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Our location as of 10/2/2012

Madison, WI, USA
Last updated 10/2/2012
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Trip Recap

Top ten experiences?

Nikki:

  1. Going out for sushi and a jazz/funk concert in Tokyo with Yoshiko and other couchsurfers.
  2. The Gracia festival in Barcelona with Jordi and Tanit.
  3. Celebrating New Year’s Eve on the beach in Ko Lipe, Thailand.
  4. Hiking in the Swiss Alps.
  5. Hiking in the Tiger Leaping Gorge, China.
  6. Driving and hiking in the Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand.
  7. Hanging out with friends and family in the beautiful Cinque Terre, Italy.
  8. Seeing the Great Wall of China.
  9. Scuba diving in the Andaman Sea.
  10. Oktoberfest in Munich.

Brad:

  1. Diving in the Andaman Sea, Thailand
  2. Hiking in the Tiger Leaping Gorge, China
  3. Walking the Great Wall of China
  4. Seeing the Gobi Desert, Mongolia
  5. Climbing on ancient Angkor Wat temple ruins, Cambodia
  6. Hiking in the Swiss Alps
  7. Hanging out with friends and family in Cinque Terre, Italy
  8. The Gracia festival parade where devils shot fireworks at people in Barcelona, Spain
  9. Eating sushi and seeing jazz in Tokyo, Japan
  10. Watching a baseball game in the cheering section in South Korea

Bottom ten experiences?

Nikki:

  1. The infamous cat bite in Gili Trawangan and its aftermath.
  2. Getting sick in Sengiggi, Indonesia.
  3. Getting an ear infection in Thailand.
  4. Getting sick in Kep, Cambodia.
  5. Getting sick on the plane ride from Hong Kong to Seoul.
  6. Being stuck in Ulaanbaatar while waiting for our Russian visas.
  7. Walking around in Phnom Penh.
  8. Wandering around, trying to find a place to stay in Ko Phi Phi, Thailand.
  9. Missing friends and family.
  10. Getting lost all the time (although you do get used to it).

Brad:

  1. Nikki’s rabies scare in Indonesia
  2. The train strike in Italy
  3. Almost having nowhere to stay in Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
  4. Rainy weather ruining or short stay in Macau and Hong Kong
  5. United Airlines losing Nikki’s mom’s bag, and our new clothes
  6. Waiting for our Russian visas in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
  7. Catching fever in Vietnam
  8. Commuting on bus between Hangzhou and Lin’an, China
  9. Getting a Chinese visa in Bangkok, Thailand
  10. The nasty food and airag in the Mongolian countryside

Top three meals?

Nikki:

  1. Mama Naxi’s family dinners in Lijiang, China. Steamed rice with bowls and bowls of different stir-fried seafood, meats, and vegetables.
  2. Sushi in Kanazawa, Japan. I can still remember how fresh and amazing the shrimp and eel was.
  3. Our dinner at the Good Luck Thai restaurant in Hong Kong with Sid and Rad. Great food and company.

Brad:

  1. The claypot place in Yangshuo, China. Between that and the dumpling place, we ate there every night. The claypot was hot, extremely spicy, and delicious.
  2. Sushi at the place Yoshiko took us in Tokyo, Japan. It may have been on par with other sushi we had in Japan, but I loved it so much because it was my first time eating nigiri rather than maki and it was with great company.
  3. Portuguese chorizo at Fernando’s in Macau. We ventured to the opposite side of the island on a rainy afternoon because Anthony Bordain went here and loved it, and I’d totally agree this was amazing. Finish it with an original egg tart from Lord Stow’s bakery down the street.

Bottom three meals?

Nikki:

  1. The “goatsickle” in Mongolia. It was very sweet of our driver to buy them for us, but I wish he hadn’t bothered.
  2. The chicken in Tai Shan, China.
  3. Very sour dairy products in Mongolia.

Brad:

  1. The infamous “goatsicle” in Mongolia. Sorry Gana, I purposely “accidentally” dropped it on the ground because it was so bad.
  2. Our awful and expensive dinner atop Tai’shan.
  3. Our very first meal in Southeast Asia in Kuta, Bali. We wanted to go to an “authentic” place and ended up with very substandard food for Indonesia.

Top five countries?

Nikki:

  1. Japan
  2. Italy
  3. New Zealand
  4. Thailand
  5. China

Brad:

  1. Thailand
  2. Japan
  3. New Zealand
  4. Belgium
  5. Italy

Favorite place we stayed?

