Our first week has been a roller coaster of emotions as demonstrated by this priceless photo!
Greetings from beautiful North Queensland!
Many regular readers will realize that there has been a week lull in new content here on Man Vs. Debt. In case you may be new to the site, we’ve been traveling in Australia for a little over a week now. It’s not my intent to turn this into a travel log of any sorts, however I’ve been sent an overwhelming amount of requests for updates and a couple photos from our little adventure. In addition, I’m sure you will find some great financial nuggets hidden throughout the following accounts, especially if you plan on doing any traveling in the near future.
Sunday June 7th – Day 1 – (Indianapolis -> L.A.)
Our adventure started out early Sunday morning. We woke at 5 a.m. to shower, say goodbye, and set off for the airport. Luckily, we had fully packed everything but the toiletry bag the night before (a great tip for early departures).
As we made our way through the ticket counter (needed because of lap-seat ticket) and through security, we realized we had forgotten to bring milk. We had read that it’s strongly suggested to have your baby/toddler take a bottle during takeoff to help release ear pressure due to swallowing.
Luckily, I approached the local Starbucks stand and talked them into filling up the bottle with warm milk for only a buck. Those of you that travel frequently know that getting anything from an airport vendor for a buck is a small victory.
Finally, we accelerated down the runway for the first takeoff. Courtney and I kept our eyes fixed on Milli and embraced for the inevitable screaming that would ensue. As the plane lifted off and the tingling sensation of takeoff came over us, Milli turned to look at us and threw one of the biggest smiles we’ve ever seen, before breaking into a hysterical giggling fit. Whew. I’ve said before that I’d rather be lucky than good. Maybe luck would continue to shine on us for the rest of the trip.
The flight from Indy to Chicago lasted all of 45 minutes before we touched down. We quickly scurried to catch our connecting flight from Chicago to LAX. Luckily, we had done everything in our power to keep Milligan awake the entire morning up to this point. Sometimes playing games with a 14 month old’s sleep schedule seems cruel. Frankly though, I like to view it as necessary for sanity. That’s how I spin it.
Not having had her morning nap, Milligan was a zombie on her mama’s shoulder for the first 2 hours of the 3.5 hour flight. The timing couldn’t have worked out any better. Courtney was able to read even while being smothered (a mommy skill), and I was able to finish up a book review of a new Bob Allen release I was sent before leaving.
Upon seeing me read the book and take notes, the guy next to me asked if it was a good book on getting out of debt. I told him that it was o.k., but not one of the best I had read. I then continued to tell him about both The Total Money Makeover and Your Money Or Your Life. He said he was moving to L.A. and trying to start his life over. A big part of this was cleaning up his debt. At this point, I was already done with the book and had taken all the notes I would need to do a thorough review. So I told him about Man Vs. Debt, wrote my name and e-mail in the inside cover (along with the two books above) and gave him the book. I didn’t want to carry around the book anyway, I was done with it. Hopefully, it helps him in some way or points him to additional resources that have helped me. Heck, maybe he’s even reading this post right now!
Welcome to L.A.!
We arrived in L.A. around what was 11:30 a.m. local time. Our overseas flight didn’t leave until close to midnight and frankly we were looking forward to the 12 hour break from planes and airports.
Upon landing in L.A., Gregory Go was waiting outside to pick us up from the airport. For those of you that don’t know Greg is one of the masterminds behind WiseBread. Not only is he a bonafide mastermind, but he’s also one hell of a good guy. Greg devoted his whole Sunday to touting us around and showing us what limited areas of L.A. we could cover. We owe him big time!
We quickly learned that everything is “30 minutes away, depending on traffic” while in L.A. No matter who we asked and what area we were talking about that was the answer we got.
Greg started our tour by taking us up to Santa Monica Blvd. There is a huge outdoor mall, which was very busy for a Sunday afternoon. We quickly found a neat restaurant called Barney’s Beanery. Greg really nailed it out of the park on this one. For meals between $8-$15, they literally had everything. Seriously… everything you could possibly think of. It was one of the coolest restaurants we had been to in a while. The menu’s were set-up and printed like newspapers. I’m fairly sure it took us over 25+ minutes just to decide what to eat. If you are ever around Santa Monica Blvd, I seriously recommend this place!
After lunch we piled back into Greg’s car to make the “30 minute, depending on traffic” trip to Hollywood. Once again there is a bustling mall right smack in the middle of Hollywood. It seems like the mall owners in California really know what they are doing. Maybe they should get them to run the government over there. Just a suggestion.
While in Hollywood we found time to tour the Kodak Theater, while all the time keeping our eyes glued to the pavement in search of cool hand/footprints and stars (pictures below).
