25 Takeaways from 3 Months of Living Life on the Road

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We are approaching the 3-month mark of our long-term travel journey! When reflecting upon our life on the road, we realize how much and the variety of what we’ve experienced so far. We drove across the U.S. on a road trip from California to New York, dipping up into Toronto, Ontario, Canada, along the way. Then we spent a week with family in The Poconos in Pennsylvania and experienced New York City and Miami Beach. We’ve been in Mexico for 7 weeks now, visiting Mexico City, Queretero, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Puebla, Oaxaca City, Huatulco (including La Crucecita and Santa Maria), Tehuantepec and San Cristobal de las Casas. It’s wild to think of all the unknown we still have that lies ahead of us, which really feels like an intangible and inconceivable amount of time to me.
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Road trippin’ in our Saturn!
In continuing with my theme of candidness about my thoughts, feelings, and experiences being in the midst of our travels, I’d like to share what I’ve learned and gained so far along the way. Some of these topics I’m about to touch upon consist of things I may have already learned or knew about myself prior to leaving Sacramento in early August, thus reminders, but others are brand new discoveries that I think have affected my development as a person who comes from a privileged, first world society, who hasn’t traveled much in this way prior to this experience, in a profound way. Some have made me a more authentic, savvy backpacker traveling long-term, while others have given me a different perspective when looking at life through a new lens, a more fortunate appreciation and understanding for what I am grateful for in my life back at home. I invite you to share in my takeaways and consider how some may be applied to thinking and reflecting upon your own life. Though you are not physically here with us along the way, I hope you can benefit in some way from us sharing our experiences and feel like you are a part of our journey. 
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I have a 40L backpack with 2 external bags clipped onto and  hanging off of it, which hold my 3 pairs of shoes, light rain jacket, and fleece. I also have a day bag.

1) Less is more when it comes to packing. My backpack is still heavier than I want it to be. I set out on this trip having “practice packed” and analyzed my list with Aaron and others who have traveled like we are (thanks, Trish and Ryan Litke — you can check out their travel blog, dedicated primarily to their long-term backpacking journey in 2012 here). I recently went through and consolidated again a few weeks ago, confirming which items I’ve used and discarding the few I haven’t and don’t think I will practically at some point. If we go home to visit with family and friends before changing continents from South America to Asia or Europe (we haven’t decided which will be next yet), I will take advantage of the opportunity to unload more and live with even less. Most likely I will leave behind more of my clothes and just do laundry in the sink more often for the trade-off of carrying less weight. It’s interesting how when I downsized from my U.S. road trip stuff to what I took with me beyond The Poconos, which was less than half, I felt like it was so little and was a bit nervous about that being it; but now, I’m ready to get rid of more, seeing the practical uses of everything and living with them. I feel like I still have too much.

2) Pick-pocketing happens in an only an instant, but it can take weeks or months to recover from if your travel phone is stolen. My small “travel purse” is not so secure when I put my phone in its front pocket, because its only barrier is a flap with velcro that covers it. It doesn’t matter if the strap can’t be cut if I walk in the midst of large crowds that surround me on the streets at a festival, or that I wear it as advised across my body from shoulder to opposite hip. It doesn’t provide added security if the small zippered pocket, where I put my cash and credit card, on the inside exists, but my phone couldn’t fit into it. I had often walked around with my hand over my purse but wasn’t in that moment, and it only takes that moment to get pick-pocketed. It was close enough to my body where I felt it happen, the weight from the phone being lifted. I had let my guard down a bit in an environment where I probably needed to be the most vigilant, and it happened to me for the first time ever. I probably made myself a target by joining Aaron standing up on an elevated area to get above a crowd to take photos to document and later share how many people filled the streets at the Cervantino Festival in Guanajuato. I’ll bet someone spotted me with my phone and saw where I returned it to in my purse, and then followed me to take it from me (or there could have been multiple people working together). Although most people had phones out and about here as well, my lessons learned from this situation are: 1) Do not make myself stand out more than I already do as a tourist by separating myself from a crowd in an easily visible place and flashing my phone, 2) Avoid walking through large crowds if it can be avoided, or keep my hands on my valuables if it can’t, and 3) Put my phone in a more secure place, and if that’s not possible, give it to Aaron to put in a more secure place in one of his hidden pockets of his travel pants (because mine, unfortunately, don’t have any).