Nikki: My favorite places were all when we were guests in people’s homes. Besides that, Traders Hotel in KL was awesome and so was the guesthouse in Amed, Bali when we had our own balcony overlooking the ocean.

Brad: Traders in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Worst place we stayed?

Nikki: The room at the top of Tai Shan, China was pretty bad. I also remember some small and dirty places in Cambodia.

Brad: That dump in Sengiggi, Indonesia. A hot, mosquito-infested, and no running water room was not the best place for Nikki to get really sick.

Weirdest thing?

Nikki: We saw so many weird things, I don’t even know where to start.

Brad: We saw a lot of strange stuff. I’d say it’s a tie between the Capuchin Monastery in Rome and penis park in Samcheok, South Korea.

Most interesting thing?

Nikki: Mongolia interested me the most. The history of the country, the rise and fall of the Khan empire, and the nomadic culture were all really interesting to learn about.

Brad: Mongolia. The fact that people still live a nomadic lifestyle on what might as well be the Moon is amazing. Their customs and way of life was very interesting.

Biggest regret?

Nikki: Not renting a llama for a hike in Kaikoura, New Zealand. We read about a farm that provided llamas to carry your bags for a day of hiking, but at the time we decided it was too expensive. Now I wish we would have done it, even though it would have been really silly. Also, I wish we would’ve gone to Laos.

Brad: That we didn’t get a motorcycle license before the trip. There were a lot of places in Southeast Asia we wanted to go but couldn’t get to because our travel insurance wouldn’t cover motorbike disasters. And SE Asia’s not a great place to learn how to ride a motorbike.

Top five beaches?

Nikki:

  1. Gili Trawangan, Indonesia
  2. Whitehaven Beach, Australia
  3. Cathedral Cove, New Zealand
  4. Ko Lipe, Thailand
  5. Ko Mook, Thailand

Brad:

  1. Whitehaven Beach, Australia
  2. Gili Trawangan, Indonesia
  3. Rabbit Island, Cambodia
  4. Byron Bay, Australia
  5. Ko Lipe, Thailand

Top five cities?

Nikki:

  1. Tokyo
  2. Barcelona
  3. Hong Kong
  4. Sydney
  5. Amsterdam

Brad:

  1. Tokyo, Japan
  2. Barcelona, Spain
  3. Sydney, Australia
  4. Hong Kong
  5. Amsterdam, Netherlands

Favorite museum?

Nikki: The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It was depressing, of course, but also very well-done and informative. I think I learned more there than I did in all the other museums put together. I wish everyone could spend an afternoon there.

Brad: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Very powerful, sad, and informative.

Most helpful thing we packed?

Nikki: Probably my headlamp. We had lots of late nights or early mornings when we needed to pack or unpack our bags in the dark without waking up the whole dorm. Plus, some of the places we went didn’t have street lights, so a flashlight was pretty essential at night.

Brad: My camera. Many other travel blogs say not to bring such a big camera, but I wouldn’t have gotten the shots I did with a point-and-shoot. It was bulky, but I’m really glad I brought it along.

Thing we wished we had packed?

Nikki: I really wish we would have taken a pair of travel speakers. We thought about it, but decided they would take up too much room and that we wouldn’t use them enough to be worth it. It turned out there were many, many times when one of us said, “Too bad we can’t listen to some music now.” They definitely would have been worth the space they would have taken up.

Brad: An unlocked cell phone. I had my iPhone, but it was locked to AT&T and the power button was broken, so it was only useful when connected to WiFi. There were many times we needed to call hostel, hosts, and businesses and we couldn’t.

How does your view of the world now compare to how you saw the world before you started?

Nikki: The world is somehow both more complicated and more simple than I realized. On the one hand, there are all of these other cultures that are so unique and confusing to outsiders, but at the same time people all over the world enjoy pretty much the same things: spending time with loved ones, eating good meals, playing games, enjoying nature and beauty. I don’t understand how everyone can be so alike and yet so different.

Brad: The world is much larger than I ever thought. We traveled for a year and barely scratched the surface on what there is to see. It’s also a lot safer than I imagined.

What did you miss the most while on the road?

Nikki: Pizza. (And maybe my family.)

Brad: Family of course. While in Asia, I missed good western food.

