Positive Personal Changes After a Year+ of Travel, Part 3

When it comes to good habits I picked up on the road, the majority of them apply to health and nutrition. It is a strange thing to zero in on, but since returning to the United States, I have taken a closer look at what we eat, how much we eat and even the ingredients we put inside our meals. The irony is that Tara started getting into health, nutrition and fitness a few years before we left, but I didn’t pay too much attention to the information she was learning and sharing. Fast-forward to me losing 40 pounds by the end of our RTW trip through increased exercise and an improved diet and suddenly all of this seems vitally important.

Pre 10-miler racers

Pre 10-miler racers

When we first got back, I wrote an article about my weight loss. This was motivated by my thoughts of, “Wow, I actually lost around 40 pounds,” but the post lacked the contrast of life on the road versus full-time living in the U.S. In this case, it’s been about 9 months since we’ve returned and I am better now able to spot the good habits we picked up while traveling, as well as the ones that can be applied to anyone looking to improve their health. Here are a few of my top tips.

First and foremost, you are what you eat. Every time you step into a restaurant you are giving up control over your diet. Sure, you can see the ingredients listed on some menus, but the preparation and details of where your food came from are not always known. It’s tough to make sense of the amount of calories, fat, sodium and sugar you can and should consume in a meal, but when I am in my own kitchen and I see a recipe call for 2 cups of sugar, at least I can adjust to what I think is appropriate and desirable for myself. This is one of the reasons Tara and I rarely eat out (plus, we save a ton of money by making our own meals). Also, we stopped eating meat years ago, and while some restaurants have begun catering to vegetarians, it is still not as prevalent as it could be. Continue reading

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Positive Personal Changes After a Year+ of Travel, Part 2

Let’s be real for a minute. Everyone has fought with his or her significant other in some way. Sometimes it’s audibly evident from a block away, and other times the silent treatment or cold shoulder is given instead.

Mike and I are no different. Our pre-trip arguments were mostly petty and quickly resolved. “Tara, you should vacuum more,” Mike shouts over the roar of the vacuum. “Mike, you should clean the bathroom more,” I say while scrubbing the porcelain goddess. We aren’t big on chores, but we each have fallen into doing the same ones over and over. Make no mistake, we don’t actually enjoy what have unwillingly become our assigned duties – that’s why we’re always trying to get the other person to step it up.

Swan towels

If swan towels argue but there’s no one around to hear them, do they make noise? Bad joke? 🙂

After most of our disagreements having been about the frequency in which the other person does X chore, we knew that spending 10,000 consecutive hours together on our RTW was going to test us in new ways. Many people have asked how we were able to do it without getting sick of each other or needing time apart. We didn’t actually go into our trip with a game plan, but one certainly developed over the first few months as we got a better feel for what sparked impatience or negative attitudes (mostly low blood sugar) and gradually made minor adjustments to our behavior (like carrying snacks). Continue reading

Positive Personal Changes After a Year+ of Travel, Part 1

Mike and I live differently now. Maybe it’s just another year of maturing or perhaps it’s a result of our 14-month RTW trip. I like to think it’s the latter because I truly believe that a lot of positive things came from the people we met and what we experienced.

It’s been easy for us to spot some of the changes. A quick look around our apartment reveals simplicity, nothing excessive. Tabletops are generally clear of clutter. Our shoes are left in foyer; our feet bare when we’re inside the apartment (a great habit we picked up in Asia).

Before we left on our trip, we spent at least eight solid months selling and donating anything we owned that didn’t have immense meaning to us – books, clothes, furniture, electronics, kitchenware, unopened pantry items, and more. The amount of possessions we saved could easily fit in a small closet. Doing this allowed us to store our remaining things with my aunt and uncle instead of shelling out monthly payments for a storage unit (A big thanks to Rick & Lisa!!!). It saved us money during our trip, but most importantly, it provided us with a fresh start when we moved into an efficiency apartment in DC in February. Instead of being burdened with hand-me-downs, possessions that had been grandfathered into our relationship and items that we may have otherwise never gotten rid of, we were able to furnish and decorate our new space from scratch.

Kitchen & Dining Room

The kitchen and dining room area of our efficiency apartment.

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Self-Diagnosing on the Road

Tara Putting on a Bandage

Tara putting on a bandage after a minor motorbike mishap in Laos.

When you take a short vacation from work, you typically wouldn’t visit a doctor during your trip unless a serious matter had to be addressed. Long-term travelers, however, can’t wait months until their return to seek treatment or a doctor’s opinion. They have to find care on the road or risk that a small issue might turn into a larger one. But even if they have health coverage, the hassle of navigating through their plan’s fine print coupled with trying to find a trustworthy physician in a foreign country discourages some from seeking help.

