30 Jun

Settled…But Not

I had always said that, although a year seemed like a long time to be away, a year would pass anyway whether we did it or not. Now people see me and exclaim how quickly it seems to have gone by. Quickly indeed. We’ve been back home for more than a month now and we are settled in. Our routines have re-established themselves and that big, long year seems like just the blink of an eye.

It is almost two years since we tipped our hand to family and friends letting them know of our, until then, secret plan to put our jobs on hold, sell our house and car, and travel the world for a year. As I think about it, I can feel again the anxiety and nervousness I felt then…unsure of how people would react, scared that no-one would approve, worried that we wouldn’t be strong enough to see it through.

What a difference two years can make. I now feel strangely confident, strong and powerful…like I can do anything. I think success does that to a person – it finds a hole in self doubt and instead instills a sense of power. I’m slowly realizing what I might be capable of and, although it scares me, I am excited by the possibilities.

I have felt a mix of emotions in the past two (and a bit) weeks. Contentment, excitement, sadness, optimism, pride. I feel settled…and unsettled. I seem to be more emotional now than I was before. I was sitting at my desk one day listening to all that was going on around me and suddenly I felt like crying. There didn’t seem to be any reason for my sudden sensitivity – I wasn’t thinking about travel, or being home, or anything really – I just suddenly welled up with tears. I find myself on the verge of tears more often now than I did before. TV commercials, magazine articles, news stories…all seem to affect me, it’s weird.

I don’t think it’s because I’m sad the trip is over – I was ready to come home when we did. Maybe I’m sad that the adventure is over. Every day was different while traveling and new challenges were constantly presented. The tasks, such as getting dinner or finding a room, may have repeated themselves but the logistics around them were always different – we were always in a new city and often didn’t speak the language. Every day was an adventure and that is not the case any longer.

And so I feel settled…and yet not settled all at the same time.

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Mini TBEX

The Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX) got it start in early 2009 as a place for travel bloggers and writers to meet and support each other. There are now almost 3000 members sharing their stories, experiences, photos and blog addresses. It’s a great place to get answers to all kinds of travel, writing and blogging questions and to join groups with wide and varied interests.

This weekend the 2nd annual TBEX conference was held in New York City. I didn’t attend this year…but maybe one year I will be able to. It would be a great opportunity to connect up with follow bloggers, hear talks given by more successful bloggers, and generally mix and mingle with people who do amazing things.

P1110323 We held our own Mini TBEX conference this weekend in Victoria. Granted, it was small with only OneGiantStep, ForksAndJets and ProjectRunaway in attendance but we had a wonderful time sampling local beer, eating fabulous food and laughing the weekend away. We and Lisa (from ProjectRunaway) live here and were happy to host Jeremy and Eva. They were on their Home Is Where The Hops Are tour and we did our best to showcase our local beer culture while still trying to preserve our livers. It was great to meet people that we have been following on line, talk about travel and places we have all visited, and discuss what it’s like to come home. I’m sure the NYC TBEX was this, and more, on a much grander scale…but we did pretty okay.

18 Jun

What We Carried Around The World

As we unpacked our packs for the last time a few weeks ago I realized how many of the items in there had stood the test of time and had earned their passage on our RTW journey. There were also a few new things we had picked up along the way and I quietly chuckled as I remembered those items that were ‘voted off the island’ and did not make the round trip.

Making the packing list was one of the most stressful parts of planning to leave. I read tons of blogs and referred to their lists endlessly, worried about packing too much or too little. When I finally posted our almost final version almost all the comments stated that perhaps we were over packing. They were right. Here’s a look at some of what worked, and what didn’t.

How We Carried It All

Loaded Up and Ready to Go Choosing our packs was a big decision and, luckily, we were happy with our choices for the whole trip. J’s Osprey WayPoint 60 was a winner. He would stuff it jam packed and it always looked like a nice, compact package because the compression straps on it pulled everything together. My MEC Pangea 60 looked a little sloppier, but I loved all the pockets in the interior! Everything had a place and I always knew where to look for what I wanted. The straps at the bottom of the pack were perfect for carrying my small sleeping bag.

