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The long slog home

So, after giving Casablanca (and if you are DaveKlein, Morocco in general) a big old middle finger, we were ready to come home. We were ready to assume that a dryer would always be at our disposal. We were ready to sleep in our own bed (albeit, in my little brother’s old room at my parents’ house). We were ready to speak English all the time. We were ready to see more friends. We were done.

We bid adieu to our second to last Starwood stay of our trip and hopped in a cab. I spent the whole cab ride looking out the window at the Casablanca traffic as 220 days sped through my mind. There was the time I got lost on a motortaxi in Mandalay. There was the time we made friends in Bangkok and felt a little normal. There were all the noodle soups. There were laughs on friends couches and beers and a few burgers. My pink hair was gone. Our beach times in Bali were gone. I felt like sand was pouring through my hands and I couldn’t catch it all. Why didn’t i keep up my sentence a day journal? How come I only took 3,500 pictures? Why didn’t we go to India? What will life be like when we return? I gave into travel ennui. I got cranky.

Which was good because that’s exactly what the Casablanca airport greeted us with. There were about 10,000 people dressed in white about to make the Hajj who clearly had never been on airplanes before and were standing in non-line-lines while talking animatedly. For a minute, I was jealous. These people were just embarking on the most important journey of their lives. Ours was over. Then, as you do, either a celebration or a protest broke out in the airport as we were checking in. Unclear. Throngs of men were chanting, dancing and holding up pictures of a dude. With a beard? The King? The not-King? Unclear if they were happy about him, sad about him, avenging him, or protesting him. But they had drums. And were screaming in Arabic. No one appeared to want them to stop. And then with all the people in white. Chaotic lack of lines. No one could hear announcements. I felt dizzy. Airline logos began to bleed together. The departures level swirling around me. I walked to the front of the TAP Portugal line and demanded to check in. turns out the “line” wasn’t for TAP but a fragment of the Egyptian Airways line at the next counter over. Hooray American brashness!

Then we got to security. Dave went through first and as usual had a short conversation about his passport case and the agent’s preferred soccer team based on his Chelsea passport case. They had a pleasant, final Moroccan interaction. Then the agent looked at my Domo passport case and was like, SERIOUSLY LADY? And starts pointing back at Dave and then pointing to my child’s passport case and laughing and shaking his head. The crankiness broke.

I laughed.

Then I focused on being exceptionally nervous. For weeks I had been scared of this specific part of the journey. After all my flying for work, and all our flying on the trip I had one last hurdle to face.

A 18 seater Beech 1900.

eeeeeeeeep

eeeeeeeeep

I don’t love little planes.  It’s just too much science per square foot for me to deal with. It requires a lot of hyper-vigilance from me to keep airplanes  IN THE SKY. A small one somehow requires more.

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A box with a sandwich, a bottle of water, and earplugs lay at our seats. There was no flight attendant.

claustrophobic. We were in the back-middle of the plane

claustrophobic. We were in the back-middle of the plane

There was no door between us and the pilots.

handsome pilot who did the driving not the magazine reading

handsome pilot who did the driving not the magazine reading

I started to dry heave. I was about to lose it. Luckily the Portuguese pilots were EXCEEDINGLY handsome and I didn’t want to look like a baby in the presence of such hotness so I just kept wiping my sweaty hands on my jeans and making my bi-annual plea to the baby Jesus. ( I think the last time I did was when we were on that open water crossing to Gilli Air. )

Hilariously enough, the flight was very smooth. Do you know what co-pilots do? They look up from their magazine every now and again to adjust a knob a little. The end.  It was a beautiful day to fly. It was brief. Watching landing out of the windshield of the plane over beautiful Lisbon was something I don’t think I’ll ever forget. My time on the Beech 1900 is now a fond memory of the closest I’ll ever get to flying private.

As we disembarked I noticed our plane had a name– Esquilo! I thought this was cute! We later googled it and found out it means “squirrel” in Portuguese.  This was something good to know after the fact.

After a sagres beer in the Lisbon airport to kill the last of our Euros and the high of our tiny plane journey behind us, the rest of the day was an airport blur. We weren’t bound by time.  We flew to Frankfurt and landed very late at 10pm and checked into the airport Sheraton.

