Monday, July 18, 2016

Our Trip to Africa

One of our not-so-secret goals is to visit six of seven continents before we start a family. I assume that as soon as we have babies, that our international travel will change dramatically, if not go on a multi-year hiatus altogether.

Stupid babies, they ruin everything.

So far we've been able to visit a lot of North America (layup!), South America a few times, a few trips to Europe, and, as of last month, Africa. Here's a little breakdown of where we went and what we did, with a couple travel hack tips, to boot.

Okay, okay, so this city isn't in Africa. But it is the only city in the world that straddles two continents, both Europe and Asia. So it's got that going for it... 

Istanbul was my first encounter with a city that had regular Muslim prayers, which I found preposterously cool, even as they woke me up at five in the morning. On our first day, we met a new friend in the bazaar who sold us a little lamp, and then took us around the city with his girlfriend, who spoke no English, paired with us who spoke no Turkish, to smoke shisha (hookah) and eat kebabs and drink raki (a licorice tasting liquor) until two in the morning until we stumbled home, while he serenaded us with songs we couldn't understand. 

The next day we saw the sights (a couple pictures below) and on our final day we took a ferry one of the Prince's Islands, where motor vehicles are illegal and everyone gets around on bicycles or horses: a veritable Mustachian paradise. On the ferry ride home, this nice man from Saudi Arabia lent me some Pringles that I held one by one in my hand over the edge of the boat, while seagulls dive-bombed and snatched the chips right out of my hand. I find it strangely exhilarating, and the seagulls show me that I love Turkey.

Turkish Coffee & Tea
The Blue Mosque
Hagia Sofia

After an actual run through the Cairo airport to make our connecting flight to Luxor, complete with an harried purchase of an Egyptian visa that had to be purchased with $20 US and a painful wait at the x-ray gate to wait for the security guard to finish his afternoon prayers, we just barely make our flight to Luxor. As an added bonus, we learn that Egypt Air flights happen include a prayer to Allah in their pre-flight instructions, which we find oddly comforting. We'll take all the help we can get.

We arrive in Luxor and immediately learn that it is the one place on earth hotter than our home in Phoenix. Tourism must be down, because we are approached by every possible vendor offering us rides around the city in their horse carriages, cheap tours, fine linens and jewelry, every possible thing under the sun. It does not help that, while my brown skin allows me to sometimes pass as a local, Mrs. Done by Forty's red hair and white complexion immediately outs us as tourists. The vendors shout out "Shakira! Shakira! I make you good price." I wonder aloud why they're picking Shakira and Mrs. Done by Forty quips, "Because my hips don't lie," and I can't stop laughing. I call her Shakira at every opportunity for the rest of the trip.

We again see all the sights, the temples and the Valley of the Kings, (pictures & a video below, when possible, since a lot of places are sacred & don't allow photography), this time on a private tour because everything here is so dang cheap. Unfortunately the mercury tips 49 Celsius (120 Fahrenheit) and the days are just too long and too hot, even for us Arizonans. We're are delighted when we get to fly to the relative comfort of 100 degree days in Cairo.

Cairo, we learn, is something like three times the size of New York City in terms of population, and it is a bit much for us to take in. There's just a mass of humanity everywhere we go, and a lot of the people seem to be really, really poor. Regular readers of the blog already have heard our most interesting story from the city. We're definitely glad we got to see Cairo and Giza and Memphis, crawling inside two of the Giza pyramids, seeing all the historical sites and the incredible Cairo Museum of Antiquities. But unlike most of the places we visit, it's not somewhere we daydream about living someday.

A wall inside Karnak's Temple

Giza Pyramids
Great Sphinx
Upskirt of Ramses statue at Memphis
South Africa
After a pretty harrowing flight on Egypt Air out of Cairo, less than 24 hours after flight 804 went down just outside of our city, we make it to Johannesburg and walk around the surprisingly posh and swanky city. At dinner, we're able to find an honest to goodness IPA, which at some point in our dinner, a small child later takes off our table, and defiantly licks the glass while maintaining eye contact with us. It is hilarious and unnerving, as we wrestle the beer from his hands, his parents nowhere to be found. We kind of love South Africa, too.

The next day we take our adorable perrywinkle blue hatchback to Kruger National Park, which is so teeming with wildlife that it is hard to comprehend. On our first night, we head out on a bush walk with a guide who nonchalantly loads his shotgun with shells while explaining the type of wildlife we might see on our walk. The next day, we head out in open air jeeps and drive around all day, spotting animals all over the harsh and beautiful landscape. Lots of animal pictures & videos below, and the photos are from a couple new friends on the safari, who were smart enough to bring a real camera. 

