By , July 6, 2011 9:53 am

Of all the decisions that had to be made for our RTW trip, choosing a backpack was the one that I agonized the most over.  And I definitely took my sweet time deciding.  After five trips to four different outdoor stores in three cities in two different countries, I chose the first one I put on… a green Osprey Kestrel 38 L.  And what did Mike choose?  A green Osprey Kestrel 38 L.  That’s right… we are sporting matching backpacks!  While this might seem a little too “cutesy” to you, it meant $40 in savings for us (totally worth it, and why does the same pack cost $40 more in Canada??).

Our New RTW Backpacks

Our New RTW Backpacks

I could go into the process of actually choosing a bag (fitting them, trying them on with weights, etc.) but you can find that information in a million places on the web.  Instead, I’ll just explain why we chose the packs we did.

Mike and I showed up at each store with a list of needs and a list of wants for our backpacks.  Interestingly enough, we ended up with packs that met all the requirements of the “needs” list and none of the “wants.”  This is probably because we opted to sacrifice on convenience for comfort.  A sacrifice that I’m sure we won’t regret as we spend 80 days walking through Europe with them on our backs.


  • Under 40 L in Size – Mike and I already owned 55 L & 65 L packs and carried them around New Zealand for a month.  They were fantastic, but too big!  In New Zealand, we had a tent, sleeping bags, air mattresses, and a cook stove with fuel … none of which we will be carrying on this trip.  
  • Comfort & Proper Fit – These were the most critical features.  If we are going to carry these packs for 80 days on the Via Francigena, they need to be comfortable.  It turns out this meant adjustable torso harnesses (apparently neither of us are quite standard size) and adequate hip belts.
  • Good Quality – The pack had to be well built.  We want something that will last the entire duration of the trip (how ever long that will be…)
  • Built-In Rain Cover – This might not be a must-have for most people, but after several hiking trips where Mike’s pack had a built-in rain cover and mine didn’t, this was non-negotiable.  Built-in rain covers are quickly and easily accessible when the weather changes and take up less space in your pack.

Things That Would Be Nice To Have:

  • Panel Access – We’ve always owned top loading bags, but we thought it might be more convenient to have panel access for the big trip.  We quickly realized that we would need to ditch this idea if we wanted to stick with technical bags that met the <40L requirement.  Packing cubes and stuff sacks will have to suffice to keep our stuff organized and quickly accessible.
  • Travel Features – When I first starting looking at bags for our trip, I was intrigued by the features of some of the travel packs… things like zippered flaps to cover the straps for flights and built in wheels.  We gave up on these as none of the technical backpacks seemed to have them.
  • Back Ventilation –  Since we are planning to walk about 20 km a day for 80 days through Europe, we thought that it might be nice to have some airflow between our backs and the packs.  After trying on a few packs with the ventilation design, we decided that it wasn’t ideal… the curved shape of the frame meant the weight was centred too far away from your back, constantly pulling you over and throwing you off balance.
  • Two Backpacks That Weren’t Identical – There are a lot of reasons to not buy the exact same pack as your traveling partner.  For example, they don’t look ridiculously matchy as you walk side by side, and there is no confusion about whose pack is whose.  However, the $40 in savings trumped them.  The REI in Vegas only had one colour in stock.  We could find more selection at home, but prices were $40 higher.

 The Final Result:

Two happy RTW travelers, matching packs and all.

Mike & Ashley with our Kestrel 38's

Loving Our New Osprey Kestrel 38L Packs

By , July 1, 2011 3:36 pm

June 30th was a milestone day that we’ve been waiting a long time for.  Yesterday it came and went.  June 30th was the last day we were both employed.  The day we received our last paychecks.  And it was our four year wedding anniversary (surprisingly Mike was the first to remember.  We’ve been so caught up with preparing for our trip that it almost went unnoticed).

With June 30th passing, we open the next chapter in our lives.  No more alarm clocks, no more commute to work, no more income.  As an exciting new feature we’ve reversed the direction of our travel funds progress bar and it will now begin its (hopefully) slow descent towards 0%.  For those that are relatively new to this blog, we’ve long said that our trip will end when we get tired of traveling or we run out of money.

This post is a little different than past posts in that we decided to team write it.  Not exactly collaboratively, but independently one after the other.

Comments from Ashley:

Yesterday was my last day of work.  It kind of feels surreal.  I can no longer introduce myself as a high school math teacher (at least, not for the next little while), but I will always be a teacher at heart.

