Category Archives: Editorial

A year later..

Wow ! We can finally say that we made it and so did our van! We are now back in Edmonton, Alberta where we started our journey 361 days ago! I guess it’s time for us to sit down with a glass of wine (or two!) and really take a moment to realize what this adventure did to us.

First, WE LOVE TRAVELLING!  I guess everyone would probably say the same but for us this trip was just what we needed to confirm our desire to continue a life full of new destinations. A life where work and stress would not take the biggest part but the smallest part. A life where you can live your dreams and share your adventures with people likely-minded.  A life full of randomness and less routine. A life where you can smile and breath and just be happy.

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” – Anonymous

I think we can say that we’ve always been happy but now we are happier! We now know that we need less than average to be happy. It’s a concept that can be difficult to understand and to adhere to in a society like ours. A society where we are always stimulated by stores and advertisements and where spending money and owing lots of things is encouraged. A society where more is never enough and where you have to frequently justify living a simple life. A society where we trash good food for no good reason. A society where we always need new, even if it’s not old yet. We all know that we need money to live  but it was a relief to realize that we could be as happy if not more with less money and things but with more quality time for ourselves.

Quality time also means all the people we spend time with. This last year wouldn’t have been the same without all the people we met here and there and with whom we connected.  People with whom we were able to have great conversations over a beer or a coffee. People to cook and share a meal with. People to cheer for you or to give you advices when you were climbing something hard for your level. People fixing something broken on your van for free or people to  just sit there and talk about simple living. People not judging you for what you wear and do. People we hadn’t seen in a long time, people we might never see again and people that we will never forget. People liking you for who you are. The people and the time spent with them, with you, made this trip richer in many ways and we are grateful for that.

Many people told us that we were lucky to be able to do that kind of travelling but they would never do it. Would never travel 30 000km in a 1978 campervan. Would never be able to spend days without showering or going to a restaurant. We do consider ourselves lucky, not for having had a year off, but for having realized that work & money weren’t the priority. What we did feel was that we were missing out on life and we wanted more for ourselves. We spent years working really hard and we just couldn’t continue down that road without giving it a shot. We couldn’t do any of the things that we’ve dreamed of or knock items off the bucket list. We couldn’t just spend the best years of our lives working to have more money. We couldn’t just wait to be 65 years old to start living. We couldn’t bare the idea of having regrets. Regrets for not having the guts to try it. Van living isn’t for everyone but it was really amazing for us. We tried to not bother too much about the comfort and the commodities we left behind. We just jumped both feet in and we loved every minute of it. It wasn’t easy everyday, we hit bumps and obstacles but always learned something from it. I think we are different in a way,in a way that we now know more about who we are and what we want in this life.

Even if we don’t want our life to rotate around money, this last year was kind of a financial exercise for us. Testing how far we could push simple living. How  many compromises and sacrifices we were willing to do. Budgeting has been a big part of this trip and a big challenge and we are glad we had the discipline to stick to it, to report and calculate all our expenses every day, for 361 days. Here it is now !!!

$ Final Budget $

( June 25 2014- June 20 2015)

Initial Budget: $15000
Revenues: $756.21
Real Budget: $15756.21
Transport: $6659.63
Food: $2897.13
Fun:$6422.73 (includes our trip to Thailand)
Grand total: $15 979.49  short $223.28

Even if we spent a little bit more money than initially planned ($223,28), we consider that we succeeded this experimentation.  If we exclude the money related to gas and transport, travel insurance, we spent less than $8500 between the two of us. We would have probably spent double of that without the weekly budget. We are definitely proud of what we accomplished and we will obviously continue budgeting and save money for our future (not that far) projects!

This is our last blog entry for now but it doesn’t represent the end of our adventure. To us, it only means we are starting a new chapter and we are very excited about what life has in store for us.

Thanks again for following us and see you around!

M & E

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Top 10 things to know before coming to Tonsai/Railey [Thailand] in 2015

This post is being written live from our bungalow in Tonsai, Bangkok. We came here to climb for a month, hoping to have a vacation within our year long trip with $15 000 CAD. I wrote it about Tonsai but the exact same applies to Railay. 

We had been hearing before getting here that Tonsai was changing, mostly due to a resort being built using 90% of the beachfront in Tonsai.  What that mean is that as of now, there’s a big wall surrounding the property and that any business that was by the beach was either relocated further up in the jungle or simply closed down, with the exception of Freedom bar and 2 restaurants next to it. Since we were never here before, it’s hard to tell exactly how much has changed but clearly it’s not like it used to be. I know I don’t like that wall and I believe it goes the same way with the locals. 

  
   

Here’s a top 10 of things you need to know before considering a climbing trip to Tonsai. 

