Traveling For One Year: Easier or Harder Than Expected?

The first two things Anthony and I ever bonded over was our love of fried cherry peppers in calamari, and our passion for travel.  Over the course of our relationship we’ve been lucky enough to have many experiences with both travel and calamari, but I’d say this trip easily wins out as the best experience we’ve ever had.  I still can’t believe an entire year has passed, and that we actually made this huge dream a reality.  It’s something we’ve been talking about for YEARS, and seeing something we worked so hard to achieve actually come true has been pretty spectacular.  The good food and beautiful scenery hasn’t hurt either. 

From the very first time Anthony and I went out I knew that travel would be a huge part of our relationship.  We spent most of our first hour hanging out talking about travel and the trips we’d both taken. Anthony was already much more well traveled than me, and I thought it was so impressive. I’m not usually one to project future plans after a first date, but this time I couldn’t help myself.  For so long I’d wanted to meet someone who was as interested in seeing the world as me, and then suddenly there he was, sitting next to me in English class.  We took our first trip overseas together that summer, and that was that. 

Our first trip abroad: Santorini, 2012

As Anthony mentioned in his reflections post, we were still in school and finishing that was a priority.  There would be no long term travel until we’d both completed our degrees, but after our first trip to Europe together we decided to plan a trip to Thailand the following summer.  Asia would be new for both of us, and there was still a lot of Europe left to see, but the pictures just looked too beautiful to resist.  Truth be told, Thailand and Southeast Asia had been high on my list for awhile.  I’d met an Australian traveler while staying with my sister at a hostel in Paris (my first hostel ever actually) who couldn’t stop raving about SEA, so I was itching to go.  Unfortunately, the universe had other plans, and our second big trip was put on hold for the foreseeable future. 

Our first trip abroad: Rome, 2012

The following year we moved into an apartment together in Dorchester, and while our rent was peanuts compared to normal Boston prices we knew if we ever wanted to travel long term we’d have to live somewhere that would be as close to rent free as possible.  Thankfully Anthony’s parents agreed to let us both move in with them while we finished up school and saved money.  Initially I wasn’t too thrilled about this arrangement.  I love Anthony’s family, but I’d been living on my own in Boston since I was 18.  I wasn’t sure how I would feel about moving into someone else’s space, and leaving the city made me feel like I was moving backwards.   Plus I felt guilty for taking such a generous offer from people who had already given me so much, but sacrifices had to be made and I knew it was important for me to overcome my pride if we were ever going to achieve this goal.  In the end our time living with Anthony’s parents flew by, and in addition to making our dream possible, I’m also closer to his family than I’ve ever been.  Ultimately it was the right decision, and I’m so happy we did it.

And now we get to the good stuff, the actual trip.  I wanted to give a little background to reiterate just how monumental this trip has been for us.  It’s going to be hard to capture one year of emotions into a single post, but I’ll do my best.  Unfortunately, since Anthony is the hacking guru, I won’t have any tips on how to travel cheaper, but I promise to be honest, and hopefully interesting!

So, has this trip been tougher or easier than I expected?  This is a hard question to answer, but an important one.  Anthony and I both tend to write about all the positives that have happened on this trip, and believe me there are lots of them.  However, I think it’s just as important to be honest about the negatives.  Before we left, everyone had an opinion about how this trip would pan out.  I can honestly say I wasn’t sure what would happen.  I was pretty calm about the whole thing, but obviously had a few minor freak outs leading up to our departure date.  I even had to calm Anthony down the night before we left, which is very unusual.  The thing is, I’ve lived away from my parents for ten years.  I’ve picked up and left everything I’ve ever known once before in my life.  Anthony has done a lot more traveling than me, but he’s never actually left the comfort of what he knows permanently. 