We slept in a bit too late (weee! not bound by time!) and make our flight the next morning by a margin that was a bit too close for comfort. We missed breakfast in the process too and had sailed passed “hangry” and were firmly in “HITCHY”. The Frankfurt airport is so big that the employees bike around. After 3 weeks in Morocco prices in Euros were so staggering we were too stubborn to buy food. We waited in grumpy silence. We ate all the food on the plane (thanks to my new favorite trick of being an ovo/lacto – vegetarian on planes, I got served first). I also had three glasses of wine on the Air Canada Flight. I got flight attendant side-eye. How could I explain to her what we had just been through? I quit before she cut me off and watched the Katy Perry documentary in a red wine haze suddenly missing the sequins and energy of my old job. I always felt a little like a showgirl for equality. Now I wasn’t a traveler anymore. I didn’t have the identity of my job. I didn’t live in DC anymore. I didn’t have pink hair. I wasn’t anything. I was on my way to unemployment and living with my parents.  I felt empty.

We connected in Ottowa before our flight to Philadelphia. Yes, you read that right. We flew (thank you, miles!) Casablanca –> Lisbon –> Frankfurt (Overnight on points!) –> Ottowa –> Philadelphia.

We went through Canadian customs with sudden smiles on our faces. NORTH! AMERICAN! ENGLISH! The kindly agent had told us to go get our bags since leaving Frankfurt we were told they’d be checked through to the US. They wouldn’t be. If it weren’t for him we’d have had some other adventures!

When we went through US Customs in Ottowa (since we were on a shuttle flight to Philadelphia) I started to get tense. I hadn’t seen my family in 8 months. Would they be the same? Would I be the same? I hadn’t seen most of my friends. What were they like? I suddenly felt the huge divide of time from when we left and that moment. People had announced pregnancies and had the babies! So much had changed. I’d changed. But also not? I felt like I had been away not for 8 months but 8 years.

And like that, we were home. My parents jumped up and down (well, my mother. My father was on one of those knee scooter things after having serious ankle surgery in March) outside the F terminal at PHL. And like that it was over. I think my mom double checked that I had 10 fingers and 10 toes.

We were home.

I had tomato pie. I took the world’s longest shower. I slept for precisely 400 hours.

It felt like waking up from a dream.

In a lot of ways,  it still does.

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Where would you go if you could go anywhere in the world?

As Kat wrote in her “2 Months of Travel” post, we’ve been thinking a lot about what we want to get out of this trip and what truly makes us happy. We don’t want to lock ourselves into going to places we aren’t particularly interested in just because “you just HAVE to do it.” So, with that in mind, we’ve made some very VERY big changes to our itinerary.

When we first imagined this trip years ago, we wanted to explore more of SE Asia, a place we’d been for a brief period and really enjoyed. It made sense because it was also cheap and we could stretch our dollar. Now that we’ve been here for two months, we’re still excited about exploring but we also have an appreciation that the world is a big place — too big for us to focus on just one part. Do we REALLY want to spend a month in Laos and Cambodia, or was that just on the itinerary because, well, we’re HERE so we might as well?

We talked about this over beers (Chang for Kat, Leo for me) while resetting a bit in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We came to the conclusion that the places on our itinerary should be ones included in the answer to the question “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?” Because now, RIGHT NOW, is possibly the only time in our lives where we can go wherever we want. We have no limitations and nothing is stopping us but ourselves (and a limited budget, of course).

SO, we’ve mapped out a new itinerary with new and exciting destinations. We have one more week in Thailand before heading to Burma for two weeks (more on that in a future post) and then to Vietnam for 2-3 weeks. After that we’ll head to South Korea for about a week followed by 3 weeks-ish in Japan. This is all somewhat up in the air and dates are approximate. What is absolutely set in stone is that on April 23 we have one way tickets from Osaka, Japan to……ISTANBUL, TURKEY.

Kat and I spent 10 days in Turkey in 2011 and it is truly one of our favorite places in the world. We were sad we couldn’t spend more time exploring the country and we’re really excited to be going back. After Turkey, we hope to spend a month or so visiting dear friends (and loyal banhmiandyou readers!) in Amsterdam and London. I desperately want to explore more of England and Scotland, so we’ll be doing a bit of that and neither of us has been to Barcelona, so we’ll fit that into the itinerary somehow.

