12 Mistakes You Still Make as a Veteran Traveler

Ok, so you’ve been on the road for a while. You can differentiate between a longan berry, a lychee, and a rambutan in a blind taste test. You can do currency conversions almost without thinking, sew patches on your clothes, and your bargaining skills have actually become quite impressive. Things are pretty-much cake now, yeah?

Well…maybe not. Even the most seasoned travelers get tripped up from time to time. Here’s the dirty dozen we’re willing to admit.

1. Taking Photos in Bad Light

Some of our best photos – images of the bathing ghats in Varanasi, thousands of scooters zipping to work in Taipei, pink skies over New Zealand’s Southern Alps – were taken around the “golden hours” for photography: Sunrise and sunset. Our worst photos are always taken during the middle of the day when the light is harshest. It doesn’t matter how many photos you take; if the light is bad, chances are the pictures will be too.

[ptcPhoto filename=”NZSunset-1.jpg” title=”Sunset” caption=”The boys enjoying some wine at sunset.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”BurjAlArab-1.jpg” title=”Dubai” caption=”And here’s a photo of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, taken midday. Pretty big difference.” position=”center”]

We know when to catch great light, but somehow we manage to be doing other things when we could be taking incredible photos. If only there was a camera that dispensed tiny cups of espresso…

2. Planning Too Far Ahead

There’s always the initial research that makes you decide to visit a country in the first place. But doing too much in advance can be a small mistake (in that you’ll forget everything before it actually becomes relevant), or a big one (in that something comes up and you have to cancel plans). Aside from when we had visitors we never booked things more than a month in advance for the entire trip. The one time we did, we had to go home for a family emergency. If you’re a major planner, just make sure everything is refundable!

3. Not Planning Ahead at All

On the flip side of this coin, there are times when a lax approach to planning can bite back. For instance, you have to book months in advance to volunteer at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. Another example: One time in Malaysia we tried to get a bus from the east coast to Kuala Lumpur, but it was full. Since we already had a hotel in KL that evening we had to take a completely roundabout way to reach the city that took an extra 6 hours, cost more, and caused a lot of headaches. Did it all work out? Sure. But had we just walked to the station and booked tickets a day in advance, we would have had another day in KL.

4. Not Backing Up Data

I’m really bad about this. We’ve taken something like 20,000 photos over the last couple of years, and to lose any of them would be devastating. But do you think I remember to run a backup when we get to a hotel with good internet? That darn YouTube and its cat videos! I always forget! Thankfully Eric is much better about these things.

In case you’re wondering, the best backup solutions we’ve found are Dropbox for documents and Crashplan for photos. After the Crash of 2013 when Eric’s hard drive got wet, we learned the hard way how important it is to have a reliable resource not only for backing things up, but for “pulling them back down” as well.

5. Not Tackling Bucket List Items Immediately

Those few days when you first arrive to a new city, when you’re still excited and motivated…that’s the time to tackle all the things that brought you there. Too often we leave the major sights for the end and either rush through them or miss them completely.

[ptcPhoto filename=”GrandMosqueDome-1.jpg” title=”” caption=”Muscat’s Grand Mosque is incredible. But we had to rush through it so we could catch a flight.” position=”center”]

6. Not Making Sure the Meter is On

Here’s a rookie mistake. In much of the world taxi drivers don’t like to use their meters, assuming they even have one. In such cases it’s essential you agree on a price before getting into the cab. Every so often we just forget to agree on a price beforehand or check that the taxi driver has turned on the meter. This always results in a heavily inflated fare. It happens to the best of us.

7. Not Taking Time to Rest

A big part of long-term (or short-term) travel is knowing your limits. Nothing’s going to be that much fun if you’re tired and grumpy. I have some photos from days when we should’ve stayed in (and probably gotten separate hotel rooms) and I just remember them as bad days. There will be times when you’re just not feeling it. Don’t feel bad if you need to order in and watch movies…travel is supposed to be enjoyable!

8. Not Documenting Things

A photo, an email home to a friend, a journal, a memento, a blog post – these are all ways to document your experiences, big and small. Try to take note of things you find interesting before they become commonplace or you never see them again. Strangely, we also find that it’s worthwhile to document situations that have gone wrong, since they make for some of the funniest memories. In that moment when you’re completely lost or your meal is inedible you might be really pissed off. But in a few months when you’re telling the story, photos will just add to the hilarity.

