What comes to your mind when you hear the phrase “trip around the world”? Most people think about being “magically whisked away” from home, coasting away from country to country, sampling all different types of amazing cuisine, sharing a bottle of cabernet on cute restaurant patios, hiking through majestic mountains, experiencing dancing and singing from the native people, and “romantically” strolling down cute roads in foreign cities. You’d imagine yourself thinking about the freedom of not having to work, the independence of being on your own, and all the fun you’d encounter along the way.
Now… these ARE all things you most likely would experience in your travels. And most of everything you would envision and daydream about would all be pretty “romantic”—and I’m not talking about the boy-and-girl type “romantic” (although that CAN be included in the daydreams as well)– I’m talking about the whole “romanticism” put into thoughts of travel and amazing experiences. It all seems like one, big, romantic adventure. Right?
But here’s the truth: Along with the amazing and “romantic” adventures come many “travel woes.” How many times have you gone on a trip and your flight was delayed? Missed a connection. Luggage got lost. Car broke down. Rain plagued your whole trip and you didn’t get to do as many outdoor activities as you planned. You got sea sick. Kids threw a tantrum (or twenty). You got lost in a foreign city and couldn’t find help. Couldn’t read the menu because it was in another language and ordered duck feet. Your hotel room turns out to be a lot more dirty and gross than you expected. Got food poisoning. Wanted to go home.
Oh… the joys of TRAVELING. Now multiply that by 10… or more, and you got yourself a round-the-world trip!
That’s why you just have to “roll with the punches” because most of the time, that’s all you really CAN do. And if you let all these struggles “defeat” you completely, then you kind of just lose the will to keep going.
But so far… yea, we’ve run into a few situations that have been not-so-great and kind of leave you hating life for the day! On one of our main travel days in Tahiti, we totally got caught in the POURING POURING rain for hours and had to walk with all of our luggage through the streets, then sit soaked on a hot and sweaty bus, just to arrive at our hotel and be told we couldn’t get into our room for several hours! Then, after a 33-hour day of traveling from Tahiti, sweaty and GROSS in our clothes, our luggage was lost when we arrived in Tokyo, and we had to sleep that night in our travel-scum-covered-clothing and then also wear them the next day throughout the city (not to mention we didn’t have any toiletries either). But the WORST so far has to be last week in Guilin, China, where I unfortunately got a bout of stomach sickness on the day we paid to do a tour of these supposedly amazing rice terraces, were hiking up a mountain, with the only option for bathrooms being some really dirty, DISGUSTING, wet, and smelly hole-in-the-floor toilets
with no toilet paper (fortunately, we had some kleenex, though.) And to top it off, the whole point of doing this particular tour was for the amazing and scenic views…. but it was rainy and foggy that day, and by the time we finally got to the damn top (I was determined to make it, despite my damn stomach!!) it was SO FOGGY you could barely see five feet in front of your face! Ugh… lovely lovely day!
Anyway… again, that’s why you just need to “roll with the punches” when traveling!
Besides the occasional unfortunate travel woes we have faced, we also discovered that traveling on a longer-term basis through many different cities and countries can REALLY take a toll on you mentally and physically. What we hadn’t anticipated was just the extreme amount of time and exhaustion that is spent going from place to place. New city after new city. New language after new language. Trying to acquaint yourself to a new neighborhood 1-3 times per week. Take that normal vacation you go on every other year where you research for two or more months what resort to go to, shows to see, and things to do . . . and think about doing that same process week after week after week in a new place. It becomes a bit exhausting and you start to yearn for ROUTINE, for normalcy, for something FAMILIAR. It’s hard. It’s all fun along the way and very educational… but it’s hard.
This has been our routine for the past two months of traveling:
1. OK, right now we are in ________(city), and we’re planning to go to ________(city) next. What day should we go there? Are we on schedule and on budget for our overall travel plan? **It is also good to check into local country holidays . . . we already had some problems with booking accommodations in Japan due to the VERY popular Cherry Blossom season, and have based our travels in China (train AND hotel availability) around this week’s 3-day Labor Day holiday (April 29-May 1.)
2. Possibly spend a lot of time online trying to figure out the best route to visit the next city and the city after that. What does the weather look like in possible city options?
3. Look online for hostels in the next city to see what is available. Most important requirements for us: do they have a private room? Does the hostel have a kitchen (or refrigerator, if it’s a hotel), free internet, and laundry facilities? Look into hotel options if there aren’t many hostels or if there might be better hotel options with regards to location, cleanliness, etc. Spend around 30 minutes to two hours looking at reviews and the location of the hostels/hotels. **Reviews are most important to selecting a good hostel!!
4. How can we get to this next city? Train? Bus? Plane? Check options online, check prices. Do we have the time to take a train or bus (usually takes more time,) or can we afford to take a flight (more expensive)? Book something, or ask our current hostel or other travelers for help as well. Maybe need to actually visit the train or bus station to buy the tickets up to one week in advance.