Inside we used packing cubes to keep it all organized. I labeled mine so I could easily identify what was inside then I could quickly find whatever I was looking for and just pull out the one cube rather than unpacking the whole bag. We used two of these for toiletries rather than a single, bulky toiletry bag. There was never any arguing over who would carry the heavy toiletry bag – it was always evenly distributed between the two of us.

I used the daypack that came with the pack and found it to be more than enough. It didn’t look very big but I managed to keep all I needed in it – I even used it for a couple of multi-day treks. J’s daypack was bigger so he took care of all the electronics (which we never kept in our big packs). We did find though that we wanted something a little less ‘backpackery’ for running around cities and towns and so we found a messenger bag that worked really well. We then used it as the main around-town daypack and it packed nicely onto the outside of J’s big pack for long haul travel.

What We Wore

Whittling a regular wardrobe down to a traveling wardrobe is difficult. It’s hard not to pack too many clothes. There are countless situations that can be imagined where this item, or that item are absolutely necessary and so must be packed. We did our best and, even though we left many items behind in hostel rooms, other pieces were worth their weight in gold.

Despite what was packed in the bags, we wore the same clothes over and over and over and over again. Just like home we gravitated to our favorites and other pieces made their way to the bottom of the pack and were seldom worn – these were eventually left behind. In the cooler climates we layered clothes to stay warm and, once we hit the heat, we picked up some lighter weight clothes to stay cool.

Some pieces were just bad ideas from the start. We packed running shoes and running clothes but didn’t run enough to keep them so we sent them home before leaving South America. I had packed some shoes for going out in but soon realized that even when we were going out the shoes looked funny with my quickly fading clothes and so I never wore them and eventually sent them home too.

Keeping Neat And Clean

We kept our personal care items to a minimum. Shampoos and moisturizers and lotions and potions are all very heavy and can take up a lot of space. We used shampoo for every cleaning need (body, hair, shaving, laundry, dishes), I packed only face powder and lip gloss for makeup (and hardly ever used either), we had only one small tube of moisturizer and we shared deodorant (always trying to find one that didn’t smell too ‘girlie’ or ‘boyie’). My routine has always been fairly fuss-free but this took it to a whole new level! It did show me though that I don’t need all those products to be clean and look good – our bathroom cabinets at home now are much emptier than they were before we left.

A note about feminine hygiene. I was able to find everything I needed everywhere we went. I had to be prepared, and public facilities abroad are not what they are here at home but I never had any trouble finding what I needed – supplies are easy to find, and not expensive, in any large town or city.

The Medicine Cabinet

We packed our traveling medicine cabinet to take care of any ailments that we normally treat at home – with a few exceptions. We carried all the normal pain relief, decongestant, antihistamine, anti-diarrhea and ‘can’t sleep’ medication plus some antibiotics ‘just in case’.

I agonized over anti-malarial medication and ultimately decided that we would take only enough to cover our time in Laos.  Not everyone will agree with my decision but, based on my research and consultation with a travel nurse, it was where I felt the greatest risk was. In the end we saw so few mosquitoes that we did not take the medication (but were diligent in applying mosquito repellant at dusk when they would be evident).

We had one other complication to deal with in our medical bag. I have Crohn’s Disease and so had to carry enough medication for the whole year as I could not be sure that the medicine would be available, or reliable, in other countries. I packed it all in original containers with original labeling and carried a note from my doctor indicating my condition and explaining the need for the medication. The pills held up well in all the different climates and I was only ever asked about it once during a Provincial border check in Chile  – the pill vials showed up on an xray machine and the guards questioned what it all was. I explained that it was medication and they gave me no trouble.