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I took a picture like this, but with our phone camera, soon before the incident happened. As you can see, the streets were very crowded! Honestly, I don’t even like to look at this picture, as it brings back some bad feelings for me. 🙁

After changing our passwords to our email and social media accounts, contacting our phone company to pause our service, submitting a claim to our travel insurance company for reimbursement for the cost of the phone (which required us to navigate the Mexican police system to figure out where to go and how to submit a report), we have been spending weeks without it and trying to get it replaced. This seems near impossible because the new phone had to be purchased in the U.S. (so Aaron’s parents logged into our account and did this for us — thank you, parents!) and needs to be shipped to us in a secure place where we’ll be for an extended period of time, which is seeming more and more unlikely to happen, as we rarely stay anywhere more than one week at a time. It’s also very expensive to have shipped to Mexico with a guaranteed delivery timeframe established. We may just wait until we come home to visit in-between continents to quickly get it all sorted out.

3) I deal with inconveniences and unpleasant encounters with much more patience and endurance than I do in my normal life. For example, getting rained on when I’m not prepared for it while waiting in line to buy tickets and get into the Frida Kahlo museum in Mexico City or while walking to the Botanical Garden in San Miguel de Allende, or missing our bus stop in Guanajuato and having to sit through driving four hours out of our way and taking two buses to get back to where we should have gotten off just south of the city. I deal with these types of encounters considerably better when my basic needs have been addressed (i.e. I’m not hungry, thirsty, or don’t need to use the bathroom, or know I have access to food, water, and a bathroom in anticipation of when I’ll soon need to). I’ve also gained a more specific realization and deeper appreciation for the first world conveniences we have in the U.S., many of which seem small in everyday life back at home, but I now have a whole new perspective about because I’ve personally experienced what it’s like to not have them. For example, having access to a consistently warm shower, a blowdryer and hair straightener, a personal vehicle that provides me with the freedom to go where I want and need to; having the ability to control what I’m eating through shopping at local grocery stores and farmers’ markets with a readily available, fresh variety and being able to regularly prepare my own food and meal-plan for the week ahead; being able to seek out dining at restaurants I enjoy when I want to with specific types of food I’m craving and the availability of a wide range of (and reliably good!) International cuisine; enjoying the ease of quickly completing transactional items in my native language (because most basic errands take more time here to figure out the logistics of); having access to air conditioning as a relief from hot weather, screens on windows to create a barrier from mosquitos and other bugs getting indoors, and clean water that is drinkable from the faucet; having reliable plumbing with strong enough water pressure to flush toilet paper down the toilet, and not having to throw my used paper into a trash can instead (or stick my hand in there to fish it out and throw it away in the trash can when it doesn’t go down — yes, I throughly wash my hands with soap immediately afterwards when this happens). I think back to what I considered “roughing it” during our U.S. road trip, such as our yurt “glamping” in Santa Rosa (which I really enjoyed!), our farmstay accommodation setup in Point Arena (which I had some challenges with) or camping at campgrounds across the U.S. that had bathrooms and showers available (which I also had some challenges with, although less the more we did it) and feel silly, noticing the stark contrasts to what I’ve since experienced (and at times, endured) abroad.

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Waiting in line outside of the Frida Kahlo museum
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Our kitty friend, whom we named “Gato”, who lovingly followed us in most of our exploration of the Botanical Garden in San Miguel de Allende. We wanted to take him home with us. <3
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Our yurt in Santa Rosa!
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Our farmstay accommodation in Point Arena
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One of our campsites in Northern CA

4) My Spanish language skills and abilities are gradually improving. I’m getting more comfortable with common conversations in Spanish. I still get stuck and feel on the spot when I can’t think of how to express myself to someone who only speaks Spanish, but it’s a part of the learning process. I appreciate the patience most people have had with me when I’m trying and express that I’m learning. Overall, my Spanish is getting better (slowly) and will continue to the longer we’re immersing ourselves living in Spanish-speaking countries, which will be for awhile. Also, I feel like people generally appreciate when we try to speak Spanish instead of insisting on English; when English is available and would be easier for us to revert to, and where it is typically the norm for native English-speakers to do (many of which may not even speak Spanish at all), we usually proceed to communicate in Spanish to continue with our immersion process.

