How We Travel For Free

Some call it a game yet others call it an obsession.  We apply for the credit cards that offer the largest amount of points and miles and aren’t afraid to use those points and miles.

Over the past three years, since returning from our RTW trip around the world, we haven’t been afraid to put our good credit to use.  We pay our bills on time and in full each and every month and have very high credit scores as a result.  This means that when we apply for credit cards, cards that offer large and lucrative sign-up bonuses, we usually get accepted.  We’re smart about what cards we use for what purchase and take the time to make a plan.  In the end, we’re rewarded.

We’ve flown thousands of miles on thousands of dollars in airfares and only paid a few hundred dollars for the occasional airfare or credit card fee.  We still have gobs of miles to spend and are generally accruing points and miles faster than we can spend them.

Over the coming months we’re going to talk more and more about the strategies we employ.  We’re careful with our credit, consider it our most valuable asset, and watch it closely.  Many of our close friends and family have watched this over the past few years and a few people have joined us in this ‘hobby’ while others still want more information as to how…so we’re going to tell you!

Stay tunes for now but watch for more over the coming weeks and months.

Where Did Our Love Go? The Five Hour Rule

Traveling with someone you love is an experience like no other. It can bring you closer, but if you’re not careful, it can push you apart. This Valentine’s Day, traveling couples can keep the romance alive by taking a temporary break from each other.

Don’t panic – sometimes five minutes apart is all it takes.

Coming Undone

 

The crowd was growing at the roadside bakery, and I could sense the salesman getting impatient. People pushed and jostled to make eye contact with him, but he was looking at me. It was my turn.

My boyfriend, Jared, was getting impatient, too.

“Just pick some,” he said, nudging me forward. “It’s not that hard!”

Rage flared up in my chest. It was that hard. I was tired, hungry, and overwhelmed by Luxor. For some reason, the task of choosing pastries pushed me over the edge.

“I don’t know,” I shouted at him. “I don’t know which ones I want! Stop rushing me.”

Tears welled up in my eyes. The men around us chuckled and nudged each other knowingly.

I wanted to punch them. I wanted to punch the salesman. I wanted to punch Jared.

Sensing danger, Jared quickly pulled me aside.
“It’s okay,” he said in his most soothing voice. “It’s just pastry.”

Of course it was just pastry. So why was I so upset?

Crumbling statues Egypt Where Did Our Love Go? The Five Hour Rule

The Rule

My mother operates under a theory she calls The Five-Hour Rule. She claims that she read about it in an ‘online study,’ but I can’t find evidence of it anywhere.

The foundation of the theory is this: after five consecutive hours with someone, you need to take a break from them.
Read a book. Go for a walk by yourself. Take a nap. Whatever it is, block out time to do something alone. When you feel recharged, feel free to lay eyes on each other again.

Although its origins are dubious, I have to admit that my mom is on to something.
I love my boyfriend. For the last 3 1/2 years, I’ve loved traveling with him, living with him, and even – occasionally – working with him here in Korea, where we were placed at the same school. (How’s that for being in each other’s pockets?)
But sometimes when we’re traveling, I want him to step off.

It doesn’t happen often, but it happens.

Suddenly, everything is annoying: butterflies, laughing children, ice cream cones, and especially, my poor travel partner, Jared. I’m thinking only of my personal comfort and have lost the ability to consider anyone’s feelings but mine.
He calls it the ‘Hunger Rage.’ Admittedly, he has a point. Things get ugly when I haven’t eaten. But to my amazement, it usually happens at the five hour mark.

Worse, the same thing is happening on his end. He’s tired, the money belt is too tight, and he can’t work out why his girlfriend has morphed into a wailing banshee who can’t choose a bloody pastry.

The five hour rule doesn’t just apply to your partner. It applies to everybody you spend time with: your best friend, your kid, complete strangers, the Dalai Lama – everybody.

We all need a little ‘me’ time when we’re on the road, even when we’re with the ones we love.

Ddong Chim Mongolia Where Did Our Love Go? The Five Hour Rule

Emotional deterioration starts subtly, but progresses rapidly.
Hour one: What the – ? Oh, he just stepped on my shoe.

Hour two: Why does he insist on walking so fast behind me?

Hour three: Get off my shoe.

Hour four: Step on me again and I’ll claw you in the face.

Hour five: One more time and this relationship is over.

Accidents become unforgiveable. Your loved one becomes your whipping boy. It’s not their fault. It’s not your fault.

It’s the five-hour rule. You’ve been side-by-side for too many hours, navigating foreign territory in a language you might not speak.

