J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

Category: Travel (Page 1 of 2)

Sunburned in Iceland, Brits in France, Driving in Rome


A minor thunderstorm in Rome to break the heat.

I recently returned from a European jaunt with my family. It was an exciting time to be in Europe with both the Brexit vote and the Euro Cup. The football tournament took center stage — we happened to be in downtown Reykjavik for Iceland’s first goal (the loudest cheer I’d ever heard), and endured a cancelled train due to hooliganism in Marseille. A few stories from our trip …

Let’s Go Swimming!

Good times at Laugardalslaug.

Good times at Laugardalslaug.

We flew in and out of Reykjavik primarily because we were seduced by the ultra-low fares of WOW Airlines. By the time you pay for your hotel in Iceland, you don’t actually save any money, but we enjoyed our short stay. There was a Viking longhouse museum directly underneath our hotel, an early settlement discovered during construction. Among the many fascinating things I learned at the museum is the fact that about 80% of Icelandic men have Nordic paternal ancestry, while about 60% of Icelandic women have Celtic maternal ancestry (Norse Vikings taking wives from the British Isles and settling on the western isle, apparently). The early Icelanders didn’t stop their western explorations there; Greenlandic Icelanders briefly settled in Newfoundland around 1000AD.

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Bricks by the Bay 2015

Alice Finch's Mouse Guard!

Alice Finch’s Mouse Guard

We recently took a day trip to Santa Clara to check out Bricks by the Bay, a LEGO builders convention. I’ve tried to get into this before but the line has always been too intimidating. This year we bought VIP early entry tickets (only $20 each) and had a full hour to check out the builds with plenty of room to navigate the hall. There were so many excellent, impressive builds. Here are a few of my favorites!

From Alice Finch's Mouse Guard display

More from Alice Finch’s Mouse Guard display

Here’s a post about the origins of the Mouse Guard bricks. You can follow Alice Finch on Flickr — check out her amazing Hogwart’s builds as well.

"The Walking Plastic" zombie apocalypse!

“The Walking Plastic” zombie apocalypse!

I loved this comparatively small build of a kung fu fight in a Chinese inn.

I didn’t catch the names of all the builders … feel free to add info in the comments if you see something you recognize!

Battle scene, possibly LOTR

Battle scene, possibly LOTR

Iron Giant defends a city!

Iron Giant defends a city!

Scrooge McDuck's gold vault.

Scrooge McDuck’s gold vault.

Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Shootin' hoops in the park.

Shootin’ hoops in the park.

Get your iPhone 6 here.

Get your iPhone 6 here.

Don't get run over.

Don’t get run over.

Lighthouse! (Anybody reading Jeff Vandermeer? Extra significance ...)

Lighthouse! (Anybody reading Jeff Vandermeer? Extra significance … )

Underwater adventure.

Underwater adventure.



A fun day trip … highly recommended! Thanks to all the builders who put many hours into these amazing displays.

Momu Mobile Studio Setup (MOMU-MSS): Making Electronic Music on the Road

Momu's Mayakoba mobile studio setup.

Momu’s Mayakoba mobile studio setup.

I recently had the opportunity to enjoy an all-expenses-paid resort trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico with Mark Musselman (the other half of Momu). While I’d written plenty of music on the road with an ultra-minimal laptop + headphones setup, this was the first time attempting to travel with a “mini-studio” that would make collaborative beat-making easy and fun and not involve additional checked luggage. The vacation (or “creative sabbatical”) happened to coincide with the release of Momu’s new album The Mission (now available on Beatport, also presale until April 8 on iTunes and Amazon).

When planning our gear we knew we needed the following:

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Adventurecation! (6 principles)

The Norumbega Inn, in Camden, Maine (photo by Terry Bowker)

The Norumbega Inn, Camden, Maine (photo by Terry Bowker)

Just got back from two weeks on the East Coast, where we visited friends and family in Maine and Massachusetts. We tried a new style of traveling, borrowed from our friends The Wests, from Bonny Doon, who have three kids. Basically, you get on the road and see where it takes you. They’ve dubbed this style “adventurecation.” Why not?

