Emergency Storage Solution

I was back from an absolutely fabulous road trip through the Rockies and still had four extra days with the car I’d rented for a week. I was less than a week away from my departure to Cambodia yet I still had a pile of things I needed to store while I’m traveling and could not afford to get rid of. I took a last resort option – asking my friend Dave if he was gonna be my emergency storage solution.

Despite my sincere dedication to find a paid self storage solution and have it taken care of without involvement of others, I wasn’t able to get this arranged. So I went to pay Dave a visit and asked him if I could shove the rest of my stuff in his basement. There wasn’t that much of it. I didn’t have any furniture or otherwise large items so it could easily fit under the staircase. I’ve explained to him that I’ve tried everything else and it just didn’t work out and he was my last resort given the time left.

Dave is a good buddy of mine. We occasionally have a cigar together. I stocked up on a bunch of quality ones during my trips to Cuba and the Dominican Republic and Dave hooked me up with a great humidor where they were stored so we can enjoy them when we felt like having one. Granted, I still had about a hundred of them in my rather large humidor, mostly Cohibas (Robustos and Esplendidos) and Monte Christos so I told Dave that the humidor would also need to be stored and he could smoke even all of them if he wanted to while I was gone.

Dave is a good guy and was open to the idea of helping me out as an emergency storage solution. I had a car for additional four days and was gonna use it over the period of the following three evenings. I had to go to work until the very last day so after work I’d head straight home, load the car up and head to Dave’s to unload it there. It went smoothly except from an incident with pet supplies.

Driving Through the Rockies

There’s nothing like Driving Through the Rockies. Sheer awesomeness of the mountains is unrivalled, magnificent scenery changes from breathtaking to eye-popping with each turn of the road and the traffic is light so you can fully savor each moment. I drove through the Rockies many a time and starting from Edmonton, I’ve always headed to Jasper first as it is the nearest and easiest to access point of the Canadian Rockies from my home town. This time around I’ve changed my plan and drove south to Red Deer where I took the turn to head towards the mountains through the Rocky Mountains House (that’s a name of a small town on the way to the Rockies). This access point offers new views of the mountains peaks that I have not seen before. It was spectacular.

Photo: Canadian Rocky Mountain Peaks Hazed in Early Morning Mist
Photo: Canadian Rocky Mountain Peaks Hazed in Early Morning Mist

This was my second driving through the Rockies adventure of the year and fourth in two years. I went all the way to Roger’s Pass in BC. Most of my previous visits to the Rocky Mountains consisted of exploring either Jasper or Banff National Parks, both of which are in Alberta. I once stayed at the Mount Robson Lodge which is located right at the foot of Mount Robson – the highest peak of the Canadian Rockies and is also on the BC side. But other than that I haven’t seen that much of the British Columbia’s Rocky Mountains.

Photo: Moraine Lake in Banff National Park
Photo: Moraine Lake in Banff National Park

Roger’s Pass is in the Glacier National Park and is surrounded by mountain peaks that are the most beautiful of all I’ve seen in the Rocky Mountains. Short hike took me on an excursion through the history of former Trans Atlantic Railway the remnants of which remind us of the immense power of area’s avalanches. I then drove back to Banff but first visited Takakkaw Falls and took a hike around Emerald Lake which wore me down well enough to be ready for a soak up in Banff’s Upper Hot Springs.

Photo: Upper Hot Springs in Banff at Night with Naturally Heated, Mineral Rich Water
Photo: Upper Hot Springs in Banff at Night with Naturally Heated, Mineral Rich Water

I stayed the night in Banff so I could visit The Cave and the Basin the following morning before heading off to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. This was awesome. I visited the area in May – only months prior to this road trip and Lake Louise was completely frozen which made it look like farmer’s field covered in Ice. This time around (August) it looked just like the picture perfect mountain lake it is. Moraine Lake was not even accessible in May but was in all of its beauty in August. The biggest difference was at Bow Summit – the highest point at the Canadian Rockies with paved road. When I got there in May, the upper car park was not accessible due to excessive snow so I had to leave my car far away and climb all the way up through waist deep snow. This time around the road was clear of snow so I was able to drive up to the upper parking lot and walk it easy to the lookout with magnificent views of Peyto Lake in the valley below.

Photo: The Cave and the Basin - Birthplace of Banff National Park
Photo: The Cave and the Basin - Birthplace of Banff National Park

I never get tired of Driving Through the Rockies. I’ve done it many times and will do it each time I get a chance in the future. During this three day road trip I’ve visited many great sites and took hundreds of stunning pictures. Unfortunately as soon as I have returned from this amazing trip, I had to take care of storage of items I still had in my possession and start getting ready for the big departure. I’ll try to get back to this Driving Through the Rockies trip at a later date and share all the stories and pictures as it’s without doubt worth it.

