Apr 14

Frequently Asked Questions

by in Postcard Valet, Travel, Videos

I’ve been meaning to update the Postcard Valet FAQ for a long time; lots of people keep asking us what our favorite place was and now I have something to point to!  This’ll go up on it’s own page, too, but I realized it serves as good summary of certain parts of our trip and thought I might make a post about it as well.

If you have a question that’s not on here, let me know.  Be happy to add something to the list.

Post Travels FAQ

Index of questions:

Q: How long did you end up traveling?

Q: Where are you now?

Q: What are your plans for the future?

Q: What was your favorite place/tour/country/thing out of all your travels?

Q: What was the craziest/most disgusting thing you ate?

Q: Which countries did you visit?

Q: Which country was your favorite?

Q: What was your least favorite country?

Q: What was the most dangerous thing you did?

Q: Did you have any trouble while traveling?  Was anything stolen?

Q: How much did you spend?  Were you able to stick to your $100/day budget?

Q: Did you ever get sick on the trip?

Q: Are you still married?  How has being together 24/7 for 18 months affected your relationship?

Q: Do you miss it?  Does life seem boring now that you’ve slowed down?  Did you burn out on travel?


Q: How long did you end up traveling?

A: Almost exactly 18 months.

Although… that answer doesn’t really tell the whole story.  In our minds, there are three or four distinct parts to our time away from home:  Crossing the US and Canada, staying with family, active travel, and living in Australia. 

We left home on July 1, 2010, to drive across the country.  By August, we’d made it as far as North Carolina before a family emergency delayed our plans to leave the U.S.  We stayed with my grandparents until November 10, 2010.

From November 10, 2010, to December 26, 2011 (58 weeks), we were actively engaged in what I would consider “world travel.”  We visited 31 different countries in all, starting in Ecuador (Colombia, if you want to count passport stamps) and ending up in Australia.

Since December 26, 2011, we’ve been living and working in Brisbane.  While it doesn’t feel quite like “real life” again, it’s certainly not travel, but since we played tourist the first week or so we were in Brizzy, we decided to count that as part of our travels.

Our infographics chart our travel time from July 1, 2010 to January 1, 2012.

Q: Where are you now?

A: Brisbane, in Queensland, Australia.  Oksana has a job working as an assistant accountant at an auto dealership called Motorama, while I’m a stay-at-home husband trying to update our website and write a book about our travels.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: Can’t say for sure; we’re still very much in the “wing it” mentality, but we have a 10-month lease on our apartment, so it’s likely we’ll be staying until December 2012.  (We’re inviting our friends and family to visit in November; contact us if you might be interested!)

Our visas expire near the end of December, but we haven’t decided yet what we’re going to do then.  Neither one of us is looking forward to going back to Alaska in the dead of winter and there’s been talk of spending time in Central America – a region we missed because of those family emergencies.  To be honest, we’re not 100% sure we’ll even return to Juneau.  Life on the road has taught us that opportunities can arise at any time.

Q: What was your favorite place/tour/country/thing out of all your travels?

A: I don’t know!  Are you the kind of person that has a ready answer for those “what’s your favorite movie?” and “what’s your favorite song?” questions?  I’m not.  I have to qualify my answers…

Favorite geological wonder: The Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia (the world’s largest salt flat)
It was incredible and like nothing else I have ever seen.

Best wildlife: Galapagos Islands and Kruger National Park (tie)
Both give you very up close and personal encounters with wild animals.

Best food: Argentina (steak and wine, asado), South Africa (biltong and ginger beer, braai), Thailand (fruit and Thai cooking), Vietnam (coffee)

Best ruins to explore: Peru, Egypt, Cambodia (tie)

Best excursions: 7-day Galapagos cruise (just amazing); 4-day private safari in Kruger National Park (best guides; proud to call them friends today!); 3-day Salar de Uyuni tour (best value for the money); and Mountain biking down the World’s Most Dangerous Road (for the extras/freebies thrown in.)

Best SCUBA diving: Galapagos (though not necessarily the dives in the video below)

Q: What was the craziest/most disgusting thing you ate?

A: Craziest?  Probably “lemon-flavored ants,” in the Ecuadorian jungle.  Most disgusting?  Finland’s Salmiakki (salted licorice) – and I love black licorice, too!  We also tried kudu, ostrich, crocodile, and springbok in South Africa; snake in Cambodia; and kangaroo in Australia.

Q: Which countries did you visit?

A: Canada, the United States, Colombia (in transit, airports only), Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia (1 day), Zambia, Zimbabwe (1 day), Tanzania and Zanzibar, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Turkey, Bulgaria, Finland, Estonia, Russia, United Arab Emirates (1 day), Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Australia.  31 in all.

