How not to plan a round-the-world trip

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Today, friends, I bring you helpful tips on how NOT to plan a round-the-world sabbatical (or really any overseas trip). We are seven days out from our departure, and I am only just at this moment starting to feel somewhat calm about the to-do checklist that seems to become longer with every passing moment.

Let’s say – hypothetically, of course – that your little company’s primary client breaks up with you unexpectedly and you wait for your husband to come home from work and you petulantly say “Shall we just go traveling around the world in January for five months instead of the existing plans that we’ve been working on for years like proper grown-ups?” And he says yes because he’s thrilled to start traveling again even though he knows he’s always supposed to talk you out of your ridiculous ideas. And then you realize that you’re leaving IN EIGHT WEEKS and little things like visas and immunizations and closing up your house and your businesses and property taxes and mobile phone service and every other tiny adult detail starts to weigh rather heavily. So my first tip is to give yourself plenty of time to plan your trip. It takes longer than you think.

While talking with friends and family about our upcoming travel, I realized again and again that many people in this country simply aren’t aware of the requirements for traveling abroad. This may be because many Americans don’t travel internationally, or if they do, it’s as part of an organized package tour or cruise trip. And in those cases, a lot of the details are taken care of for you. If you’re an American citizen and you decide that you want to travel to a country other than Canada or Mexico, you need a valid passport. (In 2012, only about one-third of us had a passport – but that was apparently more than double the number in 2000. In comparison, some statistics show that over 80% of U.K. citizens have a passport.)

It’s also imperative that you find out that country’s visa requirements before you go, and the best place to do that is here. You will learn quickly that the requirements vary from country to country, and the amount of time you want to stay plays a big role too. Many countries (including most of western Europe, where Americans do frequently travel) have visa waiver programs with the U.S., and others offer electronic travel authorizations that can be easily obtained online. In certain cases, though, you need to send off your passport to an embassy or consulate so an adhesive visa can be attached. While many of the countries we’re visiting on our sabbatical don’t have visa requirements that apply to us, applying for our Indian visas has been one of the biggest challenges in planning this trip in a short timeframe. We did seriously discuss our options if our passports weren’t returned in time for our flight to Tokyo; thankfully, both passports are now safely back in our possession.

Our situation is also further complicated by the fact that I travel on a U.S. passport and N travels on a U.K. passport, so we had to handle each separately. You can learn a lot about geopolitical history simply by researching visa requirements. To wit: my Indian visa is valid for ten years and multiple entries, while N’s is single-entry and only good for six months. On the contrary, he doesn’t even need a visa to visit Vietnam for fewer than fifteen days, while I had to send my passport off again. Complex and intricate governmental relationships have a lot to do with the ease (or difficulty) of international travel for ordinary citizens.

The point is, start your research early. There are a lot of companies out there that will offer to apply for visas for you; this always comes with higher costs and some may not even be legal. If you want to travel overseas, know the country’s entry and exit requirements well in advance of your trip. “I didn’t know” or “…but I’m American!” are not valid excuses at any international border crossing.

And while we’re discussing starting your research early, you also need to know about any necessary immunizations. These might be required by the country for entry, or they might just be sensible to keep you healthy while traveling. Again, don’t wait until the last minute – certain immunizations might be a series of shots taken at timed intervals, and others only take effect after a period of time. Online resources now make this research so easy that I truly have no idea how I planned all of my solo travel when I was in my early twenties and we didn’t have this magical thing known as the “interweb.” N and I have traveled enough that we only needed typhoid shots prior to this journey, so that process was reasonably simple.

So! Visas, immunizations and now for a little on staying healthy while traveling. I’ll confess that at home, I’m not at all a fan of antibacterial everything, because I genuinely believe it damages our incredibly delicate and complex microbiome. That said, when I travel I am scrupulous about cleanliness – as much as I can be. I wash my hands whenever I can, use alcohol-based sanitizer and avoid ice in beverages.

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I refuse, however, to travel scared. I eat street food whenever possible, travel on chicken buses and stay in local homes rather than antiseptic hotels. I can minimize risk, though, while still traveling with an open mind – hence the meal pouch above. Because I am mad crafty when I’m not cooking, I designed and sewed these travel squares as both a placemat and a cutlery holder. We’ll eat local food with our own (clean-ish) utensils, and we’ll have a reasonably hygienic eating surface that we can wipe clean and sanitize when no other option is available. These are primarily designed for our lengthy train trip in India, when vendors will hopefully offer snacks and drinks along the way. So much of staying healthy on the road is about paying attention: where are the locals eating? Is food that’s supposed to be hot actually served hot? Are there flies on the meat? I aim, as always, to be practical without being paranoid.