  1. Bungalows aren’t cheap. The cheapest will ring you in at 200 baht. This will provide you with a shower(cold water only but that’s all you need really), a toilet(bring your own toilet paper, can be purchased for 15-20 baht for a skinny roll), a queen size bed, bamboo walls and cockroaches are included… Hey apparently they keep spiders out!. If you want fancier, it’s there but it will cost you. At least there’s a mosquito net. They’re very effective if you tuck it in underneath the mattress and don’t rest your body against it while you’re sleeping. After a week in one of those bungalows, we are quite ok. You really feel like you’re living in the jungle and that’s awesome. 
  2. A dinner meal, let’s say Pad Tai, starts at 70 and with meat it’s 80 baht. It’s like they’ve all colluded and the prices are the same pretty much everywhere. We looked everywhere for a way to feed ourselves for 30-40 baht like we did in Bangkok and it’s impossible. Everything, and I mean everything is double what the cost is in Ao Nang. (5-6 min boat ride). May I suggest stopping by a store before crossing over to Tonsai to buy anything you will need.  
  3. Thefore, if you want to cut your cost down, it might very well be worth taking the 100 baht long tail boat ride each way to Ao Nang to buy supplies. If you don’t mind your beer at room temperature, you can buy it there for 50 baht for a big 630ml instead of 100-120 in Tonsai. Eggs in Tonsai are 10 baht each while we were able to buy 30 of them for 87 baht in Ao Nang. We use an electric kettle to boil them at night when electricity is on and eat them as hard boiled eggs in the morning. The biggest grocery store in Ao Nang is Tesco. You will find all your food supplies there. It’s a 20 minute walk up the road from the beach or a cheap taxi fare away. Same price for everyone too… Not a larger price for foreigners. Most items have their English description on the price tag which is convenient when you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking at. 
  4. Local shops aren’t willing to negotiate much with their prices or rates. We were able to get a bungalow for 200 instead of 250 by paying upfront for a week but that’s about it. The very same hut we live in was going for 90 baht two years ago. We tried at every resort and only this one was willing to move on the price, even though we were 6 people looking for bungalows together. Forget about getting a deal to rent equipment or at the restaurant. Prices are what they are and they’re pretty high. 
  5. Water. You will be drinking plenty of water so here’s the solution. You buy a big 20L jug for 170 Baht and when you are done, you return it for a 100 baht refund. Effectively getting 20 L of purified water for 70 Baht. It doesn’t say Dasani or Nestle on it but it’s what the locals drink and what they’re serving you in your smoothies.  If you’re going to spend any time with an overnight stay, that’s the only way to go otherwise you will be ruining yourself buying 1.5L for 40 baht or 6 liters for 70-80 baht.   
  6. To many locals, you’re just another tourist with a lot of money. They know you will spend it and don’t really care to give you good, or why not, amazing service. Asking a local climbing guide what the grade of a route is may result you in an answer along the line of “I’m not getting paid to help you, you climb it if you want to know what the grade is.” Unless you hire a guide, you’re on your own. Thankfully regular climbing tourists are friendly as you would expect and you can share knowledge and experience with them. The guidebook is also fairly well done and can be bought locally for 800-900 baht. 
  7. Bring bug spray or plan on buying some locally. “After-bite” isn’t a bad idea either. Many people also bring/use some iodine (aka betadine) to desinfect small wounds.
  8. If you are on a tight budget, going somewhere else than Tonsai might be wise. We are having a hard time spending less than $175 USD/week. We are spending more on a weekly basis here than when we were in the USA. And that’s sharing a big beer daily. If we were to party we would be way over budget. I thinks is fair to say that Tonsai isn’t cheap anymore. 
  9. Deep water soloing is pretty expensive too. We haven’t looked for ourselves yet but from what we have heard, it should be around 1000 baht(over $30USD per person). Sure it includes a sandwich for lunch but it’s still a ton of money per person in Thailand or anywhere for that matter. 
  10. The greatest surprise has to do with Internet. It is readily available at most restaurants and bars with a purchase. Many do not change their passwords every day but since you will probably eat out at least once a day, it shouldn’t be a problem to get your internet fix. 
  11. Bonus: when looking for a place to stay, be aware that some resorts have electricity from 6 PM to midnight while some others have it on for 12 hours, from 6 PM until 6 AM. It’s quite handy when the nights are hot and you want to have the fan on all night. It’s also nice when you have many devices to charge up

As you may have noticed, we aren’t exactly in awe with Tonsai. It’s perfect when you’re having a good time climbing on the beach but coming here isn’t only that. I was in Thailand about 7 years ago and it feels like Thailand is changing. The feeling is that they’re going to milk the tourists for as much as they can. We were laughed at this morning when we preferred waiting for one more person to fill the boat to go to Ao Nang instead of paying 20 Baht more per person. Quite disrespectfull and had we been back home, this idiot would have known my thoughts. 

