自行车托运

今天不用写代码。所以早晨起来的第一件事就是查询自行车托运事宜。本来以为空运太贵,走海运比较便宜,谁知Fedex根本没有海运,DHL有海运却不承运个人业务。而它们空运的价格都贵的吓人,一辆20公斤左右的自行车,从北京运到悉尼要2400元。几乎和买一辆新的一样了。没办法,退而求其次,找别的国内的货运公司,谁知他们一听我们是旅游签证,都礼貌的拒绝了我们。至于中国邮政,借用一位网友的评论:如果你恨一个人,就给他寄中国邮政包裹吧。算了,太不可靠,要是在悉尼等个把月自行车还没有运到,我们的计划就全泡汤了。

此路不通。看来只能想随机托运的办法了。超重也比别的方式更省钱和省心。先去了解了一下各个航空公司的行李托运规定,一般都是免费托运20公斤。于是又和大师联系,问他自行车的重量。他说尽量帮我们把重量控制在12公斤以内。太棒了!我还想出来一个办法,反正从北京走的时候还是冬天,我们可以把所有的衣服都穿上,这样衣服的重量又减轻许多。就是到了悉尼比较麻烦,大夏天的,会很热。:p

接着进澳航和新西兰航空公司的网站进一步查询,呵呵,又有额外的奖励:原来20公斤仅仅是指托运的重量,每个人还能免费携带不超过7公斤的随身物品。嗯,这下更有希望了!

qantas

澳航网址:

http://www.qantas.com.au/international/cn/contacts/contactspartners.html

http://www.qantas.com.au/travel/page/airline/flying_carry_on_baggage/cn/zh_CN

其中

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澳 航 北 京 办 事 处
地址:中国北京市朝阳区建国门外大街乙12号双子座大厦西塔10层7-8单乙 邮编:100022

订 位 部
电话:+86-10-6567 9006
传真:+86-10-6568 4011

澳 航 驻 北 京 机 场 办 公 室
电话:+86-10-6459 0296/97
传真:+86-10-6459 0298

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我先打订位部的电话,一个上海口音的姑娘接的电话,态度很冷淡,而且对于澳航网站上的规定很不了解,不知道

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托运行李限额的重要变更

由2008年12月1日起,澳航实施新的托运行李限额,这项政策将令旅客搭乘澳航时感到更轻松。使用购买于2008年12月1日或以后、及出发日期在2009年3月1 日或以后的机票的旅客均可享受新的行李限额。

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更加没有听说过“无人陪伴行李”这个说法。我和她解释我是在他们网站上看到的,她很不耐烦的说:我们没有接到这样的通知。

抱着试试看的心理,又拨通了澳 航 驻 北 京 机 场 办 公 室的电话,这次是一个北京口音的姑娘接的电话,亲切、自然,熟悉各项规定,她把行李托运变更条款解释给我听(3月1日开始澳航免费托运行李重量又20公斤改为23公斤,手提行李不变),又告诉我货运部人员的手机号码,让我和他们核实“无人陪伴行李”的收费标准。

air-new-zealand-b787-9-0506a

接着打新西兰航空公司(http://www.airnewzealand.cn/traveller_info/baggage/check_in_baggage.htm)的电话。新西兰航空公司网站上的行李托运中有这样一句话:“如果您购买的是Round the World或Four Corners机票,则请查阅您机票上有关行李限额。”我们买的就是Round the World机票,我和接电话的姑娘确认,她说详细的规定要我们拿到机票后报出机票号码才能确定,但是,她告诉了我几种方案,最后我们一起得出结论,只要托运的行李不超过20公斤,就没有问题。手提行李始终是7公斤。和她通话,就像和朋友打电话一样舒适放松,她很熟悉公司的业务规定,也很为我着想,一直在用商议的态度和我讨论。

打完电话,我们对于自行车托运这件事情基本上有了结论:和我们乘坐的飞机一起走。这几天来一直困扰我们的大问题解决了!

