Year in Review: Beth’s Thoughts

I’m on the plane right now on our last flight from Honolulu to New York. I’m in a good mood even though I’m enduring a 9-hour cramped coach ride, flanked by two crying babies. The guy in front of me immediately reclined his seat all the way back (leaving about 3 inches from my nose to the seat) and he is farting non-stop. (I’m not kidding! Don’t laugh at my pain – I hear you!!) It’s so bad I have my earplugs in my nose.

I’m looking forward to seeing family and friends while I’m reviewing the year’s events in my mind. What did it all mean and how do I feel? 

Santorini, Greece. Some places really are as beautiful as you imagine.

I can tell you that it’s a powerful thing – and such a privilege – to see the world. Experiencing these far away places firsthand and fulfilling the dream to travel has made me feel more complete. Watching and reading news from around the world feels more tangible… it makes more sense to me. Setting out to do something bold and accomplishing it has brought a real feeling of satisfaction.

At the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

There were so many challenging and rewarding moments. You know the saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?” I can’t tell you how true that is. Certainly nothing had ever tested our marriage so much. But one year later, we’ve learned how to navigate the daily tasks of life on the road and how to cope and support each other when things go wrong. 

So Many Moments

Tri-shaw driver, Chiang Mai, Thailand.


Seeing a billion stars at night while camping in Uganda.


Negotiating to buy things in India.


Whale-watching in Kaikoura.


Turning a corner near Taksim Square and walking into a wall of riot police.

Love locks on a bridge in Amsterdam.


Sitting down to a home-cooked meal made by Wanchuk’s Mom in Sikkim.


Enduring a rollercoaster-like ride dubbed “dune bashing” in the desert near Abu Dhabi.


Finding a snake in our bathroom in Bali.


Floating six miles up in a hot air balloon in Cappadocia.

Ornate tile work at Topkapi Palace, Istanbul.


Learning about the genocide in Rwanda.


Watching the hand and body movements of traditional dancers in Southeast Asia.


Eating street food in Penang.


Dancing on a bar on my 40th birthday in Zanzibar.


Walking around Delhi, India.


Our main camera lens breaking just as we entered the Serengeti.

A water lantern display with 'supertrees' in the background in Singapore.


Getting into a car accident in Sikkim.


Witnessing various religious rituals across Asia and the Middle East.

A billion stars lit up the sky while camping in Uganda.

Meaningful Connections

At a local orphanage in Nairobi, we met Caroline, a girl my parents have sponsored for the last seven years. 

More than sightseeing, our travels provided an opportunity to interact with people and experience local life around the world. When language barriers meant few words could be exchanged, it’s remarkable how far a friendly smile, wave or acknowledging look went towards bridging the communication gap. I recall the conversation we had with a young man in Mumbai who later emailed me some of his favorite songs. The family we stayed with at a homestay in Indonesia. The women I danced with in Rwanda and the girl my parents sponsor in Kenya. The school children we met in Chiang Mai. The young warriors of the Masai tribe I let listen to my iPod. The men we played hackeysack with in Myanmar. 

Woman in a market in Luang Prabang, Laos.

School girls in India.

My Favorite Place?

A bowl of asam laksa, a fish-based noodle soup, in Penang.

It’s a hard question to answer because each place was so totally unique. How can you compare for example, New Zealand to India? You appreciate them in different ways for very different reasons. And yet still, you have your personal favorites.

The reasons why you love or hate a place can be hard to articulate why. It’s the sights, the sounds, the smells, the people, the culture… it’s just a feeling you get from being there.

My Top 5

Also known as “the pink city,” the buildings here are made with pink-painted sandstone. The streets are full of life and color with cows and camels mixed in with the tuk tuks and trucks. We had one seriously heart-stopping tuk tuk ride, saw a Bollywood film at an old movie palace, and a fun time negotiating with the shopkeepers.

A gate into the old city of Jaipur, India.

Dancer in Ubud, Indonesia.

