The end of February officially marks the end of our first three months of travel and I thought it would be a good opportunity to pause, reflect and take a deeper look at how we managed this whole location independence thing. As a corporate-minded individual, it has been ingrained to always set goals, benchmark performance, analyze how the prior quarter finished and determine ways to improve moving forward. So as we wrap up our first “quarter” abroad, I think it is time to take a look back.
For me, selling our house, quitting my job and leaving so quickly almost made it easier. No time to overthink, second-guess or talk myself out of it, it was easier to get caught up in the inertia of the decision and subsequent actions than to digest how significant this decision was. So after three months of being away from the normal every day life, I feel I have a much clearer perspective on what lead to this drastic life choice and how we are settling in.
Balancing the plan, or lack thereof
If you read our earlier post on intentionally not planning too much and being flexible, you will know that we left with only a one-way ticket and one week’s accommodations. Now, having been to four countries, taken multiple flights, buses, ferries, tuk-tuks and trains, moving from city to city every few days, I now can appreciate balance. By balance, I am referring to planning far enough in advance that you can secure the cheap flights and near sold-out rooms but be flexible enough to extend or shorten any particular leg of the trip.
To speak to this directly, we have made a couple last minute decisions to extend our stay in one place and that changed the remainder of the month. Cat Ba Island, Vietnam was the first example; we extended our four-night stay to eight nights because we just loved the peaceful, magical vibe of the island. In Kampot, Cambodia we also added an extra day on because there were a few things we had left to see and would regret leaving too soon. Most recently, we had planned some island hopping in Southern Thailand, we were planning to go from Koh Lanta to Phi Phi and then on to Railay but we fell in love with Koh Lanta and were not ready to say goodbye so, instead of visiting Phi Phi, we opted to extend our stay in Koh Lanta two more nights.
This shows how flexibility can really enhance your travel experience and really eliminate a lot of headaches trying to change things around last minute but, like I stated above, balance is crucial. As we get more comfortable in this roll with it mentality, we tend to be a little lax on solidifying any actual plans which can backfire. There has been a couple times where we learned that thinking about booking something and actually booking something are very different. We missed taking a sold-out train because we did not book far enough in advance. We had to scrounge late the night before visiting Angkor Wat to book a tuk-tuk driver to show us the sights. We have missed out on a few reduced priced flights because we didn’t book enough in advance. So fortunate for us, none of these have been catastrophic by any means, but it is good to keep in mind that some planning will make for a smoother and cheaper travel experience.
Settle down or keep exploring
In the long-term travel community, this is a hot topic so I want to shed some light on what I have found to be the case personally. When Devin and I first start to plan what destination is next, the first question is always “how long to stay in each place” and this is a very hard and personal answer because no two people will 100% agree on how they prefer to travel. Some travelers prefer to settle down in one place for longer periods of time, get to know that place thoroughly and get more entrenched in the culture and others prefer to see the highlights of certain places, hit all the “must-see” spots and move on. The only thing I can say for sure, there is no wrong way to travel!
I feel extremely fortunate to have a travel (and life) partner that is equally as adventurous and doesn’t mind how exhausting it can be to always be exploring new places, trying new foods and wanting to see as much as possible each day. So together we are able to agree on whether we want to stay in a place for a week (eight nights has been our longest in one place) or just a couple of days. To be honest, our decisions are often cost-driven but we make sure to never miss out on an experience or destination because of cost. It is very important to both of us that we are honest about what are “non-negotiables” and if we have to tighten up the budget elsewhere to be able to afford those, we are both completely understanding.
Another important aspect that often gets overlooked is our preference for non-touristy experiences. It may seem counterintuitive since we are hitting all the “tourist destinations” but there are ways in to experience an authentic, local lifestyle in each particular tourist hot-spot. Our preference for eating at street food vendors with the locals, having no clue how to order or what we are eating is a major part of our travel experience. We rarely eat at restaurants and when we do it is out of desperation, not choice. Transportation is another big one for us, we love taking the local buses, trains, tuk-tuks, songthaews and motorbikes! In three months we have only taken one taxi (we do rely on uber or grab to/from airports though).
It is quite interesting to see that every little decision made over a course of three months can completely change the trajectory of your journey. I am so happy with how adventurous we have been, how fun it is to try new things and risk looking like a complete idiot but at the end of the day those are the stories we have to share. As Devin (and Ed) would say “it’s all part of the experience”!
Financials – mo money mo problems…..right?
