Things learned through 8 months of travel

Things learned through 8 months of travel

You learn many things about yourself and your partner when you travel full time. Our first 9 years together, Lissette (Spanky) and I lived quite the routine life centered on the 9 -5 of work. The last 8 months have meant big changes to our way of living. Here are things we’ve learned, adjustments we’ve made, and issues we’re still working through after 8 months of travel.

01 | Relationships. I joked prior to us leaving for a life of travel that if the reader ever comes to the site and sees either of the two little cartoon caricatures of us (top right corner) keeled over or lying in a pool of blood it might be a good indication that our relationship is not going so great. Being together 24/7 can put a strain on any relationship. I’m happy to say that neither of us has killed the other. What works for us? 1) we’re best friends first, 2) we’re usually on the same beat about how we feel about a place 3) we can live in a tight space and have our independence. This last point is important. Even if we don’t have a large physical space we get along without judging each other. You just have to accept the way the other person is; accept their weaknesses, embrace their strengths. Hopefully they complement yours. Lissette, for example, helps me when I get agitated. Bank machines, computers, SIM cards, and reading instructions are things that sometimes get me crazy (as Lissette says, it’s not that I’m stupid, I just have more important things on my mind). She takes over those little things and and calms me down. She accepts my off-colour sense of humour that a lot of people just don’t get. At least once a day I tell her that I have to go “Shitty shitty bang bang in the Shithausen”. She had laughed the first time I said it (maybe 5 months ago) but now just rolls her eyes. But I know deep down she still finds it funny ;) . She tidies and decorates and somehow turns even the most ordinary room into a home of sorts. In turn I help her with stuff she’s not good at, like anything financial or having to do with logistics. I organize everything having to do with travel. I handle doing laundry and cooking while she’s working. I hold her hand when we walk down the street because Lissette’s biggest fears are stray dogs and uneven sidewalks. In short: we complement each other and can accept each other with a sense of humour. I think these things are the single most important components in successfully travelling with someone.
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02 | We’ve learned that the maximum that we can be in one place is 3 months. We were in Prague for 3 months, had a month in each Bangkok and Hua Hin, and have now been in Nong Khai for a little over 3. By the time we hit the 3 month mark we are always itching to go somewhere else.
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03 | Every traveller blogs at one time or another about their packing list. I think that’s very personal. But if there’s one thing that we are really, really happy that we packed it is our bedsheets. Pure 100% cotton sheets; a flat sheet and a fitted sheet. Other bloggers will think we’re crazy. But we’ve come across some crappy sheets in all the apartments and hotels we’ve been in and there is nothing like the comfort of sleeping in your own sheets. We also brought a Pacsafe which was a wise decision; we have 3 computers with us as well as important documents and we always feel better locking them up. Other things we were glad we packed: workout cords (great for a million purposes including a clothesline) and sarongs (useful as a skirt, curtain, tablecloth). Negatives: too much clothes, too many pairs of shoes, too many products from home that we could have bought on the road. We’ll know better going forward.
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04 | Accommodation. Since starting our travels we’ve stayed in all kinds of apartments, from luxurious to very small and rustic. We’ve learned that we don’t need a lot of space as long as the apartment is clean, well-located, and has good wifi. Lissette cried when we first saw our apartment in Nong Khai. It had no soul and looked like a prison cell. But we scrubbed it clean, Lissette decorated it, and we bought a couple of worktables. It’s ended up being fine. Finding accommodation for 1 to 3 months can be a challenge (as I wrote about in this post).

our apartment in Nong Khai

Above: our simple apartment in Nong Khai. Lissette turned it into Bollywood.

05 | The above brings us to our biggest issue since we’ve started our travels: Food and having a kitchen. We’ve learned that we have to be close to a market or grocery store with fresh food and that we need a decent kitchen. These are two necessities going forward. Most Thai apartments have either just a counter or a stove-top or no kitchen at all. The only thing we have is a fridge. We’ve adjusted by eating out at lunch (Nong Khai has some good restaurants) and having instant-noodle soups and sandwiches at night. Not a good diet and we’re not as healthy as we were back home. I’ve learned – the apartment that we have lined up in Split has a nice kitchen and we hope to get started with better habits. We also have to start working out again. Lissette equates the first year of travelling to making pancakes; you learn from cooking the first one, throwing it out, and doing each succeeding pancake better and better.