Photo: At the Platform on Top of Bow Summit Overlooking Peyton Lake
Photo: At the Platform on Top of Bow Summit Overlooking Peyton Lake

Travel Immunizations

I went to get my first essential travel immunization shots taken when I went to Cuba at the end of 2008. I made an appointment with the Travellers’ Health Clinic of Capital Health in Edmonton, Alberta and went to talk with the nurse about what shots I should get. I told her I was going to Cuba, she looked up what known health dangers existed in Cuba so she could suggest important immunization but Cuba is generally considered a safe country with no major epidemic risks. Regardless, the nurse suggested that I take at least Hepatitis A vaccination and a Tetanus booster as part of the essential protection just in case.

Photo: Alberta Travel Immunizations Card for Adults Contains Records of Your Vaccines
Photo: Alberta Travel Immunizations Card for Adults Contains Records of Your Vaccines

She asked me if I planned any future visits to foreign countries which could help her pinpoint what other shots I should take so I told her that I would like to go to Iceland sometimes within next year, but Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world with absolutely nothing a traveller needs to get immunized against.

Nurse asked me whether I wanted both Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B to go along with the tetanus, but since Hep B is sexually transmitted disease and I was not planning to get sexually active in Cuba, I stuck with just Hep A, which transmits through food or water. A guy needs to eat and drink wherever he is, but I leave sexual encounters to reasonably safe countries with low incidence of HIV and AIDS.

There was also an option for me to take a Rabies shot, but just as it was with sexual encounters, I was not planning to play with random Cuban animals so I opted against it. Strangely enough, in order to get immunized against Rabies as a traveller from Canada, you need to pay for your vaccines, but if you get infected with Rabies, then the treatment is free. Rabies shot was one of the most expensive to take too, so I definitely decided against it. Why prevention costs so much money while treatment is free is beyond me! Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

I ended up going with Hepatitis A and Tetanus. I had to pay for the Hep shot, but Tetanus booster was free. I thought getting two shots at the same time was more than enough for my body so I didn’t want to consider any more injection bombs at this time. I was advised that I could come for a Twinrix booster shot in 6 months time which would then offer 20 years of protection against both Hep A and Hep B.

When time came to take off my shirt and have the syringes enter by shoulder muscles, the nurse asked me whether I was right-handed or left-handed. Since I am right-handed, she was gonna give me the Hep A shot in my right arm because the occurrence of adverse effects is very low with this shot, whereas the Tetanus vaccine is a tough one with more than 50% of patients experiencing severe discomfort, pain, nausea, vomiting or fever.

Photo: My Travel Immunizations Card With List of Vaccines I Took and How Long They Are Good For
Photo: My Travel Immunizations Card With List of Vaccines I Took and How Long They Are Good For

I took the shots and it was as expected. My right arm was only slightly sore for about an hour or two, but my left arm where I took the Tetanus shot got intensely painful to a point that I couldn’t move my arm, sleep on the left hand side or do anything with this part of my body. I suffered from severe fever for about 5 days and just as I was ready to go back to the clinic to tell them that the pain is not subsiding and the fever is still very bad, it started to get better. After one week of intense pain in my left shoulder I was able to ride a bicycle again however the pain has not dispersed entirely until more than two weeks later.

Immunization against Tetanus is truly painful. Luckily I did go to get my shots done more than a month prior to taking the trip to Cuba so I didn’t board a plane with sore arm, but damn, was the pain ever intense… Had I known it was gonna put me through whole week of inability to function properly and feel sick while I’m at it, I wouldn’t have taken it in the first place. Luckily, it’s all good now and I should be immunized against Tetanus for some 10 years.

Hepatitis A protection was also in place and from what the nurse told me, the Hep one starts to protect within hours, whereas the Tetanus one takes a couple of weeks to take full effect. By the time I was on a plane to Cuba, I was already well protected.

Iceland didn’t require any additional immunization but after I realized I was going to Cambodia, I went back to the Travellers’ Clinic to get additional shots done. First of all, I wanted the Twinrix shot for both Hep A and Hep B protection and I also got a Measles, Mumps and Rubella booster shot. None of these caused any adverse effects and come the following day, I didn’t even know I was just vaccinated.

Sadly, there is no shot to immunize travelers against Malaria which is endemic in Cambodia, or HIV which is equally bad. There are anti-malarial pills on the market, but are only recommended for short term use (one, max two weeks). Any long term use could be potentially more harmful than Malaria itself so if you are planning a long term stay in Malaria endemic areas, you’re better off getting malaria than taking anti-malarials for an extended period of time.

Weekly Car Rental Deals

I only had a little more than a week until my ultimate departure which would take me away from my home country of Canada for an extended period of time, so I figured that perhaps I could rent a car one last time and go to the Rocky Mountains I loved so much. I didn’t have my car anymore and the weather was beautiful so I really thought I should take advantage of it and head to the mountains while I’m still here. Renting a car was the only option at this time so I started looking around for the best Weekly Car Rental Deals.

