Today marks our 1 year anniversary of starting long-term travel. Exactly 1 year ago we were flying to our first destination—Casco Viejo in Panama City, Panama. We had quit our jobs, sold Bryan’s car, sold or donated a lot of our stuff, packed up the rest of the townhouse we were renting, and stored said stuff at our parents’ houses (thank you for being so gracious!). From an outsider’s perspective we were uprooting the comfortable lives we were in the middle of building. To us, this trip meant fulfilling a dream of ours, and we had an inkling we would regret not taking the risk while we were still young. A year later, and we cannot believe how many memories we collected and how much we have learned about not just other cultures but also ourselves. We thought it would be fun to celebrate our 1 year of travel with a “Lessons Learned” post and a picture from every destination we went to in the past year. We hope you enjoy!
Not everything will go as scheduled. As in the Marrakech airport debacle. We’ve learned the best thing to do is keep calm and be prepared to change your plans last minute if you cannot find a way to keep your schedule. In the Marrakech case, Bryan on attempt number five finally convinced an airport employee to allow us through immigration so we could make our flight.
You can’t plan everything ahead of time. Especially in Thailand. Transportation in particular. We booked a bus ticket from Bangkok to Cambodia before we arrived in Thailand to prove we had an outgoing ticket should the Thai immigration officer need it to approve our visa. Once in Thailand, we decided to stay a few days longer (still within our visa limits) and called the company to change the date of our ticket. The fine print on the ticket said we could do so as long as we made the change more than 24 hours in advance of our trip date. The guy Bryan talked to wouldn’t give a confirmation email or text saying the date had changed, instead he said to just give the date of when they talked and the phone number he called. We were both uncomfortable with this but didn’t know what else to do since we weren’t in Bangkok to go to his office and deal with this issue face-to-face. We arrived in Bangkok two days before we wanted to leave for Cambodia. We went straight to the office of the company we booked the ticket through, only to find that the guy we had talked to on the phone had not made the change! He tried to deny we had talked to him, but I had the call log on my phone. And the bus we wanted was now full! After a few hours of back and forth, we finally received two seats on a bus going the day after we had wanted to go, without any extra charge. But this time we made sure they gave us a confirmation of some sort. From that point on, we didn’t book any transportation from Thailand online…
Learn the local tipping culture. As Americans, we often tip 20% at a restaurant whether we’re in our country or not. We’ve learned that most every other country tips less and some don’t tip at all! You might think you’re being nice to continue tipping at a higher percentage, but some countries view this as offensive as if you’re looking down on them or showing off your wealth (in countries with no tips, the service charge is usually already included in the food prices and good service is just expected). Just quickly Google the local tipping culture for your next trip abroad to avoid any faux pas!
Learn a few phrases of the local language. We always strive to learn a few words and phrases wherever we are traveling, even in countries where most people are able to speak English. We just feel it is a respectful way of letting someone know you’re trying to understand and learn their culture. We’ve found that it makes locals more responsive when talking to you and the interactions all the more friendly.
We are not city people. Bryan and I quickly learned that we can only handle big city life for so long before we run for the mountains to hike in solitude among nature and wildlife. Our fondest memories so far have been small mountain towns—such as the West Highland Way in Scotland and the Atlas Mountains near Imlil, Morocco. We just find the large cities tend to blend together for us—you’ve got your gothic cathedral, your art museums, your monuments you take pictures in front of, and not to mention TONS of other tourists and people. Some prefer the city because it offers a lot of different things to do, and we often try and find those more unique things to do in larger cities. We just appreciate nature more, and it took 9 European cities in a row for us to finally figure that out.
Sometimes the most popular thing to do is your least favorite. Angkor Wat temple is a prime example. The temple is overrun by tourists and honestly, was underwhelming to us in comparison to other nearby temples in Angkor. Our favorites were Phnom Bakheng, Bayon Temple, and Banteay Srei. Another is of course the gothic cathedrals in most European cities. By the time we got to Paris we had seen so many gothic cathedrals, the Notre Dame just did not interest us anymore. The final example was La Fortuna in Costa Rica. We did a lot in La Fortuna and met some fantastic people which made it more fun, but the vibe in La Fortuna was very commercial. We are just flashing money signs to what few locals actually live there. There’s a lot to see and do, but the Tico culture left La Fortuna a long time ago.
The Schengen Zone is a thing. If you’re planning on traveling in Europe for more than 3 months you should be aware of which countries are within the Schengen Zone. US citizens can only travel to countries within the Schengen Zone for 3 months out of a consecutive 6 months. Each country seemed to have its own interpretation of what this meant, but we thankfully made it work.
Low season is not always a bad time to visit some countries. High season is usually the most crowded, and many people aim for the shoulder season, which is usually a month before or after high season. We visited some countries during low season and appreciated the reduced crowds, prices, and different activities offered! We were in Bali in March. I was afraid it would rain too often, and we wouldn’t be able to do anything. It did rain on many days, but only for an hour or two most days and did not ruin any of our plans. We visited Switzerland in January and had the skiing/snowboarding adventure of a lifetime in Zermatt! We hiked the West Highland Way in October and found the weather chilly, but pleasant for long hikes and there were NO MIDGES, which apparently is a huge issue in the summer! We visited Germany and Austria in December and January and fell head over heels for all the Christmas Markets and holiday charm.
