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travelouge

A travelogue chronicling the adventures of Shane & Julie - a husband and wife seeking to travel out of the country every year of their marriage

Filtering by Category: Travel Tips

seminyak & dealing with bali corruption // indonesia

Julie Murphy

Seminyak City Guide and Bali Corruption

Having survived the monsoon crossing from Nusa Lembongan, we were back on the firm (albeit filthy) ground of Sanur's beaches. The complementary driver that came with our Scoot boat tickets braved the hour of gridlock traffic to make it the 10 miles to our next Airbnb, Villa Emma in Seminyak. We could not have asked for a more perfect oasis from the craziness that the Kuta/Seminyak region of Bali is now defined by. Dirt-cheap prices, endless beach bars, and seemingly few legal restraints has transformed these once-quaint towns into a party mecca for vacationing Aussie youth and international backpackers. 

When we were finally ready to leave the palm-enclosed pool, the incredible staff of Villa Emma recommended the traditional Baliese cuisine of Kendi Kuning on Jalan Drupadi. They could not have been more right as the grilled mahi-mahi, curry, and cocktails brought us back 3 more times during our stay. Make sure to spark up a convo with the incredibly hospitable owner, Anne Marie or her Balinese husband for some of the best local tips you could ask for. 

If you're looking for something a little more casual, KZU Drupadi is just around the corner with a smorgasbord of uber cheap, Chipotle-style Balinese. Or, if you're anything like us and the beach is incomplete without fish tacos,  Taco Beach Grill is just a couple blocks away off the incredibly popular Jalan Raya Basangkasa. After a few months of travel, it cannot be described how appreciated some surprisingly accurate Mexican flavors can be. 

The over-packed and dirty beaches of Kuta/Semiyak aren't much to write home about so we relied on another $5/day scooter to take us the 10km north to Echo beach in Canggu for decent surf and relaxing nap spots. Old Man's serves as the beach's most popular hangout with huge portioned surf food, drinks, and live music.  Another 10km further up the road takes you to the highly touted Tanah Lot temple and its infamous sunsets. This ancient Buddhist worship ground can only be accessed at low tide as it's perched atop rock outcroppings. Despite the site's theme park feel (complete with Billabong/Ralph Lauren shops, snake charmers, and monks to pose with), the temple is still operational with optional Eat, Pray, Love style blessings - for a fee, of course. Just be prepared to face a battlefield of selfie sticks and endless tour groups around dusk as people-free pictures turn into pipe dreams.

CORRUPTION WARNING: While we had no problem scootering around most parts of Bali, the tourist-based environment of Kuta and Seminyak has become a hotbed of police corruption.  It's only wise to prepare for being pulled over by groups of police who will give you a well-rehearsed shakedown for bribe money. After having gone through this gun-flashing, prison-threatening, interrogation process a half-dozen times in a couple weeks, here are a few tips for anyone that looks anything other than Balinese: 

  • Stay calm and respectful: while these police are anything but honest, they are still police and have resorted to this due to their socioeconomic situations
  • Don't give them a reason: remember that it's the law to wear a helmet, carry the bike registration and have your international drivers license. The police will certainly make up a false cause for pulling you over regardless - don't give them a valid violation to stand on.
  • Interact in public: if possible, aim for an obvious and public setting when getting pulled over. While 99% of these interactions are just a way for police to quickly supplement their pay, there are stories of more serious extortions that involve the planting of drugs or prostitutes on unsuspecting tourists. Just be aware of your surroundings and don't open yourself up to an extreme situation.
  • Never show your cards (money): this is where having a fake wallet really pays off. It's always a good idea when traveling to spread out your money in multiple places but we found success in keeping no more than $5-10 (and no debit/credit cards) in our wallet exclusively for when dealing with police and bartering salesmen.
  • Ignore the sticker price: the cops will likely start with an outrageous fee for the imaginary red light you ran through at upwards of 5 or 10 MILLION rupiah ($350-700). To put that in perspective, Bali's minimum wage is $115 PER MONTH! However, these guys are really just looking for a quick payoff to pocket before moving on to their next target.
  • Play dumb like a fox: it's important the police know you are aware that you didn't violate any laws of the road.  So it doesn't hurt to calmly express your confusion and frustration for having been pulled over. I would typically start with asking as many questions as possibly to drag out the interaction as long as I could...and increase their fear of a legitimate police officer (there are some!) seeing what they are doing. They may "casually" play with their gun holster, threaten prison, or claim to take your scooter as some of their intimidation tactics but just show them your cash-poor and debit card free wallet as an effort to show that you are willing to work with them.
  • Offer the alternative: it's bad form to offer a bribe right away but if the interaction has gone this far then it may be your only option. There is no doubt that I feel serious moral conflict when paying any sort of bribe but it's important to consider that even the money for a "formal ticket" goes into the pocket of the police. Casually let the officer know that you are willing to monetarily ease the situation with a question like: "is there another way we can handle this?" It's then up to your creativity to make the exchange.  Other than the traditional "money handshake", you may have the opportunity to slip in a few bills when passing registration documents or setting some cash in your helmet hanging from the handlebars. You should be able to get by with 50,000 rupiah ($3.50) but some may let you slide with 20,000 depending on how much you showed them in your fake wallet. 
  • Forgive and forget: don't let your bruised pride keep the rest of the interaction from being civil. It never hurts to finish with a smile or a friendly conversation as some of these officers can be pretty nice guys. Who knows, it might even payoff next time they pull you over for running that invisible stop sign. 