Geek Stuff

The EEE PC we carried was fabulous!! We used it to write the blog, do research, watch movies, play games, track the budget, Skype home…it was indispensable. The size and weight made it travel friendly, it withstood all the bumping and abuse, and the battery life (6 hours!!) was amazing. Not having to spend time in internet cafes was totally worth it – we could do everything ‘offline’ and then upload once we were in a wifi zone again. One could travel the world without one…but I wouldn’t.

Our camera was a Panasonic Lumix point and shoot and worked well for us. Sure the pictures aren’t as nice as those from a digital SLR but then we weren’t lugging a huge camera around either. This one fit into the daybag nicely and could be easily carried. I have no complaints about the pictures I took – in fact my only complaint is that I didn’t take enough pictures. I should have taken more – more street scenes, more daily life, more special shots, more people pictures – all too often the unfamiliar became familiar, the strange became not-so-strange and the weird just seemed normal and I would forget that one day all this would be unfamiliar, strange and weird again and that I would want a picture of it! That’s my advice – take more pictures than you’ll ever think you’ll know what to do with.

The iPod didn’t get as much use as I would have thought. I used it when flying and once in a while to listen to music on a bus but, mostly I feel ‘tuned out’ when I have it on and so don’t like it – I prefer to hear what’s going on around me. We did use it (with an earphone splitter cable so we could both listen at the same time) to listen to podcasts on long bus rides.

The ‘Bits and Bats’

  • First Aid Kit. Didn’t use at all I don’t think…but good to have anyway.

  • Steripen. We were very good about sterilizing our own water for the first half of the trip. I didn’t trust it to clean Indian water and then I think we just got lazy and didn’t really use it after that.

  • Sleeping Bag. I used it quite often if I didn’t like the sheets (or none were provided) or if we needed just a little bit of extra warmth. It wasn’t big enough for trekking – we rented bags for the treks we did.

  • Documents. We carried photocopies of our ID papers, passports, medical papers, insurance papers etc. We each carried a whole set of each others papers in case one bag was lost/stolen.

  • Ziplock Bags. The value of ziplock bags cannot be overemphasized!!

  • Cribbage/Backgammon Board. We played tons of games to pass the time. Often times people would gather to watch and we taught one or two people who to play – language barriers aside.

  • Books. Book exchanges were our friend. We carried four novels and just switched them out whenever possible. It’s amazing what I will read when there is no other choice.

  • Earplugs. There is always a crowing rooster and a barking dog. Enough said.

In the end, I think we did a pretty good job.  Sure there were items that should never have made it onto the original list – I know, I know…the ‘cute shoes’ – but not too many. Our packs were never over stuffed or over weight even on severely restrictive airlines in Asia…we saw plenty of people frantically weighing their bags and ‘repacking’ in the airport – we averaged about 14 kilos each. No packing list is ever going to be perfect but I think we did pretty okay. For a detailed look at what worked and what didn’t have a look here where I annotated the original list.

12 Jun

The Long, Long Weekend

P1110115 I returned to work this week. Admittedly, it’s been a slacker week – my supervisor and co-workers are fabulous and are easing me back into the reality they have been living while I’ve been gallivanting around the world. It felt, however, like I was just away for a long, long weekend.

I went to a meeting where a woman, who I had worked with often previously, kept glancing at me with a puzzled look. I could tell that she knew something was up but couldn’t put her finger on it. It wasn’t until someone else welcomed me back that she clued in to the fact that she had not seem me in over a year.

At first I felt like a little baby who knows nothing. I looked through documents and listened to conversations and was impressed by all the stuff I used to know. I knew a lot of stuff and had a tremendous amount of information available at the fingertips of my brain…I was smart!! It’s amazing how quickly one set of information can be usurped by another – how all the things I know about traveling will soon be supplanted by work again…I will be indoctrinated.