“Enchanting” is the perfect word to describe Ubud. Known as the spiritual and cultural capital of Bali, there are countless temples, ceremonies and dances every night of the week. Women make offerings of flowers and incense and place them in spirit houses and on sidewalks. There’s a real community here (not all tourists) and chain businesses and clubs aren’t permitted. Take a walk through the rice paddies or monkey forest, eat at an organic café or take a yoga class… and enjoy.

Inle Lake was one of the most scenic, unique and friendly places we visited. Here we witnessed local life in floating villages, the fisherman who row boats with one leg, ancient stupas and monasteries, floating markets and gardens.

Life on the water in Inle Lake, Myanmar.

Shortly after entering the Serengeti we stopped at a viewpoint. The view was incredible. It was that classic African landscape you could see for miles and miles and miles. It was one of those moments where you tear up and think “I made it here… I’m actually here and it was worth every difficult step.”

Looking out onto the Serengeti.

I fell in love with every corner of the city and could not put my camera down. The elegant art and architecture and the old bridges and churches were lovely.

Pretty Prague.

Like a Dream

Now that we’re back, and everything is so familiar and comfortable again, it almost seems like a dream. Only the dream actually came true. I would say to anyone reading this that it’s incredibly empowering to take steps towards filling in whatever feels “missing” in your life. It’s incredibly empowering to make your biggest dreams a reality. What are your dreams?

John Lennon Wall in Prague.


Look for more posts about our adventures in Southeast Asia, as well as the rest of our photo galleries in the coming months.

Answers to Your Questions

Recently, we asked you on Facebook to ask us any question about our travel experiences so far. Beth and I answered each question separately and here are our answers!

What are the top three things that you miss from the US?

BETH: Of course we miss family and friends, but beyond that and specific to the US, I sometimes miss American movies and TV. Ironically, it’s one of our biggest exports and our programs are shown around the world though we often don’t have the time or means to access them. Overall, I have a renewed appreciation for clean air, clean water, and a washing machine. Millions of people around the world don’t have these basic things we take for granted.

JON: Real stores, bacon, and craft beer.

Real Stores – One of the frustrating things on the road is the difficulty in buying things. Some places are better than others. Europe was pretty easy for shopping, but in many other places you don’t find the same size of shops and variety that you get in the US. Then, the store may have what you want, but it’s in the wrong size, and there is no stock, so it’s the only one there.

Bacon – Perfect strips of crispy salted greasy pork that practically melts in your mouth, American bacon. Every breakfast that says it has bacon turns out to be disappointing. Instead of the perfect strips of bacon I imagine, there is some anticipation-destroying disappointment of salted pork product.

Craft Beer – I’ve had too many lagers in 500 ml bottles that are just so plain. While the beer in Belgium was fantastic, most of the local beers that I’ve found around the world have been of the large bottle, plain lager variety. While they are beer, they lack the flavor, variety, and interest that you would get from the American craft beer market.

What do you notice about the role of women in society in the different countries you have been to so far? India?

BETH: Women have had such a hard road to walk in life and still do, and our travels have reminded me of this. Around the world, in every society, in times past and present, it’s just amazing the burdens women have had to bear. When we were on the island of Delos in Greece we learned that women on the brink of childbirth would be sent to a nearby island due to a purification decree forbidding anyone from being born on the island. I looked over at that island and imagined being rowed over in a little wooden boat in that state to a place with no one and nothing and imagined how sad and uncomfortable and depressing that would be and felt sorry for those women. Giving birth is hard enough. When we were at the Topaki Palace in Istanbul we walked through the Harem where hundreds of women were enslaved for use by the Sultans. In Kenya, we saw the Masai tribes and learned about their life and traditions. And even though the practice of female genital mutilation has been illegal since 2001, it is still performed in secret on most young girls. The men have multiple wives, which are obtained according to the number of cows they have. The wives then have to build and maintain the houses (one of their many responsibilities) without the right to own any property. In India I noticed a big difference between Delhi and Mumbai. Walking around the markets of old Delhi I asked our tour guide, “Where are all the women?” It seemed there were only men around. He told me this is because it’s the men who are involved in business. In Mumbai though I saw women everywhere, and many of them in business-like attire coming and going from work. But then again Mumbai is a much more modern city. In Delhi, I took a subway ride in the women’s car compartment and in Dubai, we took a “ladies taxi.” In different parts of the world, these women-only transport options are helping keep women safe from harassment and enabling them to travel and work outside the home, but it does not address the underlying issue. But there is hope. Two young girls that are so inspiring and impressive to me are 11-year-old Zuriel Oduwole and 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai.