Have you ever had to deal with police corruption in Indonesia, or other countries? 

travel affordability // part 2

Julie Murphy

Travel Affordability Tips // The Murphy Atlas

We are going to pick right up where we left off in Travel Affordability Part 1. If you haven’t already, make sure to read that piece for the first two steps of Setting your goals and Don’t pay for your flights. This post will cover tips on saving money on accommodations, food, and transportation, as well as minimizing extra fees and keeping track of your travel costs. Have at, ya'll!

Tips for affordable travel accommodations! // The Murphy Atlas

Choose your bed wisely: We can’t remember the last time we stayed in a traditional hotel for personal traveling. It just hasn’t made sense to do so. While there are plenty of hotel perk programs (similar to flights), we’ve found that they are more geared to the corporate traveler whose company pays the bill. If you are able to give up the glitzy Hilton or overpriced boutique, you may find your lodging bill significantly cut…or even free! As a very close second in most costly part of your trip, this is an area where a lot of savings can be found without sacrificing experience. Here are a few alternatives:

  • Airbnb.com: By far, this has been our most common source for accommodation in all our travels. We love it! The basic premise of the program is that locals of your destination who are out of town, have extra space, a second home, etc. will list their property on the site, often for an extremely reasonable price. This means that you have all the comforts of a home (like a kitchen, laundry or even saunas and local cell phones) at a fraction of the cost of a hotel.  

It’s made very clear on the website whether you are renting an entire property or if it’s simply an extra room in the house. This way you can match your choice with your budget and preferences. We’ve found that renting a whole house or apartment is often an amazing deal for small groups/couples as you share the cost but there are also major perks for staying with a local. Aside from the cost savings, many hosts will provide breakfast (eg. the amazing meals of Don in Charleston or Me Ae in Queenstown) but, more importantly, they are a window into the local community. How better to experience the culture of Hanoi than to stay with a Vietnamese family and have their recommendations of the best parts of their city? Some of our favorite experiences and meals have come from the extremely knowledgeable advice of our Airbnb hosts.

For those of you who think this sounds a bit sketchy, be comforted in an effective system of vetting and accountability, as guests rate and review their experience with Airbnb hosts. This will often give you a very clear idea of cleanliness, convenience of the location, and general helpfulness/demeanor of who you are staying with. In over 40 (and counting) stays with Airbnb and relying on reviews, we have yet to have an experience we did not like!

*Extra money saving tip: list your space on Airbnb while you’re gone! It’s an easy way to make some extra cash to supplement all the extra saving you’ve been doing!

**First time using Airbnb? If you sign up here, you’ll get $25 off your first stay - we will also get a few bucks towards our Airbnb account, so it's a win win!

  • Hostels: it seems like backpacker hostels have popped up in almost every major tourist city we’ve been too. However, the cost and quality can be extremely varied. There are a few great hostel aggregator sites like Agoda and Hostel World that can help you weed through the quality options. Don’t always rely exclusively on the score (numbers are relative and can be deceiving,) rather, take a few minutes to read the descriptive reviews that people have left to describe their experience to get the best picture.

However, you can't control the selection of travelers who will be your bunkmates. That’s why we always recommend earplugs, sleeping masks, and bag locks if you decide to go this route. Or if traveling as a couple or group, make sure to check for private room options. NEVER assume that hostels will be the cheapest option if you are more than one person traveling. Airbnb may surprise you on what you can get when splitting the cost with another.