[ptcPhoto filename=”PortugalDetail-1.jpg” title=”Details” caption=”Colorful street art in Lisbon: A reminder of that day when we explored the city.” position=”center”]

The combination of all of these things – the good and bad experiences, interactions with people, tastes, smells, costs, tiny details – make up your impressions of a place, and documenting them in some way will help you go back there in your memory any time you want.

(On the other hand, at times we tend to over-document things, thus missing out on the experience. There’s something to be said for putting the camera down and just taking in the moment.)

9. Being a Bad Judge of Character

In the developing world especially, it takes a little time to assess the locals. Are they just super friendly people who want to talk to you and invite you in for tea? Or are they only being nice because they want you to stay at their guest house/buy their carpets/take you on a tour that, unbeknownst to you, you’ve already begun? Sometimes you take the bait and end up paying someone just to leave you alone, and sometimes you end up brushing off someone who really was just a sweet old man trying to practice his English. It can be difficult to sort these things out on the spot when you’re in a new place.

10. Not Allowing Yourself to Buy or Do Something…

…because it’s not a “Good Deal”. If something looks like fun, go do it. If you’ve fallen in love with a unique piece of artwork or jewelry that will always take you back to that moment, buy it. There will be times that you know you can find a better price if you keep looking, and those of us on a tight budget will normally take on the challenge. But at the end of the day, saving that $5 might not be worth the hassle and time it took to do so – time that you could have spent making memories instead of making deals.

[ptcPhoto filename=”DubaiLanterns-1.jpg” title=”Lanterns” caption=”Having always wanted some of these Turkish-style lanterns, I’ve finally started a collection.” position=”center”]

11. Leaving Things Behind

Oooh, here’s one that drives us completely insane. You go to charge your laptop and find that nope, the power converter’s still plugged into the wall of your hotel room in Hong Kong. You’d just skip on over and pick it up, but there’s that little problem of already being in Taipei.

A running list of all the things we’ve lost in 20 months of traveling includes (but is not limited to): 1 shirt, an ATM card, 2 pack towels, chopsticks, spoons, sunglasses, an awesome pair of Pac-Man earrings, underwear, at least 4 converters, the first aid kit, an iPod, a Kindle, a jacket, a water bottle, Eric’s wallet, Sam’s knitting needles, and a goat hair bracelet.

Some tips to not be so bad at life? Try to avoid early flights, and go through a “pre-checkout check” that includes looking through every drawer and under the bed at least twice. Most everything can be easily replaced on the road, so we just try to roll with it and remind ourselves that when you pack up and move every three days, these things happen.

12. Doing Something Because it’s “The Thing to Do”

This one is pretty hard to avoid. After all, you aren’t going to visit northern India without seeing the Taj Mahal, and few people would go to Jordan without swinging down to Petra for a day or two. Most of these places become tourist traps for a reason, but sometimes you show up and say, “Yep, that’s it. Looks like the photos.” Occasionally, though, the main sights really do live up to the hype – Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon is a good example. You just never know unless you cough up the entry fee and stand in line with a million other tourists. Life is hard, I know.

Ok, what did we miss? Fellow travelers, do you have any confessions to make?

Plotting the Course Home

Most every traveler will, at some point or another, have to face the crippling melancholy that comes with the realization this can’t go on forever. For me this came just recently when Eric admitted that he’s been burnt out and wanting to go home for some time now. “But what about Africa?!”, I’d lament. “What about moving to Korea, and seeing Macchu Pichu, Galapagos and Moscow! We didn’t get to bathe elephants. How did we spend over a year in Asia and not bathe elephants? No, no. Not so fast. It’s not time yet. It can’t be ooooovveerrrr.”

They say that denial is the first stage of grief.

The truth is, traveling for longer than a year or two might be overkill. After a while it can start to take a toll on you, your relationship with your travel partner, and your relationships with people back home. After a while, all your memories start to run together and you can’t recall whether it was in Malaysia or in Thailand where that lizard jumped on your face during dinner, or out of the hundred beaches you’ve been to, which one had the softest sand. Like anything, travel becomes routine and you start to take it for granted. And in a way, doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose?

So I guess Eric’s not so far off after all. I’ve been feeling it too. It’s just that the going home part seems so mundane. I’ve always equated going home with getting a job (shudder) and growing up (vomit).

