The Ups and Downs of Travel

For every blog post we publish I have at least five more in my head. I’ve been writing this particular one in my head all year and I just can’t let the year end without sharing it with you. 

When Maya Angelo passed away in May, a friend posted a quote of hers on Facebook whereby she poetically described the extraordinary ups and downs in her life:

"I had a lot of clouds, but I had so many rainbows."

And it’s funny because only a couple weeks earlier I‘d thought about this as a way to describe the ups and downs of round-the-world, long-term travel. The tough moments are inextricably linked to the amazing ones, in the same way that rainbows are not possible without rain, and rain not possible without clouds. In other words, you have to weather some storms to see the rainbows. And when you do, it’s brilliant.

A rainbow in Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii

When we set out to do this thing, I knew it’d be tough. I figured it’d be the hardest thing I’d ever done. I expected there would times when things would just completely suck. But my attitude was, “bring it on, I’m ready.”

Well, it was even tougher than I imagined.

Before we even left the country:

One day we rented some mountain bikes to explore the caves and otherworldly landscape of Cappadocia. We were having the most amazing day and had paused to take a photo when I heard a horrible sound: “Ssssssssss…..”  My front tire went flat, and we were a very, very long way from town. We had no other choice but to walk the bike all the way back. Minutes later a freakish fierce wind and rainstorm blew in, making the experience that much more enjoyable. When we told the guy we rented the bikes from about the tire he rudely barked, “Oh, and you think that’s my fault?”

Riding bikes in Cappadocia, Turkey

One morning in the Serengeti, we were supposed to be packed and ready to go on a game drive by 6:00 and forgot to set our alarm. Someone came to our tent and woke us up. We panicked and got ready quick but I was horrified at the thought of holding up our entire group for this special day. You could feel the resentment in the air and I just wanted to crawl up into a ball somewhere and die. Then we drove out into the savanna and saw the most beautiful sunrise I’d ever seen. The sun was an orange red ball rising in the classic African landscape – it was breathtaking. Every day in Africa was like this… highs and lows, with moments that both amazed and tested us.

Sunrise in the Serengeti

In Istanbul it was pouring rain on the day we were headed to the airport to fly to Prague. We were walking the old streets of the city with our backpacks, trying to get a taxi. The taxi drivers guys are notorious for trying to rip you off, so we had to talk with three before getting one to agree on a reasonable price. As I went to open the car door and get in, I stepped in a hole in the street masked by a puddle of rainwater and fell. I sprained my ankle and immediately felt the pain, both physically and emotionally. How was I going to walk around Prague – a city I had so desperately wanted to visit for the past 20 years – like this?

A rainbow in Prague

Singapore’s most famous icon is the half-lion, half-fish Merlion, seen here under renovation

Here’s a classic one… you make your way over to see a major site and it’s closed or under renovation. Like the time we went to see the famous Merlion in Singapore.

Or you don’t even make it there. Yesterday in Hawaii, a guy in our dorm room told us he was looking so forward to visiting this spectacular waterfall. He trekked for nearly five hours through steep, muddy terrain and dense forest and never found it.

The disappointment you feel when things like this happen is amplified when you’ve traveled so far from home to see or experience this thing. So the question is…how do you deal with it?

Some say you can protect yourself from disappointment by lowering your expectations. Or you can look for what’s positive about the situation or what you learned from it and feel grateful for the experience. You can simply shrug and laugh it off. Or move immediately to solving the problem.

My feeling is – it’s ok to have great expectations and it’s ok to feel upset when these things happen; maybe even whine and complain a little bit – you’re human. 

But you do have to move on and get over it. You do have to accept that these things are part of the travel experience. Travel and vacation are two different things. A round-the-world trip will yield extraordinary experiences but it won’t resemble anything like a vacation.

Still, there is one thing that solves practically everything: TIME.

When things go wrong, or the weather turns bad, when you get sick or lost… it’s no problem when you have more time (or the flexibility to modify your plans). I was laid up for two days in Prague but all was not lost since we had planned 10 days there. The weather was windy when we originally planned our hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia but we had time to re-schedule it on a better day. In Laos we weren’t so lucky when we waited until our last day to take a boat ride on the Mekong and couldn’t because we had fallen sick the night before. 

Time not only solves things… it heals and transforms.

With enough time, your most frustrating moments morph into your funniest travel stories. Your scariest moments reveal strength you didn’t know you had. Your awe-inspiring moments outweigh the awful ones in your memory. And you feel gratitude. You really do.