来自朋友们的支持

朋友们知道我们要周游世界,通常的第一反应是吃惊。

然后,基本上会有两种态度:支持或是反对。

反对的理由,主要是担心搭顺风车和露营比较危险,劝我们等资金充足一些再说。

支持的,常常自己也有这样的想法和冲动,但时机不成熟,一直未能成行,借用魔幻(一起走墨脱的驴友)的话说:你们是在替我们实现梦想~

无论是支持还是反对,都让我们心中充满了感激。世间有如此多的困难,也有那么多的不公,幸好还有朋友;我们多么幸运,有人关心,有人帮助…

书

每次旅行,大部头的旅行指南必不可少,这次走这么多地方,光买书就是一笔不小的开销。

当我在书店犹豫不决,后悔没有带相机来拍下重要内容的时候,Chris慷慨大方的帮我们分担了这笔费用。

e8838ce58c85

背包

这是哈里和魔幻送给我们的背包,《Outside》杂志2007年“年度装备”(Gear of the Year 2007)的获奖作品。我已经迫不及待的想像背着它在新西兰梦幻般美丽的山石间奋力攀登,或是在西班牙巨大的输水管下漫步。


相机

相机

这是尼康的D80相机,我们本来只是向朋友打听,有没有闲置的相机可以借给我们,谁知他买了包括镜头和存储卡在内一整套新的送给我们!

这真的是意外的惊喜,这次,一定要努力拍出好片子来。

e8819ae9a490

更有许多朋友,请我们吃饭,为我们送行,帮我们修改旅行计划,联系自己的亲友,帮我们寻找住的地方,千叮咛、万嘱咐,为我们加油……

谢谢大家,因为有了你们,这次旅程有了更多的快乐和意义~

Day 15 to Day 20: Oz visa, Scope and Cycling Plan

Tons of things have happened in past a few days. I should have updated this blog more often, my bad.

First: Oz visa.

We have prepared all the materials the official tourism visa website requires, but yesterday afternoon, a lady in Oz’s Shanghai office called us up and asked for a detailed itinerary, company’s approval of leave request, Zephyr’s experiences as a freelancer and flight reservation information. We finished up all the paperwork yesterday afternoon but their fax machine seems to have some weird problems of accepting more than three pages. When I get back to home, it’s already 9pm. This morning, we managed to get the papers fax out via two different numbers, but another phone call from Oz embassy said they only got the first two pages. Z finally found out that it’s possible to scan the paper and send those supplementary as images via email to the visa office.

To me, this is simply ridiculous. Technically speaking, fax is less trustworthy yet much more expensive than email, uneasy to process and archive. But the official procedures seems to have hard coded the fax concept deep into their brain. I know it’s just impractical to issue a private/public key pair for all citizens, but for those who have the knowledge/skill to use them, why not? Oh, forgot to mention this: there is an electronic material submission gateway on the official website, but Chinese citizens have to go through the old process. Wondering why.

Second: Cut down scope.

If you’re following our tour planning process, you’ll notice that at the very beginning, we were thinking of covering all 6 continents including Africa and South America. But a careful budget planning shows that we’ll have only $40/day, which should cover food, accommodation, commute, basically everything except flight ticket. In our last post, I wrote about sponsorship. It turned out that the financial crisis is making most companies nervous enough to freeze their marketing budget for 2009. So given current situation, it’s essentially impossible to get significant sponsorship within one month or two. A traditional business problem: how to increase net profit if the revenue is fixed.

As most experienced managers have been reminded often: if the budget and time is fixed, cutting down the scope is the only reasonable thing to do. By giving up Africa and South America, we’d cut the flight cost from CNY 40k to CNY 27k per person. Even better, we could spend slightly more time in each continent since we now have 3 extra months. Even better, cutting down Africa means let go the visa headache for 6 countries. Another pile of visa application fee saved. More time in one country, more likely we could run into local life like this:



The two changes above has successfully lifted our daily budget from $40 to $72 per day.
Less is more, isn’t it?

Third: start thinking of cycling.

One purpose of this world tour is to get to know each country. Fly around is definitely the best way. Neither car rental. The car offers a psychological protection shield that will bounce off lots of ‘accidental events’, which is actually the most interesting thing in travel. We have thought about hitchhiking since it’ll give a perfect chance for us to spend long enough hours to talk to local people. It will also make the trip full of randomness. But a couple of friends have raised safety concerns which really worries Z. On last Sunday afternoon, I suddenly realized that we could cycling around with our camping equipments loaded. This way, we could move slow enough to really see a country, open enough to meet local people and cost efficient enough for us to feel comfortable enough to depart without worrying of capital shortage.

More on tour planning tomorrow.