We hope to go from Europe to Argentina in early June and spend 6 weeks or so in Argentina and Chile before finally coming back home.

After two months on the road, we hit a bit of a rough spot and we feel reinvigorated by our new plans. We cannot wait to go to there and to share there with all 30 of you.

Dollars, rupiah, ringgit, baht

I’ve been updating our country budget pages (which you can access through the “Budget” tab on our main page) BUT in case you don’t access our site that way, here are links to them directly:

https://banhmiandyou.wordpress.com/budget/singapore-2/

https://banhmiandyou.wordpress.com/budget/indonesia-budget/

https://banhmiandyou.wordpress.com/budget/malaysia-budget/

Will we come in on-budget for Thailand? Currently all signs pointing to no (You want to pet a humanely treated elephant, you have to PAY), but we’re working on it!

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Two months on the road…

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Two months ago, I cried when my Dad dropped us off at Newark International Airport. I felt it all– sadness not seeing my family for months, missing out on friends and so many friends’ growing families, excitement about the unknown, the freedom of a one-way ticket, and most forcibly– knowing that it was too late to turn back.

I focused on excitement and then settled into happy with a glass of champagne in First Class. Thirty hours, three champagnes, 4 movies and one ambien later and we found ourselves sitting in a gorgeous room booked on points at the Sheraton Singapore thinking to ourselves, “this is as good as it’s going to get”.

And in some ways it was. Beautiful, familiar surroundings. Signs everywhere in a language we speak. Navigable public transit. The new-ness of how fun this was going to be! Marveling at the distance how far away home felt.

A lot has changed in two months. We are having a blast, but we have a different perspective these days. We aren’t on vacation anymore, this is our life.

We are doing some things right: spending longer amounts of time places to settle in, not rushing to see too much at once, building in time to stay in touch with both current events and friends and family.

We are also doing some things wrong. We are sleeping like teenagers. We don’t have a good daily routine. We are being indulgent like vacation in terms of food, lazing about, and money in a way that weighs on you. You know that feeling at the of vacation on when you are a tiny bit happy to going home and getting back to normal? We’ve blown past that but with no end in sight and no good plans to fix it. And with no one else here, no boss, no dog, no friend waiting for us to do something by a certain time, we’ve become a bit lazy in our days and in our standards for treating each other human beings.

We have fought about: walking this way, walking that way, eat now, eat later, stay here, stay there, why did you cross the road without me, why did you say that, why won’t you listen to me, why did you sit in the back of the bus and not let me, being cranky, having low blood sugar, and making that joke. That’s just in the past 24 hours.

We have, however, laughed about: a inadvertently saucy shop name, a group of old white people gathered for a Thai lesson, a cute dog, being perplexed by an American waitress at a cowboy themed bar, and elephants. We laugh every time key quotes come up in conversation from our travels. We roll our eyes when we see dorky Western people wearing socks and sandals. We pet dogs (but Mom– only ones that look Rabies-free).

Some days you laugh more and fight less. Some days it’s the other way around. 50% of the time fights are due to blood sugar. The other 50% are due to us being different people with different personalities who have no personal space.

But we are in this together and wouldn’t have this trip go any other way. We have released ourselves from what we “SHOULD” be doing and since then have felt freer and lighter. We have some fun announcements about our route– we are making some big changes that I think will make us happier people– and probably more useful people too.

Suffice to say that Asia has been…. Asian… And the world is too big for us to not see more places.

This trip is ours — we have been repeating that over and over again. We are not going to end up gluing patches to our bags, wearing low-crotched “ethnic” pants jockeying with with other travelers about what is “hard”, authentic, and unseen. We are style-conscious, food-obsessed city people who stare endlessly at public transportation maps. Rattling around a bus in Lao is not really on my list of fun. Why should we do it if it’s not? We have money saved, tons of frequent flyer miles, hotel points and the internets.

Tomorrow we move into an apartment here in Chiang Mai for a weekend for vacation– and by vacation we mean being normal people. Getting up at a decent hour. Exercising. Making our own coffee. Cooking breakfast. Watching TV from not a bed. Long term travel can warp your sense of reality and we both are really looking forward to a small dose of it.