Let’s skip over the ugly “anger” stage. Enter bargaining, the third stage of grief.

I’ve had a few lessons on how bargaining works around the world. The trick is for the seller to ask some insanely inflated price, and for the buyer to incrementally work it down to something reasonable. We had a few rounds of back and forth before agreeing that we will go home…soon. “It makes sense to stop in the Middle East on the way home from Asia, right? What kind of a world traveler goes home without seeing the pyramids? This is my sticking point. Pyramids, or no dice.” Turns out this guy is pretty reasonable, so despite going the wrong way around the world (again), he agrees to seven more countries along the way. He also agrees that unless we’re starving, we’ll only take jobs that allow us to travel 2-3 months out of the year.

For the next two months our pace will be more akin to the Shinkansen train than our normal ambling along ancient, rickety tracks. Maybe it’ll help me blow right past the “depression” stage.

On to acceptance. All of our travel goals can still be achieved…just not on the same schedule we’d anticipated. I keep telling myself it’s not a death knell. I keep remembering all the people and things back home that I’ve missed over the last eighteen months. At home there’s organic food, knitting classes, Wash Park, my volunteering position, and a great group of friends to share it all with. It is not, it turns out, the end of the world.

It’s an opportunity to go back to our favorite place in the world.

So, Denver readers, see you in October!

Day 500

Hello from Langkawi! We really didn’t know what to expect from Malaysia, but it’s been such an easy, pleasant introduction to the region. We’ve spent the last month traveling northwards from Singapore, where we stayed with extended family and embarked on a food challenge to eat as much as possible. A big thank you to Chuck and Carol for showing us around and sharing your wonderful, air-conditioned apartment!

[ptcPhoto filename=”ChuckCarol.jpg” title=”Lantern” caption=”Chuck and Carol, and their neighbor Joyce.” position=”center”]

Since leaving the City of the Merlion we’ve been eating still more tasty food and meeting some truly inspiring people along the way. I must shout out to our new friends Caryl and Paul from Vegan Food Quest. We met them on our first day in Malaysia and had some long, thought-provoking conversations about the ethics of food, traveling on a dime, and the adventures of fellow wedded wayfarers.

[ptcPhoto filename=”PaulCaryl.jpg” title=”Paul and Caryl” caption=”Enjoying Tiger Beer (which is vegan!) in Malacca.” position=”center”]

In Kuala Lumpur we visited the Central Market and tried out one of those fish spas you see all over the place. Eric was a champion, throwing his feet in with cavalier nonchalance. I was a little hesitant…these fish! They were so much bigger than I expected! And they must have been absolutely ravenous, because they all gawped at me with these huge gaping fish mouths and steely eyes floating just below the surface. Some of them even launched out of the water at me.

I won’t lie, it super creepy.

I eventually gave in to Eric’s peer pressure and held my feet under while a whole school of them suctioned themselves onto me. It was some mix of a thousand tiny tickles and sheer terror, giggles mingled with the distressed mewling of someone who’s about to lose her toes. I may have caused a scene.

[ptcPhoto filename=”FishAttack.jpg” title=”Fish attack” caption=”They also have full body fish spas. I can’t imagine anything worse.” position=”center”]

Ohy, it’s good to have that off my chest. Moving on…

Lately I’ve been thinking about this conundrum: We’ve been to 17 countries in the last 500 days, and even though we’ve had some of the best experiences of our lives in that time, I still just want so much more. I had planned out an entire Middle East leg for later this year before Eric reminded me we have to SLOW DOWN. Will there ever come a time when I’m really ready to stop traveling? What’s more, will I ever get to the point where I actually feel like a traveler? There are always cities and countries we didn’t see, meals we didn’t have, questions we didn’t answer.

[ptcPhoto filename=”GTStreetArt.jpg” title=”Riding along” caption=”Street art in Georgetown: Going or staying?” position=”center”]

It’s maddening, really, how small the world seems when you’re planning and how big it feels when you arrive. And then I think about all the things we’d be doing if we were home – how we’re missing births, weddings, job opportunities, etc, and I want everything all at once. I don’t know where I’m going with this, just thought I’d put it out there.