I think the moment it really hit me was when I selected all of my files on my work laptop and hit the delete key.  I kind of thought that deleting over four years worth of work would be more epic and time-consuming, but ten seconds later everything was gone.  Symbolically, deleting all of my notes, assignments, and tests meant saying goodbye to my four years of teaching at that school. To all my teacher friends: I’m not totally crazy… I do have all my work saved on a flash drive which will be backed up before I go).

Handing in my laptop and keys to the secretary was an equally emotional moment.  It was the equivalent of a police officer handing in their gun and badge.  In that instant, I was unemployed.  Gone was the schedule.  (And gone was the bathroom schedule… I will no longer have to wait for the bell to ring to be able to go pee.)


Handing Over Keys and Laptop

Handing over my keys and laptop to our school secretary, Lorrie. Photo credited to Mr. Joshua Bekker.

I have to admit, I cried a couple of times when I had to say goodbye to some of my colleagues that I have worked closely with and who have become great friends.  Thanks for four great years guys!

Over the past couple of years I have been working with teams of teachers to do innovative things with Grade 9 classes.  During this process, we were often told to “go slow.”  And now, that’s exactly what I’m about to do.  “Go slow” is our new traveling mantra.  There’s so much to see and experience in this world… there’s no reason to rush through it all.

Comments from Mike:

I’m not going to get all emotional and blubbery, it’s just not my style.  Yesterday I left the company that I’ve worked for since my last year of university 7 years ago.  One thing I intended to do, but didn’t get around to on my last day, was to send out an email to my co-workers thanking them for being so great to work with and to give them the address of this blog.  If you happen to be one of the lucky few that I managed to give a Traveled Earth Buisness Card to, please feel free to pass on my thanks and this blog’s address to any co-workers that you think may be interested.

Work was kind enough to throw me a bit of a sendoff party at my favorite Regina establishment: Bushwakkers.  I’d like to thank everyone that made it out, I had a lot of fun.  For those that couldn’t make it, no worries, I received your well wishes by email, phone, and word of mouth and appreciated them all.  So, one last time – goodbye, thanks for making the last seven years so great, take care.

By , June 28, 2011 9:32 pm

We haven’t told too many people this, but the free wordpress theme we’ve been using at Traveled Earth was the very first theme that came up when we googled “free wordpress theme”.  We always thought it was okay, but never really loved it.

Slowly, but surely, it started to bother us more and more until we finally sat down and decided to make some changes.  Behold, the fruits of our labour… the new face of Traveled Earth!

In cliche fashion, here are the before and after screen-shots in case you forgot how we used to look.

So what do you think?  Pretty snazzy eh?

Aside from the good looks, this theme also has a ton of new features.

  • New About Traveled Earth and About Mike & Ashley pages so you can actually learn who we are.
  • Our photo and a brief description of us is prominently located on on the main page (we had lots of complaints about the lack of this feature in the old theme).
  • A snappy random header.  We launched with only 3 images, there will be more to come as we take them.
  • Easy to find icons for Twitter, Facebook, and our RSS feed
  • A mini-map showing our location in the world
  • A search bar
  • The post author is now displayed on the main page
  • A larger menu bar, allowing us to move our Planning the Trip articles off of our right hand sidebar

All in all, we’re much happier with our new look.

In other news, Ashley and I have only two working days left and one paycheck each.  We’re expecting to have a bit more time over this next week to finish off some of our planning the trip posts.  Unless we are way off base, expect to see an unusually large number of posts coming out over the next week leading up to ‘T’ minus 0.

By , June 22, 2011 8:39 pm

As our jobs wind down (only 6 working days left!) and our trip fast approaches (only 13 days plus a few hours.. crazy!) it’s hard not to think of the things we will miss when we get on that plane without a return date.  I’m sure this is a stage that every traveler goes through (see Skott’s post over at Get Up and Globe) – as I consider all of the things I’m looking forward to, I can’t help but look back on the things that I’ll be leaving behind.  Here are a few of them:

1.  Family & Friends

This is number one for a good reason.  We’ve been saying goodbye to family since Easter and let me tell you, it’s not easy.  My mom recently admitted that she’s already been shedding tears about our trip when we’re not around.  Mike’s mom seems to tear up every time we see her – which is a lot, since we’re living in her house right now.  If I had a way to bring everyone with us, I would (at least for a visit here and there), but since teleportation is still in its quantum stages, I guess I’ll have to settle with email and Skype to stay in touch.