How much would you pay to live the dream?

When we tell people about our trip, no one ever asks how we can afford to quit our jobs to travel but I know that they’re thinking it. Personally, I don’t mind discussing our budget. It’s a major part of our planning process and if you’re thinking of taking a trip like this yourself, how much it will cost is obviously among the first questions.

I wish I could tell you that there is some secret easy way to being table to fund your career break, but there just isn’t. We decided nearly two years ago that we wanted to take this trip and we began to save every penny possible to make it a reality from that point forward.

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We won’t be saving pennies on the beach…we’ll be spending ’em. Hopefully on drinks with umbrellas…but also on student loans.

Mrs. Banh Mi and I are fortunate that we both had(!) relatively well-paying jobs and that our only debt is low-interest student loans. We don’t have a mortgage or car payments, we don’t have credit card debt and we’re both fortunate to be healthy (physically, anyway) and not have medical debt. We didn’t have to sacrifice a lot to save the money for our trip, but we did make some sacrifices and it took a long, long time. Over the past two years, we didn’t eat out or go out to bars with friends as much as we would have liked. We didn’t take a vacation or two that would have been fun but expensive. We didn’t buy new clothes and basically made do with the things we had rather than buy new stuff. It wasn’t fun, but it wasn’t all that bad once we got used to the lifestyle.

Obviously there are many ways to travel, from couch-surfing backpacker to 5 star celebrity. We hope to be somewhere in the middle of that on a budget of $80-100 US Dollars per day (this is all inclusive: food, lodging, transportation, entrance fees to tourist sites, visa fees, miscellaneous costs etc). Some days we’ll spend more than that and others, depending on where we are, we’ll spend much less. Southeast Asia is a very inexpensive place to travel and your dollar will stretch a long way, but if you want to hold a baby panda (which for Mrs. Banh Mi is not optional), you will pay out the nose for the experience. You could absolutely do our trip for less than $80 per day. You could also spend much, much more. We plan on eating street food and avoiding pricey (and usually lousy) tourist restaurants. We’ll be staying in hostels and guest houses where we’ll usually have a private room and private bathroom. It won’t be the Ritz, but it’ll be clean (hopefully) and basic. You could stay in dorm rooms with shared bathrooms in hostels for much much less, but being a married couple in our 30’s, that’s just not our scene. We’ll be taking trains and buses within the region which are slower but much cheaper than planes.

Flights to and from Asia are expensive (round trip for the two of us could be between $2,000-$4,000) but we’re flying to Singapore for free (in first class, no less!) on Mrs. Banh Mi’s frequent flyer miles that she earned from traveling for her previous job. We haven’t booked tickets home yet, but we’ll have enough miles to cover those flights (in economy, boo) as well. So that’s a huge savings for us.

Furthermore, while we may be leaving a lot of our old life behind us, some things we can’t escape. There are some fixed costs that we’ll have to pay while we travel:

  • Student loans — Approximately $600/month for both of us combined)
  • Storage unit rental and insurance — Approximately $100/month
  • Travel insurance – Purchased through World Nomads — Approximately $125/month

So, right there it’ll cost us $825 per month and we haven’t even left the country yet — that’s about $7500 over 9 months. $90 per day for 9 months is about $24,000. We’re not sure we’ll be gone for that long, but we wanted to have the option. So, $7500 in fixed costs plus $24,000 brings us to our total budget for the trip: Approximately $31,500. I bounce back and forth between thinking that that is an astronomical figure and thinking that it’s really not very much at all. Either way, we’ve never FELT like we had a lot of money because all we’ve been doing with it is NOT spending it…until now.

But even after we hit our savings goal, we still couldn’t leave. We can’t spend every penny to our name on our trip and just come back to America broke as a joke. So we also had to save up a large amount of “cushion” money so that we’d have some funds to live on when we get home — money for a security deposit on an apartment and for general living expenses. We won’t have jobs and we don’t know how long we’ll be unemployed. There’s no way for us to know how large a cushion we’ll need…so let’s hope we get jobs quickly upon our return and we can turn that cushion into a potential down payment on a house a few years down the line.

