One year on the road

On the evening of August 15, 2017 we boarded a flight from Los Angeles to London, from there we would catch our connecting flight to Stockholm, Sweden. Depending on how you want to count things, this was the official start of our overseas nomadic adventure. It is now one year later and we are still going strong.

Chalk it up to a lack of originality, call it cliche, we’ve seen others do a quick Q&A to structure their thoughts on how the first year has gone. Here’s our attempt to do the same. Some of the questions are things we are asked by people we’ve met along the way, some are “borrowed” from other traveler’s blog posts, and some are questions we came up with because the answers were something we wanted to include in the post. We tackled the questions independently and didn’t share our answers until we put them together in this post.

So here we go:

What has been the biggest surprise of the trip?

Bob: What’s surprised me the most in the last year is how quickly living nomadically became the new normal and what little desire there is to go back to our old way of life. Don’t get me wrong, I miss our family and friends. Sometimes I long for the familiarity and ease of life back home, but this is normally in response to some kind of frustration with a problem encountered on the road.

I contrast this experience with living in Israel on relocation back in 2011-12. After six or seven months of being in Tel Aviv, homesickness set in and I couldn’t wait for my assignment to end so we could go back to Portland. It’s a bit of comparing apples to oranges, but I was worried the same may happen on our current adventure.

Fara:

How natural this feels.  I like moving to new places and having new experiences.  I don’t miss home as much as I thought I would. I miss the people from home and of course the Mexican food!  But I remember last year this time I was so worried as a social butterfly and extrovert to spend every day with Bob the analyzing guy.  I knew I would miss my girlfriends so much! And I do but I keep in touch on Facebook and know they are just a phone call or message away.

One year into this trip and the biggest surprise has been how our marriage has been made so much stronger. Our marriage had been in a rocky period before we left our jobs. We had been in marital counseling for about a year.  And this trip was either going to make or break us. As it turned out just being with Bob 365-24-7 has really improved our communication skills as we have traveled this last year. And thus our relationship has improved you may tell from our photos but they don’t show how often we are laughing, joking around with each other and just in general enjoying each other’s company. Its not perfect,  travel will push anyone to their limits! We have learned so much more about how each other functions.  Bob has learned it takes me a cup or two of tea before I even think of eating. And I have learned once Bob’s feet hit the floor by the bed he has food on his mind actually that probably lead to him getting out of bed!

What is your biggest regret of the trip?

Fara: I am traveling with two main bags a checked bag and carry on.  After much research and evaluation I thought that I purchased the perfect bag. TLS Mother Lode 29″ Wheeled Duffel, with product specifications of Size: X-Large, Exterior Dimensions: 29″ x 17″ x 15″, Gear Capacity 124 liters, Weight 12 lbs. And honestly it holds a lot but I hate it as its too big. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t fill it cause I do! And thus its Bob’s favorite thing to help get me get on and off trains with! So now I am trying to figure out what would be better for my main checked bag. For my carry on bag I bought an Osprey Porter 46 Travel Pack with product specifications of Size: Large, Exterior Dimensions: 22″ x 14″ x 11″, Gear Capacity 46 liters, Weight 3 lbs. 5 oz. I love this bag to the moon and back!  So maybe another Osprey bag will be in my future.

Bob: I feel I haven’t made the most of my time on the road from a culinary standpoint. I’m not talking about sampling the local cuisines. When we do go out to eat, we often choose a restaurant serving traditional dishes and I will usually stray from the typical “safe for tourists” options on the menu. We’ve booked meals with locals through EatWith. On a few occasions, AirBnB hosts have been gracious enough to invite us to a home-cooked meal with them. When we house-sit, there are normally meals shared with the home owner the day or two before or after the gig.

What I’m lamenting is not making enough of an effort to learn how to prepare traditional meals from the locals themselves. At the very least, I haven’t spent enough time in the traditional food markets figuring out what to do with unfamiliar ingredients. I regret being somewhat lazy and sticking with what I know in the kitchen. Looking forward I plan to change this.

