No More Later Left: The Email Backlog

It’s less than a month until departure. I’m sitting on a pile of flagged emails that relate to this trip in some way. I haven’t really read much of any of them but thought I could get around to them “later”. There is no more later left, so now is the time to start chopping through it all.

There appear to be around seventy emails that have labels associated with various aspects of the trip, from country specific recommendations to phone unlock codes. So I’m going through the backlog, starting with the vaguest label, titled simply ”Trip”:

The first email is just a link:

The site is built on modest homebrew HTML, to the point where I initially wondered if it was some kind of legacy site but I noted the copyright © Grant and Susan Johnson, 1987-2011 so somebody must still be paying attention to it. For which I am grateful, it’s a wonderful window into a life I would have been happy to have lived. Hundreds of astounding pictures and inspirational travelogues stretching back to the pre-internet dark ages of postcards and guesswork. An epic duration around the world motorcycle trek. Hats off to you, Johnsons.

I’ve already spent half an hour poking around and haven’t scratched the surface.  “Baja California, Mexico – April 29 – May 18, 1987”, enough said. They end up in the Yucatan later that summer. A couple of years later, they’re in New Zealand. They’re all over Europe in the mid-nineties. More than a decade down the line, they are in Ecuador (Grant is anyway). Almost a quarter of a century  after they hit the road, I’m travelling to the Yucatan, New Zealand, Europe, and Ecuador, possibly treading the same ground as they are (minus the BMW). You see, it’s all full circle! Not really but I like to contextualize stories of the (relatively) remote past against my own experiences, daydreaming moments of my life in tandem with the notable lives of strangers.

And that’s just the first link. I’ve got 69 more emails to get through, some of them containing vital insights into the world we’re about to step off into. But for tonight, I’m just going to spend a little more time with Grant & Susan in a parallel ’90s.


Around the World by motorcycle, North to South, 1987 - 1998

Around the World by motorcycle, North to South, 1987 - 1998

Going to Miss This View

Sunset in Belltown

Will you get a load of this view!

It’s been almost six years since I moved into this apartment, and I cannot count the number of sublime sunsets. I’m going to try to count anyway. The quick math says approximately 2000 sunsets total since I moved in. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that on average I personally witnessed at least one beautiful sunset every other week. This is a reasonable figure despite the notorious Seattle gray, considering that the lulls are offset by stretches in the late summer with weeks of nothing but epic sunsets. Even when it’s overcast, the sun can sneak under the cloudcover as it sinks into the Olympic Mountains, creating something like a Rothko canvas of purple black over pink red.  I’m watching the word count as I type this and with the help of my trusty calculator, I can safely say that,  for each word in this post, I have probably seen one perfect sunset from this window. Thank you, Belltown, I cannot repay you. I’m going to try to repay you anyway. This will be hard to leave behind.

– Eric

Preparations: Planning Ahead to Avoid Phone and Banking Fees

It is starting to feel like every American company has it in for travellers.  Cell phones — already expensive when you use within our borders — become money time bombs if you even turn them on in another country. Banking is the same way. Your super-friendly neighborhood bank that charges you no fee for checking is happy to slap a 3% transaction fee onto every charge you make abroad. Plus a $5 flat fee. Plus a less-than-ideal conversion rate. Plus out-of-network ATM fees. I guess they reason people who can afford travel will be so busy seeing the sites that they won’t analyze their bills.

I’m hoping to make it the whole year with no surprise fees.  First step: phones.

1) Port phone # to Google Voice. Then friends and family can call my American number and reach me anywhere in the world.

2) Get a quad-band GSM phone. I landed on the Motorola Blur because it had a nice keyboard and was $500 less than an unlocked iPhone.

3) Order SIM cards. I got a pay-as-you-go T-Mobile plan that is good until I leave (and then it just expires!). I set up my Google Voice to forward to that number. Now I need to order SIM cards online for the countries where I want to use my phone. From what I’ve read, you CAN buy SIM cards in-country, but the the wait times are very long and it can take 5 days to get your card.  Whereas, if you already have the SIM card, just buying minutes you can do on any street corner.

4) Google Voice does not forward to international numbers (frown), so must forward GV to Skype and then forward that.

Second step: Banks

1) Open a Capitol One Money Market account. Not only does this have NO FEES — as in, their fee disclosure really says no fees (They even eat the 1% fee charged by Visa for international transactions AND refund you up to $25 a month for third-party ATM fees. )  — but they pay almost 1% interest. Which is on-par with ING, except that ING charges 3% for international transactions.  (Wells Fargo was the worst with 3% plus a $5 fee.)

2) Keep current accounts linked to Capitol One for paying bills at home. As long as they have no monthly fees.

With those two in place, we have hopefully subverted many surprise fees just waiting to pounce when we depart.

– Rachel

Equal Area Project is Underway

A long time ago we were introduced to a map of the world that made Greenland look the size of Africa. Most of our lives, this was never questioned. Now, we know better. Now, we are going out into the world to measure it by hand. Welcome to the Equal Area Project. We’ll be leaving soon.

Intrepid cartogrophiles

Equal Area Project is Eric and Rachel. We are traveling around the world beginning October 26, 2011.

Starting on October 26, we depart to the Yucatan. From there, we will not relent. Mexico and Ecuador, then on to hit midnight on the dateline for New Year’s, then Southeast Asia, over to the Indian Subcontinent (with a stint in the Himalayas), and finally touched down next Spring in the Mediterranean with no ticket home.

Until then, we’re getting shot up with vaccines and lasers, documenting, calibrating, packing, glowing. We encourage you to pay attention, starting… now.

Gall–Peters projection

The world on Gall–Peters projection. 15° graticule. Imagery is a derivative of NASA’s Blue Marble summer month composite with oceans lightened to enhance legibility and contrast.