This is a subject that can make some people feel uneasy, but we’re happy to discuss it. If you have questions about our budget just leave us a comment or email us! We depart in six days. Commencing freak-out in 3…2…1…

This isn’t how I thought things would be

For nearly 2 years now, we’ve been dreaming about the moment when we could quit our jobs, pack up our things and get on airplane and never look back. The dream got us through difficult times at work and in life. Thoughts of beaches in Bali kept us warm during freak snowstorms. Itinerary planning, travel gear research and thoughts of endless possibilities are what we held on to to keep us sane.

So I was surprised at how I felt when I walked out of my office for the last time last Friday. I liked my job and had wonderful co-workers and supportive bosses. It wasn’t my dream job, but it paid well and it was a pleasant place to be. Still, I always knew I would not be there long term. I would sit at my desk daydreaming about the moment when I would walk out the door and NEVER COME BACK and how free and amazing that would feel. Instead, I found myself feeling remarkably sad and empty as I passed through the lobby. I’m going to miss the friends I made there more than I realized. I understand now that in all my daydreaming about our adventure, I had pushed aside all of the people and places that I love that we’re leaving behind.

Mrs. Banh Mi has been processing this for months. We’re on opposite tracks. She had her last day at work earlier this week and we had a going away party last night. She’ll miss all her friends terribly, but I think now that she’s had a chance to say her goodbyes she is TRULY ready to go. Now that I’m only just starting to think of what I’ll miss, I’m realizing that I’m not as ready to go as I thought. I know that I will be — I HAVE to be — but this process might just be slightly more difficult than just packing up and getting on the plane.

Overall, though, I am happy we’re leaving. I’d much rather leave somewhere thinking it was too soon than leave somewhere knowing I stayed too long. The internet is littered with the travel blogs of people who are doing exactly what we are doing — quitting jobs, packing up and just GOING. They’re filled with pictures of exotic locations, all the neat stuff that’s in their packs, and all about HOW GREAT OF A TIME THEY ARE HAVING. We’re going to write about that stuff too. Still, I’m happy to put down some thoughts here as a record of the fact that while I might not know what lies in our future, I fully appreciate everything that we’re leaving behind.

To all of our friends, this isn’t “goodbye forever” —  it’s “smell ya later.” We love (most of) you.

Where’s mah bukkit (list)

Where’s my bucket list?

So, now that we’re out and proud about our trip (hooray!) we have a new routine.

We are winding down our time at work so there is now time for the, “Holy SHIT. WE are actually DOING THIS, AREN’T WE” emails. Because our departure is in just a few weeks.

WEEKS.

We can only look at each other so many times on the couch, eating the yuppie equivalent of rice and beans, looking in disbelief at our savings account and eagerly re-watching No Reservations.

Aside from seeing our friends as much as possible, and spending money as judiciously as possible, here is my DC bucket list.

Run through the monuments

I’m a fair weather runner, but I always enjoy running along the mall getting my culture, people watching, and exercise all in one fell swoop. Nothing like gaping at waddling tourists to make you want to run harder, faster, and longer.

A raucous, ridiculous, hetero-normative night out

Just one more. I need to go to Chief Ike’s and dance my face off. I want to make poor decisions in outfit choices to try my best to prove I’m not getting old and close to the Stacey London rule of no mini-skirts after 35.  I want to take stupid pictures and put them all on facebook.  I want droopy eye make up and bleeding heels.

A gay send off

Rose Kennedys. Karaoke. 17th street. 14th street. Tragicomedy to the max.

Spend a day visiting all the places in DC that I hate (or love/hate) and take pictures of us scowling at them in disapproval.

A short tour of restaurants I will miss.

Toki Underground (though our asian food moratorium begins TODAY)

Cava Mezze (Check! Thanks Jenn!)

Variety of hilarious and completely inauthentic American sushi

A day of walking around with headphones on listening to the music I loved in college.
   
A tour of all the places Dave and I used to hang out back when we were dating and re-live the memories.

A Capitol hill bar crawl

See the Lichtenstein retrospective at the National Gallery of Art

A final walk through GW’s ever-changing campus

Oh right, and seeing our friends as much as possible.