One Year of Travel

Posted by Arlo on Jul 1, 2011 under Postcard Valet, Travel, Website

One year ago today, we left our home in Juneau, Alaska, and started our trip around the world.  If everything had gone according to plan, we would be returning to work after the Fourth of July weekend.  Thank goodness things didn’t go as planned!

A quick recap:

  • Our trip started with a road trip through the Canada and the United States.  13,000 miles later, we’d visited Seattle, the Redwoods, San Francisco, Las Vegas, the Outer Banks, Key West, Manhattan, and Niagara Falls.
  • An unexpected family emergency delayed our plans and we stayed with my grandparents from mid-August to early November.
  • On November 10th, what we considered to be our “real” start date, we flew to Quito, Ecuador, and met five friends for a week-long trip through the Galapagos Islands.
  • From the end of November, 2010, to May 1st, 2011, we worked our way through South America, exploring Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay.
  • We rented an apartment in Buenos Aires for a month and played the role of ex-pats for a time.
  • May found us in Africa, a first for both of us.  We have since worked our way north from Capetown, South Africa, through Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania.  We’re in Dar es Salaam right now, bound for the island of Zanzibar for a week or two of relaxation.

In all, over the course of a year, we’ve passed through 15 countries.  That may sound like a lot, but I expected to be much further along by now.

That’s one of many things we’ve learned about ourselves on this trip; neither one of us are passport stamp-hunting travelers.  Crossing borders holds very little appeal for us, so when we get to place we like, we tend to stay awhile.  Part of that is to explore and take in the sights, but part of it is because moving on is always stressful.  Just when you start to figure things out in a new city – where the grocery store is, which are the best restaurants, how much taxis should cost –you’re faced with learning it all over again.

Traveling is scary.  A big part of doing it successfully is conquering your fears.  I was going to write a lot about fear, but I’ll save that topic for another day. This is our anniversary!

In the last year, we’ve seen some amazing things, revisited old friends, met many new and fascinating people (some of whom are destined to become good friends), and discovered a confidence in ourselves that we never knew we had.

We’ve also spent more money (by this point) than we’d planned, fallen far short of our blogging goals, and have started to get on each other’s nerves.

In my mind, the blogging is easy to excuse.  I thoroughly enjoy sharing our experiences with anyone who cares to follow along, but at the end of the day, I’d rather be traveling than writing about traveling.  It seems like the only time I’m able to muster the creative energy to work on long-form blogging or video editing is when we’ve been sitting idle for a few days.  Compound that with the fact that internet access had been much harder to come by in Africa and, well, even our “easy” updates on Twitter and Facebook have fallen way behind.

The good news is that South Africa was really expensive.  Wait, what?  Stick with me here.

When we were in South America, except for maybe Chile, it was easy enough to stay within our budget, even while paying for some expensive tours like Machu Picchu or a flight over the Nazca Lines.  But when we arrived in Africa, we were having a very difficult time staying under budget, even with the least expensive tours.  We’ve heard more than once now that Africa has “low volume, high cost” tourism.  With white shark cage dives costing upwards of $250 per person and private safaris going much higher, it forced me to start doing something I hate: Marketing myself.

To my surprise, it’s been working fairly well.  Oksana and I have been sending out emails to tour companies, explaining our budget situation and offering to do some promotional work for them in exchange for complimentary tours.  I’m not sure that we’ve had a completely free tour yet, but we’ve had a few heavily discounted (and completely worthwhile) ones.

Other than the obvious – going on tours we wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford – there have been two huge benefits to doing business this way.  1) Because of the work-trade agreements, I’m much more motivated (even required!) to post new podcast video episodes on our site, and 2) Knowing that people see value in the work we’re doing has increased my confidence in my own work.  I’m starting to see how this could blossom into some real opportunities down the road.

I’m not so sure Oksana is thrilled with that idea.

