All Good Things Must Come To An End
I started this blog at the beginning of the year - just jotting down some thoughts as they came to me. That was before COVID-19 became a global pandemic. That was before the world essentially came to a screeching halt and travel was something we dreamed of doing again someday. That was before freely leaving our homes to run even the most mundane of errands became something of a luxury. And that was before hundreds of thousands of people died from the virus.
If I had been able to continue travelling as planned, I think the only way this wrap-up blog would have been significantly different is in my country/cities tally. Most of my thoughts were pretty well-formed by the time I hunkered down in Hanoi in March.
When I started off on this journey, I didn’t have an itinerary or a goal of how many countries I wanted to go to. I wasn't planning on going to Antarctica (not that I don't want to go, but that requires a large budget in itself), but I was planning on going to all other continents. I was thinking 6 months in Europe, 6 months in Africa, 6-9 months in Asia and Australia/Oceania and then 3-6 months in South America, give or take.
At least that was my rough plan.
Sounds reasonable, right?
This is what actually happened in the 20-ish months of travelling (not including the 6 weeks or so I spent with family at the end of 2019)...
Europe - 9 months
Africa - 5 months
Asia - 6 months
Australia - sadly COVID-19 derailed those plans
South America - zilch, although I knew by the end of the first year that it was unlikely I would have the time to get there
staying in 95 cities
visiting 38 countries (52 in total)
33 flights, 25 buses, 16 trains, 14 ferries and 9 rental cars (would have been 10 if Greece wasn't a stickler for an international driver's permit!)
and 74,000 kms/46,000 miles travelled from Toronto and back and all my stops in between! By the way, the earth's circumference is 40,000 kms/25,000 miles
I never became a blogger who wrote itineraries about places I've been or tried to share my wisdom with a whole bunch of lessons learned so why start now? 😄
Some Random Thoughts (and a few General Musings)
I often said ‘this journey can be hard’. I realized I would say it in response to people thinking I was on one big vacation and it was all sunshine and unicorns. But it was my life at that moment and like everyone’s life, it could be hard. It had its ups and downs, advantages and disadvantages, moments of joy and triumph and moments of struggle and sadness.
I met so many people on this journey who wanted to know what was my favourite place or experience or what place surprised me or disappointed me. And as I moved through my 2nd year, I found it harder to remember the places and experiences that were at the start of my journey. I guess that’s natural and to be expected a bit since I crammed a lot in. But it’s a bit of a shame because when I am sitting at my desk at work, staring at a computer screen all day, I’ll want to remember every place and every experience of this incredible journey.
Another thing people ask me about is how I must have immersed myself in so many different cultures. Apart from the 8 weeks I spent in Hanoi and the 2 1/2 months in Uganda, most of my stays were less than 10 days. It's hard to really get a feel for the culture in such a short stay. In all honesty, I barely scratched surface in most places.
I always said this journey would either kill my desire to ever travel again or fuel it... it's fueled it! I want to explore the places I didn't get to and perhaps revisit a few of the ones I did. I want to continue to be bold and brave and push myself out of my comfort zone.
... and now for the musings 😄
Do all westerners say “you know?” to a taxi/tuk tuk driver when showing them an address? And if so, do drivers understand what that means?? I realized I said that all the time after showing them where my accommodations were. Teams in the Amazing Race do that... maybe it’s where I picked it up from. 😊
When will they stop showing people how to fasten and unfasten a seatbelt on a plane? Does anyone who flies really not know how a seatbelt works? And along those lines, can you smoke on any plane now? They always remind you that this is a non-smoking flight - as if some are not. I kind of think that if you are the type to disregard the rules, you will smoke on the plane regardless of hearing that announcement. Same as wearing your seatbelt without being shown how to use it.
Why don't you hear more snoring on a plane? You would think with that many people in such a confined space you'd hear a lot more snoring but rarely did I hear any, and I'm talking about those loud, driving-them-home kind of snores.