Our hotel is adjacent to Kruger, and we somehow end up seeing monkeys, elephants, rhino, leopards & buffalo right from the grounds, and it is by far the coolest hotel I've ever stayed in, despite the fact that there are signs everywhere warning us that a leopard was spotted inside the hotel last week, so parents should probably keep their children close by.

On our last day in the country, we decide to zipline over this beautiful country. I happen to hate heights and high speeds but love my wife, so I do it and, honestly, it's a great time once I get over my initial fear.

We kind of don't want to leave South Africa as we contemplate just staying here and finding a way to get our golden retrievers to this country. But we get to the airport and begin the long flight across the continent, which is made easier since we're flying on Air Qatar, the nicest airline we've ever been on. They mysteriously hand us a welcome packet with slippers, eye masks, lip balm, and then give away Johnny Walker for free in coach. The time flies, and we're in Marrakech before we know it.

We stay in riads the whole time we're in the country, which are these neat old time buildings with an atrium that goes all the way to the roof three floors up. There are no windows facing the street, only indoors to the atrium: I assume this is something from days past, where you wanted the most secure building possible for protection.

The city is a maze of little alley ways lined with shops selling food and spices, leather & textiles, and the streets are filled with people and donkeys and little motor scooters. At night, when the air gets cool and breezy, the old city square fills up and little bench seated food stalls appear, with the most aggressive marketing for food the world has ever seen. Men grab us by the arm and pull us towards their stalls, which are known only by numbers. "You eat at number thirty five! Remember, thirty five, greatest cook alive!" They all have little rhymes and each one is more ridiculous than the last. The hard sell is kind of the only sell in this country, we learn, and you have to just get used to how people try to get you to buy here.

We immediately get lost in the maze, and are glad to just be exploring. The men here all love Mrs. Done by Forty, and they remind me at every opportunity how lucky I am, which is a good thing to be reminded of. One man asks me how many camels were included in the dowry, and again we just can't stop laughing.

We take a train to Fez and it is calmer than Marrakech. Things are for sale, but the vendors aren't quite as aggressive, which is a welcome change. We get out of the city and visit the ancient ruins of Volubilis and we are again reminded that no one really builds like the Romans did. It's shocking how much is preserved, and we could spend another few days just wandering around. But our trip is coming to an end, and we have to head back. One final day in Casablanca, which honestly is kind of a letdown. 

We decide to turn our overnight layover in Lisbon into a final last hurrah. It's Friday night and Lisbon is way, way cooler than expected, with people drinking wine in the open in city squares, and street performers playing violin and singing opera and dancing all at the same time, and we now have another place we need to visit in earnest. Not even finished with this trip, and we're already planning the next. And so it goes.

Koutoubia Mosque
Marrakech Tannery

Blue Gate in Fez


Istanbul: 2 nights in a so-so Istanbul AirBNB for $103 total, and one free night with a Carlson certificate at the Radisson Blu Pera, which was way fancier than what we're used to.

Luxor: By far the most budget lodging of the entire trip, we stayed for two nights at the Nefertiti Hotel. Very nice staff, but no frills at all: in wall AC, stiff towels, flat pillows. But hey, only $60 for two nights, and the rooftop restaurant is fantastic at night.

Cairo: We used Marriott points for three nights at the preposterously luxurious Cairo Marriott which used to be royal palace, and was conveniently converted to a hotel. $0.

Johannesburg: Marriott points again, for one night at the golden-age of Hollywood themed Protea Fire and Ice hotel, and one at the Protea Hotel at Balakia station. Both are great point value, and hey, $0 again.

Kruger National Park: Marriott points to the rescue once again, as we get to stay for three nights with points at the Protea Hotel Kruger Gate. This hotel had the prettiest grounds of any hotel we've stayed at (just click through a couple of their photos to see) -- couldn't recommend it highly enough. $0.

Marrakech: We stayed at the Riad Anais booked through AirBNB; three nights for $170. Beautiful place to stay in the old city.

Fez: A somewhat less fancy but still beautiful Riad here, and the location couldn't be beat. Three nights for $141.

Casablanca: This was a brainfart on our part, as we only realized it was a room in someone's house when we arrived. A good reminder to read the AirBNB details carefully. $49 for one night.

Total Cost for 20 nights: $523 dollars, 80,000 Marriott points, and one Carlson free night certificate.

The Flights
Thanks to Brad at Richmond Savers, we were able to hack our way to nearly free flights to and from Africa. But anyone can book a roundtrip flight to a city and back. We wanted to see a lot of the continent, hell, two continents if we could. How could we stretch our free flights to see all three corners of Africa? 

