We have now been traveling for 5 months! Yes, 150 days, already! We continue to learn. And we are often reminded of lessons we learned long ago, but have taken for granted. Here are some of our top revelations to date.
1) A Smile is Universal
We may not speak the same language, share the same culture or look the same, however, a smile seems to mean the same around the world. When in doubt or unsure, a smile will often go a long way…as smiles can be contagious.
2) Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff
I tend to be a perfectionist, which often is in direct conflict with the saying “don’t sweat the small stuff.” Thus letting go of seemingly insignificant imperfections can be challenging. The longer we are gone, the more I have come to appreciate that things will not always go flawlessly and as planned (if they get planned at all)! However, even if we have been overcharged, eaten something we did not want, or missed out on a few sites along the way, the overall outcomes in the end are still favorable. We arrive safely to our destination; we don’t go hungry; we make memories and see a lot of incredible sights along the way. Plus, mis-adventures make for some interesting stories! A little tolerance and acceptance can go along way, especially when being immersed in different cultures.
3) Flat Sheets Are Optional
We thought that standard bedding included a fitted sheet, a flat sheet, a comforter and when required additional blankets. However, what we have discovered in our five months of travel is that most places in the world do not use flat sheets! Having visited over 15 countries in that time, we have only once encountered a flat sheet on a bed. And to be honest, it is so rare, that I can not even remember where it was!
4) The Environment Is Important To Me
I am compulsive about recycling. It seems like such an easy thing to do. Easy because we have the education and infrastructure in place to support it—infrastructure that is not readily available in some places around the world. After 23 days in mainland China, I realize that taking care of the environment is very important to me. We experienced high levels of pollution in nearly every city we visited. The “fog” made it hard to appreciate the natural beauty of the country. Not to mention, it made it difficult to breathe and reduced visibility. Additionally, litter is a real issue. Discarded trash is nearly everywhere; on sidewalks, in rivers, at parks, on the side of roads and at tourist sites. It was common to see people openly discard their trash.
I found the whole experience to be eye opening and sad. As a result I will continue to be compulsive about doing my part to help the environment for future generations…and hope that others will do the same.
5) We Are Foodies
This may come as no surprise, but some of our favorite experiences while traveling involve food. We enjoy experiencing culture through the local cuisine and the best way to to immerse yourself in food is through local food tours. We have toured local markets, visited bakeries, sampled street foods, dined at delicious restaurants and tasted fantastic food that we would have never known to try had it not been for a local food tour. Our favorite cultural experience is food!
6) Balance Is Hard To Strike
Nearly everyone I know has a hundred and one things that are vying for their attention at any given time. Even though those things may differ from day to day and person to person, everyone is trying to identify the right combination that works for them. At any given moment, a seemingly “balanced” person can be thrown off by the unexpected.
For some reason, I thought taking an around the world trip would have a significant positive impact on my sense of equilibrium. However, what I have learned is that no matter the person, the situation, or the geography, I am no different than the next person who is trying to maintain their balance. The items vying for my time are different than at home, but world travel does not give you a “break” away from trying to balance priorities.
7) Less Is More
We find ourselves trying to squeeze every possible site and experience into our trip. Likewise, we frequently find ourselves exhausted, out of time and behind on everything else (planning, working, blogging, etc). We are slowly learning that less can actually be more.
Reducing our list of “experiences” has allowed us to enjoy activities more instead of frantically trying to squeeze lots into the same amount of time. It allows us time to observe people, places, and culture in order to gain a better perspective on things. Not to mention, it helps us balance all our other demands without foregoing sleep!
8) I Definitely Am High Maintenance
After spending three weeks in China, I can say, without a shadow of a doubt that I am most definitely, 100%, high maintenance. I am glad we elected to spend time in China, however, I have never been more homesick and excited to move on. The experience is one that I will not soon forget. It took me outside of my comfort zone and challenged my norms. Without a western-style, up-scale hotel I would have never made it through two nights let alone three full weeks. At one point, we stayed in a farmer’s guesthouse for one sleepless night. After our tour guide told us we stayed in the “nice” rooms, it became immediately clear that I am high maintenance.
9) I Need “Me” Time
Maybe it is because I am high maintenance. Maybe I am a homebody. Maybe I am just much more of an introvert than I previously thought. Whatever the reason, it has be come clear to me that my equilibrium requires a healthy dose of “me” time—time where I can turn off my mind and just relax. No worrying. No thinking. No lists. No people. No distractions.
10) We Have A ‘Privileged’ Life
I once told my parents that I thought I was sheltered growing up. This immediately put my dad on the defense. He was quick to correct me and said that I was not sheltered, but “privileged.” At the time, I disagreed. I have always worked very hard and did not believe I had been handed anything. I associated the term privileged with people who did not have to work hard and were handed things.
A few years later, I think I now understand what my dad meant. I indeed have lived a privileged life. It does not mean that we have not worked hard to achieve things and become who we are today. However, we have been afforded opportunities that many people never have.
We, like so many others we know are lucky. We have supportive and loving families. We are educated. We had the opportunity to attend college. We never have struggled to support our family. We have never been without basic necessities such as food, clean water or shelter. So, my dad was right. I did have a privileged upbringing…and we still lead a privileged life.
11) I Am Who I Am…
I am a planner. I am list maker. I am budget conscious. I am conservative. I am results-oriented. I am analytic. I am sensitive. I am who I am.
I am not a risk taker or a free spirit. I have learned that no amount of travel will change this. I will never have those traits, but that is okay. I have learned that in the end I am most happy when I accept and embrace myself for who I truly am.
12) We Are NOT Backpackers
As we prepared for our travels, we spent countless hours evaluating and re-evaluating our packing strategy (which by the way, I failed miserably at). In a nutshell, Kevin read countless blogs that said the longer you are gone the less that you should pack. After purchasing (and returning) multiple backpacks and making trial runs at packing, I caved into Kevin’s persistence and went along with the plan to use backpacks for our travel. I do not regret this decision, I only wish that I had done a better job at selecting what to pack. Carrying backpacks is where our similarities with backpackers end.
In the spirit of embracing who we are, we have found that we differ from the backpacker stereotype. We are not spontaneous or free spirited. We like to splurge on good meals and accommodations. I refuse to couch surf. We are both past the stage in our lives where we feel like we have to rough it. So, we may carry backpacks, but we are not and never will be able to truly live the backpacker lifestyle.
13) Gold Is Good But Platinum Is Even Better
Having traveled for work for over 12 years, I have become accustomed to having certain hotel and airline perks. In addition to earning points, there are additional amenities and a higher level of service provided to guests that have an elevated level of status with the hotels. This can include many things complimentary such as breakfast, happy hour drinks and hors d’oeuvres, water and upgraded rooms. As we travel, I am thankful for the lifetime status that I have earned with Marriott and Starwood. Having gold status is good, but does not give you the maximum level of benefits. Platinum is even better!