[ptcPhoto filename=”KLGarretts.jpg” title=”Kuala Lumpur” caption=”If Eric has his way, at least we’ll hit every Garretts Popcorn in the world.” position=”center”]

Tomorrow we’re finally making our way into Thailand! It seems like we’ve been dancing all around it for some time now, flying through Bangkok several times but never leaving the airport. Our first stop is an island apartment in Koh Lanta – three weeks of beachy bliss and homemade mango smoothies. We’re going in without being completely confident about the political climate there, but they’ve lifted the curfew and the US State Department has scaled back their travel warnings. We’ll just give Bangkok a wide berth until we have a better understanding of the situation.

Hope all is well with you and yours, dear readers, and that you’re loving life, where ever you are!

Sixteen Months In…Lost Stuff, Found Friends

Like the cover photo? That’s us enjoying canned spaghetti on a beach in Fiji. Because we spent the last four months in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. And we’re really, really poor now.

Speaking of Australia and New Zealand, internet has been pretty spotty and expensive for some time now. So I apologize to our regular readers for having left you out of the loop for such a long stretch. Things have been good with us, and I’m really looking forward to filling you in on our adventures and sharing some of the thousands of photos we’ve taken along the way.

[ptcPhoto filename=”KangaUpdate.jpg” title=”Kangaroo” caption=”Around 200 of those photos might be of kangaroos.” position=”center”]

I suppose I have to go all the way back to Portugal to fill you in on the Saga of the First Aid Kit. We had an early morning flight from Lisbon to Hong Kong and I left it in the hotel room. Which really sucked when we arrived in Hong Kong without sleeping pills and suffered from some of the worst jet lag ever. This wasn’t just any first aid kit, you guys. It had all of our OTC meds, pain killers, motion sickness tabs, antibiotics, and A YEAR’S SUPPLY OF MALARIA MEDICATION. I asked – nay, begged – the hostel to retrieve and send it to us over the course of 7 weeks and 22 emails, to no avail. It’s just gone now. We have to start over. Sad.

In happier news, we’ve had not one, but three! visitors over the last couple months. That means we got to share a ton of fun activities with friends – from tasting Australia’s wine country, to an informative yet awkward didgeridoo lesson, to hang gliding and hiking through Middle Earth. Some good times, for sure.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Erebor.jpg” title=”Edoras” caption=”Sharing a boys moment atop Edoras from Lord of the Rings.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”TimTam.jpg” title=”Tim Tams” caption=”Enjoying Tim Tams in Sydney with Caroline.” position=”center”]

We’re on Mana Island in Fiji right now. Our resort is, shall we say, pretty basic here. But there’s sun, sand, and rum, which is really all you need if you’re on an island, right!? We’ve made some friends and tomorrow we get to go snorkel with jellyfish and see the island where the movie Castaway was filmed.

[ptcPhoto filename=”FijiUke.jpg” title=”Ukey” caption=”Ukey posing on a Fijian beach.” position=”center”]

The most recent new development in trip news is that we booked tickets to Singapore. We have extended family there who have graciously offered to host us, and we’ll be happy to see more familiar faces soon. We’ll be there for four or five days before moving up to Malaysia and Thailand…and I’ve learned not to plan too much further ahead than that.

For now our top blog priority is to update our galleries, so you should have a whole lot of trip photos soon. Stay tuned for our best images so far this year!

Update: One Year In…Old Questions, New Plans

After a six week break in the States, we’re back on the road – literally, driving along the winding paths of the Iberian Peninsula in a long loop from Portugal through Spain and back again. It’s a bit strange to embark on Leg Two after being home. It’s as though we hit pause for a time and now we’re trying to get back into the swing of things – getting back some into some sort of schedule, planning for the year, and, more generally, trying to figure out what we want to do with ourselves in the long-term.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Path1280-lowres.jpg” title=”Path” caption=”Where does the path lead?” position=”center”]

Going home was, for me at least, an eye-opener. Maybe turning thirty while we were there has spurred something in me that’s less ok with not having a concrete plan for the future. Some days I’m consumed by panic over all the not knowing, and some days I can just roll with it. But it’s good, at least now we’re both pretty certain that while we could just go back and pick up where we left off, it’s not something we’re likely to do. That’s a start, right?

[ptcPhoto filename=”SevilleStatue.jpg” title=”Statue” caption=”This statue looks all calm and collected. Maybe she has it figured out.” position=”center”]

Anyhoo, enough introspection for one post. Back to the trip.