JON: One of my clear memories of India was a group of women sitting off the side of the road. Each one was on top of a pile of rocks sitting cross-legged using a hammer to make gravel. Though most of the cities were filled with men, and we did see quite a few women in traditional roles, there were also many instances when the women were working just as hard, or even harder than men.

Are you tired of living out of a bag yet?

BETH: The hardest thing is constantly having to PACK the bag when you’re moving around every 1-3 nights. When we have 8-10 nights somewhere it feels like such a luxury….we can really unpack and settle in. It’s the packing and the actual traveling part that is the most tiring. I’ve also gotten really sick of my clothes at times, so I’ve switched out pieces here and there.

JON: Not yet. The packing and unpacking and moving around all the time does get old. Hopefully moving slower and staying places longer in the next section of our trip will help.

How difficult has it been navigating so many languages?

BETH: Not difficult at all, given that so much of the world speaks English. This has surprised me and I feel even more fortunate to be a native speaker of one of the world’s most common languages. Even in the Middle East and Africa – places we thought we’d struggle more – the signs and everything are both in the native language and in English. In restaurants they have menus in English and at least one server that speaks it. We may end up in a few more remote/rural places in SE Asia and perhaps then, it will be more of a struggle. We try to learn and use a few of the basic words everywhere we go. Knowing the words for “hello” and “thank you” are most useful.

JON: It’s been amazing how far just English has gotten us. English speaking culture has been very common almost everywhere we have been and it’s really made us appreciate how lucky we are to have grown up learning English. There have been a few instances where it was difficult to communicate, but most of the time it’s been very easy.

What has been the most astonishing culture shock moment?

BETH: Arriving in Delhi – the first 48 hours there – that takes the cake. Nothing can really prepare you for it… the honking, the crazy traffic and rickshaws, the cows, the poverty, the colorful people, the street food, just everything – it awakens all senses! Also, one day in Mumbai we were walking along a sidewalk and saw three people crouched down at the curb and a heard this buzzing noise. I had to do a triple take. It was someone getting a tattoo, right there in the street! Truly shocking.

JON: At home, we are very removed from our food sources. Meat comes either from the butcher shop out of a nice glass case, or shrink-wrapped at the grocery store. Seeing the gore, and smelling the stench of the meat market in Stone Town in Zanzibar was bad enough, but the pile of cow legs outside was worse.

Biggest challenge you’ve had to face so far…or left you in the hopes that it never happens again?

BETH: Getting sick and injured on the road has been the biggest challenge. You can be in the most amazing place but you simply can’t enjoy anything when you are not feeling well. Worst yet – having little or poor medical care when it happens. I’ve learned how important it is to do all you can to stay healthy and carry various meds and supplies with you. Then, when something does happen, you have to take a break from sightseeing and traveling and just get better. The biggest challenge was getting malaria in Africa. Yup – you read that right. I certainly never want to go through that again. Of course, that’s a story in itself and I’ll save that for a future blog post.

JON: The biggest challenge, the hardest thing to overcome has been sickness and injury. You can be flying into the most exciting place you can imagine, but it doesn’t matter if you have sinus pressure that makes you want to crack your head open. If you’re exhausted and ill, the only place that you want to travel to is bed. It’s even harder when you have to find out where you can get medicine or medical help.

The worst of it though was when Beth fell ill with malaria just 4 days into our African overland tour. The fact that I was also ill with bad stomach problems, and we were both still adjusting to the very early mornings made it quite a challenge. I’ll leave the details to a future post about the whole ordeal, but it’s safe to say that it’s not something either of us ever want to do again.

Thanks to Jill, Gina, Claire and Mali for your questions. If you have any more, leave them in the comments below.