When writing this, our trip seems so long ago already. We are now pretty much settled in Prague, wearing winter clothes (we change our shirt everyday now), moving into our new flat, cooking our own food and enjoying the company of friends. To give proper closure to our adventure, to highlight the ‘bests’ of the year and to perhaps inspire others, we spent a few evenings with a cup of hot wine and looked back at what we experienced. This, however, won’t be Take It And Go’s last post as we promised each other to record stories from our future travels too.
CAUTION: long post and not lots of pictures! Very interesting though :-)
In 11 months we visited 3 continents, which means that both of us have only one left to cover – Antarctica (providing we count Americas as one).
During 336 days we visited 15 countries which brought our totals to 44 (Lucia) and 64 (Mark) which is well above Mark’s goal of visiting at least the same number of countries as one’s age.
We took 22 flights, 22 train trips and once we tried a new mode of transport for both of us – a helicopter – to see the Great Barrier Reef from a bird’s perspective. Between all the cities we covered 68 261 km (aerial distance).
We made 3 ‘work-breaks’: We tried some manual work when we helped Mr. Huang in Taitung around his guesthouse, we helped Ms. Nabistul manage her hostel in Bornean Sandakan and for 2 months we got a chance to experience how NGOs in developing countries work when we helped KWEG ladies in Yangon.
We tried 1 meditation course and visited 1 doctor. Both experiences almost equally pleasant :)
We were lucky enough to meet 13 people we knew from before (specifically: Huibert in Shanghai, Lucia’s sister Miska and Patricia in the Philippines, Gokhan in Singapore, Marieke and Maarten at the Kuala Lumpur airport, Marieke and Nick in Australia, Maarten and Nicole in Myanmar, Zuzka and Veronika in Indonesia and Kayo in Hong Kong).
We also made a lots of new friends. Particularly Jeff and Angel who we met in Mongolia and later again in Myanmar, Gunnar who was the Ger-man in Mongolia and we met again a few times in China, then Vicky from Wisdom Garden in Taiwan’s Yuli and a few of those who we met through CouchSurfing (we surfed 6 times in total): Gina from Beijing, Cathy from Xi’an, Nicky and her mom and dad from Taoyuan, Colton and Jamie from Taipei, and Junsik and Jimoon, both from Seoul.
Lucia is now also a certified Advanced PADI diver and together we completed 30 scuba-dives (Mark 19 and Lucia 11). Mark on top of this added seeing a 6m long whaleshark to his once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
A big part of travelling should always be (in our opinion) to open your mind and learn. This could be anything: about the place you visit, the people you meet, life, eachother and many more. We put together a few of our main learnings.
Culture and history
We learned a lot in the most literal way possible. The amount of museums, palaces, religious places and other places of historical or cultural interest we visited is too large to count. Of course, by talking to others or by just simply observing the world around you, you inevitably learn. For example, we learnt what was behind Chinggis Khan’s success, how huge China’s small cities are, what the Southern Cross star constellation looks like, what ping-tan sounds like, what happened in Taipei on February 1947, what the Philippines’ most favourite beer is, how similar orang-utans are to humans, how to prepare burmese fish curry, what dynasty brought buddhism to South Korea, what the basics for meditation are and so much more!
It always annoyed us when people would see (parts of) Europe as one big region with no real differences. But when we thought about it, how much did we really know about the difference between China, Taiwan and South Korea? Singapore and Brunei were both rich countries right? Indonesia and Malaysia are both predominantly muslim countries so how different can they be? This travel really showed the unique nature of each country and even the different parts of each country. Different food, different habits, different life. We’d like to think that we picked up something from each person or culture we met and will use it as part of us further in life.
In fact we started to learn this lesson already earlier, mostly while living in the Middle East. We had to learn to start asking ourselves certain questions we wouldn’t have to back home. Such as “Is the bus really leaving at 07.50h?”, “Do they really only have 1st class tickets left or are they trying to up-sell?”, “Is this man giving us good directions or he is just too ashamed to admit he doesn’t know?”, “Is the waitress saying “no, we don’t have” because they really just ran out of chicken or she is shy to speak to us?”, “Is the car in front of us really going to turn right when indicating?”, and so on. Sometimes you just need to ask, double-check and triple-check. You learn not to take things for granted and you learn how to read people …. but many times you are just left to wonder… and you sit back and try to relax.
Appreciate small things
This includes a wide range of small pleasures. For example finally sitting on a train to our next destination, having a curious first meal in a new country, enjoying a view, the first time you pronounce thank you’ correctly in one of the languages and getting a big smile in return, dropping dead on a hostel bed after a full day on a bus, feeling rain after weeks of a dry hot weather, finally arriving to the sea-side and the sun just started shining or inserting postcards in a mailbox and looking forward to people back home receiving them.
On the other hand you also miss a few small things: making the breakfast you want, taking a shower without making the toilet seat wet, taking a shower, hot water during your shower, indulging in good wine and cheese, putting your clothes in a cupboard, sleeping in one bed for more than 3 nights, not having to pack… all of these of course are very minimal compared to the good stuff
Living without stuff
All our belongings had to fit in one backpack each. We already mentioned how happy we were with our small packs and our compression bags. We had all we needed and still we carried only a tiny fraction of everything we normally use daily. For the ladies it will be an interesting realisation to find out that a day cream, a night cream, an eye cream, face scrub, face wash, make-up remover, and all these things in your bathroom can shrink into two – a soap and a cream – and your skin doesn’t peel off! You really can live with just a pair of shoes and flip-flops (plus occasional cheap flats purchase). Wearing one pair of jeans also isn’t that bad (as long as you wash regularly), especially when you focus on the fact that you are always seen by new people. Once we got settled in our new flat in Prague and after 1,5 years got all our stuff out of storage it was like Christmas: so many things that we forgot about. But also so much useless stuff!