Q: Which country was your favorite?

A: Again, so hard to choose a favorite.  Every country has something to like.  It may help if we rephrase the question: Which countries would you want to visit again?

There are three: Turkey, Bulgaria, and Thailand.  Of course, we’ll likely visit many of these countries again.  I’ve been to the Galapagos three times now, and I’d go back in a heartbeat.  We have many friends in Argentina and family in Russia; I’ll bet we return to both those countries, too.  But with a whole world out there to explore, it’s difficult for us to spend our hard-earned vacation time on countries we’ve already been to.  Even so, both Oksana and I would like to see more of Turkey, Bulgaria, and Thailand.

Q: What was your least favorite country?

Egypt, hands down.  Oksana and I were disgusted by how we were treated as walking wallets by almost everyone even tangentially associated with the tourism industry.  Also, while their ancient artifacts are literally some of the best in the world, they don’t seem to be valued very much by people living there today.  It’s a shame, because they’re astonishing, and I want nothing more than to recommend you plan your next vacation there.  But I can’t.  At least not without many warnings and caveats.

Vietnam (north) might also have been a contender (for many of the same reasons), but we went in with very low expectations and came out pleasantly surprised.  Oksana doesn’t have very fond memories of Tanzania, either.  Dar es Salaam felt unsafe.  Even though nothing ever happened to us in the city, we always felt on edge.

Q: What was the most dangerous thing you did?

A: Depends on what you consider dangerous.  Some might consider riding a bus through the Andes dangerous, and we did a lot of that!  Off the top of my head, though, there’s…

Mountain biking down the World’s Most Dangerous Road near La Paz, Bolivia.

Walking into pens with multiple adult tigers to let them lap milk from our hands in Luhán, Argentina.

Standing in a couple inches of water on a Bolivian salt flat as a thunderstorm rolled in.

Tip-toeing around slippery pits of boiling mud on top of a volcano near the Chilean border.

Sitting in a diving cage as a 3-meter Great White Shark bumped up against it.

And, sadly, walking down a deserted beach in Zanzibar.

Q: Did you have any trouble while traveling?  Was anything stolen?

A: We were very lucky.  Setting aside things like getting sick or being scammed out of a couple dollars in Egypt, the only bad thing that happened to us was being mugged at machete-point on a beach in Zanzibar (Tanzania.)  However, we both look back on that and laugh.  We only lost USD$15 and got a great story out of it!

Neither Oksana nor I ever had anything stolen, either from pickpockets on the street or taken from our bags in our hotel room by a maid with sticky fingers.  Of course, we’re both extremely paranoid travelers.  We had tiny padlocks on our backpacks and our pockets sealed with safety pins when out on the street.  Plus, we’re street smart, try to be aware of what’s going on all around us at all times, and watch out for each other.

Come to think of it, a couple guys in Puno (Peru) did try to pick my pockets, but my unconscious reaction to their jostling me from both sides was to shove them away and shout, “Hey!”  They instantly melted into the crowd and when I checked my pockets, nothing was missing.

Q: How much did you spend?  Were you able to stick to your $100/day budget?

A: We’re still working on the exact numbers.  Oksana needs to go back and put the first few months of receipts into our new travel budget format (the Excel spreadsheet she created grew in capabilities as we went; it’s quite comprehensive now!)

However, here are the ballpark figures:

Total travel expenses for 18 months: $61,438.11
Total fixed “back home” expenses for 18 months: $17,316.13

US and Canada road trip, plus stay with grandparents (1 July 2010 to 10 Nov 2010):  $13,039.20
Travel outside the US (10 Nov 2010 to 1 Jan 2012): $48,398.91

Our fixed “back home” expenses such as cell phone, ministorage, post office box, annual credit card fees, and, perhaps most importantly, health insurance, add another $17,316.13.

Our goal was $100/day (for travel expenses), but we fell short of that.  Our actual travel expenses ran just under $112/day.

We also only planned to travel for one year, but we pushed on longer than that.  If we look at only Nov 10 to Nov 10, an exact year of travel, our travel expenses were $43,059.70, or $6,559.70 over our planned budget.

For comparison’s sake, after three and a half months, we’re averaging $146.56 per day in Australia (excluding those fixed “back home” expenses.)

Q: Did you ever get sick on the trip?

A: Yes, sometimes quite severely, but even so, not as much as we anticipated.

Before we left, we took our vaccinations very seriously.  We were each vaccinated for Hepatitis A and B, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, TDAP (Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis), and Meningococcal Meningitis.  Once we reached Africa, we also got the Oral Polio Vaccine and started up Doxycycline and Malarone anti-malarial routines (which we also used in Southeast Asia.)  The only vaccinations we didn’t get, which we might have had some use for, were for pneumonia and Japanese Encephalitis.

