Denise and Vince
|How long have you been together?
||We’ve been together for 8 years, married for 3.
|How did you meet?
||We met at the climbing gym in San Francisco.
|How long have you been traveling?
|How long is your total planned trip?
||Getting Lost On The Way
Tell us a bit about yourself?
Denise: I love food: shopping for it, cooking it, smelling it, and eating it. Hence I must also like exercise, so when not travelling, I occupy myself with long walks to … (drum roll) the farmers market, yoga classes, rock climbing occasionally, and when my knees cooperate, running.
Vince: In the real world I’m a technology addict who has trouble being away from the web for too long. I love planning our vacations and I’ve been quietly thinking about a long trip for a long time. I’m not an outdoors nut but love going rock climbing (mostly indoors).
What did you do to prepare for your trip?
Vince: For safety, we made our electronics look like it was old and beaten up even though it was new (the camera was really beat up by the end though). For entertainment, we merged our music onto one unique mp3 player and brought an older Kindle with a few books on it. After looking at our options, we also bought a netbook because of its cheap price (ok if it gets stolen), low weight, long battery life and versatility (ended up being perfect for us).
Denise: Locks for the suitcases, ample visits to the travel clinic for immunizations and prescriptions for any and all possible ailments, and quick draw hand sanitizer.
What is your favorite thing you always pack with you?
Denise: A washcloth and lavender bar soap. I’m such a Luddite.
Vince: A knife, netbook, and our trusty point and shoot camera.
How is traveling different from taking a two week holiday?
Vince: Planning is never over since you need to integrate time for planning the next destination while enjoying the current one. You obviously need to travel for a lot cheaper so planning takes time to find a place that is cheap and that is good enough. An awesome part is that you can’t get sad when you leave a great country/place because you’re not going back to work, but you’re starting the next vacation. Finally, you need more down time. Traveling is a full time activity, so you need time to relax and do very little every once in a while. We also noticed that you could do it for a long time as long as every couple weeks, you end up in a place/hotel that you really like/ are comfortable in. It doesn’t have to be expensive, just homey.
Denise: Oh wow, so so very different! You have to wash clothes so you can travel lighter, but you need clothes for multiple climates, so it evens out the load. There is no way to plan everything 6 months in advance, so you have a lot of planning on the road. Unless you’re a millionaire, you can’t stay in the same luxury as if you’re vacationing for 2 weeks. You have to learn how to say hello and thanks, at a minimum. Every couple of weeks, you have to find toiletries/food/disposables on the road that are acceptable even when you can’t read what it is. It’s both fun and annoying. Fun when you pick something out at the grocery store and have no idea what is. We once ended up with a potato croissant … interesting, but Yuck! Not so fun when you buy deodorant that doesn’t work and can’t find lavender soap.
What is the most difficult part of traveling with your partner?
Denise: This is a hard one to explain, so bear with me. I like clean tidy things, especially hotel rooms. I am a spoiled American. I also have the nose of a salmon and keen observation skills, so if a room smells, or has moldy walls, I notice it and he doesn’t. This presents a small problem when I’m uncomfortable with our housing arrangement, and he doesn’t notice anything amiss. Also, you don’t have many moments alone/away from your partner, so if you’re used to ample ‘me’ time, you’ll have to get over it, or figure out individual activities.
Vince: It’s related to what Denise said. The hard part is to not know for sure if the place is good enough for her to be comfortable (and comfort is a very important part of a long trip for us), or if the kitchen at the restaurant seems clean enough. It makes picking places to eat or to sleep a little more time consuming sometimes, but she took care of a lot of it as a consequence.
What is the most rewarding part of traveling with your partner?
Vince: She plays “bad cop” very well and it has been useful numerous times against pushy locals who don’t take NO for an answer (it’s awesome to see the annoying Indian tuk tuk driver decompose when he’s being shut down by the woman in the couple). Also, she sets up rules for bargaining with tuk tuks or taxis early on and it helped tremendously. We got around and shopped and very rarely felt like we had been shortchanged.
Denise: He is navigator extraordinaire! He can find his way around any city, is excellent with maps, and not afraid to ask for directions. He has almost no temper, is very patient, and always optimistic.
What advice would you give couple travelers who are nervous about traveling together?
Denise: Make sure you complement each other. Make sure you understand each other’s needs and comforts. And make sure you split up the work on the road as evenly as possible.
Vince: You go from having jobs and a lot of time apart to being 24/7 together. You just need to adjust to it. Once it happens you end up being closer to your significant other who becomes even more of a partner and a friend.
What are your top three tips for anyone thinking about traveling?
Vince: 1. It’s ok to take time off. In a few occasions, we were struggling to figure out how to fit transportation and visits to a few sites into a few days. Each time we opted for skipping a place to give us more breathing room, we never regretted it. We enjoyed what we saw a lot more and were more relaxed and rested.