As I mentioned above, we’ve been squabbling a bit lately.  I’m not too worried about it (yet.)  I think it’s normal for anyone that spends a year together, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  I think it speaks quite well of our relationship that we’ve gone this far without killing each other.  We’ve met other travelers on similar trips who needed some time apart and went their separate ways for a month or two.  I don’t think there’s any danger of us doing that.

It all comes down to stress.  Oksana is stressed because she feels it’s her burden to do all the research on where we’re going next, in which hostels we’re going to stay, how to be prepared for each country’s visas.  I’m stressed because I’m constantly feeling guilty about not updating the blog or lining up the next free tour.  Oksana is stressed that we’re already a month over budget (curse you Galapagos luxury cruise!) and worries that we’ll eventually have to dip into our savings to complete this trip.  And I get stressed when I think about coming all the way to Africa and not doing certain things like climbing Kilimanjaro or bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge.

When we’re stressed out, we snap at each other and when we snap at each other, we’re not having fun.  I know we don’t need to return home again to be happy; we just need to find ways to lower our stress levels while traveling.  Seeing new and interesting things helps.  Stopping for awhile, like we did in Argentina, helped a lot.  Finding a large plastic bag full of unmarked American bills would probably do wonders.

I wish we had the time to sit on a beach somewhere and cool off, but we’re starting to feel the pressure of deadlines looming.

Our first deadline is my Russian visa.  I can spend up to three months in Russia, but because my visa has specific dates assigned to it, we’ll have to leave the country by the end of September.   Working backwards, that means we have to enter Russia no later than the end of August; we need at least a month to visit all our friends and family, from St. Petersburg to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.

So, that gives us a maximum of two months to wrap up East Africa, fly to Cairo, see Israel and Jordan, move through Turkey, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, and Litva, and finally Finland.  Easily doable, but not at the pace we’re used to.  More stress.

“So, when will the trip end,” you might be asking yourself.  “When are they coming home?”

Originally, I was disappointed that my position with the University couldn’t be held for me, but now I’m so happy not to have that commitment hanging over my head!  We expected to be gone only a year, but I think it’s safe to say that we’re not in any rush to go home.

We plan to leave Russia from the Far East at the end of September.  Where we go from there will depend a lot on what we research between now and then, but we want to eventually make it to Southeast Asia – Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, maybe Malaysia and definitely Thailand.  On the way, if it’s feasible, I’d love to visit Japan, South Korea, or perhaps even parts of China.

Our plan right now (subject to change!) is to spend the month of November in Thailand.  Diving in the ocean, sipping daiquiris on the beach, eating cheap food on the streets of Bangkok, maybe even searching the jungles for the synchronized fireflies I heard about on RadioLab.

Based on the success of our Galapagos trip, we’re extending an invitation to our friends, family, or anyone that knows us really, to join us in Thailand.  Doesn’t have to be for the whole month of November.  If you’re interested, drop us a line.

Our “final” destination is likely to be Australia.  Way back when we were in Ecuador, Oksana applied for an Australian Holiday Work Visa and she was approved!  If we enter the country before the first week of December, she’ll be able to work there for up to one year (provided, of course, she can find a job.)  While it won’t be a vacation, it will prolong our return to the “real world.”  Besides which, I think Oksana is looking forward to having a routine again.

If it works out, I won’t be able to work there, of course (I’m hoping I can stay as her spouse, though!), so I’m planning to use that time to hit the blog pretty hard.  I don’t think the stories we can tell or the videos we can show would have any less impact for being a year older.  I’m more confident that I’ll make my blogging goals, because aside from a few weekend trips around Australia, I won’t have to juggle blogging and traveling for a good long while.

After that?  Who knows.  It’s too far out to tell.  Oksana and I regret missing Central America; it was always our plan to take a cruise ship out of Florida, get off in Belize or Mexico, and bus it all the way down to Panama.  I also regret not digging into the Spanish as much as I should have while we traveled through South America.  Maybe when we’re done with Australia, if Oksana’s job helps us refill our savings account, we’ll find a spot on the beach in Honduras and try one of those “relaxing” vacations we’ve heard so much about!