Blog Posts

Bangkok: Definitely not the silent city

We got to Thailand in the late afternoon and bought a sim card for the googling. 7 days, 5GB of data….179thb. For those of you keeping track at home that’s about $6. We got a taxi to our hotel being prepared to get extremely ripped off but the taxi driver was very friendly and told us how he loved picking people up from the airport because he loved when people came to visit his home country for there first experience to be a good one. We got our hotel, White Ivory Bed and Breakfast, and checked in.

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White Ivory bed and Breakfast. The place itself is nice but tucked in a back alley pretty far from the heart of the city

Not exactly the place the internet had made it seem but the A/C was cold and the bed was super soft. We left and took a stroll down to the water and got dinner. I had my first introduction to Chang, a new staple of my Thai diet, and some of the best food I’d had in a while. Honestly some of the food we have in the states shouldn’t even be allowed to be called Thai food. But I digress. After a night of walking and a couple of beers we headed back to our comfy cold room and crashed. 

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Obligatory Chang photo. Sorry for the out of focus, taken on my “new” POS phone (learn more below)

I woke up in the middle of the night to a huge thunderstorm going on outside. I went to check what time it was on my phone, which I had left on the bedside table only to find it wasn’t there but instead out on the floor, 2m from the socket with the charging cable stretched eerily dead straight. Reached down and hit my phone. Nothing. Weird. Sat up and unplugged and repluged. Nothing. Then as I was sitting there I saw the outlet turn blue. 100% truth, blue, followed seconds later by a clap of thunder. And that’s when it hit me. The rats nest of electrical wires and phone lines I had seen on telephone poles that night probably didn’t have surge protectors…my phone was fried.

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Who woulda thought there’d be a power surge with such first class electrical wiring. photo credit: https://mashable.com/2016/06/27/bill-gates-thailand-cables/#VD71tq2uuqqW

Then next morning we were changing places from a “hotel” to a hostel closer to Chinatown and the there there in Bangkok. We woke -and after me trying everything I could thing ok to resuscitate my phone we up and packed our crap which had inevitably exploded and set off. A walk and a ferry ride across the river and we made it there.

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Ferries and riverboats on the Chao Phraya are one of the primary modes to transport in the city.

Our “private room” had a spectacular view…not. But hey it’s just a place to rest your head right.

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The glorious view from our room at “River View Guest House”

We dropped our stuff and went exploring. Right under the hostel was a market where I got my first real taste of Bangkok street food markets. It was the first “oh shit toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment of the trip and it was awesome.

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Street food is by far the cheapest way to eat in Bangkok, but you’re always taking a risk at how long its been sitting out…not being kept warm….with flies

The rest of the day was spent trying to go to markets and find some good lightweight pants so we could go check out temples and to see if there was a place to get my phone fixed. 3 hours later and 2 “istudio” shops later we found out it was beyond dead and BUT under warranty in the US, however they can’t send apple US won’t send warranty replacements to Thailand so shit outta luck. We went to DHL and shipped it back home to get fixed so I could have a phone when I get home. And luckily while we were there we met an expat who mentioned we should check out MBK for a possible replacement. So we went on another walk. MBK is a mega-mall complex where individual vendors sell everything from fake jewelry to “hugo boss” clothes to just my luck used phones .

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Fourth Floor MBK Plaza. Photo Credit: artography1976/shutterstock

And on the 4th floor is a slew of stands that buy and resell old phones. I managed to pick up an old iPhone 5 (with a truly shit battery) for about $90. At least it was something to listen to music and download photos to on the many long bus/train/plane rides to come. And that was pretty much all of the day so we headed back to our place and got drinks and food on the rooftop bar of our hostel. 