After an hour or so of wandering around the streets of Hollywood, Courtney’s childhood friend, Jamie, and her daughter came to pick up Milli and Courtney. Milli would take a much needed nap, while Courtney and Jamie caught up and got to visit for a couple hours.
Meanwhile, Greg and I headed down the road a little bit to a cozy little restaurant to meet up with Jonathan Mead (@JonathanMead), Jun Loayza (@JunLoayza), and Yu-kai Chou (@YukaiChou). Meeting up with these guys was awesome! I’m a big fan of networking up… by that I mean meeting and getting to know people that have already accomplished things that I admire and respect. All of these guys fit into that category.
Jonathan discussed his success in recently quitting his 9 to 5 and being able to devote himself to his online projects full-time. I’m already a fan of Jonathan’s work and am excited to see what he can do now that he’s free of “renting out his mind” to the corporate world.
Jun and Yukai talked about the launch of Viralogy.com and their end-game vision. I’m telling you this folks… I have full-belief that these guys are going to succeed and when they do this will be very big. In very short, they are working on building an “Alexa for people”. Aggregating tons of stats on the influence of individuals on the web. This will be the ultimate site for stat-junkies like myself and will certainly be one of the goto spots when researching people on the web.
Greg talked about how they were able to build WiseBread into one of the premier personal finance blogs on the web. He has great insight on how to build a multi-author blog and especially helpful information on the successful launch of the new WiseBread book.
From my perspective, I contributed very little, but gained a ton of great information! I was able to shed some light on how I was able to build so much momentum in a relatively short amount of time here on Man Vs. Debt. And I’m the one who organized it and brought everyone together, so at least I have that going for me ;-)!
After spending a couple hours talking about business ideas, blog theories, social media, and poking-fun at random, well-known web personalities, they finally kicked us out and onto the street. We chatted a bit longer, promised to do this more often, and said our goodbyes. Greg once again offered to run me back to the airport, where I met back up with Courtney and Milligan to board our midnight flight to Sydney!
Milligan and monkey in front of the ground fountains at the mall in Hollywood
Milligan especially liked Shirley Temple’s handprints… they were close to her size.
If you look closely you can see the Hollywood sign in the background.
Monday June 8th – Day 2 – (Lost to the International Date Line)
Tuesday June 9th – Day 3 – (Sydney -> Cairns, QLD)
Our flight from L.A. to Sydney was by far the longest leg of our trip. In total, we spent over 15 hours in the air, although Qantas did an awesome job of making it as comfortable as possible.
Having a lap baby entitled us to sit at the front of the coach section where they had bassinets that came down out of the wall in front of you. We were unsure on how well Milligan would be able to sleep in this contraption, but in the end it took her almost no time at all to pass out with her blanket shortly after takeoff.
Once we reached cruising altitude they shutoff nearly all the lights in the cabin and I would wager to bet 95% of the plane was asleep. Lucky for us this included Milligan for the next 7 hours (almost the first half) of the flight. I can’t express enough how crucial this crude looking bassinet device was. It combined with the free head phones and great selection of personal movies, t.v. shows, and games made the trip go faster than I anticipated.
Courtney got in Yes Man, He’s Just Not That Into You, and Milk, while I was able to knock out Taken, Quantum Solace, and a documentary on Rugby League. In addition, to the great entertainment selection, the Qantas staff/service was awesome. They even brought around hot towels in the morning (which felt great) and served my vegetarian meals first so that I could eat quickly before holding Milli so she would stay out of the way of everyone else eating.
Finally, we landed in Sydney. However once getting to the gate, we had to wait an extra 20-25 minutes before getting up as Health Agents boarded the plane because of something to do with Swine Flu. It got a little awkward when they ended up taking someone from the very front of the plane with them. Shortly after they and the mystery man left, we were able to finally get off of the plane we called home for the better part of the day.
I guess I hadn’t realized that we would be going through customs in Sydney. It took a little longer than I had expected even though one of the agents let us cut a big part of the line because we had Milli. We had to collect our bags and recheck them even though we were on a Qantas connection to Cairns because of customs, which was a pain.
After all was said and done, we assumed we had missed our connection, but again lucked out that it had a 30-minute delay. Even with the delay, we called it pretty close basically walking straight to the terminal and boarding. This 3 hour flight was by far the worst of the bunch. At this point, Milli was fed-up and fidgety. Courtney and I were tired, sweaty, and desperately wanted to take a shower.
