RTW Travel

Eight months have passed since we returned home. In many ways, the trip seems like a dream. Without this website and the pictures hanging on our walls, it would be easy to convince ourselves that it never happened. How did we get so lucky as to be able to take a trip like that? And how did it all go by so fast?

The memories are so numerous that they almost blend together. Not a day goes by, however, without something triggering a vivid recollection of an experience we had during our year abroad. And then, for a minute, we’re transported back to someplace a world away–and a world apart from the lives we live now.

We know that we are privileged beyond belief to have completed such an unbelievable journey. The wisdom we gained can never be taken away from us. The shared experiences and challenges we faced deeply strengthened our marriage. Our respect for different cultures and the appreciation we now have for our own country could not be stronger.

While we’ve been lucky to see more of this beautiful world than most, we have still just touched the surface. There is so much more to see and experience–enough to fill several lifetimes. We can’t wait to continue the exploration!

To provide a short overview of our one-year journey around the world, we have created a slide show of some of our favorite pictures. Enjoy!

[vimeo 36505600]

We’ve been back in the States for a little over two months now.  As soon as we touched down in Nashville, we were caught up in a whirlwind of welcome-back parties, attempts to eat all of the favorite foods we’d missed for a year, time spent catching up with loved ones and dizzying trips through Target, where Shanna, in particular, marveled at the sheer quantity of products that were now available to her. And then, once again, we packed our bags and left the familiar–Nashville–for the unknown–new lives in Washington, DC.

We’ve stayed in touch with quite a few of the other long-term travelers we met on the road, and they had lots of advice for us as we made the transition back into “real life.”  As it turned out, pretty much everything they warned us about turned out to be true. They cautioned us that very few people would be interested in stories about our trip, and that some would not even question us about it.  This wasn’t at all true for us in the first couple weeks, when we were catching up with those who know us well and followed along with this blog, but we’re finding now that the vast majority of the new people we meet don’t seem to be very curious about our travels at all. 

More often than not, any mention of our travels is met with blank stares.  People here are less likely to have traveled themselves and, therefore, less likely to ask about it–the same way that we’d probably be reluctant to inquire about something that we don’t understand very well.  (Derek runs into a fashion designer.  Silence ensues…).  This is a big change from life on the road, where everyone was genuinely interested in our adventures, most likely because they were traveling themselves and, like us, wanted suggestions about where to head next. On the road, the first questions people ask each other after they exchange names are “Where have you been?” and “Where are you going?” Here, it’s virtually always “What do you do?” During our year on the road, we heard the “What do you do?” question literally less than five times.  That’s a big adjustment.

Our fellow long-term travelers also warned us that we’d miss each other once we were no longer spending every minute together. And we do. After 366 days of almost no alone time, we now have it in spades.  Shanna’s new job often keeps her at the office fairly late, so we sometimes only get to see each other for an hour or two before it’s time for bed. That’s a huge change, and one we’re having trouble getting used to.

In better news, though, we’ve enjoyed many of the perks of a more settled life. It’s nice to wake up in the same place every morning and to always know where the bathroom is.  It’s great to have food in the refrigerator so we don’t have to eat out all of the time and to be back in a familiar culture, where we rarely have to worry about whether we’ve just unintentionally but seriously offended someone.  It’s good to have an address and a phone number and the feeling that we’re starting to build a life here. 

And parts of our new life reflect things we learned from the trip. We’re far more likely now to seek out adventure, and we’ve already taken a couple of quick trips outside of the city.  (A couple of weeks ago, we spent a day on the Chesapeake Bay, devouring (and we DO mean devouring–we have the Old Bay-stained shirts to prove it…) piles of delicious Maryland blue crabs.)  More than anything, our travels have provided us with invaluable perspective on life.  We recognize and are deeply grateful for the amazingly blessed life we have here in the USA and know that we are capable of overcoming virtually any challenge that presents itself. 

From time to time, we’ll ask each other this question: “Someone offers you the chance to leave tomorrow morning and do the whole trip again.  Do you take it?”  We’re split on that decision.  We’ll leave it to you to figure out who’s ready to grab a backpack and head out the door.