I really wasn’t scared to leave because I figured if 18 year old Breada could do it then obviously 27 year old Breada could it.  I wasn’t worried about being far away from my family and friends because I already know what it’s like to do that.  My fears came more in terms of the unknown.  I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about how Anthony and I would handle things as a couple, I had jitters thinking about possibly coming face to face with a giant man eating cobra (still pretty sure we ran over one in Pai), and obviously I wasn’t looking forward to the bathroom conditions we would be facing, but leaving my friends and family really wasn’t part of my fears. 

The first sunrise in Southeast Asia. A hazy hot morning in Bangkok

One year later, I can say it has been really really easy to keep in touch with everyone from back home.  Modern technology is a pretty brilliant thing.  I still talk to my parents and sister almost every day, I have a running group chat with my cousins on Instagram of all things, my two best friends and I haven’t broken the group chat once, and even my grandparents have finally downloaded Whatsapp.  Sometimes the fact that it’s so easy to talk to anyone I want to talk to makes it a little harder.  I know that sounds weird, but there are just some days I want to be in the physical presence of people.  Keeping in touch has been easy, missing them never gets easier. 

In regards to toilets, weird food, and less than perfect travel conditions, there have absolutely been times where my patience has been tested.  When you’re on your 100th dish of noodles in five days, and then you have to use a humid cramped squat toilet with a communal bum gun, things can really start to wear on your mood.  This is where I’ve learned what the true definition of “your own worst enemy” is.  There have been many times that I’ve looked into a wet room buzzing with mosquitoes and the occasional gecko before a shower and thought “why am I doing this?”, but these are the times when you really get to remind yourself WHY YOU’RE DOING THIS.  If you are negative about a situation then it will absolutely be negative, if you’re positive then it will be positive.  Plain and simple. 

I knew before we left that things wouldn’t be perfect, and that I would be tired, dirty, wet, sweaty, sticky, hot, hungry, and grumpy a lot.  I’ve been all of these things at once, but would I ever take any of this trip back? Not a chance.  Learning how to overcome my own hanger and negative attitude has been a lesson I’m glad I’ve had the chance to learn.  And any time I’m really questioning why I’m on this trip, I just remind myself of all we’ve seen and all we still have yet to see.  That tops being dirty any day of the week. 

There have been times I’ve been so homesick I’ve felt like I couldn’t do anything but lay in bed.  I’ve had moments where I’ve looked around a common room at a hostel and felt so incredibly old compared to all of the 19 years olds on their gap year.  I’ve never felt less attractive in my life than I have at certain points during this trip.  My hair has thinned out a ton due to the terrible water and crazy heat, yet it’s still somehow massive and unruly, and while we were living in Taipei my skin suddenly decided it was 13 years old again and broke out horribly. 

But with all of these negatives have come many more positives.  As someone who has battled anxiety and depression, I’ve learned how to deal with it in even the most foreign of environments.  I’ve become very good at practicing mindfulness, and pinpointing a lot of what is causing my anxiety and depression.  Most of those 19 year olds that made me feel old have eventually become great friends and travel buddies, and this year has really reminded me that is a lot of cases, age is just a number. 

On the opposite side of my 20s from Natausha, but still one of my favorite people I’ve met on this trip!

Even my skin issues led to me discovering the magnificent world that is Asian skincare.  Being adaptable is one of the best qualities to have during long term travel, and without it I probably would have gone home a long time ago.

Of course it isn’t just about the mental positives I’ve experienced either.  Over the course of a year I’ve motorbiked from Saigon to Hanoi (and managed to do so without hurting myself), repelled down a waterfall, climbed over 1200 steps in 90 degree heat to a temple on a mountain top, taken two cooking classes, tried stand up paddle boarding, and seen the sun rise over Angkor Wat.

BikeNAM 2016

I’ve tried some of the most amazing food, and also some of the weirdest (looking at you fried stinky tofu).

