11 Month Check In: Nate

How are you feeling physically?

This past week was only the first or second time I have been sick this year that I can recall (exempting traveler’s stomach issues like our recent stomach virus which I consider unavoidable).  I had a pretty powerful flu/cold that peaked during our 3 day Ha Long Bay cruise which was unfortunate.

Our friend JP joined us for a few weeks in Vietnam. He avoided our cold, but don't worry, he still got the stomach bug. And he had to TRAVEL while vomiting. 

Our friend JP joined us for a few weeks in Vietnam. He avoided our cold, but don't worry, he still got the stomach bug. And he had to TRAVEL while vomiting. 

Travelling with my spouse means a minimal exposure to the sort of germs you expose yourself to in average work and social habits at home. This is also the longest stretch in my life that I have basically been free to sleep until I wake up since I was a child (if even then). So my immune system has been pretty resilient this year and I’ve been physically worn down very seldomly. I think entering northern Vietnam, which is significantly cooler than the other parts of SE Asia we’ve been traveling in, carries a portion of the responsibility for recent sickness.

The fall weather in Ha Noi was a really nice change overall.

The fall weather in Ha Noi was a really nice change overall.

During our month of staying put in Koh Lanta and working at the animal welfare center, I found a regular enough schedule to get back to running which I was doing 3-5 times a week. I got used to the humidity and heat that’s heavy there even early in the morning. Running once in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand a week or two ago made incredibly clear what a toll that heat and humidity puts on your body while attempting to exercise.

Running end to end on this beach took me about 45 minutes depending how far up the tide was. 

Running end to end on this beach took me about 45 minutes depending how far up the tide was. 

We are now again in an active traveling period which will persist until the end of the year. We’ve also had lots of vistors, both friends and family. People here for limited times usually means a higher daily amount of activity and its harder to find time and energy to exercise.

I’m hoping once its just Jess and I again and we enter the final month of the trip we will get on a more regular schedule (despite the travel) and I can get a workout habit going again before we return to the states.

Proximity to heading home is filling me with a ton of mental energy that I need to find a way to dispel if I want to keep a regular sleep schedule and be awake and energetic for the fun things that we do have left to do. I will need a lot of energy and positivity to keep me going once we get home and face the immense task of restarting everyday life, jobs etc so working out is a high priority for me. I’ve maintained pretty good cardio-vascular endurance, but have less muscle and more fat than I like.

How are you feeling mentally?

Whew. Its been an up and down few months. When we arrived in Bali in September, both Jess and I really hit a wall. Our time aboard the Eurodam had limited resources to plan our month or two bouncing around Indonesia and Malaysia so we arrived with little excitement for upcoming activities. Combine this with leaving the relative organization and palatability of Europe for the dirty, loud tourist back alleys of Kuta in Bali and we basically wanted to shut the curtains, stay in bed and watch movies for a week or two. We gave ourselves some time off and did bounce back, having a good time in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Singapore, but nine straight months of travel has definitely taken its toll.

Tired as we were, the food in Singapore was amazing. A definite highlight of the last few months. This is Laksa: rice noodles, chicken and clams in a spicy coconut curry broth.

Tired as we were, the food in Singapore was amazing. A definite highlight of the last few months. This is Laksa: rice noodles, chicken and clams in a spicy coconut curry broth.

It used to be that coming into a new country from the airport was exciting. Things I looked forward to now start to seem like burdens. Another currency and exchange rate, more tipping and taxi routines to learn, another language to confront.

These things truly lose their novelty after a while and what remains apparent to me is the things that are problematic or take energy from you. I used to really look forward to seeing a new city or checking into a new hostel or apartment. Now the most apparent things are the ones that frustrate me: an overly firm mattress, a shower that gets the toilet paper soaked, a massively overpriced cup of coffee. I’m always working at it, but it takes more effort these days to feel grateful and excited for this stuff. I am really tired in this deep mental and physical way. By the time I get settled mentally in a new place or used to a new pillow and mattress, it’s time to pack up and move on.

No matter how much iced coffee in bags I drink, I can't wipe out that underlying exhaustion.

No matter how much iced coffee in bags I drink, I can't wipe out that underlying exhaustion.

Our month off in Thailand was pretty helpful and I think we planned that break well though I carried some of my exhaustion and frustration into the first week or two. It was really disappointing to me to not be able to work with food and the restaurant.

Our month had its own challenges in terms of work, accommodations and weather, but overall a routine, something to invest in and the time and space to develop actual relationships was pretty soothing. We came right out of that time into another thick patch of visitors, first my dad and sister and then my friend JP who we say goodbye to in just a day or two.