After an article was recently published about us in The Tennessean, a morning radio show in Nashville (Mix 92.9) contacted us for an interview.   The interview was broadcast on September 15, 2008 and is available by clicking HERE and scrolling down to “One Year On Earth – Newlywed Travelers Trek the Globe to Perform Acts of Service – September 15, 2008.”  Enjoy!

homeward_2After visiting 40 countries over a period of 366 days, we are leaving for the airport in a few minutes to board our final flight of the trip–one destined for Nashville, Tennessee. By the end of the day today, we’ll be home. It’s hard to even estimate the number of times we’ve thought about this day–about how it will feel to step off that plane onto U.S. soil, about what it will be like to hear English spoken everywhere we go, about how nice it will be to talk to our loved ones in person, rather than over email. Now that the day is actually here, it feels a bit surreal.

We already know that the experiences we’ve had over the past year are usually reserved for fairy-tales. The things we’ve seen, the people we’ve met and the challenges we’ve overcome are difficult for us to even comprehend. In fact, as we look back at some of the pictures over the past year, it’s hard for us to even believe that they ever really happened. The trip has gone far better than we could have ever imagined. We’ve been incredibly blessed and lucky–as well as safe–at every turn. While we are incredibly excited to get home, we are also overwhelmingly sad to be leaving our journey behind us. We know that it has been a defining moment of our lives.

It’s hard to come to grips with the fact that it will soon be part of our past. We will spend the next two weeks visiting friends and family in Nashville and Rochester, Michigan before driving to Washington, DC in mid-September to start our new lives. During that time, we will post several entries about our return home and our post-trip reflections on the past year, and we’ll make sure to share some of our favorite pictures, too. Stay tuned!

A few days ago, in the middle of our 50-hour, epic journey from Bangkok to Santiago, we had a layover in Detroit.  In a way, we felt that we were coming full-circle in this, the middle of our journey: our trip had begun six months before with a flight out of the same airport.  After spending all but four days of those six months in Asia, which often felt very, very foreign, it was nice to be home, even if only in the airport and only for a few hours. 

My parents live in Rochester, a suburb of Detroit, and so they, along with my aunts, my cousin and one of my best friends, met us during our layover.  They came bearing gifts.  Although I was bleary-eyed at the time from 24 hours of flying, I managed to consume embarrassing quantities of Diet Coke (the stuff abroad is not nearly as good as the Real Thing, I swear to you), homemade chocolate-chip cookies (impossible to get on the road) and a full meal from Kruse and Muer, the restaurant whose food I always crave when I´m away from Rochester for too long.  In my few hours on home turf, I tried to soak up as much of the U.S. as possible.  I drank water straight from the tap, secure in the knowledge that it wouldn´t make me sick.  I watched the snow fall.  I luxuriated in the friendliness of the woman who drove the airport shuttle bus.  And, much too soon, it all came to an end and we were waving goodbye and boarding yet another plane, this time to Chile.

For me, our brief foray back into America really broke up the trip.  We´re now at Mile 13.1–half finished with a journey that is much more a marathon than a sprint.  In the past six months, we´ve had countless amazing experiences, a handful of trying ones and quite a few about which the numbers will tell the best story…

  • Countries visited: 16
  • Pairs of shoes worn through: 1
  • Bouts of food poisoning: 2 (Derek); 1 (Shanna)
  • Friends and family members who joined us for a leg of our journey: 10
  • Pieces of luggage destroyed by the airlines: 1
  • Pictures taken (not including the thousands we´ve deleted): 6,423
  • Visits by Shanna to the dentist: 7
  • Mattresses purchased for a Chinese orphanage: 120
  • Electronic appliances lost or stolen: 2
  • Missed flights: 0

No one ever said that independent travel is easy.  For the uninitiated, it can be painfully stressful.  Piecing together the logistics of getting from point A to B to C and so forth can test the patience of even the most laid-back of individuals. 