My primary thinking behind renting a car for a whole week was that I would be able to use it to go to the Rockies and after I had returned, I would still have an automobile to take care of the items I needed to find a storage solution for. I was still going to work and was going to stay employed until the last day of August – literally until my departure date.

Another thing that got me looking for Weekly Car Rental Deals was a billboard ad I saw by the Westmount Mall in Edmonton which advertised weekly rental of a compact sized car at Budget Canada for mere $99 a week. Considering that weekend rental would cost me half of that, I figured I might as well rent a car for a whole week and have myself set not only for the trip to the Rockies, but also to move all of my possessions to wherever I end up storing it.

I phoned Budget to find out about the deal advertised but it was as I suspected – restricted as to the kilometers you can put on the car and the deal only applied to very small cars. Plus the Budget Rent a Car office near me was not open during convenient hours. I kept it in mind as an option, but didn’t dwell on it too much. Instead, I’ve spread my search for better Weekly Car Rental Deals across other providers and it did prove to be a good strategy. Don’t follow the billboards.

I ended up renting a car from Hertz. Weekly rental of a mid size sedan with unlimited kilometers was less than $120 with all fees and taxes in. Considering that I didn’t need car insurance because my travel visa card had worldwide coverage, this was an amazing deal for a week long car rental of Toyota Corolla. Yes, I could have had a car for a week for $99 plus fees and taxes, but it would have been Chevrolet Aveo (a miniature car) and I wouldn’t be able to take it to the Rocky Mountains because I would go over allocated distance quota.

Photo: Silver Toyota Corolla I Rented for a Week from Hertz to Drive Through the Canadian Rockies
Photo: Silver Toyota Corolla I Rented for a Week from Hertz to Drive Through the Canadian Rockies

Hertz is usually one of the more expensive car rental companies but you get what you pay for. They clearly don’t focus on people who are cheap (aka myself), but will go out of their way for people who are willing to pay for the luxury of preferential treatment. Weekly rental of a mid size sedan through Hertz would normally cost around $250. I was able to push it down to its 50% level through the use of a time limited coupon code (it’s already expired). The use of it has not been questioned anytime by any Hertz representative, their car was superior to comparable models rented through other companies by having more options and paperwork necessary to rent a car through them was minimalistic. Hertz is clearly geared to get you behind the wheel of a car you desire without much hassle.

This was the very first time I have rented with Hertz and it was a pleasant experience. I had rented car many times before, including rentals at international locations but always with different companies to save money. This time timing was on my side so I was able to get a deal I would not get with any other provider, yet I still received Hertz treatment. It is likely I won’t be renting with Hertz anytime soon, if at all, but I’d definitely rank them as one of the finest car rental companies in existence. Saves you a lot of hassle not having to deal with crap when renting a car.

That being said – there were a few things I did not like about Hertz. First of all – they did not offer customer pick up. I had to take a bus all the way to downtown Edmonton (I did it because savings I was getting in this weekly special were worth it). I don’t know whether all Hertz offices do it this way, but that was a crappy part of their business. Second thing I did not like was not really their fault but it still made it a bit annoying. When I came to pick up my car, there were two people there before me, each occupying one of the available agents. Those people kept asking irrelevant questions and one of them didn’t even end up renting, but they kept me stuck there for an extra half an hour. I had my car pick up booked for 5pm but I didn’t get my car until 5.30pm. If I had something important to catch, I would have missed it. That would have spoiled it for me entirely. And even though I can’t really blame it on Hertz as a company, being a customer you still wish you got what you booked at the time you booked it for.

Photo: Beautiful Canadian Rocky Mountains
Photo: Beautiful Canadian Rocky Mountains

Other than that, everything about Hertz was perfect. Perhaps a little too perfect to be true. Either way, I had my car and was ready to hit the road from Edmonton to Jasper to enjoy my last weekend in the Rocky Mountains. The feeling was amazing especially since I knew that the weekend after that would be the weekend of my departure to South East Asia. Whoaaaa.

