11 Month Check In: Jess

How are you feeling physically?

In my first draft of this post, I wrote, "Fat.  But otherwise okay."  

I wrote that we'd been so lucky to have so few health issues and not even many colds or stomach problems.  

Then the week from hell happened in Vietnam.  

Basically I got a cold, food poisoning, my period and then leeches in a span of about three days.  It wasn't pretty.

Riding Vespas in downtown Hanoi.

Riding Vespas in downtown Hanoi.

How are you feeling mentally/emotionally?

Honestly, I'm tired.  

The longer we're gone, the more I realize this is not something I'd want to do full-time like some of the other travel bloggers we follow.  

I miss cold weather and sweaters and my dog.  I miss the organization of the U.S.  

I really miss the structure of living and sleeping every day in one place, putting down roots and having a schedule.  I think I underestimated how much my day-to-day life back home kept me grounded.  Without any responsibilities, I'm finding it difficult to stay focused on anything.  At this point, I'm totally accustomed to packing my life up every other day, waking up with no schedule and heading off on a tour or excursion with little or no information.  Now that I've had a lot of that freedom, I'm really looking forward to the constancy of home.  

The proximity to the end of the trip means that I've been obsessing over what's next.  In Chicago I started a side business, tipsycooks, teaching private in-home cooking classes.  I always worked full time, but this was my little baby.  It was the thing I did on weekends because I liked making something and I liked being with people.  

For a while last month I'd resigned myself to going back to work full time when we return to the states, and I was obsessively looking at job postings online.  While I found a couple of "cool" companies (young employees, fancy downtown offices), I just couldn't get myself psyched to go back to sitting in an office for 9 hours every day working on someone else's stuff.  After a year of controlling my time, I was dreading returning to the regular 9 to 5.  

I know this makes me seem whiny.  No one wants to work, but we have to work because that's life.  But I still have hope that I can work for myself or do something that really makes me happy, so I'm not depressed every Sunday night dreading the week ahead.

I don't want to just lay around.  After so much time killing time on the internet and reading beach books, I know that I'm not the type to want to just veg out on the couch and do nothing.  But, I don't want to work all the time.  And honestly I think the normal American work schedule is insane.  After meeting so many Europeans who travel at least one month every year, it seems downright cruel that we only give people 10-15 days a year off work, and even then I know so many friends and family members who don't take their time because they're afraid of backlash from their bosses.  

I'm just not ready to go back to that.

Making pasta in Tuscany!

Making pasta in Tuscany!

So now I'm thinking of re-starting my cooking business in Denver and seeing how it goes.  I know I'll also have to work part-time to bring in some income, partly because we need the money and partly because I know making some money will take some of the pressure off this new(ish) business and let me relax and actually give it a shot.  I've been researching commercial kitchens and working on redesigning the website to prepare to launch in this new city.  I'm excited and freaked out.  

Nate's helped me feel more comfortable about this choice.  He's incredibly supportive and just wants me to be happy.  He doesn't care if I make a lot of money or a little money as long as I'm excited to work on what I'm working on (before I really wasn't).  I know that we are capable of saving because we already did it- we saved close to $80,000 in two years, so we're clearly able to live below our means and meet financial goals.  

Together in Koh Lanta, Thailand

Together in Koh Lanta, Thailand

So I think this new track will be difficult and challenging, but I'm interested to see what happens.  If it means I can be my own boss and pay my bills, that will be a big win for me.  I don't need to run a bunch of offices and have a million employees, but at this point I do feel like I need to be happy about work, excited to meet the challenges in front of me and free to design a life that works for me.  

As for my head space for the trip, this planning has eaten up into my ability to be present here.  While I'm enjoying Vietnam, I'm also fighting the urge to think and dream about the future.  I keep reminding myself that I may never get back to this place, so as excited as I am to return home and get started again, I want to stay present here as long as I can.

What’s your favorite part of the trip so far?

My trip highlights are hiking the Inca Trail in Peru, camping through South Africa, cooking in Tuscany and volunteering at the animal welfare center in Thailand.  

Seeing the sun rise over Machu Picchu in Peru.

Seeing the sun rise over Machu Picchu in Peru.

There have been so many moments on this trip that I will treasure forever.  In Southern Bolivia, it was freezing, but we ran outside in our bathing suits to sit in a natural hot springs with fellow travelers on our salt flats tour.  We passed around a bottle of red wine and watched shooting stars.  

Salt flats in Bolivia.

Salt flats in Bolivia.

In Thailand I'll remember our last night with the animal welfare volunteers when we went to dinner out and the lights went out in the restaurant (not an uncommon occurrence on the island), but then our friend came out with a cake lit with candles and everyone sang happy birthday even though it wasn't our birthday.  When he placed the cake down in front of me and Nate, it said, "Safe travels."  We felt really loved and sad to leave.   

With fellow Lanta Animal Welfare volunteers in Thailand.

With fellow Lanta Animal Welfare volunteers in Thailand.