Sometimes you’re not in a position to separate from your travel buddy when the five-hour mark looms. It’s dark, crowded, unfamiliar, and you’re too far from your hostel to feel comfortable going solo.
That’s okay. Just ignore each other for a while.

Don’t talk unless you have to. Sit at separate tables of a coffee shop. Pretend you’ve never even seen that person before. Eat something and don’t share it with anyone.

Eventually, you’ll simmer down. Your energy and coping mechanisms will return, leaving you capable of travel and human companionship again.

At that point, go ahead and scoot your chairs closer together. Make any necessary apologies and have a good laugh.

If you feel up to it, you could even share a pastry.

A Guide to Rail Tours in Canada

A train journey across Canada offers breathtaking scenery and appears on many people’s bucket lists. It’s an excellent way to see the country, whether you choose to travel from coast to coast or whether you just take in one region. Travelling overland across Canada’s vast landscape you will come across emerald green forests, crystal clear lakes, snow-capped mountains, vast wilderness areas and cosmopolitan cities. If you’re planning any rail tours to discover Canada, here are some tips to get you started.

Train Operators

VIA Rail Canada is the operator running long-distance trains across Canada. VIA Rail trains will take you between Canada’s major cities, and even all the way across Canada on the between Toronto and Vancouver. The other very popular train company is the more luxurious Rocky Mountaineer, which takes you through the Rocky Mountains from Vancouver via Kamloops & Jasper. Travelling through this area of rugged natural beauty, you will go past mountain ranges, glacier-fed lakes and rivers.

 A Guide to Rail Tours in Canada

The Routes

On VIA Rail’s inter city trains you can travel between the major cities of Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, plus there is a service which links Montreal and Quebec. ‘The Canadian’ takes four nights to complete, traveling all the way across Canada from Toronto to Winnipeg, Edmonton, Jasper and Vancouver. ‘The Ocean’ is also a spectacular route along the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and Halifax. There are also plenty of day trips: you can travel between Victoria and Courtenay on Vancouver Island, do the ‘Whistler Sea to Sky climb’ with Rocky Mountaineer between North Vancouver and Whistler, or take the train between Toronto and Niagara Falls. Rocky Mountaineer offers three rail routes through the Canadian Rocky Mountains so you can observe the magnificent snow-capped mountain peaks from the comfort of a luxurious train.

canadian rockies cnt 24nov09 iStock b A Guide to Rail Tours in Canada

Accommodation on trains

If you choose to take ‘The Canadian’ with VIA Rail, considered one of the world’s best train journeys, you’ll be travelling in an original 1955 stainless steel coach. You can either choose to sit in a reclining seat in Economy Class, or travel in a private sleeping car with meals included in ‘Sleeper Touring Class’.HEP sleeper class A Guide to Rail Tours in Canada

The Rocky Mountaineer has three classes of service: RedLeaf, SilverLeaf and GoldLeaf. The RedLeaf coach has large picture windows and you can sit back in a roomy, reclining chair. You receive complimentary soft drinks and snacks, as well as chilled meals served to your seat. The SilverLeaf coach is a single-level glass domed coach with large windows. You get roomy, reclining seats, breakfast and lunch served to your seat, plus complimentary soft drinks and snacks. GoldLeaf is the most luxurious coach; a two-level, glass domed coach with full-length windows and exclusive dining room, gourmet hot meals and complimentary beverages and snacks.

Rail Passes

If you’re backpacking Canada on a budget, then you can save money on train journeys by getting a rail pass with VIA Rail. The Canarailpass-System is best if you are travelling coast to coast, and is valid for 7 one-way trips in Economy Class within a 21-day period. There is also the Canarailpass-Corridor, which is suitable if you are exploring southern Ontario and Southern Quebec. This pass is valid for 7 one-way trips in Economy Class within a 10-day period. Traveling by train all the way across Canada can sometimes be expensive, but you can cut down on the cost by focusing on one region or looking out for special deals with VIA Rail or Rocky Mountaineer.

Thanks to Iain Miller for today’s guest post.  If you are interested in guest posting with IShouldLogOff, email us at info [at] ishouldlogoff.com. Thanks!


Pictures courtesy of freewallpapers.com, titanhitours.co.uk and,VIA Rail Canada.

Guide: Hiking the “W” Trail – Torres Del Paine, Chile

4102590891 df7c9a5e4b Guide: Hiking the “W” Trail – Torres Del Paine, Chile
Hiking the ‘W is a must do for all backpackers who manage to make it that far south. In our opinion, most do it in a way that is either more expensive or more work than necessary. Below is what we did, then some suggested changes to our path to maximize your enjoyment and minimize your time and expense. Doing this trek in 5 days, if you are a regular hiker, to me, is downright silly.  If you want to do a longer hike, with less people, do the circuit.
Access: To Puerto Natales there are daily buses from Rio Gallegos and Peritto Moreno (El Calafate)in Argentina. From Puerto Natales there is a twice daily bus, making the several hour trip from town to the park, the first leaving in the morning around 8am and the second leaving around 2pm. Both buses pick hikers up for the return trip from the park to town.