To make matters worse, it was at this point that Courtney realized she had left her wallet on the plane back in Sydney. Luckily the wallet only contained $5, a debit card, and her driver’s license. We added “call and cancel the debit card” to the long list of things to do once we landed in Cairns.
Finally though the flying part of our trip was over as we touched down in Cairns. After gathering our bags, I headed towards the pay phone to “ring” our hostel to come pick us up. To my surprise, the payphone didn’t take credit cards and we didn’t have any change yet in Australia dollars. Apparently, I’m not the first bumbling tourist to need assistance as they have a team of volunteer agents walking around helping people get oriented. After explaining my dilemma a nice older woman helped me scrounge up a cell phone from one of her other volunteers. However we quickly found that the number we had written down was not working for whatever reason. Frustrating for me, but not for the lady helping me. She said that they hid a phone book behind one of the full size cardboard advertisements for just this purpose. She explains they hid it because they had to buy it with money out of their own pockets, as the airport wouldn’t give them any money.
After a short browse through, she found my hostel and we “rung” the local number. We were met by a cheery voice and a request to please wait 15 minutes as they send the van. I sincerely thanked the nice lady for her awesome help and made a mental note to try and donate some money to this volunteer group at some point. It’s awesome of them to give their time to help people explore their home city.
Close your eyes and imagine a hostel van driven by a young lady with no shoes on. That image is exactly what pulled up in right around 15 minutes from our phone call. We found a place to buckle in the car seat to the back bench seat and piled in with another couple from Denmark.
Our first hostel of the trip was actually pretty decent. It had a nice pool and two decently stocked kitchens, along with several outdoor areas to chill in the shade. The room was only about 10 x 10, just barely big enough for the bed and the pack-n-play we were traveling with. It had a small refrigerator, as well. Our room was fairly close to one of the four bathrooms and shower units.
The best feature of the hostel was that it was literally 200 yards away from the major shopping area in Cairns called the Cairns Center. After a quick nap, we headed to the mall to find some food and directions to an ANZ branch to open our bank account. Malls here in Australia are a little different than those in the Midwest. First off, it is common for them to contain full bank branches, grocery stores, etc… I don’t know about those of you on the coasts, but we don’t have full bank branches or grocery stores in the malls. Don’t get me wrong, they usually are just down the street somewhere, but not actually in the mall alongside random overpriced pieces of jewelry and clothing.
This ended up being great, because the Mall had a ANZ branch right in it. It took about 30 minutes for us to set-up an account with our passports. The only hoop is that they wouldn’t list Courtney as Courtney Baker, because her passport still had her maiden name. Apparently a certified copy of our marriage certificate is good enough for customs but not for ANZ. A little frustrating, but not a deal breaker. We opened the account and exchanged the around $500 cash we brought into AUS.
After opening the bank account we hopped back over to the hostel to get some internet, so that we could skype ING Direct to initiate a transfer of money, as well as cancel our debit card. Internet at the hostel was $8 for the day, which seemed steep, but we would later realize is one heck of a deal around these parts. I dialed ING and had the following conversation:
ING: Hi, thanks for calling ING Direct, how can we help you save today?
Baker: Hello, I’m currently vacationing in Australia and just opened a bank account. I’d like to initiate a wire to get some funds over here.
ING: Just a second… I’m sorry sir, we don’t do international wires only domestic transfers.
Baker: I’m sorry, what did you just say?
ING: We don’t do international money wires.
Baker: You’re joking, right?
ING: I’m sorry, I don’t joke about things like this, sir.
You know what they say about assuming. I would have never guessed!
We had plans to look for and possibly secure some temporary lodging within the first few days and I was afraid that the transfer from ING to my Chase account could take 3 days (it always takes at least 2). I could always use my debit card, but wanted to make sure we had the cash to put down on an apartment if we found a time-sensitive opportunity. Luckily, I made a quick call to my father who initiated a wire transfer immediately from his own account. I guess technically I took on new debt for 48 hours in this process! Yikes! Luckily, the ING transfer went quickly, and I was able to fully refund him two days later. No matter how much planning you do it pays to have helpful family for those times when things go awry.
We considered this to be enough drama and traveling for the day spent the rest of the evening winding down back at the hostel and browsing the local paper for apartments.
Wednesday June 10th – Day 4 – (Cairns, QLD)
Today we slept in late and spent the morning exactly how we had spent the evening… doing very little. We had dropped quickly by the grocery store inside the mall and had cereal for breakfast. For any of you that have reservations about a communal kitchen, it was actually pretty fun. You get to meet a lot of great people while cooking or preparing your food. Try it sometime.
