Bad luck. Good road trip.

Interested in a nice little game of Wikipedia worm-hole? Google the “Ohuican Chaneque”.  According to Mexican folklore dating back to the Aztecs, these are little gremlin-like beings that guard nature and try to scare the souls out of intruders. Or they’ll eat them. (Like all good folklore, the myth varies.) I don’t believe in ghosts and gremlins and I don’t even believe in luck, but I thought this would make a nice little intro for my account of a road trip from Monterrey to Mexico City which was uncharacteristically riddled with bad personal “luck”.

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Adoption update!

Hello everyone! Many of you may remember how Drew and I joined my older sister Rachel and her husband Zack as they traveled to Ukraine to bring home their adopted daughter Gianna.  (Which was easily the most meaningful travel experience of my life.)  And many of you pitched in and helped make that adoption a reality by donating to the cause. It blew us away and we’re so grateful!

Some of you have asked how the adoption went and, for a number of reasons, I thought this would be a good time to offer an update.

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Is Uber allowed at my destination airport?

When Drew and I were nomads, we would frequently check if Uber was available in our destination before we arrived. We were delighted when more and more cities got Uber, and we had to deal with taxi-haggling less and less. Eventually I started to just assume that Uber would be nearly everywhere we went.

Even when I could start to safely assume Uber’s existence in a city, for awhile, this was not always true for that city’s airport.

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Quick logistical tips about travel in Vietnam

South East Asia has some extremely beginner-friendly travel destinations.  For instance, Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Cambodia all essentially have visas on arrival for US citizens, (or e-visas).  Not to mention tourist infrastructures that are fairly easy to navigate.  Heck, even Myanmar has an eVisa that’s fairly simple.

But Vietnam is a little different.  In practice, it seems quite like getting an eVisa, but it’s technically a little more complicated.

How to get a Vietnam Visa online


The last time Drew and I visited Vietnam, we totally screwed up our visa and ended up arguing our way out of Cambodia, before scurrying around the no-man’s land between Cambodia and Vietnam while a friendly border agent printed a visa for us from some ancient Compaq-style computer in some weird barracks.  The entire endeavor took probably 3 hours and I did not want to repeat that miserable mistake again this time around.

So, I actually did my research ahead of time, asked around a bit, and found out the following for getting a “visa” online:

  1. Instead of applying for an eVisa, you basically apply for a visa pre-approval letter. (I used this site, recommended by other travelers on the “Every Passport Stamp” facebook page.)
  2. Upon approval, you’ll receive two things that must be printed.  The first is your approval letter, and the second is the visa application form.  Print them both and fill out the latter.
  3. Attach a 4x6cm passport photo to the application form with a paperclip.

Upon arrival: Here’s how it works at the Hanoi airport…

  1. If you haven’t already stocked up on Vietnamese dong, head over to the ATM and get $25 worth of dong (around 580,000 dong).
  2. Then, go to the Visa Application counter to submit your application and passport.
  3. Shuffle to the side of the counter to wait for your name to be called and projected on the screen above the Visa Payment counter.
  4. When they call your name and project your photo on the tv screen, go up to the visa payment counter to pay for your visa and collect your passport.
  5. THEN you can go through immigration, as you normally would.


Using the ATM in Vietnam

One other quick note about travel within Vietnam. I spent about two hours trying to get money from an ATM this morning. Here’s what I learned.  It seems that many ATMs are programmed to ask for a 6-digit pin for debit cards, and therefore don’t really know how to process American debit cards with 4 digit pins.  We got an array of error messages saying everything from “We can’t find your card” to “You’ve exceeded your limit.”

Finally it occurred to us to return to the tourist district in old town Hanoi and look for a more internationally branded ATM.  For instance the ANZ bank ATM.  After almost 2 hours, it finally worked.

Basic lesson for me is that if my debit card is getting rejected, I need to look for a tourist district that has ATMs equipped to read 4 digit pins, and at the very least, I know that ANZ bank ATMs work just fine.

