Price of beer in a bar: ~$4.75/pint of craft draft
Song currently stuck in my head: The irritatingly catchy theme from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
I visited my parents over the weekend, packing lighter than I’ve ever traveled overnight before. I spent the last year or so preparing for a lengthy backcountry hike, aiming for a base weight under 20 lbs. While that trip isn’t going to come together, I learned a lot during my preparations and most of it is directly applicable to travel generally.
I spent 4 days in the same T shirt, pants, underwear and socks this past weekend. I know what you’re thinking, but keep in mind the shirt, underwear and socks were all made for this purpose. They were all lightweight merino wool, which suppresses odor and maintains it’s shape and comfort for surprising amounts of time. I’d say ideally the socks should have been swapped after 3 days and everything else could have easily gone on for 5th or 6th days. The T and underwear were both Cabela’s + Icebreaker, a joint venture that might be close to discontinued. I got them on clearance for about $13/each, but you’re probably going to pay 2 or 3 times that for comparable items at retail prices. The socks were Smartwool.
When you hear me say wool, don’t picture warm sweaters. I wear the lightest weight merino T in their line, which is 150 micron if I remember correctly, and comfortable up to about 80 degrees F. Mine is black, so a lighter color might push a bit higher. The briefs are similarly reasonable in warm conditions. I wouldn’t hesitate to try them in the tropics. Why not, everything else is terrible.
The pants are 5.11 Tactical Taclite Pros (or very similar, the product models change over time). I have mixed feelings about the pants. They dry fast and shed water and stains relatively well, though you would not mistake them for rain gear. The construction is solid and the cut allows for a wide range of mobility. But the main slash pockets are cheap and developing holes, the snap tends to unsnap too easily, they don’t breathe as well as I’d like… they’re a mixed bag.
Since the weather was predicted to be stable and I wouldn’t be spending much time out doors (this is the Midwest, getting things done is just a walk to the car, a walk from the car), this outfit plus a lightweight windbreaking Columbia button down was all I needed for day to day wear. Full synthetic shirts like this hold odors terribly in my experience, but the wool T prevents that layer from ever coming in contact with sweat or the bacteria that cause body odor, so working together they’re fine for days of wear. Add a pair of sweats and a T shirt for evening wear (I left for this trip directly from the gym, otherwise I’d have packed actual pajama pants), a stick of deodorant, a toothbrush, some face wipes and I’m there. The entire kit fit in a small day bag, about 11″ X 8″ X 4″, pictured below, excluding what’s already on my person.
This was a car trip, so the convenience of a small bag was minimal. I wasn’t lugging anything through airports, bus stations and the like. But the additional advantages of a small kit, like having far fewer things to keep track of, to pack, verify and manage, and far less to unpack/wash/etc, upon return, were greatly appreciated. This was a bit of a dry run, as many of these items will form the core of my pack for Europe. So far they’re even better than I expected.
Price of beer in a bar: ~$4.50/pint of craft draft
Song currently stuck in my head: Don’t Do Me Like That (Tom Petty), though when I sing it aloud I insert alternate lyrics about my cat
Perpetual Tourism ain’t what it used to be. Panama, a favorite destination, was punching 180 day tourist stamps the last time I was there, now they’re tweeting that they won’t even re-stamp people who perform the ‘reset shuffle’ by dipping into Costa Rica for a couple of hours/days and returning. Bolivia now requires a US$135 Visa for American Tourists and limits your total time in the country to 90 days per year. I believe this is new since I was last there in 2007. The EU is poised to make good on their long standing threat of requiring Visas from countries that require Visas from any of their members, the US among them.
Visa requirements are usually a tit-for-tat affair; if one country requires them, they can expect their residents to experience the exact same treatment when visiting the target, usually right down the exact dollar amount. So there’s a solid precedent for The EU move. The EU (and/or The Schengen Visa Block) already limits tourists to 180 days per year within the block, which is a substantial hurdle to my lifestyle. Schengen Area (which is The EU Visa Block) is 26 countries, give or take. That’s an average of less than 1 week per country, travel time included, before you need to vacate for 6 months.
All of this is a pain in my ass. I have no particular interest in putting down substantial roots any time soon, but I’m also not looking to be forced to move on every 6 months for at least 6 months. I just want to go somewhere cheap, safe and beautiful and spend money there without hiring a lawyer and applying for ‘residency’ before I leave. I don’t intend to be a drag on social services (or even be entitled to them). I don’t intend to take anyone’s job. I just want to pick a beach or mountain town, spend a year or two there, and stay or move on as desired. I’d like to be able to sign a 12 month lease on an apartment, but if I have to move every 90 days so be it.
The EU decision looms as The Girlfriend and I are in early stage preparations for a long term Central European trip, as the ‘Central Europe’ map taped to our living room wall attests. Our trip in 2007 was typical traveler stuff, a new town every few days, working our way in a line across South America. Our trip in 2010 was a more controlled experiment in cost of living, selecting towns and staying in them for at least 30 days each. Central Europe is envisioned to be somewhere in between. More info will follow as the situation develops.
Price of beer in a bar: This town is lousy with brew pubs. I can get a good stout for less than $5/pint.
Song currently stuck in my head: Lebanese Blonde (Thievery Corporation)
Preparations are underway. We’re providing hospice care for a loved family pet, so the timetable is undetermined but the outcome imminent. I’ve hucked my computer and 24″ monitor in favor of an X series Thinkpad that I’m trying to grow accustomed to. I hate laptops; they’re underpowered, overpriced, the screens are too small and about 18″ lower than they should be and the pointing devices fall far short of the mice we’ve been using for 25 years. They’re similar to mobile devices (Android, Ios, etc) in that they’re just good enough to be tolerable. Not to sound like a snob, but with my IT background of tens of thousands of hours at a keyboard, my standard is a bit higher than ‘tolerable’.