Clean tap water is something we take for granted most places here in the U.S. but is one of the primary causes of travelers’ maladies overseas, so we’re also bringing a SteriPen. I’m adventurous but not stupid, and I’d love to make it through our five months without either of us getting dangerously sick – purifying all of our drinking water goes a long way towards that goal. A little tummy trouble is to be expected when traveling, but we’d certainly like to avoid anything major.

But wait – ignore the potential for cholera and dysentery! We haven’t even talked about all the diseases you can contract just from the mosquitoes! We’re bringing plenty of DEET-based repellent, and we’ll treat our clothes and our mosquito nets with permethrin before we depart New Zealand for southeast Asia. While I’m not enthusiastic about poisons as strong as DEET, I’d gargle with the stuff if it kept me from getting dengue fever. I’d think differently if I were traveling with small children, the very elderly, or anyone with a compromised immune system, but for two healthy adults I firmly believe that the benefits of heavy-duty mosquito repellent outweigh the risks, especially when journeying through Third World tropics.

After all this scary stuff, the message I want to leave you with is this: if you’re thinking about traveling anywhere outside the U.S., just go. The above isn’t designed to terrify you, just to remind you to be sensible and to do your research before your trip. So many Americans don’t travel for so many reasons and while I know we have amazing things to see and do in this beautiful country, I believe that we also have to get out in order to appreciate just how good things are here. So go. Wherever you’ve always wanted to travel, go. You can make it work, whether it’s about finances, or time off, or just plain fear. I promise you, travel will change your life for the better – and you’ll value what we have here even more. Just go.



Opting out

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The entrance to Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, New York.

N and I live in a modest home in a modest suburban neighborhood where most of the houses date from the early to mid-1960s. (Photo above: not our house.) It’s our first house together, the first place we’ve really had space, since we spent the early years of our relationship living on dive boats and private yachts and in cheap short-term yachtie housing all over the world.

I love our house. I am more attached to our house than one should be, but it represents so much of who we are, individually and as a partnership. I love its built-in bookshelves and the odd thrift-store art and the wood stove that N hates that I use so much because he’s convinced I’m going to set the entire house on fire.

Unfortunately, our house that I love so much is surrounded by other houses. And in the other houses live people. People with dogs.

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Every house around us has at least one dog; our neighbor to the east has five (five? really?) Chihuahuas. And these dogs bark. All the time. Day in and day out. And at night, too. The neighbors are at work, or at home with the TV on, or somewhere else, and it doesn’t matter to them that the dogs are barking. They don’t hear it, or they do and they don’t care. Either way, the dogs in our neighborhood have made living here hard, especially because of how much we love our house. Animal Control has no teeth and we’ve had the police called on us for harassing our neighbors when we rang their doorbell at 1AM because their dogs were out and wouldn’t stop barking.

And so we are opting out. We are opting out of a constant aural assault where listening to other people’s pets and music and television in public (and private) places is becoming commonplace. We are opting out of a society that expects us to buy cheaply-made things with built-in obsolescence to be happy. We are opting out of a “consume rather than produce” mentality.  We are opting out of a desperately compromised food and health-care system designed to keep us all just a little bit sick, because there is no money to be made off healthy people and certainly no money to be made off dead people.

Some years ago, while listening to the dogs’ unending cacophony, N said that all he wanted was to live someplace quiet. And so was the name Quiet Farm born, and the title of this blog, too. (N’s suggestion for the blog title was Buckingham Shrugged. Go here if that allusion requires explanation.) We are on a quest to find our own piece of land where we can live peacefully and quietly, raising, growing and processing our own food and hopefully teaching others to do the same.

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We spent last week here, at the country’s pre-eminent sustainable farming conference. The average age of farmers in the U.S. is nearly 60, and many of those farmers have no succession plan in place. Current estimates suggest that we lose nearly 40 acres of farmland an hour (AN HOUR!), most to urban development and sprawl. This conference, which is only open by lottery and which we’ve waited for three years to attend, is designed for people like us – those who are opting out.

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This event is like a college semester packed into three days. We attended classes on beekeeping and poultry processing and biodynamic farming and liability insurance and finding farmland and animal necropsy. We listened to inspiring talks from Dan Barber and Mark Bittman, and we ate amazing food. Oh, and I got to cook in the kitchen of the best restaurant in the U.S. so that wasn’t a big deal for me at all.

And while we definitely skewed older than the average attendee (damn you, Millennials – you’re drowning in debt so where are you getting the money to farm?) we also reinforced our bone-deep knowledge that this is where we’re supposed to be. This is our tribe, this is our religion. Finding Quiet Farm is the most significant journey we’ve embarked on yet. Thanks for joining us.

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