Self Storage Solutions

I had most of my possessions taken care of – majority went to the garbage bin while the rest was donated as a merchandise donation to One Child’s Village. However there were still some items I had left that I couldn’t get rid of. They were either legally important, or personally inseparable with. I had to find the way to store these while I was on the road so I started looking into self storage solutions in Edmonton. The items I could not get rid of included the following:

  • Bookkeeping – Revenue Canada can audit your books from up to 7 years back
  • Software – instead of just sticking with downloads, I used to buy boxed versions of each software… bad idea!
  • DVD Collection – it’s quite vast. I had some precious, hard to find titles there, especially the ones from Asian Extreme Cinema or old Italian horror movies
  • Photo Albums – I have a small collection of photos from the past, many irreplaceable, taken long before the age of digital cameras
  • Medieval Weaponry – I’m into all things medieval big time and my collection of swords and armor grew overtime. Could not find the strength to part with it
  • Photography Studio Equipment – I closed down the shop long time ago, but I still did a lot of studio photography as a hobbyist
  • Mountain Bike – my precious Specialized bike, the sole means of transport for over two years
  • Desktop Computer – I still had a whole pile of data on the 1TB hard drive on my desktop
  • Guitar – I have a custom made Ibanez JS Model – it’s a copy of Joe Satriani’s electric guitar in beautiful read made to fit in my hands. So awesome…

The only feasible solution to the storage problem I was facing seemed to be the self storage facilities located throughout the city. So I started my hunt for the best priced and best located one. I’ve done thorough web search for self storage solutions in Edmonton and also proceeded to search through the Yellow Pages and contacted the rest by phone. I’ve then personally paid the ones that were close to me a visit to see what was going on, yet none made me feel confident that this was the right path to take. The biggest deterrent was the price.

Self storage solutions are extremely expensive. Given the size of the room you get, the price per square meter is almost as high, or higher as for the room where you people live. This was simply way too much. There were rooms priced at under $100 a month, but these were so small I wouldn’t fit my mountain bike in there. The rest of the stuff I needed to store wasn’t that much. It was compacted in boxes so I could easily fit it in a miniature room, however my mountain bike required a room that’s at least 2 meters long or wide. Rooms like that typically run at more than $100 a month – crazy. You could get whole apartment for $500 with living room, kitchen, and bathroom.

Trouble with on line research was that you couldn’t get a sense of the price from their websites. They treat it like it’s a top secret. You have to go through painful process of enquiring via email or phone. I went though Sentinel Self Storage Edmonton, Instant Storage Edmonton, Storage King Edmonton, U Store It Edmonton, Affordable Storage Edmonton, Minerva Mini Storage Edmonton, etc – but they were all either very inconveniently located or way overpriced.

I went to the most conveniently located one in person. It was the Sentinel Self Storage one in NW Edmonton, but was strongly discouraged the moment I stepped my foot in. The woman who owns it smokes non stop so the office is full of cigarette smoke to the point that it’s beyond disgusting. When she starts talking to you, she sounds like the witch with burnt out vocal cords which is without doubt the result of her heavy smoking. She’s not very friendly either and just beat me off by saying that summer is a busy season for them and she doesn’t have time to talk to me unless I’m already ready to buy my self storage with them. The most conveniently located or not, this was no longer an option.

So I went to the second most conveniently located facility with which I made an appointment via phone, because they were not open during convenient hours. Someone was supposed to meet me there on a weekend day. Their facility is in one of the hangars at Edmonton City Airport not far from Kingsway Mall. I sat on my bike and rode all the way there. It was very tricky to find as those hangars are at oddly placed, unmarked streets, but I have eventually found it only to learn that their office was closed and there was nobody there. I waited around for 20 minutes but nobody showed up which was my cue to get the hell out of there and forget this facility.

Given high prices of self storage solutions in Edmonton, I didn’t see the point in checking out the facilities located at the opposite end of the city. It would take me an hour to drive there so what’s the point? Taking a few turns with a small car I’d be renting would end up being a pain. I was stuck with one last option I really didn’t want to consider, but as my last resort, I had to give it a try.

Donating a Car to the Kidney Foundation of Canada

I had one last item I needed to donate – my car. I didn’t want to sweat over how to go about donating my car too much, so I contacted the charity I knew accepted car donations – The Kidney Foundation of Canada. I’ve never had any dealings with the Kidney Foundation of Canada before, but they advertise the fact that they accept car donations on the radio all the time so any driver in Edmonton would have heard of them. Plus I was well aware of how painful and debilitating kidney disease is so donating a car to the kidney foundation seemed like the right path to go. Hopefully my contribution helped someone suffering from kidney problems.

Photo: 1997 Chrysler Cirrus, The Car I Have Donated to the Kidney Foundation of Canada
Photo: 1997 Chrysler Cirrus, The Car I Have Donated to the Kidney Foundation of Canada

The process of Donating a Car to the Kidney Foundation of Canada was fairly simple. I’ve looked up their website address on the internet and checked out the means to contact them about car donations. Since they advertise the fact that they seek car donations all over the radio, there was a hotlink right on their front page where anyone interested in making a car donation could go for further details. This page is located on http://www.kidney.ca/Page.aspx?pid=419.

