Post Travels FAQ
Index of questions:
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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!
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.
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.
Q: Shouldn’t you be bare-backing a Komodo Dragon in a volcano in Paraguay right now? [via Twitter by @bradgwalker]
A: Oksana and I will be kicking off our trip on, or around, July 1st, 2010. Well, actually, we’re not even sure we’ll be leaving by then, but we’ll have a great incentive: We’re not paying rent past June.
We announced our plans a full year in advance, mostly to give our places of employment the chance to prepare for our departures. That, coupled with the “practice” podcast episodes I’ve been creating from previous trips’ footage has probably created the impression that we’re already off gallivanting around the world. Not quite yet!
Q: Where are you going?
A: Truth is, we really don’t know. We don’t (and won’t) have an itinerary. Caminante no hay camino, se hace camino al andar.
This question is second only to “When are you leaving?” from our friends and family, and I’m I little bit sorry for not having a great answer. One of the big reasons for this trip is to free ourselves from constraints for a while, to get out of the groove for a bit, so we’re going to go where the road takes us.
That said, our general plan right now is to:
- Take my Jeep from Alaska to New York, seeing the sights and visiting friends and family on the way.
- Meet Oksana’s family (visiting from Russia) in New York and show them the East Coast.
- Possibly find a super-cheap last-minute fare on a cruise ship and just hop out in Belize or Mexico.
- Meander all the way through Central and South America until we hit the tip of Argentina around Dec 2010.
- From there we cross either the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, bound for Africa or NZ/Australia/Southeast Asia.
- Either way we’ll then work our way through Russia and the old Soviet states.
- If there’s time and money left over (probably not), we’ll try to see Europe.
Q: How much is it going to cost?
A: $100 a day.
That’s our goal, anyway. Reactions to our budget swing one of two ways: “Wow, that’s not very much!” to “Wow, that’s a lot!” Personally, we see it both ways. $100 a day for two people doesn’t go very far in places like the US, Europe, or Australia. We’re really going to have to budget carefully. On the other hand, $100 a day for 365 days is $36,500 — a healthy chunk of change that could otherwise be going towards, oh, you know, a house or something.
Our $100-a-day budget isn’t going to be a daily limit; it might be better to think of it as $700-a-week. We expect to spend more than $100 on certain days for things like airline travel, more expensive tours, etc. To balance things out, we’ll simply look for inexpensive places to chill out for awhile.
Q: Is your budget going to include airfare?
A: Yes, though we don’t expect to be flying very much. Probably from Argentina to South Africa (and there’s really no other easy way to get to Australia/NZ!) But then again, we’ve heard stories about hitching rides on oceanic freighters, too, so who knows? Maybe we won’t need to fly at all!
Q: What are you bringing with you?
A: We’ll let you know when we figure that out! We’re still making purchases and setting aside the important stuff and I’ll probably take you through the final packing list in a future blog entry or podcast episode.
But we’re going to be living out of a backpack for a year, that’s for sure. Hopefully everything we bring is going to fit within our two big backpacks, but we’ll also have smaller packs for daily walk-around-town time. Our biggest concern right now is how we’re going to accommodate the “studio-in-a-backpack” that will let us blog and podcast our way around the world. The laptop, netbook, videocamera, DSLR, lenses, and audio recorder (not to mention all their accessories!) are going to take up a lot of room.
I suspect we’ll also find a way to use FedEx or DHL to send a few things back home. Souvenirs, of course, but we also foresee a need for guidebooks and secure data backups (we can’t risk losing all our photos and video!)
Q: How can you afford to quit you jobs? What about your careers?
A: A very good question. I suppose the answer comes down to, “We have a savings account.”
We’ve had a solid plan for the last couple years; a velleity for much longer than that. Oksana remembers me first bringing up the idea when we were in Costa Rica (2001), probably just a matter of days after I proposed to her. All that is to say that we’ve put a lot of things on hold while we’ve been saving for this trip.
As for our careers, despite the situation with the economy, we don’t foresee ourselves having trouble finding employment upon our return. But it probably won’t come to that because Oksana will have her position waiting for her when she returns, and though my own job’s future hasn’t been decided, I’m still holding out hope that they’ll keep my seat warm for me, too. Even so, we decided long ago that this trip was more important to us than the certainty of having a job when we returned. We’re going no matter what.
Q: What are you going to do with your stuff?
Sell or give away the big stuff. Put the rest in storage. (Yes, that scares one of us more than a little.)
Q: Have you ever done this sort of travel before?
A: We’ve done all sorts of travel before! In fact, we’ve been doing a good job of getting out of the country at least once a year, on average. I think our longest trip together was a month in Costa Rica and, come to think of it, would be a good parallel to the sort of travel we’re planning (we were backpacking, staying in hostels, and spent an average of right around $100 a day… which seemed expensive to us at the time!)
But we’ve also tried out other styles of travel, such as:
Exhausting: Two weeks weeks in Hawaii where we packed in as much as we possibly could into each day.
Expensive: Three weeks in Australia with big tours, Travelocity-booked hotels every night, and getting SCUBA certified on the Great Barrier Reef.
Family: As guests catered to by Oksana’s family in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
We’ve discovered, after much reflection, that we’ve had the best times on the trips where we simply Wing It. Take that Costa Rica trip, for instance. The sum total of our planning up until the day we left was buying round-trip tickets to San Juan.
Q: Can I travel with you for awhile?
A: Sure, we’d love to explore some corner of the world with you for a week or two! What are you thinking? We should talk!