Friday, March 1, 2013

Six Months

HomeSweetHome
It’s been six months since we packed up our Subaru, waved goodbye to our house, parents, and our little dog, and set out on our road trip across America—the first leg of our around the world tour.  My how time flies.

By the Numbers

In the last six months we’ve:
traveled to 14 countries
76 Cities (probably a low estimate, actually)
Had 2 falls (both Lana)
Been sick 3 times (once David, twice Lana)
Been sunburned twice (one each, David badly)
2 visits to urgent care (one each)
Navigated 2 complicated and stressful immigration/visa procedures (Bolivia and Vietnam)
Taken over 16,000 pictures occupying 236 GB worth of disk space
Posted 111 blog entries, and 1500 pictures
Used up two pens while filling up five journals (80 pages each)
Rented 6 different cars (Chile, Los Angeles, New Zealand, Melbourne, Perth, and Cairns)
Suffered several gear failures: two memory cards, one card reader, two pair sunglasses (both Lana), pair of jandals, and one shirt

Lessons Learned

Along the way, we’ve learned a lot about the world, and a couple of things about ourselves. We’re still figuring out a good balance for travel speed, between breadth of experience and depth (which goes with enjoyment). It’s easy to get caught up in what you haven’t been able to see, and regretting missing the amazing things other travelers tell you about. But we have learned that traveling the world doesn’t mean that you have to see the ENTIRE world.  And it’s easier to enjoy the experiences you’re having when you slow down and focus on them rather than what you’re going to do next. We’ve said this before, and we still mean it, but it’s a lesson we keep relearning as we go. Here in Vietnam we have the unplanned time and space to just play it by ear.  We didn’t have a lot of preconceived “must dos” so it’s much easier to figure out what we want to do as we go along. There is still some stress involved in a wide open itinerary, but it’s much, much less than it was six months ago.
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We’ve fallen into some default roles; Lana is the travel agent (researching hotels and destinations), and David is the secretary (taking notes, documentary pictures, etc.).  We rely on each other for support in those tasks, but the roles reflect our nature, and we’ve found playing to our strengths has worked very well.
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Things We Miss

We miss our friends and family.  We’ve been able to video chat with our parents on a semi-regular basis (internet willing), which has been fantastic.  It’s not the same as sitting down to a meal together, or playing cards, or getting Mom Hugs. The time difference has been increasingly challenging as we move further west, but we’re so lucky to be able to see them and talk to them.

This little pill:
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She’s routinely held up to the camera during video chats, but apparently dogs don’t do Skype, so it’s more of a drive by.  It may be true that on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog, but dogs don’t know who you are when you’re on the internet.  We need a web camera with smell.  On second thought, that’s a bad idea.

We miss the incidental chatting that happens when you talk about how your weekends went.  Email and IM have been great for staying in touch, but it’s not quite the same.  We miss laughing with friends.
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We miss exercise.  We try to run as often as we can, and we walk extensively, but we’ve found it challenging to get consistent exercise.  To some extent, we’re limited by our noses—we don’t want to pack manky, sweat-sodden running clothes into our bags, so we try to run right before we can do laundry, but the two don’t always line up, and even if they did, that’s not often enough.

Things That Are Still Challenging

Lana:  Surprisingly enough, I find I miss some routine. I miss marathon training. I miss being able to control what I eat, and when I eat.  I worked really hard to lose a significant amount of weight a few years ago, and I did that largely through being in control of my surroundings—which I no longer have. While my clothes still fit me (for now, at least), the struggle with trying to travel long term and maintain a healthy lifestyle is ongoing. Thankfully we’ve left the land of wonderful ice cream, so we should be getting better at this!  I also struggle with the financial aspects of this trip—how much money we’re spending, if we’re going to have enough, if we’re getting a good deal.

David:  The only significant challenge I’m finding, is trying to find ways to reduce the stress that Lana feels over the never-ending travel planning/accommodation treadmill.  Otherwise, the trip is all fun, all the time.

Things That Have Surprised Us

We’re continue to be in awe of how much of tourism is actually just buying stuff.
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Whether it’s forced on you by touts, or gently suggested by the MOMA gift shop, or, say, the entire city of Singapore, it’s all about the stuff you simply must take home. Maybe we’ve noticed this because we just have no room to put anything unless we pitch something else, but it gets on our nerves after a while.  Lana was always one to want something to remember vacations by when we were back home (usually something useful rather than decorative), but we’re not exactly on vacation, and there is little chance that we’ll need a fridge magnet to remember this trip. After all, we have over 16,000 photos. And we have this little blog, too.

When we changed up the design for the blog a while back, people admonished us not to worry about the blog, just go and see more/do more/enjoy more. And while we appreciate the sentiment, we’re frustrated by the limitations of sharing this experience with others. There are so many times when we see something amazing and spectacular, or small and trivial, and we wish we could point it out to someone we know. We’re always saying “XX would love this.” There are stories we have that are better told over a cup of tea than in a blog. They require hand gestures and accents.  Nevertheless we enjoy keeping in contact and up to date with everyone. We’re doing our best here because we love being able to document our trip, and because (just like the postcards say) we really, really wish you were here.

Lana: There’s another thing that was unexpected, and that is that despite the fact that we’ve been together for 13 years and married for 11, I feel like we’re getting to know each other better as our travels go on.  Being in sight of each other for nearly every hour of the day might be too much for some couples (and we worried a bit that it would be for us too), but it hasn’t been the case for us. We talk, we joke, we giggle. We also bicker when things aren’t going well. But then again we did that at home. In loosening the vice grips of our daily lives, work stress and house stress have melted away and we see each other better, with all that gone.
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David:  I’m a little surprised by how unchallenging food has been, in general.  I’ve learned how to say “without onions” in several languages, but I’ve also discovered that onions are present in much, much lower quantities in most regional dishes, outside the US.  The guidebooks have dire predictions in the “cut it, wash it, boil it, peel it” mantra, and we haven’t been eating food out of the gutter (or chicken in Bolivia), but we haven’t had any major food problems.  And it would be a shame to miss all the amazing, local fruit.  We’ve had relatively few mediocre meals, and most of those have been when we tried to play it safe.

Char siew pork, and black pepper sauce chicken with noodles:
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This last six months certainly hasn’t been easy, but it's been an adventure. We’re also convinced that this was the right thing for us right now, and we can’t wait to see what the next six months will hold. We hope you keep following along on our adventures!
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