The restaurant where we were supposed to work was damaged by a storm so we spent all of October working with animals at the Lanta Animal Welfare Center. Our bungalow was continuously full of cats.

The restaurant where we were supposed to work was damaged by a storm so we spent all of October working with animals at the Lanta Animal Welfare Center. Our bungalow was continuously full of cats.

The balance that Jess and I have calibrated over the last year of 24/7 together travel time is – while decently durable – precisely regulated and visitors, especially ones carrying the emotional and historical weight that family do, are challenging for our ability to care for our relationship and ourselves. Money becomes an issue as does energy level and appetite for different activities. We’ve had a great time with all our guests this year and I am confident that having shared this experience with them in some way will be a wonderful memory in years to come, but it is certainly more tiring than when it’s just the two of us deciding how much we spend, what we like to do and how we decide to do it is old hat.

The last of our visitors is now butting up against the last month of our trip which has its own implicit challenges and additional ones that we have generated by choosing to add a high cost destination (Japan) for our final leg. We are up against the wall budget wise. We cannot defer worry about being over-budget to some set of imaginary future days where we can confidently expect to be under budget. If we go over now, we will come home with less money than we have promised ourselves we would. At the same time, the sense of finality and urgency as the trip winds down is impossible to ignore and so denying ourselves experiences is also becoming more difficult.

Here's $1200USD in Vietnamese Dong laid out to pay for our two day caving trek in Phong Na. We really loved that experience but increasingly have to ask: is this worth the cost?

Here's $1200USD in Vietnamese Dong laid out to pay for our two day caving trek in Phong Na. We really loved that experience but increasingly have to ask: is this worth the cost?

My energy level is rising steadily as I think more about getting back and finding an apartment, going back to work, figuring out what effect this whole experience is going to have on who I am and what I do. This feels better than the malaise that has been present with me in one way or another since we arrived in September, but isn’t helping me be more present for the final days of the journey. This energy is also difficult to direct. There are only so many things we can do to restart life at home before actually arriving home; I often end up shopping for sheets and mattresses or fantasizing about doing improv again at 3a when I want to be sleeping.

This was on a beer list in Chiang Mai. "Coming Soon..." Perfect.

This was on a beer list in Chiang Mai. "Coming Soon..." Perfect.

In short, I’m getting excited and anxious to get home but that energy is hard to direct positively to enjoying the trip or preparing for home. We are increasingly stressed about money but – contradictorily – also stressed about missing out on things as this period of our lives comes to a close.

What has been the hardest part of recent travel?

Presentness. Different areas of the world have been more or less difficult to travel. Singapore was easy, Cambodia more difficult, but there’s not much that happens travel wise that upsets me. A few weeks ago I would have said it was hard to summon the energy to get out of bed and go see yet another new city. Now I would say the hard part is leaving the hotel to actually apply this new-found energy to being present on the trip. In both cases, our capacity to be where we are and just enjoy it has been challenged in a new and significant way.

"Oh look, another massive temple. Great." It's really hard to actually stop and enjoy stuff these days.

"Oh look, another massive temple. Great." It's really hard to actually stop and enjoy stuff these days.

Also, Trump winning. That was rough.

What has been the best part of recent travel?

I think travel is challenging to relationships and having my sister and father here was not always easy and simple. Regardless, I really treasure the luxury and privilege I have of possessing such loving and supportive family and it meant a lot to me to spend time with them and share this experience.

Jess: "Smile!" Fran: "No."

Jess: "Smile!" Fran: "No."

What are you most looking forward to coming up?

Going to Japan (and Italy) were things that we knew we wanted to do, but never expected to be able to afford on this trip. Workaway made it possible for us to have an incredible experience in Italy and cashing out the totality of the remaining half million or so miles and points we had has made going to Japan (and Hong Kong) possible. (I managed to squeeze almost a month of 4 star hotel stays and two first class tickets home on ANA out of our remaining balances)

It's been a long time since we traveled to place as "Bucket List" worthy as Japan is. If we can have a few days as good as our time in Italy, it will be a great way to end the trip.

It's been a long time since we traveled to place as "Bucket List" worthy as Japan is. If we can have a few days as good as our time in Italy, it will be a great way to end the trip.

I am also really excited to get home and get started on life again. I’m excited to see our dog Lily and to experience winter weather. To be able to conveniently and practically get to work on my career. To see old friends, make new ones. To explore a new city and get busy figuring out what this family we are intending is going to look like.

What are you least looking forward to coming up?

At home at least I won't have to do financial spreadsheets with three different currencies.

At home at least I won't have to do financial spreadsheets with three different currencies.