2.  Our Cat, Pi

Although she is without a doubt part of our family, and thus included in number 1 above, I thought Pi deserved her own number on this list.  Pi has been a member of our family since our wedding nearly four years ago.  Since Mike’s parents didn’t want a cat in their house, we had to give her up at the end of May after we sold our house.   She’s got a great new home with one of my coworkers (again, thanks Lana!), but I’ve missed her every day she’s been there.

3.  Quachie Food

The Gateway restaurant in Qu’Appelle has THE best Chinese food I’ve ever eaten.  We even had them cater our wedding.  I think I’ll miss their egg rolls most of all.  And their ginger beef.  And their long dry ribs.  Oh, wow, now I’m hungry!  It’s the definitely the egg rolls that I’ll miss the most.




4.  Board Games

Mike and I love to play board games.  Sometimes it’s just each other, sometimes with friends.  We have spent many an afternoon talking and laughing over a game board.   We’re both super competitive so sometimes it’s pretty quiet after one of us backstabs the other on our quest for victory.  The first thing we secured a home for (after Pi, that is) is our collection of board games.  Somehow I don’t think they’d travel very well in our packs.

5. China Pastry

It might seem weird to you that I’ve got two restaurants on my list, but if you had ever tasted a bun from China Pastry you’d understand its inclusion.  My favourite buns are the plain buns, but I’ll miss all the other flavours (BBQ pork, Szechwan vegetable, hot dog, cocktail, etc.) equally.  Hopefully I will find on my journey a savoury pastry to equal these delicious packets of perfection.

6.  Boston Lee Days

Mike and Ashley - Boston Lee Day

For as long as I’ve known Mike, he’s celebrated Boston Lee Day with his friends on every Friday the 13th.  It’s a happy orange holiday that we always look forward to.  Celebrations were moved to our place after the bar that originally hosted them shutdown in 2007.  When the next Friday the 13th hits (January 13, 2012), Mike and I will be sure to don some orange and celebrate wherever we are.  Hopefully they find a new venue back home to join in.


7.  Teaching

I love teaching.  For the past four years, I have been teaching math at the same high school in Regina.  It’s become my second home.  I didn’t realize how much I would miss it until the last couple weeks, when I started going through the series of goodbyes that the end of the school year has brought (last day of classes, each final exam day, and still to come, report card day).  There have been lots of hugs and well wishes, and even a spontaneous round of applause from one of my classes that brought me to tears (just before I gave them their final exam, no less).

There are a few things that I won’t miss, and I think they might be worth mentioning too:

1.  The Alarm Clocks. Neither Mike nor I are morning people.  ‘Nuf said. iPhone Alarm

2.  Our Bed. We have been in desperate need of a new mattress for about a year.  But we were too cheap (frugal?) to buy one, since we knew we’d be leaving in July.  This may have been a smart decision, actually.  We’ve basically been in training for the variety of beds we’re bound to encounter in budget hostels.  In fact, a lot of the hostel beds may be a step up.

3.  The Stuff. I really don’t think I’m going to miss all the stuff I’m leaving behind.  Especially things like the TV, the stack of laundry (do I really need that many clothes to get dirty?), and everything else we’ve gotten rid of already.

4.  The Commute. Spending almost two hours driving each day is crazy.  That’s 12.5% of my waking hours!  What a waste.

5.  The Schedule. I think.  I’ve always been a fairly by-the-book kinda gal, so maybe I won’t like not knowing what tomorrow will bring.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve had school or a job to live by… even in the summers.  But then again, the more I think about it the less I think I’m going to miss having to follow a set schedule day in and day out.

For everyone out there traveling the world, what do you miss the most?  What’s the thing you’re most happy about leaving behind?

By , June 14, 2011 5:00 pm

This is the third and final post we’re going to make about our four day trip to Las Vegas. I know, I know, 3 posts for a four night trip to Las Vegas is a bit excessive. Please bear with me, this will be the last one… I think.

Anyways, I wanted to sum up our trip to Las Vegas by comparing some of the goals we set for ourselves to what we actually accomplished on our trip. I’m quite pleased with the results.

Las Vegas Strip as seen from the wedding suite


I was surprised with how well we did sticking to a budget in Las Vegas. We used a website called to track our expenses. For those that haven’t heard of BudgetYourTrip before, it’s more than just a website that allows you to track your travel expenses. It also allows you to estimate your future expenses based on the average expenditures of other people. By using it, your results are added to the mix making future estimates more accurate. I think it’s a neat idea.