5) I am starting to become a bit homesick. I think about how long it’s been since I’ve seen my family and friends and how much longer it likely will be from now. This is the longest period of consistent time I’ve ever been away from home and the longest stretch I’ve ever gone without seeing my mom in-person (though we are still communicating regularly while I’m traveling). I also miss living in Sacramento and get FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out, when I see new things happening there online, mostly through social media, and worry about our ability to get right back in there with a place in the area we want to live in at a reasonable price, with the market demand rising and available properties lessening (although I’m also confident it will all work out just fine). I miss my favorite places to frequent and my students/teaching my fitness classes. I miss my routines that felt mundane or that I wanted a change from. I miss feeling comfortable walking around pretty much everywhere and knowing the area I live in like the back of my hand. I miss consistent workouts in the way I was doing them before we left. BUT, I recognize that feeling homesick is normal and bound to happen at some point for long-term travelers, so I’m not throwing in the towel and returning home just yet! After seeking advice from someone who as been there herself (thanks, again, Trish!), I realized I must be careful as I tread the line of allowing myself to feel homesick and going too far down the rabbit hole with it. I’m told the grass is always greener on the other side, and before I know it, I’ll be back at home dreaming of my days living life on the road. And practically speaking, feeling homesick won’t make me return sooner, as I know what we are doing is a once in a lifetime experience that we put a lot of time, effort, thought, and savings into prioritizing. I remember anticipating, before we left, that I’d at some point start feeling homesick and gave my future self a pep talk about sticking through it when it ultimately happens because of how much of my life I rearranged to make this happen.

6) I don’t like it when we arrive in a new place at night. I’ve noticed this is especially prevalent when we’re traveling abroad and a bit more mild when we’re traveling within the U.S. Usually in a new place, it takes me a day or so feel oriented to the surrounding area of our accommodation, and until then, I feel extremely uncomfortable and on guard, assuming it’s unsafe to be walking around as we are (even if we later discover it’s fine). This is my natural inclination and I can’t help feeling this way, and it usually stresses Aaron out and has the potential to bring him to my level. It’s also more difficult to navigate to where we need to go in an unfamiliar area when it’s dark, as buildings and landmarks look different at night and street signs are sometimes hidden or non-exsistant. As a result, we’ve decided to plan our travel times en route to our next destinations earlier in the day so that we arrive in new places before nightfall, if it’s possible to do so.

7) Exploring constantly is exhausting, so it’s nice to find a balance where we aren’t doing it all the time. This means having some days where we mostly hang out where we’re staying, going out for a walk to move around a bit and eat and/or get something to drink. It’s nice to be able to catch up on connecting with family and friends, blog, read, and do trip research about current or future, upcoming travel destinations. I like to find a cafe to frequent and it feels nice to see the same staff repeatedly (this is probably my inclination towards having a regular, familiar routine). The same is the case with fitness classes when I can find them nearby where we are staying, as they are often the key to making local connections for me. For example, my pick-pocketing experience in Guanajuato brought me down in the days to follow, and my guard was up ultra, manically high. However, I persisted in going out on my own and taking fitness classes nearby, where I met some very nice women whom I looked forward to seeing again throughout the week (and the instructor even insisted I teach half of a class, which was a great experience)! The Zumba® class experiences with the people I met restored my faith in there being nice people out there and helped me in not letting my fear lingering from what had happened to me prevent me from the positive there was to experience in Guanajuato. One of the ladies even took me under her wing and walked around town with me, showing me places to go and providing recommendations for there and also Oaxaca, where she is from and where we were headed next.

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Chillen at a cafe in San Miguel de Allende before a bird shat on my shoulder, LOL!
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Aaron enjoying our relaxed dining experience in Puebla
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Maria Elena and I after our last Zumba class together in Guanajuato
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Some of the Guanajuato Zumba ladies with our instructor, Sandra!
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Latte from my favorite cafe in Oaxaca City, A.M. Siempre Cafe!
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Highlight of the neighborhood we stayed in, Barrio de Xochimilco, in Oaxaca City (seriously, we returned here multiple times throughout our stay)!

