Kuwait City, Kuwait
August 1, 2015
Ok, ok, ok. So I’m way behind on blogging. I’ve now checked off eight countries, but have only posted on two of them. While I do want to take my time with the bigger country and economic profiles, I decided to start a short blog series in the “Dear Diary” style. But, as I’m a currency nerd, it will naturally be called Dear Dollar-y.
These will probably be one or two shorter thoughts per post, but for the first one I thought I’d offer up some summary observations from the first two months of Backpack Investing. 1<- – – Click this little footnote.
So here goes (in no particular order):
1) Living out of a backpack has actually been really easy.
As I wrote in one of the first posts, I do have a lot of stuff but it fits neatly into one big backpack and a small book bag. The two together weigh about 40 pounds, varying between the bags depending on where I put a few heavy items like my boots and some gadgets. For the flights with stricter weight limits, I’ll take a few things out of my big backpack to get it under 10 kilos (about 22 pounds).
I thought it would get old moving around so much. I’d say on average our style has been move/move/rest where we’d do a couple of two or three day stops… but would then stay somewhere for five or six to relax a bit, do laundry, travel-plan, blog, etc.
But it’s actually been very easy. For me, everything has a place in both bags. When we get to a new place, I don’t really fully unpack, but rather just put a few “stacks” on my bag like this:
When I did the first few dry runs, it took a while to get it all right. But now when we arrive at a new stop I’m “unpacked” in about two minutes and can actually get everything back in before we leave in less than five.
2) Subways are easy. Everywhere.
This one might seem obvious, but I find it very cool that you can basically be dropped in any city in the world and should be able to figure out the subway – the system for maps is pretty universal.
Generally speaking, just figure out which station you are at, which you want to be at, observe which line (or lines) goes there, then make sure you get on the platform with the name for the end of that line. Here’s the metro map from Tehran, Iran (click to enlarge in new tab):
I rode back to the hotel from the Tajrish stop to the Taleghani stop on the redline. Easy, right? Had this been only in Farsi… it would have taken a few more minutes to match up the characters, but would have still been possible.2
3) Some countries we would do no differently with a larger budget…
… for others, we’d go nuts. For example, if/when Lauren and I return to China or Indonesia, we’d probably do the same trip. Our lodging was fine and we actually preferred the street food. Awesome noodle and rice dishes with amazing flavors were really really cheap. And it was fun taking the local bus to the Great Wall to save about $100 on a taxi. Even if this was our hour-long ride:
While at most stops our budget was perfect… Japan and Singapore did leave us drooling and window shopping. Sure the cheap eats there were great too, but you can bet if I roll through Tokyo on a proper vacation budget it’ll be the Park Hyatt, sushi, and a nice Yamazaki single malt at every meal.3
This observation is one of those items that just started to come up in conversation over time. We didn’t talk much about our budget in China or Indonesia… but noticed ourselves saying “next time” a lot in Japan and Singapore.
Oh, but one thing I’d definitely do differently… is not get Dengue.
4) I love trying the random snacks and drinks we come across.
And this green tea Kit Kat which I’ve talked about a lot:
Ok.. fine. That last one was Shake Shack. But I’d heard so many great things about that chain and didn’t get to try in Chicago before we left, so I couldn’t Kuwait to try it for myself.4
5) Lauren and I don’t really travel-fight.
I’m not trying to air out our biz and all… but I just assumed that two people traveling a lot, living out of backpacks, and constantly dealing with changing culture, currency, and climate would end up butting heads. A lot.
But we really haven’t. I can think of only about 3 or 4 times on the entire trip when we’ve been stressed and argued about something – usually because we are just off a plane, tired, and are trying to figure out a local train/bus schedule and we are pulling in different directions.5
Honestly… I think the trick is that we divide and conquer. If I take on researching/booking a flight from Point A to Point B… I just kinda run with it and Lauren just says “ok whatever” so that we aren’t talking/planning over each other. Then if we are going across town for dinner, she might take the reins6 and I don’t backseat-drive. I just follow and say “ok where ever.”7
Wasn’t trying to make this one a cheesy one… but in all of our planning for this trip, we talked about it a lot. We prepared to fight a lot because travel is stressful – especially budget travel. So we were both pleasantly surprised that we haven’t really argued much. At all.8
6) Like him or not… Obama has made traveling easier for Americans…
Ok ok, some of you. Chill out. I’m not political and am not trying to be. But I will say that traveling today is very very9 different now than it was when Bush was in office. I am NOT commenting on either’s Presidency.
But if you have traveled in the last 10 years you will have definitely noticed that waaaay more strangers you meet are saying “We love the USA” and “We love Obama” to you now. If you’ve left the country a few times the past few years I am 100% convinced that you are nodding. It’s not a political reflection; it is just a fact.
6a) …However. My Syrian cab driver in Kuwait yesterday misses Bush.