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At least the view from the roof top bar was pretty killer

The next day we headed to the grand palace. We jumped on a ferry that took us up the river. What a bustling river that is. Boats going every which direction but somehow not colliding. We got to the grand palace and had planned knowing the strict no shoulders or legs dress code had planned on wearing a sarong to cover my legs so I didn’t have to wear hot pants all day. Nope. We got turned away and had to go buy pants for me and a shirt for Athena at the overpriced street vendors outside. But it was worth it. The grand palace is somethin’ for sure. Sooo much gold. You could pay for a tour guide but we went it on our own and picked up facts here and there from other groups in passing. I heard tours in at least 6 languages, which is pretty impressive. 

 

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All gold all day and the detail work is pretty amazing

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Us and the 10,000 other people there that day.  #you’rejealousofourelephantpants

After the grand palace we hopped back on a ferry over to Wat Arun. Super cool porcelain temple with multiple levels and supposedly a great view of the city. Sadly the upper levels were closed so no view for us, but still and incredible place. 

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Wat Arun!!
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It’s made out of plaster with inlaid pieces of tiling the sparkle in the light

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We grabbed lunch and headed back down the river to our hostel looking for a quick A/C break from the overbearing heat of Bangkok. At this point Athena and I both decided that while it was a cool city it wasn’t exactly our speed so we went back to the rooftop and planned our journey the next day (by bus) to Sukhothai. 

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My lovely travel partner doing her best interpretation of “I don’t know you’re standing there with a camera”

The day being not quite done for the day we decide to check out the temple of the golden Buddha just 5 minute walk from our place in Chinatown. Many of the Buddha statues in Thailand are painted gold, some even using real 24 carrot flake, but the Buddha at Wat Tramit is 100% solid pure gold. Originally this Buddha was housed in the old capital of Thailand but right after it was made it was encased in plaster to conceal it from being plundered by invaders just on the capitals border. And so it sat as an unknown treasure for some 400 years until a piece of the plaster broke when the Buddha was being transported to a new temple. Pretty cool eh?

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100% solid GOLD!

For dinner we had heard about a vegetarian festival going on down in the Hindi neighborhood and we both thought it was time Athena got a proper meal. We ended up stopping at a place called “cheaper and better street food” and it was pretty good food but even better they had signs for their affiliate business “cheaper and better Thai massage” so after a long day we said “why not” and followed one of the employees three streets over to a hole in the wall where we got 1hr massages for both of us for 400THB or about $13 not to shabby. 

The next day we woke up and took the subway north to Chatuchak Park. We walked through the park and made our way to the bus station. We didn’t know exactly when the bus would leave but we managed to find our way there and get a bus ticket for the 8hr journey there north to Sukohthai. I used the hour and a half we had in the bus terminal to update my “new” phone with some music so I wouldn’t go insane and filled up on 7-11 munchies for the road. 

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Mo Chit is Bangkok’s northern most bus terminal and serves pretty much anything north in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar

Apart from the ungodly terrible smell the permeated the whole bus anytime someone opened the bathroom door, it really wasn’t that bad. The bus made a stop about 3 hours in for a bathroom break and some food which came included in the price of your 300THB ticket. As we got closer to Sukohthai we looked out the windows to find the open rice fields and jungle covered mountain sides. We both new immediately this was much more the speed of Thailand we were expecting. 

 

Japan: The Prolonged Layover (part 2)

Eating Sushi In Fujiyoshida

I’m sorry to say there are no pictures to go along with this story but once you’ve read it, you’ll understand why.

So I’ll start with some unpopular opinions. Personally I’m not the hugest fan of seafood and sushi has never been my first choice of meal but when in Japan of course I was going to try it. That combined with Athena and my complete and utter lack of Japanese conversing skills lead us to the conclusion that classic Japanese conveyor belt sushi was the way to go for us. We could wait, choose by sight and have limited embarrassing interaction with sushi chefs who would think us uncultured swine. That being said at least we did our research before hand in some basic sushi etiquette, which ended up being helpful, but not enough.