8) It’s challenging for me to keep up with blogging because of the time it takes to provide the level of detail I am, such as thoughts and feelings, explaining what actually has transpired, links to neighborhoods and restaurants, photos, and more, but I truly enjoy doing it. I want everyone reading to get a sense of what it’s really like to travel as we are and what destinations are like in case anyone wants to visit them someday and get ideas based on what we experienced. So I feel like I’m not doing it justice if I’m not candidly sharing everything I can! It’s stressed me out at times, thinking about how “behind” I am. But it’s never too late to reflect upon and share our experiences, even when weeks pass since they happened. It will be something I continue to gradually work on developing for family, friends, people we meet along the way, and random readers as we travel, and I know it’s appreciated especially by our loved ones to give them a deeper sense of what we’re seeing and experiencing and in some way, feel like they are right there with us.

9) Traveling without a phone has its challenges, but it’s doable. At first it was a shock to think of what we would do without it! No more Uber (because it requires a phone number to connect to it), no more ease of navigation while out and about exploring (so what do we do if we get lost?!), no more ability to contact our hosts while on the road to coordinate arrival details (which has actually been the most difficult part about it from a logistical standpoint), no more phone camera (which allowed both of us to have a camera to ourselves to use, since the other person used our actual camera), no more readily available access to make emergency phone calls if needed, and no more ease of accessing apps whenever and wherever we had a strong enough signal (okay, no big deal on this one). But it’s not the end of the world, and we’ve adjusted to it. The main thing is having a map of the area to help navigate and taking my old iPhone (which no longer has a number connected to it) so that we can connect to WIFI somewhere in case of an emergency. On a positive note, it has forced us to live without it and actually, live more in the moment and navigate as true backpackers on the road! I wouldn’t say my navigation skills are great, but they certainly have improved since we had our phone stolen and I haven’t been able to use it as a crutch. I know our families are anxious for us to get a phone again and understand we will when we can (see #2 above), but we are getting by for now.

10) I’ve gotten accustomed to wearing clothing items more than once, sometimes multiple times, before washing them to preserve them longer. Usually a crotch or armpit area sniff is the test of whether it’s clean enough to wear again or not, or whether or not I washed it good enough with Dove soap. Back at home, it’s one and done, and my laundry loads really piled up and overwhelmed me on the weekends. I also used to separate my loads by towels, workout clothes, undergarments, delicate garments that had special instructions, pajamas, whites, and all other casual and work clothing items (I know, it’s a little OCD). But now, I’m a sink washer and hang-drier of my clothing, unless the rare opportunity presents itself where there is a laundromat (lavanderia) nearby, where someone washes our clothes and we pay by the kilo for it, which has been affordable so far in Guanajuato, Oaxaca City, and San Cristobal. Certainly the days of separate loads for different types of clothing are gone; it all gets washed together. (My “one and done” rule is reserved only for very hot, humid weather conditions and clothing heavily soiled with sweat).

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Laundry in the kitchen sink!
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Lavanderia
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Hang-drying some clothing in the car during our road trip!

11) AirBnB accommodation and volunteer experiences often offer the most personable ones. Sometimes in the form of recommendations — on paper, via messaging, or through unexpected, in-person conversations that lead to ideas for activities we wouldn’t have otherwise thought of or known about (such as the Route of the Hiawatha bike ride on the Idaho/Montana border in the U.S.). Other times it’s merely in the form of welcoming kindness and readiness to help, such as our host in Oaxaca City who greeted us with hugs, a flower arrangement for our apartment, and fresh quesadillas and a salad upon our arrival; she also brought us Oaxacan hot chocolate and treats a couple of times during our week-long stay and personally walked me over to her nephew’s print shop when I needed to make copies of flyers for my week at the resort. Other times cultural exchange opportunities happen through conversing or a shared experience (such as the Dia de los Muertos preparation and celebration with our host’s family in Santa Maria Huatulco). It has been a way to connect with locals versus meeting fellow travelers through hostels or having a cookie-cutter traveler experience staying in a hotel (although both of these accommodation types have their benefits as well). I enjoyed my experience teaching Zumba® classes twice per day at Secrets Huatulco, where I met and interacted with my students, who are primarily from Canada and Mexico, but also the U.S., Argentina, and Cuba; it felt so nice to be out and about at the resort and be greeted by familiar faces, in addition to conversing (in English or Spanish) just before or after class with my students. (Yes, this is a resort, but we went primarily for my volunteer/work exchange experience and to take a break from life on the road traveling primarily independently). We just wrapped up our week-long volunteer exchange arrangement in Tehuantepec, a small town in Oaxaca, where we’ve met and interacted with dozens of students learning English who are of varying ages and proficiency levels. We’ve gotten an inside look into what people are and life is like there through our time with the students and our host, the teacher and owner of the school.