As you can see from the above badge we averaged $92.41 per day excluding airfare. If you want to see what we spent our money on, click “Scott and Tamara’s Wedding”.

Our RTW budget is $100 per day including airfare. Obviously, we didn’t expect to hit that budget when our flights alone were more than double that. We also expected that Las Vegas would be considerably more expensive than many of the other places we intend to travel to. To make things easy we thought we’d shoot for the $100 a day mark excluding airfare on this trip.

We kept on budget! But, we could have done better if we:

  • Shopped at a grocery store instead of eating out each meal
  • Split up from the group to avoid cab fare and utilized our bus passes
  • Stayed off-strip in budget hotels or couchsurfed

Seeing the results, we both agree that a budget of $100 a day is completely reasonable for our RTW.

Use Local Transportation:

Though we had our troubles, we managed to figure it out and in the end got by just fine with the local bus system. There’s no doubt that taking the bus can save a lot of money in Las Vegas, unless you have the time to walk everywhere.

Meet New People:

Both Ashley and I are very shy people, especially in crowds. It took some work to push ourselves out of our comfort zone to meet new people, but we very much enjoyed it. We talked at length with a local cartoonist and met a couple of freight train hoppers. Most of the wedding party were also new acquaintances for us.

Poste Restante:

We were able to try out Poste Restante (general delivery) while we were in Las Vegas. Sort of. We ordered a few items that are not readily available in Canada for our RTW and had them shipped to the Excalibur Hotel for pickup. We simply had the shipper put our date of arrival on our packages and mail them to the Excalibur Hotel directly. When we arrived we were asked to show ID, and were promptly handed our package. They were even so kind as to waive the $7 fee as we hadn’t checked in yet, so they couldn’t bill the room.


We did a lot of walking, and some swimming. Otherwise our workout program was non-existent. We had planned on working in some jump rope, push-ups, sit-ups, and maybe some jogging. None of that stuff happened, so we’ve got room for improvement.

Keep a Journal:

Yep. If Mike had better handwriting we might even have been able to read it one day.


Aside from the airport and flights, we didn’t really spend any time reading. We did discover that one Kindle isn’t enough (we don’t share well) and are on the lookout for a second.


I think we did good here. We had our first post up on the website the very night we arrived. Turns out that writing while on the road is fun. I don’t think we’ll have any problem keeping up our erratic posting schedule once we start travelling.


One thing I found interesting was our complete lack of photos. We managed a total of 5 photos on our own before hooking up with the wedding party. I’m not sure if that’s a bad thing or not. Given the amount of photo gear we are planning to carry around the world, I thought we’d be taking a few more pictures. Then again, both Ashley and I have been to Las Vegas before, so the need for us to photograph every casino was at a minimum.

Things changed on the photo front after we met up with the wedding party. I had agreed to be the official unofficial photographer for the wedding so I took plenty of photos. Some of them turned out rather well. So well that I’m starting to think I should try to turn my photography into a business while on the road.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite photos from the wedding. If you want to see more, check out our photo gallery.


By , June 11, 2011 11:58 pm

Unfortunately the band DayOne was not in Las Vegas (sorry for the misleading title). As you may recall, we recently had some practice booking flights for our friends wedding in Las Vegas. Last week we got to take those flights and spent 4 nights in Sin City.

With our big RTW trip coming up fast (24 days!) we went to Vegas with a bit of an agenda. Of course the wedding was a big part of that agenda, but we also wanted to do some last minute shopping, practice holidaying on a budget, and test out some of the stuff we plan on taking with us on our trip.

For some reason, I had a whole lot to say about our first day in Vegas, so I made it its own post.

Day 1:

We arrived in Las Vegas with a few things to get done before the wedding party showed up (we arrived a day earlier than everyone else).

First and foremost, we wanted to get to our off-strip hotel using public transit. We managed, but not without a fair bit of walking in the 30C heat. Our mistake was arriving without a map showing the location of our hotel. I thought an address would suffice, but it seems nobody in Las Vegas uses addresses. Although the bus driver and local patrons were very friendly and tried their best to tell us where to get off, we were unable to explain where we were going as we didn’t know what landmark casino it was near. In the end, we were only out by about seven (huge) blocks. I was kind enough to haul all of our luggage, while Ashley was kind enough to gather some photographic evidence so I could brag about it later.