  • Couchsurfing: it doesn’t get any cheaper than FREE, but Couchsurfing.com is about so much more than just a zero cost place to stay. This website is a network of travel-lovers who want to help others experience the world through a mutual generosity allowing people to experience life through the eyes of locals. Hosts around the world open up their homes for travelers to crash on their couches, air mattresses, or even private rooms. Here's why they do it. With a community of over 10 million people in more than 200,000 cities, there is always a host nearby.

Couchsurfing takes security very seriously and there is a background check process that hosts and travelers can opt to go through to strengthen their profile when hosting or surfing (they even include safety tips & good surfing habits on their site.) However, much of the responsibility is on you to use your instincts and make educated decisions based on the reviews and information on each profile you apply to stay at. Remember that a mutual trust is required for someone to let you into their home so make sure to complete a full (and detailed) profile before you start to apply and feel free to add us (Shane and Julie) if you want to build some street cred :)

NOTE: please be courteous and considerate surfers if you go this route. Hosts are sharing their lives with you and, while free, please be equally as generous with your time, stories, or help.

Or if you don’t have the property or location suitable for a swap, you can always watch someone else’s place while they are off paying too much to travel! There are some small setup fees involved but here's an article that has some awesome information on the process and perks of house sitting. We definitely hope to try this one out soon!

  • Monastery Stays: this is a good one for those looking to bump up the cultural experience and not the budget. Obviously, this is the least expansive of options but definitely a cool and cheap way to stay in an operating monastery in accommodations managed by the monks. Here are a couple listing sites:

Also keep in mind that there are plenty of options out there to work temporary jobs while overseas (like WWOOFing and farm stays) but that’s getting into a whole different game.

Reduce your food costs: We love food. A lot. In fact, we think that cuisine is an incredible way to learn loads about the places you are visiting and is an integral part of our travels. But that doesn’t mean it has to break the bank. Here are a few ways we have saved some cash:

  • Eat Local: it’s just absurd to go to Spain and not have paella or Vietnam and miss out on the banh mi. A country’s dishes reflect their culture and are often a good bit cheaper than finding American renditions. This doesn’t mean you pick the glitziest steakhouse in Buenos Aires. Rather, talk to locals that you meet along the way to discover their favorite cheap eats. If that fails, TripAdvisor can give you a decent picture of inexpensive but tourist-loved spots in a city. Just keep an open mind as you explore the holes in the walls or, better yet, the world-class street food options available in each country. The very best meal we’ve have EVER had cost us $2.50 / person and was eaten on the side of the road in a child-sized plastic chair.
  • Cook for Yourself: one of the beauties of staying in an Airbnb or even some hostels is access to a kitchen and a refrigerator for putting together your own delicacies. We wouldn’t recommend making your own food for every meal (for experience sake) but it’s a great option to mix in when you would rather spend your money on renting a cute Vespa or bungee jumping. We’ve loved packing a few sandwiches and finding a beautiful park or overlook to enjoy our uber-cheap meal.  
  • Easy on the Booze: don’t get me wrong…we love a cold I.P.A (especially after SE Asia’s endless supply of flavorless lagers) or a glass of smooth Chianti, but drinking out can get rather expensive. We’ve met more than a few backpackers who spent way more than they expected on a trip but failed to attribute any of it to the routine bar crawls. I’m definitely not telling you to pass on grabbing a Guinness at a local pub in Dublin but just be cognizant of the money you are spending and keep to a strict budget.    
Tips for Travel Affordability // The Murphy Atlas

Be Transport Flexible: the easiest and cheapest way to get around a country is always going to be dependent on the country itself. However, we’ve found it best to not default to flying from place to place when hopping around a destination. We would rather save up our miles for the long haul flights where you get more bang for your buck. Rather, always look for alternative modes of transportation that offer a better feel for the country and are easier on the pocket.

