Today marks exactly one year since Breada and I set off on our big adventure around the world. Sometimes I think back and it feels like we left yesterday and other times it feels like we’ve been away for years.
The longest I had been away from home before this was about two months, when my OG travel partner Dominic and I traveled Europe together back in 2011. The year before, we traveled for 3 weeks through Europe and it was there I began to think of long term travel as a reality. We thought traveling for 3 weeks was a long time, until we met people traveling for 6 months or longer. At the time I was still studying in university so it wasn’t a possibility, but it was always a goal. Five years later, on March 28th 2016, that goal became a reality and I couldn’t be happier.
I don’t get nervous or anxious easily, but our last night in America I freaked out and had a panic attack. I had been planning it for almost two years without any second thoughts, but it wasn’t until right before we left that I really thought about the magnitude of what we were doing. We were going to the other side of the world on a one-way ticket and no idea when we were coming home. It was like something clicked in my head that night and I just said to myself what the hell are we doing. All of a sudden things I never even thought about started popping up in my head. “What if something happens to my family or friends while we’re away?” “What happens if we run out of money?” “What happens if this, what if that?” Breada, who is normally the more emotional one, had to calm me down and be the voice of reason.
Life can be scary, but what’s scarier is living your whole life going through the motions and not pursuing your goals and ambitions. I’d rather try and fail than not try at all, and that’s why I had to go on this trip. Worst comes to worst we just fly back home. My rationale is this : people show up to the United States every day with nothing but the shirt on their backs and make it work. I have a university degree and a support system of friends and family that will help me out if I’m ever in trouble. If those people showing up with nothing can make it work then so can I.
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met that tell me “wow I wish I did that when I was younger” or “I wish I could do that”. First off, you can still do it! There’s no age restriction on travel. It may get harder, yes, but it’s always possible. I met a woman in Taiwan who was 71, sleeping in dorm rooms and funding her travels via her social security checks. Now that is a budget traveler! She was an inspiration to me, and should be to anyone who believes they are too old to travel.
All the fears and anxiety I had the night before we left were gone within the first week. Yes those scary scenarios can still happen, but I can’t live my life in fear. Life will happen regardless, I might as well enjoy the ride.
We had a rough itinerary planned out before we left…and the whole thing went to shit in the first two weeks. We got into a motorbike accident on Koh Lanta, which ruined our trip to Koh Phangan and the Full Moon Party. To make things worse, we also had to cancel our trip to Koh Tao to get our diving certifications. We had to eat the costs of our accommodation on both islands, which was about $100 each. It sucked, but it was an early reminder to not plan too far ahead and keep as little as possible set in stone. From that point forward we planned as we went, and it’s worked well in the 11.5 months since.
As you can see, the trip we planned is very different than the trip we actually took. We had an entire round the world trip planned, but we loved Southeast Asia so much we decided to stay! We still want to see everywhere on that first map, it’s just going to take a little longer than we planned.
When we meet other travelers there’s always the same questions tossed around. “How long have you been away from home?” and “How long are you traveling?” are always the first two. Asking someone their name isn’t even in the top five. You would be surprised just how long you can hang out with someone before you learn their name.
More often than not, Breada and I have been traveling longer than most people. This usually leads to something like “Whoa! You must have been everywhere! Where have you been!?” When we tell them we’ve only traveled to 5 countries in that time we always get this puzzled look gazed upon us. The thing is, we’ve taken it slow. It’s not something we expected to do before we left, but it’s been the best decision we could have made. Rather than spend a few days in a spot and move on we have settled down and made roots in many of the places we’ve been to.
The first place we did this was Phnom Penh when we worked at The Flicks Movie House. It was there that we saw expat life firsthand and it gave us the inspiration and motivation to do it ourselves. After that we decided we were going to utilize Workaway more often, both to save money and also to spend more time in places and not just check spots off of a list. We’ve taught English in Hanoi, worked at hostels in Taipei and Kaohsiung, tended bar in Hoi An, and now we’re back at the same school teaching English again in Hanoi.
By going this route we have learned so much more about the places we’ve been and, even if for just a short time, become a part of the community. It sounds kind of stupid, but one of my favorite things in the last year was walking around Hoi An and knowing many of the locals and them knowing me.
There’s one point I want to get across that I don’t think gets said enough by travel bloggers and travellers in general. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies when you’re away, especially on a long term trip. You’re going to have hard days, days where the idea of going home sounds pretty good. You’re going to get sick, both homesick and hugging the porcelain throne sick. If you’re traveling with someone long enough, you’re going to get into fights with them. This is normal. You’re in a foreign land with nothing but the stuff in your backpack. It’s not supposed to be easy. Nothing great in life comes easy. For all the bad days we’ve had, and we’ve had our fair share, there have been countless great days. When you’re having a tough day and you think about calling it quits, remind yourself why you came in the first place.