5. Book the hotel or hostel in the next city… but how many days do we want to stay for? Currently, we have been starting with 5 nights and will add more nights as we go, IF WE CAN….but often times the hostel or hotel might be booked for any extra nights once we get closer to the date, and then we are forced to move to another hostel OR are forced into the situation of leaving the city earlier to go onto the next.
6. Once we have arrived to the new city… OK, now HOW DO WE GET TO THE HOSTEL?! Most places in Asia so far have horrible maps, streets that NEVER have street signs, and directions are always written poorly, like, “Turn at the green sign 200 meters after you exit the subway station,” which actually means TURN LEFT AFTER ONE BLOCK. Hah! After the first few awful trying-to-find-our-hostel mishaps and hours of lost time walking around tirelessly and very sweaty with all of our luggage, we realized one of the MOST important things to do before arriving to a new hostel/hotel is to THOROUGHLY research the location, directions from the airport/train station/bus station, save an image of a map if possible, and what the outside of the hostel/hotel looks like and download or type it all into James’ phone for future use. And even THEN, we often end up walking around awhile anyway, trying to follow the crap-directions that we got from the hostel website. And often times while it’s raining. *SIGH*
7. OK, so now we’ve arrived to the hostel/hotel and hopefully have a clean room and decent bathroom. Were we able to get a map from the airport/train station/bus station? If not, try to get one from the hostel. NOW: What are the top “attractions” or sight-seeing options in this city? Spend some time online researching, and ask people at the hostel. Prioritize and base what we see or do on cost, how many days we have, what the weather is going to be, and how easy/hard it is to get there. And how can we get around the city?—can we walk to where we need to go? Is there a subway in this city? Can we take a bus? Taxi? Train? And is it cost-effective?
8. And then comes the BIG ONE: THE HUNT FOR FOOD! I actually think I will write an ENTIRE blog post about this sometime in the future because I can’t tell you how difficult, aggravating, and time consuming it has been in a new city to find a decent meal when you’re on a budget. Two people trying to find something they both want to eat, in a place where everything is in a foreign language, sometimes they don’t
even have prices listed or even HAVE a menu, wondering if the food is “safe” to eat or will cost you a horrible bout of diarrhea, and all while trying to spend no more than $5/each per meal. And if we are hungry and tired while trying to do this— YEA, it doesn’t usually go well . . . so we now ALWAYS make sure to have snacks handy and eat something small before going out on “the hunt for food!”
Oh wait… and we also try to eat two to three meals per day at our hostel (to save money, and to try to eat healthier), which means a visit to the local grocery store is needed. However, this is no “walk in the park” either . . . need to find a grocery store (which is usually not easy), then once inside, look around to see WHAT—if anything—looks familiar to you. For any canned or frozen goods, try to figure out what the HECK kind of food it is you are looking at (maybe 1 out of 10 items you’ll find has any English on it or is an American product), and try to tell from the picture on the back if you can microwave it or cook on the stovetop. AND—what you buy will depend on if you have
access to a refrigerator, microwave, stovetop, hot water pitcher, or mini-oven as well . . . because most times we only have two or three of those options at that current hostel. If you’re in a country that has undrinkable/contaminated water (which most of them do where we are traveling), then that means you shouldn’t eat any vegetables or fruit unless you can peel or boil them . . . so options become even more limited. And many countries we have been to so far have very QUESTIONABLE raw meat for sale, and sometimes room-temperature eggs (which makes you WONDER), so sometimes it’s better to just skip them altogether. Finally, many of the everyday items we had in the US are hard to find or completely non-existent while traveling: milk, cheese, butter, bread, sandwich meat, and anything Mexican-food related . . . so you definitely are limited with your recipes, and need to “improvise” when it comes to cooking.
And then FINALLY…. we’ll have been in a new city 3 to 7 days and finally have “settled in,” made our room more like home, have gotten the “lay of the land” and can more easily navigate the city and streets, figured out transportation around the city, discovered the best places to eat out and the best places to buy certain foods or bottled water, and have befriended the hostel owner and/or other travelers….
AND THEN IT’S TIME TO MOVE ONTO THE NEXT CITY AND START OVER!!!
But that’s just part of this fun, grand adventure, and in the end it’s definitely worth all the hard work! And that would also be why we are now traveling a bit more slowly than we had in the first month or so. We realized this process, over and over and over again, was just too exhausting and we were both a lot more cranky and tired all the time.
Now that we have kind of gotten this whole process down, are working well together on certain things each of us prefer to take care of, and know more what to expect, the flow has becomes a bit easier for us and means there is more time to just RELAX and enjoy the scenery!
Which is what we SHOULD be doing as well . . . you really DO need to go through all the mundane and procedural processes to plan a trip like this, and there is still SO much romanticism that comes out of it all. Not only the “dreamy-travel” romanticism, but also our own little “romantic romanticism” as well! 🙂