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Route of the Hiawatha mountain bike ride on the Idaho/Montana border
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Oaxacan hot chocolate
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Us with our gracious host in Oaxaca City, just before we left
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Completed altar for Dia de los Muertos at our host family’s ranch home
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My new students and I after our first class of the week together at Secrets Huatulco!
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With some of my afternoon Zumba class peeps at Secrets Huatulco!
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Us with many of our students at Total English Institute in Tehuantepec after a group run last Saturday afternoon

12) I truly struggle with hot, humid weather conditions and mosquito bites. The most challenging climates thus far for me to endure have been in Niagara Falls, Miami Beach, and Huatulco. Mosquitos love me and give me bites that itch me like crazy for days to follow (this happened in potentially Astoria, in Miami Beach, and they were so tiny and stealthy in Huatulco, especially in La Crucecita and Santa Maria)! On the road, I have to deal with it for unexpected and longer, indefinite periods of time. It puts me on the verge of a travel meltdown, which is more mild nowadays when it happens, but makes me feel a bit homesick for easy access to air conditioning and more protection from mosquitos. However, it is worth highlighting the trade-off to dealing with the uncomfortable heat and/or mosquitos, which is that we’ve often had the most unique, picturesque, and/or personable experiences in these environments, so I’m overall glad I stuck through them and would rather have experienced them than not. I also fully appreciate and soak up cooler weather afterwards more as a contrast and relief from the heat.

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Niagara Falls
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North Beach, Miami Beach

13) I like to follow at times, but I also like to take the lead. This is something that Aaron and I have struggled with since the beginning of our long-term travel journey together and continue to actively work through, because he naturally takes the lead and prefers to lead. I’ve learned to recognize the times where I’d like to lead and be vocal about it and also the times where I want Aaron to figure out logistics or am okay with him picking a place to eat or go if I’m feeling indifferent, and visa versa. It’s all about sharing and being mindful of the other person’s wishes when traveling as a couple. 🙂

14) I like the pace of “slow” versus “fast” travel, and luckily, since we’re traveling together, Aaron and I are on the same page about this and have decided to let this philosophy guide our travel journey. We’ve come to the realization that we will likely spend a similar amount of time in our next destination country, Guatemala, to what we’ve spent in Mexico so far (and we may even return to Mexico for another couple of weeks after Guatemala). Given that we generally budgeted for a year of travel, and we’re already a few months into it, this likely means the tradeoff of staying longer to experience more of the countries we visit will likely be visiting less countries overall, and we’re okay with that! We aren’t the “check the box” kind of travelers anyway and would rather have a more relaxed pace, covering more of and getting to know a country more in-depth than quickly passing through it just to say we’ve been there. In the big picture, it’s impossible to go EVERYWHERE in the world anyway, and we’re not trying to. We think traveling the way we’re doing it will be more fulfilling for us, and so far, it has been!

15) I am respectful of the beliefs and customs of others we meet and like to be an observer and participate as an opportunity for cultural exchange. One of the best experiences we’ve had thus far has been our time with our AirBnB host’s family in Santa Maria, Huatulco, in Oaxaca, preparing for and celebrating Dia de los Muertos with them. It felt like such a personable, private family affair that we were invited in to witness and be a part of, which was quite an honor. Being able to ask questions and have their traditions explained to us helped us gain a much better, deeper understanding than we would have had we just showed up at a cemetery and saw it packed with families surrounding the graves of their loved ones with flowers, food, photos, lit candles, and music.

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Bunching the traditional marigold flowers for the altar

16) I am pushed out of my comfort zone on a regular basis, far more than I’m comfortable with, whereas at home, I prefer to stay within my comfort zone as much as possible. The benefit of this is of course experiencing things I might not otherwise. I think being open to it and convincing myself to just go with the flow even when I have an inclination to not really want to has exposed me to some unexpected, memorable encounters.

