Three Month Check-In: Nate

How are you feeling physically and emotionally?

I’ve adjusted (in a way I’m afraid I may not be able to return from) to the schedule. I’m better able to construct my experience around food and rest, recognizing more shades of grey. Sometimes food is to be treasured and relished. Sometimes its just calories.

Papas Fritas in Bolivia

Papas Fritas in Bolivia

Full Parilla Steak Dinner in Colombia

Full Parilla Steak Dinner in Colombia

Sometimes I’m sleeping deeply in a quiet, cool hotel room with a duvet and feather pillows and sometimes I’m dozing on an overnight bus with no a/c and a dubbed copy of “Blended” playing at full volume. Learning to take each at it’s value and having faith that the next day or the day after will deliver something completely different makes the up and down more palatable.

This lifestyle (obviously) has more variety than life in the states. At home, staying productive meant regularity and discipline; moderation in all things. On the trip, sometimes having three drinks at an enormous seafood lunch is the right thing to do. There are lean days and fat days (literally) and they balance each other out.  

Staying healthy and happy also means knowing when to slow down and take a break. It’s hard to countenance at times when you’re in a city you’ve never been to and may never visit again, but its okay to order pizza and watch a movie every once in a while.

The most interesting thing now is how normal all this is. The mental bandwidth required to do a lot of this stuff has declined significantly. Negotiating a taxi, choosing a restaurant, calculating the exchange rate; they are familiar tasks at this point. Money is less stressful; It’s not a big deal if we’re over budget one day, I know we can adjust over the next few.

What was your favorite part of the last month?

My favorite part of the last month was the salt flats in Bolivia. It’s one of the few things on this trip that I had hoped one day to see but didn’t know if I ever would. It was more incredible than I thought it would be and it’s very cool to have one of your dreams fulfilled.

Salar De Uyuni in Bolivia

Salar De Uyuni in Bolivia

It still feels a little surreal thinking about how we got here and how vastly different these environments are from our regular life. It also seems weird to me to think that these amazing things we are seeing and doing have been here on this planet all this time and will continue to exist into the future. It makes me hungry to keep discovering more amazing things and places.

My other favorite thing was our business class flights. I spent a long time on our miles strategy and it felt really good to see how that paid off. I felt like I got to give a cool gift to Jess and show her how all those trips to Target and Walgreens were worth it. It also was nice to do something really luxurious that had no costs included. We had a really good time and didn’t spend the whole time figuring it into our budget.

Jess and I enjoying champagne on our flight from Sao Paolo to Johannesberg

Jess and I enjoying champagne on our flight from Sao Paolo to Johannesberg

What was your least favorite part of last month?

My least favorite parts were probably periods of wasted time and money and feeling like Jess and I are overloaded on time together and not connected.

Lack of sleep and not thinking carefully led to us letting a fixer pick us up and book things at the bus station in the Peruvian border town of Puno. We spent several hours saying how nice it was to have someone else handle arrangements for once and just not needing to think about anything for a little while. This was before we spent two days and numerous cab rides trying to get visas at the Bolivian consulate that we could have gotten in 15 minutes at the border. And before we had to hire an entire tourist boat on Lake Titicaca at ten times the normal rate so we could actually get back to our hotel at the end of the day.

Six taxi rides, a bank trip and two days later, we got the exact same visa we could have gotten at the border in 15 minutes.

Six taxi rides, a bank trip and two days later, we got the exact same visa we could have gotten at the border in 15 minutes.

The final few days of our time in South America was extremely busy. The border crossing from Peru to Bolivia was several days of continuous travel and one night stays. Once in La Paz we immediately started working on tickets and arrangements for the salt flats and the end of that excursion butted directly against our three days of flying to South Africa. All this to say that it’s been continuous and moderately stressful time together for a few weeks. In this first year of marriage we are undoubtedly spending more time together than most newlyweds do in their first three.

Typically, some time apart, some time connecting with people from home usually lets us both decompress a bit. But time apart has not really been an option and the lack of internet connectivity has made talking to people from home difficult. I also think we both have been less aware than we could be about preventively making efforts to take care of who we are being for and with the other person.

Jess and I spending some time alone-together in the midst of 72 hours of flights from Bolivia to South Africa.