The sushi place our hostel manager had recommended was indeed conveyor belt sushi, but having not eaten much all day and being starving that we were we went in at about 5:30/6 and it was EMPTY. Like not a single other person, conveyor belts not rolling, just a host and two sushi chefs at a bar sitting and hanging out. Yes they were open and we were sat at the bar right between the two chefs. And so began one of the most delicious, awkward, comical and minorly humiliating experiences of my life. I had become unfortunately spoiled by most Japanese peoples ability to understand and typically speak fluent English. Our two sushi chefs in fujiyoshida….not so much. They gave us a menu and thank god there were pictures to communicate and with them both staring down at us from above we managed to order some food. Silly me being the American that I am who says thank you every time a waiter comes to the table in the US, kindly origato-ed to each dish he served causing the sue-chef to chuckle and smile at us and point to say “Canadian?” And so began a non lingual conversation of hand movements and occasional English words on their end. After we’d eaten our fill, and still with not a single other person in the restaurant we managed to mime “check” and thanked the chefs one last time as we walked to the counter to pay with the two of them stifling full belly’s of laughter as we left.

As to the quality of the sushi though, this was something next level to anything I’ve ever had before pretending to be seafood. Eel that melted in your mouth, delectable fatty tuna with just the right about of wasabi, and the best damn pickled ginger over ever had. That and a full meal for two came out to about ¥1800 or about $16.50! Satisfied and mortified Athena and I made it out the door and broke out into laughter of our own, but hey first awkwardly delicious foreign meal in the books! Sorry for the lack of photos but I couldn’t bring myself to photograph my food with two chefs chuckling and staring down at us.

Japan: The prolonged layover (part 1)

Tokyo: The silent city

We got off the plane after the 11 hour flight from LAX and made our way through customs. It was one of the easiest customs experience I’ve ever had. Everything is streamlined for maximum efficiency. No visa application needed and within 25 minutes of getting off the plane Athena and I had our first stamp good until the 9th of January!

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 As soon as we were through we headed over to the tourist information center and bought a Japanese SIM card with 8 days of unlimited data usage for ¥3500. We’d heard there was WiFi all over japan but a lot of places require a Japanese SIM card to get on it. That and a google maps crutch was reassuring for me traveling in a country where, I thought, I wouldn’t be able to read anything (more on that later).
We got train tickets for the Skyliner to Nippori station and we were off! I know this was no bullet train but holy hot cakes it was cruisin. We were both beat after the 28 hours of travel with a 5.5 hour nap in the middle, but my brain was working full tilt to take in as much as I could as I practically got whiplash swinging my head back and forth at high speed. A quick 40 minute ride later and we’re in Tokyo!
The hostel we stayed at was about a half mile walk from the Nippori train station so we decided to stretch our legs a bit and take a walk. A minute from the station and we were walking through tiny back residential streets and the first thing we both noticed was….it’s soooo quiet. Sure it was residential, but I grew up in a similar metro residential area in Boston but here there was NO hustle bustle of the city. There was the occasional clip-clop of a train passing but other than that…silent.

We got to the guest house and checked in to our “capsules” and took a shower. The dormitory capsules were stacked 2 tall and about 5 long down each side of the room. A really cool concept on hostel beds. After cleaning up a bit we decided to take a little walk and after a bit of googling I realized we were about 30 minute train ride from the real there there on Tokyo. We were both dead tired and Athena was trying to beat the last bit of a cold that struck right as we left Boston, so we decided to stay local and talk a walk around the neighborhood.

It was now about 5pm local time so we grabbed some food on the go and people watched as business men made their walks home from work and mothers picked their kids up from daycare and ran errands on specially designed electric bikes that could carry 2 kids and the nights groceries. I don’t know what I was expecting to find but here are a couple of the quick things I noticed in my first few hours in Toyko.
1. There is no unused space. Houses are practically on top of each other, but simultaneously there high rises are few and far between. Rooftops of low rise apartment buildings have netted areas that my masterful powers of deduction have concluded are used for some kind of exercise. Even in the residential areas like Nippori there is a vast mix of residential and warehouse/industrial intermixed and on top of each other on the small back streets. Parking lots are barely the size of the buildings around them but all have elevators to stack cars 2 to 5 tall. Gas stations in the heart of the city feed from the roof so pump stations don’t take up excess space. This amazed me and brought me some funny looks from locals at the weird guy taking lots of pictures of the gas station.
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2.Cars are tiny. Like comically small boxes with 10in wheels, but anything bigger wouldn’t fit down many of the narrow one way back streets that zig and zag every direction.