For the first week, we stayed with Kia’s extended family in Martha’s Vineyard. We had dinner on a schooner. BBQ’s and beach parties. Ate lobster. Ran into Jake Gyllenhaal at the deli. Good times!

But week 2 of our vacation, we had no plan at all. We had talked about visiting some friends who had recently moved to Maine, and had some really vague ideas about what else we might do (like maybe visit Acadia National Park). For a planner like me, the prospect was nerve-wracking. No plan, no itinerary? I had visions of driving around dark towns late at night, and settling for a crappy, overpriced hotel room.

The actual experience was the opposite of my fears. We discovered and explored  some great places, and (when we weren’t guests of friends or family) stayed in fantastic hotels, inns, and resorts, at prices that were extremely reasonable.

Here’s how we did it:

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How To Spin It (Turn All Luck Into Good Luck)

View from the Kalalau Trail, on the north shore of Kauai.

I’ve just returned from a week of vacation in Kauai, a fact which will likely lessen the depth of pity you feel for me when you hear my sad story.  At the end of this post, you may even find yourself wishing that the “bad” luck I encountered while traveling had found you instead.

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Working Abroad Experiment Wrap-Up Part II — Financial Results

Spend money thataway!

We’ve been back from our Costa Rica “workation” for three weeks as of today.  It has taken that long for me to feel like life in Oakland (blessedly temperate with very few biting bugs, but much farther from the beach) is “normal.”

Hindsight continues to clarify the experience.  As beautiful as it was, and as friendly as everyone we met in the Puerto Viejo area was, I didn’t fall in love with Costa Rica.  It’s not really a matter of why or why not — it just didn’t click the way some other places I’ve visited have for me (Parma, in Italy, for example — or the north shore of Oahu).

You can’t predict what parts of the world you’ll fall in love with.  Hopefully your home is one of them.  To find the others … beyond randomly going places, I’m not sure how to go about it.  I don’t think a guide book can tell you.  Maybe the best way to improve your odds is to follow a lead … some picture or story or traditional food or factual detail or potential project that sparks your interest and that resonates emotionally.  If I gain more insight into that process, I’ll be sure to share it.

Still, I immensely enjoyed parts of the workation, and even the hard parts weren’t that bad.  I have zero regrets about the experiment, and we plan on going on similar adventures in different places (with a few tweaks to the game plan).

How Much Did It Cost?

One of the objectives of the experiment was to go on a longer trip without breaking the bank.  Until I sat down with a spreadsheet, I didn’t know how much damage our bank accounts had actually taken.  During the trip I was focused on making sure we had a enough cash for day-to-day needs; I wasn’t paying attention to the big financial picture at all.

Spent some money here (well-spent).

Gross expenses for the three of us (myself, Kia, and our toddler daughter) were $7033 for the entire six weeks.  The top four expense categories, from most to least expensive, were 1) flights, 2) rental houses, 3) eating out, and 4) groceries.  Those four categories came to about $6000, and the remaining grand was taken up by hotel, taxi, bicycles, bus tickets, laundry, ecotourism, gifts, childcare, clothing, exit fees, bank fees, and other expenses.

Of course, if we had stayed in Oakland, we’d have spent money in many of those categories over the same six week period.  Looking at average monthly expenditures in January through April of 2010, I calculated that we saved money in the following areas, comparing workation costs to “life in Oakland” costs.

  • Childcare: $2163 saved (we’re looking forward to public school)
  • Groceries: $1605 saved (see below)
  • Eating out: $495 saved (even though we ate out way more)
  • Gasoline and bridge tolls: $258 saved (we biked everywhere)
  • PG&E bill: $40 saved (our renter used less gas and electricity than we would have)

In addition to saving money in these categories, we had an additional $1100 in rental income from renting our place out.  That amount is below market in our area, but since we were renting to someone we knew and trusted (and found easily — no searching or interviewing required), it was a win-win situation.