Jess and I spending some time alone-together in the midst of 72 hours of flights from Bolivia to South Africa.

It’s a problem that needs to be considered because our current car trip through South Africa is going to offer less personal space than anything else we’ve done so far.

What have you learned about yourself?

Two things come to mind.

The first is that exposure to so many different ways of living is slowly warping my sense of what’s normal and inspiring me to ask new questions about the things that come after this trip. Traveling long term to some of the remote places we have been inevitably has exposed us to cross-section of the world’s people who – as a whole – are a little less engaged in the whole career-track-2.5-kids-lake-house-on-the-weekends idea.

Our group on the Salt Flats tour.

Our group on the Salt Flats tour.

A lot of them are hippies. Or whatever you call our generation’s drop-out-be-here-now contingent. These are the people who want to give us advise about how to “really experience travel” each time they see us writing blog posts or using a map to plan something. I know that at a psychological level these people are merely giving advice to themselves, addressing their own insecurities by projecting onto me, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to stab them in the neck with the mate straw they’re wearing like the crucifix of their terrible new religion.

Beyond these length-of-my-trip-is-my-identity people, about 10% of the travelers are these really interesting, courageous and weird people for whom traveling is an integrous part and expression of who they are. These people are engaged in a real adventure that involves charting their own path, both figuratively and literally.

Just yesterday we met an Australian couple – probably in their 50s or 60s – who have a custom built camper truck thing that they designed to fit perfectly in a shipping container. You can check out their amazing story here. Every year they have it shipped to some far off place and then they off-road around for three months. They’ve done this every year for like a decade and they have an itinerary for the next three. They’ve driven across every continent except Antarctica.

It’s not that I want to do exactly what they’ve done. It’s that I want to make some choice, have some priority as courageous and unique as that. I want my life and my experience of it in be one of a kind and when I get to the end I want to feel I’ve really lived.

I know this trip is a good start, but what’s next? How do we make sure this is more than just a one-off?

The second thing is an experience of myself that goes almost in the exact opposite direction. Where as I am tempted by this image of life as a 60 year old Australian man 4-wheeling my way across the world I’m also really excited by the prospect of things like: paying off my school loans, starting to invest in real estate, composting and having a garden. I’m really excited for all these parts of regular (liberal) American life.

Jess and I on a trip to Louisville, Kentucky in the USA to see if we wanted to move there after our trip is complete.

Jess and I on a trip to Louisville, Kentucky in the USA to see if we wanted to move there after our trip is complete.

Part of the reason that I’m irritated by all these people for whom traveling is their solely functioning piece of identity is the assumption that being different is more significant or real than making traditional choices. That all those poor suckers at home are too ignorant or stupid or cowardly to chuck it all and hit the road. It’s just another way to quiet the fear and risk of making a real choice in life by using it to be better than other people.

Why does this irritate me so much? Because this is basically what I did throughout my 20s.

And you’re right if you are thinking that the exceptionalism I’m decrying sounds a lot like the thing I respect and admire about the Australians.

And you’re right if it seems like my two current fantasies for the future are difficult to countenance together.

Things don’t inherently contain meaning separate from how we remember them looking back from where we ended up. Years from now I’ll look back and see the pieces fitting together in some way I can’t now simply because I haven’t created it yet.

What have you learned about Jess?

Completely contrary to a well-received blog post I wrote earlier this year, I’m beginning to wonder if Jess is an introvert at heart. It might just be the stress of driving and camping across South Africa but both of us are equally feeling a need for an escape from the late night bass thumping of backpacker bars and the pedestrian and livestock crowded highways.

Even in the middle of the largest salt pan in the world, Jess can find a stray dog to play with.

Even in the middle of the largest salt pan in the world, Jess can find a stray dog to play with.

It has also occurred to me that part of the reason Jess needs to touch just about every animal she comes across is that touch is probably one of her primary love languages. And that I should probably be engaging in more physical touch if it seems like she’s in need of it.

I think we are both struggling with the contrast between the very unusual lifestyle we are engaged with now and the question of how traditional we want our future family life to be.

Despite the difficulties and stresses that the trip brings, I'm still incredibly grateful to have Jess in my life and to be sharing this journey with her. We've seen and done some incredible things this year. There's more to come.