It seemed innocent enough—two monks talking and laughing with an Asian foreigner, asking questions in broken English about me and the U.S. However, the tone quickly changed as they exchanged some furtive glances and motioned for me to follow them. We found ourselves in a side street off the main road through Lhasa, sitting on some steps in front of what appeared to be an older abandoned residence constructed in the Tibetan style. Satisfied with my answers about the U.S. and that I wasn’t a Chinese spy, they proceeded to ask me about news of the Dalai Lama. Since I hadn’t been keeping up on his whereabouts, I told them he had written some books while in exile in India and then reached into my daypack and pulled out photos of him. Their smiles quickly changed as they looked around wondering if they might be watched, slipped the photos into their burgundy robes, and thanked me profusely. One of the monks reached into his man-purse and offered me a blessing wrapped in a prayer flag. Accepting with both hands, I bowed slightly out of respect. He saw the journal I was holding, pulled out a pen and motioned to see it. Handing it to him, he wrote a street address in both Chinese and English. I wrote my email address on another slip of paper and gave it to him. We never contacted each other again even though I considered it many times. I snapped a picture of the two of them, exchanged goodbyes, and went our separate directions. The entire interaction took less than 15 minutes, but the experience still stays with me nearly 16 years later. That was Tibet in 2000, decades after the Chinese occupation, but before the revolts in 2009. Some things such as the spying on the Tibetan people haven’t changed. Many other aspects have changed dramatically. Continue reading
We have been planning our trip since 2003, and actively saving for it since 2006. Travel planning is equal parts fun and frustration. It’s exciting to make plans and to see a trip coming together, but it’s also a lot of work researching your destination, arranging transportation and lodging, and determining how long you’ll need in order to do everything you planned. You become a project manager, event coordinator, location scout, travel agent, and financial planner all at once. The last time I went on an extended trip overseas, I didn’t have a lot of the tools and web sites available today. Travel planning is a bit easier these days now that the Internet can provide so much information. Here are the 12 tools that I use extensively for our RTW trip planning.
Spreadsheets may be a bit antiquated, but there’s no quicker way for me to determine travel dates and keep all those destinations straight. If you have a lot of destinations, it can become tedious to keep track of where and when you’ll be somewhere. I originally set up an Excel spreadsheet with destinations, dates, approximate costs, and visa requirements back in 2003 and have updated it frequently. It became the basis of our savings goal. I recently transferred the spreadsheet to Google Docs and keep it updated online now. The format hasn’t changed much since I first created it. The dates are automatically calculated from the initial starting date. I enter the number of nights we plan to stay at a destination and the spreadsheet calculates the arrival dates for all the following destinations. It becomes a dynamic, ever-changing master document that is invaluable for advanced planning. Unlike other online tools, you can add or remove columns for whatever you want to track. Continue reading