Unfortunately for us, this quarter we are strictly in the red – a lot of money going out and zero coming in! Normally, this would stress the daylights out of me but we managed our expectations coming into this that neither of us may work and that is okay. If we find remote work, great it is a bonus that we weren’t necessarily relying on. Coming into it seemed promising as Devin landed a sweet internship that had compensation tied to completing the three-month program; however, those promises were empty. Devin came away with great experience and is glad he participated but he knew it was time to move on a find a paid position elsewhere (which he did!!). I am still looking for my dream part-time, 100% remote job but trying hard not to stress about it and enjoying the freedom while it lasts.
In terms of day-to-day spending, Devin has written a post on the breakdown of specifically where our money is going, but I will speak to it from a broader perspective. It is amazing how quickly you adjust to everything being so inexpensive and how cheap you become in the grand scheme of things. We quickly realized we were being ridiculously stingy on food, drinks etc. when it was the cheapest in Vietnam so we gave ourselves “permission” to spend a tad bit more without having a major impact to our overall budget. When you have been traveling for this length of time, sometimes the small splurges make a huge difference!
An example is coffee shops, previously on our travels, we would’ve had a stroke paying café prices but once you realize that you can spend an entire day in an air-conditioned, trendy and comfortable café it is worth every penny. This is true quite often when we need to crank out work or blog and we want to get out of our non-air conditioned room. So spending that extra $1-$2 seems well worth it.
There are a couple of other concessions we have made for saving a few dollars and some we are not sure if we would do again. At the beginning of our trip having A/C was non-negotiable. Most of the climates we have been in for the past three months are upwards of 30C / 90F and humid! However in a lot places we have stayed, that luxury comes with a hefty price – rooms with A/C are double the cost. So we have made it through most of Cambodia and Thailand with a single fan and we have acclimated quite well. Another example is shared bathrooms, definitely not something I would chose but if it is only a night or two, it is no problem.
I also wanted to point something out in case people are confused by the amount of beer we are consuming and thinking how expensive that must be. Well, to be completely honest, most of the times we are drinking beer it is usually because it is the cheapest drink on the menu (sorry not sorry). It is not that we are in 24×7 party mode; it is that we just need to buy something to be able to sit at certain establishments so we end up having a few $.50 beers!
I do not want this to be a preachy topic so I am going to just keep it short and sweet. At first, I found it very hard to ditch the “we’re on vacation” mindset. Everything feels as though we are just on an extended holiday, without a regular routine or access to a gym I was finding it very easy to push off exercise. That quickly ended and thankfully we have both decided it is best to incorporate a workout in our new routine.
With the amount of walking we have been doing and the pools of sweat dripping off of us all day, we were both starting to lean out and lose muscle mass so that’s why we decided we needed to do some strength training. Lucky for me (not), Devin loves CrossFit-based workouts so we have been working through some travel WODs he found online. A good mix of running, lower body, upper body and core, we are already feeling good and muscle is starting to rebuild. This particular program is 75 workouts total, 3 days on, 1 day off so we are trying to complete it in 100 days. We started this new regiment February 7 and have completed 17 workouts. Without any equipment or access to a gym, we have to get quite creative with our WODs, it is not unusual for monks to be walking by us doing handstand pushups, women running over and taking pictures of us or local men joining in!
So, my only piece of advice for long-term travelers is to maintain. No need to expend huge amounts of energy or take time away from other activities, but do be sure not to neglect those precious muscles you spent so long building before you left. We are not winning any bikini contests but we want to be sure we have the strength and endurance to tackle the hikes, stair climbs and 20+ km walking days.
Two peas, one pod
Quite literally, Devin and I have spent the past 2156 hours together, side by side. The only time we have spent apart since traveling was when Devin played in a poker game for four hours while I was sick. Me being the independent person I am and Devin being the introvert who needs time to himself, I would have never imagined this working so beautifully.
I have been thinking a lot about how and why it works so well because I thought surely the stress, exhaustion, financial stress or homesickness would play some role in a massive blow out but so far, so good. My best guess is that the dynamic of the relationship shifts significantly from normal life and forces you to adopt the “we’re in this together” mentality whether it is a conscious decision or not. There are times when circumstances are completely out of our control, when everything is going wrong and the only thing you can do is laugh. There have been times in a previous life where I would have cried, panicked and deflected my stress on anyone in an arm’s reach but knowing that Devin and I are in this together, forever, we are able to tackle whatever challenge gets thrown at us.
The long-term travel life feels more like continuous problem solving challenges, scavenger hunts and the amazing race than real life so I guess we have just been able to hold on to each other, close our eyes and enjoy the ride!