    My final words would simply be to either lower your expectations if you think that Tonsai is still the sport climbing mekka or just go look elsewhere. The climbs are obviously the same as they were and potentially safer than ever but having to dispense more for a coffee or a beer here than back home is quite shocking and disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, the scenery is just awesome and I’m glad we came. But what I mean is that we will try a different spot next time. Coming back here for a second time will be a much harder sell than this time around. Perhaps it’s because it’s low season or perhaps it’s because many got the memo already but there are way more island hoppers than there are climbers here right now. 

    We will make the best of it and thankfully we are already having a lot of fun climbing and meeting new people.

    Safe travels everyone. Get in touch with comments if you have any questions. 

    Cheers,

    Matt & Elaine

    Sun, coffee and climbing

    Wow we are kind of wordless this week. We are really starting to settle into a routine that we really like.

    As dreadful as mornings were when we used to work, waking up is now something we’ve come to really like. We go to bed fairly early around 9-10 pm.. and we sleep until the sun rises around 7 am. The thing here is that so far, morning are absolutely gorgeous, there are never any clouds and hardly any wind. As the nights are fairly cool, reaching around freezing temperatures, the feeling of warmth from the sun coming out is peaceful and comforting. So after making coffee, we will sit somewhere outside or in the front driver seats, enjoy the view, listen to a great local radio station while slowly sipping on our cups. This will usually go on for while and at some point we will then cook breakfast, always consisting of 3 eggs each and served most of the time in a wrap in the form of a burrito. And by then it’s now at least 10 am. Time to start thinking about what we are going to do that day, pack up our stuff, some snacks for the lunch and go out and do our things.

    photo (32)

    The sun sets pretty early now and by 5:30 pm, you would better be on your way back to the van already otherwise you will need a headlamp to see where you’re going. Evenings are pretty random. Some nights we will have a glass of wine (or two…), some nights we are with Conrad and Kristine and will play a game of Settlers of Catan or go to the Hot Springs, other nights we will go shopping, get some water, or move closer to where we’re going to spend the day tomorrow. At least the options are many around here when it comes to parking for the night.

    This life here is very simple, living on very little. Yet, it is so nice to be free to do as we like all the time. Sure we do wish we could enjoy some more of the material or comfort things but in the end, the advantages sure outweigh the inconveniences.

    We had a few days off last week and we were given the tour of a nearby real hot spring by Conrad & Kristine. These hot springs are unlike anything we’ve seen before. They are of a simple design in a semi-wild environment. There’s a gravel road to go to it and there is a man made pool the size of a small hot tub with a tap to regulate the amount of new hot water to let into the pool. It can accommodate around 6 people and the best of it all is that there is no cost to it. Absolutely free.

    Shepherd Hot Springs

    Shepherd Hot Springs

    Climbing in the Gorge is awesome!!  The Gorge is separated in 4 areas, so far we visited only two of them. The rock here is different and  we are now more used to it. Most of the routes that we had climbed so far are beautiful lines (we try to stick with the 4-5 stars).  Some routes are so long that you need a 70m rope + the stretch to make it to the bottom.  Those longer routes are good for the endurance.  We really enjoy it here.

    Central Gorge

    Central Gorge

    Quick news!

    • Conrad found some engineered wood 2×6 and we cut some pieces to carry with us… we sleep level all the time now!
    • The mixed veggies we added to the can of tomato sauce had potatoes in it.. tasted funny with the pasta 🙂
    •  We are dirtier than ever as it is so dusty around here, yet we are cleaner than ever as we hit the hot springs frequently!

    More photos below with some captions.. Cheers!

    Our  budget for this week is now $187.90 CAD for food & fun

    Nov 6 – Nov 13 : Weekly & Totals since we left 20 weeks ago.

    Fuel: $33.90 / $3374.94
    Food: $104.17 / $1569.90
    Fun: $8.56 / $3173.43

    Total for the week without fuel: $112.73
    Total with fuel: $146.63
    Total spent since the beginning: $8118.27

    Total budget: $15756.21
    Budget left: $7637.94

    E & M

    Driving on one of many rough dirt roads around bishop.

    leveling blocks

    Our new leveling blocks.. made at no cost using a Dollarama saw!

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    Men at work… thanks for the planks Conrad!

    Central gorge descent

    The actual approach/descent into Central Gorge. It’s not as bad as it looks as most of the loose stuff is not where you step.

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    The view once you reach the bottom of the Gorge

    photo 5

    #VANLIVING

    photo 4

    Living the life on a mellow morning

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    Time, Money and Health

    In life you need three things, Time, Money and Health. Unfortunately it’s really hard to have all three simultaneously.