Here are the highlights (lowlights):

  • During the Galapagos trip, one night I came down with uncontrollable shivering.  I thought it might be hypothermia from snorkeling and a cold shower afterward, but the shipboard doctor checked me out, discovered I had a fever, and gave me a course of antibiotics.  I was (mostly) fine the next day, however.  Lost my appetite for the rest of the trip, but didn’t miss out on any of the outings.
  • In Ecuador, I fainted dead away in front of a couple maids, falling like a bag of bricks to the hard-wood floor.  I’d been stung by a bee earlier in the day, but I suspect it was simply light-headedness brought on by the altitude.
  • Oksana battled stomach problems in Lima, Peru, for a time.  Not sure if it was an actual bug or just a reaction to new food and the new bacterial strains that invariably come along with it.  She took some antibiotics and it went away.
  • On our first attempt at the salt flats tour, both of us came down with severe abdominal cramping.  We suspect it was from something we’d eaten on an earlier bus ride.  Up until that time, we ate everything put in front of us, including raw vegetables and street food.  After a week of abdominal cramping, horrible gas, and generally debilitating stomach problems, we both decided to self-medicate and bought a full course of strong antibiotics (Cipro) at the pharmacy.  Did the trick; I figure it killed whatever intestinal parasite was boring away in our guts.
  • Oksana experienced some signs of heat stroke when we were touring the Luxor ruins in Egypt.  That was the day it was 120 degrees and we drank six liters of water… each!
  • Both Oksana and I came down with terrible sinus infections in Thailand – the first time we’d had a cold in over a year and a half.  Just head colds, though.  They passed in time.  Strangely, after doing a month-long loop through Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia, we both picked up head colds again the day we returned to Thailand.  It was mild in comparison, however, the second time around.

Other than that, we were fine.  Well, except for what the anti-malarials did to our bodies.  Let me tell you there were times when we were on Doxycycline that we wondered if we’d ever have a solid poop again!

Q: Are you still married?  How has being together 24/7 for 18 months affected your relationship?

A: Yes, we’re still happily married.  More happy now that we’ve stopped traveling.

Oksana and I have always had a good relationship.  We literally (and by “literally,” I mean literally!) went three or four years into our marriage before we had our first argument.  We communicate with each other well.

But that isn’t to say being together every waking moment for a year and a half was easy!  We had plenty of arguments on this trip, some quite heated, but it never got so bad that we considered quitting.

Really, it comes down to stress.  When everything was going according to plan, no problem; we were both happy and carefree.  But when we were put into stressful situations, which happened rather often (e.g., coming into a city late at night without any hotel reservations, realizing we’re going over budget and trying to decide what to do about it, or just having to figure out where the stupid bus station is before it leaves without us), that’s when we got short with each other.

It was definitely a learning experience and because we got through it, I think our relationship has only grown stronger.  One of the things I learned about Oksana (which, surprisingly, I hadn’t already figured out in the 10 years we’d been together) is that she has a fear of the unknown.  Where are we staying tonight? Is this our bus stop?  What if they don’t take American currency?  Is that the right price or are we getting ripped off?  Those were all things that didn’t bother me much at all, but drove her crazy.  Knowing that about her now, there are things I can do to make her travels more enjoyable… which in turn makes mine more enjoyable, as well.

If we had this trip to do over again, we’d do one thing differently.  Instead of traveling non-stop for a year, we’d build in breaks like those we had in Buenos Aires and Thailand.  Travel three months, then rent an apartment somewhere for one month.  Repeat until either our time or money runs out.  Those months of non-travel let us to get to know a place and meet people, allowed us to save some money, gave us some valuable “down time,” and recharged our travel batteries all at the same time.

But the real answer to your “How has being together 24/7 for 18 months affected your relationship?” question?  Flatulence.  You can’t eat foreign foods and live with someone in a tiny hostel room without coming to terms with that.

Q: Do you miss it?  Does life seem boring now that you’ve slowed down?  Did you burn out on travel?

A: We miss seeing new things every day, but we certainly don’t miss all the planning that goes along with it.

Even now, coming up on four months after arriving in Australia, we’re both quite happy living a “boring” life.  Weekends come and go and we’re still surprised that we’re both completely comfortable not even leaving the apartment.  We’re watching movies, catching up on American TV shows, and cooking dinner every night – things we just couldn’t do on the road in South America or Africa or Southeast Asia.

Eventually, we’ll get bored of this lifestyle again, I’m sure, and the wanderlust will kick in again.  We’re already planning epic adventures to spend our annual leave on in years to come.  There’s a whole world out there; we’ll never stop traveling.

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