZ$1,000/month

THINGS TO READ:

PHRASES TO KNOW:

  • Rattle ya dags! | Hurry up!
  • Just popping to the dairy. | I’m going to the convenience store.
  • I’m knackered. | I’m tired.
  • Wop-wops. | Middle of nowhere.
  • Get your A into G! | Rattle ya dags! (Get your arse into gear)
  • Pakeha | Fair-skinned.
  • It was choice, bro! | It was good.
  • Kia ora | Be well.
  • Yeah-nah | No thank you.

STUFF TO SEE:

(Source)

PLACES TO EAT:

FREE OR UNDER $10: (https://www.aucklandnz.com/visit/events)

  • Auckland Museum, Auckland Art Gallery
  • Hiking (Mt. Eden, tallest volcano, or Cornwall Park/One Tree Hill, large Maori settlement)
  • Beaches (Muriwai Beach)
  • Ferry to Devenport, explore North Head (1800s fort)
  • Ferry to Rangitoto Island, climb the summit (1 hour)
  • Goat Island & Ambury Regional Park (day trip, glass bottom boat/kayaks or snorkelling)
  • Manukau Heads Lighthouse (free, donation accepted)

WHERE TO SLEEP:

Is traveling to South America a safe option?

The end of September saw protests begin in Santiago, Chile.

Santiago or Buenos Aires are the only two options for flying from South America to New Zealand.

If civil unrest continues, we may need to change our route and fly via the US.

Waiting and watching.

One million march to protest inequality, October 25, 2019 (via Santiago Times)

Amnesty link

Why is our daughter so excited about Mexico?

It could be the Mexican wrestling.

It could be tacos.

But, no. Its Los Espookys.

JBot read the subtitles out loud to her for the WHOLE SHOW (he glazed over the few swear words). It is funny and cute and cool. Check it out!

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