The “Donate a Car” page contained a hotlink to a Kidney Car Hotline page where I looked up the phone number to call in Edmonton. I called the number (1-780-453-2288) and told them I had a 1997 Chrysler Cirrus in decent shape I wanted to donate but had no means of towing so, I told them where it was parked, provided them with my cell phone number and advised them on what the best time of day was to get a hold of me. The agent on the other end of the line took all the info and said a tow truck would come tonight to get the car.

Stupidly enough, the tow truck never showed up. This was a really low blow on behalf of the Kidney Foundation of Canada but since it was late afternoon, I figured that perhaps something got in the way and they were not able to secure a tow truck for the day. They knew I worked until 4pm and would get home by about 4.30 so I thought they were gonna make solid arrangements and will come to get it the day after. But it never happened again. At that time I was only a few days away from my departure to Siem Reap so I didn’t find this mess very cool. First of all, I was donating my car to them so I thought they would be more appreciative and would meet me half way with efforts to try to accommodate my schedule and work around it. But most of all, I didn’t make any other arrangements, should the donation to the Kidney Foundation of Canada fail, so if they didn’t pick it up before my departure, I’d be screwed.

The car was parked at the parking spot behind the apartment building where I was staying, but because I left the notice that I was gonna leave at the end of August, it automatically meant that I would also have to remove my automobile from the parking lot as well. Apartment buildings often provide you with parking space for your car if you live there and pay rent (sometimes parking is extra, in my case it wasn’t). But as soon as you move out, you have to take your car with you as you are no longer a resident on the premises and have no right to continue using their private parking space.

I really needed the Kidney Foundation of Canada to quit acting up and start being more responsible with people’s donations. I phoned them up again and sounding a bit frustrated, I wanted to know why after two days they still have not sent the tow truck like they promised. I think I’ve heated up enough water for the agent I spoke with to take the matter in firm hands, put me on hold, make solid arrangements and get back to me confirming that the truck will be there tonight for sure.

Luckily, the truck did show up. Once the truck was there, it was just a matter of minutes to get my car hooked up and before I could blink, my old wheels that kept me reliably mobile for almost a decade were gone out of my life for good. It was an old car. Trying to sell it would be way more a headache that it’s worth so donating it was definitely a good idea. I’d probably get a couple of hundred bucks at best if I were to sell it, but would waste tons of my precious time and the hassle might not be over after ownership has been transferred. Some people think that cars they paid $300 for should run like new ones worth $20,000. I could already imagine new owner calling me to ask why the air conditioning doesn’t cool the cabin down fast enough… Do I have the time and nerve to deal with that type of crap? Hell no. Donating a Car to the Kidney Foundation of Canada was definitely the best decision I could have made. Once I had it off my back, I was free from the biggest material thing I had owned. The real freedom was just around the corner.

Making Merchandise Donations to Charities

I was only a week away from my departure to Siem Reap, but still had a lot of possessions I didn’t get rid of during my mass disposal. Everything I didn’t touch within last two years went to the garbage bin, along with everything I saw no immediate need for. However I still had a bunch of items I thought were very usable and could improve someone’s quality of life. I was out of time and wouldn’t be able to take care of it myself, so I started contacting one Edmonton based charity to see whether any accepted Merchandise Donations.

As it turned out, making monetary donations to charities is easy and vast majority of charities will have some mechanism in place to make it fast and convenient, however when it came to merchandise donations, things were vastly different. Most responses I got said that they did not have the manpower and/or the facilities to store merchandise donations and wouldn’t be able to accept them. However with each such response, I was provided more contacts on additional local charitable organizations which the person responding believed may be accepting merchandise donations. So I kept relentlessly sending emails or making phone calls until I got the first positive response stating that a person could come to my place with a van tonight to pick up just about everything from the list as it seemed I had a whole pile of usable items.

This was exactly the type of response I wanted to hear. A person who knows what they are doing and is able and willing to take immediate action. I formerly thought I would split the donations among several charities so people from various walks of life could benefit, but as I thought about it further, I came to realize that this type of thinking made no sense. All I wanted at this time was to make sure that my donations will make someone’s day. If just one person could feel like it’s their lucky day today because they got a pile of stuff from me, then it would be all worth it.

I had an estimated $8,000 worth of merchandise to give away. It included the following:

  • Kitchen Ware – utensils, pots, frying pans, toasters, knives, etc.
  • Books – all sorts from expensive photography tutorials, through dictionaries, all the way to fantasy tales
  • Toys for Kids – I used to use those as photography props in the studio
  • Electronics – TV sets, DVD players, stereos, etc.
  • Leisure Items – skates, roller blades, backpacks, etc.
  • Home Decor – curtains, lamps, chairs, bedding sheets, etc.
  • Clothing – all sort of summer and winter clothing for all occasions
  • Household Items – various pieces from toilet paper through screwdrivers to power drill sets, etc.
  • …and a whole pile more

I realized that when you are donating, all you care about is to make sure that someone in need benefits. That’s why trying to split the donations would be contra-productive. How would I decide which items go where? It simply made no sense as a person here as well as a person there could benefit from it just the same. Great thing about charities is that there is no rivalry. There is no competition. There is only sincere desire to help those in need. At the end of the day, if person’s life is improved thanks to my donations, then it all made sense and was worth, regardless of where this person is form or how they got to the situation that they are in need of donations. Hence any attempt to try to find “the right charity” is contra-productive. There are only two types of charities – ones that truly give to those in need, or the corrupt ones that keep donations for themselves and only use people in need as store front to trick potential donors into donating for them believing the donation will go to those in need.