As the week wore on more and more of my memory returned and I found I could easily retrieve even small details from meetings and decisions made long ago. Next week it’s likely I’ll be expected to be a contributing member of the team again…I think I’m up to it.

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People have been asking how we are adjusting to being back home. It’s hard to answer without somehow feeling as though I am questioning the Great North American Ideal. I’m discombobulated by how un-discombobulated I am…how ‘the same’ everything is…work, shopping, working out, life…it’s all the same…like slipping on an old sock…like we’ve just been away for a long, long weekend. I’m bored with it and we’ve only been back a few weeks…how do I tell someone that? And what do I do about it? I don’t have the answer…yet, but know that I am not trying to be insulting; I’m just trying to figure it all out.

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I’m finding some aspects of daily life annoying. I am particularly annoyed by advertising, especially for those products that are trumpeted as must-haves if we are ever going to live a life of adventure, beauty or comfort. Wrinkle cream ads, home decorating magazines, Oprah…I seem to have no patience for anyone telling me that if-I-just-did-this or if-I-just-had-that I would be so much better off. I feel stripped down to the basics and, so far, I like it. I wonder if we wouldn’t all feel so much better about our lives if we weren’t constantly inundated with messages that tell us how much better it could all be ‘if only’.

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I’m trying to watch less TV than I did before we went away. Not for any high-and-mighty righteous reason other than I find that it can easily suck a lot of my time. I’m a natural procrastinator and, although I have embraced that fact in the last few years, I also don’t want to feed the procrastination addiction. Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of other ways to procrastinate and I think I’m creating new ones every day – but TV was a particularly bad one for me and so less is better.

There is plenty to do to keep me busy.

  • For one, there seems to be an expectation that I show up at work every day – that severely limits the time I have for other interests.

  • We read a lot while away and I would like to continue reading – not only novels but also non-fiction books and websites that challenge how I think and keep me moving forward.

  • Although I edited my pictures as we went and posted them on Flickr, I would like to do some kind of electronic scrapbook that I could have printed as a physical memento of our travels. I made a scrapbook of our Greece trip in 2004 and we often look through it to ‘remember when’. There are plenty of options available out there and I think I’ve narrowed it down to one that is a)free, and b)gives me some good editing options. I don’t need too many doodads and thing-a-ma-hickeys – just some photo collaging, interesting backgrounds and an ability to add stories. It’ll be a fun project and so, obviously, gets to the top of the to-do list pretty quickly and becomes a procrastination tool in its own right.

  • This American Life. I was turned on to this most interesting series by Dirk of MyMindsInk and have him to thank for relieving the boredom of many a long bus ride over the past year. The tales told are diverse, interesting, and entertaining. I’ve learned a lot about a variety of subjects and have had my interest piqued about many more. I want to keep listening to them but, while it was okay to listen to them while staring out a bus window for an hour, it feels funny to just sit on the couch listening and I find that I really can’t be doing anything else and pay attention to the storyline. Maybe I’ll listen while gardening or cooking or doing some other non-brain needing activity.

  • I’d like to keep OneGiantStep going and have some thoughts of a site redesign. That would mean re-learning how to do that and then actually doing it. I really enjoyed setting it up the first time though and think it will be fun again. I have some ideas of where I see it going but need to work further on the goals and vision around it. On that note, if anyone has any ideas, thoughts or suggestions regarding the site feel free to let me know. Tell me what you like, what you don’t and/or what you would see change or stay the same.

The return home continues to be an interesting ride. In some ways more interesting than the trip itsself – I think because travel challenged what I didn’t know about myself and coming home is challenging what I thought I knew about myself. I’ll keep you posted.

05 Jun

All Day, Every Day, All Year Long

Could you spend 24/7 with your partner for the next year? How about if you weren’t at home and were subjected to constant stress, unknown circumstances and outcomes beyond your control? No breaks, no ‘see-you-after-work’, no cool down period, no-one else to rely on. Although there were plenty of things we were worried about before our trip got underway, spending all our time together was not one of them.