Two concepts here: Stopover and Open Jaw. We found a leg going to Africa that went through Istanbul, Turkey on our way to Johannesburg, South Africa. Since we wanted to see Egypt and it's so close to Turkey, we turned what would have been a few hour layover in Istanbul into an eight day "stopover" in Istanbul. Basically, you have the same flights: one into Istanbul to connect, then continuing on to Johannesburg. But the time you wait goes from eight hours to eight days. This allowed us to spend three days in Istanbul, and then gave us five days to fly to Luxor and Cairo and back (paid for with dollars), before continuing on to Johannesburg.

The Open Jaw allows us to book a flight back from Africa to the US from a different city than we arrived in. So even though we flew in to Johannesburg, we were able to fly out of Casablanca, Morocco. Of course, we have to find a way to actually get to Morocco, so we booked a one way flight from Johannesburg with dollars.

Here's how the flight cost broke down:
  • Two United Flights (Phoenix to Istanbul to Johannesburg, then Casablanca to Phoenix): 160,000 United Miles, and $173.80
  • Two Egypt Air Flights (Istanbul to Luxor, to Cairo, then back to Istanbul): $710.80
  • Two Qatar Airway Flights (Johannesburg to Doha to Casablanca to Marrakech): $765.60
  • Total for flights: $1,650.20
  • Total with lodging: $2,173.20

We obviously had a lot of other costs for meals, gifts, tours, train and cab rides. But this post is way too long as it is, and it's time to wrap it up.

Do you guys like reading stuff like this? I realize I never even gave a write up for our Paris, London, Amsterdam & Brussels trip this past December, and we have an upcoming trip to Asia this winter. Let me know in the comments if you want to hear more about these sort of travel hack trips. If you like reading them, I'll keep writing them.


  1. And here I was so excited to share my pic of a momma and baby deer eating off of our apple trees yesterday morning. ;-)

    Seriously, though, that is CRAZY inexpensive for a trip of that magnitude! Well done!

    1. Hey Laurie,

      The deer eating off of apple trees sounds pretty cool. Would love to see that pic -- do you share via your blog, or something like Instagram?

      Those costs we shared are certainly not the whole picture. It's just such a long post that I didn't want to keep blathering on, and adding up a bunch of restaurant charges sounds like a PITA, too. :)

  2. Awesome pics and vids! Thanks for sharing. Do you still have the lamp from Istanbul and have you tried rubbing it yet to see if a genie appears?

    1. Hey, Clint.

      We definitely do still have the lamp. We bought that thing the first day, had it gently wrapped up in bubble wrap (it's made of glass) and had to lug the stupid thing around Africa in our packs for 3+ weeks. :/

      I will test today to see if there's a genie. If we are magically FI tomorrow, you'll know why.

  3. Yes, yes, yes! More travel blogging! Need more expense details, food costs, tips, taxis, all the nitty gritty. Plus what you planned to spend and how it actually came about.
    How did you actually pay? Cash, credit cards? Was it a pain to exchange money?
    Loved this blog and can't wait for more!

    1. Thanks for that comment, shaystr! I'll try to give you the details we're asking for:

      Food: I don't really want to add up every receipt for every meal and snack. Here's the general breakdown. Turkey, being in Europe, was pretty much the same cost to eat out as in the states. Egypt was much cheaper, maybe $15 for a nice dinner for two, including tip. Still, that's where we started going to grocery stores and getting stuff to make little meals ourselves. South Africa was like Turkey: pretty much like the US. Lots of great grocery stores though, and those prices are cheaper than US. Morocco was maybe halfway in between: maybe $12 or $15 for a good dinner out. Wine was crazy expensive though.

      We were gone for over 3 weeks, and I'd say we probably spent more than we thought. However, it was more or less in line with what we'd spend in the US, so our budget wasn't really much different in June than it would normally be.

      We paid for a lot with credit cards but a surprising number of places in Morocco and Egypt only took cash. We use the Fidelity Cash Management checking account, since it allows for free ATMs worldwide (just pick any ATM and they'll refund any charges), so getting cash is preposterously easy, and no need to exchange.

      I hope that helps!

  4. Great trip and pics! Man, I wish we had gotten into travel hacking more before starting a family. It's a lot tougher with little ones, but others still do it. It would probably stress me out though.

    1. Hi Andrew!

      I hear you on the kids. I doubt we'll be as adventurous as Go Curry Cracker when we have a couple kids, but who knows. I suspect we'll make trips to relatives in CA and OR, instead of other countries.

      I also wonder about leaving our kids with a relative, if we wanted to try to get out of the country for a bit. Is that a parenting faux pas?

  5. Ahh, Istanbul. We got SO lost in the Bazaar, we almost missed our cruise! Luckily we had taken a picture of my hubby standing under the sign at the entrance. We were able to match the letters and find our way back, but man was that stressful.

    How cool is it that you went to Egypt, South Africa, and Morocco! You guys are WAY more adventurous than we are. I'm not sure if we'll end up going...I'm a bit worried about Egypt's airport security and their planes. I think we may just stick to Asia for now.