  • Trains: this is a personal favorite of ours as you have far more space and flexibility to move around and enjoy the scenery passing by the window. It’s also rather nice to just show up 20 minutes before your departure time with as much food and drink as you’d like without the hassle of a cumbersome check-in process. For the longer rides, many countries offer night trains with comfortable cabins for you to snooze the trip away in and save the cost of a night of accommodation. For all our train travel, we rely on The Man in Seat 61 who has compiled an absurd amount of information on train travel, conditions, schedules, etc in more countries that you can name.
  • Buses: there are few quicker ways to get to know the local people of a country than to spend 5 hours cuddled up on a bumpy bus with them. It might not be the most comfy ride but it is usually the cheapest way to get from point A to point B. Many of the longer and more popular routes are even starting to mimic the trains with sleeper buses offering nearly fully reclining seats or beds for overnight trips. This is a great way to make your dollar stretch even further.
  • Budget Airlines: there are times when it’s just ridiculous to spend 36 hours on a bus on a 2 week trip. When you need to fly, make sure to look at the local budget airlines first (don’t you dare rely on Expedia). There have been times that we’ve flown RyanAir from Italy to Portugal for under 20 Euros or Vietjet from Saigon to Hoi An for $15. Do your research to figure out what the budget airlines are in your destination country and keep an eye on rotating deals before you travel. BUT be on the lookout for a future post completely dedicated to finding flights for cheap cheap.

Minimize extra fees: this one might not be a total game changer but the fees for just using your own money overseas can really add up if you’re not careful. First and foremost, there is no reason for you to pay another ATM fee…ever. We’ve had friends whose banks will charge them over $10 every time they pull out cash in another country. That could buy a delicious doner kebab and Peroni in Turin! If your bank has fees for international draws OR doesn’t reimburse you for the fees that the ATM company charges, then you should open a Fidelity or Charles Schwab account who will each reimburse any ATM fees worldwide. Our brother-in-law, Cliff, has one of these accounts that he keeps open only for the sake of travel and will transfer money into it when needed. Not a bad option if you have a bank you already like working with.

If you do find yourself needing to exchange money, simply make sure you are doing your research on current conversion rates. I like the app XE Currency - it allows access to 10 currencies at a time to compare against each other and still calculates (at the most recently uploaded rate) when offline. Of course the airport is going to be the most convenient place to exchange your money but that comes at a price as they tend to have the worst rates. Banks can be a little better but the best are the street-side operations or, in some cities, the gold shops. If you go this route, just make sure that you run the calculations of what you should be getting first and ALWAYS count the money they give you back…some can be champs of the slight-of-hand.

Keep track of the money you spend: in conclusion, one of the best things you can do to effectively manage your travel cash is the simplest. Only you know what you can afford on the trip and it’s vital that you know where it’s going. The research discussed in step 1 of the previous post should help set expectations for average costs of your destination. Don’t forget about this as you travel and track your expenditures so that you know if you are over-spending in one area or another. We keep an excel spreadsheet on our Google drive that we update every few days and can access from anywhere. Or, for an automated option, try Mint.com – they also have an app that lets you watch things on the go.

Don't worry folks, we've got wayyy more to cover on this topic! Stay tuned for future installments of our travel affordability series as we share ways to save leading up to your trip. Do you have any tried and true money saving travel tips that we haven't covered yet?

travel affordability // part 1

Julie Murphy

Great tips for saving & budgeting for travel // The Murphy Atlas

When Julie and I first started telling people that we were going to quit our jobs and travel for five months, a very common question that arose was: "how the heck can you afford something that…absurd." We don’t make piles of money and we haven’t fallen into any sudden windfalls. Don't get me wrong, we were both blessed with stable, full-time jobs. However, our salaries were lower than most of our friends and we lived in the country’s most expensive city - it took time to save. We were able to take this trip because exploring the world can be affordable when it’s a priority and planned for.

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Long-term travel becomes surprisingly do-able when you don’t have the burden of rent or utility payments (except for those darn student loans) but we understand that it’s not easy for most to find a clean break in your career to up and leave.  Therefore, we will try to outline some tips for planning shorter-term travel without breaking the bank. There’s a ton of info here so we will be dividing this topic into multiple installments. Here we go:

Set your goal: This is where you inspire yourself by picking the next corner of the globe you want to visit and how much vacation time you are willing to allocate to it. This is a starting point to estimating what sort of costs to expect for your trip of choice. I would highly recommend putting together a spreadsheet itemizing things like lodging, food, transport, visas, and activities. Definitely don’t overlook that last one. This goal-setting stage is a great time to decide what sort of unique experiences you want to be able to have while abroad (we will be doing a whole post later on how we choose where we want to go and what we hope to experience there). After all, why travel all the way to Venice and not take a gondola ride just because you forgot to budget for it.  I would recommend using the Lonely Planet website to start gathering cost information for the specific country you are thinking (e.g. this is the page for Thailand) or a more specific breakdown on BudgetYourTrip.com but don’t be deterred by the bottom line just yet…the next few steps should hopefully make the total amount a little more attainable.