Slower is better—for us at least. If you can pack up and travel to a new city every two or three days for two years, I admire you. We cannot. Most cities we stay in for at least 6 days. This allows us to go beyond the top 15 tourist destinations and get a better feel for the culture rather than just the top photo opportunities. We were in Paris for 2 weeks and not only had time to do the touristy attractions but also some smaller local things that I enjoyed such as a nearly private jazz concert or shopping at the local farmers market to practice my French or stumble upon a random free outdoor concert. In Heidelberg, we had a few free days to do some hiking that we had been unable to do the previous 2 months.
Allow yourself some flexibility. This stems from us learning our likes and dislikes in destinations. We’ve met travelers who are flexibile to the point where they land somewhere and have no idea where they will sleep that night. We’re not comfortable enough to do that just yet, but we do like to have a enough wiggle room in our plans to book an overnight adventure (such as last minute planning a trip to the Gili Islands from Lombok!) or change our course if we don’t like a city/country/area we’re in (we originally thought we’d be in Europe for 15 months, but realized we needed a change after 7 months).
Sometimes you need a break from traveling. Even moving every 6 days gets exhausting. You have to unpack and repack, constantly figure out transportation around new cities, figure out where to eat/grocery shop, decide what you want to do, plan for the next destination, etc. There are constant decisions involved with long-term travel, and the more cities you go to, the more decisions you have to make. There were a few points in the last year where we were fed up with planning and decision making. We solved this through our AMAZING Workaway in Ireland in November and taking a rest during Christmas and New Years by spending 2 weeks in Vienna, Austria, and finally, we spent a whole month in Ubud, Bali this past March. During those times we were able to play catch up with blogging, plan where we want to go next, and frankly deal with the stuff everyone else has to deal with (taxes, health insurance, etc.). It also let us get into a routine, which is what I miss the most while traveling (besides family and friends of course). We always leave with renewed energy and excitement for our next destinations.
Know your budget, but don’t let it rule you. Our budget on long-term travel is much smaller than when we went on vacations while working. When we first started, we kept a tight look at our budget and would choose our activities based on what it cost us. Once we got to Europe, we realized how expensive it is just to have a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. We realized we were not truly experiencing a lot of these countries how we wanted to. This was one of the reasons we decided to cut our time in Europe short. We changed our original plans of where to travel in Europe and focused on a few places we really wanted to experience on long-term travel. The West Highland Way and skiing in Zermatt were two of those places we focused on. Both were above our budget, but we loved every minute of our time there!
Don’t go somewhere because you feel obligated to go there. This again goes back to Europe. Before we left, we had a list of cities we wanted to visit on our travels. When we realized our budget wasn’t going to let us fully enjoy those cities, and when we got tired of the big European cities, we ditched our list and only focused on the experiences we wanted to do in Europe. A lot of these boil down to figuring out what TYPE of traveler you are and what EXPERIENCES you enjoy. We originally felt obligated in Europe to check off the lists of places we had read about other people enjoying, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will enjoy it. You either vibe with a place or you don’t. One of those cities was London. We tried to immerse ourselves in the city and truly enjoy touring it, but we honestly just didn’t like it—and that’s okay.
Strive to immerse yourself in a cultural experience. Without making it an opportunity for an Instagram photo shoot. Sorry, I had to say it. I could easily write a whole blog on this point alone, but I don’t want to make this a rant. My fondest memories have been interacting with locals who find joy in sharing their favorite aspects of their culture with you. An example is learning about tempeh from a Balinese couple who opened their home to a small group of tourists to share their family’s recipes. Learning about Tico culture while horseback riding around my guide’s neighborhood and even stopping for a quick visit at his friend’s family home. This point can’t be complete without mentioning the Irish family that opened their home and life with us for 2 weeks while we helped out on their horse and dog rescue. We felt like a part of the family and saying goodbye was tough!
Seeing friends and family along the way are some of our favorite memories. It isn’t a surprise we miss friends and family while traveling. Here’s a shout out to my dear friend Alannah for meeting up with us in Costa Rica, Aless and Daniel in the Netherlands, Alex in Paris, the Shalala’s in Morocco, Bryan’s parents in Greece, my parents in Germany and Austria, Selma and Steffen in Germany, and Suzie in Thailand. Not to mention the numerous people we’ve met along the way and are still keeping in touch with!
Everywhere We’ve Visited in the Past Year
*This is not a photo I took, but it was graciously sent to me by Lombok Pottery Centre. A company run by 210 women potters, they are all seen here at a big meeting dividing up their profits. Their pottery is sold internationally through stores like Ten Thousand Villages. I wanted to visit and tour one of the potter’s home, but the days we were available they were having the big meeting above. If we were to ever come back to Lombok, this would be the first thing I would schedule!
Where Are We Now
We are excited to be celebrating our 1 year travel anniversary on the island of Flores in Indonesia. We are spending a week here to go scuba diving around Komodo and Rinca islands which have some of the best dive sites in the world! Looking back we are in awe of everywhere we have been over the last year and are looking forward to our next stop and most anticipated country on our list, New Zealand!
PS: Thank you Genevieve for our amazing logo. She has a fun etsy shop showing off all her doodles: https://www.etsy.com/shop/GenevieveDoodles