Over the last 10 months of travel (wow, have we been gone that long?!), we have been fortunate to visit many fascinating places. We have also had the opportunity to spend some quality time with a lot of different folks during our travels like Raghu and Gita, our friends’ wonderful parents who live in India, or Sam and Pip, our guides during our 3 weeks of biking from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City, or or Snehal and Falguni who worked with Chris years ago when we lived in Singapore or Claudette who hiked the Machu Picchu trail with her son, Calvin, or Marko, our kayaking guide in Croatia, and Ana and Ivan who joined us kayaking for 1 week in Croatia. At the same time, we have obviously kept in touch with family and friends back home. People back in the States and abroad are often curious about the details of our trip and the dynamics of our daily lives while on the road. They wonder about our planning, our favorite spots, our challenges, our relationship while traveling. So here are some thoughts on the frequently asked travel questions.
Before you left, did you plan the whole journey? How have you been managing the travel planning? We did not plan the whole journey before we left. While we wanted to make sure we did not waste any time and had a vision prior to leaving, we also wanted to make sure we had flexibility to make adjustments. So when we left on September 29, 2015, we had plans thru January 5, 2016 knowing how we wanted to kick off the trip, and we also wanted secure plans during the busy December holiday season (when travel would also be crazy). After that, we have tried to plan travel 1-3 months ahead depending on where we were headed, weather, goals and experiences. We also wanted to stay in warm climates most of the year which had us following the summer season around the world. From a planning perspective, Europe has been and is a little different. Europe is crazy in the summer as Europeans take their vacation seriously, and the rest of the world seems to descend on Europe during the summer months. So we started planning for the summer in Europe about 4 months out.
In terms of managing the travel planning, we did a lot of online travel research before we left the States and also a lot on the road. The online sites that we have relied on and/ or found particularly helpful in terms of planning are The Clymb Adventure Travel, TripAdvisor, Expedia, Booking.com, LonelyPlanet.com. Travel sites such as Conde Nast Traveller and Afar are in our feeds, and we are reading these on a daily basis. We have also made it a point to find local adventure companies wherever we are traveling- Old Towne Outfitters, Kerala Cycling Trips, Malik Adventures, Meridien Ten, Valencia Travel. The local travel/ adventure companies know the areas that they operate the best, and most of the time, adventure travel companies in the States outsource or work with these local companies.
What are your favorite spots? We have enjoyed so many spots that we have been able to visit. For the most part, we have tried to visit new countries. It is hard to pick favorites because there have been so many different experiences. We both really liked South Africa and Vietnam. Colombia also ranks high on our spots we have visited. Peru and the Inca trail were awesome and probably our biggest surprise. Central America was probably our hardest travel, but we are both glad we visited.
What do you miss the most? We have not missed a lot (which I am not sure what that says about our lives back in Seattle;>). We certainly miss the time we spend with family and friends the most. Cooking in our home is probably high on the list – both the act of preparing a meal (especially the big ones on Sunday evening with its leisurely pace and accompanying wine) and the joys of eating healthy, home-cooked meals (we have spend a lot of time in restaurants this year). We have not missed our cars (it is amazing how much you walk and bike without one) or the time spent in them. We do miss Seattle and its surroundings – the mountains in the winter and the islands and water in the summer – but we know that it will all be there when we return.
How have you managed laundry? Thankfully, in most of the places we have traveled with the exception of France, we have found fantastic drop off laundry services. We drop our laundry off in the morning and typically 3 hours later, we have washed, dried and folded laundry ready for pick-up. In Asia-Pacific, drop off laundry services are on every corner it seems and inexpensive- USD $.50-1.00 per kg for washing, drying and folding. In Ho Chi Minh City, as an example, we found a wonderful laundry service that came to the lobby of our hotel and returned the laundry to our hotel 3 hours later. We found this laundry service just by doing a search on Google Maps searching for “laundry services near me”. The internet is a fabulous tool. We found the same wonderful drop off laundry services throughout South America and Central America. In South Africa, we had an Airbnb apartment on the front end and back end which had a washing machine so not sure if South Africa offers a similar model. In France, laundry has been a little more of a challenge. However, we found a chain in France, 5 a sec. 5 a sec was quite good in terms of service but a lot more expensive. I think we paid $22 euros for same day service for about 5 kgs of laundry. Unfortunately, 5 a sec is not everywhere in France. So in lieu of a drop of service, we have used a laundromat a couple times and found a fabulous one in Annecy, France run by an lovely couple who keeps the laundromat is excellent condition and monitors the laundromat so users can go off and do other things.
It is interesting to reflect on the cloths we have worn for the year – it is not much. A couple handfuls of tee-shirts each, one pair of jeans, a few pairs of shoes (and sandals of course), a lot of quick dry items that can easily be washed in a hotel room plus a few dresses, skirts and shorts. We also have some running and biking clothing. For me, Athleta clothing has been good to me. It travels well and they have some nice skorts and dresses. And most clothing items are black which has also been key to our packing strategy. The warm weather helps, but it does make you wonder, in general, about how much you need (and we have new found respect for Steve Job’s and others’ minimalist approach).