I will remember with anxiety and fondness the time our friends Courtney and Scott visited in Namibia and I floored our tiny VW rental car up a rocky hill, crunching the bottom along the way because everyone in the car agreed that was "the only way to get all the way up."  

As we travel, we're getting a clearer picture of what we like in a trip.  I clearly like physical activities over museums.  I'd almost always opt for an interesting meal over an art gallery.  I like things that are hands on that make me feel engaged.  I think after this trip we'll likely travel to do specific things rather than just to land in a place and explore.  

What’s your least favorite part?

Of all of the countries we've visited, my least favorites were Ecuador and Cambodia.  While I loved our Spanish school in Cuenca, Ecuador just didn't strike me as a place I'd want to spend more time (outside of a future trip to the Galapagos).  

Similarly, Cambodia was dusty and dirty, and I didn't love the food.  Khmer cuisine incorporates a lot of bugs, so tarantulas, scorpions, beetles, grasshoppers and ants were always on the menu.  While I liked trying those things, I didn't want to eat them everyday.  

The temples of Angkor Wat were beautiful, but like I said before, I can only see so many temples before they all start to look the same.  

What have you learned about yourself?

With my backpack in Barcelona.

With my backpack in Barcelona.

I've learned that I need very little in the way of physical stuff.  This has led me to examine and question a lot of normal American traditions that I used to think were fine.  

Now Black Friday kind of disgusts me.  The idea of spending my entire paycheck on stuff I don't need causing me to depend on a job I hate seems incredibly depressing.  I know this isn't the case for every American, but the amount that we acquire on a day to day basis seems insane (and counter productive if our real goal is to be happy).  

I've also been thinking a lot about mindfulness and acceptance.  

At the beginning of the trip, I had little tolerance for things getting messed up.  In La Paz we spent an entire day running between offices trying to get train tickets for a tour down to the Salt Flats.  We'd been snapping at each other because we were stressed, and when we finally made it to the right office, we were told we had to wait in a long line.  

While we sat, I noticed that there was the Bolivian-version of America's Funniest Home Videos playing on the little office TV.  I started watching, and despite my frustration and crappy mood, I started laughing.  

Sitting in the train ticket office in La Paz.  

Sitting in the train ticket office in La Paz.  

At that moment, it hit me.  


Every part of the trip is the trip, even the crappy, annoying parts.  

I'd been thinking, "We need to hurry up and get these things out of the way so we can start enjoying our trip."  But the truth was- I was already on the trip, and I was missing it by wishing it was something else.  

I think we do this in life too.  

I remember commuting home from work in Chicago thinking, "God I wish this traffic would clear up so I can hurry up and start RELAXING already."  The truth was, I was already out of work. I didn't need to wait to start relaxing.  

All of these moments are part of our lives, and I think we miss a lot of them out of frustration that they aren't working out the way we'd planned.  I feel like this trip has taught me a lot about slowing down and learning to notice and appreciate all of the moments, even the frustrating ones. 

What have you learned about Nate?

The longer I travel with Nate, the happier I am that I married him.  

He's just a really. good. guy.  

Hiking in Railay Beach, Thailand.

Hiking in Railay Beach, Thailand.

This trip has brought us closer in a lot of ways, and I'm not talking about the instagram photo of a couple drinking champagne with the sunset behind them.  I mean that I've woken him up in the middle of the night in Hanoi because I was freaking out about returning home, and he stayed up with me for the better part of an hour asking me questions and talking out all of our options until I felt calm again and could sleep.  When I had a cold and couldn't stop coughing on a night train last week, he crawled out of his little sleeper bed and into mine just to snuggle.  

I've checked him for bed bug bites, and he's checked me for leeches.  That stuff'll really bring you together fast.

This trip has been anything but perfect, but his ability to adapt and find the positive in every situation is a huge relief to be around.  

I feel really grateful that we're doing life together.

How well did you pack?  What’s good in your bag and what are you not using?

By now, I sort of feel like a packing ninja. 

I can go from everything in my pack strewed across a hostel room to fully packed and ready to go in less than 5 minutes.  I feel like everything has its place, and I have what I need when I need it.

Sure, I wear the same three outfits over and over, but I'm used to that and no longer care that I look silly.  

Stuff I Really Love

  • My inflatable camping pillow (so useful on trains, planes, buses and everywhere in between),
  • Our Steripen (which we use daily to sterilize water cutting down on our use of plastic water bottles)
  • My Osprey 55L backpack (super comfortable and great for long-term travel because it opens flat like a normal suitcase and not from the top like a hiking pack)
  • My Merrell hiking boots (which are my only closed toed shoes and I wear to exercise, hike, and explore new cities).  

Stuff I Never Use

In Barcelona I stupidly bought a strapless bra.  I don't know what I was thinking.  I think I wore it twice and then left it in a hotel in Thailand.  Anyway, it's gone now.  

We also bought $75 Pacsafes (wire coverings for our bags for overnight trains and buses), which were super heavy and we barely ever used.  We sent them home with our parents midway through the trip and will resell them on ebay when we get back.