Our time in Torres del Paine:

4102554917 a976023705 Guide: Hiking the “W” Trail – Torres Del Paine, ChileDay 1: We arrived on the morning Puerto Natales bus and made it to the start of the trail around the middle of the day. We set out immediately hiking all the way up the first leg of the ‘W’ to the Torres themselves and then back down again and almost to the second leg of the ‘W’. We slept that first night in Refugio Los Cuernos.  Many would do this portion over two days but traveling with minimal gear we were able to make it with relative ease. Camping there and using the hut’s supplies rather than our own cost a couple of dollars extra but given that we didn’t need to rent equipment in town, this balanced out. It is important, even during low season to have a reservation if your planning to rent equipment.  We made a reservation and they still didn’t have enough sleeping bags to go around! Plan ahead!

4103222282 2780c38dd7 Guide: Hiking the “W” Trail – Torres Del Paine, ChileDay 2: We had planned to get up early and hike either the second or the third leg of the ‘W’ and get to the ferry to return to the bus to return to town in the early afternoon. As I’d started the trek with a cold we decided to just walk to the ferry at Lodge Paine Grande, but this was only because of my failing health, not lack of time. Had I started the trek healthy and we gotten up and began our walking at first light we would have been fine to do at least another leg of the W.

Other options:

4103164988 041cf2a702 Guide: Hiking the “W” Trail – Torres Del Paine, ChileOne Day Hike: Not as hard as it seems. Take the afternoon bus from Puerto Natales and overnight at the first camp, staying comfortably in their lodge or huts. Begin walking before first light and you’ll have more than enough time to do the whole trek and make it to the Lodge Paine Grande camp at Laguna Azul before dark, spending a second night there and either taking the ferry the next day or walking to park headquarters to catch the bus back in the morning. This could be done in reverse as well.  This is for seasoned hikers only who know what they’re doing.  If there is a sudden change in weather you will likely need to alter your plans dramatically and you need to be prepared for that.

Two nights on the Trail: This is probably the best option for doing the entire trek with minimal time, expense, and discomfort. If you do your first day as we did above, then you can make an easy second day viewing the second leg of the ‘W’. Get up early the third day to visit the final leg or make a longer second day and do both legs there. Whichever way you divide the final two legs, plan to spend the second night at camp.  Had I been healthy we would have gone with this option

Tips:
You can pay to stay in the huts or in the hut campsites. Equipment is available for rent within the park for camping, more expensive than in town but you don’t have to carry it, or just stay in the dormitory or the refugios. Full board can be purchased at each hut as well so if you don’t want to carry your food either, you don’t have to. When we were there everything for purchase was cheaper if paying with U$D rather than Chillean Pesos so ask in town before departing. All itineraries above can be done in reverse.

Be sure to take care of yourself while there, use the long days to pack in extra miles but don’t forget to go to sleep. Here’s a picture of the Torres del Paine National Park Topo hiking map:

4102299089 204a9db5ce Guide: Hiking the “W” Trail – Torres Del Paine, Chile

Country Guide: China

5111025243 6b269e790a Country Guide: ChinaTraveling overland through mainland China offers a great combination of comfort and value for money. Our two greatest challenges were choosing where to go and how to communicate with people. First we’ll talk about some of the hurdles to traveling in China and then try to help you out a bit on destination planning.

Essentials

VISA: We were told we could only get this in our home country but once on the road we learned it was also possible to receive the visa from a handful of Chinese embassies and consulates within Asia. It is an expensive visa but there are several options available for tourist visas and finding a suitable one shouldn’t be too difficult. Rush processing was available in DC, but the visa is apparently difficult to get in Kazakhstan.

TRANSPORTATION: Other than actually buying the ticket, this was usually quite simple and comfortable. Internal flights for trans-continental routes are usually quite reasonable and we recommend the website travelchinaguide.com for English train schedules and travel planning. Take the train overnight is quite comfortable so long as you are in a sleeper compartment. We usually went hard sleeper (cheaper) for our overnight trips but would have preferred a soft sleeper for any trip where we were spending significant waking hours aboard the train.