What has been the most memorable moment for you?

Bob: Up until a month ago I would have said exploring the mountains and fjords of Norway’s west coast. Recently eclipsing that is being in Croatia during the World Cup. Normal life would be put on pause every time they played a match. Even if we weren’t near a television, we would know what was happening from the collective cheers or groans heard echoing through the streets. The population of Zagreb doubled for a day to welcome their team home despite “only” returning with second place. To top it all off, we were welcomed into the community as if we were Croatian ourselves. It was one of those experiences that could never be created and we were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. It is the epitome of why we travel the way we do.

Fara: Being in Zagreb, Croatia for the World Cup and final game. And I don’t like futbol-soccer but the enthusiasm and the pride for their country and team really drew me in. Not to mention the social butterfly in me was getting her need met as we hung out with expat friends at the games.  We like using Zagreb as our Eastern home base. We made a lot of friends there in the 6 weeks we stayed there this summer and are excited to return in 2019. Let’s see here other honorable mentions. I loved Stockholm (getting coffee is called fika), Portugal (wine was good and cheap could buy a bottle for just a few Euro), UK-Ireland feel like home (rainy weather and all) (plus I have and have made more really good friends there) Budapest was probably my favorite city as far as beauty and we had a friend from Portland visiting to tour around with. The best meals I have had were in Sintra, Portugal, Beaune, France and Nis, Serbia.  Bosnia is incredibly gorgeous and I can’t wait to go back there.

How has the trip changed you?

Fara: My confidence has increased! I owe a lot of this to the challenges and things I have learned knitting.  Although the whole act of quitting jobs and moving from home was really substantial. I remember being scared or worried about the choice we had made. One of my close friends asked me what was the worst thing that could happen? So what if we didn’t make it the three years we had planned.  The office and cube life would always be there waiting for me. And now I have more confidence that it will be there. The question I have is if I will want it again. I am so much more relaxed now and I sleep at night which for me is huge (sleep used to happen as a result of various sleeping pills). Now I fall asleep unmedicated and wake refreshed.

I realize now how little I actually need.  I am a recovering shopaholic, seriously I used to attend meetings similar to AA meetings.  In preparation for this trip Bob asked me to consider if what I was going to purchase was worth a day of travel. A day of travel in our budget was given an amount of $100 for food, drink, lodging and entertainment.  I think of all the multiple pairs of pants, shorts and tops that I have at home in storage. And I have lived on so much less this last year. Yes I got sick and tired of my clothes. I am having a hard time donating the expensive clothes that I bought from home.  But I have been adding pieces from goodwill or charity shops to my wardrobe as I do let some things go. And it seems to me that it’s a lot easier to recycle clothes that I haven’t paid a lot of money for however there are still things such as thermal or technical wear that I will spend $$ on.  I have bought an icebreaker t shirt and new Asics tennis shoes since we have been on the road. And of course my wine and yarn-wool consumption.

Bob: I think the best answer I can come up with is that over the past year I’ve become a lot more patient. Tackling even the most mundane tasks in a foreign country may require a tremendous amount of patience. Miscommunication can still happen despite much of the world being conversationally fluent in English, us having basic French and Spanish skills, and Google Translate being pretty accurate. If you get past that, cultural differences can trip you up, “I’ll be there in 30 minutes” often means “Sometime today… or maybe tomorrow” in a more laid back culture. Bureaucracy can rear its ugly head in the strangest of places. If a store or government office has a ticket/queuing system, often no one will acknowledge your presence until you’ve taken a number, even if you are the only one in the waiting area. The only way to handle these situations is to be patient, remember that you are the foreigner in their country, and figure out how to work through it like a local.

