Matt and I have made it two months on the road! It feels both like an eternity and the blink of an eye since we were back in Denver. Our trip hasn’t turned out as I had anticipated, but all in positive ways. I didn’t have any specific expectations for this adventure, just some vague goals about self-growth. I thought we’d see some cool stuff, eat some good food, and meet a few people. In all those ways and more, these last 60 days have far exceeded what I had thought possible. We’ve had so many amazing and incredible experiences that it doesn’t seem possible that we have only been at this for two months.
myths vs reality
In my head, I had pictured this trip going differently than it has played out. Some of my expectations were correct, but most were way off.
myth: traveling is lonely
Part of the reason I wanted a travel buddy for this trip is because I thought it would be lonely on the road. The idea of going to all these destinations by myself sounded really lonesome, and that isn’t appealing to me. And while I’m really glad to have Matt with me, I’m realizing that traveling is just as lonely or sociable as you make it. Southeast Asia is a huge backpacker circuit, and there are always other travelers around who you can befriend and travel with. And, if you want to be, you can always travel solo, too.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this trip to me has been the number of really good friends and connections that we’ve made. There are so many inspiring and interesting people out here, and it’s unfortunate that the relationships are usually fleeting — just for a bus ride or a few days together, and you don’t know if you’ll ever cross paths again. But the connections have been much more meaningful than I could have dreamed of.
A lot of people have also asked how Matt and I are getting along and commented that it must be hard to spend so much time with one person. And it’s true — we spend more time together than even many couples do since couples normally split up for work or whatever during the day. But at the same time, it usually isn’t just the two of us. We pick up other travel buddies and friends along the way, and we often split up during the day to go do our own things.
Picking a good travel buddy is crucial to having an enjoyable trip, and we chose well. Matt and I had done a number of other trips together and knew we complemented each other well. Before the trip, we had many discussions about how we wanted to travel, what we expected in terms of alone time and quiet time, and talked about and planned for as many things/situations as we could think of that might trip us up while on the road, and I think having those expectations clear has been really helpful. On the road, we’ve figured out a lot more about each other and how the other functions in different situations, and we’ve worked out a good balance. This trip has actually made us even better friends than before!
myth: that this would be hard
In the last few days before we embarked on this journey, both Matt and I were in full-blown panic mode. We had each nuked our lives back home and were in possession of a one-way ticket to Asia. On the flight over the Pacific, we suddenly recognized the significance of what we were about to do: We didn’t have a plan, we didn’t know anyone, and we didn’t even know where to start. Shit. SHIT.
But we actually adapted very quickly. So quickly and effortlessly, in fact, that we didn’t even remember how stressed out we were before the trip until recently. Our lives are full of the same questions today as they were two months ago: Where are we going to sleep? Where do we go next? How do we get there? What are we going to eat? Am I getting ripped off or do I need to bargain harder? Why are there giant gaping holes in the ground for Lisa to fall into everywhere? What the hell is this mystery meat?
But these are all parts of our daily lives now, and they don’t stress us out any more than chores back home did. It’s just the natural rhythm of our travels. We are perfectly fine to arrive in a new town at night without knowing where we’ll stay or eat. There are plenty of people out in the world who are willing to help, and we know that we’ll always find something.
Admittedly, this trip is super easy for me because I have a personal travel agency in Matt. He takes care of almost all of the trip logistics, and I just breeze by on his plans. Were I alone, this trip would be much more challenging, but I’m sure I would adapt and find my way… eventually.
reality: not having a plan is the best way to do open-ended travel
We started this trip with a very bare-bones itinerary. We didn’t have any onward tickets or reservations. We’d heard that this was the best way to travel long-term, but we weren’t really sure how this would turn out. Would we freak out because we never knew where we were going the next day or week or month? Are we too much of planners to be able to just wing… everything?
Nope. I think the best decision we made was to not have a plan. This gives us the ability to change our plans on a whim and the freedom to pursue whatever it is that catches our fancy. When our Vietnam visa was expiring, we had the option to go wherever we wanted, and so we followed our friend Cara to Koh Phi Phi in Thailand. After a week there, we decided that we just weren’t into the Thai island scene at the moment, and we just hoofed it down to Malaysia where we currently are and love. Not having a plan allows us to travel at our own pace and stay in a place as long or as little as we want. The idea of traveling on a set itinerary now stresses me out and seems very restrictive, though I still intend to travel that way on short-term trips when time is limited.
The only downside to not having a set plan is that we occasionally have to pay more for travel bookings because we do them at the last minute, but none of the costs have been too bad.
myth: that it wouldn’t be this much fun
I thought that I might get homesick or burned out on constant traveling, but things have been awesome so far. There are always bumps in the road, but we’ve had so many amazing experiences that I would never trade away anything that has happened. Not even the 25 hour Vietnamese bus rides.
I didn’t expect to have as much fun as I have been. I didn’t think we would laugh this much, see as many cool things or meet so many incredible people. I love traveling, but it can be very stressful at times, and I figured there’d be a lot more of that. But we must be doing something right because these last 2 months have been epic! We laugh constantly, and we’re having such a blast exploring Southeast Asia.
There have been many times on this trip where I am suddenly struck by how amazing this trip and my life is. So many little moments where life is perfect.
- Throwing the frisbee in the ocean with Amy on Phu Quoc island. Give me a disc and a throwing partner, and I can be happy anywhere. But Long Beach in Phu Quoc had beautiful white sand, clear water just the right temperature to cool off from the heat in, and very few people. And those who were there were “our people,” other adventurers and travelers who had somehow made their way to this spot.
- Christmas Eve on Phu Quoc island: a big bonfire with a bunch of other backpackers. We also saw people lighting paper lanterns at a resort down the beach, and Amy, Matt, and I sprinted there to watch the lanterns float up into the sky.
- Standing on Phu Quoc beach with friends, everyone fell silent for 20 minutes and just quietly watched the sun set. Then later coming back out and watching the stars together.
- New Year’s Eve: Sleeping on the beach in Maya Bay in Koh Phi Phi (where the movie “The Beach” was filmed) and swimming under the stars with the bio-luminescent plankton. When we realize one of the other people is from West Philadelphia, the whole group spontaneously breaks out into the full Fresh Prince of Bel-Air rap in the dark, surrounded by lit up plankton.
- Lying in a hammock sipping ca phe sua da in the Mekong Delta.
- Randomly getting a hug from the girl, Phuong, who did the fitting for some clothes I had made in Hoi An.
- Walking down the street in Ha Giang with our couchsurfer friend Thao and singing Christmas carols.
- Kayaking on the glassy water of Ha Long Bay and having a school of little fish all jump through the air next to us.
- Watching people play ultimate at the Vietnam Hat tournament. Just like with Manila Spirits, it is so awesome to travel around the world and find people in love with the same sport I am. Meeting kindred spirits is always great.
trip highlights from the first two months
- BBQ and camping on a remote island in El Nido, Philippines
- Snorkeling in El Nido
- Manila Spirits & Vietnam Hat ultimate tournaments
- Motorbiking in Dong Van and Meo Vac
- Hiking through the Banaue rice terraces
- The first 48 hours in Hanoi (Vietnam)
- Climbing & kayaking in Lan Ha bay (Ha Long Bay)
- Chilling out in Hoi An
- Spending Christmas on Phu Quoc island
- New Year’s Eve in Maya Bay
- The food in Hoi An (and most of Vietnam), and Penang, Malaysia