From the places we visited, where would you most want to live for a year?

Nikki: I know I was only there for 14 hours, but I would seriously consider Dublin. Of the places I’ve seen a little bit more of, I think Barcelona or Tokyo would be at the top of my list.

Brad: Japan

Tips for other world travelers?

Nikki: Don’t be afraid! Just go have an adventure!

Brad:

  • Get an unlocked smartphone and buy cheap prepaid SIM cards in the countries you visit. Even if you don’t have a data plan, with a smartphone you can download maps and travel articles of where you are when you have WiFi. Skype is a great, cheap way to call home.
  • Pack light. The longer you travel, the less you need, because you’ll be doing laundry and running out of shampoo pretty soon anyways.
  • Learn Hello and Thank You in the local languages. For 80% of travel, that’s all you’ll really need. Pantomime and picture menus go a long way, and English really is the universal language of travel.
  • Get a motorcycle license before going to Southeast Asia. Motorbike, though dangerous, is the best way of getting to the beautiful countryside. In many countries, it’s illegal to drive one without a motorcycle license, which isn’t a problem with cops, but is for travel insurance.

Trip Recap: Statistics

General

  • Countries we visited: 26
  • Continents visited:??3
  • Days on the road: 399
  • Distance traveled:??45,534 miles (1.8??times the circumference of Earth)
    • Distance traveled by airplane:??23,100 miles
    • Distance traveled over land/water: 22,434 miles
  • Hours traveling over land/water: 844 (35 days)
  • Hours in the air: 50
  • UNESCO World Heritage sites visited: 53
  • Places we stayed: 167
  • City we stayed in the longest:??Bangkok (11 days)
  • Time zone changes: 19
  • Currencies used: 19
  • Olympic host cities we visited: 12
  • Where we stayedNights we stayed in:
    • Hostel dorm rooms: 103 (26%)
    • Hostel private rooms: 76 (19%)
    • Hotel rooms: 74 (19%)
    • Guesthouses: 58 (15%)
    • CouchSurfing: 7 (2%)
    • Airbnb: 23 (6%)
    • Tents, park huts, or gers: 23 (6%)
    • On a boat: 8 (2%)
    • On a train: 11 (3%)
    • On a bus: 4 (1%)
    • On a plane: 2 (1%)
    • In a home: 6 (2%)

The Blog

  • Blog Posts:??113
  • Comments: 201
  • Words: 75,010 (664 words per post)
  • Google Analytics stats:
    • Page views: 14,564
    • Visits: 6,747
    • Unique visitors: 2,156

Transportation

  • Flights taken: 14
  • Distance Brad drove:??4,032 miles
  • Countries that drive on the left: 10; on the right: 16
  • Overnight trains, planes, buses, and ferries: 21
  • Cities we used subway systems in: 24
  • Way we entered the countries: by air: 8; by water: 4; by land: 15

Activities

  • Scuba Diving
    • Dives completed: 27
    • Total underwater time:??19 hours??55 minutes
    • Maximum depth: 97 feet
  • Geocaching
    • Caches found: 85
    • Countries we found caches in: 22
  • Movies we saw in theatres: 3
  • Sports games we went to: 3 (Rugby in New Zealand, Baseball in S. Korea and Japan)
  • Books Brad read on the trip: 54,??for 20,615 pages (list)

Photography

  • Photos taken: 18,572
  • Photos uploaded to SmugMug: 4,372, 24% of all photos taken

Expenses

Cost per category:

  • Transportation: 31.1%
  • Lodging: 21.5%
  • Food, non-alcoholic drink: 14.8%
  • Activities and admission fees: 8.6%
  • Gear and pre-trip expenses: 6.7%
  • Scuba diving: 5.3%
  • Alcohol: 4.2%
  • Visas: 2%
  • Internet access and this website: 1.2%
  • Miscellaneous (toiletries, laundry, haircuts,??souvenirs, etc.): 4.6%

Most Expensive Countries:

  1. Australia [34]*
  2. Japan [37]
  3. Netherlands [38]
  4. New Zealand [43]
  5. Germany [43]

Least Expensive Countries:

  1. Malaysia [112]*
  2. Czech Republic [112]
  3. Indonesia [127]
  4. Vietnam [131]
  5. Cambodia [132]

* Indicates the number of weeks we could have stayed in only that country on our original budget if we hadn’t traveled anywhere else.