2. It’s better to pack lighter than heavier: you can always buy the stuff you really need on the road.
3. A drab room is ok for a night or two. But if you’re going to stay a few days or if you’re getting weary, don’t underestimate the power of comfort.
Denise: 1. The lighter the load, the easier it is. But make sure you have those comfort items that make you happy and a pair of closed toe shoes, no matter what the weather as they are priceless.
2. You must be flexible; don’t jam pack your travel. Make sure you have ‘down’ days especially in countries where you will have culture shock and allow yourself time to rest. You will get sick, come down with a cold, or have food poisoning, so be prepared to delay plans.
3. Seriously work on your bargaining skills. Make sure you know if/when it’s appropriate to bargain and how the locals do it.
How do you organize travel among the both of you?
Denise: Since I have different standards of comfort, I mostly took care of finding places to sleep, and booking those. He took care of booking plane tickets, local navigation, and we shared activity planning.
What was your favorite country you visited? Why?
Denise: My favorite country (budgets aside) was Australia. It has excellent cities (with BEACHES!). Did you know Sydney has huge fruit bats? And Melbourne has a bar on pylons? It has fantastic scenery – the Great Ocean Road is amazing! The Great Barrier Reef was the best snorkeling/diving we did on our trip. It has culture, great food, wine, really nice people, and I’m sure it helped that everyone there speaks English! Oh yeah, and you can brush your teeth at the tap, and drink the water. If budgets are taken into account, Thailand was certainly my favorite, super cheap, really clean and nice housing, excellent food, fantastic beaches, great mountains (climbing!). Bangkok is a great city, the Thai people are super nice, and there are 7-11’s everywhere, i.e. it’s super easy to find anything you need/want.
Vince: It’s a hard one to answer. I’d say New Zealand for me. It’s still decently priced and has so much to offer and see. However, we’ve been there a couple times now so it’s also the country we’ve seen the most, so it may be unfair to compare it with the rest. Overall for a vacation, I would definitely recommend Thailand for its fantastic quality/price ratio. As Denise said, it’s cheap and the perfect vacation for many types of tourists. We were there slightly off-season and didn’t feel like “yet another tourist”.
Any scary stories or low points?
Vince: I was definitely scared when we almost got stranded by the floods on our way back from Kakadu in Australia. As our car was surrounded by water while we were following the ranger. I definitely had a moment of panic when the car lost traction for a split second.
Denise: First week in India = no problem. Second week in India = ok, I see why people say it’s hard. Third week in India = get me out of here! I was done with bargaining (arguing), people invading my personal space, and men staring incessantly at me. The 16 hour train ride from Jaisalmer to Delhi with the guy in the sleeper across from me staring for hours when I was trying to sleep was the last straw. I also had a little breakdown in China when a tuk tuk driver steered us in the wrong direction in the hopes of selling us a ride (we were 20 ft from the entrance and pointed in the opposite direction) and then the woman at the ticket booth exchanged our 50 CNY bill with a 10, and told us we owed 40 more. It doesn’t sound like much but after 5 months on the road, I was done.
Is your traveling experience any different to how you imagined it would be?
Denise: I imagined we’d meet more travelers and locals and that I would have been much more social than I was.
Vince: I don’t know what I was imagining. I think some of the very famous sights didn’t impress us as much as we thought while other less known places really surprised us.
What’s the best thing about traveling?
Vince: When traveling becomes your full time activity, it all seems normal with its wonders, disappointments, surprises, weariness and awesomeness. It makes you want to see even more, and creates a strong bond with your partner.
Denise: My geography is much better! No really, the world is an amazing place. Even the most difficult places to visit are totally worth it because you will never see anything like it elsewhere. You get to see how people live, the nuances of how they interact, the religions, the cultures, and you get to eat all different kinds of food! I also got over a lot of my clean/tidy obsessiveness.
How did you do with staying on budget?
Both: We didn’t set a proper budget. We just guesstimated that it would cost between x and 2x and went ahead. We tried to travel cheaply and just looked at the overall budget every once in a while. At the end we spent 2.5x, definitely more than “planned”.
What electronics gear did you bring?
Both: We brought:
1. One netbook for the both of us. It did everything we needed in a small, cheap and lightweight package. Having one machine for 2 was perfectly fine for the first 4-5 months, but we could have used an extra web device by the end. We would definitely take it again.
2. Old Kindle: perfect for reading a lot and buying any books for cheap on the road. We would take it again.
3. Point and shoot Sony Cybershot TX10 camera. We love this camera. We bought it for its small package, wide angle, underwater capability (for snorkeling), shock and dust proof, and the awesome panorama feature. Only weakness: low light photos could be better. We would definitely take it again.
4. Ipod nano: was perfect until it got stolen 2 months in. We missed it after that.
5. Unlocked cellphones for using local sim cards. Mostly useful for Google Maps that saved us a couple times, esp. in Bangkok when the cab got lost. Would definitely take them again.