In the last 365 days I have :
- Traveled to 32 Different Cities and Towns
- Slept in 47 Beds (and one train!)
- Taken 13 Flights
- Taken 14 Busses and Vans
- Travelled 2000+ km from Saigon to Hanoi by Motorbike
- Had 5 Visitors From Back Home!
- Visited 26 Temples
- Ate 2 Bugs (A Scorpion and A Tarantula)
- Met 1 Fellow UMass – Boston alumni!
- Read 20 Books
- Learned How to Say “Hello” and “Thank You” in 4 Different Languages
- Made Countless Friends!
“How Much Did You Spend?”
This is the question I get asked most frequently. I really wanted to keep track of every dollar (or Dong, Baht, Riel, etc) while we were away, but like my itinerary, that idea fell apart real quick. It’s not easy, and it ends up being more of a chore than something enjoyable. I have a rough idea of what I spent though, with a little margin for error.
Our original budget was $40 USD per day each, giving us $14,600 to work with. We wanted to have extra money for emergencies and what not, but that’s what we were shooting for on a per day basis. After looking over my credit card statements, bank withdrawals, and all that jazz I’d say I spent roughly ……*drumroll*…. $7000.
This was my initial reaction after I painstakingly went through all my accounts and transactions, but it actually makes sense. $7000 over the course of a year comes out to a little over $19 a day. There have been plenty of days where I was under $20 or even $10 a day, especially during our 3.5 months living in Hoi An. We also didn’t pay for accommodation for 3.5 months of the year, which saved us a sizable chunk of money. We got free meals while we taught English for a month in Hanoi on top of our free accommodation, saving us even more money.
The crazy part is the real number is actually even lower than this. I didn’t factor in the paid work I put in while we were in Hoi An. It wasn’t much, but every little bit counts. Between my two bar jobs I made about $600, plus free food and drinks. So if I’m really getting technical my grand total is under $6,400. Well, at least $6,400 net out of pocket. The accounting is an argument for a different day.
If you met us along the way, or have followed our blog, you know we’re not exactly penny pinchers either. We eat well, we stay in nice places, and we’re not afraid to have a good time. We’ve been ziplining in Vietnam, wakeboarding in Taiwan, ate at a Michelin starred restaurant, motorbiked across the entire country of Vietnam, and countless other things that add up to a sizeable amount of money. Most people picture us sleeping in shacks and eating white rice everyday but that’s not the case. In fact, we haven’t slept in a dorm room in over four months now.
The thing is, our trip isn’t your average long term backpacking trip. We’re also travel hackers and have worked along the way, both of which have seriously subsidized our costs. Not many backpackers are flying business class, sipping wine in fancy airport lounges, and staying at luxury resorts, while also working at hostels and teaching English.
The whole point of talking about how much I spent isn’t to brag but to show people it really is possible to travel, and travel well, for cheap. I mentioned early on one of my travel goals was to get at least one person out of their comfort zone and travel. If I did that, then the blog was worth all the work. I still believe that, and if anyone reading is serious about traveling and doesn’t know where to begin I would be happy to help. It doesn’t matter if I’ve known you for 20 years or we’ve never met, just shoot me a message.
This year hasn’t gone at all the way I planned, but it’s been the greatest year in my life and we only have bigger things planned for the next year. In a little over a month we fly (business class, of course ) to Eastern Europe where we’ll spend a month touring the old Commie Bloc before going home to visit for the summer. After that it’s back to Vietnam (again, business) and at that point we’ll settle down and make the transition from traveller to expat.
To everyone we’ve met in the last year : Thank You! Meeting so many amazing and interesting people has been a big part of what has made this adventure so great. When we cross paths again and you need a couch to crash on, I got you.
I also want to thank every single person who was supportive of this trip in the year+ leading up to it and during our year traveling. A lot of people showed me and Breada love while we worked towards this goal, from my best friends and family to my Santarpio’s family who had to listen to me talk about it every day at work in the months leading up to it. Special shout out to Joey Santarpio, who I told before I left I was going to find a way to incorporate his name in every blog post I wrote. I failed on that goal, but you got rid of me for longer than a year and I think you would take that over blog mentions any day.
I’m not sure what the future has in store for us, but I can promise you one thing : it will be an adventure.