Country Recap: Ireland

Sunrise on the last day of our trip

We didn’t realize it when we booked our flight home, but we actually had a 14 hour layover in Dublin. We decided to take advantage of this and??stayed at a??hostel that was right in the Temple Bar area of town. Once we got checked in (which took forever because the hostel had messed up our booking), we went out looking for a pub. Many of them had already closed for the night, but we found a lively one with a band playing an eclectic mix of tunes. Since we didn’t feel like dancing, we went over to the quiet half of the pub and tried a pint of Guinness. It really does taste better??in Ireland, although I’m not exactly sure how to describe the difference. The flavor seemed richer and the texture was nice and velvety.

The next morning we had enough time for our second major objective: an Irish breakfast. We went to The Earl, a little place where everyone seemed to know each other. I asked Dennis, the owner, what a traditional Irish breakfast consists of, and he explained that it depends on who you talk to.??In his opinion, it’s an egg, beans, rashers, and pudding, both white and??black. I said that’s what I wanted and he even threw in sausage and toast for free. It didn’t look like a whole lot on the plate, but it was very filling and delicious.

After that we went on an hour walk through the city. We saw Grafton Street, Trinity College, St. Stephen’s Green, and Dublin Castle. I would have loved to see more, but by then it was time to head to the airport and bring our year-long trip to an end.

Top experience?

Nikki: Eating an Irish breakfast.

Brad: The Irish breakfast.

Bottom experience?

Nikki: Dealing with our stupid hostel. The staff seemed to have no idea what was going on and the place was really dirty.

Brad: Dealing with the hostel. They got our reservation wrong and it took a long time to sort out.

Favorite??person we met?

Nikki: Dennis, who gave us a great breakfast.

Brad: Dennis, the owner of the place we ate our traditional Irish breakfast. He was very nice and talkative.

Worst disaster?

Nikki: Going through US customs and immigration in the Dublin airport. My passport had somehow been marked as invalid, so we had to go to the “Admissions Review” room in the back and get grilled by an incredulous officer for five minutes. Luckily they decided we weren’t a national security threat.

Brad: The U.S. customs pre-clearance process. The line was long and slow and the personnel rude. Nikki went to the “extra questioning” area because the Bangkok embassy messed up when she got extra passport pages. Our flight was 30 minutes late because of how slow the overly-paranoid U.S. government bureaucracy was.

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Country Recap: Germany

We visited Germany twice on our quick spiral around Western Europe. We spent several quick days in the north of Germany and wrapped up our trip by celebrating Oktoberfest in Bavaria. There’s a lot left to see in this country, but it’ll have to wait for a future trip. Here’s what we thought about what we did see.

Top three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. Oktoberfest!
  2. The English Garden in Munich. It was a little chilly out, but besides that, it was a great place to hang out and listen to music.
  3. The random pub we went to in Hamburg.

Brad:

  1. Oktoberfest. We had a lot of fun! The rotisserie chicken was really, really good.
  2. Tempelhof Airport in Berlin. Hanging out on a runway was pretty fun!
  3. Hamburg’s trendy HafenCity.

Bottom three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. The snorer we had in our room in Berlin. I am not going to miss sleeping in dorms!
  2. Cold, rainy weather in all three cities.
  3. Visiting the Berlin wall.

Brad:

  1. The S- and U-Bahn route map in Berlin was impossible to read.
  2. The Berlin Wall. The cheesy graffiti just didn’t do it for me.
  3. We had a snorer in our room in Berlin.

Best meal?

Nikki: I think the currywurst at Oktoberfest was the best, but I also enjoyed all the pretzels, bratwurst, and chicken.

Brad: The rotisserie-grilled half-chickens at Oktoberfest. The meat just fell off the bone.

Worst meal?

Nikki: I can’t really think of anything bad…

Brad: The buffet breakfast we had at our hostel in Berlin sucked. It was expensive, but ended up being little more than toast.

Favorite person we met?

Nikki: Peter, the friend we made at Oktoberfest. He was a really funny, interesting guy.

Brad: Peter from Oktoberfest.

Worst disaster?

Nikki: We had a near-miss when Brad thought he had lost his wedding ring (turns out it was in his backpack), but I think the worst thing that happened was when we accidentally paid double for the Munich transportation system day pass.

Brad: Hamburg’s City Hall was closed to tours when we visited because Parliament was in session.

