Way back before we started on this trip, Danielle and I considered ourselves runners. We participated in races and everything. Within the running community there is a common phrase – ‘hitting the wall’. Typically, this phrase is used to describe the ‘oh sh*t’ feeling you experience when the ‘I can’t do this anymore’ part of your brain overtakes the ‘you can do this!’ part of your brain. This frequently happens in the latter stages of races. The longer the race (or the harder you are pushing yourself), the bigger the wall. Below is an example of how you would use this phrase in a sentence:
Fred – Jeez, I really hit the wall at mile 22 of the marathon. I just couldn’t keep up my pace. Had to start walking.
Georgia – Sucks to be you, Fred.
For the record, nobody likes Georgia.
Ok, so why am I talking about ‘hitting the wall’? Because it applies to traveling as well, of course. Prior to leaving on this adventure we weren’t entirely sure what to expect. Some folks we spoke to said they never hit a wall and could have kept traveling indefinitely. Others said they eventually got to a point where they knew they were done. It depends on the person. For us, the wall has hit us in two stages:
- The ‘this isn’t a vacation’ wall. Timing – about 1 month.
- The ‘OK, I’m starting to miss normal life’ wall. Timing – about 3 months.
I’ll discuss each of these in turn.
This isn’t a vacation wall. In Thailand (our first stop) we were constantly on the move and each day was packed full of sight-seeing or new adventures. I.E. We were in normal vacation mode. Right about the time we left, however, we realized we had to tap the brakes a bit. We were exhausted. At first, this was a difficult transition because slowing down results in missing out on towns and/or activities. Instead of spending 2 days in this town and 1 day in another, you spend 3 days in the first town and skip the second town. Downside – you see fewer attractions. Upside – you keep your sanity. As more time passes, our speed continues to decrease. It is a trade-off we are happy to make.
OK, I’m starting to miss normal life wall. This one hit us when we left Nepal and arrived in Cambodia, just about the three month mark. Part of this was probably due to Nepal being amazing – how could the rest of the trip live up to its standard? Part of it was a lack of excitement over our remaining destinations – we were unsure if wanted to stay in SE Asia for the last three months (we have since decided to add in Western Australia and Bali). And part of it was as simple as us missing a routine. At this point you might be thinking, “You miss your old routine? Why? You’re traveling the world! How are you not loving every single day?!” To which I would respond with the following examples:
Budget. I’ll preface this by saying we haven’t really stuck to our initial budget. But when you are traveling long-term (without a source of income), you have to be mindful of your budget. An example: bananas. What do bananas cost in the States? Seriously, I’m asking you. I don’t know. I buy bananas every week in normal life but I don’t pay attention to how much they cost. Yeah, I know how much we spent on food in a given month, but how much specific items cost? The details are sometimes a little fuzzy. Here, I know. Constantly monitoring our budget, especially when no money is coming in, is tiring. There have been several times when we have thought, “if we had jobs I wouldn’t think twice about buying this.”
Research. We spend sooooooooo much time researching. Each town we visit requires us to answer the following questions – How are we getting there? Where are we staying? What are we doing? How are we getting around? And of course, each of these has many sub-topics needing answers as well. Back home, I never research because I already know the answers. How are we getting there? Our car. Where are we staying? Our awesome house. What are we doing? Work, working out, getting coffee from Steam. Oh, and playing with our dogs. Moral of the story – we do a lot of research and it takes a lot of time.
Being On-Guard. The second you let your guard down in SE Asia, bad things happen. That sounds a bit dramatic, and it probably is, but you really can’t relax much here. Our initial reaction to every nice person we meet is, ‘are they being nice or are they trying to scam us?’ One recent example:
We are driving our (rental) motorbike from Danang to Hoi An. Randomly, a Vietnamese woman pulls up alongside us and starts talking to us…while we are driving. Strange, but OK maybe she is just being nice. She asks us if we are going to Marble Mountain and it just so happens, yes. Yes, we are going to Marble Mountain. She says she lives close by and can show us where to go! I’m thinking, I don’t really need you to show me, but hey, I’ll assume you’re just being nice. Keep in mind this entire conversation is happening while we are cruising down the road on our motorbikes. So when we get to the turn off she puts on her blinker and makes sure we know to turn off. Super nice of her. Just a random Vietnamese lady looking out for a tourist. Good on you, lady.
But then she directs us into a drive way just across the street from the entrance to Marble Mountain. The drive way is for a shop selling marble trinkets. Immediately, my ‘scam alert’ sirens start going off. She says we can park our bike in the shop driveway ‘for free!’ and just pick it up after. In retrospect, we should have just started the bike back up and found a different place to park, but the midwestern ‘I don’t want to make this nice lady mad’ part of us resisted. We end up leaving the bike at the shop as we tour Marble Mountain knowing we are likely in for a scam when we return. When we returned, I immediately gave her 5,000 dong ($0.25 USD), grabbed the bike, and got out of there. We read online that sometimes the owners will move your bike into their garage while you are touring Marble Mountain until you buy something, so we were fortunate this time, but my point remains the same – CAN’T I HAVE ONE DAY WHERE NOBODY IS TRYING TO SCAM ME? JUST ONE DAY. I really don’t care about the money (it was just 25 cents) but the feeling that you are only looked upon as a sucker waiting to be separated from his money? That part gets to you after awhile.
