Really I just like reasons for holidays and celebrations, as evident by my three new years this year. However I do think it is momentous to celebrate the fact that I have made it around the globe. Granted 380 days is a lot longer than 80, I’m also taking my sweet time a lot more than that adventure and its lack of stopping anywhere. Let’s ignore the fact that I already celebrated my 365 days traveling. So what does an avid eater do to celebrate?
My last meal in Madrid and in Europe was at Botin, the “world’s oldest restaurant” based on Guinness records and contested by a bunch of other ancient places. The more important part is they have crackly skinned moist pork and it is in an ancient wooden cellar that managed to escape the bombings of so many wars. The restaurant is pretty touristy and I got told to return three hours later when I showed up fifteen minutes after they opened, but that’s what you get for not being able to make a reservation online for less than three people. I had to get some chocolate and churros to bide my time, the horrors of my day. When I showed up later I got crammed in a corner where the walls crumbled on me occasionally and I was mildly squished next to a giant humidifier disguised as a ye olde wood door. Yet the tender pork in crisp skin swimming in a pool of its own juices with a couple of potatoes was enough to make it awesome still. I just wish I had the money and a stomach not full of churros and chocolate to have ordered the roasted baby lamb as well. Lamb is already tender as a young sheep, is baby lamb extra tender?
This is also a good time to reflect on all the things I have learned over the past year. I’m oft asked why I went on this trip and one of the answers I give is, “This is cheaper than graduate school and the learning is a lot more fun and practical.”
The big one: Was a Round The World Trip ticket worth it?
Yes and no. It was a good deal and I had a lot of flexibility in my flights, free changes to date/time and only $125 for changes for location changes. I even managed to change my flight for free when I missed my flight due to misunderstanding military time was being used. Who flies at 1 AM?! That’s the end of the good news. The other half is that it took an average of 40 minutes of hold time and a week worth of calling daily to make changes. For LAN I found that LAN America is handicapped and tells you to call back daily just to tell you they screwed up, and it’ll take probably another three days. Call back then, we have no power to change anything without our supervisor! Calling LAN Chile was much more effective as their call center people could make changes immediately if it was for date/time. I did get blacked out of the entire summer for going to Europe which was fortunate for my wallet but annoying for flexibility’s sake. From other travelers’ reports I have compiled that the Latin American airlines (LAN and TAM) seem to be the worst, I’ve never had a good run in with AA even prior to current bankruptcy service issues, and the developed European nations (FinnAir and Lufthansa) had the most friendly and helpful service. Would I do it again? I probably wouldn’t have made it around the world in one year without it, but I’m not sure if being in India right now inhaling curries would’ve been a bad thing.
What do you need to carry?
I’m not really sure still, but I can tell you to plan for your weather. I can also tell you what I really haven’t used. I still haven’t been in good camping climate so the sleeping bag has only been optionally used. My clothes have been wrecked after being worn for a year and I’ve had to buy a lot of new stuff. Don’t buy it in Asia unless you are of their tiny proportions.
My laptop has been a blessing and a curse. I’ve typed out lengthy e-mails on a phone this trip and it’s a pain in the ass. You could use the free computers at hostels but I will warn you that I get blocked a lot from website that report the entire router’s IP has been blocked to spambots at multiple hostels. So it’s been convenient to have a computer of my own and to view travel info on a full size screen. The curse is that it’s broken three times, changing my travel plans three times, so that I had to hustle to a developed city with an authorized Apple repair center and then sit there waiting in a more expensive city. And these fine authorized folk in Singapore of all places only managed to break my laptop the first fix so that it caused the second problem. Oy. It’s also heavy and the biggest item I constantly worry about getting stolen or losing. I do carry a PacSafe slash proof bag which has been awesome when I can’t find a locker.
The ISYT (youth travel) card I bought hasn’t been used once. Being under 26 would’ve been more useful for youth discounts and my almost decade old university ID worked just fine most places.
Is Couch Surfing a good idea? / How do I find a good place to stay (Couches and hostels/guesthouses)
Yes, this is a definite yes for Couch Surfing. Even if you are feeling timid about staying in a stranger’s house it’s one of the best and most reliable ways I’ve had to find locals in the big cities I’m going to even if just for a coffee, drink or meal. And big cities are the hardest places for me to connect with locals so it’s a boon. As for finding good places to sleep/eat/drink, it’s really pretty similar on any website. You start getting used to filtering by places with lots of reviews and what is really important in reviews. At some point you realize all the reviews about “the best hostel breakfast ever!” and “the best meal I’ve had in my 3 weeks in Spain!” on every location you look at cannot be real. As with anything new you find, your experience may rock the socks off a place with no reviews or even a great reviewed place will be terrible. Smart filtering will still up your chances. So far the only bad hostels I’ve had were because they were party hostels, not because of any terrible dirtiness or anything. I personally filter for clean, just out of tourist area but walkable, not a party place, and family run. As for couch surfing, I’ve met a few people I didn’t click with, amazing people that keep in touch more often than friends from back home, and one cult who made intelligent conversation and great Thai food.
This does lead me into how do I find good eating places. Sadly backpacker joints are generally overpriced for the area and mediocre to terrible. Apparently backpacking means you have bad taste. My general go to websites have been Chowhound and Simon Seeks however both are more skewed towards people with money and less towards your budget traveler. Lonely Planet and other guides tend to value cleanliness and comfortable (read: tastes altered to your pansy tourist taste buds) over actual good taste. Also there is some strange curse of success where once in a guidebook many places know they can stop caring because a constant stream of one time visitors will come in. Otherwise I find local food blogs the best spots to find pertinent budget information for eating tasty local foods.
So there’s my thoughts on traveling and eating my way around the world for one year. I’m not stopping just yet as I’ve landed on my feet in Ecuador so I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more on the way. Every continent operates a little differently and South America should be a fun challenge.