Favorite place we stayed?

Nikki: The Superbude Hostel in Hamburg. It was a new hotel-hostel fusion and turned out to be a great place to stay.

Brad: Despite being in the middle of nowhere, our hostel room in Munich was pretty nice.

Worst place we stayed?

Nikki: The Meininger Hostel in Berlin. It was a new hotel-hostel fusion and turned out to be a bad place to stay.

Brad: The hostel in Berlin. The staff didn’t record that we paid our second night, and wanted us to pay twice. The staff weren’t friendly.

Weirdest thing?

Nikki: I’d say the river surfers in Munich. Watching them was pretty fun.

Brad: All of the tourist industry street workers in Berlin were focused at the Brandenburg Gate. There was an incredible concentration of human statues, people dressed in old US or Soviet military uniforms, and pretzel vendors. There were also a fair number of people making a living by wearing gorilla or bear suits.

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Country Recap: Switzerland

Switzerland is amazing! We have had so much fun in the little bit of time we’ve spent here.

Zurich is a nice city, but the real highlight of our time there was staying with Laura and Brad and their son, Nathan. Before moving to Switzerland, they lived in Waunakee and became friends with Brad’s Aunt Michelle. Now they’ve been in Zurich for four years, but luckily for us they still keep in touch with Michelle and invited us to stay with them. Besides giving us advice on our trip, keeping us entertained, and letting us play with Legos (Legos have come a long way these past twenty years!), they also introduced us to one of the best inventions of modern times: raclette. Forget Swiss Army Knives and velcro. Raclette is the best thing to come out of Switzerland. Basically, raclette is a type of cheese that everyone melts in small pans in a grill on the table and then eats with potatoes and vegetables. Laura and Brad add a Wisconsin touch and serve it with sausage, too. Amazing.

We also spent a couple of days in the Jungfrau Region of the Alps. I’m sure this won’t surprise any of you, but the Swiss Alps are stunning. Just look at the pictures. Our first day was overcast and drizzly, but luckily it was clear the next morning. We went hiking and saw incredible scenery. It reminded me of New Zealand. The crisp mountain air was invigorating and we only saw a few other people the whole morning. All we could hear were brooks, waterfalls, the wind, and chiming cow bells. This was definitely my favorite hike.

I could probably spend a long time in Switzerland. It’s beautiful, clean, organized, and hyper-efficient. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most expensive countries in the world. Everything is about double what it would be in America.??A hot dog will cost you $7, a burger is about $15, and a bunk in a large dorm will be at least $40. It’s a great place, but not if you’re on a tight budget.

Top three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. Hiking in the Alps.
  2. Our day trip to Lucerne.
  3. Eating raclette with Laura and family.

Brad:

  1. Hiking the Alps. One of the highlights of the trip!
  2. Lucerne. It was our first trip to the mountains of Switzerland and the city was gorgeous.
  3. Staying with Laura, Brad, and Nathan.

Bottom three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. The cost of everything! So expensive.
  2. Bad weather our first day in the Alps.
  3. Not spending enough time here.

Brad: The expensiveness of the country! Take the price of things elsewhere in western Europe and double them and you have Swiss prices. (Otherwise, Switzerland is great, so I only have one.)

Best meal?

Nikki: The raclette!

Brad: Fajitas that Brad made one night. And they were made with Penzeys Spices from Madison, so we’ll have to get some when we get back.

Worst meal?

Nikki: I don’t think we ate anything bad.

Brad: Our $7 slice of pizza at Z??rich HB when we got in. It tasted OK, not $7 though.

Favorite person we met?

Nikki: Of course it’s Laura, Brad, and Nathan.

Brad: Laura, Brad, and Nathan.

Favorite place we stayed?

Nikki: With Laura, Brad, and Nathan.

Brad: With Laura and Brad. They were amazing hosts!

Best thing we didn’t blog about?

Nikki: Our daytrip to Lucerne. Really cute city on a lake.

Brad: Lucerne! It’s a beautiful little town in the mountains.

Weirdest thing?

Nikki: Apparently the Swiss all turn their cars off while they’re waiting for trains to pass.

Brad: The bomb shelters. It was once required that all households have them, and Laura and Brad’s place had one. And it actually gets inspected to make sure it works! I can’t believe 10 people and a chemical toilet could be expected to live in an area that small. It does make a nice storage area though.

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