26 Links to Help You Gear Up for a RTW Trip

RTW Packing List

When you’re planning a round-the-world trip, the hardest part is figuring out where you want to go. The next biggest challenge is deciding what to bring.

With our current plan, we do need a little bit of cold weather gear, in addition to clothes for warmer climates. Besides weather, there are tons of other factors to consider. Quick drying fabrics are great, and clothes that coordinate to let you mix and match.

The Packs

We spent hours searching for the perfect bag and chose to go with smaller/lighter backpacks to be as mobile as possible and have them be carry-on’s (versus checked luggage). I chose an Osprey Exos 46 bag that is super light weight, and Beth got a Kelty Redwing 40 that opens up like a suitcase and has lots of pockets for organization.

What We’re Bringing

We’re still adding and taking away things but here’s where things stand right now. My bag is weighing in at 26-27 lbs, and Beth’s at 29 + her day bag. I’m sure the contents will change along the way, so we’ll be sure to post an update at some point next year.

Root's List

Osprey Exos 46
Novara Cycling backpack

1 rain jacket
1 fleece jacket
1 button down long sleeve shirt
1 reversible long sleeve shirt
1 button down short sleeve shirt
5 t-shirts
2 pairs of pants
1 pair of convertible pants
1 base layer leggings
2 pairs of shorts
1 bathing suit
1 pair of sleep shorts
5 pairs of underwear
5 pairs of short socks
1 pair of hiking socks
1 hat
1 cold weather hat
1 pair of sneakers
1 pair of sandals
1 pair of thin gloves

plug adapter
hard drive
battery bar + flashlight
USB hub
gorilla pod

sleep sack
dry bag
playing cards
quick dry towel and wash cloth
travel pillow
4 half packing cubes
pack cover
compression sack
sleep mask

Beth's List

Kelty Redwing 40
PacSafe Slingsafe 300 GII

1 fleece
1 rain jacket
1 tunic
2 long sleeve shirts
1 dress
2 tank tops
4 t-shirts
1 skirt
1 skort
1 pair of leggings
1 pair of sleep shorts
1 bathing suit and quick dry top
1 base layer shirt
1 base layer leggings
1 sweater
2 pairs of pants (1 convertible)
1 top
5 pairs of socks
1 pair of compression socks
8 pairs of underwear
1 pair of sneakers
1 pair of sandals
1 pair of foldable ballet flats
1 pair of foldable flip-flops

macbook air + charger
battery bar plus flashlight
hard drive

pacsafe portable safe
cable lock
laundry line, sink stopper, laundry soap sheets
shopping bag
business cards
duck tape
money belt
travel pillow
sleep sack
pack cover
quick dry towel and wash cloth
4 packing cubes and 1 compression sack
"bag of awesome" (see below)
malaria medication
sleep mask

Beth's "Bag of Awesome"

Contains sewing kit, safety pins, earplugs, lip balm, eye shadow, pomade, string, rubber bands, scissors, mini cuticle cutter, nail file, tweezers, buff bandana, concealer, q-tips, hair bands. 

Looking Forward To: INDIA

Strolling through spice markets and vibrant bazaars. Riding rickshaws. Drifting on the sacred river Ganges. 

Trekking through Buddhist villages. Marveling at the Taj. Visiting ancient Hindu temples and forts.

Witnessing curious religious rituals. Eating flavorful cuisine. Wandering a couple of the world’s most densely populated cities.

These are just a few of the experiences we’ll have during our five-week stay in India.

If climbing Mount Everest is the ultimate thrill for adventure seekers, and if Mecca is the ultimate pilgrimage for Muslims, then India it seems, must be the ultimate challenge for travelers.

India will be dizzying and intense, mystical and enchanting, noisy and chaotic. I expect no country will be more difficult, fascinating and unforgettable.

Photo by Trekking Partners

Golden Triangle

We’ll arrive in Delhi and get acclimated with a two-week guided tour of the “Golden Triangle” – an area in central India known for its extraordinary history and culture. The tour will take us through Delhi, Jaipur, Abhaneri, Agra, Orchha, Alipura, Khajuraho and Varanasi, and allow for plenty of time to explore on our own, while still providing the convenience of handling all travel logistics and accommodations.

Photo by Aaron Geddes

Cosmopolitan Contrasts

After the tour we’ll head to Mumbai for a week and get a taste of modern India. It’s been called a city with a dual identity, at once flamboyantly materialistic and yet desperately poor. Home to glitzy Bollywood films and India's largest slum population, filled with both modern skyscrapers and colonial landmarks, Mumbai will offer a paradox of experiences.

