100 Days: What Surprised Us Most
We've been on the road for 100 days now. In some ways, our time in Washington DC feels like a lifetime ago, and in some ways it feels like we've only just embarked. We mentally and financially prepared for this year for a while--more on that to come! In the meantime, as someone who notoriously loves to plan, I've learned there's too many things you simply can't plan for. And we've come to embrace the unknowns. Here's an unfiltered, raw truth on what's surprised us most thus far:
1) Don't Prebook
You don't need to book accommodations too far in advance. Or flights for that matter. We typically book accommodations a week in advance. The most competitive place to find housing was New Zealand, but we were totally fine. Since there's two of us, when we stay in hostels we have to pay for two beds. Financially, it makes sense for us to either get a private room in a hostel, but now that we're in Southeast Asia, we've been strictly doing airbnb. For lodging we use three sites: Airbnb, Agoda, and Hostelworld. For flights, we use Skyskanner. If we really don't have an agenda, on the Skyskanner site, in the "to" category, you can "click here to search everywhere." This finds the cheapest flights from your location. We did this for Denpasar, Bali to Hanoi, Vietnam. We've found it exceptionally easy to find accommodations only a week in advance.
2) Minimalism Isn't Hard
We really don't need much. Three tank tops and two summer dresses are my rotation. It's easy to wear the same thing everyday, and mitigates any stress of deciding what to wear each morning. We haven't had any issues doing laundry at local laundromats or in our apartment, if we're lucky. The only item we've purchased is more underwear. Along the way, we've supplemented toiletries (shampoo, toothpaste, etc.) A pro tip in Southeast Asia, make sure the face wash, face lotion and sunscreen doesn't have skin whitening in it. This is a popular phenomenon and can be confusing when the ingredients aren't explicitly in English.
3) Slow Travel is Everything
I thought I'd want to see as many places as possible. And I do. But what I appreciate above all else is slow playing it. We try to stay in a place for a week. We have an unsaid mantra that we won't stay in a location less than three nights. The most expensive part of traveling is moving around, not to mention, the most exhausting. Moreover, the longer you stay in a location, the deeper you can immerse yourself in the culture.
4) Homesickness and Smelly Showers
The only real time I've gotten homesick is when we've had a smelly shower. It's not full fledged homesickness, it's more of a pang for something familiar. Bathrooms in Southeast Asia are already...different. Hot water is limited, shower pressure is nonexistent, and you're lucky if there's anything dividing the shower from the toilet. Bathrooms in apartments and hotels are just one big room. You also don't throw toilet paper in the toilet. While we gotten accustomed to the differences, two specific showers in Bali and Vietnam literally smelled like onions. I really missed the jet engine shower we had in our apartment in Arlington.
The U.S. is so behind with healthcare. We know this, but it's never been more evident than seeing the ease of how other countries cover their own citizens. In full disclosure, I had a health mishap in New Zealand. It lingered for a month, but finally did clear up. I will say, I went through a series of tests, and it could not have been more straight forward. The doctors wanted to help me. In fact, when I left Dunedin, that doctor stayed in touch as a consultant for me on his own accord. And same went for the doctor in Melbourne, checking in on me via email. I felt totally taken care of in a way I've never truly felt in the States. That being said, we use World Nomads for travelers insurance and I highly recommend them for longterm travel.
6) We're Unoriginal
We've met so many young couples traveling in the same capacity as us. In fact, I remember being in France last summer for a wedding and excitedly outlining our year away. A French guest responded, "Oh, everyone's doing that." I felt so deflated. But she was right. Although I was never exposed to this longterm type of travel growing up, apparently much of Europe was. Albeit a generalization, Americans simply do not get the same vacation time that so many Europeans and Australians enjoy. The work/life balance in the States doesn't compare. Although it could be perceived as radical to leave the safety net of our home and our jobs, we've found that on the road, the concept of traveling is completely normalized.
7) Make a Home
There are so many proverbs on home. Home is where the heart is. I'm at home as long as I'm with you. These cliches warrant an eye roll, but also hold some truth. Once we unpack our packs, it becomes home. I think airbnb helps with this tremendously. Especially when we have our own kitchen to create our own morning routine. Even after two nights in a new location, when we walk in the door after a long day, I take a deep breath and say it feels nice to be home.
8) Items We Like
There are some things that seem so obvious that we don't have. Why have we never used an electric kettle before? Why don't American showers have removable shower heads? While such everyday items are ubiquitous abroad, they are foreign to us at home. I can assure you our next home will have both an electric kettle and a removable shower head.
We drink a ton of water. We know this about ourselves. But when you quantify how much water we drink in bottles, it's mind boggling. As such, we do try to use reusable bottles as much as possible. The plastic pollution in Bali was particularly devastating. Thailand, however, has water purifying machines that are fantastic. Despite it all, I didn't realize how much I took for granted unlimited access to clean drinking water.