For most Americans, vacation is the chance to escape from the stress back home, to relax and have everything taken care of.  The most difficult decision the typical traveler wants to make is whether to order steak or fish.  I’m wired differently.  Oddly, my relaxation and recharge comes from making decisions on the fly, from getting out of my element and testing myself.  In all of the vacations I’ve taken over the past decade, I’ve eschewed planning in advance, preferring rather to show up and see what happens.   Sometimes that means that there are no rooms in your hotel of choice, the plane is full or the bus doesn’t leave until tomorrow – these inconveniences have usually led to my favorite travel memories.
Our experience a few days ago is a great example of the complexity and tribulations that independent travel can entail.  After a couple of days on Phu Quoc Island off the coast of Vietnam, we wanted to make it to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  After consulting our guidebook and an online travel forum, we discovered that we could cross the border into Cambodia via boat.  I’ve never crossed a border via a river, so it sounded like something I needed to add to my travel checklist.

After checking out of our guesthouse, we caught a bus to the island ferry.  Unusually, we had taken the step of reserving a seat on the ferry in advance.  Typically, this is unnecessary in Asia since they’ll pretty much let anyone on for the right price. (As becomes important in a second, however, we only had the receipt from the travel agent to prove that we’d already purchased tickets. The agent had assured us that we would be able to exchange the receipt for tickets once we arrived at the ferry dock.) 

As we attempted to board the boat, the ticket taker asked for our tickets. We handed him our receipt from the agent; he said this wasn’t valid and that we needed actual tickets.  After 20 minutes of conversation in broken English and approximately 13 phone calls with our travel agent, it was clear that we weren’t getting on the boat (the last one of the day) without a ticket.  In fact, they refused to even talk to us, physically blocked the ramp to the boat and started to lift up the anchor to set sail.  As all hope quickly vanished, I spotted our white night riding a motorbike down the pier.  As he dismounted, he flashed 3 shiny boat tickets.  Without hesitation, I grabbed them from his hands, brushed the boatman aside and boarded our vessel. 
Upon arrival on the Vietnamese mainland, we needed to get to the bus station.  The taxi drivers at the boat dock were part of a monopoly that would have made Microsoft and Comcast proud – the price was fixed at exorbitant rates.  After some unsuccessful bargaining, we noticed several motorcycle drivers who were standing near the taxis.  Within a few seconds, we (and our large backpacks) were each on the back of a Honda.  After racing through the city, we were dropped off at a gas station where our bus had stopped for a quick fill-up.  The friendly motorcycle drivers helped us carry our bags onto the bus. 

Three hours and two buses later, we arrived at the bus station in Chau Doc – a Vietnamese/Cambodian border town.  Since it was dark, our border crossing would have to wait until the next morning.  Thus, we flagged down some motorcycles and made our way to a guesthouse referenced in our guidebook.  Luckily, rooms were available for a hefty $6 a night. 

The next morning, I awoke early to my first bout of food poisoning on the trip.  It was not one of my greatest moments.  As I tried to piece together my food consumption from the prior day in order to locate the vile culprit of my violent regurgitation, I realized that I had not eaten any meat the prior day – only bread, corn and fried rice.  Since this was probably the first day in twenty years that I have been completely vegetarian, I swore that I would never forsake meat again.

As I was lying incapacitated on the bed, Alyssa entered the room at 7:26 a.m. and told me and Shanna that our 8:00 a.m. boat to Cambodia was actually leaving at 7:30 a.m.  I’ve seen television shows where humans exhibit super-human powers in times of great emotional distress (e.g., lifting a soon-to-explode car off of a trapped passenger), but I never knew that I was capable of such powers.  However, within 84 seconds I was off the bed, packed and headed towards the door.  We grabbed a cyclo (basically, a guy on a bike with a seat behind him) and were off to the boat dock.  Arriving at 7:32 a.m., we sprinted to the dock desperately hoping that the boat driver had also fallen prey to the sickness caused by forsaking meat.  Luckily, he had.  The boat didn’t leave until around 9:10 a.m.!

The remainder of the journey to Phnom Penh was pleasant – passing simple villages on the banks of the Mekong and leaving Vietnam and entering Cambodia via the river. 

They say that getting there is half the fun; for me, it’s more like 73%.