So we’re going to work on getting back in shape before re-visiting Montreal this summer. It would be bad to come back fatter than when we left ;) .
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06 | Connecting with people. It’s so hard to connect with people at home yet so easy on the road. There’s just so many opportunities when you break the routine and connecting with people has been the most pleasurable part of our travels. It sounds corny, but the memories of people you meet along the way stays in your head and keep the place alive in your heart. We ended up missing Prague and we will miss Nong Khai as well when we leave in 2 weeks. Lissette has always been more sociable than me but she’s blossomed since travelling. She draws people in with her easy manner, warm smile, and her crazy sense of humour. We’re also funny-looking. A couple of days anywhere and people recognize us and get curious. We’ve met and chatted with a  lot of people. I’ve included a few photos below but I’ll be doing a photo post in the near future of the crazy (I say that affectionately) people we’ve met here in Nong Khai

Below left: Lady with store who befriended us.       Below right: Lady who cuts my hair

thai friends in nong khai

Kiteboy, nong khai

Above. Man who flies kites. Lissette took a liking to him and he brought us to his home and showed us all his kites.

07 | The benefits of speaking another language. Its’s great speaking a 2nd or 3rd language. You’ll think “oh, to talk to locals”. No. How often do you go to a restaurant or bar and just feel that the people next to you are listening to every word you’re saying? It happens to us all the time. It’s usually a couple sitting there in silence. That’s when we’ll switch to either Spanish or French. The funny thing is that it will always bring a reaction; they’ll suddenly look up in surprise. Happens every time and just confirms that they were listening in. It’s also our polite way of letting them know “sorry, we’re not your entertainment. For that you have to pay money”.
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08 | Ideal destinations for us. We’re learning more as we go along what our ideal destinations are. I can’t take winter, Lissette can’t take heat. I couldn’t take another Canadian winter. Bangkok and Hua Hin were just too hot and humid for both of us. Nong Khai, from early December to mid-February was perfect: mid 20’s during the day, cool at night, always sunny. Perfection. Over the last 2 -3 weeks it has gotten hot, almost unbearable. It’s something to remember if/when we come back.

It’s not just temperatures. Although it’s nice being in a tropical climate, neither of us are beach-lovers. Fine for a vacation but not when you’re living somewhere. We both like nature and hiking and have missed that. We hope to be much more active in Croatia. I’ve previously written about the differences in the places you’ll go to on vacation versus the places you go to when slow-travelling. Again, stuff to think about when planning.
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09 | Personal belongings at home. We took extreme care packing and storing all our furniture back in Montreal. We’ve got some beautiful stuff and we could not imagine getting rid of any of it. 8 months later we’ve lost our attachment. Funny how that happens. Things change and we don’t want to make any hasty decisions. But right now it’s more a headache than anything else.

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10 | Sometimes I can’t get over how technology is amazing. Everything from Airbnb rentals to life insurance to all our banking is done online. We watch all our favorite shows and movies on Netflix. I watch my hockey games on NHL.com. Last weekend Lissette surprised me by digging up “Celebrity Apprentice” on youtube. We watched a whole season (without commercials).  I remember my first trip overseas at 18 to Spain’s Costa Brava with my friend Laurent where we would walk around with our Lonely Planet guide trying to find cheap hotel rooms. So much has changed. I know I sound old saying this, but technology is pretty frigin awesome (when it works).

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Overall we’ve had a great time and we always pinch ourselves – we realize how lucky we are to be doing this and hope to be able to continue for the foreseeable future.

The above are our experiences, feelings and issues after 8 months of travel. Hopefully it helps others out there contemplating travel or living their first months overseas. Would love to get some feedback!