What have you been doing for hair cuts and color? This has been pretty straightforward as well with the exception of India (although I just made sure I got my hair cut and colored before India and right after). Again, the internet has been key- some online research looking for reputable hair salons in walking distance wherever we are has worked well. The best hair cut and color, so far, was in Ho Chi Minh City at YKC Beauty Spa & Hair Salon. YKC is a fabulous spot (an oasis) in HCMC. The owner is great giving fabulous cuts as well as color and speaks fluent English. In between hair cuts and colors, I have picked up L’Oreal color (yes, L’Oreal or Garnier are available in most places we have traveled) which has been working great. Chris does not have to worry about either one too much.
Did you buy a round the world airline ticket? Given how competitive the airline market is coupled with the restrictions on round the world airline tickets, we did not, and we are glad we did not buy one. Before we left the US, we bought our tickets to Bangkok (cashed some miles) and our ticket to Spain and Cape Town, South Africa, but all the airline tickets we have bought have been purchased on the road and has been quite easy to do. We use Expedia, Kayak and Rome2Rio quite a bit when buying airline tickets. Skyscanner and Skypicker (recently renamed kiwi.com) are also awesome sites and apps, if you have flexibility. Our American Express card has come in handy as well. We leverage their travel site from time to time and their lounge access. In the past, we have not been able to justify their yearly fees, but we have used the card a lot this year (no international fees or spending limits), and it came with 100K miles which should pay for the ride home. We have taken 33 flights since we left so far and flown about 60 K miles. We did not expect to fly so much but the low-cost carriers around the world really make flying more attractive in many situations – especially in Europe where flying is now often cheaper than train travel (we would prefer to take the train from a convenience and comfort perspective).
Where are you staying- in Airbnbs or hotels? We have only spent roughly 6% of the nights on the road, so far, in Airbnbs. Most of the places we have stayed have been hotels. Airbnb, typically only makes sense for us, when we plan to be in a place for an extended period of time. As example, in Cape Town, we knew we were going to stay for 3 weeks over the holidays so we booked an Airbnb but we have also stayed in Airbnb apartments in Nicaragua, Mexico City, Scotland, Madrid, and Majorca – the ability to cook (which is not always realized with the apartments) are the key attraction.
As a couple, how are you guys getting along? 100% of the time together for a year is a long time. We find this to be a fascinating question and often consider it. Chris and I have been married for 19 years on May 31, 2016 (and have been together for more than a few years before that). We have been fortunate to a strong relationship that just keeps getting better. Like most married couples, we do not have perfect days together all the time, but we genuinely enjoy each others company and share common interests. So neither of us was worried about this before we left and today, we are still not concerned about it. We have been enjoying the time spent together. We do not have too much stress which makes things a lot easier. For sure, there are days when we are confronted with some travel challenges that can create stress but when we consider where we are and what we are doing, we can only be thankful. Occasionally (and it really is only occasionally for both of us), we may need some time alone so we may head off for a run alone or to run an errand.
Are you worried about the re-entry back into the real world? We are not too worried. We know there will be an adjustment and it will likely be really hard initially. But we also know that we have been fortunate to have a year to explore the world and we have experiences that we will remember forever. Exiting our careers for a year may have created some risk, but there is always risk with rewards. A few years ago, while kayaking in the San Juan Islands one week-end, we bumped into a crusty-old, Canadian kayaker out there paddling alone. He was a bit gruff but departed with some wisdom that we could not agree with more “you cannot get the days back..[so enjoy them]”.
Have you found the answers to life’s questions yet? No, definitely not. We have had no major epiphanies. Our travels have certainly reinforced our belief that we have it very good in the States. It is not a perfect country, but it is also not a perfect world, and there are many out there that are suffering and challenged on a level that we cannot even consider in the States – even with some of our challenges there. This is certainly not a new revelation, but one we will continue to reflect upon.
Are you coming home? We think so:>
What do you think about the Presidential election? Do you think Trump has a chance of winning? This is probably our least favorite question. It is very often asked and often delivered with a smirk. We used to laugh it off. While we have not be in the States for the last 10 months, we both have been following the election closely. 10 months ago, we did not think Trump had a chance of being the Republican Presidential Nominee. The fact that an individual who is so crass, inarticulate, lacking details on plans and any experience with public service, no military experience and a questionable business record has attracted so many followers back in the States and has gotten as far as he has is both perplexing and frightening. There certainly does not seem to be any rational supporters overseas that we have encountered during our travels.
Politics aside, it has been a fascinating trip so far – spending time with so many different people with varied backgrounds, cultures, languages, and perspectives. Most have been great, but we have certainly met some characters as well. My personal favorite question is the question about spending so much time with your partner and my least favorite is about the Presidential election.
We are still together and having a ball! Stay tuned for more!