Day 14: In search of Sponsorship

The more I read about Australia, the clearer I realized that one month is far from enough to understand this country. In dinner time,  Z and I had a serious evaluation on our budget:  we have CNY 250,000, USD 36,587, allocated for this trip. Put the flight tickets and visa cost aside, for one year trip, we have USD 40 per day for food, lodging and commute.  This is not very bad but if we want to stay a bit longer, especially to cover more distances, this is not even enough for renting a campervan. ( I did some research on hitchhiking but it turned out to be very time-consuming. It took someone 5 months to go from Adelaide to Darwin and back.  )

Are there any way to get more funding?

Right after dinner, a friend called me up just for a chat. I told her about the plan and our very tight budget.  She, being a successful business woman, immediately suggested that we should look for sponsorships.  Z and I have had some discussion on this but we gave the thought up, afraid that accepting sponsorship will force us to do things we don’t like. (I get this impression from the great marathon book 50/50. )

But after our phone call, Z and I decided to give it a try? If we could raise another CNY 300,000, ie USD 43,950, we’ll have $160 per day for one year or $80 for two years. That is whole lot better.

Then I gave Nancy a call to listen to her suggestions. After understanding what I’m having in mind, she, being an experienced marketing person, suggested a plan like this: 

0) Brainstorm a core theme for this trip. It should be something that’s relevant to my software and entrepreneur background that could make the whole plan credible. It should be deep and serious enough that could evoke thinking and discussion.  It should also be interesting enough to the people the sponsors is willing to spend their marketing dollar on. 

1) Write down the plan. Be it a powerpoint or a sheet of paper. Just something that we could send to others as a way to get leads.  “Treat it as an elevator pitch. An executive summary.” 

2) Find a couple of media as a platform to get the messages out. The bigger, the better. The goal of working with media is not to get the money, but to have a channel into the target audiences.  The wider the coverage, the more lucrative it is to the potential sponsors.  

3) Contact potential sponsors. The situation has to be a win-win for all three players: us, the media and the sponsor company.  

4) Once the major deal is closed, we could talk to Camera manufactures, Outdoor gadget or equipment companies to figure out other relatively small items.

This sounds quite interesting. The worst case is that we might end up with no sponsorship at all. But through this process, we should have a clear and concrete idea of what we really want to see in this trip. Plus I could gain some first-hand experience in fund-raising. Doesn’t sound like a bad choice, right?

Tomorrow: call some media and marketing friends and figure out a time to get people together for a brainstorm session.

PS. A checklist Z and I worked out to address the money shortage issue:

  • Increase incomes
    • Find sponsorships.
    • Take some freelance work from friends or websites like Rent-A-Coder
    • Find local labor works like fruit picking.
    • Work for the hostels we’ll stay at in exchange of free beds and food.
    • Sell photograph or travel writings online. 
  • Cut costs
    • Stay at people’s apartment or houses to save on lodging.
    • Buy fish, vegetables in wet market outside urban area and cook our own meals.
    • Stay in tents in rural areas. 
    • Hitchhike or share cars with others. 

Day 13: Prep for the Oz visa: flight, savings and hukou

Now that we’re settled down in this temporary apartment, it’s time to speed up the process to apply for the Australia Visa.  Besides the official government immigration site, I’ve found this page to be quite helpful.  Since both of us are older than 30, there is no chance for us to apply the great Working Holiday visa, which allows one year travel and work in Oz. 

The only choice is to apply the visitor visa, which allows up to three months stay, no work allowed.  What makes it not so great is China citizen is one of the few that couldn’t apply the visa from online. I’m also suspecting that instead of up to 3 months, we might be able to stay only 30 days.  One possibility to stay a bit longer is to get to Oz first, then try to get a temporary working permit there. Once we have that in hand, we could work for a few of weeks to get enough money for a grand tour over Oz by campervans for one or two months. (Now that I start to understand how big Australia is. 🙂

Besides the discussion over travel plan, here are a couple of others things we’ve get done today:

  • Get the bank to print out our bank account activities in the last 12 months. 17 copies with their stamps on each page. 
  • Pay for CNY20 each for 6 copies of saving certification, which is required by some countries as a way to prove the financial status of applicant. 
  • Call up ctrip.com to find out the cheapest flight ticket to Sydney is Qantas QF130 on Feb. 5th. It costs 5368, tax included, for one person.  Set a reservation for both of us. Payment due at Jan. 15th. We’ll have to know for sure whether we’ll get the visa or not by that time. 
  • Zephyr spent tonight updating our content extraction engine code for a potential buyer. Hopefully that could instill some cash into our bank account. 
  • Called up our families to get our Hu Kou photo copied and sent to us.  Once we receive these, we should be able to kick off the application process.  For those of you who don’t know what Hu Kou is, here is a great article fyi. 