3.Bicycles are everywhere. Makes sense in a tight city where parking is expensive and hard to find but the shear number caught me off guard. Walking past these strange kiosks a man came up to me and explained they are bicycle storage elevators that go underground and can hold UP TO 600 bikes!!

4.Vending machines are on every other corner. And they sell anything you could think of  from your favorite soft beverage to cigarettes.

5.It is sooo freakin quiet!

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Bicycle is the primary mode of transport on tiny back streets

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We passed out by 7pm to get a good nights sleep before getting up the next morning to head down to Fujiyoshida hopefully to get a glimpse of Mount Fuji!
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7-11 pancake sandwiches are delicious!! Also all the signage is in Japanese, English and sometime Chinese too.
Waking up early wasn’t hard and we packed our day bags for a night as we planned to spend a night in Kawaguchiko and come back the next day. We stopped at 7-11 for some snacks for the road and oooh my god I’ve fallen in love. 7-11 in Japan actually has some pretty decent and cheap food. Rice balls of all different flavors make a great snack but my favorite thing by far were these mini pancake sandwiches stuffed with butter and maple syrup that are DANGEROUS!!
Headed over to the train and made our way to Tokyo station. Remember how earlier I said I though I wouldn’t be able to read/understand anything. Well almost all the signage was also in English and in the one instance were we got completely lost transferring trains, people were more than friendly and helpful in pointing us back in the right direction. But once again, it is silent. The trains were stuffed to the brim with commuters and everyone is lessening to their music or reading manga on their phones (seriously sooo many people) but there is not a sounds. When we made it to Tokyo station got off the train and entered the mass that is the central connection point for most of the trains and busses in Tokyo the only noise you could hear was the thunderous clomp of shoes on the floor. No street performers. No conversations in passing. No advertisements or even announcements. Just shoes. After wandering back and forth in what I thought was the right direction we finally found the JR bus ticket office and 10 minutes later were aboard a bus headed to kawaguchiko. We got onto the highway heading southwest and for the next hour we were still in the sprawling urbanization that is Tokyo proper. Then through a tunnel and suddenly we were surrounded by green!

Fujiyoshida!

Our original plan had been to come down to Fujiyoshida and take a relaxing day soaking in a traditional Japanese onsen overlooking Mount Fuji. But as I’m sure we’ll figure out soon, travel plans rarely are what ends up actually happening. The journey there was pretty and green but as we approached there were some dark angry looking clouds in the sky. But more importantly from about 15 minutes away Athena recognized something she loves arguably more than soaking in hot water….roller coasters! In the distant loomed Fuji-Q Highland, Japan’s favorite theme park at the base of a mountain. We continued on to our stop deliberating on what to do with our day. Getting off at Kawaguchiko station we walked past our hostel, 5 minutes away to familiarize ourselves with the area and decided, Fuji-Q here we come. It was a quick 25 minute walk again through small gravel back roads barely a tiny-cars width wide but here in between houses were scattered small local gardens. It was amazing how in that short walk from a main bus terminal to a large amusement park you could feel so instantly like you were in the country.