17) I am much more flexible and patient. You have to ask for the check in Mexico; it won’t be brought to you because it’s considered rude and is perceived as sending a signal that it’s time for you to leave. Plans change all the time. Restaurants aren’t open that we took time to research, get excited about, and navigate to. We take wrong turns and it takes longer to get places. Everyday transactions, such as sending mail or getting a laundry service arranged, take much longer than at home, being in new places where we have to figure out where we are, how to get there, how to communicate our needs and get them taken care of, and wait. Internet connections are generally slow. Volunteering at an English language school in Tehuantepec, we were on our host’s schedule and not our own like we’ve been used to for most of our travel journey thus far; this included what and when we eat (the food was often his mother’s traditional cooking and regional specialties, which were unique to be exposed to, such as tlayuda or garnachas) and most of our time outside of teaching classes (though often opportunities for cultural exposure and his intentions were wanting us to experience them). While I’m glad we did it, I have learned that I highly value being on my own schedule and making as many choices as we can independently, which is a good compass for us to use in selecting future time commitments and arrangements in our travels.

18) I am naturally cautious and think everyone is out to get me when we first arrive in a new place when I travel abroad, whereas in everyday life, I tend to generally live wearing rose-colored glasses and assume everyone is good in the world. This eases as we meet people and spend more time in a place, which is more reason to continue with our “slow” travel philosophy. I will also say that this inclination I have is easing up a bit the longer we travel and the more places we visit, especially when we have a local connection or the place feels smaller and/or more laid back.

19) Any sense of vanity is nonexistent and has no place while living life on the road. I have no room to carry a blowdryer around and should ditch the mini hair straightener I bought as a last-minute act of desperation to ease my concern about not being able to use it occasionally when I would have access to a blowdryer and really wanted to, as it hardly works as it’s intended to. I brought a small makeup bag with me with basics that I have applied seldom since leaving the U.S., enough times to count on one hand. My clothes are all basic, other than the black HIPKNOTIES material I’ve used to make into various styles of shirts and dresses while at Secrets Huatulco for a week in the evenings (well, it’s still basic, but it can be dressed up). Essentially, being concerned about what I look like is impractical and just doesn’t matter. Although I’ve had my occasional struggles with it at times (especially when other women are “done up” around me), overall, I’ve become even more comfortable with my “natural” look. It helps me to focus on hygiene over vanity, such as clipping my nails when they are getting longer, shaving (when I have access to warm water), applying deodorant, brushing my teeth, washing my face, showering, etc.

20) Like every day life at home, living life on the road traveling has its ups and downs. Not every day is an exciting, fun adventure, although there are many days that are. There are great experiences and also difficult ones to get through. For example, we arrived in Puebla at night after a long bus ride, waited in a long queue line for a taxi at the bus station, only to have our cab driver drop us off at the wrong address our host gave us and not have a way to communicate with her because we don’t have a phone. I felt extremely uneasy as we continued to try to find it, on a random street we weren’t familiar with, our backpacks on our backs. Luckily there was an internet cafe on that street where we could message her and a hotel we ended up staying instead, and we got our AirBnB payment refunded from her when requesting it. However, exhausted and hungry, we scarfed down room service food at the hotel past midnight before crashing for the night. The next two days, we enjoyed our accommodations at this and another nearby hotel near the Zocalo, or main square, and had some great walking and dining experiences in Puebla! As another example, let’s not forget the near two-week long traveler’s diarrhea we experienced, which often hindered our intended and desired plans; we just took it easy when needed and took medication to manage our symptoms enough to leave our accommodations for periods of time. On the flip side, by traveling to Mexico, we’ve experienced exploring so many different places that we wouldn’t have otherwise had we chosen not to come here. Most people in the U.S. that we know have a very cautious, generalized view about Mexico being unsafe, and as a result, we know few people who have chosen to travel here (other than to resorts). It’s been a great experience taking a leap of faith to travel somewhere we didn’t know much about beforehand and get to know what it’s actually like so we can share that with others. Overall, it’s been a great, cultural experience for us. As Aaron likes to say, when something negative happens, it’s important to remind ourselves that the next best thing is just around the corner! 🙂

21) The people who have the least are often the ones who openly give the most. For example, while Oaxaca is generally less developed than other parts of Mexico, it certainly has among the richest culture and welcoming, kind people, which we had both heard prior to traveling there and personally experienced. Also, the traditional food is fresh and tasty!