During our workation I had income from music royalties, Loöq Records, and my database development freelance work.  Working conditions weren’t always ideal (lack of childcare and proper desk space), and I didn’t feel like working as often, so billable hours were down.  I calculated about $1700 in “lost” billable consulting fees for myself — work that probably would have gotten completed, delivered, and billed if I’d been at home.  That’s over the full six weeks.  Kia worked less as well, though I’m not sure what her numbers are (or if she wants to share them with the entire world).

Taking everything into consideration (gross expenses, money saved, additional income, changes in regular income), I calculated that the six week workation cost me $2357, or about $400 a week.  Slightly better tactics (renting one house instead of two, eating out less, and arranging better working conditions for ourselves) probably could have gotten that number down to about $300/week.

Depending on a number of factors, spending $2357 for six weeks in a different part of the world (during which you still need to complete and deliver a fair amount of work) might sound like a lot, or not very much.  To me it seems like a fairly good deal, though it wasn’t as inexpensive as I had hoped.

I think I’ve spent about that much (or a bit more) on many two-week vacations.  It’s an interesting comparison — two-week vacation vs. six-week workation.  The longer your trip, the more certain costs are amortized over longer chunks of time.  Flights you pay for just once (unless you hop around during your trip), and monthly rental costs are often almost the same as weekly rental costs (especially during low season).

The longer workation offered the experience of actually living somewhere else, and of completely breaking with (as opposed to just getting a break from) my daily routine.  I’m glad we did it, and I think, going forward, it will probably be our preferred choice over the whirlwind vacation.

Bank Fees and Credit Cards

It cost us $3-5 in ATM fees, plus about 3% of the actual withdrawal every time we withdrew cash.  I’m not sure which fees were Banco de Costa Rica and which ones where Chase, but they both got their share.  What a drag.  I wish there was a way around this (besides bringing massive amounts of cash into the country — no thanks).  Is there a way to use foreign ATM’s and avoid the fees?  If you know of one, please let me know.

Want a new dress? Cash preferred.

One bright spot was our CapitalOne Venture card — a new credit card we got just for this trip.  No foreign transaction fees at all, no annual fee (with our version — there’s also one with a fee and more rewards points), plus rewards points that can be used for travel or other stuff.  I wish we could have used the credit card in more places, but lots of places in Costa Rica only take cash, and many places (including hotels) that do take credit cards add a steep transaction fee.

A different credit card, one that I only used at only two restaurants at Costa Rica, ended up with some fraudulent charges on it, and had to be closed.  Chase took care of the problem with minimum hassle, but I’m glad I used a credit card instead of a debit card at those places (even though I’m not sure that the problem occurred at either restaurant).

On Groceries and Bicycles

Farmer’s market in Puerto Viejo

You may have noticed that we saved a lot of money on groceries — about $1600 over six weeks, or $267/week.  There are a number of reasons for these savings:

  1. We were eating out more.
  2. Food was less expensive.
  3. We were eating conventionally grown food instead of organic food.
  4. We were eating primarily local foods, and almost no imported foods (imported foods are an order-of-magnitude more expensive in Costa Rica).
  5. We generally drank beer instead of wine.
  6. Everything we bought, we had to carry home on our bicycles.

The last point is the most interesting.  We bought (and therefore ate) less food, simply because it was difficult to lug it around.  It made us think twice about our regular style of shopping at home — making gigantic trips to the grocery store and filling up the whole trunk of the car.  We also lost less food to spoilage (despite a flaky refrigerator).  It was more of a European village style of shopping: figure out what you want to eat that day, then walk or bike to the market and buy it.  Less efficient, but also fresher and less expensive.  We’re trying to emulate the same model now that we’re home, and so far the results are good — less money spent on food with no drop in quality (and nobody is going hungry).

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