If you recall, when Mike and I were planning our trip, we divided tasks according to our individual strengths. It was my responsibility to find travel insurance that would also provide us with good medical coverage, and I took this job very seriously. We ended up buying 13 months of insurance through STA Travel, with coverage administered by CSA Travel Protection. There were a variety of reasons this insurance won out against our second choice, but one very nice inclusion was that a one-time payment of up to $1,000 could be applied toward your first in-network physician visit during your coverage period. Naturally, we didn’t want to waste that $1,000 by going to the doctor for the common cold or something that would only use a small portion of that monetary offer. But we’ve also never been the type to run to the doctor for every ache and pain anyway. It would be better, we thought, to put the $1,000 toward what would be a more expensive doctor visit, like to treat a broken ankle or – heaven forbid – something major. Continue reading

5 Gifts for the Travelaholic in Your Life

The holidays are here, and if you haven’t already thought about gifts for the travelaholic(s) in your life, we have you covered! These items are bound to fuel their travel addiction and help make any aspect of their away-from-home adventures more enjoyable. If you have other interesting gift ideas to share with your fellow travelers, please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Safe travels and happy holidays!

1. Hooded Travel Pillow

This is the product we would have invented had we not seen it online first. It eliminates the need for an uncomfortable eye mask and is therefore the perfect neck pillow for travelers who want a little shut-eye in transit.

Hooded Travel Pillow

Hooded travel pillow in action. Photo courtesy of BustedTees.com.

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RTW Recovery: Navigating America’s Food Scene

Welcome to our new series, called RTW Recovery Wednesday, in which we tackle topics that have made our transition back to the USA easy or difficult. Posts will offer a candid breakdown of what it’s like to return to what we used to call “home” after living in our own bubble as we traveled around the world for 14 months. Read our first recovery post about reexperiencing “American attitude.”

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KFC in Iceland

KFC in Iceland near Keflavík Airport.

We have experienced many culture shocks since returning but none as great as food. To understand why and how food is a culture shock, you only have to think of the constant interaction you have with it. Three times a day, you eat (this doesn’t even include snacks along the way). Often, the phrase “comfort food” refers to a type of food that brings you back to your childhood or just makes you feel good when you eat it. When you travel internationally for 14 months, your access to comfort food shrinks, and you adapt. What perhaps was easy to get ahold of in the United States is impossible to find on the road. Soon, our feelings toward food began to change—through our palate, our portions, and our loss of desire for Western dishes.

This shift began the second we stepped onto a plane bound for Iceland, our first destination. No matter where we went around the world, there were McDonald’s (except Iceland), Starbucks and Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants. We traveled the world and could not escape American fast food. The same portion, the same flavor. Everything was being churned out with the expectation that if you walked into a McDonald’s in Singapore and ordered a Big Mac, it would taste the same as if you ordered it in New York. This meant access to our American comfort food almost any time we wanted it. There was just one small problem: Years ago, we stopped eating meat and poultry, and all but cut out fast food. So while there was constant access to food from home, fast food restaurants were foreign lands to us.

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Drinking Coffee Around the World

Iced Coffee from Bolaven Cafe

The best coffee of my life! I wanted to savor it forever.

The best iced coffee I have ever had was in Pakse, Laos. Surprised? I was too, but southern Laos’ Bolaven Plateau produces high quality coffee beans (you can thank French colonization for that). The local cafes know how to brew it well, so every cup Mike and I had was absolutely brilliant. Southeast Asia’s coffee culture made the region home to our most memorable cups of joe, particularly those cranked out by Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. We fell so in love with Vietnamese coffee that we left clothes behind so we could stock our backpacks full of Vietnamese coffee filters and Trung Nguyen beans. Hardcore, right?

Brewing and serving techniques varied widely, and it was quite interesting to learn about the variations as well as the history of coffee within each culture. We didn’t set out on this trip excited to taste coffee around the world, though. Quite the opposite, we viewed it as a beercation of sorts, where we’d have the opportunity to try beer we can’t find at home (and did, but that’s another post). However, it’s worth it to note that Mike and I really enjoy coffee. Not just because the burst of energy it provides or the way it makes my hands shake when I consume too much caffeine. We both love to savor the rich, bold taste of a freshly brewed cup of coffee.

We didn’t encounter Starbucks everywhere we went during our 14-month RTW trip, so it was up to the mom-and-pop cafes to impress us with their local techniques. And impress us they did! Except in the case of a few countries that enjoy tea so much they neglect all things coffee and instead rely on Nescafe instant (Boo!). You’ll probably have a few “ah-ha!” moments as you read through the country list below, and hopefully you’ll learn a thing or two even though this isn’t meant to be a fact-heavy post.

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