22) Just because a place has less developed infrastructure than what I’m accustomed to back at home doesn’t mean it’s unsafe. I had been told this before embarking on our abroad travels and have had to remind myself of it, especially when we’ve just arrived in a new place and are familiarizing ourselves with it; this natural red flag that goes up for me has slowly lowered the more places we’ve visited, and especially when we know someone local who expresses to us it is safe. Even cities and towns within Mexico, when compared to one another, are more or less developed than each other, and it can even vary within neighborhoods. While most places we’ve visited in Mexico have graffiti spray-painted on their walls and buildings, a prominent display of political expression, there is also street art covering them that stands out. Some places have garbage littered on their streets that blows around when the wind picks up and others have trash and recycle bins (that get used) lining theirs. Some of the sidewalks are made up of uneven cobblestone (which can get a bit slippery when even a small amount of water is introduced), others are cemented and may have random potholes and/or cracking, and others are made up of dirt. Most businesses’ names are painted onto their buildings to identify them, and most “for sale” or “for rent” signage on the street is hand-written onto poster board or paper.

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Street view from a coffee shop in Mexico City near Alameda Central
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Street art in Oaxaca City
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Part of our walking path to our accommodation in our neighborhood in Oaxaca City, which was safe

23) Keeping up with a consistent workout regimen is challenging, but possible! We were adamantly determined at the onset, and in the earlier days of our travel journey, to prioritize regular workouts at least two to three times per week. We brought resistance bands and tubing with us in our backpacks, which are light and take up little space, so a greater variety of exercises would be available to us beyond those accessible by body weight alone. This would be our primary way of being able to maintain some level of muscle endurance, strength, and tone while traveling and we could use this equipment anywhere. Pairing this with high intensity interval training (HIIT) drills, we have ourselves a varied, effective workout! We’d scope out public park spaces, areas of campgrounds we camped at, or backyards of friends and family members during our U.S. road trip as our workout spaces and utilized what we had around us, such as steps, benches, or playground equipment, to incorporate into our workouts, too. Aaron has gone running while I’ve taken fitness classes locally from time-to-time.

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Our workout space in Bandon, Oregon
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Our workout space in our friends’ backyard in Buffalo, New York (thanks, Lou & Melinda)!

Over time, we’ve been able to exercise more or less depending on where we are and what we’re doing in each place. For example, I was teaching two Zumba® classes per day at the resort in Huatulco and Aaron utilized the gym there almost every day. However, we had little free time to ourselves the week we taught English at the school in Tehuantepec (our only time for a dedicated workout was when we went running with the students on a Saturday afternoon as a pre-planned group activity). The way we cope without having dedicated workouts scheduled is by committing to at least doing something most days, even if it’s a couple of exercises with the resistance equipment, or curl-ups and bicycle crunches, or a 4-minute Tabata (20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest of a movement or two). The reality is that when we are on our own schedule (which is most of the time in our travels thus far), we are quite active walking around most days, whether exploring or out of necessity depending on how far our accommodation is from what we need or want to get to logistically. Though we’ve struggled with being out of our regular workout regimens that are a huge part of our regular lives back at home, which we both stick to religiously, and we’ve noticed the muscle tone we had gradually decrease and our abilities regress a bit over time, which we recognized at the onset would be inevitable, we don’t give up on it altogether. As I preach to my students, friends, family, and pretty much anyone I meet who engages me in talking about living a healthy, active lifestyle, doing SOMETHING is ALWAYS BETTER than doing NOTHING! Every effort counts! And there’s this encouraging fact to feel good about: We are actually more physically active, getting more movement into our days, than when we were working full-time in desk jobs, sitting for most of the day save a couple of short walking breaks and a 30-minute to 1-hour dedicated workout session before or after work most days of the week, which made us what are called “active couch potatoes”. As a fitness trainer, I hope my experiences in our travels thus far illustrate that if it’s important enough to you to seek out, fitness is accessible anywhere (you don’t need a gym, although that is nice and convenient if you have one nearby available to you).