There have been beaches, mountains, jungles, and even two massive sand dunes as well as some of the thickest heat and hardest rains I’ve ever experienced.  This trip has brought me countless new friends, some of whom I feel like I’ve known my whole life.  When I’m feeling really low or homesick, these are the moments I go to.  I think of the times I’ve been sticky with sweat while sitting at a rooftop bar watching one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen with people that feel like family.  This trip has been sweet and sour, but both sides have made it what it is.

Now, in regards to traveling as a couple, I’m fairly sure there are people out there who didn’t expect us to survive the year.  I understand the skepticism, but when we left for Bangkok, Anthony and I had been together for four years.  We weren’t some new couple running off into the sunset.  This trip was meticulously planned.  It was a huge goal for both of us.  Obviously travel is very hard, and I think we both expected it to be one of the most difficult things we’d ever done as a couple, but there wasn’t a shot in hell either one of us was going to be the reason the other one’s dream didn’t come true. 

One flight after another

Before we left, my Auntie Wendy gave me some great advice.  I told her that I was tired of hearing people say “Wow this will be the true test for you guys!”. Her response to me was this: “It’s only a test, if YOU TWO let it be a test.”  This stuck with me, and even in the hardest of times I’ve kept it close to my heart.  This trip was never a “test” to see if Anthony and I loved each other enough to survive a year on the road together.  It was a dream we both wanted to accomplish, and better yet, it was a dream we wanted to accomplish together.  Sure, we’ve fought, gotten tired of each other, wished the other one would just stop talking, and I’m personally pretty heinous to deal with when I’m hungry, but for every single fight, there have been twenty moments I wouldn’t ever want to share with anyone else.  We’ve become closer than ever, and our communication skills have improved 100 fold.  We’re not perfect, not even close, but we’ve fulfilled our dream, and now have even more dreams we want to accomplish together. 

One piece of advice I will give to couples considering long term travel is this: you must be comfortable with each other and honest with each other.  I have been the smelliest I’ve ever been in my life on this trip, and Anthony still sleeps in the bed with me (even though he might not want to).  We’ve both become way too familiar with each other’s bodily functions, starting right away on the flight from Zurich to Bangkok when I had to let a pukey Anthony sleep in my lap. 

A more lighthearted depiction of some things you’ll encounter traveling as a couple.

I’ve learned to be able to distinguish between when he’s hangry and when he’s overtired, and he’s learned that I’m pretty much just always hangry.  We’ve spent months sleeping in separate beds because dorms were what we could afford, and we know when it’s time to give each other space.  You have to be able to handle your partner at their absolute worst, because chances are you’re going to have to deal with it at some point.  It’s tiring, frustrating, and downright hard at times. but if this is something you want to do, then it’s worth it.  End of story. 

This trip has meant more to me than I could ever start to explain.  It’s been the highlight of my life, and I can’t believe we have less than two months left on the road.  For those of you wondering if this has satisfied my travel itch, the answer is ABSOLUTELY NOT.  If anything it’s only made it worse.  There’s really nowhere in the world I don’t want to go.  Recently I’ve added a new travel goal: I want to hit 30 countries before I turn 30.  I’ll be 29 at the end of June so I have a little more than a year to get to 17 countries, and luckily I’ll be checking off six when we head to Europe in May, bringing the number down to 11.  Our next big plan is to live in Vietnam for a year, so I’ve already started planning small trips to the countries we didn’t hit this time around.  I’ve also recently been very interested in traveling to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.  Like I said, there’s nowhere I don’t want to go.  This trip has shaped me in so many ways.  I’ll be forever grateful that I had the chance to make this dream come true.  So my answer to whether it was harder or easier than I expected is this: there have been times it was MUCH harder, but a majority of the time it has been pretty freaking easy, and I would do it over again at the drop of a hat.  

BTW, I totally predicted that we’d have to cheer on the Patriots abroad.  You’re welcome New England.  You’re Welcome.

Worth waking up at 6 am to see one of the greatest comebacks in sports history!!! #goat #patriots #worthit #history #superbowl

A post shared by Breada and Anthony! (@theshoestringtrekkers) on

 

 

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