Money is already becoming a source of stress and will get worse before it gets better. I figure the tension will peak a week or two after we arrive in Denver and get moved in. Once we get a foundation and can accurately forecast our costs, we’ll be able to set a real clock and figure out how much hustle we need to stay afloat until things develop. But I think getting there will be tough. Jess and I have different attitudes to the meaning of material objects, which ones really matter and we certainly have different backgrounds in terms of how money is spent and saved. We have really come together successfully on this in the past (like when we saved $80K for this trip) but Jess will be working to run her side business full time when we get back which means we will both be choosing to stay away from the 9-5 and its accompanying reliable income. I know that will be highly stressful for Jess and probably more so for me than I expect. This is the first time she has tried to step away from a regular office job which is exciting (and very doable in my personal experience) but also frightening. I’m sure we will need to have more than a few clarifying conversations, but we’ll work it out like we always do.

What have you learned about Jess?

Despite earlier blog posts to the contrary, I have come to the conclusion that Jess is not an extrovert after all. Like me, she is an introvert with strong extrovert skills. Perhaps this was sub-conciously apparent when we met and was what attracted me to her. (Another possibility is that the whole extrovert/introvert bilateral is bullshit)

Jess on a rainy morning commute in Koh Lanta.

Jess on a rainy morning commute in Koh Lanta.

Overall, I keep getting more grateful for her everyday. She seems really brave and tough and it seems like she has grown more confident and strong over the course of the year. She is increasingly thinking that she will try dropping the 9-5 when we return and see what she can do to control her own time while earning a living. I know it’s a frightening option for her and I’m proud of her for considering it.

I’m also really happy to look back at earlier parts of this trip and see that we were able to adjust our relationship and habits to such a diverse set of circumstances. Even this has been normalized and we have found a way to make time for ourselves and for each other. There’s a dark side of this which is that I think people can get used to just about anything. So we have to be careful about our standards separate from our daily emotional barometer.

I've also realized that Jess is a serious animal person. Or she just needs a baby real soon. Not sure.

What have you learned about yourself?

This trip has made me much more grateful and proud to be American, while simultaneously making me much less certain about the future of my country. I’ve been a lot of places where things have changed for the worse very quickly and I cannot take for granted anymore that the stability and wealth that have characterized my life for the first 30 years will continue without change. I feel a strong duty (partially motivated by fear) to engage more in civic life and to work to improve this planet, my country, myself once I get home.

The Killing Fields outside Phnom Penh was a sobering reminder of what happens when governments fail and of the impact of US power used without restraint.

The Killing Fields outside Phnom Penh was a sobering reminder of what happens when governments fail and of the impact of US power used without restraint.

I’m also very excited to be alive right now. I think all the craziness we have seen politically and economically in the last decade has to do with the massive technological and economic growth the world is experiencing. I feel really grateful (but again worried) to be present for such incredible change. If you think things are changing quickly in the US, you should try visiting a developing country coping with smartphones, globalization and climate change  all hitting at the same time (though I suppose that's happening everywhere).

I also feel that I have grown up a bit. I feel calmer and more interested in focusing my energies and trying to build things in the world: a family, a business, a reputation. I’m more convinced than ever that everything good in life comes slowly and with real effort.

Scott and Courteney came along for our drive through Namibia in April. 

Scott and Courteney came along for our drive through Namibia in April. 

I’ve also learned that people really value me and I them. It felt hard to make new friendships in my 20s but that appears to have passed. All the friends who visited us, followed along on our journey and are excited to see me when I get home make me feel more connected to people than I have in long time and I’m – again – really grateful for that.

HOW WELL DID YOU PACK?  WHAT’S GOOD IN YOUR BAG AND WHAT ARE YOU NOT USING?

My Five Surprising Essentials still stands up as vital parts of our gear and you should check it out if you are planning a trip.

Most recently I've been really grateful for good footwear. Through the hot weather of the last few months my Chacos have been incredible comfortable and durable for everyday wear. The extra weight compared to Teva's was worth it. The last few weeks in cooler Ha Noi and our recent motorbike trip through a very rainy central Vietnam really made me grateful for my Gore-Tex lined Merrell's and my still pristine Darn Tough merino wool ankle socks

Overall, packing has become easier and easier as the trip winds down. All the extra stuff we were carrying like two giant bottles of Malaria drugs or superfluous chargers has gradually disappeared. I can remember in Medellin being barely able to zip my bag shut. These days it seems like there always extra space with both of us offering to carry more stuff when there's nothing more to pack.

The rest of the trip will be in colder climes but hot weather clothes take up much less space and we aren't planning on dropping anything since we'll only be on the road for a few more months.