Fitness. If you have been reading our posts regularly, you know we have attempted to run in every town we visit. Not only are we trying to keep up some semblance of fitness, but running is a good way to see more of a town and its citizens. But for those runners out there, try to imagine running a completely new route EVERY TIME YOU RUN. And being on guard the whole time you run because you are in a new place with potential caved in roads, packs of wild dogs, and motorbikes driving wherever they want. Exhausting, right? At this point in time last year, I was running around Wash Park three days a week. The same route each time. It was wonderful.
Eating. Prior to our trip, we were SO EXCITED for the foods we were going to eat. We were especially pumped for Thai food as we had heard so much about it. After 100 days, I can tell you the food has been as good as advertised. And strangely, Thai food has been one of our least favorite. Go figure. But you know what? At this moment I would trade a day of delicious Southeast Asian food for a single, mindless meal back in the States. Because we don’t have access to a kitchen (they are quite difficult to find in southeast Asia), we eat out every meal. This means we have to make decisions about where we are going to get our food (should we go some place touristy knowing is a bit more expensive but easy or should we try to find a local shop where it’s more difficult to order but authentic?), how we are going to order (do we go up to them or will they come to our little plastic table?), how we are going to say what we want (should we just point, or try to learn more of the language?), and what we are going to order (do we know what anything on that sign means? or should we order more noodles?) three times/day. Adding it up, this means we have had at least 300 food decisions/encounters on this trip so far. Back home, I ate the same breakfast probably 345 out of 365 days last year, meaning I only had to make a breakfast ‘decision’ maybe 20 times for the entire year.
One recent example of the process that goes into eating (from our stay in Dalat, Vietnam):
S – Do we want to try something new tonight? Or do we want to go back to the Bahn Mi lady?
D – We’ve gone to the Bahn Mi lady for the last two nights, maybe we should try something new?
S – You’re probably right. Let’s try that place [pointing across the street].
S&D – [Walk in. Staff stares at us. We motion towards a table. Staff continues to stare. One staff member begins to get up…realizes we are not Vietnamese….stops…and sits back down. We slowly back out of the restaurant.] Yeah, maybe we should just go back to the Bahn Mi lady.
Not going to lie, this experience was hilarious…after the fact. At the time we just wanted to shout – “PLEASE JUST TAKE OUR MONEY AND GIVE US FOOD!” (Danielle tried to make a reference to the movie Pretty Woman but I haven’t seen it and, as such, the reference was lost on me.)
In summary, a short anecdote. At the beginning of our trip I would ask Danielle once per day, “would you trade a day of work for this?” Initially, the answer was a resounding yes, followed by us laughing at the ridiculousness of the question. “Work?! Are you kidding me?” With time, I began asking the question once every other day and then maybe once every three days. Now, I pose this question to Danielle every once in awhile and the answer is more nuanced. Something like, “Would I rather be working right now? No, probably not (it’s busy season in the actuarial world, after all). But I wouldn’t mind a day of normalcy.” So, do we want to go home? No. If we left now, we would regret it after one day. Okay, maybe two days (after we cuddled with the pups a bit and ate a Chipotle burrito). But with each passing day, we get more and more excited to be back in the States and to, eventually, get back into our ‘normal’ routine.
Summed up very nicely. We have had most of those same thoughts but always at the end of the conversation ‘we chose this and it is better than being at work! Oh yeah and what day is it?’ Cheers!
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Yes! ‘What day is it’ is one of our favorite games as well!
If it’s any consolation, what you’re experiencing is completely normal. We experienced the exact same things on our South America trip…lamenting the constant need to do “homework”, longing for a simple exchange where everything was clearly understood and wrapped up neatly at the end, and of course often feeling like a walking dollar sign. Reading this post brought all those memories flooding back, but trust me, when you finally wake up from this wild and crazy dream and look back at the whole experience, those are not the things you’re going to remember. So chin up and travel on comforted by the fact that anything you will see today is something you’ve never seen before and probably never will again. There are a million working slobs right now who would trade their day for five minutes of your life, myself included.
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Love this post guys! The wall is real! You’ll be fine…. Sometimes I find just going to a movie helps to take a break while traveling. They’re pretty much the same the world over and for approximately 2 hrs nobody bothers you 🙂 keep having fun!
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Great minds think alike! (Or is it travel weary minds…) We went to see The Jungle Book in Ho Chi Minh City shortly before I posted this.