After I got an email back from Todd from One Child’s Village, I knew he was the right person to give all of my merchandise to. Their website speaks heaps about the work they do and I’ve been hinted by other charities that were no able to accept merchandise donations that One Child’s Village was a good charity to look into. On top of that – I like dealing with people who know what they want and are able to make decisions. Todd responded to my email promptly and got right to the point. He said: “It looks like your whole lot is full of useful items. I could take all of it. When is the best time for me to come with the van?”

How can you not love dealing with someone who doesn’t beat around the bush. There was no time to bounce emails back and forth. I needed to make this merchandise donation as soon as possible as I only had a few extra days left for everything else. Todd was at my place right after I got back from work and we loaded his van up full. This whole deal got taken care of within one day and without much hassle. But most of all – I knew my merchandise donations were in good hands.

One Child’s Village operates in Africa and these items would make their way to impoverished people in need and as I have said – if any of it could make the life of any person in need better, or even the day, then it was all worth it. For me personally – I no longer had any use for any of this. I was gonna leave the life dedicated to work and accumulation of possessions for the life of travel and volunteerism to find my place on Earth and do something I’d be proud to talk about when I get old.

After I have finalized my merchandise donation to the One Child’s Village charity, I was left with near empty apartment. Just the way I wanted it to be. With only a few days left until my departure, I only had a few things to take care of and one more big merchandise donation – my car.

Samsung Q320 Laptop in Canada

At this point things really started to look crappy. I only had a week until my departure and still didn’t have a laptop. I had last two options left – either go for a large screen laptop but be stuck with this heavy, oversized piece of equipment I will have to haul around endlessly, impossible to use in confined spaces, such as plane seats, or purchase extremely expensive, but super lightweight and super small laptop from Sony or Panasonic. Sony was not a brand of choice as I had previously had bad experience with their laptop, so Panasonic Toughbook seemed like the only option. And while these ToughBooks are impact resistant, small and lightweight, they are super expensive making it more than unjustifiable (unless you have lots of money to waste). Performance is nowhere near where it should be, however the fact that they are so small and so light (and so durable) would make it a perfect companion on the road.

Price tags for these laptops are sky high, however. Cashing out $2,500 for a laptop is not an easy thing to do. And it was at that time when Samsung introduced its laptop to Canadian computer market. Their laptop model was Q320 and even though Samsung is not known as being a solid computer maker, I have been using 24″ Samsung screen on my desktop and it’s the best screen I’ve ever owned. The Samsung Q320 specs were impressive. More than I could ask for which was making it very attractive. It cost $1,299 Canadian which was more than any previous laptop I have looked at but it had components to well justify the price. As a matter of fact, when it comes to value for money, Samsung Q320 was on top of the game. Given high performance components inside this laptop, the price was amazing.

I was still a little bit reluctant because Samsung is simply not a make you ever think of when you talk laptops so I went to search for Q320 reviews on line. Surprisingly, people did not have enough good things to say about these machines. It almost seemed unreal that there would be a laptop with such amazing set up for such an attractive price. I went to take a look at it in Future Shop and sure enough, the feel of Q320, the performance, the screen output – this was one amazing machine. Unfortunately in Canada, Samsung Q320 laptops were only available in white. That made the unit look like a MacBook which is not very visually flattering, but I wasn’t buying the laptop for its looks. I needed performance, reliability and small size. They way a laptop looks was vastly irrelevant so I got past the Mac-like looks and gave myself just one day to think it over (I’m not an impulsive buyer, no matter what).

My original intention was to only spend up to $1,000 for a laptop and this Samsung Q320 was way over my budget. Given the components this laptop was equipped with, however, the price tag made it more than worth it so value for money was there more than with any other laptop. I went back to the Future Shop the following day only to find out with horror that the only model they had there yesterday sold during the day today. Since this was a brand new model, no other outlet in Canada carried it. I went to Future Shop in Northgate, Edmonton and was told that they didn’t even have any of those yet. As a matter of fact, first two sales reps I was talking to didn’t even know this model existed. I had to refer them to their website to make them believe that I’m not making it up and Future Shop does in fact carry this model.