Mike carrying all the luggage

The next, and last, item on our “to do” list for Day 1 was to take the bus to REI and shop for backpacks. As you can probably gather from the post we made on the road, it didn’t go so well. The Westcliff Airport Express bus leaves from Fremont Street roughly every hour on the weekends. Unfortunately for us, it was 1 hour and 20 minutes late.

We spent that hour and twenty minutes talking to a local cartoonist who made his living drawing caricatures on Fremont street during the summer. I imagined for a bit that our RTW had already started and we were trying to figure out how we could fill our time by asking the locals. Of course, we didn’t have the luxury of time to follow up on any of his recommendations, but we did learn a fair bit.

  • Vegas’s busy season is the hot summer months (I always thought people went there to escape the winter). Apparently there are so few people in the winter that most street performers leave Vegas all together and don’t come back until the following summer.
  • The university area was recommended as a place to shop and eat as it has both unique boutique shops and cheap food.
  • There are a lot of things to do outside of Vegas. He recommended visiting the Red Rock Canyon, Mt. Charleston, The Grand Canyon, and Lake Mead.
  • And last but not least, the bus drivers trade bus routes every 4 months to avoid chronic boredom. As luck would have it, today was the trade day and the undoubted cause of our late bus.

After our public transit friend gave up and hailed a cab, we decided to follow suit (giving up, not hailing a cab). That’s where we ran into Brian and Mike, two freight train hoppers who’ve been riding the rail for the last 6 weeks. They started in Massachusetts and are on their way to L.A. As I inquired, they explained that this super budget friendly mode of transportation is illegal, and one must be extra careful not to be caught. To cope with this, the internet has come to the rescue allowing the freight hopping community to share the best places to hop on and off trains while avoiding security.

Brian and Mike, two freight train hoppers

Moments later, our bus passed us by. Too late to catch the next one, we took a stroll down Fremont Street and eventually went back to our hotel for a swim, wrote our first blog post from the road, and settled into bed. All in all, one of my favourite days we spent in Las Vegas. It turns out I enjoy meeting new people, and the conversations more than made up for our troubles with the transit system.

By , June 4, 2011 11:15 pm

Mike and I arrived in Las Vegas today for my good friend’s (Tamara’s) wedding.  Our flight got in at 1:05 pm local time and our plan for the day was to check in to our off-strip hotel and get to REI (which is open until 9:00 pm) to buy our backpacks for our RTW trip.  And we wanted to do this the most economical way possible (i.e. without having to pay for a taxi).

Sounds simple enough, right?

I mean, we figured we are reasonably intelligent individuals, Las Vegas is full of tourists trying to get around the city, and everyone speaks English.  Taking the bus to the hotel and REI would be a piece of cake.

A Las Vegas city bus

… Or not.  Because here I sit, typing out this blog entry on our Kindle (which in and of itself is a great and painful feat), without a shiny new backpack to play with.  We never did make it to REI today.  But man did we ever give it the good old college try.

Here are the lessons I learned about taking public transit today:

1.  If you don’t have exact change, your bus trip just got more expensive.

2.  Don’t just write down the address of your hotel/destination.  Look it up on a map before you venture out.

3.  Better yet, print a google map of your hotel’s location.

4.  Don’t just write down Google Map’s bus directions and try to follow them without knowing the name of the stops.

5.  Don’t assume that you can successfully make several bus transfers without a TRANSIT map of any kind.

6.  Don’t assume that you can successfully make several bus transfers without even having a CITY map of any kind.

7.  Even if a bus is an hour and a half late, don’t give up on it arriving.  If you do, and you start walking away, you will turn to see it drive by you five minutes later.

8.  If the name/route number on the bus that pulls up is not the one you are looking for, don’t get on it – no matter how tired you are of waiting for the one you want.

9.  If you’re at a transit station that all the major bus routes go through and the bus you’re waiting for does not show up, find an alternate route while you still can.  Don’t hop on a random bus that also stops at the bay you’re waiting at and assume it will take you somewhere useful.

10.  Know where your stops are.  Otherwise, the trip will be much longer and more scenic than you ever imagined.

11.  Even if a bus appears to loop around on its route, don’t assume you can just stay on it until you get back to the stop you missed.  You probably need to switch buses.

12.  No matter what happens, take advantage of every opportunity to see new things, meet new people, and strike up a conversation with someone around you.  The other stuff can wait.

Now hopefully these lessons have stuck.  Because tomorrow morning, we’re going to try it all over again!

Have you had any misadventures with public transit during any of your travels (or in your hometown, for that matter)?