10) Other Travelers
We've met fellow travelers from the same places. Mostly from Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. They are out in the masses. We've concluded they're either more likely to have the resources to travel or they've got it all figured out. We've met more Canadians than Americans. A fair amount of Australians. But the Swiss! So many. I did not know that they speak Swiss-German, in which there is no written language.
11) Time Flies
It's nearly impossible to comprehend that we have less than a month left in Southeast Asia. It's crushing, really. Prior to leaving for the trip, when people asked if I had was nervous, I honestly responded, "only nervous that the year will go by too fast." And that's the truth. I foresaw the days merging, the memories bleeding together. Yet, I couldn't predict the degree that time flies.
12) Television Detox
We haven't watched a single TV show or movie since we left. And we don't miss it at all. In DC after dinner, we'd typically watch a show or two together on Netflix. It was part of our nightly routine. Maybe a movie on Friday or Saturday night. But once we removed the temptation of TV as a way to unplug, we've enjoyed less screen time. It's really nice. We talk about not having a TV when we move back. We'll see what happens.
13) American Politics
Will and I were inherently tied to the political realm in DC. Thus, following politics was kind of like breathing air for us. Second nature and everywhere. What I didn't realize is how closely other nations follow American politics. One Swiss couple we met told us their news consists of their weather, and then American politics. Spoiler alert: We haven't met one person abroad who supports Trump and they too are still baffled on how he got elected.
14) Things Work Out
Quite simply, everything tends to work out. We've been in situations where there appeared to be no easy way out. And yet, we were pleasantly surprised each time. In New Zealand, we booked an airbnb and they weren't prepared for us. It was late, we had a long day of driving, and we just wanted to crash. The place looked like it was in shambles. But the young guys who lived there quickly cleaned up and made it work. The following morning, we had one of the most meaningful heart to hearts with them and chatted for hours. It's one of my favorite memories. Or, when we got on the wrong bus departing Cat Ba and had to catch a flight that evening. Ultimately, the bus dropped us off near the airport and arranged a taxi to drive us the rest of the way, free of charge. We've experienced countless of these situations. Maybe we're lucky, or maybe once I stop stressing, it's far easier to go with the flow.
15) Mexican Food
When we crave familiar food, all we really crave is Mexican. I made chipotle bowls more often than not at home for dinner at home. Will says it's the only way he can get, and I quote, sustenance. There's typically one token Mexican restaurant in cities we've visited. Perhaps it's nostalgia, or perhaps we just enjoy it. Interpretation of American food can be questionable. But we can usually find a decent Mexican eatery that, at the very least, satisfies a craving.
16) Ready to Settle
I love traveling. Will and I often question, in jest, how we're ever going to go back to reality. But honestly, by the end of this year, I think I'll be ready for our next adventure. We're growing and challenging ourselves. It's an addictive feeling. It's inspiring. I'm by no means ready now, but after several more months, I'm looking forward to applying what we've learned to our next undertaking together. I always said this year is a calculated spontaneity. When we talk about our future, I'm grateful we were on the same page about not quite being ready to settle in DC.
Chopsticks are easy. I actually prefer eating with them. But had no idea they didn't know they don't use them in Bali. As in, avoid asking for chopsticks in Bali and looking foolish. One of the only souvenirs I've purchased for myself was a set of chopsticks in Vietnam, which I shipped home.
18) Racial Diversity
When people see me and Will, most automatically assume we're American. I think it's largely because we're an interracial couple. Many Asian travelers are fascinated by Will's appearance and several have asked to take pictures with him. In New Zealand, one airbnb host said that Will looked like a Hollywood movie star. Another said they never do this, but asked to take a picture of us together. We often talk about how there's a lack of exposure to racial diversity in many of the places we've visited.
19) Checking Bags
I always viewed checking bags as the enemy. It was for those who bring to much baggage. It was for amateurs. Our packs weigh roughly 25 pounds--mine heavier than Will's. They are technically carryon size. However, we've been taking small Asian airlines with big baggage fees. Tigerair, VietJet, AirAsia. The first time we tried to do carryon for a small flight, we were slammed with a 100 dollar fee at the gate since our bags were over 15 pounds. Lesson learned. Now, we always pay ahead of time to check our bags when we book our flights online. It's usually less than ten dollars and totally worth it. Baggage claim has been a breeze and it's actually nice not lugging our bags around the airport.
We have a lot of time to reflect. On strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. Overall, what we want to work on. Above all, how to live in the present. I'm surprised by how quickly I learned to appreciate living in the moment once I left the confines of my comfort zone.