I spent whole day trying to buy the best small laptop that was currently available in Canada only to end up with nothing at the end of the day. At least formerly worthless sales reps from Northgate did me a favor and called other Future Shop locations in Edmonton to see if anyone still has one of the units in stock. Luckily, the west end location did have it so I assured them I would be there tomorrow to pick it up and asked them to secure it for me. The following day I jumped on my mountain bike and rode all the way to west Edmonton where brand new Samsung Q320 was waiting for me. Without second guessing I bought this laptop and headed home to enjoy its performance.

Photo: Samsung Q320 Laptop - The Best Laptop buy in Canada in 2009/2010
Photo: Samsung Q320 Laptop - The Best Laptop buy in Canada in 2009/2010

This machine worked like clockwork. The best laptop I have ever owned. It had the speakers on the bottom giving out poor sound when you had the laptop on your lap, covering the output, but other than that I could not think of any other downside. The best laptop ever. Never let me down in any way. I was really happy with the choice I made and as I kept using it, I even grew to accept the not-so-flattering, Macintosh-like white exterior. I had the most important piece of electronic device needed for my travels. I was ready to board the plane. As far as laptops in Canada are concerned, Samsung Q320 is hands down the best model to buy.

HP and Dell Laptops

Shortly after I started to look for the best laptop to buy, a note came from Dell that they are releasing new small screen laptops that will be powered by the latest components and preferential pricing was offered for initial orders (Dell Vostro 1220). This pricing was available only through Dell website as these units were not available in stores yet so a chance was given to web savvy computer users to take advantage of this attractive offer before general public could lay their hands on them for a regular price. I went through the process and ordered one right way. These Dell laptops seemed exactly like what I was looking for. The screen was only 12.1″ across and guts had latest and fastest components making it a super computer for the time. They would still not have Windows 7 installed on them, but there was an option to get free upgrade when it becomes available.

Trouble was that 2 days after I’ve purchased one on line, I called Dell customer service to make sure the unit was shipped to me as I was leaving in less than two weeks, but was told that these units will not be shipping until mid September. Needless to say, I had to cancel my order because I would no longer be at home when the laptop arrives and I would need something with me to make sure I can continue making money and posting about my adventures. Dell support is notoriously awful so I did not sweat over not being able to get a Dell laptop much.

It was becoming very frustrating, though. I really didn’t want to opt for an emergency solution and purchase a large screen laptop but since there was nothing in under 14″ I would be comfortable with, I started looking at the next step up in size. Then I’ve given a closer look to one of the HP 13.3″ laptops. There were two versions of this one and while less expensive one was the more popular one, it did not offer good value for money for components were really underpowered, the more expensive option had fast components, lots of storage space and a great battery which would power the laptop for up to 9 hours. I went to give this one a closer look at one of London Drugs locations.

Luckily for me, they had one in stock and it was still in the box, never on display. I’ve asked if they could bring it so I can take a look as I was seriously interested and they’ve obliged. I was under time pressure and this laptop seemed to bear components I was comfortable with and came at a price I liked so I bought it on the spot. However as soon as I started using it, things were popping up that made me not like it. First of all, this laptop just as all HP laptops was extremely bloated with bloatware. I spent half the day just removing the HP bloatware yet dozens of useless utils still kept popping up, mostly forcing you to upgrade to a full version for a fee. It was horrible.

But what I didn’t like the most was the placement of the battery. Yes, according to the specs, the battery was supposed to provide an extended operating time without the mains, but it was protruding from flat bottom making it impossible to have it on your laps and making it awkward when on the desk. Plain and simple – stupid. However, since there was nothing else available and I was leaving the country in a little over a week, I was sticking with it. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it.

Once I had most of the bloatware removed and all latest updates installed, I went to make a full back up of the system so I can restore it should some catastrophe occur and erase my hard drive. You always need to have a back up and since this laptop didn’t come with installation CDs, unless I made a back up, I would not be able to get the machine back up and running. It would become a chunk of electronic garbage that’s of no use. If anything at all corrupted the hard drive, I’d be screwed. Knowing that they are not providing system discs, HP equipped the laptop with their own, proprietary back-up software that urged you, the user to initiate the back up right away because you had no discs to do anything should there be a hard drive failure. So I started with full system back up with that HP soft.

It looked like I would need 4 DVDs in order to have entire system disc backed up so I loaded up the first one and had it burned, then inserted a second one to start burning, but it would get stuck at 9%. It would just hang at 9% for hours upon hours and once 10 hours had passed and nothing new happened, I knew it froze and is not going to unfreeze. I had to hard reboot the laptop, having lost whole day trying to make a back up, discarded the busted disc and started the whole process over again. It went fine, first disc got burned, the request to insert disc 2 came which I did, burning of disc 2 started and behold – it froze at the same spot again. Stuck at 9% for hours upon hours until I had no option but to hard reboot the laptop again.

