Three Months on the Road

Above: A photo taken of us while diving at the Similan Islands in Thailand by professional underwater photographer Thomas Ozanne at arewedreaming.com

It's now been over three months since Kelsi and I boarded a plane in Boston on our way to Tokyo. This has been the longest I have ever been out of the United States. Three months is a big enough enough milestone to warrant a short pause and reflection of our time thus far.

Kelsi prepares to go into a cave in northern Thailand

On Marriage

Although we've been on the road just over three months, Kelsi and I have been married for almost four. At an intellectual level, I can construct a narrative that life on the road is more taxing than one at home because of the number of decisions that have to be made everyday -- where will we get lunch, how long will we stay in this city, can we afford to do this awesome activity, etc. In practice, however, things don't seem all that hard. We have an understanding that low budget travel punctuated with expensive, lifelong memory building activities is our modus operandi and that guides our travel planning and minimizes disagreements.

That's not to say that we haven't gotten on each other's nerves at one point or another. It can be easy to get grumpy when it's been too long since the last meal, or we've been on a bus for six hours, or the temperature is over 85. Kelsi usually calls this "being a grumpasaur" to diffuse the tension. But I think that it has actually been really great for our marriage as we've had the opportunity to practice forgiving the other person's unfair or short temper about a situation (aka "being the velawsomeraptor"). And since we're traveling it means that disagreements are usually of relatively low impact and matter little as we will soon be moving on to the next city. The slate is constantly cleaned as we move from place to place and past disagreements matter very little.

Our day with the elephants in Chiang Mai was the single most fun day of the entire trip

On Fatigue

If I had one concern about long term travel it was that a cumulative fatigue would set in over time and drain our energy and desire for travel. I thought that as we pranced around Asia we might be drawing on some reserve of energy that we would not be able to replace and by the time we hit a month or two that we'd be ready to check out for a week or four and wish that we were in a culture a little more familiar.

Fortunately, this has not proved to be the case. Quite the opposite, actually.

After traveling for several months, I now totally understand people who go on a long term trip and never return home. Or spend the rest of their lives re-structuring their careers so that they can spend 6-10 months a year on the road. Although it can sometimes be daunting, it is exciting and engaging to see new things and live new experiences every day. Every day there is something to look forward to, whether it be a cultural site, a new subway, or a fantastic local meal. Of course some places are more welcoming or more easily navigable than others, but thus far I don't regret any location we've visited.

This trip has fueled curiosity and interest in other places to visit. I have already day dreamed about and built a rough itinerary for a summer in the wine and cheese countries of Spain, France, and Italy. Asia trip II will be a jaunt through South Korea, Taiwan, and the east coast of China. I have another tour in mind to see the pubs of Ireland and the distilleries of Scotland. America is a big place, too, and Kelsi and I want to road trip across it, exploring the Pacific Northwest down through the Deep South. I talk all the time about the future trips we will take in the indistinct someday future when we have more money to properly enjoy trips to those countries.

For all the talk of travel and life on the road, Boston and the US is still home. I expect that travel will always be a big part of Kelsi and my lives, but we have things we want to accomplish in our lives that will mean that we won't be full time travelers forever. Her current career and my (hopeful) future career in medicine are both meant to be service careers and living as full time travelers would prevent us from maximizing their effect. At minimum, we will be tied down in the US for 7-10 years for medical school and residency. Yes, Kelsi's career allows for a lot of travel and I expect to work it into mine, but it's not quite the same as freewheeling the globe together. And that's okay, too, as we'll love having a home and living in one city that will be home. We can and will always make time for travel.

The Hanshin Tigers baseball game we attended in Osaka was the closest cultural connection I felt to the Japanese people our entire trip to Japan. You may recall that the cheering bats I'm holding in the photo were a gift from the fans in the photo with me. I thought the bats were a special keepsake and hauled them around with us... through China, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and then to Thailand. In Chiang Mai a good friend from home, Kim, visited us and graciously agreed to take the bats home to the US for me. They await our return to the states.

On Budget

We're over budget. Day to day we're fine, but those special, lifetime memory experiences are sometimes quite expensive. Our Philippines boat cruise, spending a day up close and personal with elephants, and most recently our four day/four night scuba diving trip living on a boat all blasted sizable holes in our budgeting. It's worth it, though. Kelsi and I are very clear in our planning that we're here and while we are going to live a (mostly) budget backpackers day to day, when there is an amazing experience we're here to do it and we'll pay for it, even if it's over budget. So it might send us home early, we don't know. Our burn rate is a concern, but if we run low on money we know there are lots of places in Central and South America we can setup shop for a while that will barely cost anything. Other options exist as well. The "worst case" is that we head home to Boston (a city that we love) and get jobs and setup a home (something we're excited to do) earlier than originally planned.

Kelsi diving through rocks in the Similan Islands. From Tom Ozanne at arewedreaming.com

On Privilege

When we began sharing our plans for travel with people back home, some people commented on how lucky we were to quit our jobs, get out of our apartment, and hit the road. The comment always struck me a little oddly. Yes, we were fortunate to have solid jobs that allowed us to save, but we had saved and planned for years to travel. We didn't happen upon the money that we are spending on this trip -- we worked very deliberately for it. Kelsi took a career hit in leaving a job she loved and I delayed starting medical school by another year to make our trip happen. It wasn't easy, but many people we know could do the same thing if it was what they really wanted. 

After being on the road in the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia I am beginning to feel a little more "lucky" and a little less "I worked really hard to get here and therefore earned it on my own". The cities we visit are full of people that are working very hard to keep up a regular life and support their families. Planning and working hard as Kelsi and I did would probably not be enough for them to travel like we are. I feel extremely fortunate to have grown up in the American middle class and have parents who highly value education. Those two facts are what put me in a position to be able to earn and save for this trip and I am grateful for them.

A view from atop the Great Wall of China at Mutianyu

On My Beard

After three months it is very clear that I need to be carrying my own beard trimmer. My beard is getting too long to look right or be comfortable. Yesterday I got a hair cut at a Malaysian mall. I last had a hair cut in China by a barber who did a very find job. This Malaysian barber did not. My mediocre haircut makes my too long beard look more imbalanced that it already looked. Kelsi, for the first time ever, said yesterday, "You know, if you wanted to experiment with not having a beard, this trip would be the time to do it."

Innocent suggestion or subtle wife-y clue?

A photo of me as I write this blog post. We were in the Mustache Cafe (no joke) and they had a series of funny hats to wear. Kelsi put this one on my head as I worked and decided that it looked better than my hair cut.