We got to Fuji-Q and it was awesome. Cheaper than any amusement park I had ever been to in the states with half the lines and just as many wild rollercoasters.
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It seemed like every ride there boasted the steepest drop in the world, or most spins in the world. We even took the Ferris wheel and for a moment in there the sun broke through the clouds and we could see the top of Mount Fuji. It was an unexpectedly awesome way to spend the day. Sure the weather wasn’t spectacular but even so the surrounding mountains and hills around Fuji are beautiful with the natural Grey clouds rolling over their peaks. That and now I know I just have an excuse to come back and hike to the top of Fuji when the suns out and I can really see the valley for what it is.
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Ferris wheels, roller coasters and giant swings make for a great time at the base of Mount Fuji
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But the sun showed its face for a hot second too
After a day in at the amusement park we walked back to the hostel and got checked in and man what a cool place that was. If you’re ever in the Fujiyoshida area I highly recommend checking out the Kagelow Mt Fuji hostel. It’s got a modern industrial shic vibe with its own restaurant and lounge and operated by the nicest group of guys. We asked one of them his favorite local place for food and his words “well if I’m going to eat out around here of course it’s going to be sushi”. And he pointed us in the right direction. It was still a little early so instead we walked down to the lake front and hung out in a park that overlooked the lake and rising mountains beyond. After a bit we decided it was time to head back and try our first sushi in Japan!

MORE ON JAPAN SOON!!

 

The Packing List

There’s a million different ways someone can tell you to pack. There the minimalist, just the clothes on my back, to the over-prepared stuff in everything under the sun and inevitably forget the one thing you needed. I like to refer to the later as “the Boy Scout” method of travel. And while there is no doubt certain travelers will tell you their way is the right way…I have absolutely no idea what’ll work for me let alone anyone else. So I figured I’ll give a quick run down on what all I decided to bring and maybe we can check back in a month or so of travel and see how much of a “Boy Scout” I was.

The bag. Originally I was planning on using my 65L backpacking backpack, my staple for all things from tramping through forests to bicoastal living visiting family on holidays, but there was always one thing about it that bothered me…it is top loading only. Finding anything inevitably means unpacking everything for that pair of pants I knew I needed immediately but packed on the bottom by accident anyways. The idea of living out of that for a prolonged period of time did not excite me. So, I splurged and bought a Cotopaxi Allpa 35L. It has a full length zipper on the side and opens like a suitcase. Easy access plus the tons of built-in compartments and organizers were a huge win for me.

The bag comes with a bright yellow rain cover, two stuff sacks for clothes and shoes, and for a limited time a Luzon 18L day bag which I’ve managed to store perfectly in the external laptop compartment on the side for easy access.  Not to mention it was designed to be the largest possible dimensions that will fit any overhead / carry-on restrictions in the world. That, and I figured 35L instead of 65L would make me a little more deliberate with what I wanted to bring.

Lets start with clothes; easier for this trip because it’s going to be HAWT. As a matter of fact very few clothes needed: 2 tank tops, 1 short sleeve, 1 long sleeve, 2 pairs of shorts, 1 board shorts, 4 pairs of underwear, and a single pair of thick merino wool socks for the rare occasion it gets cold. For the elements I’ve got an old Patagucci R1 fleece and a rain jacket and rain pant to stay dry.

Electronics. The most important of any travelers gear, the “instagram equipment”. I brought my Sony a6000, 2 lenses (16-50mm and a 55-210mm telephoto), a GoPro 4, a small tripod and enough SD card space to keep me bust for a while. I also have a 200gb flash drive, extra batteries, and of course a home made bubble wrap and duct tape camera case.

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As for everything else here’s a quick list and some photos:

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  • toiletries
  • beard trimmer (for that elegant look)
  • first aid kit
  • Steripen (UV water purifier)
  • Passport
  • International drivers license
  • South East Asia backpackers guide book
  • one Costco photo pack with an ungodly amount of cheap printed visa photosIMG_1081
  • neck pillow
  • sleep mask (looks like a bra for your eyes)
  • sleep sack for those less than perfect hostel beds
  • money belt
  • **top tip** a surge protector with 4 outlet ports and one converter (charge everything at your single bedside outlet)
  • bucket hat
  • baseball capIMG_1082
  • 32oz Nalgene
  • 3 L hydropack to maintain hydration
  • journal for pre-blog thoughts
  • dry bag just in case
  • home made bag lock from Home Depot
  • quick dry towel (Hitchhikers’ Guide would never let me forget it)
  • camo buff
  • portable battery packIMG_1085
  • an ancient black diamond headlamp
  • a spork
  • old glasses case stuffed full of charging cables so they don’t get lost