    Love your photos and videos!

    1. Hey FireCracker,

      Yeah, the Bazaar is friggin huge and every aisle is the same as the next. There's no way to reliably navigate it as a newb.

      I don't know if we're necessarily all that adventurous given our selection of countries within Africa (we didn't head to Sudan or Chad, after all), but we liked the trip quite a lot. More than any we've been on so far. We're headed to Asia over the holidays and, despite our goal, are somehow headed to Europe again next summer. So, back to the relative safety of traditional international locations. :)

      Thanks for the kind words!

    2. BTW, what about going to Jordan? Has one of the wonders of the world no?

    3. Hey Sam -- Mrs. Done by Forty spent a summer in Jordan, so I'm probably going to have to take her to a whole bunch of places before we head back there. :) Someday.

  6. Loved the upskirt shot the best of all the great photos!

    And, yes, I personally love case studies in travel hacking, so keep those details coming!

    1. Hi Emily!

      I wasn't sure how that upskirt joke was going to land. Glad someone laughed.

      I might go ahead and write a similar post on our last Europe trip, and focus more on the details of expenses (thank goodness we track every dollar in monthly budgets).

    2. I was cracking up, too, so you got at least two laughs! We really wanted to go to Egypt as a couple and were making serious plans when the Arab Spring happened. Maybe it's time to reexamine that goal. Now we'd have to find a sitter, though. :) That's probably the only place I have a real drive to see in Africa if it's in a stable state; since I've had kids I've gotten a lot more cautious, not just because it's harder to travel, but perspective changed for me once I had other human beings calling me "mom."
      We may end up in Asia around the same time, though!

    3. For what it's worth, Egypt did not feel like the safest place we visited, at least in May/June. It wasn't dangerous to the point of not going out, but Cairo is a city of like 28 million so we felt some general anxiety just wandering about. Luxor was great but, similarly, once you went out of the designated tourist area, it got shady pretty quick.

      South Africa, on the other hand, seemed really safe: Joburg felt like an American city to us in a lot of ways.

      When are you headed to Asia? We'll be in Tokyo starting 12/26. Maybe we'll cross paths!

    4. Do we have each other's emails? Because we should for sure talk! Mine's on my "About" page.

    5. You bet! I'm at

  7. These photos are absolutely gorgeous! I always admire those who venture out and travel to various places. I haven't been out of the states, so maybe one day!

    1. I hadn't really done any travel outside the states until I met Mrs. Done by Forty. But once I tried it, I was hooked. I much prefer it to travel in the states, though it takes more planning and, despite the advantages of travel hacking, more money.

  8. I enjoy hearing it. I am actually taking a bunch of students to South Africa in January. We are hitting Durban and Cape Town. This will allow me to have visited 6 out of 7 continents. Keep it coming.

    1. That's great, man! Have fun and, if you have a chance to make it to Kruger, I highly recommend it. Probably my favorite part of the trip.

  9. Wow, awesome trip! Where would you go again if you had a choice between Morocco, S Africa, and Egypt? All are places I've never been fore which I'd like to see.

    Did you ever feel like you guys were in any danger? Shakira is famous after all!


    1. Thanks, Sam!

      If we had to pick just one place, it'd be South Africa. The wildlife is something I'll never forget, and it's the easiest place to travel of the three.

      No, we never felt like we were in any real danger. There were some tense moments here or there, but we chalk that up to normal cultural ignorance on our part, rather than true "We are in danger!" moments.

  10. Loved reading about it. Very well written and ignites the imagination!

    Travel hacking is very impressive, I'd like to see how much extra you spent on each country as well or at least just total for the whole trip? Just to get an impression.

    Defo do a London write up I would like to hear your thoughts on it.

    You certainly get about a bit, don't you? ;)

    1. Thanks, FIREStarter. We try to travel as much as we can now (despite it slowing down our sprint to FIRE) just to see as much of the world as we can before baby DB40 comes along.

      Adding up the 'travel' line items for May and June gets me to $3800 or so, which would apparently be all the train tickets, food, tours, etc. Seems high, so there may be some 'double counting' going on there, but figuring on about $6,000 for the whole trip may be about right.

      I'll write some actual personal finance stuff and then go back to our Western Europe trip from last winter. Thanks for reading!

  11. Not true that you can't travel with children. We do! it is different of course, but still awesome! We have been to France, Germany, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Luxemburg, Norway, Portugal, Bahamas, Dominican Republic (different trips) when our son was between 2-4yr. And to Portugal and France with our 4yr old AND 7 month old! We do not plan to stop. We could be FI sooner, but travelling is our luxury.

    1. I hear you, Margot. We'll likely at least give it a shot when we have kids, just to see how it goes.