This week marked our first 100 days of travel.
We celebrated by waking up in Sapa, in our thirty-seventh new bed in the thirty-first new city of the eighth new country we’ve visited. We drove to a mountain pass overlooking the highest peak in Indochina and hiked to the viewpoints of two waterfalls within a Vietnamese national park.
We sat in a tiny restaurant and dined on incredibly cheap and delicious local food, making friends with the owner, who thanked us profusely for patronizing his establishment at a time of year when guests are few and far between.
We worked for a while in a cozy café and struck up a conversation with a couple of fellow travelers, who like us, were passing through as part of a longer journey.
We left town on a bumpy, winding road, covered in dense fog and light rain, passing water buffalo and native villagers on one side, and on the other, a long, steep drop into the valley below.
As the evening came to end, we fell asleep in our thirty-eighth new bed, on board an overnight train bound for Hanoi, where today, we fly to Taipei via Hong Kong.
This is our new reality.
And this milestone, our first 100 days of travel, is a reminder of just how far we’ve come.
Part of me is shocked by how fast time has passed, and how quickly we’ve reached this moment, when it feels like we were just saying good bye, standing at the starting gate of this great adventure.
But most days, it feels like we’ve been gone forever. Like home is already a distant memory, warm and familiar, but ever so slightly out of focus. I try to recall how we spent our time then. What it was that I worried about, what so often kept me up at night. But none of it seems all that important anymore.
We’ve changed a bit already, I think. In ways that I’m not yet sure are permanent, but could be. And as the newness and novelty of the act of traveling begin to wear off now, we’re falling into a comfortable routine. We’re getting better at this life. We’re learning as we go, and after 100 days of travel, this is what we know:
1. We’ve been traveling way too fast.
Chronic overachievers that we are, we put together a pretty ambitious itinerary for this leg of our trip. Despite all we’d read about the downside of traveling too fast, the expense and the exhaustion, we thought we had it under control. But we were wrong, and we admit it. We hit the wall in Thailand and made a few adjustments to our schedule, eliminating brief excursions into Myanmar and Laos and the Philippines, in favor of a longer stay in Vietnam and the countries beyond. As we travel to Europe this summer, we’ll change our approach, with a few weeks of fast travel separating periods of a month or more in select locations.
2. Working from the road is harder than we thought.
When we left the country, one of our biggest concerns was the ability to easily communicate with our clients from the road. As it turns out, staying in touch has been simple, cheap and convenient. Maintaining a productive work environment is a little more challenging. Working remotely, whether at home or in a hotel room halfway around the world, takes discipline and consistency and a willingness to sometimes pass on the fun. We’re still working on that part.
3. We never really needed all that stuff.
The clothes, the furniture, the books, the sports memorabilia. It took us months to sort through all of our personal items, deciding what to sell and what to keep. Now I can hardly even remember what we left behind. We live only with what we can carry, and so far, that’s been everything we need.
4. We operate on a different calendar now.
No more dreading Mondays and working for the weekends. We’re living in a world where every day is Saturday. Instead of weeks and months, we now mark the passage of time by travel days and passport stamps.
5. Our relationship has grown infinitely stronger.
Want to put your marriage to the test? Try spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week with your partner for months on end, while also managing the stress of travel and sharing a single bathroom. It’s like being on “The Amazing Race,” without the chance of the million dollar grand prize. But we talk more. We listen more. And we laugh all the time. And because of that, our relationship is better than it’s ever been before.
6. We aren’t going to love every place we go.
No matter how much we plan and research and carefully handpick the destinations on our itinerary, we will inevitably travel to places that just don’t live up to our expectations. Sometimes we arrive and fall in love with a city immediately. Sometimes it starts out a little rocky and grows on us over time. And sometimes, we just don’t click at all, regardless of how many people we know who adore it. But that’s just part of what makes travel such an intensely personal experience.
7. Americans aren’t traveling enough.
As U.S. passport holders, we have a tremendous amount of freedom to travel internationally, something we appreciate more and more with every border crossing we make. So why aren’t we taking advantage of this more often? The dollar is stronger than it’s been in years, English is widely spoken around the world, and contrary to anything you’ve read or might think about the reception Americans receive abroad, we’ve been warmly welcomed in every single country we’ve visited.
8. Travel can break your heart.
Once-beautiful buildings crumbling from years of neglect and decay. Starving animals foraging for food in piles of leftover garbage. Young girls in the company of lecherous old men. The children who beg on the street and try to charm you with their trinkets, when they should be in school instead. And the little ones who laugh as they play in filthy, stagnant water on the side of a dusty road, because it’s all they’ve ever known. Poverty exists in ways we can’t even comprehend at home, and no amount of gorgeous sunsets and gourmet meals can erase some of the things we’ve seen.
9. History isn’t always black and white.
We’ve learned that our role in history isn’t always as noble as we’d like to believe. Our actions as a nation, or the lack thereof, have an impact that reaches far beyond our own borders. We have a responsibility to understand what that really means, and travel has helped us see it firsthand.
10. We aren’t bored yet.
A few weeks before I left my job, a colleague joked that it would only be a matter of time before I got bored with all this travel and wanted to return to the challenges of my career. I laughed it off, but deep down I wondered if he might be right. If two people who’ve spent the better part of the past 15 years associating their personal value with their professional success could manage to slow down and actually enjoy life for a while. As it turns out, we absolutely can.
Here’s to our first 100 days and many more to come! What lessons has travel taught you?