 
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Comments

  1. Frank, I think you are so smart to bring your own sheets…nothing worse than scratchy sheets. Also, it’s funny you mention three months. As Jim and I plan, we’re thinking that will be similar for us. Good read…good lessons!
    Corinne recently posted…Tiniest Hotel Rooms – A Capsule Hotel in JapanMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks Corinne! Besides anything else, kind of gross to think of all the dirty asses that have been lying on the same sheets :)

  2. I must admit that, of all these notes, I think that the most interesting one is the fact that you discovered you can only stay in one place for up to three months, but not more.

    What’s great for you, is that you travel together – I have a frequent business traveler in the family (my husband) and it is so much different when only one is on the road, even if with his job – and he does that on a weekly basis.

    As a conclusion: I can only wish you the best and to many wonderful places to discover!
    Loredana recently posted…Travel tips: FREE things available anywhere in the worldMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks Lori. There’s an old saying that ‘it is harder to travel with someone than to live with them’. I think it’s true. Have travelled with a few friends and it was a disaster. It can’t be easy to travel constantly for business, especially when you get left behind. Maybe that will change someday?

  3. Hello, Frank and Lissette.
    A very useful post, a real food for thought.
    My thoughts:
    - If people at the near table in a cafe listen to you, it means you speak loudly enough. :-)
    - Three month in one place is great result. Irina and I cannot leave in one place more than 10 days.
    - I am completely agree with you about the first point. I hate to travel alone.
    Victor recently posted…Castles in Switzerland: Oberhofen CastleMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thank Victor. The 3 months is our limit as slow travellers – if we didn’t both work while travelling we would move around a lot more. When we were just ‘vacationing’ 3 days would be our limit. So really depends how you travel.
      Actually I find it amazing how many couples don’t talk and just sit there in silence. They’re the ones who we usually find listening in. Knock on wood, I hope we never ever not have anything to say to each other. I’ve never hated travelling alone, but like you I would always much rather travel with a companion that I’m happy with. Lissette’s my perfect companion :)

  4. Kudos to your for finding your path and smart thinking on the sheets! Whenever we stay anywhere I always throw back the bedding and check the sheets before I crawl into bed. We are currently at the end of week two of a 14-week journey. This is our longest stint. Last year we took a 2-month road trip and loved it. We just spent a week in Prague, loved it, although we both got sick – really sick – so we didn’t get to do as much as we’d hope. Just spent this past week in Bavaria and now we’re heading to the middle east for 3 weeks before we move on to Spain and walk the Camino De Santiago. If we can survive this, I think we’re golden (we’ve been married for 36 years, so we kinda got it down). Neither of us wants to go nomadic though. We’ve talked about it, but we both like having a home base where we can decompress for a few months and then take off again. That, and we have a son and daughter-in-law.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Sounds like you’re having a wonderful trip, except for the getting sick part. The Camino De Santiago sounds interesting to us as well since seeing the movie ‘The Way’. We’re not religious at all, but as a hike and to meet people I think it would be a unique experience.
      Enjoy the rest of your trip, thank you Patti for taking the time to comment.

  5. Great tips… this is the way how we should travel…
    Laura recently posted…Hotel Review: Mercure Brussels Centre MidiMy Profile

  6. Dee (Dee's Butterfly Garden) says:

    That’s such a nice photo of the two of yo! Now I have faces to go with the many articles I’ve enjoyed from your blog and facebook page!! You’re a handsome couple! I love your recommendation of bringing bed sheets! It’s genius really. Bringing your own sheets will help you sleep better and it’s hygienic. You don’t have to sleep on sheets other people have slept on and you don’t know how clean they really are! The pac safe is another great idea. By the time I’m ready to take a trip, I’ll be ready because I’ve read your blog!

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks so much Dee. Yes, that’s what Lissette says about the sheets. If she could have brought the toilet from home I think she would have done that too ;)

  7. I can live on tropical fruit, milk and yoghurt mostly. Then a meal of meat once or twice a day. A good fridge is handy.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Yes, I don’t understand how Thai kitchens often don’t even have a stovetop. When we were in Nong Khai there were a few long timers staying at Pikul who bought their own little portable stovetops so they could at least fry some eggs in the morning. Not a bad idea!

Thanks for reading! Feedback is always appreciated!

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