We Like Each Other

After an Afternoon By The Pool, Colca Canyon We genuinely enjoy each others’ company and have tons of fun together – that can make all the difference in the world. We have similar interests and spend a lot of time together even at home so being with each other non stop was not something we had to get used to. There are plenty of times when spending so much time together that nerves can get frayed and patience tested – the fact we like each other makes us take a moment in these situations and stops us from saying things that can’t be taken back – I don’t want to hurt someone that I like this much.

Knowing What Is Priority #1

We are number 1 priority, the trip and everything else is number 2. We talked about this before we left and were very clear that if anything should go wrong between us we would return home to deal with it under more familiar circumstances. There would be no breaking up on the road for us – we’ve been together almost 12 years and consider ourselves to have a fabulous relationship – there is no way that traveling was going to come between us. In the end that is why we left India. We were miserable, not talking to each other and barely being civil – our decision to leave was about remembering Priority #1.

Set Up Task Responsibilities

We're Right Here...Bali Road Trip Jason is amazing at navigation. I have been thoroughly impressed by his ability to find our way around any number of cities, either on foot or on the myriad of confusing public transportation systems (Note to self: never piss off the one person in the whole world who can get you back home!). I check out all the accommodations on-line and do all the route planning. J took care of finding and booking all our flights, trains and buses while I managed all the pictures, writing the blog and keeping up on email. We each have our strengths and weaknesses and we used them to our advantage. We also didn’t duplicate tasks – we trusted that we would each do our job and so didn’t have to waste time checking up on each other. It’s a system that worked really well and we use it now that we’re home too.

Meet Other People

Koh San Rd Instobar Friends Being introverts, this one was hard for us but still important. Although we may not have met as many people as other travelers do, we did meet  some great people, had some good laughs, and learned a lot too. Some travelers eschew tours thinking of them as too ‘touristy’ but we thought of them as an easy way to learn about where we were and a great way to meet other people. While on a tour we would rarely be together – it was a great opportunity to chat with someone other than each other! We would almost immediately separate and start learning about the people we were with. Many times we would meet people who had been where we were planning on going and got some excellent recommendations of places to stay or sights to visit. Meeting other people and sharing stories also helped us to understand our ‘traveling selves’ a bit more too. Hearing about other travelers ups and downs showed us that our ups and downs were perfectly normal and helped us relax into it a whole lot more.

Agree On The Plan

We’re planners and so did a lot of research before we got underway. We left plenty of room and possibility for spontaneity and changing of plans but we pretty much stuck to the original plan. It would have been madness had  we not agreed on how we were going to travel, or where we were going to go, or what the expected budget would be. Things were easier for us when we had a plan. I know that’s not the case for everybody but we were less frustrated and uneasy when we knew what was coming up.

It’s Not Always Easy

We were not the same couple while traveling. We lost some of the ‘lightness’ and ‘playfulness’ that is part of who we are. The first three months were definitely the hardest, while we were still figuring out who we were on the road. There certainly were times when we were ripping our hair out with frustration over the seemingly tiniest things. Sometimes we were just ‘done’ with each other and there was nowhere else to turn. We would just have to let it simmer for a while and wait it out. It’s not like at home where there is a chance to get some distance by going to work, or the gym or seeing friends and using the time to gain some perspective on the situation. On the road it really is 24/7. It did get easier though and we find that now that we are home we have returned to our normal selves.

But It’s A Lot Of Fun!

Full Moon Bucket There is nothing like traveling around the world with a best friend. The giggles and the laughs, the knowing glances, the inside jokes, the endless games of cribbage and backgammon…having someone to keep me warm or tell me how cute I am even though I’m wearing the same outfit for the 276th day in a row and haven’t showered in 5 days…the memories we will share with each other forever. It was totally worth it!

We are lucky to have had a chance like this. We still love each other tremendously and have learned how much farther we can go together.