Friday, September 26, 2014

Shots, Shots, Shots

... And not the fun kind of shots.

Brayde did a bunch of research on the CDC Traveler's Health website for our upcoming trip.  It took a lot of time, but she was able to compile a list of the countries we'd be visiting and the immunizations we'd need to be safe.  It was a pretty big list.

While trying to find my immunization records, I discovered that I had none.  It has been many years since I've had any, so I have some catching up to do.  I wasn't excited to get a bunch of needles stuck in me, but I made the appointment anyway for an advisory meeting and immunizations after.  I brought in all the research Brayde had done, and the doctor also had his own computer system with recommended vaccines for different countries.  He was very good about explaining which ones I need, which I didn't, and how it all was going to work.

Some of the new immunizations I was getting included Typhoid, Tetanus, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Malaria, and Yellow Fever.  To my relief, the shots were virtually painless, and some of the immunizations like Malaria and Typhoid come in the form of pills.  The Hepatitis shots have one or two followup shots needed, so best to get these done well before your departure date.

The shot for Yellow Fever has to be administered by a certified shot-giver person, so I had to walk down to another office for that one.  Some countries require proof of immunization for Yellow Fever if traveling from countries with known cases, so this was a good idea to get.  You'll end up with this official-looking document to carry with you:

Malaria pills can be very expensive depending on the type you need (i.e., in the hundreds of dollars).  Luckily mine will be covered by insurance, so in the end,  after a couple copays, I'm right on track.  

With Brayde's insurance, her experience was a little different.  They did not cover travel related immunizations, so everything had to be out-of-pocket.  This is quite a bit of money, so had to be added to our budget.  We'll both be much safer having the proper vaccinations though, so it is worth it.

When going on a big adventure, immunizations and health records might be the last thing you'd think of when planning but definitely a good idea, and something you'll want to start sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Brushing up on Spanish Skills

More important than wrenches, spare parts, waterproof bags, or GPS units, COMMUNICATION is going be the most used tool during our trip.  Without knowing the language, you're put at a huge disadvantage, especially when you get into situations that require negotiating, asking directions, or dealing with emergencies.

The last time we were in Mexico, we realized our Spanish skills were adequate for basic conversation, ordering food, and reading road signs, but if we were pulled over by police, stopped at a checkpoint, or had to get repairs done, we would be in trouble. This prompted us to start researching local Spanish language course options that would be compatible with our busy work schedules.

After much online searching, we found a great fit in the Seattle area.  We plan on taking 2-3 months of weekly classes with Marta from The Spanish Class Cafe.  Marta's method emphasizes conversational use of language, always prompting us to speak Spanish, and participate in dialogue.  I think she's as excited about our trip as we are, and she has made it a point to teach us how they say things differently in the various countries we'll be traveling in.  This 1-on-1 attention is a definite bonus.  After one month of classes, we noticed our vocabulary and comfort level growing and were excited to continue for another month or two.

Classes typically cost about $150 per person for a one-month session, including the book.  For the two of us, this ends up using a significant portion of our budget, but in the long run, language skills should prove to be invaluable along our route. In fact, having stronger Spanish skills might even save us money along the way with price negotiations and more efficiently finding the good deals and places to stay.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Funding the Trip

Probably the biggest hurdle in our trip prep has been coming up with enough money to pull this off.  No matter what anyone tells you, and no matter how frugal you are when you travel, it is still expensive--especially being gone for 4 months.  Costs like food, gas, lodging, tires, ferries, flights, and border fees are unavoidable and add up real quick.  Combine that with a home mortgage, taxes, car payment, utility bills, health insurance, and plenty of other monthly costs that don't go away when we leave, and our trip has become very expensive.  This brings us to our first task: Raise enough money to ride through Central and South America for 4 months.

Being an engineer in my previous life, I like to make Excel spreadsheets for everything.  This actually came in handy for setting our budget.  I was able to calculate our budget for the whole trip, including daily costs, the "back home" costs, flights, bike shipping, accessories, camping gear, and all other associated trip expenses.  It was a BIG number.  While this was a helpful tool for planning, I do realize that it will by no means be a reality, especially when s*** goes sideways.  Anything to get us on track though.