Day 7 – 12: Move the ‘Stuff’

Spent past 6 days moving from previous apartment to a friend’s. Six whole damn days!  Just to pack things up, move it to a new apartment and unpack them!  I was literally shocked to see how many ‘stuff’ we’ve collected all these years. Stuffs that we used only once.  Or stuffs we never touched in past four years.  We ended up throwing away tons of stuff we bought using real money.  What if we donate the money to poor kids?  Or, just use the money to travel around? Even some nice tea?

Paul Graham‘s essay stuff struck the cord: 

I first realized the worthlessness of stuff when I lived in Italy for a year. All I took with me was one large backpack of stuff. The rest of my stuff I left in my landlady’s attic back in the US. And you know what? All I missed were some of the books. By the end of the year I couldn’t even remember what else I had stored in that attic.

And yet when I got back I didn’t discard so much as a box of it. Throw away a perfectly good rotary telephone? I might need that one day.

The really painful thing to recall is not just that I accumulated all this useless stuff, but that I often spent money I desperately needed on stuff that I didn’t.

Now that I’m faced with the similar “one large backpack” challenge, it’ll be interesting to see what I’ll do after coming back from the world tour.  

Next step: get Australia and New Zealand’s visa.

Day 5: Plan a world tour of astronomy?

As I mentioned in our very first “Why travel” post, I’m hoping to find some fields that could provide ceaseless technical challenges.  At least for now, Astronomy is a very promising one.

So I posted this question on Astronomy.com‘s forum: 

Hi group,

I’m planning an one year world tour with my wife. We’re planning to start from China, go to Austrilia, New Zealand, fly to Chile, Brazil, onto Mexico, US, Canada. From US, fly to Europe and go from north to south from UK to South Africa. What’ll be your recommendation for places to visit or people to meet? I’m definitely trying to visit the Las Campanas Magellan Telescope in Chile. But what else?

Thanks a lot,

Alex

Jeff Barton replied pretty quickly with tons of useful information:

For starters, take a look at the book Space Places, which is a photographic tour of observatories and space-science facilities that will give you some ideas.

Not all professional observatories welcome visitors and those who do usually have a set schedule for them. The Keck Visitor’s Center in Hawaii is worth a stop but they keep a strict schedule for tours and outreach nights, so contact them in advance.

In the US, I’m heavily biased in favor of McDonald Observatory in Texas, but I also like to visit Mt. Palomar near San Diego, Griffith Park and Mt. Wilson near Los Angeles and Pasadena — and you certainly should look at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory‘s tour schedule. Lowell Observatory near Flagstaff, Arizona, and nearby Meteor Crater are nice tours. Sunspot and Apache Point, New Mexico, near Cloudcroft are beautiful places to visit, and the Very Large Array near Socorro is very impressive.

Kitt Peak National Observatory SW of Tucson, Arizona, certainly is not to be missed. The tours there are first rate and observing nights are well worth the cost.

I’ve been to all of the above except the Keck, and can assure you they’re worth the trip — especially if you can arrange your schedule to coincide with their visitor nights. The Smithsonian and National Air & Space Museum I’ve also visited and could have spent a full week there easily. If I were to pick additional US facilities to visit, they’d be Yerkes Observatory and the Marshal Spaceflight Center. Other NASA facilities I’ve visited include the Ames Research Center near Mountain View, CA, and the Manned Spaceflight Center in Houston and Apollo museums and research facilities in Clear Lake, TX.

I’ve only visited one site in Europe and that’s Pic du Midi, which is closed when the cloud deck socks in the tramway towers, so make reservations to visit and watch the weather. But the nearby Chamonix ski resort and Mer d’Glas glacier are certainly worth the trip even if you get there and the observatory tours are closed. This is just about the most beautiful place in the world, in my opinion, and well worth the trip.

Use Google and the facility names to find their Web pages and visitor’s schedules.

Boy, this is tons of homework.  But I love it.  Inspired by Jeff’s answers, here are a list of observatories in Australia and New Zealand