Mountain Monasteries

Our last stop is North East India, where we’ll experience a more peaceful, rural side of the country in the Himalayan foothills bordering Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. Our good friend Wanchuk, a native of Sikkim who co-owns mad momos here in D.C., inspired us to go there. (“Momos” by the way are what they call dumplings in this part of the world and they are delicious!!) We're looking forward to meeting up with Wanchuk’s family, visiting the many beautiful Buddhist monasteries in the area, and enjoying the natural beauty of the region over long hikes. 

photo by asgems3

Shaken & Stirred: Mixed Emotions

We’re doing some writing ahead of actually publishing the blog and as I’m writing this blog post we’re exactly 67 days away from leaving the country. I know this because, Root – being the clever software engineer that he is – set up a spreadsheet in our Google Doc that automatically updates. Today it’s telling me we have:

  • 67 days until we leave on our first flight
  • 55 days until we leave for New York
    (to spend Christmas with my family and then leave from Newark airport)
  • 48 days until our last day at work
  • 20 days until we give our jobs notice

As the days count down the mix of emotions we’re feeling are surreal, sweet and sour.

As a cocktail recipe it’d look like this:

  • 1 part anxiety
  • 1 part excitement
  • 1 part impatience
  • and a dash of “holy %$&^$ are we really doing this?!?”

Last night I couldn’t sleep again. Too many things buzzing around in my head. Yesterday, Root had a dream that we were already on the trip and then woke up only to feel really disappointed.

The anxiety comes from thinking about our (very ambitious) itinerary, our (still long) to-do list, and our (long-kept) secret at work, soon to be revealed. So much to do, both at work and at home. Friends and family to see. Stuff to sell and store. Doctors to see and weight to lose. Flights to book and visas to get.  

And it’s followed by waves of excitement, wonder and anticipation of all the new things we’ll see and experience. Soon, we’ll be on our way…

Where in the World Are We Going? (Part II)

Yesterday, Beth shared what went into our itinerary planning. As promised, here’s the plan. Our first flight is on January 1st from New York to Tokyo (via Dallas). Although we’re thrilled to be going, Tokyo wasn’t in the original plan. It just so happened that the best flight deal to get us over to that part of the world was to Tokyo.

We will be traveling as far west as Dublin, then down to Africa, then east through Southeast Asia, then back to New York (via Hawaii).


The last 4 months are really just an outline at this point, as we have more research to do and we may also decide to slow down and stay in fewer places longer. In future posts we’ll tell you more about our specific plans in India and Africa.

I’m sure that as we travel and talk to people we meet we’ll get suggestions and hints. What do you think? Let us know in the comments, or on our Facebook page.

Where in the World Are We Going? (Part I)

When we first started thinking about it, we were incredibly ambitious. I remember being determined to visit all seven continents. Ha. And you know what?

One year is barely enough time to scratch the surface as far as the world is concerned.

Photo by Rosario Fiore

Don’t get me wrong, we’re grateful for the time, but we had to edit down our initial plan and really think about our priorities. At some point we put together a rough itinerary and have been editing it ever since. We prioritized the places:

  • that are hard to travel (we can do more of Europe when we’re older)
  • where we know people (always nice to stay with a local)
  • that are far away (so we cut out South America)
  • that are cheap (to stretch our budget) 

I had a particular interest in India. Root really wanted to see New Zealand. And we both wanted to experience Africa.

As we started to piece it together, seasons and timing played a big part too. We considered:

  • temperature (to avoid the hottest, most humid seasons)
  • rain (to avoid the rainiest seasons)
  • holidays and festivals (to be in places for certain events)
  • visa limits (to comply with any restrictions on how long you can stay)

We had Egypt in the plan, but due to the current unrest there, decided to save that for another trip.

Slow Travel vs. Fast

Photo by Sebastián-Dario

Whether you’re thinking about traveling for a week or a year, speed is a key consideration. Depending on your goals and interests, you may want to slow down enough to really immerse yourself in the local culture and connect with people versus rushing from one country and tourist attraction to the next.

Our own plan incorporates slow travel in some places, but overall is pretty ambitious. There’s flexibility built in, so we figure we can slow down and edit out places where and when we need to. 

Spontaneous vs. Planned

Without a plan to tie you down you can be more agile and take advantage of opportunities as they arise, but it may also mean you miss out on things if you didn’t take the time to book or do the research.