On a literally lighter note, the trip has changed me physically. I want to assure everyone that I’m in good health despite “looking so thin” in the photos Fara posts to Facebook. About a month ago I ran across a bathroom scale wherever we were staying, so on a whim I decided to see what I now weighed. Much to my surprise I was nearly back to my weight when I graduated college over 20 years ago. I’ve never been one to track my weight, so I can’t be sure exactly how much I’ve lost. By my best guess, I’m down somewhere between 30 and 40 pounds (15-20 kilos for my non-US friends) from the heaviest I was before the trip. My secrets: less stress (back to the patience thing), not sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day, more exercise, and better quality food (less processed food-stuff).

What does a typical day in the life look like?

Bob: It may surprise a lot of people, but a typical day on the road doesn’t look too much different than it would back home. There is still cleaning to be done, laundry to wash, shopping for necessities, keeping up on the finances, preparing meals, taking care of pets on a house-sit, etc. I may not be commuting to an office to go to work, but I still have plenty of projects to fill my time. The difference is that they are normally related to hobbies I want to pursue rather than tasks a manager has assigned me. I spend a fair amount of time creating and editing photos and someday may even have them in a state that others can see them. This blog keeps me busy with writing posts and general web site maintenance. Related to both of these, I have been teaching myself web development which is not only practical, but satisfies my tech geek needs.

Depending on the speed we are traveling, planning transportation, booking lodging, and applying for house-sits can take up a significant amount of time. We will also fit in sightseeing and other tourist activities when we can, but it isn’t a daily occurrence. Spending too much time in tourist mode is not only expensive, but can also lead to burn-out.

Fara: I wake up naturally as my body is done sleeping which means typically around 9 am.  I get my tea and sometimes I am spoiled enough that Bob delivers it to me in bed which I really enjoy. We will typically do our own thing for a few hours and then if we are to go out we will choose to go out and explore around lunchtime. Often we eat dinner at home along with a bottle or two of wine. And then by 10-11 pm I am going to bed and winding down for a full night’s sleep.  Sometimes when my bladder wakes me during the night I will sneak in a conversation or so with friends a world away.

What has been your favorite mode of travel?

Fara: I really enjoy ferries except for the limited WiFi. Ferries over here are nothing like they are in the NW. They are more like cruise ships with multiple restaurants, spas, shops, and live entertainment. I enjoy them cause we typically have a car when we use the ferries. So we drive onto the ferry and we don’t have to take our big bags out of the car. We leave the car in the car berths and then go find our cabin.  Have some drinks, grab dinner and listen to the entertainment before going to bed and then waking in the morning in a new country. So it ends up being like a date night with the possibility for a passport stamp.

Bob: My favorite way(s) to travel is the overnight ferry with a nod to the overnight train trip as a close runner-up. I’ll talk about both because they share some key advantages. You leave in the evening of the first day and arrive the next after a good night sleep in a real bed. From a budget standpoint, it is economical when you factor in the ticket price covers transportation, lodging, and possibly a meal or two. It is more convenient than air travel since train stations and ferry ports are often centrally located. No need to stress about being charged extra due to an overweight bag or for having any checked luggage at all. Lost luggage is a thing of the past because your bags never leave your possession.

Ferry travel gets the top spot due to amenities not practical or even possible on a train. There is ample room to roam about the multiple decks on board and even go outside if the weather is nice. Some ferries are practically mini-cruise ships with entertainment, food and drink to occupy the passengers time. Dining experiences run the spectrum of industrial cafeterias to white linen tablecloths with tuxedoed wait staff. On a ferry from Oslo to Copenhagen, the seafood buffet rivaled nearly anything I’ve seen in Las Vegas, all included in the price we paid for the ticket

To be completely fair, I do have to mention some of the disadvantages of traveling this way. First of all is the time involved. It isn’t always practical to spend 12-18 hours traveling by sea or rail when it would be only an hour or two flying from point A to B. Traveling at night does mean you miss much of the scenery while asleep. Finally, the cabins are often cramped and our luggage consumes much of the space not occupied by the beds. While on the subject of beds, we’ve only had cabins with bunk beds making it hard to snuggle with your significant other.

What has been your favorite type of accommodation?