    Said an elderly couple on the shuttle in Glacier National Park. They couldn’t have put it better. We are meeting a lot of people on this trip and we gladly share our simple life experience when it resonates with them. Last encounter was with a chief firefighter yesterday. She is getting close to retirement but would have to take a fair cut if she retired early. She was obviously thinking about retiring early anyways but she did say that chatting with us on the hike was refreshing and that perhaps it was some kind of a sign that she ran into us.  Simple life isn’t for everyone but one thing for sure is that if you’re only waiting until you have “enough” money to enjoy life, you might be waiting a long time as I don’t know many people who claim they have enough money.

    We decided to leave Glacier National Park and head towards Waterton Lakes National Park. Our food supply was getting low and the weather was only so-so. Somehow we didn’t find much better deals to be had on the way or in Waterton itself. Actually we did score 3 x 750ml containers of expired yogurt at $1 each and a loaf of expired bread for $1 too. Besides that everything was literally double the price. $2/lb for bananas to give you an example.  Knowing that we’re going to be in the rockies for the upcoming few weeks, we bought $40+ worth of groceries in Calgary today.

    Although we only did two hikes in Waterton, we had a good time. The first one might have been our longest hike ever at 18-20km long. It’s called Alderson-Carthew trail and it’s part of the Triple Crown Challenge. We tried to reach the summit of Carthew, only to realize when we reached the top that we were on the false summit and reaching the true summit meant hiking another kilometer. Oh well, the views were still amazing 🙂 Second hike was short but steep. We tried to get up and down as fast as possible. One thing for sure is that our cardio is improving by hiking more than we’ve ever hiked before.

    Taken from the false summit of Carthew with true summit of Alderson in the back

    Taken from the false summit of Carthew with true summit of Alderson in the back

    Town of Waterton from the Carthew-Alderson trail

    Town of Waterton from the Carthew-Alderson trail

    Steep grade?

    Steep grade?

    Bertha Falls

    Bertha Falls

    Finding a spot to spend the night with and in the van(aka free camping) was a bit of struggle in Waterton. Just like most (probably all) federal Parks, sleeping in your vehicle on the side of the road isn’t allowed. Not that we would have but even if we did want to, the campground was full and camping legally wasn’t available. In the end the stealth-are-us were successful and we got three full night sleep without getting an early wake up call or having to shell out a lot of money.

    First day in Waterton was a slow day and took the opportunity to visit the town/village. They have this super old hotel called Prince of Wales Hotel. I’m surprised it isn’t a Fairmont.. I guess their room rates aren’t expensive enough with a price starting at $200/night in low season 🙂

    Prince of Wales hotel

    Prince of Wales hotel

    Lobby of the Prince of Wales hotel

    Lobby of the Prince of Wales hotel

    We had another though time in this very touristic town. All the tourists are spending money all over the place and it kind of makes you feel like doing like everyone else. I swear, everyone and by everyone I mean everyone bought ice cream cones there. It’s just an example but as everyone only does spend money, it’s as if you have to convince yourself that you’re not wrong to want this lifestyle for yourself. It all goes back to normal when you start doing things that you really like such as hiking or hanging out with friends.

    Birthday Boy!

    Birthday Boy!

     

    It was Math’s birthday while we were in Waterton and Matt’s mom treated him to a nice dinner for the occasion. Matt ordered something he wouldn’t even order for himself before committing to this trip, A FULL rack of ribs!! So delicious! We even had home made ice cream for dessert!

    Besides that well we are now in Calgary. We have some admin stuff to take care of, some supplies to buy and on Saturday we are heading towards Canmore until at least the 21st. We are itching to climb as we have been hiking only since we left Quebec. Today we came really close to turning around and start heading towards warmer weather. WE HIT SNOW ON THE ROAD! Well we didn’t really mean it as we can’t wait to attend our friends wedding but that was a confirmation that we would rather be where it’s warm this winter!

    What's that!!

    What’s that!!

    Snow!

    Snow!

    August 28 – Sept 3 : Weekly & Totals since we left 10 weeks ago.

    Fuel: $60.00 / $2166.76
    Food: $100.54 / $745.21
    Fun: $31.69 / $631.07

    Total for the week without fuel: $132,23
    Total with fuel: $192.23

    Total spent since the beginning: $3543.04
    Total budget: $15160.55
    Budget left: $11617.51

    Some pictures of the daily life in a Van.

    Dishes need to be done everyday

    Dishes need to be done everyday

    Wifi reception is always better "Upstairs" :)

    Wifi reception is always better “Upstairs” 🙂

     

     

    M & E