Planning can save time and hassle once you arrive in a place, but may also cause you to get stressed out if anything disrupts the plan.

For us, our approach is somewhere in the middle. The plan is there as a guide and will help us get the most out of our trip.

We think it’s better to go in with a plan and having done all the research, but there’s plenty of room to veer off the plan and modify it as we go. 

Photo by Eric Spiegel

For those of you that know me, you know I’m definitely a planner. It would actually stress me out more to go into this without a plan. So – it just depends on your style and preferences. I don’t think there’s one right or wrong way to go about it.

What We've Booked So Far

The first thing we booked was a guided, overland tour in East Africa. After a ton of research and finding the perfect tour during peak game viewing season, we just decided to go for it and get it reserved. (That was an exciting day!)

A few months later, we booked four of our longest flights using miles, which is something you want to do way ahead as award seats are limited.

At this point, we also have several hostels / hotels and flights booked inside of the first three months. So we’ll get a running start with some things already reserved, and then we’ll just book more along the way.

Stay Tuned

Tomorrow we’ll post the rough itinerary!

Why Travel? Why Now?

It’s a big idea to sell all your stuff, travel for a year, and then move across the country to Portland. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where and when the idea came about, it sort of evolved.

After college I couldn’t wait to earn my first real paycheck, be independent and live on my own in Manhattan. I was interested in travel but didn’t think I had the money or the time. I figured – some day.

Tommy getting ready to feed an ostrich to the white lions at the Sanbona Reserve in South Africa 

Some years later my brother Tommy was an inspiration when he quit his job and spent a few months traveling around South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. It was certainly radical and I supported his decision 100%.

Fast forward to 2007 and one fateful night in Washington, D.C., Root and I met. Time went on and our relationship grew. We talked about what we wanted out of life. We managed to get out to Portland once (and loved it) and to Bavaria, Germany, as well as other trips within the U.S. and Caribbean.

One night I mentioned the idea to travel for three months…wouldn’t that be cool? I mean, you can’t go to places like India and go for a week…it just doesn’t make sense.

I wondered how much it would cost. Would being on the road that long be utterly exhausting? Would we be homesick? I wondered if we’d be permitted a leave of absence from our jobs or if we’d have to quit.

But – anyway we had things to do. We had a wedding to plan. But would we buy a house?

Maybe we should travel before getting the house, and the mortgage, and the stuff to fill the house.

Maybe we should reward our hard work with time, not things. (Here’s a great post on that thought, by travel blogger Jonathan Look.)

Maybe we should travel now.

Because who knows what’s gonna happen when we get older.

Life really IS short and it’s something you don’t truly appreciate till you’ve lived enough of it to experience how fast it goes. Until you’ve lived enough of it to see people you love die suddenly or suffer through disease. Until a year has gone by, and nothing really happened, and you find yourself buying Christmas presents again.

Because who says there’s just one right way to live life.

As if there’s just one approved script to follow and if you veer off there must be something wrong. Go to school, get a job, buy stuff, get married, buy a big house, have kids, get more stuff, get more done, work more hours, and basically don’t press pause and don’t breathe until you’re retired. All out of some unreasonable fear that veering off course or making an unconventional choice will somehow end in disaster.

Because by the time we’re ready to take off, the timing will be right for a career break.

The idea has actually gained momentum in recent years. A gap on your resume no longer equates to career suicide. Exposure to other cultures, and the knowledge and skills gained from international travel only make you more marketable.

Because we can!

And that’s not to say that others can’t.

People with far less means than Root and I do this. People who are single, and people who have kids. Older people too.

Once the idea came into focus, we worked to make it happen, and we can hardly wait.

Going Out to Find the World

lost (1).jpg

That’s what we’re setting out to do.  

We’re not looking to find ourselves, though we expect this to change us.

Not trying to escape, though we think we’ve earned the time off.

No, we’re taking the next year ON.

Fulfilling a dream to travel and 
explore far away places,
discover history first hand,
experience natural wonders, 
   connect with ancient cultures,

understand different religions,
learn to speak new languages…

So we’re leaving on January 1st on a round-the-world trip.

We’ll return in December for the holidays. Then road trip across the South/SouthWest United States, relocating in Portland, Oregon.

We hope you’ll follow along as we share our experiences and exposures – the good, the grand, the bad, and the bizarre!

Wanna know where we’re going? Or what inspired us to travel? Look for more posts in the days ahead. Subscribe to the blog and like our Facebook page to get updates.