INTERNET: This is slow and unreliable outside of major cities, but there is widespread access. It has been estimated that as much as 10% of the Internet is blocked from within China including the most popular website in the world, Facebook. If you want to use the Internet freely while in China try to sign up with a VPN service, such as Witopia, Astrill or Hotspot Shield BEFORE traveling. Internet clubs and access is quite common but don’t plan to upload any photos while there. Speeds vary greatly. In some areas (like Xinjiang) foreigners aren’t allowed to use Internet cafes, but if you have your own computer you’ll have no problem getting online in your hotel.
COMMUNICATION: Surprisingly difficult almost everywhere outside of the major cities. 5111017671 835feee143 Country Guide: China We created a guide to communication which you should probably read over before traveling in China. Many hotels we walked into didn’t have a single employee who could speak English. Obviously, this is less of a problem in larger cities but you should be prepared for communication challenges.

FOOD: If eating meat and you’re weary of trying strange things then you might want to consider switching to vegetarianism…otherwise just try everything. Szechuan cooking is what you’re likely most familiar with from home but the rest of the Chinese cuisine is far more varied. When visiting city markets you should be prepared to see snakes, frogs, turtles, insects, organs and plenty of other animals you would not normally think to eat.

HEALTH: Public toilets are readily available in China, but outside of the main tourist attractions in major cities they are “squatters” and there is never toilet paper or soap. Smog is a major health concern, try to vary your itinerary between cities and countryside, your lungs with thank you. Pharmacies abound, but always be vigilant and inspect the product before you purchase it- there are a lot of counterfeit pharmaceuticals and toiletries in Asia.

HOLIDAYS: We were traveling in China during the National Holiday which begins at the start of October. We would strongly advise against EVER going to China at this time or over any other holiday as these are the periods when domestic tourism completely takes over. We found it extremely difficult to find transportation and lodging at times and many sites we wanted to visit were so over crowded that it just wasn’t worth paying admission.

MONEY: We had few problems using ATM’s in China, but some require a 6 digit pin. Bank of China and ICBC always allowed us to access our accounts. There are ATMS in all major cities, but it’s a good idea to keep cash on hand for rural areas.

Sights

BEIJING: Within Beijing, taking the brand new subway system is cheap and efficient so long as you avoid riding at peak times. The system will take you to almost any site you might like to visit with the exception of the Great Wall and for that local tours abound for selection in the Hutong just south of Tienanmen square. When entering or leaving the city be sure to triple check the train station you’re using as there are several. It is also advised never to enter or leave Beijing by bus as traffic can be horrendous.
5058209897 d8dda0ba5c Country Guide: China
BEIJING TO XI’AN: This can be done as an easy overnight train or with several interim stops enroute. There are a variety of sites accessible in the region from the ancient town of Pingyao and the caves of Grottoes Datong, both easy targets from Beijing or Xi’an. There are several other sites to the east of Xi’an that might be of interest to those interested in the Silk Road.

XI’AN: No need for a tour. You can take the city bus from in front of the train station right to the Terracotta Army without much trouble. There are some other sites in the area but are of much lesser significance and excitement in comparison and can also be more difficult to reach. If you want to ‘see it all’ there are plenty of day trips that most hotels in town can book for you. Also be sure take a walk on the city’s wall and take in the sights of the park on the outer side of the wall. If you’re not going any further west Xi’an’s market is a great place to pick up Silk Road paraphernalia and try some Central Asian foods like shashlik or plov.

SZECHUAN: From Chengdu itself you can visit with Pandas, watch Opera, see the world’s tallest Buddha, and pick tea. This is a great region to travel in if you want to try an experience different ‘types’ of China without covering too much distance. The array of options is plentiful and Chengdu itself offers up a large amount of culture on its own. Most independent travelers focus on this region and those to the south, which we do recommend, but on account of National Holiday we were unable to travel south, from Sichuan to Yunnan, as planned.

TIBET: If you want to go to Tibet you will need to obtain permission when booking your trip once inside China, and this can be denied. The situation is always changing, seemingly day to day. You will need to travel with a licensed guide and unless flying to Lhasa, the train ride from Lanzhou is usually two nights. The whole trip can be quite difficult and expensive. Instead, we traveled overland via bus from Lanzhou, Gansu to Chengdu, Sichuan through some of the Tibetan borderlands, focusing on our visit to Xiahe. If you do want to see Tibetan culture it might be easiest and most rewarding to focus on these borderland regions, from Lanzhou south, across Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, as this can be done with far less hassle.

WESTERN CHINA: We entered China from Kazakhstan and traveled overland from Urumqi to Lanzhou without much of a headache. On this route we saw the beginning of the Great Wall and accompanying fortresses as well as the Magao Grottoes at Dunhuang. Although we enjoyed all of this immensely, I’m not sure I would recommend that everyone head out this far west when the rest of the country has so much to offer.