I think thats about it. If you’ve travelled more than me and can think of something I’m missing…well too late because we fly out to Tokyo tomorrow! Thanks for reading and check out the time-lapse packing video Athena made on our youtube channel at

For Some Background (Adam)

My names Adam. I’m 23 years old. I grew up in Boston, yes actually in the city limits not just somewhere in Mass, and no fortunately or not I do not have an accent. It’s there in “the far north” that I learned my love for harsh winters that freeze you to the bone and a variant of ice skating we in the New England area like to call skiing. While it will always be my homeland when college came around it was time for a change. I moved out to Washington state and it was here in the perpetual grey that I found my real love for the outdoors. My family’s version of vacation was weekends down on Cape Cod (every Bostonians little slice of heaven) at the beach. But here under the graceful watch of mount Rainier I found the serenity and magic of backpacking. Getting out of the hustle of life for a while stirred something in me and since then I’ve had an insatiable desire to explore.

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OG snowboard steeze circa 2013

Through college that desire to explore grew and shaped itself through my discovery of a new love. Motorcycles. It all started as my desire for my own wheels to get around. Motorcycles seemed like a great cheap way to get myself there. Yeah sure it rains all the time but learn to ride in the rain and you can ride anywhere? For the record while I 100% advocate that everyone try the thrill of 2 wheels and an engine at some point in their life if you ever think you’re doing to save money you’re joking yourself. 4 and a half years and 7 bikes later I can honestly admit it’s an obsession.

Starting on weekends I’d take trips out to mountain roads on my little ninja 250. Exploring on day trips was great but once I knew the 150 mile radius around my campus I knew it was time to combine these loves and start Motocamping. As many weekends at it wasn’t pouring and in that blissful 3 month vacation college students get I’d work but always make time for some big trip whether it was down through California, out to Utah deserts, or through the Rockies out to…Michigan?

Through these motocamping trips and some epic spring break camping trips I’ve fortunate enough to see a good chunk of the western half of the US.
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It was also during these years in college that I met my better half and long term copilot or adventure Athena. She taught me the value of embracing your weird, that a 12 hour drive to get somewhere pretty ain’t nothin, and how amazing it is to have a best friend, partner in crime, occasional nudge, and someone to right you on your path with you everywhere you go. 4 and a half years strong and she’s not sick of me yet!
After I graduated with a degree in Geology and Economics we decided to get out of the rain and head south to Athena’s homeland and land of 75° and sunny, San Diego. My first thought…365 riding season and no SoCal traffic for me. Yes and no. I got a job working as a staff geophysicist for a small family run business which had me working 60+ hour weeks traveling all over Southern California. So my riding season was confined to 4am commutes to the office followed by a few hours a day in company vans on the gridlock called the 405. But I was working outside, with a new “office” everyday and making decent money for my work.

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EM-61 Surveys by San Diego Bay. Not every job site was 100º in the desert

 

Yet somehow Athena and I still managed to find time on the weekends to explore and enjoy the many breweries of San Diego and still get out to see the mostly desert surroundings. But we both knew San Diego wasn’t the end goal. A great pit stop but we had our sights set on something else. Some good ole fashion travelcation (a personally trademarked combination of travel, education and vacation #travelcation) abroad. We budgeted and figure out if we worked hard, kept our fun to a reasonable level and had our eyes on the prize we could work a year and save up for a trip to every young backpackers dream South East Asia SEA.

So began the plan, well lack there of really. A route was roughly sketched out and one way plane tickets purchased. Beyond that it’ll be a week by week adventure. One year from touching down in San Diego we’ve both taken a break from careers before they started to consume us and are ready to start the next chapter of adventures. With a savings account ready to be drained and no definitive reason to come back we’re on our way. So follow along if youd like to see what two silly minimally experienced world travelers discover along the way. Because really… WHY NOT ROAM?