Bob: Since we’ve stayed primarily in AirBnBs over the last year, I guess I’ll answer this question by describing my favorite AirBnB experience. On one end of the spectrum, we’ve had several stays where we rented an entire home or apartment. Contrast this with a few examples where all we had was a private room in the host’s home with a shared bathroom and no access to the kitchen. My ideal AirBnB lies between these two extremes. I want the privacy of our own kitchen and bathroom because sharing either of these with a host can be awkward. However, I like the interaction with the host because part of the reason we travel is to connect with local people. The best example of this type of accommodation we’ve had in the last year was in Oslo, Norway. We were renting a mother-in-law suite on the ground floor of our hosts’ home. We had nearly daily interaction with the hosts as we were coming and going and they invited us up for coffee and dessert on a couple of occasions.

Fara: House-sitting by far has been my favorite, as I type this I just got meowed at (this time it was let me outside).  I have enjoyed the dogs, cats and chickens we have watched so much. It is so nice to live in someone’s home that they reside in and thus have full kitchens for Bob to cook in which of course makes me and my tummy happy. Not to mention the relationships we have built with the wonderful hosts of the houses we have watched many of whom we still keep in touch with through our travels. In fact we have two additional house-sits with our first house-sitting gig and we love it when our past house-sits inquire if we are available for future sits.

Five (or so) things that have been really important as we travel on the road.

Fara: 

  • Wine Opener and Wine Stoppers
  • Knitting and Crochet necessities
  • Portable Speaker and Headphones
  • Painters Tape – We use to hang things on the walls where we are staying and to help us on longer stays to know that we have removed our socks from that drawer or T-shirt’s from a cabinet.
  • Ziplock bags – The ones from back home with the zippers are priceless to us cause we use them and reuse them for storing spaghetti, Spices, or packing clothes when we need their compression and air removal ability.

Bob: In no particular order:

  • Packing cubes and space/vacuum bags – When your whole life consists of what you can fit into a suitcase, organization becomes really important. I have various sized packing cubes from Eagle Creek to make sure my shirts don’t co-mingle with the socks. Since we are also packed for all seasons, space bags keep unseasonable clothes packed away in as small of a space as possible. We use the roll-up kind that you squeeze the air out of since we never know when we will encounter a vacuum cleaner.
  • Bluetooth speaker – Sometimes you want to rock out to some tunes or listen to a podcast without isolating yourself by putting on headphones. We have the UE Boom which has good sound, great battery life and doesn’t take up too much space in the bag.
  • Power strip – There are never enough free outlets or plug converters to charge all of our electronics. We have a travel sized model from Monster Cable with four outlets.
  • Mini glass measuring cup – AirBnB kitchens are rarely outfitted with measuring spoons/cups. On a friend’s suggestion, I picked up a small Pyrex-like glass measuring cup (about ½ cup in size) with markings for milliliters, ounces, teaspoons and tablespoons. Not accurate for any real baking, but gets the job done in most cases.
  • Do I really need a fifth thing????
What new skill(s) have you acquired in the last year?

Bob: Being adaptable in the kitchen has been a valuable skill to have honed in the last year. Each new Airbnb and house-sit means a new kitchen, with new quirks, and a new level of being (or more to the point, not being) equipped. Likewise, every new city or town visited requires learning what groceries are available and whether they are similar to what we’ve used in other places. Learning how to quickly adapt has been critical to avoid spending too much of our budget eating out or getting stuck in a rut preparing the same four or five dishes that use the most common equipment and ingredients.

Another critical skill is the ability to maintain a healthy relationship with your spouse when you are around each other practically twenty-four/seven in a foreign land. Back in Portland there were friends, family and other resources readily available to help diffuse issues as they arise. On the road, it is just the two of us. This can put a strain on even the healthiest of relationships. We’ve had to learn how to simultaneously be spouse, friend, and even marriage counselor. We don’t always get it right, but we are a stronger couple than we were a year ago.

Fara:

  • Knitting- socks and lace shawl
  • Crochet- granny square
  • Computer – Zoom, Calendly, Evernote

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