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Travel to bohemian lands is affordable

By Michelle Goldberg

IN ALL LIKELIHOOD, you have not reaped any stock option wealth. You probably don't have a trust fund. Even so, if you really want to split and see the world, it's entirely possible to do it without consigning yourself to a life of squalor, debt and penury.

Of course, taking an extended international trip still requires sacrifices and involves many logistical hurdles. The first one, obviously, is money. But as Edward Hasbrouck writes in his book, The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World, says too many people abandon all hope of world travel because they assume that it must be very expensive.

"In fact," he writes, "people like you can and do travel for months for less than you might spend on a new computer or the down payment alone (much less the monthly bills) for a new car or SUV. It's only a tiny fraction of the cost of a typical honeymoon. Think about the other things you might spend this kind of money on, and compare the value."

So how much does it cost? That depends, of course, on where you're going, but in much of Asia you can live in quite remarkable comfort for sums that would spell desperate poverty at home. Hasbrouck offers data from a survey by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Excluding first and business class travelers, he writes, "The average traveler taking a 60-100 night trip overseas from the USA budgets a total of $3,418, including airfare, prepaid tours and hotels or other services, and planned expenses on the road. Because longer trips are so much less expensive per day, that's less than 50 percent more than the cost of the typical 2-week overseas trip."

The average budget for a six-month trip is $7,092, only about three times as much as for the typical two-week trip overseas.

"The average American budgets $68 per day for an international trip, but that number falls to $29 per day for trips of over two months," Hasbrouck says.

According to Lonely Planet's guidebook, Southeast Asia on a Shoestring, "[I]f you stick to the less touristed parts of the region and travel at a relaxed pace, it's still possible to keep costs down to US $10 per day (and less) in most South-East Asia countries."

Costs, of course, depend on how you like to travel, but even if you're a bit of a prima donna like me and shell out for sit-down toilets in your hotel room and restaurant meals instead of food grabbed for a few cents at street stalls, it's not hard to live for less than the price of an economy car. A yearlong trip through Asia also costs less than a year of graduate school, and is at least as educational.

[line]

The New Bohemians: A dotcom escapee decides to take the money and run--halfway around the world. And she's not alone.

Call of the Wild: Never mind the rain--sunshine and wildflowers are ahead. Now's the time to plan great escapes.

Close-by Campouts: Getting-away-from-it-all on less than a tank of gas.

Be Reserved: Popular Parks Can Be Booked Online.

Exterior Decorating: Gadgets for the quintessential car camper abound and some are worth the price.

Mission Accomplished: Three missions, one afternoon, a heavenly feeling.

Ready to Run: Training for a marathon is 90% perspiration, 10% lunacy.

[line]

Once you figure out your finances, you should find a way to deal with them on the road. If anyone is going to send you checks while you're gone, give them some deposit slips for your bank account and your bank's address--that way, they can be deposited without your signature. If you have to pay off student loans or other regular bills, you can arrange automatic monthly payments through your bank. It's also a good idea to set up online banking so you can check your balances, pay bills and transfer funds from any of the Internet cafes that you'll find in most sizable foreign towns.

The second-biggest obstacle to taking to the road doesn't necessarily mean you have to quit. Hasbrouck says that many companies, aware of the tight labor market and the value of good employees, will grant long, unpaid leaves of absence. Besides, in an increasingly globalized economy, familiarity with the cultures and languages of Asia--where national economies are rapidly expanding--can be a definite career asset.

One of people's biggest misconceptions about long-term travel, Hasbrouck says, is that "I could never get the time for an extended trip." That's false, he says: "As I've seen increasing numbers and diversity of people finding or making time in their lives for travel, it's become increasingly clear to me that the biggest barrier to long-term travel for most people in the USA is simply getting up your courage to decide to do it."

Once you do get up your courage, you need to buy tickets. Two of the best outfits in the Bay Area are AirTreks and Air Brokers. Airtreks has a fantastic website (www.airtreks.com) where you can spend hours devising fantasy itineraries and getting quick estimates. The company makes it easy to fly into one city or country and out of another, allowing you to do lots of overland travel without backtracking, and most of the tickets are extremely flexible, allowing you to postpone a flight by a month or take off weeks early. Airtreks also has representatives in Bangkok to help you once you're gone, and its employees are extremely well traveled and full of valuable advice about timing and destinations.

After you have your tickets, assuming you don't own your house, you have to either give up or sublet your apartment. If your landlord won't let you sublet, you have to put your stuff in storage. Many companies in the Bay Area will come to your home, pack and move your belongings for you, store them for a year and then deliver them to a new place for around $2,000 for a typical one-bedroom apartment's worth of furniture. For about half as much, you can do it through U-Haul, though you have to do all the packing and moving yourself.

If you're going to be gone during the first part of the year, you'll need someone to take care of your taxes. If you have your employers send your tax documents to an accountant, he can file for you. You can also sign power of attorney over tax-related matters over to your accountant through a form that's available at www.IRS.gov, which ensures that the IRS sends copies of tax-related documents to your accountant and allows him to take care of any problems that arise while you're gone. My husband and I, who as freelancers have a fairly complex tax situation, were able to get all this taken care of for about $400.

Unfortunately, the cheapest countries are often also those with the most diseases. Many American hospitals have travel clinics, which you should contact several months before you go for all the appropriate shots and medications. If you do get sick once you're abroad, though, most pharmacies can sell you what you need without a prescription, be it antibiotics for a stomach illness or Valium for a mid-trip freakout.

Not that freaking out is likely. The hardest part of traveling, by far, is leaving. After you arrive and are caught up in exploring spectacular ruins, dizzying cityscapes and deserted beaches, all the lunatic anxiety that goes into planning a trip will seem far, far away.

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From the March 8-14, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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