But, these devices travel. And that’s why we gnarl our hands onto and around these miniature keyboards.
There are alternatives. I could go for a high end ultrabook. They’re not even that expensive. But I bought this used for $40 because when I travel I want everything I carry to be more or less disposable.
I could get a Chromebook, but I don’t think I can rely on near constant connectivity and without it those things are doorstops.
Maybe a tablet? Get serious.
Price of beer in a bar: Continues to outdo it’s self, regularly reaching $9 for something less than a pint.
Song currently stuck in my head: Stations (The Gutter Twins)
I traveled with a carry on sized pack last summer and when I returned, US Customs got really shitty with me about it. It was 2 am and the first guy was pleasant enough but apparently he wasn’t fully satisfied with some of my answers.
“Where did you fly from?”
“How long were you there?”
[counting on my fingers…] “I don’t remember exactly, it’s been a weird few days, but I think it was less than 2 days. Or maybe just over.”
“You were only gone two days?”
“No, but I was in Costa Rica less than 2 days, I think, and that’s where I flew from. I was in Nicaragua for about 90 days before that.”
“Please step in line over there.”
The guy “over there” (secondary search with x-rays and such) was the only impolite US Customs agent I ever remember dealing with. Generally these people are the height of professionalism, even at 4am, though I’d never previously dealt with second-tier personnel. Thenew guy had real issues with my backpack being smaller than he expected. He kept asking me over and over where the rest of my bags were, eventually yelling it at me. He said to his co-workers, loud enough for me to hear (I think that was the point): “He’s been gone for 90 days and he says this is all his luggage.”
I remember thinking, How do you think this works? I take 90 pairs of pants? I’m pretty close to the carry-on restriction with this airline as it is and they’ll charge me US$100 to check anything.
Eytan also has some cost-of-travel info for Guatemala, a place I like but seldom visit.
Price of beer in a bar: In my absence it’s climbed to about US$7 for a pint of craft on draft
Song currently stuck in my head: I’m Waiting For My Man (Lou Reed)
It looks like we’ve run out of content, at least for the moment. I think all of the interesting photos have been posted and most of the relevant ramblings have been expressed. I still owe you a summary and cost of living spreadsheet for Leon and have some notes that might warrant additional ink, but this post marks the end of the 3-a-week cycle that I’ve been maintaining since I began this summer trip.
Posting will be sporadic until the next time I’m somewhere worth writing about.
I kind of hope it’s Uruguay.
Price of beer in a bar: Continues to vary between US$0.98 to US$1.57.
Song currently stuck in my head: B. O. B. (Outkast)
What does moderate drinking look like when you live in a tourist town? A 375ml bottle of rum with lunch? One rough Sunday morning a month? Like anyone else, the vices I enjoy pick up momentum if I let them. Keeping them in check (rather than allowing them to get noticeably out of hand before I reign them in) requires me to keep careful track. Psychologists call this the hedonic treadmill; we habituate to our indulgences. What were once our occasional treats become our new normal and fail to wow. I’m American and we’re famous for failing to resist this tendency; our houses, wardrobes, waistlines and credit card bills grow ever larger, a side effect of our need for the unnecessary but pleasing ‘new’. In most ways the spartan conditions you acclimate to during backpacking and other forms a ‘traveling light’ serve as a reset for these luxuries-come-necessities, but not when it comes to drinking.
Where does this leave me? Physically, I’m in an expat town on the beach, which generally means the norm is to drink slowly but constantly and daily. I’ve been there, it’s a good time and an easy habit to slip into. It tends to be opt-out, meaning the slow heavy drinking is the default, even amongst the people who arrive as lightweights, and you have to make a conscious decision to abstain. So far I don’t have a balanced strategy for that. I arrived in Nicaragua on a strict diet (managing a different but overlapping pattern of diminishing indulgence) which didn’t leave much room for booze and I’ve loosened it only slightly now that I have more calories to play with. But I’m living in a Corona ad; I can walk 3 minutes and I’m in a beach bar lounge chair under an umbrella, kicked back on the sand with a gorgeous view, surrounded by merry makers with 10 different reasons to celebrate. Where does the beam that holds up “long term health” and “missing out on a good time” find balance?
If I look to the established expats, as I do for many things, then I’m looking at a pattern of boom and bust; flood and drought. A common scenario is to come down, drink heavy until you hurt yourself or your situation, and then swear off the stuff for the rest of your days or implement strict rationing. I know a guy who, last I knew, drinks 2 beers a day; never more and I doubt ever less. He enjoys them, I get it, and I think he’s found his answer. But I prefer to get a little tuned up when I drink. Doctors hate this; the current wisdom seems to be that more than 4 ‘drinks’ in a given day breaks the threshold for an onslaught of health problems. I need to look at that primary research and understand it’s limitations; it’s hard to imagine a that guys whose annual alcoholic intake is a night of 2 shots, 2 beers and a flute of champagne at midnight have a demonstrably higher rate of stomach cancer. I don’t think they’re saying that, but when you translate complicated research into sound bytes a lot gets lost.
I know, I know… who’s counting, right? People tend to take the most simplistic approach (hence the feast and famine pattern) and wince at the idea of quantifying anything. But quantification of another type is probably what drew you here to begin with; obviously I don’t consider it heavy lifting.
If that’s not what brought you, check out the spreadsheets linked as “(Cost of Living)” in the right column, many people find them useful.
Typical street scene in San Juan Del Sur, why you don’t walk distracted in Central America and Pali, the Walmart owned budget grocery chain. There are 65 Palis in Nicaragua, not counting Maxi-Palis. It’s a 3 or 4 isle grocery with a meat counter, generally affordable goods and confusingly expensive produce.