Always take a minute to look when entering a public toilet to see if there are ‘western’ toilets vs. local toilets (I.e. a hole in the ground). Sometimes, especially in tourist areas or rest stops, there will be both. Don’t know how many times I came out of a stall with a hole in the ground only to see the sign indicating the ones with an actual toilet! And on that note, always carry toilet paper or tissues, soap and hand sanitizer. 😊
Along the way I have replaced clothes and shoes - inevitable when you wear the same things day in and day out - but I have also had to deal with a few tech issues as well. Probably also inevitable and not unlike what I would have done at home, but a bit harder when you are in a foreign country where Best Buy isn't close by. And a bit more stressful as your phone or laptop are your lifeline and entertainment.
My tech tally was:
Cell phone chargers - 3 (at least one was before I learned that Apple was sneaky and generic chargers wouldn't always work, forcing you to buy the real deal)
Cell phone batteries - 1 (got tired of having to charge my phone during the day to be able to keep taking pictures)
Cell phone repairs - 1 (apparently iPhones don't like to swim)
Cell phones - 1 (try not to slip and fall on your butt when your phone is in your back pocket)
Laptop chargers - 3 (two were my fault really.... didn’t have the correct voltage adapter and basically fried them)
I was extremely lucky that I didn't lose anything of value or have anything stolen. I'm actually a little surprised by that! And it wasn't until my last week in Hanoi that I had any banking issues when one of my credit cards was compromised. Luckily I had another to use for that final week and my replacement card has already been sent.
Just after I started to put together some notes for a wrap-up blog, I read an article from a travel writer about the mistakes she had made - and she had a long list of them. We're talking pages and pages. I don’t know whether I have just forgotten some (conveniently or legitimately), am delusional or just was lucky! Or maybe I don’t see them as mistakes as much, rather just things that didn’t turn out the way I thought or wanted. But that’s just life sometimes.
However, I can think of a few that I would definitely consider mistakes:
not checking visa requirements for Russia early enough and I wouldn’t have been able to get one in time for my planned visit. Never did make it there
along those lines, not checking the date they stamped your visa with or being clear on your departure date. In Thailand, I said I was in the county for 30 days but they counted 30 days differently and I overextended by 1 day. Had to pay an additional USD$ 15 as a fine
just taking the first ‘official’ airport taxi from Istanbul instead of looking around a bit and checking with the taxi drivers outside. My friend did that when he landed and paid quite a bit less than I did, with little negotiation or haggling required. And this is just one of I don’t know how many times I did this - chose ease over savings. Mistake, maybe, but it was how I often chose to travel
not making sure I drank enough water. It can be tough at times; drinking tap water in a lot of the places I went to wasn’t safe and it adds up buying water bottles all the time, plus that’s bad for the environment. But I learned the hard way a couple of times that staying hydrated is more important
not checking entrance requirements carefully enough for some places or attractions, like in Rabat where I needed my passport to enter the Royal Palace. I often would leave my passport locked in the safe in my room and they wouldn’t accept the picture I kept on my phone
not checking religious holidays. I landed in Morocco on a religious holiday which essentially closed everything, even the McDonald’s. I struggled to find somewhere to eat that day and if it hadn’t have been for my guesthouse serving food, I would have spent a hungry night
not taking sufficient time to think through some clothing choices or spend the money to buy the better options instead of going with what I already had. While not a huge mistake, it did mean that some of my clothes didn’t last as long or weren’t as comfortable as they could have been
I’m not going to count the times I got lost, took the wrong metro or things like that. That’s pretty basic and expected 😊
Luckily no major regrets, but as Frank Sinatra says ‘regrets, I have a few’...
that I didn’t learn how to ride a moped. Thought ‘how hard can it be’ but when I tried in Florence I really had balance problems and was so reluctant to rent one after that. Did limit my explorations at times in Southeast Asia. Also can add that I didn't learn how to swim
that I wasn’t in better shape. I fully realized I wasn’t the fittest but I had been working out with a personal trainer for some time so thought I would at least be okay. But somewhere towards the last half of year 2, especially in the heat and humidity of Southeast Asia, and I think as I got wearier, my lack of conditioning really played a role
I still don’t know if I would put sticking with my backpack as a mistake or regret. At times it was definitely easier but was hot to be walking with it for too long.