I’m kind or surprised that I’ve never confronted this before. Or maybe I have, and mistakenly attributed withdrawal failures to something else.


What are your obscure logistical trips for Vietnam?

As I confront other logistical oddities, I’ll add them to this post.  But in the meantime, what are some of the logistical absurdities you’ve confronted in your Vietnam travels?


Reflections on Auschwitz, 2 years late

Today as I continued going through old travel footage, I came across a video taken exactly two years ago, to the day.

The feeling of that life comes back immediately as I watch myself in the lens of the GoPro.  In this particular video, I hear my tennis shoes crunching on gravel.  I’m bundled up in a winter coat, hat, and scarf and I’m in a hurry.

“That bus took longer than we thought, so we only have an hour of daylight left before they close,” past-me says to the camera. Present-day-me remembers, “Ah yes. Another day, another transit-related misadventure.”

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Pro-tips for buying thrift


As if it wasn’t strange enough to sign a lease for the first time in 3 and a half years, it was highlighted by the fact that we had nothing to fill our new place with.  Two bedrooms, a dining room, a living room, kitchen and bathroom were all completely bare aside from our two carry-on sized suitcases, a grocery bag of food, and an ottoman we’d picked up at the Salvation Army that day.

The ottoman looked lonely and ridiculous sitting in the middle of an empty house.  It was literally our first and only piece of furniture for the time being.

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Theth, Albania

The other morning as I dug my tennis shoes out of a bag in the rental car, I wondered how my shoes fit in my suitcase three weeks earlier.  I don’t buy souvenirs, so it wasn’t an issue of decreased space or increased luggage.  It’s just somehow the things that magically fit before had been so shuffled and rearranged that nothing was in place anymore.

This is a perfect analogy for how it feels to go home after 3 weeks of traveling throughout the rather rustic Albania.

I was starting to get used to living in Austin as a home base.  Things were starting to fit into place.

And now my metaphorical shoes are strewn across the floor of a metaphorical rental car…

Maybe it’s a testament to how much I enjoyed Albania.

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How your travel blog design is working against you

As a graphic designer, I feel embarrassed that my blog has had a very mediocre design for the last years.  To be honest, it’s kind of like the interior designer whose house is a clutter of unintentional and mis-matched furniture, or the chef who opts for a mac n cheese dinner over risotto when cooking for themselves.

The truth is, my blog is mostly a recreational endeavor, so it doesn’t get the intentionality a good design requires.

But last week I finally invested an evening redesigning this blog. And in doing so, I unearthed a vice that’s effecting probably every travel blogger out there.

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Music streaming abroad

In my pre-travel-is-free days, my flight routine used to include lots of pensive journaling as I looked out onto a cloud landscape and listened to my favorite iPod playlist.  Those were the days when I actually used to own music…

Over the last five years, the frequency with which I purchase music has gone down to almost zero.  (With the exception of my twin sister’s brand new album of course.) I don’t even pirate music anymore.  I haven’t had a functioning iPod in years.

This is of course because the plethora of music streaming options now available make it so easy to listen to music without owning it.

But music streaming isn’t as impressive once you leave the US.  When we first started traveling nomadically, there was a bit of a learning curve in finding which music services worked and where.

In this post, I’ll try to list the actual number of countries (using a pretty liberal definition of “country” in some cases) for each platform, and order the list from least globally available to most.  By the end, you’ll see which service we used as our ultimate default.

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Is it better to be an expat or a nomad?

Recently I did a tally of all the countries Drew and I have visited together, and which countries we’ve spent the most amount of time in. I think Drew has some ideas on how to analyze this information in interesting ways, but until that happens, the project has unearthed some interesting thoughts of my own, particularly as I compare my experiences as a nomad with Drew to my pre-Drew travels living, studying, and working in Northern Ireland.

I’m looking at this as a sort of comparison between living internationally as a nomad and living internationally as an “expat”, (or rather, like an expat, since my experiences were in the study-abroad context). The real comparison is between living an international but stationary life, and living an international but nomadic life.

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