24) Traveling long-term together has strengthened and helped us grow in our marriage. We were happy together and had a healthy relationship before we left for this travel adventure, but this experience has enhanced the level and strength of our bond even more. Most couples will never spend close to 24 hours a day together for consecutive weeks and months on end in environments away from home, which are often new and unfamiliar, so we have a very unique situation on our hands here! Decisions that are usually individual ones when we’re by ourselves in our every day lives back at home, we have to make jointly, and we don’t always agree. What I’m in the mood for may be different than what Aaron is in the mood for when it comes to when, where, and what we’re going to eat, what we’re going to do with our time each day, what we want to see in places we visit and how long we stay, which accommodations to choose, etc. Decisions can be as large as where we want to go next and the tentative path we set for ourselves or as small as whether to turn right or left on a street corner (see #13 above, which discusses leading versus following). Being together 24/7, you are exposed to the things you love about your partner more often, but also have to find a way to deal with the things that bug the hell out of you, which are of course magnified in the situation we’re in together currently. (I won’t go into detail about what these things are publicly, lol, but I’ll simply say that Aaron and I both are well aware of them by this point in our travels together and we actively work on some individually for the benefit of the other). Our communication with one another was open before but it’s been fine-tuned over the past few months. A huge positive is the shared experiences we have, whether they are enjoyable or challenging, as the only other person in the world who we can reminisce with who was there and knows first-hand what it was like is the other person. Another bonus of doing this together is that we are each other’s “home”, so it’s rare to feel lonely when your life partner is right there with you (not that I don’t get homesick — see #5 above — but it would be a WAY different experience going about this journey solo, which I would go about in a different way).

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During our walk with Aaron’s parents around lakes in The Poconos

25) It’s important to take advantage of opportunities for alone time apart when they present themselves. Expanding upon #24, in every day life back at home, we are not together 24/7. We both have jobs we go to, friends we meet up with, and workouts we do separately. We have healthy, personal time apart, which enhances the time we spend together. This has been an important aspect of our relationship since our early dating days, and I think it’s heavily contributed to why we are good together. We have different interests in activities that we don’t feel compelled to share and ways of doing things that we don’t need to collaborate on. Living life on the road, our opportunities for time apart and independent decision-making are few and far between, but we cherish them when we have them and even recently discussed our need to prioritize that again when we can. When it’s happened, it’s typically been to complete separate workouts (usually when I seek out a local fitness class I want to take), or when one person was dealing with traveler’s diarrhea worse and the other wanted to get out for a bit. A good opportunity may be when we’re in the mood to do different things (so one person doesn’t have to go along with the other’s wishes if they aren’t interested, such as tonight as I’m wrapping this up — I chose to stay at our hostel and blog, while Aaron went to a local bar to watch the U.S. vs. Mexico soccer match). Another contributing factor is that I have to feel comfortable enough to venture out and do something solo, and I don’t feel that in every place we visit, so that can be a bit limiting, but it’s a safe strategy in our situation.

I am certain there are more topics I haven’t included in this post that I’ve come to realize, as well as additional realizations and takeaways I will have to add to the list in our future travels. Overall, although long-term travel has now become my normal, everyday life, I am still very grateful for this rare experience and mindfully recognize how fortunate I am to be able to do it. I’ve been able to experience many “firsts” on this journey, such as driving across the U.S. and visiting many states I’d never seen before, experiencing all the places we’ve come to in Mexico for the first time, trying varieties of food I’d never heard of, and more. I cherish the luxuries of being able to sleep and lay in bed as long as I want in the mornings (unless it’s a travel day), truly sit and enjoy a latte and conversation with my husband at a leisurely pace, and not really having to be anywhere or do anything at any given time (on non-travel days). I love the absence of work stress and would take the occasional stresses of travel any day instead. I love that we are taking this time out of our everyday lives for ourselves, hitting the reset button and really going on this enriching and insightful journey to just experience; I think with the perspectives we’ve gained, it will help us restructure our lives when we return home in the right ways for us, reprioritizing with a fresh sense of certainty about how we want to set ourselves up to live at home long-term moving forward. I think the challenges of our travel journey may actually be building my character, making me “tougher”, and enriching me personally for growth more than the easier, yet amazing moments of enjoying great food, coffee, and sights in destinations. I feel like I’m constantly figuring out and testing what I’m made of, and I’m intent on continuing on this journey!

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Until next time,
Elena 🙂

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