Around noon, we set out for some intense walking. I’m almost positive we walked over 10 miles over the next few hours judging by what we covered on a map. Our basic goal was to get to know the area of Cairns called Lake Street and The Esplanade. There was a lot of listings for cheaper rentals that were literally 5 minute walk from the beach.
We walked by several of the listings in the local paper and peeked in the windows, took notes, etc… Also walking around gave us plenty of numbers and listing that weren’t advertised in the newspaper. After around 3-4 hours on the town our feet hurt badly enough to set back to the hostel. Cairns is a beautiful town, but like any area it had it’s parts the were run down and in need of repair. Walking the areas with cheap rentals is a good way to see the true colors of any city.
By the time we got back to the room it was time for dinner. I sat down to Skype some of the local listings we had been by and had found. After the first two hours, I realized how the system worked. Even being a very transient city, most property owners, especially those represented by companies wanted 3 month minimums. The 3 month leases also contained a 20-25% mark-up in rent from the 6 month leases, which seem to be more standard. In addition, there were plenty of opportunities to find week-to-week and month-to-month leases, however these fell into the “holiday” category. I quickly found out that “holiday” was simply a fancy term for “marked-up beyond all belief”. The same run-down apartments that were renting for $180/week on 6 month leases were suddenly $325/week if rented for a month. Once again, I expected a mark-up… after all I ran my own property management company back in the states. However, I didn’t anticipate 100% mark-ups.
Although, we didn’t really get any closer to an apartment than when we started the day, we realized that we were better off staying in hostels until we knew we wanted to commit at least 3 months. Frankly, no amount of research from Indiana would have been able to reveal what a day of walking the city and calling some of the numbers did. You live and you learn. Our only option now was to begin adapting.
Adapting would have to wait until Thursday though, as it was approaching 7 p.m., which has grown to be our standard bedtime. Our schedules have still yet to fully flip at this point.
Thursday June 11th – Day 5 – (Cairns -> Townsville, QLD)
Thursday morning started bright and early for me, as I woke around 2 or 3 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep. I went outside where it was a little chilly, but I was still able to sit comfortably in shorts and a t-shirt. I popped open the computer and decided to give CouchSurfing another try. We had tried to find someone to host us for the first couple days in Cairns, but hadn’t had much luck. I decided to try a town around 4 hours (by car) south of us called Townsville. Tville is a little larger and has a reputation as being a lot less touristy. I figured at this point we really needed to make a connection with someone local to help give us more information about apartments and job sponsorship expectations.
For those of you that don’t know, CouchSurfing is yet another social networking website where you create profiles. It is specifically designed to help people who are traveling find potential hosts who don’t mind opening their homes to random nomads. As with any social network, the profiles and types of people vary widely. Everyone from young partiers with futon mattresses spread out in the living room to professional families with spare bedrooms. I found 5-10 potential people and messaged them directly. Outlining our story in depth and already being in Australia helped us get much more responses this time. Within hours we had two or three that offered to host us either that night or on Friday. One in particular, really caught my eye.
It was a family with a 3 year old little girl, who said they’d love to host us. They had hosted countless other people over the last couple of years, which you can see on their profile. I read through the comments and looked through his over 30+ pictures before deciding this was by far our best option. Not only would they let us stay for free for a couple days, but much more valuable would be the chance to gain the insight from some locals.
I went back into the room to wake up Courtney:
Baker: Honey, wake up… I have good news and bad news, which would you like to hear?
Courtney: Good news.
Baker: I found a place for us to stay on CouchSurfing and they have a 3 year old daughter for Milli!
Courtney: Really? That’s awesome… what’s the bad news?
Baker: It’s in Townsville, which is 6 hours by Greyhound and the bus leaves at noon. We should probably get packed up.
Courtney: I’m not leaving Cairns until we see the lagoon down by the beach.
Baker: Well, we should definitely get packing then. Time’s ticking!
Within the hour we were fully packed and decided to walk the 10-15 minutes to the lagoon with all of our stuff. Bad idea. Despite all of our intentions to pack lightly, we still packed way too much. I can’t stress enough how little you should pack if you try to do this. It’s nearly impossible for us to move around with everything for over 5 minutes!
Finally, we reached the famous man-made lagoon that backs up against the ocean in Cairns. Some of you may recognize the fish statues in a couple of the pictures above. It’s a really neat area, and a place we would regularly visit if we decided to plant roots here. That decision would have to wait though… The bus was leaving soon and Townsville was calling our name in the distance…
Stay tuned for more updates from Townsville coming early next week. I’ll try to make one post a week that recounts our journey like this. Those of you that enjoy it can dig in and those that prefer the personal finance content can easily skip over it!