This HP backup software was useless and it wasted two days of my time. I phoned HP customer support to see if they had a solution for that as it’s obviously a glitch with the software given that it freezes at that one specific spot all the time, but the tech support was completely useless. HP obviously outsources their support to India or somewhere cheap and those people are completely useless. As he started to ask questions such as whether I can make sure that there is disc inside the CD ROM tray I knew I was just wasting more of my time and HP is not a company to go with.

I hung up on the tech support guy after a few irrelevant, stupid questions and went straight back to London Drugs to have this laptop returned as per their 30 day return policy. I was extremely unhappy about it because it wasted a lot of my time and I only had so many days to get myself set up on a new laptop. HP is completely useless. I didn’t like anything about that laptop even before their software started crapping out on me and their support proved that it’s worthless. It simply didn’t feel right as I was using it but I kept giving it second chances just because I was under time pressure. It didn’t work out.

Buying a Laptop for Dummies

I was only two weeks away from my booked departure to Cambodia and I still needed to purchase a few essential electronic devices to make sure I am able to document my journey around the world and maintain my positive cash flow while I’m on the road. The absolutely most essential piece of equipment was a powerful and reliable laptop. Throughout my life, I have owned and worked on several laptops so I really didn’t need the buying a laptop for dummies guide. I purchased a top of the line SONY laptop a few years ago, but the screen on it died shortly after a year of moderate use. I sent it in to SONY authorized service centre and was told that whole screen needed to be replaced which would incur the cost of $1,400. Given that I paid $3,500 for this machine just a year ago (it was the most powerful and advanced laptop at the time), I was not impressed with the quote. I did not pay this much money to have to pay an additional $1,400 to keep this expensive piece of machinery usable after one year. But because it was shortly after one year of ownership, the warranty on the laptop was expired so SONY was not willing to assist. I was basically left with the extremely expensive piece of laptop I paid a lot of money for but could not use it. Needless to say, this was the last time I have purchased anything made by SONY.

I also had another laptop. It was an old Toshiba I bought back in 1999. It still have Windows 98 Millennium Edition installed on it, it was ridiculously old and slow, but still worked like a charm. This laptop went through hell with me yet it has never let me down. I purchased the above mentioned SONY laptop in order to replace this old Toshiba because it was old and no longer matched modern criteria for computer use. I could still use it as everything on it worked like new despite extensive use for almost a decade, but it was simply too slow so I needed a new one.

After SONY let me down and burned $3,500 out of my pocket, I fell back to using a desktop which is what I was on at the time of making all of these arrangements to start the worldwide travel. I could not take the desktop with me. I needed a new laptop. I simply had no way around it. It’s impossible to haul the desktop around when travelling, Toshiba laptop was too slow and SONY didn’t work because it’s a piece of junk. So I brushed off my buying laptop for dummies guide and started to look around to see what there was for laptops at the moment so I could buy one.

One thing I have learned after purchasing the SONY laptop was that when buying a laptop, go for as small a screen as you can read. The SONY laptop had a 16.9″ screen. I thought it was awesome cause I was gonna get this nicely large viewing area along with super-powered components inside, but it proved to be the worst decision ever. Case in point is – if you want large screen, get yourself one for the desktop. When buying a laptop, go for light weight and small size. Even if you’re not a traveler, you will want to take your laptop with you when leaving your house for a variety of reasons and the bigger a laptop, the heavier and larger a chunk you will have to haul around with you. 17″ screen laptops are near impossible to use onboard a plane or in a car. They are simply so big that you can’t even open it on your lap. Plus you will need a rather large case to fit it in making your carryon luggage chunky and heavy. Lightweight laptops are the only way to go, whether you travel a lot or not.

So I went out to look for a laptop to buy but was discouraged by low availability of quality machines. I looked at Toshibas because the one I have still works and it’s more than 10 years old, but Toshiba seemed to have fallen asleep in 2009. Their laptops were underpowered and overpriced. The processors were from 2008. Memory was insufficient, hard drive space not much – plain and simple no where up to par with 2009 laptops. And these machines were priced at the same level as other brands which were equipped with superior processors, twice as much memory, larger hard drives, better video cards and all other components. It made no sense buying any Toshibas in mid 2009.

After ditching Toshiba laptops, I had very few options left. I only had a couple of weeks till departure so I really needed to get the laptop asap so I can load it up with necessary software and all files I need to have instant access to. But the quest to find a machine I’d be comfortable with was failing. Mid 2009 was also the time when Microsoft announced the release of Windows 7 operating system which would mean that one would want to wait until laptops loaded up with this new operating system are available (#2 rule from the Buying Laptop for Dummies guide), but I simply could not wait. I was leaving in two weeks so even though the laptop purchased now would come with operating system that’s becoming obsolete, I had to buy it.