Don’t pay for your flights: This is often the largest cost to a trip so why not have someone else foot the bill? Even for the extensive amount of flying that Julie and I are doing on this trip, we are only paying for a fraction of these costs thanks to the power of credit card points/airline miles (to this point in our trip - currently in Cambodia - we have flown over 22,000 miles to 7 countries and 14 cities for just a couple hundred bucks). There are piles of credit card companies willing to give you the near equivalent of a round-trip ticket just for signing-up and using their card.  Commonly referred to as “travel hacking” (even the stodgy fellas at Forbes are now using this term), you are given the ability to use these sign-on incentives and other loyalty perks to drastically reduce the overall cost of your trip.

We personally chose the Barclay Arrival+ as our primary card for the amazing 50,000 miles sign-on promotion (equivalent of $500 towards any flights—no specific airline loyalty), 10% bonus back when redeeming miles, 2 miles per dollar spent, and ease of use worldwide with their chip and pin system. We have also been using the CapitalOne Venture Card that we got for an equally as appealing deal but is missing the 10% kickback when redeeming miles. Both of these cards give you the ability to find a cheap flight (we will have a whole post on how to do this later!) and have all OR a portion of the cost reimbursed right back to you. We then supplement these with a US Airways card - again, with a great starting bonus, especially when signing up inflight - in the case that they have any real steals on their routes. Regardless of the card, make sure you get a great bonus to start off with AND pick one that won’t charge you any international transaction fees. Deals and promotions are always changing and revolving so I would recommend keeping an eye on blogs that aggregate this information. Here are a few good ones:

-       http://thepointsguy.com/credit-cards

-       http://www.flyertalk.com/

-       http://boardingarea.com/

Keep in mind that most cards require a set amount of spending within the first few months to earn these rewards. This is why it’s important to start planning and racking up points well before you need to book your flights. We had been storing up points on our cards for the past year to really boost the amount we would be reimbursed back. The earlier you start planning, the cheaper it can become. However, here are some creative ways to meet that required spending or just boost points:

-       Charge everything to your card. This sounds simple but I mean everything – utilities, mortgage, cable bills, student loans, etc. Many of these companies may already offer payment by card but, if they don’t, check out the website Charge Smart that can help facilitate these payments for you. As long as the transaction fee is less that the percentage of points you're earning, you still come out on top.

-       Pay your taxes by credit card.  Forget about planning for a huge tax return - otherwise known as an interest-free loan to the government. Make sure you owe (a responsible amount of) taxes at the end of the year and then pay with one of your cards (here's the process on how to do this). Our tax bill this year will be paying for our flights from Siem Reap to Chiang Mai in a couple weeks.

-       Fight poverty.  It’s really hard to beat earning credit card miles and helping alleviate poverty at the same time. Over at Kiva.org you can meet your minimum spending requirement on those credit cards by providing small loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries and help empower them and their families. It will take some time to get your money back but they have a 99% repayment rate on the funds provided. As someone who previously worked in this industry, I cannot impress enough how powerful of a tool microfinance loans like these can change the lives of individuals and their communities. Or for those looking to donate towards this cause (can also be done by credit card), I would highly recommend Hope International who, in my opinion, truly understands the needs of the people it helps.

-       Don’t spend anything. There are a ton of nuances to the game of travel hacking to really make the most of these credit card rewards…but the rules are constantly changing. Just recently, credit card providers cracked down on manufactured spending (sending regular payments to friends by credit card through Amazon, buying gift cards and having them deposited back into your bank, etc…all very legal but frowned upon by credit card companies) which were huge contributors to our mileage accumulation. However, there appears to be one stronghold left for earning miles without actually spending any money using the Target REDcard. I have not yet tried this one (so proceed with caution) but here is a great rundown of how it is supposed to work. 

HOWEVER, we would strongly discourage carrying over any balances on your credit cards. Ever. It’s very hard to justify the rates that most cards charge especially if you have to maintain payments on that debt while traveling. It’s best just to pay those suckers off each month and reap the benefits they offer. And please be responsible with the number of cards you open at once. It’s best to space out your applications to avoid too many credit pulls at once and then keep a close eye on your credit score through a website like the free (and awesome) CreditKarma.com.

This is just the beginning, friends. We don’t claim to be experts but we have a whole lot of information to share that made our travel possible. Next up in the series, how to choose your bed wisely and making the most of your travel budget.