While we could have created a Kickstarter campaign or put feelers out for sponsorship money, that just didn't feel right to us.  This is our dream trip, an extended vacation if you will, so we didn't feel it was right to ask for anyone to pay for it but ourselves.  As for ways to save up enough money for a 4-month trip, here are a few of the things we did:

1.) Create a separate savings account.

A long time ago, we made a separate sub-account with our bank titled "travel."  This is where all the money we saved up would live and only to be used for preparation items or the trip itself.

2.) Liquidate.

We may not have much in savings, but being motorcycle  and outdoor enthusiasts we have quite a bit of "rolling stock" around we could liquidate.  It's amazing  how much money we all have tied up in "stuff." This was probably the hardest task for me, emotionally, but the fastest way to reach our goal.  Through hours of work cleaning, photographing, posting, and haggling, we were able to sell our beloved Toyota truck, 4-wheel camper, dirt bikes, riding gear, and some other items,  This put a HUGE dent in the total amount we needed to save. I kept telling myself each time someone drove away with one of our vehicles that we could always get another one when we come back, and this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Easy to justify when you think about it.

3.) Cut down on spending.

We realized that in order to actively put money into our savings account, we'd have to make a few changes.  These included not eating out so often (also good for our health) and cutting back the purchases that aren't needed for the trip.  We just have to keep telling ourselves, "I'll get that [new phone, pair of shoes, power tool, etc.] when we come back."

4.) Rent out our house.

This one was a big deal.  Not only does renting out our house help pay a part of the mortgage while we're gone, but it also puts someone there taking care of it and watching our cat.  As far as trusting someone to do all that, we got pretty lucky, and a friend/coworker was looking for a place to rent at about the same time we announced our trip.  In fact, he was even able to move in before our departure and will stay for several months afterward to further help with saving up for (and recovering from) the trip.

Those were our biggest tactics for coming up with the money, and it has been pretty successful so far.  As of the time I'm writing this, we're just about to our goal.  After this post about saving money,  we'll have plenty of posts coming up about spending it.  Stay tuned as the Willsons support the economy.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Checking One off the Bucket List

Brayde and I are taking our motorcycle travels to the next level and are going to finally live out one of our dream rides this fall:  Seattle to Tierra del Fuego.

This is no small feat and has taken us years of planning.  We kept waiting for the time to be right when we had the perfect balance of free time and money.  We realized a while back that for us, working in the motorcycle industry and non-profit sector, those two lines would probably never cross.  Every time we were between jobs, we had no money; every time we had money, we had no time.  Sometime in the last year or so, we came to the realization that the opportunity wasn't just going to pop-up and present itself.  If we wanted to do this, WE were going to have to make it happen for OURSELVES, and no one else could do it for us.

After much convincing and presenting a clear plan of attack,  I was able to get my employer to buy
off on a 4-month sabbatical during the motorcycle off-season.  I cannot tell you how lucky I feel to be able to do this.  I did by no means expect this allowance or feel that I deserved it, but damn, am I grateful for it.  Brayde, not working in the motorcycle industry and holding a leadership position at a local non-profit, had a more challenging proposal to make for the sabbatical but ended up honored to find support at her organization as well. Once we got the green-light, it was "game on."

Now that we've gone through all the trouble to get approved for this trip, the pressure is on.  It has officially turned from a distant dream to a quickly-approaching reality; no turning back.  The next couple of months will be a tornado of researching, planning, buying, selling, arguing, stressing, and many other emotions.  We'll try to write about the planning process as much as we can.  We realized not many people talk about what it takes to go on a trip like this, so we'll try to go into as much detail as possible for everyone.  Stay tuned for such blog posts as: "It costs how much???" "I'm not getting that many shots!" and "What the #%$* do we do with the cat?"

-Matt & Brayde