Can’t say I really regret anywhere I went or didn’t go. I certainly enjoyed some places more than others and wished I had spent longer in some places, or gone there at all. But I wouldn’t classify that as regret. Even though 2 years seem like a long time, realistically I knew I couldn’t go everywhere and some countries would have to be left off, and as it turned out two continents! I also knew that not everywhere would live up to expectations or end up appealing to me. But that’s just the way it goes... no regrets.
I think it's important to differentiate between a regret and something you may have done differently in hindsight. For example, when I was planning my flight back to Canada I had an opportunity to take a direct flight to Toronto about a week earlier. But my passport was still in with Vietnam immigration for a visa renewal and I did not have enough confidence that I would get it back in time. As it turned out I did, so could have made that flight and made my journey back a bit easier but that's hindsight vs. regret.
Two years is a long time to be constantly on the move. At least it was for me. Honestly, I don’t know how people live a truly nomadic life, constantly moving from one place to the next, not really having a deep connection to anywhere and in some cases, anyone. On the one hand, I had a great life - lots of new adventures and new experiences - but on the other hand, I didn't really have a life - no stability, no roots, no routine, no deep connection to anywhere or anyone (other than online). While I don’t regret my two-year journey, it was exhausting at times - mentally and physically. It shook up my life so much - just how much or in what ways I probably don't even know yet! Would I do it again? Probably not for such a long stretch. Would probably do more than 6 months on the road and then maybe settle somewhere for longer periods vs. moving around every 5-10 days as I did. I had always thought I'd do that at some point on this journey - other than sheltering in place and trying to ride out a pandemic! - but I just kept moving.
I know some people are probably waiting to read about the epiphanies I had about myself or how I grew or changed. I hate to disappoint anyone looking for deep thoughts about my journey of self-actualization but I still don't have much to say on this 😀 From Day 1 I have always maintained this was just a break to travel... for no other reason than to just travel. It wasn't to find myself or to figure out my life and my next steps. Shortly after I started travelling I joined a Facebook group called 'She Hit Refresh' and was honoured to contribute an article on how to resign, as well as being featured in an article about my refresh and doing a podcast on how to budget and financially prepare for a refresh. The group is all about women who have made a change in their life to travel or move abroad. Since my ‘refresh’ was always temporary, I think of it more as a ‘regroup’ or ‘restart’. While many aspects of my life will be the same as they were before I left to travel, I do have some plans to make some tweaks.
Why I am looking forward to going home:
My parents are ageing and I want to be closer to support them better if they need it (they probably won't like to read the "ageing" comment... sorry Mum and Dad 😂)
Reconnecting with friends and enjoying a social life again
Working and earning money and moving forward with some financial plans
Having a home base, not living out of a backpack, not moving around every 5-10 days
Having more clothes than will fit in my 2 packing cubes and wearing nice shoes and carrying a nice purse again
Returning to regular volunteer work
Recommitting to flying lessons (once I get a job) and finally getting my pilots license
Exploring other interests, maybe taking a class in something (a number of years ago I used to take general interest classes all the time)
Appreciating and exploring my home city/province/country more and discovering parts unknown and new experiences
Having a life
Obviously, some, if not all of these, will have to wait until life gets back to normal, whatever that is, after COVID-19
I have thousands of pictures and memories from the journey, so many that it is next to impossible to pick the highlights. So here are a few, in no particular order:
Top row from L to R - sunrise on my 50th birthday in Da Nang, Vietnam; first glimpse of The Treasury at Petra (walking around historical sites like Petra, the Acropolis, the Pyramids at Giza, Pompeii and the Colosseum were all highlights); riding a camel into a desert camp in the Sahara in Morocco
Middle row from L to R - driving a vintage Fiat around Florence and the Tuscan hills; Lake Bohinj in Slovenia, still one of the most beautiful spots I have ever seen; walking along Juno Beach in France
Botton row from L to R - Lusanja Primary School in Uganda and the 2 1/2 months I spent volunteering with Change Tomorrow; seeing a Shakespearean play at Stratford-Upon-Avon (that and seeing an opera at La Scala in Milan had long been bucket list items); seeing Mt. Everest. I'll never climb it or even trek to base camp so seeing the tallest mountain on earth above sea level from a flight from Kathmandu is the closest I will come (and side note, part of the reason I went to Kathmandu was so I could say 'when I was in Kathmandu" 🤣)