Becoming more environmentally conscious
People really do make a mess. It’s not just bad for the environment, but it also annoys people and make them lazy. If someone else leaves their bottle on the street, I can… It depended on the country in Asia how cleaned up the streets were, how polluting motorised transport was and how much people cared. But we can do better everywhere. One of the biggest shocks was flying over Malaysian Borneo: you could see the clear distinction between massive areas of light green trees (palm trees planted for it’s oil) and small patches of dark green (original rainforest). Apparently only 6% of the rainforest is left! Unfortunately, the money made from the palm oil industry goes mainly to a few large companies and foreign investors… not much to the regular people.
Learning a thing or two about each other
We won’t go into detail here :-), but you do learn about eachother. 24/7 for 11 months isn’t peanuts, but it went surprisingly well. Of course we had our arguments, even a small fight here and there, We believe it made our bond stronger though
But most of all we learnt that everything is normal somewhere in the world and so nothing is abnormal everywhere… keep an open mind and you might learn a thing or two.
You can’t travel without some way of paying for it. A big part of travelling is setting budgets and trying to stick to them. We’ve been quite serious about keeping track of our expenses and did this through the ‘Homebudget’ app. We’ve been asked quite a few times during and after our travels how much travelling like this would cost. Of course it very much depends how you travel, what your daily activities are, where you sleep, what you eat etc. We however thought it would be interesting to show you how much on average we spent on what activity and how much we spent by country by day.
First the spend (in British pounds) per day per country:
The most expensive countries for us were Singapore and Australia which didn’t really come as a surprise. Australia would actually have the most expensive by far if we didn’t stay over at Marieke and Nick’s for 2 weeks and not had rented a campervan. Accommodation is crazy expensive there.Same goes for Hong Kong: accommodation is expensive and the fact that we spent our whole time there at Kayo’s place was not only fun, but also considerably put our costs down.
The least expensive countries were Myanmar, Taiwan and China. We’ve split Myanmar in two to distinguish between the ‘travel’-part and the ‘work’-part, but either way it comes out as the cheapest country we travelled. This corresponds with our feeling when travelling there, it was our most ‘back-packy’ experience of the whole year. However prices had already gone up and will continue doing so… so hurry up if you’re planning to visit!
Taiwan and China were already high on our list of favourite countries, even more so now that we realise they were relatively cheap as well! In Taiwan we really kicked off our Couchsurfing activities and we stayed with Mr. Huang for a week, so that pushed the costs down considerably.
In countries/cities like Singapore, Bangkok, Brunei, Macau and Abu Dhabi we only stayed a few days: These stays were often also more ‘indulging’ in nature which meant we would be spending more. Kuala Lumpur was our stop-over hub because of AirAsia, so we spent more on transport (flights) in Malaysia in general. Also we did most of our shopping here (clothes, camera lens, hard-disk).
Apart from this split by country, we’ve also split our costs into five general ‘budget lines’:
- Food/Drinks: Includes all food/drinks in restaurants, bars, markets, grocery stores etc
- Activities: Any (multi-day) tours, day-trips, dives and form of entertainment (cinema, museum, concert, etc)
- Transportation: This includes anything from flights and trains to tuk-tuks and public transport.
- Accommodation: anywhere where we spent the night. On occassions where spending the night was part of a tour or transport, the cost would be under that budget line (for example Australia (campervan), Russia (night train), Mongolia (Gobi tour) and Malaysia (Sipadan/Mabul))
- Other: Anything that doesn’t fall into the above categories. For example: clothing purchases, SIM cards, visa fees, haircuts, massages, etc
Almost a third of our travel expenses went to transportation. Having done all the travelling described earlier it’s probably not surprising this came out as a top expense. We were more surprised initially by the low % of accommodation. You need to sleep somewhere every day, so we expected it to be a larger part of the total costs. We did stay mainly in guesthouses, but not in the cheapest (dorm-) beds. Once we started counting we found out that about 25% of our nights were ‘free’ (friends, couchsurfing, exchange for work) and another 10% are already calculated in tours or transport. Altogether that makes quite a difference.
These costs are purely the stuff we had to pay for while travelling. We didn’t include necessities like comprehensive travel insurance, travel equipment (backpacks, clothing, gadgets) and storage of our stuff. All this added about 10% to our total costs
We didn’t want to bore you with all the detailed costs and numbers here as this is not an annual report. If you’re interested to know the detail to for example help you plan your own travel, let us know and we’ll be happy to share more detailed numbers.
As every self-respecting traveller we had put together a Bucket List prior to our departure with things we wanted to do. They were mainly activities and not so much focussed on sights and we’re happy to say that we managed to do most off them. Have a look at our Bucket List here and let us know which one you think is the coolest :-).
Lucia’s good friend from Bahrain, Pushpita, along with her best wishes, quoted Mark Twain just before our departure:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Sounds dramatic, but for us this definitely covers our feelings afterwards. Initially it wasn’t easy as deciding to ‘get out’ for a year and leave your stuff, people and career behind is tough. But we can honestly say… not a single regret! So although Mark Twain’s words are great words to end this post … we thought we could do even better: With a Selfie-video!!