Muhammad and I talked for almost 30 minutes and he said:10 “I wish Bush was President still. He would help the people of Syria.” His position was that the current administration does not care that the Syrians are dying. He also does not have any faith in the Saudis, Jordanians, or anyone else. He said “Bush would help us.”
So if my Democrat friends were nodding at the first one, I’m sure my Republican friends are probably nodding at this one.11
My only point is that I found this very interesting. And also very sad. Muhammed was so so so very nice. He even helped me practice a little Arabic.12
As I left the cab I thanked Muhammad for the lesson and told him that I would pray that Syria finds peace soon.
He replied Insha’Allah… (God willing…), gave me a big smile and a handshake, and drove away.
I believe I’m generally up to speed on current events and read a lot about the Middle East. But hearing him talk about the true horror he hears of from those still in Syria13 was eye opening.
Wonderful and touching conversation for me. And such a nice man.
7) And the award for Most Beautiful Currency goes to…
The Kuwaiti Dinar! **raucous applause**
On a much lighter note… I love the Kuwaiti Dinar. Beautiful currency:
Oh, and those adorable little guys on the right are 1/2 and 1/4 Dinar bills.
One Dinar is equal to $3.30 US so you can’t just make it rain 1/4 Dinar bills with reckless abandon. The difference between spending 2 and 4 Dinars on a cab adds up quickly… which was weird getting used to since I was paying 100,000 Iranian Rials for a cab ride two days ago (about US $3.00).
One more reason I love currency stuff.
7a) …but Iran wins the Angry Ayatollah Judging You award.
The 100,000 Rial bill:
Seriously, how do you say “smile for the camera” in Farsi. Geez.15
Actually… now that I think about it that look could also be Ayatollah Khomeini thinking “you are making Kuwait-for-it jokes and talking about currencies and you are making fun of me….. ?”
8)KFC is crushing it. All over Asia and the Middle East.
We’ve seen tons of US chains in Asia and the Middle East, as expected, but the KFCs were generally packed. I’ve asked several local shoppers, cab drivers, servers, etc and the feedback is that they love it.
…which might have something to do with the fact that KFC seems willing to incorporate local flavors, preferences, and even entire dishes into its menu:
I’m no culinary expert, but I’m pretty sure Zinger Black Pepper Mushroom Spaghetti was NOT the Colonel’s original recipe. Well played, KFC, well played.
KFC is owned by Yum Brands. The stock has been on a crazy run for years:
Without a serious analysis, on the fly I’m thinking YUM is probably expensive right now but on any big selloff I’ll definitely take another look.16
9) We should be proud of our passports.
And if we do need a visa it’s typically easy to get if you have a little time and money.19
The stamps above represent hassle-free entry to four countries (Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore). I showed up at their border and they just let me in.
I’ve spoken with a lot of new friends, mainly in Malaysia and Iran, about the issue. They have applied for a lot of visas. And been rejected many times.
Want to feel special and be humbled? Ask an Iranian where they have travelled. You will probably get a funny look and then an explanation of how it is nearly impossible for them to get approval to enter most of the countries which they would like to visit.
We should be proud of the power these passports hold. And grateful.
Ok. Enough for now.
With that I’ll bring this long and first Dear Dollary post to a close. More short updates going forward, I promise!
Thanks for reading,
Market commentary and any other financial references represent the opinion of the author and are not be construed as investment or trading advice and is not meant to be a solicitation or recommendation to buy, sell, or hold any securities mentioned. In the event that the author has an interest in any security mentioned, that position will be disclosed at the time of writing.
These little boxes are where I try to explain something in more detail in case it’s new to the reader. Other times I’ll just try to make a funny comment. You’ll just have to click to know which… ↩
Ok, ok. This might be a very “duh” item to talk about, but I think it’s cool! ↩
“I like my scotch old enough to drink its own scotch…” ↩
Ok, bad joke. But c’mon people you know it won’t be the last.↩
Obviously her in the right direction and me in the wrong one. #GoodHusband↩
… and the map. which is unfortunately my cell phone… ↩
Or. I just made you both mad.↩
I can only say a few basic things but love practicing. I’m learning the Egyptian dialect, which makes conversing with some Arabic speakers easy and others more difficult. The Egyptians, Syrians, and Lebanese I’ve met said my pronunciation was ok, but the “gulf” speakers (Qataris, Kuwaitis, and one Saudi) couldn’t understand me. I have a looooong way to go.↩
thankfully his family is safely in Jordan↩
yeah yeah…. “boooooo” I hear ya… bad joke…. ↩
I’m joking here… but cannot wait to write about my trip to Iran. And I cannot wait to go back.
If they will let me in after that Khomeini joke. ↩
NOT a buy/sell/hold recommendation; refer to disclaimer at the end↩
the same goes for U.K., Canadian, etc ↩
172 countries to be exact… ↩