Overall we’re feeling like Europe is…can I say this? Compared to Asia, anyways, Europe isn’t always so exciting. Aside from the part where Eric had his wallet stolen in Barcelona, which is NOT the type of excitement we’re after.

In Spain we understood quite a bit of the language and we didn’t find ourselves being challenged in the same ways we were in, say, China. And things cost a lot. For example, going into the Gaudi Modernist Museum costs €21.50 ($30 USD) each, but our daily budget was only $100 overall. Most everything is priced this way, so we ended up skipping a lot of major sights and fancy meals out in an effort to save money for the rest of the world. Thankfully many hostels and apartments had kitchens, but that means we ate a whole lot of my cooking and only skimmed a major component of Spanish culture. In short, I think we’ll be sticking to the original plan of coming back to western Europe when we’re old and rich.

[ptcPhoto filename=”EricClown.jpg” title=”Clown” caption=”The clown-carrying, at least, is free.” position=”center”]

With all this time in we’ve started making some badly needed updates to the website. We’ve changed our “About Us” page, but since our regular readers may not see it I’ll copy most of it here:

Up until now, it doesn’t look like our site has answered the three big questions everyone seemed to ask when we were home – questions about how we afford traveling, what it’s like to travel as a couple, and what have been some of our most memorable experiences. Those certainly are three major pieces to this puzzle, so it’s high time we addressed them!

How Can We Afford to Travel the World?

Before leaving Denver, Eric worked as a software engineer and I was an accountant. We saved every possible penny over the course of 18 months, sold almost all of our possessions including our cars, furniture, and Eric’s condo, and rented out my property for rental income. I also had some spare dollars left over from my time as a student that went into our savings.

But for the most part, the only way we were able to quit our jobs and travel was to make saving money our top priority for a very long time. There have been a lot of financial sacrifices, both before and during our trip, but we believe that most everyone can travel long-term if they’re really dedicated and make it a priority.

Do You Get Tired of Being Together All the Time?

Well…yes. We’re pretty-much together 24/7 and that much togetherness can take a toll on even the best relationship. What’s good about it is that we’ve gotten to know each other on a much deeper level since we left, and we get to see the world with someone we love.

[ptcPhoto filename=”LegoCordoba1.jpg” title=”Mezquita” caption=”We do fine, but the Lego people? They are so sick of each other.” position=”center”]

It helps that we have our own interests and hobbies – Eric is always travel-hacking flights or learning new programming skills, and I do a lot of writing and flirt with things like knitting and ukulele-playing. Also, we have very different talents when it comes to the trip itself. I track all of our expenses and Eric maintains the website. I’m the big picture “Where to go, what to do” person, while he figures out the daily logistics that make it all happen. We make a good team. Will we need separate vacations after all of this? Probably!

What Have Been Your Favorite Places and Experiences?

There are a few towns to which we’d probably never return, but for the most part we look back fondly on every place we’ve visited. It’s as you might expect: Places that challenge you also teach you the most. The Chinese food in China is nothing like the Chinese food back home. Big cities can get crazy expensive.

But if we have to narrow it down, here are some of our most memorable experiences from our first year of travel, in order of occurrence:

Bonus Question: What are we Most Looking Forward to on Leg Two?

The coming year will be a big one for PTC. After a couple months in Europe we’ll fly to Oceania before stopping back in Asia…and then back to Europe (but further east this time)! By autumn we’ll be in southern Africa, and then we plan to finish up the leg with yet more time in Asia. We promise there’s some rhyme to our reason with regard to routing…

Here are some highlights in our plan for the year:

  • Eating Peking duck in Hong Kong
  • Diving the Great Barrier Reef
  • Hiking with friends in New Zealand
  • Shopping in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar
  • Finding accordionists in Bulgaria
  • Seeing the Big Five on a safari in southern Africa, and…
  • Laying on beaches. Many, many beaches.
  • If anyone out there is interested in this level of detail, here are our travel dates for the year.

    Dates!

    • March 4th – Hong Kong
    • March 11th – Australia
    • April 10th – New Zealand
    • May 12th – Fiji
    • May 26th – Myanmar and Thailand
    • August 1st – Eastern Europe (TBD)
    • September 15th – Turkey
    • October 14th – Southern Africa (Zimbabwe – Botswana – Namibia)
    • December 17th – Southeast Asia (Vietnam – Laos – Cambodia – Malaysia – Indonesia)

    That’s it until the next time it changes!